Tag Archives: Product Release

The Big Boys’ Mea Culpas

I find it interesting that companies can get things so wrong. News Corp just sold off Myspace for a fraction of its original price today, effectively admitting it didn’t get social media.

Microsoft famously came late to the table with the Internet, and then has been late to more or less every party since. It’s now come out with Microsoft 365, an awful name for a product that is basically an admission that Google Docs is good enough for most people, and that Microsoft Office is largely toast (an incorrect assumption, I reckon; I still can’t do without it.)

Then we have Google. Google has made a surprising number of missteps: Buzz, Wave (dumping it as much as hyping it, in my view.) Now, with the launch of Google+, they’re also acknowledging that they got the Web wrong: Instead of seeing it as a network, they saw it as a library. This from AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes, who asked Vic Gundotra why he and Bradley Horowitz had spent so much of the launch self-flagellating about why Google was so late to the social media dance:

Google Opens Up About Social Ambitions on Google+ Launch Day – Liz Gannes – Social – AllThingsD: “Gundotra: It’s just sincere. I don’t think it’s anything more than that. We do have a mission that we’ve been working on for a long time: organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and available. And when you look at the web today it’s obvious it’s not just about pages, it’s about people. It’s not just about information, it’s about what individuals are doing. So I think we have to do that in a coherent way. We think there’s just tremendous room to do great stuff.”

Well put: Google really didn’t get the the web. And probably still doesn’t; one might argue that the algorithms they use to rank pages are having to be constantly updated because they don’t really reflect the dynamic nature of most web pages these days. I am not sure what I mean by that so I’ll leave it for now.

Finally, what might one ask about Apple? Where have they gone wrong? MobileMe is a pretty small misstep. Quibbles with OSX are relatively small: I get the sense that a lot of the things wrong with the OS aren’t because they keep tweaking things (the usual complaint from Windows users) but that there’s a stubbornness about not changing things: A weak file explorer (Finder), an inability to resize windows except from one corner, a confusing division of function between dock icons, menu bar icons, menu bar menus, in-window menus etc etc…

But apart from those gripes with the Mac OS, you gotta hand it to Apple. No big mea culpas, at least in the past decade.

Vista: Preloaded With Gunk

My colleague Walt Mossberg writes a scathing piece about preloaded Vista machines; definitely worth a read. I’m trying installing Vista on a virgin machine, and the experience isn’t much better so far.

clipped from ptech.wsj.com

I have set up many computers over the years, so I wasn’t shocked that the out-of-box experience was less than ideal. Still, I was struck by just how irritating it was to get going with the new Sony Vaio SZ laptop I bought about 10 days ago. It was the first new Windows machine I’d bought in a few years, because I had been waiting for Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system. I was amazed that the initial experience is still a big hassle.

Loose Bits, Nov 28 2006

From my PR intray, some surprisingly interesting little odds and ends:

LocalCooling is a 100% Free power management tool from Uniblue Labs that allows users to optimize their energy savings in minutes and as a result reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. The software “automatically optimizes your PC’s power consumption by using a more effective power save mode. You will be able to see your savings in real-time translated to more evironmental terms such as how many trees and gallons of oil you have saved.”

Sim CityElectronic Arts Inc. today announced SimCity for mobile, which “lets mobile phone users create and manage the growth of a living city in the palm of their hands. Originally created by Will Wright, SimCity is now available on major U.S. carriers.” Not sure how this works, as there’s nothing yet on EA’s site. It does sound a bit like milking a cash cow or is it flogging a dead horse? 

free spam filterCyberDefenderFREE is “a full internet security suite that can operate  standalone, or complement existing security software to add an existing layer of early-alert security to the desktop.” As far as I can work out, this is a competitor to Windows Defender although it seems to include a collaborative element, where users report either manually or automatically dodgy software and sites they’ve come across. I think.

A Communicator Killer?

I tend to think of the Nokia Communicator (aka The Brick) as a somewhat retrograde device, popular to folk who haven’t quite caught up with the shape of things to come (aka The Smartphone). But Indonesians and Germans don’t agree (link to a podcast I did on the subject for the BBC), using the Communicator in such large numbers that Nokia tends to focus most of its promotional energies in those two countries. This may explain why a German company is about to launch a Communicator lookalike: the HandyPC.

Tony Smith of The Register reports that Berlin-based phone maker ROAD GmbH has announced the HandyPC, a clamshell device based on the Linux operating system and Trolltech’s Qtopia GUI. It’s a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE device with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on board too. No date has been given for when the product will be sold, or how much it will cost.
 

Linux-based HandyPC to challenge Nokia Communicator | Reg Hardware.

Why It’s Called a USB Drive

The USB is finding its way into your car. CNN.com/AP reports of two new USB connections in cars:

Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest automaker, is … making the USB connection an option on its Golf, Golf Plus and Touran models in December and on remaining models next year.

Just plug your device into a built-in console in the center armrest. The option comes in two varieties, one for the iPod, another for other USB-based players. Up to six of the player’s folders will be displayed on the car stereo system, and the radio buttons can be used to scan, search or shuffle your mix. The setup will cost $240.

This works well for USB-based players without displays, I guess, since most folk just plug their MP3 players into the stereo’s input jack (or use a cassette-shaped adapter) and choose the music from the player’s own display. (One Slashdot poster points to the improved audio that the digital USB connection offers.) And other posters on the same page point to existing in-car stereos that offer USB inputs, such as Goodmans’ CD/Radio.)

Perhaps more interestingly:

Also at the International Auto Show this week, Mazda Motor Corp. unveiled its Sassou concept car. Instead of a key, motorists use a special USB drive to lock, unlock or start the car. The drive can also carry your favorite tunes.

(More on this at Slashdot.)

Now we’re talking. As readers know, I’m a big fan of the USB drive as a place to carry not just files but records and programs. This seems the next logical step. But why stop at cars? What about other keys: offices, homes, IDs, lockers, etc? Could the USB stick become the key that drives everything?

Plaxo Etiquette: Moral High Ground Or Cheap Stunt?

Plaxo, the online contacts exchange that got some good, and bad, press two years back, is trying to brush up its members’ manners with some Plaxo Etiquette:

Each and every new technology has a learning curve as we figure out how to use it, and use it well. Remember when you’d frequently see people talking on their cell phone in a restaurant, or in the movie theater? And how many of those forwarded blonde or lawyer jokes were really funny?

Plaxo is committed to helping you become a better member of the digital world. Below you’ll find a few tips and suggestions on how to make the best use of Plaxo.

Not bad stuff, although some cynics might say it’s a few years too late. After all, one of the problems that its critics cited was the ease with which users could spam everyone in their Outlook address book, not considered a particularly polite thing to do in any community.

I’m not going to be cheap. It’s good that Plaxo is doing this, late or not. I did, however, feel the PR pitch that accompanied the announcement was a bit overly precious:

Plaxo, provider of an Internet service for updating and accessing contact information, is committed to helping its users be better members of the digital world. The company recently introduced Plaxo Etiquette (http://www.plaxo.com/privacy/manners) to guide members in the proper way to use the technology from the get-go. We challenge other providers of prevalent technologies to do the same.

Cynics, once again, might say that Plaxo was part of the address book spamming lapse in etiquette to start with two years ago, so suggesting it’s suddenly ‘committed to helping its users be better members of the digital world’ and that it feels it occupies such moral high ground it can ‘challenge other providers of prevalent technologies to do the same’ might be considered somewhat rich. I wouldn’t say that, of course; nor would I suggest this is a self-serving piece of publicity to raise the profile of a service that hasn’t been heard of — at least in a positive light — very much in recent months. (A keyword search for Plaxo of Google News throws up three references to the dangers associated with Plaxo and phishing, one to Plaxo and privacy and nine neutral references in passing.)

The End Of Free Faxing?

What’s up with eFax, also known as j2, the (supposedly) free Internet fax people?

I received an email from j2 Global Communications today that said

Dear Jeremy,

Your account has been suspended and your eFax number 1-973-215-1210 is no longer accepting faxes.

If you wish to keep your eFax account, you may upgrade and reactivate your account immediately by using the following link.

If you do not reactivate your account by 12/16/2004, it will be closed and your eFax number will be reassigned to another user.

If you have recently upgraded your account, thank you, and please disregard this notice.

Sincerely, The eFax Free Team

Um. Now, I may have missed something along the line. eFax send out ‘third party ads’ to support the service so I tend to let all the junk emails they send me go into a spam bin [see note below on altered text]. So I may have missed a crucial email. But I can’t see anything in this email that explains why they’ve canceled my free account and why I suddenly have to upgrade ($13 ‘one time setup fee’ [sic] and $13 a month for the number).

Now of course I’m not a suspicious individual, so I’m assuming this has absolutely nothing to do with the almost simultaneous announcements of “the immediate availability of its eFax® service in three additional languages” (Spanish, German and French, in addition to existing services in English and Dutch) and today’s press release that “j2 Global Communications, Inc. (Nasdaq: JCOM), the provider of outsourced, value-added messaging and communications services, today announced the availability of eFaxSecure, a new service for its eFax Corporate(R) customers”.

I’m not supposing for a second that these announcements, which make no mention of any free services the company offers, or the apparent suspension of some of those services, are intended to cover up scrapping any such services (were any scrapping to have taken place). Nor would I dream of taking a closer look at whether a NASDAQ-listed company is supposed to alert investors to the suspension of discontinuation of services (were any discontinuation to have taken place) as much as the addition of new ones.

Still, if it is the end of free Internet faxing, it’s a shame. I never really used it that much these days, but it was nice to put on namecards. Perhaps with the rapid spread of VoIP services, these kind of things were anachronism anyway. I might see what their PR folk have to say about all this in any case, just to see whether I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

How To Eliminate Offline Swaging And Avoid A P-Punch

I read a lot of press releases in a day, but usually I try to read them in the early morning, because they seem to make more sense then. Don’t ask me why. But rarely do I enjoy reading a press release; they’re boring, self-promoting (of course), hard to decipher and often not closely related to my field of work (technology column-ing). But I’ve just received one (subscription required) which I found a joy to read, and reaffirms my belief that my chosen profession (technology columnist) is the right one.

I reprint it here in full, so you can enjoy it as much as I did:

Device Technologies Introduces Push-Lok™

Simply Elegant Technology Precisely Space Daughter Boards from Chassis or Mother Boards

November 2004 (Newstream) — Device Technologies, Inc. is pleased to announce a new product line of Push-Lok™ Printed Circuit Board Standoffs that eliminate offline swaging of screw machine standoffs.

When seated, the pre-assembled drive pin secures the Push-Lok Standoff to the chassis to maintain its integrity under standard tailgate drop-tests. The fastener portion has a minimum protrusion but will sit flush with a shallow dimple in the chassis.

The latch is both flexible and secure enough to allow for easy assembly of the daughter board and eliminate the need for torque driven screws. Field Service, repairs and modifications are equally efficient by simply deflecting the flexible latch.

DTI’s complete Push-Lok solution also offers a P-Punch, spring loaded pin driving tool to allow easy assembly on the production line. Push-Lok is made of UL94V2 Type 66 nylon and UL94V0 on special order.

Now, some of you may be wondering just how much offline swaging of those screw machine standoffs these Push-Lok thingies manage to achieve. Well, I’ve checked with MA-based Device Technologies, who not only make Push-Lok™ printed circuit board stand-offs (as if!) but also design, manufacture, and sell cable management solutions, including cost effective and NEBS compliant Spring Fast® Composite Grommet Edging, Fast-Drop™ fiber optic radius control modules, and I am here to tell you, right now: It’s a lot.

Under standard tailgate drop-tests (this ISO-approved test involves dropping a standard Push-Lok standoff off back of moving pick-up) the integrity of the Push-Lok is maintained, and if you really need to mess around with it in the field, you can just deflect the flexible latch. Just make sure you’re not showing any shallow dimples on your chassis, especially in front of anyone’s daughter board. If you do, get ready to be P-Punched.

Gmail, Gator and Spam

Gmail: Better than spam?  

ClickZ reports that an interesting side effect of Google’s new ad-supported email application, Gmail, are contextual ads from competitors. “Because the contextual ads are targeted based on e-mail message content, as determined by Google’s technology, commercial messages are the ones most likely to trigger ads. That’s because they’re most likely to contain commercial product or brand names, for which Google’s AdWords advertisers frequently buy keywords,” writes ClickZ’s Pamela Parker.

A recent newsletter from fashion vendor Neiman Marcus, for example, triggered ads with the headlines “Kate Spade Handbags,” “Ferragamo at Neoluxury” and “Prada Handbags.” Listings were for BizRate.com, Neoluxury.com and FinestDesigners.com, respectively. Interestingly, all of these must have been triggered purely by the subject line — “Salvatore Ferragamo: Shop the spring collection of shoes, handbags, and more” – since the email content was in the form of pictures, “none of which display by default in the Gmail client,” says ClickZ. What’s more, in a default view in Gmail, a reader would only see the competitors’ ads unless they selected to display external images.

The ClickZ article — itself entitled “Gmail: The Next Gator?” — suggests the situation is “akin to the kind of competitive pop-up ads that have generated controversy (and legal action) for Claria, the renamed company that fires its own ads to users, blotting out those designed to be there by a website’s creator.

What’s interesting here is that, tied in with Google’s recent decision to allow advertisers to bid on trademarked keywords they don’t own, you could see “a message from Banana Republic (for example), simply because of its subject line, trigger ads from J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and the like”.

I haven’t mulled over all the consequences of this, but I don’t see it as exactly similar to Gator. An email newsletter is not facing the obliteration or alteration of its message, design and website integrity in the same way a Gatored website is. But I can see a couple of other possible outcomes:

  • Google’s Gmail suddenly makes a whole lot more commercial sense. Marketers can reach into your inbox more effectively than any spammer. If I sold Gucci handbags, for example, all I have to do is buy ads for every competing brand of fashion handbag and I could be sure that my ads would reach every Gmail account holder interested in the subject, because they’re bound at some point to write about it in an email, or receive an email on it, either from a friend or a supplier;
  • I would imagine this would prod marketing newsletters to move to RSS quite quickly. There they can be a little more confident, for now, that their ‘message’ is not diluted by by contextual ads.

I think this will be more relevant than the discussion about privacy. End users might be quite happy to get contextual ads alongside their handbag newsletter. But they might be more alarmed if they see contextual ads for psychiatric help if they get an email from a friend describing how they went ‘crazy’ on Saturday night, or, more seriously, ads for cancer treatment if they discuss how a family member is coping with his prostate. When does contextual advertising go beyond ‘well targeted’ to become ‘scarily intrusive’?

News: Mac New OS Scrubs Data

 Microsoft must be rubbing its hands with glee. Mac users are reporting a major problem with Apple’s new operating system, Mac OS X 10.3, better known as Panther: it erases data on external drives. For many this is fatal, Wired reports, since many Mac users backed up their files to an external FireWire drive before installing the Panther upgrade. In some cases, the glitch erased files on the main machine and the external backup.
 
Apple says it is working on a fix.