Friday, March 31, 2006

Bose is a brand consumers trust the most?

It was only a few days ago I ranted about Bose selling top-dollar systems on their marketing prowess alone. Someone at Bose decided at some point that spending money on marketing is a lot more efficient than spending money on product development. So what you end up is a cheap speaker system that's worth the money you paid for it just for that "Bose" sticker. Most people knowing all the facts would think that this type of scheme can't last that long and that eventually people will catch on and the brand will tank. Well, those people should think again!

Bose was just selected as one of the top brands consumers trust the most. The air is thick with irony: consumers trust Bose more than almost any other brand, despite the overwhelming evidence that they're being taken for a ride. This really sends wrong signals to the industry as a whole - building a brand is not just more important than investing in your product, but you don't need to work on your product at all, just spend all that money on some top notch marketing types and let them conjure it up from thin air.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ajax for Ajax's sake

I, like many of you, have been waiting with bated breath to see what Michael Robertson would put out when ajaxWrite debuted. We all expect a lot from him, since his many ventures made waves in the industry in the past few years, from MP3.com to Linspire. Well, ajaxWrite fails to impress on several fronts:

The point of Ajax is not to reproduce functionality of desktop apps to the letter - it is to expand and enable users to do something they couldn't do before. ajaxWrite can do little more than Windows owners can do with WordPad. What if you don't have Windows? Well, pretty much every OS includes a similar app that lets you create simple documents right out of the box. The cool thing about Writely was not that it really felt like a desktop app; that is secondary. The cool thing was centralized storage, collaborative features, RSS notifications when document was changed, etc. That is what web applications are meant to do.

That leads me to the second major drawback of ajaxWrite - it runs only on Firefox! Now, as a long-time Opera user that obviously irks me more than your average Firefox user, but that alone would not be so bad if this was a temporary limitations while they improve the application. But unfortunately, I believe this is a permanent handicap as ajaxWrite relies on XUL to create the user interface. XUL? There is an X in Ajax, but it's not for XUL! Using browser-specific technologies (Mozilla-based developments are the only ones that support XUL) is exactly how not to build web applications. There really is no difference to the end user if you use XUL over ActiveX. I hope this trend stops with ajaxWrite and its siblings. Let's not worry so much about reproducing the desktop look and feel but focus on creating new and compelling solutions.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Review: Fujitsu P7120 laptop

At the core of my mission to lose traveling pounds is my new laptop, Fujitsu P7120. I have researched it thoroughly before buying and have now been using it for over a month. I am a very picky person when it comes to laptops - certain things have to be just right, or it just plain won't work for me. Keyboard layout is one of those criteria - Toshiba may have great hardware but until they completely revise their keyboard layout I simply will not be able to use their machines. I need the keyboard layout to be as standard as possible, otherwise I will constantly fight it as I switch between machines (and I'm talking from experience). So on paper my new laptop fit all those criteria and I finally bought it, sight unseen.

Before reading my review to see if you should consider it please take a look at other reviews that helped me make the decision - I'll try to not repeat what these fine people already wrote: Omar's review and NotebookReview.com review; these discuss the laptop from a very practical point of view and gave me enough information to jump in.

What I got

My model cost me about $2450 Canadian before taxes, with high capacity battery, DVD burner and 1 Gb of RAM. I think it's important to upgrade the RAM to 1 Gb to compensate for somewhat slower CPU and hard drive, which I'll mention below.

From the outside

The laptop is incredibly small - it is smaller than a letter-sized sheet of paper. It fits into the smallest laptops bags I have - currently I use it inside an 12" Powerbook Incase bag, fits in nicely width-wise, with a couple of inches to spare on top, which allows me to stuff gadgets in the top pockets without exploding the bag.

The laptop screen has no locking latches to worry about - just pry it open! This design works very well for a laptop of this size, I've had no problems with it so far.

The keyboard is great for a laptop this size - I can actually touch-type at full speed, and I'm a quick typist. Thankfully, Fujitsu did not mess about with key locations: Ctrl key is at the far left (where Fn key should never be!); I also appreciate having the second Ctrl key on the right side and wide Shift and Backspace keys; Del key is on top row, while the Windows key is nestled between Fn and Alt keys - all good as far as I'm concerned. There are a few minor drawbacks: function keys have no separation between F4 and F5 and F8 and F9, while Del key should really be the right-most key on the top row, not Pause/Break, that's really all I can complain about.

Most of the ports are on the left side of the unit, with a few present on the right and headphone and microphone plugs on the front - the backside is reserved for the battery and the two speakers. WiFi toggle is a physical On/Off switch, I prefer these as there are instances where Windows goes out of sync with button-style WiFi toggles. The same switch controls the Bluetooth as well. It's worth noting that the WiFi switch and Power button are accessible both when the screen is closed and when it's open.

Operation

One of the many outstanding features packed into this box is actually something that's not included inside - there are no fans to speak of! I don't know about you, but long time ago (we're talking 10 years ago) my laptops rarely made any noise, but as years went by laptop fans became bigger and louder and what's worse, widely accepted. But when you turn this laptop on you simply won't hear anything, even the trackpad buttons are extremely quiet. I appreciate the effort Fujitsu must have had to make to eliminate any active cooling, it's definitely worth it.

Laptop boots up very quickly, and integrated fingerprint reader works great to log you into Windows without typing passwords (you can still type passwords if you should lose one or more fingers you enrolled for authentication). Trackpad is quite small but works very well. One annoying aspect of the placement/size of the trackpad is that resting your middle finger just below the space bar can register as a touch on the trackpad and your mouse pointer will do some crazy acrobatics across the screen so I learnt to keep that finger elsewhere!

Screen is very good - it's sharp (1280 by 768), and very bright utilizing the new LED backlight technology that also extends your battery life. The nice thing is that it can be adjusted from very bright to almost completely dark. I did find the resolution a little too dense for my liking so I switched to using Large Fonts in Windows, which consumes a little more screen real-estate than Small Fonts do - I changed a few settings in Windows to compensate for this, and installed some new software and have to say that I'm actually happier with my setup now than I was on my previous 15" laptop. I will blog about that at some later time!

The laptop can run fairly warm (although nothing like my previous barn-burner), but usually it's relatively cool. To increase the comfort level when used on your lap, Fujitsu has padded the bottom of the laptop with a suede-like material that protects your legs from any hotspots. Works really well I may add!

Battery usage is great - I easily get 5 hours out of the battery, with WiFi on and screen brightness at about 80%. If you disable wireless you can get even more. I have the laptop configured to do nothing when the lid is closed and to hibernate when I press the Power button. This works really well for me. It also means that I rarely restart the laptop - it generally hibernates a few times a day and I restart maybe once every couple of weeks to give Windows a break. The system hibernates its 1 Gb of RAM relatively quickly, which was a nice surprise as I was concerned about the speed of the internal 1.8" hard drive.

Performance

I do a fair bit of programming and this was one of my main concerns before I finally decided to buy this laptop: it's powered by a Ultra-Low Voltage 1.2 GHz Pentium M. For someone doing fairly intense builds on a regular basis this sounded mighty scary. Omar's review took some of those fears away and I'm glad to say that I really had nothing to worry about. My old laptop was powered by an AMD 1800+ CPU and this machine to my eye is faster in every way so far. This is despite a slower hard drive as well. Of course having clean Windows install without pre-installed crapware certainly helps. My builds using both Borland Delphi Pro 6 and MS Visual Studio 2003 (yes, yes, I should upgrade) are all quicker on my new machine!

I also loaded some videos for consumption while travelling (documentaries and a few of Bob Cringely's NerdTV) and they play amazingly smooth, and look superb when viewed full screen on this bright unit. And with unit's great battery life I'm not afraid to play them as long as I want.

If you're a gamer than I really have nothing to offer yet - I haven't tried any 3D games or software on this machine, I doubt it can keep up with today's games with the integrated Intel MA900. This is something that you have to consider very carefully: from my research on ultraportables there is really no laptop that will have a good graphics engine coupled with things like great battery life and silent operation. This may change with time, but I'm sure the gaming industry will do its best to ensure that only $300 desktop cards can come close to rendering their latest titles. That type of horse power doesn't lend itself to easy integration into ultralight notebooks.

Conclusion

I might have given up a few niceties when I switched to this laptop (like the larger screen), but what I gained back was certainly more! My new screen may be smaller, but it's brighter and sharper. I shed almost 4 pounds from my traveling weight which allows me to take my new laptop with me more frequently. Some of you may not care, but for me the unexpected bonus is that I can now also wear nicer clothes as my new laptop bag is feather-light. That certainly sealed the deal for me!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Origami aka UMPC

Engadget has posted a very funny editorial on the recently released Origami:

Here we go again. In its unending capitalistic quest, Microsoft is determined to figure out how to sell people their nth computer. Today, its ideal consumer's computing inventory looks something like this -- a couple of desktops around the home, a notebook for those mobile jaunts, a Media Center PC for controlling the television experience serving up Windows Media files to an Xbox 360 or lesser Media Center Extenders, and at least a Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone device.

But, wait. That could leave an unacceptable seven minutes and 34 seconds during waking hours when you don't have a Windows license at your wallet-handling fingertips.

Indeed!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dealing with email

I've been an email addict (for better or worse) some 15 years. I am intimately familiar with email architecture, MIME standards, transport mechanisms and language encoding problems but it seems as much as I know about email I am still unable to make any meaningful progress in how I manage email. I remember once a couple of years ago I actually had my Inbox empty for about a day and I was so proud of myself - unfortunately this state of bliss lasted all too briefly.

Managing your email can really make or break your productivity so it is interesting to see how some of the busiest people in the world deal with it. Fortune magazine interviewed several top CEOs [via Email Overloaded] to find out how they stay in touch and some of the comments are downright unbelievable. From the super busy

Marissa Mayer (VP, Search Products and User Experience, Google) receives 700 to 800 emails every day (her assistant handles many of these), takes 70 meetings a week, works on her email after 8pm and gets by on 4-6 hours of sleep. On weekends, she spends at least one 10 to 14 hour session on processing her accumulated email.

Carlos Ghosn (CEO of Renault (France) and Nissan (Japan)) spends the first week of every month in France, the third in Japan and also fits in a week in the US. He has three assistants who screen his email, passing to him only the items that they know are of great interest to him. He gets up by 6am and uses the time before his first meeting (8am) for thinking. He does not take his work home with him, allowing him to take a fresh look at things, from a different angle.

to near-ludite CEO of Goldman Sachs (my apologies to Hank, ludite is not a bad word!):

Hank Paulson (Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs) has never used email, but is a “huge voicemail user,” receiving about 200 voicemail messages daily, which are not screened by his assistant. Although he has no time for small-talk, he returns every call right away. This past Christmas, he spent 10 days hiking in Chile, and appears in most of the family photographs with a satellite phone at his ear. He gets up at 5:30am and is in bed by 10pm.

And you thought you had problems dealing with email!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bose, not so hot after all

This may not be news for many of you but I stumbled upon it recently. I'm no audiophile by any means although I have spent my share of dollars over the years in audio technology. I do not own any Bose speakers but I was surprised by the level of animosity audiophile community has against Bose. And now I see it may be for a good reason: Intellexual has a thorough review of Bose Acoustimass system and they are not kind to it. Bose's specialty seems to be innovation through marketing and they conclude

Bose equipment, even the flagship LifeStyle 50, resembles the sonic performance of the 11-year-old Aiwa minisystem in my garage. For $500, the Wave Radio is an overpriced alarm clock. If you're impressed by it, have a listen to a Henry Kloss radio for a fraction of the price! For $1000, the Bose 3-2-1 can not be described as anything less than a crime against sound reproduction. The message I want everyone to take from this lengthy review is that Bose, like Bang & Olufsen and Nakamichi, sell lifestyle and designer products whose prices are very heavily saturated by image and appeal. They are by no means, no means at all performance products. They have no cost-effectiveness, no bang-for-the-buck value, and draw no respect from any true audio enthusiests. If your goal is to appeal to and impress housewives, then this system gets the job done, but if your goal is high fidelity, high performance, high endurance, upgradeability, and fair market value pricing then I would very highly suggest you look elsewhere.

Colour me surprised!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lightening your laptop

I want to start on a topic many of us fixate on daily, our laptops. I just went through a drastic transition myself and hope that sharing my insights will help you make changes yourself.

I love to travel light, there's no better feeling (no really, I can't think of any right now). The most obvious item weighing you down on travels is your laptop - I used to use a "thin-and-light" 15" laptop weighing just over 6 pounds. I don't know if 6 pounds qualifies for light, but the laptop was very quick with very good 3D capabilities. Unfortunately, to power all this functionality it run really hot and the battery life was around 2.5 hours. For the same reason the AC Power Adapter was quite a brick. I had it with me whenever I travelled, but when it came to walking the conference halls I opted to leave it in my hotel room rather than spend a day lugging it around, especially since the short battery life would often leave me stranded with a useless anchor in my bag.


Finally, I realized that to be really mobile I needed to take some drastic measures and give up my 1400x1280 screen to shed some pounds. I have done this before - I used to own a ThinkPad 701c, one of the coolest laptops I've owned (and still have). So I made the move and started converting every gadget I own to an ultraportable version of the same and I have been very happy with the results!

One thing I realized was that a lot of the technology I bought or hacks I made were not generally known, especially within the context of mobile computing. I'll share what I can and maybe help some of you make the switch!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What now?

Welcome to my new blog - expect a healthy dose of tech and business musings, some of which you may even find helpful.