Column: Web 2.0 or hype 2.0?

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com on the hype over “Web 2.0”:

“In the beginning, the Web was made up of low-tech websites with grainy images, and interactivity consisted of an “e-mail me” icon that looked like a spinning envelope. Then came Flash, Javascript and Java, which allowed users to interact more with the content on a site, by clicking buttons or watching animations. Gradually, those developments blurred the line between using a service on a website and using an application on a desktop. Now, the industry is buzzing about something that has been dubbed “Web 2.0″ — a new level of interactivity that allows websites to provide desktop-like functionality with nothing but a browser and a high-speed Internet connection.

This idea was the backdrop for the recent news that Google and Sun Microsystems had decided to work together on… well, something. If Web 2.0 fans were hoping for a blockbuster announcement that would add some fireworks to the concept — and it’s clear that they were, given the amount of speculation that preceded the Google-Sun press conference — what they got was more of a “damp squib,” as someone put it. Even though the actual news was underwhelming, however (Sun agreed to bundle Google’s toolbar with its Java engine), the two hinted that there would be more, and some observers see Google eventually offering desktop-style applications in addition to its web-based email and satellite photo services. Continue reading “Column: Web 2.0 or hype 2.0?”

Column: Delphi goes bust

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about Delphi filing for bankruptcy:

“To the ancient Greeks, Delphi was the place where the high priestess of Apollo would foretell the future in return for the right number of gold pieces. General Motors just got a glimpse of its future from something called Delphi too, but this one isn’t an oracle — it’s a bankrupt auto-parts company that GM spun off a few years ago, one that has continued to be a millstone around the neck of the giant company. And this particular Delphi is going to cost General Motors a lot more than a few gold pieces and some incense. In the worst-case scenario laid out by some industry analysts, Delphi’s woes could force the car-maker to file for bankruptcy protection.

Those concerns pushed shares of GM down by almost 11 per cent on Monday, on huge volume, to a new 52-week low. Although the stock rebounded somewhat on Tuesday, it is still down almost 40 per cent from the peak of $42.22 (U.S.) it hit in late July, and is more than 50 per cent lower than it was in January of last year. The car-maker has lost about $15-billion in market value in less than two years, and — in a striking illustration of the market’s perception of this giant company — GM’s market capitalization of a little over $14-billion is now less than 10 per cent of the company’s annual revenue of $190-billion, and also less than the amount of cash GM has on hand, which amounts to about $16-billion. Continue reading “Column: Delphi goes bust”

Column: MSN and AOL to merge?

Here’s a column I posted on globeandmail.com about rumours of a tie-up between AOL and MSN:

“Earlier this year, reports started filtering out that Microsoft and Time Warner were considering a merger of the software giant’s MSN division and the cable and entertainment conglomerate’s America Online unit. Nothing much came of the rumours, however, and sources said later that the talks had fallen apart as a result of disputes over technical issues, as well as the question of who would control the combined entity. Now, the Wall Street Journal and others say the talks are back on, and that the two sides hope to reach a deal by the end of the year — a deal that might even lead to the merged company going public.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this news. One is that such a deal would create an on-line colossus, one with the content provided by AOL and Time Warner, and the reach and muscle of Microsoft — a combination that could easily go head-to-head with both Yahoo and Google. The cynical (or perhaps more realistic) view is that this proposed deal isn’t so much about a merger of giants as it is a marriage of convenience — a partnership between two tired and slow-moving behemoths, one a faded relic that never managed to capitalize on a market it virtually invented, and the other a money-losing oaf that has consistently failed to gain any ground despite spending billions. Continue reading “Column: MSN and AOL to merge?”

Column: Google and Sun and the Web

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about rumours of a deal between Google and Sun:

“In the late 1990s, senior executives at Microsoft — including then-CEO Bill Gates — were obsessed with what they saw as the biggest threat to the company’s domination of the software industry. That threat was the combination of a Web browser called Netscape with software called Java, developed by Sun Microsystems. Starting with the infamous “Internet tidal wave” memo in 1995, Microsoft spent a great deal of time and energy trying to combat this threat. Why? Because the software giant saw it as having the potential to dethrone its desktop hegemony, by moving what people did with their desktop PCs onto the Internet.

That threat was defused by a combination of market power and savvy marketing from Microsoft, and also — if the truth be told — by some fumbling on the part of Netscape and Sun. Microsoft started giving away its own browser, and began offering “Web-friendly” software. Netscape was acquired by America Online and gradually became irrelevant, and Sun failed to build on the potential of Java for a number of reasons. Among other things, the company was blindsided by competition from open-source server software and the popularity of the Linux operating system. Continue reading “Column: Google and Sun and the Web”

Column: RIM investors get nervous

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about RIM’s stock falling on its latest results:

“Research in Motion co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie often gives the impression he’s frustrated by the lack of respect the Waterloo-based company gets, and it’s easy to sympathize. After all, RIM just reported blockbuster sales growth, a huge number of new subscribers and new deals with tech industry leaders such as Intel and Nokia. And what did the stock do? It went south. Not only that, but all anyone can talk about is how Microsoft and Nokia and little upstarts like Good Technology and Seven are going to eat Jim’s lunch.

So what does a company like RIM have to do to get the kind of recognition it deserves as a technology leader?

RIM’s problems actually have very little to do with its technology. Almost everyone agrees the BlackBerry is a great device, and that the kind of end-to-end email solution it provides for companies is second to none. The company continues to sign up telecom partners around the world, and it has new devices either on the market or coming soon that will help bridge the gap between the type of handheld PDA that primarily does email, and newer “smart phones” that do voice, email and other things. Better still, the BlackBerry name has tremendous brand recognition in the marketplace, which is hard to duplicate. Continue reading “Column: RIM investors get nervous”

Column: Palm sues for peace

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about Palm’s deal with Microsoft:

“Chalk another one up for Microsoft. With Monday’s widely-expected announcement involving handheld-maker Palm Inc., the software colossus has added to the long list of victories it has won over lesser mortals — a list that includes Netscape Communications, which also pioneered a market only to see it eventually taken over by Microsoft. For Palm, agreeing to use Windows Pocket PC as the operating system on its devices is like Ford agreeing to put General Motors engines in its trucks, and many Palm devotees clearly see it as dancing with the devil. The company may have saved part of its business (although even that is open to debate) but it has likely lost its soul. The next target in Microsoft’s sights, of course, is Canada’s Research in Motion.

Rumours about a deal between Palm and Microsoft have been flying for the past few months, and according to several reports — including one from a programmer who works at the software giant — the two companies have been working on blending their products for 18 months. In other words, even as a survey last year was showing Palm as the leader in the handheld industry, with 33 per cent of all PDAs shipped in the second quarter of 2004, the company was already in discussions with Microsoft about using its software. Why? Because the PDA company had already seen the writing on the wall, and it spelled out three words: “shrinking market share.” By the second quarter of this year, Palm had just 18 per cent of the market for handhelds. Continue reading “Column: Palm sues for peace”

Google on “Google-bombing”

This is a story I posted on globetechnology.com about “Google-bombing” — in particular, the fact that typing “miserable failure” gets you a link to George Bush’s bio:

“It’s a tribute to the omnipresence of Google that the company’s name is used for a phenomenon that isn’t even specific to Google, but affects almost every search engine company, including Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves. It’s called “google-bombing,” and you can get a glimpse of what it involves if you type the phrase “miserable failure” into Google’s search box, or even just the single word “failure.” The first result that comes up is a link to President George Bush’s biography at www.whitehouse.gov.

This is not a political comment by Google, but a result of the way the search engine operates, which involves ranking webpages based on how many other sites link to them using a specific term (a process Google calls PageRank). If a lot of websites use the word “failure” to link to George Bush’s biography, then Google’s automated engine concludes that his bio is the most relevant result for that term.

Continue reading “Google on “Google-bombing””

Column: What is Google up to?

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about Google’s Web plans:

“First eBay, and now Google. The on-line auction network dropped a bomb on the tech sector last week by announcing its takeover of voice-over-Internet provider Skype for somewhere between $2.6-billion and $4.1-billion (U.S.), and now there are rumblings that Google is not only about to roll out a wireless service of some kind, but is also putting together its own optical fibre network — something Web commentators have dubbed GoogleNet.

Is Google planning to become a virtual phone company, combining all the “dark” or unused fibre it’s buying with its new Google Talk service? Does it want to roll out Wi-Fi access across the U.S. — or even around the world — to make it the de facto Internet provider for mobile surfers? Or does it just want to control as much of the Internet as it can, so it can monitor all your web traffic and serve up ads wherever you are? Perhaps all of the above.

One thing is certain: Google has big plans, and they don’t just involve search. And not only is its market value closing in on $90-billion — which puts it ahead of Hewlett-Packard and Nokia (not to mention SBC Communications, the largest telco in the U.S.) and just behind Time Warner and wireless telco Verizon — but it also has $4-billion in cash it just raised from a stock offering. That’s more than enough money to finance some interesting investments. Continue reading “Column: What is Google up to?”

Column: Telcos drag their heels

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about number portability:

“It’s a simple enough request, at least from a consumer’s point of view. You’re planning to switch from using Rogers as a cellphone service provider to Bell, or from Bell to Telus, and naturally you would like to keep your phone number, so that all your friends and co-workers will know where to reach you. It would be easier if there was a national telephone directory for cellphone numbers, but there isn’t (that’s a story for another day). So you ask to keep your number. And what is the phone company’s reply? Oh, we can’t do that, sir. Why not, you ask? After all, they do it in lots of other countries, including the U.S. and Europe, don’t they? Maybe so — but we don’t.

After years of watching other jurisdictions get wireless number portability, the federal government stepped forward earlier this year and said that it wanted the broadcast regulator to “move expeditiously” to implement the feature. Last week, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association released a position paper prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, grandly titled Implementation of Wireless Number Portability: Setting a New World-Class Standard, in which the wireless companies said that they would be ready to start offering portability just as soon as they could. And when might that be? In 2007. Continue reading “Column: Telcos drag their heels”

Column: eBay tries a Hail Mary

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about the eBay takeover of Skype:

“There’s only one real question that springs to mind in the wake of eBay’s takeover bid for voice-over-Internet provider Skype — which could cost the on-line auction company up to $4-billion (U.S.) — and it is this: Is the dot-com bubble back, or has eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman lost her mind?

As is typical with such deals, there was plenty of talk on Monday about the “synergies” between the auction provider and the VoIP company started by Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom — who also co-founded the notorious Kazaa file-sharing network. Ms. Whitman, for example, talked about “leveraging” Skype’s software and services along with eBay’s on-line payment service PayPal to create an “unparalleled e-commerce engine.”

Even if you agree that there are synergies between the two companies, however — and that takes a little thinking outside the box, not to mention a few leaps of faith — $4.1-billion is a lot of cash to pay for benefits that remain purely theoretical. Does eBay have so much money that it can afford to bet $4-billion on a company that has less than $100-million in revenue and no profits? Or is it so desperate for growth, and so afraid of losing ground to competitors such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, that it is willing to mortgage its future on such a deal? Continue reading “Column: eBay tries a Hail Mary”