Fortnight of Near-misses



The last 15 days have perhaps been the most looked-forward-to in a long time.
As the ICT segment struggles back to its feet and takes cautious steps toward a
turnaround, action and events have been few and far between. Against this
backdrop, the build-up to the HP-Compaq merger vote and its outcome infused the
thrill of yore into IT journalism. Another hotly-awaited announcement, the
opening up of the ‘Voice over IP’ regime, nearly came to naught as well.
Sure, the government did stick to its deadline and announced the opening up of
the VoIP regime, but low PC penetration and infrastructural bottlenecks have all
but written the epitaph before VoIP sees life.

Break
for a bit to pan in on the new HP. A few hours after the merger vote by HP
shareholders on March 19, Carly Fiorina–looking tired but her voice mirroring
her inner ebullience–staked claim to victory. She announced that a preliminary
count pointed to a majority of the company’s shareholders having backed her
decision on the $20-billion merger. The next day, in Houston, Compaq
shareholders voted on the same issue–predictably, the proposal sailed through,
nine votes to one. Heady news, and a breather for Fiorina and Capellas, as both
have faced intense flak over the last six months. But there was a monkey in the
works too–the final outcome of the vote would not be out for another 4-6
weeks. That’s ironical–the world’s second-largest IT company is going to
take over 40 days to count the votes cast by representative shareholders of the
two companies. Pssst–back home in India, despite our 103 crore headcount, we
announce the results of our general elections ten times faster!

While on the new HP, the $80-billion entity will lock horns with IBM to be
the world numero uno IT company. HP produces more PCs than IBM and dominates the
printer market, but Big Blue’s services set-up is roughly three times as large
as HP’s and Compaq’s combined. While size may matter less than trust, the
new HP will have to win over customers after a merger battle that’s triggered
a division vertically through its ranks. Even within the company, Walter Hewlett
has refused to accept the preliminary findings. He has added that regardless of
which way the vote swings, he would remain active in HP and continue on the
board of the company… tomorrow’s trouble being brewed today.

Move on to VoIP–so is it good news or bad news? You can take your pick, for
the axe swings both ways. The opening up of the IP segment to voice is a step in
the right direction… but the regulation is not likely to create an impact on
the existing voice market, especially in relation to today’s fixed-line
service providers. Most basic service providers, as well as international
long-distance licensees (who also hold ISP licenses), are likely to use the
public Internet to offer a cheaper voice alternative and might bundle the
service with existing PSTN voice (refer to Analysis earlier in the edition).
However, the extent of the impact of the move is unlikely to be high, given our
abysmal PC penetration numbers (PCs are central to the DoT guidelines).

The HP merger vote and the new VoIP guidelines haven’t been the only tail-waggers.
There’s Lagaan, the Aamir Khan blockbuster which almost made it to the winner’s
podium at the Academy Awards, but didn’t quite come back home with an Oscar.
That honor went to a Bosnian venture No Man’s Land. Kudos to Aamir and
Gowarikar, though, for putting India back on the global filmi map. Another near
miss, thankfully so–the Ayodhya shila daan. After all the massacre and
killings, arson and looting, March 15 turned out to be an anti-climax, with the
government and the VHP reaching a flaccid compromise. So many lives lost, and
all that carnage and mayhem… leading to nothing concrete.

Tailpiece: Enough of didn’t-make-its. Here’s a made-it–that’s
MyLife.b, an Internet worm disguised as a Bill Clinton screensaver cartoon
playing the saxophone, which deletes files and slow network connections. The
worm, embedded in an executable file in the attachment that comes in an e-mail
with the subject line Bill Caricature, is said to have ‘made it’.

Rajeev Narayan in New Delhi

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