September 29, 2008

Here's an interesting interview with Jeff Hawkins about the netbook category. Implies that early rejection was due to Grognard Capture.

September 18, 2008

Interesting question : could the StackOverflow method / software (clean, reduced advertising, voting driven) be applied to medical diagnostic sites and patient discussion forums?

September 16, 2008

Mary Jo Foley on Midori, a family of stripped down, "managed code" infrastructure projects within Microsoft. Possibly the aim is to move towards the whole M$ operating system product running inside a light, portable virtual machine.
StackOverflow is genius. Two respected and popular software development bloggers putting their audiences to work to make a better mutual-aid site for programmers.

Incredibly this seems something that no-one else has done. Most places for programmers to help each other are based on pretty lousy generic discussion forum software and plastered with adverts.

Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood have rethought the whole thing and made a far far better service.

It reminds me of a post I wrote about Behance, Design Outpost, Tribe and other more specialized YASNS and markets. There's a huge largely untapped opportunity ... to take YASNS away from generic people-collecting sites and make them useful vehicles for communities to work together. In my fantasy I talked about putting diverse but complementary communities together. But StackOverflow reminds us that there's also plenty of room just to take a rather tired and ineffective genre of community site and make it a hell of a lot better.

September 15, 2008

Meanwhile, back in the cloud :

The long and the short of it is that we have entered into a new era, in which data centers will no longer simply be collections of servers, but will actually be computing units in and of themselves--often made up of similar computing units (e.g. containers) in a sort of fractal arrangement. Virtualization is key to make this happen (though server virtualization itself is not technically absolutely necessary). So are powerful management tools, policy and workflow automation, data and compute load portability, and utility-type monitoring and metering systems.
Run and read Dare (and indirectly Nick Carr)

Nick :
Google’s protean appearance is not a reflection of its core business. Rather, it stems from the vast number of complements to its core business

Dare :
So why is [Chrome] significant? It isn't because "Google Chrome is going to replace Windows" or some other such silliness. As it stands now, Google Chrome is a Windows based application whose most interesting features exist in other browsers. A Web browser cannot replace an operating system any more than an automobile can replace an Interstate highway. The significant end user innovation in Google Chrome is that it is bundled with Google Gears. This means that Google Chrome has a mechanism for delivering richer experiences to end users out of the box. Google can now use this as a carrot and a stick approach to convincing browser vendors to do what it wants. Google can make its sites work better together with Chrome + Gears (e.g. YouTube Uploader using Gears) which could lead to lost browser market share for competing browser vendors if this becomes a widespread practice among Google's offerings. Even if Google never does this, the implied threat is now out there.

Chrome will likely force Google's competitors to up their game with regards to adopting newer Web standards and features just to stay competitive. This is similar to what Google did with online mapping and Web mail, and what the Opera browser has been doing by pioneering features like "pr0n mode" and tabbed browsing. So even if Google loses because Chrome doesn't get massively popular, Google still wins because the user experience for browsing the Web has been improved. And at the end of the day, if more people are using the Web because the user experience is better across the board that's just fine for Google. The same way the fact that all online mapping experiences and Web mail experiences have improved across the board is also good for Google.

I wouldn't be as sanguine about the "replace Windows" bit as Dare is. Particularly not if I was Microsoft. Looking at Asus netbooks over the weekend I'm seeing lots of positive reviews and happiness with the Linux + browser + very cheap hardware package.

It looks to me as though we could easily be approaching, not exactly a "tipping point" (with all the notions of positive feedback that this implies), but at least a period of rapid transition, beyond which the standard or most common computing tool in our lives isn't a Windows PC running MS Office but a $200 - $300 netbook running free software. See all the PC makers playing catch up.

The standard price for this tool is way too low to charge an extra $50 - $100 for OS and Office Suite. And the browser-based email and office apps. will be fine for most users. The entire market for the traditional Microsoft software product, the generic "PC", is evaporating as we watch.
ZDNet is calling this Browser Wars 2.0 ...

I've been saying that browsers are not (and shouldn't be thought of) as a site for strategic competition. But it looks as though I may be wrong on this one.

The reason I thought that there was no room for competition there, is that I saw (and still see) standards (HTML, Javascript, CSS) rather than differentiation as dominating. There's no mileage in a slightly different HTML or scripting language.

All web-applications want to be runable on all browsers ... anything else is just suicide. And all browsers want to be able to run all applications ... and so ...

But I underestimated the part about a better experience for the users which isn't related to the browser content. Browser features such as speed, privacy, off-line caching, new UIs such as Enso-like "ubiquity". All the browser makers have demonstrated that they can create some excitement in these areas.

Also, what's becoming clearer is that "privacy modes" can disrupt the kind of cookie tracking which allows, say Google, to serve relevant adverts, which makes browser innovation in this area a direct attack on Google's revenue. (And so also makes us realize how much of an interest Google have here.)

So, I think I was still right about standards in web content (at least for the moment). But as the browser really starts to replace the desktop operating system it takes over a whole lot of other responsibilities as well. And there's clearly some room for differentiation there.
David Berlind points out the should-be-obvious (but-not-very-remarked) : Google's Chrome + Gears also wraps mobile (device swarm) operating systems.

Point 1 : the browser is the only reliable application container which runs reliably across different operating systems on phones

Point 2 : the downside of the browser is that it depends on network connection which is unreliable on mobile phones

Point 3 : Gears (which is sneaked into Chrome) solves that.

September 13, 2008

It works ... Doesn't the Apple "cool vs. nerd" already start to look rather tired and cliched after you watch the M$ ads?

September 12, 2008

Wow! New Gates and Seinfeld episode.

This is all about scrambling any perception or stereotype you might have had about M$.

Update : It is, also, of course a kind of satire on / deconstruction of the Apple ads. With Seinfeld in the place of the "cool" (Mac) guy, and Gates as the boring, nerdy (PC) guy. Except in this case, the distinction is being shown as breaking down, both are equally weird, uncool, "bad" (flawed, selfish, stupid in the way all Seinfeld characters are).

The Apple / PC dichotomy that the Mac ads push? There is no such structure in the world. There's just the nihilistic despair of the human condition. A primal chaos from which a new M$ brand can emerge.

September 09, 2008

Obasanjo's three reasons developers adopt new platforms : 1) to help them differentiate themselves, 2) to make things significantly simpler, or 3) to reach new markets. Plus he seems to add a fourth : better distribution.

For example, the platforms I've been excited about in the last couple of years : the Facebook / YASN-as-platform and Google Application Engine. The first is basically 3 (or maybe 4) while the attraction of GAE is mainly 2.

September 08, 2008

I'm still pondering whether Google's 20% time constitutes a new kind of effective R&D for them. Here's a story that Microsoft are also thinking about how to revamp (and accelerate / diversify / distribute?) their R&D.
Well, I have to come out here and say I like the Microsoft / Seinfeld ad. I think it's funny ... and non-obvious. I'm not sure where they're going, but at least in this sphere they don't seem to be trying to catch up with Apple.

Weird though that now they try to make Bill Gates a brand-mascot, now he's left.

Update : Second thought ... the total lack of any kind of real "message" (apart from "Gates wants to be seen as a fun guy and hang out with Seinfeld", obviously) may be making a virtue of necessity in that M$ don't actually have a message at the moment.

That's perhaps not a bad position to be in ... maybe the first task has to be to destroy our previous perception of M$. And that means reinventing Gates as no longer the mega-rich, evil, world-dominating manipulator behind the scenes but a lovable, fun, nerd who still buys discount shoes and jokes around in an archly subtle way. (From his performance here, Gates could actually be made into a pretty funny comic actor. Couldn't you see him cameoing in a Woody Allen movie?)

M$, if anything, are the practical, pragmatic choice of conservative IT departments. What if you could pull off the antithesis, upping the nihilism in the Microsoft ads, to make Apple (in its race to the enterprise) look the stodgy "sensible" choice, while M$ discover an entirely clean space to reinvent themselves as whatever they want to be seen as next?

September 07, 2008

John Hagel :
The next generation of the WWW may be driven by environments and tools that enhance serendipity. Companies that find ways to amplify serendipity may reap the greatest economic rewards as we all struggle to improve our return on attention.

September 06, 2008

Cringley thinks Chrome is all about the danger of Microsoft making Ad-blocking in IE sufficiently good to hurt Google.

Haque meanwhile is wearing his rose-coloured Google glasses.

September 01, 2008

So Google want to own the browser too.

It's interesting to speculate why. Of course, one possibility is that someone in the hydra-headed Googleplex just started this as their 20% project and it got released.

Or maybe it's just a defensive move to protect web-standards (a Google "complement") against the possible encroachment by proprietory RIA front-ends like Flash and Silverlight? But why not just invest in Firefox or Webkit? Is this just Google's way of doing that? Are they trying to disuade too much fragmentation between these other open-source contenders?

I still believe Internet Explorer is a total waste of time, money, energy and focus for Microsoft. Why wouldn't an "own brand" browser be similarly one for Google?

Not sure ... let's see if they do anything clever with it.

Update : Dare Obasanjo nails an important point :

Will ship with Google Gears built-in

This pushes the Gears offline caching standard (against Mozilla's own rival) and is therefore an indirect attack on the desktop as offline application platform.

Dare's bonus question :
Am I the only one that thinks that Google is beginning to fight too many wars on too many fronts.

I half agree. To me, the most interesting question about Google today is whether, through their 20% time, and their ready engagement of open internet culture, and having pots of money to spare, they've created a genuinely new, decentralized type of company structure, one which is capable of innovating more products and fighting on more fronts at the same time, than a traditional, more top-down, organization.

I'm not wholly convinced they have. But then I'm not wholly convinced they haven't, either. I'm keeping an open mind. But if we see a few more of these bets become successful and profitable, that may signal a Google which is almost unbeatable by more conventional software companies.

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