Historical notes on software titan Microsoft. Related subjects include:

April 29, 2013

DBMS acquisitions

Recently I expressed doubts about Actian’s DBMS-conglomerate growth strategy. For context, perhaps I should review other DBMS vendors’ acquisition strategies in the past. Some — quite a few — worked out well; others — including many too minor to list — did not.

In the pre-relational days, it was common practice to buy products that hadn’t succeeded yet, and grow with them. Often these were programs written at enterprises, rather than third-party packages. Most of Cullinet’s product line, including its flagship DBMS IDMS, was came into the company that way. ADR, if memory serves, acquired the tiny vendor who created DATACOM/DB.

Then things slowed down. A Canadian insurance company oddly bought Computer Corporation of America, to utter non-success. (At least I got an investment banking finder’s fee on the deal.) Computer Associates, which did brilliantly in acquiring computer operations software, had a much rockier time with DBMS. It acquired Cullinet, Applied Data Research, and ASK/Ingres — among others — and didn’t have much growth or other joy with any of them.

Indeed, Ingres has been acquired three times, and hasn’t accomplished much for any of the acquirers (ASK, Computer Associates, Actian).

I used to think that Oracle’s acquisition of RDB provided key pieces of what became Oracle’s own extensibility technology. Andy Mendelsohn, however, disputed this vehemently — at least by his standards of vehemence — and his sources are better than mine. Rather, I now believe as I wrote in 2011:

… while Oracle’s track record with standalone DBMS acquisitions is admirable (DEC RDB, MySQL, etc.), Oracle’s track record of integrating DBMS acquisitions into the Oracle product itself is not so good. (Express? Essbase? The text product line? None of that has gone particularly well.)

Experiences were similar for some other relational DBMS pioneers.  Read more

April 25, 2009

WSJ article on Bill Gates’ family, and other stories

The Wall Street Journal offers an article on Bill Gates’ family, specifically his relationship with his parents.  It rings true to me.  I only met Bill’s parents once, at a black tie party at Ann Winblad’s house in 1986.

That’s the party where Bill yelled at me that Microsoft would beat Lotus because Lotus didn’t know how to develop software. It’s also the one where I got up to address the party-goers and started  with words to the effect “There are two things you need to recall about Ann. First, she has a lot of confidence in the abilities of her friends.  Second, she’s somewhat perverse.” But I digress …

Anyhow, my take on Bill’s parents at the time was that his mother was sweet, warm, helpful, etc., while his father was a somewhat uptight stereotypical white-shoe WASP. The article doesn’t contradict any of that, but suggests further dynamics that round out the picture, and which are quite consistent with the reporting all along of Bill Sr. as being quite the good guy.

As for the party: There was a major Impressionist art exhibit in San Francisco that year, so Ann decided to have a party in connection with it, cohosted by our mutual friend Rosann Stach. 18 couples, black tie, catered, valet parking, with minibuses to take us to the actual exhibit and back at some point.  I was tasked to come up with “Impressionist music”, which I solved by calling up a college girlfriend who was an orchestra conductor, and is why Gabriel Faure’ wound up being very high on my list of favorite composers.

My new girlfriend and I also had dinner w/ Ann and Rosann the night before, when the seating chart was being worked out.  (With many more friends in the SF area than back where I lived in NYC, I had the habit of taking a new girlfriend along on a business trip to meet my friends.  Ann was particularly pleased in this case, as my backup choice of a party date would have been an ex-girlfriend of Bill’s …)

Ann decided that before dessert the men (Or was it the women? I forget now.) would all get up and go sit somewhere else, with their new companion to be indicated on the placecards.  I had the bright idea to, instead of naming the companion, put a riddle about the companion’s identity, that one would either know or could surely answer w/ the help of the other guests. (Some spouses aside, the guests were generally people who knew a fair amount about each other — the ones I’ve named, plus Cristina Morgan, John Doerr, Jerry Kaplan, Will Hearst, and so on.) And thus it became my task to explain the challenge to the guests at the appropriate time … hence my opening remarks quoted above.

January 16, 2008

At least somebody remembers his history

I’m going through a ton of MySQL-related blog posts right now, for obvious reasons. I ran across one from last month in which MySQL’s senior execs said ridiculous things about industry history, such as Microsoft started as an OS company or Microsoft didn’t think much about its business model when it started out. Fortunately, the interviewer — Brier Dudley — knew better, and quickly sent them on a ferocious backpedal. Hats off to him!

May 29, 2007

Tom Evslin on Microsoft

Since I’m not finding the time to post my own stuff here, let me at least link to other people’s.

Tom Evslin has several posts about meetings with Microsoft and so on. It all jibes with my perceptions of the company in the same era.

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