Friday, February 27, 2009

Retweet: Microsoft vs. GM

As I was trying to think up something witty and poignant for today's entry - I came across an old story from 1997 that pitted Microsoft against the now-up-sh*ts-creek-without-a-paddle - GM.

Back in the heady days of the late 90's the computer industry was bragging about how far the technology had come in comparison to the automotive industry. That spawned a single 3 line joke with a cool punchline:
There's word in business circles that the computer industry likes to measure itself against the Big Three auto-makers. The comparison goes this way: If automotive technology had kept pace with Silicon Valley, motorists could buy a V-32 engine that goes 10,000 m.p.h. or a 30-pound car that gets 1,000 miles to the gallon — either one at a sticker price of less than $ 50. Detroit's response: "OK. But who would want a car that crashes twice a day?"


The over time the joke morphed from that simple 3 liner into one that has replaced the "computer industry" with Bill Gates and the "automotive industry" with GM. Somewhere along the way, some unnamed person added some additional observations and it circulated around the (then spanking new) Internet via something called "email."

Over the years it's turned into one of those urban legends that has been repeated so many times that people think it's actually true. Well, it's not - but I think it's especially enlightening given the current circumstances with both GM and the on-going Vista controversy.

Plus, it made me chuckle - and I think we could all use a little more of that these days:
If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
  1. For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.

  2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.

  3. Occasionally, executing a manoeuver such as a left-turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, and you would have to reinstall the engine.

  4. When your car died on the freeway for no reason, you would just accept this, restart and drive on.

  5. Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought 'Car95' or 'CarNT', and then added more seats.

  6. Apple would make a car powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five per cent of the roads.

  7. Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single 'general car default' warning light.

  8. New seats would force every-one to have the same size butt.

  9. The airbag would say 'Are you sure?' before going off.

  10. Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed the radio antenna.

  11. GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of road maps from Rand-McNally (a subsidiary of GM), even though they neither need them nor want them. Trying to delete this option would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by 50%t or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Department.

  12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

  13. You would press the 'start' button to shut off the engine.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Microblog: Gmail Is Only Human

Nothing in the world works 100% of the time. That's a fact of life.

Why is it then when Gmail goes down for two hours - or the Twitter "fail whale" comes up - people go crazy? Hey - people - do YOU ever do anything 100% of the time - every day, all day, every day of the year?

Neither do I.

Why, then do most people just expect all software, hardware and Internet connections to be up 100% of the time? Well, I guess because we're starting to come to see them as utilities like electricity and phone. They're just supposed to "work" all the time.

And, when they don't - we get a little panicked. Do you remember the last time the electricity went out?

It also means that if you have only a single source for your email (or social networks or whatever) - then you're choosing to put all of your eggs in one basket. That means - that WHEN (not IF) your favorite service goes down (and they ALL will at some point) - take a chill.

Pull out some paper and jot down your notes with a "pen" - or save them in a text file so you can immediately flame the company and have your inflammatory blog post all ready to go when the service DOES come back up.

That's what I do...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Demonstrate Value - Or Die

The level of panic in companies is getting almost palpable. They are cutting, cutting, cutting - and a lot of the time not THINKING about the ramifications of those cuts.

Some companies are cutting valuable IT staff, killing business-enabling (and enhancing) projects, and doing other stupid things like cutting benefits, reducing work hours and making the overworked people who are "fortunate" enough to be left behind after massive layoffs the most de-motivated group of people on the planet.

Yes, these are uncertain economic times.
Yes, in many cases, cuts do have to be made.
Yes, not every single project should be continued (or even started in the first place).
Yes, dead wood needs to be trimmed.
Yes, business does need to keep a careful eye on expenses and especially cash flow.

If you find yourself one of these "fortunate" few who survived (so far) - then here's a little tip to help ensure you make the next round of cuts: help your company to measure the contribution of your role/project/salary in terms of cash flow, tangible benefits and consequences if they kill it/fire you/lay you off.

At the end of the day no one knows your project/role like you do. And if you're working on a high-profile project or you're making a decent, livable salary - there's no doubt that you're in the sights for future "cost savings."

The time to act is now.

Step 1: Take a good look at your project/role and make a quick spreadsheet that lists all of the costs in one column and hard-dollar revenues (and when they'll occur) that you/your project influence. If the costs exceed the hard dollar revenue (or hard dollar cost savings) - then it's time to go to Step 2.

If your costs are lower than your hard dollar revenues (or savings) - then jump right to Step 3.

Step 2: Double check your assumptions and figures. If you're still coming up short - then figure out how much it will cost in time, money and resources to make the + side greater than the revenue side. If you're able to pull it out - then go on to Step 3. If you can't - then you should either be getting your resume polished up or make friends with someone whose calculations ARE in the black - and get re-assigned to that project and/or make yourself invaluable to the other person in their role.

Step 3: Share your work. Don't wait for bad news to "hit you" - you should take a proactive approach and share the information you've discovered with your boss (or executive committee or whomever you report to). Talk them through the numbers and show them how your project/role is adding value to the company.

It's not so much about cover your ass - as it is about being perceived as someone who cares about the company and cares enough to take the time to quantify it. I can guarantee you this - if there are 20 people/projects on the potential chopping block and you can cost-justify your project/role - then there will only be 19 projects/people on the chopping block and you will NOT be one of them.

On the other hand - if you can't wait to get out of where ever it is you're working - it might be a good time to keep your numbers to yourself. There might be a possibility for you to work with your current employer on a consulting basis - in which everyone wins.

Your company will reduce taxes, overhead, benefits, and conserve cash flow - while you gain flexibility, a solid project to start with, and an in-depth knowledge of the process and people involved in order to help ensure the project is successful.

Regardless of which way you go in the end - it's still a good practice to cost-justify what you're working on and what value you bring to the company. If you don't do it - chances are good that someone else (usually a bean counter) will - and other decisions will be made that are outside of your influence/control.

Change is inevitable. You can either make it happen - or have it happen to you.

Microblog: MS Accidentally Finds Its Soul

It seems that Microsoft does have a heart after all (or just a really, really, big aversion to bad PR)...

After laying off 1,400 workers - it accidentally overpaid some of them by $4,000 to $5,000. Once HR realized the error - the laid off workers were promptly written an letter that demanded they give the money BACK to Microsoft.


In an abrupt about-face, Microsoft has now said that the people can keep the money:
"In the normal course of business, we may underpay or overpay in a bonus situation," said Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources at Microsoft. "If we overpay, we ask that the money be returned. Severance is not unlike that. "But this is a unique time and our normal practice didn't make sense."
Oh yeah, and the fact that 1,000,000 bloggers have been raking Microsoft over the coals every since? I'm sure it had no impact on Microsoft's ethical decision making process - and constant zealous care for the people that make them money....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Now That We Own Some Banks...

This whole bailout "thing" has got me a bit pissed off. Never mind the fact that the presses are working overtime to print money we don't have to give it to companies that have such inept (and greedy) management that they "managed" their companies into the ground and took the economy with it... no, the real thing that gets my goat is the fact that NO ONE seems to know where this money is going.

A perfect example is the $42 BILLION we gave to Bank of America and Citibank. Just handed them the cash - and walked away - "trusting" they would do "the right thing" with the money.

What the ??

We didn't even insist they fire the management. There were "no strings" attached to the money whatsoever. So, now, let me get this straight: we (the taxpayers) have given $42 BILLION to 2 banks... oh and guaranteed another $412 BILLION to cover their losses... and we got squat in return?

For just the $42 BILLION we could have bought ALL the common shares of Bank of America and Citibank about 4 times over. ALL of it.

Instead - we hand over the money - and allow them to keep the same idiots running the place that got them into this mess in the fist place?

Yeah! Great plan!

At the very least we (as taxpayers - and the government as our representatives) should INSIST that the Board of Directors be removed - if not the entire management team. "But... but... but... it will shake things up if we do that - they know how the system works..." - yeah, my ass!

They know how to play the system, cover up losses, hide questionable loans, all for the sake of their stock options and bonus pay. THAT's what they know how to do. There are PLENTY of other very smart, very capable, very responsible, very knowledgeable people in the world that can run those banks.

And just where the hell are they putting all the money? Good question. NO ONE KNOWS. There is ZERO accountability for using OUR (taxpayer) money. They could be buying back stock or stuffing it all in a mattress for all we know.

Since we (unofficially) "own" those banks - it's time they come clean on where the money is going. They should be forced to have 100% transparency on where every dime of that money goes. They should be forced to remove their management and/or boards - and they should be held accountable for their own damn losses.

Now the Obama money-printing-factory wants to print up ANOTHER $75 BILLION to keep people from going into foreclosure. That's a good idea. Make SURE that their debts are 100% forgiven - and let the people keep their homes.

DO NOT just hand banks money and not demand anything in return! Does no one in Washington understand how business actually works?

Oh and by the way - how about MY bailout? Where's MY no-strings-attached money? Screw the banks and the car companies and give every American who PAYS taxes a Visa card with $100,000 on it - and make it good only for 90 days. They can't get cash with it, they can't use it to pay off debts - they have to spend it or lose it.

You want people to spend money to get the economy going - that's the way to do it - NOT giving BILLIONS to huge companies who don't care and who, left to their own devices, will be back with their hands out in another 6 months.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's A Cloud, Cloud, Cloud World

I had my iPhone cranked up listening to my "favorites" channel and just let my mind wonder.... and in one of my rare moments of clarity - I was thinking about the future of computing. I come to the decision that the future of computing will not be about hardware, or operating systems, or which applications are "better" than others - it will all come down to a single thing: the screen.

Yep, that's it. The screen.

I think that the computing experience for most people (within the next 10 years) will be based around cloud services that are delivered to whatever device you happen to be using. Those devices could be fixed - like your TV, or to a thin PC, or a laptop-like device (nettop, netbook, laptop), or even your mobile phone.

The days of installing patches and fixes and hot fixes will be a thing of the past - since your operating system will be running in the cloud - there will be some poor IT schmoe someplace that has to deal with all the hassles and compatibility problems - and your system will just always be "up to date."

You'll always have the latest versions of all the software you use - or "subscribe" to - and you'll pay for computing services much the way you do for electricity or phone service. Companies will vie for your business by providing content "channels" that you can subscribe to.

If you like the Apple OS - then subscribe to the Apple Channel. Prefer Vista? Too bad, Microsoft won't have a channel until they see that Apple has dominated the space and then will try to build their entirely own complete service rather than just have a channel that people can subscribe to... but I digress.

These software (and services) "channels" would all co-exist in your main "session" - and would be available (and configurable) as either icons or as services that are already running. You could just switch between channels the way you do now - with Alt+Tab or by clicking an icon.

There would be free channels (like basic cable) - and then premium content (I predict that porn folks will be an early adopter) would be available. Whether you're interested in sports and want to see live video, or have an instance of a browser loaded with links to all your favorite teams - it's all pre-configured in the "ESPN Sports Channel."

Likewise, if you're a news junkie, love cooking, or can't get enough celebrity gossip - the content will be available in a unified manner. Video, websites, applications, premium content - ready to go and able to be delivered on whatever device you're watching where ever you are.

The issue of whether to buy a new Xbox or Playstation will be a thing of the past. You can have both - just subscribe to the channel(s). It will come with some basic games, and you can add others on a rental basis - or as a flat fee (like today). Rather than having 200 game jewel cases lying around - the game provider would collect payment and install the instance of the game on in your session. It would be ready nearly instantly.

What about the more "mundane" tasks of email, presentations, collaboration, word processing and (the dreaded) spreadsheet? Those would all be handled at an "at work" channel. It could be branded by your company - and you can have a "home office" channel as well as a "London office" channel. All your data will be stored just as you left it - files in folders like you have today.

There would be some limited local storage for the rare occasion you're not connected to the network - documents will be stored and forwarded when you connect again. Each channel would make certain applications available offline (although not all apps) - but it really won't be an issue. We'll look at good, reliable access to the Internet like we do electricity and sewer services. It will be everywhere - mostly all the time.

You'll be able to easily move data between channels and have all your documents accessible from all the other channels as well. You can seamlessly share and collaborate with others - with text or video like you can today with instant messaging and video chat.

In other words - your computing experience will be amazingly similar to what it is today, and all you have to buy is a HDTV, mobile phone or other device of your choice - and chances are you already have all the hardware you'll need.

Rather than tossing (or donating) that "old" cell phone or laptop or desktop - you can just pick up a new one at any store, kiosk or outlet - log into your provider and whammo - all your stuff is there. No more local backups (but you can if you want to), no more downloading and installing programs over on the new computer, the hours of setup, the restoration of all your preferences - it will all "just work."

Yes, I think the pendulum is swinging back to the "centralized" computer model. That's why mainframes haven't gone away - they've just been waiting for this next round of "what's old is new." Well, the time is coming.

The virtualization software is getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper. The delivery mechanisms for delivering the specific user sessions and price of mass online storage are nearing the zero mark. There are some technical and infrastructure hurdles, to be sure - but it's all within the realm of what's happening in terms of growing consumer (and business) acceptance of SaaS applications and cheap, commodity hosted virtual systems.

And now - with the Obama White House printing money like it's going out of style for infrastructure upgrades - I'm hopeful that within 5 years I will be able to actually have ONE cell conversation without having one side or the other drop.... but that's another story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Micoblog: Enough With "Beta" Already

So, I don't know about you - but I'm getting a little tired of the word "Beta" when it comes to commercial software and especially with Web 2.0 applications.

Now, most people aren't in the technology field - but I am - and the word beta has a traditional meaning that's getting more and more obscured as time goes on. Traditionally, a piece of software was considered beta - when it was feature complete and undergoing the final bug fixes and performance tweaks.

Software was considered "shipping" software when companies put it out to the public and charged money for it.

That's all changed.

Companies now are putting up services like hotcakes labeled as "Beta" - which either means they're doing some market fishing and seeing if what they came up with will actually stick or not - or they expect customers to be their quality assurance team and find all the bugs.

Microsoft has labeled it's Windows 7 operating system as "Beta." I'm sure it's feature complete and is just getting the final bugs worked out...

Yeah, right!

Gmail has been in "Beta" for over 5 years now (and counting) - and yet they are charging money for it. What the??

It's time companies stepped up and grow a pair and put a "1.0" label on their stuff. Call it "shipping" - and stop being total wussies about it.

When they do have a release that's meant to get public opinion or to show off the future of what they're working on in the labs - that's terrific! Call it a "Public Preview" or "Pre-Release" or something else - but just please stop calling all your stuff "Beta" for 5 years. Same thing for you Web 2.0 folks - having a "closed beta" is fine - even a public "beta" period is good - but a product should not be in "beta" if:
  1. People are paying for it
  2. It's been more than 3 months since you made it live
  3. If you have more than 5,000 people using it
  4. If you advertise the new version as if it were shipping
  5. You're just doing it to create FUD in the marketplace to stop people from buying a competitor's product (Microsoft - take note!)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Microblog: Microsoft Stores!

I just came across a February 12th press release from Microsoft saying that they are going to open retail stores!

What the??

Seems they've tapped former Wal-Mart entertainment guy (and DreamWorks Animation SKG, where he was head of worldwide product distribution), David Porter to head up the efforts.

Hey, what could go wrong with such a brilliant plan?

I can just see it now - rather than having a "Genius Bar" like the Apple Store - they'll have a "Wonk Bar" where you can take your laptop to find out why after installing the latest Microsoft patch you can no longer print. It will be staffed with the arrogant IT guy Nick Burns satirized in the SNL skit who, rather than trying to explain what's going on, simply says "move!" and begins typing at the command prompt.

Yeah, that'll make people switch from XP to Windows 7.... no, really.

It just seems to me to be like the 1978 SNL skit that stars Fred Willard, Gila Radner and Dan Aykroyd where there is a store that only sells Scotch tape...

Apple: All Your GUI Are Belong To Us

Some of the biggest complaints about the new Google phone is its lack of multi-t0uch interface. You can thank Apple for that.

Palm is trying now to figure out how to not have the bejezus sued out of itself for having multi-touch capabilities on their soon-to-be-shipped Pre phone. You can also thank Apple for that.

It all stems from Patent No. 7,479,949 (originally filed in September 2007) that covers the multi-touch interface and all its gestures (swipe, pinch, rotation, etc.) that are used on the iPhone.

How heavily is Apple going to protect this new patent? The day after the patent was awarded, Apple COO Tim Cook warned any potential iPhone competitors about Apple's stance: "...[Apple] will not stand for having our (intellectual property) ripped off, and we'll use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal."

Whoa, Tim - don't blow a gasket, man! We know you guys came up with the multi-touch interface and that it's THE competitive advantage that sets the iPhone apart from all the other handset makers. Relax!

Yes, we all know Steve is on leave, and you don't want anyone to accuse you of sinking the ship while he's gone - but dude, take a chill.

There's this really cool thing - it's called "licensing." See, here's how it works: you retain ownership of the intellectual property and then you "license" it to other people so they can use it in their handsets as well. This way you make an absolute boatload of money, and the general consumer wins by getting a device that's really useful.... oh. Wait. Now I get it.

You figure that since every other handset maker on EARTH can come up with a much more feature-laden handset at a much lower price... that if you license the multi-touch stuff to them - then no one will ever buy another iPhone again?

Yeah, you got me there.

The good news is that your stock would be able to break 100 and you would have "recurring revenue" (that's where you make money over time rather than on one-off purchases). Hmmmm.... but what about the fact that you're now using that multi-touch stuff in your trackpads on your laptops as well?

This whole "licensing" thing might mean that other companies might come out with a device that would clean your clock, right? Something... oh I don't know... like a netbook with a 10.5 inch screen that would operate as a laptop, phone, tablet, music player, etc.?

Yeah, you got me again.

So, hats off to the foresight to Mr. Jobs again - it looks like it will be a Small Apple World after all.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Customer Ratings Suck

Customer reviews suck. There. I said it. But, of course, there's a story behind the statement. Here it is:

I was looking to buy an all-in-one printer/scanner. So, I scoured the usual sources: PCWorld, CNET, Amazon, etc. I was looking for the "best of" categories in each. Never mind that each of them had a totally different pick for the "best 10" in the category (hey, they only get so many free evaluation units!) - the thing that got me was the "reviews" and the supposed satisfaction index of "real life" customers

Back in the day, the customer ratings carried some real weight. Now, they are just dead weight.

After wading through mind-numbing specifications on all models - I then began to read the customer ratings to see what real people had to say about the product. Big mistake #1.

Like most people, I was drawn to the products that had the higher user reviews - but some sites have the actual number of reviews and others just have the rating. So if a product gets 5 stars - but there is only one guy who has reviewed it - it doesn't really matter.

So I look for the product with the highest number of starts with the highest number of reviews. Then - I actually click into the reviews to see what people are saying - that was big mistake #2.

You would think hearing how people used them in real life versus how a tech-savvy writer used it would offer some insight into some "hidden" features or flaws that only come out after you get the thing home and try to use it. After scrolling and reading through a bunch of comments - both good and bad - I came to the same conclusion about every single one of the printers - regardless of how they were rated by the site:

Consumers are by in large, technically illiterate, stupid cattle that buy on price only and then have unrealistic expectation as to what the product should do.

No, really!

People would give the printer a 1 star and rant in the "con" comments on how they couldn't get the printer to be recognized on their network.

People would gush with 5 stars because the ONE picture they printed looked "great."

People would list things in the cons like "can't fax more than 100 pages with the auto-feeder" - HUH? In the specs, on the box and on the point-of-sale it clearly says "35 sheet auto-feeder." RTFM, people!

So, after about an hour of this nonsense - with model numbers and inkjet codes flying through my brain - I did what any other technically illiterate, stupid cattle person would do - and just went to my local stationary supply store (Staples), looked at the all-in-ones, found the one that had most of what I wanted for what I wanted to pay and bought the thing.

I think I'm going to go back up to the various sites and offer my cattle review:

***** (5 stars) "Highly recommend this printer! This was sure EASY to get out of the box! I can't wait to make my first print!"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Microblog: Another Email Client - Why?

A new company called Postbox has announced - wait for it - a new email desktop client. It seems that a few Mozilla engineers, including Scott MacGregor, one of two original engineers of Thunderbird before it got killed and moved into the Mozilla Messaging unit, think they have come up with a better mousetrap.

The interesting thing about this tool is that it was built using Mozilla's Gecko browser engine, and it's based on Thunderbird. Now, I don't personally know Mr. MacGregor, nor do I know of his reasons for leaving Mozilla and striking off on his own - but I'm just not seeing a huge need for yet another desktop email client. Especially one built on the same technology as a perfectly serviceable (and free) open source version.

There's no mention on the site whether this thing will be free, or open source or charged for or what. It's expected to come out "in the spring" - and will eventually be available for Mac and Linux - although the beta is a Windows-only affair at the moment.

Although it looks like it has some pretty cool features - it's not a totally new paradigm in using email. I would call the features helpful, useful, and who doesn't like faster searches of thousands of emails? But, in the end is it just a derivative work with some better graphics?

Ok, so I'm a BIT on the cynical side - so I decided to do a little digging. I thought - hey, some smart guys launching a new product into a utility section of software, in a recession, must have a pretty great business model - or some kind of edge that will help them succeed.

Or, not - as this quote from ComputerWorld's Gregg Keizer piece points out:
Although the e-mailer is based on Mozilla's open-source code, MacGregor wasn't willing to say that Postbox itself would also be open source. "It's too early for us to know right now," he said, adding that the self-funded company is still trying to decide on a business model. "We're going to use the beta to flesh that out," MacGregor said.
Call me a crazy old fool - but it seems to me that if you're going to be self-funded, and start a new company, in a recession, that it might be (just MAYBE) a good idea to have a business model BEFORE starting out. I don't know from that statement whether they don't know if the thing is a good idea or not themselves.

If you're going to "flesh out" how you make money after you've already spend your time and money getting software to the public beta stage... well, good luck to ya'!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Microblog: OLPC Death of a Dream

Well, the pie-in-the-sky One Laptop Per Child program has called it quits after a tumultuous 3 years. The OLPC was hailed as the "$100 laptop" and had the noble and grand vision of providing accessible, easy-to-use hardware to people in developing countries.

There were a lot of great ideas - some of which actually came to pass. In fact, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC said at the TED Conference today that it was actually OLPC that helped to spark interest in the netbook class of portable computers. He even got up on stage and threw laptops and netbooks around - saying that if you tried to use them underwater or in a dusty African village - "they won’t work."

Ummmm.... yeah. Very few things do - unless they're military grade.

But, in the end, I think it was market forces that really pulled the grand vision back to earth. They never actually got to scale up the production - and because of that, they've had money problems almost from day one. They've produced over a half million units - and they're working in the field.

So, their new idea is to just open source everything and hope that another company (with much deeper pockets) will pick up where they left off and through the economies of scale - be producing (in Mr. Negroponte's words) "5 to 6 million machines, per month, in three years time."

Hmmm... OK - I hope so. However as a my friend Jan Aleman is fond of saying "Hope is NOT a strategy."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Microblog: The Insidious Latitude

So the mighty behemoth released "Latitude" - a service that allows you to broadcast your current location to your friends (or the world). It works by using Wi-Fi access points, cell towers or GPS to figure out where you are.

Now, I know the "Big Brother is coming!" paranoid among you have probably already written, called and emailed your Congressperson about what an affront to personal privacy this is, and the other end-of-the-world-is-near folks probably have their panties in a bunch over the "potential" for abuse, stalking, etc.

My view is - it's pretty cool and I can see some uses for it. As with any changing technology - at first there is the FUD factor ("Those horse-less carriages will be the end of civilization I tell you!"), and then the marketplace will decide if it's something they like (iPod) or if it's something that sucks (Zune).

It's not as if this thing is turned on by default on all cell phones without the user's full knowledge and consent. In fact, it's almost annoyingly the other way around. As my friend Dan Tynan points on on his ComputerWorld Culture Clash blog:
You type your cell number into a field on the Google latitude page; it sends you a text message with a download link for the 1.35MB file. Install the app on your phone, click through a bunch of user agreements, and sign into your Google account (or create a new one). You can then choose which friends you want to add to Latitude; they get an email inviting them to do the same thing.
Boy - that sure sounds pretty insidious to me. Making you download it. Then install it. Then give you all those "I agree" buttons to click (along with an explanation of what's what). I mean, hey - YOU might actually have to choose to turn it on. Then choose to invite your friends. Then choose to activate it on the phone. Then choose to allow Google to know your position.

It's a conspiracy, I tell you!

If you don't like it, or you're afraid your privacy will be invaded, or you'll be "stalked" or that it will cause the utter downfall of the human race - don't sign up and install it. Period.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Microblog: 6 Flavors of 7

Hey kids! Microsoft is about to screw the pooch again when it comes to the number of "editions" it's planning for Windows 7. I guess "screw the pooch" is maybe too strong - let me put it another way: if you LOVE the convoluted, screwed up, totally senseless way they rolled out Windows Vista - you'll LOVE the Windows 7 launch just as much.

They are planning to focus only on two editions - Windows 7 Home Premium for consumers and Windows 7 Professional for business users. That part, I like. Two editions - like XP. Clear. Easy. Good.

NOW - for those of you playing the "Professional" version of the home game - look behind door number 3! OK - now we have Windows 7 Starter Edition, Windows 7 Enterprise Edition and finally, Windows 7 Ultimate Edition.

This of course, doesn't include the special "N" versions (that remove Windows Media Player) as mandated by the European Union...

This is just such a crappy way to sell an operating system. I guess they feel they need to squeeze every ounce of revenue from every potential customer (they do have over one BILLION of them, BTW)... but I think it MUST be easier to do it the way that everyone else from Apple to Ubuntu do - and have a one-size-fits-all distribution. Then allow people to modify it, or sell "add-on" functions and package them together in ways that make sense for Enterprise or Government users the way they packaged productivity applications together in one package called Office.

Does Microsoft fail to recognize that the OS business is in the decline? People care less about what OS they have and care more about what THEY can do with a particular application. It's the functionality - not the thing that runs the browser that matters. If you follow that logic - it seems - at least to me - that less is MORE... *sigh*

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Turning Your Phone Into A PC

Microsoft is still trying to take over the world. This time, they're after your phone. No, they didn't come out with a new version of their Windows Mobile operating system - instead they've basically patented a device that's a uber docking station.

The thought here is similar to one I voiced back in June 2008 - the coming of "PocketTops." As smart phones get smarter and more powerful - the benefit of the form factor (small enough to fit in your pocket) becomes its biggest liability (you can fit it in your pocket). If you've ever tried to type anything more than a short email on these things - you know what I'm talking about.

Even the iPhone - which is mostly screen - is tedious to view large numbers of sites (not to mention the lack of a way to display Flash stuff), and really doesn't have enough storage on it to replace even a cheap netbook.

What if you were able to take your smart phone and dock it like a laptop? You could then use connected full size keyboard, mouse, monitor and have access to all your peripherals as well. Of course, there would have to be some kind of "glue" to translate phone commands into commands that the connected objects would understand, and of course there would need to be storage for drivers, and some other goodies for managing ports, etc.

Hey! I know! How about a thing called... "a computer"? That would work!

Yep, Microsoft basically just patented the computer. However, they knew they couldn't just patent the computer, that would be too broad... so they applied for and just received a patent for a "Smart Interface System For Mobile Computing Devices."

It's more than just a "cradle" - it slices, it dices, it transcodes video, it send keyboard and mouse streams to the device... and if you act right now - you'll get a free toaster.

On the surface it sounds like a pretty cool idea. When you think about it a bit more - it blows. Why? Do you really want another device that's basically a computer - running some crazy subset of Windows Vista (only "lighter") that has to talk to your phone (Windows Mobile, only - no doubt).

Why not just create a "dumb" dock that will do the same thing via software? Seems to me that it would be a lot easier to keep your nettop or laptop - and have an all-in-one device that is portable and useable, rather than just a dumb computer that can only act like a glorified USB cable.

The idea is OK - it's just the execution that is a bit tedious. I think in the future there will be a computer that you can fit into your pocket (ok, ok - so most smart phones are already more powerful than the 386 clones of yesteryear) - but there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the peripherals side to make it all work.

For example big screens that you can just unroll or unfold, keyboards that can be projected on to any surface (or at least ones that are rollable and small), a wireless USB standard that would do away with the need for wires and cables, etc.

The fact of the matter is - the state of peripherals is getting very close. All of the things I just mentioned are either on the market or are coming this year. The handsets are getting much more powerful - and I predict we'll see our first multi-core model by late 2009 or early 2010. We already have solid state drives coming into the marketplace, 5 megapixel mobile phone cameras, and some projectors that are the size of a pack of cigarettes.

The idea of a PocketTop is coming - but I just hope it's the way it "should" be - rather than the way Microsoft sees it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Becoming Indispensible

If you just look at raw numbers - more than 100,000 people got the boot from their jobs - just this past week. That really sucks! If you're one of the lucky (or unlucky) folks that managed to avoid the boot - you can take one of two strategies: a) either "pull back" and just try to keep the lights on, or b) innovate and excel.

The typical knee-jerk reaction is to pull back and just try to "survive." Personally, I think that a bunch of crap and a cop-out to boot.

Sure, people are scared for their jobs regardless of their position, but managers and IT folks are are feeling particularly vulnerable (at least from the people I talk to). Here's the thing - people who don't add any value (or save any time or money) are always looked at as expendable. The key - don't be so afraid of your job that you just sit there in fear - take some ACTION that will help raise your value to the organization.

I can just hear you saying "Well, Mr. Know-It-All - got any suggestions?" As a matter of fact I do... for only $29.95 plus shipping and handling... (hey, it's my first day out on my own - I need revenue, people!)...

But I digress... of course I have some suggestions:

Do a process review
There is nothing better to quench the cries of "do more with less", and "time is money" than to look at the way you're doing things - and then figure out a way to do them better, faster and/or cheaper. This can be anything from a full, top-down business review (but it can take a while and is a ton of work) - but it doesn't have to be. No matter what your position is from receptionist to IT manager to coding jockey to CEO - there are processes that you do in your normal every day life that are broken.

Identify those areas and come up with ways to fix them. Then, write it down and quantify how much time/money it will save and how much time/money your fix will cost. Remember - DO show your work. There is nothing a manager or business owner would LOVE than for an employee to come up with ways form them to be more productive. Even if they don't implement your suggestion(s) - just the fact that you're making an effort to become more efficient instantly raises your value to the organization.

Look at virtualization
If you're an IT wonk - then it's a no-brainer. Look into virtualizing servers to consolidate hardware, save on cooling and electricity costs and reducing complexity. If you're a small business owner - see you can virtualize your phone system or customer support or receptionist or anything that is a sticking point in your daily process.

There are literally tons of SaaS software tools out there that can help you run large and small aspects of your business - and many of them either give you a free trial or cost under $50 per month. In other words - the barrier to entry - the cost to try something new to gain efficiency - is extremely low and well worth the efforts if it will endear you to your organization and/or improve your bottom line.

Do some professional development
Yeah, I know that travel & entertainment budgets were the first to do - and that budgets for conferences and seminars are also prime targets for cost-cutting. However, you don't have to spend a lot of money in order to develop your personal skill set. Focus on things that will help you to help the organization. If you're a manager - learn how to read (and write) financial statements, get better at your telephone skill, or your people skills or your management skills. Buy a book, download some free podcasts from iTunes from name-brand learning institutions, take an online course, watch some online videos, etc.

Keep in mind - who is harder to replace - someone who "just" answers the phone - or someone that figured out how to save the company $8,000 per year by changing the way a form is laid out? A person who "just" codes Java - or a person who increases end user productivity by suggesting features no one knew were possible?

You get the idea... now DO something to become someone that's difficult to replace.

Microblog: Twitter Ethics

It seems like Twitter is gaining in popularity. I was watching CNN the other day - and they actually showed a reporter posting tweets - on the air! What the ??

If I'm watching CNN - I don't want to see people Twittering... or checking their email... or writing a blog post... I want to watch people report the news. If I want to read the CNN tweets - then I'll go on my mobile device or computer and read the tweets.

Some people are just NUTS when it comes to what they tweet. Take the guy who did a "lifecast" of his wife giving birth - yeah... on Twitter! Or what about reporters who get inside access to special briefings from the White House or on an analyst call? If they Twitter the juicy details before the others can write up and file a story - is that "fair?"

How about Twossip (Twitter + Gossip)? Does saying something about a person and then broadcasting it to all your "followers" constitute slander - or are you just doing a "really wide-reaching IM"?

What about the people that use Twitter as a stream-of-conscientiousness tool? I hate those type of people - and they only usually last one day on my "follow" list. I really don't need to read 40 (or MORE!) posts from you a day. I do NOT need to "hear" every single thought that crosses your mind - nor do I want to.

On the other hand - some folks don't tweet enough in my opinion. There are some folks who tweet maybe 2-3 times per day (or sometimes less) - that I actually look forward to seeing a tweet from (Tech show host and radio guy Leo Laport and Servoy developer Greg Pierce to name a couple).

So if you DO Twitter - say something funny, outrageous, whimsical, controversial - it'll just be more fun for everyone. BTW: You can follow me on Twitter: as well...
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