[PLUG] SuitWatch - September 30 (fwd)
rshepard at appl-ecosys.com
Thu Sep 30 13:57:02 PDT 2004
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Views on Linux in Business
--by Doc Searls, Senior Editor of Linux Journal
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Shedding the Darkness
Nicholas Carr cast a lot of darkness on the IT profession when his
article, "IT Doesn't Matter", appeared in the May 2003 Harvard
Business Review. Here's how he summarizes the piece:
I examine the evolution of information technology in business and
show that it follows a pattern strikingly similar to that of
earlier technologies like railroads and electric power. For a brief
period, as they are being built into the infrastructure of
commerce, these "infrastructural technologies," as I call them,
open opportunities for forward-looking companies to gain strong
competitive advantages. But as their availability increases and
their cost decreases--as they become ubiquitous--they become
commodity inputs. From a strategic standpoint, they become
invisible; they no longer matter.
Later, he expanded his case in a whole book, Does IT Matter?
Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage. In
its preface he adds:
IT's strategic importance is not growing, as many have claimed or
assumed, but diminishing. As IT has become more powerful, more
standardized, and more affordable, it has been transformed from a
proprietary technology that companies can use to gain an edge over
their rivals into an infrastructural technology that is shared by
all competitors. Information technology has increasingly become, in
other words, a simple factor of production--a commodity input that
is necessary for competitiveness but insufficient for advantage.
The emergence of a ubiquitous, shared IT infrastructure has, as I
will show, many important practical implications, both for how
companies manage and invest in technology itself and, more broadly,
for how they think about creating and defending competitive
Meanwhile, on IT's side, we have Paul Graham, author of Hackers &
Painters. Graham is a hacker and painter whose fingerprints are on
Lisp, Bayesian spam filtration and Web-based applications, among other
things. He's also a helluva writer. This month he came out with a
must-read essay titled "What the Bubble Got Right". Among its many
quotable lines are these, which stand in stark contrast to Carr's
Technology is a lever. It doesn't add; it multiplies. If the
present range of productivity is 0 to 100, introducing a multiple
of 10 increases the range from 0 to 1000.
What would happen if you outsourced everything except product
development? If you tried this experiment, I think you'd be
surprised at how far you could get.
...in the coming century, good ideas will count for more. That
26-year-olds with good ideas will increasingly have an edge over
50-year-olds with powerful connections. That doing good work will
matter more than dressing up--or advertising, which is the same
thing for companies. That people will be rewarded a bit more in
proportion to the value of what they create.
There might seem to be no consistency between these two points of
view, but there is. For that we turn to Phil Moore, Executive Director
of the UNIX Engineering team at Morgan Stanley. At the O'Reilly Open
Source Convention a couple months back, Phil came forward from the
audience and said this:
The trend I've seen in the last ten years...is the exponential
growth in the variety and the depth and breadth of installation of
open-source software in our infrastructure.... What I'm seeing is
that in the infrastructure, the core infrastructure, open source is
going to take over, leaps and bounds.
The key word is infrastructure. It's infrastructure, built by IT, that
gives Morgan Stanley enormous productivity leverage. Nicholas Carr is
right to observe the commodity nature of ubiquitous IT building
materials. What he misses, by maintaining a "strategic standpoint" at
the top of the organizational pyramid, is the unique nature of those
building materials. Unlike the mined and manufactured metals that make
railroads and electrical grids, IT's goods are products of human
creativity. Much of that creativity appears in products sold by
vendors. But the infrastructural stuff--the material with the most
leverage--is the product of creativity applied to practical rather
than commercial needs.
In open-source development, creativity is applied to many purposes,
but none more than to the need for solid infrastructure. This is why
the story of open source growth in the enterprise also is the story of
IT infrastructure commoditization. It's also why the story of IT
infrastructure commoditization is different from the story of any
other commoditization in human history. Given the mental sources of IT
infrastructural goods, all of it improves far more rapidly than
anything else that has ever been given the "commodity" label.
This means nothing could matter more than IT.
Yet, while open source has committed advocates among the vendors that
supply IT, some of those advocates are busy casting dark as well. Sun
COO Jonathan Schwartz, while flattering Linux and open source, paints
a picture of tough times in Sun's corner of the industry:
It's tough to compete against a social movement. Especially one in
which you're a believer. That's what Sun's been facing for the past
few years when it comes to Linux. Linux represents all the ideals
we've espoused for decades: openness, freedom, innovation, even
open source (remember, Sun was started with open source)...
But the past three years have been tough at Sun - we've been on
defense against competitors co-opting that social movement against
us. The economic distress experienced by our core markets (telco
and financial services) started the storm clouds. But that was
coupled by our hesitation (more on that in a later blog) to support
Solaris on Intel or AMD microprocessors--a hesitation that left
customers wanting to deploy x86-based systems with only two
choices: Microsoft's Windows, or 'linux.' Given the latter's
(deserved) popularity, coupled with a precipitous drop in telco and
financial services budgets, it was easy (especially for HP and IBM)
to say "Linux is responsible for Sun's problems." We were on
Larry Ellison, Oracle's Samurai CEO, says his industry "is as large as
it's going to be". Mylene Mangalindan sums up Larry's rap:
Ellison, sounding like a modern-day Cassandra, paints a dark vision
of the computer industry's future: increasingly standardized
products with little distinguishing technology and thin profit
margins. Sweeping consolidation, prompting the death of 1,000 tech
companies. Fewer start-ups. And a handful of category-dominating
winners, which will control innovation.
Like Sun, Oracle considers itself a friend of open source. It also is
an aggressive advocate of Linux, with a programming staff that
contributes to Linux kernel development. And Oracle sales also serve
as a lever for moving more Linux into enterprise infrastructural
roles. But the value of infrastructure naturally is subordinated to
the value the goods Oracle runs on it.
The way to cast light on all this darkness is by recognizing that
there are two different though overlapping Open Source communities.
One makes the goods, and the other puts them to use. Call them
developers and implementers.
The distinction between the two is as sharp and as necessary as that
between the sources of building materials and the builders who turn
those materials into homes and high-rises. We need to make this
distinction because, as open source succeeds in the marketplace, the
second group grows much more rapidly than the first, even as it
remains much less visible.
Developers are more visible than implementers because developers are
the ones who make the goods. As sources of goods, it's easy for
vendors such as Microsoft and Sun to see open-source developers as
competitors. What those vendors need to see, along with executives at
the tops of customer org charts, is that the Open Source community
that matters most is the one we hear from least. For every Phil Moore
who speaks up, there are many thousands of other IT professionals who
quietly build open-source-based IT infrastructure.
Their practices, which they improve every day and share with their
colleagues, are no less important yet far more strategic than the work
being done by the open-source development community on which they
depend. Both are part of the same lever. It's time we started paying
attention to the practical end of the thing.
Nicholas G. Carr's Site:
Carr's "IT Doesn't Matter" Article Page:
Carr's Does IT Matter? Book Page:
Paul Graham's Hackers & Painters:
Paul Graham's "What the Bubble Got Right":
IDC Forum: "Why IT Matters":
CEO Says Tech Future Grim:
"The New Silicon Valley: A Dog-Eat-Dog World":
Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was the Command Line:
mailto:doc at ssc.com is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. He writes the
Linux for Suits column for Linux Journal. He also presides over Doc
Searls' IT Garage:
http://garage.docsearls.com, which is published by SSC, the publisher
of Linux Journal.
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