Monday, December 24, 2012

Ken Segall succinctly articulates my thoughts on the Surface ad campaign

Ken Segall, over on his blog wrote a piece on the Microsoft Surface ad campaign that captures both my initial and now reaffirmed reaction to the campaign. In my opinion, the tactile "Click" sound is an anachronism in this age of touch surfaces and keyboards. When was the last time you "Clicked in" to anything? Even car doors, especially those of the luxury brands, are doing away with the click sound. Why not showcase the key differentiating features of the device? To quote Ken,
Assuming that any or all of these features are enough to do battle with the titans of tablets (iPad and Android), you might expect to see mention of them in Surface advertising.

Not really.

Instead, Microsoft has opted for the gimmick.It seems that Surface makes an audible click when you attach the keyboard/cover to the tablet. And along the way, someone decided that the click would make a nice “hook” for the campaign. That led to a launch commercial based entirely on the click.
Puneet, my partner in crime, liked the commercial because it had a catchy soundtrack and piqued her curiosity sufficiently for her to want to try one out at one of the many Microsoft stores. Sorry, I couldn't resist that bit of sarcasm. We live in New Jersey, known by many as the Mall capital of the World. Yes, even Minneapolis does not have as many malls or mall-rats as New Jersey does. In the great Bergen County of NJ that boasts 6 malls, there is only one Microsoft pop-up store. In contrast, there are about 3 Apple stores around these parts. Microsoft's retail unit does not recognize the extreme buying power of this county where most retail purchases are in cash. I have seen customers buy a new MacBook Pro in cold, hard cash. Only in Bergen County!

Back to the Microsoft campaign then. Maybe there are two (2) classes of viewers then. The kind that have flipped the bit on Microsoft and look at all of its advertising with a toxic eye. The other kind that see merit in their advertising. Ken and I are clearly in the first camp. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the second camp relies on the reviews and the perspectives that folks in the first camp tend to espouse. This my friends is the reason why no one is buying the Microsoft Surface despite its potential merits and "appealing" advertising campaign.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cute iPad Mini Commercial idea

My fiancee and I are both surprised that Apple is no longer showcasing how human connections prosper when using their devices. They did this with great success in their earlier FaceTime ad campaign. Look no further than this one for an example of what I am referring to:

Similar to these commercials, Puneet had a great idea for a new iPad Mini commercial. The storyline goes like this:
Cue a kid (4 or 5) tugging at his dad's shirt. His dad is seemingly doing something important. The focus shifts to the dad's iPad and, lo and behold, his dad is playing a video game. The tugging continues unabated - the kid wants his dad to spend time with him...

The dad reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out an iPad Mini, and hands it over to his son. The son intuitively launches the game and the two play the same game in multi-player mode on their individual devices.
Now that's what I call a holiday commercial! Apple, are you listening?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Perception is reality

I have been involved with computers and technology in some form or the other since 6th grade; now that's a long enough time for me to see trends, spot inconsistencies, and call bullshit when I see it. I have decided against calling people out in the future, starting now. Why you ask - because it hurts!

Very recently, I had an experience that made me rethink the oft-bandied concept of "perception is reality". At first I didn't believe this to be true. Then I joined Microsoft and was introduced to the notion of "stack ranks". Someone then told me about "glory coders" and "table thumpers". Slowly, but surely, I began to grasp both the importance and the pitfalls of playing the perception game. It was around then that I realized that unlike most people, I have always played catch up in the perception department.

My childhood was spent trying to figure out my place in the World. Though my upbringing was simple, my environs were quite the opposite. Bombay can be a difficult place, high school can be rough, and many a wound is inflicted on you when you cannot fend off the attack. You cannot defend yourself because you don't see the attack coming or have the faculty to ascertain the damage. Let me not belabor this point; each of us carries wounds from that time in our lives. It does underscore my point though - there was a gap between perception and reality even then.

I have spent most of my adult years bridging that gap. I thought I was finally in the black vis-a-vis the reality vs. the perception equation when everything came crashing down. I was back to where I was a few years ago - doubting myself and the very foundation on which I had built my professional life. A myriad of questions popped into my head: "Is it time to quit, again?"; "Is this the right profession for me?"; "Do I have technical depth or is it all a facade?"; I was questioning whether I knew myself at all, whether I truly was the master of my fate. As I searched for answer to these existential, and totally ego-bashing, questions, a spell of brooding ensued. My sense of self-worth was warped; days turned into nights; everything was hazy.

That's when I got a shot in the arm. Puneet and a few angels at work helped to restore some of my confidence and self-worth. The put me on the path to piecing it all back together. For that, I am in their debt. Thank you all for restoring the perception-reality equilibrium; your support means the world to me.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The future of charging Apple's portable devices

Apple Lightning Connector
A year from today, I predict that most Apple devices will be powered by Lightning! This change will allow the devices to be thinner, and more power efficient, and will further optimize their already efficient supply chain and product mix.


Friday, October 19, 2012

For want of a pricing model, the product was a flop

There are 3 simple, time-tested rules that set a company up for success in the open market:

1. Create: Create a great product with differentiated features
2. Undercut: Launch it at a competitive price point
3. Sell: Facilitate sales by eliminating all doubt from the purchasing decision

Let's evaluate the Microsoft Surface RT product against these rules:

1. Create
On the surface, the Surface is a great product. The finished product does not belie the meticulousness of its creators, and I know Microsoft has invested an unprecedented sum of money in the device's fabrication. Kudos!

2. Undercut
Alas, this is where the Surface falls flat, pun intended. The tagline is, "Click in". Yet, the base model does not come with a keyboard. The argument is you get a 32-GB device with a keyboard for the same price as a 32-GB iPad. The truth is you only get about 22-GB of space on the Surface; the operating system, like humanity, is obese without scope for remediation. It is *not* sufficient to compete with the incumbent on features alone. You have to beat the incumbent on price.

You must wonder if I have forgotten about the keyboard. I have not. The Surface has been heavily marketed with the keyboard. If the marketing sticks, people will perceive the keyboard as a necessary appendage without which the device's true potential cannot be unlocked. This relegates the base model "adopted child", "neutered pet" status, thereby hurting its adoption.
The keyboard is the albatross that will sink the Surface RT.
I predict that the base model will sell very poorly, making the first Surface model that gains any traction to be the $600, 32-GB model.

3. Sell
This brings me to the Sell piece. If I am about to spend $600 on a computer equivalent, I am going to evaluate the product using the following criteria:

a. Build Quality: The Surface comes up aces in this regard. 'Nuff said.

b. Usability: This is a relative unknown with the Surface. Windows 8 is receiving mixed reviews from its early adopters, especially on the "Familiarity and Ease of Use" scale. This augurs poorly for the Surface RT.

c. Applications: The applications ecosystem for the Surface is miniscule in size compared to the Google Play Store. I don't even want to compare it to the iOS Store because that would be useless and unfair. Reports have been released that Microsoft is paying developers to build apps for Windows 8, which is a mistake in and of itself; Charlie Kindel's articulate prose addresses the many cons of this approach. Back to applications - people are making the argument that the Surface RT can be used as a laptop. This is a dubious claim! You cannot run existing Windows applications on the Windows RT because they are designed to run on traditional Intel chips. The Surface RT is built on the same CPU technology that powers the iPad and the Google Nexus 7, among other tablets. If you want to use this device as a laptop, you will have to wait until the apps and applications that you need and love are ported over to the new architecture. This can take a long time.

d. Degree of Buyer's Remorse: Is the device worth "swiping" for at the checkout stand? Is there a competitor that will give me greater bang for my buck right now, not 2 years from now?

The Surface falls short on all but the first criterion. This increases the doubt in my mind as I am about to fork over my hard-earned $600, thereby increasing the obstacles in the path of making a Sale. I am not alone in this line of thinking.

Microsoft has a potential hit product on its hands. My advice is it replace the team that promulgated the daft marketing, pricing and sales strategy with a set of go-getters like the ones that worked on the XBox 360. Unless Microsoft does something in short order, the Surface RT will go the way of the daft dodo.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Apple and WhatsApp - the future of messaging

Monday, August 06, 2012

Apple just had a Microsoft-esque month

The last 30 days have not been kind to the vaunted fruit. It is almost as if Apple Inc. has gone to the well too often and, much to the chagrin of its followers, has finally been denied the elixir that makes it, magical! Steve Jobs had the Midas touch. He is long gone, and the fabric of Apple is coming apart at its seams.

The rumbling on the bourse - Wall Street

The situation is so bad that the final bastion of its undoubting supporters, the financial analysts, has potentially switched sides. Heretofore, Apple was every financial analyst's darling because of its blockbuster quarters and unprecedented year-on-year growth. Every financial institution either has Apple stock in its portfolio or wishes it does. Until this last earnings report.

The word on Main Street

Apple has a polarizing effect on customers - they are either die-hard fans or harsh critics of its every move and product. Technologists are critical of the technical merits of its products. Mac OSX is a watered down version of Unix; iOS is not as open and customizable as Android; the iPad does not have expandable memory or slots for peripherals. All sound familiar? All of this criticism aside, Apple device sales, revenue and profit numbers showed no signs of abating. Until this last earnings report.

The Ad Man has left the building

Apple has the largest market cap of any company in the World. It is officially the Goliath in every market in which it has a foothold. It spends an inordinate amount of money on suggestive marketing campaigns that evoke memories of yore and a desire to covet its latest creations. Until this last marketing campaign.

An oft-told tale: The fall cometh after a meteoric rise

These missteps and issues are endemic of Microsoft post Bill Gates. Is Steve's absence finally felt? What happened in the last thirty days? For starters, Steve Ballmer finally slept in peace knowing that Apple is having a Microsoft-esque month. Seriously speaking, though a number of events have culminated in the past thirty-odd days, the ball was set in motion many months ago. I have analyzed Apple's fall from grace and distilled the reasons into five words: Samsung, Genius, Earnings, EPEAT, and Karma.

1. Samsung

Both its biggest competitor and general pain-in-its-arse, Samsung has locked in battle with Apple over patents, copyright and revenue shares. The courts are involved now, and the bickering has spilled over into the technology press. For the first time, Apple has come out as the evil wrongdoer in these proceedings. From my vantage point, it has definitely lost favor with the folks straddling the fence. It is not that Samsung is without fault. The company has filled its coffers by replicating the inventions of its direct competition or the companies to which it supplies parts. Apple is seeking $2.54 Billion in damages from Samsung. It claims that Samsung copied its designs to the point where customers could not tell Samsung and Apple devices apart. What hockum! How can someone, anyone, miss the SAMSUNG in that disgusting font plastered on the front and/or back of every Samsung device?

Even if Apple wins the case, its priceless product development and analysis strategies are now available for anyone to emulate. For a company with $125 Billion in the bank, who do you think stands to lose or gain from these revelations?

2. Genius commercials

The new Genius advertising campaign has been universally panned by everyone who has a brain and an opinion. The last time people were so united in their opinion of something was, wait for it... I got nothing. Adage ran a story claiming these were Apple's worst ads yet, and that this was the beginning of the end. The riff-raff has taken over, and without Steve Jobs sifting the chaff from the corn, we are going to be subjected to more "Genius"-esque ads.

3. Earnings

Aah, the reason financial analysts are bearish on Apple. Did you hear the news: Apple missed its earnings estimates, by a lot! Who is to blame: Tim Cook? Phil Schiller? The Apple rumor mill? No, it has to be Samsung! What if Steve Jobs was alive? What if...

Truth is, every company misses earnings once in a while. The death knell will begin to ring if this performance is repeated the next quarter. The ringing will hit fever pitch if this becomes the norm rather than the exception. Honestly speaking, the product pipeline needs a refresh. Here is what I think will rejuvenate the earnings report:

1. A brand, spanking new Apple product that is not the Apple TV, which I believe will flop, badly! Forget, for a moment, the field day Samsung will have as it claims that Apple plagiarized its market leading line of televisions. Apple works on margins, and in the TV biz, none exist.

2. A new iPhone that is not more of the same, old iPhone.

3. Office for iOS. You read that correctly. There is a whole market of business and information workers that do not use an iPad. Yet. Office makes the platform legitimate and will open the flood-gates for sales of the iPad, in particular.


The sleek, new Retina-display MacBook Pro has a dirty, little secret. It cannot be recycled in compliance with EPEAT guidelines. Apple announced that the design direction of its products was no longer consistent with EPEAT guidelines. This is just conjecture, but Apple, in its recently-acquired infinite hubris, must have believed that either the EPEAT guidelines would change or that government bodies would mend the rules for Apple. WRONG. In the shit-storm that ensued, state governments took Apple of their list of product vendors. Apple had to back-track on said announcement, and re-applied for EPEAT certification.

5. Karma

Developer angst is at its highest with Apple's recent products. The cup brimmeth over with criticism, and no pillar of Apple's developer story has been spared. To wit:

1. Mac OS X Mountain Lion has been receiving truly negative press about Apple's heavy-handedness. Features have been removed, prosaic defaults have been imposed, and many do not see the value in the $20 upgrade.

2. iOS 6.0 is due for release soon, and if the Mountain Lion trend continues, some key apps that launched with the original iPhone will likely be cut. Apple's torrid relationship with Google, yes over Android and plagiarism, has already opened the door for a new Maps app. There is talk about the YouTube app being cut from the final release.

3. iCloud, Apple's next billion dollar business, has not grown out of its diapers yet. In his thoroughly detailed review of Mountain Lion, Jon Siracusa astutely identified iCloud's shortcomings and inconsistencies. Developers want a consistent mechanism to leverage iCloud. Apple would be remiss to not heed these calls for change.

4. Mac App Store is seeing defections that the iOS App Store is yet to witness. A brouhaha about the draconian policies, sandboxing requirements for 3rd party applications, and non-uniform access to system APIs has developers up in arms. This piece by Marco Arment sums up the frustrations of Mac developers and future irrelevance of the Mac App Store. Though obvious, this warrants a mention - without compelling apps, the sustained growth of the Mac platform is in serious jeopardy. Additionally, Microsoft is launching Windows 8 in a few months, but the new platform has not been very well received by the developer community. Apple needs to move quickly and court these estranged developers. The result can only sustain future growth of the Mac platform.

5. Questions about App Store security have recently tarnished Apple's reputation. A user's account was hacked by some smart engineers, but they did not revert to technology. They called in to Apple Support, leveraged their charm and social engineering skills, and gained unbridled access to an unsuspecting user's account. This account of what followed sheds light on putting all your proverbial eggs in Apple's security basket. Scary stuff!


None of these things individually amount to much. Treated as a whole, the effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The short time-frame in which these supposedly random events have occurred might be a coincidence. Or it could be a harbinger for future Apple missteps. Dark days are ahead for the iconoclastic brand. I, for one, am going to watch this space closely.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The dilemma of pricing - What should Microsoft charge for the Surface tablet?

The Zune Debacle

In another life, I worked on the Microsoft Zune. I joined the team just after the v1 launch. The team was ramping up quickly, and the decision to start from scratch had just been made. This meant a whole new manufacturing process, new software libraries, new syncing software, new *everything*. Microsoft was going to pull out all the stops - leave no proverbial stone unturned - to unseat Apple as the king of music players. The team built a great product (hardware/software/desktop), with arguably better features than the iPod/iTunes offering. But Microsoft made one mistake in the execution - it got the list price of the Zune device wrong. Each Zune was priced exactly as its equivalent iPod.

If you were into music players in about 2007-08, you know how the rest of this story unfolded. The Zune never got traction in the market, and the product was finally taken off the market in 2011. Prior to quitting Microsoft in 2008, I interviewed with the Windows Live Hotmail team. The final interview, the Product Unit Manager or General Manager of the team, asked me what I thought was the biggest mistake Microsoft made with the Zune launch. I said that they suffered from hubris, that they thought people would fork out the same amount of money for an unheralded product as they would for the mighty iPod. This answer upset him, and we got into a protracted discussion about pricing and the perception of quality. People equate a lower price point with kitsch - a product of questionable quality. A few weeks after this discussion, Microsoft dropped the price of the Zune by $20 (to $179), but it was too little too late. Needless to say, I did not get the job either. My fate, it seemed, was intricately tied to that of the Zune.

The iPad is King

Fast-forward to 2012. Microsoft is on the verge of releasing a new hardware product. It is called the Surface, and many claim that it is the first real competitor to the iPad. It looks rugged yet gorgeous, touts a number of differentiating features, and is one of the pillars of the Windows 8 story. Like 2007, there is another Apple product on the Tablet throne - the iPad. Introduced in 2010, the iPad has become the de facto tablet product today. Its appeal spans every age group on the planet - toddlers, children, teens, geeks, guys, girls, suits and grand-parents: they all love the device. A huge iPad ecosystem has materialized out of thin air. Samsung, Amazon, Google, Motorola, et al have failed to shake the device's market dominance. Most of all, no company has been able to make a profit from a 10" tablet device at the $499 price-point. Apple, on the other hand, has leveraged its lead in operational excellence and supply-chain management to eke out a measly 40% profit on each iPad sold.

The Surface pricing dilemma

The Surface is to hit the shelves on October 26, 2012. Microsoft is once again faced with a difficult decision on the device - how much should a new Surface set a customer back? Let me play out the options Microsoft has for the entry-level Surface's price:

1. > Equivalent iPad ($499): Great product; wrong price; device will fail

2. Same as equivalent iPad $499: Great product; wrong price again; device will fail.
Microsoft will be remiss to repeat the Zune mistake with the Surface. There is no way a new product can compete with the established market leader at the leader's price point.

3. Lower than equivalent iPad ($449, $399): Great product; great price; good chance to become #2 player in first year.
Microsoft will end up losing money at this price point. Additionally, this will leave its ODMs in a tough spot. Most ODMs are not cash rich to the point of booking losses. But Microsoft can and should. There is a precedent for this - the XBox 360 continued to lose money until the end of 2011 when economies of scale and technology maturation allowed the hardware costs to drop below the sales price of a new console. With more than US$ 15 Billion in the bank, this is a loss Microsoft should take in order to build a new business.

Let us see how this plays out. These are exciting times for customers!

Determining a data-center's energy efficiency score

A good read at the Data Center Journal on how the energy costs can be reduced in a data center:

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Social Economy - Why CEOs need to embrace social

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published its research on the importance of CEOs embracing "social" (emphasis mine):
MGI’s report, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, explores their potential economic impact by examining their current usage and evolving application in four commercial sectors: consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services. These technologies, which create value by improving productivity across the value chain, could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value across the four sectors.
Two-thirds of this potential value lies in improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises. The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information. Additional value can be realized through faster, more efficient, more effective collaboration, both within and between enterprises.
To summarize, use social networks to drive engagement both inside and outside your organization.

Market segmentation 101

The creator of Bidsketch wrote this piece about how market research led to a new pricing model that doubled his monthly revenue:
What industry do they belong to?
How many users do they have?
How often do they use Bidsketch?
What features do they use the most?

The next step was to have phone calls with most of the founders/CEOs on the list.

Some key questions I asked in my phone calls:

How many employees do you have and how many people use Bidsketch?
How much time does Bidsketch save you on each proposal?
How important is feature X to you/your team?
Describe your typical/ideal proposal workflow.
In order of importance:
1. Know your users
2. Understand their needs
3. Determine the right customer segments - 3 is a good number of segments
4. Target each segment in your pricing model

Extra credit - Most users don't get the difference between Basic and Advanced. Ergo, they opt for Basic, because it is cheaper. Create segments that provide an association between users and their actual profession/status.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The computer for the rest of us...

John Siracusa opines at the end of his well-written review of Mac OS Mountain Lion:
The fact is, we are not the center of the market, and haven't been for a long time. Three decades ago, the personal computer industry was built on the backs of technology enthusiasts. Every product, every ad was created to please us. No longer. Technology must now work for everyone, not just "computing enthusiasts."

But let's not forget that this is actually a victory condition: the computer for the rest of us, now realized on a much larger scale. This new thing that the Mac is becoming, its outlines slowly coming into focus in Mountain Lion, is meant to allow people who were previously intimidated by the Mac to use it to accomplish more than they could with a touch-based platform like iOS, but with similar ease.
Every HN and Slashdot reader needs to understand this. The reason iOS is so successful is the same reason that Android Jelly Bean is going to be successful - the platform is designed to be used by *everyone*. It is not aimed at the technology geek that wants to tweak everything and install patched software on it for giggles. It is designed for your mom, my mom, and their ilk.

"The hardest thing to do is say NO."

Energy saving tips for all

tl;dr: Please unplug chargers when they are not actively charging your devices. About 75% of power consumed is by "orphaned" chargers.

Logging out of Yahoo! Mail takes me to the homepage. At first, I would just close the tab before the homepage loaded. Then one day, the page loaded, and I found the scrolling pictures (and related stories) to be a good distraction from my daily activities in tech-land.

Yahoo! has invested a lot of engineering into personalizing this page based on heuristics, region, your previous clicks, etc. Yes, I mentioned Yahoo! and Engineering in the same sentence. Got over it...

This morning, a story was presented to me that is close to my heart - Conserving Energy:
We live for gadgets. But even the smallest ones can consume an enormous amount of power. See some of the worst offenders.

Game Consoles
Plasma TVs
Battery chargers
Check the power saving tips at the end of the article, and please unplug your chargers when you are not using them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sleep your way to efficiency

Great life advice over at HBR:
The lesson: Two behaviors we've devalued and sometimes even demonized — rest and renewal — have a profound impact on people's productivity at work and their satisfaction across their lives.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another nail in the Blackberry coffin

Reuters reports:
Qantas said it was replacing 1,300 company-issued Blackberrys with iPhones and the savings at the end of the program would be about A$1.4 million. IBM was also reported to be dropping RIM for iPhones for 500 employees in Australia.


"Savings will come from simplifying the infrastructure supporting the devices, from the devices themselves and from the data agreements reached with our providers."
Translation: We can't wait to get rid of the Blackberry.

It's about understanding "mobility", yaar!

Interesting analysis of the difference between mobile and mobility over on HBR:
And the same will happen in the rush to mobile if companies take a "channel" approach vs. a behavioral approach. In short, it's not about mobile as much as it is about understanding mobility.


Mobility means information, convenience, and social all served up on the go, across a variety of screen sizes and devices.

Mobility is radically different from the stationary desktop experience. In some cases, mobility is a "lean back" experience like sitting on a commuter train watching a video. In other cases it can be "lean forward" — like shopping for a gift while you take your lunch break at the park. And in many cases, it's "lean free" when your body is in motion, or you're standing in line scanning news headlines or photos from friends while you wait for your turn to be called.

Mobility trumps mobile. The difference between mobility and mobile is like the difference between hardware and software. Mobile is linked to devices — it is always one thing, wherever it is. But mobility changes with context: cultures incorporate mobile technologies differently.
I will extend that cultural metaphor further. Not only do cultures incorporate mobile technologies differently, people in the same culture use mobile technologies in unpredictably different ways.

The keys to success with mobile technologies are:
1. Weave mobility into your corporate culture. Mobility should not be an after-thought; it should be defined along with the other delivery strategies.
2. Recognize that maintaining a mobile experience will take effort.
3. Ensure that the mobile interface to your services add value for the customer.

Friday, July 06, 2012

User Interface Design and Firefox

There is an interesting article on rapid releases in Firefox over on hackernews. I posted my thoughts on the UI changes in Firefox since the 4.0 release as a comment on that story. Here is the text of the comment:
Very few user interfaces have withstood the test of time. There are notable exceptions, of course - the iOS UI, uTorrent, and the Chrome browser immediately come to mind. Other applications and operating systems have continued to evolve their user interface over 18-24 months. In some cases, the evolution is necessary for the sake of usability. Take Android for instance: The UI update in ICS dramatically enhanced usability.
In my experience, the designers of unchanged interfaces put a lot of thought into almost every interaction a user could have with their application/operating system. Armed with the use-cases, the designers invested time and effort in creating the core UI "right", and determined a seamless way to make incremental updates. Chrome and iOS are, again, perfect examples of this concept in action. Firefox, Windows (minus Metro), and earlier releases of Android - not so much.

Firefox's UI changed radically in version 4. A good number of users revolted and there was uproar about the theme refresh, but most of the users that stuck around got used to the changes. That they are changing the UI again, only 24 months after the fact, does not reflect very well on the design philosophy behind the 4.0 refresh. Lots of questions come to mind - Did the designers not do adequate research during 4.0? Was the development time-frame too short? Was 4.0 just an interim solution to what they perceived a bigger problem? Are curved tabs really better than rectangular ones? Do I get back a lot of screen real estate? Is this a case of Not-Designed-By-Me syndrome?...

I continue to use Firefox today, partially because I know my way around the application so well but mostly because I trust that Mozilla values my privacy. I do think that they go half the distance sometimes with their privacy measures - "Do Not Track" is unchecked by default, and Firefox accepts and keeps "Third Party Cookies" until they expire. In these specific cases, I understand that these are measures taken to ensure they can keep the lights on at their headquarters. With the impending changes to the UI, I will be using the app only on the basis of my trust in Mozilla. And we all know that trust is a tenuous thing to hang by...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Higg's Boson for dummies

An amazing introduction to the Higg's Boson, and why the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is important: The Higg's Boson explained

Monday, July 02, 2012

A tale of two acquisition strategies - Google vs Microsoft

Update: Vanity Fair published a piercing story on Microsoft's lost decade today.

I tweeted a realization about Microsoft and Google's acquisitions over the last few years:

Here is a comparative list in some of the key areas of competition between the two companies:

Genre: Advertising
Applied Semantics, DoubleClick, AdMeld, AdMob; Google; Status: Heavily monetized; Successful
aQuantive; Microsoft; Status: Written off; Epic Failure

Genre: Social Platforms
Pyra Labs; Google; Status: Monetized as; Successful
Groove Software; Microsoft; Status: Unclear; Mild Failure

Genre: Mobile Platforms
Android; Google; Status: Number 1 Smartphone OS in the World; Successful
Danger; Microsoft; Status: Decommissioned; Epic Failure

Genre: VoIP
Marratech, Gizmo5Google;; Status: Used in Google Talk and Google Hangout; Successful
Skype Software; Microsoft; Status: Monetization unclear; TBD

Bottom-line is my Microsoft investment is never going to reap rewards! Now had I put that money in Google or Apple, I would have retired already.

[1] List of acquisitions by Google
[2] List of acquisitions by Microsoft

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A first look at Microsoft’s new Surface tablet | Ars Technica

A first look at Microsoft’s new Surface tablet | Ars Technica:

I cannot remember when the technology press said this of a Microsoft product.
What makes Surface special is the attention to detail. The standard of the fit and finish of the prototypes on display was extremely high. The shell of the Surface is made of cast magnesium, with a vapor-deposited finish called VaporMg. The result is an attractive, scratch-resistant finish that's easy to grip and comfortable to hold.
We are ushering in a new era of Microsoft products and capabilities. The prodigal Microsoft returns?

The Microsoft Surface

Update: Vote and view poll results for whether you will buy the Surface here: Surface WSJ Poll
The Surface announcement is a massive kick in the pants to all the OEMs. It signals a tectonic shift in Microsoft’s business model and its relationships with device manufacturers. This is Microsoft's tacit acceptance that OEMs cannot build hardware that showcases the capabilities of their software platform to the fullest.

Based on the press reports, the device is not bulky, is smudge-resistant, and is super responsive. Again, these are all first impressions, but I doubt that Sinofsky will allow a sub-par device to see the light of day. I am glad that they are taking their time to do this right.

This said, here are some of my concerns:
- No pricing information
- No release timeframe: I don’t want a firm date or month, but at least give me a release quarter!

Harken back to 2007; there are a number of similarities between this announcement, right down to the buzz it created and the extreme level of secrecy, and the first iPhone announcement. That announcement turned Apple’s fortunes around and cast the company into a new light. I get a strong sense that this is the recasting of Microsoft and Ballmer’s final chance at redemption. MSFT stock is at 30.87 as of this writing. Let’s see how this plays out…

Windows Phone OEMs be warned. This announcement opens the door to a Microsoft-branded phone!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Missing Plugin: application/octet-stream using Firefox

The plugin that can play files with content-type: application/octet-stream for Firefox is the Shockwave Player from Adobe. Get it from here: Download Shockwave Flash: Adobe

The information on support sites is not really helpful.

One more time - download Shockwave for Firefox to resolve the application/octet-stream missing plugin issue in Firefox.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Blogger Interface

How can I provide a link for the story that inspired my new post? This is ridiculous; why was this functionality either obfuscated or removed from the standard posting interface?!

Android is in trouble...

:Story link:

Business Insider posted a story about how Android is in trouble. One factor they missed is the announcement from Verizon that they are going to push Windows Phone 7/8 devices this holiday season.

People might have forgotten this, but until the Droid was launched by Verizon with much fanfare, Android was a bit-player in a space dominated by iOS and Windows. This announcement from Verizon is a double-edged sword for the fledgling Microsoft Phone OS. If Windows Phone sales don't pick up significantly post this marketing push from Verizon, it would be safe to ring the death knell for the platform. The flip side is the platform will take off and become a worthy competitor to iOS.

Notice I did not mention Android in 2013. However you dice it, the fact that Verizon is shifting its focus on Windows cannot augur well for the platform. Verizon recognizes that the iPhone sells itself; it needs to be put its weight behind the second platform. Windows Phone is its new "second" platform, dethroning Android. Samsung, HTC and other Android ISVs better switch platforms if they want to stay relevant.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Constant changes to Firefox's user interface

Some of the new user interface and theme changes in Firefox are baffling. A few that come to mind that fall into this camp are: 1. New Download Manager with reduced functionality 2. Removal of site-icons in the address bar 3. Return of the "secure" padlock and removal of the clear "Identity Block" in the address bar We just went through a visual refresh with Firefox 4, which took a long time to develop. A lot of the decisions on what should go in that release were made after long discussions. Those discussions and decisions are being revisited and revised. Some of the behavior is being reverted back to pre-ff 4.0 days. Other, not so ideal, behavior is being introduced. Thinking about user interfaces some more, an application needs to be agile and respond to serious usability issues. But, it needs to stay true to its core look and feel. These changes, trivial when considered in isolation but significant when considered as a whole, impact the overall usability of Firefox. There is going to be a transition cost for these changes, and some of them violate the principle of least surprise[1]. The Australis theme refresh is a good example of the point I am trying to underscore. Was the theme refresh in 4.0 mostly a stop-gap measure? If yes, why introduce it in the first place? This constant back-and-forth points to a lack of UX and design leadership at Mozilla, which will result in more defections if not reined in. For a point of reference on how to manage changes to an application's interface without deviating too far from the original design principles, look no further than Google Chrome. It pains me to say this, but the original designers of that application had their sights set far into the future. Changes to its interface are subtle and rarely jarring. [1]: The Principle of Least Surprise

Saturday, February 25, 2012

These are some dark times

Lots of changes afoot, but I have bitten off more than I can chew. Either that or I did not plan this move to the East Coast very well. I think it is the latter, and like the Program Management book extols: "If you don't plan well, you will have to implement a number of workarounds." Hopefully the workarounds are not so many that they are my undoing.

This dark cloud will pass; it will take its toll, but it will pass. And then, I will be a stronger and better organized person for it. No other outcome makes sense...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fudging the numbers, or how AT&T does smart accounting

At Gigaom:
The 40 percent increase, in most cases, represents traffic AT&T has to absorb without collecting any incremental revenue. A customer on a 2 GB plan who increases his monthly usage from 1 GB to 1.4 GB doesn’t pay AT&T an additional dime. But a new subscriber represents an entirely new monthly revenue stream. If AT&T’s traffic grows from new subscribers, it has more money with which to add network capacity
So let's get this straight. AT&T promised 2GB to all the users that bought the 2GB plan. Now that these users have started using the data promised to them, AT&T is crying foul and complaining to the FCC about spectrum? How I read this, AT&T misrepresented its ability to service the needs of all its customers on the 2GB plan.

Hmm, let's go over the litany of promises made by AT&T to its customers:

Our nationwide network: Fail (more dead zones than Verizon)
Our nationwide 3G network: Epic fail; even metropolitan areas like NYC and Seattle don't have full 3G coverage
Our nationwide network is fast: Fail
Our nationwide network is reliable: Fail; you can have 4-bars of service with no connectivity
And now,
Our nationwide network can handle calls and data: FAIL

AT&T, keeping promises made to you, sometimes not always.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Novak beats Rafa in epic 5-set final at the Australian open

Congratulations to Novak. I have a begrudging respect for how he has overcome his inner demons, thereby allowing him to walk like a colossus among men in tennis. Unfortunately, this post is not about the winner; it is about the loser.

My heart weeps for Rafael Nadal. Though he will live to fight another day, I wonder how he can recover from this. Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco are not the same after their epic losses in the years gone by. In fact, they have faded into oblivion since their epic matches in 2009 - Wimbledon final for Andy and Australian open semi-final for Verdasco. For that matter, two of the greatest tennis players of all time could not overcome such defeats - Federer has not beaten Nadal in a grand slam since he lost the 2008 Wimbledon to him, and Bjorn Borg retired prematurely after John McEnroe beat him in the epic Wimbledon final of 1981.

So let it be with Rafael. If this is how it ends, it will be a fitting final chapter to a storied grand slam career.

Or, can he use this loss, like he used his 2007 Wimbledon loss to Federer, to realize that he can beat his nemesis? Belief is half the battle. The rest is preparation, perseverance and practice. The latter are Rafa's signature moves. He lacked the former against Novak.

I hope this isn't "all she wrote" about the man from Mallorca.

Monday, January 16, 2012

FMGG - definition

(noun) - Abbreviation for Fece Master Go-Go.
(definition) - Typically used to address a person that is either adding negative value or completely not living up to their potential.

Tebow is such an FMGG; Brady had more touchdowns than Tebow had completions in the 2011 NFL Divisional Playoffs.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The East Coast freeways SUCK!!

1. Apparently, I-95 in Pennsylvania is not I-95 in Jersey. Go figure.

2. Every freeway has multiple toll booth(s), but the quality of the roads does not reflect the exorbitant tolls charged to drive on them. Tolls between Philly and Jersey amount to about $15 one-way. Caveat driver.

3. There is no, repeat NO, public transport system that provides a practical alternative to driving. Refer #2 to understand why if you have to drive, you're almost signing up to be waylaid by the toll booths. State sponsored daylight and night-time robbery at its insidious best. I said "practical"; Amtrak is neither practical - train schedules and trip durations are from an era that passed in 1975 - nor cost-effective.

4. Did I say something about tolls yet? Another point of reference - NYC congestion tax is now $12, but the roads into the city are 10 times worse-for-driving than the 520 bridge at its worst!

5. Finally, I mean I can go on but for the purposes of brevity, you might argue that there are state roads that are not toll-ways. Right these exist; wrong if you think they are viable alternatives. Expect to drive for at least 45 minutes longer and stop at ludicrously out-of-sync stop lights if you choose state routes. And oh yeah, people can join these roads from side-rights on the right, cut you off as they take left turns into side roads, or do both at the same time with impunity.

But wait, this is the right coast. Or whatever.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Great line from a Steve Ballmer interview

Read in Bloomberg Businessweek:
They talk about fast twitch and slow twitch muscles, and I forget, long-distance runners have one and sprinters have the other,” Ballmer says. “Well, in some senses all product teams kind of need a bit of a fast twitch and a bit of a slow twitch, because there are bigger innovations that take longer and there are other things that you can do in shorter periods of time.
Bloomberg's involvement in Businessweek has turned that magazine around. Their issue dedicated to Steve Jobs a few months ago gave me goose bumps. This interview with Ballmer provides a unique insight into the mind of Ballmer. Visit the link for the full story, and start reading half-way through for the interesting bits.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Samsung is a great artist

Great point by Gruber at Daring Fireball:
If you want to defend Samsung, don’t do it by arguing that they don’t copy Apple. Go with the “good artists copy, great artists steal” argument. Argue that Samsung may be shameless but they’re not stupid; that it’s no coincidence that the Android handset maker that’s selling the most phones and growing the fastest is the one most closely mimicking Apple.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Defense contractors are fat cats

This NYTimes article opens with the statement:
The wellspring of this prosperity is not just the Defense Department’s vast payroll, nor just the fat profit margins of its contractors.
I am honestly glad that military spending is being cut over the next 10 years because heretofore, my tax dollars are lining the pockets of these purveyors of death and destruction. Defense budget reduction aside, this system of reaping profits from government contracts seems odd to me. My ideology is slightly different: For me doing anything as a citizen of a country is not about making profits. Representing the country is a noble cause, an honor even. Mixing profits with a cause so pure tarnishes its virtue.

Then again you can argue that precious little is pure in this world. Look no farther than the infractions of <insert religious body here>.