August 31, 2006
Google Apps for Your Domain - A Threat to Microsoft?
Google's foray into Microsoft Office territory has drawn a lot of press. The lines of thought break down to 1) this is a real challenge to Microsoft or 2) Google's offerings are too lightweight to have any dent on the market for Office. It is hard to say what effect Google Apps for Your Domain is ultimately going to have. Major corporations are wedded to Office and aren't likely to switch anytime soon.
It's not just a matter of Office works, so why switch. Mere mortals pay the bloated street price for Office ($400-$500 range). Corporations and academics pay a fraction of that. My legitimate copy of Office 2003 Professional with license and holographic label cost a mere $19.95 at academic rates. I'm sure General Motors pays a lot less than this by volume, as does every Fortune 500 company. My price pales to that of the Educational Edition sold around $125 at Costco, and that requires an academic affiliation per the license agreement. Microsoft is making a bundle of cash from Office even at these deflated prices. Google may not be competitive with a lesser product, even at free. None of this even takes into account the broken copies of Office that are passed around by hand or via the web.
Lets take a look at Google Apps for Your Domain before we get ahead of ourselves. Google has its own press release describing the product:
Google Apps for Your Domain, an expansion of the Gmail for Your Domain service that launched in February 2006, currently includes Gmail web email, the Google Talk instant messaging and voice calling service, collaborative calendaring through Google Calendar, and web page design, publishing and hosting via Google Page Creator. Domain administrators use a simple web-based control panel to manage their user account list, set up aliases and distribution lists, and enable the services they want for their domain. End users with accounts that have been set up by their administrator simply browse to customized login pages on any web-connected computer. The service scales easily to accommodate growing user bases and storage needs while drastically reducing maintenance costs.
This description doesn't sound like much of a challenge to Office, unless you take into account the Writely word processing application, Google Spreadsheet, and maybe one or two other software as service apps in the Google cloud. Those products will evolve, but even then it is an open question as to whether they will make effective substitutes for Office. Open Office, Star Office and other free or low cost packages have failed to budge Office from corporate America (and the rest of the world). WordPerfect is a niche product compared to its former glory in spite of its features.
So where's the appeal for Google Apps for Your Domain? It's going to be with the poor guy or gal that can't buy into an Office volume program, the small business who doesn't have the same leverage with Microsoft as a multi-billion dollar business, smaller schools, and perhaps, even larger schools who don't want the headache of running mail servers and calendar apps. That only diminishes the need for Outlook and not the entire Office suite. Some may see that as a plus give Outlook's spotty record with worms and viruses. This is the market that is underserved by Microsoft.
Service integrators such as IBM and smaller management companies are likely to see erosion in sales before Microsoft ever does. What would be more interesting to see is a company such as IBM cutting a deal with Google as a marketing reseller. That development might send a message to Microsoft.
Having said all of this, there is still an effect on Redmond that goes beyond direct competition. At the very least, Google, with brand name and millions of users, keeps Microsoft honest about being innovative. The company talks a good line in court, but perceived competition from the likes of Google force it to do something to keep its edge rather than react (monthly patches anyone?). I like Microsoft products and I have no currently working Apple equipment. Yet I still think there is more imagination in Cupertino than in Redmond. Apple can dig at Vista with their Leopard OS all it wants but that won't translate into market share as Microsoft co-opts the best features some six months later.
it's going to take a company such as Google to draw out that competitive ire. Microsoft doesn't have the same kind of hold for the web crowd as they do with Wall street. Don't like Hotmail? There's Yahoo and Gmail, and now free AOL mail accounts. Collect them all. That's really Microsoft's disadvantage in that Google has the stronger and more positive web brand. Unless Microsoft can change that, they will have won the desktop and lost the web.
August 30, 2006
Zune Underwhelming According to American Technology Research Analyst
Shaw Wu of American Technology Research looked at specs for Zune submitted to the FCC and called the device "underwhelming." He said the player seems to be a repackaged Toshiba Gigabeat player that has had lackluster consumer response (in comparison to the iPod).
So far we know the device will have a 30 gigabyte drive, a 3 inch screen, an FM radio, and 802.11 wireless capability that will allow users to annoy their friends who also own Zune players. Wait until spammers learn how to break through that feature before Microsoft rethinks the communal aspect of Zune. Imagine getting a Viagra podcast beamed to your machine instead of Led Zep's Black Dog. That ought to get old really fast. Then there will be virus dangers, and the need for virus protection software for Zune. Just kidding. Microsoft could never build and market a product that insecure.
Wu also predicted that Zune would take market share away from current Microsoft partners rather than from Apple. No word on whether he was drawing that conclusion for himself, or from the overwhelming net buzz to that effect.
Google Books Goes Live
Google's book scanning project has now gone public for searching and, for those documents in the public domain, available for PDF download.
August 29, 2006
EchoStar Settles With Everyone Except Fox
EchoStar will pay the broadcast networks $100 million to settle the suit against it for transmitting distant signals to markets served by local affiliates. The terms allow EchoStar to keep on broadcasting. Fox has not settled, and that's no surprise as Rupert Murdoch owns it and competitor DirecTV.
Greenpeace Rates Lenovo, Apple Low on Environment Issues
Greenpeace has issued the Guide to Greener Electronics, which ranks high tech manufacturers according to their efforts at being environmentally friendly. Dell and Nokia comes out on top, although from the Greenpeace perspective, they still have a long way to go to be truly environmentally friendly. At the bottom are Lenovo and Apple. Both companies dispute the ranking.
The New York Times Censors Self to U.K. Readers
Is this the harbinger of things to come? The New York Times is using technology to target ads to individuals to target stories as well. Well, not exactly targeting stories, but keeping them away from certain groups, such as the British. Great Britain has laws that prohibit publication of information prior to trial that could prejudice defendants. Contrast this with the United States where media outlets publish as much as possible about a defendant regardless of the veracity of the information provided they stay within the bounds of libel law. The best illustration of this comes in the case of John Mark Karr, the self-confessed killer of JonBenet Ramsey, who couldn't pass the DNA tests or other factual inconsistencies in the case to make the charges stick.
Back to the British and their notions of protecting the rights of the accused, as they apply them to the various accused in the plot to blow up jets en route to the U.S. The New York Times has a global reach which allows details of the story to penetrate to British readers, unless suppressed locally. This is exactly what the Times did by using the same technology that allows ads to appear before selected groups. In this situation, however, the concept was reversed. The Times blocked the news.
One of the common threads that permeated the hearings Congress held about Chinese censorship and the cooperation of American search engine providers was that these companies were complying with local law. Is this situation any different? Aside, that is, that Britain is a shining beacon of jurisprudence and a current ally, and not a competitive superpower that does not necessarily share America's interests at heart? What is really more thought provoking is that the means to censor geographically is not that hard, and that businesses and news outlets will do so in order to comply with "local laws". It is one thing to be blocked at the receiving end, and another to block information at the initial source, at the source's own choice. This development is worth watching to see how businesses and news outlets apply self-censorship to less savory regimes. There are plenty of them out there.
The New York Times story about the New York Times is in CNET.