When I left PC Dealer last year, after the magazine?s publisher seconded me to California, I thought the worries of co-operative marketing funds, thin margins and even thinner margins were behind me.
No chance. In this weekly column, I?ll tell you what?s happening around Silicon Valley from the indirect channel?s perspective. I hope I can provide an insight into life in a place where IT dominates everything and tell you about the rumours and the gossip, the news and the analysis, the weird and the wired ? in fact, everything about the movers and shakers in our industry.
I?m trying not to pick up too many Americanisms while I?m here and I promise I?ll try not to sound too American. If you don?t believe me, eat my shorts, man.
Let?s start at the top, with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Last week he was supposed to deliver a keynote speech at Comdex Spring in Atlanta, but at the last minute he decided not to. I discovered, by overhearing so carefully you could actually call it eavesdropping, that a question and answer session was hurriedly organised on the day before his presentation. It was a classic case of ?The dog ate my homework, Miss?.
The excuses people made for Gates? unwillingness to prepare a speech were poor. They said that he has just finished Scalability Day ? a PR stunt which failed to prove to analysts and the press that Windows NT can handle large system implementations on a par with Unix. They bleated that he is preparing to meet US authorities to get the encryption software export restrictions lifted. I suppose he even has a verruca and a note from his mum.
When he finished the Q&A, I watched in amusement as the applause, usually drowned out by the whooping and hollering when someone like Gates appears in the US, was only just loud enough to wake up the developer sitting next All columnists are supposed to have a go at the industry leaders, so I?ll go back to my favourite target. For years, it has been a craze among propeller heads over here to lick Gates? boots for all the wonderful things he and Microsoft have done for the industry and indeed the world.
He has been heavily criticised by competitors recently, but the latest fad in the press has been to applaud him for being the world?s best. The world?s best nerd, that is. The very trait that has made Gates the butt of so many industry jokes now improves people?s lives, apparently. Why? Because a survey of American kids showed that Gates is a role model to most of them and therefore, as a ?super-nerd?, he has made being square, techie and computer-obsessed into a trendy thing. It?s a similar reversal to the way that trendsetters like James Brown and Michael Jackson made generations think the expression ?bad? means ?good?.
Personally, I?m suspicious. Microsoft?s famous marketing machine may have played a part in setting the questions for this nerd survey, hoping to manufacture this dramatic U-turn in hip ideology.
I can?t see thousands of acne-ridden American adolescent boys who spend too much time with their computers getting to take the Prom Queen to the dance just because they know their way around Active X. Just ask the opinion of the kids? real role models like Michael Jordan, Madonna and, of course, Bart Simpson.
Meanwhile, Novell recently announced poor results and laid off a lot of European staff. The talk here is about whether or not Novell CEO Eric Schmidt, who came from Sun last month, can save the vendor in the face of stiff competition.
In a very short time he has replaced most of the company?s middle management team and introduced a lot of changes to Novell?s culture.
After seeing him at the company?s Brainshare conference two months ago, I agreed with investors, customers and resellers, who all say he is a technically gifted man who can put Novell back at the top of the networking software market. He is coming up with innovative ideas and saying some sensible things.
For example, he admitted Novell?s marketing was useless and noted that its two biggest assets are Netware?s installed base and the resellers that sold the OS.
He even applauded the manufacturer?s loyal partners and resellers for sticking with Novell during its appalling last few years. Hear, hear.
That?s why, when announcing Novell?s recent poor results, it was such a shame that he made a point of blaming distributors? low sell-through rates for Novell?s fall in turnover. Tut tut. Sell-in does not equal sell-through and the company was slow to realise it has left its distributors holding large inventories, as customer demand has fallen.
Customer demand is generated by Novell?s marketing department, not wholesalers. Who, then, should be blamed for poor sales figures?
Overheard at Comdex Spring ? Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said he likes all types of music: Country and Western.
James Harding is US Editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco. He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 415 306 0879.
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