Angry Chef - a doodleware drawing in Tibco Integration Mgr

What makes our products (and our company, by extension) different?

This question has consumed more of my time than anything else since I joined. Over this past weekend I found a guiding light on the path to this enlightenment, and even if I can't yet describe what Tranzax is, I can at least clearly describe what it is not.

I spent a couple of hours over the weekend watching a remarkable presentation by Google Architect Gregor Hohpe entitled Developing in a Service-Oriented World.

Gregor's presentation covers it all, but the best of the presentation starts at 25:12 into the presentation, where with two jaw-dropping slides and six minutes of presentation he both describes what makes Tranzax unique, and mocks all or our competitors.

"Doodleware" is the term he uses for graphical-process-editor artifacts that put a pretty façade to hide (but not eliminate, or even deal with) the underlying complexity of business processes. A doodleware gallery can be found here.

For our technical team - the whole presentation is a must-see. Everybody should check out minutes 25-32. It's technical, but it tells it all.


Mind the Gap

Watch Your Step

I had the great pleasure of a trip last week over to the UK, to meet with customer folk at Norwich Union, and with co-workers out at Norwich and in the London office. My thanks to Graham and team for their hospitality in hosting Craig Miller and me on the trip.

I am always struck by the small things that are different: between our two English-speaking cultures, and between businesses. "Mind the Gap" is one of my favorites; an idiom that would roughly translate in American English to "watch your step." MtG signs, and the helpful painted notes on streets to "Look Right" (do avoid getting squashed by left-side drivers) are all good things, and a sign to the traveler that we're not in Kansas anymore.

I was very impressed by our UK team. In my experience, it's really hard to run a technology business when the "mother ship" is ~4500 miles away. The UK team has done a remarkable job of building sales, technology and delivery strength, and have done a remarkable job of building NUI and others into positive, referenceable customers.

I took a bunch of snapshots of the UK team, which I hope will end up in our Company Directory soon. We are one company. Things are different over there. I learned a lot on the trip, and I'll reflect a bit on what I saw in subsequent posts.


So it goes...

So it goes...

I am sadded today by two losses.

The first is to mourn the passing of novelist (as good a term as any) Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut defined the passage to intellectual adulthood for many folks my age - our older brothers and sisters would have a copy of "Cat's Cradle" or "Sirens of Titan", and we saw it as "grown up", read it as maybe our first adult literature and made it our own. His stories were funny and his images were facile - anyone could read it, and as you grew older you "got it" in different ways. He did irony before cynicism replaced irony. For a few snippets of his best, check here. Enjoy.

My second sadness today is more personal. I found out this morning about the passing of Tim Spicer. Tim was a venture capitalist, Hoosier, bon-vivant, investor in my last company (Envisage), and a fascinating, nice, and funny man who brought great joy and humor to everything he touched and everyone around him. He was much too young to pass, and the only consolation I have is the memory of the great joy he projected in every minute he lived.

...We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust....



Death Star 1900"

One of the great and oft-missing elements of great computer programs is a sense of style. Part of my general dislike of Microsoft products was first put forth by Steve Jobs: they just have no taste, they have absolutely no taste

Taste matters, because taste is generally a harbinger of underlying design elegance, and inelegant software is most often crufty, buggy software.

This rule is not absolute, but my own taste runs to elegant software built from elegant, even classic parts. Which leads us to "steampunk" -- What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.

Wonderful concept - future visions from classic parts. I'm toying with my own steampunk vision, combining SVG, a finite state machine Winstonian rules-engine, and a bunch of other spare parts from the attic. Maybe something elegant will result, many something else.

Keep you posted...


Vendor Lock-In

Software has two unusual characteristics that make it unlike any other merchandised (bought and sold) commodity:

  • Big (and endlessly growing) fixed cost to create
  • Zero additional (marginal, for you economists) cost to distribute

An argument can be made that Microsoft's OEM business (Windows to Computer Original Equipment Manufacturers) is the most profitable business in human history. OEM's (HP, Dell, etc.) buy media from Microsoft, and then pay Microsoft again every time they resell copied of the media. Even after all the allocations Microsoft can throw at it, you are talking gross margins way over 90% and net margins way over 80%. The US Treasury prints money and isn't that profitable.

The problem with software is that anyone willing to put up an initial stake (say, VC money to cover the costs of development) can play the zero-cost-of-distribution game. So how to keep the software-profit gravy train running? The answer is switching costs - the infamous "lock in."

IBM was the first great player of the lock-in game - they sold proprietary hardware (remarkably-popular mainframes) that required proprietary software to run on them. IBM fought a running battle with the US Justice department for more than 10 years after Amdahl and other companies tried to enter the market with IBM-compatible hardware and software. Justice and IBM's own moves away from leasing killed this golden-egg-laying goose.

Microsoft was the game's second great player. BillG's father is a prominent lawyer, and Microsoft's original OEM agreement with IBM for MS-DOS (a rare non-exclusive agreement that gave MS, not IBM, the capacity to determine what was "IBM-compatible") is a document behind the single greatest transfer-of-wealth in human history, and Microsoft has had a 20-year run on the strength of that single document.

"Open Source" is killing Microsoft, and since Microsoft spends billions per year to develop an operating system that sells for $100 (at OEM), it never occurred to Gates et. al. that anybody would be willing to put in $billions in programmer-hours just to give the product away for free. With Linux, that's just what's happened, and Linux has taken a bite out of Microsoft's growth and profitability.

There is a new dynamic that's killing Microsoft even faster than Open Source did, and for lack of a better term I'll call it "social lock-in." MySpace is HUGE, even though practically anybody could copy and distribute the bits that make up MySpace. What can't be copied is MySpace's community. Ditto, basically, for Google - you can copy the service but still not copy the community. IPod/Itunes is another example.

What this means generally for all software developers is that Social Software is the platform of the future. That which was once called "viral growth" is rapidly becoming an essential component of all leading software.

So how can we take advantage of this? How can we get Tranzax in the hands of more developers and users, and take advantage of community effects?

That'll be the subject of my next post...

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