The Virtues of Openess

Here’s an interesting post advocating open salary knowledge within a company.

There are three major reasons why salaries secret are silly:

  1. It frustrates employees because any unfairness (real or perceived) can’t be addressed directly.
  2. They’re not secret anyway. People talk, you know.
  3. It perpetuates unfair salaries which is bad for people and for the organization

Making salaries public (inside the company of course) has some major advantages:

  1. Salaries will become more fair. The system gets a chance to adjust itself.
  2. It will be easier to retain the best employees because they’re more likely to feel they’re getting a fair salary.
  3. The pressure is on the people with the high salaries to earn their keep. Everybody has to pull their weight – the higher the salary, the larger the weight.

I agree with most of the post. I think that the salary taboo is one of those things that just became conventional wisdom in the business world without evaluating the alternatives. Corporations love to err on the side of secrecy, but as more executives see that their can be some benefits to open standards. Obviously there need to be some trade secrets, but it may be better to make information open by default and evaluate the secrecy exceptions rather than the current mindset of making information closed by default.

What is especially entertaining to me having been around academia for a while is the pseudo-open salaries. In most states, the salaries of state employees that earn over a certain amount are public information. Thus, anyone can theoretically find the salary of most professors and university administrators. In practice, you usually have to go to some obscure corner of a library to find the data and, if someone does publish it widespread, people usually aren’t too happy about it. Back at Clemson, one of the student newspapers had an annual issue where they’d publish the data.

An interesting tool we have hear in Illinois is this website where you can find the salaries for virtually all K-12 teachers and administrators in the state. I’m sure parents love using this tool :).

And finally, on the subject of openness, check out this article about how some proprietary data formats are allowing software companies to withhold patient data from doctors unless they renew their software.

Intracare is the publisher of a popular practice management system called Dr. Notes. When some doctors balked at a drastic increase in their annual software lease, they were cut off from accessing their own patients’ information.

This is always something I think about before I start using software and I lean almost exclusively towards non-proprietary formats for my data (or, practically non-proprietary formats in the case of my relatively simple Microsoft Office data given the advent of Open Office). This is one reason I use Excel for all our budget data instead of Quicken, for example. In the case of iTunes, you can already see the problems that Apple’s proprietary music causes by not allowing users to play their purchased music on any hardware other than an iPod. One day a lot of people are just going to be out of luck when they decide the iPod isn’t the best music player anymore.

Sony’s Downward Spiral

Fresh off their rootkit debacle from last fall, Sony seems to be missing on all cylinders with the upcoming Playstation 3. The PS3 has such low expectations that if it doesn’t blow up when you plug it in, it will be hailed as a major success. Here’s a good article about Sony’s love of proprietary departments, their repeated failures, and the implications for Blue-ray.

Obsessed with owning proprietary formats, Sony keeps picking fights. It keeps losing. And yet it keeps coming back for more, convinced that all it needs to do is push a bigger stack of chips to the center of the table. If Blu-ray fails, it will be the biggest home-electronics failure since Betamax. If it drags PlayStation 3 down with it, it will be one of the biggest corporate blunders of our time.

A Bad Week for the MPAA/RIAA

First, allofmp3.com, the popular Russian site that sells non-DRM’d songs for about a tenth of iTunes’ price, gets an article in both CNN and the NY Times. That’s some pretty good advertising for the site.

tiananmen_square.jpg

I guess the MPAA/RIAA lobby is trying to keep Russia out of the WTO as long as the site stays operational. There is a certain irony that China can enter the WTO despite using Tienanmen Square students and Falun Gong practioners for target practice, yet the US will fight tooth and nail to keep Russia out because of a website that lets you download Britney Spears music.

pirate_bay.jpg

Then, the world’s largest Bittorrent tracker, The Pirate Bay, gets taken offline by Swedish authorities….only to come back up online four days later by moving operations and file backups to the Netherlands, Russia, and Ukraine. Wow, their enforcement powers are underwhelming to say the least. Target a site for a year only to have it come back up four days after you take it down.

Finally, BusinessWeek publishes an article entitled The DVD War Against Consumers that highlights some of the exciting features you can look for in the new high def DVD players to make them less consumer friendly. This includes, among other things, the ability for Sony to ruin you DVD player remotely if they’re unable to adequately secure their own system. That’s right…if Sony’s security protocols are shoddy and someone breaks them, then their idea of taking responsibilty includes destroying all their players worldwide.

HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is a DRM system invented by Intel that attempts to control video and audio as it flows out of a player and onto a display. In other words, if the player is connected to a monitor without the right cables, the quality of the image will be deliberately degraded.

Blu-ray, however, goes beyond the AACS, incorporating two other protection mechanisms: The ROM Mark is a cryptographic element overlaid on a “legitimate” disk. If the player doesn’t detect the mark, then it won’t play the disc.

If a particular brand of player is cryptographically “compromised,” the studio can remotely disable all of the affected players. In other words, if some hacker halfway across the globe cracks Sony’s software, Sony can shut down my DVD player across the Net.

Coding 2.0

Replacement office chair suppliers in the Redmond area must be smiling today. Today, Google announced the release of the Google Web Toolkit which allows you to write code in Java and convert it into AJAX that can run in any browser as a web application. To me, this is a potentially huge development that could represent a turning point in software.

In theory, writing web pages and apps should be write once, run anywhere since open standards have been defined. However, if you’ve ever tried something as simple as using style sheets, you know that practice is a completely different story. Every browser has its own little quirks and none are 100% standards compliant. Thus, something as trivial as specifying how many pixels a text area on your page should be can become a huge ordeal.

I’ve never learned AJAX, but I can imagine that it’s orders of magnitude more complex than style sheets. One of the main advantages of AJAX is it allows you to create dynamic web pages that don’t need reloaded every time the content changes. If you’ve ever used GMail, Google Maps, or Yahoo!’s new mail or map applications, then you’ve seen AJAX in action. It’s one of the current building blocks for the web applications that you see popping up everywhere.

So, in a way the current state of web app development is like desktop app development used to be when you had to write everything in a low level language (e.g., assembly). Anytime you wanted to run the code on a slightly different architecture, you’d have to a non-trivial amount of time figuring out the quirks of the new platform to get your code to run. Eventually, we got really good compilers so most developers only have to work in high-level languages (e.g., C, C++, Java) without worrying about the gory details of the underlying hardware. Similarly, web app developers today have to spend a lot of time hammering out the rather unpleasant details of how to write web code that will work on any browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari) rather than concentrating on higher level code.

Enter the Google Web Toolkit. This lets you write code in Java, a language that any computer science student should know, and they provide the “compiler” that translates this high level code to something that can be used as a web app by all the major browsers.

So, why would Microsoft not be too keen on this latest tool by Google? Well, it provides a major incentive for application development to move out of Microsoft’s territory (the desktop) into Google’s territory (the Internet). I think this is Google’s goal: to enable the web as the predominant application development platform. Anything that encourages users to create content that Google can more easily index. After all, that’s their business…organizing content effectively.

As a developer, it makes a lot of sense to release web-based applications. For one thing, there’s no installation necessary by the user. And, patches and upgrades are trivial since they’re done behind the scenes without the user ever knowing. The main disadvantages are that you have to be online to use them and there’s not exactly a tried and true business model for them yet.

But fundamentally, Google is opening up a divergence with Microsoft in this arena. Whereas MS would like to beat developers over the head with their .NET and Visual Studio sticks to force them to use their platform, Google wants to make it as easy as possible to create content accessible to any platform since indexing that content is their business. For Google, they don’t care how you create your content as long as it’s presented such that they (and competing search engines) can index it. By contrast, Microsoft’s mantra is “We do care about how you create your content and strive to make it in a manner that locks you into our products” (think Office). You can see that (1) Google is breaking Microsoft’s business model, (2) users are trending towards the Google model, and (3) Microsoft doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do about it.

As mentioned in a previous post, maybe Microsoft’s best bet is to focus on becoming the OS and browser leader in a new market of thin clients. No matter how web-based stuff gets, you’re always going to need locally installed software to access the web applications (at least for the foreseeable future) and MS is well-poised to be the leader in that market. Or, they could just drop the OS, office, and browser markets all together and focus all their efforts into the gaming market since XBox and XBox Live seem to be about the only positive the giants from Redmond have going for them these days.

Google and Small Business

Here’s some interesting insights about the business models of Google and Microsoft by Robert X. Cringley.

Here’s the most important key to Google’s success: Most Google advertisers don’t advertise ANYWHERE else. Its mainly small and medium sized companies whose advertisements the average person would NEVER have seen before the Internet. Google is making a ton of money from people who never advertised before. Heck, Google is making a ton of money from people who never were even in business before. This is not only a fundamental change in how advertising is done; it is a fundamental change in how BUSINESS is done.

I’m counting on Google and eBay to save America.

If Microsoft really wanted to compete — if they really wanted (or even knew how) to truly defend their turf, here is what they would do. They would throw away Vista and develop a new operating system, one that is simpler, lighter, and more secure — an OS that would run on any machine now running Windows 2000 or XP. They would price it right, which is to say cheap ($49.95). The associated and trimmed-down version of Office would be priced the same ($49.95). The upgrade market is probably five times bigger than the OEM PC market, so Microsoft needs (but probably doesn’t realize it) an OS that will run well on most of the PC installed base. It needs to set the pricing of the OS so that we’ll run to the store to get it. Instead of designing products exclusively for new equipment, now it’s time for Microsoft to focus on the installed base.

The whole article is worth a read as it points out some perceived flaws in Apple, IBM, and Google’s business models as well. It will be interesting to see if a small, minimal function operating system garners a critical mass of users in the near future if the thin client model of Web 2.0 is indeed the way of the future.

From the “Cool Things I Didn’t Know Existed” Department

A friend from Korea told me that Korean airlines offer WiFi in-flight on their flights to/from America. He said the cost is about $30/flight and the bitrate is about 1-2 Mbps. Evidently, the connectivity is good too. Plus, they have plug-ins for each seat so you can work on your laptop the entire trip. I had no idea that some airlines offered such a service nowadays.

Random Tidbits from the Web

  • Amidst the MySpace hysteria, Congress proposes banning access to the site from libraries and schools. Isn’t telling teenagers “No” the most effective way of ensuring that they will do the activity? In other news, I think I’ll change my career track to be a “MySpace Pedophile Bounty Hunter”. Seems like that’s the hottest career there is right now…if your business card says that you can pretty much write your own paycheck I’ll bet.
  • The search engine business gets all middle school with Yahoo pimp slapping Microsoft: “My impartial advice to Microsoft is that you have no chance. The search business has been formed”.
  • A list of the top 50 most visited domains. Sadly mattandleighann.com hasn’t cracked the list yet. I’ll bet we were number 51 though. 🙂
  • You’d better stop working on your hyperspace teleporation device and stick to your day job. John St. Clair of Puerto Rico already owns the US patent on the technology. In other news, the US Patent Office loses its last shred of credibility.
  • George W. Bush gets pwned by Bill Clinton in a poll of Americans. Even in Bush’s most popular signature issue, taxes, Clinton out polls him by 51% to 35%! You know it’s not good when more people think Bill Clinton is more honest than you. With a 29% approval rating in hand, I think it’s safe to say that, short of catching Osama Bin Laden, this president’s never going to be anywhere near a 50% approval again.

The CEO Work Day

I found this article absolutely fascinating.

It has people like Bill Gates and other CEOs essentially walk you through their work day. Of particular interest to me was the way people use email. Basically for the two tech people (Gates and the Google VP) and two law people (the law firm partner and Posner from Univ. of Chicago) it’s integral in how they operate pretty much from the minute they awake to when they sleep. Everyone else pretty much avoids it like the plague with the exception of the HarperCollins CEO who seems to use it constantly.

I was also struck by how the two tech people use relatively simple tools for a large portion of their work…email and, for the Google VP, a text file of priority and delegated tasks.

Overall, it does seem that pretty much everyone is working about 18 hour days with the exception of a couple of hours that they may intentionally devote to something like yoga, working out, or spending time with family (though I think only one, the Nissan CEO, mentioned this last one explicitly).

I’d be interested to hear any comments ya’ll may have in response to this article. What were some of the things that struck you about their work styles?

The Beginning of Crash 2.0

According to BusinessWeek, Facebook turned down $750 million because they want $2 billion.

Facebook, the Web site where students around the world socialize and swap information, has put itself on the block, BusinessWeek Online has learned. The owners of the privately held company have turned down a $750 million offer and hope to fetch as much as $2 billion in a sale, senior industry executives familiar with the matter say.

Web 2.0 seems to be officially overheating. If someone pays $2 billion for Facebook, is there anyway they’ll ever get a make a profit within, say, a decade? What is the business model that generates profits on this purchase? There’s no way you’ll come close to make that with a purely ad-based model. Facebook already has ads, so it doesn’t make sense that they’d sell it for a price that they thought was equivalent to what they’re already making on ads. Yea, you get a connection to a few million college and high school kids. But you could buy that data from direct marketing for a lot cheaper. You could build a website that gets a lot of college-age visitors for a lot less than $2 billion. Why you would pay $2 billion for Facebook I don’t understand.

It’s becoming frighteningly close to being like the end of the dot com boom. Back in the day when people were paying obscene amounts of money for companies with no sustainable revenue stream that just had a mega “cool” factor. Now, social networking, AJAX, and Web 2.0 are the buzzwords that are the foundation for sites and companies that are hoping to get bought up before someone realizes they’re cool, but not a good business model.

As an example, I heard (via TWiT) that Yahoo! is regretting their purchase of Flickr. Flickr is mega expensive in terms of bandwidth and Yahoo! can’t figure out a way to make much money on the deal. You can’t really close or limit access without making a huge population of users mad and taking a rather unpleasant PR hit.

The bubble pops when a few more companies figure out that these companies may be cool but aren’t that great for generating money. Only so much money can be made by placing ads on a heavily viewed site (plus, you have to pay the owner significantly more money than they’re already making on ad revenue). Charging a subscription for a previously free site seems like a losing proposition as then someone else will just come along and build a comparable free site again. Am I missing an obvious reason to pay $2 billion for Facebook and the like?

The BBC on DRM

The BBC has an article about DRM. Money quote:

Yet, there seems to be a belief that rigorous enforcement of technological restrictions, backed up by the ruthless application of draconian laws that allow the replacement of copyright with contract law and criminalise activities which used to be considered legal – or acceptable even when not clearly legal – will enhance the market, keep customers coming back for more and ensure the future success of the “content industries”.

Somehow, I doubt that this will be the outcome.

Here’s just some of my random thoughts on DRM. (1) Is it really fair that people can get sued for 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars for downloading songs? Is grabbing something off Bittorrent really a reason to put someone in financial ruin? (2) As long as you tell people here’s a template of how we expect you to use our software, someone is always going to find a way to hack around it. (3) The more DRM you add, the less usable your product becomes. (4) The less usable your product becomes, the more people will find alternative methods of getting more usable (read non-DRM’d) products. (5) In 20 years, do these companies really thing DRM will preserve their antiquated economic system or that, like text publishers, successful content distributors will have found a new business model?

MPAA/RIAA: Let People Die, Just Don’t Let Them Circumvent DRM

Pop quiz: What’s more important:

A. Protecting people’s lives
B. Protecting critical infrastructure
C. Thwarting terrorists
D. A, B, and C
E. Making sure users don’t circumvent the copy protection on the latest Britney Spears song that they bought

If you answered E, you probably have a bright career ahead of you working for the MPAA or RIAA. A request was made to the US Copyright Office to allow an exemption for the removal of DRM systems that “employ access control measures which threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives.” The MPAA/RIAA, of course, opposes this. Their retort is that this would greatly hinder their ability to deploy DRM that threatens critical infrastructure and endangers lives.

You read that right. They’re worried that there might be “serious doubt” about whether their future DRM access control systems are covered by these exemptions, and they think the doubt “would be even more severe” if the “exemption would turn on whether access controls ‘threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives’.”

Yikes.

One would have thought they’d make awfully sure that a DRM measure didn’t threaten critical infrastructure or endanger lives, before they deployed that measure. But apparently they want to keep open the option of deploying DRM even when there are severe doubts about whether it threatens critical infrastructure and potentially endangers lives.

Cory Doctorow Interview

Here’s a nice, short interview with Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing fame about copyright and the Internet.

I mean, the plan that the industry has is basically to come up with a world where all digital devices have to be approved, all analogue devices have to recognise watermarks, and the internet as we know it is torn down and replaced with a place where you can be disconnected from the internet in 5 minutes flat by merely having an accusation of copyright infringement levelled against you. That’s the proposal underlay at WIPO. That’s a terrible world to live in.

Even if you leave aside all the copyright issues, the outcome of the scenario that’s really bad is that it breaks the most important communication tool we’ve ever devised in order to protect the tiny, unimportant, cushy racketeering business model of the content industry.

The White House Gets Pwned By Google

In court papers, Google calls the Bush Administration’s search data request “so uninformed as to be nonsensical”

“The very fact that the Government is so uninformed about the value of search and URL information and so dismissive of Google’s interest in protecting it speaks volumes about why the Court should protect Google from this compelled disclosure,” the company wrote.

I think you gotta give Google the benefit of the doubt over an administration whose Defense and Homeland secretaries don’t even use email. Wasn’t there a time when being a conservative meant be suspicious of centralized power?

Confirmed: The RIAA/MPAA has a Collective Intelligence Equivalent to a Group of Retarded Chimps

Do you enjoy technology such as the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod? The People’s Republic of Neanderthals (a.k.a. Hollywood or “Big Content”) has reached in their bag of tricks to try to make sure that never again will such evil innovations rear their ugly heads. Enter the “Digital Content Protection Act of 2006” just introduced in the US Senate by Gordon Smith (R-Hollywood). From the EFF:

You say you want the power to time-shift and space-shift TV and radio? You say you want tomorrow’s innovators to invent new TV and radio gizmos you haven’t thought of yet, the same way the pioneers behind the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod did?

Well, that’s not what the entertainment industry has in mind. According to them, here’s all tomorrow’s innovators should be allowed to offer you:

“customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.”

Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.

Here’s some excellent insight from Boing Boing about just how idiotic this is from a technological standpoint and how incredibly anti-free market (ironically from a Republican…the party that used to at least make believe that they supported free markets) this power grab by Big Content is:

The entertainment companies are convinced that their businesses depend on copy-proof bits. This is ridiculous: there’s no such thing, there never will be.

Governments that try to protect businesses that demand copy-proof bits are like governments that try to protect businesses on the sides of volcanoes, who demand an immediate end to business-disrupting lava.

….

Killing mainframes didn’t kill computers: it made them better. IBM was forced to get into the minicomputer business, which led to the personal computer.

If computer industry complaints got the same attention as the entertainment crybabies get from lawmakers, there’d be 10,000 computers total in the world, running punchcards, with three companies making modest sums servicing them and shipping a new model every three years.

Hollywood’s crybaby capitalists accuse us of being “communists” with one breath, and in the next, they go begging to Congress to turn the FCC into device czars who keep the market from being disrupted by innovation.

Andy Setos, the Fox executive who invented the Broadcast Flag, once told me that his objective was “a well-mannered marketplace.” The entertainment industry’s version of a planned economy is bad policy.

Ah yes, back to the good old day of Soviet-style centralized economic planning. I’ve just finished reading Bruce Schneier’s Secrets and Lies (which is recommended as an excellent overview of computer security for general readers if you’re interested). In the book, he talks about how companies try to compensate when they’re incompetent in their digital security. He uses Big Content as the textbook example. Rather than spending time to develop good security solutions to their problems, they’ve decided to lobby to create laws to compensate for their incompetence that have the end effect of attempting to put a lockdown on technological innovation.

It’s worth noting that this law is only ostensibly about piracy. It will do absolutely nothing to stop East Asian businesses built around piracy. What it will do is stifle innovations that would benefit US consumers. It will make it harder for US consumers to watch their legally purchased content on their legally purchased devices (to my knowledge, there isn’t even a way to legally transfer my DVDs to my iPod). But the crux of the matter is this will solidify Big Content’s grasp on an archaic economic system on which they’re at the top of the food chain. As this Ars Technica editorial puts it:

So, if you were planning to launch a startup and make millions off the coming digital broadcast media revolution by inventing the next iPod or by combining digital radio with Web 2.0 and VoIP and Skype and RSS and WiFi mesh networks, then forget about it. When digital broadcast nirvana finally arrives, the only people who’ll be legally authorized to make money off of music and movies are the middlemen at the RIAA and the MPAA.

Goodness knows they’re not out to benefit users as a Canadian politician in the pocket of Big Content accidentally revealed by referring to her opponents as “pro-user zealots”. That’s right, by simple logic, we can deduce that supporters of Big Content’s power grab are anti-user zealots.

What can you do? Well, for starters, the EFF has a nice form letter that you can fill out which will automatically be emailed to your Senators. If you like a world with VCRs, TiVos, and iPods and would like to see technological innovations along these lines to continue, I’d recommend filling it out.

But form letters only have so much power. Hit them where it hurts. Download your music from the Russian website Allofmp3.com. It’s legal (see here, here, here, and here). You can buy most songs there for around 10 cents instead of a dollar by cutting out the RIAA and DRM overhead. They have pretty much every CD available. You get the music without any DRM and can even choose your format and quality and have the music file generated on the fly. You can go through Paypal via Xrost, so there’s no concerns about the security of your credit cards. Unfortunately, there’s no way to directly get money to the artists. I guess this is just a casualty of the RIAA’s short-sightedness. If there was a way I could pay 20 cents per song and have that extra 10 cents go to the artist (equalling their iTunes profit), I would gladly do so. But of course, the RIAA would never allow the artists to get money in a way that cuts them out as a middle man.

All of this makes me wonder: what would happen if we lived in this scorched earth, apocalyptic scenario where the RIAA and MPAA ceases to exist? You know, the one where consumers and artists get to transact directly. The one where we don’t have a systematic Big Content marketing campaign to tell us what music and movies are “good”. The one where an artist’s work can become public domain once they die rather than using copyrights as a cash cow for the industry. One where a public domain actually exists (the US’s public domain was effectively killed off by the 1998 passage of theSonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and the subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court upholding it as Constitutional). The one where people could purchase content and devices and move their content freely. The one where consumers aren’t treated like criminals. Man, good thing we have the RIAA and MPAA to save us from this!

Note: You have to be a resident of either Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii , Massachusetts, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, or West Virginia to use the EFF’s form letter (based on which Senators are currently assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee).

Dreamhost Promo Code

If you’re looking for web hosting, we use DreamHost, which gives you 20 GB of storage. Now they’re doing a referral program where you get $97 for every new person that you refer. However, you’re given the option of giving a portion of that $97 to the person being referred. So, I set up a referral code that gives all of the $97 back to the person being referred (you can Google for other such codes, but some give less that $97 back to you).

The code is MATTANDLEIGHANN.

So, that means if you sign up for one year of hosting which is normally $10/month ($120/year), you can get it for about $23 for the year (less than $2/month). This includes the domain name. If you’re looking to start a blog, they have an automated WordPress install. If you’re looking to upload your photos online, they have an automated install of Gallery 2.

Let the Google Bashing Begin!

Is Google bashing the new black for 2006? Signs point to yes after their underwhelming showing at CES. First, there was Google Video that took it on the chin:

“This is a truly historical meeting of the established and new media,” said Les Moonves, the head of CBS, about his network’s new video partnership with Google. Um, no, Les. So far, it’s just a really crap web site.

If, like us, you expected the new and improved Google Video service to rival something like Apple’s iTunes store, then do yourself a favor and don’t visit the Google shop for a few months. Google has done nothing to celebrate its unique access to shows such as CSI, Survivor and Star Trek. Instead, the company has buried CBS’s shows beneath a dismal interface wrapped in a shambles of a delivery mechanism.

And then there was Google Pack that failed to impress:

Google’s decision to launch a desktop software bundle has left many industry observers underwhelmed and confused about the company’s long-term strategy.

David Bradshaw, a principal analyst at Ovum, said on Monday that he was unimpressed by the product.

“I’m a bit underwhelmed with Google Pack — it seems like a ragtag package of software,” said Bradshaw. “I’m not sure what they’re trying to achieve with this.”

James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk agreed that the way Google has packaged the software is of limited use.

“Google Pack is not an integrated software suite. It’s just a bunch of stuff that Google’s wrapped a rubber band around,” he said. “They could have done a better job with this.”

Governor also disagreed with Google’s statement that it has picked the best applications, claiming that “Real Player is not many people’s favourite”.

Software consultant and tech blogger Jim Mathies was even more critical of Google Pack. “This initial version of Google Pack is an embarrassment to the company. It’s just a mess,” he said in his blog on Monday.

I think Google Pack might have been all right if they hadn’t included Norton Antivirus. There’s two great free antivirus programs out there that could have been included instead: avast! Antivirus and AVG Antivirus.

Other people were upset about Real Player being included. But, when you think about it, a media player is kind of an essential for new computers and the only other two realistic options are Quicktime and Windows Media Player…both competitors’ products. I really think Real Player was their only option for inclusion in the pack.

By the way, I have a “Matt Pack” of sorts listed on my other web page. It has some of the third party software (mostly free!) that we use and links to download them. Some of them are kind of special purpose that most users wouldn’t need (e.g., Gallery Remote, Ghostscript, the ISO Power Tool, VIM). Also, I’d probably use Trillian instead of AOL Instant Messenger, except that Leigh Ann’s our primary IM user and she likes AIM’s interface better. Feel free to leave comments about any other software that you recommend.

Where’s Google Going With Their Advertising Next?

Robert X. Cringley speculates on where Google is going with their entry into video:

So what are the data center trailers for? Well, right now, everyone in the country watching “American Idol” sees the identical commercials at the same time, except for two ads at every half-hour mark, which are inserted by the local station. So the state-of-the-art in TV ad granularity is buying only a million people, instead of a hundred million. This is how it’s been done since David Sarnoff cobbled together the first radio network. It’s very primitive, but no one’s really noticed since TV advertising is still incredibly profitable. And it’s profitable despite the fact that VIRTUALLY EVERY TV AD IS WASTED ON PEOPLE WHO AREN’T REAL PROSPECTS. The entire programming chain is profitable DESPITE the fact that practically the entire audience is freeloading.

Suddenly, everybody can (and, really, must) advertise on TV, because it’ll be so specific…and so dynamic. If you start shopping for a new WiFi access point in the morning, Google will know, and that night when you watch Two and a Half Men, your ads will be from D-Link, Linksys and Belkin. And, further, they’ll know that an intelligent buyer lives at your IP, so your ads won’t show you a hot model demonstrating how they’re plug-and-play, but will instead feature a quick recommendation from the SveaSoft guy about which AP’s the best one for hotrodding.

You’re puttering in your home office around 6pm when you hear your wife call out from the living room where she’s watching CNN. She says she’d rather not cook tonight — how about going out for Italian and a movie? You Google movie showtimes and restaurants, print out a list of what’s playing, and a map to Antonio’s, and walk out into the living room just as Wolf Blitzer is throwing to commercial…

Guess what the commercials are? Yep — nothing but movie and local restaurant ads, with special “code words” to give at the box office and restaurant for steep discounts, good that night only. And it seems a new Italian place just opened up in town, and their commercial is hammering away at a recent review they got that said that they’re so much better than that cheesy Antonio’s dump it’s not even funny. And it’s half-off for new customers, tonight only!

Google OS?

Totally crazy speculation from the LA Times, right?

Google will unveil its own low-price personal computer or other device that connects to the Internet.

Sources say Google has been in negotiations with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., among other retailers, to sell a Google PC. The machine would run an operating system created by Google, not Microsoft’s Windows, which is one reason it would be so cheap — perhaps as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

Bear Stearns analysts speculated in a research report last month that consumers would soon see something called “Google Cubes” — a small hardware box that could allow users to move songs, videos and other digital files between their computers and TV sets.

Alexa and Snow Crash

Having thought some about the new Alexa service that is being offered where anyone can search their 100 TB of data for a modest fee, it made me think of one of the concepts from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (Amazon link). If you haven’t read it and enjoy sci-fi that makes you think, I’d highly recommend it (Stephenson lived in Champaign-Urbana for six years growing up!).

One of the minor ideas in the book is that there’s basically this huge repository of data, so big that many things are pretty much impossible to find. People make a living off of scavenging through the data to try to find a new bit of info that had been lost and sell it to the highest bidder. Could the Alexa model eventually lead to something similar where people somehow make money by finding information that no one else could?