IBM Buys Itself Back

Remember the old ads in the heyday of Big Blue that touted, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"? These days, you have to wonder if that includes IBM itself.

IBM has been on a tear lately, buying back stock to increase share earnings and give itself a bit more flexibility in how it distributes options. Since 1995, the company has reportedly spent $80 billion in buybacks. Its recent buyback binge is expected to reach $11.5 billion.

IBM is clearly trying to give itself a greater degree of fiduciary flexibility, but might these moves also signal a need for greater independence from shareholder desires and whims when it comes to the direction of the company and its priorities? What's your take on this type of corporate shuffling? What's your take on IBM in general? Has Big Blue been good for you? Let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

VeriSign Chief Quits
The CEO of VeriSign abruptly left the company yesterday, leaving staffers', analysts' and journalists' heads shaking and tongues wagging. Why the hasty departure? Where is he going? VeriSign would only say that Stratton Sclavos left after 12 years at the helm for "undisclosed reasons." Hmm. If it had been an amicable and agreeable situation, I have to wonder why VeriSign would offer the corporate equivalent of "no contest" or pleading the Fifth.

There were rumblings within the analyst community that there may have been disagreements between Sclavos and VeriSign's board of directors. There may have also been some fallout from stock shenanigans, although an internal VeriSign investigation revealed no intentional misstatements from the company's top brass. Nevertheless, VeriSign will be restating financial results dating back as far as 2001 to all the way up through 2006, and taking a multimillion charge to cover its questionable financial reporting. The stock-buying public didn't seem overly concerned by the news, as VeriSign's share prices had risen nearly 70 cents by Tuesday's closing bell.

What's your take on VeriSign? Do these events concern you? Are you holding a piece of the VeriSign pie? Tell me what you think at llow@redmondmag.com.

Microsoft Develops Touch Screen Table
And last but certainly not least for today, our buddies in Redmond have announced a "new" technology that's sure to take the world by storm -- a touch-screen, um, table. Sorry. I had a little trouble getting that out with a straight face.

Yes, Microsoft's touch-screen table, aptly dubbed Microsoft "Surface," is a 30-inch screen built into an acrylic tabletop. Cameras under the display detect a human touch. It's not typical touch-screen technology that uses a cross-grid of sensors, so it can simultaneously handle multiple contacts, according to product manager Jeff Gattis.

Microsoft is taking its typical long view of this type of platform: "We see this as a multibillion-dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a prepared statement. Microsoft unveiled the Surface at a conference in California yesterday.

Actually, I think I've already played with one of these things at a nightclub in Las Vegas. Could well have been, since the first customers reportedly coming to the Surface include Harrah's Entertainment and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.

So what do you think of the Surface and alternative computing platforms and technologies like this? Silly or serious? Useful or fanciful? Does this touch your life? Touch your keyboard to let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

Mailbag: Last Hurrah for Landlines?, More
Microsoft executive Tom Evslin recently predicted that landlines will disappear by 2013 in favor of wireless and fiber. Peter asked what readers thought -- and got a whole lot of incredulity in response:

Landlines going away? Absolutely ridiculous! The pitiful quality of current cell phone service (even in and near cities) will keep this from being a mainstream form of communication for an indefinite period to come. I have been a subscriber to Verizon, both landline and wireless, for many years, and the average clarity of the landline service is at least 10 times that of the wireless. I refuse to use the wireless for anything but brief contacts lasting one to two minutes at a time, as I get aggravated at the dropped pieces of a conversation.
-Tom

No landlines AT ALL by 2013? Look how long dial phones were around after touchtone became popular. To predict they would largely be gone is one thing, but the other is a long time. Besides, if we get a pandemic crisis, you may see people find out, to their dismay, that business-class high-speed access has precedence over consumer high-speed access.
-Tom

I live in one of those "vast rural areas" of our country. The people are outnumbered about 10 to 1 by cows. There is no fiscal incentive for the telecomm companies to expand or replace existing networks. Would I like to have high-speed fiber to my home? Sure, but I don't see it happening any time soon.
-Dan

I live in the Pacific Northwest. Here, you have obscure locations (I'm thinking of Stehekin, Wash.) that are tourist traps but lack the cell coverage. Heck, they actually have a generator that runs the town's lights -- forget about cell towers up there! If there's a Stehekin here, there's a Stehekin elsewhere. Those "last mile of service" laws on the books here in Washington will keep copper in the ground for a long time to come.
-Kimberly

With the experience of Hurricane Katrina fading from the minds of many, it's important to remember that the hurricane swept away much of the wireless infrastructure in the affected areas. Shortly thereafter, the power faded for the rest as the generators ran out of fuel.

With so much of the country subject to hurricanes or tornados and their awesome destructive force, it would be foolhardy to move to a reliance on wireless to support a critical communications infrastructure.
-Kevin

I would side with the fellow that says that given the investment in copper, it is unlikely you will see it vanish, at least not quickly. I worked for seven years with a major telco, and its investment in fiber to the neighborhood has been substantial (to enable higher bandwidth applications to be supported). A lot of progress has been made with the existing copper, and a LOT of capital has been invested in making things work as they are. I would be very surprised to see things vanish.

Exciting times do lie ahead, and I think the traditional landline will play a much smaller role. Besides, if you took voice off of that pair coming into your home, there's more bandwidth for everything else (look for traditional telcos to start offering it as a much more feasible alternative soon, without analog dial tone to the home).

VoIP over WiFi still has a ways to go, I think. Eventually, yes. 2013, probably not.

-Clinton

Last week, Peter reported on a new tool by Strangeloop Networks that promises to accelerate ASP.NET apps. Here's what some of you think:

The tool is no substitute for due diligence: analyze, estimate, test, assess, do-over. BUT, as an adjunct tool that assesses the real world on an ongoing basis far better (presumably) than a human being could, it could prove very valuable, especially if the changes it implements are factored into the original app's code.

If you have a small team, as we do, and this kind of tool is not cost-prohibitive, the knowledge base it implements likely amounts to at least the sum of the (small) team's tuning expertise and could give a rapid ROI while proving a source of education for developers.

If a Web app does have performance overseers, adding a tool will likely multiply effectiveness. If the tool proves highly adaptive and rapidly responds to changes, developer/administrator resources can be released for better things.
-Anonymous

Part of the appeal of a device like Strangeloop's has to be the economics. It may be more cost-effective and faster to slam in a piece of hardware than to pay for someone's time to optimize a single application. And if you have more than one application, you leverage the boost across those, too. With a skill set deficit and the number of poorly or hastily written ASP.NET applications that must be out there, this might appeal to the sliver-bullet crowd. Also, it's more of a fixed cost than another head count, and perhaps it comes from another budget.

Who knows? Developers and managers may see it as an 'out' from having to do the load testing and performance tuning. If there is that much potential performance gain to be had from an appliance, I would hope that those gains would ultimately make it into the ASP.NET and Windows server products themselves.
-Chris

What do you think? Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to llow@redmondmag.com.

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