Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crispin, Porter + Bogusky hit another home run -- this time with Vista

From the guys who brought you Whopper Freakout...

How do you convince the public that Vista is a good product?

Why, you tell them it's not Vista.

Edit: I just noticed the extremely angry customer at around 7 minutes in Whopper Freakout has a "Mojave Electric" shirt on. I wonder if that's where they came up with Mojave for the code name of the next version of Windows!

One more edit... a blog post about Mojave reminded me of this classic Chris Farley skit.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where and why cloud computing will be successful in "the enterprise"

So with regards to yesterday's EC2 post, I have a few more thoughts.

Cloud computing isn't a panacea. I agree with those who think that major enterprises won't be headed there anytime soon (at least on the scale Microsoft or Amazon may be hoping for). Small startups like SmugMug have nothing to lose by going with S3. On the other end of the spectrum, it takes a long time to steer the Titanic QE II. Thing is, people at Fortune 500 companies often innovate by way of subversion, not by committee. Today's story:

After yesterday's EC2 experience, I thought I'd find out how easy it was to replicate it on my company's private "cloud" -- i.e. VMWare and several racks. Could I make an image, store it somewhere, then fire it up anytime I needed to try something out? It turned out that it wasn't that simple. The virtual host allocation process was one of regiment. I think I'll be able to get it set up, but it might be a few days because other projects might have those processors reserved, etc.

I think my company will come around to this, but IT processes in large companies are designed to be careful and slow so as not to break things. The risk enterprises run here is not being able to cater to those who need to produce on a dime. Developers -- in my case, hackers -- are the guys who realize at the drop of a hat that they need to see what Idea X can do for them. Do they scour around to try to install everything on their machine (and risk downtime on one's desktop), try to convince their IT department to let them have a virtual machine, search around for a host to take over, or do they just fire up EC2?

This is where companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, whomever, get their start in remote cloud computing for the enterprise.... individuals. I find it highly suspect when people start talking about large companies' IT departments proposing a move like this.

Monday, July 28, 2008

EC2 is awesome

Tonight I wanted to give an open source project a try, and the project is not easy to set up on Windows. Usually that's OK, I just log into a RedHat 9 box I have access to and install it on there. Well, that didn't really work out for this project, since RedHat 9 is old and missing a lot of packages. So I'd have to compile basically everything it depends on, since there are no RPMs available for RH 9 anymore for newer software.

In trying to figure out if there were any other options, I contemplated Virtual PC for a minute or two, or trying to coax an Ubuntu partition on a second machine back to life. Both of these would have taken hours, and I already blew probably 15-20 minutes on figuring out this wasn't going to fly on RH9.

Then I came across a wiki post about the project that described someone saving off an EC2 instance for people to try. After about 5 minutes of trying to find Amazon's awful Java toolset on my machine (since no Java apps come with installers on Windows), I discovered ElasticFox. It was perfect! I just entered in my EC2 login information, selected the public EC2 instance the wiki mentioned (which ElasticFox lists right there), and fired it up. A minute later I'm using the open source app! I played with it for a couple hours, downloaded a couple SVN branches to the instance to see some additional code, then shut down the instance (deleting all of the data). My total bill is $0.20. Hey, $0.20 to save all of that time dealing with crappy linux installs.

I never really had thought of this before tonight, but all open source projects should start doing this -- where applicable, i.e. non-GUI server projects like JBoss, Rails, Django, etc. It would make it so much easier to try some of this software than to look up instructions on what you need for your distro, then download all of that crap with apt-get/yum or rebuild stuff that isn't available when you have an older distro.

EC2 and S3 have gotten kind of a bad rap because spammers are using EC2 and S3 had a massive outage about a week ago. However the tech is relatively new and people are only starting to scratch the surface with them. There will be bumps. Now if we could just run Windows in an EC2 instance. Looks like Microsoft might make that work before Amazon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Apple Critic's iPhone Review

Many of my friends and co-workers were shocked to find out that I bought an iPhone, given that I've been very critical of Apple's high prices for lackluster products. Truth be told, I'm an equal opporunity critic. I can tell you how much Microsoft's -- or Motorola's, or Nokia's, Samsung, HTC, Nintendo, Sony, Linux -- products suck too.

The bottom line is that iPhone 3G is the best fit for my priorities in a device I carry with me at all times. Here are those priorities:
  1. Browse the web or run apps that use web services to get info (e.g. weather, stocks, facebook)
  2. Read and reply to emails
  3. Take calls
  4. Keep everyone's full contact info with me and sync that stuff
  5. Send SMS/IM without having to spell things out on a numeric keypad
  6. Keep my calendar with me

The reality is, most communication I have with people these days isn't over the phone. It's over IM and email. And actually, I mostly hate talking on the phone except to about 10 people in this entire world (I prefer face to face conversations, or written). That's how I arrived at these priorities.

As far as the iPod features go, I pretty much couldn't care less about that. Though the screen is a bit better on the iPhone, 16 GB won't hold all of my music anyway (around 42 GB), nor enough videos and music for a long trip. Without a subscription music service like my ZunePass, I simply don't care about iTunes music store. More on this in the Microsoft section below, and how Microsoft is blowing it.

So you may be disappointed to hear I'm not going to rail the iPhone in this review. I'm pretty happy with it. It lacks a lot of features, complaints about which you can read about in the Gizmodo comments and the like. I don't think serious smartphone users will find iPhone at all acceptable. Someone who uses a Blackberry very seriously for work, for example, will probably not find it to be feature-rich enough for them, or too slow downloading emails.

On the other hand, I commented to a friend the other day that if Steve Jobs could sell a toaster with no slots, he would -- and he'd be successful! Without consideration of price, the population prefers ease to openness, every time. So the fact the iPhone has no expandible memory, cut and paste, open platform, MMS, whatever... these are just meaningless to 99.9% of the population. The iPhone is the most perfectly closed consumer experience ever delivered in a device. If you're a typical consumer and don't know anything about what other smartphones offer, you just want a device to take to a "Genius Bar" when it breaks or the battery dies, then this is the perfect device for you and 200 million other people in this country. End of story.

Most people will like the iPhone itself. So let's take two companies that deserve to be sacked: AT&T and Microsoft.

I'll start with AT&T (aka "The Death Star"). If my #3 priority with a mobile device is to take calls, why should I care about the network quality? Verizon has a great network. I've found it to be remarkable at times where they have coverage and no one else does. Verizon has great coverage everywhere except three key places:

  • My work.
  • My mother's house.
  • My in-law's house.

And my work is covered perfectly by AT&T, since my employer has a microcell for their service in the building. So I pretty much figured I was getting mostly an upgrade in terms of time spent in locations to the performance of the network.

Kinda. Turns out I might have underestimated the importance of the VZ network. I make most of my calls in the car, and AT&T has proven to suck for that in just the first week driving on 280 and 101.

The problem isn't the GSM network. The GSM network has been fine. The problem is AT&T's 3G network. It's like navigating through a pound of Alpine Lace from the deli counter. In a single call the other day, I got 2 drops and at least 2 failed redials when trying to call back. The other night 3G dropped my call while standing still in my house. Nice.

Some cities have UMTS (aka 3G) deployed on 850mhz, like New York. 3G might work a lot better there. But for cities like San Francisco where it's deployed on 1900mhz, it just won't cut it. I was not able to get a solid 3G signal until I got to the airport. For those of you who know San Francisco, you know exactly how bad that is.

The iPhone 3G allows me to turn off the 3G network, but then what was the point of buying an iPhone 3G at all? For those of you who have an iPhone EDGE, I would recommend waiting unless you absolutely need GPS for some reason. Just upgrade your software and you'll get most of the benefits.

Now onto the biggest loser here: Microsoft.

Microsoft has all the money in the world. Seriously, they could buy most countries. They had a, what, 8 year head start with Windows Mobile (nee WinCE)? And still, Windows Mobile sucks ass. It has no streamlined, slick user interface. Put any consumer down for 5 minutes with an iPhone and any Windows Mobile phone. 9 times out of 10, they'll like the iPhone more even though:

  • It has less features than Windows Mobile
  • It has less support than Windows Mobile
  • It's less open for development
  • It doesn't run on your carrier (e.g. Verizon, Sprint)

Given that list of areas WinMo trumps iPhone, wouldn't you say Microsoft must have the worst marketers in the world? How come no one has ever lined up for a Windows Mobile phone, like, ever... in the history of mankind?

Furthermore, Microsoft is blowing any kind of chance to develop an ecosystem around their products.

My iPhone "just works" with my AppleTV and iTunes. If I'm watching a movie on the AppleTV, then I sync my movie to my iPhone, you know what happens.. it actually resumes at the place I left off! How's that for synchronicity? Simple usability features like this go completely unnoticed by Microsoft in developing their entertainment ecosystem -- i.e. Zune and Xbox 360.

The Zune's greatest strength is its subscription music. Yet from my Xbox 360 I can't access anything on the Zune store. I have to plug in my zune to play music from it on the 360, and even then i can't listen to the subscription stuff. The Zune software is great, but it's completely separate from everything else. I install Windows Media player and I still get the stupid URGE store. Microsoft is so inconsistent with all of this it's ridiculous.

Microsoft needs a healthy dose of reality for bringing all of this stuff together. They have the ability and money. Now it's time for someone with a clue about consumer products to take over the reins. J Allard is the closest thing they've ever had to this person, and maybe he's the right guy. If Microsoft comes out with a Zune phone -- and marketing wise they might want to drop the Zune name for that -- they should also drop all separation between Xbox Live, Zune, Windows Media, Media Center, and anything else media related and sell it all as one slick product to work with your Zune phone. Why does Microsoft cater to third parties like they did with Urge and PlaysForSure? Screw all that, make an amazing product in a closed system that Steve Jobs adores and maybe you'll finally get consumers on your side. Closed but easy, that's what people want and Microsoft hasn't figured out at all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

iPhone review coming

As you can tell from my MobileMess post, I can haz iphone.

I've heard that some readers are interested in my review of the iPhone. I'll be posting one later this week, after I've gotten more time with it. Expect exciting analysis of AT&T's 3G coverage and how Microsoft has screwed up badly with mobile!!!1111!!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Or "MobileMe sucks" or "MobileMe Epic Fail" -- added for googlers.

I declare mobileme officially a complete disaster.

  • Created a new calendar in mobileme, got 15 copies of it on my iPhone.
  • Can't subscribe to other people's public calendars
  • Extremely slow web interface. Just selecting a contact can take 30 seconds to update.
  • ICS cards sent to you can't be added to a calendar (also a limitation on the iPhone itself- WTF?)
  • No easy push of Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo mail. (or calendars or contacts from any of the above)
  • No importing of contacts except via sync (e.g. import from CSV file).
  • No way to sync calendar events from a particular computer to a particular calendar on your MobileMe (e.g. work computer syncs with work calendar).
  • Set up MobileMe on two computers? MobileMe constantly tells you it can't sync because the other computer is syncing. By default it's configured to do this because it will hang on a warn of replacing 5% of your data.
  • Tells you it doesn't support IE when you log in?! If you can't support 85% of the world, you're not ready for launch.
  • And hey, if you install iTunes 7.7, MobileMe is installed. Way to put confidence into every IT administrator in the world to block iTunes.
  • As mentioned by many people, push works intermittently and inconsistently. At night it's working great again, but all day would have huge delays. God help us on Monday morning.
Even if you excuse the interruption of service problems, for a pay web service, MobileMe is an epic fail. I'm considering asking for a refund, or at least complementary service until they work out the major problems.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Life Stats: Driving

Total Miles Driven last 190 days: 7186
Projected amount spent on gas this year: $2,700+

Average Speed: 37.6mph
Projected time spent in car this year: 2 weeks, 1 day, 7 hours

Cost of commuting in Soul Bucks™: $55,071.88

Note: Soul Bucks™ are computed by charging myself $150/hr for my free time. At one point, my employer charged this for my time and I thought it was a good number (that number went has high as $500/$750/$1000/hr, but that's a bit high for free time). I think this number is a good motivator to not waste time. This is why I don't pick up pennies -- the time to do it costs $0.04 in Soul Bucks™.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I should be able to click to download/buy an episode of any show in the last 10 years

And yet I can't.

I want the episode of Conan O'Brien that aired in 2005 where Conan is explaining to the audience that the guests don't get paid. Then they cut to Jeff Goldblum sipping his coffee backstage watching on TV when Conan says that. He throws his coffee cup down, trashes the craft service table, punches a nun, then stumbles out to Conan and yells "That's it O'Brien. No pay, No Goldblum." It's a classic.

Why can't I buy this clip? Why can't I even find it anywhere? I would have at least expected to find it on Youtube. Don't pirates have their Xvid encoders running on all channels 24/7?