December 2009 Archives

Y2K, C2Net, HKS and Red Hat

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In November of 1999 I had over a year of work as a professional programmer under my belt working for C2Net Software. It had been a bit of a bumpy ride, by the end of 1999 I had already been hired, laid-off, hired as a consultant and rehired as an employee.

Given the personal struggle and the fact that I worked for an "Internet company", I had a bit of remote detachment about Y2K. But by November 1999, even C2Net was in the mist of Y2K preparations, internally and externally.

Externally plenty of customers had, as part of their own Y2K compliance efforts, started seeking us out long before November to verify that our main product, the Stronghold Web Server, was Y2K safe. The concern being that plenty of elements about managing web traffic require proper handling of date and time information, from the underlying network protocols to creation of unique session identifiers. The good news was that Stronghold, was a packaged and commercially distributed version of the Apache Web Server, which was indeed Y2K compliant, thanks to its many developers.

While most customers went away content with a signed letter of compliance, I remember our Sales and Marketing VP asking me if I wanted to go to NYC on behalf of client and be available if anything went wrong. Basically, since Stronghold was in the clear and any web application the system was running would have been outside of our domain - I was being asked if I wanted an all expense paid trip from San Francisco to New York City to witnesses the ball drop in Time Square for the new millennium1. Naturally, I declined2.

Internally, the biggest worry I had was dealing with our online credit card processing system. First off, the virtual terminal program we had was running on Windows 98, which itself was not Y2K compliant.

However, the bigger problem was the credit card processing software, ICVerify. Today there are plenty of solutions for processing credit card purchases, in real-time, online, from do it yourself solutions such as MainStreet Softworks' Monetra to all-in-one solutions such as Google's Checkout. But in 1999, while a number of virtual terminal solutions, such as ICVerify existed, for processing credit cards "by hand", few solutions existed for processing credit cards automatically, online.

In fact the only reason C2Net's system did real time transaction3 was because ICVerify had been hacked in such as way as to process transactions via a secured network connection. The best part of the situation, like many other Y2K issues, was that the person(s) who had created the "solution" no longer worked for the company, as everyone at the company had been adversely affected by the previous year's corporate turmoil, as I had.

Patching Windows 98 would hardly solve the problem and since no one with the company understood the ICVerify hack completely, it was unknown if patching it would adversely affect our main method for selling Stronghold within the United States.

Given that Stronghold was a commercially distributed version of Apache and Apache at that time was built for Unix (POSIX) based systems, the main requirement, besides real-time processing, was the ability to run along with our custom ecommerce system built using FreeBSD, Stronghold and PHP. That left us with one viable solution, Hell's Kitchen's4 (HKS) CCVS.

By December of 1999 I had already identified CCVS as our would-be solution, to the point that I had actually purchased it on behalf of C2Net and had started developing the replacement credit card processing solution. Doing so had me in contract with a couple of primary individuals at HKS, including the founder, Todd Masco, who must of had his hands full with a few other people, such as myself, rushing to replace their credit card processing systems before the new year. Despite that I don't recall not being able to reach Todd or Doug DeJulio when needed.


Last Remaining Share
Last Remaining Share


That in and of itself endeared me to HKS, but little did I know at the time that wasn't going to be the half of it. While I recall missing the end of the year deadline for getting our new payment system operational by a week (or so), I was hardly in the thick of it. In fact, if anything Todd, Doug and HKS had most certainly had it much worst. For besides the presumed end of the millennium rush to update transaction systems across the nation, in the first week of 2000 the public announcement was made, Red Hat had acquired HKS.

The folks at HKS really had played it cool.

Now here is where things get a bit interesting, the main selling point of Stronghold was that it was a full distribution of the Apache Web Server that included the commercial right to use the encryption technology that allows for secure web transactions, thus allowing one to built solutions such as our custom ecommerce system. As mentioned Stronghold, by way of Apache, was a POSIX based application that ran on systems such as FreeBSD, Sun Solaris and on a the new, up-and-coming operating system Linux which was (and still is) favored by Red Hat. CCVS was a POSIX based credit card processing system.

All of which meant that by the summer of 2000 I received a friendly phone call from Todd, now of course at Red Hat, looking to build contacts at C2Net with regards to possible partnership.

Now it was my turn to play to cool.

Given, in part, the issues at C2Net over the previous year the majority owner of the company was looking to sell and by late spring/early summer the whole of C2Net had been informed that negotiations had been started in regards to Red Hat purchasing C2Net5 and then sworn to secrecy.

So when Todd's call came, I had to politely tell him I would pass on his information to our VP of Sales and Marketing and then of course made a beeline to said office after hanging up with Todd. Sadly, with hindsight and all, I should have realized that if Todd was in the dark about the potential purchase of C2Net by Red Hat, given the obvious fit between the three products, that the acquisition of HKS might have been poorly executed, which in turn was not a good sign for C2Net. But at the time I recall hearing shortly after that Todd did eventually get filled in. And by August of 2000 C2Net and Red Hat issued a joint press releases announcing the agreed upon acquisition.




1 That is of course if, like most Americans, you can't count and/or don't care that our Gregorian calendar had no year 0.

2 Call it Bloomberg's Law or whatever, but in the US one's loathing of all things New York (or Los Angeles) is inversely proportional to one's distance from New York City. Thus, Boston, which is closer, hates NYC greater than Chicago. San Francisco, not so much hating NYC as it does LA. New York and Los Angeles can of course clam no one loathes themselves more than they do, which in doing so means they care little about anyone else, given their immediate proximity to their own location. Having grown up in and around Chicago, I naturally care equally less about New York as I do LA.

3 And for that matter the only reason why we had a machine running Windows 98 in our environment

4 Yes, despite my previous ragging on New York City, I do know that not only is Hell's Kitchen the name of a neighborhood in New York, but if I recall correctly, that the company Hell's Kitchen was in fact named after said neighborhood.

5 A bit fuzzy here on the timeline and details, but I recall hearing about a deal between Caldera and C2Net that never materialized and then Red Hat got cold feet when "the bubble burst" in purchasing Red Hat, until various revenue commitments renewed discussions between C2Net and Red Hat.

Apple Tablet Rumors Heat Up

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First published: 23rd of December 2009 for Technorati

The Interweb has been ablaze with tablet rumors for quite some time now and according to a recent Financial Times article, "Apple is preparing an announcement next month that many anticipate will be the official unveiling..."

Despite the swirling rumors, Apple has yet to publicly acknowledge the existence of such a device.

Backing up the Financial Times, Silicon Valley Insider (SVI) suggests that Apple is indeed preparing for a demo of a new mobile device with screen resolutions greater than the current iPhone and iPod Touch. Additionally, SVI reports that Apple has asked a select group of software developers to recast their apps and that "they've told select developers that as long as they build their apps to support full screen resolution -- rather than a fixed 320x480 -- their apps should run just fine."

However, SVI suggests that the device itself won't be ready to purchase until sometime in March, supposedly providing remaining software developers time to incorporate the tablet's specifications into their current and future planned releases.

Meanwhile, Appleinsider reports that Gene Munster, a market research analyst with Piper Jaffray, has issued a note to investors suggesting that he expects the long-rumored tablet device to ship by March. However, while Jaffray believes there's a 75% chance of some sort of announcement planned for January - maybe an iPod touch with camera and video or a new TV subscription service for iTunes - the odds of a January announcement for a new tablet are 50-50.

Traditionally, Apple has used the first full week in January to publicly debut new hardware and software, most notably being the iPhone in 2007 during the keynote speech at Macworld. However, at the 2009 Macworld, Apple announced that their strategy would no longer hinge on major events and that the 2009 Macworld would be the last one in which the company would particiapte in. This fact, along with the false rumors of Steve Jobs speaking at the Consumer Electronics Association's event in January, might suggest that Apple intends to delay announcement of the long-awaited tablet until it is actually ready for shipment.

As with all Apple announcements and rumors, consumers, analysts, media-types, industry watchers and brand-enthusiasts will just have to wait and wonder.

AOL Time Warner Split, Leaves AOL Behind

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First published: 10th of December 2009 for Technorati

In 2000 with a staggering market capitalization, AOL purchased Time Warner for $164 billion, with an eye towards delivering Time Warner's unique content to the AOL masses.

AOL Market Value Chart
AOL Market Value Chart by Jay Yarow at The Business Insider

Today most agree that idea never had a chance of becoming reality. AOL is now on its own and after its first full day of independence, Wall Street has let it be known that it views AOL's chances of redemption as slim. AOL stock is down (-0.34%) while Time Warner stock is up (+4.18%).

AOL's idea wasn't half bad. In fact for companies such as Yahoo, the idea itself worked fairly well: build partnerships with content and service providers in order to bridge the gap between users and publishers and make money in the process.

AOL's business model was always about being a destination for digital content. In its dial-up days, AOL was a rich online community that focused on user-generated content in its message boards and chat rooms. Looking to move beyond user-generated content, AOL set its sights on Time Warner and their rich library of print, music,and video content.

It was that monetization that AOL misfired on. Where Yahoo and Google make money on content with advertising, AOL looked to make money with subscriber fees, only to watch as users abandoned AOL's notoriously unreliable dial-up service for cheaper, more dependable service providers with access to all content on the Internet, not just the Time Warner content prominently featured on AOL.

Now consider, since AOL purchased Time Warner, Google has come to dominate aggregating and indexing media. YouTube (also part of Google these days) and Hulu have leadership roles in video. iTunes is the king of Pop with a eye on video (with iPod/iPhone and Apple TV) as well as "print" (rumored tablet). Add in up-and-coming Facebook and Twitter have redefined areas AOL once lead: chat, messaging and sharing of content with friends. It is little wonder AOL's prospects look dim.

Yet while AOL may have lost the #1 spot to Google and is losing momentum to Facebook, AOL can still quickly regroup. Wall Street might be looking down on AOL, but current CEO and former Google executive Tim Armstrong still has a sizable market capitalization north of $2 billion to work with. Plus, AOL is still a top internet destination in the US.

AOL still has a shot or two from behind the eight-ball to make.

@technabob, Look Mario Candy!

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If you've ever come across the gadget website Technabob, you probably already know of their twin loves of all things Mario and all things Japanese. And frankly who can blame them? Some of the best oddest items out there can only be found in the land of the rising sun.

So imagine what my first thought was when I discovered that in the land of Mickey and Minnie one can find memorabilia dedicated to everyone's favorite Japaneses-Italian plumber. And not just any old memorabilia such as a t-shirt, but actual Mario candy!

Mario Candy!

Yep, the fine folks at Mitsukoshi - the Japanese department store that operates at Disney's Epcot Center - have quite a range of products for American tourist, including candy for Mario Kart DS and Donkey Kong.

Who knew that instead of a transoceanic trip to Tokyo one just needed a transcontinental trip to Orlando? Kind of makes me want to go back and see if I can find any of the "great" gadgets from Bandai for sale, such as their electronic bubble wrap popper.

Oh and here's a little extra for those curious about Mario's development, an interview with his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto in promotion of the new Super Mario Bros, Wii Edition. But beware his reference to the "Pac-Man era" and subsequent footnote exampling Pac-Man might make one feel franking old, like me!

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.

   
   


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