Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Microblog: Apple Patents Multi-Touch UI

I can just hear the people at HTC and Palm saying (in their best Church Lady voice) "Weeellll, isn't THAT special!" - upon hearing the news that Apple was just granted patent number 7,479,949 on their multi-touch interface.

In part, the patent abstract states:
"A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items."
Ummmm... that's a pretty good patent to have! It appears to me as if acting Apple CEO Tim Cook’s shot across the bow of Palm in regards to their up-coming "Pre" touch phone ("We will not stand for having our IP ripped off and we’ll use whatever weapons we have at our disposal [to make sure that doesn't happen]") is about to turn nasty.

Maybe Apple just wants to license the technology in good faith... NAH! Steve Jobs is listed on the patent as one of the creators... and I think the chances of them letting just any old handset maker encroach on their market-leading technology is about... oh... I don't know... ZERO percent!

I'd actually be surprised that Palm’s executive chairman, Jon Rubinstein (the former Apple executive behind the iPod), didn't see this coming. I mean, this guy worked for Steve Jobs personally - so he must know that Apple will protect this thing will all their might.

All I know is - handset makers with a multi-touch interface (Blackberry, Android phone, Palm, HTC) - that "snapping sound" you're hearing is Apple's legal team putting on their rubber gloves...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Mac!

I can't believe that it was 25 years ago to the day that the Macintosh first hit the streets - it seems like it was just yesterday. Gosh, I'm getting old! I haven't always been a PC guy. If you take a look through some of the old blog posts - you'll see that I was quite the Mac fanboy (and vehement "Windoze" hater) back then.

I remember my first encounter with a Mac... (insert Wayne's World flashback here)

Back in the heady days of 1985 I was working at a company that designed swimming pool heaters. At the time I was a mechanical engineer... ummm... ok, ok, so I was just a drafting puke... ANYWAY - my job was to sit a huge E-sized drafting table and create and update sheet metal drawings as needed.

My boss at the time was sort of anal-retental and was very, very proud of the fact that he had a "two year backlog" of change orders waiting to be processed. Let's just say he was WAY into "job security."

My friend (who got me the job) was a graphic designer (and an aspiring cartoonist) who somehow talked his boss into letting him have this new Macintosh "personal computer." He immediately started doing all of the wiring drawings using MacPaint (yes, on the original 512 Mac with a SINGLE floppy that you had to swap out with the "system" disk to save the data!).

He was able to save loads of time - because 95% of wiring drawings are identical. He could just "save as" and create about 5-10 TIMES more drawings in a single day. The productivity was amazing. He would then print it out on the dot matrix ImageWriter (braaaawat...braaaawt....braaaawt - sounds coming out of his office all day).

I was intrigued - and he taught me how to use the thing (although I'm more autistic than artistic) - and pretty soon we would take our lunch huddled around the glow of that tiny black and white screen with that really, really klunky keyboard (with the HUGE keys!) and we had a blast.

At the time, in my own department we used a "dumb terminal" to do all the change orders. This was the classic "green screen" AS400 setup. I was an expert at tab-tab-tab-F12-F8-tab-enter way of computing.

This went on for about 18 months.

When Apple came out with the first expandable model - the IIcx - of course my friend was able to get one along with the LaserWriter Pro - the original laser printer.

I had seen the future.

I did a proposal - written on my lunch breaks - using MacWrite and illustrated using the "new" hot vector drawing program MacDraw - and made a business case for why we should ditch the manual-drawing-erasing-blueprint-copying-filing method and just "go digital." Our parts were not rocket science - they were squares, rectantgles and minor variations with holes and vents in them - a PERFECT match for this new digital technology.

Changes were a snap, and (so I thought) - we could plow through all that backlog in less than 4 months - and the system would pay for itself in less than 12 months. I knew this would drive my boss crazy - so I "pulled a Bob" and just went over his head to his boss (the VP of Operations).

I scheduled a meeting, made my pitch... and... they didn't do it. In fact, my boss called me in an accused me of going after his job. I literally quit on the spot and walked out (the only time in my life that I've done that).

After that, I bought my own Mac (SE30 with DUAL floppies and a whopping 20 MEGAbyte hard drive! "I'll never run out of storage EVER!"). Then I eventually moved on to the IIcx, then the infamous "pizza box" Performa line, and so on and so on. I did everything on the Mac.

I had my first graphic design company and used Illustrator 1.0 to draw realistic, shaded technical illustrations, I used PageMaker to make catalogs and ads and manuals. I was one of the AppleScript addicts - and had macros that I used with QuicKeys to automate every single action (and interaction) that I ever needed. I became somewhat of an expert in all things Mac - and I became one of Apple's biggest evangelists - all the way up to System 9.

Then all my customers stopped using Macs and were all using PCs running Windows 3.1 - and their software just didn't work with mine. So, I grudgingly bought my first Dell... and as I used the Mac less and less I sort of "fell out of love" with it. I became less of a Mac bigot and although I didn't "love" my PC - at least I could get the same versions of software that my customers were using and continue doing business.

Of course we all know the "rest" of the story - the way Apple has come out with great hardware, updated their software to OS X, etc. etc. They are starting to make inroads back into corporate america with people hooked not on OSX, but on iTunes and the iPod and the iPhone.

Does this mean that I'll give up my Dell notebook and Windows XP? Actually.... maybe. I'll wait-and-see how Windoze 7 pans out, but I have a sneaky suspicion that my next notebook will not be running Windows - and may just include an all-white piece of fruit on the lid.

Microblog: You're Naked On The Web

OK, well, maybe not naked, per se - but there's sure a lot of stuff out there on almost all of us. This topic seems to be coming up more and more lately - and there was a great blog article by my friend Dan Tynan yesterday that pointed out a new social media site that will do all the hard work for you: Spokeo.

It seems that this little wonder site will take all the "hassles" and legwork out of cyber stalking - or just digging up dirt on you co-workers, employees or ex-girlfriends. From their homepage:
Want to see something juicy? Spokeo searches deep within 41 major social networks to find truly mouth-watering news about friends and coworkers.
Ummmm.... yeah. Welcome to the new way of interacting - and having people know more about you than you probably would have guessed. Part of that is the fault of social media - and part of that is our own damn fault. Hot tip: if you don't want people to know personal stuff about you - it's probably too late. Even if you dump all your profiles on all the social media - there are saved caches of that stuff - and it will probably NEVER go away.

But at least I don't live in New Hampshire! Robert L. Mitchell when doing research for an article in ComputerWorld - found out that his personal information (including full social security number, address, kid's names, etc) were easily found on the Internet - for FREE. It seems that the folks in the good state of New Hampshire, in an effort to make government more transparent - scanned all kinds of tax liens, divorces, and all other matter of "public" data and just made it live.

Nice. If you don't want people to know personal stuff about you... ummm... then just disconnect your phones, your email, your social media - in fact - just turn off the wireless card and unplug that Ethernet cable. Yeah, probably that won't even help at this point.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Time For More Change...

President Obama's Inaugural speech last week focused on change - and how we as Americans need to embrace change and be ready to work hard to get there.

Well, speaking of change, I have a pretty big announcement of my own to make - this week will be my last as President of Servoy USA. Although I won't be actively running the US operations anymore - I still have Servoy blood coursing through my veins - and I remain committed to both the technology and the company.

As of February 1st, I'll be reactivating my consulting company Clickware, and will be specializing in all things Servoy including specification, consulting, development, conversions, implementations and training. I'll have a new email address as well you can reach me at bobcusick [AT]

"OK, so what's the story" you're probably asking yourself right now... The reason that I'm leaving my current position is because I'm ready for new challenges and I have some ideas for some new products and services (based in Servoy technology, of course) that I really want to bring to market.

The last time I re-invented myself is all the way back when Jan Aleman and I formally started a company around the incredible technology that Jan Blok and his team had created in 1998 - and completely re-wrote in 2001. We started down the Servoy road with nothing more than a terrific piece of technology and a dream, a vision and a plan.

It was a wild time back then - the bubble was bursting and money was tight. We were (and ARE) a group of people that simply refused to give up - failure was (IS!) simply not an option. In the ensuing years, we went from a scrappy little startup (an early competitor called us "5 guys in a windmill") to a multi-multi-million dollar international company with offices in 6 countries (with more on tap for 2009) and some of the greatest staff and customers anyone could ever ask for.

Change is a hard thing. There are uncertainties, uneasiness, and general internal conflict when the familiar and stable changes. In my case, there's no exception this time around. Servoy is in my DNA - it's literally a part of my very being. It's been a huge undertaking and now that the company is growing like a weed and is a thriving young adult - it simply doesn't need the constant parental care that an infant does.

So I made the decision late last month that it was time for me to start a new chapter in my life. Not a new BOOK, just a new chapter. As I said before, I remain committed to Servoy, to the technology, to the company and to its continued growth and leadership in the SaaS/PaaS marketplace. My colleague Yvo Boom (yboom [AT] will be taking over the day-to-day operations in my absence.

So, as I wrap up my duties at Servoy (the company) over this next week - I'm energized and excited (and, to be honest - a little anxious) as to what the future will bring. But I do know one thing - it will be AWESOME!

If you haven't been to the Clickware site in a while (or ever!) - then stop on by... and drop me a line if you want me to speak at your event, need some help with your Servoy project, or just want to say hi...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Netbook Economy

As I sit here in the middle of the night listening to the rain outside (a big deal here in California!) - I can't help but think about the state of the economy, of netbooks, Apple and Microsoft (yeah, I know - I'm a geek!).

With Microsoft announcing a layoff of 5,000 (1 in 20 employees) over the next 18 months, and Apple poo-pooing netbooks in their latest analyst call - something snapped in my mind (not an unusual thing, believe me). I decided to dig a little deeper to try to get a handle on what was going on.

The Microsoft layoff was a long time in coming. I mean, they have been sucking off the tit of the Windows OS and Office since the beginning of time. With the entire Vista debacle and the "Ribbon bar" massacre in Office 2007 - not to mention the horrible me-too Zune MP3 player - plus the fact that their stock as been flat for years - they've "stumbled" as of late. Even though their profit is "only" down 11% (in a recession) - when you have the numbers that Microsoft does - that's a fairly healthy decline.

What's the cause? Or at least - what is Microsoft blaming? Well, according to Microsoft’s 10-Q filing on January 22:

“The decline in OEM revenue reflects an 11 percentage point decrease in the OEM premium mix to 64%, primarily driven by growth of licenses related to sales of netbook PCs, as well as changes in the geographic and product mixes. Revenue from commercial and retail licensing of Windows operating systems increased $113 million or 19%. Based on our estimates, total worldwide PC shipments from all sources was approximately flat, driven by increased demand in emerging markets, offset by decreased demand in mature markets.”

Huh? Netbooks? Netbooks are kicking Microsoft's ass? Impossible! Then I started to think about it... Netbooks run XP, not Vista. XP = less cash (unless you're Dell - but that's another story). But if I were Microsoft - I'd also offer very reduced prices on XP as a netbook OS - hell even give it away if it will keep people of the dreaded alternative - Linux.

So, OK, netbooks might figure into some of the numbers - I mean, after all, we ARE in a recession. With the rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) applications - people really don't need a 6 litre V-12 computer to fire up a browser and and webmail client in order to be productive.

People are not buying tons of new "real" laptops these days (except for perhaps new Apple MacBook Pros)... And, speaking of Apple - wassup with them? They are really, really pissy about netbooks - as evidenced by some quotes by Tim Cook, Apple's Chief Operating Officer their latest analyst call:
"We're watching that space, but right now from our point of view, the products in there are principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays."
Ummmm... riiiiiiight.

Small displays? So... make a bigger one. Cramped keyboard - either make a touch screen one with iPhone keyboard, or... oh... I don't know - make a BIGGER one.

Folks, it ain't the hardware form factor that Apple is revolting against. It's the price point. The mere thought that they would have to sell basically a 13" MacBook not at $1,300 - $1,600, not even at the $999 price the "old" white on is selling at right now - but they would basically have to sell it for... wait for it... $399. That's the price of a fully-loaded iPhone!

I can just see Steve Jobs rolling over in his grave objecting to that kind of a price point. After all, they're the luxury brand. The cool kid on the block. They're not sold to the "commoners" in places like... like... Walmart... oh, wait, they are.

I think that despite what Apple has said publicly, they have been looking at netbooks. They do have some sort of device in the works. I think that they're just so scared of another Newton that they want to make sure it's a "real" market before they finally get with the game and stake their claim.

And, no one, I mean NO ONE wants to come out with a new product while Steve Jobs is on medical leave!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Microblog: Online Video Coolness

Like we all need a way to get more advertising... but there's a company out there that has a very cool technology that allows people to put "stuff" into existing videos.

The company is called Innovid and they've managed to figure out a way that allows advertisers (or content owners) the ability to add product placements, in-video billboards, interactive hotspots, a synchronized overlay (synched to the contents), and a synchronized "bug" (those little pop-ups that you see on TV that promote an upcoming show for example).

They have a cool demo that shows how they replaced the white walls of a room with a graphic that wraps around it - and even a demo that shows an interactive "pong" game - while the content is still playing in the foreground!

How it works: It seems that they store some meta data about the video - and then layer content into the video when it's played - while keeping the original video untouched. This allows advertisers and content owners the ability to target different products/games/billboards to different demographics.

Very interesting stuff! I foresee the day when this type of technology will infiltrate more than just broadcast sporting events - but will work its way down to the YouTube generation looking to make some extra scratch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fred Flintstone Tech in White House

I was reading a story in the Washington Post about President Obama's campaign team was met with Flintstone-esque computers and software on their first day in the White House.

It seems that the Mac-loving staffers were greeted by outdated computers running a 6 YEAR old version of Microsoft Word, no cell phones, were forbidden to use outside email addresses, forbidden to use IM, were told they couldn't use Facebook... and were basically cut off from their digital "life lines."

Yeah, that's the kind of welcome you're hoping for after running one of the most tech-savvy campaigns in history.


I can only imagine the let down and the general de-motivation they felt (and probably still are). First of all, for a Mac user to be forced to use a PC is bad enough - but a vintage one running vintage software to boot? Oh yeah, on a DESKTOP machine (whatever that is!) - say it ain't so!

Now, I get the need for the White House systems to be secure, and for there to be processes and regulations regarding what can and casn't be done. I'm also aware that all the "official" work has to be saved under the Presidential Records Act. I have no problem there.

But, one would think that one of the technological superpowers of the world - a country in which the computer revolution was invented - a country that touts one of the most innovative hardware and software epicenters (Silicon Valley) - maybe, perhaps, could get a freaking clue.

After the moronic here's-some-money-with-no-strings-attached bank bailout (version 1.0), and the ill-conceived billions more thrown at antiquated, stupid and wasteful car companies - maybe there's no money left to update the hardware to run Vista - that part I can understand.

However, I'm sure that Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, William Amelio, or Mark Hurd could would be more than willing to cough-up some hardware - and probably Mr. Jobs and Mr. Ballmer would trip all over themselves to offer up a few gratis licenses of their current software.

Make a phone call, people! Oh, that's right - you can't. Well, borrow a quarter, drive to a 7-11 and use something called a "pay phone" ( TIP: Call collect and save the taxpayers some dough, while you're at it) - but make the call.

As for security - we have a couple of little-known agencies called the "FBI" and "NSA" and "CIA" (all with secret budgets, by the way) that just MIGHT be able to help you get some secure phones, secure laptops and can PROBABLY work out how to keep the Viagra spammers from getting the launch codes even though you use Gmail and Facebook. Call them, people!

Barak Obama is the President of the United States of America. One of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. He has promised a new era of transparency into the workings of government, into updating our national infrastructure. We're going to spend over 1 TRILLION dollars helping rescue the economy from the effects of corrupt, stupid and greedy business people - and the Chief Executive's staff can't get a laptop and a cell phone?

Yeah, America - at least we have our priorities straight...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day Web Video Died

Yesterday was supposed to be a day when live video streaming thumbed it's nose at traditional TV broadcasting - ushering a new age of nirvana (and advertising dollars). DOH!

Beyond just my personal experience with it (see yesterday's column) - a lot of 0thers had the same experience - every URL hit within 20 minutes of the actual speech was met with a virtual waiting room. CNN's said - "Congratulations - You Made It! (...but so did everyone else)" and then it would put you in the queue for when some poor schmo dropped out.

After having a look at the numbers - I can understand why: alone served 21.3 million streams - with a peak of 1.3 million simultaneous streams. Geez... no wonder the video was jerky and continually dropped out.

Likewise, Akami, a company that mirrors content and provides "local" servers to spread out volume reported a peak of 5.4 million visitors per minute - and more than 7 million simultaneous streams!

Now that's some serious traffic. And, because I live in LA - I know what happens when lots of folks have the same idea and all want to go to the same place at the same time - traffic. A no-holds-barred, bumper-to-bumper, packet-to-packet jam that will only get better as people leave the highway.

Video over the Internet isn't ready for prime time - at ALL. By way of contrast the "traditional" broadcast media has the bandwidth and hard-wired infrastructure to push video out to a virtually unlimited number of people simultaneously.

It will get better, of course, as time goes on. As companies come up with new video codecs, compression and more companies like Akami add server capacity to the edges of the Internet. Oh, and hopefully when President Obama starts to re-wire the entire nation with a really good network - that'll sure help as well (fingers crossed).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

America 2.0

All I can say is "WOW." I literally just finished listening t0 president elect Obama... sorry - I mean President Obama give his inaugural speech. Man, is he a terrific orator!

I really am hopeful that he is able to execute on the promises and hopes that he has fired up. I hope and pray that he will be able to really cross the aisles of not just the US Congress, Senate and House - but to also cross the divide that has been created with the rest of the world.

It was really amazing to watch the coming together of people just flooding the Mall in the Capitol. All ages. All faiths. All colors. All Americans.

Even here in the office - we tried to get one of the video feeds going (to no avail) - but we were able to get a live audio feed from an ABC affiliate news station here (KNX News Radio 1070 am). I was able to get the audio feed on my laptop and pumped it out through my desktop speakers so we wouldn't overwhelm our own LAN 0r saturate our ISP with everyone having their own desktop feed.

It was almost like those pictures you see of people gathered around the radio back in the days before television. We were all listening - no one spoke. No one was checking email. No phones were ringing. It was really an almost surreal experience.

President Obama talked about a wide range of topics - including building out infrastructure, helping the poor, warning the crazies, and elevating science and technology back to prominence. However, one of the lines that really struck me was when he said:

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. (emphasis, is mine)
President Obama laid out what he sees as the most critical path to America's problems. He is an incoming leader that has a road map:
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Personally, I believe that it IS possible. We CAN pull together, weather the storm, re-invent ourselves and come out stronger and are all issues that need to be addressed by our country at some point in time.

Yes, I believe America can be re-made. It's America 2.0, if you will. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Maybe not next year. Maybe not during his first 4 year term. But we WILL do it. There is really no other option.

He seems to "get" the fact that technology and social media are an important part of the process - because his process is about PEOPLE, and PEOPLE communicate with each other using technology. I'm not just talking about YouTube and streaming audio. It's more than Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. It's the "old" technology of television and over-the-air radio. It's the technology of providing speech text in advance to all the news outlets. It's the fact that he has people that even give a crap about communicating using ALL mediums all at the same time.

There's a spirit of a level playing field in terms of communication. There's a spirit of a level playing field in terms of common goals, dreams and ideals. It's up to all of us to transform the vision, goals and dreams into reality. Godspeed!

Friday, January 16, 2009

More is NOT Better

I am sick to death of bloatware.

I was trying to explain to a novice user how to use Microsoft Word for creating tables of contents and indexes. To create a table of contents - it's fairly simple - just assign styles to your headings (using the styles "Heading 1", "Heading 2", etc) and then click to generate a table of contents. Easy, right?


If you use styles, there are approximately 15,000 settings you can use to control every single aspect of the paragraph, hot keys, leading, kerning, borders, shading flow control, bullets and numbering, alignment, space before, space after, line spacing, hanging indents, font, size, character spacing, text effects, indents, outline level, line breaks, page breaks, widow control, hyphenation, languages, spell checking, dictionaries to use, and about 80 other settings - PER STYLE.

To a novice user - this is... oh I don't know... overwhelming at best. To someone that is a professional writer, author or has to format loads of documents in a consistent way - it's really a godsend. To everyone else (98%?) - it's just plain overkill. The "average" user (myself included) will probably use about 5% - 10% of that functionality (on a really complex document). The rest is a waste of programming, documentation and adds hundreds of layers of complexity to an already-complex piece of software.

This is why people use Notepad and WordPad. A lot.

I think you can say the same thing about most of the software and hardware you buy today. I bought a cheap digital watch for my son the other day, and there was a 12 PAGE instruction booklet on how to set the date, time and use the chronograph functions. Talk about convoluted! There are only 4 buttons on the damn thing and to get anything done I had to do a virtual ballet of pressing, holding, tapping and pushing to work through all the various settings. I mean it's a damn WATCH for goodness sake!

All those extra features are nice, mind you - but I'm just trying to see what time it is. I'm not programming an Altair!

All this from someone that uses technology for a living. I mean, I'm fairly comfortable with software, hardware, gadgets, etc. and STILL most things are such a hassle, I don't bother with them. God forbid if I ever lose the instructions on how to setup that watch!

Thankfully, there are some pieces of software and hardware in my life that are so easy to use AND useful, that I can't imagine my life without them. They solve a real problem without being cumbersome. They have a function and do one thing really well. They are easy to setup and use, and that makes me want to use them more.

A couple of examples are the iPhone, my DVR (Digital Video Recorder), and my text editor.

They "get it" (most of the time). They have pretty, simple, easy-to-use products and the marketing budget to make them "cool." The iPhone is not the most full-featured phone on the market, and Mac in general are less than about 10% of the total systems in use today (although Apple claims 20% market share on new notebooks). The important part is they get the fact that most people are not rocket scientists - and that they just want to do their work and GO HOME.

The text editor I use Textpad is like Notepad, but with a spell checker. It has basic text entry, word count, good search/replace features and it's inexpensive. I use it a lot. In fact, most of the time. It's simple, works well, color codes html and JavaScript, has a low memory footprint.

But if I had to pick a single product that is the one that I use the most - I would have to say it's my Digital Video Recorder (DVR). Gone are the days of clunky programming with a remote, flashing "12:00" timestamps, forgetting to put in a VHS tape or taping over the twin's birthday party with an episode of Lost.

Point, click, record. Choose to record a series with two clicks. Set and forget. Done.

Watch two shows while recording another - check. Block content so if the kids get up early they aren't "accidentally" watching the latest Chris Rock special on HBO? Check. Record movies from HBO that are on in the middle of the night? Check. Browse by show category or title - so I can record a special show while on the road? Check.

Most of the time - I think more features isn't better, it's worse. People are just trying to get their damn work done so they can call it quits and go home. Period. Less is more - especially when it comes to "everyday" hardware and software.

If less is MORE, why don't more companies do it? Two reasons: Easy is hard; and adding 1,000 features has always been the way (in the marketer's mind) to get people to upgrade/switch/buy.

Easy is good because people are less confused. People who are less confused have a better experience with the product and are able to more quickly get something accomplished - which is what they were hoping for when they bought the product in the first place. Engineering "easy" is hard. Executing "easy" on a consistent basis and remaining "flexible" is hard. Making "easy" look good is hard. Convincing engineers not to add complexity while increasing functionality is hard.

Hard but possible.

Hard but necessary.

Customers vote with dollars. When it comes to usability and getting something done - easy (and less complex) IS better.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Microblog: Yeah, and Cars May FLY

No, really. A four year old Massachusetts company called Terrafugia that was founded by some MIT graduates is almost ready to take their flying car (or driving plane, if you prefer) out for it's first, real life test flight late this month or early February.

If all goes well - the $148,000 little two seater called "Transition" will make some history. Not quite Wright Brothers stuff, but hey, how many times have you seen that 1950's stock footage of that one guy that did the same thing (along with the footage of the dishwasher that pops out of the middle of the kitchen) - and wonder - hey, that's pretty cool.

It may soon be your chance... but you'll have to get in line. Apparently, the company has received more than 40 pre-orders for the thing. Huh. Who would have guessed?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Desktop Virtualization - Yeah, Right!

One of the "new", "new" things that seems to be bubbling up in 2009 is the idea of "desktop virtualization." This basically means that rather than installing an operating system and all your applications on your own physical hard drive (a huge pain-in-the-ass for Enterprise folks) - that your desktop would be running (depending on who you talk to) either: in the cloud, on the LAN/WAN, or on a virtual OS that could move from machine to machine.

I like this idea - in theory. The theory goes like this: you could be on the LAN or maybe at a client's office and need to get a document that's on your local machine. You could just login to some server, and BAM - your actual operating system would appear with all your documents - just as if you were sitting right in front of it.

I think it would be cool to be able to set up your operating environment and applications - and then just access them from where ever you are and from whatever device (hardware) you happen to have at hand. It could be a desktop (does anyone even have one anymore?), your laptop, your netbook or even your mobile phone.

To a certain degree, you can do that today - using GoToMyPC or other "screen sharing" solutions. The problem is that you have to have your machine on - and connected to the Internet, and you're limited in the number connected peripherals that can be used, etc.

So, a bunch of server virtualization marketing folks came up with the idea: "Hey, if we have the technology to vitualize entire operating systems for server use - how hard can it be to virtualize the actual user's operating system."

Turns out - pretty hard.

There are the "traditional" RDC (Remote Desktop Client) folks like Citrix and Microsoft - who want you to buy a room full of rack-mounted servers and use their screen-sharing technology (basically just Terminal Services) to solve the problem. This is generally how it's done today. Each server can contain 20-50 "virtual" desktops - that users can log into. They can have applications installed (usually only by downloadingthem - or by having IT install them physically on the machine) - and you would use them from within a window on your existing laptop/desktop.

This allows IT to maintain patches, updates, and also establish rules for what can (and can't) be run on the machines. The downside to this approach is that if you're using anything that's even remotely graphics-intensive the performance just sucks. If all you're doing is email, Office-like applications and browsing then it's pretty OK. The "rub" is that you have to have a machine that also needs it's own Windows operating system (or Parallels on a Mac) in order to even work the RDC software.

That means, that someone, somewhere (usually you) will be tempted to just install your own applications and run it locally for times when you're not connected to the network, or as a backup in case the WAN goes down, or the server crashes, etc. So, you're really no better off in the long run. You still have your own OS that needs to be patched, updated, etc. Also, if you're trying to access it from a mobile device - have a nice day - it's not supported.

There is one interesting idea, however by VMware. They're calling it "View 3". View 3 is trying to make a single desktop "image" available that contains the operating system, all your apps and documents - but will allow you to "take it with you" across multiple devices - including smart phones.

The "Offline Desktop" as VMware calls it - is still labeled "experimental" - so it's not ready-for-prime-time yet, but at least they're working on it. Raj Mallempati, a marketing manager for VMware had this to say in a December 2, 2008 article in eWEEK:
"What we are doing with VMware View is looking to meet the end user's requirements, which calls for a personal desktop that can follow them across different devices and across different networks. At the same time, this type of solution provides IT with a very simple and cost-effective way to manage different devices and desktops."
Sounds pretty good to me... IF they can get it to work. IF they get the price point right. IF someone else like Google doesn't beat them to it and offer it for free (with ads, of course). IF they make it easy to update and cross platform.

They used to have a similar kind of VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) back in the "old days" as well. They called it a "mainframe." Larry Ellison and then Sun CEO Scott McNealy had the same idea back in the 90's - it was called the "Network Computer" or the "ThinPC" or the "Un-PC". So I guess they were right after all - and maybe sometime in the NEXT 10 years it will become a reality as more and more people are sick and tired of constantly updating and patching Windows.

It's time for a change, that much is clear. Will virtualized desktops be the next big thing? I don't think we'll see wide-scale adoption until at least 2017. Even though it's a pain-in-the-ass - people are "used to" the current paradigm and that's a lot of momentum to overcome.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Microblog: Facebook #1?

According to Comscore - Facebook because the largest worldwide network back in the middle of 2008 - but it's still lagging behind MySpace in terms of page views - 76 million unique visitors for MySpace versus 54.5 million for MySpace.

In the US - Facebook's growth was 3.8% per month (a big number when you're talking about those kind of pageview numbers) - versus MySpace's growth rate of just 0.8% (still - a great number given the sheer volume of page views). Assuming that growth rate continues, Facebook should overtake MySpace sometime in 2010.

The question is - who cares? I think the most important social media site is the one that people are using. The one where you can connect with your customers, employees, friends, and colleagues. So it's important to be on the social network they use as their primary contact point. Most people, if they're on social media at all - are NOT on 6 different services. They're on ONE - or maybe TWO...

It sort of comes down to the age-old "cool kid" factor. A few years ago MySpace was the cool kid - and now, I believe, that Facebook is the new cool kid. What do you think?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Microblog: Killing Facebook Friends for a Burger

So in the "what the hell?" category - Burger King as announced a new promotion whereby if you install their Facebook application called "Whopper Sacrifice" in your profile - and you "sacrifice" 10 of your friends - you'll get a free Whopper.

No, I'm NOT kidding. Could even I make this kind of stuff up?

At the time that I write this over 55,000 friends have been sacrificed... geez. Well, I guess Burger King found 5,500 people who don't have two dollars to come into their restaurants... This world really IS going to hell in a handbasket.

Oh, and if you get "sacrificed" by me - it's nothing personal - I'm just hungry.

Palm's Pre = iPhone Killer?

Yesterday, Palm (you know, the guys that INVENTED the PDA!) - came out hibernation with a new device they're calling the "Pre" (pronounced PREE). Yes, it's yet another handset with yet another operating system. We all need THAT like a hole in the head, I agree... but I digress...

It has most of the features that you would expect if you were designing a new handset from scratch (and take 3+ years to do it!). It has built-in GPS, WiFi (b & g flavors), BlueTooth, IM, MMS, and SMS, built-in Exchange support (in addition to POP and IMAP), 8GB internal storage, micro USB 2.0 connector, removable battery, based on Linux, fast Webkit browser (same underlying engine as Safari), etc.

It's not expected to ship until the end of Q2 and will only be available on the Sprint Network. No pricing or plan details have emerged yet - but somehow I think it will be compatible with the Google G1 phone and (probably) less expensive than the iPhone.

However, there are a couple of pretty interesting things about the Pre that are revolutionary and that I predict will show up in other handset/OS offerings in the future:

Slide-out QWERTY keyboard - AND a touch screen
All apps (including Palm's own built-in apps) are HTML/CSS/JavaScript
Multiple applications run at the same time (and retain their state)
A new wireless "Touchstone" charging system (lay the phone on it - and it charges - when you get a call while charging it automatically answers when you pick it up)

So, is this thing an iPhone killer? Dunno. All I've really seen is some great in-depth coverage by Engadget so it's not really "fair" to compare it to the current iPhone.

BUT... there are some things that are missing in the 1.0 version that I'm not so sure I could do without like no International Roaming (or International version - as yet) and no graphics layer for gaming.

In addition, there were only sketchy details about the SDK and how they are going to distribute 3rd party applications (they will obviously have their own version of an "App Store-like" site). There's also about 1,000,000 more unanswered questions about data storage, built-in SQL databases, how application release management will work, etc., etc.

It's sort of nice to see Palm (what's left of it) come back into the mainstream. Their device looks pretty interesting (more so than the Google G1 Android phone I demoed) - and they have some really good ideas. But, as always - the devil is in the details - and right now there aren't that many of them. Time will tell if this little baby has what it takes to take on the iPhone.

I hope that Apple doesn't drop the ball, and just start pumping out "nano" versions of the iPhone - but I hope they really get their act together and come out with an even cooler, even more innovative product sometime in 2009.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Microblog: WebEx Goes To iPhone

In the "damn, Gina!" category we have Cisco which announced that users of it's WebEx service can now initiate and join meetings via a free iPhone/iTouch application. That's pretty cool!

There is no extra charges to start or attend a meeting from the phone - and the service will even call the attendees to link them up to the audio (iTouch folks or iPhone users can also use a third-party conferencing service as well, of course).

The application already includes chat, and it's compatible with both portrait and landscape mode. You can't host a meeting from a iPhone/iTouch, but you can "pass off" the presenter "ball" to anyone else in the meeting.

Ummmm.... wow. I never thought I would/could attend a webinar on go (or at least as much of it as I could before the battery dies). Here's the link if you want the info from the horse's mouth...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Size Matters

I just love it when big companies screw the pooch in trying to protect their profit margins. Today's case in point: Intel. You see, there are these new, cheap "mini" notebooks with stripped down size (and capabilities) that are commonly called "netbooks."

Intel supplies a large number of manufacturers with a tiny little CPU (called the Atom) for this new class of computers (as you would expect them to). However, the interesting thing - is that the marketplace really likes these little machines. They typically only have a 10" screen - so I'm not sure I could bear replacing my "real" laptop with one (yet) - but they have a long battery life and they're cheap.

Did I mention they're cheap? Like $300 cheap. Like less-than-an-iPhone cheap.

Dell and Samsung and a number of other manufacturers are going to get into the game as well - but they're going to up the screen size from 10" to 12". So, what's the big deal you're asking?

Well, for every netbook that comes out with bigger and better screens at a cheaper price point - that means that Intel is selling one less Dual Core processor it can sell. And, Dual Core processors are to Intel what Office is to Microsoft - the golden cash cow.

In fact, Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch asked Intel if they limit their manufacturers to using the Atom chip in notebooks with screens 10" or under. He got back an "interesting" reply:
We asked Intel if they forbid manufacturers to build Netbooks with larger than 10 inch screens, which is what those manufacturers are telling us (Dell notwithstanding). Their answer: “Intel defines a netbook as a 10″ or smaller screen size. We recommend that OEMs and netbook manufacturers use that guideline as well in order to get the best user experience.”
Ummmm.... yeah... read: "We don't want them to - but we can't stop them because we want to keep selling our more expensive chips to them."

Intel seems to be falling into the same trap as Microsoft - namely the one where they want to dictate to the world what form factor and hardware should take to justify the status quo. Bad move, guys.

Intel's problem here is that - big surprise - the consumer is SO DONE with being inundated with crap that doesn't work or doesn't give them control - just to maintain "the way things have always been done." To wit: there are a couple of other chip makers who are getting on the netbook bandwagon in a big way: AMD with it's just-announced Yukon processor and Via Technologies with their faster (and cheaper) Nano processor.

I'm sure the "wagging" and name-calling isn't over by a long shot - but this is going to be a very interesting space to watch. In a way, it's the beginning of a "perfect storm" in terms of market needs matching technology. We're in a recession - so cash is tight. If you can spend $400 and get 75% of the functionality you need - you're going to think twice about spending $2,000 for the extra 25%.

If you access the majority of your software via a browser or some other hosted service - do you really need that extra 25% capability "that you always had?"

And what if the manufacturers bump up the screen size to 14"? And maybe add a solid-state hard drive? And still keep the price around $500-$600?

And the big question - what if Apple decides that it wants to get into the netbook game? Oh yeah, and remember Apple just bought their own chip manufacturing company...

If I were someone important at Intel - I would sure be coming up with a strategy right about now...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

There Is No "Apple Tax"

Call it sour grapes, call it a 5 year old "nuh uh" argument - but just yesterday Microsoft was again banging the "Apple Tax" drum - saying that people who buy Macs are basically being ripped off. Here's a snippet from a ComputerWorld article:

Microsoft Corp. yesterday again pushed its claim that consumers pay an "Apple tax" when they buy Mac hardware rather than PCs running the Windows operating system.

In an e-mail to reporters Monday, Microsoft repeated the argument it first made last October, a day before rival Apple Inc. was slated to make a major product announcement. The next day, Apple unveiled new MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.

Microsoft again pitted Mac prices against similarly configured Windows PCs from the likes of Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Not surprisingly, Microsoft's comparisons put Apple's hardware at a disadvantage, with the "tax" ranging from 16%, or $100, for the entry-level Mac Mini to 25%, or $300, for the lowest-priced iMac desktop.

Ha! That's really hilarious. Maybe Microsoft needs to look up the meaning of "tax" as defined they way we all think of a tax (from
a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc.
Ummmm... yeah. The difference is - that in the entire marketplace - people CHOOSE to buy a Mac even though it's more expensive than a notebook (or desktop) with Windows on it. A tax - you have no option of paying (at least I don't). I pay property tax, sales tax, federal income tax, state income tax, gasoline tax, excise tax on my phones, etc. Here's another direct quote from Microsoft:
"Windows PCs are offering the best value on the market," she argued, "while Apple continues to impose high-price premiums on their Mac designs, offering only modest discounts of 5% to 10%."
Ummmm... yeah. PCs are definitely the best value on the market - as far as PRICE goes. How about features, not crashing as much, a unified and TRUE plug-and-play architecture, based on an open source OS, looks sexy and has easy-to-use software basis?

How about: NO. Sure, you can get a cheap computer running Windows - and it's going to be less expensive than buying a Mac. Or let's talk about the other Apple hardware: the iPhone or iPod. Seriously, does anyone here who reads this blog even KNOW anyone with a Zune?

You can make the same argument about the iPhone. Yeah, it's more expensive. Yeah, the AT&T plan is a bit on the "bend over" side - but have you actually USED one? I have. I'll never go back. Why? Because it's pretty, has a nice interface that's easy to use (even my WIFE can upload pictures to Facebook from it!).

I've played with a Blackberry Touch. I've played with the Google Andoid phone. I've played with many other phones with Windows operating systems - almost 100% of them have WAY better features than the iPhone (expandable memory, replaceable battery, cut and paste, removable flash card, 3+ megapixel cameras, built-in turn-by-turn GPS, etc). But, I don't really care. The most important thing for me is that the iPhone just works and it's actually useful for what I need it to do.


So while PCs may be a better value (and have the "cancer" called Vista loaded by default) are cheaper - I think you really do get what you pay for in this case. If all you're looking for is a bargain - then by all means buy a Windows PC. While you're at it, I bet you can also pick up a "fully loaded" 1969 VW Bug pretty cheap as well...

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 Outlook: Cloud-y

Just as the world was learning about, creating a strategy for, and releasing 1,000 different tools for "Cloud Computing" in 2008 - I predict we'll see more of it in 2009.

Certainly, all the "big" players have announced their strategies - Google, Amazon, Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, Sun, etc. - but so far, the thing that's really lacking is some kind of cohesive standard or at least even parity with one another. The big problem is that everyone is convinced they have the "perfect" platform for cloud computing.

I'm sure in their minds they do. They've spent a lot of time and money figuring out how their offering would get some traction in the marketplace and, most importantly of all, gain developer mind share and get people who will actually use it.

They are so vastly different in the way they define things - from Google and their Gears product to Adobe and the Flex/Flash combo to Microsoft's Mesh. It's sort of all over the place.

Some take the approach that they'll just be the host (Amazon), some want to help enable online/offline browser-based apps (Google, Adobe), others think that the platform IS the platform (Microsoft, Salesforce) - and still, no one has come up with a way to actually build and deploy browser-based application in an easy, repeatable, flexible and seamless way (unless of course you count Servoy).

I think we'll see some great improvements in the tool sets and the capabilities of "cloud" vendors. It's just too much of a cluster to try to create (D)HTML and JavaScript applications that run on a server and also on your machine (not to mention all the "moving parts" required. End users want flexibility. Developers want standards-based stuff they can re-use their current skill set with. Bean counters want everything to be free or cheap.

So I think 2009 will continue to be a year of convergence, and in a down economy (at least until Q4) - the pressure of having to do more with less could either help cloud vendors or it might just backfire and cause developers to retreat into "what they know" in order to preserve their jobs.

Only time will tell.
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