Channel Marker

December 17, 2007  11:20 AM

Vista: Worst product of ‘07?

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Here’s one story you could see coming down the pike: PC World names Vista the biggest tech disappointment of the year.

The subhead: “No Wow, No How.”

It’s not that the new Windows client is so bad, it’s just that it’s not good, opines PC World writer Dan Tynan.

Money quote:

“No wonder so many users are clinging to XP like shipwrecked sailors to a life raft, while others who made the upgrade are switching back. And when the fastest Vista notebook PC World has ever tested is an Apple MacBook Pro, there’s something deeply wrong with the universe.”

The full PC World  story is here.

Other technologies making this dubious achievement list: Municipal Wimax; social networking (hear, hear!); Microsoft Zune; Microsoft Office 2007. Is there a trend here? Oops! Apple Leopard is there too.

Here’s a prediction for 2008: There will be a raft of stories about how Vista, post SP1, really isn’t so bad. And maybe it is worth a look-see. After all, do we really have a choice? 

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at

December 10, 2007  8:44 AM

After CompUSA: Random thoughts on retail

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

The  imminent demise of CompUSA sparks a now-familiar debate over the viability of brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

That discussion should be buried: There will always be room for physical stores, although their nature will change over time. As always. (When I joined a channel book more than 15 years ago, one of my IT sources told me that the computer channel was disappearing but fast. “Why don’t you just join Buggy Whip Daily?” he asked. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.)

Naysayers today point to the deaths of retail music outlets as predicting the future of computer retail. A local example, Harvard Square was once home to nearly a half dozen big-time music stores. Now several staples — HMV, Tower Records — are long gone. But Newbury Comics remains.

During their going out of business sale, the HMV guys attributed their fate to the Internet.  Newbury Comics had the best prices, and maybe the best help. It also didn’t belong to a ginormous chain like the others.

As for CompUSA: It was once the trailblazer. It employed good people, it sold tons of stuff. It expanded. Maybe over expanded. It faded. There were management mistakes. Tougher competition from online and other chains all contributed. But just a year ago, NetSuite, the pioneer in ERP-as-a-service, forged an alliance with CompUSA to move more of its SaaS wares. Why would NetSuite-which ships no physical goods-ally with a retailer? Because CompUSA had local presence: Feet on the street. It also fielded a small cadre of people to support small businesses. Of course once the NetSuite deal was announced, no one heard any more about it, which probably means the results were underwhelming.

But look at the bigger picture. HP has displaced Dell as PC kingpin largely because of  HP’s retail presence and the fact that many people like to try and buy. To borrow Microsoft’s tortured phrase, a catalog is no replacement for the “user experience” of a well-lit, well-stocked, well-staffed retail outlet.

In my -admittedly small — anecdotal world, what happened to the CompUSA was Best Buy. A new store went in less than two miles away from the Brighton, Mass. CompUSA a few years ago. Best Buy hired young kids along with some severely over-qualified veterans to sell and support its goods. One of the help desk guys I dealt with had been a vice president of service at one of the local mini-computer companies. Yikes. The store thrives. In fact, the Gen Yers are so busy, it’s hard to get their attention. So my back up is Micro Center. Also jammed. Also well staffed.

Those Best Buy Gen Yers not only know their stuff, they seem to love it. In the last few years, the folks at the Market Street CompUSA could no longer be bothered with questions about software or even pointing out where a given SKU might be.

Still, within that two mile radius, Best Buy (and Micro Center) outclassed CompUSA. End of story. That store closed last year.

(Hey, Micro Center: What’s with the interrogation at check out? The cashiers won’t let you get out without giving up your first born (at least your phone number and vital stats.) One guy fled store in utter frustration — without his purchase — because the checker wouldn’t let him pay cash for his printer cartridge without getting his full workup. That woman had nothing on Mike Vrabel. Here’s a hint: Ease up or we’ll all go back to the lines at Best Buy.)

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at

December 7, 2007  11:27 AM

Dell gets partner religion (again)

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Well, credit Dell with putting on a  good show for solution providers with its most recent pledge to embrace the channel. Maybe the company will make good on its promises this time around but here are a few things to remember.

First, this whole Dell-vs.-the-channel thread isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems. I’ve talked with several resellers over the years who preferred dealing with Dell than with the allegedly more channel-friendly HP or other hardware vendors.  Many said that hardware margins were so thin anyway, they usually skipped that part of the sale unless the customer insisted. And in those cases, Dell was as good a choice as any. At least until Dell service woes surfaced so publicly.

And, many solution providers who had healthy hardware businesses a decade ago are now software-and-services only. That tells you something about the nature of competing not only with Dell but with CDW and other low-cost suppliers.

Let us not forget that Dell built its fortune on being great on logistics. It never led the field in great, creative, fun machines. Nor on service.  (I’m sure Michael would beg to differ–what would you expect?) But there’s nothing wrong with using a supplier who can drop-ship you a server or a PC but fast.

And another thing: Dell has had many enablers in its partner-bashing past.  You know who they are.  Big names. Like Oracle and Microsoft. When it was top dog, Dell got T&Cs from all of these guys–Intel too, I’d wager–that no one else could hope for.

Dell’s sales force types are no angels. Witness the tales of VARs who say the a strategicically gifted flat-panel TV to a customer exec spelled the difference between them and Dell winning a given deal. But is that sales force any worse than Oracle’s  or IBM Global Services in the enterprise arena? All of these vendors–including Microsoft– want account control for themselves. No partner can ever forget that.

So, let’s wait and see what happens with Dell’s new programs. But how hard is it going to be for any VAR battered by Dell in the past to start registering leads with the vendor now?

Most solution providers will tell you they see lead registration as a vendor tool for collecting customer info it later uses for its own (often direct) benefit. And Dell certainly didn’t patent that idea.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at

December 6, 2007  3:59 PM

Some storage trends that may shape solution providers’ 2008 plans

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

I keep forgetting how hard it is to take notes about a panel that I’m moderating myself. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. I picked up several compelling tidbits earlier this week during pretty much all the presentations at the Storage Strategies channel conference in San Francisco, hosted by the publisher of this blog, TechTarget.

Certainly, what I notice may be different than what you notice, but I offer up these 4 Storage Observations that may be worth some business planning research on the part of storage solution providers.

  1. Archiving vs. Backup (they are not one in the same): Tony Asaro, analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, observed during his presentation that 60 percent to 70 percent of all the data being stored on primary (read more expensive) storage devices actually is dormant within 90 days. So, there’s a very real differentiation between backup of files you might need promptly vs. archiving of files for compliance and strategic purposes. Here’s a deeper report on database archiving that the firm just released this week.
  2. The use of storage virtualization is on the rise: According to twice-annual buying intentions by Storage Magazine (also published by TechTarget), the last year has represented a breakthrough for storage virtualization. While 61 percent of storage managers HAD NOT virtualized any storage last spring, that number fell to 43 percent when the magazine ran its second survey of the year.
  3. Encryption is still underutilized: According to the Storage Magazine survey, close to 60 percent of the storage managers are not using encryption for their storage devices. This despite new compliance and litigation rules that seem to kick into effect every day.
  4. Buyers are looking for different skills in storage solution providers than in the past: According to the survey, about 20 percent of the buyers cited technical support and service as key factors in their storage purchases, with about the same number also pointing to a storage solution provider’s ability to provide other technologies as critical. So, there is a shift going on to favor integrated solutions rather than point products. Are you in a position to accommodate?

E-mailcomments and thoughts to Heather Clancy and we’ll have an online dialogue. I swear it will be MY priority to share your responses.Heather Clancy is a business journalist and communications consultant who has been following the high-tech channel for more than 18 years.

December 5, 2007  1:24 PM

Microsoft gets new Americas sales chief

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Microsoft’s filled a key sales post according to this IT World  story.The company tapped  Robert YoungJohns, formerly a Sun Microssytems exec and Callidus CEO, to lead North American Sales. 

 Two execs, Michael Park and Jens Winther Moberg had shared responsibilities for the nearly-9,000-person sales army since Bill Veghte took on business management and strategy form in February of this year.

YoungJohns officially reported for duty on Monday.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at

December 2, 2007  10:53 PM

Reller seques from biz apps to Windows

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Tami Reller is now CFO of Microsoft’s Platform & Services Division.

She retains her corporate vice president title and now reports to Kevin Johnson, president of PSD, according to an internal announcement made last week.

Reller, with her Great Plains roots, has long history with the company’s business applications. Platform and services encompasses the company’s Windows franchise.

For more click here 

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at   

November 28, 2007  5:24 PM

Write a business plan, do some soul searching

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

So, here’s the thing. Yesterday, I was reading a story in The Wall Street Journal about how plain old e-mail is becoming the next spam problem. And I had the realization: This story is SO all about me. For me, e-mail is a procrastination tool. I’ve been trained to justify jumping at every alert when I should be writing a story or, better yet given my employment status, developing a business plan. Being involved with the IT channel really promotes the rise of attention deficit disorder.

Note to self: Set certain hours to deal with my electronic inbox. This strategy actually has been used to good effect by my friend David Dadian, CEO of, who has set up an agent letting e-mailers know that he won’t focus on their messages until after hours because his focus needs to be on clients. If it’s a true emergency, the auto-responder contains information about how to escalate the problem. Score two for David: Not only does he restore some sanity to his work existence, but he lets his customers know that they are his most important priority during most of the day.

Earlier today, I caught up with a long-time VAR colleague. While we were chatting about e-commerce and business management issues, his four-month baby girl was crying in the background. Being a small-business owner, he often brings her to the office to share his day.

My friend, whom I’m not going to name because I didn’t ask his permission, has been doing the sort of soul-searching associated with a life event of the birth magnitude. He recently came to the conclusion that he needed to sit down and write a business plan for his company (even though we’re talking about a successful VAR who has been around for a number of years). Long story short: It’s been the hardest exercise he’s ever had to deal with as a manager, especially when he realized how unstructured his own day-to-day activities have been.

After I hung up the phone, I realized I was in the same boat. Earlier this week, my career counselor actually challenged me to write my own business plan. But I’ve been living so “of the moment,” I don’t even know where to start.

So, here’s my question: How many VARs actually have a business plan or credo by which they do business every day? I don’t even care if you’ve shown this plan to your banker or your board. But if you’re presented with 10 different emergencies, do you know which one should have priority attention simply because that’s what your company is attempting to accomplish? Is developing a plan easier if you’re marketing yourself as a managed services provider? For that matter, is a plan easier to write if you have hired a marketing executive? What advice would you give your peers out there in channel land? (Good or bad.)

E-mail me comments and thoughts to Heather Clancy and we’ll have an online dialogue. I swear it will be MY priority to share your responses.

Heather Clancy is a business journalist and communications consultant who has been following the high-tech channel for more than 18 years.

November 27, 2007  10:31 AM

Vista capable? Rrrrrrrriiiiiigggghhhhht…

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

You could see this one coming.

Two sets of plaintiffs are trying to make their lawsuit over Microsoft’s “Vista-capable” claims into a class action tiff.

Vista has hit more than it’s share of  bumps since general release early this year.

This just proves that with Microsoft’s claims, buyers better beware. Solution providers had long warned that even so-called “Vista capable” PCs might technically run Vista, but the experience would be anything but delightful. So much for underpromising.

Lesson? While dispensing “I told you so’s” to customers is never smart, this might be a time to remind them that you, not the vendor, should be their trusted advisor on new hardware-and software-purchases.  

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at   

November 25, 2007  9:45 PM

What’s Sinofsky up to?

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

 While many pundits have wondered about Ray Ozzie’s radio-silence, I’m more interested in what Steven Sinofsky’s been up to.

 Sinofsky is credited with driving Microsoft’s Office cash cow to market. Often and usually on time.  For years. That is no mean feat.

In 2006, after repeated delays to Vista, he was most pointedly moved over to the Windows group.

My interest was piqued anew by a recent flurry of posts about about the post-Vista life of the Windows client. Distinguished engineer Eric Traut was even caught on tape talking about a new slimmed down Windows core (“MinWin”, Windows Seven.)

A flurry of coverage touched on an ostensibly leaked “wish list” of features for MinWin or Windows 7 brings us back to Sinofsky.

He was quiet before his job change and he’s kept that up up. Sinofsky hasn’t updated his blog since taking the new job.

There has been one interesting Sinofskian post of late. A Microsoft program manager describes a session Sinofsky had–presumably for program managers.

Money Sinofsky quote: “I don’t know why Program Managers are called so, they don’t “Program” and they don’t “Manage”

This was construed as a joke, but who knows?

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area writer, can be reached at  

November 20, 2007  11:33 PM

Virtualization wave ruffles Microsoft foundation

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Microsoft proponents would definitely not agree, but the virtualization genie will make operating systems a lot less relevant.

Microsoft is pricing its  upcoming Hyper-V (aka Viridian) virtualization technology aggressively. I know that’s a shock. But the $28 they’ll charge for Hyper-V server is basically the price-cutting move the company has perfected over the years-with Office (bundling four or five apps for the price of two); undercutting Netscape with free Internet Explorer. Ya-de-ya-de-ya.

Microsoft’s purchase of Connectix (and later Softricity) gave it some virtualizaion know-how in what has become a classic ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ move.

One player in the application appliance market (hardly a dispassionate observer) summed up Microsoft’s move thus: “They want to make their hypervisor relevant and are making it practically free.  They’re thinking: ‘Good lord, how do we deal with VMware?’ It’s frightening the heck out of them. If you boot a hypervisor you’re not putting the operating system as the base layer,” he notes.

And that fact alone has big-time ramifications. The operating system–Windows–is the foundation of Microsoft’s stack.  “The hard thing for them to deal with is how to adjust to a business model where the ISV or the developer-not necessarily Microsoft– is the face to the customer. They do the life-cycle and licensing stuff.”

For partners, virtualization has been driving a ton of business as customers try to cut hardware and storage costs. The hope is that some of those savings may be funneled into system integration or custom app work. So solution providers should get their VM expertise in order.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area writer, can be reached at  

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