Archive for the 'Customers' Category

Do you own the device you just bought?


Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University, has a great blog post that echoes exactly the same sentiments I heard Richard Stallman explain his original drive for open source, way back in the 1980’s.

Fairfield argues that we don’t own the devices we buy, we are merely buying a one-time license to the software within them. He makes a great case. It’s worth the read.

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

My favorite counter-example of this is the Logitech Squeezebox network music player system I use.  Originally created by Slim Devices, as far back as 2000, with their first music player launched in 2001. Slim Devices were acquired by Logitech in 2006, who then abandoned the product line in 2012.

I started using Logitech Squeezebox in 2008, first by buying a Squeezebox Boom, then a Radio, another Boom, a Touch and have subsequently bought used Duet, and for my main living room, the audiophile quality Transporter.

While there are virtually no new client/players, there is a thriving client base built around the Raspberry Pi hardware with both client software builds and add-on audio hardware, as well as server builds to use the Pi. I’ve hacked some temporary preferences into the code to solve minor problems, but by far the most impressive enhancements to the long abandoned, official, server codebase are the extensions to keep up with changes in streaming services like the BBC iPlayer radio, Spotify, DSD play and streaming and many more enhancements. For any normal, closed source platform any one of these enhancements would likely have been impossible, and for many users made the hardware redundant.

The best place to start in the Squeezebox world is over on the forums, hosted, of course, at http://forums.slimdevices.com/

When my 1-month Ring (video) doorbell failed. It was all I could do to get Ring to respond. I spent nearly 4-hours on the phone with tech support. Not only did I have no control, the doorbell had stopped talking to their service, but they couldn’t really help. After the second session with support, I just said “look I’m done can you send a replacement?” – The tech support agent agreed they would, but 10-days later I was still waiting for even a shipping notice, much less a replacement. While the door bell worked as a door bell, none of the services, motion detection, door bell rings were any good as their services were unavailable to my door bell.

You don’t have to give up control when you buy a new device. You do own the skeleton of the hardware, buy you’ll have to make informed choices, and probably will give up control, if you want to own the soul of the machine, it’s software.

Retired Until Further Notice

RUFN. I can’t remember where I first saw this, I think on an ex-colleagues linked-in status(*1). Back in September I declared I was done with cube life and it didn’t take long before it was time to part company with Dell.

I’m at an important crossroads, starting to pack up my Austin home, and move to a new house my partner, Kate, and I are building just south east of Boulder CO. Kate is already living in Boulder, where we are partners in Boulder Bodyworker.

So it seemed like an appropriate time to take some time out, and start an exciting new phase of life for me. I’ll be keeping busy, while I don’t have any active movie or music projects at the moment, I am behind on working on a project for Tri Equal and also a member of the advisory board  of the Professional Triathlon Union and continuing generally as an activist in the triathlon community.

I’m available for consulting work in the new year, especially for small to medium sized businesses that want to get an insight or review of their technology strategy; a perspective and advice on working with open source; data center operations.

Otherwise I’ll post here as appropriate and see how things develop next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

*1. Yeah I’m aware of the slang usage.

Net neutrality and the FCC

If you have not seen John Oliver lay bare the FCC Net Neutrality proposal, you must. You can find it here.

I’ve shared it widely among my facebook friends and implored them to email or contact the FCC. In the last few days I’ve been asked what I wrote. Here is my letter in full. I’ve taken the liberty to mark up a few minor corrections I wish I’d made before I sent it.

To: openinternet@fcc.gov

Sir, Madam,
I am a Legal Foreign Resident living and working in Austin Texas, I have lived in here 8-years, and for 2-years before that in New York State. I am an Executive Director and Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell Computer, I write though as a private individual.
The current service I receive, in a residential Street, just 1-mile from the City of Austin City Hall, is expensive, slow an the only option available to me. Yes, since the google fiber announcement, both Grande Communications and AT&T have announced new offerings, but neither is available. [on my street]
Net net, I have no choice. Now, you are proposing that the relatively expensive cable service I and my neighbors receive will now be subject to a further direct or indirect charge.
It’s not clear at all that I can give away anymore of my privacy to the massive cable conglomerates, so the only way your proposal would work is either I pay the cable company more money for premium traffic, or I pay the content companies more for premium content. The end result to me though is I will be paying more for the same service I had last year.
This proposed dual speed internet traffic regulation must NOT be implemented. It is anti-competitive, allowing larger companies to out spend smaller, new companies; it is monopolistic, it allows the incumbent cable companies to shore-up their already entrenched positions but by charging effectively, more for the same. Ultimately, this proposal further allows monopolistic providers to shake down individuals and content companies with for no real benefit.
US Cable Broadband is shockingly expensive. I regularly travel the world on business and I’m sure you have the data that shows that the USA, in general, is both more expensive per Mb per second, and has slower transport speeds to home users in cities like Austin, than do cities in what a few years ago we would have considered third world.
The price of Internet connection to homes, at a speed that makes modern home working, web conferencing etc. effective is now becoming an inhibitor. Soon it will have an affect on hiring patterns and wages for entry level positions. This cannot be what you want? Are video conferencing companies, web cam/whiteboard services premium content?
Please ensure that the Net Neutrality proposal is NOT implemented and revisit cable Internet as a common carrier.
—————————-

 

Change is inevitable

There have been a number of actions at Dell in the last few days that have resulted in people leaving the company. One of my key team members left last Friday on a voluntary basis, when we discussed her request for voluntary separation, I told her I was disappointed but given her reasoning, I said I wouldn’t act to stop her. She’s going west…

Then yesterday the remainder of one of my former teams were let go through an involuntary program, a shift of business requirements, and technology changes. I’m disappointed to see him go, but since he was in a different division, I was pretty much powerless to do anything. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him back if and when I can. Interestingly, one of my original Austin contacts, is back at Dell after being laid off a number of times.

There has been the usual “link-bait” style hysteria about the Dell layoffs, and today, they turned to IBM. Reading through the comments(I Know , I know), there are the usual “shock horror” comments. After reading the comments on IBM today, I decided it was worth posting in the hope to move the discussion on, really, you are surprised by these layoffs?

Here is the comment I posted [with only minor typographical corrections.]

It’s a massive challenge for the technology companies, just asserting it’s for this or that reason, looking for easy finger pointing to associate blame is just naive.We have to understand that all the former hardware behemoths are suffering from the innovators dilemma. As much as HP, IBM, Dell, Oracle et al. have been broadening their products and services, changing their business models, with differing degrees of success.

Unless y’all are prepared to pay the price for traditional hardware and software, and stop migrating to the “cloud”, these things are inevitable and you are part of the problem. Thats not blame, it’s fact, after all your business is also focused on EPS or expense/revenue ratio too.

IBM made a significant shift to being a software and services company almost 20-years ago, none of this should be unexpected. Shifting workloads, skills, people is hard enough much less in an economy where there are massive geographic shifts as whole continents stabilize,  and others shift in terms of how they consume and use technology, as well as their skills and employment practices.

Even simple things like the continued shift to home working has potential huge impact on employment trends, locations and skills.

If IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle were cities, governments etc. you might be right to hold them to a different standard. But I don’t see anyone voting Goverments out because they are paying too little tax?

It’s not simply about focusing on earnings per share. While there is an argument that for the whole western industrial economy that  the CEO, Executive pay has got out of proportion, it’s important to remember that at least IBM, HP, Oracle are still public companies. Unless you’ve been paying very close intention, their EPS and share price have more than likely a direct impact on you, even if you work for a competitor. They are both direct and indirect investment funds for pension funds, Government/Health/Insurance investments etc. If they all take a dive, you can be hurt anyway, even if you don’t work at those companies.

So lets stop pretending we are surprised this is happening. Understand that everyone in the “industry” from customers to design, R&D and the Execs are responsible for finding a ways to find new opportunities and help and support good employees both those where we are working, and also for those that have been, and are being let go. It’s also going to come over time to facebook, google et al eventually they won’t be able to buy and innovate their way into markets forever in just the same way the more traditional companies can now.

And yes, I’m an Executive at Dell.

Dell Enterprise Forum

I watched along with some of the sessions via Live video link, which worked pretty well. Some of the announcements I knew about, updates to Active System Manager, the new Dell PowerEdge VRTX (vertex) solution for home office, remote office. This summary was provided in an internal email of the weeks activities and announcements, but contains all external links, Enjoy!

“This week, Dell brought together more than 1,400 customers, partners, sponsors, team members, media, industry analysts and members of the social media community at Dell Enterprise Forum. At the event, five new enterprise solutions were unveiled alongside the announcement of an expanded partnership with Oracle. Reception to the new converged infrastructure and storage products – including the PowerEdge VRTX, which has already received an Innovative Product award, the new Active Infrastructure 1.1, the Dell Active Infrastructure for HPC Life Sciences and Modular Data Center updates as well as an All Flash Compellent storage array and Storage Center 6.4 – has been favorable across the world.”

Back to the future

This week Dell announced 3x major acquisitions, Wyse, Clerity Solutions, and Make Technologies. These acquisitions, once complete, will offer an awesome combination to move apps and customers to the cloud.

  • Wyse provides application virtualization capability which in essence will allow PC based applications to run as terminals in the cloud, accessing them via thin clients, increasingly mobile devices like tablets.
  • Clerity delivers application modernization and re-hosting solutions and services. Clerity’s capabilities will enable Dell Services to help customers reduce the cost of transitioning business-critical applications and data from legacy computing systems and onto more modern architectures, including the cloud.
  • Make Technologies brings application modernization software and services that reduce the cost, risk and time required to re-engineer applications, helping companies modernize their applications portfolios so they can reduce legacy infrastructure operating costs. These applications run most effectively on open, standardized platforms including the cloud.

A great set of solutions to let organizations looking to really get  their older apps into a modern execution and device environment. Exciting times for the Dell team supporting these customers.

This very much reminds me of 14-15 years ago and a whole slew of projects where we were trying to drive similar modernization into applications. IBM Network Station was about to be launched; we had a useful first release of the CICS Transcation Gateway and their was a great start at integrating Java with COBOL based applications and some fledgling work on extending the COBOL language to support object oriented principles. My poster session at the IBM Academy of Technology was on legacy modernization. In those days it was obvious that customers needed tools to help them get from where they’d been to where they would be going.

Enough never really got there, the financial case wasn’t often enough. However, given the performance, scalability and reliability of today’s x86/x64 systems, the lack of progress and demand for change have passed compelling, it’s essential.

Why is complexity bad?

In an internal meeting here this morning, I had another “rant” about unnecessary complexity in a design. One of the guys in the meeting wrote down what I said, pretty much verbatim and sent it to me afterwards asking if he could use it as a quote. When I read it even I was surprised with the clarity.

“Complexity in computing systems is really a bad thing, it’s the result of too many bright people making misguided judgements about what customers want, and customers thinking that their need to control has to come from complexity. Complexity creates cost, bugs, inhibits design, makes testing overly expensive, hinders flexibility and more. Most IT companies design approach to complexity is to automate it, which in turn creates more complexity.”

Comments?


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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