January 2010


Hands up if you carry more than a phone with you when you are out and about!

Apart from keys and wallet, my pockets hold a BlackBerry 8900 and an iPod Touch. Most executives I met have with them a phone and a BlackBerry (in this case used primarily for emails).

My wife has, would you believe it, three cell phones (no BlackBerry) everywhere she goes. These are all stuffed in her bag which if used properly can knock the wind out of you very easily (I think her bag weighs about 3 kg).

Every piece of portable electronic device requires regular battery charge depending on usage. At home we’ve got 2 sets of charges for my wife’s Nokia phones (all 3 of them) and I’ve got one charger for the 4 iPods I’ve collected. My daughter has a charger for her HP TX2 tablet PC, her mobile phone and her iPod nano. My son has a charger for his Nintendo DS Lite as well as his mobile phone. Between us, we’ve amass quite a collection of chargers. At times the collection of chargers can be very annoying as these tend to tangle every time.

I’ve always wished to have one appliance that would charge all of our devices regardless of make and model. The problem is that most devices don’t have the same power requirements and the makers also have different ideas when it comes to designing how to charge these devices.

A number of vendors like Targus, ESI and Griffin have come up with portable charges primarily designed for laptops and devices with USB connectors. But in most cases you can only charge 1 or 2 devices at a time. To do this, they also have to provide as many ‘tips’ as possible to match the various devices out in the market, including those for the Apple, Creative Technologies, Blackberry, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. For mobile phones the end to these different ports may be in sight.

The European Commission has managed to get agreement from 10 companies, including Apple, LG, Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, to agree to manufacture future phones based around an inter-chargeable design. But what about your MP3s, video players, portable video game consoles, laptops, and now ereaders?

 A few vendors have been working on a universal charger for as many devices as possible. One such vendor is Powermat with its Powermat Home & Office Mat and Powermat Portable Mat. Both models include a Powercube with includes 8 ‘tips’ for the most common mobile devices, including DS LIte, DS, Sony PSP, Samsung, LG and Apple. It also includes tip for a micro USB and mini USB. Optional accessories include receivers (adapter may be less confusing) for BlackBerry, iPhone and iPod (dock). (more…)

If there is ever any word that best describes Apple it’s showmanship. And Steve Jobs is master at this craft.  With the iPod, Apple re-defined an existing market and launched a product that created the illusion that it would alter the way we did things. In reality, the iPod (including iPod Touch) and all the MP3 and MP4 players that came before and after it, is a music/video player. What differentiated it was the user interface (or software) that made it easy (and sticky) to transfer music, videos and applications (the last two on the iPod Touch). Apple also made it easy to acquire music by creating the iTunes ecosystem – and this is where the real money for Apple comes in – through gut-wrenching profit-sharing agreements with content creators. What’s more, Apple also opened up iTunes for you and me to create content and allow us to be potential “stars” in the Internet. Youtube saw it too (but that’s another story).

Also, Apple didn’t really invent laptops. Its MacBook and MacBook Pros belong to the same family of computing devices that allow users to write, work on spreadsheets, create slide presentations (we call them PowerPoint slides), create home movies, watch movies, listen to music, and surf the Internet. If you have the computing power, you can play nerve-wracking games or designwork. As with the iPod, Apple created this very consumer-friendly user interface – the OS X operating system – that made it almost intuitive to use the device (I say almost because no matter how much she tries, my wife still can’t use the iMac we have at home to do her work. She is Windows-bound forever!).

Apple saw an opportunity when Amazon launched Kindle with some degree of success. This brings us to January 27 at 10am PST when Steve Jobs unveiled the newest offering from Apple – the iPad. In truth, it looks like a very large iPod Touch dressed like a MacBook Pro. What it dropped off from the Touch series is the camera. Instead we have this 9″ screen that allows you to do almost everything else the Touch can do – listen to music, surf the Internet, watch movies, and most importantly, read an electronic book in comfort (something the Touch tries to do miserably) although I have reservations about the reading issue as proponents of eInk say people can’t tolerate the current generation of LCD and OLED for long-term reading. A friend says he can read reasonably well on his iPhone. Personally I would find it hard moving left to right, up to down on my Touch – so I never really use it as a reading device. In fact I can’t watch movies with sub-titles on the Touch – so no original Japanese animae for me.

And as with the Touch and iPhone, Apple created an ecosystem it calls iBooks that allows iPad customers to consume hordes of electronic books offline by buying these online. This is Apple genius repeating itself. For sure, it will create tons of money for Apple from online book sales. If the newspaper content generators can do it right, it should also allow the millions of newspaper readers to consume their daily thirst for news online with the iPad. Sports Illustrated’s purported egazine is a very nice piece of software engineering if they can get it out the door.

(more…)

The turn of the century was a bad omen for computing industry stalwart Sun Microsystems. Once seen as leading the pack in the Unix server market, its decline in fortune may have stemmed from its refusal to accept early on the potential of the Intel x86 platform as a viable, computing workhorse for all but the most demanding of applications.

As far back as 2002, Sun faced quarter-upon-quarter of revenue decline even as analysts estimate the market was actually picking up steam with rising server revenues by most vendors (except Sun).  And so it was that nearly 8 years later, Sun finally conceded defeat accepting an offer by database giant, Oracle, to be acquired for US$7.4 billion at 2009 levels.

Should the industry mourn the death of Sun? I don’t quite revenue the atmosphere during the days when Digital Equipment closed it’s doors following the completion of its acquisition by Compaq (itself eventually gobbled up by HP).

Will the sunset for a veteran hardware vendor mark the official beginnings of the dawn of the software age? It can be argued that for many years most industry observers swooned to the music of hardware vendors. Even today we applaud with each new processor by Intel, or the new lineup of Thinkpad laptops, and tomorrow – January 27, 2010 – the much anticipated Apple tablet device (or whatchamacallit). Sure, we turn our heads when Microsoft launched the latest incarnation of its much despised yet very popular Windows operating system. Yes, enterprises raised their hands to view the latest SAP ERP software. And definitely, businesses are listening more intently on how Software-as-a-Service will reduce their CAPEX cost considerably and make them look better on the accounting books because OPEX doesn’t hurt their market positioning as much as CAPEX.

Its hard to figure out when the software revolution started. But you can bet that just as Apple revolutionized the MP3 market not with a neat, flashy, fancy music player (on the contrary it defined convention by being overly simple) but with software, so too will we finally see the years ahead as the period when software defined how consumers and enterprises will use technology.

For the moment, we bid fond adieu to one of the pioneers of hardware-based computing solutions – Mr Scott McNealy. He is, by many reckoning one of the more colorful characters of Silicon Valley. Hopefully his legacy will somehow survive under the watch of Oracle CEO, Mr Larry Ellison – another industry stalwart.

CEO farewells are fun to read because they are often drafted by wordsmiths who don’t fully understand the emotional turmoil that accompanies an executive’s departure. I am not sure if Mr McNealy hired a professional writer for his farewell but it certainly paints a sad story of the rise and fall of an icon. So before you take out that tissue to wipe away the sadness in his farewell message, watch this video to take the bite out of Mr McNealy’s bittersweet farewell.

Click more for the memo. (more…)

My laptop takes 6 minutes to boot. Granted it’s been with me since August 2009 and I’ve installed a number of programs into it. A month after purchasing the Lenovo X200, I inquired from Lenovo’s local tech support about the long boot time. Puzzled themselves, I was asked to return it for a tune-up.

A day later I was told that there were two programs on the startup that appeared to be scanning the network ports looking for a connection. Unfortunately, this laptop was provided to me by my company so I couldn’t tell them to remove those programs. So I took back the laptop and surrendered to the idea of having a faster machine.

Months later and after a clean install (Windows XP died on me three months after owning this laptop), I am still stuck with a laptop that takes over 5 minutes to boot.

If ever there is any major fault in Windows XP, it is the excessively long time it takes to boot the operating system. Yes, I understand it does several tests to determine the integrity of the environment but other OSes (like Apple OS X) do not take this much time to do the same thing.

The slow boot time forces me to use the HIBERNATE function throughout the day when I want to leave my laptop for awhile or move around town. I would prefer a full shutdown so that any residual memory can die with the shutdown process, but the long boot process simply is not worth the effort.

At any rate, scanning the Internet to find a way to shorten the boot time, I stumbled across “RegistryBooster” from Uniblue. I installed the “free” trial version which indicated over 500 errors on my Windows XP Registry. The free trial ends there though. To clean or fix your registry, you will need to buy the software. Don’t dismay, most other similar packages do the same bait and sell technique all the time.

The Windows Registry is a database that stores configuration settings and options on Microsoft Windows operating systems. It contains settings for low-level operating system components as well as the applications running on the platform: the kernel, device drivers, services, SAM, user interface and third party applications all make use of the Registry. The registry also provides a means to access counters for profiling system performance.

What this means in non-Geek terms is that this is the heart of the operating system. Every time you install, tweak or remove a program, this Registry is updated. When Windows fails to boot, this is usually where some of the problems lie.

A common complaint about Windows XP is that Microsoft never included a program to manage this Registry. Yes, its got programs to defrag the hard disk and make it run faster. But as most people have discovered over the years, you tend to install new programs on your laptop as you add accessories to your daily computing process. Things like a new external DVD writer (in my case, a Buffalo ultra-slim DVD writer – I threw out my Samsung ultra-slim DVD writer after it conked out of me in under three months and Samsung said there is no warranty for this product because they don’t sell it in Hong Kong).

I also installed software drivers for my digital camera, video camera, a Maxtor external USB storage box, printer, mouse, and so on. In fact, any time you plug an external device to your computer, Windows scans the Registry to determine if the appropriate drivers are installed. The Registry is thus updated frequently. If you uninstall a program, the Registry is also updated to reflect this change. (more…)

People often ask me what’s the difference a netbook and a laptop. The answer lies in what you plan to use it for. A sales rep worth his salt will ask you what you want to use it for before making any recommendation. By default people look at aesthetics as the first criteria when selecting a laptop. Another often used criteria is price. In reality we should list out more than looks when deciding on an expensive investment like a laptop. In fact looks should be the last thing you think of when deciding what to buy.

  • Portability (weight and size)
  • Functionality (screen size, keyboard size, connectivity, computing power, heat dissipation)
  • Aesthetics (look and feel)

Some people want to have a laptop at home over a desktop so they can easily move from living room, to bedroom, to dining table, to just about anywhere in the house. For them a laptop with a screen size of 14 inch or higher is ok. But if you have to lug your laptop from home to office or other places, a 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) laptop may be all you want to own as you need to add the weight of the adapter (at least 1 lb) or the extended 6-cell battery (1 lb or more). If you add the carry bag and the external DVD-CDROM drive (1 lb), you could easily exceed 3 kg  (6.6 lb) by time you leave your house.

The good news is that there are a variety of laptops out in the market today. You have a choice. You just have to think things through before you take out your wallet.

As a traveling person, my choices are down to a  laptop with a 12″ screen (maybe smaller but nothing smaller than 10″ otherwise you can tire easily reading or writing a document on an 8″ screen – been there done that). Wireless connectivity is important for work (and leisure if you ae active on facebook or other social networking platforms). Having a built-in camera (1.3MB or up) is great bonus since I like to stay in touch with my family using Skype. I used to own a Dell Latitude D410 laptop that would last me 2.5 hours of normal use on a 6-cell battery. Of course this is not good for me particularly when I am traveling on business as I do presentations, check emails, write and go over notes intermittently over a 10-hour day.

Lucky for me, I was upgraded to a Lenovo Thinkpad X200. It had everything I needed in terms of screen size (12.1″), connectivity (WiFi), security (comes with a built-in finger-print scanner), computing power (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz with 3MB L2 cache). At 4 lbs (1.8 kg) though it gets very heavy quickly since I bring it with me every day. Don’t get me wrong, the Thinkpad X200 belongs to the ultra-portable category and holds enough of everything I need to do most of what I need for work and play. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if it came in 2 lbs lighter.

Asus is credited with starting the netbook craze. Netbooks are the true ultra-portable laptops. At 2 lbs or under, these are truly backpack friendly computers. So what’s the catch? Everything else (depending on your view)! Netbooks come with smaller screens (10 in or under), smaller keyboards (70% smaller keys), less USB ports, and most importantly – less computing power. The good news is that the smaller screen, fewer features (meaning less components) and lower processing power means longer battery life. Netbooks are purported to keep you tapping on your screen from 5-12 hours (depending on make, model and number of battery cells).

At the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, China’s very own Lenovo was one of the earliest vendors to announce a slew of netbooks based around Microsoft Windows 7 (not retrofitted like many of the netbooks and laptops launched in 2009). One such announcement was the Lenovo Thinkpad X100e.

I was very happy when Lenovo’s Hong Kong PR agency (Text100) offered to let me test drive the new Thinkpad X100e. (more…)

This is not the usual place where I post interviews but I thought I’d share this anyway since it still holds value.

Regardless of your business, customer satisfaction is arguably a high priority in 2009. Industry observers believe this will remain true in 2010. How companies plan and execute strategies to achieve better than ever customer satisfaction is the question to ask.

What is also certain is that this drive towards better customer satisfaction [7] is helping boost the business of contact center operators worldwide. In Asia, it is fueling expansion among the large contact center operators like Convergys.

A Callcentres.net [8] Asia Pacific survey [9], touching more than 2,100 consumers across six countries in Asia Pacific, suggests that customer service is a key differentiator today. The survey found that over 58% of respondents identified receiving polite and friendly service, having their calls resolved efficiently and receiving the right information from agents were the most important factor in driving ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ Customer Service.

Contact center associations recognize this and continue to promote it through education, training, recognizing and rewarding the best in the industry. At the 10th annual Hong Kong Call Centre Association [10] (HKCCA) Awards [11], 61 individuals and companies were recognized for their achievements across a broad spectrum of innovation including customer service, training and development, and corporate social responsibility. Among the winners were call center operators from Southern China and Macau.

No one argues that 2009 was a very challenging year for all businesses. Despite rhetoric from the Obama administration about making it tougher for US companies to outsource jobs that could be filled by local hires, outsourcing to low-cost locations remains a strong and viable alternative for many US and European companies looking to cut cost and keep afloat in a volatile global market.

According to Paul Chen, systems engineering director for Avaya [12] Asia Pacific, productivity, efficiency and customer service excellence were key concerns in the contact center industry in 2009. She notes that while the technology is available to help businesses to transform their contact centers into strategic assets that enable them to deliver better customer service more profitably, there are still companies out there which are outdated in their approach. (more…)

Its probably difficult to figure when the concept of touch computing first came about. History tells us that as far back as 1980s, there was fascination with the idea of entering data into computers outside of the keyboard and mouse, in particular – using a pen.

Conrad Blickenstorfer, publisher of the website Rugged PCs, , and the long-time editor-in-chief of Pen Computing Magazine, wrote that early efforts by software giant, Microsoft, as well as other vendors like GO, Nestor and CIC, did not produce the expected influx of demand for pen-based. Blickenstorfer wrote that by 1995 pen computing was all but dead. The idea of using anything other the keyboard to interact with a computing device did not die though. The market for such technology survived in niche vertical applications like digital design. Even today, there are still lots of pen-based digital devices from pocket digital dictionaries and personal digital assistants, and smartphones.

Bill Gates, co-founder and ex-CEO of Microsoft, has been a staunch supporter of the concept with various generations of the Microsoft Windows operating system being embedded with the technology (did you know that Microsoft introduced pen extensions into Windows 3.1?). But while there was enthusiasm for such as technology that would allow you to input data into a computer from anything other than a physical keyboard, the actual software and hardware technologies present at the time did not make the experience worth engaging users.

Next came Tablet PCs.

Even when Microsoft launched a tablet edition of its very popular Windows XP Professional operating system, the popularity of tablet PCs didn’t really catch on. Pundits like Steve Jobs of Apple Computer claimed the technology would never fly – that the product use was limited to surfing the web. Of course Steve Jobs should never be taken seriously when it comes to lambasting technologies Apple does not currently market. He is using what every militarist and aspiring business strategist uses – misdirection.

The launch of the iPhone and iPod Touch revived interes in the technology using the human fingers as the primary medium for entering data. But where Apple presented us with the notion that it is possible to use your fingers to enter data into a computing device, I’d argue that it was Microsoft’s development of the Surface Technology that gives us a glimpse of what is possible (in the future).

In the here and now, though, the arrival of touch-ready Microsoft Windows7 signals a commercial revival of the notion of pen computing or tablet computing or touch computing. In 2009, pundits and analysts predicted that 2010 will be the year of the tablet PC (or touch depending on who you talk to). True to form, we are starting to see new generations of computers that either have touch screens or trackpad that support multi-touch. But this only where the operating system is either Windows7 or Apple OSX. The Linux variants have yet to respond.

But let me make it clear. If you are interested in buying a new PC because you like what you read about multi-touch technology, if the software application you plan to use extensively on this new PC does not support the technology, you won’t benefit from its feature until the software developer makes it happen.

Side note: I bought my daughter an HP Touchsmart TX2 in 2009. It was running Windows Vista Home. It was both pen and touch base. And while it had its kinks (occasional software and hardware glitches), it worked for the most part. I made a mistake of buying Microsoft Windows7 Professional edition with the understanding that Microsoft put a Vista to 7 migration path. Little did I know that this only worked if you bought the same version of the next generation OS (ie., if you have Vista Home, get 7 Home. If you have Vista Professional, get 7 Professional). So I ended up doing a full install of Windows7. What both Microsoft and HP failed to tell me on their website though is that I would lose a lot of the original add-on software that HP created for the TX2 in the process.

So now I am tempted to do a full recovery on the TX2 just to get back most of the software that came with the original HP Touchsmart TX2. Bummer!

.

Next Page »