Category: Business

Ballmer defends working in China

The same day that table dancing expert Bill Gates claimed that Chinese internet censorship was “very limited”, delightfully understated Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer waded in to defend his company’s presence in China.

The shy and retiring CEO said that Microsoft had done business in China for more than 20 years. He said that Redmond intended to stay which means respecting the laws of China.

Ballmer said that Microsoft is opposed to restrictions on peaceful political expression, and we have conversations with governments to make our views known.

After all a conversation with Steve is enough to make anyone change their mind.

Ballmer’s comments came after Chinese state-run newspapers this week prominently quoted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates playing down China’s Internet censorship.

Under the headline “Bill Gates bats for China” the state-run Global Times used his comments to support its media blitz defending the country’s Internet regulation.

Gates was quoted as saying: “Fortunately the Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited”.

Although having said that, Gates also added that it was a doddle to get around the government controls.

However, he did say that different countries have different rules about censorship. So a big company has to decide if they want to obey the laws of the countries they are in or not.


iPad kindles debate about price of e-readers

While on the face of it the iPad offers more per dollar than Amazon’s Kindle DX, a snazzy gizmo that turns out to be a glorified e-reader is still way too expensive for the average woman or man.

And it also puts the spotlight on the dilemma book and print publishers face – a paperback book doesn’t require you to fork out $500 or £500, re-charge batteries, pay a fee to a carrier and worry about whether you’ll drop, lose or otherwise break a piece of electronic junk that will be obsolete in six months anyway.

Even with Harper Collins and Penguin on Apple’s side, the iPad is just way too much of a luxury for everyone except wealthy fashion victims. That’s not to say that the time of the e-reader is nigh, it’s just that it’s not nigh yet and won’t be until an electronic reader is bundled with books and the economies of scale mean the reader costs a few dollars, not a few hundreds.

The best analogy I can find for the book and the newspaper print industry is the one pioneered by Hewlett Packard for printers. A modern printer is a highly sophisticated piece of mechanics and electronics that doesn’t break the bank – instead HP and the rest make money from the ink or consumables that are needed to make the thing function.

Putting an iPad before the content it’s intended to carry to the reader is like putting a cart before the horse. An e-reader is a means to an end, and not the  end itself.

It’s clear that a combination of well orchestrated hype and the classy design we’ve come to expect from Apple means that the iPad beats contenders like the Amazon Kindle DX hands down – but someone who wants to read Stephen King or Ovid couldn’t care less about the technology and probably doesn’t want yet another gizmo to clutter up her or his life.

NatWest offers 24×7 TLA service

Not that the mighty NatWest Bank is being patronising or anything – its slogan is “Helpful Banking” and so it’s there to help.

When one of our readers was last on the online banking site to check the status of his account, he could tell just how helpful NatWest aims to be.

At the bottom left of his screen there’s a little button titled Help 24×7 – Got a question? We can help. NatWest generously gave an example of what you might like to know – the question being “What does POS mean?”

Tricky one that and one that its bank customers are likely to want to ask. We wonder what Nit means and whether the helpful bank will include that in its guide to TLAs (three letter acronyms).

Wipro backs giant tobacco company

Indian outsourcing outfit Wipro proudly proclaimed that it has struck a deal to  help British American Tobacco (BAT).

Wipro will deliver a global programme to BAT in 130 countries to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its global business operations, the company said in a press statement.

Smoking is banned in India in restaurants and bars and, presumably, inside Wipro outsourcing premises.

Wipro senior vice president Bhanu Murthy crowed about the deal. He said: “We are excited to be chosen for this transformational initiative at British American Tobacco. Wipro will bring in standardise processes, methodologies and governance to set British American Tobacco on a strategic cost optimisation path while ensuring a high level of service to the business and will participate in bringing in clear business benefits.”

No financial details of the outsourcing scheme were provided by Wipro. Wipro’s company guidelines are “Intensity to Win, Act with Sensitivity and Unyielding Integrity”.

Scott McNealy waves goodbye to Sun

Tough talking Scott McNealy, the co-founder and long-running leader of Sun Microsystems, has penned an email to staff who are set to become part of Oracle.

Under the subject line “Thanks for a great 28 years” McNealy said that it should have been Sun that was the great and surviving consolidator and not been eaten up by a bigger outfit.

However since he loved the market economy and capitalism more than he loved his company it probably did not matter.

McNealy said that he hoped America regains its love affair with capitalism. Although he admitted it had not done so well lately.

McNealy, gave up being CEO to Jonathan Schwartz in 2006, acknowledged making mistakes but overall said he was proud of the company and its “financial success,” including more than $200 billion in revenue over its independent existence.

The email in full says: 


When I interviewed many of you for employment at Sun over the years, one commitment often made was that things will change above, below, and around you faster than any place you have ever been. Looks like this was one area we exceeded plan for 28 years. While it was never the primary vision to be acquired by Oracle, it was always an interesting option. And this huge event is upon us now. Let’s all embrace it with all of the enthusiasm and class and talent that we have to offer.

This combination has the potential to put Sun, its people, and its technology at the center of yet another industry and game-changing inflection point. The opportunity is well-documented and articulated by Larry and the Oracle folks. Not much I can add on this score. This is a very powerful merger. And way better than some of the alternatives we were facing.

So what do I say to all of you, now this is happening?

It turns out that one simple message to the large and diverse Sun community is actually quite hard to craft. Even for a big mouth who is always ready with a clever quip. The community includes our resellers and customers, our current and former employees, their friends and families who supported our employees on their mission to change the industry, our investors, our supply and service partners, students and educators, and even our competitors with whom we often collaborated.

But let me try. Though nothing I could write comes close to matching the unbelievably strong and positive emotions I have for you all. See, I never was able to master dispassion. I truly loved starting, running, and living Sun. And the last four years have not been without serious withdrawal. And the EU approval rocked me more than it should have.

So, to be honest, this is not a note this founder wants to write. Sun, in my mind, should have been the great and surviving consolidator. But I love the market economy and capitalism more than I love my company.

And I sure “hope” America regains its love affair with capitalism. And except for the auto industry, financial industry, health care, and some other places (I digress), the invisible hand is doing its thing quite efficiently. So I am more than willing to accept this outcome.

And my hat is off to one of the greatest capitalists I have ever met, Larry Ellison. He will do well with the assets that Sun brings to Oracle.

What we did right and wrong at Sun over the years might make for interesting reading. However, I am not a book writer. I am a husband, father of four, and a builder and leader of people who want to make a difference.

But spare me a bit of nostalgia. Not of the mistakes we made, and lord knows I made a ton. But of the things we did right and well.

First and foremost, Sun innovated like crazy. We took it to the limit (see Eagles). And though we did not monetize our inventions as well as we could have, few companies have the track record in R&D that we had over the last 28 years. This made working at Sun really cool. Thanks to all of you inventors and risk takers who changed how we live.

Sun cared about its customers. Even more than we cared about our own company at times. We looked at our customer’s mission as more important than ours. Maybe we should have asked for more revenue in return, but our employees were always ready to help first. I love this about Sun, which I guess makes me a good capitalist, if not a great capitalist.

Sun did not cheat, lie, or break the rule of law or decency. While we enjoyed breaking the rules of conventional wisdom and archaic business practice, and for sure loved to win in the market, we did so with a solid reputation for integrity. Nearly three decades of competing without a notable incident of our folks going off course morally or legally. Not all executives and big companies are bad. Really. There are good companies out there. Special thanks to all of my employees for this. I never had to hide the newspaper in shame from my children.

Sun was a financial success. We paid billions in taxes, salaries, purchases, leases, training, and even lawyers and accountants for devastatingly cumbersome SOX and legal compliance (oops, more classic digression). Long-term and smart investors made billions in SUNW. And our customers generated revenue and savings using our equipment in countless ways. Many employees started families, bought homes, and put them through school while working at Sun. Our revenues over 28 years exceeded $200B. Few companies make it to the F200. We did. Nice.

Sun employees had way more fun than any other company. By far. From our dress code (“You must!”) to beer busts to our April Fools’ pranks to SunRise to our quiet enjoyment at night of a long, hard, well-done day of work, no company enjoyed “work” more than Sun. Thanks to all of our employees past and present for making Sun such a blast.

I could go on for a long time reminiscing about the good and great stuff we did at Sun, but just allow me one last one. We shared. Not the greatest attribute for a capitalist. But one I could not change and was not willing to change about Sun while I was in charge. We shared in the success of Sun with our resellers. With our employees through stock options, SunShare, beer busts, and the like (for as long as Congress would allow) and through our efforts to keep as many of them on board for as long as possible during the inevitable down cycles. With our partners through the Java Community Process, through our open-source collaborations, and licensing strategies. With our customers through our commitments to low barriers to exit. Sun was never just about us. It was about we. And that may be a bit of the reason we are where we are today.

But I have few regrets (see Sinatra’s “My Way”) and will always look back at Sun and its gang with only pride. Enormous pride. You are the best this industry ever had, though few outside of Sun recognized it.

And what we are about will live on in Sparc, Solaris, Java, our products, and our spirit. Well past everyone’s recollections of what we did together. I will never forget, though.

Oracle is getting a crown jewel of the technology industry. They will do great things with Sun. Do your best to support them, and keep the Sun spirit alive and well in the industry. Our children will be better for it.

Thanks for the off-the-charts support to everyone who ever carried a Sun badge, used our products, or helped our company through the years.

And thanks to my wonderful wife, Susan, who gave this desperado (see Eagles) a chance to choose the Queen of Hearts before it was too late.

Someday, hopefully, you will all get to see or meet her and my other life’s works named Maverick, Dakota, Colt, and Scout. If you do, perhaps you will understand why I stepped back from the CEO role four years ago. And why I feel like the luckiest guy in the whole world.

My best to all of you, and remember:

Kick butt and have fun!



Bill Gates Table Dances in Utah

Gossip magazines are all abuzz with the news that the world’s richest man has been seen table dancing Paris Hilton style at a party and even slipped a waitress a $500 tip.

Normally the Hollywood Gossip rags don’t get much material from a Microsoft sponsored do even if it is at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

But apparently according to the Post, Sir William Gates III was spotted “dancing, Paris (Hilton) style, on a banquette” until the wee small hours.  Unless they got the story wrong and he was playing a small Nintendo Wii on a table at a party.

Apparently everyone was snapping pictures of gyrating geek fists pumping until his security rushed him out the back door. The winner of the evening was no doubt the waitress who took home a $500 tip.

Gates has been everywhere over the last couple of weeks, tweeting and commenting on every world event that happens ranging from Italian politics to the years of Bush administration abuse. It is fair enough that a hard working geek such as himself lets himself go once in a while.

Dancing on tables is better than flinging them, which is the hobby of the Microsoft CEO. Either way his level 20 Dancing Queen can only follow the Apple co-founder Woz and score a slot on Come Dancing.


Steve Ballmer fails to make the Intel grade

The guys at the Consumer Electronics Show obviously wanted to find out if Steve Ballmer’s keynote made the grade.

Attendants were asked to fill in a questionnaire assessing the keynoters presentations.

One question was whether Steve “Shrinking Violet” Ballmer enhanced Intel’s corporate image.

We’re not entirely sure he enhanced Microsoft’s corporate image. It would be fun to see Paul Otellini from Intel presenting for Microsoft.

The SNAFU is pictured below.

Ballmer's presentation

Apple to harness power of solar cells

Chic mobile phone company Apple has filed a patent application which suggests that it has a notion to incorporate solar cell technology to charge devices it may or may not produce.

This is not, actually, a new idea, and area is very important for solar cells – a cell needs to accept the rays of Mr Sun up there and it all depends on how good power management is on the device.

Thankfully, power management is getting better and better all the time so because of Moore’s Law you need less area to soak up the rays of Suraj.

The patent, which is here, was filed in 2008 and the description suggests powering portable electronic devices using multiple solar cells – linked to the device, so the device can power up again.

Yes, we know that sometimes Surya, the Sun, shines in San Francisco except in the foggy bits. But in Cupertino the sun shines all the time, and that’s because Saint Steve Jobs has a direct line to Apollo. Or any other of the Sun gods up there, including Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison.

*EyeSee The Sun has seven horses, according to this page.

Gates hits out at Berlusconi's Italy

Bill Gates might well have joined Twitter last week but he’s capable of writing thousands of words as well as 140 characters and that’s what he’s just done in his 14 page second annual letter.

The letter is posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website and because Warren Buffett is a co-trustee, he’s been chatting him up about the state of the world economy and that.

Gates said that while the acute financial crisis is over, the economy is still weak and there will be “lingering unemployment” and big government debts.

That, he says, may well have an effect on aid budgets offered to the developing world by developed countries. Bill  Gates courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

He’s particularly scathing about Sylvio Berlusconi and Italy. “Italy was at the low end of European givers even before the Berlusconi government came in and cut the aid by over half, making them uniquely stingy among European donors.”

He’s met Berlusconi and tried to make the case for more support, but Sylvio probably wasn’t listening because he had other things on his mind no doubt somewhat related to girls and stuff.

Other countries, too, aren’t being that generous – he says that Russia, China and the rich oil countries give modestly.

Gates bases his assessment of aid as a percentage of gross domestic product and  judging by those critera, the USA comes out below Italy at 0.19 percent. However, the US is the biggest giver in absolute terms.

Gates is also worried that governments are increasing spending to reduce the effects of global warming will also have an impact on aid.

Most of the letter is concerned with projects that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is undertaking. Read it all, if you will, here.

China skews flat panel display market

Demand from the Chinese market will dramatically shift the balance of shipments over the next few years for flat panel displays of all types.

That’s according to a report from DisplaySearch, which said that while the market had reacted to demand from North America and Europe, most shipments happened in the second half of the year.

But the same type of seasonal buying isn’t true for the Chinese market, which continues to suck in displays of all types, whether for notebook PCs, TVs, monitors, mobile phones, cameras and GPS devices.

David Hsieh, VP of DisplaySearch, said: “China is changing because of the world, the world is also changing because of China.”

He said: “China’s influence on the FPD industry is changing the FPD cycle and reshaping the FPD supply chain, with increasing panel and product manufacturing shifting to China—creating fierce competition among Japan, Korea and Taiwanese panel suppliers to establish fabs. Together with different characteristics of FPD buying and consumer behavior, this shift makes China a land that is flooded with opportunities and risks.”

The peak shopping seasons in China like the New Year and the Golden Week in May are in the first half of the calendar year. That’s forcing brands and OEMs to pursue higher allocation in the first half to build inventories.

It also means that brands are concentrating new models launched in the first half of the year – that’s true for TV, PC and consumer electronics brands.

FPD demand – chart courtesy of DisplaySearch

Category 1H/2H 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
All flat panel displays 1H 45% 51% 44% 46% 46% 47% 47%
2H 55% 49% 56% 54% 54% 53% 53%
Large Area displays 1H 44% 52% 42% 47% 47% 47% 47%
2H 56% 48% 58% 53% 53% 53% 53%
Small/Medium displays 1H 45% 50% 44% 46% 46% 47% 47%
2H 55% 50% 56% 54% 54% 53% 53%
All TFT LCDs 1H 42% 49% 43% 46% 46% 46% 46%
2H 58% 51% 57% 54% 54% 54% 54%