Monday, December 28, 2009

Banish the Mouse

We use a lot of technology in our lives that really should have been consigned to history a long time ago. Today's topic ... the mouse.

The computer mouse is an outmoded, unwieldy device that still stumps beginning computer users. It is supposed to act as a "pointing device," even though the Lord gave each one of us several highly flexible pointing devices at the end of each arm. We should be rid of the mouse, and here are just three reasons why ...

  • Pointing
    Touch screen technology is getting better and better, and corporate purchasers should demand that it become more and more affordable over the next 12 months. Web links, launching programs, and moving files around can all be done by substituting touchscreen technology for the mouse, without any new software development whatsoever.
  • Drawing
    Creating lines, boxes, circles and other forms is virtually impossible without invoking a pre-defined shape from within a program. In fact, I am not sure it is possible to create a worse drawing instrument than the mouse. It was once described as trying to draw with a potato instead of a pen. Can we please move to the stylus? Please?
  • Click, Double-click, Right-click
    The all-time, hands-down winner of unintuitive device design. At least Apple just went with one button. My Microsoft mouse has four, plus a scroll-wheel. No wonder it takes years to get really productive with a PC!

I suspect that I'm tilting at windmills, but am I wrong? Isn't there a reason why the good SmartPhones and PDA's don't have pointing devices anymore? The most successful SmartPhones in the past 10 years?
The iPhone. The BlackBerry Storm. And now, the Droid.

What is the common thread? Sophisticated, inexpensive touchscreen technology. No stylus. No track ball. And best of all, NO MOUSE.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Windows 7 is helping in interesting ways

When Microsoft released Windows 7 in the fall, it began to release a modest amount of pent-up computer purchasing demand. According to research done by Andy Golub at ChangeWave, companies have been holding off non-essential PC purchases in hopes of bypassing Vista altogether. Now that Win7 is coming as the default operating system on new systems, corporate purchases of PCs is beginning a modest recovery. As the chart here suggests, next quarter's PC purchases will could approach levels not seen several years.

Most of my clients are still using Windows XP, and we are now starting to plan the rollout of Win7 as a focused effort in 2010. Have you considered how Windows 7 will impact your business? Does your IT team have a plan for utilizing the new operating system? Now is the time to start the process so that your firm can be ready when the inevitable life cycle replacements become critical.

Read more from this ChangeWave blog post ...
Windows 7 Accelerating Corporate PC Purchasing

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Will democracy kill Firefox?

Mozilla has been talking about the next major revision of Firefox, version 4.0, which is slated for release some time in 2010. A series of ideas have come to light, including a "ribbonized" browser, using similar user interface ideas as Microsoft Office 2007. ComputerWorld reports that "users blasted the idea" and that Mozilla backed away from that terminology.

The great power behind Firefox is that it was created by a group of independent developers who were not bound by the requirements, biases, and pre-conceived notions of a major public company. But when a vocal minority hijacks the creative process, then those developers lose their independence. They are now being led by that minority and not by their own creativity. Their creativity may or may not produce the best ideas every time, but it will produce the most innovation. I suspect that the superiority that Firefox enjoys will begin to fade as the developers listen more to the voice of the "people" than they do to their own crazy thoughts.

Here is the Mozilla's Firefox Roadmap ...
Firefox in 2010

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Microsoft still dominant in web browsers

With today's release of Firefox 3.5.6, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at the changes in market share for the major web browsers. Over the past three months, the data at W3Counter indicate that we seem to have entered a period of detente.

This chart shows that much of the bluster about Chrome's market share versus Firefox versus IE is just white noise. Over the past three months, Internet Explorer 8 has been becoming the most popular Microsoft browser, as well as the most used browser over all. While its 3-month average is still just below IE7, the trend is unmistakable. In aggregate, the family of IE browsers was the choice of over 51% of all web users.

Firefox is still the dominant #2 browser, with over 31% of web use being conducted with the popular open source Mozilla product. Google's Chrome has rapidly laid hold of just over 4.5% of browser use, and is holding steady at that mark.

There are web developers that insist on ignoring Microsoft's position in the market. Any expectations of significant success for their application are unrealistic.

Read more about ...
Firefox 3.5.6 patch at CNET.com
Global Web Stats at W3Counter.com

Monday, December 14, 2009

Will the Tablet kill the Netbook

Market analysts are starting to predict the demise of the netbook. A ComputerWorld contributor, Mike Elgan, has published his vision of seven key attributes that will vault the tablet to the top of the mobile computing heap within the next few years. Here is his list ...
  1. Touch instead of pen
  2. Cell phone operating systems
  3. Cheaper components
  4. App stores
  5. The rise of e-books
  6. Faster mobile broadband
  7. HD video on demand

For a few of these, Mr. Elgan has a point. Certain functions are more intuitive when invoked with a finger, rather than with a stylus. Writing, of course, isn't one of them. But just about everything else we do with a computer is. There is a reason, after all, that we instruct users to "POINT and click." And humans point with their fingers, not with a stylus. Orchestra conductors are exempt from this generalization, of course.

Cell phone operating systems are far more robust and capable than they were just a few years ago. This is the primary point of device convergence that is emerging in technology. And of course, as economies of scale emerge in tablet technology, prices should begin to soften.

Beyond these points, though, the author is making too large of a leap, in my view. Faster mobile broadband and HD Video will not play a role in the spread of tablet PCs. Neither will app stores or e-Books.

The only driver for tablet adoption will be PRICE.

Ask any business user. Every single one of them will tell you they'd love to have a tablet, but ... But what?
They are too expensive!!

When tablets are priced competitively with middle grade laptops, their use will explode.

Read Hello, tablets. Good-bye, netbooks! by Mark Elgan, ComputerWorld

Monday, December 7, 2009

Google and IBM: the best cloud solutions

Evans Data Corporation, a software development research firm, conducted a study earlier this year to identify the best public and private cloud solutions. The company surveyed hundreds of software developers, asking them to rate cloud platforms across a number of areas, including of scalability, reliability, security, and openness.

The clear winner, in the public space, is Google. 31% of respondents view Google as providing the most scalable offering, with Amazon coming in at a distant second with less than 18% of respondents.

In the private sphere, IBM leads the pack, especially in areas of security, receiving a top ranking from 21.7% of respondents. The race for the top spot is much closer, with Amazon earning the confidence of 20.2% of the responding audience.

These results confirm Google's market leadership in the cloud computing space. I believe this will prove to be an important, long-term revenue source for the company, as well as a reliable solutions for small to mid-sized businesses.

Read more ...
Study: Developers Pick Google, IBM as Top Cloud Platforms by Darryl K. Taft, eWeek
The survey report (free with registration)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Big news from Intel

The data center world is headed for major changes. Yesterday, Intel debuted a fully-functional, 48-core chip, which is expected to be 10 to 20 times more powerful than conventional dual- and quad-core chips. What this means is that today's data centers and server rooms, with 5, 10 or even 15 robust servers, can potentially be scaled back to 2 or 3 servers. This has significant implications for space planning, energy costs, and staffing.

While Intel is initially targeting cloud-based applications for this device, one can easily imagine mid-sized firms taking advantage of this technology. The chip is still in the research phase, and Intel has not announced plans for when it will be commercially available. However, they are expected to put 6-core and 8-core processors on the market early next year and important design elements of 48-core superchip will be integrated into Intel's products during 2010, as well. By early 2011, we will be seeing the 6-core chip finding their way into high-end workstations, which will have implications for capital expenditure strategies during that time.

Read the article at ComputerWorld:
Intel unveils energy-efficient 48-core chip
By Sharon Gaudin

Monday, November 30, 2009

Droid sales start strong

Industry analysts are reporting that Verizon Wireless and Motorola have likely sold between 700,000 and 800,000 Droids since the device was launched in early November. In his research note, equity analyst Mark Sue (RBC Capital Markets), says that sales of "1 million Motorola Droids [is] achievable for 4Q09." This would be a tremendous milestone, not only for Motorola and Verizon Wireless, but even more so for Google, whose operating system underpins the Droid.

Motorola Droid, (Credit: Motorola) Whatever new ground the iPhone has broken, its position of market dominance is about to be overwhelmed by this device. AT&T simply does not have the market coverage that Verizon Wireless has. And while the Droid isn't quite as good as the iPhone, history has shown that consumers will gladly sacrifice elegance for cost and utility. This is the same story as Mac versus the PC that played out in the 1990's. The old Mac operating system was vastly superior to the DOS-based PC, and later to the early Windows machines. But at less than half the price, the market clearly voted in favor of Microsoft and has only taken brief glances back.

Again, the iPhone is a better device. But in the end, that simply will not matter.

Source: Big marketing budget drives Moto Droid sales
by Marguerite Reardon, Senior Writer, CNET

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cautious Optimism

Goldman Sachs has released its 2009 IT Spending Survey and results indicate that technology spending will recover modestly in 2010. This is in line with growth projections for the economy-at-large. David Rosenberg, of CNet News highlights a few key points from the report:
  • With recessionary buying cycle clearly through the trough, the remaining question centers on the pace of recovery for 2010.
  • Infrastructure, application development, and systems integration remain top spending areas, especially as CIOs start to consider newer technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing.
  • There is pent-up demand in hardware most notable, positive for storage and server/PC refresh.
  • The appetite for offshore services appears to be below trend at current levels.
  • HP, NetApp, CommVault, Red Hat, Riverbed, and Salesforce.com are notable names showing positive upward momentum in our latest survey.
To me, there's nothing earth-shattering in this news. Political conditions in the USA being what they are, firms will not make major investments in technology, staffing, or infrastructure until this administration has been reined in. Mostly what we see in the above list are fairly basic, "cost-of-doing-business" type stuff. PCs and servers will need to be replaced. And as high-performance servers and storage units continue to drop in price, decision makers will see those investments as part of their cost-saving strategies.

Notice that there is nothing for Professional Services firms to get overly excited about. 2010 may be another challenging year for consultants, who must prove value everyday.

Read David Rosenberg's article at:
Survey: IT spending to recover in 2010

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Big market share gains for Windows 7

At this point, no one can claim to be surprised by today's announcement that Windows 7 was running more computers than Apple OSX. The data was compiled during the past weekend (November 21-22) by Net Applications and showed that Win7 was running 5.07% (daily average) of the PCs that were connected to the internet. Apple OSX was running 5.0% of the computers, so the difference does not appear, at first, to be all that significant. But considering that the number of PCs worldwide passed the 1 billion mark over 15 months ago, that 0.07% difference equates to more than 700,000 computers.

Granted, this is a small window to measure and one would expect that the advantage will swing back and forth over the coming months, we already know how the movie will end. Apple's ability to exploit the bad dream that was Vista is fading quickly. And although Apple certainly won over a non-trivial segment of the marketplace, (After all, 5% of all the PCs worldwide is 5,000,000 machines) Microsoft is well on their way to reestablishing their position of dominance of the personal computing market.

Read more at ComputerWorld

Friday, November 20, 2009

The meaning of Win7's sales numbers

Microsoft is understandably pleased to announce that Windows 7 is off to a strong start, claiming they have sold more than double the copies of any other operating system over the same time period. Despite the market gains by Apple, Google and Linux, this tells me that Microsoft's season of desktop dominance is far from over. Vista was truly a mistake, just like Win98 and WinME. But Win7 has accomplished exactly what Microsoft had hoped it would do.... make a Vista a memory.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

100K Droids Sold

According to an industry analyst, Verizon Wireless sold about 100,000 Droids over this past weekend (Fri 6 Nov to Sun 8 Nov). Although Verizon Wireless (VZ, NYSE) is not confirming those numbers, no one is really disputing them.

What is a matter of dispute is whether 100K phones is "strong" start or a "weak" start. Those who say it's a weak start compare the phone's performance to the iPhone, with which the Droid is meant to compete. "The iPhone sold multiples of that amount in its first weekend for the original version," according to Roger Entner, an analyst at Nielsen Co.

But I tend to lean towards the "strong" start camp... partly because I'm naturally an optimist. But I also recognize that the iPhone was the first to the party. It was new and sensational. And no one can dispute that Apple does a phenomenal job of building market excitement in advance of a product launch.

The Droid is an answer to the iPhone; a response not an initiator. So it will not have the same buzz and excitement. It's not as disruptive a technology. People who were unwilling to switch to the iPhone 2½ years ago are not going to be as willing to switch to the Droid today.

On the other hand (I'm also an economist), when current Verizon Wireless contracts start coming up for renewal, I believe you'll see a tremendous number of users switching from BlackBerry's, Palm Pre's, and other smart-phones, over to the Droid. Because of that, I see the sale of 100,000 phones in 36 hours as a sign that strong Droid sales are highly likely over the next two to three years.

Credit where credit is due ...
ComputerWorld's article on Droid Sales -- by Matt Hamblen, originally published November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

ROI for Exchange 2010

On November 9, Microsoft will make Exchange 2010 available for general release. This, of course, creates on more decision that CIOs and CTOs will be considering in the upcoming year. Of course, there is rarely a tangible return on what is almost always a significant investment when it comes to in-place upgrades. The incremental benefits of the new system usually are not compelling enough, by themselves, to justify the disruption, risk and expense.

Exchange 2010 might be an exception, however. Microsoft claims that Exchange 2010 has 70% less disk I/O requirements than Exchange 2007. This makes viable the slower, cheaper disks of DAS (direct-attached storage), freeing up more expensive SAN storage for other, more I/O intensive systems. This is an area that has great potential for savings, as organizations are creating and keeping more and more content, and therefore increasing the need for storage.

My recommendation is to carefully consider setting aside budget to evaluate Exchange 2010 in the first quarter of next year, with an eye towards executing the upgrade during the second half. This will provide some time for Microsoft to fix the inevitable bugs and for the market to either prove or refute the I/O claim.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Google Dashboard gives you control

On Thursday, Google announced on The Official Google Blog the release of Google Dashboard. If you have a Google account (through GMail, Google Talk, Blogger, etc.), then the company has been collecting a fairly comprehensive history. They have a record of your recent web searches, your RSS subscriptions, your chat history ... you name it, they've recorded it.

Understandably, this has folks a bit nervous.

It has me nervous.

The Google Dashboard is a step towards giving users the ability to see what information Google has collected, delete it (if desired) and to stop the company from collecting it. To use it, go to Your Dashboard after you've logged into your Google account. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wait before moving to Win7

On Friday, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based computer support company stuck its neck out. Rescuecom, in an interview with ComputerWorld, is advising users to wait for the first Service Pack to be released before upgrading an existing PC to Windows 7; especially if that PC is still working well.

This is certainly sound advice. WinXP is remarkably stable and mature ... and Microsoft is still releasing bug fixes and security updates. Win7 is a dramatic departure from WinXP and, while it has outstanding functionality, is still quite unproven in the marketplace. Microsoft is working feverishly to resolve a reboot problem reported a few weeks ago, just to illustrate the point.

Nevertheless, this firm may end up as a target, just for stating a fairly obvious truth. First versions of major releases are always buggy, and not for the novice. But, I suspect that we are only three to six months away from the first service pack. And then, Win7 will settle down quite nicely.

Read the ComputerWorld article here ...
Wait for Service Pack 1 to show up, or back up data and buy a new PC

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Better maps for your phone

It is illegal, in the state of Maryland, to text while driving. This is a good thing, right? What about reading a map? What if the map is on your cell phone??

Today, Google unveiled the beta version of Google Maps Navigation for Android 2.0 devices. Essentially, Google is trying to get into the fast-growing GPS system market. Now I've seen turn-by-turn directions delivered to a cell phone. One of my colleagues has a Sprint phone with a GPS application loaded onto it. It's very, very slick. And it has an entirely different set of benefits than a car-mounted device.

Features:
Screen size: Advantage car-mount
Portability: Advantage cell phone
Flexibility: Advantage cell phone
Adaptability: Push

These are my opinions, and I'd love to hear yours!

I saw this at ...
Google drives into new market with Maps Navigation beta for Android

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Firefox continues market share gains

In the epic struggle for browser share, Firefox continues to take users from Internet Explorer. Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe, claims that in 17 European countries, Firefox is now the dominant browser. Microsoft's enhancements to IE have simply not slowed down the open source browser's growth. I believe that their decision to restrict plug-ins in IE will prove to be as short-sighted as Sony's decision in the 1980's to not license VHS Beta technology.

Read more ... Firefox gains 30m users in eight weeks

A pretty good Win7 upgrade article

If you're preparing for your upgrade to Windows 7, this article is a good place to start. Some of their advice it is pretty obvious, like backing up your files. But it lists good resources for online storage if you'd rather not store everything on CD or DVD.

Be aware, though. Comcast places a daily upload limit of 1Gb. If you exceed that limit, they cut you off ... forever. It's a hard lesson to learn.

The article also links to several Microsoft sites that will help you determine if your machine will effectively run Win7. A few minutes doing that legwork will save you significant time and frustration down the road.

Before starting your backup, I recommend that you invest some time in installing and learning to use 7-ZIP. It is a free compression utility that does a much better job than WinZIP. You'll be glad you did it.

FAQ: How to prep for an XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade, from ComputerWorld

Windows 7 on the Virtual Machine

Today, VMWare announced support for Windows 7 Workstation in the virtualized environment. This should help Microsoft build momentum for the operating system and accelerate the pace of transition from WinXP to the new platform.

At the same time, however, it does make it easier to keep a limited number of PC's on WinXP. This will ease the transition costs since it will help companies put off purchasing new machines just to handle the demands of Win7. PC manufacturers who were hoping for a big lift along these lines may be moderately disappointed.

Credit where credit is due:
VMware ships Workstation for virtualizing Windows 7,
By Mikael Ricknäs , IDG News Service , 10/27/2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What are they saying?

Your customers may be talking about you .... are you listening?

There are plenty of reasons for getting into the social networking mix. The most compelling might be that it will give you the opportunity to tune into the conversation about you, your competitors and your customers.

TweetGrid (screenshot shown at right) is my favorite monitoring tool. It's free and easy to use. It won't give you reports or enable data capture, but it will keep you looped in on any chatter that mentions your company. Other tools are coming into the market that will integrate other networks, like FaceBook and LinkedIn, into a more complete picture of the web conversation that you're concerned about. Depending on your particular needs, you may find that such a tool would be a worthwhile investment.

If you're not tuned into what the market is saying about you, you are missing a massive opportunity. Call me now to talk about how we can help you enhance your online strategy and boost your brand.

Hints at Oracle's future

Now that Sun is part of the Oracle family, Oracle is working fast to capitalize on potential synergies. On Tuesday, both firms issued mirrored press releases inviting the public to attend a webinar that features Oracle's database platform running on Sun machines. This isn't all that new. What is new is that the machine takes advantage of Solid State Drives (SSD) that Sun has been working on for at least the past few years. SSD technology is faster than traditional disk-based storage, although it is significantly more costly.

What does this mean for enterprises? For small and mid-sized businesses, not much right now. In the next eighteen months, however, we should be seeing SSD technology start to make its way down the server and storage network food chain. And in three years or so, I'd expect to see it as an affordable and better alternative to conventional storage devices. At the same time, disk-based storage should begin to drop in price as SSD based devices encroach on their currently well-protected territory. This is good news for CIOs and CTOs in organizations that store large data sets. Examples include healthcare technology, video media, and social networking sites.

Keep a close eye on this. It should be kind of fun to see it all play out.

Credit where credit is due ...
Oracle event signals Sun hardware aspirations

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Critical Windows patches expected today

Last Friday, Microsoft published a Security Bulletin announcing that today's update will include five critical updates. While these updates are meant to deal with several Windows issues (none are targeted to Office applications or other Microsoft software), the just announced IIS vulnerability is not expected to be addressed in this update.

All of the major Windows operating systems are included in this update:

  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 2000

It is somewhat unusual for a new O/S, such as Server 2008, to get a critical update so early in its lifecycle.

The update is expected to be released at approximately 1:00pm EDT. Also, Microsoft will host a webcast to address customer questions on these bulletins on September 9, 2009, at 11:00 AM Pacific Time (US & Canada). Register now for the September security bulletin webcast. After this date, this webcast is available on-demand. For more information, see Microsoft Security Bulletin Summaries and Webcasts.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Widespread Touchscreen is coming

A few weeks back, ComputerWorld published an analysis of what five top PC makers are planning for the touch-screen market. I found it to be eye-opening. Here are some highlights from the article:
  • Lenovo Group plans to release a touch-screen model soon after Windows 7 goes into production release.
  • Acer is planning three touch-screen models for Windows 7.
  • Micro-Star International (MSI) is planning a Windows 7-enable netbook.
  • Sony announced earlier in August that the Vaio will be available in touch-screen enabled models for Windows 7.
  • Asuste - which is already in the touch-screen game with several Linux models - is planning a Windows 7 version.
Notice a theme?

Of course, all of these manufacturers - which collectively represent 60% of the global PC market - are linking up with the release of Windows 7 to help push this market forward. My perspective is that this is a welcome development. Touch-screen technology has been pretty good for too many years for it to be so rare in the market. It will, of course, have an impact on consumer-facing application development. And it will open up a plethora of opportunities for creative solutions to pesky user-interface issues. Not the least is how technology can be used in mobile environments, such as delivery trucks, military vehicles, and even airplane cockpits. I also think about kiosk applications at health clubs, banks, hospitals, doctor's offices; the list goes on and on.

I'll be keeping a close eye on this over the next six months. It's going to be impossible to ignore the implications.

Here's the article from ComputerWorld:
The OS that launched 1,000 touch screens

Monday, August 31, 2009

Single Molecule Photographed

Every so often, we come across one of these amazing scientific developments that will shape technology for generations. Earlier this year, I posted an entry announcing the discovery of a new battery type.

Today, I'm passing along the news that scientists at IBM have photographed a single molecule. This has never, ever been done before. The long-term effects could be remarkable. We'll gain deeper understanding into the true nature of molecules. Molecular biologists will have new tools to develop treatments for what are currently incurable diseases. Now we'll be able to actually see how various conditions affect the structure of molecules. This will enable us to predict molecular behavior and adapt materials and liquids and gases to that behavior. This is exciting stuff.

Read more here: Single Molecule Pictured

Monday, August 24, 2009

Salesforce.com announces positive 2Q results

Salesforce.com (CRM [NYSE]) released results for the quarter that ended on 31 July 2009. Here are some of the highlights:
Revenue: Total Q2 revenue was $316.1 million, an increase of 20% on a year-over-year basis. Subscription and support revenues were $293.4 million, an increase of 22% on a year-over-year basis. Professional services and other revenues were $22.6 million, a decrease of 3% on a year-over-year basis.

Customers: Net paying customers rose approximately 3,900 during the quarter to finish at approximately 63,200. Compared with the year ago quarter, net paying customers have grown by approximately 15,500 or 32%.
source:
Salesforce.com Announces Fiscal Second Quarter Results, August 20, 2009 4:05 PM ET

The fact that topline revenue is on the increase over the same period a year ago is pretty remarkable. If you recall, in May and June of last year, we were only starting to hear rumors and possibilities that the economy could be in trouble. July, of course, is when the housing market started to falter and oil prices started to rise. But compared to the conditions of May through July of this year, last's market seems pretty stable and optimistic. The big news of May through July 2009 was soaring unemployment, along with a modest stock market recovery.

Against that backdrop, we have a fairly mature product and brand in Salesforce.com posting solid growth in both revenue and subscribers. That subscribers grew 50% faster than subscription revenue is evidence of substantive price competition. Yet, I believe these results demonstrate that Salesforce.com is the superior CRM solution.

I also interpret these results as evidence that leaders are starting to see their own businesses recover.

What about you??
Are you planning for the recovery?
Will your infrastructure support moderate growth?

Now is the time to make sure. Pricing is competitive and providers want to make deals. Financing is still a challenge, so the advantage lies with those who have cash.

Other insights on Salesforce.com's results...
Salesforce.com Sees Rise In 2Q Revenue

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The BlackBerry lives on

Did you know that RIM Technologies, the Canadian-based producer of the BlackBerry, has had 77% revenue growth and an 84% increase in profits 84% over the past three years? For all the hype and hoopla over the iPhone and the Android, it seems that the ubitiquous BlackBerry is holding its own. Obviously, the consumer market has been dominated by other brands, such as Nokia, Qualcomm, LG and, of course, Apple.

But the commercial market is a significant portion of the market. It's not as interesting as a legacy media story, and the advances don't seem to attract as much attention. But the advances are significant, and they keep the wheels of commerce turning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

GPS getting closer to where it needs to be!

I've always wondered why more phones don't come with a genuine GPS app built in. I know that the firmware needs to be modified to accurately track with the sattelites, but that shouldn't be that hard. Well, once again, Apple is at the forefront of innovation:

TomTom launches $100 GPS app for iPhone

Now ... when will RIM catch on and create a reasonably priced GPS app for the BlackBerry?!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SharePoint is a survivor

I've long held that SharePoint, Microsoft's flagship content management software, is a great solution, provided it is deployed carefully. It seems that millions of experts agree! Even with all of the bad news that the software industry has endured over the past 12 months, Microsoft is claiming over 17,000 customers for SharePoint.

Why would this be happening?

In my view, SharePoint provides firms with a reasonably priced collaboration platform, thus fitting into a very specific purpose in the world. However, there are some critical success factors to every SharePoint deployment. The first and foremost is to use the platform to solve a targeted business requirement.

Examples might include ...

  • Technology Project Team Sites
  • Executive Management Team documentation
  • Departmental Dashboards

You want to be focused and targeted because the tool is so comprehensive that it is tempting to try and create an all-emcompassing intranet right from the start. Trust me, that's a mistake. In one year, you'll be wondering where all the money went and why there's so little to show for it. And worse, only a few ultra-creative teams will have availed themselves to anything the tool has to offer.

If your firm is considering a SharePoint, please contact us. We'll help you stack the deck in favor of a successful implementation at an exceptionally reasonable cost.

Credit where credit is due ...
The article that got me thinking about this topic:
SharePoint thrives in the Recession from C-Net

Monday, August 3, 2009

Changes in the browser landscape

On Saturday, Net Applications released usage statistics for the various browsers. ComputerWorld's analysis is that Firefox and Safari are bearing the brunt of Chrome's entree into the marketplace.

I disagree.

This graph depicts the market share of each browser by month for the past 10 months. Based on what we see here, the one taking the hit from Chrome is Internet Explorer (all versions). Certainly, we see that Firefox is not growing like it was before, but it hasn't lost significant share to any alternative application. The same can be said for Safari and, for that matter, Opera.

This explains why Microsoft has moved so aggressively into content-related deals and applications. Bing and Yahoo! represent the best opportunities for the company to protect some part of the internet turf from Google.

Data Source: Browser Statistics, compiled by Market Share

Friday, July 31, 2009

SAS makes a bad move

On Tuesday, IBM purchased SPSS, Inc., a make of predictive analytics software. SPSS' primary rival in that space is SAS Institute, a privately held firm based in Cary, NC that makes (in my opinion) the best business intelligence software in the world. Their marketing decisions, however, are sub-standard. In fact, I'd go so far as to call them stupid. Jim Davis, chief marketing officer at SAS, told ComputerWorld that customers of SPSS should be concerned about IBM's acquisition. He warned of price increases and reduced attention to innovation once the software is brought under the big blue umbrella.

My question is ... Why do this? Why make this statement?
I understand that a trade journalist calls you up for a reaction to a major market event. But SAS is clearly the leader in the BI space, with $2.2 billion in annual revenues and over 33% market share for advanced analytic tools. Sure, SPSS was #2, but with less than half the share of market (14.3%). Davis' comments are petty. He would have been better served to congratulate IBM on the acquisition and then go on to describe why customers choose his product over the competition.

Credit where credit is due ...
ComputerWorld's coverage of the SPSS Acquisition

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A patch shrouded in mystery

Later today, Microsoft is expected to release a security patch that is believed to address vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. I say "believed" because Microsoft has taken the highly unusual step of forbidding the development team from commenting on the measures until after the patch is released.

So right now, all we have are rumors, educated guesses, and our own imagination. I suspect that this could be a big problem with a signature problem. What other reason could cause this kind of behavior from the boys and girls in Redmond?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oracle raises prices again

Despite the unassailable growth of low-cost and open-source database solutions, Oracle (ORCL: NASDAQ) commands a huge share of the enterprise class database market. It's no surprise to me that they are looking for ways to capitalize on this by raising prices on ancillary products. The basic entry point for their database software hasn't changed much. But add-ons such as Tuning Pack and Diagnostic Pack have seen jumps by as much as 40%.

Will large businesses be willing to pay these prices? I think so. The improvements in performance gained by the effective use of these tools will more than justify the cost. And when making a purchasing decision, companies don't often look at what the price used to be -- that information isn't often available anyway. They look at the current need, the current solution, and the current expectations of benefit. So, Oracle has made a smart play here. By keeping the cost of entry competitive, they have placed a bet on getting more value out of the products that make their core product even better. This will make their core products even harder to displace, and help to fortify their position in the market.

Current Pricing from Oracle
Other insights from the blogosphere

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Microsoft acknowledges IE attacks

If you're still using Internet 6 or 7, then take a look at the article linked below. Microsoft has confirmed that hackers are exploiting a vulnerability in those versions. "A user needs to be lured to navigate to a malicious Web site or a compromised legitimate Web site to be affected ... [but] no further user interaction is needed," according to Chengyun Chu, of the Microsoft Security Response Center's engineering team.

I found IE 7 to be substandard. But version 8 has proven to be pretty good. So make it a point to get your firm's PC's updated as soon as possible.

Credit where credit is due:
Microsoft confirms attack via ComputerWorld

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making Testing Cheaper

Testing is expensive. Of course, unless your code is perfect, then not testing is even more expensive. One of the barriers to entry is, naturally, the creation of the testing environment. Ideally, you want it to be robust enough to handle thorough testing, but you don't want to break the bank on it.

Well, here's an interesting idea ...
Why not rent the environment? Get cheap virtual machine space from any one of a variety of vendors and use that as your test bed. The space will be far more reliable than anything you'd maintain on your own and it's fairly easy to scale its capacity back when circumstances allow.

Contact me if you'd like to learn more about this concept.

I didn't come up with this idea on my own ...
The Cloud's Next Big Thing

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Microsoft issues patch for PowerPoint vulnerabilities

Microsoft released a security patch today that addresses fourteen vulnerabilities in PowerPoint. Eleven of those flaws were rated as critical. At the same time, the company stopped support for PowerPoint 4.0 in PowerPoint 2000, which they had already done for later versions of the software.

Although the patch addresses a large number of vulnerabilities, it is still a single patch available via Microsoft's update service. It affects all Windows versions of PowerPoint. The patch for the Mac OS will be released next month, even though the vulnerability does not target the Mac.

Here is more information about this release from ComputerWorld.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wireless gaining ground in Healthcare

Wireless technologies have become almost ubiquitous in our society. Just about every commercial enterprise has fairly mature wireless connectivity for its staff and authorized guests. Healthcare is one glaring exception. Some are seeing that change, however.

In article published today at ComputerWorld, the chief academic officer at Scripps Health, Dr. Eric Topol, expressed his optimism that wireless will finally make some significant headway in the healthcare arena.

Topol cited three reasons for the increasing interest in wireless technologies: bandwidth improvements that enable the transmission of images and other rich medical data, an influx of applications from software vendors, and what he called the "grand success" of recent efforts to improve the quality of patient care through wireless projects.
I agree with Dr. Topol's optimism. However, he left out one critically important driver in this potential market development. The Federal Government is pouring billions into healthcare IT. While those dollars are nominally earmarked for Electronic Medical Records, it is a significant infusion of resources into the market. As more facilities take greater advantage of technology advances, wireless networking will have to keep up. Productivity, convenience and usability will demand it.

Credit where credit is due:
Has the time come for wireless IT in health care?, by Matt Hamblen

Monday, April 27, 2009

Windows 7 RC date - May 5th

Microsoft confirmed that the next Release Candidate of Windows 7 will be available starting May 5th. Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc also announced that the RC will be made available to subscribers developers and IT professionals later this week: "The RC is on track for April 30 for download by MSDN and TechNet subscribers. Broader, public availability will begin on May 5.".

Clearly, Microsoft is pushing hard to put the Vista mess behind them. And I believe that PC manufacturers are pushing Microsoft on this as well. H-P, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have all seen demand affected by a number of factors, not the least of which is the current economy. But you certainly can't ignore the negative impact that Vista has had on their sales. If forecasts of a modest rebound later this year turn out to be accurate, then that, along with the release of Win7 will -- in my opinion -- propel the Windows cartel (including Intel & AMD) to pretty decent results in Q42009 and Q12010.

ComputerWorld.com has more info ... Microsoft sets date for Win 7 RC

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Firefox security patch released

A new version of Firefox was released on Tuesday, according to a security advisory that was posted on April 21, 2009. The advisory indicates that the release, version 3.0.9, resolves twelve known vulnerabilities in the popular browser. Several of these vulnerabilities are categorized as "critical" by the company.

Along with this patch release, Mozilla is in final preparations for a fourth beta test of Firefox 3.5. The upcoming major version upgrade, which I discussed in an earlier posting, is expected to be released for general use later this year. This release also continues to demonstrate Mozilla's rapid response to vulnerabilities. Although the open-source nature of the software means that it may be an easier target for miscreants, the patches come out so quickly that it's exceedingly rare for a widescale attack to have any success.

If you are a Firefox user and haven't applied the v3.0.9 patch, then from the Help menu, choose Check for Updates. This will ensure that your browser has the best possible protection from attack.

For more information ... CNet News article: Firefox 3.0.9 targets 12 security vulnerabilities

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vendors start building Unified Infrastructure offerings


Last month, I blogged about Unified Infrastructure and its potential benefits. At the top of the list would have to be a dramatic simplification of the overall IT infrastructure for organizations.

Hewlett-Packard Monday, Hewlett-Packard announced the launch of a data center system that incorporates storage, computing, and networking in a single unit. Along with Cisco, H-P now is the second entrant into the market for Unified Infrastructure systems. However, there is a significant difference in the two systems: H-P's system is available right now, while Cisco expects to have theirs on the market later this year. But the faster availability comes at a cost, with HP's BladeSystem Matrix tipping the scales at $150K, or nearly double Cisco's $76K entry-level price.

As I wrote last month, now is the time for IT managers to start understanding this technology. It has the potential to deliver real efficiencies and long-term economic benefit. Contact Roig Consulting today to schedule a review of your IT strategy.

Hewlett-Packard Company: HPQ(NYSE)
Cisco Systems, Inc.: CSCO (NASDAQ)

InformationWeek broke this story: HP Takes On Cisco's Unified Computing System

Monday, April 20, 2009

AT&T boosts wireless speed

AT&T announced that they are rolling out faster network speeds across its network. The company uses a High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) network to provide 3G services, and it currently tops out at 3.6 Mbps downlink speed. The second-largest U.S. carrier is in the process of using software upgrades to boost that to 7.2 Mbps download speed. While the theoretical limit for HSPA is over 14Mps, few analysts expect any of the big carriers to push it to that level. That's because Sprint and Verizon Wireless are already testing the next generation of wireless broadband -- 4G -- in several markets across the country.

Since this puts the No. 1 and No. 3 carriers at a measurable and easily understandable disadvantage, I would expect that Verizon and Sprint will follow suit over the next few months. This makes sense because, given the current economic climate, most consumers will be hard-pressed to buy new 4G devices that don't give them any benefit in most of the country. And the same will be true for businesses, as well.

This will give AT&T a short-term advantage over the competition that perfectly complements their current iPhone monopoly. But the advantage won't last long, and - ultimately - customers will get the benefit.

Credit where credit is due:
InformationWeek: AT&T Beefs up 3G Network
AT&T Inc.: T (NYSE)
Verizon Communications Inc.: VZ (NYSE)
Sprint Nextel Corporation: S (NYSE)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Apple and AT&T wrestle over the iPhone

Every time I see an iPhone, I'm more amazed at what it can do. More specifically, I guess, is that I'm amazed at the creativity and practicality of the various applications that are now available for these devices. My personal favorites are the "lighter" and the level. The level is truly remarkable, using the built-in accelerometers to detect how plumb the device is, and the display is a stunning, lifelike representation of a bubble level.

Unfortunately, I cannot get one.

That's because Verizon Wireless has, by far, the best coverage where I live. And, as compelling a product as the iPhone is, coverage is more important to me than features. So, AT&T's monopoly on the iPhone is a barrier for me. Not for everyone, of course, but it is for me.

But AT&T's exclusivity agreement with Apple expires in 2010. AT&T wants to extend that agreement, but Apple has little incentive to do so.

To me, this means that the iPhone will be less profitable for AT&T over the next 18 months. That's because I believe that AT&T will find a way to get the deal done. But it's not going to be pretty. Of course, AT&T gets a lot of ancillary benefits to being the exclusive iPhone carrier. Things like additional store traffic, non-iPhone users that come in on the coattails of iPhone users (family members, mostly), and the positive brand association that comes out of the relationship. Expect an announcement over the summer, just when the Pre is coming out and when the 2-year contracts for the first crop of iPhone buyers comes up. It'll be a way to generate new buzz for the product.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Verizon to launch music store

Verizon Wireless will launch its App and Music mobile download site on April 7. This move puts the wireless giant in direct competition with Apple's iTunes store, with music available for download at $0.69, $0.99 and $1.29.

Most app stores are geared to users of sophisticated smartphones, like the BlackBerry. But Verizon sees ample growth opportunities with selling mobile programs to non-smartphones (stupid phones?), and it has opened their app store for these devices. In actuality, this really is more of a re-launch of their application store. For years, Verizon Wireless has offered the "Get it Now" service, which had applications for many different types of phones, non-smartphones included. Overall, "Get it Now" was relatively trouble-free and, I'm sure, provided a more-than-acceptable revenue stream for the company.

However, by offering full songs (as opposed to just ringtones), Verizon is, I believe, attempting to prevent more defections to the iPhone ... and more importantly to AT&T - the only carrier for which the iPhone is approved. This also signals to all concerned that a deal that would make iPhones available on the Verizon network is highly unlikely. Which is too bad.

More information at InformationWeek: Verizon unveils Music, App Stores
Verizon Communications Inc.: VZ (NYSE)

Relational Networks adds packaged software to its SaaS mix

Just about every enterprise software vendor has released, or is making plans to release, a Software-as-a-Service version of their application. I'm working with a major Project Management Information System (PMIS) vendor to get their solution configured as Saas. And there are several consultancies that have built successful practices by exclusively focusing on implementations of SaaS solutions.

But now, at least one of those SaaS-only vendors has come to realize that there is some value in on-site installations. Relational Networks, a California company that provides Web-based CRM to the media industry, is gearing up two complementary offerings. One is a private, cloud-based implementation of the application called LongJump. The other is a packaged version of LongJump for on-site installation. The company recognized that, for all of the benefits of a SaaS solution, there is simply no workaround for some of the regulatory and compliance issues that arise. It's much more than a lack of understanding about the well-documented and sophisticated security practices that industry leaders (like Salesforce.com, Oracle, and Microsoft) have implemented. For some industries, it's illegal for a company to co-locate their data on the same physical devices as other companies. I wonder what other SaaS-only vendors will come to this conclusion; and which will make a strategic (and wise) decision to focus on what they do well.

Read more at CIO.com: SaaS vendor converts to packaged software

Friday, April 3, 2009

RIM announces a big 4th quarter


Research in Motion (RIMM NASDAQ) announced results for the quarter & year that ended on February 28, 2009. And on Friday, their stock was up over 20% (as of 3:30pm EDT). Based on that, you'd expect that their performance for the 4th quarter was pretty good, and you'd be absolutely correct. Revenue for the quarter was more than 80% higher than the same period previous year, and nearly 25% higher than the quarter that preceded it. The company's announcement also states "approximately 3.9 million net new BlackBerry® subscriber accounts were added in the quarter. At the end of the quarter, the total BlackBerry® subscriber account base was approximately 25 million."

Considering the fact that the three months that ended in February included some of the most difficult business conditions of the past 30 years, this is quite an accomplishment. Plus, the company expects to add another 3.7-3.9 million subscribers in the first fiscal quarter of 2009. We are already two-thirds of the way through that quarter, and I would suspect that this projections is going to be fairly accurate.

The key to sustaining this performance, of course, will hinge on RIM's ability to produce some innovative new products this year. Its only viable competitor is the iPhone, and it continues to maintain its hold on the public's imagination. And Apple is promsing to make the iPhone even better later this year.

RIM could end up buying Palm, but that would only create more customer churn in the market. If the BlackBerry can enable corporate users to seamlessly access internal resources, while taking advantage of Web 2.0 functionality, that would, I believe, solidify their position as the corporate standard for mobile devices.

Research in Motion's 4th Quarter Results

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Apple reasserts control over the iPhone

Apple has updated their developer program license agreement. By adding a few new clauses, the company now prohibits the distribution of iPhone applications by any means besides the App Store. The new agreement also explicitly forbids "jailbreaking" the device. Jailbreaking gives developers access to the Unix core of the iPhone OS, and it enables users to do things that Apple wishes they wouldn't.

In my view, this basically gives the company a legal way of defending itself against someone suing them for cutting them off from the App Store. The underground developers aren't going to abide by this agreement any more than they were abiding the by the original one. But if Apple releases a "patch" that targets one of those underground apps, then the developers will find it very difficult to find a remedy in the courts. I only see Apple doing this if they find that the application is compromising the operation of the phone in some way. But it is pretty typical of the tight control they have exercised over their products in the past.

iPhone users now have even more reason to be circumspect as to teh applications they load on their devices.

Read more at InformationWeek.com: Apple Cracking Down On Rogue Apps

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Netbook PCs gain power and challenge notebooks

It's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a "netbook" and a "notebook". Last year, Microsoft and Intel colluded to set forth the definition of a so-called netbook PC. For example, Microsoft characterized machines as ultra-low-cost PCs if they ran a processor running at or below 1-GHz and possessed 1GB or less of RAM. Furthermore, the machine could have a maximum hard drive storage of 80GB and a puny 10-inch screen.

Hardware manufacturers are ignoring these spec's by building low-priced laptops with features that were once only available in higher-end machines. The Dell Inspiron Mini 12 netbook ships comes with a 12-inch screen and a nearly full laptop-size keyboard. ASUSTek Computer Inc. announced that an upcoming model of its popular Eee netbook, the 1004DN, would ship with an internal DVD drive, a 10-inch LCD screen that supports 720p HD video, and a 120GB hard drive. These and other similar netbooks are all priced under $650 (US).

For some users, there is no real requirement to pay the Microsoft premium. Free or low-cost Linux operating systems will handle web browsing and typical document creation just fine. This will put dramatic pricing and revenue pressure on both Microsoft and Intel. Expect to see their shares of the operating system and chip markets to continue to degrade over the next several years.

Read more at ComputerWorld: Beefed-up netbooks blur lines with notebook PCs

Monday, March 30, 2009

Apple is moving the target

Over the last few weeks, Palm has been attempting to generate buzz around the Pre, which is expected to hit the market later this year. Palm believes that this new device will draw existing iPhone users as their 2-year contracts come up for renewal. As I have noted before, I have serious doubts about the efficacy of this strategy, and Apple is making it even more of a long-shot than ever.

On March 16, Apple previewed the iPhone 3.0 operating system. It includes some pretty rudimentary upgrades, like the ability to cut, copy & paste. Unfortunately, the new OS still doesn't support Flash, which a serious limitation on effective web browsing. But it does include some game-changing features like peer-to-peer capabilities. According to the company, users will be able to link up with other iPhone users via stereo Bluetooth, making their media files instantly available. I would imagine that this can easily be extended to include more mundane filesharing, too.

For corporate IT managers, this will mean that smartphone security policies will need to be updated and users will need to be cautioned about sharing sensitive data via Bluetooth.

Nevertheless, I believe this puts a major obstacle in the path of Palm's return to relevance.

More information from eWeek.com: Apple's New iPhone OS
More info from Apple: iPhone Home Page

Friday, March 27, 2009

IEv8 Survey Results: users are ambivalent

Over the past 10 days, I've asked colleagues and connections to answer a few questions about their intentions to use the next version of Internet Explorer. Version 8 is expected to be released in the next few weeks, and Microsoft is expecting the new product to reverse the trend away from IE in the browser wars. Based on these results, I'd say their confidence is not completely justified.

Of the 57 respondents, only 25 indicated that they were likely or very likely to install and and use IEv8. That's just about 45% of the admittedly small population. What should concern Microsoft is that one-third of the respondents (19) were consciously choosing NOT to install and use the new version of IE. Nearly 23% were neutral.

That means over 55% of regular internet users (93% of respondents use the internet more than 4 hours per week) either don't care about their choice of browser, or are actively choosing against the Microsoft product.

There will be more to come regarding these results, including an analysis of how current browser choices are related to the choice of future browser use. If you're interested in having your opinion be a part of this survey, then please click here to take survey.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dell moves closer to the handheld market

At a March 24, 2009 speech in Tokyo, Michael Dell announced that his company is "...exploring smaller-screen devices. We don't have any announcements to share today, but stay tuned as when we have new news we will share that with you." Their laptops and notebooks have been shipping with 3G radios for the past three years, and it's a reasonably understandable path from small-form PCs to smartphones and handheld devices. Along those lines, an acquisition of Palm wouldn't be out of the question.

I can certainly understand why Dell would want to get into the handheld business. They bring brand recognition and a fairly strong reputation to the table, along with firm grasp of what it takes to build hardware at a low cost.

Nevertheless, it will be very challenging to displace the BlackBerry and the iPhone, even at a relative discount.

Dell Inc.: DELL (NASDAQ)
Read more at ComputerWorld: Michael Dell hints at smartphones, mobile Internet devices

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oracle beats expectations

Oracle announced their FY09 third-quarter results last week, and the firm turned in an exceptional performance considering economic conditions. For the quarter that ended on Feb 28, 2009, total revenues were $ 5.4 billion, or $100 million more than the same period one year earlier. While their sales of new software licenses took a hit, dropping 6% in nominal terms over the prior year, even a modest increase is great news for the company. Taking into account the weakened dollar, Oracle can boast even excellent sales results for the period. Furthermore, the fact that they were able to grow their support revenues means that they have done a great job in cementing ongoing customer relationships. This is all the more impressive given the strong desire for technology leaders to trim expenses as rapidly as possible.

Looking a bit closer at the announcement, we see that Oracle has even managed to trim SG&A expenses compared to the prior year. The firm is certainly doing something right. And their customers are rewarding them.

Oracle Corporation ORCL (NASDAQ)
Oracle's press release: Oracle Reports 3Q Results

Friday, March 20, 2009

Palm gets further behind


Yesterday, Palm released their 3rd Quarter results and, to no one's surprise, it is was a difficult period for the once-dominant PDA provider. For the quarter ended Feb 27, 2009, the company had $90 million in sales, well below expectations of about $150 million. The company admits that they are enduring "a challenging transitional period" as they work feverishly on their next model, the Pre.

Certainly, their management is remaining publicly optimistic that they will come out on the other end of this storm in one piece. But unless the Pre is compellingly different from the iPhone, I believe that Palm will end up getting absorbed into Research-in-Motion or Motorola by the end of next year. They have a respectable existing user base, but they seem to be counting on current iPhone users switching to the Pre once their contracts start coming up for renewal this summer. Given the loyalty inspired by Apple's transformational product, this seems to be an unrealistic expectation.

Palm's quarterly announcement: Palm Reports Q3 FY09 Results
Palm, Inc.: PALM (NASDAQ)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Microsoft closes in on IE8 Release

Internet Explorer 8 is set for final release some time this week. The big question is ... will anyone care?? According to a recent survey of almost 52,000 people inside enterprises (conducted by Forrester), 78% use IE. Of those 40,000 users, only 39% are using IE7, leaving over 60% still using the more reliable version 6.

More than 20% of enterprise customers utilize a browser other than Internet Explorer, and Microsoft's share in the browser war has been shrinking for some time now (see my earlier post here). My gut tells me that people that have already switched to Firefox, Chrome or Safari will not return to Internet Explorer regardless of how it has improved. Of course, the fact that IE ships ... as the default browser ... with Windows will help Microsoft retain market share. But that will not change the inevitable "evening out" of market share across the major browsers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cloud storage carries real risk

In February, Amazon.com's Simple Storage Service (S3) suffered an eight-hour failure on July 20, 2008. In February, the S3 system was down for two hours. For enterprises that have outsourced 100% of their data storage to services like this one, this is a nightmare scenario.

When you cannot get to any of your data, you are effectively out of business. Your customer-facing websites will not function. Your accounting systems and personnel applications are useless. Depending on how your email system is configured, you might have no ability to send or respond to electronic correspondence.

For most situations, one day in the grand scheme of things isn't the end of the world. It will likely become the subject of jokes within a few short weeks. Although health-care institutions and stock traders cannot afford that kind of downtime, a real estate firm, software development company, or consulting firm will quickly recover from losing less than 0.5% of a their annual productivity. Even web-based services, like Smug-Mug, can handle these kinds of reliability rates ... CEO Don MacAskill wrote in a blog post last month, "No customers reported issues, and our systems were all showing typically low and acceptable error rates."

Considering the ridiculous costs associated with in-house mass storage solutions, your firm may find that storing data with Amazon, Microsoft or some other cloud-based vendor is a good risk. You'll be paying far, far less for high-quality, high-capacity data storage than you would with just about any in-house SAN solution. And I believe you will have more-than-acceptable reliability over the long run.

But, be prepared for the "nightmare" scenario. Eventually, everyone will laugh about it. But it will be highly unpleasant while you're in the middle of it.

Don MacAskill's Blog: S3 outage - We weren’t affected

Monday, March 16, 2009

Firefox 3.5 moves into "late" beta


Mozilla is moving closer to a general release of the next version of Firefox -- currently listed as v3.5. Most industry observers believe that the general release is still a couple of months away. The organization released a 3rd beta last week ... on March 12, 2009 ... requesting feedback on a number of fairly technical features. For example, the Mozilla Blog includes the following as a feature for the testing community to review:
Support for new web technologies such as the <video> and <audio> elements, the W3C Geolocation API, JavaScript query selectors, CSS 2.1 and 3 properties, SVG transforms and offline applications.
Really ... don't worry if you don't know what that means.

The real news is that Mozilla is fully engaged in the browser war that's currently underway. Microsoft is on the verge of releasing the new Internet Explorer 8, Apple has offered Safari 4 in beta ... and of course no one can forget Google's offering in the browser market: Chrome.

For those of us in the technology world, it means that application architecture & testing plans must account for all of these potential delivery platforms. This will increase the importance of abstracting the application layer (logic) from the presentation layer (user interface).

Furthermore, business leaders will need to budget for the added development time & expense associated with being compatible with four browsers. This is especially important for customer-facing applications, for which the choice of browser is somewhat unpredictable and completely uncontrollable.

The Mozilla Blog: Firefox beta now available
The Webware blog @ CNET: Mozilla says next Firefox likely months away

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unified Infrastructure is worth a look

Enterprises need to start planning for life after this recession (whenever that is). Part of that plan should focus on an in-depth assessment of the physical architecture of their data center. Virtualization has created a problem: Data center architects need more connectivity into virtualized servers because they're used for multiple purposes. A non-virtualized environment has each server running one or just a few applications, which results in limited and static connectivity needs.

Today the problem is manageable through bursts of intense effort. This will not be a successful strategy when data centers begin to grow again. A Unified Infrastructure strategy will help IT professionals begin to simplify their data centers, at least at the physical level. The goal of a Unified Infrastructure is to run storage and IP traffic through a unified network interface and a single cable. (see graphic) It's easy to see the benefits just in terms of reducing the amount of cabling required to provision a data center of any size. Of course, a non-trivial investment is required in order to migrate to this new infrastructure. Therefore, I don't recommend making this move just yet. But I strongly recommend that IT organizations begin researching this technology over the next six months. The physical simplification is just the beginning, and it will help firms leverage their technology assets more effectively than is currently possible.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scientists discover new battery type

University researchers have discovered a new kind of battery, according to a study published in Nature. Scientists at the University of Miami (FL), the University of Tokyo and the University of Tohoku have created a device that stores energy in magnets rather than through chemical reactions. Conventional batteries store and give forth electrical power through a chemical reaction. When the chemical reaction occurs, some of the resulting power is lost before in can be transformed into into electrical energy. The so-called "Spin Battery" converts the magnetic energy directly into electrical energy, without a chemical reaction -- and without the loss of energy.

At present, the technology has not been applied to storage units with enough capacity to power even the smallest of electronic devices. However, the proof-of-concept unit is only half the diameter of human hair. As techniques for producing these devices is developed, we can expect this to be a transformative technology. A huge portion of the electricity currently produced in power plants is lost far before it ever reaches its destination. Similarly, electrically powered devices rely on large, heavy batteries to compensate for the energy lost in the chemical-to-electricity translation.

What if we no longer needed to compensate for the power loss?
Imagine a car battery that is 1/50th the size of conventional batteries.
Imagine being able to store electrical power in your home safely and efficiently, without devoting your entire basement to batteries.
Imagine the reduction in weight of all kinds of electronic devices... from iPods to weapons guidance systems to EKG machines.
Imagine if implementing the back-up power aspect of your business continuity strategy didn't require a generator the size of a tractor-trailer.

Truly, this is one of those discoveries that could completely alter the fundamental assumptions of energy production and usage.

Credit where credit is due:
University of Miami (2009, March 12).
Spin Battery: Physicist Develops Battery Using New Source Of Energy.
ScienceDaily.
Retrieved March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

802.11n expected to spur Wi-Fi Growth

ABI Research has published a study indicating that firms are starting to switch out their existing wireless infrastructure. 802.11a/g access points still dominate the market, with about 84% of the installed devices using that standard. However, the research finds that, in recent months, health care and higher-learning institutions have begun deploying the faster 802.11n access points.

This has important implications for new office construction and network design. With real world throughput that clocks in at 160 Mbps or faster, many office technology users may not require a hard-line connection to the network. Unless the user needs to download significant amounts of data to their desktop, 160Mbps will certainly be fast enough. And in reality, the vast majority of office technology usage consists of e-mail and web-based applications... neither of which truly require the kind of throughput that a hard-line connection enables.

The consumer market will make the switch soon enough, according to the study. As existing devices come to the end of their useful life, home users will want to take advantage of the improved performance, as well. But I would not expect that to take place until later in 2010, assuming the economy has recovered by then.

Read the article in InformationWeek: Wi-Fi Boom fueled by 802.11n
Learn more about 802.11n: 802.11 Speed

Monday, March 9, 2009

Oracle expands SaaS offerings at a high price

Back in November, I posted a blog on Larry Ellison's down-beat assessment of Software-as-a-Service models. Just five short months later, Oracle is set to launch a subscription-based procurement program application called Oracle Sourcing On Demand. It has a fairly high price-tag -- $850 (US) per user per month (PUPM) -- especially compared to their SaaS CRM product which clocks in around $100(US) PUPM.

Oracle claims that Sourcing on Demand will integrate seamlessly with their on-premise ERP systems, as well as with others. Of course, they all say that. And of course, such a claim relies on a loose definition of "seamless." Nevertheless, it's an important concession by a company that, like SAP, has self-servingly downplayed the efficacy of SaaS solutions. They realize that their long-term survival will depend on making their products easy to buy. In today's market, the best way to do that is to reduce or eliminate the up-front capital outlays normally associated with such solutions.

Still, a single annual subscription for Oracle's new product tops $10K, and a firm with five users is looking at $50K before they even start to integrate the product into their business. It appears to me that Oracle is pricing themselves out of the market.

Oracle, Inc.: ORCL (NASDAQ)
Related newstory: Oracle Offers Procurement SaaS

Friday, March 6, 2009

Microsoft slow to resolve browser vulnerabilities

Secunia, a vulnerability-testing company located in Copenhagen, Denmark, released a report earlier this week that highlights the security performance of the top browsers, including Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Interestingly, 115 bugs and flaws - including security and non-security issues - were reported for Firefox in 2008, while on 31 were reported for IE.

However, Firefox bugs were resolved far more quickly than IE issues. Secunia reports that Microsoft took longer to fix two more serious flaws than Mozilla did with two less serious flaws. (Credit: Secunia)In fact, as of December 31, 2008, Microsoft still had not resolved three security vulnerabilities that had been disclosed more than 200 days earlier.

While security patches for Firefox are available, on average, about 43 days after they are reported, Microsoft has required an average of more than 95 days to resolve security issues -- not including those that have not yet been resolved.

For these types of reasons, it is no surprise that Microsoft's share of market in browser usage has dropped from nearly 75% a year ago to 67.44% in January.

More Information:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ITIF Report: Expand Broadband to the rural market

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation - a non-partisan research and educational institute - has identified how they believe $7.2 billion in government subsidies should be allocated. The recently enacted "recovery bill" allots that amount "in support of broadband" initiatives, and ITIF has stated that those funds should be used to deploy moderate-speed broadband to locations in "unserved" areas in the US. Most of these unserved areas are in rural, sparsely populated parts of the country where it is currently cost-prohibitive to deliver high-speed internet access. For customers located there, the only option is dial-up.

In the same report, ITIF suggests that non-wire-based technologies will probably be the best way to deliver these services.

In particular, 4G wireless can be a good alternative to fixed wireline in rural areas where subscriber density is low and fixed outdoor antennas are used to maximize radio signals.
Companies, like Sprint for instance, that have already begun deploying this type of advanced wireless technology will be in a good position to take advantage of this legislative action. Of course, there's no guarantee that regulators will take the advice of ITIF in this regard. But the law has been passed, for better or for worse. And if the money is going to be spent, to me this seems like a fairly reasonable approach.

Read the ITIF Report: The Need for Speed: The Importance of Next-Generation Broadband Networks

Health-related Technology poised for a big boost

Recent spending bills have authorized $19 billion to accelerate the use of computerized medical records in doctors' offices. The legislation calls for incentive payments of more than $40,000 -- spread over the next few years -- to physicians who buy and use Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems.

Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine found -- in a government-sponsored survey -- that about 17% of the country's physicians are using computerized patient records. The incentives, then, are a significant part of the government's effort to expand their use to the other 83%. Market leaders in EHR technology, such as GE Healthcare, Health MedX, and eClinicalWorks are no doubt ramping up efforts to take advantage in this change in the technology landscape. Professional services providers should follow suit, primarily by preparing small-market solutions to serve the 1-10 physician doctors' office.

Why?
Because over 75% of the country's doctors practice medicine in offices with 10 or fewer physicians. These small practices have been hit hard by a number of economic factors, not least the increases in insurance costs over the past 15 years. Yet, they will still want to take advantage of EHR systems, especially now with this incentive in place.

An EHR provider who can offer this capability in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, while successfully addressing security and performance concerns, will have a distinct advantage in the overall market. Can a cloud-based EHR work? I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New SAN technology - faster response time

A new technology is on the horizon that could provide a significant boost to the Storage Area Network (SAN) market. It's called Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and it is expected to hit the streets later this year. All of the major players are developing the necessary infrastructure, including chipsets, network adapters and switches capable of handling 10 gigabits per second of data transfer.

According to an article published today at InformationWeek, Cisco has developed 10-Gpbs capable switches in 20- and 40-port models, and is expanding the product line with chassis/blade versions for delivery later in 2009. Intel, Emulex and QLogic are already shipping 10-Gpbs network interface cards designed to work with these Cisco devices. And other manufacturers are building new lines of products to support these developments.

The significance of this is found in the way today's businesses are exploiting their data. Contemporary business applications, both internal and customer-facing, require rapid access to ever-increasing amounts of data. Think about the predictive modeling that goes into Amazon's "recommendations" and expand it exponentially. That kind of analytical power will create unacceptable response times using conventional data access technology. It's why fiber channel SAN devices were originally developed. By enhancing the capability of Ethernet to transport data more speedily from the SAN to the application server (that's doing all the work), we can make more sophisticated analysis available to all types of users. This will improve decision-making, enhance customer experiences, and make SAN technology more flexible and adaptable to changing business requirements.

InformationWeek Reports: Tech Strategy (Link requires registration)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Microsoft continues its pursuit of Google

The current standings in Internet search are ...

  1. Google -- 58.8%
  2. Yahoo! -- 22.2%
  3. Microsoft - 9.8%

Based on my years' of observing the Redmond, WA company, they don't like to be second place at all, much less in third place. Once they set their sites on a competitive target, they normally catch up within 2 years. For instance, Lotus 1-2-3 was the de facto spreadsheet standard for almost a decade. Then Excel rendered it irrelevant. The same can be said for WordPerfect. For years, SQL Server was not even part of the enterprise database engine conversation. It was Oracle, IBM, or nothing. But Microsoft rolled up their sleeves and turned MS SQL Server into a robust and scalable platform.

For whatever reason, they just haven't been able to translate that track record into search engine supremacy. Even as the various installations of Internet Explorer come pre-configured to use Microsoft's search engine, Google still dominates the market. Certainly, it's no accident that "Google" is now virtually a verb in the English language.

So it makes me wonder about a recent lead from Microsoft that internal staff are being encouraged to test out Kumos, their next search engine. One of the bloggers at the Wall Street Journal recounts an internal memo that states:

In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40% of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46% of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today.

I don't know about you, but I find these numbers to be unrealistic. If search queries were that unsuccessful, then they would not be the most common method of finding information on the web. And "Google" would definitely NOT have reached the status of Kleenex, Xerox and Band-aid in the American lexicon.

Obviously, Microsoft believes there is real value in being the search engine of choice. But I'm not so sure it's worth the development, marketing and support costs. Google has become a habit for nearly 60% of users. And they earned that position by being the first to market, and by producing consistently good results.

Articles from the Wall Street Journal Online (links may require registration):

Microsoft Internal Memo: All Things D

Microsoft Corp.: MSFT (NASDAQ)
Google, Inc.: GOOG (NASDAQ)
Yahoo! Inc. YHOO (NASDAQ)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Broadband nears saturation in US

There are clear signs that broadband adoption is nearing its saturation point in the United States. According to Steve Rago, an analyst with iSuppli, new subscriber additions amounted to 3.1 million in 2008 million, down 56.1 percent from 6.5 million in 2007. Since economic conditions worsened so dramatically in the 3rd and 4th quarters, it's tempting to attribute such a slowdown to the recession. But remember two things. First, the early part of the year was fairly robust, with no talk of layoffs, credit crises, or even skyrocketing oil prices. Secondly, the bundling of service offerings by cable and phone companies, which made broadband very consumer-friendly, really took off in 2005. Nowadays, the coupling of cable and internet is -- almost -- a foregone conclusion. And that type of mindset is normally indicative of a highly mature product.

So, over the next 18 months I think we can expect that internet access fees for consumers will become more competitive... especially with fiber offerings from the phone companies (like FiOS) expanding into more and more neighborhoods. We can expect to see more information-oriented content being delivered to end-users directly from their web sites, bypassing -- to a limited extent -- traditional media ... especially television. This is different from marketing content, and I suspect consumers will reject over-the-top marketing pitches that show up on their computer screens.

And finally, information content that is truly interactive will gain tremendous traction very quickly. Contrast your computer-use posture with your television viewing posture. We even use different vocabulary: We watch TV... but we use the computer.

So we need to focus some creative energy on building applications that our customers can use to actually do business. Doing so will do more for customer loyalty than all the promotions, call centers, and CRM applications combined.

More information about broadband adoption: The Broadband S Curve