Tag Archives: Smartass

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, Not the Copywriter

I have given this speech at least three times this month so it is time to commit it to permalink:

You don’t get to proclaim your product is beautiful.

Beauty is subjective. If your labor of love really is beautiful, people will notice and may even say so (feel free to quote the hell out of them) or spontaneously petition to have your product inducted in the Museum of Modern Art. But you don’t get to make that claim.

Please don’t tell me “beautifully designed” is one of your top three benefits. “Easy to use” – sure. “Intuitive” – hopefully even true. “So easy even a CEO can use it” – probably a stretch but go for it. But don’t tell me being beautiful is part of your value proposition unless you’ve developed some kind of robotic supermodel hybrid of Petman and Samantha from Her.

When you’re one of those startups that shows headshots and titles for everyone in the company, people may notice the team lacks a designer but has a deep bench of data scientists, DevOps dudes and even a dog.

And if you’re peddling an enterprise B2B app, which is where this problem seems most acute, recognize that enterprise customers will put up with <blink> tags and Comic Sans if the app gets the job done (TK check if this is the secret behind Salesforce’s beautiful user experience). But the opposite is not true.

Feel free to say your app is less ugly than anything ever created by Oracle or Salesforce. Or that you wish you had the design sense of Steve Jobs, or less ambitiously, even one of his self-appointed disciples. Or that you have aesthetic guilt about your tenure at Microsoft. Or that you just really like the color orange. Those are all factual statements. But claiming your product is beautiful is not. Don’t waste precious attention and put off readers with such verbiage.

Next time on marketing prose pet peeves and polemics: power made easy!

Open Season: A Short Industrial Drama

Cloud Foundry had a pretty good week with endorsements from Baidu and IBM. Both relationships were developed after I left VMware so what follows is purely speculation on my part. But some companies have a tough time getting over their history and playbooks, so it is easy to imagine how things went down.

Warning: this post contains serious “inside baseball” about the past and present of software standardization and open source mechanics. If you don’t know what ECMA oxymoronically used to mean or haven’t debated the merits of different open source licenses, you may want to stop reading right now (go see Pacific Rim or read up on Bitcoin instead). I may be the only person who gets some of these jokes. Apologies to David Mamet.

OPEN SEASON

Scene: a hipster office in SOMA populated by dogs, twenty-something Siamese programmers and two older gentlemen trying with limited success to project a casual air.

Characters:
Jim – a Pivotal executive
Dan – an IBM executive
Angel – an IBM standards executive

Dan: We’re from the IBM company and today is your lucky day. We have decided Cloud Foundry is going to be the platform-as-a-service for the cloud.

Jim: Oh…

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Dan: The way this will work is IBM will make Cloud Foundry open and therefore viable for the enterprise. We know how to do this and will tell you what you have to do.

Jim: I’m not sure I follow as our strategy has been to make Cloud Foundry as open as possible from day one. Am I missing something?

Dan: Cloud Foundry cannot be used in the enterprise until IBM gives it our blessing. It is critical that enterprises only use open technologies.

Jim: Open like the mainframe?

Dan: Watch your tone son. We’re from IBM and we make sure that enterprises are not locked into proprietary technologies.

Jim: I’m definitely not following you. What do you mean by “open”?

Dan: Openness depends on having a comprehensive governance strategy. We will work with you to create a Cloud Foundry Foundation to manage the governance of Cloud Foundry.

Jim: What exactly would such a Foundation do? And isn’t “Cloud Foundry Foundation” kind of awkward phrasing? Did you consider just Foundration? That domain might still be available.

Dan: The Cloud Foundry Foundation will handle the governance of Cloud Foundry. With a formal governance process as defined in bylaws, Cloud Foundry will then be open so enterprise customers can embrace it.

Jim: Hmm.. I assume you’d describe GE as an enterprise customer. They’ve embraced Cloud Foundry to the tune of investing $105 million. And they’ve never mentioned the word governance as far as I can recall. They have been known to throw around terms like productivity and time-to-market.

Dan: Let me help you understand how this will work. Do you remember Java and Linux? IBM made those technologies successful in the enterprise by ensuring they were open. We will do the same thing for Cloud Foundry. But you will need to follow our direction.

Jim: You’ll have to excuse me as I was in junior high school when you were running that playbook for Java and Linux. But I’m still not certain what this has to do with Cloud Foundry.

Dan: Enterprise customers expect new technologies have formal governance processes so they can trust them to be open. For example, it is critical there be explicit rules to specify the voting rights for different classes of membership and how to deal with conflicts of interest on the board of directors.

Jim: I am afraid I still don’t understand what this has to do with making it easier for customers to build applications for the cloud. I defer to your knowledge of the previous century as well as conflicts of interest, but it seems customers today are more focused on functioning code that solves their business problems than governance processes. But you should explain to me what governance you think is necessary.

Dan: The Cloud Foundry Foundation will be a legal entity with a steering committee which will define all the subcommittees necessary for different aspects of Cloud Foundry. Obviously, we will use Robert’s Rules of Order.

Jim: Is this how you created the Java programming model?

Dan: Exactly.

Jim: You do know the majority of enterprise Java development is done today with the Spring Framework which was developed to shelter developers from the horrors of committee-developed technologies like EJB?

Dan: Son, enterprises can’t build enterprise solutions without enterprise technologies like EJB. When you start doing transactions, it is no longer child’s play. You may have your simple solutions for simple problems, but IBM solves enterprise problems.

Jim: I won’t ask how it is that the biggest Internet companies on the planet somehow manage to do transactions at vastly greater scale than any enterprise that uses IBM technology. I guess I should also be surprised the cloud has gotten as far as it has without any committees and Robert’s Rules of Order.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Your faith in committees is touching, but pretty much for every broadly successful technology in the world today, there was a committee-driven alternative that failed. Take IP vs. OSI, or HTML succeeding only by throwing away the vast standardized bulk of SGML. I think the world has learned from these experiences. We have seen over and over that committees are prone to making bad political tradeoffs, delivering least common denominator solutions and losing sight of the real problem at hand. Premature standardization is a killer; you need to allow for experimentation, evolution and finding the proverbial product-market fit.

Dan: Son, you need to understand how things work in the enterprise.

Jim: Is there more to IBM’s cloud strategy than a vague appeal for standards? Do you really think a bunch of random committees are going to keep up with Amazon Web Services? I guess it could be a good strategy if they’re laughing so hard they can’t get any work done.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Dan: Let me give you a recent example. Have you heard of OpenStack? IBM is making OpenStack part of the open enterprise cloud.

Jim: I am familiar with OpenStack as it turns out. In fact, Cloud Foundry runs on OpenStack. I do seem to recall you guys jumped on the OpenStack bandwagon a couple years after it got started. Are you saying IBM is somehow responsible for OpenStack’s momentum?

Dan: IBM is making OpenStack open and acceptable for enterprises.

Jim: So what contributions have you made to OpenStack?

Angel: We have dozens of our best standards people working on OpenStack.

Jim: I was thinking more in terms of code. NASA and Rackspace have contributed major pieces of technology – what has IBM brought to OpenStack?

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Well, even if software development is not your focus, you do operate a lot of outsourced IT infrastructure. With IBM’s enterprise presence you must have a lot of customers running OpenStack today. How many megawatts of OpenStack capacity are you operating?

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: I’m not sure where you guys have been for the last decade, but the world has changed. We now achieve openness at the engineering level, not with lawyers writing bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. The days of heavyweight governance via committees staffed by people whose primary skill is sleeping while sitting up have probably come and gone. Cloud Foundry is extremely open today by any practical measure. The code is all on GitHub under the very permissive Apache license. Is there something we’re missing?

Angel: What is this Geet Hub? Can you spell that for me?

Jim: GitHub is a public code repository. Anyone can submit a pull request and contribute code to the project. If you don’t like the vision or want to do something different that is more tailored to your specific needs, you can always fork the project and take it in whatever direction you want.

Dan: (visibly flinching and frothing) Are you mad? Anyone can just contribute code? To a product that will be used by enterprises?

Dan: You encourage people to fragment the project by modifying it and making derivative works? (pause)  Do you not know any history boy? We spent years trying to minimize Java fragmentation. Microsoft would taunt us that even Ivory soap was only 99 and 44/100th pure. Despite Herculean efforts, we never quite achieved it, but we tell ourselves, much like with the current economic recovery, it could have been so much worse. You would let anyone do whatever they want with the software? (aghast)

Dan: How will enterprises ensure they’re getting the official version of Cloud Foundry? Do you not see how critical it is to have a Foundation that controls Cloud Foundry?

Jim: The market decides what the best version of Cloud Foundry is, not some committee. If you don’t like the direction, you could always fork and go in whatever direction you think is most appropriate. One would think with 400,000 or so employees, IBM would have some people who could write code as opposed to committee minutes.

Dan: Surely you jest. We can’t rely on the market to make decisions for the enterprise. That is IBM’s role and has been since the dawn of information technology. If you don’t fully appreciate the criticality of governance, we can go elsewhere. We have options. We could bless OpenShit, sorry I mean OpenShift instead. I bet Red Hat would play ball. We’re old friends with their standards guys.

Jim: Good luck with that.

Dan: Or we could bring the full might of IBM’s research labs to bear and build our own platform-as-a-service. Don’t underestimate the technological prowess of the IBM company. We get more patents every year than any other company. We can write the letters IBM at the atomic level. We are going to positively own the burgeoning robotic game show contestant market. We can make WebSphere the application platform for the cloud. WebSphere is the biggest middleware on the planet, though I’m not sure why the development team was laughing when they said that. If you don’t hand over Cloud Foundry to the Cloud Foundry Foundation, we’ll just compete with you.

Jim: You’d think with all those great patents, you’d have more innovation to show in your product line and wouldn’t be here trying to figure out how to co-opt the fruits of someone else’s R&D. I get that what’s yours is yours, like the mainframe, but you’d also like what other people have developed to be under your control. You’re welcome to participate in the Cloud Foundry ecosystem on the same level playing field as everyone else, but we’re not going to distract ourselves from building a great platform with some giant bureaucratic foundation. If you want to compete, by all means compete, but at some point you’re going to have to write some code people actually want to use. Maybe you can create an IDE that lets people write code at the atomic level. And with all due respect, WebSphere at this point is just a middleware museum. It is about as relevant to the cloud as the mainframe.

Dan (quietly to Angel): They’re onto us. Our strategy of blessing different piece parts defined by multiple slow-moving and conflicted committees that don’t work together well and need busloads of consultants to make them limp along may not fly in the cloud. This may be a problem for our earnings roadmap. Our CFO told Wall Street we’d have $7 billion in cloud revenues by 2015 and SmartCloud unfortunately isn’t looking that smart.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: I’ll tell you what. I’d hate for you to have to go back to Armonk and get yelled at by your CEO again for not working hard enough and not bothering to return customer calls. We’re doing a Cloud Foundry developer conference this fall and how about IBM sponsor breakfast there or something? You can buy some healthy fare and we can explain how in the past you would have brought donuts, but you’ve gotten religion about reducing middleware girth. You can even come to the advisory board meeting. And of course you can submit all the code you want to the project, but I realize that may not be your thing. But I do have one request if we’re going to work together: please don’t ever use that the word governance again in my presence.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Yes, it’s still early days for the cloud…at IBM.

FINIS

Note: the voices in my head for this are the default Xtranormal voices. In the sequel, the Bernank will make an appearance.

Strategic Sprawl, We Do It All

HP’s new CEO has unveiled his strategy for the company.  The debut was accompanied by an epic press release.  Some of my favorite parts:

“Connected World” – hopefully Paul Allen won’t call from the 1990s and ask for his strategy back.

“…its vision to provide seamless, secure, context-aware experiences for the connected world” – it probably sounds better in the original German.

“…continue delivering unparalleled value” – that sounds suspiciously like more of the same actually.  So much for the break from the Hurd era.

“…well positioned to win through a compelling combination of financial strength, unmatched scale and global reach, and market-leading positions that span from the consumer to the enterprise” – translation: we’re big and not entirely sure what we do either.

“…convergence” – the 1990s may just want to put HP on speed dial.

“Powerful trends like consumerization, cloud computing and connectivity are redefining the way people live, businesses operate and the world works.” – I’d always use ‘live, work and play’ when composing this sentence.  It rolls off the tongue a little better.

“…massive, agile and open” – massive and agile so often go hand-in-hand.

“…leveraging” – once.

“Meanwhile, the cloud is combining with mobility to create ubiquitous connectivity.” – ’meanwhile’?  Evidently you have to follow multiple plotlines.

“…leverage” – twice.

“…trusted partner” – naturally.

“…continue enhancing HP’s offerings across its broad hardware, software and services portfolio to meet evolving customer demands while also leveraging its core strengths to develop the cloud- and connectivity-based solutions of the future to meet the needs of consumers, small and midsize companies and large enterprises.” – this should really help employees with what NOT to do.

“…trusted leader” – is leader an upgrade from partner?

“…a four-point strategy” – the big decision was whether to have a three or four-point strategy.

“…leveraging” – thrice.

“…core strength in cloud” – you can’t spell Heffalump without the letters H and P.  But ‘cloud’, not so much.

“…trusted partner” – on second thought, partner was better.

“…delivering the connected world” – can I get that delivered to my house overnight?

“…leverage” – not sure what comes after thrice.

“…build a robust developer community that is eager” – you can lead a horse (or insert your own CAML joke) to water, but you can’t make him eager.

“…leveraging” – starting to think this is coded reference to printer cartridge business.

“…unmatched” – true, no other company looks even remotely like HP.

“…a multitude of initiatives” – so more than four then?

“…three strategic areas” – uh, oh, now we’ve lost one. 

“…leverage” – at this point we can just call him Leo Archimedes.

“…higher-value” – higher than what?

“…greater strategic value” – ah, higher in strategery.

“A device-aware HP cloud…” – eServices lives!

“…a leader in the area of connectivity” – look out AT&T?

“The focus on performance will come through a program focusing on growth, operational excellence and quality.” – looking forward to reading the white paper on this. 

“At HP, our mission is to deliver seamless, secure, context-aware experiences for a connected world.” – repeated just in case anyone didn’t memorize it up front.

Here is the word cloud if that helps. 

Can you find 'leverage'?

In HP’s defense, the only thing worse than reading this kind of press releases is writing them.  It is next to impossible to put a coherent and concrete story together that spans all the provinces of vast technology conglomerates, so you’re left with sweeping platitudes.  Been there, done that.

Disclosures: a delighted seller of all my HPQ at $49.

Senator Blowhard – Still At It

image It takes an exceptional act of shamelessness to rise above the general level of shamelessness in Washington DC and merit comment, but noted antennae expert and Senate Finance Committee member Charles Schumer’s decision to weigh in on iPhone 4 reception issues breaks through the noise.  Clearly this takes precedence over less pressing issues like cleaning up the multi-hundred billion dollar and growing double black hole of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  I for one look forward to Senate hearings on the matter.  No doubt a several thousand page “antennae reform and signal stimulus” bill will follow.

Not to endorse Senator Shakedown’s grandstanding, but I do think Apple’s reality distortion field has worn off and everyone knows it except Apple.  Dave Winer nails it.  Companies are always the last to internalize they’re not the plucky little upstart any more and public expectations have changed.

Our runner-up in inanity emanating today is the New York Times’ apparently un-ironic call for the government to manage Google’s search algorithm.  Fortunately, this has been comprehensively addressed by Danny Sullivan.

A Temporal Stimulus

image 
Russian President and junior assistant Tsar of all Russia Dmitry Medvedev (pictured above with Vladimir Putin) reduced the number of Russian time zones from 11 to nine in an effort to “make the giant nation more manageable to run and boost its economy”.

Reaction however fell short of Soviet-era universal acclaim:

But some people in the affected regions believe Medvedev should have been doing something else with his time.

An online petition opposing the Samara region’s change gathered nearly 13,000 signatures.

“In the winter, darkness will come almost at lunchtime, which isn’t convenient and is psychologically quite hard,” the petition said.

Immediately prior to ordering their relocation to the Siberian worker’s paradise of Gulaggrad, Medvedev rebuked the ungrateful kulaks of Samara for standing in the way of Russia’s 21st century global information infrastructure ambitions:

But Medvedev said the change would help some far-flung regions have more efficient communications with the central authorities, ease travel and even improve the country’s international position.

“It’s possible that this could also aid the strengthening of Russia’s position as a link in the global information infrastructure,” he said at a meeting this month with ministers and regional leaders.

And Medvedev, without explicitly mentioning the fact economic dynamo and fellow BRIC nation China has but one time zone, is considering further decisive action if increased agricultural production quotas are not met:

Medvedev has suggested that the number of Russia’s time zones could eventually be reduced to just five.

He has also told government experts to study whether to continue the practice of shifting summer to winter time and back every year.

Somewhere, Thomas Friedman is no doubt furiously scribbling yet another sequel to The World is Flat extolling geopolitical origami and the fourth dimension applications of Mad magazine fold-ins.

Pravda has nothing to say on the matter.

This Nobel Prize Thing

dynomite I find myself perplexed by this inexplicable award.  Has the Nobel prize selection committee completely lost its senses?

I mean, what exactly is “the landscape of the dispossessed” and how do you win the Nobel prize in literature for writing about it?  Why isn’t there more discussion of this bizarre choice?  I know there is a long history of controversy around prize winners, but this is a new low.  How can you possibly mention Herta Müller in the same breath as previous winners and immortal literary titans like Sully Prudhomme or Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson?  (Imagine the link juice from that last one…).