Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Windows 7 Relevent?

With Windows release date set for October 22, there's a lot of buzz in Microsoft reseller community. I have to ask this question: is Windows 7 even relevent?
  • Many organizations have stated they have no intention of upgrading.
  • It's late to the party. In many ways the competition is defining what desktop computing is, from open source web browsers, to Apple and Linux GUI innovations (yes I said, Linux GUI innovations) to the emerging and widely popular open source and platform independent scripting languages that are rapidly becoming popular with developers and forcing Microsoft to support them.
  • Are consumers going to be leary of Windows after the debacle that was Vista?
  • What about the new low end - netbooks that turn the performance clock back to 2002 and may not have the muscle even for Win 7?
Then there's the question of winning the battle, but losing the war as computing becomes lighter and more mobile as Microsoft is in full retreat in the mobile marketplace:
  • Unix has had a big comeback between Apple products, Android powered cell phones and Linux powered servers.
I still have doubts that Windows 7 is the magic bullet for Microsoft, which seems to be a $600 Mac away from hitting a rapid decline. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wish You had a Surge Supressor?

Computers are inexpensive these days, but they are not so cheap that forgetting to protect your computer with a surge suppressor is a good idea. Take the example of the Nebraska BMV, who tried to go live yesterday with a new $2.9 Million data system that was taken offline completely by a power surge caused by a mylar balloon hitting a power line:

Mylar balloons, the kind that cost about $5, might have been the party poopers that ruined Monday's launch of the state's new multimillion-dollar driver's license system. -- Paul Hammel -

The result: the BMV went down hard and will not be back online until Wednesday. With no manual processes to back up the computers, that means that if you live in Nebraska and your license is about to expire, you are basically out of luck. It also means the vendor that leased the system to the state (and 30 others), L-1 Identity Solutions and the Nebraska department of Administration have some explaining to do. Even though they had battery backup (a UPS), they forgot to condition the power upstream from the UPS.

The moral of the story: surge suppressors are still relevant.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Google's Big Move

Google just announced an operating system for low cost netbook computers. Google's Android is poised to to take over the smart phone market (here's a look at new Android Phones you'll see by Christmas 2009). I've been working developing a few Android applications, and it's pretty clear what Google is up to.

This isn't about pushing MS out of the box. It's about getting into the application distribution business and extending the advertising business. Of all the places where MS has totally screwed up over the past few years, two stand out:
  • Microsoft missed the boat on the iTunes model for applications. Much of this has to do with MS reliance on their retail partner channel - which is about as obsolete as the corner record store.
  • MSN and MSN advertising have performed abysmally compared to Google. Mobile is a new and huge market - and Google wants in on the ground floor, a ground floor that would be fully occupied had MS done something better than Windows CE.
Enter Android's Market and whatever they call Market for the Chome operating system. Retailers sell devices, Google sells the software (splitting 30% between Google and the carrier and 70% going to the developer). It's a better deal than retail software publishers get, companies wanting to use the cell phone giveaway the device, collect on the subscription model love it, and it simplifies support dramatically by leveraging software package management technology that allows for brain dead easy installs and automatic updates.

There's even one more market to create: Ebooks, which to date Google has not entered but seems poised to do so. Netbooks make great ebook readers, as evidenced by the picture here.

So far Android has been a resounding success (18+ devices by December). Companies wishing to give away netbooks using the cell phone model are facing real problems with Windows - they get little revenue from software sales to users and have massive support headaches due to Windows XP's security issues. The combination of a free operating system, an Andorid Market like model and low support costs is a combination that distributors will not be able to ignore.

  • Here's Google's official post on the new Chrome Operating System.
  • If you want some Google Chrome screenshots, your wish is my command.
  • Yes, I think Android is going to eat the iPhone's lunch this holiday season. Too many devices (LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola, are you kidding me?) and carriers for it to fail.
  • So far as game support goes, if you are buying a netbook to play games, it's like buying a Y2K era 400 Mhz PIII machine. Gaming is really a non starter in this market so far.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three Trends Changing the way IT is Done Forever

Recently, in a discussion on a local social network, Robby Slaughter, an Indianapolis business process consultant asked why SAAS (software as a service) is not sold to the Information Technology department.  The discussion revealed that IT needs it's role reevaluated in many organizations. Why? Because business has changed.  The workforce has changed.  The law has changed.  And very little of the change favors the strong IT department model that has dominated American business since the early 1990s. Here are a few of the changes going on:

1. Better Tech Skills.  The average knowledge worker is much more computer adept than ten years ago for a number of reasons.  First, there have been no big paradigm shifts (like networking, graphical user interfaces or multimedia) in the past decade.  Second, as the least technically adept workers retire, younger and highly adept workers replace them.  And finally, people deal with real IT problems every day at home.  In case you haven't noticed a lot of the technologies that used to be business IT problems are now routine household chores - setting up a NAS, changing firewall rules, dealing with security breaches, setting up a bridged NAT and backing up huge multiple terrabytes of data are all things that people deal with at home now.

2. Webification. Applications are being made to run in browsers, from a small number of servers, reducing the need for layers and layers of complexity on the network.  Making applications web ready also makes it easier to support new platforms like smartphones.  Complexity needed to distribute desktop software applications, access distributed database apps and manage thousands of desktops with local data stores.  In other words, IT's focus is becoming providing the enterprise a safe, consistent and compatible network that allows users to access applications from inside and outside the network.

3. The law has changed.  New regulations may make handling your company's own data an open invitation to a lawsuit.  Why not shift the risk to a third party?

4. Relevance.  IT is a pure cost to a company.  Sure, like everything in business you spend money on, it has an ROI.  But what happens when you can get the same ROI anywhere, for less?  This story is playing itself out daily as people consider replacing in house applications with SAAS, or look at moving servers to internet service providers that usually offer far better service, security and bandwidth then can the internal IT department.  The issue isn't that the IT department can or can't do it - the issue is that others are so much better that the internal network, software architecture and data centers may be as obsolete as a floppy disk - and simply not relevant to your company's future planning, aside being a case for change. 

So what does all of this mean? It's time to take a look at new structures.  Should IT dominate the discussion on software? Limit access to SAAS? Nix use of third part hosting providers? Or should IT look for ways to provide a platform that lets other business unit managers leverage emerging new models for software and service delivery?

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Antivirus Is Not Enough

If you run Windows, Antivirus software is an essential part of day to day life. Recently, David Hall told BLORGE's John Popsil something that seemed directed at Microsoft's new and free antivirus product:

“If you are only relying on free antivirus to offer you protection in this modern age, you are not getting the protection you need to be able to stay clean and have a reasonable chance of avoiding identity theft,” he said. - Symantec: it’s dangerous to rely on free antivirus -

There are some very good free antivirus software packages on the market - free antivirus package AVG recently shared honors with Norton on ConsumerSearch.  For Windows users, the threats are bigger than just virus, and Hall made a very imporant point, "It means that you’ve been infected: threat has actually gotten to your machine. So, it [antivirus] is the last layer of defense that you ever want to have activated."

Hall's point is noteworthy because it recognizes that Windows threats have evolved to the point that infection and exploit may occur before any antivirus package can react.  Malware like Personal Antivirus (link to removal instructions and an entertaining description of how it works) are typically installed when you visit a compromised website that literally injects the software on to your PC through a web browser vulnerability.  Hall's company, Symantec sells the very popular Norton Antivirus and Norton Security suite, which includes components to protect users from spyware, email phishing and other non-virus attacks.

The problem is that security experts and the people that write security software may be unaware of a threat for months before anything is done about it.  This leaves users with a false sense of security.

This raisies a few important questions:
  • Have security threats evolved to the point that antivirus software provides inadequate protection?
  • Are kitchen sink security suites necessary?
  • Is Microsoft's new Defender product the answer?

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