Monday, January 14, 2008

MacWorld 2008 - Something in the Air...

Well here goes nothing... I figured I might as well contribute to all of the rumors and guessing that's going on about what Apple will announce tomorrow at MacWorld Expo.

Apple has displayed huge banner posters at Moscone with the phrase, "There's Something in the Air"... to which many have surmised that Apple will be releasing a WiMax solution on laptops and on iPods. Perhaps...

If Apple has chosen to deploy a new networking technology, I predict it will be a) cutting edge b) power- (as in electricity consumption and battery-life) conscious.

Here's a slight change of subject, please bear with me. I have been playing with XO "laptops" from the OLPC ("One Laptop Per Child") project. These are amazing pieces of hardware; they're designed as an educational tool for children in developing countries. They run Linux. They have a (revolutionary?) new user-interface with a new desktop paradigm called "Sugar". Oh... they're priced at about $200 in very large quantities.

So what could this all mean? ...
More importantly for this post, perhaps, they support 802.11b/g *and* 802.11s MESH NETWORKING. What does this mean? It means that if you have a collection of these laptops "near" one another... and one is connected to the Internet, (technically speaking) they could all be connected to the Internet. Or, it means that they can locally network with one another seamlessly. The more mesh "nodes" on the network, the more (potentially) reliable the network could be...

There's another interesting mesh project going on at Johns Hopkins University called smesh. They claim they can do VoIP over their mesh while roaming between meshpoints... seamlessly.

Now it occurs to me that when I was younger, Apple was almost the exclusive provider of computer technology in the K-12 arena. And it occurs to me that MESH NETWORKING (as implemented on the OLPC, at least) provides a collaborative means for learning, and sharing.

Further, it seems that Intel was part of the OLPC board of directors, and that, as of last week, they've taken themselves off of that board... and that there is a competing hardware platform (embodied in the $300 Classmate laptop) that is trying to sell into the classrooms of the developing world (and thereby compete with the OLPC).

It should be noted that, at present, the OLPC is not available for purchase in small quantities, or in developed (i.e. USA, Europe) nations.

We also know that Apple, as of a couple of years ago, transitioned their entire Mac line from the PowerPC processor architecture to Intel x86 processors. Intel has appeared prominently in past MacExpo keynotes; one would think the partnership is strong.

I have no "source" of data other than my brain, so I'll offer the following: Wouldn't it make sense for Apple to make a strong comeback in K-12 computer hardware with a product that is software-compatible with the OLPC, available for purchase by families and educational institutions in the US, supports and interacts with OLPC mesh networking?

They could create a laptop with processors from Intel, that implements 802.11s, runs MacOS, allows for MacOS accounts that were OLPC-desktop-restricted...

And, they could put mesh nodes in all of their portable devices, such as iPhones, iPods, and the like.

I hope I'm right... Leave a comment if you think this sounds reasonable...

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

QuickBooks2006 incompatible with Vista!?

I am amazed and dismayed.

I just received email "signed" by Mr. Brad Smith, Senior Vice-President of QuickBooks indicating that QuickBooks 2006 would not be compatible with Microsoft Vista. Let me see if I can be more precise; Mr. Smith says:

If you choose to upgrade to Windows Vista

We recommend that you use QuickBooks 2007 (and Point of Sale v6.0, if applicable). QuickBooks 2007 is the only version of the software built to run on the new Windows Vista operating system.

Again, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. If you would like to send us feedback on QuickBooks and Windows Vista, please visit our Windows Vista Resource Center at

Huh? Apologize for "any inconvenience"??? QuickBooks (Intuit) should be begging its users to stick with QuickBooks... in spite of the difficulty that Windows Vista will ultimately cause them. They should be actively berating Microsoft for creating such headaches for them and their customer base.

Intuit should be shipping upgrades to their QuickBooks 2006 product that make it compatible with Vista (while remaining compatible with existing versions of Windows)... at no charge. This is how a company that values it customers (and is concerned about them leaving) behaves.

Instead, we (paid customers) get a letter announcing the "inconvenience" of a forced upgrade to QuickBooks 2007 (Pro goes for $179.95- there appears to be no upgrade pricing - this is essentially the price I paid for QuickBooks 2006... on year ago).

(Never mind that QuickBooks (even "Pro") is constantly badgering me about signing up for this or that for-money service from Inuit... be it PayRoll, accepting credit-cards, or what have you).

Waitwaitwait... why would Intuit take a stand here? They have 87% market-share (a whopping $750,000,000 in 2005) in this area... and so... why wouldn't they demand their users pay another tax to stay with their product? After all, that's precisely what Microsoft is doing with Vista...

Don't get me wrong: I'm not in any great hurry to upgrade to Vista... but I know there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when new computers will ship only with Vista... and unless I have an IT department that would qualify me as a company big enough to run "real" accounting software, I'll have a hard time downgrading to an XP installation on such machines.

It's time for the customers of Intuit to band together and seek an alternate solution. Establish a plan, and knock that 87% in half for 2007. That should deliver a clear message to Mr Smith. The attitude and language of this forced-upgrade announcement are outrageous.

If you have any interest in migrating away from QuickBooks, please drop a note here. If you know of an alternative for very small businesses, please say so... and say why you like the product. Thanks.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Yahoo mail trying to Imitate Google Mail??

I just logged into my Yahoo mail account. I don't do that very often as I keep my "main" mail on Google mail. Yahoo greeted me with a "try out new Yahoo Mail beta" interface... so I said yes (I'm not really sure I had an option), and then after being shown a short tutorial (pretty nice, but more on this later), I was viewing my Yahoo mail in their new interface.

It looks and feels like a "Web2.0 app"... by which I mean that when you click on buttons and things, you get new content without full page reloads. Not fully "Web 2.0" mind you... there were no borders with rounded corners. Hm.

So what's really new?

Well, I would have thought that when you re-design your interface, you would go all out... and "leapfrog" the competition. That is to say that you would wait until your technology and feature-set was clearly superior to the competition. In this case, I'd say that although the interface is "better" than the prior Yahoo Mail interface, it is in no way superior to the competition -- which in this case, is Google Mail.

In several basic ways, they're similar. There's a window showing who sent you mail and when and what it is about. And you can click on those messages to view the mail. All without entirely reloading the page.

Oh yes: Yahoo made a big deal of teaching about how you could move mail messages using (drum-roll) drag-and-drop... except that I couldn't complete the (otherwise nice, simple, and informative) tutorial at this point because for some reason, I couldn't perform their multi-select in my browser... hmph.

Maybe drag-n-drop is marginally nicer than what Google has in this area.
But in several important ways, the new Yahoo Mail interface is inferior.

Why not fix search?
Yahoo could have attacked the single biggest issue with Google's email interface (in my mind): search. WHAT?!? Did I just say that Google search was lacking!?? Yessir. You see, when you search your email in Google search, you can't search on word fragments.
That means that if I get email from, I can't search my email for "From: betty" and find those messages. Somehow, I need to remember that Betty's email was "betty15"... I can't tell you how many times I've relied on my (future) ability to search and find my email only to spend waaaay too much time searching in frustration for the oh-so-important email.

Why not add tagging?
If click-update-without-reload (otherwise known as AJAX) and (to a much lesser extent, yet with high correlation) rounded borders on boxes aren't prime identifying features of Web 2.0 applications, I would have to say that "tagging" is. That is, the new way (the Web 2.0 way) of sorting data is not by putting it in folders, but by "tagging" it. The idea is: "don't move the data around (even metaphorically), instead, create simple labels for it...

The benefit of such a scheme is tremendous. How many times have you wanted to sort an email into two (or more!) folders... because it logically belonged in BOTH? Most email systems don't let you do this... maybe the very best (that support folders) might allow you to copy the message into both folders... yuck: now your disk-space requirements start going up. Tagging lets you just say, that the message contains informatinon about "travel" and "entertainment", and so you don't have to choose which (of those two folders) to place the email in.

Purists/theoreticians/academics might point out that just because a user-interface depicts folders, that the names of folders could be considered tags, and that internally, a system that allowed you to copy a single mail message into more than one folder wouldn't actually need to create a second copy of the message, but could instead rely on a system of folders with references to messages or something similar.

While this is true, I would argue that it requires more *work* for the end-user. Select message, copy-to-destination-folder. Select-message; copy-to-destination-folder. Compare this with the tagging recommendation system exemplified by

Ads make the Difference
In Google mail, I get to see text ads (that are "tuned" to the text in the mail message I'm viewing). However, Google has the decency to do two things: their ads are neatly coralled in box to the right of my window, and the ads are all text-based. No graphics. No flashy animation. No pop-in-front boxes that you're forced to dismiss.

To be fair, I haven't yet seen pop-in-front boxes on the new Yahoo Mail beta. But I have seen plenty of large and small graphics-based ads. They seem to be for all of the usual topics that you usually get (email-) spammed with (I wonder why that is): mortgages, check-your-credit-rating, and open-a-credit-card. Wow.

I was particularly "intrigued" (?) by a rather large graphical ad for "Nextag"... which claimed, "comparison shopping for mortgages, online-degrees, products, travel and more". First, the ad depicted a young college (?) aged woman sitting in front of a laptop... (I had difficulty believing she represented the average mortgage comparison shopper). But secondly, the list itself was puzzling. I've been watching a lot of "one of these things is not like the others" on Sesame Street with my 2-year-old son... and found several problems with this list... Comparison-shopping for online-degrees??? Talking about this improves the company's reputation how?? And I couldn't figure out what things I might buy that are not products?? But that's fine... if that's what Nextag wants... however: is that the image that Yahoo wants to portray?

I think Yahoo is missing the mark on this upgrade. Maybe I should do Yahoo a favor and stop complaining about their ads. I should close my account with them. It would be simpler and quicker.

Continue reading "Yahoo mail trying to Imitate Google Mail??"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Amazon Unbox: Avoid it like the plague

I wish more people read my blog. Because I think this is a really important issue. I am so sick of reading about DRM and the abusive intentions of the content "owners"...

Cory Doctorow has presented an incisive examination of Amazon's new digital content service called "Unbox".

I'm really totally confused... after reading Cory's article, I expected that there would be at least some sort of price break for becoming enslaved to this service... so I checked on prices for "Napolean Dynamite"... and found the DVD could be purchased from Amazon for $14.99, while the Unboxed edition would cost $17.97... (which included the dubious privilege of allowing me a high-res version viewable on a computer and a version viewable on a portable device... woohoo).

Oh... and I noticed that Unbox won't work on my Apple MacOS machines...

That's funny because I'm pretty sure you can watch all the movies you buy on Apple's iTunes Music Store on your PC... with QuickTime - which works well on both Mac's and PC's.

A quick look shows that (randomly, for instance), "Pirates of the Carribean" goes for $9.99 on iTunes, and for $13.11 as a DVD from Amazon. That seems more reasonable (at least it's cheaper, and there is no installed software consuming my "spare" CPU power that may invalidate my QuickTime file with no notice or appeal). Apple's movies are a slightly lower resolution (640 x 480) than what you might get from a DVD.

Amazon's decision to endorse this particular business model would seem to be really really really dangerous... they've spent years fighting the naysayers who said they could never be profitable, that their model couldn't work, etc. etc. and now have quite a following of loyal customers...

... and I count myself as one of them.

If it weren't for Cory's article, I probably wouldn't have read the fine print in the Unbox agreement and would have just click-signed it. Why? Well, because Amazon has always treated me well. Before this, I would have thought they implicitly agreed with Google's "do no evil" clause.

Will this policy change how people feel about Amazon? Should it? Tell your friends to beware...

I'm sure I'll continue to buy my books from Amazon... but I will certainly keep my eyes open. I like Amazon - I want them to do well. I hope they rethink their DRM business model...

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

PC Setup (part 2)

As I return to "Installing my PC" fresh from a relaxing night of sleep, I realize I have to connect to the internet and really-fast download any security updates from Microsoft, install them, and reboot my PC. And hope that I'm not attacked in the interrim.

Why am I so worried about being attacked by viruses? Because. Because I've seen how swarms of people can become unproductive for (at best) an afternoon... or sometimes days... while a company's IT department scrambles to block the virus propagation, and ultimately irradicate it.

The problem is: I don't have an IT department. It's me. If my machine goes haywire, I'm the guy who has to fix it. (Or, I suppose: call somebody to come over and fix it... which has to be even more costly in time and money).

So: I start by customizing the user accounts on my computer. I change the name of the administrator (all-powerful) account, and give it a password. I create a user-account (without administrative privileges!) and give this account a password too. Then, I visit the security settings on the machine. I turn on Windows firewall, and enable Windows updates.

My machine shipped with Norton Antivirus software installed. I contemplate running it... wait: it's already running! And: it's asking me if it can circumvent (or trump!) the Windows firewall... I think about this for a moment, and decide that long-term, I won't be running Norton antivirus... so I'm not going to enable it now.

The whole antivirus industry bothers me a bit. The industry makes money by first scaring people into believing that their computer will become a boat-anchor within minutes of being connected to the internet... unless you purchase (and install) their software. Norton is currently owned by Symantec. Here's an article reporting that Symantec says that (Microsoft Windows XP successor) "Vista" will be less stable than Windows XP. That would seem to be ok if it weren't for the notion that Symantec profits by convincing people that Windows is insecure. And maybe it is. I just don't like hearing about it from the company with $4.1 billion/yr (2005) in sales.

Ok: I'm ready. I connect to the Internet. To be fair, I should let you know that I have a hardware firewall/router between my PC and my DSL modem. That should block an enormous amount of stuff from spontaneously annoying any services running on my PC.

I've already downloaded and installed Mozilla Firefox as my preferred browser. I'm not going to (in general) use MS Internet Explorer 6 to browse the web... for a couple of reasons. One reason is, simply, that MSIE doesn't do such a good job at conforming to HTML standards. That is, it doesn't faithfully follow the "instructions" of HTML... and so I'd rather use a browser that works harder at this. A second reason is that I wholeheartedly oppose a "feature" that MSIE supports: the ability to download arbitrary "ActiveX" code and execute it in the browser. I particularly don't want this done without my consent (which I would never give... except to run MS Windows Update).

Microsoft requires the use of ActiveX plugins when you run Windows Update... which means that you must use MSIE to run Windows Update. Other browsers don't support ActiveX plugins (partially because they are 100% MS Windows-centric). So: while you're downloading and installing patches, Microsoft can take full control over your machine. There's really no reason to require this: one could implement Windows Update without requiring the use of MSIE.

And: for a similar reason, I never intend to run MS Outlook. I'll likely run Mozilla Thunderbird instead. Numerous viruses have been written to exploit Outlook's ability to run certain attachments without first asking the user for confirmation. And then, these attachments can programmatically access the user's addressbook, and send copies of themselves to other users. One might pause for a second and ask why Outlook needs to provide scripting commands powerful enough to do this damage... or why anybody would choose to use (and pay for) Outlook when there are other, better, safer, alternatives (such as Thunderbird).

Ok: so I connect to the Internet. And run Windows Update right away. There are already 37 patches available for my machine, which I download and install.

Now I'm getting close to being able to start some real work...

My next project... is to repartition my disk and install Linux...

Continue reading "PC Setup (part 2)"