Curious events from which everyone gains

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 12/87 item 01 - scanned

I recently went to one of the Seybold conferences in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I attended five of the 20-odd sessions where I listened to Bill Gates, who needs no introduction; Ken Olsen, head of DEC; John Young, head of Hewlett-Packard; Allen Krowe, an IBM vice president; and Jean Louis Gassee, Apple's R&D vice president. An event like this has never taken place in the UK and setting it up is a daunting task. Patricia Seybold limited attendance at this gathering to 300 people, each of whom paid 650. That's 195,000 for a three day bash. Phew! Okay, so there was a lot of preparatory work, and the hotel ballroom and refreshments to pay for, not to mention the speakers. Hang on though. Surely the speakers don't get paid? Despite session titles like 'Developing mission critical applications', or 'Harnessing renegade computing', these guys were on stage to sell their companies to the predominantly corporate audience.

Seybold gave her views of the important trends, but challenged the audience to come up with more. She begged them to think up interesting questions to fill up the 20-minute question and answer sessions. She even got a company called Synectics to give a tutorial on effective listening and notetaking. Seybold seemed to be passing all responsibility for the success of her conference to the audience.

Ken Olsen was wonderful, coming out with gems like: 'Graphics are the second worst contribution to society after spreadsheets.' It was a good line, but he was really having a go at users who scale graphs inconsistently, then try to make meaningful comparisons.

Jean Louis Gassee, wearing a flamboyant shirt and a diamond stud in his left ear, was the right man to give the Apple pitch. He talked about 'wearing blue suits on our shoulders without wearing them in our heads'. He spoke of computers as 'instruments of liberation' and as 'the second most important cultural tool known to mankind' - the first was books. He likened Apple to Honda which took on General Motors and won.

Olsen and Gassee entertained as well as informed. IBM, H-P and Microsoft took things more seriously. Having dealt with his theme of 'Responding to the new reality of global competition', H-P's John Young went on to talk about user requirements. Miraculously, these requirements were satisfied by H-P's New Wave five hours later.

Krowe explained IBM's recent internal reorganisation, emphasising its new found concern for its customers. On the threat of Micro Channel clones, he said: 'It was never envisioned to be cloneproof. If someone is going to copy Micro Channel they'll have to do it by the sweat of their brow.' Gates pushed Windows and OS/2, but took care not to antagonise any of his competing clients (such as H-P, Apple and DEC). He reckons that the 400K OS/2 kernel will last eight years, a time scale he didn't explain. He dismissed dynamic load balancing (sharing work among processors) as 'not very interesting at this point in time'. I wonder why I'm now convinced that this must be part of Microsoft's plans?

The conference was one of those curious events from which everyone gained. Patty Seybold gained money and gathered plenty of intelligence for her consultancy activities. The speakers influenced 300 corporate visitors, and the audience got information firsthand from key industry figures. The attendees also benefited from mixing with their own kind. Would you like to hear the thoughts of people at the top of companies like Apple, IBM and Microsoft? Would you like the opportunity to grill them face to face? Perhaps PC Dealer should sponsor an event for its readers, similar to Seybold's but with a VAR slant. What do you think?