Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some Things Just Piss Me Off

OK, so I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

By nature, I'm a sort of glass-half-empty kind of guy (shocking, I know!) - but today started out rough and just slowly descended into one of those days where I'm convinced I should have just stayed in bed.

Mornings around my house start early and are hectic enough (kids up, clothed, fed, brushed, polished, missing shoes, forgotten homework, lunches packed, etc.) on a normal day. When you're in sort of a "funk" to begin with - it gets even more challenging just to get out the door.

Then, my car decides that it will make a burning smell all the way to work. This is just after I spent $500 on getting it tuned up and new brakes, etc. So, off to the dealer it goes (as opposed to the more convenient shop by the office). Turns out the calipers on one side are stuck - conveniently burning the new brake linings off of the driver's side wheel. Oh, and the other guys also put the wrong kind of brake fluid in - so they have to flush the brake system. Oh, and you need a tire rotation. Oh, and the last oil change - the filter is leaking. Oh, and we can't have it done until tomorrow. That'll be $678.48 - thanks.

After coming in late from the car fiasco we had no Internet connection - and everyone was helpfully waiting for me to come in to fix the damn router. Note to self: print one of those "don't push the red button" signs and put it next to the coffee maker that reads "If there is no Internet - turn off the router and turn it back on again."

Then there was the helpful anti-fraud folks at Bank of America that had helpfully turned off all access to our corporate debit card and caused the automatic payments for various vendors to fail. After a phone call to a very courteous call center in India (good news: the person used my name in every single sentence) - I was assured that after I call another number that all would be well with the world again. Yeah, right. Two more calls later - they agreed (after a verbal strip-searching to verify my identity) to turn back on access to the card. So that I could access MY money. Nice.

Next, we're out of toner for each of the two Dell printers we have. Yeah, and Office Depot, Staples, Office Max, Best Buy, Circuit City, and every other retailed known to man can't help. So I grab paper and pencils for everyone and teach them the art of "writing things down on paper" until the toner can get here - yep, tomorrow.

After a few more of these incidents (and it's just after lunch) - I've come to some enlightened conclusions:
  1. If you're in a funk - don't go to work
  2. Inexpensive and convenient are an oxymoron
  3. Technology sucks when it doesn't work
  4. Banks are inhuman, money-grubbing institutions that just don't care
  5. Buy 250 toner cartridges at a time
  6. It's always 5:00 somewhere

I'd go home... if I had a car...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Micro Boo-Hoo

"Well, isn't that special?" was a catch phrase of Dana Carvey's Church Lady character on SNL (about 100 years ago).

I think that would be an appropriate response for Yahoo in the wake of Microsoft's patented if-we-can't-buy-you-we'll-just-rip-your-arms-off approach to acquisitions.

A proxy fight? Really? Wow - no one saw that coming.

It's sort of funny, really. It reminds me of that scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail where there is a guy with a cart of human bodies roaming through the plague-stricken countryside shouting "bring out your dead, bring out your dead." A man comes out with an old man over his shoulder and negotiates a price with the vendor, when the old man says "but I'm not dead, yet." The guy carrying him says to the vendor "ah, but he's nearly dead" while the old man cries "I'm feeling better" as the cart moves down the lane.

Maybe Steve Ballmer saw the movie...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Yeah, so Microsoft has search engine envy. Google must be going up its ass sideways the way Netscape did with that whole "browser thing" back in the 90's. Not only is Google way younger, it's got 58% as big of a market cap, it gets way better press (mostly), it has a bunch of free online products that - gasp - people use, and most of all - it makes money by serving web pages with ads.

What? No CD's? No tech support? No rushing out consumer boxes and multi-million dollar consumer advertising?

Hmmm.... daddy like.

So - the first thing is - let's build it ourself. We all know how much MSN sucks - so that didn't work out so well.

Plan #2 - who can we buy?

Let's see.... Google? No, that would take all the income Bill Gates makes in 18 months... hmmmm... hmmmm.. hey, I know! Let's buy the other company that was totally blind-sided and pissed off by Google getting all the attention - Yahoo!.

But is that really the reason? Does Microsoft really have "ad envy" on that scale? I don't think so.

I think it's all about SaaS (Software As A Service). Yahoo! is a multi-national company, it's market cap is (only) $40 billion - and they really know how to build and deliver web pages. Plus, they already own Zimbra a spiffy AJAX-y email app - maybe we can just buy it and get into this here "saas" game... before someone else (eg Google) eats our online services lunch like Netscape almost did with the browser.

Spiffy idea, guys!

Meanwhile both Google and Yahoo! are going on the offensive defense. Google has already filed a motion with Federal Regulators noting any objection "...should this deal happen." and the founders of Yahoo! are urging all the nervous (perhaps to be "assimilated") employees that it's all "business as usual."

How will it all shake out? Who knows. The important thing - is that the 800 pound gorilla has been awakened - and it's also betting the future on SaaS.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pondering the Cloud

I've been reading and hearing an awful lot about "cloud computing" over the past few months - and I don't think it's going to stop any time soon. I think, to a certain degree, it's the wave of what's to come.

It's sort of like the computing (r)evolution itself. No one really knows what's going to happen - they all just wait until someone is making money - or comes up with something that really resonates with people's pocketbooks - and all of a sudden "it's the future."

Think about centralized computers with "dumb" terminals, then personal computers, then VisiCalc and Excel (and office), then desktop publishing, then Mosaic, then the Internet, then Yahoo, then SalesForce.com, then iTunes, then Google, then AJAX, then SaaS (Software As A Service), then"offline computing", and now "cloud computing."

It seems like everyone is jumping on the modified SaaS bandwagon - not content in just offering up their services via the web (whether in native desktop clients or just via a browser) - but now they want folks to develop software on their platforms where they will do all the hosting as well.

This has some interesting impacts on how we do business. It will decrease the traditional IT costs - in the sense that no one has to babysit (or pay the cooling and utility bills for) a server room (or 5), and it means that developers can get applications up and running (at least simple ones) relatively quickly. Cloud computing could also benefit users who want to throw together an application and share it with others - without having to wait 3 years for an overworked IT staff to "get around to it."

Sounds good - if it didn't totally and completely suck.

I mean really, really suck. Maybe the technology just isn't "there" yet. I don't know about you - but I've tried a bunch of these online "cloud" development environments (CogHead, QuickBase, Rollbase, Yahoo Pipes etc.) and while there are good things to say about all of them - they are all very limited in what you can do - and really don't even come close to the robust applications you can create "offline."

Maybe I'm just too old - but I'm not really sure how much cool stuff you can create that:
  1. Isn't being created and hosted for free by some .com 2.0 company
  2. Can match the look and feel of your other legacy applications
  3. Can interact with the hardware layer of PC's (think cash drawer or bar code scanner)
  4. Can broadcast data to other connected users to avoid session dirty reads and writes
  5. Are very useful beyond what people do with spreadsheets (online or traditional Excel)
In fact, just beyond the surface issues they create data islands that don't connect to your enterprise systems. You might as well just keep sending around your Excel spreadsheets (or TIP: use Google Docs!). Part of getting out of the stone age and the age of proprietary desktop database nonsense - is the notion that that you already have tons of data that you :
  • Can't easily get to
  • Have to re-key into multiple systems
  • Can't visualize the way you need it to
  • Is incomplete based on your business role
I have to believe that the answer isn't a "cloud" version of a flat file, proprietary, closed database system that you can happen to easily create a GUI for.

Why can't we have both?

We need a smarter GUI tool that will unlock the data we already have - and one that will allow us to deploy that GUI over a native client (for hardware integration) and/or over a browser for multiple access (bonus points if you can do it from the same code base - because who the hell wants to learn .NET??).

We need a tool that will allow us to combine our ERP databases with our frontline business applications - and allow easy reporting and slicing and dicing - AND is easy enough to use so that we're not caught in "Excel Hell" (or "Google Docs Hell").

Oh, and IT should LOVE it - not grudgingly support it.

There is a tool. It's called Servoy. Check it out!
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