by Mike Altendorf

The emperor’s new clothes and other stories

May 31, 20115 mins
Data CenterIT StrategyMobile

It is ten years now since the bubble burst and it would appear that ten years is just about enough time for the market to forget every lesson it learnt from the sorry saga.

The announcement by Microsoft that is paying over $8 billion for Skype, a technology that doesn’t work properly should set some alarm bells ringing. I am not the only sceptic out there. To quote Warren Buffet, you should never confuse a consumer breakthrough with a business.

Sceptics will (perhaps quite rightly) see this as Microsoft taking the Chelsea Football Club approach. Essentially this means buying up anything you think might give you an advantage — that way even if you can’t use it, at least nobody else can.

Its not surprising that Microsoft is going that route when you consider that it is really struggling in the race to own our next generation web communications.

Looking over its shoulder at Facebook and Google the Microsoft leadership team must have considered the impact if either of them got hold of Skype.

And it isn’t just brands like Skype that are being caught in this tech bubble. Photo sharing social network Color is already being talked about as a $100 million company — despite being untried, let alone proven.

AInternet companies are starting to boom again, are we creating another tech or cloud bubble?

So we are back to the days of companies paying crazy money for innovations they have no idea what to do with, just in case they might amount to something useful or dangerous.

This is all very well for companies with pockets as deep as Microsoft’s (although its going to be hard keeping up with the wealthy pack, even so) but for others the game is over almost before it has started.

If the last decade was largely a straight fight between Microsoft and Apple this decade’s war, at least on the social front, will be between Google and Facebook. A war that, judging by Facebook’s confession last week is already getting nasty.

On the cloud front things look a little different. Here there are still a huge amount of companies — large and small — that could come to the fore.

I certainly wouldn’t dismiss Microsoft’s chances here. Indeed the growing new cloud application platforms servicing the new generation of handheld smart devices (phones and tablets) is in my view creating the new boom and inflating the bubble.

When it comes to the cloud however some big names seem to have given up already.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read about IBM’s latest attempt to reinvent Lotus. I honestly can’t see anyone falling for this particular emperor. Take a look at the front page of the site and count how many times the word collaboration is used — 16 last time I checked. We get it. So what?

If you take a look through the presentations and announcements around this year’s Lotusphere what is remarkable is the fact that it is so unremarkable. Aside from some interesting stuff (buried deep) on using recommendation engines and search tools to personalise enterprise information and data there is nothing new here.

Sorry IBM but putting Kevin Spacey (actor and producer of The Social Network) on your speaker list doesn’t hide the fact that essentially all you have done is decorated the proverbial pig not just with lipstick but with a tonne of rouge and eyeliner as well.

What the blurb on the Lotus site actually tells us is that IBM has finally thrown in the towel on email. Sad but true. Its inability to fend off competition on all sides meant that what was once a really good collaboration tool is now a dinosaur. An also-ran.

So where did it all go wrong? That fact is that, one by one, Lotus Notes was overtaken in each of the key areas for collaborative tools.

Microsoft may be struggling in the web communication space but Sharepoint is now the standard for collaborative platforms. is a growing force (if you pardon the pun) to be reckoned with in the application development space and when it comes to the desktop it’s a two horse race between Microsoft and Google.

IBM’s refusal to give up on Lotus puts it at a real disadvantage in the battle for domination in the Cloud. Simply reinventing old technology just won’t cut it and by clinging on IBM just looks desperate.

Why would anyone stay on a Lotus Notes server when there is so much choice and competition out there? Lotus fans will still talk up the battle between Notes and Exchange but actually this battle was won a long time ago and while IBM was busy focusing its attention on that, opportunities in other areas have passed it by.

So what does all this mean? I think what we are seeing is the passing of an age. The age of the dinosaurs perhaps.

Microsoft with its ownership of the desktop and deep pockets is still in the game but one by one the old guard are retiring hurt.

For the likes of Google however life at the top could be short. Google is already under pressure from the likes of Facebook and Amazon and there are no doubt many others waiting in the wings.