Know when to talk, and when to pay


Here are some random observations on this week’s news.

Piracy. The software industry as we know it was formed largely on the ingenuity of hobbyists who started sharing code with each other in the 1970s – free of charge. Today, enterprise software licensing schemes can be unbelievably complex, and, at times, more than a little predatory. No argument here. And sure, the Gates and Ellisons of the world, being the top dogs, wear the black hats in this town, and everyone, everywhere likes to stick it to The Man now and then.

All true, and all irrelevant. Using software you didn’t pay for isn’t right. It’s stealing, plain and simple. Sure, the complexities of bulk software purchasing has left many well-intentioned companies using software illegally without even knowing it – software they need to get the job done. That still doesn’t make it right.

The group has definitely done its research, but claims by the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) that the country’s software retailers lost $289 million in sales, that $2 billion in wages evaporated, and that more than 32,000 jobs were lost over the course of 52 weeks due solely to software theft seems to me, well, rather high. Assuming it’s accurate, it’s still just a series of numbers that might impress CEOs but doesn’t hit home all that well for the rest of us, at least not to me. I suspect people won’t be deterred from stealing software out of a sense of civic responsibility. And nothing makes sympathy go away faster than wealthy multinational corporations telling Joe’s Hardware that it had better pay up for that extra word processor or face the music.

So make sure you’re compliant and watch out for too-good-to-be-true deals from dicey resellers. And CAAST, be careful not to get too focused on the numbers.

Sun cuts jobs. Normally I don’t comment on the financial picture or on corporate goings-on, but Sun’s recent announcement that it’s cutting 10 per cent of its workforce is grim, if hardly unique news. I note it because Scott McNealy was the first CEO in the tech industry, to my knowledge, who acknowledged that you had drastically reduced your IT spending.

A reporter asked him during a Unix server launch in New York what he was seeing from customers. I remember the moment clearly because instead of launching into a 20 minute wishy-washy explanation about cycles and what an exciting time it was, McNealy said spending had “gone off a cliff.” Two years later, the effects of that appear to have hit home at Sun.

Long time no see. Baan customers, who in Canada appear to be mostly in manufacturing, always struck me as pragmatic. They avoided the splashier sell (I attended a Baan user conference in Denver a few years back, so I know whereof I speak on that splashy thing) from higher-profile vendors and went for what they’ve always maintained was a reliable product. I can only assume that when Invensys bought the company 2001, it placed a gag order on the company that has never lifted since, so quiet has it become. Baan tried to grab some attention at its recent worldwide user conference in Europe, but customers seemed more nervous than anything, and analysts downright hostile, if reports are to be believed.

There’s nothing IT managers want to hear less from their vendors than silence.