Domain Name Registrars Named; Compaq CEO Steps Down

Last week marked the end of suspense regarding domain name registrars. As the story in this week's UPDATE details, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has released the names of the first batch of companies empowered to register domain names. Among the companies is America Online (AOL) which makes me grin. My mind races to all the comic possibilities of the AOL marketing campaign. (My thoughts frequently race to the comic possibilities of events; it's one of my most endearing traits.) In the competitive world that now exists for picking a registrar for a domain name, each company needs to market its strength and image. In the time I've spent online at AOL, I've received strong impressions of its image—sex and kids. Just logging in to AOL apparently has sexual implications and can result in bizarre uninvited correspondence, either via email or Instant Messages. Then, there are all those kids who seem to have no lives or relationships that aren't tied to their computers and favorite chat rooms. What idea for a domain name would lead you to think, "Hey, I gotta call AOL for this one"? That's a rhetorical question, please don't send me your answers. Last week's news also featured many stories about the business of computing. IBM and Microsoft announced first quarter profits that exceeded expectations, and Compaq announced profits that were disappointing. The unhappiest Compaq stockholder was Ben ("it's my company") Rosen, chairman of the board. Rosen started pointing a finger of blame at CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer several days before the official announcement, and by the time stockholders received the details of the company's financial status, Pfeiffer had already been pushed out. It probably comes as no surprise to regular UPDATE readers that I have an opinion about the events at Compaq. Usually when a company pushes out a top executive, there's a golden parachute. The payoff usually is accompanied by an understanding that in exchange for big bucks, the departing executive doesn't talk. No comments, no recriminations, no blame--just a smile all the way to the bank. Frequently the parachute glider issues a statement saying, "I wasn't pushed, I jumped." Pfeiffer, however, is talking. Perhaps his golden parachute was smaller than he'd like, or maybe nobody explained the rules. I caught Pfeiffer on CNN, articulating his resentment about the way Compaq treated him. He made an interesting case. Remember, Compaq didn't lose money; it just didn't make the kind of profit the stockholders wanted to see. But Compaq changed and grew under Pfeiffer's leadership, especially in the enterprise computing world. IS directors buy Compaq hardware because they trust the manufacturing standards and the support. Compaq's strides in the enterprise computing arena have been awesome (e.g., Compaq’s knowledge and innovation with Microsoft Exchange Server). During Pfeiffer's tenure, Compaq's PC business caught up with and surpassed IBM’s. The gross earnings of the company improved tenfold. I think Compaq's efforts to catch up with Dell as a direct retailer while trying to maintain technical leadership in the enterprise market might have been a very large plate of food to digest. And, of course, while these efforts were occurring, there was the ongoing struggle of integrating the Digital Equipment technology and personnel. Perhaps the corporate world is, by nature, cold, ungrateful, and dividend-oriented. As a Windows NT professional, I want to see Compaq continue to innovate and take risks with technology advances, as it did under Pfeiffer's reign. I hope the prospect of a stock dividend that's temporarily a couple of pennies less than expected won't stop the company's pursuit of these goals.

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