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How to escape the clutches of world+dog's VMware fetish

Also, Diane Greene considers the meaning of life

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Such a line seemed fair enough in a pre-IPO world. But now EMC is becoming a much stronger, richer company on the back of VMware's success. Every server IBM ships with VMware's software puts money in EMC's pocket - money it can then use to invade IBM's traditional businesses.

And at VMware we find a company with a board dominated by current and former EMC executives and board members. Why should VMware acquiesce to this type of control when it now seems like the one leading EMC to the promised land?

"Because they legally have 86 per cent of our stock," Greene told us. "They get to make some decisions. The shareholders are going to get them to make decisions that are in the best interests of shareholders."

Is Greene hinting that the shareholders might see the value in a standalone VMware - one capable of growing without these IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems and Dell fetters? We think so.

You can sense some level of tension between Greene and EMC's CEO Joe Tucci in Lashinsky's story.

Though Greene and Rosenblum did well by selling to EMC, nearly all the upside since has accrued to EMC shareholders, a source of annoyance to Greene and her top employees. That irritation was compounded by the terms of the IPO. Of the 37.1 million stock options granted to VMware employees before it went public, Greene received just 2.7%. (The typical award by startup boards to CEOs they recruit is 7% to 10%.)

Asked why the award was so small, Greene doesn't hesitate. "Joe Tucci told me he thought he was being 'very generous,' " she says. "Those were his exact words."

If VMware is as "right" as Greene thinks, these EMC questions will become harder and harder to answer.

The Future is Happening

Author Nick Carr, for example, has been pushing hard on the idea that we're close to some manner of tipping point around utility style computing. You can see evidence of this via the renewed fervor for thin clients and the massive data centers being built by the likes of Google, Microsoft, Sun and Amazon. The form of utility computing described by Carr relies on virtualization software.

As it stands, VMware has a lock on becoming the Oracle or Microsoft, if you will, of this new shift in computing. It's already the standard platform for large businesses and shockingly faces almost no competition from the unshipping Microsoft, the unproven Xen and the unappreciated SWsoft/Sun. There's little at this time to stop VMware from dominating computing's next wave.

"The fact that some people think this is hype shows that it hasn't sunk in yet," Greene said. "This is like the next-generation plumbing."

If you buy into such a scenario, then VMware's insane share price looks less insane. Screw moving hypervisors by the socket. We're talking about 100,000 server purchases at a time and lots of them. We're also talking about VMware invading business desktops and, perhaps, one day ending up on consumer devices like set-top boxes that will perform media center-like functions. Want a TV? Want a music player? Want a computer? Press a button on your box. (Fantasy? Please take note of Cisco's (Scientific Atlanta) investment in VMware.)

All Puffed Up

When Greene thinks about this future and looks at VMware's share price, she must be upset about selling out to EMC too soon? She would have tens of billions of dollars on paper already.

"It's not like we would have done something different if we had more money," Greene told us. "I am not sure (millions versus billions) makes a qualitative difference in my life. You are not going to spend it yourself. So, it's a matter of giving it away. My goal in life was not to get to give away tons of money."

What is your goal then?

"It is hard to know. I just have to be engaged in whatever I am doing.

"You're asking me 'what is the meaning of life.' And I don't have a clue."

And here we are guilty of the same fetishizing of VMware done by all the other hacks.

Ultimately, however, it's near impossible to avoid celebrating VMware at this point, primarily because it has no real competition and makes a product that people largely like.

There is plenty of room for disaster. The pressure to keep increasing revenue at historical rates is massive and near impossible to achieve. EMC and VMware can look forward to very difficult marriage. Microsoft may one day put out a competitive product. VMware's employees may get too rich and complacent.

Until one or all of those negatives take hold, you all should tuck in for at least a couple more years of laudatory VMware puff pieces. ®

Register hack Ashlee Vance has just pumped out a new book that's a guide to Silicon Valley. The book starts with the electronics pioneers present in the Bay Area in the early 20th century and marches up to today's heavies. Want to know where Gordon Moore eats Chinese food, how unions affected the rise of microprocessors or how Fairchild Semiconductor got its start? This is the book for you - available at Amazon US here or in the UK here.

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