Author: JT Smith
Author: JT Smith
All the World is Not Just a Stage
I’m sorry, I just think technology news is so
boring. Stocks go up, stocks go down. Companies
marry. A new product! Big deal. Probably the only
things more boring are the parties. Thank goodness
CNet bought the remainder of Ziff. I say, consolidate
If, as the Los Angeles Times reported, this
“takeover would combine two of the twenty most popular
sites on the Web,” then it will be like reducing the
clutter on the collective desk of America.
When I first read about the takeover I madly
scribbled my notes in the margin of the paper, shaking
my head and sighing fatalistically, thinking about how
we are heading toward the corporatization of our news
sources just like in the movie, The Insider, only
without the subtlety. But then I went to Slashdot to
see what them nerdy folk had to say about all this and
I was encouraged.
Not really by what they said so much as did. News
is different now. There used to be limited sources.
The paper, then the radio, then television.
Entertainment became the nullifier. With the Internet
and the explosion of technology news there was
actually a bit of regression. A new industry meant a
rebirth of raw reporting. The kind of reporting that
had previously been swept into the sleeper sections of
Politics and World News, the meat of which had already
been transferred to more thoughtful journals.
I have a friend who writes for a prominent
technology publication. We’ll call him Miguel.
Miguel’s pieces are resplendent with facts, with
knowledge about the comings and goings of corporate
hegemonies. Bless him, because I don’t know how he
does it and the good Lord knows I don?t want to. I
can hardly read it let alone write it (no offense
Miguel). I took a class on writing for the news media,
foolishly thinking I might be able to internalize some
of that structural instinct, which, I discovered, has
got to be an oxymoron. It was like that freshman
seminar on western civilization all over again and
hey, it wasn’t the late nights of drinking that made
me so sleepy after all.
Hard news isn’t just digitized now, it’s mechanized.
Why do we need more than one ticker tape? If the
CNet and Ziff Davis properties merge we can free up
those slots within the “top twenty” and those
journalists for more thoughtful undertakings. Now we
can have more discussions and less reportage. If we
can access the same source so many different ways
(from our computer, our telephone, our television),
why do we need so many different sources?
Think of all those journalists who spend their days
consolidating that bullroar because it’s consistent
work that pays the bills. They’ll be free to secretly
rejoice in their layoff. They’ll have a valid excuse
to explore their true interests, write that novel
they’ve always wanted to write or start their own venture and
join the ranks of the newly rich they’ve spent so much
time trying not to resent.
Or they can continue to write — like me. Hmmmm, what
do I do? (I can?t wait to read the Forum section after
I’m definitely not a “reporter.” If I were, I would
be forced to (gasp) repress some of this
self-absorption and trade in my manual of style for
that dusty one from Chicago I have up on the shelf.
It is, however, painfully clear that I?m not really
sure what I am. It takes me about four full minutes to
answer the proverbial “what do you do?” or “Oh yeah, a
writer? What kind of writing do you do?” And two
hundred forty seconds is not actually the amount of
time required for me describe my “profession,” that’s
just the average time it takes for the inquisitor to
get tired of listening, walk away, and leave me to
dismount with a clumsy rendition of a verbal ellipses.
Sometimes I can just say “I write for the Internet”
which is a phrase that I hate. Like the Internet is
some sort of employer. I only use that phrase when I
am tired. I witnessed enough people respond with a
conclusive nod, “oh I see,” like they just realized
the answer to six across, “you write for the
“Yeah, that’s it. Ah, I’m going to go get another
drink, you want anything?”
Which brings me to Slashdot. (“which brings me” is
such a handy safety net for convoluted transitions
isn’t it?). A lot of people responding to the
posting on the CNet purchase seemed to believe that
sites like Slashdot were somehow fulfilling the same
service as CNet or ZIFF DAVIS, an assumption which
displays a marked lack of insight for such a brainy
crowd. Slashdot is about so much more than news. It
brings the news to life. They are reviving the art of
How exciting! The true beauty of the Internet has
been recognized so many times that it’s already being
taken for granted and is being hastily eclipsed by the
cliched notion that these media mergers are somehow
dangerous. The Internet gives us a forum to
communicate with each other, not just to
each other, which isn’t really even communication at
all but more like entertainment.
If sites like Slashdot proliferate, we may
still have a chance to somehow save us from ourselves.
Author: JT Smith
Author: JT Smith
This week, like so many other weeks over the last
year, the business message from the business side of the Linux
community has been decidedly mixed. Now admittedly, if you were working for Lucent, Ericsson
or Nortel, a mix of good and bad news would seem like a nice break from recent
trends, but the Linux community continues to be stuck in a pattern of rapidly
expanding growth and continually disappointing revenues. Two European Linux shops
are taking rather different approaches. One is slashing costs and
pushing its CEO off to the side. The other is decided to put financial logic
aside and appeal to the public for cash.
Both Germany’s SuSE
Linux and France’s MandrakeSoft
have done as much as any companies in the world to promote Linux, to
extend it well beyond its Intel roots, and to localize it to the needs of
users around the globe. In both cases, the marketplace hasn’t been very kind.
Both firms trail Red Hat in terms of cash, visibility and users. Both
have had their share of fiscal disappointments. But this week they’ve begun
to take very different paths to deal with their difficulties.
SuSE Linux is slashing costs and executives. The company celebrated
the first week of its release of SuSE
IA 64, the company’s port-over of SuSE 7.2 to the Intel
Itanium platform, by canning its CEO, Roland Dyroff. Dyroff can
console himself; he’s been made an official “guiding
force” on the company’s board of directors. That’s a better
fate than 10% of his employees. They got pink slips. The onslaught of bad
news ought to ensure that Dirk Hohndel, who runs U.S. operations, will be
completely off message when the company struts its stuff at the Software
Technology Alliances Symposium in New Orleans this week.
Reportedly, the company is dumping few engineers, and more
marketing and sales staff. Based on the timing of the layoffs, you could argue
that perhaps they didn’t eliminate all the PR professionals that they
The company is trying hard to hold onto its engineering staff.
SuSE claims to have “the world’s largest development team for Open Source
solutions.” That team has worked hard to extend Linux to operate on a variety of
platforms, including clustered systems, midrange hardware and mainframes.
For example, the Venezuelan financial services company Banco Mercantil
recently replaced 30 existing NT servers with a single IBM mainframe running
SuSE Linux. In the United States, the housewares manufacturer, Newell Rubbermaid, has been running much of its network administration system using SuSE Linux for
nearly a year. The company reportedly operates its multi-router traffic
grapher system on a mainframe and a copy of Linux. The mainframe cost
the company a small fortune. The copy of SuSE Linux set back Rubbermaid a
cool $100. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the breadth or quality of
SuSE’s products. In fact, quite the opposite is true. How the company plans to generate
enough cash to pay all these hundreds of engineers is the issue.
If the company plans to make money providing services for its
mainframe and higher end distros, it may want to re-examine the validity of
those plans. SuSE’s corporate “friends” may force that re-examination. This
week SuSE partner IBM is announcing that it will include “Linux support” for
its mid-sized iSeries servers. IBM expects that a significant
proportion of the Linux installed on iSeries equipment will be SuSE. Customers
will still have to shell out a few dollars for the actual platform software
by contacting SuSE directly. That may generate a little money, but
IBM’s better positioned to rake in the big end-user cash by providing
equipment and “support.” No matter how much cost cutting the SuSE undertakes,
there’s no substitute for income — or a viable plan for generating some.
One country away from SuSE’s headquarters, MandrakeSoft is trying a
slightly different tactic. Having already dumped a CEO and cut costs,
the company is trying to raise money in the most forgiving of European
stock markets. MandrakeSoft hopes to sell nearly 700,000 shares of its
stock this week. The company is offering shares at a “fixed rate” price of
$5.41 per share, and hopes to sell raise about $3.7 million in exchange for
roughly 20% of the company. Interested buyers can buy stock on the Euronext Marche Libre, an unregulated market for new companies managed by
the Paris stock market. The
offering will extend through the end of the week. Belgian bank KBC
Securities is underwriter.
Mandrake’s offering doesn’t quite match my half-serious
suggestion that the firm dispense with all pretense that it has
much hope of making any real money soon, if ever. The company says it
envisages a healthy profit margin by 2002. It also presumes a massive uptick in
sales. Maybe. But the Marche
Libre is as close to a bare bones “buyer beware” setting as can be
found anywhere in the Western world, and for a reason. This is a market
of very speculative offerings. It’s an environment that tends to scare
off traditional investors but it does draw enthusiasts, much in the
same way that the Regulation A market works in the U.S. Rather
illogically, Mandrake is reserving 60% of this offering for “institutional
investors.” If this market doesn’t scare off institutions, the company’s
just might. It honestly but painfully details the company’s quite
distressing financial history and makes it clear just how difficult the road to
profitability might be. Unspoken is the fact that the offer doesn’t involve very much
money. If all shares are sold, Mandrake soft will have a market cap of
$18 million, or a just over a third more than its accumulated net
losses of the last two years. No matter how much cash Mandrake
raises, there’s no substitute for income — or a viable plan for generating
Mandrake, like SuSE, has an enormous challenge ahead. Both put out
good products. Both do important work. Both are still searching for a
business path that makes financial sense. It’s going to be tough.