Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Xerox "Invents" Erasable Paper!

Well, those wiley bastards at Xerox Parc are at it again. These people are the ones that came up with all the innovations we use everyday on our modern computers including Ethernet, the graphical user interface (GUI) and the computer mouse.

They've actually made paper that is erasable. I'm not talking about with a pencil eraser - I'm talking about stuff you printed out of your laser printer - can be erased and the physical paper can be used again.


Some scientist-type guys (I'm picturing white lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses here) actually did a demo of a paper whose text will delete itself after 24 hours.

Rather than just one use paper - hitting the trash can or recycling bin - the paper can be used up to 100 times (according to Eric Shrader, area manager at PARC).

So much for the "paperless society" we all envisioned. If you think about it - it's a pretty good idea. I know that I do a lot of printing of stuff for one-off reading like emails, long news articles, web pages, etc. I'm betting that a lot of people do the same thing. Read and toss (or recycle).

So - how does it work? It seems that the paper contains specially coded molecules that "darken" forming the printed content after being exposed to ultraviolet light emitted from a thin bar in a printer.

For now, the technology prints effectively only in black and white. Although good for everyday prints, ink remains a better option for high-quality prints - Mr. Shrader points out.

Then within 24 hours the molecule readjusts itself to its original form to delete the print, or heat can readjust the molecule instantly. Hmmm... interesting.

You can now have secret agent-type, your-eyes-only documents and don't even have to have your agent eat the evidence when they're done reading it. Just run it by a heat source - and it's gone.

I wonder what they will think of next...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Happiest Place on EARTH!

Yeah, so I took the family to Disneyland this weekend (again). The kids had no school on Monday for some teacher prep day or something - so we thought it would be a great idea to go down on Saturday night, spend the night, go to the park on Sunday and leave on Monday morning.

Also, rather than staying at one of the happiest-place-on-earth-hotels-for-$500-per-night rooms - we decided to stay about a mile away at a Marriott Suites. It was much less expensive, and they had a shuttle-thingie that would take us from the hotel to the park and we could avoid the parking expense and hassles.

Sounds great in theory.

So, the hotel was nice enough - not too fancy - not too shabby - just about right. The lobby was nice, the rooms were nice with a separate bedroom and living room (think Embassy Suites) - and it would work great for our needs.

It was a bit warm (like 95 degrees) Saturday afternoon - so the kids hit the pool, while I hit the supermarket down the street for snacks and some wine. I also got the 411 on the "shuttle", where to buy the tickets (kiosk outside), what time it left (6:20 and every 20 minutes after that), whether I could renew my annual pass at the hotel (no), etc.

Since we were going to get up early (the park opened at 8:00 am!) and it was going to be hot - we decided to get room service for breakfast.

It showed up right on time, was what we ordered - and we got dressed, sunscreened up and headed out. The tickets were easy to buy, the shuttle was right on time - and we got to the park in an efficient, uneventful way.

I told the family to go on in - and I would renew my pass, and would join them momentarily (the kids had been dying to get in there - and were all excited). I stepped up to the window and I told the nice lady that I wanted to renew my pass. She pulled up all the information, confirmed my address, processed payment in about 1 minute. Very nice.

Then she went to print my new "annual passport" on a plastic card - and things just went wrong.

It seems that this was a new printer, and it wasn't printing. Apologetic, thanks for your patiences, etc. You know how the old "won't print" thing goes - everyone and their uncle drops whatever they're doing - convinced they know how to hit or jiggle the cord better than everyone else.

After that failed - they called a supervisor. This person also hit the printer and giggled the cord - to no avail. Now REALLY apologetic, thanks for your patience. We're calling the "tech guy"... he'll be here in a minute. All in all I'd been there less than 10 minutes.

Apparently in the Magic Kingdom a 10 minute wait to get your printed pass is very embarrassing. Then - they did something that was totally unexpected. The cashier lady pulled out a little book of what looked like gift certificates - and told me that she was giving me a front-of-the-line pass for whatever ride I wanted.


So, apparently, you can get this pass - go in the exit - hand it to the guy and you're on the ride. SWEET!

So, the tech guy comes, sets the target printer to the correct one (in 5 seconds), and prints not only my badge but the other 5 for the other people who were waiting. Since this took another 3 minutes - they gave me a SECOND front-of-the-line pass.

Well. Maybe this IS the happiest place on earth! Even though it was just a minor inconvenience - they took it to heart - gave me something that didn't cost them anything, but something that was going to be very valuable to me and my family. That's a lesson that I wish more companies did (including mine!). Food for thought...

So we're in, it's hotter than hell (101 degrees), pretty crowded (forget about "Finding Nemo" - that damn line was 45 minutes long at 8:01 am!), but we managed to grab "fast passes" to all the major rides and had a ball.

The "Fast Pass" concept is that you scan your ticket for a ride that is really popular - and it tells you that you can come back any time within a one hour period (based on length of the line, etc). It is usually anywhere from 1 to 2 hours in the future. It's a pretty ingenious system - have the computer wait in line for you. I like it.

The other thing a Fast Pass does is give you more time to walk around and spend money while you wait for your "window" to get back on the ride... pretty smart.

So basically we went on all the rides we really wanted to, and we were supposed to meet up with some friends at about 2:00 or so. We had the bright idea to take a quick shuttle back to the hotel, have the kids rest for about and hour and head back - so they wouldn't turn into any of the other 1,000 screaming, tired, unruley beasts... I mean children... that we were starting to witness all over the park.

We go outside by our appointed pickup number - and wait for the shuttle. No shuttle. Then there is one that is not going anywhere near our hotel - but I ask them what the deal is - and if they can call to let the dispatcher know we were waiting.

Here's where things fell down again. The nice driver told me that it's lunch time. For everyone. And ZERO shuttles were going to run again until 1:55 pm. It was now 12:55 pm.

To give some credit to the bus driver - she was asking the dispatcher for permission to take her group of 4 people back to their hotel. She was negotiating the fact that she would be taking lunch 1/2 later and wanted to come back to duty 1/2 later. Then, she asked if she could take us to our hotel as well.

Here's a terrific place to shine - just like this morning. But, unfortunately, the shuttle was a city-run enterprise, and not a Magic Kingdom-run enterprise.

So the city employee mentality (very similar to a postal worker mentality) is lunch break first, customers second. Her boss (the dispatcher) denied her request to take us to our hotel, and grudgingly "allowed" her to modify the apparently-all-important-lunch-break.

So, we are in the heat, with tired, grumpy kids, we want to go back to our hotel for some rest, we bought the "unlimited all day" passes - and we were SOL.

I was a "smidge" unhappy.

We decided right then and there - we would never take the tram - or any other form of public transportation in Anaheim - again. Ever. Yet another lesson that I wanted to take back to the team on Monday - have some compassion. Have a soul. Don't be in the service industry if you don't plan on serving your customers.

So we trudged on - and the kids did their best to not bitch and complain - and we actually had a terrific time for the rest of the day. Then about 9:00 pm I was done. Done as in stick-a-fork-in-me. Done.

But people had been lining up around the lagoon where Tom Sawyer's island is - for the past 3 hours. There was going to be some kind of show. So, we decided to stay and see what's up.

WOW. That's really about all I can say.

It turned out to be a homage to Fantasia - the original animated piece that Walt Disney meant to be used to stretch his animators and the technology of the day. Well, they had little barges with all the "princess" characters dancing, music blaring, brilliant lighting, and then something that I've never seen anywhere before.

They had Mickey appear on the island, then they projected moving animation on a fan of water spray about 40 feet high.

It showed the classic Fantasia scenes where Mickey used magic to make brooms carry the water for him - but as the water in the animation rushed and roared - the REAL water would foam and so the 2D projected animation would seem to become 3D.

When the evil witch appeared and in the animation set the water on fire - the whole lagoon was filled with REAL fire on the water!

Wow! It was one of the coolest shows I'd ever seen.

Oh yeah, then they had the fireworks show right after that (sponsored by Honda)... one word: FABULOUS!

We left the Magic Kingdom that night weary, bone tired, sore footed - and again, the magic halted just outside the Disney gates. Our we-thought-it-was-a-good-idea-at-the-time tram was late, crowded, smelly, and stopped at 4 places before we could get off... but we made it back. The kids slept in until 8:30 (usually up at 6:30) and we went on with our daily lives.

All-in-all I really learned a lot about business from that trip:
  • If you screw up (even though it's not even your fault) - throw the customer a bone
  • If you're in the service industry - put yourself into your customer's shoes - and consider their needs first
  • Re-use and re-purpose and re-package EVERYTHING you've ever done in the last 50 years to make something new
  • Delight your customers (even long time customers) with something that is both familiar (see "re purposing above") and something totally new
  • If you do something like a fireworks show - re purpose songs to evoke emotions and then back that up by having big, loud, bright and "cool" fireworks - in other words - GO BIG
  • ALWAYS take your own car - public transportation just sucks

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Microsoft + Yahoo: Deal or No Deal?

Today is the deadline for Yahoo to accept the $44.6 billion buy out offer from Microsoft... so I bet they have Howie in the in wings ready to ask that fated question: "Deal? Or no deal?"

It's looking more and more like "No deal." Good old Jerry from Yahoo is determined to open 5 more cases in hopes the Microsoft banker will up the offer.

Well, it looks like the banker will not only not raise the offer - but will take their dollies and go home. "As we said recently to the board, unless there's progress by this weekend, we will reconsider our alternatives," said Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, in a conference call yesterday to discuss the company's financial results.

Hmmm.... that's pretty toned-down from the big bully "proxy fight" words from Steve Ballmer only a couple of weeks ago.

It seems that Microsoft thought that with a pretty big number they could get this deal through quickly. Yahoo's stock price before the offer was in the shitter - and I think Microsoft gambled that the shareholders would apply pressure to Jerry & Company to accept it and move on.

We all know how that turned out. Yahoo has cranked up it's "we're not dead yet" PR machine into an absolute frenzy - announcing new platforms, offering to open up their search engine to developers, announced "great" financial results (well, they were the same as last year - but they made a good investment that gave a one-time payout of $400 million), etc.

On the flip side, Microsoft's stock was hammered when they announced the deal - so if they do decide to walk away - one can only assume that it will be "rewarded" by a bump in their own stock price - and a billion dollars worth of publicity.

But the results for Yahoo if Microsoft walks away will be disastrous - regardless of what their PR says. The company was clearly in decline over the last few years, and now that they have formed an advertising alliance with Google (someone Microsoft hates more than anyone - including open source) - Microsoft could just get plain nasty.

For example, what if Microsoft walks away? They eat a little crow - but their stock goes higher on the news, so other than a few million spent in lawyers, PR and plane fare, they're no worse for ware. But - what if they decided they were a little miffed?

They could just call up their buddies at the antitrust department of the Department of Justice and file a lawsuit against Yahoo and Google to get them to stop their partnership.

Either way - Microsoft comes out smelling like a rose. Not so for Yahoo.

Yahoo can still do a couple of things:
  1. Accept Microsoft's offer
  2. Continue to work alone - with its "great" offerings
  3. Accept a bid from someone else (if anyone was dumb enough to offer one)
  4. Continue to work in partnership with Google (and pray they don't get an antitrust lawsuit)
  5. Ask Microsoft to extend the bid deadline

I'm betting #2. Jerry thinks his company doesn't suck - and I think they will try to remain independent. If that's the case - you better sit by your computer Monday morning and sell Yahoo's stock short - because it's going to tank.

Oh, and if Microsoft does walk away - Jerry better get lawyered up - because not only WILL Microsoft go after the Google deal on antitrust issues - but Yahoo's own shareholders will start suing the hell out him too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Open Sourcing Goggle Analytics

So, I was poking around the Net last night and I found this cool, open source alternative to Google Analytics called Piwik (formerly

Now, I'm fairly fond of Google Analytics (even though everyone wishes it would be update more frequently). It's very feature-rich, very AJAX-y and fairly easy to use. It works by embedding a little JavaScript into the pages you want to track, and then the online app will slice and dice the data for you.

Piwik is very similar it tracks popular pages, referring keywords, languages and is open for developers to build their own plugins specifically for their web analytics needs - but it's licensed under GPL and costs nothing (except the time and energy to implement it across your site).

They have a cool live demo and here's a slide preso:


All-in-all it looks pretty cool, although I have to admit I haven't personally tried it out. As more and more of the world revolves around monetizing sites and more and more companies are trying to get a better idea of who goes to their sites and what they do once they get there - the stats behind your site are becoming more and more important.

Although I don't think Google is evil (yet) - I'm all for Red Bull fueled twentysomethings coming up with a better, open and free way of making sense of all that data. If you're the type of data jocky that can't get enough of your website data - it's worth checking out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Don't Mesh Me Up Baby!

OK, so Microsoft announced their new thing Live Mesh. Live Mesh is basically a program (Windows only for now) that will allow you to synch files from your desktop to the Internet, and also - here's the "Live" part - open up a terminal service to another PC.

Oh goodie! Yet ANOTHER f**ked up strategy for online backup. Just what the world was waiting for.

I mean, you already have unlimited, free, cross platform storage from Google. You have a whole cadre of automated "cloud" backup solutions including Carbonite and Mozy, you have a nascent set of frameworks for creating (and synching) data from your local store to the cloud in Google Gears and AIR... and NOW, FINALLY, we have yet another way to use the cutting-edge technology of TERMINAL SERVICES.


I get that Microsoft is really scared of "the Internet" and of the free alternatives to its Office franchise, and the free alternatives to it's development platform and languages, and the growing cries of "Vista sucks" from all corners of the world.

But, really - terminal services and synch?

The idea is a generally OK - have one place to put a bunch of stuff, and be able to access it from a variety of devices - other computers, mobile devices, etc. But of course, that doesn't work at the moment in the limited (10,000 people) closed tests they're doing now. Plus, requiring IE and Active-X controls in the browser to get the functionality just plain sucks ass. This is 2008! Really. Not kidding.

I know that there will be some people who find it incredibly useful, and no doubt a bunch of developers who have already drunk the Microsoft KoolAid® will scurry to add the feature to their offerings.

Packaging aside, there are many free/open source ways to accomplish the same thing right now today - and we'll just see more of them as time goes on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BrowserPlus - Yet Another Thingie

Yahoo released its numbers yesterday which, if you don't count the $401 million they got from a one-time investment, are about the same as last year. Old Jerry is still touting the "we're still relevant" and "we're worth more than that mean old Microsoft says we are" lines... but in the meantime, it also appears as though they've actually been working on some new stuff.

Enter BrowserPlus.

Now, the Yahoo site is a little bit "light" on information - um... as is the rest of the Internet. Apparently there was a rumor a few years ago that a "Google Gears Killer" was in the works - and then it was announced that the project was dropped.

Apparently not.

According to Skylar Woodward, one of the dev team guys,- the BrowserPlus will be (is) a "software and software distribution framework that allows device developers (desktop, mobile, etc.) to seamlessly bridge the browser programming environment (DHTML, JS) to any component they can dream up (VoIP, image manipulation, data caching, etc.)."

Ummm... ok.

Doesn't sound anything like Google Gears to me. Google defines Gears as "an open-source project that enables more powerful Web applications, by adding new features to your Web browser." Oh yeah, and it allows programmers to create stuff that will work in a disconnected way.

BrowswerPlus describes itself: "Yahoo! BrowserPlus™ is software that lets you do more inside your web browser. BrowserPlus makes it easy to install and use web plug ins for a richer experience on the internet."

Ummm... ok. So it's really yet another proprietary plug-in running browser plug-in that will run widgets. Only on Yahoo! sites (for now).


I guess it was a cool idea 3 years ago when they started on it - but does the world really need another widget plug-in thingie from Microsoft Yahoo?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Mars Day

Well, today is Earth Day.

Yeah, I know. I don't really care either.

Don't get me wrong - I think that looking at ways to have less of an impact on the mother earth is a good thing. I think that we are smart enough now to start making a better start of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, etc. In fact, I just saw a show last night on the Discovery Channel that said that if we covered 10% of Nevada with solar panels, we would have enough energy for the entire United States!

Really, just 10%. What the hell is Nevada doing with all that land anyway? Answer: nothing!

Or, by a similar token, if we took the same small bit off of the east coast, we could use wind and wave power to do the same thing - light the entire US.

What the hell is the east coast doing off their shore anyway? Answer: nothing!

Still, I'm a realist. I don't see our oil-based economy changing overnight. I don't think that by 15,000 people buying a Prius we're going to close the gaping hole in the ozone layer.

I do think, however, that having gas at $4+ per gallon will make people strive harder for alternatives to gasoline. That's a good start. There are already version 1.0 all-electric vehicles coming to market with more on the way. There's talk of a plug-in Prius, and there's a guy in BFE that has come up with a way to get 100 mpg out of a Hummer!

Those are the types of things that will start the societal shift from gasoline - which is a big driving factor in the economy. Think about it - if gas goes up - everything else does too. Trucking gets more expensive, FedEx gets more expensive, air travel gets more expensive, everything goes up. Not to mention things like wars, international upheaval, and the threat of terror.

If we converted 80% of the personal vehicles (cars and trucks) to clean-burning, non-polluting electric power (or still have a small engine to improve range as a first step) - we would solve a lot of social and economic problems, and also get a cleaner Earth as a result.

I'm still confused why we're spending billions of dollars in a Space Station that doesn't work, for plans on how to colonize the moon, and for 2 dune buggy size probes on the face of Mars. Yet we do.

I know that scientists and space folk have a hard-on to colonize Mars (for some reason!) - and that's a good idea. But let's spend some brain power and financial muscle solving the problem of mass transit, pollution, overcrowded roads, etc. before trying to get people to live on a dead, desolate, uninhabitable planet.

If we're not more forward-thinking, that dead, desolate, uninhabitable planet could just be Earth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Microgoogle Docs

Microsoft announced on Friday that they are launching a stripped-down version of their Office suite - code name - "Albany" to folks on a subscription basis. Subscribers get Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, plus Windows Live OneCare, Windows Live Mail, Messenger and Photo Gallery.

Hmmm... so they can't get a browser-based version working - of even basic stuff like Google did - so now they figure you don't have the $120 to buy the student version of Office - so they're going to RENT it to you?


I mean, I get the fact that they are trying to be all "relevant" in the new world. I also understand that they haven't found anyone to buy (yet) that has an online offering. I also know that Office sales are a HUGE part of their income, so they don't want to kill the fatted calf just yet.

They also like the idea of you paying them every month - for crap they're already shipping. In the software market it's called "incremental revenue." They've already tried it with OneCare (don't know how it's really selling, though), and with their Xbox Live franchise.

Seems like it's still putting lipstick on a pig, if you ask me.

What about pricing? Well, we dont' know yet. But if you take the street price of the Student Edition - which is $120, and you figure that there's a 5 year ownership window; then add the OneCare $49.95 price, divide by
60 months (5 years) and you get a whopping $2.83 per month.

So, if Microsoft rounds up and doubles it (just because they can) - would you really pay $5.99 per month for Office when you can get most of the same stuff from any number of vendors (Zoho, Google Docs, OpenOffice) for free?

Me neither.

Friday, April 18, 2008

MySQL: No soup for (some of) you!

When Sun bought MySQL for $1 billion - the open source database maker was struggling to make money. In a ComputerWorld interview in June 2007, former MySQL CEO MÃ¥rten Mickos said that "...only one in a thousand users ever pays.." for the software.

1 in 1,000? And you got $1 BILLION for your company? Yes, please!

Anyway - back to the story. Now that Sun owns it - I can picture them in a product marketing meeting thinking "hmmmm.... how can we make some money out of this widely-installed database?"

Then, the new guy, I'll call him "Tom", comes up with a brilliant idea, "Let's make the cool new features in our 5.1 release only available to those who have a paid license! The rest of the people using it for free - can either just wait for it - or can write their own version."

Applause all around. Problem solved. Until - their user conference this week in Santa Clara, California.

The "Community Edition" (free) users were all up in arms about Sun having "the nerve" to actually charge some money for a database (oh, the horror!).

Then the bloggers got a hold of it. In one post user Paul Saduauskas threatened to abandon MySQL in favor of Postgresql that he categorized as "fast enough." He was incensed that the free version and pay-for version would have a different feature set - and he wasn't alone.

Now, I can understand that if you're used to something being free (even though it's really not free, and most people who are using it SHOULD pay for it) - it can suck when you realize that you aren't getting the latest and greatest in the next release - just because you didn't pay for it in the first place.

Although, now due to the community and bloggers coming undone over the last 24 hours, Sun is now in full waffle mode on what they will finally do in the end.

However - I think Community users should just stop bitching about it and either dump MySQL for another free, open source database or pony up the inexpensive license money and shut the hell up.

People - how do you think Sun got the $1 billion to buy MySQL in the first place? Yep, it had to actually "sell" something to someone...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

$499 Mac a Hoax?

So yesterday I wrote about a company that got a bunch of press because it was offering a $499 piece of hardware that would run Mac OS X.

I found it strange that on their store they weren't taking any order because they "couldn't process credit cards." So I went to the "contact" page and looked up their address on Google Maps. It looks like a residential neighborhood (address: 10475 NW 28th St,Doral, FL 33172)... but if you look on Zillow - there is nothing at that address.


Maybe they're better at PR than they are at building hardware? Is it a hoax? Or worse, a fraud?

Another fishy thing - they don't take any phone orders - only orders on their website. The domain is registered to a guy (not the company itself) with the same phone numbers as on the "corporate" site - but the address is different (address: 3401 SW 104 CT, Miami, FL 33165). Again, it's an address that is based in a residential neighborhood. The domain was registered in 2000, though.

Now I was curious. So, since the name on the contact page was "PsyStar Corporation" - my next stop was the Secretary of Corporations for the State of Florida. I put in their name - BINGO - yet ANOTHER residential address (10645 SW 112 ST, MIAMI FL 33176). Looks like Roldolfo Pedraza (same name as domain registration) formed the corporation in July of 2007 - and, at least initially, was the initial officer/director along with someone named Roberto Pedraza.

While I was doing a little more digging - I decided to check out the EFI v8 emulator - the little bit of software that made it possible to load the OS X software on non-Apple hardware possible. Um, turns out the author of the software is more than slightly pissed off that they're using it - as it turns out there is a strict "not for commercial use" that is being violated.


And, for the most curious thing about the whole sordid affair - Apple is still mum. They haven't sued anyone yet! I mean, it's been almost 3 days!

Maybe they can't find them either...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Clone Wars Redux?

So the folks over at Psystar have come up with a piece of off-the-shelf Intel hardware that they claim will run Mac OS X.

For $499!

That's about $100 less than a Mac Mini. With twice the RAM, three times as big hard drive (compare). Hmmmm... so how did they do it? Magic - and software. The company claims that with some "minimal patching" users could install Mac OS X 10.5 on the system. "With the EFI V8 emulator it is possible to install Leopard's kernel straight from the DVD that you purchased at the Apple store barring the addition of a few drivers to ensure that everything boots and runs smoothly," according to the Psystar site.

Apparently, all the attention caught them off-guard as well - since the announcement on Tuesday, their server was down for most of the day. As of today - the site is up - but you're out of luck if you want to order because - according to their online store's homepage:

"Thank you for visiting Psystar. We're sorry but the store is temporarily down due to the fact that we are currently unable to process any credit card transactions.Please send an e-mail to with the subject line "UPDATE" so that we can update you when the store comes back online. For customers who have already placed orders: if you received a confirmation e-mail then your item is in queue to be built and shipped."

Ummmm.... what? Store down because they can't process credit card transactions? Nice. Yeah, sign me up for one of those Mac clones...

If you're old (like me) - you'll remember the great Apple-sanctioned clones of 1995. Basically, Power Computing got the license for the Apple ROM, and so they were able to make it all work.

However, once Steve Jobs came back into power in July of 1997 - he bought Power Computing for $100 million in stock and quickly put the kibosh on all the clone maker's ROM licenses - effectively putting them all out of business. Nice.

There is even some question as to whether people can legally install Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware. The end user license agreement (EULA) says: "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so."

Hmmmm... If I were a betting man (and I am) - and I was an executive at Psystar (I'm not) - I would have my legal team on speed dial. You KNOW it's only a matter of days before Apple Thugs serve a cease and desist and then start applying the Full Monte legal cluster.

Should be fun to watch, though!

Monday, April 14, 2008


Hey, there's a new merger alliance in town: + Google! Yep, the geeks at both companies have apparently been working hard to integrate Google Docs and Google Talk into the default CRM install.

All in all it looks pretty cool. IF you like Google Docs.

We all bitch and complain about the fact that Word, Excel and PowerPoint are the definition of bloatware - and there are lots of people who bitch that Google Docs is an underpowered "toy."

Now, Google Docs is OK for a lot of folks who don't live and breath Excel Macros and advanced functions. These knowledge working are sometimes put down as "...just sales and marketing personnel..." - insinuating that they aren't "real" users.

I beg to differ.

It's "these people" that have driven the adoption of Salesforce to begin with. It's these people that also use Google Docs on a regular basis. Having the two integrated together is a terrific idea - and one that they have done a great job in making as seamless as possible (video).

Just as I can imagine SOHO users rejoicing, I can just hear the laments of enterprise IT folks. Most enterprise IT folks have been working for years to narrow the number of vendors they work with - just to keep their heads above water. They want to lock down all desktops, control every packet over the network, make sure that they have a hand in every single instance of real or imagined "security" breaches, etc.

Which is good. that's their job. However, I'm betting that they're going to whine about the Google integration (I believe they have the option of turning it off altogether) - and the horrors of having people store their data in the cloud that they can't control.

They may have a point. However, I think it's the sales and marketing pukes (read: real users) who are going to dictate what they will and won't put up with. They WILL drive adoption.

Hopefully, that will spur Google to enhance and fix their Docs offering... I mean, hey - Zoho has a much more robust suite of (also free) of online applications. You would think that Google would take their online Docs products more seriously, now that they have a higher rate of adoption.

Google: ENOUGH with the "Beta" tag on Docs already! People use it. People are coming rely on it. And, oh yeah, another company is banking on that functionality for THEIR customers. Suspend the free gourmet meals for your entire campus for 3 days and you can pay for 100+ engineers to finish up and fix the damn thing already.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Hacker In The Mirror

For me, the word "hacker" conjures up visions of pimple-faced kids in a cold state somewhere - toiling away with "cool hacks" in their parent's basement - or nefarious underworld thugs in 3rd world countries trying to spam, steal and worm their way into stealing people's identities.

Take a look at what "hacker" actually means (from the American Heritage Dictionary):
  1. One who is proficient at using or programming a computer; a computer buff.
  2. One who uses programming skills to gain illegal access to a computer network or file.
  3. One who enthusiastically pursues a game or sport: a weekend tennis hacker.
  4. [Perhaps from hacker, amateurish or inept golfer or tennis player (possibly from hack), or perhaps from hack, practical joke, clever scheme (from dialectal hack, to embarrass, confuse, play a trick on).]
Although these are good - I have one of my own: A person who enjoys exploring the details of something and knows how (or learns how) to tweak and stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

If you look at it from that point of view - I'm definitely a hacker - and you probably are too.

I just happen to be in the software business - but anyone can hack anything. You can hack the freeway system by taking side streets, hack the boarding line by faking an injury, hack the check-in luggage cluster by shipping your bags overnight, etc.

Most of us use a computer most of every working day (some crazy people like me also use it in their off time as well!). Most of us use software - some good and some bad - most of every working day.

Because software was created by man, it is inherently flawed. There is no "perfect" software package. Either it does 80% of what we need 90% of the time, or it just plain "sucks" but we're forced to use it for reasons outside of our control.

I was talking to a customer that had the same problem. They were using Microsoft Dynamics - which they have used for years and years before Microsoft bought it. The accounting people were happy. The salespeople would rather poke their eyes out than try to price out custom configurations of their products (which is about 90% of their business).

The problem was that in Dynamics, they had room for the specs and a price to charge the customer, but they had all these business rules and pricing and costs that needed to be taken into consideration.

So they did what any other hacker would do - they had created souped up Excel files, flat file databases, and all kinds of other tools that would help them get the configuration - and thus the cost and price correct. But it's not really hacking the system, because this data wasn't shared and everyone had their own way of doing it (very successfully, btw).

Then, the true hacker showed up. This person suggested that they write their complicated business logic and configuration rules in some software that everyone could share, then link that to the Dynamics system and read/write the data they needed there - rather than having to hand-code everything. Oh yeah, and each Dynamics seat was $5,000 - so they did "rounds" of data entry to share a named user.

Answer: Servoy. They got hooked up with a consulting group they had a relationship with - and proceeded to write a completely customer configuration editor that would give costs in realtime, and then when the client said "yes" - they literally pushed a button and the invoice came out of Dynamics. They were also able to steer the customer during the configuration and view realtime inventory (coming from Dynamics) and make substitutions or tell the customer what the status of an order was, or get a firm delivery date based on when the materials were coming in.

They learned that the answer isn't necessarily to throw out what isn't working - but rather - hack the system to meet the disparate needs of everyone in the organization.

So let your inner-hacker, fire up a copy of Servoy and see what you can hack today...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Yahoo Going AwOL?

Yahoo and Time Warner are said to be "closing in" on a deal that would merge Yahoo with AOL.

AOL! Really, I'm not making this up.

The word is that Yahoo would get some cash from Time Warner as well as a 20 percent stake in the combined company (minus the crappy dial-up business - it's worth an estimated $10 billion).

But wait! There's more!

At the same time ol' Jerry is reported to be in talks with... wait for it... Google. Apparently Yahoo finally got the idea that maybe - just maybe - Google was better at handling the search advertising - so they are looking to outsource it to the multi-colored-logo 800 pound gorilla.

But wait! There's still MORE!

The New York Times reported that Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp are in negotiations on making a joint bid for Yahoo. That merger would join Yahoo, Microsoft Corp's MSN and News Corp's MySpace, the paper said.


Of course talking about doing a deal and doing a deal are two different things - but jeez! So... I guess Jerry Wang really, really, really, REALLY doesn't want to dance with Steve Ballmer!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

PaaS Gets The Google Touch

It seems that even Google is getting the PaaS (Platform as a Service) religion. At their Campfire One "get together" Google announced an "early technology preview" of a new service they're calling the Google App Engine.

The idea is that Google has determined (like Force from and Elastic Cloud Computing from Amazon) - that the so-called "last mile of service" - actually getting your application up and running somewhere on the web - can be a challenge.

They've set out to allow developers to get an application up on the web and running - and then scale it up to almost infinite capability - seamlessly and for free (for now). The platform will be limited to running applications in Python (WTF?), and they go out of their way to stress that they are not providing a virtual server or virtual instance of a machine, but rather, they are hosting the developer's application (only).

It comes with 500MB of persistent storage and enough CPU and bandwidth for about 5 million page views a month. For free. For now.

Although they also stress it is not "feature complete" and it's still in development, AND there is no word on what the actual pricing will be once it's out of development, AND they're limiting this preview to the first 10,000 lucky developers to sign up... it's still a very interesting development.

It seems that in the emerging world of the integrated stack (aka PaaS) I think we're going to see LOTS more announcements and competing platforms and standards in order to gain the most developer eyeballs.

Speaking of developers - it just seems to me that Google is slowly becoming the new Microsoft. That is, it has your mail (free), your Office-like apps (free), searching (free), image archive (free), and now also wants to host your applications.

This could be a bug or a feature, depending on how you look at it.

BUG: For all the privacy, head-in-the-ground-scardy-cat-types - it's "big brother." It also smacks of what Microsoft has been doing for years - locking developers into a proprietary integrated stack that is almost impossible to get out of - without completely re-writing all applications ever developed.

FEATURE: If you're a small Web 2.0 company that is looking to get bought by Google (and be honest - who isn't?) - then what better way to have Google become aware of your application and your company and your sustained pageviews - than to host it on Google's own infrastructure? I can almost hear the wide-eyed-we're-going-to-be-rich gear heads coding now...

For the gory details - check out the six (6) videos and the technical specs after the break...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Yaw Who?

Today Microsoft gave Yahoo an ultimatum with regard to their offer...

Ooooooh.... who couldn't see this one coming a mile away? I mean, it's so atypical for Microsoft... NOT.

When you have a "friendly" suitor that uses this kind of language when they're in "friendly mode" - just imagine what fun it will be when they're pissed off:

Steve Ballmer: "If we have not concluded an agreement within the next three weeks, we will be compelled to take our case directly to your shareholders, including the initiation of a proxy contest to elect an alternative slate of directors for the Yahoo board."


Now for the threat (also from Steve Ballmer): "If we are forced to take an offer directly to your shareholders, that action will have an undesirable impact on the value of your company from our perspective, which will be reflected in the terms of our proposal."

Also nice and friendly.

Not to be undone, Jerry Wang, CEO of Yahoo responded in a strongly worded press release:

Jerry Wang: "We regret to say that your letter mischaracterizes the nature of our discussions with you. We have had constructive conversations together regarding a variety of topics, including integration and regulatory issues. Your comment that we have refused to enter into negotiations to conclude an agreement are particularly curious given we have already rejected your initial proposal, nominally $31 per share at the time, for substantially undervaluing Yahoo! and your suggestions in your letter and the media that you are considering lowering the value of your proposal. Moreover, Steve, you personally attended two of these meetings and could have advanced discussions in any way you saw fit."

My take is Jerry saying: "Nuh-uh! It's not fair. But if you give us more money, we will like you."

Ummmm... no disrespect to Mr. Wang - but in general, what Microsoft wants, Microsoft gets. It'll be interesting to see what happens - but my guess is that if a proxy battle doesn't give it to Microsoft, either they will up the offer or just proceed to crush them into a fine powder in the marketplace.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More On PaaS - TMA Systems

Yesterday I posted about how PaaS (Platform as a Service) was the new and upcoming way that companies were going to cut down on their infrastructure costs.

Well, I'm here at the TMA User Conference in Tulsa, OK and I can tell you first hand that PaaS is being implemented at not just the infrastructure level, but at the development level as well. In this press release Servoy and TMA announced that they were partnering to provide their customers with a new technology base for their CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Systems) system.

Now the interesting thing about Servoy as a platform versus more highly integrated (read: proprietary) systems like is that Servoy gives you, the customer, the choice on how you want to deploy your SaaS solution.

There are a couple of extremes in PaaS:
  • Configure it yourself from scratch and have at it (like Amazon's EC3 service)
  • Use and their proprietary Apex development environment
  • Use Servoy and have a choice of deployment models

Servoy gives you a choice of how you can deploy your solution: on your own internal server, on "traditional" ISP, on a PaaS server, or ANY combination thereof.

Your development platform matters as much as your deployment method. If you have tools that easily allow you to do both - you'll be that much more ahead of the game.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

PaaS The SaaS Please

Unlike most bloggers, I'm not going to write some kind of crazy story and then at the end say "April Fool's!"

No, being the serious blogger that I am, I'm going instead to talk a little about the emerging PaaS (Platform as a Service) movement especially in the SaaS (Software as a Service) world.

Sounds fun, huh? Bear with me for a minute...

PaaS is a relatively new term coined by and their "" platform offering. Although Amazon has been offering it for a lot longer with their elastic cloud (EC3) and virtual storage (S3) services - it's a term that's becoming equated with the concept of push-button infrastructure.

It's an appealing concept - you specify a configuration, push a button, and somewhere in the goey gob of the Internet a server is configured for you - and you're all set to go. You're charged by the type of machine you configure and your actual useage (usually by the hour + a small bandwith fee). You can (on most services) also scale up your hardware instantly by just adding more similarly configured servers - all via a browser interface.

If you're an ISV - this is an especially appealing prospect over the "traditional" hosting options that either tie you into a shared server or require that you buy and configure your own box to be "parked" at a host's connection.

In theory, if you're providing a SaaS solution (rented over the Internet rather than having it installed on-premises) - scalability is a good thing. Instant added bandwidth is a good thing. Predictable cost structure is a good thing.

Is there a downside? Ummmm... not that I can see.

You still have the flexibility of backing your database up locally - or even better - to another cloud-based server - so you (and your customers') data is protected. Probably better protected than if you set up your own server and have to manage it.

In a world of "give it to me NOW" and in the face of the ever-increasing speed of business - PaaS is going to be a bigger and bigger part of the SaaS landscape.
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