Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Robert Cringely blasts Memristor 'Vaporware'

Robert Cringely (pseudonym) is well known in the Valley, and in general very well respected for calling it 'like it is'     He historically was a huge HP fan, a fervor dissipated over the parade of CEOs in recent years.  I missed this article in June, but one of our readers pointed it out the other day.  It is angry, dismissive, and perhaps right--time will tell.  But at the least, it is worth reading:

By  | InfoWorldHewlett-Packard has gone and hit it -- the culmination of computing, the pinnacle of processing, the apex of annoyingness. It's solved all our computing problems with the most insightful and provocative move it's made since its VP of Vision passed on the Mac in the mid-'70s. I'm glad I lived to see it.
In fact, HP's news is so groundbreaking, it takes me straight back to the mid-'90s, when I sat through a similar announcement by NetWare executives somewhere in the badlands -- maybe Provo? -- to announce a supposedly soon-to-shake-the-earth, splendiferous project called SuperNOS. Though mostly wondering where they'd hid the open bar, I was mildly interested in what the heck SuperNOS might be. After all, that was my job, and I was nothing if not professional. Finally, a canyon-dwelling lab geek got up to explain, even as he was trembling like a banjo.
[ For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]
Back then NetWare still differentiated between a PC OS and a network OS. But every competitor, including HP, IBM, and especially that annoying Windows NT, was hot to move in on the company's 80-plus percent market share. Even the techno hermits in Utah knew they had to do something.
Remember SuperNOS? No one else does either
SuperNOS was the answer, combining the fabulousness of NetWare with the unshakable Unixness of UnixWare. The list of future benefits was long and distinguished, but apparently harder to build than NetWare thought. It gave up and sold the whole shamble to SCO in 1995, and we all know how that ended. It didn't matter anyway. Soon after, Linus Torvalds glanced up from his CRT long enough to make "open source" a household phrase and kicked SuperNOS, NetWare, and Darl McBride to the margins of computing history.
The lesson hasn't daunted the marketing brains at HP. If no one's paying attention to you, make some wild press announcements you can almost-maybe back up and enjoy the tweet spikes. Thus, HP has unveiled "The Machine," which boils down to a vision currently in little lab pieces glued together with promises reminiscent of that wonderful SuperNOS announcement so many years ago. According to HP, The Machine is a revolution in computing that will solve all our problems while finally satiating Meg Whitman's need for 80 percent margins.
The contraption will supposedly use fiber optics, memristors, and earnest prayer to increase bandwidth and push processing speed forward in big ol' leaps by essentially doing away with slow disks and moving to a memory-driven I/O system at the OS layer -- I think. I'd partaken of too much "milk" by the time they got to that. The best part? The operating layer is -- wait for it -- an open source-based OS that has yet to be developed.
HP: Breaking new ground in meaningless promises
That's all you got? It's a hardware platform stuffed with cool components you haven't actually integrated yet and an open source operating system tagged with a "coming soon" sign? How desperate for PR are you? Apparently quite a bit, because HP's using these lab avowals to make even bigger promises about how The Machine will eventually be capable of analyzing reams of big data in seconds or handling simultaneous chat sessions between multinational sports teams rejecting Steve Ballmer's overtures. Color me skeptical.
Sure, starting all over again from silicon on up would be a great opportunity to do away with all the PC OS Band-Aids we've had to apply since Wozniak first emerged from his garage, but that'll take more customers than HP has seen since this side of the Compaq years. That won't happen anyway if you're going to base the thing on pre-existing open source code snippets -- pretty much the definition of "Band-Aid." Also, Big Blue has been shipping a similar memory-based OS since the '80s, and I don't see that changing our lives.
This is, after all, coming from the same people who invented the revolutionary RISC chip and have remained on the bleeding edge of OS design with HP-UX and VMS. Ten gets you 20 that Linuxians will eat this, too, and have a Machine-capable distro out before HP's fantasy OS even hits beta.
This article, "Hewlett-Packard's 'Machine': Vaporware, meet empty suit," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry withRobert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.


Steve Blair said...

Dear Chuck (I could not find an email address for you and am sending this as a moderated comment),
I recently discovered and enjoyed your HP Phenomena book and blog, and want to say hello and thank you, and to give a brief update on me. I joined your team under Bob Grady in 1984 from DSD as a SW engineer/architect for DTS (“defect tracking system”) that eventually deployed company wide. Subsequently I worked on a number of Unix and PC-based productivity tools while at Deer Creek Road. Bob Dea and I still stay in contact. After receiving my MBA from Santa Clara in 1990 I left HP, unfortunately several months before Dave came back to straighten things out. In Seattle I held product management positions for several small companies (including Paul Allen’s Asymetrix working with ToolBook) before joining Microsoft as a product line manager. I left in 2000, started a web-based development and consulting company and in 2009 received my JD degree. I now have an Intellectual Property law practice (WA and CA) at Seed Intellectual Property PLLC, focusing on patent prosecution, litigation, licensing and startup counseling. Fortunately, it is still an exciting time to be active in the software industry.

I look forward to keeping up with the initiatives and activities you are involved in. Please give my best to Jenny and to Ray.

Best Wishes,

Steve Blair

chuck said...

Steve, nice to hear from you. Blog posts are fine, I prefer them but most readers send me email instead. Yes, I remember you, and it is great to hear of your continued development and success! A JD degree, that is a superb career shift. Howard Charney, now at Cisco, had a similar path, I believe.

I am at