RossCode Weekly #019

posted on 2005-09-24 at 11:31:54 by Joel Ross

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Welcome to this week's RossCode Weekly. For a change, this week was pretty light in news - although, the few items are huge!

Let's ignore the?big news?(you know what the big news is, right?) and start with a nice little battle. Microsoft vs. Open Source. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how Firefox was looking more and more vulnerable. I wondered if the love affair with Firefox was coming to an end - with more and more security issues and the whole corporate thing going on, would people continue to blindly believe Firefox is a more secure browser? Well, here's some empirical evidence of security issues between IE and Firefox. To be fair, Firefox did release 1.0.7, a?release specifically for stability and security. But that's not all it shows. It goes beyond browsers, and takes a look at the difference between IIS and Apache - remember everyone's claim that Apache is more secure? Well, maybe not. The trend continues with Red Hat and Windows 2003. And Microsoft's the one who takes the knocks about being insecure! Back to Firefox - Symantec even says it's not as secure, but acknowledges that most virus writers are still focusing on IE.

So what do you do about the whole Firefox vs. IE issue? Well, it's obvious that as Firefox gets more and more popular,?virus writers will start to target it too. So what do you do? Well, how about going with Opera? I know the argument: I'm not paying for a browser, and I agree, which makes this all the better. Opera is now free - no ads and no cost! I've used Opera a little bit - but it was back in '99 I think. I'm guessing it's gotten better since then! So why would Opera give up almost $4,000,000 in revenue? Market share? Nope - Google. That's right. Google's paying Opera to use Google as it's default search, and they obviously think they'll make that up in ad revenue. They may be right, as Opera's been downloaded 1,000,000 times in the two days after they announced it would be free.

This week marked the start of the Carnival of Computing. If you've never heard of the concept of carnivals (as in the online type), it's a round up of what's going on for a particular topic, and it's called a carnival because it's meant to be a traveling feature - moving from one blog to another. And no, you don't have to be?a carnie or deep fry all of your food to be a part of it. Anyway, bloggers volunteer to host it and it's meant as a way to drive traffic to sites. Of course, my reasoning for mentioning this is two-fold. First, it's a competitor to RCW (sort of), and second, RCW is featured in the inaugural edition! It's episode #17, and it's listed in the hardware section.

Enough ego tracking! AOL is in the news again this week. Remember, last week, there were rumblings that they were going to be bought by Microsoft - or maybe just getting search services from Microsoft. Well, Google may feel pressured to outbid Microsoft to remain competitive. If it's only for search capabilities inside of AOL's software, then this isn't a huge deal - of course Google would want to protect something it already has. But if this is a full blown purchase, or even a partnership with Time Warner for AOL, this could still be a good move by Microsoft - force Google to spend some of it's excess cash on something it hadn't intended to use that money on - I hear Google already has plans for a lot of their cash! Of course, if they lose the AOL deal, it could cost them 25% of their revenue, or almost $400,000,000?annually.

Despite the talk of acquisition, AOL hasn't been sitting back. No, they plan to launch a VoIP service on October 4th. It probably won't cost $4,100,000,000 either. From the sounds of it, it will be a mix of what Skype and Vonage offers. Skype does the whole PC to PC and PC to phone thing, while Vonage acts like a regular phone. But, so far, no one has offered a mix of those two - yes, Skype can hook to a PBX, but last I looked, I don't have a PBX in my house, and I'm sure most people don't either. AOL looks to change that?- they'll make it easy to call other PCs from your PC and be able to treat their VoIP offering as your main phone system. Of course, it's AOL, so you'll have to deal with the ridicule of your friends for using AOL.

I can say that. I started my Internet life on AOL. I even met my wife on AOL! Even an AOL VoIP offering adds fuel to the rumor fire though - Time Warner offers a VoIP service, so why would AOL compete with their parent company? There's a few obvious reasons. AOL could potentially penetrate markets that Time Warner Cable can't.?Maybe the two services will be complimentary. Those are good, but what if the reason is that AOL has been in talks with Microsoft for a while now, and when they saw the writing on the wall (we're being sold!), they started to make themselves more attractive? See. Rumor fuel!

Sticking with VoIP news, Skype stayed in the news this week. Most of it was in the "Why?" category, but it wasn't all fluff. PowerGramo hit 1.0 this week. Never heard of PowerGramo? Neither had I, until I saw the article, but it's supposed to be a simple solution to record Skype calls. I downloaded the demo, and it works ok. That, and it's easy - no setup required. Still no easy, free solution though. If that happens, can you say RCW discussion panel?

It looks like the owners of Grokster don't want to know what the consequences of the Supreme Court decision against them back in July. Instead, they may be selling out to Mashboxx. Apparently Mashboxx already is a legit service, despite only being in beta, and Grokster wants to be legit. If Mashboxx wants a quick way to get some market share, and they have the money, this makes sense.

Back to VoIP for a minute.?A while back I mentioned that Vonage was going to have an IPO to raise some money. But there's reports that maybe they should be looking for a buyout instead. I've talked about this too - do you want to be a player in the game, or a small fish with a big price tag? Who might be interested in Vonage? News Corp. They seem to be buying up everything else these days, and Vonage would probably come at a much lower price than Skype. If Vonage does want to sell, I'll say they need to do it fast, before all the major players start offering their own versions. If not, then you better be able to stand on their own. The fact that Vonage is still trying to raise money suggests that they may not feel comfortable on their own.

Remember TiVo's PR nightmare last week regarding content protection? TiVo blamed it on noise in the line, but either that's a lie, or there's more noise than originally thought! Of course, TiVo still hasn't come clean with what's going on or why. As if that wasn't enough to hurt them, for the time being, you can't buy a TiVo directly from TiVo.?Apparently the company that provides them with DVRs went under. But that's not it either. It looks like if you get a TiVo now, you're actually signing a one year service contract, and you can get charged for canceling the service. And people wonder why TiVo's market share is shrinking.

Apple's always good for news, right? With the Apple Expo this week in Paris, there were a few items. First, Steve Jobs confirmed that, yes, you can expect Intel chips by June next year. No word if he said it in French though. He also said that, despite the clamoring for it, there would be no bluetooth support for the iPod in the near future. His reasoning, though, is pretty weak. No one wants to charge both their iPod and their headsets. That's a pretty weak excuse, and one that probably isn't valid. If you bought bluetooth headphones, what do you expect to use them with? His other reason? Bandwidth. Huh? Last I knew bluetooth offered plenty of bandwidth for even the highest quality music. More rumors? Not from Jobs, but some are seeing baby steps at Apple suggesting a tablet is in the works, and could be out as early as fall of '06. Now that would be interesting - and would definitely give us some insight into why Apple moved to Intel. But if they do release in the fall, they better have a nice solution - remember, that's when Vista is coming out, and it sounds like their tablet offering will be pretty good.

We're getting there. There were two?huge stories this week, and we'll start with Microsoft. They turned?30. That's?not the big news, though.?They've reorganized. They're narrowing down to three divisions: the Platform Products & Services Division, the Business Division, and the Entertainment Division. Jim Allchin also announced his plans to retire at the end of '06 after Vista launches. Why the reorg? To be more nimble and better fight it's competition. First the nimble part. Microsoft came under fire for some of their offerings and them not working together in the past. For example, CMS and Commerce Server. They're obvious fits, but they don't play nicely together. So they came up with the idea of "integrated innovation" - they plan for products to work together. But, as witnessed by recent delays in releases, it creates many dependencies between products. They need to become more nimble - to react faster to changes in the market place. Can a reorg fix that? I don't know, but it at least brings the thought to the forefront, which is good. There are signs of this coming to pass already - the ASP.NET team plans to release Atlas updates on a monthly basis - and the changes will be based on customer feedback. That's a good thing.

Now, let's talk about being more competitive. I've noticed in the past few weeks that Microsoft seems to be making more aggressive moves aimed at it's competition, and this reaffirms that it's part of a bigger plan. By lumping MSN into the Windows division, this definitely reinforces the "web as an operating system" idea. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, the release of APIs for MSN products and the integration of gadgets into both Vista and start.com sure makes this seem like the next logical step. By integrating Windows and MSN closer, the offerings Microsoft can present become pretty spectacular. Think of a local RSS reader combined with online synchronization (Newsgator Outlook Edition and Newsgator Online, as an example), but think bigger than that - think email, documents, search. Everything!

Think Google isn't thinking the same thing? Why do you think they're offering so many desktop apps (Google Talk, Desktop Search, the sidebar, etc.)? This gives them an in on the desktop where they can then start to offer you 1.) online access to offline data, and 2.) offline access to online data. In an effort to get closer to a consolidated solution, Google has started to switch all logins over to?your Google account - with Orkut being the first app to make the move.

But what if Google's ultimate plan is more the first option (online access to offline data) than the second option (offline access to online data)? Well, first, they'd have to make sure you're always connected, right? GoogleNet! More on that in a minute. Second, they'd have to offer a secure way of moving your data online. The details are sketchy - Google hasn't officially said anything, but they do have two pages about a wireless offering: a FAQ and a download page. From a technical standpoint, what you'll see is not really GoogleNet. It's just a secure connection to Google's servers.?Now, with that comes concerns about two aspects of this. First, the technology they're using may not be the most secure. Second, your data may not be secure, even if the technology is. Think about it - the promise is this:?your data is encrypted from your request to Google's servers.?They decrypt it and send the request out. Then it's re-encrypted by Google and sent back to you. Yes, local sniffers won't have access to your data, but guess who will? So, do you trust Google with your data? Remember their short-lived web accelerator? You're giving Google access to everything you do online. Think that data won't be used to target ads to you? Yes, Google's mantra is "Do no evil" but who defines evil?

So how will they target ads to you? You've heard rumblings of a true GoogleNet, right? There are reports that people using their secure VPN have been able to connect to a Google wifi network in San Francisco, London, and a few other places. It sounds like they've been there for a while, but Google is accepting bids for a nationwide fiber network. And the few hotspots they have are blazingly fast! So that's the news so far. No details about what's going on and when to expect it, but let's assume it's going to happen in the near future. What does this mean for you? First, remember the rumors of a Google operating system? I don't see a need for it any more. If they can get traction on your desktop (i.e, access to your local data) through their desktop search, Google Talk, and their RSS reader (sidebar), and can integrate that with an online service (securely - see above!), they don't need to control the operating system you're running on. In fact, they may not want to - why bother with the hassle when you already have what you need? Next, you're always connected. Obvious right? But this changes everything. Ignoring the security threats, presence becomes huge. What's presence? Right now, it's mainly treated as what your online status is, but if Google knows where you're connected, then they can easily add in where you are. This gives Google Talk a huge advantage over other IM clients. Speaking of Google Talk, with a constant connection, VoIP gets a huge boost. I can take my phone number with me for free. You'll see phones that can automatically switch between wireless networks and cell networks. Not because cell phone companies want to give up the control, but because they'll have to - we'll demand it.

One last way this'll be used. Small businesses will now have a nice way to get online. This will definitely help small businesses get a jump - no phone costs and?no access costs. That reduces the barriers to entry. Now, if they'd just offer free building space in exchange for billboards!

Ok. So that's how GoogleNet would help you. What does Google get out of this? They aren't doing this because they're nice guys, right? Well, they'll be sending ads to you. They know where you are, so they'll be sending you ads related to where you are. That'll cover the cost of the network.

Speaking of targeted ads, let's take a slight tangent here. Have you ever used your 411 service on your cell phone? It's expensive, right? Verizon used to offer you one or two free uses per month, but have since stopped that, and it's not cheap. What if you want it free??There's a new service called Free411, and it's just that - free! You call 1-800-Free411, and you listen to a ten second ad before you get your number. Why do I bring this up in this context? The idea is that the ad will be for a competitor to the number you're looking for, hopefully with an offer of a discount. So if you call in looking for the closest Dominos Pizza place, you could hear an ad for Papa John's that would entice you to order there instead. That's cool - it's targeted advertising. If this takes off, I bet we see an offering like this from Google over Google Talk.

While we're already distracted, it looks like Kahuna is launching, albeit in a closed beta. Remember, Kahuna is the next rev of hotmail. It's being made available to a few at mail.start.com, and from the looks of it, it'll feel like a windows application. It should be interesting to see how it progresses, as the promise is lots of iterative releases. Now, if we could just get access to use it.

Back to Google.?You have this huge network. And you recently launched video search. How do you make those work together? What about IPTV? Could Google be thinking about this? Well, they're hiring?a Product Manager for Google TV. Does this mean someone to help with the video search, or could this be a precursor to some sort of TV offering? If they offer TV, then Google has the potential to be a three headed beast, offering phone, internet and tv. Possibly all for free. I don't know about you, but if I got rid of my cell phone, my home phone, my cable, and my internet access, that could save me $3,000 a year! I'd probably take targeted ads for that!

Here's a little speculation. How would Google target ads to you if you're using GoogleNet. Others have tried pop-up windows, but those are largely ignored. Some have used frames that have the ads in them, and then the content in a separate window, but that's largely ignored too. No, the only way to get the desired revenue from the ads will have to be to have it in the content somehow. But how? Well, remember Google's latest toolbar, and the debate over it's AutoLink feature? AutoLink automatically adds in links on certain keywords - it was backed off a little bit based on community uproar, much like Microsoft's SmartTags feature was cut. But it could come back if the network was Google's - the argument being that if you want to use their network, you get their ads in your content. I think this'll be how you'll see ads delivered and be the most effective, but as a web developer, do you want Google modifying the content you created, and not only that, but profiting from those changes?

That's enough about Google. And that's all the content I have for you this week. I do have an action item for you though. If you've followed RCW since it's inception (or read the archives), you'll notice how it's changed. It used to be just a relaying of what's new, and it's morphed into something more as I've gotten more comfortable to throw in my own thoughts. Does this make RCW better or worse? Would you rather it be just a relaying of the news or do you like to see the commentary?

Next, does it bother you (like it's starting to bother me) that this is only once per week, and by the time you get it, most of the news has been around for almost a week? There's a couple of ways I can fix that - no, RCW will not become a daily thing, but I could put out quick hits of the big news items as it's developing. It wouldn't be everything. This week, I'd put something up about GoogleNet and the Microsoft reorg.

The other way I could give you quicker access to what's happening is to set up a del.icio.us?account for all of the links I plan to use for RCW. I track them all week, and then go through them as I write this. Granted,?I end up with multiple posts about the same thing, and I don't always use everything I flag, but it would give you an idea of what's coming. Then, the actual RCW's draw would be my commentary and a summarized look at what's going on.

Also, now that there's been one spoken RCW, what do you think of that? Jason's done a great job, but I'll eventually probably take it over.?What do you like and what don't you like? How should the spoken version differentiate itself from the written version?

As always, please send your feedback to weekly at rosscode dot com.

Categories: RossCode Weekly