Monday, June 30, 2008

Here's Hoping Gates Gets His Groove Back

As this is the last day of Bill Gates as the head of Microsoft (sort of) - I was wondering if Bill is a little sad or if he's planning a huge "I'm so done with this" party?

I've read a couple of biographies over the years - as well as all the various retrospectives that have been all over the press the last couple of weeks.

If I were him - I'd want to get the hell out and try something else for a while as well. I mean, there are millions of people's lives who have been forever changed because of the luck, greed, ambition, talent, ruthlessness, and genius of a rag-tag group of 13 people at a little start up company no one had ever heard of - more than 30 years ago.

I know that I'm one of those people.

Yeah, sure, he made a few dozen billion dollars doing it. That's what everyone likes to focus on. That's what everyone is jealous of. That's what everyone respects.

Now I don't happen to have a few billion in the bank - but I have to imagine that once you've built a $140 million house outfitted with Michael Jackson-like technology at every turn, and you have traveled the world and met with world leaders, business leaders, tech leaders, social workers, etc. that you're basically just bored with it all.

I think for Mr. Gates, the real challenge is... well... the challenge. From what I've read about him - he's crazy smart and really devours books and information at near computer speeds.

He doesn't seem to tolerate people that "don't get it" (eg him) and has been known to really get in their face and maybe even fire them if he thinks they're too thick to get his meaning (on anything). He seems to be the kind of person whose brain just doesn't shut down.

He always seems to be trying to solve a problem. Trying to find an answer.

Maybe he's just bored of being the whipping post for EU (and US) regulators - just for doing "good business" in his mind.

Maybe he's just trying to spend more time with his kids and his wife in doing something worthwhile with his pile of dough.

Trying to solve the problem of world hunger and disease in 3rd world countries is a little harder than the Sunday crossword - but I for one think it's a really noble cause. Apparently so does his wife, Warren Buffett and loads of other (on both sides of the foundation's money).

So, Mr. Gates - as you're getting older, and your kids are growing up in front of your eyes - maybe it's time to just pick up a few (hundred) books at Amazon, kick back (ish) and see how you can influence another untapped area of humanity.

Best of luck!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bob's Cystal Ball: PocketTops

With the run-up to the iPhone 3G introduction and the changing of the guard over at Microsoft, I got to thinking about the future of computing and about what the landscape will look like 3-5 years down the road.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that within the next couple of years we'll see the decline of the laptops and the increase of mobile devices that will be able to function like our laptops do today.

I think that Apple is trying to build more than just a mobile device - I think they're trying to build an entire platform. The little iPhone has it's own operating system (based on Linux), it's own SDK, and it's linked in to millions of copies of iTunes.

So people will start writing the default applications: games, crm links, word processing, spreadsheets, etc. Apple is moving toward the online synch and storage (mobileMe) and AJAX-ifying it's own applications in the cloud for use anywhere on any platform. They also announced wireless FireWire.

It makes total sense that the iPhone would become a true mobile computer in your pocket - or a PocketTop. I can envision on the road with the "normal" iPhone (and the smaller screen) when on the plane; it would wirelessly connect with a monitor and keyboard in my office; would wirelessly connect to my car's audio system; would allow me to wirelessly connect to a projector in a meeting room; etc.

That would be a device I'd buy in a MINUTE. And, I think a lot of others would as well.

To be sure, there are some technical hurdles - like processor power, battery life, solid state storage and faster mobile (4G) networks that need to be solved before this can happen - but I think we'll see these advances in the next couple of years.

In fact, handhelds are advancing faster than laptops - in terms of memory and CPU prowess. Laptop memory capacity typically doubles every two years, while pocket devices are those gains annually.

To be sure - there will always be room for bigger "real" machines in server rooms, etc. - but I think that about 85%-90% of people who are using laptops today would buy a PocketTop with similar capabilities - assuming they could use it everywhere.

Now I only hope I don't lose it...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Even Bill Gates Thinks Windows Usability Sucks

As this is the last few official days of Bill Gates' tenure as Chief Software Architect at Microsoft - there has been a lot of retrospectives floating around.

Some of them are banal, boring and obvious - but there are a few Gems as well. The one that I particularly like is an ancient email (from 5 years ago) that he wrote to the Windows XP team blasting them for making the OS do really stupid things when he wanted to do something simple (install MovieMaker 2.0).

It's really a cool insight into the fact that the co-founder of the company uses the software and is frustrated by the same stuff that the rest of us are (even after 5 years has passed). It also just feels good that I'm not the only one who is fairly technical, yet is confused and scared when trying to install patches and programs with dependencies on other Microsoft technologies.

This is the text of the email that Todd Bishop of dug up from the crypts (long):

---- Original Message ----

From: Bill Gates
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 10:05 AM
To: Jim Allchin
Cc: Chris Jones (WINDOWS); Bharat Shah (NT); Joe Peterson; Will Poole; Brian Valentine; Anoop Gupta (RESEARCH)
Subject: Windows Usability Systematic degradation flame

I am quite disappointed at how Windows Usability has been going backwards and the program management groups don't drive usability issues.

Let me give you my experience from yesterday.

I decided to download (Moviemaker) and buy the Digital Plus pack ... so I went to They have a download place so I went there.

The first 5 times I used the site it timed out while trying to bring up the download page. Then after an 8 second delay I got it to come up.

This site is so slow it is unusable.

It wasn't in the top 5 so I expanded the other 45.

These 45 names are totally confusing. These names make stuff like: C:\Documents and Settings\billg\My Documents\My Pictures seem clear.

They are not filtered by the system ... and so many of the things are strange.

I tried scoping to Media stuff. Still no moviemaker. I typed in movie. Nothing. I typed in movie maker. Nothing.

So I gave up and sent mail to Amir saying - where is this Moviemaker download? Does it exist?

So they told me that using the download page to download something was not something they anticipated.

They told me to go to the main page search button and type movie maker (not moviemaker!).

I tried that. The site was pathetically slow but after 6 seconds of waiting up it came.

I thought for sure now I would see a button to just go do the download.

In fact it is more like a puzzle that you get to solve. It told me to go to Windows Update and do a bunch of incantations.

This struck me as completely odd. Why should I have to go somewhere else and do a scan to download moviemaker?

So I went to Windows update. Windows Update decides I need to download a bunch of controls. (Not) just once but multiple times where I get to see weird dialog boxes.

Doesn't Windows update know some key to talk to Windows?

Then I did the scan. This took quite some time and I was told it was critical for me to download 17megs of stuff.

This is after I was told we were doing delta patches to things but instead just to get 6 things that are labeled in the SCARIEST possible way I had to download 17meg.

So I did the download. That part was fast. Then it wanted to do an install. This took 6 minutes and the machine was so slow I couldn't use it for anything else during this time.

What the heck is going on during those 6 minutes? That is crazy. This is after the download was finished.

Then it told me to reboot my machine. Why should I do that? I reboot every night -- why should I reboot at that time?

So I did the reboot because it INSISTED on it. Of course that meant completely getting rid of all my Outlook state.

So I got back up and running and went to Windows Update again. I forgot why I was in Windows Update at all since all I wanted was to get Moviemaker.

So I went back to and looked at the instructions. I have to click on a folder called WindowsXP. Why should I do that? Windows Update knows I am on Windows XP.

What does it mean to have to click on that folder? So I get a bunch of confusing stuff but sure enough one of them is Moviemaker.

So I do the download. The download is fast but the Install takes many minutes. Amazing how slow this thing is.

At some point I get told I need to go get Windows Media Series 9 to download.

So I decide I will go do that. This time I get dialogs saying things like "Open" or "Save". No guidance in the instructions which to do. I have no clue which to do.

The download is fast and the install takes 7 minutes for this thing.

So now I think I am going to have Moviemaker. I go to my add/remove programs place to make sure it is there.

It is not there.

What is there? The following garbage is there. Microsoft Autoupdate Exclusive test package, Microsoft Autoupdate Reboot test package, Microsoft Autoupdate testpackage1. Microsoft AUtoupdate testpackage2, Microsoft Autoupdate Test package3.

Someone decided to trash the one part of Windows that was usable? The file system is no longer usable. The registry is not usable. This program listing was one sane place but now it is all crapped up.

But that is just the start of the crap. Later I have listed things like Windows XP Hotfix see Q329048 for more information. What is Q329048? Why are these series of patches listed here? Some of the patches just things like Q810655 instead of saying see Q329048 for more information.

What an absolute mess.

Moviemaker is just not there at all.

So I give up on Moviemaker and decide to download the Digital Plus Package.

I get told I need to go enter a bunch of information about myself.

I enter it all in and because it decides I have mistyped something I have to try again. Of course it has cleared out most of what I typed.

I try (typing) the right stuff in 5 times and it just keeps clearing things out for me to type them in again.

So after more than an hour of craziness and making my programs list garbage and being scared and seeing that is a terrible website I haven't run Moviemaker and I haven't got the plus package.

The lack of attention to usability represented by these experiences blows my mind. I thought we had reached a low with Windows Network places or the messages I get when I try to use 802.11. (don't you just love that root certificate message?)

When I really get to use the stuff I am sure I will have more feedback.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This Just In: Blogging Going Away

I just (finally!) got time to watch the latest episode of John Dvorak's truly excellent Cranky Geeks (episode #121). Now, I love John's wit, cynicism, and loathing of all things... well all things literally... but he surrounds himself with 20-something folks who have a rather... let's just say... "interesting" point of view on a lot of topics.

Maybe I'm a Cranky Geek® (property of Ziff Davis, John Dvorak, et al) at heart. On one of the snippets of the show (really, see this stuff, you'll love it!) about bloggers. The very attractive and only (!) woman on the panel Natali Del Conte (Senior Editor of CNET TV's "Loaded") predicted that the term "blog" will go away in the near future.

This was met by enthusiastic and hearty "hear hears" by co-crank Sebastian Rupley (Editorial Director of and Bryan Gardiner a tech journalist from They all agreed that the term "blogger" will be replaced with "communicator."

It was Ms. Del Conte's contention that some of these so-called "bloggers" are really reporting news - and as such - should be held to the same journalistic "ethics" as "regular" news outfits. This includes journalistic training, subscription to AP new feeds and the like.

I agree with the fact that people that just copy/paste stuff from the AP are stealing content. Just like if you copy/paste something from anyone else's paper/blog/website/podcast/video and claim it's your own IS stealing content (without a proper link and credit [excerpted Ziff Davis' Cranky Geeks episode #121]). I also agree with John Dvorak who said that "90-99% of the time people are not passing stuff off as their own" (taken from an excerpt by John Dvorak on Ziff Davis' Cranky Geeks episode #121 - it's not my own quote that I've copied from a new feed - I SWEAR!)

The thing I really like about John Dvorak - is that his opinion is the same as mine - "....there should be no standards. Your right to be a journalist is part of the Bill of Rights..." (taken from an excerpt by John Dvorak on Ziff Davis' Cranky Geeks episode #121)

Well, damn it - it's true. Bloggers (and, by the way, the term is NOT going away) - are just that bloggers. They are putting up their personal opinions about things that they give a crap about. Some of it may be "news" in the sense that they have a social life and know people (other than their mother) that might have something interesting to say that that AP or Reuters or WSJ actually didn't happen to find out on their own.

Big whoop.

They go on to talk about all the ethics and disclosures that "real news organizations" have. If you write about Microsoft, you can't own Microsoft stock, etc.

In general, good rules. In practice - it's BS. Disclosure: I don't own Microsoft, Ziff Davis or Apple stock. Even if I did - I'd still write about it. Why? Because I would be passionate about it.

I would actually put my money where my mouth was - and buy something and take a position (either pro or con) and express what it is and why it was that I bought something.

It's not taboo. It's not like some-random-guy writing about why you should buy Apple stock now (or not) is going to make people do it. Correction - most sane people who have a life and an Internet connection.

There is nothing wrong with passionate people writing passionately about subjects they care about. If you get your only news from them (e.g. you get your news from the Daily Show with John Stewart [Copyright © 1995-2008 Comedy Partners. All rights Reserved]) - then you deserve what you get.

There are lots of people who are ethical, "proper" journalists (including John Dvorak, Sebastian Rupley, Natali Del Conte and Bryan Gardiner) - and that's THEIR DAMN JOB. That's what they get paid to do. That is their chosen profession and their bread and butter.

The other blogs that they cited (the so-called "Web 2.0" bloggers) have day jobs. They do something else and passionately write a public blog on what they care about - or what interests them.

Don't worry Ms. Del Conte - they are not after your job. They don't have one iota of the training or professionalism that you do. They are not professionals. Most of them are just... well... Cranky Geeks® (property of Ziff Davis, John Dvorak, et al) at heart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Symbian Goes Open

Oh goodie! Another mobile platform is going open source! Now there will be TOTAL fragmentation and a sea of incompatible devices for everyone. Yeah!

Nokia is going to buy out the remaining shares in Symbian that is doesn't already own for $410 million and is planning on contributing Symbian and it's S60 (Series 60) platform to the newly formed "Symbian Foundation."

It seems that they'll also have the backing of Sony Ericsson, AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo to various parts of this new(ish) platform.

That's some pretty heavy hitters.

Still, Nokia has announced a two-year timeframe before everything is out in the open - and now that the Google Mobile OS - Android - has been stalled for at least the next 1-3 quarters - the mobile wars are heating up. That's both good news and potentially really, really, really crappy news - depending on your point of view.

On the good news side - the investment and opening of the mobile OS systems is a really good thing. There is the potential for some really innovative stuff to come out in the mobile space - and even average-joe coders can get in on the action and make a difference.

On the oh-my-gosh-are-you-kidding-me side of the coin - NO ONE needs yet another mobile OS! Seriously, people - stop with PR b.s. and get some deliverable code before you start shouting it from the rooftops.

I mean, let's take a look at the cloudy mess we have already:
  • Apple - closed OS - but with an SDK you can only program on a Mac
  • RIM - closed OS - also with an SDK you can only program on Windows
  • Microsoft - closed OS with an SDK you can only program on Windows
  • Google - vaporware completely open OS that is now "officially" delayed - based on Linux
  • Symbian - long-in-the-tooth OS that is going to be open over the next couple of years
So - where does that leave developers? I mean, really - are you going to write 5 versions of your application in completely different SDKs with 5 completely different operating systems and dependencies?

That doesn't include all the forking of the Android and Symbian projects (once they get out of the gate). At teh end of the day - what will the people that buy the phones go for? Whomever stakes out the platform (and handset and service and reliability and usefulness) that's the most popular will, at the end of the day, win.

There is certainly room in the world for 5 operating systems in terms of vertical devices and other specialty applications - but in the mass market - unless there are some really compelling advances - people are going to choose cool and sexy over features.

That means - Apple will probably win. They will continue to innovate and be copied by everyone else... unless there are some creative people who don't want to use the Apple Store to distribute their apps - and know Linux (or Symbian) and have a passion to put out really kick-ass apps.

Personally, I'm waiting for July 11th - just like everyone else...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Foxy First Impressions

OK, so I was one of the 8.5 million people who downloaded Firefox 3.0 (and one of eight people that actually got an uncorrupted archive that would install).

First impression: Better than 2.0, that's for sure.

It's memory usage is finally back to the realm of reasonable from being way, way, too much of a pig. I have 9 tabs open and it's (only!) consuming 140MB of RAM. In 2.0, just opening the thing would take that much RAM.

They've slightly changed the UI at the top of the screen but I don't find it all that huge of a change. There are others who have raged an all out jihad over their opinion that the new graphics at the top are tantamount to heresy and that nothing should change. But then again, there are always those people who love to live in the past (they probably still wear bell bottom jeans and live at home as well).

The one thing I do miss is the fact that when you go to a SSL site - only the little expanded favicon (to the left of the URL address) is colored - rather than the whole address area. I liked the old way better - it was much easier to see when you were on a HTTPS site and when you weren't.

I do like the expanded favicon, though. Rather than it being just an icon next to the address (the position is the same but it's now a clickable button that turns colors) - it will show warnings when you're on a suspected phishing or malware site.

You can click it at any time to get more information about the site your on (changes in context) - but you still have to know that you can click it. You can also rollover it and it will show a tooltip with the basic information as well.

I've heard people bitching about that as well - "You have to KNOW to click it..." one guy complained. Huh. It's that tough? Once you know to click it (or rollover it) - you know forever. It's a training issue - so suck it up and get over it.

I also noticed that the browsing experience tends to be a bit faster in general - although in my two days of browsing, I haven't been "floored" by the performance - it just "feels" faster than 2.x.

Of course - when you have such a new version, download by so many in such a short time - there's some miscreant out there somewhere that will find some kind of security hole in it.

And they did. Today. Less than 48 hours after launch. It seems that an "unnamed researcher" found the thing and sold it - SOLD IT - to the highest bidder. According to a note from TippingPoint’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) , a company that buys exclusive rights to software vulnerability data, the Firefox 3.0 bug also affects earlier versions of Firefox 2.0x.

All the gory Technical details are being kept under wraps (thankfully!) until Mozilla’s security team ships a patch.

According to ZDI’s alert, it should be considered a high-severity risk:

"Successful exploitation of this vulnerability could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code, permitting the attacker to completely take over the vulnerable process, potentially allowing the machine running the process to be completely controlled by the attacker. TippingPoint researchers continue to see these types of “user-interaction required ” browser-based vulnerabilities - such as clicking on a link in email or inadvertently visiting a malicious web page."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Want XP on a Dell? That'll Be $50, Please...

Well, it's the last official day to get XP installed on a Dell without paying a "downgrade" fee. If you're looking for the low-priced Vostro line of desktops and notebooks - bring your piggy bank.

It'll cost $20-$50 more to have XP Professional installed as a downgrade to Windows Vista Business or Vista Ultimate. Oh yeah, and if you want to downgrade to XP Home - you're S.O.L. - you can only choose XP Professional (which is better, if a little more expensive).

You could, however, choose the more expensive Latitude, OptiPlex and Precision systems and downgrade for no cost - but those machines will set you back the extra $20 to $50 anyway.

Also notice that you have to pop for Vista Business or Ultimate versions in order to be eligible for the downgrade. Those two options are the "high end" of the Vista scale in terms of price. Here's a for example:

If you add Vista Ultimate to a Vostro 400 desktop it'll cost you $149 more than the default Vista Home Basic; choosing to downgrade from Ultimate -- Windows XP pre-installed and the Vista Ultimate installation disc in the box -- costs $169, a surcharge of $20.

And, the best part is - you don't get the XP re-install disc! Hey, great move Dell! I guess this is so that when (not if) your hard drive fails, you can see the error of your ways and install the most hosed piece of crap ever invented "true" operating system - Vista.

To be fair, it's not really Dell's fault - at the end of the day, Dell is only doing what it's supposed to do according to their OEM license with Microsoft.

Microsoft will stop giving computer makers an OEM licesne for XP after June 30th (12 days from now) and will stop selling boxed copies to retailers on that day as well.

My advice? RUN down to BestBuy and get as many of these things as you can afford. Then you can charge all your friends, co-workers, in-laws and relatives cost + $75 to get XP after their hard drive fails or when they realize they need to have a four processor, 32 core system with 8GB of RAM to get Aero to work properly.

I can understand Microsoft wanting to get people on to the "new" code base. It's going to be the basis for their next OS version - and it makes life much easier for THEM - in terms of upgrading.

The interesting thing - is that Microsoft has relaxed the XP OEM licensing until June 2010 for these new subnotebooks like the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the Eee PC.

Ah, so I get it. Those low-cost, ultraportable notebooks don't come with four processors and 8GB of RAM! So for those people, XP is the ONLY alternative (short of Windows Mobile!) that Microsoft has for them.

Good thing Dell also offers Ubuntu Linux right out of the box - NO extra charge... no downgrade B.S....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So Much For A World Record...

Well, Firefox 3.0 officially launched today - and they wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by having the most downloads in a single day.

Too bad you can't download it.

Apparently, everyone took that challenge literally - and the servers are all down. Yep, all of them., the SpreadFireFox, GetFireFox - all went to their knees.

Now I guess they know how the Woodstock organizers felt. It's one thing to ramp up to a big new release by seeding the world with release candidates, and get everyone talking about how great and fast the new version is. It's a whole 'nother enchilada when you're encouraging everyone in the world to download a huge file on the same day.

One would have thought that if one challenged people to go for a world record - that it would have called up their ISP and Alkamai and had mirrors and extra bandwidth to spare.

Alas, 'twas not the case here (at least not yet). It will be interest to see as the day progresses - what will happen - but for now - it's "No soup for you" - unless you downloaded RC3 (which is identical to the final version).

If you're one of the souls that hasn't been keeping up - here's an overview of what the hullabaloo is about:
  • There’s an easier to use password manager
  • Download manager which supports resumable downloads
  • Better find system
  • Totally re-designed address bar
  • Ability to integrate with antivirus software and parental controls
  • According to SunSpider - it's the fastest browser out there
  • Greatly reduced memory footprint

So, if and when the servers come back up - I'll be anxious to give it a whirl...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Yahoo Jumps In Bed With Google

Since Yahoo and Microsoft have now officially (at least in public) said their goodbyes, it seems that the bed isn't even cold when Yahoo gets girlfriend 2.0 - Google.

It turns out that just hours after Yahoo announced that negotiations were "over" - they also announced that they had struck a four year non-exclusive deal with Google to display advertising on their site. Apparently, Yahoo has high hopes for the cash that the deal will generate - citing a figure of $250 million to $450 million in operating cash flow during the first 12 months.

Yahoo also gets to control the search terms queries and the pages on which the ads will appear. The deal also allows for Yahoo to continue to sell their own advertising from its own Panama ad platform as well. That's assuming, of course, that Yahoo doesn't get lazy and just relegate the ad serving to third parties as time goes on. We'll have to wait-and-see for the results of that one.

Also of interesting note is the fact that the deal only applies to the U.S. and Canada - leaving the door open for Yahoo to negotiate the same kind of deal with other players in other countries.

Although both Google and Yahoo say that they don't need a Federal regulatory blessing on this unholy union, they've wisely delayed the rollout for three and a half months while the U.S. Department of Justice reviews the arrangement. (Can you say "CYA"?)

Of course this doesn't mean that Yahoo is out of the woods - not by a long shot.

It's stocked tanked about 10% yesterday - but the move may just stop pissed-off-rich-old-guy Carl Icahn from totally replacing the board during their shareholder meeting on August 1st. It was actually a good move by Jerry - making Yahoo even more of an odious takeover target for Microsoft, since Icahn's plan was to appeal to shareholders that he could resurrect the Microsoft takeover deal.

It seems that with their hopes for a yummy payout dashes - some key executives are also jumping ship. Among the latest jumpers are Jeff Weiner, executive vice president of Yahoo’s network division;
Usama Fayyad, chief data officer and EVP of research and strategic data solutions; and veteran developer Jeremy Zawodny who has been with Yahoo since 1999 and helped to spearhead important projects like the Yahoo Developer Network.

This is on top of the earlier resignations/firings of Bradley Horowitz, head of Yahoo’s advanced technology division; Salim Ismail, head of Yahoo Brickhouse; and Jeff Bonforte, VP of social search.

So class, let's sum this up: Yahoo is outsourcing their ads to Google (and probably others); key folks are leaving in droves; Carl Icahn (multi-billionaire - and your largest individual stock holder) is pissed off; you're having your board meeting where your directors could get replaced in 6 weeks; your stocked tanked 10% in a single day; AND you've finally decided that portals don't matter - it's all about search - but two guys in a garage have cleaned your clock... whaddaya' do?

Jerry - it's Miller time! You're gonna' need it...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

iPhone Apps in Business Shackled to iTunes

It's the day-after the day-after the "big" announcement - and the iPhone fanboy sites are buzzing (again!) with speculation. Although the speculation is somewhat toned-down - I've seen a bunch of commentary written on how this or that is great or sucks - what the problems are (or will be) - for a product and operating system that has not even shipped yet!

Geez, people - get a life! Just wait another month, stand in line, and actually buy the damn thing before you go off and start predicting doom and gloom - or joy and balloons.

The reality will be somewhere in-between. From a technical point-of-view, the phone is pretty good - but not as impressive (or feature-rich) as those that are already on the market - or ones that will come to market soon.

But that doesn't matter. What matters is - people's perception of the iPhone as "the next big thing." That spells both opportunity for developers building native iPhone applications - and it also means that business folks will have to get ready to adopt iTunes officially into their stable of "blessed" applications.

For small businesses, this is no problem. It's no big deal to have personal media assets on company equipment, and they can just use a single install of iTunes for everything from browsing the iTunes store, to downloading games, to uploading pictures as well as the more "business-like" functionality of contacts and calendaring.

So, let me throw my speculative hat into the ring - and talk about corporate application distribution. There will be certain applications that businesses will develop for in-house use that also happen to run on the iPhone. As announced, there will be only two "official" mechanisms for distributing them:
  1. Make them publicly available on the Apple App Store; OR
  2. "Register" the iPhones in your organization and roll out apps just for those devices

Both of them have something in common: iTunes.

Now, iTunes is a terrific consumer application, and from the announcements that Steve made the other day, Apple is really trying to "get" the enterprise. It's put in the synch to Exchange, the ability to remotely wipe a device, etc.

What they didn't announce (and what I'm speculating on) - is a "corporate" version of iTunes. Can't you just imagine all the enterprise IT folks going crazy at people installing iTunes on their corporate boxes?

As of the currently shipping version of iTunes, there's no way to centrally control the application. No support for Active Directory Group Policy, no way for the IT wonks to disable the iTunes store, no way to set the default media download location, no way to limit the updating of QuickTime and iTunes versions to a centrally "blessed" version, etc.

Even in SMB companies of 30-500 people, such controls would (will?) make life much easier for an already-overworked IT staff. Hopefully Apple will "get" the needs of business - and include it into their future strategy and roadmap for a business-friendly iTunes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ruh Roh, Scooby - Here Comes ARAX

Ruby (with or without Rails) - looks like it's getting a Microsoft-sponsored update in Silverlight that will allow it to have AJAX-like interaction - sans the JavaScript.

Right now, if you want to have AJAX type of functionality - you can still do it within Ruby - although most developers use

Monday, June 09, 2008

Steve Keeps the "Good Bits" for Himself

10:35am PST: So I've been following the Engadget - and it looks like they're trotting out all the same developers they did when they announced the SDK 3 months ago.

Still no news on the good stuff. Oh sure, they're showing all the background crap - we did Exchange, education loves us, the Army loves the SDK, etc., etc.

You'd think that with record attendance of 5,200 developers (they sold out or would have had more) - they would just START with the cool stuff and fill in with the crap at the end.

But that would ruin Steve's "show."

10:50am PST: Parading an endless string of applications - games, photo blogging, text editor, piano (to MAKE music on your iPhone?!?), etc.

11:00am PST: Back to Steve. The general consensus from the Engadget folks is - someone kill us. Give us the goods already. And, quite frankly, I couldn't agree more. But, again, it would blow the "show" to just come out and actually TELL people what it is you're officially announcing.

I guess since Steve's name is FIRST on the patent application - he wants his (another) 15 minutes of fame...

11:05am PST: Still no Steve, but they did manage to make another feature that would guarantee that Apple would be in the proprietary loop forever: they just announced a "push" notification feature that will allow developers to send a webservice request to see if a particular phone is on. The senario is for IM chat - and rather than having a background process (like Windows Mobile does) - developers can just "ping" the Apple server and push badges, sounds, and custom textual alerts down to the phone.

(It's cool when you ridicule a competitors product during your own product demo!)

11:10am PST: Only Steve could get applause for announcing the 2.0 version of the iPhone OS would SLIP by a month (available in July). He's also the only one that can get away with charing non-iPhone users (iTouch users) $9.95 for the OS!

Oh, and BTW, they will "allow" developers to keep 70% (!) of their revenue when they sell stuff on the iTunes App Store. Ahem... that means Apple is making a 30% iTunes App Store tax... unless the developer app is free - in which case, there is no charge to anyone (wow, that's really big of him!).

11:15am PST: The store is available in 62 countries, and for <= 10MB applications, you can download over the air (cellular or WiFi) and >= 10MB download either via WiFi or iTunes.

They also will allow Enterprise folks to have an intranet version that will allow them to turn out apps, as well as an ad hoc service that will allow people to register some phones - and send out apps that way as well (as in a teacher teaching how to write iPhone apps!).

Uh oh. "Something new"... MobileMe. It's sort of like Windows Mesh, but supposedly, better. Will synch all the email, calendar, contacts, etc. to all other devices. Works with Mac (duh) and Outlook on the PC. Simple url (

Now this, is interesting. They've built a bunch of AJAX-apps that look like (their) desktop apps that allow you to manage email, contacts, calendars, etc. - and then - whammo - everything is synchronized.

I bet the folks over at Google Docs are puckering right now...

And... the revenue opportunity (for Apple): $99 per year for 20GB of storage.

11:30am PST: Here is comes... 3G iPhone (thud). They've only sold it in 6 countries - but it's in use all over the world (heee heee - unlocked is not such a bad thing after all).

According to Steve "..everyone wants an iPhone, but we need to make it more affordable."

Uh oh.

"Today w'ere introducing the iPhone 3G. Solid metal buttons, the same gorgeous 3.5-inch display, camera. Flush headphone jack. Improved audio, it's really, really great... and it feels even better in your hand, if you can believe it."

"We took two other 3G phones -- the iPhone 3G is 36% faster than the nokia N95 and Treo 750 -- and look at the result you get, by the way! Full page on the iPhone, and quite a bit less on the other phones."

Again - I LOVE when you completely ridicule and belittle your competitors - and quantify it by... ummm.. oh yeah, Steve said it - it MUST be true!

11:35am PST: It's official: GPS is in there. Along with a really scary, Big Brother-esque feature that allows them to "...even do tracking."

Tracking? Ummm... ok.... Stalkers unite!

11:45am PST: Here's the price: "iPhone started off at $599 for an 8GB device, which now sells for $399 -- we want to make it even more affordable. I'm happy to tell you the 8GB will sell for $199. We think the iPhone 3G will be affordable to almost everyone. 16GB model for $299 -- for that model we have a white one."

$199? Uh oh. He really might sell the 10M units.

Availability: July 11 - worldwide.

And... I'm spent.

Unless the other handset manufacturers have a really, really good pipeline and story - it will be the case of people standing in line (again) to get the new 3G version (at a CHEAPER price than the current iPhone).

Well, nothing like a good Steve demo to get the old blood pumping...

World Holding Collective Breath - For A... Phone?

I'm here on the west coast - a mere 4.5 hours away from San Francisco and a mere 3.5 hours away from "history in the making". The most-anticipated, most-speculated about, most-hyped event in the known universe!!! It's.. it's... it's...

The introduction of a mobile phone.

It's just a phone. Really. You can make calls on it, listen to music on it, and now - you can (probably) even use it in Europe. Now your iPhone can (probably) use GPS and (probably) Exchange Server. Cool? Yes. Worth hyperventilating about? No.

There has been so much speculation and nuh-uh rebuttals this past week - that I think I'm ready to puke.

On one side, you have the twinkie-and-jolt "MS Windows is just as good if not better than that iPhone crap" side waiting with bated breath for the Blackberry Thunder, and on the other side... well, you-know-who. The folks that think (and vote with their dollars) that the iPhone is the end-all, be-all of the mobile communication universe.

Hey, some of my friends have the iPhone, and it's a cool piece of hardware - that much, I'm not denying. I don't personally own one, so I everything I know about it comes from them - or from fondling one at the Apple store across the street from my office.

I don't have a Blackberry either. I don't have a Windows Mobile phone. In fact, I don't have a "smart" phone at all.

My phone is old, dumb, and nearly indestructible. It's a Motorola v547 - and I didn't even buy it myself - I got it as a gift. I haven't bought a new phone in over 5 years. I don't own an iPod (my daughter and wife do, though). I'm using XP, not that fancy Vista. I have an iMac, upgraded with Leopard on it (that has had the motherboard replaced and crashes like a mother).

Needless to say, I'm in the market for a phone, and maybe an MP3 player. I've wanted to replace my phone for about 6 months. Then the Android announcement came out. Then the iPhone 2.0 announcement came out. Then the Blackberry Thunder announcement came out.

So, I'm keeping an open mind - and I'll be watching at 10:00am PST when the equally beloved and beguiled, sweater-and-jeans clad, Ron Popeil of the tech age makes the hallowed announcement...

Oh, and I'm heading to the Apple Store at lunch time...

Friday, June 06, 2008

OpenOffice + Google = Office Killer

I think Google should step up and create a tight integration with OpenOffice. I mean, they've done this (mainly marketing spin) integration with - and the press ate it up like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I mean, really people! Webservices these days are not that huge of a western deal - and given that Salesforce is a web application, it's not exactly rocket science to integrate the two.

Where things get a little more sticky is with traditional applications. Applications people use every day to generate real world work stuff - like word processors, spreadsheet and presentations. Google gives you a free way with Docs. OpenOffice gives you (an arguably) full-featured suite that frees users from the MS Office choke hold.


What's in it for Google? Selling support. Bashing MS in the good eye. Driving people to adopt OpenOffice so they can finally just switch to Ubuntu and leave that crappy Vista in the dust. Adding actual, paying users of Docs at an enterprise level. Selling more storage. Selling email hosting. Driving mobile users to a slimmed down, mobile-Internet-data-package-burning way to use Docs on the road, and OpenOffice when they land - seamlessly.

Where's the proof that any of that would even happen? IBM is giving it a shot by announcing a couple of days ago that it was selling support for its free Symphony Office-like suite. Plus, I think they have a couple of guys there that can probably do it over morning coffee - after all, Google gives them all 20% of their time to "try stuff out" on their own.

There's even a free OpenOffice plug-in that will give them a roadmap and a headstart. Written by Polish engineer Przemysław Rumik, the OpenOffice.org2GoogleDocs plug-in (yeah, it's not the most elegant name ever) will export and import your documents to and from Google Docs and Zoho. Did I mention it's free?

Google - meet Przemyslaw... Prezemyslaw - Google. And Prezemyslaw, just in case they don't call you - here's some openings at Google Poland... Szczęście!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is SaaS That's Pretty Better Than Pretty SaaS?

Adobe launched earlier in the week - signaling they are throwing their hat into the online Office-like, pseudo-Office-killer arena. I just had to take a look for myself.

The thing is all based in Flash, as you might expect - and it makes a very good first impression. The screen is dark grey (almost black) - and the icons are pretty (one would hope that a company like Adobe could make stuff look nice).

You can basically do 5 things - use Buzzword - their online word processor, use ConnectNow, create a PDF, share files, and view your own files. Hmmmm... the ConnectNow thing sounds cool - and it's free (for now) - but the word processor, creating a PDF and sharing files - I can do now (and DO now) on Google Docs.

So, I started with the stuff I'm used to using on Google Docs - the word processor. The first thing you notice is "loading"... and "loading"... then some more "loading". Once the thing is loaded - it looks very pretty. It has all the swooshing and wooshing you would expect in a Flash-based app. The controls are minimal, but you can set the fonts (font, size, color, bold, etc), paragraph stuff (alignment, etc), list functions (number, ordered and bullet), image control (adds an image), table control, comment control and a way for you to see your existing files.

OK - that's the good news. The bad news is - it's 15,000 clicks to do anything. You see, rather than just have a "normal" toolbar at the top where you can do a single click - these area icons swoosh to the left to activate, and they collapse whatever else it was that you were working with.

For example, if you are looking at the font stuff, and want to add a table, you click the little table icon and the whole toolbar swooshes to the left, collapsing the font stuff, and only showing the table stuff. OK. So, then you click the add table and it adds a 2 row, 2 column table. Good.

Now, you want to type something - and format the text. So, typing, typing - want to change the font color. Oops. Going to toolbar (that I would have to do anyway) - click font - SWOOSH - away go the table controls and the font stuff appears.


One thing that I absolutely LOVE about it - is the table control. FINALLY someone was smart enough to put little "+" icons on all the rows that allow you to add or remove the row visually. Plus, when you select a row or column there is an icon that turns into a menu that will allow you to insert/delete etc. right inline. KUDOS to Adobe for this innovation. I just hope EVERYONE copies it.

The other interesting thing is that there is the ability to comment on every line - and you can see comments from others - but it's not as flexible as being able to leave a "floating" comment. They've got a couple of cool features in there - the color picker is by "family" of color (basics, greys, beach, brights, earthtones, forest, hot, jewels, tones) - but you can't get your own custom color; and they have a nifty little dialog for inserting high ASCII characters that pretty cool.

It saves fairly quickly, and exports to PDF , Word, RTF, HTML (in ZIP format), and plain text. It would only import .doc or .txt files (no support for OpenOffice) and it spawned a new window to do the import. And guess what - you "get to" watch: Loading... loading... loading... again. HUH?

After playing and importing I "let it rest" and came back to it this morning - thinking that the annoyances of the slow loading and slow-ish performance would "settle" overnight.


I'm still just as annoyed as I was yesterday/last night. I'm so wary of the word processor that I'm not going to try out the online screen sharing right now (although I'm sure it's pretty as well!).

I'm writing this back in good ol' (more ugly but MUCH more functional) Google Docs. I here's the lessons that I've learned:
  • All show and no go really IS all show and no go
  • Sexy-looking apps that don't function well - won't be used. Ever.
  • Simplicity and elegance is much more than skin deep
  • Swooshing is cool only the first time
  • Try to make controls easier to use (like the table control) by asking the question "How would my mom do it?"
  • When push comes to shove - easy is better sexy

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

SSD To The Rescue?

The emerging news in mobile devices and even mainstream PC makers is the advent of Solid State Drive (SSD). On the surface, what's not to love? They're small, many times more energy efficient and provide equivalent input/output rates of traditional drives.

The bad news is that they have limited capacity (for now) and they're hugely expensive - in many cases they cost as much (or more!) than the laptop or device they're in.

However, they are the future.

If you've ever tried to do multiple things at once - like steam music while writing your blog, or render video while doing email while streaming media while working in Photoshop - for example - you've no doubt noticed the solid green light of your hard drive spinning with all of its might to keep up.

In theory, SSD drives would be much more efficient. Not to mention the fact that they have no moving parts - and therefore should be much more durable and have a longer life than platter-based drives - especially in mobile devices like laptops, iPhones and the new class of sub-compact notebooks known as net-tops.

Now, this will date me a bit - but I can remember buying a "whopping" 20 MEGAbyte hard drive back in the early 80's for just under $1,000 and thinking to myself - "Good, now I have all the storage I will EVER need."

We're at about that stage now with SSD. The technology is cutting edge, and it hasn't hit the economies of mass market adoption yet - so they will still be a bit pricey for the next year or two.

BUT - as the capacity increases and the price drops (both inevitable) you'll see them more and more. It won't be long until your "normal" platter-based hard drives are as modern as your pile of 8-tracks and cassettes.

RESOURCES: Free IDC report on SSD (registration required), SSD backgrounder on SSDs by

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

XP Death March Is On (UPDATED)

Well folks, we're into the last 30 days that Microsoft will allow OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) people put XP on new machines.

There will be downgrade rights will still be available to some customers, and system builders can ship PCs with XP through January 2009 - but even then, it's still only 6 months away.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the only one that hates Vista. This just in: At the Computex trade show that opened today in Taipei, the company said it would allow computer manufacturers to pre-install Windows XP. Home on what it called "net-tops" -- which it defined only as "low-cost desktops" -- through June 30, 2010. Source: ComputerWorld.

I know that there are a bunch of you who are holding out hope that Microsoft will grant a reprieve to PC makers and allow XP distribution beyond the limited time frame.

Don't hold your breath.

Microsoft would be crazy to do it - it's much more their style to force their Vista crap down everyone's throat - if for no other reason then to boost their "units shipped" numbers. Last week, CEO Steve "Stevie" Ballmer coughed up the total number of units shipped: 150 million.

That's not a bad number - but there were over 330 million PCs shipped (minus servers) between Jan 1, 2007 and March 30, 2008. That's roughly 45%.

But that's probably generous. Let's say they shipped on a third of the machines - with the rest going to Linux, Mac, and lots of people with pirated Windows copies. Now if Microsoft has a 92%+ share of the PC marketshare - that equals a bunch of folks who are not upgrading to Vista.

So - OF COURSE! I bet this sounded good at the management meting: "I know - let's STOP shipping the OS they like (or will at least tolerate in relation to crappy Vista) - and FORCE them to use Vista. Our numbers will skyrocket overnight!"

You had better get your new XP machine now while they're hot - or you'll be doomed to Vista until Windows 7 comes out...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Google Joining Platform Wars

It seems to me that, based on the overwhelming success of its first-ever developer conference last week (named I/O at the Moscone center in San Francisco) - that Google is trying to make itself into much more than just a search engine.

There's been two main platforms for the average-joe developer (and ISV and corporate puke) - Java and/or .NET. Both have been around now for a while, and there are scads of developers trained and using both platforms in production of "real" software solutions.

But watch out for the new kid on the block - Google. He may be scrawny and not really interested in "languages" per-se - he's really a well-rounded, well-funded little guy with big dreams.

Google already has their hands in all kinds of things - from end-user productivity applications (Gmail, Docs, Maps, News, Shopping, Picasa, Reader, Talk, Google Earth, Google Health, Google Desktop), blogging tools (Blogger), web site analysis (Analytics), web development (Gears, Page Creator), social media (Orkut, YouTube, Friend Connect), and coming soon even a mobile OS (Android).

Tell me this is not a "platform."

Yet, I think there is a fly in the ointment: they're stuck in the browser. Now, before I get 1,000 flame emails, you KNOW that I'm all for browser-based apps. I like them, I use them.

BUT - it seems to me that Google is poised to really being pushing this notion of a "Web OS." This makes total sense from a business point-of-view. If you made all your money from selling advertising based on what people search for in a browser, then the more eyeballs you can entice, the more advertising you will sell - and the more money you will make.

Therefore, give people more interesting things to do on the web - and the more sticky it becomes, and the more likely people will trust the search results, and the more likely they will be to click on an ad.


Now - let's say that since you've been focusing your efforts on the browser. You've picked up a few things along the way (e.g. that whole AJAX thing) and really have influenced the state of web development (who doesn't do search engine optimization [SEO]?) - your natural tendency is - to borrow a phrase from Microsoft - "embrace and extend" the paradigm.

That's exactly what they're doing. All their applications - except Android (and Earth, Desktop, and Picasa - which they bought in 2003), are all tied to the browser in some way, shape or form.

In a sense, they're betting that sometime in the future, the browser will turn into a real application framework and not the hole-ridden, malware-spreading, basic text-rendering engine it is today.

While pushing the web as an OS - it's great that the underlying technology doesn't really matter (Amazon's EC2 makes it easy and cheap to scale to whatever level you want on any OS you want) - what will happen when all the world's business applications, and games and streaming media come inside such a container?

It will be an irresistible target to bad guys who can now do a lot more damage to a lot more people in a much more efficient way.

Desktop applications, platforms and languages are not dead. I don't think they ever will be. Oh sure, they'll change and morph into things that are better than what we have today- but the applications built on those languages will hopefully rely on something other than the humble browser (at least as we know it today) for delivering they gooey goodness.

When they do - you can bet that Microsoft Google will be right there to "embrace and extend."
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