Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Replace Your Boat Anchor

A couple of issues ago, I asked the question, “Why Do We Have Personal Computers?” The article dealt with the frustrations of dealing with Windows-based computers (yes, now all you superior Mac users can stand and jeer and claim you never have any problems with your transcendently fabulous computers; at least one guy begs to differ.)

Yes, at least once a day I threaten to drop-kick my laptop into the garbage can. But what are you going to do? With 98 percent of the installed base of personal computers, Microsoft owns you, right? Or do they?

You see, there are starting to be alternatives to the Microsoft hegemony (lots of Linux geeks stand up now and shout, “Linux on the desktop!”; yeah, just as soon as you fix your stupid user interface so that it doesn’t require intimate familiarity with Linux command-line arcania: ps –aux grep doodoo.) Yes, once upon a time, there was a Linux PC sold at Wal-Mart. And now there isn’t.

The problem is: computers are too hard to use. And while there’s little you can do to avoid having to learn the details of, say, how to reformat text you’ve cut and pasted from another Word document, there is something you can do to simplify your life: get thin.

The term thin client computing refers to a method of computing that splits tasks between a local, light-weight device and a remote server. The two are commonly connected by the Internet, but the connection could be any network.

The advantage of thin client computing is that you can leave all the tiresome software updating, operating system updating, driver installation, data backup/restore, and other arcane computer management tasks to experts at some remote data center. Most of the software you will use in thin computing resides on the remote server and is managed by experts. You merely load all or portions of the software into your thin client as you need to use it. Your thin device may have a hard drive for local storage, and you may connect peripherals like a scanner or an iPod to it, but in general, the thin client device doesn’t need to be hugely powerful.

As I mentioned in the previous SNS, thin client has made at least one run at mass acceptance years ago. The problem then was its backers tried to push it as an initial cost savings rather than as a concept that will save you hassles and maybe money in the long run. Several years ago, thin client vendors developed the NetPC specification, targeting a sub-$1,000 device. Well, take a look at your Sunday newspaper ads and you’ll see you can get a sub-$400 personal computer at your choice of stores.

But instead of using that $400 PC to host all sorts of software, and risk incompatibilities, security breaches, excessive rebooting, and lots of headaches, why not save yourself the hassle and rent the software instead?

This was the idea behind another concept that surged into prominence about six years ago: the Application Service Provider (ASP) which has spawned a related concept, Software as a Service (SaaS). ASPs were all the rage around the turn of the century, and I’ve written about them in the past with varying degrees of enthusiasm. To be sure, there are very successful ASPs currently. Perhaps the most successful and visible ASP is salesforce.com, which provides a broad suite of sales management applications and features, all hosted remotely and accessible via browser all over the world.

Why did salesforce.com succeed where others have failed? By targeting sales folks, that’s how. Sales people have a skillset that is almost diametrically opposed to the geek skillset. They are the anti-geek material that the universe needs to avoid disturbances in the force. If they are not on the phone selling or selling in person, they better be preparing to do so, or they won’t be successful. So they don’t have time for crashes and incompatibilities and data losses. And they don’t have either the time or the temperament to learn complicated programs.

So salesforce.com made an easy-to-use sales support application that requires no installation and is always available at any Internet-connected PC worldwide. Genius.

There are many other ASP applications that a person wanting to leave their boat anchor behind can use, including:

Spreadsheet

Securesheet Jedox BadBlue

Word Processor/Office Clones

WebOffice XO Office Zoho Virtual Office IBM Workplace

Presentations

PresenterNet InstantPresenter HostPresentation

Email

Tons of free Webmail:

Yahoo, Google, Excite, Netscape

Hosted Microsoft Exchange:

Unplugged Cities US Internet

Back Office Functions

NetSuite Authoria RightNow Salesforce.com

Games

Too many to list, including massively multiplayer games like:

Battleground Europe Dark Ages Final Fantasy XI Guild Wars Lord of the Rings Online

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. You don’t need to deal with cryptic error messages, incompatible programs, security holes, or most of the other burdens of fat client ownership. You can get thin and win.

And that’s exactly what my business partner and odds on favorite to replace Microsoft as the company people love to hate, Google, seems to be thinking. Recent reports (and also here) speculate that Google will soon release either a Google PC, or a Google Cubes — a small hardware box plays songs, videos and other digital files on TV sets. Further speculation contends that Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, will show off a Google computing device at his keynote address Friday (1/6/06) at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

ZDNet writer David Berlind speculated months ago that a Google PC is not a new or unexpected concept:

It's a network computer with a few extra bells and whistles to support things like Google Talk. It looks feels, and smells like a svelte network computer but has 95 percent of the functionality of the PC that took me where no man should go last week. It can do everything a business PC can do because, hey, guess what: all our business apps can be SaaSyized anyway. But, at the end of the day, the Google PC (or maybe Yahoo will beat them) isn't much more than what today's cable boxes and cell phones are: remarkably thin clients (given what they do) that are customized to take full advantage of all that service provider has to offer. Oh, and produced in partnership with "the carrier."

So let’s see what happens on Friday at Page’s address. It could be the birth of a whole new way to compute.

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: I was interviewed for ManagementFirst’s Feature of the Month and got to toot my horn for a bit. The WiMAX Guys’ main business is new installs for people who want to set up wireless hotspots such as hotels, warehouses, apartment buildings, and office buildings or hotzones that cover cities. We also sell a knowledge-based Web portal called the MAX K-Base. Check out our main Website at http://www.thewimaxguys.com/. The first chapter of my wife’s novel, Knowing What You Know Today is up on her Website. The other chapters cost money, but are well worth it, believe you me. Check it out at http://www.debellsworth.com/PDF/KWYKTChapter1.pdf. Many issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $111.48. Thanks Bill! And now that I’m partnered with one of the largest advertisers on the planet, Google, that should be kicking in serious coin to the StratVantage coffers. Let’s see. The current total is: $25.38. Great. BTW, I am informed that I can’t ask you to read this issue on the Web and c_1c< on the ads due to Google’s terms of service. So don’t. You can also shop at Amazon, pay nothing additional, and send a spiff to me.
  • The Raw File – SNS is dedicated to delivering the scoop on the latest and greatest. However, I collect lots of information that never makes it into the newsletter before it gets old. I’ve collected all this aging info into a page called The Raw File. This page is the raw information I gather for SNS articles. It’s not pretty, and some may be a little incoherent, but chances are there are still things in TRF that might be news to you. So therefore, use The Raw File at your own risk – it’s 45+ pages of the best stuff that didn’t make it into SNS. The Raw File
  • Top 10 Funny Spammer NamesI recently received spam from the following preposterously named individuals: 10. Piffle T. Gabling 9. Spooring R. Wooliest 8. Peacefullest F. Nightsticks 7. Multiprocessing D. Stiffened 6. Adeline R. Feebleness 5. Gorgonzola B. Collectivism 4. Workday O. Dwindled 3. Cognition K. Antony 2. Transference E. Ballpoints And the number 1 Top Funny Spammer Name: 1. Immolate G. Mechanization
  • Happy Time of Year: Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make the United States great (not to imply that the United States is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only United States in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. * * This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting. Our very best regards, (names withheld re privacy act) Thanks to prospective Alert SNS Reader Frank Siegler for the forward
  • FISH of the Day: I’ve explained before my wife’s neologism Forwarded Internet Serial Humor. I come across FISH pretty much every day. Most are lame, but some of them, like the below, are a scream. Almost all purport to be slices of true life. I don’t know about this one, since I’ve seen it attributed to a school in Oregon or in Washington, but it makes me laugh. Talk About a Teachable Moment: According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them and the next day the girls would put them back. Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror. There are teachers, and then there are educators. ehMac
  • Non-Reality-Based Thinking: I rarely delve into politics in this newsletter, but a quote forwarded to me by SNS Reader Peter Ellsworth recalls to me something I read about the attitude of the current administration towards reality. In a New York Times article by Ron Suskind, a Bush aide was quoted thusly: The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." The problem with this is, I don’t know anyone other than the mentally ill (see Wild Man Fischer, below) who doesn’t live in reality. Well, the following quote from The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime by William Langewiesche shows one of the results of non-reality-based thinking: There is unembarrassed talk in Washington of a future under control, in which sailors will undergo meaningful background checks and will be supplied with unforgeable, biometrically verifiable IDs by honest, appropriately equipped, and cooperative governments. Panama, for instance, will vouch for the integrity of, say, an Indonesian deckhand working on a ship operated by a Cayman Island company on behalf of an anonymous Greek. This is a vision so disconnected from reality that it might raise questions about the sanity of the United States. I don’t know about you, but this vision reminds me of a totalitarian dystopia. http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0865475814/ref=sib_vae_pg_67/103-7875568-5018252?%5Fencoding=UTF8&keywords=unforgeable%2C%20biometrically%20verifiable%20&p=S02D&amp;twc=1&checkSum=a6uh6zFd13Sv%2Btw8edWEUbuhIB7sVrE8mv%2F5yotrQzU%3D#reader-page

  • Tracking the Hegemony: Well, while we’re on a slightly political tack, there’s a fascinating site called They Rule that tracks the interlocking directors of US companies. It’s all laid out graphically, and you can see who sits on what board and thus who scratches whose back. The data is based on 2004 federal filings. Fascinating. You could even make up your own version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. They Rule
  • RFID Implants Apparently Creep Out One of Their Proponents: I almost used the press release’s title verbatim – Fine For Thee, But Not For Me – for this item about Ex-Health and Human Services Head Tommy Thompson. Seems he promised in July to "get chipped" with a VeriChip implant, a small radio device implanted under the skin that can identify a person. Well, Tommy still hasn't received an RFID implant despite a televised promise he made shortly after joining the board of VeriChip Corporation last spring. According to recent revelations, the former Bush cabinet member has no plans to undergo the procedure anytime soon. A VeriChip spokesman attributed the protracted delay in the chipping to Thompson's desire to investigate the procedure. "He wants to see it [the VeriChip] in a real-world environment first." If one of the foremost proponents of a technology won’t subject himself to it, you have to wonder if it’s such a great idea, don’t you? Spychips.com
  • Answers to the You ain’t cultured yet ‘less you can… Quiz: In a previous SNS I posted the following quiz. Here are the answers and the errata in the questions/answers:

    1. Tell, within a dozen, how many books P. G. Wodehouse wrote. Shoot, make it within thirty…96 2. Name the song playing on the radio when Duke’s Samoan attorney threw the grapefruit into the bathtub. white rabbit (in actual fact, Duke throws the grapefruit) 3. Fill in the blank, “I love the smell of _____________ in the morning.” napalm 4. Tell what machine Toad fell in love with after being thrown from his caravan. motorcar 5. Name the Who’s original drummer. Doug Sandom 6. Describe the procedure for trapping a heffalump. Dig a Very Deep Pit put hunny at the bottom – but they can’t be caught 7. Name the Black Panther Party member who went from exile in Cuba to preaching at Wheaton Bible Church before designing and selling codpiece-equipped pants. Eldridge Cleaver 8. Name the artist who played harmonica on Keith Green’s 1980 “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt” LP. Bob Dylan 9. Tell who said, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.” Richard Daley 10. Name the movie: “Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.” Dr. Strangelove 11. Name the Beatle with the bare feet. Paulie 12. Name the now-dead newspaper columnist who often quoted his friend Slats Grobnik. Mike Royko 13. Tell what color and model car O.J. Simpson was being driven down the Santa Monica freeway in. White Bronco 14. Name the Chicago Bears defensive tackle who scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XX. Refrigerator Perry 15. Finish the sentence from "Cool Hand Luke": “What we have here is a failure to _____________ .” communicate 16. Name the movie this line comes from: “It's just a flesh wound! Come back and I'll bite your kneecaps off!” Monty Python and the Holy Grail 17. Name the song that ends with the drummer shouting, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” Helter Skelter It ain’t the drummer. It’s John Lennon. 18. Name the lead guitarist on the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Eric Clapton 19. Name the Tom Wolfe book originally serialized in Rolling Stone magazine. Bonfire of the Vanities 20. Name the television series modeled on the work of a New Yorker cartoonist. Addams Family Thanks for playing! Send your scores in to be memorialized.

  • If You’ve Made it This Far: I have declared Alert SNS Reader Ken Florian the winner of our Obscure Reference Contest due to his dogged persistence and a truly regrettable error in the contest. The prize is one stick of totally obsolete PC memory. Ken correctly identified the song containing the lyric “And I said yes sir brother sheriff, and that's your wife on the back of my horse.” You may recall that the song is indeed Gangster of Love, a song made popular by Stevie “Guitar” Miller and first appearing on his album Sailor. Although Mr. Florian neglected to also answer the tiebreaker, “Who is Hoops McCann?” twice (he answered it once), the fact that he was also unable to tell me where I can buy the LP featuring songs containing the lyrics “nauseous gasser” and “merry-go-round” for less than $69 was due to a bit of confusion on my part. He got as close as humanly possible on this latter tiebreaker despite my error so I’ll give it to him. Hoops McCann, by the way, is the protagonist in the Steely Dan song, Glamour Profession, which Ken correctly identified. The second reference to Hoops McCann, however, is in the 1986 movie One Crazy Summer, starring John Cusack and a pre-augmentation Demi Moore. Cusack’s character is called Hoops McCann, despite his utter inability to sink a basketball shot (perhaps he’s so named due to a preference for blow, like Steely’s McCann). Incidentally the movie was filmed in Craigville Beach, MA on Cape Cod while my family was vacationing there in 1985. We spied on the filmmaking and on a buffet crew dinner laid out in a nearby parking lot, but nobody knew who any of the stars were, so it was less than thrilling. One reason I have to give the prize to Mr. Florian is, well, it is hard to admit an error, but there is no record containing the lyrics “nauseous gasser” and “merry-go-round.” The album I had in mind is a loss-leader compilation album from 1969 called Zapped. However, although the Lord Buckley track on this album is one of his best, Governor Slugwell, that track does not contain the lyric in question. “Nauseous gasser” is from Buckley’s hip take on Edgar Allen Poe’s “magnificent torch,” The Raven, from his album A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat. I deeply regret the error, especially since Ken drove himself crazy looking for something that wasn’t there, but had indeed found that track and that album. The merry-go-round lyric comes from one of the oddest songs ever committed to vinyl by the probably-should-have-been-committed Wild Man Fischer. It is also the title of the song, and it appears on Zapped. So to compensate Ken for his pain, I have doubled his prize: He will receive TWO sticks of totally obsolete PC memory. Good show! I resolve in the New Year to do better at fact checking.

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