Over the last few days I’ve come to realize something that happened last May. It is common to miss news and assume that things are a certain way when really they have changed. For example, it would be almost impossible to know which Hollywood stars were still alive. Usually it is discovered much later. Sometimes it can be decades later. I would bet you that I could find a star that is dead that I would not find out until now. After about ten minutes of looking, I found one. I did not know that Robert Urich had died in 2002.
So, once I overcame my ignorance about the state of U3, I was actually surprised about how it ended.
U3, for those of you that might not know, was a company that specialized in providing applications from a USB memory stick. Originally they were funded from SanDisk and msystems. At a later date msystems sold their share to SanDisk. There is a decent interview from 2006 with Esther Kruijver, VP of Platform for U3, LLC. The interview explains the need for the product solution and the basic history for U3. By 2006, U3 was becoming common in the market and SanDisk was selling USB smart drives in bulk.
In May 2007, SanDisk pulled the plug on U3 and announced a new partnership with Microsoft. SanDisk is still promoting the U3 brand until the new devices arrive on the market. The U3 web site is still live and it is still possible to register and download the development kits. The web site is setup in such a way to hide the fact that U3 has been dissolved and it is only if you look at the developer pages that you are told about the new Microsoft agreement.
Since this announcement, there have been no new announcements. There has been no suggestions of migration and certainly no hints of new developer kits.
My interpretation of the announcement is that SanDisk intends to retreat into the hardware realm and let Microsoft worry about integrating the software. This division will suit Microsoft since it has already announced that it intends to license its solution to other hardware vendors. In a way, it is very similar to the original IBM PC story. IBM handed Microsoft the rights for doing DOS and in return Microsoft got the rights to sell to other hardware manufacturers. History has already proved how came out on top on that deal.
It also seems like Microsoft must perceive a great deal of value to enter this arena.
What I would like to know is what really happened at the end of U3. What events took place? Was it a sad ending?
I’ve tried to find out what might be the “true” story of U3 but there is no evidence I could find on the web. Maybe U3 died because nobody really wanted it to live. Maybe it died because SanDisk saw the relationship with Microsoft to be more valuable. Regardless, the hype of U3 was snuffed out instantly once this deal was done.
Having been involved in the computer industry since the mid 80’s, certain patterns emerge and it doesn’t take much to see behind the veil. In this case, it would appear that SanDisk was tired of fighting a battle in the software world without the help of the biggest software giant. Most companies which are based in selling hardware will discount the value of doing software themselves and would rather turn to an outside vendor. It is very difficult to do both well. It usually means being able to look beyond the mindset that one is better than the other or is worth more.
I’ll give you a challenge that I failed at. See if you can find any former U3 employee talking on the Internet about the demise of U3. For me, all I found was silence. Even when I found key employees on LinkedIn or other executive style list services, there was never a hint of a blog or any kind of personal feedback. I find this very odd, especially because I know that most of these people had a high degree of passion about their company before it was liquidated.
Some of the employees are still at SanDisk. Others have moved on to other startups. Except for the fact that they are proud on their list of accomplishments to have worked for U3, there is no evidence of why U3 collapsed.
If you happen to find any cool information that is more up to date about the SanDisk/Microsoft project, I would love to hear about it. Conjecture would suggest that either Microsoft is working on this very hard or just waiting for things to settle down from the OS front. I seriously don’t know. I’m incredibly curious however.
Please let me know if you know something.