The Bloor Perspective: C&W thinks big, Silicon Valley thinks young, and gadgets get Linux

In their latest assessment of three of the week's big issues, Robin Bloor and his colleagues consider Cable and Wireless' latest acquisitions, age discrimination at the heart of high-tech, and Japanese consumer electronics firms embracing Linux.

In their latest assessment of three of the week's big issues, Robin Bloor and his colleagues consider Cable and Wireless' latest acquisitions, age discrimination at the heart of high-tech, and Japanese consumer electronics firms embracing Linux.

*C&W on a roll* Cable and Wireless (C&W) has continued its relentless pursuit of businesses as part of its strategy of setting up a global IP network in all major geographical locations. It has just spent another $100m - bringing its total in Europe to $650m - on the acquisition of five privately held internet businesses to strengthen its position in the continent. This means that C&W will be able to provide internet access, web design, ecommerce, co-location and web hosting services across Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. All of these services will be linked into the global high capacity IP backbone network it has been constructing for some time. These acquisitions join another 16 made throughout 2000 and follow recent announcements of a major hosting centre in Swindon, UK and a partnership with Nokia. All of this is a part of an overall strategy to deliver a 9.6Gigabits IP network across more than 200 major cities by 2002. Included within this strategy is a move towards application hosting through partnerships with Compaq and Microsoft. In addition to the acquisition of existing ISP businesses to ensure complete coverage, it is also acquiring skills in web design and development that will be used to build up its ASP business as well as provide the usual third party services. These are exciting times for C&W. It has some of the largest data centres in the world and is building one of the biggest backbone networks. It has taken some time for it to establish itself as a major player in the provision of online services for businesses - partly because of its weaknesses in Europe. Now it is poised to be a much more powerful force and, as it integrates the 22 acquisitions into a coherent force and completes its global network by 2002, that strength will become more obvious. *That age-old problem* There is much talk in Silicon Valley at the moment about age discrimination. A number of 'old hands' have been turned away from young, thrusting start-ups on the basis that they would not be a 'good fit'. Clearly employers must be free to take into account how well a candidate would get along with the existing workforce, but the concern is that this relies on a very subjective value judgement and that's what's sparked the debate. Gary Law, VP of Sunnyvale-based Brightlink Networks, is reported to have said: "If there is discrimination going on, I would suspect in Silicon Valley it has less to do with the person's age and more to do with how well someone interviewing them feels they would fit into a fast-paced environment." Of course you could turn this whole thing on its head and reconsider whose problem this really is. The failure rate amongst start-ups in the IT and dot-com sectors is frighteningly high, not just in Silicon Valley but everywhere. Very often this failure comes about purely through lack of experience. Take sales and marketing. It is common for newcomers to bring products and services to market with the barest understanding of whom they are trying to sell to and why that audience would buy. Analysts like Bloor Research are too often presented with briefings from new companies who are going to conquer the world, but crumble when cross-examined on even the basics of how they are going to do it. Dot-coms are crashing and burning because they don't have the experience on board to plan and execute in a sensible well-balanced manner. The focus is all on getting that new customer, who then has a bad experience and moves off to a competitor because no one has thought through how to service them. These are basic errors. Whether there really is age discrimination in Silicon Valley is difficult to tell. It is clear, however, that many IT and dot-com start-ups could do with a serious injection of experience in many parts of their business. Fast-paced is all well and good, but without a map and an experienced crew and navigator, it is all too easy to accelerate off into oblivion. Power to the wrinklies. *Consumer Linux* Linux will not conquer the desktop or the laptop, but will win on embedded devices. This isn't idle speculation. When a significant number of electronics manufacturers from the world centre of such products line up behind Linux, then the rest of us should take note. Linux isn't necessarily doomed on the desktop. Indeed, it might well have faced a rosy future if it wasn't for the question: "What is the point?" The world has already chosen an operating system and hardware architecture which, whatever its faults, is proving adequate for most uses. Linux will not succeed on the desktop any more than, say, Windows 2000 - neither gives a user sufficient additional value to merit the swap. On embedded devices, however, we can see a different story. How different the world appears when companies like Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Sony Toshiba and so on - 23 of them in all - back the operating system. The message is clear: Linux is a perfectly adequate operating system for us to use in our devices. So much so, that we want to work together to make it even better. Sony has been one of the loudest advocates of Linux. It has announced its support for the Linux-based TiVo video appliance, which can store up to 30 hours of TV programming. The obvious attraction is cost - apart from the research and development investment, there are no charges for licensing Linux which brings down product costs significantly (compared to licensing, say, Microsoft or Palm products). The second reason is simply that of choosing what everyone else is using. This is what makes it clear that embedded Linux is being taken seriously - everyone is doing it. There may also be an element of Japan trying to leapfrog the US software industry, an industry in which it has only had limited success in the past. There is one other consequence of the Linux move. Leaving the PC industry aside, electronics companies have traditionally taken proprietary approaches to platforms - for example Nintendo, Sega and Sony guarding their own platforms for their own games. With Linux at the core we may see an opening up of such platforms, with differentiation based on brand and functionality rather than on available software. Whatever happens, there can be no doubt that Linux has won over a large and powerful proportion of the electronics industry. It may not win on the desktop, but given its huge potential elsewhere - plus the potential for embedded devices to put the squeeze on desktop computers - it is unlikely to be too upset. * Further analysis is available at http://www.it-director.com