"We need discipline in management, we need good business models and we need to address the balance sheet," said Tim Donahue, president and chief executive officer of Nextel Communications. "The new economy fantasy was just a field of dreams, 'build it and they will come.' The models just weren't realistic."
Tim Draper, chief executive officer of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, was upbeat. "We need to get rid of a few myths. One of those is that this is the worst possible time to be an entrepreneur. No it's not. Right now, everyone has a lot of time, if not a lot of money. The talent and the rent are cheap out there right now. There are wide-open spaces for new technology and little competition. OK, money is harder to raise and customers are slower to buy, but the opportunities are there."
In his opening keynote address, Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett said he had "never been more optimistic". The computer industry would start to see improvements by the beginning of next year, and the telecommunications industry would pick up later that year. "But the key is that we're moving away from selling the technology for its own sake, and toward solving the customers' problems."
And that's the key to where the industry stands now, getting back to the customer, according to Jocelyne Attal, vice-president of WebSphere within IBM's Software Group.
"We need to go back to the basics of marketing," she said. "In this industry, someone has a great idea and they think that marketing involves some nice charts in a presentation. Marketing is not about a nice display. Marketing is about the customer's requirements and finding a mixture of the right technology and the market needs."
Attal said companies have to stop releasing technology to the market before the market is ready. "We need to get back to basics, back to Darwinism - the company with the strongest business, with the cash, is king. Back to sales people going out there selling, showing chief executive officers the competitive advantage that products will bring. We need to get back to reality."
This year's conference had been better than last, "because people are not nostalgic any more," Attal said. "They've stopped complaining and accepted that now we just have to go on and do it."