February 2010


I work in the media business and a couple of our publishers and heads of sales keep telling our web development team to make sure our websites support Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) as many of their customers are still using IE6.

Now I don’t know about you but I generally like to keep my browser applications (I use IE, FireFox, Chrome) up-to-date to take advantage of new versions of JAVA and Flash and other web apps that are specifically designed for web browsing.

IE6 was launched in 2003. Today the current version is IE8 and development is underway for IE9. So it begs the question why would people want to stay with IE6? Most enterprises use a 4-5 year window to plan their infrastructure upgrades. Since we are at the beginning of 2010, this implies that enterprises planning for their upgrades this year have computers purchased in 2006-2007, around the period when IE7 was launched. I understand that many SMBs in Asia will likely be using really old PCs, perhaps even as old as early generations of Pentium running on Windows95. These folks would likely use IE5 or IE6 to browse the web.

According to w3counter, as of January 2010, 49.70% of users browsing the web use variants of Internet Explorer. Worldwide IE8 accounts for 23.69% of all browsers surfing the Net. Firefox 3.5 share is 23.30%, IE7 is 15.59% and IE6 is 10.41%. Click here for other stats.

So why am I ranting these numbers? Web giants, Google and youtube announced earlier this year (2010) that they will stop supporting IE6. Youtube will do so in March 13 while Google plans a phased approach to cease supporting IE6 from March 1.

If you use IE6 to watch your favorite videos on youtube, on March 13, you will be presented with a message from youtube asking you to upgrade to either Google Chrome, Opera 10, IE8, Safari 4 or Firefox 3.6.

The campaign to stop supporting IE6 started as early as August 2008 when a band of startups launched the IE6 No More campaign (http://www.ie6nomore.com/). (more…)

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Most of the people I’ve met over the last 10 years say I am a driven person. According to ‘thefreedictionary.com’ driven means ‘motivated to succeed.’

 To be honest I don’t think this is true of myself. I don’t believe what I do is largely because I want to succeed. I don’t even know what success means. Is it money? I have some but not enough to qualify me to be listed. Is it academic accomplishment? I didn’t graduate with honors nor was I recognized for having done something noteworthy at my alma mater. Is it position at work? If you strip down the flowery honoraries on my businesscard, I am a writer, photographer, videographer, editor, and a whole slew of other types of work. I am also a delivery person being asked to carry stuff for people to other people. I may have people working in the group I belong to but I am just another employee.

I know I work long hours at times to the dismay of my family. But like all the things I’ve ever done in the past, I do what I do because I love what I do. And this is what I tell anyone willing to listen, give of yourself 100% in the things that you do only if this is what you really want to do. Steve Jobs said it very nicely during the 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University.

Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true of your love as it is of work. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know it when you find it. And like any great relationship, it gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple Computer.

I’ve never heard Steve’s speech until moments before I started writing this blog. He is right. If you love what you do, no matter how hard, it is going to be easy (huh?).

Up until four years ago, the best value-for-money laptops carried the Dell logo. Mind you, back then Dell laptops were not the cheapest in the market. Not a long shot. The cheap title would go to most Taiwan and China-branded laptops (some would call this white label). But the warning I gave to most would-be buyers of these low-priced laptops was to pay attention to post-sales support. I know this first hand because I worked for a Taiwan laptop manufacturer earlier on in my career and I had to tell customers that any technical problem had to be looked into by the team at home base – in my case, that meant sending the faulty unit back to Taipei for at least 2-3 months of repair and testing.

What Dell did was build a customer service support hotline and also an online database for querying the more common problems customers faced while using a Dell product. This, combined with their direct, build-to-order business model, made it possible for Dell to compete with the much larger and much more ‘deeply-rooted into society’ competitors.

I’ve been a user of Dell laptops for a better part of nine years. I can say with unbiased opinion that the Dell Latitude is the preferred Dell series for business users) laptops are mostly reliable. They are not the fastest, lightest, and the batteries do not last according to spec. Leading edge is not something I’d associate Dell laptops with although this may be changing with some new models coming this year. I’m sure some of these changes are attributable to better industrial design talent entering Dell’s design team.

Back in late 2009, Intel announced that it was coming out with a next iteration of its popular ‘Core’ processors for desktops and laptops. The first batch of personal computers bearing those new processors started to enter the market until the label ‘Intel Core i3’, ‘Intel Core i5’, ‘Intel Core i7’ and ‘Intel Core i7 extreme edition’ series. Essentially,  the new ‘Core i’ use smaller dies to house two to six processors, have larger cache memory, and support faster memory.

I’ve been meaning to get a new computer to replace our 8-year old iMac and now seemed a good time to consider moving ahead with this. But deciding on what to buy is not going to be easy given that there are so many models and brands to choose from.

So when the opportunity came for me to review one of the new series of Dell laptops I didn’t hesitate. The unit I tested (and from which this report card is written on is the Dell Studio 1747 with an Intel Core i7 quad core processor each CPU clocked at 1.6GHz (4 Cores/8 Threads, turbo up to 2.8 GHz, 6MB Cache). It also came with 6GB DDR3 RAM, 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk, a dual layer slot loading CD/DVD +/- reader/writer, an ExpressCard/34 slot and a 8-in-1 media card reader. Graphics processor was an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 with 1GB RAM. For connectivity it came with a Realtek PCIe GBE Ethernet port, 1397 WLAN mini-card, and Bluetooth. The display is 17.3” High Definition 1600×900 widescreen glossy display (WLED Display with TrueLife). The Studio 17 came with a 2.0 MP camera flanked by a pair of microphones. This is one of the few laptops that still carried an IEEE 1394a Firewire connector, in addition to 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0/e-SATA combo port, HDMI connector, DisplayPort connector and a VGA video connector. Also included is the antenna jack that connects to an internal TV-tuner. Keyboard is a backlit full size with 4 column numeric keypad. It came pre-installed with Windows 7 Home 64-bit edition.

All Dell Studio laptops have a soft cover that comes in one of five colors (chainlink black, spring green, flamingo pink, ruby red, midnight blue, plum purple). The rubbery texture gives the soft feel and allows for a firmer grip. The wedge-shaped side profile creates the illusion that it is smaller than it is. The sloped design makes it easier to carry around the house although at 3.2 kg, this unit is not meant for lugging around town. (more…)

In 2001 my wife and I attended a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Hong Kong (yes, I admit that we belong to that genre – albeit we were inculcated into the American folk-singing music of the 60s without the benefit of freedom of choice). At one point Mary Travers confessed her apprehension seeing Hong Kong people walking along the streets and apparently talking to themselves. She was eventually told that Hong Kong people liked talking to their mobile phones via wireless ear pieces. Today we know these devices to be Bluetooth in-ear headsets

A Bluetooth headset lets you talk to someone from your mobile (cell) phone via a wireless device plugged to your ear. Early generations of Bluetooh headsets fell into either of two categories: utilitarian or fashion statements. Almost all failed in one category for which they were built – to let you talk to someone in a clear voice.

My first Bluetooth headset was a Sony Ericsson. Over the years I’ve collected several brands including Jabra, Samsung, LG and more recently Plantronics.

Why so many? One could argue I’ve been on a quest to find a Bluetooth headset that gives voice quality comparable to that on a landline, is comfortable to use, and lasts long enough to limit charges to maybe two times a week.

This week I was asked to try a Plantronics Discovery 975 headset. This model follows the Plantronics tradition of minimalist design. In fact, two things I didn’t like about an earlier model – the Plantronics Discovery 625 – were the rather clumsy design of the ear gel and the addition of the removable hook. The ear gel easily detaches from the main body of the headset. Because I often pocket the headset when I don’t use it, I end up detaching the ear gel from the main body. The hook can become a nuisance if you were glasses.

Thankfully, on the 975 Plantronics has done away with the hook and made the ear gel design more rugged and sturdy. Drawing from its experience with the 625 and other earlier models, Plantronics incorporated a dual-mic AudioIQ² technology to simultaneously capture your voice and also cancel background noise. AudioIQ² automatically adjusts incoming calls to comfortable levels. The addition of a 20-band equalizer delivers rich, natural voice quality further enhancing the call experience.

It is easy to tell if you are using a headset when you are out in the open. The wind often creates swooshing sound that annoys the party on the other line. You often come in choppy. Plantronics uses WindSmart technology to provide three layers of protection against wind noise.

The result is voice clarity I’ve never associated with bluetooth headsets.

One of the reasons why I want to have a headset is so I don’t have to hold the phone while talking to someone. This leaves my hands free to write down notes. So in addition to good sound quality, I’d like the device to be comfortable to use for long periods as well as unobstrusive. At 9 grams, the 975 is light on the ear. And because it snugs very neatly into my ear, I often forget I have it on. (more…)

Back in the days when IBM still had a personal computer division, the Thinkpad series (first released in 1992) were targeted at mid- to large enterprises that wanted transportable computers that were rugged, asthetic and had the computing power needed to run most business applications. The classic Thinkpad designed has remained largely unchained over the years. However, the business dynamics of enterprises have changed. Economic downturns and the need for greater cost control have led managers to agree to use other brands as long as they did the job.

This changed in the perception among business executives is one of the reasons why Dell and HP successfully penetrated the enterprise despite being considered of inferior design and manufacture (to date, I still hear executives swear they will never use either brand with reliability cited as the most common reason).

When Lenovo bought the PC division from IBM, the Chinese company (in China they were known as Legend) decided to keep what it saw was a ‘winning’ design formula in the Thinkpad. Lenovo launched less the less pricy, 3000 series to target small businesses as well as consumers. The 3000 (C, N and V) series was eventually discontinued and giving rise to the Ideapad series with a much better aesthetic formfactor to meet a more design-conscious market. The Thinkpad family continued to be sold at a premium and despite new technology and materials, the external design remained the same – staid, boxy, heavy and black. Most executives I see carried their Thinkpad on a carry-case with wheels (that should tell you something).

If Apple Computer were to be credited with changing industry perception about personal computers is that you don’t have to be drab (dressed in black) to be productive, efficient and business-like. In fact you can be all of these and also be cool.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010, Lenovo decided to give the Thinkpad a facelift. The first two models to come off the show floor were the Thinkpad X100e and the Thinkpad Edge. The X100e is the first netbook for the business executive. I’ve read a number of very positive reviews about the X100e and so did my own review when I was handed the new netbook for a few days of handholding. True to its legacy, the X100e is a laptop with the business executive in mind. It carried everything you ever needed from your laptop at netbook prices. There were only two things I didn’t like about the X100e – weight (it was heavy at 1.36 kg) and the processor that came with the test unit was and AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 was not as energy efficient as the Intel Atom processors (of course the AMD chip has more compute horsepower compared to its Intel counterpart).

In the conventional laptop category, Lenovo launched the Thinkpad Edge, a 13.3″ laptop sporting a new body and new keyboard, while retaining the Thinkpad tradition of rugged, solid design. (more…)