Marc Andreessen may have created one of the most important pieces of software in history with the Netscape browser, but he swears he'll never run a software company again.
"Software is the blob that ate the world," he said, addressing Oracle conventioneers in his Thursday afternoon keynote address here. Reciting a litany of abuses software companies have perpetrated against consumers, Andreessen explained why the need for better customer service will change the system of software distribution.
Software makers have had an increasingly adversarial relationship with their customers, largely because software companies don't look for a continuing sales relationship, he said. Speaking in the parlance of software sales people, Andreessen described software sales as "drive-bys", or hit-and-run sales, in which the company sells the software and moves quickly on to the next sale, leaving the customer to fend for itself.
He called a particularly gratifying sale -- one to a customer not expected to use the software -- a "crack hit".
In a broad and humorous attack on the software industry, he said an adversarial culture has developed over the last 30 years, in which customers wait like vultures for software companies to reach the end of their financial quarters before ordering software in order to squeeze down prices, and in which sellers pitch upgrade after upgrade to customers to boost revenue.
Unlike many of the speakers at the week-long conference, Andreessen was fairly candid about the effect the technology market implosion has had on Silicon Valley companies. "The next few years will be characterised by immense pressure," he said. Earnings matter again, there is no shortage of competitive pressure and customer expectations aren't getting any more reasonable, he added.
Andreessen is now the chairman and chief executive officer of LoudCloud, an IT infrastructure services company. He drew a parallel between the services offered by his own company and Akamai Technologies' content delivery networks, the security network of VeriSign and the Internet addressing system managed by Network Solutions. Each provides a "standard" for a function for the Internet, he said. The time has come for such standards to become more widespread.
"In the early days, standardisation can be a drawback because it limits creativity," he said. "In a more mature environment, [a standard] is necessary in order to ensure a level of predictability."
Andreessen intends LoudCloud to establish a standard for e-commerce, to in effect commoditise the function of administering e-commerce Web sites. LoudCloud's clients outsource their Web site e-commerce operations to the company, which periodically upgrades the software running the site and aims to guarantee high levels of reliability.
Andreessen's comments mirrored the sentiment Oracle chairman Larry Ellison expressed a day earlier at his own keynote speech here. Ellison attacked the idea of customising software by integrating different applications from different vendors, calling the process time-consuming, laborious and expensive. Ellison also wants customers to rely more on Oracle for software customisation and improvement in functionality.
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