Thursday, October 6, 2011

My first computer

It was 1984 and I was a wide-eyed freshman in engineering school. My dad bought me a Mac, along with a gargantuan 20MB external hard-drive. It had a black & white screen, and 2 floppy drives and ... um ... that was it.

But that little machine transformed what was to become my career. What I learned how to do on that computer formed the foundation of what I know now.

To say that Apple had a significant impact on my life would be an understatement. To say that what Steve Jobs envisioned was transformational in this world would not be an understatement. The products he brought to market changed the way all of us use PCs. They changed the way all of us buy and listen to music ... the universal language. And then he changed the entire telephone business.

Someone compared Mr. Jobs' impact to Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Both are fitting and well-deserved. My comparison is to Henry Ford. He made the inaccessible accessible. He made what was difficult and mysterious into something fun, playful and understandable. He wrestled computers away from the privileged few who could figure them out. He gave Everyman the power to use them.

Thanks, Steve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time to double-check security

The lawless, depraved group called "Anonymous" appears to be planning to disrupt the lives of law-abiding computer users and companies. According to the Department of Homeland Security,
Anonymous has stated publicly that the tool will be ready for wider use by the group in September 2011. But though there have been several publicly available tools that claim to be versions of #RefRef, so far it's unclear "what the true capabilities of #RefRef are.

The tool appears to trick a web server into conducting a denial of service attack against itself. The key dates associated with this threat are September 17, 2011 (called Occupy Wall Street), November 11, 2011 (Operation Facebook, targeting the site alleged privacy violations), and December 21, 2012 (Project Mayhem).

The juvenile motivations - as betrayed by the names and dates of these threats - tell us that these are immature, selfish and narcissistic people who no doubt believe that they are justified in causing financial harm to their targets. We must nevertheless be on notice that these threats are real.

Credit where its due: DHS Warns of Attacks

Monday, July 18, 2011

Internet traffic growth

This is an amazing graphic (please click to enlarge):

According to this Cisco blog post, the amount of traffic generated by 20 average households this year will surpass ALL of the traffic generated in 2008.

The illustration attempts to identify some of the sources of all that chatter:

  • People communicating with other people
  • People communicating with machines
  • Machines communicating with other machines
  • Machines creating smart networks of related machines

In one sense it's mind-boggling and a bit scary. Where will decision-making responsibility and accountability ultimate rest? If my refrigerator orders milk in error, who is liable for the purchase? If my car fails to tell me about my brakes, who bears responsibility for an accident?

We haven't even begun to wrestle with these questions, but they're coming!

Read the entire blog post: The Internet of Things

Monday, July 11, 2011

Social Media at Work

Corporate marketing departments have made huge investments - mostly in time and energy - in social media. The major names - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - are all firmly established as necessary communications channels, deserving of strategic thought and management.

But what about internal communications? Will social media tools ever catch on inside the network?

Microsoft has built a variety of social media tools into its integrated offerings of Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, and Office 365. Yet activity streams ... which seem to be the primary currency of Facebook and Twitter ... have yet to become relevant to the day-to-day technology at work.
But I believe that will change soon. The answers to many age-old office space questions can all be easily answered with status updates and check-ins:

  • Where is [fill-in-the-blank] today?
  • Where are we meeting for lunch?
  • How is the new product development coming along?
Right now, using a Facebook or Twitter-like tool for such things seems silly.

Two years ago, many people thought 140-character mini-updates ("I am on the patio") seemed silly, too.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More expensive mobile apps are coming

One of the interesting things about legacy telephone contracts is that they were created before wireless carriers realized how valuable they were. But times change, and the carriers have been shifting their pricing plans to recognize that data access is far more valuable than minutes. The news that Verizon is moving to tiered data plans should not come as a shock to anyone. It was inevitable. And it is similarly inevitable that the other carriers will follow along. The current, unlimited, model is unsustainable.

But what will that mean to the market?

One effect is that middle-income parents will begin to think twice before buying a smartphone for their adolescent children. Maybe those kids will relearn how to play outside.

For business users, it means that those tantalizing mobile apps will become far more expensive. It won't be incrementally more expensive. It will be a LOT more expensive.

Consider this ... An electrical contractor with 30 field technicians wants them all to have tablets in order to handle work tickets electronically. If we use Verizon's pricing model as an example, that strategy will mean a minimum of nearly $11K in additional operating expenses every year. For many such firms, that will change the payback of mobile technology to something that may no longer be acceptable.

This unilateral decision by Verizon will impact mobile software developers, the Droid and Apple stores, and every firm with a mobile workforce. The technology consultant had better understand this when recommending solutions for their clients.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Isn't it ironic

The Apple and Linux operating systems don't get much attention when it comes to virus warnings and outbreaks. That's the upside of having such small market share ... no one dreams of infecting less than 15% of the machines out there. So I guess it's a badge of honor that infection rates among Windows 7 PCs is now estimated at 4 PCs per 1,000. Not surprisingly, Vista PCs are infected at a rate of just under 8 per 1000. That nightmare OS is just not as secure or robust as its younger brother. Also unsurprisingly, XP infection rates fell; XP is no longer a tantalizing target.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Poor Adoption for Cloud Storage

At least for large companies, it seems that cloud-based storage is off the table for now. According to a survey by TheInfoPro, a research firm based in New York City, less than 10% of respondents (247 of the Fortune 1000) are even considering plans to place bottom tier data in the cloud. Generally, respondents cited performance and possession as their primary concerns:
Performance still comes up in the commentary, as well. The problem is when you need the data back...there isn't a high level of confidence that they can do that through an external system.
-- Marco Coulter, TheInfoPro's research director of storage

What this tells me that we should be very wary of recommending cloud-based storage to business leaders. Granted, large companies have significantly more resources at their disposal when it comes to building out internal storage solutions. Therefore they can afford the high-end redundancy and recovery solutions that are beyond the reach of smaller organizations. However, they also have the resources to make cloud-based solutions viable. And they haven't figured it out, yet.

In this case, I believe that discretion is the better course. Amazon's recent failures, along with Google's system problems, demonstrate that these systems still have some reliability issues. And the risks still outweigh the benefits... at least for now.

Credit: ComputerWorld: Fortune 1000 firms shun public cloud storage

Monday, March 28, 2011

Great apps for the iPad

In December, my boss got all of us iPads as an end-of-year gift. Since that time, I have tried to find the right applications that will turn the device into a real business tool. While there are some very large missing pieces, here are a three versatile applications that have made the iPad a worthwhile investment:

Taking Notes: So far, the killer app for note taking is still OneNote, from Microsoft. Unfortunately, the boys from Redmond have not made the application available for any of the Apple devices, including the iPad. Absent that, I use Notes Plus, available from iTunes. It comes with a variety of useful features, most notably a way to zoom in for hand-writing and drawing. I've tried EverNote and PenUltimate, and this app easily betters them.

Instant Messaging: Meebo is an instant messaging application that will give you access to multiple I/M accounts at once. After setting up an account at their website, add log-in credentials for the various I/M tools you use, like G-Mail, Facebook, AIM, MSN Messenger, etc. I don't believe that you can set up a group chat across accounts, but that's it's only shortcoming. Well, that and the fact that the current version is not optimized for the iPad. (I just hit the 2x button to make it easier to see.( They have not announced when an iPad version will be released, though a lot of users have requested it.

Task Management: I have a lot of clients, and remembering deliverables and tasks for all of them is really challenging. So I use Remember the Milk to manage and organize my tasks. After signing up at their website ($25/year subscription), you can manage all kinds of tasks from the web site and from the app on an iPad, iPhone and even a Droid phone. Like Meebo, no iPad-optimized version is yet available, nor have they announced one for release. Even so, it does a great job helping me keep one synchronized list of tasks managed and organized.

Notes Plus
Remember the Milk

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now that hardware doesn't matter ...

Remember the big moments in mobile technology?

My first cell phone - actually it was a car phone - could hold 99 speed dial numbers, and I occasionally would have trouble in traffic when the cord got caught up in the gear shift of my 1988 Ford Ranger. We've come a long way.

The smart phone changed a lot for us. Its introduction was an inflection point in the way we used mobile technology. It was no longer just a phone, but it became a means for managing communications across multiple fronts. We could handle email, as well as voice. We could manage our calendars and contact lists. However, all of those functions were still tied ... one might even say held prisoner to ... the device itself.

But that has changed. The features and functionality of a device are no longer controlled by the manufacturer. Even though Apple tightly regulates what you can put the iPhone, it remains a highly customizable tool. I can buy that applications of my choosing for a Droid, making it do things that another Droid won't.

This is why we are starting to hear rumblings about speed. And I'm not referring to network speed. LG claims to have the Fastest phone at CES 2011 in the Optimus 2X. Samsung and Google are touting the processing power of the soon-to-be-released Nexus S. Manufacturers are talking about processor speed in the same way that we talked about it 10 years ago.

The mobile market is moving away from hardware differentiation at a high rate of speed. It no longer matters that I have a Motorola Droid and my wife has an LG Ally. And I won't care who makes my next phone. I'll care about chip speed and memory.

The great news in all of this is that it opens up avenues for businesses to set themselves apart with mobile technology. Five years ago, it was cost-prohibitive to write a mobile application, because the hardware changed before you got it finished. Now, you can write an Android-based app and be confident that it will bring value for at least a few years. If you haven't started thinking about how your customers can interact with your company using mobile technology, start now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An interruption is coming

The news coming out of last week's devastating earthquake in Japan doesn't seem to be getting any better. As of this writing, engineers and other experts are working to stabilize a nuclear power facility that was seriously damage in the tremors. Nuclear power produces a significant amount (perhaps as much as one-third) of Japan's electricity, and the loss of a major supply point will have important long-term consequences.

Toshiba, in partnership with SanDisk, is the source of roughly 45% of the world's wafers for flash memory. Their primary manufacturing facility, located near Tokyo, saw its assembly line shut down for briefly due to the earthquake. These NAND chips are a critical component in a wide range of devices, including the iPad and smart phones. While production has resumed, its not clear how quickly transportation and other logistical concerns will be resolved. The wafers might end up sitting on shelves waiting for ships or trains to come and pick them up.

Demand for these devices is heating up. Apple has created a lot of buzz around its product line in the past two months by engaging Verizon and with the introduction of the iPad2. Samsung and Motorola have picked up their game with the Xoom and the Galaxy Tab. These are game changers, and we can expect senior sales professionals, junior executives and middle-managers to suddenly "need" them to do their jobs effectively. I expect that over the next 60 days, we'll begin to hear of waiting lists and backorders for these devices ... reports that will grow more common through the summer. If you intend to begin rolling them out to staff in the coming two quarters, plan accordingly.

For more, check out ... Toshiba Chip Production Resumes