The Cure is Worse than the Disease

Nobody wants anti-virus software. It is an unfortunate necessary evil for Windows users. To that end, anti-virus software should be as transparent to the user as possible. It should simply do its job with a minimum of interruptions to the user and have as little impact to the computer’s performance as possible. It should NEVER cause problems – because that is exactly what anti-virus software is trying to prevent!

Introducing problems is the ultimate failure of anti-virus software but unfortunately it happens all too often. I’m not surprised. The very nature of anti-virus software is to place itself deep in the guts of the operating system and monitor every bit of data passing through it. Additionally, besides dealing with extraordinarily complex software, anti-virus developers are in a race to stay ahead of malware authors. Speed kills, especially when dealing with complex systems, and anti-virus programmers are moving at breakneck speed.

The recent, well-publicized, colossal blunder on the part of McAfee that rendered many users’ computers inoperable is a testament to this fact. It is entirely feasible that for many, McAfee’s software caused more pain and suffering than any virus or spyware would have! It is also a testament that the malware issue on Windows operating systems continues to escalate. As mentioned before, the desire to stop dealing with malware is one of the top reasons users are switching away from Windows. Situations like this only shine a much brighter light on the already glaring problem.

That elephant in the room continues to get larger. Pretty soon it may crowd everyone out.

The Nets are Dragging

Profits from netbook sales are lower than expected. So much so that HP and Dell are significantly reducing their investment in the “10-inch” market. HP reportedly is even considering getting out of the 10-inch business completely. Is this really a surprise when netbooks live in a cut-throat, race-to-the-bottom, low-cost market? People like to point out when certain products cost more than bottom-of-the-barrel options, but they rarely realize that certain markets can’t support themselves at razor-thin profit margins. To quote the article:

Most of the second-tier and white-box netbook vendors have already quit the market after first-tier players started cutting their netbook prices in the second half of 2009 to compete for market share.

What is also interesting is that this news comes right on the eve of the 9.7-inch iPad launch. Could HP and Dell be conceding the 10-inch market to Apple? And if they do, will the 11 or 12-inch markets matter anymore?

Technology Growth fueled by "iPad"?

According to research group IDC, technology spending will increase in 2010 as part of a global economic recovery. A major factor in this increased spending will be the growth of mobile Internet devices such as the Apple iPhone … and the Apple “iPad”?

Basically IDC is predicting that Apple will release a tablet computer, as so many rumors are predicting as well. If true, this could be another huge hit for Apple and could disrupt the technology market. So stay tuned.

But equally important for all businesses to take note is that if technology spending is up, that means that your competitors are likely improving their infrastructure. If you don’t keep up your technology, you will fall behind in the marketplace.

Head in the Clouds

A lot has been written in the last few months about “cloud computing”. Basically, cloud computing is the generic term for computing services and applications that are hosted over the Internet. They can be as simple as web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail or Gmail. Or they can be more complex and full featured services such as Google Apps, which provide on-line word processing or spreadsheet software. Other companies such as Microsoft and Apple are taking steps to offer cloud computing services and applications.

If one were to read all that was being written about cloud computing, it wouldn’t be difficult to draw the conclusion that the future of computing is in the clouds – and that future is right around the corner. However, before taking that viewpoint, I have a few things for you to consider.

The reality is that “cloud computing” isn’t really a new concept. It has existed for years in various forms and names. Companies called Application Service Providers (ASP’s for short) have been around a long time providing hosted applications. Another name for cloud computing is Software as a Service (SaaS for short). Whatever it is called, the bottom line is that your software is hosted somewhere on the Internet, and not on your own servers or computers. This can be great if you or your employees are highly mobile. As long as they have an Internet connection they can access their software and data, virtually from any computer available. However, the fact that access to applications and data is completely dependent on an Internet connection can be a huge liability. It should be pretty obvious that if your Internet connection goes down or is not reliable, then you can’t access your software and data. Or if the service you are dependent on has problems, as both Google Apps and Gmail have done this year, you are out of luck as well.

In my mind, cloud computing will have its fit with highly mobile workers and some large organizations, but it will not filter down into the mainstream or small business until Internet services become a lot more reliable or redundant Internet services become extremely cost effective. As well, not all applications, such as digital media, are yet a good fit for cloud computing. So I foresee that while that the future may indeed be at least partially in the clouds, this future is going to take some time to get here.

“Technically” Speaking, Who’s in Charge Around Here?

During the 80’s and 90’s the average user made technology decisions based on information they usually received from “the computer guy” at work. This was definitely a hold-over from the 60’s and 70’s where most technology was deployed and controlled by the “data processing” department at big businesses (“data processing” was the name that technology departments were widely called before they were called “Information Services” then “Information Technology”)

Today, most people are on their 3rd or 4th personal computer (if not 5th or 6th). Many have owned PDA devices or smartphones. They’ve played a lot of video games and have bought DVD players. The average consumer today is much more tech savvy. And instead of taking the advice from their IT department as gospel, users are now starting to dictate to the IT departments what technology they want to use. While this trend has been in motion for a long time now, IT departments are being forced at an accelerating rate to shift their roles – from being solely in control of the technology decisions – to partnering with those they serve to define the technology platforms in use at a company. The era of top-down technology management is giving way to bottom-up technology decisions. It’s a “grassroots” movement, to steal the political term du jour.

I write this now because I will be referring to this trend in future articles. Stay tuned …

Critical Windows 7 Bug Discovered

A critical Windows 7 bug has been uncovered that can cause a complete “blue screen” crash when triggered. You can read more about it at InfoWorld’s site.

The bug is triggered during the use of a disk checking utility that is part of the Windows OS. While the use of this utility is not too common by average users, it is definitely heavily used by power users and IT professionals. The real problem is that this bug may be rooted in the file system code, which is causing a great deal of worry in the IT industry. As quoted in the InfoWorld article:

The bottom line: A file system-level bug, at this late stage in the development cycle, should be considered a showstopper by most IT organizations.

A recent survey showed that only 16% of companies plan to deploy Windows 7 within a year. With the economy straining IT resources already, news like this may only serve to make companies put off Windows 7 even longer. The longer it takes for Windows 7 to gain significant traction in the business market, the longer the “Vista hangover” effect will haunt Microsoft, allowing competitors to continue to gain marketshare. Microsoft really needs to hit a home run with Windows 7, so this discovery is certainly unwelcome news to them.

Mac-berry at Last!

Hot off the virtual presses, RIM has announced that they will be releasing a Mac version of their Blackberry Desktop Manager software for the Mac in September. You can read the full announcement on the Official BlackBerry Blog.

For as long as the BlackBerry has been in the market*, the lack of Mac support has been a glaring omission. Mac users have had to resort to various 3rd party utilities to sync their BlackBerries with no support from RIM.

Two things to consider: Is RIM introducing Mac support in an effort to head off the growth of the iPhone in the ever increasing base of Mac users? And will this introduction make more businesses consider the Mac?

As more users are switching to the Mac, the lack of support for the BlackBerry could be leading to those users switching to the iPhone as well. It would be interesting to find out if RIM has any data bearing this out. By introducing Mac support, they may figure that users can keep their BlackBerries when they switch to the Mac.

In contrast, those businesses who are heavily vested in the BlackBerry platform may have been holding off on considering the Macintosh due to the lack of Mac support from RIM. Now that RIM will officially support the Mac, those businesses may now take another look at the Mac. Interestingly, I’ve read studies that show Mac users are more likely to buy an iPhone. So wouldn’t it be ironic if by supporting the Mac, RIM is opening the door for more iPhone sales?

On a related note, I wonder to what extent the complete lack of BlackBerry support (along with lukewarm support from Palm) over the years played into Apple’s decision to create the iPhone. Perhaps the moral of the story is that those tech vendors who don’t support the Mac run the risk of Apple deciding to make their own competing product.

*I have a long history with the BlackBerry. I visited the (then small) RIM production facility in Canada back in 2001 as part of an evaluation for Anheuser-Busch (where I worked at the time). This was during the time of the original BlackBerry device, which was shaped like a large pager and was an e-mail only device. However, it was very advanced for the time and in part due to the evaluation our team performed, A-B started deploying the BlackBerry across the company. When I left the company a year later, one of the hardest things I had to do was give up my BlackBerry.

Bada Bing!

I’ve seen a few of the new commercials. I think they are interesting and clever commercials until the end when they reveal what the commercial is for. The first time I saw one it certainly got my attention but I had no idea what the point of the commercial was until the very end, which is likely what they were after. Then they reveal the service and it sort of makes sense, but my question is what exactly is “search overload”? Is this a real concern for people? Or is it a solution looking for a problem? (Just in case, I started a support group for those suffering from search overload on Facebook). And I also question the idea of a “decision engine”. Honestly, I can’t say I’m often looking for a search site to make a decision for me. I’m usually searching for information, not decisions. If I am looking for information to make a decision, the decision comes after I have enough information. Does make decisions for me? If so, do I really want Microsoft making decisions for me?

Regardless, the commercials, reportedly part of a $100 million campaign, will serve the purpose of introducing the site to people and likely getting them to at least try it. The question is will be compelling enough to break people’s Google habit?

In testing the site a few times, my initial impression was that it wasn’t that much different than Google. In fact, it has a downright similar layout. The things that made different than Google seemed superfluous and a little confusing. Perhaps with a little more practice I could take advantage of Bing’s features a little better, but if the point of those features aren’t brain-dead obvious and simple to use, then people are going to miss them, ignore them, or worse be confused by them. And as they say, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. If people don’t get excited by immediately, they will likely not think again to leave their familiar search engine.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think of that annoying Janice character from Friends when they hear “bing”? Also, will it flow off the tongue to use “Bing” as a verb, as we do now with Google? I googled it – I binged it. Go google it – go bing it. I’m not sure.

Seth Godin posted an article on his blog about Microsoft trying to become the next Google. It’s a good read.

The Dark Hallway

I heard a great quote today from a newspaper sports columnist regarding the emergence of the Internet and social networking. I was in the car at the time and couldn’t write anything down. Several hours later, I sat down at my computer and typed in as much of the quote as I could remember. Google came through and I found the columnist and an article with the same quote (apparently, he’s using it a lot!). Richard Justice is the columnist’s name, he works for the Houston Chronicle

“Right now, we’re running down a dark hallway as fast as we can go. We have no idea what’s at the end of the hallway because we have to keep trying to figure it out.”

I’ve told a few people that I don’t believe there are many true experts on social networking because the rules are still being written. How can one be an expert on something that is still changing?

Ironically I have a connection to the Houston Chronicle. Years ago my first real job was at the Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper, which was and is still owned by the Hearst Corporation, who also own the Houston Chronicle. While I was at the Intelligencer, sometime in 1995 or 1996 the Hearst corporation gave a directive to all their newspapers which was something to the effect of “get online”. Of course, back then nobody really knew what that meant (eerily similar to the situation today with social networking, it seems). So all the newspapers basically just did what they could. For being a small newspaper, we at the Intelligencer did quite a bit for ourselves, and for a while we had a friendly competition with the Houston Chronicle, the other newspaper that got an early jump on the Internet.

Seeing how well the Houston Chronicle seems to be doing, perhaps the moral of the story is that the early bird gets the worm. Those who see the coming trends and get on board early will be in a better position than those who wait.

Newspapers and the News

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a segment discussing newspapers and people’s awareness of the news. The host had read an article in a newspaper stating that 18 to 25 year olds were not aware of what was going on in the world around them, perhaps due to the idea that this demographic does not read newspapers and if anything, selectively gets their news from the Internet. The radio show took 2 random callers and asked them questions about current events in the news. Both callers were very well informed about current events. When asked, neither caller said they read newspapers. Also interesting is that one caller said she never watched televised news, the other rarely. Both callers said they read most of their news on the Internet, with one caller stating she also reads it on her Blackberry.

Of course, this experiment was far from scientific, but it does point out the trend that newspapers are becoming less relevant today, at least in the actual paper form. It also shows that rather than dumbing down society, the ease of information flow that the Internet has enabled may actually make people more aware of current events. Perhaps what we will learn as society transitions to getting their information from the Internet instead of mass media is that the medium makes a difference in whether people are willing to invest their time to receive the information. Just like students who are bored with traditional classroom environments don’t learn very well, when they are presented the same information in an way they find interesting, they are much more receptive and retain the knowledge.

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