Our summer double issue, "The future of technology" (Cover Story, Aug. 18-25), prompted praise, criticism -- and some new ideas.
TECH IS STILL KING
The double issue is a good example of why I have enjoyed reading BusinessWeek for more than 20 years. Today, our view of technology is probably as biased as it was back at the end of the Internet bubble, but in the opposite sense -- too negative. For companies doing business in a highly competitive environment, there is no option but to use the best tools that are available. There will be more and more pressure to apply technology. Companies that delay investment decisions too long will run into trouble.
Information-technology innovation will continue to drive the world economy. Wi-Fi and 3G-enabled tablet PCs or notebooks create huge short-term opportunities in the field of enterprise software for midsize companies and mobile offices. In both fields, Microsoft Corp. is going to play a leading role.
WHAT NEXT BIG THING?
In "Andy Grove: 'We can't even glimpse the potential,"' Grove says: "There are huge, huge things going on, and we are too myopic to notice." This invites the obvious follow-up: "Well, where are these great things?" I'm left wondering if he really knows.
Overall, the sense I'm getting is that we're in for the same old stuff.
GLUTTONS FOR POWER
All the tech you covered will come to naught unless immediate attention is given to electrical generation and conservation, because solid-state device technologies are all power gluttons.
FOLLOWING SOFTWARE'S LEAD
"Nick Carr: The tech advantage is overrated" is correct. Currently, Corporate America buys its software and follows the vendor's instructions to "change your business to match the way our software works." In doing so, it has lost its individual competitive advantage. By contrast, American Airlines (AMR) Inc. took its accumulated knowledge (the advantage) and built the Saber system around it. Too many U.S. execs are letting software vendors tell them how to run their business.
Los Gatos, Calif.
NO MONEY FOR RISK-TAKING
In "Something ventured, plenty gained," Michael J. Mandel's optimism is heartening, but the problem is not that there isn't capital; it's that there's no risk capital. Ever wonder why venture capitalists have $70 billion in uncommitted funds in their hands? They'll gladly drop $5 million to $10 million into a starving growth company with positive cash flow because those revenues will prop up the venture fund's returns. But who's willing to risk $250,000 to $2 million in seed capital?
CORE MEMORY: A CORRECTION
In "The Old Valley is history," Larry Ellison says the recent tech-industry consolidation is a boon for large, well-established companies and means the end for many small companies. He argues that innovation will increase as a result, because most innovation is being driven by large companies. He uses IBM as an example of a company that invented the "disk drive, core memory, and fractal geometry, for God's sakes."
Although IBM has invented many things in its long history, core memory's invention is generally ascribed to An Wang at the Harvard Computing Laboratory and Jay W. Forrester, head of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Project Whirlwind. When IBM developed the first commercial computer in 1955, it stood on the breakthroughs of many talented individuals not working for large companies.
IBM'S LOST OPPORTUNITY
"The quest for the next big thing" mentioned Xerox (XRX) PARC's reputation for failing to capitalize on Next Big Things. What about IBM and Deep Blue?
To write a program that would enable Deep Blue to defeat Garry Kasparov, IBM would have had to develop software that would leave hardware able to work directly with objects after the fashion of human checkout clerks -- a development that would be worth untold billions of dollars to its owners. IBM ignored this and shipped Deep Blue off to obscure number-crunching duties, missing what would have been one of the greatest software triumphs of all time.
Stoughton, Mass. "Outsourcing jobs: Is it bad?" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Aug. 18-25) is timely and provocative. I am not persuaded, however, that the so-called "better" jobs that replace those lost are seen that way by those who did the losing but don't qualify for the new jobs.
Moreover, the share of degree holders is not the panacea Michael J. Mandel seems to think. If 100% of Liechtenstein's 33,000 citizens had degrees in European history, they would be no threat to China, where just 10% of its population holds engineering degrees.
As an American MBA and consumer, I want U.S. businesses to play fair. If jobs are outsourced to another nation without restriction, I want the opportunity to purchase the products now manufactured more cheaply in other nations, also without restriction. Tariffs were created to protect U.S. business and jobs. If the jobs are no longer in America, the tariffs should be eliminated.
A global economy should mean a global economy, period.
Reseda, Calif. "Too many visas for techies" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Aug. 18-25) portrays the H1B and L1 visas as reserved for technology workers. They are not. Many of my clients are hiring nurses and doctors using H1Bs. By the end of this decade, the shortage of nurses in this country will be in the hundreds of thousands, while the Health Policy Institute estimates that in the next two decades, we'll have 150,000 too few doctors. When the H1B quota is cut, the American public will be hurt.
As for L1s, they are heavily used by senior executives and managers coming to the U.S. to oversee the operations of multinational companies investing in this country. Sooner or later, American companies trying to develop overseas markets are going to face similar obstacles imposed as a form or retaliation against protectionist U.S. immigration policies.
Editor's note: The writer is an immigration lawyer. I'm not sure I understand the connection between the fat content of food and obesity ("The list: Fat profits," Up Front, Aug. 18-25). Most, if not all, of the companies you mention were around years before obesity became a problem. The focus should be on a sedentary lifestyle promoted by television and computers. Maybe an equivalent warning label should be placed on them indicating that excessive use is hazardous to your health.
Michael H. Mount