The departed

As this is the month His Billness finally stepped down from Microsoft, it was tempting to write a piece about his impact on the industry, and how the company will fare without him. Then I decided “dammit, I can’t be bothered”. But hindsight is both a wonderful and terrible thing, and history will judge him far better for his future philanthropic ventures than for his past skills as a business leader.

The departed

Microsoft has made a lot of scarily bad decisions, and Gates was either responsible for them or not. And if not, then he still appointed the managers who were. Now I’ll accept that it’s a point to consider whether it was a good idea to do Xbox – the platform is certainly strong and it has its followers, but will it ever go into profit? And Zune? Or the mess that is Office 2008 for Mac. Certainly, these are small items in a very big picture, but look at the disappointment that Vista has turned into. Was Gates really at the helm for those decisions, or was this someone else’s call? I have my suspicions, which take the heat off Gates, but is that good enough?

Anyway, this is starting to turn into a piece about Bill’s departure after all, which wasn’t what I intended. I still hold firm to my prediction that Microsoft will be retreating back into its core business of enterprise and server technologies by 2011. All the “Live” stuff is wonderful “jam tomorrow” – which offers much and delivers little today. And where it is delivering, there’s super-fierce competition from other huge players such as Google. Is this sustainable? I’d like to believe so, but there’s a nagging headache that it won’t wash in the long term, and users simply won’t want to engage with this stuff in a big way.

But let’s move on to the meat of this month’s column, the take-up of Server 2008 family products. Where it’s possible to influence decision making, it’s clear that getting the management software infrastructure into place is a much better idea than launching headlong into a wholesale virtualisation strategy. Of course, VMs are good things, but only on the back of a properly managed infrastructure. Unfortunately for Microsoft, this is pushing back deployment of Server 2008 even further, despite the arrival of the final version of HyperV.

Getting more value from your computing infrastructure is definitely the flavour of these recent lean months. Hardware is being replaced only on an “as-needed” basis, and there’s little interest in large rip-and-replace efforts. One way to get more value is to look to other technologies that could benefit from IT infrastructure integration. And at this point, your eyes alight upon that large grey box that’s screwed to the wall, which cost a fortune to buy, consumes another fortune in maintenance contracts, and all it does is run your telephones. Yes, even the telephone switch is coming under attack.

I was driven to this discovery in my own lab. The power supply capacitors in my ancient small analogue phone switch had finally decided to give up the ghost, so all my phone calls were now mixed with a groovy 50Hz hum, and distortion overtones that made hearing conversations quite difficult. Something had to be done.

The obvious answer was to slap in a new analogue phone switch. Panasonic has quite a reputation in this area, but a quick web browse showed that the instruction manual ran to hundreds of pages of gobbledegook. And, worse still, was I really sure that enough of the six wires had been wired into each socket?

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