The Week in Review

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There was just simply too much going on last week for me to devote entire columns to all the issues swirling around me like cotton candy. It was an extremely busy week for me as there were quite a lot of news and important developments in the IT industry. Plus, I've found it difficult to hold a steady train of thought after the Super Bowl. Here goes:

Loving Linux

I was astonished going into the Jacob C. Javits Center in Manhattan (three hours late, more on that later) for LinuxWorld last Wednesday. As some of you know, I have vented about the lack of substantive trade shows and conferences in the industry. I think most of the VARs and software vendors I speak with feel the same. One reader recently likened Comdex and other similar shows to a P.T. Barnum circus for suckers, and I would agree. But this one was different. There was actual technology on the exhibit floor! There were innovative products! There were packed seminars, with people crowding into small, humid conference rooms and sitting on the floor to engage in spirited, insightful debates on Linux, the open source movement, security technology and the future of the software industry. There was real business being done! Suits and geeks working together! Hallelujah!

I think all of this points to the validity of Linux and the open-source community. When IBM and Computer Associates stake a sizable portion of their future on Linux, you know there's value in this game. And when Windows lovers like Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Compaq start rolling out real support for the maverick operating system, you begin to realize why Microsoft is going after Linux hard and fast. Improved standards for Linux and more software vendor support this year will really put some teeth on the penguin. Servers today, desktops tomorrow?

Interpose #1: Computer Associates endured a turbulent 2001, but Linux looks to give it new life this year. CA is a huge software franchise with a dominant position in security technology and a strong showing in infrastructure as well, but after a near mutiny and breakup of the company, there were questions about CA's direction. Now, CA's support of Linux is giving the company a new identity and, more importantly, new opportunities. Not bad for an operating system that CIOs would barely touch two years ago.

Interpose #2: Many solution providers have said Microsoft might as well be selling Linux because Microsoft's oppressive software pricing and licensing programs, proprietary products and aggressive business practices are pushing people to open source alternatives. Wake up, Bill. Your company is becoming the neighborhood bully that nobody wants to play with. Plus, lately Windows has people screaming "tech support!!!" louder than Tom Cruise in "Vanilla Sky." It's not too late to bring Microsoft back to where it should be--making technology for the customers.

Domino Effect

At Lotusphere 2001, I and many other observers felt that Lotus was without direction. A lengthy drought of new products, an odd ASP strategy and an even more murky relationship with owner IBM will do that. However, this year Lotus pointed the ship toward Java and Web services. It's not a big shock since IBM is a strong advocate of both, but some are wondering what the addition of J2EE will do to Domino and other Lotus products, and where they'll fit in with IBM's middleware software. In addition, Lotus also repositioned its services organization, which is now aligned closer to IBM and concentrates on driving new Lotus technology. My questions are 1) what new technology? and 2) isn't this new services group, now called IBM Software Services for Lotus, just a specialized sect of IBM Global Services?

Blue Note

Speaking of IBM, it was announced last week that Sam Palmisano will take over CEO duties from the legendary Lou Gerstner next month. I'm sure Palmisano, a channel friend and longtime IBM veteran, will keep the company moving in the right direction--heterogeneous environments, new technology and strong partnerships--while adding his own touch in key areas such as Web services, wireless and open source. But enough about the future; let's bow our heads for a moment in Gerstner's honor. Seriously. It's not every day that a CEO can reinvent a fledging company and turn it into the biggest technology firm in the history of the world. Thanks, Lou. You saved your company and changed the industry.

Plight of the Airline Industry

As I prefaced in the LinuxWorld section, I arrived more than three hours late to the Javits Center in Manhattan Wednesday morning. My day didn't start off good. I woke up before 5 a.m. and waited in the rain for a T train outside of Boston (why can't my subway work like Washington D.C.'s Metro, the model of public transportation?) to catch the 7 a.m. US Airways shuttle to LaGuardia, thinking this was plenty of time to catch HP chief Carly Fiorina's morning keynote and get my two pre-noon interviews in the bag. Silly rabbit...

I got to the airport, grabbed my ticket for a window seat and boarded the crowded shuttle. I think I was the only passenger not wearing a suit. Anyway, we take off without incident and head down to New York. Everything is going smoothly. After about 40 minutes, the pilot says we're preparing to land and are about five minutes away from being on the ground. Then, I notice the plane begins to ascend, which is odd. Then we start circling around the Manhattan area. Then we start circling around outside the city (I saw lots of lakes and, I think, some mountains). "This is not good," I said to the guy next to me, a fellow CMP employee. After about 15 minutes of circles, the pilot gets on and tells us, too casually for my taste, that there has been a hydraulics malfunction and they cannot land the plane in LaGuardia because the runways are too short so they must take us all the way bag to Boston. Questions are 1) what happened to Newark and JFK? and 2) how is Logan Airport, where it had been raining, by the way, safer than LaGuardia? and 3) what kind of hydraulics malfunction?

I forwarded these questions to a US Airways customer service agent (after I took the 9 a.m. shuttle to New York, landed safely, hopped in a taxi [more on this later and got to the Javits Center by 11:30, missing the keynote and two interviews). In a very revealing conversation, I told my customer service agent, whom we'll call Ethel for the purposes of this column, the situation, which took forever to verify, and asked her what kind of compensation was available and asked for a detailed description of what went wrong with the plane. It was as if I had just asked her for the air speed of African swallow. What do you mean? Ethel asked. I told her that I missed important business functions because of US Airways' faulty aircraft and, at the very least, should get a refund for the $200 roundtrip ticket. Ethel actually laughed and said US Airways doesn't guarantee its flights. Hey, I buy milk all the time but if I open up a carton one day and out comes cottage cheese, the supermarket doesn't say, "We don't guarantee our milk." Ethel said in cases of "flight irregularities," passengers are entitled to: a $50 coupon for a future flight or 1,000 frequent flyer miles. Not both, because that would be too much.

So I was entitled to either the coupon or the frequent flyer miles. No apology, no explanation of what happened to the aircraft, and no effort to keep my as a customer, all of which would have made me forget that I was only getting a $50 coupon (they can't ever get my frequent flyer miles right, so why bother). I informed her that I was a "Valued Dividend Miles" customer at US Airways and didn't that count for anything? No, Ethel told me plainly. I raged, and told her that I wanted to speak to someone in charge. She said that I could talk to as many people as I want, but the policy wasn't going to change. I told her that US Airways had lost my business for good and Ethel said, "Fine, that's your choice." The battle was lost.

I rant about this for several reasons. First, because I'm never flying US Airways again unless I absolutely cannot avoid it. Second, I want others to hate the state of the airline industry as much as me so we can get some real changes in place. For my part, I'm going to keep calling US Airways to complain for no other reason than to be a pain in the airline's tail. I'm serious. I'm going to be relentless, like in "The Shawshank Redemption" when Tim Robbins keeps writing letters to the government to get funding for a prison library and after about 20 years, finally breaks through. Join me in my quest. We'll be victorious, you'll see...

Okay, the last and real reason I write about this is because the airlines need help, and I think CRM vendors are the guys to do it. I know CRM has been criticized lately for not living up to expectations, but it can't get any worse over there. I really believe guys like Siebel Systems, PeopleSoft and other CRM software vendors can provide the right technology for the airlines and also provide the right consultancy, either directly or through partners, to improve their business practices. It's not just a technology issue, although that would have helped speed things along for me in verifying my flight information and registering a complaint. If US Airways wants to hold me to some obscure policy after I've been informed of a mechanical error while the plane is in the air and told that the plane can't land, then fine. But the least they could do was treat me with courtesy and respect in an effort to keep me as a customer. It's simply terrible business, and it's why so many airlines are heading for Chapter 11. So there it is, a challenge for you CRM specialists out there. I'm talking to you, Oracle, E.piphany, SAP and the rest of your brethren. This is your Everest. Go climb it.

Save Carly, Save HP

Lately, I've been reading a lot of negative stuff about Carly Fiorina lately in the media, and negative is putting it lightly. In response to the proposed Compaq merger and year-long slide HP has been on, some are asking her to resign, while others have levied personal attacks. They called her arrogant and overly image-conscience and say her style of glitz and glamour doesn't fit with that of the HP founders. My responses are: 1) Why do guys like Oracle's Larry Ellison and other star CEOs get to strut, but Carly can't? Is it because she's a woman playing a man's game? 2) People seem to have forgotten Fiorina was the first CEO of a major IT organization to give a mea culpa to partners last year over channel conflict and reseller mismanagement (a path the company had been on long before she arrived, I'm told). She identified the problem and developed a successful remedy in the Hard Deck policy, which is being copied by other major vendors. 3) I like risk-takers. Fiorina is clearly a risk-taker. HP has needed a shakeup and she's worked diligently to provide that shot in the arm. 4) How come everyone is attacking Fiorina and HP, which will almost surely survive regardless of the merger outcome, and not Compaq and its chief Michael Capellas, who is essentially cashing in for good? and 5) I'd like to see HP pull this off. The IT industry isn't NASCAR--you don't watch just to see crashes. This sort of merger has never been done before. I don't give it much chance for success, but I'm interested to see what HP will be like a year or two from now and what repercussions it will have in our industry.

Patriots Win the Super Bowl

I just need to throw in a quick note about this. Not since Ralphie went ballistic and whipped bullies Scott Farcus and Grover Dill in "A Christmas Story" has there been such a lovable, story book, David and Goliath underdog victory. New England didn't just win the Super Bowl; they took it, because the Lombardi trophy had been essentially handed to the St. Louis Rams well before kick-off. A triumph against all odds for a blue-collar team and blue-collar town. Just goes to show you that the little guys can overcome towering obstacles and take down the mighty giants (take notice, Microsoft).

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