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Linux: Success or Failure? Return of Sage Circle, Cisco's Possible Future, Product of the Week

By Rob Enderle TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 17, 2007 4:00 AM PT

One of the things you learn quickly when you work for a large company is how well executives can cover up failure. I think, to a large extent, that is what is happening with Linux.

Linux: Success or Failure? Return of Sage Circle, Cisco's Possible Future, Product of the Week

Folks are covering up its failure with rhetoric, and that is keeping it from growing to its potential. I'm an analyst, and particularly when we challenge popular views, folks want to know what is behind those views.

Detractors will make stuff up, but there are actually professionals who can accurately assess who and what we are. One of the best is Sage Circle, and we will discuss its return as well.

If that weren't enough, Cisco had its big analyst day and while it did a better job than most, for a communications company I think Cisco should be held to a higher standard and at least demonstrate it knows what communication is.

As always, we'll close with the product of the week, a Web offering that can dramatically improve your online shopping experience and give you money back.

Linux: Success or Failure?

Throughout my career, one of the most painful and critical parts of my job has been to raise my hand and say, "the emperor has no clothes." Doing this successfully has both provided me with my biggest opportunities and created the biggest problems for me.

In this instance, I'm expecting more of the latter because the beliefs surrounding this offering are stronger than most and the folks protecting those beliefs are harsher than most.

The way we typically measure the success of a product is in market penetration, revenue and profitability, and momentum. Where I play most of the time is on the desktop, and there Windows remains dominant.

The existing drama is between Windows XP, Windows Vista, Apple OS-X Tiger and Apple OS-X Leopard. The non-Microsoft product growing the fastest is from Apple. It is arguably more proprietary than Windows, suggesting Linux is on the wrong vector for this platform.

For smartphones, the dominant platform is RIM's, the strong challenger in business is Microsoft's and in consumer is Apple's.

Linux, after years of trying in this space, has made virtually no advancement. In fact, the biggest deal in this market recently was the iPhone, which was more locked down and proprietary than any of its competitors.

The most financially successful company on Linux is arguably Google, in terms of penetration; and in terms of visibility, it's probably TiVo.

Google takes Linux and uses it to create a proprietary service, TiVo a proprietary consumer electronics platform. The newest version of the GPL appears to be designed to put TiVo out of business, and the next version will supposedly target Google in much the same way.

In this last, there are two emerging camps: those who want this new license and those who don't. The economic impact on the platform of these license changes, as measured by economic success, appears strongly negative.

On servers, the two poster children are Red Hat and Novell.

Red Hat is less relevant today than it was three years ago and saw Oracle try to steal much of its market, so far unsuccessfully. Novell has a fraction of the size and power it once had and recently was strengthened by a partnership with Microsoft.

The way an executive avoids failure is by avoiding goals.

I was actually taught this at IBM; the problem is, the market is never fooled. Right now, my view of Linux is a lot of infighting and very little progress in the areas I watch.

Hardware vendors I speak to on the server side say it's putting excessive pressure on their margins, the desktop vendors say it creates too much cost and generates too little revenue, the embedded guys say it's too much religion and too little progress, and the phone guys generally don't even mention it.

Given Linux supporters often think of themselves as hurting Microsoft, maybe that should be the measure. Currently, Microsoft is -- as measured by revenue and profitability (how we typically measure success) -- growing strongly, so even in this questionable goal Linux is failing.

I think Linux lacks leadership, which is why it makes little real progress and is often defined more by what Microsoft does than what it can do. It needs some clear goals that decisions like the GPL changes can be taken against. Otherwise, five years from now, while it will still be around, it will also probably be even less relevant. This will be largely due to Google and not Microsoft. Google, with efforts like the gPhone, will fix Linux and I'll bet it won't be Linux anymore when they are done.

At some point, someone will need to determine if that is a good thing. It could be.

Sage Circle

One of the things that I know will happen after being critical of Linux is that I'll get the typical amount of hate mail with accusations that I'm a Microsoft shill. Folks don't actually have to do their homework, this is just the easy way to discredit someone on that topic.

There are actually analysts who focus on analyzing analysts. Several of the best work for a company called "Sage Circle." They have background both as being analysts and in recently running one of the best and most powerful analyst relations programs in the world at HP.

If you want to know at a granular level what makes people like me tick, what makes us different, how to work with us, or how to work around us, firms like Sage Circle (and there are very few) are where you go. I fully support companies like this because knowing the truth about folks like me makes my job easier and reduces the number of times I'm accused wrongly of misbehavior.

In short, the better informed you are with regard to analysts, the better my life is and the more successful you are with my community. It's a win-win.

What makes Sage really interesting is it disappeared for awhile as the principals ran the HP program. From time to time it helps a lot for analysts to actually roll up our sleeves and work in a space, and it is this experience that will make them vastly more valuable than their peers who haven't actually done the job in awhile. If you're interested in learning about analysts, check them out.

Cisco: Network or Communications Company?

Cisco had its analyst meeting last week, and CEO John Chambers did a great job on stage -- in strong contrast to most CEOs, who could bore rocks to death.

Still, I think of Cisco as a communications company and what I saw had me wondering if the people there get that themselves. While they clearly demonstrated they enabled communication, they didn't demonstrate they were working on improving it.

Communication requires feedback, and this was executives lecturing an audience, no real-time feedback and no apparent effort to find out what the audience was looking to hear before the talk.

While things like video conferencing were clearly shown as improved in terms of video quality and latency, they didn't demonstrate anything with regard to getting folks to change behavior and actually use the products.

I think Cisco's future -- and it is clearly one of the four technology powers -- will be based not on speeds and feeds but on how well it gets the need to improve communication and not just enable it. It also depends on how effective Cisco is in making sure buyers see the value of what they purchased after the sale.

This last is something every major vendor forgets at some point and what I really felt was missing with Cisco.

Product of the week: Personafile

Personafile is kind of a social network organized around buying things. It tracks your purchases and related warranties, notifies you of recalls, and even provides community resources that help you make your choice.

I have a huge problem with keeping warranties straight, and I know I've paid to have things fixed that were likely covered, but keeping track of this stuff is a nightmare. When I do -- particularly with an appliance -- need to get a service call, finding the critical information of serial number, product number, purchase date can add a lot to the pain of the process.

Personafile keeps all of that straight. Over time, it even learns what you like and can provide more informed recommendations the more you use the offering.

It's free -- in fact you can actually make money using it, and it could be invaluable if you had a fire, flood, or other disaster and needed to inventory what was lost to get an adequate settlement from an insurance company.

Unlike a PC-based program, your information is safe on the web and you can easily share it with others if you want to recommend, or suggest someone avoid, something you've purchased.

This is the time of year we tend to get a lot of stuff, being able to track that stuff could be incredibly handy. As a result, Personafile is my product of the week this week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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How do you feel about flying on a pilotless plane?
No way -- if there's a screw-up, you can't just jump out.
I'd do it -- flights are pretty much entirely automated anyway.
I'm skeptical but open minded, especially if fares would be much less.
I would try it if there were *someone* on board to take over in a pinch.
It's the wave of the future -- I'm resigned to it.