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The Almighty Buck

O'Reilly Ends Software Development 95

An unnamed reader writes: "Looks like O'Reilly and Associates have killed off their software development division because it wasn't a strategic fit with their other efforts. Tim O'Reilly writes 'We will continue to sell and support our primary software products, WebSite and WebBoard, as we look for new homes for them.' While these were both Windows-only products, they are fairly well respected in the industry, and it's a shame to see something like this shut down to be aligned with their 'strategy,' despite Tim's own admission that the projects were profitable."
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O'Reilly Ends Software Development

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  • Corporate decision makers like to have everything merge into each other and be compatible. A software development division at a publishing company *is* a little odd.

    It is a bit like corporate managers insisting that all computers run windows of some stripe, in order to fit into the corporate strategy. These decisions are often facile and misinformed.

    In this case they may have been right though. How would they make money from a software development branch? It doesn't remotely fit in with the rest of the company - it just confuses the central mission of the company.

    It would be good if they could sell the branch off in a demerger or something though. Whether that is economically feasible I don't know.

  • Well, now it's the time for Tim O'Reilly to show its compromise for the trend that sustains its company.
    Do you think he will Open Source (or free) the software? I think he has nothing to loose, and it might end up enhancing the product.
    Yes, I know, by the time I hit submit it will already be redundant... but I can't help it!

  • As they were pretty good products, regardless of platform as you say.

    Maybe... Open Source? ;>

  • It was by Spry back when Spry Mosaic was popular, wasn't it?

    I didn't buy it, just saw it around stores a lot in 1994. Didn't see the O'Reilly connection then. Maybe I was just blind.
  • I mean, starfish are just damn cool animals - you can cut their limbs off and they grow news ones! I'd like to see you try that!

  • Perl is being developed by the Perl community, and there's been no change in this (except the size {grin}) since 1987.

    Larry Wall has been "employed" by O'Reilly for the past few years, at one time in the now defunct Software Division, but is now basically on an independent task of sorting out and guiding the architecture for Perl6 through a community development process.

    Larry's relationship with O'Reilly is unaffected by this latest move (so he tells me in email a short time ago).

  • I know this, I just thought it was a humorous aside.
  • My guess is that M$ must have come looking to invest or otherwise get a piece of the action. I think most small businesses would rather get while the gettin's good rather than hang around and be raped by a multi-billion dollar corporation.
  • You're right - it was Spry. I worked at a start-up ISP back in those days and Internet-in-a-Box was one of the all-in-one packaged solutions we looked at to give/sell to our customers. This was even before Mosaic Communications/Netscape I think. I remember you used to be able to go into a software store (remember those?) and buy it.
  • Your point is well taken, as a general point. But in regard to this specific case (O'Reilly) I suspect you're off the mark. Unless one of the employees in this software division posts to say otherwise (hey, feel free to speak up... you wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to be instantly modded +5, Relevent ;-) ), I will continue to assume that the process was not simply a top manager announcing that the division was to be eliminated, but that it involved much more in the way of give-and-take, discussion, and consideration for the employees.

    After all, as the article said:

    Unfortunately, there were no new appropriate positions for nine people from the software group, so they will be laid off. That''s the hardest part of the decision by far, as those folks have done great work. We're supporting them in their effort to find new employment, we thank them, and we wish them well.

    -- Michael Chermside

  • > My company dumps products that dont return at
    > least 30%.

    Over what time period?

  • The catch is that the software that they are selling will take business away from the rest of their company.

    Cold Fusion is a Windows product - most of O'Rielly's books are about Unix based stuff.

    Check this post [] for a more elegant description of the problem.

  • I wonder what animal would O'Reilly put on their edition of "Dianetics". A clam? Or maybe a termite?
  • Yeah...opinions never leak into other news outlets. Not ever. No way.

  • Yup. Their Childhood Leukemia book rules, but I heard it's going out of print because of the obviously limited market. As the author says, how can you possibly break even on something you can only sell 4000 copies of?

  • I think people are missing the critical point.<p>
    Any decision to do away with any part of the company, even if it is not consistent with the company's core business, obviously implies that the company is not only in dire straits and threatened by bankruptcy, but quite obviously, it's also a company in desperate need of executive-level consulting help from a community of techies.<p>
    We also shouldn't hesitate to explore the fact that not only will this mean that Eric Raymond will be forever silenced, but that Larry Wall will likely undergo a pre-frontal lobotomy as part of the bankruptcy liquidation.<p>
    Collectively, do we <i>really</i> have this little faith in Tim O'Reilly's management of the company? Can we not each examine our own bookshelves and see that O'Reilly is not only successful at acquiring customers, but selling deeper into those customers as well?<p>
    Pardon me for being a late entrant to the melee, but I just don't get the reason for such concern.

  • For what it's worth, O'Reilly puts out some pretty informative Windows-related books. The "Annoyances" (as in "Windows 98 Annoyances") series has proven helpful to me on more than one occasion. My job, unfortunately, involves administering ~40 Win9x desktops and 5 NT4 servers. The job is made considerably more tolerable given good references (including O'Reilly books), and helpful tools (like the "Quick Solutions" CD included with the above mentioned book.
  • had a software division? Wow...I thought they just sold books...Silly me.
  • Killing off the division instead of firing them can totally eliminate the expense of forking out cash for redundancy payments.

    You have to admire the mans initiative, if not the foolish error of confessing his crime to the world.
  • Opportunity cost is the formal term for what many of the comments are mentioning. O'Reilly must have made the decision that all the time and money going into supporting the software division would have (or will) make the company more money applied elsewhere.
  • as long as they keep cranking out those books. my most indespensible resource after deja.
  • yeah, this is why us marketing people don't let you engineers out of the cubicle farm.

    - j

  • I have read SOOOO many crappy O'Reilly books I can't count 'em.

    For instance?

  • -- Proud Oldsmobile owner

    Oh, you're the one.

  • Sorry, just a silly joke.

  • The company that seems to have taken over the mantle of 'best tech book publisher' seems to be Manning.

    No, it just seems that way.

  • O'Reilly Software really only had two products. Both were excellent at the time, and both have been squeezed out of the market. Ironically enough, in both cases, much of the competition is from the open source community.

    Way back when, WebSite was about the only web server you could run in the Windows world. Apache hadn't been ported to Win32 (at least not reliably), and IIS still was a year or so away. In fact, WebSite could run on Windows 95 (and may still be able to).

    Now, with most everyone running an NT web server using IIS because it's what comes with NT, and the non-Microsoft-addled using (the apparently stable) Apache, why would anyone pay for WebSite Pro?

    As to WebBoard, there are so many freebie bulletin boards out there, and/or with more features, there's no market for an $1800/$3000 web BBS.


  • O'Reilly used to SELL their web server software while paying lip service to open source software and all. I don't understand how a bunch of smart people like you don't see the hypocrisy of the situation??

    Perhaps because we know the difference between Tim O'Reilly and Richard M. Stallman?

    "Open source" means just that: source code that is open for inspection and for peer review. It does not mean "as free as free speech"; that is Richard M. Stallman's "free software", which he takes great care to distinguish from "open source". Neither does it mean "as free as free beer", which is what you seem to think it means but which is not part of the ideals of "open source" or or "free software".

    In short, in the unlikely event that you are not a deliberate troll, your comments are still not relevant, as you have nothing to offer except accusations that people achieving more than you betrayed principles which you only assumed, confusedly and in ignorance, that they must profess.

  • Minor sidenote: I think the P actually expands to {Perl, Python, PHP}. I seem to recall seeing that on their LAMP site. (Man, I wish O'Reilly would come out with a Postgres book...)

    "Overrated" is "overfuckingused".
  • Hey, O'Reilly, how about doing the obvious and finally putting your money where your mouth is - GPL it. I doubt anyone will want to actually use the code, but you should get some PR out of it, or at least give you the appearance of being consistent with your open source rantings.
  • My guess is that the business procedures of their software division are so intertwined with their core (read, books) division that they'd rather kill it than sell it. After all, other that that, it's a no brainer: I have this business, it makes money. I don't want it anymore. Do I throw it away? NO! I sell it, and don't throw away my investment. After all, if it has good financial figures, somebody is bound to want it... Maybe even the Evil Empire(tm)!
  • Why imagine if that isn't the case? The fact of the matter remains that O'Reilly is dumping something very related to their main business; this something isn't pizza, my friend, it's software.

  • or does this not make any sense? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I just read that a sector that generates profit within a business is about to be issued a "halt".

  • Although the software business was a profitable one for O'Reilly, we've realized that it's not a strong strategic fit with our other efforts.

    Like so many other FCs, profitability isn't what they're trying to accomplish.
  • An example of a company trying to be all things to all people: Hewlett-Packard. They just don't want to accept that their hardware business is enough to make them stable and profitable for years... Maybe they'll eventually figure it out.
  • As long as they keep making those books, I'll still love that company. When I have no idea about a particular subject I dive into one of those books to get a strong feel for it before I move onto the more advanced stuff. And for Perl stuff I havent' found many better books at all.
  • Larry Wall has been employed by O'Rielly for some time as an in-house developer and visionary. Wall has described their relationship as that of an artisan and patron like in the 16th century. How does Larry fit in now that Tim has moved away from software development?

    i personally believe that O'reilly just needs cooler animals on the covers of those products, i mean starfish and a bolt of lightning aren't the choice my zoological survey...

  • My favorite cover is for the Managing the Windows NT Registry book. It features a monkey. I couldn't resist appending "- The Author" underneath the picture on my copy...

    Actually what I wrote was "The Author of the NT Registry." Which, I think you'll agree, is much more amusing.

  • O'Reilly has made a *lot* of good decisions over time. If Tim O'Reilly thinks selling off his software products is a sound business decision, he's probably right! I wouldn't even think of second guessing him.
  • it's a shame to see something like this shut down to be aligned with their 'strategy,' despite Tim's own admission that the projects were profitable.

    I used to wonder that myself. As long as you can make a profit on a product, why kill it off? I often thought this of the auto industry, where they never used to actually produce any of their "concept cars", not because they couldn't make and sell a few of them at a modest profit, but because they would never sell five million of them.

    Now that I am involved in running a business at an executive level, I take it all back. The problem is that there are only so many hours in the day for the key people in any organization, and they have to focus their efforts accordingly. I have watched divisions struggle because there wasn't anyone available to focus on them. I'm sure that O'Reilly would love to do both, but when resources get streched thin, you have to focus on what you do best.

  • Concentrating on what made you great is good, but being too centrally focused is not a good thing either. Look at all the dot-coms who put all their focus on a single product and went belly-up when technology shifted. (Remember push technology? Where is Stream Search now?) These large companies can use smaller, short-term side-projects to take some of the heat off when their core business is getting hammered. When they can participate in the hot market they make the gravy profits. When they're no longer paying great dividends, why not sell it before it's a money loser?
  • They must have taken that proctice from my company, who dumped yours. 30% profit/growth, inside of 3yrs, or outskie.
  • quite alright, i knew that. :-P
  • yes, you might visit and search for oldsmobile, too. :-)
  • I don't see anything wrong with one tidbit being considered more newsworthy than another, or even one company being seen with more respect than another. It is very clear what Slashdot's readership is interested in. The fact is, this community has relied on this companies products and has found them useful. Whether or not company x closed a software devision is only relevent in so far as it effects this community.

    For some really interesting discussions on media integrity and vested interests, though, check out FAIR [] (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). They are definately the standard and best source for this sort of coverage.

  • I use O'Reilly's WebBoard software as part of my job in publications, and I must say that I hope that they do find another home for it. It is by far the best of its kind out there, though I suppose its rather limited market really cut down on their ability to move copies of it. Their decision not to release the Data Master addition is unfortunate, as I believe this would have added a large commercial market, given its ability to manage subscriptions and such. I had been having some problems getting in touch with people in there software dept, but now I guess I know why.
  • Back in like '94 or so, Bob Denny, the author, ported the NCSA HTTPD server to Windows 3.1. When it came time to move from 16- to 32-bit, he turned it into a commercial product. So really WebSite and Apache are pretty close cousins. I haven't used WebSite myself since version 1.0, so I don't know what's been added in more recent versions, but making it open-source probably wouldn't be that useful since Apache already occupies the same project space.
  • The company that seems to have taken over the mantle of 'best tech book publisher' seems to be Manning. Now there's a company that was floundering then took a major turn midstream and is having a resurgence.

    Dancin Santa
  • Perhaps an added benefit of this refocusing is appearing to focus more on the Free and Open Source software side of things. (Never mind their Windows books) They are getting a little publicity from this. They look good to freaks like me because they are abandoning a Windows product and Windows users don't care.

    I have to kick myself for thinking that way though. Free/Open Source software isn't about beating MS or anybody else. It's about providing software for the public good.
  • I'm not sure where your comment is directed, though your example is somewhat- lacking, O'reily were making M$ related products, not openware. They were good at it. They had good people on their software team. Granted you are correct in that one should stick to what one knows, perfect that and then move on to other things, never stagnating or refusing to grow. however, one should always remember that if your going to spout- read while you do it. "Illiteracy should come with cigarette warnings- being stoopid WILL kill you,not reading this hurries that up"
  • i bought both of thier products when they came out because they were pretty good. Later they jacked the price too high causing me to switch products at considerable cost. Needless to say the engendered a lot of ill will with me and i'm not sad to see them go.
  • I don't see this as a bad thing at all. My experience with both WebBoard and WebSite has been happily short-lived. They are products that I suppose could have been good if given the attention that Apache, IIS, and iPlanet Enterprise have. But they just don't cut the mustard for anything but the most basic usage.
  • We need more journalistic integrity on this site.

    That implies this is a journalistic site. It's not. It's Geek Rumor Central -- always has been, always will be. Get over it.

  • Hmm, I wouldn't rate this as flamebait as the author makes some valid points. I didn't even know about O'Reilly's software division. But look at the bigger picture here. O'Reilly is primarily a publisher so they were right in making this decision. Also, the software was Windows only which doesn't really fit in with their reputation of writing the best tech books for all platforms IMHO.


  • Since Tim O'Reilly is always talking about the advantages of open souce technologies, they should start giving back to the community by making their books available for free downloads in a PDF format. It will be great for students and people in poorer parts of the world.

    It is hypocritical for them to demand that software writers share the fruits of their labor for free, but then refuse to share O'Reilly's intellectual property for free.

    Galactic Geek
  • O'Reilly used to SELL their web server software while paying lip service to open source software and all. I don't understand how a bunch of smart people like you don't see the hypocrisy of the situation??

    Galactic Geek
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sadly, O'Reilly no longer makes the best tech books in many categories. Their Programming Palm book, as an example, was early on the market but is weak and many consider a poor investment. Their adventure in political ideology (all the Open Source hype books they've been publishing) also is mediocre. Their book on 'Programming Embedded Systems in C' is dismal.

    They have a strong catalog of fine books, but they've been losing their focus over the past few years. It could be 'fat and happy syndrome' taking effect.

    Maybe this is the first sign of a correction at the company. We can hope that as the effects of the OpenSource-koolaide wears off, Mr. O'Reilly and company will wake up and get a clue.
  • Why don't public companies do the 'right' thing all too often? Because. The board has a mandate to maximize shareholder value

    It's not just a mandate, it's a legal obligation. All these class-action suits currently pending against public corporations are precisely because of this: the lawyers do not believe that the companies have acted in the shareholder's best interests.

    This is why a corporation is structured as it is. You have the "officers", the CEO, CFO, CIO and suchlike who run the company from day to day. Then you have the board, run by the Chairman (who may or may not also be the CEO). The board members are usually senior executives (sometimes from other non-competing but broadly similar companies, sometimes retired, sometimes industry experts like professors) who have a stake in the company, and are responsible for advising the officers. The board are there to ensure that the shareholders are represented in decisions. Board members are meant to be elected by shareholders, but in reality they're often appointed, particularly in young companies, or those in which significant equity is held by the founders or the VCs.

    In theory, this gives you the best of both worlds, but only if the board is staffed with people who have enough presence not to roll over and just let the CEO (who may be young and inexperienced) do as he pleases. You see lots of companies who have appointed the CEO's friends and relatives to the board, but this is very, very stupid.

  • These are server products, where the statistics you give are for desktop market share. Things are entirely different in the land of web server operating systems.

    The poster who pointed out the relatively new O'Reilly OnLAMP [] site hit the crux of the matter, in my opinion. Tim O'Reilly's more interested in driving and promoting promising new technologies than creating them. (I suspect that's why the company has invested in Digital Creations, the people behind Zope [].)

    On the other hand, the Python, Java, and Perl advocacy (with books and conferences) are dedicated to promoting existing technologies. Either way, it seems that Tim's focus is on evangelizing good technology.


  • My company dumps products that dont return at
    least 30%.

  • This may be a very good thing. A software publisher should be relatively uncomitted to any particular software, or there will start to be a bias in the offerings. These two were rather on the edge, so they probably wouldn't have had much effect, but the principle remains.

    I don't feel that OS companies should sell applications, I don't feel that application companies should sell OS's, and I sure don't feel that Word Processor companies should sell books on how to write.

    So I think that this may be the best of decisions. Particularly since the groups are profitable. That means that there is time to find the right buyer, or even to spin them off separately. The decision to act is differnt from the need to act quickly. Acting too quickly can cause problems.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Maybe just sell the software and source code if they can't untwine the software part of the business from their core business... I just have to think that getting some money back out of it and getting rid of the long-term support commitments would be a good idea for them.

  • The first thought I had was "Why don't they just sell the division to someone else?". After hearing that it was profitable, I thought "Why don't they just spin it off as a separate company?". Doing one or the other of those two things would seem to be the best choice for their customers, and it would seem to be a preferable alternative to laying off people and closing down an operation, especially when you consider they will still have to support it for a long time this way. If they sold it or spun it off, someone else would have to take over that burden...

  • I recall a story several years ago about a bunch of auto-workers who were laid off.... their union whined and whined.

    And in a roundabout way, it turned out that the union pension fund all the workers were investing in was at some point re-investing in the company, hmm. See the problem here? Their own money helped exert pressure to axe their jobs.

    A public company just can't exist in a nice stable way where they employe x people and stay that way. The MUST grow.... it's sick.
  • This seems like karma whoring to me. What business person in their right minds would open source a PROFITABLE product? That makes no sense.

    These people are business people, not idealists.
  • It's much easier to configure and use then apache is.
    I used to use it and I liked it alot but the price kept going up and both iis and apache were free. I never upgraded from 1.x.
  • O'Reilly offers The Future Does Not Compute [] on their Open Books [] site.
  • ...and it's a shame to see something like this shut down to be aligned with their 'strategy,' despite Tim's own admission that the projects were profitable."

    Wow, I guess the new economy isn't dead- they're killing profitable projects.

    So next, they'll advertise in the Superbowl, then...

    • What business person in their right minds would open source a PROFITABLE product? That makes no sense.

    Gee, I dunno, maybe some business person who makes a great deal of money selling books into the open source community?

    They are going to abandon the product anyway, so it's not like they are giving up future potential earnings.

    If they determine they can make more in good will with their Open Source Community customer base than they could by selling the product to a software concern, then it would certainly make sense to open source it. Seeing as the most likely buyer for such a product would the competition in order to kill it off, which could well risk significant bad feelings with the Open Source community, open sourcing it looks more attractive all the time.


  • A software development division at a publishing company *is* a little odd.

    I think that Oracle Press also has a software division.

  • I imagine you'd like the covers to have a guy standing there with his hand against his head, in the classic "L" ("Loser") position?

    That would be cool. How about using photos of car wrecks and train wrecks? Or photos of rotting meat []? Maybe photos of diseased organs, like this liver with a hepatocellular carcinoma []?
    Imagine the colophon. It would be perfect light reading after a 3:30 am m$-induced emergency.
  • Isn't that being developed by O'Reilly?
  • In the computer industry, O'Reilly, is known for awsome computer books. They do some other types of books [] as well.

    Check out some of these titles:
    - Choosing a Wheelchair []
    - Making Informed Medical Decisions []
    -Organ Transplants []

  • they ran out of animals to put on the cover of their products?
  • did they not just spin off?

    Well, they did mention that they're looking for a home for the products. If the division isn't autonomous enough, it might be more viable for the entire division to be sold to a larger software company rather than having it try and survive on its own.

    And to jump topics over to the people questioning the wisdom of selling off a profitable division (and to provide another answer to the "why sell it rather than spinning it off" question), it's possible that ORA wants to invest capital in a more profitable line of business. Or they want to invest that capital in a line of business that's closer to their core philosophy.

  • Actually, they have found new positions within the company for most of the developers, but there are, according to the press release, nine who will be let go. I know O'Rielly isn't a large company, but I don't equate sadly letting nine people go, with promises of helping them find their next position, with the kind of layoffs I assosciate with "downsizing."

  • Recently there was a discussion [] here regarding company loyalty, and a similar discussion was highlighted on last night's episode of CBC's MarketPlace. Of course the discussion was that it was "alarming" that many employees no longer feel loyalty to their employer, and it (I'm talking about the Marketplace episode) talked with managers who expressed their dismay over these unloyal young whippersnappers.

    Then you see something like this regarding how 9 people working on software at O'Reilly will be "laid off" because the profitable, successful product that they were working on doesn't fit someone's grand scheme. In an instant you realize why loyalty is in the garbage can. To know that "lofty thinkers" sit around a meeting room table discussing the latest way to re-engineer themselves for the new-millenium, and other such tripe, and the end result could very well be the end of your job, puts a serious damper on any disposition towards loyalty.

    yafla! []

  • Newt? Pig? Sloth? Which animal? (dork reference - ask your programmers if you dont get it) Rumor has it O'Reilly & Associates Software division is going belly up in the next two months or so. Apparently they've been laying people off left and right, too... Let me just take this moment to mention that their webserver product, WebSite (which included ColdFusion v1.0 free in 1995), is one of the things that started me on this whole wacky programming-on-the-web thing... (thats the second company today i regret having to write about... blah)
    When: 3/5/2001
    Company: O'Reilly & Associates
    Severity: 25
    Points: 125

    Maybe I should sell my FuckedCompany stocks in protest. :)

    "Me Ted"
  • Business lesson: Wether it drives profits or not, if you don't have the cash on hand to properly support something, you shouldn't do it. Unless it's making so much profit that it will support itself long-term.
    Another business lesson:
    If you do one thing really well, and make a lot of money at it, do you need to branch out somewhere you don't belong?

    GMC truck's tagline is "Do one thing. Do it well." I think that applies here. Anyone into automotive in the slightest bit knows that GM is shutting down one of it's divisions.. *sigh*
    -- Proud Oldsmobile owner
  • Now the American Dream is to invent some silly gizmo that the world can't live without and get bought out by Microsoft (my apologies to Doonesbury). I know a guy that just happened to and he made enough money on the sale that he would never 'have' to work again, but that would be boring to him.

    More on-topic, has anyone else noticed that this sort of thing is happening quite a bit right now. The two easiest to recognize on this site are the (obvious) 'realigning' happening at O'Reilly and the current 'refocusing' happening at Gateway. I don't think this is to be unexpected. People running businesses, whether their own or running a stock based business, are realizing that the economy is dictating a tight and focused business strategy right now. With an economic slow-down business can't afford to do a bunch of things real sloppily and still get by. They need to pick their core products or services, focus to be the best they can possibly be and earn business again. I see that as a good thing for people in general as it should refocus businesses on producing quality rather than quantity.

    The only question I would have is why stories like this keep coming up on slashdot. I really didn't think that slashdot was that business focussed. But I suppose when it comes to the tech sector, people are interested in all the goings on.

  • did they not just spin off? I know that it is
    a little more complicated than that, but, really,
    if it were profitable, they could have
    made an effort to try and spin it off or split
    the division and sell it.
    just my 2

    Disclaimer: not a suit, just a code grunt. I
    probably have no clue concerning that which
    I am talking about, but that never stopped
    other ppl from having opinions.
  • by Matts ( 1628 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @08:11AM (#378973) Homepage
    For whatever it's worth, the software division was hardly a new venture for O'Reilly. Their "Internet in a Box" was the first product to give windows users access to the internet, and it came out of the software division back in (I think) 1993.

    O'Reilly are first and foremost a book company, and they're a damn good one. This is where their efforts should lie

    That doesn't seem to follow with their current path of expanding into conferences then... :-)

  • by vallee ( 2192 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @08:28AM (#378974)

    Conferences are a hell of a lot closer to books than software is. After all these conferences are about the things that O'Reilly write books about - programming, new technologies and so on. Their expertise in these areas certainly transfers to organising these events, and they've already got access to people who know a great deal about these subjects :)

  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @09:05AM (#378975)
    Also... loyalty is earned, or perhaps bought. It's a two-way street.

    if you offer me a salary, and a job.. I'll do that job. If you are a stickler for rules, I will be too, doing no more than I'm being paid to do.
    If you give me leeway with when I work, don't bitch at me when I come in late every day, so long as my work is done, then I will in turn give you extra time when it's needed, without fuss.
    If you treat me with respect, I'll treat you with respect. If you show a sincere effort to be loyal to me, I will return the favor

    Public companies are the real problem. Why don't public companies do the 'right' thing all too often? Because. The board has a mandate to maximize shareholder value, PERIOD. The shareholders want MORE MONEY, period. It's not up to them to give things away or do the 'right' thing.

  • by crucini ( 98210 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @12:14PM (#378976)
    I am pretty resistant to marketing; therefore there are few 'brands' that elicit any positive response from me. O'Reilly is one. Therefore, it always bothered me that O'Reilly was involved in things like a web server for Windows 95. O'Reilly is primarily Unix-centric, and this little pocket of Windows-centrism stuck out like a sore thumb.
    On the same note, I'm very unhappy that O'Reilly has chosen to publish ephemeral books on Windows software, such as Excel 2000 in a Nutshell []. These books rapidly lose relevance and end up in the bargain bin at the bookstore, harming the image of the O'Reilly 'animal' books as long-term sources of information. As an example of the longevity O'Reilly represents, Essential System Administration [] was last updated in 1995, and yet I find it reasonably current.
    I guess O'Reilly makes money by writing about Windows. That's fine - I just wish they'd choose a different image and branding for that series of books.
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @08:56AM (#378977)
    I see way too many companies that try to be all things to all people. To have a business become a long term proposition, you need to have some core stuff that you are good at and only add to what you do if it is a good fit. Yes there is lots of opportunity in the world and thinking big is good. However the simple fact is that a single company can't do everything and the very act of trying will kill your business faster than trying to compete head on faster than you can say overextended. Occasionally you find someone who can successfully run disparate businesses (Jack Welch of GE is a good example) but people like that are very rare.

    O'reilly seems to have realized this about a part of their business and that is probably a good thing. The company I work for is considerably larger than O'Reilly (fortune 200) and is constantly aquiring and divesting bits of itself because it realizes that it has certain things it's good at and has sufficient profit margins in, and the rest is really just extra baggage. Sometimes the parts we sell are good and well run profitable businesses. They just don't fit so well with our core businesses and the distraction of running them would likely cause more harm than good in the long run.

    One of the worst mistakes a business can make is to get too greedy. A lot of the dotcoms died because the didn't have a viable business model, but just as many are dying because they tried to do too much too fast and they simply didn't have the resources to do any of it well. I'm worried about VA for this reason. I like the company and what it is trying to do, but I'm not convinced that the people at the top aren't trying to do too much too fast. I've never been able to figure out how slashdot is a good fit with their business. Yeah it's a part of the linux community, but that doesn't mean it makes good business sense to own it. Maybe there is something I don't see...

  • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @01:37PM (#378978) Journal
    I don't see how those books "rapidly lose relevance" any more than any other book they wrote about a specific version of software. Even Perl (version 4) books ended up in the bargain bins.

    I guess O'Reilly makes money by writing about Windows. That's fine - I just wish they'd choose a different image and branding for that series of books.

    I imagine you'd like the covers to have a guy standing there with his hand against his head, in the classic "L" ("Loser") position?

    My favorite cover is for the Managing the Windows NT Registry [] book. It features a monkey. I couldn't resist appending "- The Author" underneath the picture on my copy...
  • by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <gundbear@ p a c b e> on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @07:55AM (#378979) Homepage
    Is that despite being profitable, this software isn't closely aligned with O'Rielly's goals to be worth maintaining.

    Imagine if O'Rielly owned a nation wide retail pizza chain that made them money?

    As much as it was fun or profitable, it really is a distraction to his other goals. A man can only handle so many things at once!

    Geek dating! []
  • by vallee ( 2192 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @07:51AM (#378980)

    It's about time that a lot of companies in and around the open source/free software community started to realise that at the end of the day they are there to make money rather than generate kudos. There's no reason for small companies to suddenly start expanding in directions totally unrelated to their core product - it just spreads them thinly and weakens them financially.

    O'Reilly are first and foremost a book company, and they're a damn good one. This is where their efforts should lie, and it looks as though they've realised that. Although it may have been a profitable venture, it's still a distraction for a small company looking to get bigger.

    Just look at VA for the perfect example of this. They're a hardware company that specialises in preinstalled Linux solutions. But rather than stick with doing this, building up a client base and slowly consolidating and expanding they've gone on a veritable orgy of purchases which seem to make very little sense in terms of their bottom line. And now they're in trouble... suprise, suprise.

    Companies need to stick with what they're good at until they're stable enough to expand. As nice as having kudos may be, you can't use them to buy food for the kids.

  • by Spud Zeppelin ( 13403 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @09:15AM (#378981)
    Consider the following: O'Reilly has a fairly large investment in "second-sale" products based on what they're calling the LAMP: Linux + Apache + mySQL + Perl. A lot of their revenue model is based on promoting this: conferences, books, etc. They are far-and-away the market leader in this sector (Who doesn't own the Camel book?).

    The software side of the house was making "first sale" dollars (nowhere near as lucrative) off of a webserver that directly competed with the LAMP model: it ran on Windows, competed directly with Apache, didn't talk directly to mySQL, and supported ColdFusion/Java/ASP much more readily than Perl. In other words, it was basically the same thing as Ford selling a car that takes Chrysler parts: they'd get the up-front money, but all of the follow-on dollars were just-as-to-more likely to go to their competitors than themselves.

    So, this makes very good sense from a business perspective. In Tim's own words, "it's not a strong strategic fit with our other efforts." I'm actually surprised that it didn't happen a couple years ago, for instance when the Eagle book came out.


  • by StoryMan ( 130421 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @07:48AM (#378982)
    Obviously, the route to go would be open source. But according this morning's WebSite mailing list, this might be a problem. It seems that the software is still copyrighted by the original author.

    So apparently the only way this could go OS would be if the original author agreed to it. And, according to the most recent WS mailing list at least, this is yet to be determined. (The common wisdom at this point that, yes, if WS goes OS then the author will forgo future profits.)

    It's a shame. IIRC correctly, the original version of WebSite came bubdled with Cold Fusion 1.0. Now, I know there are a lot of CF detractors out there (spare me, I've heard all the anti-CF stories) it was -- in the early days of the web -- a killer combo -- WS and CF.

  • by bitchx ( 322767 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @08:01AM (#378983)
    Profitiability is not an appropriate mesaure of the value of a project. Let's look at it from the perspective of an MBA.

    1. The project has costs and expenses directly related to it - materials that are consumed, salaries, promos and what not. The difference between the revenues and these costs is what you call "profit."

    2. The project also has a level of "working capital" attached to it - accounts receivable that must be financed, inventory on hand that also must be financed and facilities that could otherwise be sold. While the value of these is not included in "profit," it's certainly worth evaluating. I would imagine that this reason (the working capital intensiveness of a software buisness) is why they cut the division.

    For a more mathematical approach, here's how I'd go about evaluating the buisness.

    Cash flow from software buisness= sales + benefit to other departments - COGS - R&D - !(Working Capital * WACC)!.

    I imagine the working capital, while not included in a "profitiability" analysis, pushed the "cash benefit" of the job negative. There's a lot of back-office involved in actually selling physical software product - something they don't do anymore.

    It also cuts an entire distribution channel for them, and allows them to focus on the core buisness - the more time the S&M department focuses on software retailers, the less time they can deal with bookstores. There's that auxilary benefit.

  • by Ravenscall ( 12240 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @07:50AM (#378984)
    Sad to see that division go, but as long as they keep on cranking out the good books, I am behind them 100%.

    Although one wonders if they will be coming out with "Downsizing in a Nutshell" any time soon...

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2001 @07:49AM (#378985)
    And obviously Tim O'Reilly feels that he, and his company, should concentrate on just what it is they do best, producing the finest and most respected line of computer related learning tools in the world.

    That, in fact, is the primary difference between running your OWN business and running the *stockholder's* business.

    For my part I'd rather run my own neighborhood business than be CEO of a fortune 500 company. THAT used to be the American dream. It's a damn shame that it ever became otherwise.


If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson