The Real Revolution

This is also a podcast, from my weekly BBC piece. 

While folks at the annual tech show in Vegas are getting all excited about a glass-encased laptop, the world’s thinnest 55″ TV and a washing machine you can control from your phone, they may be forgiven for missing the quiet sound of a milestone being crossed: there are now more smartphones in the world than there are ordinary phones.

According to New York-based ABI Research, 3G and 4G handsets now account for more than half of the total mobile phone market. Those old ‘dumb phones’ and the so-called feature phones–poor relations to the computer-type iPhone or Android device can–are now officially in decline.

This is, in the words of ABI Research’s Jake Saunders, “an historic moment.” While IDC, another analyst company, noticed that this happened in Western Europe in the second quarter of last year, Saunders points out: “It means not just mobile phone users in Developed Markets but also Emerging Market end-users are purchasing 3G handsets.”

So why is this a big issue? Well, a few years back it would have been hard to convince someone in an emerging market to shell out several hundred bucks for a phone. A phone for these folks was good for talking and sending text messages. That was a lot. And enough for most people–especially when the handset cost $20 and the monthly bill was even less.

Now, with prices falling and connectivity improving in the developing world a cellphone is so much more: It’s a computer. It’s an Internet device. It’s a portable office and shop front. It’s a music player. A TV. A video player. A way to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

And for the industry these people in emerging markets are a life saver. For example: The developed world is pretty much saturated with smartphones. People aren’t buying them in the numbers they used to.

But that’s not to say the feature phone is dead. In fact, for some companies it’s still an important part of their business. Visionmobile, a UK based mobile phone research company, says that Nokia–busy launching its new Windows Lumia phones in Vegas–is still the king of feature phones, accounting for more than a quarter of the market.

And they just bought a small company called, confusingly, Smarterphone, which makes a feature phone interface look more like a smartphone interface. So clearly at least one company sees a future in this non-smartphone world. In a place like Indonesia, where the BlackBerry leads the smartphone pack, nearly 90% of phones sold in the third quarter of last year were feature phones, according to IDC.

So companies see a big chance for growth in these parts of the world. But they also need the spectrum. If you’re a mobile operator your biggest problem now is that smartphone users do a lot of downloading. That means bandwidth. The problem is that one piece of spectrum is for that 3G smartphone, and another is for your old-style 2G phone. The sooner you can get all your customers to upgrade their handset to 3G, the sooner you can switch that part of the spectrum you own to 3G.

So this is a big moment. We’re seeing a tipping point in the world’s use of cellphone use, from a simple, dumb communication device to something vastly more useful, vastly more exciting, vastly more lucrative. All those people moving over to smartphones

ABI Research reckons there’ll be 1.67 billion handsets sold this year. That’s one in four people buying a new device. Forget fancy Vegas. The real revolution just started.

We’re Not in the Business of Understanding our User

Za-tray2

A few years ago I wrote about sometimes your product is useful to people in ways you didn’t know—and that you’d be smart to recognise that and capitalize on itn (What Your Product Does You Might Not Know About, 2007).

One of the examples I cited was ZoneAlarm, a very popular firewall that was bought by Check Point. The point I made with their product was how useful the Windows system tray icon was in that it doubled as a network activity monitor. The logo, in short, would switch to a twin gauge when there was traffic. Really useful: it wasn’t directly related to the actual function of the firewall, but for most people that’s academic. If the firewall’s up and running and traffic is showing through it, everything must be good.

The dual-purpose icon was a confidence-boosting measure, a symbol that the purpose of the product—to keep the network safe—was actually being fulfilled.

Not any more. A message on the ZoneAlarm User Community forum indicates that as of March this year the icon will not double as a network monitor. In response to questions from users a moderator wrote:

Its not going to be fixed in fact its going to be removed from up comming [sic] ZA version 10
So this will be a non issue going forward.
ZoneAlarm is not in the buiness [sic] of showing internet activity.
Forum Moderator

So there you have it. A spellchecker-challenged moderator tells it as it is. Zone Alarm is now just another firewall, with nothing to differentiate it and nothing to offer the user who’s not sure whether everything is good in Internet-land. Somebody who didn’t understand the product and the user saved a few bucks by cutting the one feature that made a difference to the user.

Check Point hasn’t covered itself in glory, it has to be said. I reckon one can directly connect the fall in interest in their product with the purchase by Check Point of Zone Labs in December 2003 (for $200 million). Here’s what a graph of search volume looks like for zonealarm since the time of the purchase. Impressive, eh?

image

Of course, this also has something to do with the introduction of Windows’ own firewall, which came out with XP SP2 in, er, 2004. So good timing for Zone Labs but not so great for Check Point.

Which is why they should have figured out that the one thing that separated Zone Alarm from other firewalls was the dual purpose icon. So yes, you are in the business of showing Internet activity. Or were.

(PS Another gripe: I tried the Pro version on trial and found that as soon as the trial was over, the firewall closed down. It didn’t revert to the free version; it just left my computer unprotected. “Your computer is unprotected,” it said. Thanks a bunch!)

Quaintness in Salt Lake

(This is the script for a piece I did for the BBC World Service. Posted here by request. Podcast here.)

Something rather quaint is going on in a Salt Lake City courtroom. A company called Novell, who you’d be forgiven for not having heard of, is suing Microsoft over a product called WordPerfect, which you also may not have heard of, which it says was hobbled from running on something called Windows 95 to protect its own product, called Microsoft Word.

To be honest, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of this Microsoft law suit; nor do you really need to know much about Novell—once a giant in word processing software, and now a subsidiary of a company called The Attachmate Group, which I had never even heard of. Or, for that matter Windows 95—except that once upon a time people used to stay up all night to buy copies. Sound familiar, iPad and iPhone lovers?

It’s weird this case is going on, and I won’t bore you with why. But it’s a useful starting point to look at how the landscape has changed in some ways, and in others not at all. Microsoft is still big, of course, but no-one queues up for their offerings anymore: Indeed nobody even bought Vista, as far as I can work out. But back then, nearly every computer you would ever use ran Windows and you would use Microsoft Office to do your stuff. You couldn’t leave because you probably didn’t have a modem and the Internet was a place where weird hackers lived.

Now, consider this landscape: Apple make most of their money from phones and tablets. Google, which wasn’t around when Windows 95 was, now dominate search, but also own a phone manufacturer, have built an operating system. Amazon, which back then was starting out as a bookseller, is now selling tablets at cost as a kind of access terminal to books, movies, magazines and other things digital. Facebook, which wasn’t even a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s 11 year old eye at the time, is now the world’s biggest social network, but is really a vast walled garden where everything you do—from what you read, what you listen to, as well as how well you slept and who you had dinner with—is measured and sold to advertisers.

All these companies kind of look different, but they’re actually the same. Back in 1995 the PC was everything, and so therefore was the operating system and the software that ran on it. The web was barely a year old. Phones were big and clunky. So Microsoft used its power to dominate to sell us what made the most money: software.

Now, 15 or 16 years on, look how different it all is. Who cares about the operating system? Or the word processor? Or the PC? Everything is now mobile, hand-held, connected, shared, and what was expensive is now free, more or less. Instead, most of these companies now make their money through eyeballs, and gathering data about our habits, along with micropayments from data plans and apps, online games and magazines.

And to do this they all have to play the same game Microsoft played so well: Dominate the chain: Everything we do, within a Hotel California-like walled garden we won’t ever leave. So my predictions for next year, most of which  have been proved true in recent days : A Facebook phone which does nothing except through Facebook, an Amazon phone which brings everything from Amazon to your eyes and ears, but nothing else, an Apple-controlled telco that drops calls unless they’re on Apple devices. Google will push all its users into a social network, probably called Google+ and will punish those who don’t want to by giving them misleading search results. Oh, and Microsoft. I’m not sure about them. Maybe we’ll find out in Salt Lake City.

Podcast: Quaintness in Salt Lake

The BBC World Service Business Daily version of my piece on my predictions for next year  (The Business Daily podcast is here.)

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To listen to Business Daily on the radio, tune into BBC World Service at the following times, or click here.

Australasia: Mon-Fri 0141*, 0741

East Asia: Mon-Fri 0041, 1441
South Asia: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741
East Africa: Mon-Fri 1941
West Africa: Mon-Fri 1541*
Middle East: Mon-Fri 0141*, 1141*
Europe: Mon-Fri 0741, 2132
Americas: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741, 1041, 2132

Thanks to the BBC for allowing me to reproduce it as a podcast.
 

A Directory of Visualizing Tools

Update Feb 2007: Just came across some cool stuff from digg labs (the guys behind digg) who haev some coold stuff I’ve added below.

In this week’s WSJ.com column I wrote (subscription only, I’m afraid) about treemaps, tools which allow you to look at data differently:

One of the things that bugs me about our oh-so-cool information revolution is this: We show such little imagination in how we actually look at that information. Think about it. We have all this fascinating data at our fingertips and yet we have decided the most effective way of viewing it is in…a table. Or a chart. Or a list of search results (“1.7 gazillion matches — click here for next 10 results”). There has to be a better way.

A treemap “is a bunch of squares, arranged to form a mosaic. The size and color of each block mean something”. It’s probably easier to show it than to explain it:

Treemap
(from RoomforMilk, see below)

The size of blocks indicate, in this case, the popularity of each subject, shades and color indicate how recent the topic has been updated. Click on one and more information appears. Best is to check them out: they’re intuitive and fun to use. Really.

Here’s some links (yes I know this should be in the form of a treemap, but I’m not that clever) from the column and some stuff I wasn’t able to put in for reasons of space (Yes, I am aware of the irony. Yell at my editor): 

  • stack a vertical bar chart of activity, with the stories themselves moving way too fast down the screen (from digg labs)
  • digg’s bigspy an impressive scrolling list of stories, size dictated by the number of diggs.
  • swarm another digg offering. not sure what this does, actually, but it looks cute.
  • Panopticon a leading supplier of professional Visual Business Intelligence to the financial services industry as well as other fields of business. Download their free Panopticon Explorer .NET Learning Edition which lets you view treemaps of files, processes, event logs and spreadsheets.
  • Marcus Weskamp’s excellent newsmap
  • Peet’s Coffee Selector good example of a treemap at work for consumers
  • RoomforMilk lovely looking treemap of Slashdot headlines, or as the website puts it — “RoomforMilk.com is a news feed pasteurizer and homogenizer featuring Slashdot News Headlines. RoomforMilk is not even 2% affiliated with Slashdot.org.” Colors and shades indicate new/old (fresh/stale) stories, blocks indicate keywords.
  • del.icio.us most popular treemap from codecubed very cool-looking map of the most popular links from social bookmarking tool del.ico.us, by derek gottfrid.
  • Microsoft Treemapper with Excel Add-In. Simple tool “to view hierarchical data conveniently from an Excel file.”
  • Wikipedia World Population in a treemap by The Hive Group, as a demonstration of their Honeycomb technology. Very absorbing. Check out their views of iTunes’ Top 100 and Amazon.
  • NewsIsFree also uses Honeycomb.
  • CNET News’ Hot page.
  • Great recent piece by Ben Shneiderman, inventor of the treemap. Didn’t get to talk to him but I hope to at some point.
  • Wikipedia entry on Treemapping.
  • Grokker search, a kind of treemap. (Thanks to a reader of the column for that.)
  • WSJ’s Map of the Market, from SmartMoney. Uses Java, but pretty cool.

And, some software to visualize your hard drive (Windows, unless stated)

  • FolderSizes strictly speaking not really a treemap, but a good way to visualize your drives via pie charts. “It can quickly isolate large, old, temporary, and duplicate files, or even show file distribution by type, attributes, or owner. All with multiple export formats, command-line support, shell context menu integration, and much more.” $40, free trial.
  • SizeExplorer Features include folder size, graphical charts, file distribution statistics and reports (by size, extension, type, owner, date, etc.), biggest files, network support, snapshots, file management, printing of file listing, compress into ZIP file, exports to Excel, html, xml and text files, etc. $16-45
  • DiskView another pie chart approach, but useful. DiskView integrates into your Windows Explorer, pretty well. New version also indicates how fragmented files are , and, if your hard disk supports it, its health
  • SpaceMonger my favorite space-hogger hunter. Does a great job of mapping your hard drives and showing you what is taking up space. New version out soon, I’m told.
  • DiskAnalyzer Similar to FolderSizes, though not as pretty. Free tho.
  • WinDirStat free program which will create a treemap of your drive(s), based on the KDirStat for the K Desktop Environment, an interface for UNIX.
  • DiskInventory X similar to WinDirStat/KDirStat, for Macs
  • SequoiaView similar to the above. Linked to the company MagnaView, which sells commercial versions of its treemapping software “take input from virtually any information system, file or database, and support the development of an impressive range of visualizations”. (thanks, Michael.)

You can also see a bunch of posts I’ve done on different kinds of newsmaps, including some interviews with folk like Marcus Weskamp and Craig Mod, creator of Buzztracker, here. I’m sure I’ve missed lots; please do let me know either by email or comments.

 
 

Windows. How Much Pain Can You Take?

If you’re still happy with your Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition then you’re on your own. Microsoft won’t help you out after July 11, 2006, when it ends public and technical support. This doesn’t just mean not having someone to talk to on the phone. It means no more security updates, too, effectively rendering these operating systems useless. It’s a bit like Mad Max shoving the weak and helpless members of the Thunderdome community out beyond the gates at the mercy of those really ugly people whose name I can’t remember. Maybe they didn’t have a name. Maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought it was when I started writing it.

Anyway. Microsoft says it is “is ending support for these products because they are outdated and these older operating systems can expose customers to security risks.” Well, yes, but isn’t this because you’re not updating them anymore?  “We recommend,” Microsoft goes on, “that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible.” Of course it’s natural to suggest your latest product is the best one, but it always makes me chuckle when Microsoft say this. You can almost hear their salesmen at work with recalcitrant customers:

“Why did you buy Windows 98? What were you thinking?”
“Well, at the time you said it was great. You said it was the best thing ever.”
“That was then, buddy, this is now. Now it’s the worst thing ever, and you should get our best operating system ever, namely XP, right up until Vista is ready and it becomes the worst thing ever. Then you should buy Vista, which by then will be …”
“The best thing ever?”
“You got it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait for Vista, then?”
“I wouldn’t do that, buddy.”
“Why not?”
“Well, er, frankly we’re not sure when it’s coming out.”
“So you know when products die, but you don’t know when new ones are coming out.”
“That’s right. So you want this XP or not?”

Actually, there are lots of things going on here. There’s the fact that people are so excited about Web applications — programs you run from your browser, rather than as a bigger separate program — that there’s a question mark about the need for Windows. You can run a Web application from any operating system (and most browsers.) And even if you are using Windows, it doesn’t really matter which one — it won’t really improve the quality of the Web application you’re using. So if you can’t get the user excited about the operating system, at least you can get them scared about security. That might prod them to upgrade.

There’s also the fact that operating systems just aren’t as exciting as they used to be anymore. Windows 95 had people queueing up around the block. Since then users have had to be bullied, enticed and scared into upgrading. Sure, XP is better than 98. Actually a lot better. But better for who? For what? A lot of folk, it seems, are still quite happy with Windows 98. If you’re using a computer more than 5 years old, it makes more sense to use 98, because XP will limp along. If you have an office full of computers, you might not want to splash out on XP licenses for all of them, in which case 98 makes sense too. If you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t feel the crazy urge to throw away your computer every few years, chances are you’re still using Windows 98. In fact, according to anecdote, there are still a lot of them out there. They don’t tend to show up in statistics because they’re not often, or at all, on the Internet. (Think old folk; think fixed incomes; think people who aren’t gaga over the whole Web 2.0 thang as we are.)

Then there’s my own pet theory. Most people don’t install operating systems. They just buy a new computer with it already installed. So: Hardware manufacturers are so upset that Vista won’t be out for Christmas — meaning that millions of people won’t bother buying a new computer then because there’s no new operating system to run it — that Microsoft decided to retire 98, Me and all the other slowcoaches, knowing that people won’t “upgrade” their software, they’ll upgrade their computer.

Microsoft has tried to shove Windows 98, and Me (not me, but Windows Me, the operating system) out to the knackers’ yard before. In early 2004 they backed off retiring support for these versions of Windows hoping to keep customers from wandering across the street to Linux. One piece on ZDNet back then quoted a Microsoft senior marketing manager as saying of customers, and I quote: “The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98.” I love this argument. Turns out it’s all about pain. “Our software is so hard to figure out,” the pitch goes, “it actually causes our users pain. We’re counting on this pain to keep our customers. Do you want our pain or someone else’s pain? We’re going to get them hooked, and then they figure the pain they’re used to is better than the pain they’re not. Of course one day we’ll make it impossible for them not upgrade, but by then they’ll be so used to the pain, they would prefer a little extra pain than to switch to another vendor. Which would cause them even more pain.”

That day has come. Paid incident support and critical security updates for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Me will end on July 11, 2006. No other security updates will follow after this date. You’re on your own, buddy.  Good luck out there.

98P.S. Actually, not entirely. There is a Microsoft web page that is dedicated to Windows 98 users. But it hasn’t been updated since October 31, 2002, and is it a coincidence that the only photo on that page is of someone in a d’oh moment, where it looks like they just lost all their files or had a major security breach on their Windows 98 computer? Talk about subliminal messages.

 
 
 
 

How to Split Your Screen Down the Middle

Here’s something for the directory of monitor extenders — stuff that increases the size, scope or general bendiness of your screen — SplitView , from the guys who brought you DiskView:

SplitView increases productivity by making it easy to work with two applications side by side. It helps make full use of your high resolution monitor and gives the benefit of dual-monitors without their associated cost.

Given it costs $19, that statement is indeed true. The problem is simple. Having two monitors is great — if you haven’t done it yet, you haven’t lived — but it’s also neat because you can pretty much keep them separate, a bit like having two desks to play with. That’s because Windows treats the two screens as one for some functions – moving windows and whatnot — but as two for functions like maximising programs etc. Very useful if you’re moving between two documents, or dragging and dropping text using the mouse.

But what happens if you have one supersized monitor, with high resolution? You have all that real estate, but not the same duality, if you get my drift. This is where SplitView jumps in. A small program that incorporates itself into the pull-down resize menu on the left-hand top corner (right clicking on its icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen has the same effect), SplitView lets you make the program take up half the screen on either the left or right in one move (or via keyboard shortcuts).  So now you have two monitors in one:

I can imagine this would also be useful for those of us used to dual monitors but forced into single screendom when on the road. Now your laptop can be split in two, making it easy to drag and drop and stuff. Its author, Rohan, says he wrote it “as a ‘me-ware’ – something i needed myself, and then productized it.” Good productizing, Rohan.

Starting A Computer That Won’t Start

If you have problems starting Windows XP because of a blue screen telling you (I forget the exact wording) that you need to run CHKDSK /f and disable all antivirus and disk management programs, here’s a possible solution.

The problem is that while you’d love to run CHKDSK /f — which runs a check on your hard drive and fixes any file errors — you can’t actually start Windows, or even get to a DOS prompt, to do it. The furthest you’re likely to get is a screen listing the drivers being loaded, but stopping at one called agp440.sys. Then the blue screen. Here’s what worked for me (it assumes you have a spare computer and an external drive casing for your hard drive, whichever size it is. I’ve learned to hang onto these kind of things for just such a situation as this):

  • Turn off the computer (I’m assuming it’s a laptop but this would work with a desktop too)
  • Remove the hard drive (take photos with your cellphone if necessary to remind yourself where the screws went, etc)
  • Attach the hard drive to your second computer using the external casing
  • Run CHKDSK /f (or any Disk Checker utility) over the hard drive. This should fix the problems with the hard drive
  • Remove hard drive from external casing and put back in original computer.
  • Restart computer

May not work for everyone but it worked for me.

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Microsoft’s Spyware Gate

Microsoft have launched a new version of their Antispyware application, now rebuilt and renamed Windows Defender. Initial reports are favorable, including Paul Thurrott, who is good on these kind of things:

Windows Defender Beta 2 combines the best-of-breed spyware detection and removal functionality from the old Giant Antispyware product and turns it into a stellar application that all Windows users should immediately download and install. Lightweight, effective, and unobtrusive, Windows Defender is anti-spyware done right, and I still consider this to be the best anti-spyware solution on the market. Highly recommended.

Expect this program to become part of the next Windows operating system, meaning that spyware is going to be kept out of most computers by default. This is a good thing. What is less good is that it lets Microsoft decide what is and what isn’t spyware, giving them one more gate to control. Also, spare a thought for all the companies that have been selling antispyware software for the past few years; I can’t see many of them surviving past Windows Vista.

How to Convert, Export, Migrate, and Archive your Email

I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m a big fan of Fookes’ other programs but this sounds like a great tool if you’re using one email client and you want to move on but can’t export easily: Aid4Mail – Convert, Export, Migrate, and Archive all your Email

Aid4Mail is a user-friendly Windows tool that helps you migrate your email messages to a different mail client, export them for viewing through Internet Explorer, MS Excel, or a database, convert them to extract or re-insert attachments, and archive them to save space or for compliance with legal requirements. It supports most popular mail client programs and processes all messages without losing any information, including those with file attachments and embedded contents like pictures and background images. Unlike other migration methods, Aid4Mail can also export message status information such as “unread”, “read”, “replied”, and “forwarded”. Aid4Mail produces results quickly and with great accuracy.

I’m going to give it a shot and I’ll let you know how it works out. Anyone come across some other solutions?