October 21st, 2009

This blog is no longer being updated. Please visit my new blog, mkapor.posterous.com, or follow me on Twitter, @mkapor.

Does the President Need to Be a Techie?

September 10th, 2008

A painful lesson I learned a long time ago was not to entrust the leadership of a high-tech venture to someone who has no feel for technology — no matter what their other skills. Without an intuitive understanding based in experience of relevant dynamics, the risk of poor, or even fatal, decision-making grows dramatically. A high-tech CEO doesn’t have to be a software developer, but a venture is not well-served if he or she is so removed and uncomfortable with the basics that it’s necessary to rely entirely on others.

This was all brought to mind by the current controversy about John McCain’s self-proclaimed techno-illiteracy. Does it really matter?

I’d say yes, because US, as an advanced economy, has become a kind of high-tech venture. Technology is completely intertwined in every sector, and if you don’t have a feel for it, you’re going to wind up exercising poor judgment. So, not using (in fact, not knowing HOW to use) a Blackberry or a web browser does make a difference.

Barack Obama has a basic comfort with the Internet. He regularly Skypes with his daughters when he’s on the road (which is virtually all the time now). He’s on his Blackberry all the time.

Barack Obama is going to appoint a Chief Technology Officer. Policies in an Obama administration, whether in education or homeland security or any area, are more likely to take advantage of technological innovation and avoid pitfalls and be better policy for that.

I wish the same could be said of John McCain.

Don’t Panic

September 9th, 2008

Most of my friends and colleagues are visibly distressed up about the current state of the Presidential election. Looking at the most recent polls, they are afraid that an Obama victory that seemed likely is slipping away. Others are angry about Sarah Palin and her undeserved popularity.

This is a time to remain steadfast and focused. Don’t let the recent events knock you off balance or shake your faith.

Polls are inaccurate. The Palin honeymoon won’t last.

By all means contribute, and do more if you can. my.barackobama.com is a great jumping off point for volunteering.

And if you have friends or family in one of the battleground states (Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Nevada. etc.), make sure they register and urge them to vote.

The Gates Transition

June 21st, 2008

In an interview with the BBC which is being widely linked, I recently said “claims by Microsoft that people were buying their software because it was good are pretty self-serving.” The BBC didn’t run the rest of what I said about Microsoft’s success, probably because they were looking to find someone to set up opposite Bill. Fine. These days we have blogs, so here’s my unfiltered side of the story.

What I said to the BBC, as I’ve said on many occasions about Microsoft’s competitors, which was that 20-25 years ago none of us (Lotus included) applied the same combination of business and technical rigor as Microsoft, and we paid the price. Bill makes this point in his interview, and I agree. I also speculated that had Microsoft stayed inside the foul lines in its conduct it might well have triumphed anyway, but we’ll never know.

It’s classically Gatesian for Bill to emphasize how hard he tried to get Lotus to do a Windows version of 1-2-3 and omit entirely that he was leading Microsoft simultaneously in a massive effort to destroy Lotus 1-2-3 and all of the other competitive productivity applications he was evangelizing on behalf of Windows.

Lotus was in a tough spot in the transition from DOS, and neither strategy of supporting IBM OS/2 (which it did – though after my tenure at the company) or moving quickly to support Windows (which it did not) was a strong one. As I said, Microsoft had the strategic upper hand and the will to exercise it, through its control of the operating system and its knowledge of what to do with that advantage, while I was CEO (through 1985) and afterward.

I have tremendous respect for what Bill and Melinda have chosen to do with the great wealth that Microsoft afforded. The Gates Foundation is tackling some huge challenges in global health with courage, innovation, and persistence, the same qualities which represented Microsoft at its best. But it doesn’t mean that the great Gates fortune was acquired in an entirely fair way or that Bill should be held up uncritically as a model of a successful businessman for doing so. To do so is to rewrite history and endorse a way of doing business which is harmful both to consumers and markets.

To judge from his speech at the 2008 World Economic Forum, Bill has begun to rethink some of his business philosophy, motivated by an interest reducing global inequality. “Creative capitalism takes this interest in the fortunes of others and ties it to our interest in our own fortunes in ways that help advance both.”

As Bill completes his transition from being singularly focused on winning at business to solving global problems, including those caused or exacerbated by a win-at-all-costs mentality, a fitting close would be his taking responsibility for the ways Microsoft’s success failed to live up to the higher standard he now espouses.

Another 55-year-old White Woman for Obama

May 31st, 2008

As the Democrats approach the finish line for selecting a nominee, read this extremely sensible post by my esteemed wife, Freada Kapor Klein, published in the Huffington Post.


March 20th, 2008

Meetingboarding: (n) the sensation of being unable to breathe arising from continuous immersion in meeting after meeting

The Presumptive Close

February 24th, 2008

On Feb 22, 2008, at 5:40 PM, Xxxxx Yyyyy wrote:

Dear Mitch: I would like to meet with you to discuss Zzzzzzz, an early stage social networking website for KKKKKK.

I’d like your advice on:
1) Fund-raising
2) Partnering with other companies/individuals

We’re based in Silicon Valley. When would be a good time to meet for 30 mins?

Dear Xxxxx,

I’m not interested in this.

Have you considered that some people, myself included, are offended by the presumptive close technique you employ, when you ask when would be a good time to meet? You’re presuming that the issue on the table is when I want to meet, not whether I want to meet at all. If I wanted to answer in kind, I would say: “How about never? Does never work for you?”. But I’m not that rude.

– mitch

OSAF in Transition

January 11th, 2008

After six and a half years, I’m going to be ending my involvement with the Open Source Applications Foundation and the Chandler project. OSAF and Chandler will continue, as led by the extremely able Katie Parlante. You can read the official announcement on the Chandler Project blog.

When I conceived of the project in 2001, I had high aspirations for an innovative Personal Information Manager built around an open source model. We invited Scott Rosenberg, who was embarking on a book about why software is hard to make, to be an embedded journalist on our journey. His account of OSAF’s formative years, Dreaming in Code, captures the big vision as well as the many struggles to realize the it. By the end of 2005, the end of the period covered by the book, OSAF still had not produced any usable code.

Determined more than ever to produce something, we retrenched and cut back on the ambition level drastically. I stepped back from an operational role, while remaining Chair, and Katie became the project’s General Manager. In September of 2007, we released Chandler Preview. I have been happily using it as my sole calendar for half a year now.

Since the release of Preview, there’s been a lot of soul searching around 543 Howard St. Members of the core team felt strongly about proceeding to a 1.0 release and beyond. Personally, I felt the time had come for me to move on and focus on other projects.

I’m proud of everyone who worked on the project, their persistence, and their contributions. Besides Chandler itself, OSAF was the birthplace of CalDAV, which is emerging as the standard for calendar coordination across multiple clients and servers. OSAF also served as the fiscal sponsor for the Mozilla Foundation between its spinout from AOL/Netscape and when it secured its own tax-exempt non-profit status. In that respect, it played a small but important role in the great Firefox success story.

The fact we did not produce what I had originally envisioned, should not detract from the value of what has actually been done so far nor should it detract from the possibilities for the future. I take responsibility for failing, early on, to match OSAF’s idealism with proportional pragmatism. It’s been a good and valuable lesson to learn and apply.

I spoke to one reporter who asked what my reaction was to bloggers “throwing dirt on the bones of the project”. I said, “that’s the job of the blogosphere, to be outrageously outspoken about everything. Bloggers are sometimes mistaken, but never in doubt.”

Leveling the Playing Field in Education: SF Chronicle Op-Ed

November 4th, 2007

Freada and I have an op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle titled Early admissions policies give children of the rich an edge. The premise is that a world in which some parents can afford to spend $40,000 to hire a coach to get their child into an elite college is not a world where all children have equal opportunities to make the most of their potential. The new idea we raise in the piece is a proposal about bringing greater transparency to the college admissions process.

Benefit for Film about ENIAC’s Women Programmers

October 31st, 2007

A number of years ago, I helped support early work on a documentary film about the first modern computer programmers, the team of women who programmed the ENIAC computer during World War II. This is an untold story which deserves much wider exposure.

There’s going to be a documentary fundraiser on Thursday, November 8 at Google with Kathy Kleiman, the film’s executive producer, and Jean Bartik, an original ENIAC programmer.

Tickets are $100, and the location is:

Google Headquarters
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Link to the event

Link to info about the ENIAC Programmer’s Project