For the second year in a row venture-capitalist-aimed Red Herring, self-proclaimed â€œchronicler of the spectacular ascendancy of the technology industry,â€ brought its road show to Boston, self-proclaimed Athens of America. Boston is the birthplace of information-technology-centric venture capital but about as relative to the movement today as Athens is to culture. Everything really interesting in information technology (IT) has moved west or east. The history is nice but even the computer museum moved out to Silicon Valley.
So it was nice to pretend that we were in the center of action for a few days. That action came on three fronts: patent/intellectual property issues, open source software (OSS) trends, and the convergence of B2C and B2B. The issues all collide and overlap of course.
It was pure coincidence Iâ€™m sure that Marshall Phelps, Microsoft Deputy Counsel and IP guru, spoke at Red Herring Boston the day before the left wing of the OSS movement rolled out the third iteration of its GNU General Public License (GPL v3) at a venue on the other side of Boston Harbor. Linux is licensed under GPL v2. Phelps did not specifically mention the GPL or Linux but said large monolithic operating systemsâ€”and implicitly the licenses on which they dependâ€”are dead. I have felt for some time that the OSS movementâ€™s generals were fighting the last war. To hear a Microsoft exec speaking publicly that the end of the beginning is in progress was another proof point. Investors seem to already understand this, voting with their pocketbooks for opportunities in the next IT era.
The new era is all about content, the user experience and what a grey hair (I wish I had some) like me calls the convergence of B2B and B2C. Now that convergence is called social networking based on Web 3.0. A dozen or so startups premiered their elevator pitches at Red Herring Boston covering ways to help raise your kids, plan personal and corporate parties, collaborate on business intelligence requirements by eliminating that traditional IT bottleneckâ€”the guy who knows how the report writer software works. IT is becoming two way and the supply chain is becoming hybrid (product and service delivery) as we felt it would ten years ago in coining the term â€œsupply chain exchange.â€ Venture capital investing is all about patience and attending a conference like this reminds me that AR&D waited to get a return on its $70,000 investment in DEC. Thatâ€™s a little bit of that Boston VC history; AR&Dâ€™s return was $355 million.
To loop back to Microsoftâ€™s Phelpsâ€™ comments, the new license structure of course will be heavily Software as a Service (SaaS).
As for the OSS effect, open source software is heavily under the covers of the B2B-B2C ideas. While the OSS generals are thinking about strategies to move Linux on to the desktop, the desktop is disappearing to be replaced in the same was as the monolithic operating system by dozens of new form factors. The expressionâ€”â€œthink about if you could do such and such when you open your laptopâ€â€”was common. This was true even by those whose whole business plan is built around new appliances that will slowly depress the need for either desktops or laptops.
Of course, IT is not the only story in this town or at Red Herring any more. Half the conference was biotech and cleantech. As a hypochondriac that drives a 20-mpg pickup truck, I didnâ€™t attend any of those sessions.