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Fritz Nelson
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LulzSec Intrigue; Hurd Talks Oracle's Real Battle

A youthful hacker on a remote island surfaces. Plus Mark Hurd goes one-on-one about what Oracle really wants.

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LulzSec's alleged spokesperson (spokeschild?) was arrested late last week, but Scotland Yard may have nabbed the wrong miscreant, or maybe not. It's very confusing. Windows Phone 7 is starting to gain some momentum, and whenever Nokia comes out with its first Windows Phone 7 device, sales will start to scream; or maybe the projections are more pedestrian, perhaps even disappointing. SAP gained market share on Oracle this past quarter, but then again Oracle's Exadata is on fire, so I'm not really sure what to believe. The iPhone 5, about which Apple has said nothing, is coming in September; unless, that is, it's really coming in October.

What to believe. Why to care. Those questions plague me daily.

The LulzSec spokesman catch-and-release is the equivalent of National Enquirer-style news for the technology industry. It makes for fun reading and idle gossip. These seemingly youthful hackers (Jake Davis, the arrested alleged hacker, is all of 18) take pleasure in boasting about their exploits in colorful, defiant language, undoubtedly honed through a youth miss-spent on discussion boards, instant messaging, and texting. It probably doesn't really matter if Scotland Yard caught the spokesboy or just another random member, because the cause will continue unabated.

The InfoSec concerns run much more broadly, and far more deeply than all of this theatrical hacking--although, it shouldn't be dismissed, either. This week kicks off another Black Hat conference--the popular destination for security researchers to demonstrate and discuss the latest exploits and vulnerabilities. Today, Dark Reading contributor Robert Lemos writes about weaknesses in chip-and-PIN authentication, which is an underlying technology for transactions, especially in the retail industry. You can follow all of our Black Hat coverage on InformationWeek, and on Dark Reading, especially our Black Hat special report page.

Meanwhile, InformationWeek's Doug Henschen had a chance to talk with SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott on the heels of SAP's stellar earnings last week, and the focus on SAP's market share growth (its first gain on Oracle in 18 months, Henschen points out). SAP wants us to believe that these results signal a certain momentum for the company, and specifically that it provides evidence that its software and innovation are winning the day while IT spends fewer dollars on increasingly commoditized hardware and maintaining legacy systems. "What's the evidence of this trend?" Henschen asks. "You need only look at the financials of the major hardware companies, which 'haven't reported the kind of numbers that we've reported,' McDermott said in an interview with InformationWeek." SAP's software revenues climbed 26%.

And yet . . . to paint SAP as the majority stockholder on innovation is to shade the discussion entirely with a quarter's worth of financial results. Oracle has quite loudly and noticeably become a different company, if only on the surface. While Oracle's database still holds a vast majority of the world's data (anywhere from 65-70%, according to Oracle), this is a company that is now selling both an application suite (Fusion) and hardware (Sun), and whose hottest selling product right now is Exadata, Oracle President Mark Hurd told me last week, re-iterating what he said in Oracle's quarterly financial analyst call in June. Exalogic, he added, is not far behind.

I'm also not sure that Oracle sees a hardware-oriented world any more than SAP does. Hurd, who ran Hewlett-Packard for several years, didn't mention hardware during our conversation. He also dispelled the notion that Oracle just wants to sell its vertical stack . . . lock, stock, and barrel. Indeed, Hurd said that Oracle wants to have the absolute best product at every layer of the that stack (hardware, OS, middleware, database, horizontal applications, vertical applications), and that the company understands that many customers want to take a modular approach in building out their IT investments. Hurd said that too often Oracle has been painted by the media as being singularly focused on the integrated stack.

This might be true, and he might be responding to what Oracle is hearing from its customers. Henschen points to InformationWeek's latest enterprise application research report, in which our readers overwhelmingly say that the integration of applications with existing infrastructure is the most important that criteria they seek from their enterprise application provider.

Once again, it doesn't matter what each company says as much as it matters what they do, and as Henschen highlights, both Oracle and SAP have worked together to make sure they've certified their products (applications, databases, data warehousing appliances) to work with the others'. Not because they want to (they don't), but because customers demand it.

And that is why our report today on disappointing Windows Phone 7 sales figures (estimates for 2011) should be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, those numbers, which some dub "catastrophic," reflect current customer demand. But they also reflect the early going of a new product and a new mobile direction for Microsoft--one that has been plagued by delays, missing features, and being last to market.

What those numbers don't reflect is the muscle that Microsoft is always capable of putting behind a product it thinks is crucial to its success. Microsoft does not want to lose here, and the newest version of Windows Phone 7, called Mango, due out soon, puts the OS more on par with other mobile platforms.

And yet . . . even as those other platforms keep jumping further ahead, Microsoft plods along.

What do customers say? In a recent survey that we'll publish later this month, Windows Phone 7 does surprisingly well among the InformationWeek readership: more companies plan to adopt it than you'd expect, and more developers plan to write Windows Phone 7 applications for it than you might believe.

But as a wise man once told me: Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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ERP is old news, but enhancing legacy software with mobile, analytics, and social apps can deliver substantial new value. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: SaaS can create new data silos unless companies follow best practices to make those apps work with on-premises systems and data sources. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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