Don Box blogs

Don Box has a blog at GotDotNet, the MS .NET evangelism site. It’s good to see someone at Microsoft, especially someone as high profile as Don, with a blog.

But Don, you need permalinks! I really want to link to some of your individual observations, rather than the main URL, but you don’t have any anchor links that will let me do that. Plus I don’t know what your archiving system looks like to allow me to link to content in a way that my links won’t break once the content leaves the main page. Fix it, won’t you? sideways smiley

Boomerang Year

I started writing this weblog this summer while I was in Seattle for an internship between my years at MIT Sloan. At the time, I thought the stay in Seattle would be just a summer, and I didn’t know when I’d return.

Now I know. Yesterday I signed an offer from the company I worked for this summer. I’ll be returning to the Seattle area after graduation.

It’s good, but strange, to have a semester and a half left of school and not have to worry about recruiting. Many of my friends have been in full blown panic job search mode since mid summer, when they found out from their investment banking or consulting firms that they wouldn’t receive offers after their internships ended. And our career development office calls us “unmotivated.” What gall. Would you line up to interview with a banking firm knowing it had turned down ten of your very gifted friends after a summer internship, just so that they could boast that they turned away one hundred applicants for each of the two vacancies they did have?

The CEO of DoubleClick spoke to one of my classes yesterday via videoconference. He stated he thought that there wouldn’t be a recovery until third or fourth quarter next year. “This is the worst year to have graduated with an MBA in the US, ever,” according to Chuck Lucier, the “chief growth officer” of Booz, Allen & Hamilton (as quoted in the Financial Times). And I’ll be moving to the other coast with a job. Mixed emotions abound.

Today’s music? In Metal, by Low:

Partly hate to see you grow
And just like your baby shoes
Wish I could keep your little body
In metal

Recurring Revenue

Today is going to be a good day. To quote whoever that guy was in Beck’s “Loser”: “I’m a driver, I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.” Thanks for the kind thoughts about the midterm yesterday. I think it went pretty well.

Today is a day for me to catch up. I have a ton of stuff to write for a project I’m doing on web services. It’s a pretty good team of folks: two technical Sloanies (including myself) and two MIT undergrads. One guy interned at Lotus; I was at another big software company this summer. Our mission: Where are the money making opportunities around web services? And are any of them sustainable as business models?

Originally I thought we were going to have some challenges in quantifying some of the more novel parts of the value chain. Then I saw this article about Microsoft’s rates for programmers to incorporate Hailstorm (also known as .NET My Services). What I find interesting is that these rates are much higher than the previous cost of entry for writing for Microsoft’s platforms, which was the license fee for a copy of Visual Basic. Apparently software as a service means billing the developers annually, not just the users.

I think this may fragment the development community. There are a lot of small developers who do this stuff for love, not money, who won’t be able to pay $1000 a year to include the My Services functionality. There are probably a lot of large developers who are prepared to ante up, but it’s not just large developers who make a platform. Where would the Windows platform be without WinZip or WinAmp or any of a dozen other indispensible software products?

Except. .NET is a software web services platform. And maybe the assumption is that providing a billable service requires a certain size of developer — and that the small developers won’t need to play on the platform. Somehow I don’t think that’s right.

Where Everyone (Wants to) Know Your Name

A few months ago, I wrote about single sign-in and why AOL and Microsoft are both trying to be the Internet’s major providers of it. Yesterday, Sun announced they were jumping on the bandwagon with digital identity services. It’s surprising that it took Sun as long as it did to come to the party, given their ambitions as an Internet platform company. Why did they wait so long? What’s so important about single sign-on?

When I was a programmer, I used to hate one thing about debugging my application: Every time I wanted to run it to test my code fixes, I had to type in my user name and password. We couldn’t do anything nifty at that point like tying it to some automated central login — the military still didn’t fully trust NT security, and half our user base was running on Windows 95 or 98, which weren’t designed to be bulletproof when it came to authenticating users.

So I did what any self respecting developer would do when he got a loud complaint from his user (me): I hacked my local code base so that it automatically supplied my username and password when I ran. Single sign-in, for sure–I was the only one who could sign-in.

There’s definitely a user benefit to only having to log on once to access information, even when you’re talking about logging into your computer and only one other system. But what about the web? Every merchant, chat room, vendor site, newspaper, whatever site in existence wants you to sign in somewhere. I calculated the other day that it takes visits to four web sites to pay our monthly bills on line. One of those sites, our bank, consolidates information from at least ten other billing agents behind its “single sign-in.” By doing that consolidation, our bank has reduced the number of user name and passwords that I have to remember from fourteen to four. Do they have my business for a long time? You bet.

Microsoft has announced part of its business strategy behind the .NET initiative. While it will be working with service providers across the Internet to deliver tons of value to the end customer, it will be the customer, as value recipient, who will pay for the service. This is probably good, since it avoids all the known bad business models (advertising supported services, VC funded free software, etc.) that have caused so many dot-coms to implode. But how does Microsoft convince customers that paying for these services is worth it? I think single sign-in is one of the benefits they’re betting that customers will pay for. And I think Sun just woke up and realized that a business shift is occurring, and they are about to miss it.

Popcorn, Peanuts, Cracker Jack, and BEER

Many thanks to my employers for the summer for getting me tickets to a Mariners game last night. While the team lost (one of only 32 times this summer, out of 115 games), it was still an amazing game — probably more so because we were on the first deck rather than up in the nosebleed seats.

Safeco Field, despite the name (who started this whole corporate naming trend, anyway? It’s pretty hideous. Candlestick Park is so much more evocative than 3 Com Park, even if the stadium is in bad shape), is a really great space. Only about three blocks from the water, there’s a great view out over the harbor from the outside and good local color provided by the trains that come by once or twice a game.

The only criticism I have is the beer. I like Alaskan Amber, but it’s the only drinkable draft that I could find in the ballpark (though Red Hook was available in bottles, part of the magic of the ballpark experience for me is draft beer outside). And it cost $6 a cup. Not only that, but they were serving Coors Light in 16-oz. cups, while you could only get 12 of Alaskan. I remember Camden Yards fondly: They had microbrew stands that carried a wide variety of regional beers at much more reasonable prices. Then again, they didn’t have the Number One Team in Baseball.

Tasty Medicine

Why do I obsess on the beer issue? It could have something to do with the fact that I don’t normally follow baseball. But the real reason is that it’s good for you! German and Czech medical research shows that beer lowers the risk of coronary heart disease by raising the levels of folate and vitamin B12 in the blood. While I don’t doubt that the German and Czech researchers had a subconscious stake in the results (what, you thought they’d recommend grappa?), I’m still going to be quoting this study for a long time.

Single Sign-In

Interesting reading today. AOL is now promoting its Screen Name Service as a single sign-in across multiple services and web sites. Sound familiar?

Single sign-in. Hard to believe as an end user that this is the next killer app that Microsoft and AOL are going to fight over. After all, isn’t instant messaging more important? Certainly to the end user it is…

But that may be the issue. It’s hard to make a case that single sign-in is a compelling technology for the end user. But it’s also hard to make the case that instant messaging has much of a business case around it, except as a feature that compels vendor platform loyalty. IM buys lock-in as long as IM platforms are proprietary and don’t interoperate. But it doesn’t do anything else for the platform vendor except drive a lot of headaches. Look at the collapse of the MSN messenging service a few weeks ago–an expensive public relations nightmare from something that doesn’t drive revenue. And I hesitate to think how much AOL spends on revving their protocol and platform so all the AOL clones out there break every month or two.

So what’s compelling about single sign-in for Microsoft and AOL? Microsoft’s Passport, as part of its Hailstorm services, is a big cornerstone of the .NET platform of value added services they’re rolling out on top of SOAP. It’s the authentication part of .NET — and the information store. You keep your information (as much of it as you want) in the service, and you have discretion about how other sites access it. AOL’s service is much the same.

There are some important differences between the services, or at least the way that they’re being rolled out. AOL’s sign-in services are limited to web sites; the Hailstorm service is supposed to be accessible across multiple devices, including Stinger, PocketPC, and the Xbox (I suppose for online gaming, although it might be useful for online registration too).

I think Microsoft is thinking bigger than AOL on this one. It’s already a few steps ahead. While it’s not clear how a web site can use AOL’s Screen Name Service to drive revenues, besides gaining customer loyalty, Microsoft’s got a whole new platform waiting in the wings that businesses can take advantage of to offer value added services to customers once they’ve signed in with Passport. Think all the wireless carriers, for instance, will turn down an opportunity to make additional revenue per subscriber? You haven’t been looking at their financial statements.

Dave Winer thinks that single sign-in is important too. His model places membership data in the cloud–allowing multiple players to host the information. I’ve heard that language from Microsoft too. Dave wants to take the work that AOL and others have done and unify it behind a common XML-RPC/SOAP interface. Here’s the $64 (million) question: is it enough to interoperate? Can distributed membership and preferences get enough momentum to become the de facto standard?

Eventually standard wars end. We are, for all intents and purposes, in a one-browser, one-client-OS world (although I use other browsers and other OSes, I’m not statistically significant). That happened because of the compelling benefits of being on one platform. I think single sign-in is going to be a major battle in the war for the next Internet platform.

Keeping Busy

Looking back over the past couple weeks, I realized I haven’t really said a lot about my day-to-day existence here in Washington State.

I’ve pretty much fallen into the groove here. Work typically doesn’t consume much more than eight or nine hours a day; commute chews up almost two hours a day, though. (Coming into work isn’t bad: I leave the house at 7:15 and get in around 7:45. But the return trip always takes forever.)

After hours most days I heat up some leftovers and read, listen to music, or try to teach myself Perl. Sadly, I have become addicted to a few television shows as well, specifically “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and most of the shows on the Food Network.

We interns typically have about one company-sponsored after work event a week. We also generally meet up for dinner and drinks after work on Friday. This weekend we’re doing a barbecue at the swank apartments where a number of the interns are staying (sadly, my digs are a little less elegant).

Which brings me to the point of this little missive: if anyone reading this knows the recipe for Yucca Flats (also known as just yucca), can you call please before 6 pm Pacific time? I’m going to wing it, and I’m terrified I’ll forget something …

What Am I Doing in Seattle?

I’m in Seattle this summer working as a strategic development intern at A Big Software Company in the area. Having been in consulting previously at a firm that did a lot of in-house software development, I kind of wanted to see what the product-only side of the fence was like.

It’s a little more difficult than I had anticipated–for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the job. For one thing, it’s difficult to be on the other side of the country from one’s family for a week, let alone 10. Non-obvious things get you, like the fact that you aren’t able to make most calls to the east coast past 7 PM for fear of waking someone up–and, given Seattle traffic, I generally don’t get home before 7 pm.

Then there’s that whole issue of family. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I haven’t seen my wife since the end of May. She’s coming to visit on Thursday night, so don’t expect any updates until Sunday…

But I’m having fun anyway as much as I can (if the earlier stories about concerts and beer didn’t make that clear). And Seattle is a really cool town. Although I could do without the sun coming up before 5 am–that’s really weird.