Monday, February 02, 2009

Choosing a venue

What is it with tech people? For the fourth time this month I've been to a totally inappropriate venue for an industry function.

The strangest thing is how organisers keep picking expensive, fashionable bars. All of this is fine if the organisers are paying. However it's a usually a pay bar so it's the guests who pay for the organiser's bad choices.

Sometimes the organisers stump up some cash. One event I went to a few weeks back the organisers stuck $500 in the pot.

Because they chose one of the most expensive in town the tab ran out in less than half an hour, leaving guests presented with fat bills for their beers.

The one I went to tonight was a doozy. Not only did they choose an expensive bar, but it had no draught or cheap beer. Expensive imports only.

But the kicker was the bar was a disused bank vault. Perfect for demonstrating wireless broadband applications.

You've gotta wonder.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Julie Amero disgrace ends

Rick Green of the Hartford Courant reports Julie Amero pleaded guilty to a reduced charge to settle the matter against her.

Everyone involved in bringing these charges against should hang their heads in shame.

The people of Connecticut should also be very concerned about the calibre of the people running the state's schools.

What is probably the most disappointing of this entire disgrace is how a poorly trained teacher was victimised by the people trusted to protect her and her pupils.

It's instructive that no other charges have been laid against her superiors who were responsible for the pornography getting on the computers in the first place.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Google Chrome

I'm typing this on Google Chrome, their new web browser. 

So far, so good except for it crashing the first time I opened it.

We'll see how this goes over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another UK data blunder

I'm truly amazed at the latest UK data blunder where a second hand server was sold on eBay containing over a million banking records.

What is it with the UK and computer records? The Guardian has a list of NINE major blunders in the last twelve month.

Now it is possible that UK corporations are a bit more open about the problem than their overseas counterparts, but I somehow doubt it.

The big lesson from this particular debacle is that you have to wipe your computers before selling them on eBay or giving them away to your friends.

One big trap is returning computers to leasing companies as Paul McCartney found a few years back. You need to totally wipe any important data before returning the computer to the bank or finance company.

A free program I like for doing this is the Heidi Eraser program. It's a relatively easy to use tool that wipes free space on the drive or the entire drive should you so desire.

We have instructions on using it on our IT Queries website.

If this is too hard, then we have our own service where a tech can do this for. Most other IT services companies can do it too.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Commander appoints administrators

On my Australian Technology Blog I commented about the problems of Commander Communications last January. I thought they were doomed at the time and said so.

Today they appointed official receivers for the business.

In the last month we've seen the collapse of the Bill Express empire as well which has been well documented in Mark Fletcher's Newsagency Blog.

The sad thing is both of these businesses had great propositions; Bill Express' network of newsagents and Commander's taking over of the old Telstra small business systems were fantastic assets.

I suspect in both cases the problem was easy money. While the tide was rising bad managers could make bad decisions and get away with it because there were always willing lenders and investors to cover the costs of those mistakes.

Now the tide is running out and money is tighter we see those business suffering.

In the tech sector, companies like Commander and Bill Express are the just the beginning. There's a lot more that are going to be found wanting.

The good managers should be looking at their costs and funding right now. If their business units are not making a profit then it's time to ask some serious questions.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Apple resellers are not learning

With the new Apple store open in Sydney it's amazing the existing Apple resellers are still messing around their customers.

In an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald Dan Kaufman describes his saga of transferring data from an old Windows system to a Mac.

Now transferring data to a new computer can be fiddly. I spent 4 hours doing what was a straight forward copy from an XP system to a Vista box last week.

Copying between Windows and Macs can be even more tricky, as Dan found with the rigmarole of importing Outlook data into Thunderbird, then copying the mailboxes to the Mac and finally importing them into Mac Mail.

Fiddly, time consuming and irritating but doable. If things go well.

When things go wrong, it can get ugly. In Dan's case his Mac Mail refused to work.

This should have been a relatively easy fix but instead his local Apple reseller turned it into a refund issue, first telling him he could return it and then telling him tough luck.

All along, a knowledgeable tech could have identified the problem and resolved it quickly.

It really surprises me Mac resellers haven't lifted their game since the opening of the Apple store.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Grisoft's link scanning mistake

It's funny how anti virus companies seem to lose the plot so comprehensively. Over the years we've seen this with Norton, McAffee and now Grisoft, the makers of AVG.

AVG Free has been a favorite of ours. I've recommended it to thousands of people and happily used it myself.

But the Link Scanner function has upset a lot of people. For users it can slow web pages down. Australian web surfers have an additional problem in that it can boost traffic and take some users over their download limits and hit them with big bills.

For webmasters, the problem's even worse. It means websites can be tied up by excess traffic and messes up their access logs.

To compound the problem, AVG's response is pretty arrogant. Sure you can't make an omlette without breaking eggs, but this is an egg fight in the kitchen.

I've posted a fix for the problem on our IT Queries site, but it's an irritating issue.

This is a serious PR problem for Grisoft and they need to swallow their pride and put out an update that modifies the link scanning feature before they damage their brand any further.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sydney's new Apple Store

Sydney's new Apple store is impressive. A year back I wondered how the existing Apple resellers will survive when it opens.

My view now is they won't. The level of service is several steps above what they offer and it's difficult to see how they can compete.

Interestingly, I also thought Bondi's Academy Mac reseller would probably survive the Apple store onslaught. Sadly, it didn't make it to the opening.

The real challenge now is to the other brands. This flagship store really makes raises the bar for the other vendors. It's going to be interesting to watch how this develops.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

OECD finds spyware

It's great to see the OECD is on the ball.

Ten years after spyware started appearing and eight years after it started reaching epidemic proportions, the OECD calls for greater co-operation across the various international communities addressing malware.

To call this shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted is an understatement.

The OECD are suggesting it might be good idea to check the stable door after the horse has vanished over the horizon.

It's unfair to pick on the OECD though, government inaction has been notable throughout the whole spyware debacle. You can only wonder how much of the whole sordid business would have been stopped had governments spent a fraction of the effort they've spent criminalising copyright infringements.

What really surprises me is the claim 25% of US computers are infected with malware. This strikes me as high and I suspect the real number is around 10% with half of those serious infections.

Where I do agree with the OECD is the criminal element has taken over from the backyard script kiddie. This is more reason for governments to start acting.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The first sound of web 3.0

Is web 2.0 coming to an end? This morning I see the first mention of web 3.0.

Ther real question is how the end game is going to play out for web 2.0. My guess is the credit crunch means funding will dry up for the freesphere and a lot of business that didn't add value won't survive.

Interestingly, Fred Wilson had a comment about this a few days ago.

My guess is we are coming to the end of the web 2.0 mania, so preparing for the next wave is a good idea.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mac Office

I've been writing a review of Office 2008 for the Mac for SmartCompany over the weekend. While I'll spare the details of the review for their site, one thing that did leap out at me is the better integration of the Mac version over the Windows version.

Microsoft's Mac business unit seems to get this right in a way Microsoft's other divisions often don't.

Another thing I note is there are only three versions of Office for the Mac as opposed to the ridiculous seven on the Windows version.

It's funny that Microsoft seem to be doing a better job on other people's operating systems than on their own. I'd love to see what they could do with an Office for Linux product.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The curse of the free revisited

The Freesphere has been bugging me for a long time. For the technology and publishing industries it's a major challenge to see how we are going to make money out of the services people are increasingly expecting to get for free.

Fred Wilson has a challenging blog entry on his VC blog on how it can work, he also links back to Chris Anderson's latest entry in Wired.

The fallacy in all of this thinking is that free is not the entire business model. Fred himself admits in his blog comments that of the businesses he's invested in "none use it as a primary business model but many use it as a part of their business model".

Chris confuses things in his Wired piece by comparing the Freesphere with the razor blade business model where the razor is sold cheaply, or given away, and the money made on the blades.

That business model is valid and works, but it's not comparable with the current free mentality on the Internet: You might be giving away the razor for free but your customers are getting their blades from the guy up the road whose business model is the exact opposite of yours.

In fact, Chris even touches on why the Freesphere model fails by mentioning how King Gillette was unsuccessful selling his razors below cost to the Army and banks in the hope soldiers and customers would like the product and be prepared to pay for it.

That's exactly the model many of today's free services use without success. We see Yahoo! fighting for independence, the New York Times laying off hundreds and even Google's share price fell today on fears the ad revenue that underpins the free services is threatened.

The simple fact is Milton Friedman was right; there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone, somewhere pays.

Until now it's been willing investors that have picked up the tab. If in the new era of scarce and risk adverse capital we find investors are no longer prepared to pay for providing this free stuff, then a lot of people are going to have to get used to paying for things again.

Giving away products for free can be good marketing, and there's nothing new there, but simply giving everything away for free isn't the recipe for a successful business.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

email ettiquette

It's funny how we get a stupid email story almost every 12 months.

The last big one was fourteen months ago with the Kiwi event manager that called a prospective customer’s wedding “cheap, nasty and tacky”

This week we get a Brisbane restaurant that dismissed a customer's comments with a "Your are an idiot we don't want your feedback."

It's bad enough it made the Brisbane newspapers but it also made the Consumerist website. This really is publicity you cannot buy for all the wrong reasons.

Once again, the moral is "think before you send."

Monday, February 18, 2008

IT Wire jumps the shark

Jumping the shark refers to the Happy Days episode where in a desperate attempt to boost flagging ratings a waterskiing Fonz jumped over a shark.

It's quite clear Alex Zaharov-Reutt and IT Wire are doing the same thing with their "Mac invulnerability bubble to pop in 2008?" article.

Apart from the fact the story's based on no objective evidence whatsoever, relying on a press release written around a user poll conducted by an anti-virus company that even the authors admit "is not scientific", this article is simply nothing but Digg bait.

I could give Sophos a serve too for peddling this hype, but I'm simply sick of ranting about the tactics of the peddlers of Windows security software.

It's understandable Alex would try to drive traffic to his blog with this sort of inflammatory tripe given the revenue sharing basis ITWire writers have with the publisher.

That might help Alex's bank account today but he should remember that in the long term the only currency any of us writers have is credibility. Posting junk like this doesn't help his or IT Wire's.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Simply Selling

Computer retailers and vendors have to simplify their product lines and marketing. It's too complex for the average buyer.

Our radio show a few weeks back had quite a few callers distressed at the difficulty to buy a computer. Then an article crossed my path that mentioned business owners and managers are struggling with the same thing.

I found how hard this was first hand over the weekend when I looked at tablet computer options for a client. It's simply amazing how difficult vendors make it to research this stuff.

A special mention in these stakes has to go to Toshiba. Don't get me wrong, I like Toshiba laptops and their warranty is the best on the market. However their website and product code numbering is simply brain damaged and leaves one rushing to Dell or Lenovo.

Retailers, service providers and vendors make it too hard for buyers. Not only are there too many options, but they are dressed up in arcane terms. All they do is confuse shoppers.

It's tempting to go back to the Henry Ford line of any colour as long as it's black. Apple almost do this, for instance the Macbook Air comes in two basic models but even they lose the plot as we see with the five hundred flavours of iPod.

The industry needs to go back to basics and focus on what the consumer wants; simplicity. Believe it or not, they would actually sell more product.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Web 2.0 blues

One of the problems I see with web 2.0 apps is the requirement for them to be "always on". System hiccups are simply not an option.

Today we see outages with Blackberries, Gmail and Salesforce. No doubt thousands of users of all these services have had a frustrating day.

If web 2.0 is really going to revolutionize business applications as its boosters claim, then we'll need the services to be far more reliable.

Trend Micro joins the AV hall of shame

If you needed an example of why you shouldn't trust computer reviews, I stumbled on this gem in Australian IT this morning.

The reason it raises my ire is that I was at client's site last night where a spyware scan came up with ten separate spyware infections, including oldies like Cool Web Search and 180 Search Assistant.

That client was running an up to date, fully patched Trend Micro 2007 security suite.

Roland Tellzen, the AustralianIT writer, gives a computer security suite that doesn't detect the most common spyware a 75% mark because;

"Installation is clean and straightforward. It took less than 10 minutes to install and activate, and the user customisation screens are well-designed and user-friendly."

All fair reasons, except the thing doesn't do what it's supposed to.

I guess it's no surprise we learn today that Trend Micro is suing ClamAV for alleged patent infringement, it's so much easier to sue people than do hard work like release products that actually work.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

HP is a joke

Two hours to install a printer?


Vista service pack 1

Microsoft have released service pack 1 for manufacture which means we'll start seeing this on the shelves in the next few weeks.

The download center won't have it available for six weeks so we won't be seeing it on client computers for a while. This is a handy gap for us techs to get our heads around the changes before it's unleashed on the general public.

The next three months will be the make or break time for Vista; this service pack has to deliver the performance improvements if Vista is to shake the slur of being the "new Windows ME".

For the moment, we'd recommend holding off Vista even with the service pack until we've had an opportunity to evaluate the changes and identify potential problems.

More on our PC Rescue website.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Internet Explorer strikes again

The Active X flaw in Facebook and Myspace is another example of why you should not use Internet Explorer for day to day websurfing. Once again we see why using Firefox or Opera is essential for safe computing.

Another issue raised by this bug is that people are too quick to install Facebook apps, not to mention how much junk appears on the typical 13 year old's MySpace page.

The only thing that really surprises me is this doesn't more often.

If you are using Facebook or Myspace, avoid using Internet Explorer.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

An admission of failure: Microsoft's bid for Yahoo!

Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Yahoo! will only end in failure. In fact, this proposal is an admission of failure.

One of the things that's often baffled me about the business world is how one struggling company will buy out another to create a bigger struggling company. The AOL and Time-Warner merger is the poster child for this.

In this case, Yahoo! is on the decline. Their publisher network is a joke while their search and directory functions have long been eclipsed by Google. The only two things that Yahoo! does well is Flickr and Yahoo! Mail.

So the only real asset Microsoft gets is Flickr and given Microsoft's abysmal track record in integrating acquisitions we can't be sure they would be able to use it properly.

The real problem is Microsoft see the future as being online but they don't know how to get there; they simply don't do online functions well. In search, Microsoft have always struggled even in their own products, let alone with net searching.

As a response to their struggles with Google, Yahoo! have 61 products. This "range bloat" is one reason why Yahoo!'s management is struggling. Integrating this lot into Microsoft would be a nightmare and Long Zhen lists 23 that Yahoo! has in common with Microsoft.

Microsoft too have challenges with range bloat. In their flagship products; Office and Windows, there are too many versions that take too long to come to market and arrive buggy.

Rather than spend 44 bn on a declining company, Microsoft would be far better to look for the next Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Put some bets on some promising start ups being run by smart young guys.

This offer by Microsoft is really an admission of failure. Steve Ballmer and the rest of the Microsoft management have admitted they have run out of ideas and rather than take the option of developing new ideas they are just going to throw money at tired old failures.

It suits me however, I'm not a Microsoft shareholder and more competition between advertisers means better deals for us web publishers and bloggers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pointless trials

I had a play with the trial edition of Webcentral's Promotions Manager as a substitute for our current cranky and unreliable newsletter system.

Very quickly I hit the limits of the trial; specifically the limit of ten recipients per email.

That's a plain stupid limit. You cannot test a bulk emailing program with a limit of ten users. It's like taking a car for a test drive but being unable to take it out of the driveway. Sending ten emails is very different to sending five thousand.

WebCentral and other vendors need to understand that crippleware like this is a waste of time. If you aren't going to let the customer trial the full product in real circumstances, then you may as well not bother.

As it stands this trial version is useless. It's simply not worth bothering with. It's a classic example of bean-counting managers not understanding their market.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Frustrated with DMOZ

The Open Source Directory project is a great idea, but it needs more transparency.

DMOZ is a free, not for profit version of Yahoo! and Alta Vista. Inclusion in it helps a web site's rating on web searches. It's considered important to getting high listings on your website.

The problem with DMOZ is the process of adding a site seems to be arbitrary and totally opaque; submitters have no idea if the site has been reviewed or declined. All you can do is wait and see if your site appears in the directory.

Today I submitted the PC Rescue site for the twelfth time in ten years by my count (it may actually be more). Not once have I succeeded.

I've tried different categories in case I've chosen the wrong section and different wordings in case the editors thought my descriptions were inadequate. The response has always been the same; nothing.

Lest I be accused of spamming DMOZ, the submissions have been months, if not years apart.

Yet strangely, IT Queries appeared of it's own accord. All I can assume is a DMOZ editor
stumbled on it and thought it was suitable for inclusion.

I have a lot of sympathy for the DMOZ volunteers. Their workload must be huge and the backlogs in some categories must be horrible.

But I think DMOZ can improve things by more being transparent. Giving a little bit of feedback on whether the site has been evaluated and the reasons if rejected would make the job easier for everybody. It would also defuse a lot of the criticisms DMOZ receives.

As I said at the beginning I'm at a loss to see how to get PC Rescue into DMOZ. So from last month, I've decided to resubmit my application every six weeks. Perhaps this might eventually get some response.

My apologies to the hard working editors if I'm making the work load worse, but I don't see any other way of dealing with it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Which is BS? Productivity or John Dvorak

On ZDNet John Dvorak tells us productivity gains are BS.

John's point seems to be that fact the receptionist is filing her nails it means her productivity can't be improved.

Doris on reception or Bruce in Accounts may only do four hours productive work a day, the idea is we make those four hours more productive.

Today's office is far more productive than the office of twenty years ago; computers, broadband Internet, colour printers and mobile phones mean today's office worker can do in ten minutes that would have taken weeks in even the biggest corporation.

I love it when people tell us the days of the abacus, slide rule or carbon paper were easier. My advice to them is to try it.

Lack of innovation

Are many of the problems too many product ranges, a lack of innovation or too much reliance on planned obsolescence?

An article in Baseline Magazine caught my eye this week about GMs decline and suggesting that Apple is going the same way.

Basing Apple's decline on reports that Microsoft's poorly named and badly executed Zune has outsold the iPod is a bit flakey in my view. But there are some good points in this argument about innovation and it's role in keeping businesses and economies vibrant and growing.

While I agree Apple's strategy with rolling out too many versions of the iPod is confusing , even I have trouble keeping track of what iPod does what, and perhaps Apple's motives are a bit cynical, Apple are actually the poster child for innovation.

The real battle here isn't innovation; it's about quality. Apple and Toyota are perceived as putting out higher quality products than GM and Microsoft.

Because customers believe the quality is better, they are prepared to pay more for it.

Innovation is essential to keep ahead of the pack, particularly in markets like consumer electronics and motor vehicles where's a bunch of low cost commodity manufacturers are constantly snapping at your ankles, but it's quality that is essential to grabbing the high margin customers.

In the case of GM, I'd argue they've failed on counts; in Microsoft's case many innovations haven't added much value and their quality, particularly in the last two versions of Windows, has been dire.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mac shipments up

Well, it looks like my eyes didn't deceive me; Mac sales are up. It's barely surprising, given how badly Microsoft have dropped the ball with Vista and just how badly PC retailers are bodging the sales process up.

How long can the Freesphere survive?

Following up my post on the curse of the free, Alex Isgold of the Read Write Web blog raises similar concerns.

Alex's points are quite right and I agree with most of them, where I disagree is that teens are to blame for this; this is a far deeper, more entrenched mentality that goes back to the roots of the PC and the homebrew hobbyists.

The comments in reply to Alex's post are instructive for the mentality they reveal, the bulk of comments are on the side that all is free and all is good. These show the how deep this belief is.

One comment that sprung out to me though was Hank Williams' comment about this actually being an intellectual property issue. While I think it's bigger than this, he has a very good point that people are ignoring or just have contempt for intellectual property.

Personally I think the IP system is broken and in disrepute. This is largely the fault of the incompetence of the US Patents Office and large corporations abusing legal process. It's part of the picture, but not the whole story.

Regardless of what is the cause, the fact is everybody needs to paid for at least some of their work and that is ultimately why the Freesphere cannot survive.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The top of Web 2.0

If we needed any evidence of the dot com 2 boom being at it's top it's this article in the New York Times.

It's not that plenty of fish's founder, Markus Frind, is making a killing with the web site, I admire him and wish the best.

What I think indicates we're at the top of the market is the fact his advertisers are paying affiliate commissions of 100%. That is just plain silly and clearly unsustainable.

Markus' business model illustrates the point of my curse of the free post a while back; Plenty of Fish is popular because it is free and is profitable because it gets free labour. If Markus had to pay the 120 volunteers who vet photos for the site, that 10 million suddenly looks pretty ordinary.

Anyway, the real gains for people like Markus haven't been in the turnover of the business, it's been in selling the business to big operators. I wonder if that business model too may be coming to the end given the recession talk we are now hearing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

trusting people

I've read a few of Bruce Schneier's articles in the past and I'll certainly defer to him on specific matters of security.

However I have to disagree with his steal this wi-fi article.

Quite simply, Bruce is wrong on not securing his wireless network. He alludes to it himself,

I know people who rarely lock their front door, who drive in the rain (and, while using a cellphone) and who talk to strangers.

His first point sums up the problem. In an ideal world we could leave our doors open and trust our neighbours and passers by.

Sadly, in today's modern world you can't always trust your neighbours and passers by. Just as some of them will steal your DVD and laptop, some of them do want use your Internet connection for bad deeds.

One of the main reasons why hackers and criminals spend so much time developing malware is so they can steal bandwidth and spoof IP addresses. Being able to use someone else's connection is incredibly useful to the bad guys.

Leaving your wireless network open only makes the job easier. In fact, it probably encourages people without the skills or work ethics of the serious hackers.

The part of Bruce's article distresses me the most though, is his comment about being prosecuted for something done from an Internet connection as being "far fetched".

Bruce lives in the same land as Julie Amero. Her case alone proves in US that the combination of an incompetent cop, a gung-ho prosecutor, a lazy judge, a clueless defense attorney and jury of morons is more than enough to get someone convicted of serious crimes.

But the risk of prosecution isn't the problem, an investigation alone is a costly, stressful exercise. Just being investigated for child porn or cybercrime offenses may be enough to destroy marriages and careers.

Having your computers confiscated for weeks as investigation goes on would cost people like Bruce and myself a lot of money.

Bruce's opinion in Beyond Fear, that security is actually a series of trade offs, is quite right. In this case though I think Bruce has the trade off wrong; the convenience of being able to access free Wi-Fi does not justify the substantial risk of bad guys piggy backing on your Internet connection.

The moral is quite clear. Protect your wireless network.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Weathering the storm

The talk of the United States going into recession really focuses the mind on how this is going to affect the IT industry.

Greg Linden in his Geeking with Greg blog has a very good take on some of the effects on the industry. I particularly like his view that the 2001 dot com crash was part of the reason for the spyware explosion.

Personally though, I think Greg is understating the effects of a full blown recession. I suspect the VCs are going to find their cash reserves largely aren't there and the "Google dollars" that have funded much of the dot com 2.0 splurge will either be greatly devalued or turn out to be ephemeral.

As we've found in previous downturns, when homes and businesses fall on hard times the first thing that gets cut is IT spending. It doesn't matter if we're talking about household luxuries like iPods or business necessities; it all gets cut.

This means problems for everyone in the industry.

For the smaller computer tech, there's two big effects; first your customers stop spending money and, second, thousands of new businesses start up as unemployed programmers, web designers and even carpenters who "know something about computers" setup their own tech support businesses.

This puts the local support guy in a squeeze his income's cut as customers stop buying or calling, customers become more price concious and the competition is going to get much, much more intense.

A storm is coming and all small business owners need to be trimming their sails, but proprietors of IT related businesses really need to be reviewing their costs and operations and looking at just what they currently have stashed away.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The curse of the free

One of the toughest problems for IT businesses is the fact computer users, both consumers and small businesses, expect many products and services for free. This makes it difficult for anyone trying to make a living in the IT industry.

A recent question on our IT Queries site is a good example. A lady asked what free programs she can use to remove popups.

You can see the problem here. The customer asks a free advice site for a free program to fix the problems caused by her grandkids looking for free music.

Now I'm not criticising this lady, she's just doing what millions of computer and Internet users do every day.

Of course, this is nothing new, even Bill Gates found himself dealing with this thirty years ago.

Nick Carr wrote in the Guardian a few days back about the Internet increasing inequity and hollowing out the middle classes. I'm not sure this is the case, I suspect it's the free mentality that makes it harder for the smaller operators and contractors make a living.

For the moment, the big boys prosper and some of that money trickles down to those they take over. But I'd suggest the big boy's business models are just as unsustainable as the little guy. What's kept these businesses going were surging stock markets, forgiving investors and cheap money.

Now the party in the stock and money markets is over it will be interesting to see how this pans out for the industry. My guess is some of the bigger players will suffer just as much as the little guys have.

In the long term the free mentality has to change; because there's no way IT workers can earn a living if customers expect everything for free.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The reformat kiss-off

One of the things that really gets me cranky is the "reformat your computer" solution to software problems. A question we have on our IT queries website is from a gentleman who has been told he should reformat his computer to reinstall Pinnacle.

What a load of rubbish! The thing with this blind "reformat your computer" advice is that it's the IT equivalent of a doctor telling you to "take two asprins and call me in the morning".

The difference is the two asprins are relatively harmless while a reformat can result in hours of work, frustration and lost data.

Put simply, reformats are the last resort and usually are only necessary for fixing major spyware infections.

In this case, it's the classic example of an incompetent computer tech fobbing someone off with some nonsense.

A competent computer tech should be able to resolve this problem with a few hours work. The problem though is clients often don't want to pay for that work.

Which is probably why so many incompetent techs survive and even prosper; they may not be good but they are cheap.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The dangers of upgrading your website

It's always risky updating your website as you never know what will break. I changed the layout of my IT Queries site a week back and promptly messed up the ads and Google Analytics.

So it's with sympathy I note the problems on the Newsagent's blog, particularly with posting comments and linking to posts.

This is why the PC Rescue site looks so bloody awful. I designed it in 1999 (if design is the right word) and I'm loathe to change it because of the risk of breaking it.

I know the site would work a lot better in a blog format, but the thought of getting the design right, the inevitable teething problems and the time and effort importing the old posts into the new system gives me a headache.

Still, editing posts in Notepad gives me a headache too, so I'm working on it.

Getting your store right

One thing I noticed when I went to Myers to look at the Eee PC was the difference between the PC and Apple departments.

The PC sections were dingy and unimaginative while the Mac areas were lively and well lit.

More importantly the Apple staff were bright, cheery and helpful while the PC staff gave the impression they'd rather be in working in the menswear section.

It can't be understated how important presentable, friendly and knowledgeable customer service is in the consumer sector. As we constantly see in the newsagent blog, service is important for small purchases such a magazines, but it's even more important for big ticket items like computers.

Another strike against the Eee PC was the Chatswood Myer store keeps theirs under glass; there's no opportunity to play with it or see how well it works.

It's another reason why I think Asus made a mistake choosing Myer. If they were serious, they should have insisted on properly trained staff, separate areas and distinct branding. Just like Apple do.

Ten reasons why are Macs hot right now

One thing that's jumped out at me over the Christmas break is how hot the Apple Mac currently is.

I noticed this first hand when I popped into Myer to have a look at the EeePC, there was a reasonable number of people looking at the Asus device, but the real crowds were in the Apple section. The PC section was very quiet indeed.

The experience of Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider over Christmas indicates this was a world wide phenomenon.

Added to this Amazon claim the Mac was their hottest selling computer up to Christmas.

It's interesting how the Mac's regaining ground. The question is why and how. I suspect there's a number of reasons.
  1. The iPod and iPhone: These devices have exposed millions of users to Mac products who simply wouldn't have bothered otherwise.
  2. Reduced prices: The switch to Intel chips has reduced the price of systems. While they are still pricier than similarly specced PCs, the price difference isn't the issue it once was.
  3. Viruses and spyware: People are sick of this garbage. Families don't want their kids infesting machines with offensive and damaging malware.
  4. The failure of Vista: Microsoft have bungled the roll out of Vista. It's a major turn off for consumers but the alternative in the Windows world is the malware prone XP.
  5. Boot camp: The ability to start into Windows gives switchers an exit. If they aren't happy with the Mac OS, they can always go back without having wasted a couple of thousand dollars.
  6. Increased use of web applications: One of the big objections to the Mac was being unable to run Windows based applications. With the rise of web based apps, this argument loses ground.
  7. Ease of use: The difference between Windows and the Mac has reduced over the years, particularly since the improved GUI of Windows 95, but the Mac still has the edge. Put simply, most things work on the Mac.
  8. Good design: Apple's designs look and work better.
  9. Good engineering: This is reflected in points seven and eight. The Mac is better put together than most PCs, this means things work better.
  10. Better marketing: I hated the Mac versus PC ads and still do, despite the odd triumph (the bloated PC skit). But the marketing is more than the ads; the packaging looks good, the stores look good and the resellers look better.
All up, Apple are just offering a far better experience for both consumers and power users. All of that said, their market share is still a fraction of that held by Windows.

Personally, I doubt they will ever overtake Windows in the PC market place. However this is not such a bad thing.

The big risk in computing is getting stuck in the commodity end of the market. Dell made that mistake as did HP, Packard-Bell and Gateway. It ends up eroding your margins and trashing your reputation.

Apple haven't gone there and it doesn't look like they will.

This means better margins for Apple and better computers for the customers who are prepared to pay a few bucks more.

It's a pretty good story for Apple. No wonder their shares are up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Artificial shortages

Like many others, I swallowed the line that the Eee PC was completely sold out.

Apparently not. The Sydney CBD Myer store had a sign announcing a limit of four per customer.

So supplies can't be too short if there's only four per customer.

Making an artificial shortage of stock is one of Steve Job's old tricks. By restricting supply, it only makes the product more desired. This also worked for Cabbage Tree Dolls.

Looking at my fellow gawkers, it seemed to me most of the interest for the Eee PC was with techie and tinkering types. The mums and dads seemed more interested in the Apple section.

I still reckon Linux was a mistake for Asus.