Archive for March, 2005

Digital newspapers – matching vision with technical reality with a practical business model

23/03/2005

One of the interesting things about working at Sun is that you are at a company that talks a lot of vision, but doesn’t sell the business skills to implement that vision. We sell the infrastructure that allows businesses to deliver a service for example, but we don’t sell the skills to help abusiness make the business decisions to create it – that’s the job of partners.
This can be frustrating for sales guys who listen to a vision pitch, go out to their customers, get their customers excited, but then can’t deliver anything this quarter – they need to get the right partners in place, do a lot of work behind the scenes and wait for a PO to arrive in two year’s time once the customer’s worked out how to transform their business using technology and finally need some servers and software to do something useful.
Equally the vision can be a bit vague. ‘Everything connected’ – ‘so what?’ thinks the manager of a toilet roll factory. ‘I might be interested in getting an SMS with football scores on it each morning, but how will that help build my toilet roll empire?’.
Another issue is that the vision pitches are just that – vision. It can sometimes be hard to believe in what’s being said. Over the last few months, however, so much seems to be falling into place in a way that affects me both personally and positively:
For years, Sun have been banging on about mobile devices running Java. In December I get a mobile phone that runs Java games and I enjoy playing them during dull moments. I might even buy some more… Someone’s making money somewhere!
For years, Sun have been banging on about the Internet, information sharing and the potential it holds. Suddenly this blog ‘explosion’ starts to put that into perspective – Sun’s blogs are incredibly useful, as well as fun, as well as informative. People are starting to ‘podcast’, bandwidth is exploding and I really see a lot of new, useful way of accessing info occurring. The web news we have at the moment won’t go away, but the blogging thing extends its usefulness.
I call home from Dubai over the net for 2 cents a minute and connect to the net from wireless connections all around Europe during what would previously have been ‘dead time’ in the airport. ‘Alway online’ – now it’s becoming possible and it’s really, really useful.
This reality is the vision Sun were talkinb about to customers four years ago. Frankly it was hard to imagine what it would be like, when at the time you had a 56K dialup connection at home and it took half an hour and a lot of money just to buy a cinema ticket online. Now it’s all falling into place…
Vision is great, but technical limitations and human nature mean that some great ideas don’t just work. Take the example of people telling us we’d all be printing our daily paper ourselves each morning, or reading all our news on the web.
Most people enjoy reading short articles on the web, but there is still a place for the printed, well edited, daily paper. Printing your daily paper yourself? That’s a business model that won’t really work – I’m not going to pay lots of money for a printer and waste time printing out 50 pages every morning. Also, I like that fact that we have a daily paper boy who has a job because people like me like a broadsheet paper delivered every day.
So, the vision doesn’t really match conusmer reality, but…
Here’s a business model for downloaded and locally printed newspapers that actually works and provides something useful for customers.
When I got back to my rather overpriced hotel room in Moscow last night, there was an interesting leaflet lying on the bed. For about $4, I could request a freshly printed copy of a huge range of newspapers delivered to my door the next morning. The hotel obviously subscribes to some service that provides a PDF of that morning’s issue, prints it on a decent paper and propvides a really useful service – the nice feel of a daily paper, but one that’s completely up to date.
The range of titles was excellent. Everything from sober Saudi Arabian Government dailies to trashy British tabloids. Incredible. Vison meets human nature meets a practical business model.
So, I feel the challenge for us at Sun is to keep talking the vision, but apply a little more business sense to it so that we can give our sales guys some practical ideas to pass on to their customers and get some projects running sooner. That way, the PO for some infrastructure to run those services will arrive a lot earlier.

Advertisements

Solaris still not ready on the laptop

22/03/2005

Still haven’t got around to getting Solaris 10 fully functional on my laptop. This isn’t because it can’t be made to do so, it’s just due to not having time. Anyway, when I’m in the office I use a Sun Ray and when I’m travelling I usually use wireless networks and the wireless card only has an experimental driver, so it’s Windows only when out of town for now.
Things I still need to do to get things working properly –

  • Get xorg.conf file for My Toshiba S1
  • Work out how to get DHCP to time out more quickly when booting offline
  • Follow Darren’s advice to get GDM to be the default login handler
  • Get hold of experiemental wireless drivers and get them working
  • Use of Solaris 10 is definitely accelerating with the tech guys I work with. There seem to be two camps – Linux users who want to roll their own for fun or functional reasons, or people who want Solaris underneath for their own reasons. A lot of sales guys are fully JDS/Linux now, which is impressive. Those who travel a lot tend to use Windows still due to wireless card drivers and the like.
    Internal Sun Rays now run what ITOps are calling a ‘JDS preview’. It’s basically a nice JDS lookalike to be used until Sun Ray 3.0 is supported and deployed on Solaris 10 – currently all Sun Ray servers are Solaris 9 and there’s no official JDS layer for Solaris 9.
    What’s impressive about this is that they essentially upgraded the look and feel for 30,000 desktops in about a day. That really shows the power of Sun Ray.
    I’ve started using the ‘preview’ and I like it. I’ve used CDE for 6 years now and had got throughly used to it though, so at first I missed CDE’s feeling of being quite nippy, but now I inifinitely prefer such ‘modern’ feature as a toolbar to which and from which I can minimise and maxinmise apps. I remember the guys who used to complain about CDE at Sun and claim OpenWindows was much faster though. There were still a few of those around in 1998 when I joined and one of them set up a Sun Ray based ‘web cafe’ at a place we sponsored at the time, using OpenWindows as the windowing manager. It made it look like we were installing some ancient dumb terminals, although CDE was only a little better.

    Mazzy Star on a Shuffle, iPod or iRiver?

    22/03/2005

    Bought three Mazzy Star CDs, which I’m really enjoying. Not sure why I missed Mazzy Star the first time around. They seem to have released most of their good stuff when I was at Uni, during which time my music budget was nil and the indie discos I went to played more lively stuff.
    I haven’t listened to enough music recently and really must get a decent mp3 player. I think the Shuffle would be best for me. Looks nice, not too pricey. I should get the cheaper

    Sun Rays as ‘work from home’ devices, sold via Telcos

    22/03/2005

    I’ve put together a sales brief to explain a straightforward business model for deploying Sun Rays over WAN, via telcos. There are all sorts of potential ways it can be useful and a lot of countries are looking at working with telcos/ISPs to rent a Sun Ray to consumer customers.
    I’d like to see us working with local telcos following a different strategy. Lots of customers out there would like to be able to provide a work from home service for their existing or potential employees. Using PCs or even WinTerms is just too expensive – there’s something to manage, whether it’s helping non tech savvy users run virus checks or install the latest Citrix or Tarantella client, or updating that embedded XP OS remotely. Either way, why should employees connect to company apps via a consumer device? Let them keep their home PC is they have one and provide work access instead via something that’s zero management and provided as a service via your telco. For technically savvy users
    Telcos understand providing dial tone and zero maintenance devices to customers and billing for that services – they’ve been doing it for years with the humble telephone. Sun Ray’s very similar to a telephone. It display apps that run elsewhere, just as a telephone can do anything that the service on the other end provides, from simple voice conversations to ordering cinema tickets, securely checking a bank balance, etc., etc., etc. Sun Ray servers live at the telco datecentre, a DSL line and a Sun Ray is placed at the employee’s home. The telco essentially provides ‘dialtone’ from the employee’s home or the customer’s datacentre. Place a Citrix or Tarantella setup in the customer’s server room and you’ve got access to services and applications.
    The telco has nothing to manage – the Sun Rays, unlike PCs, WinTerms or other products on the market, never need maintenance. If one breaks, stick another one in and you’re up and running where you left off. Beyond the odd tiny firmware update, which occurs transparently to users and needs little or no intervention from admins, there’s no management of local software. The firmware’s tiny. In short, Sun Ray allows this kind of business model, PCs or any device with an OS to manage don’t.
    If a business wants employees to work from home, they rent the service form the telco for the Sun Ray ‘dialtone’. The telco places a broadband connection and a Sun Ray at the employee’s house. A Sun partner installs, test and configures the Citrix/TTA server and your employee’s working securely from home, with no headaches for the telco in terms of app provisions and no headaches for the customer’s IT manager, who just makes sure his Windows app are being smoothly delivered by Citrix, Terminal Services, or whatever.

    Sun Rays as ‘work from home’ devices, sold via Telcos

    22/03/2005

    I’ve put together a sales brief to explain a straightforward business model for deploying Sun Rays over WAN, via telcos. There are all sorts of potential ways it can be useful and a lot of countries are looking at working with telcos/ISPs to rent a Sun Ray to consumer customers.
    I’d like to see us working with local telcos following a different strategy. Lots of customers out there would like to be able to provide a work from home service for their existing or potential employees. Using PCs or even WinTerms is just too expensive – there’s something to manage, whether it’s helping non tech savvy users run virus checks or install the latest Citrix or Tarantella client, or updating that embedded XP OS remotely. Either way, why should employees connect to company apps via a consumer device? Let them keep their home PC is they have one and provide work access instead via something that’s zero management and provided as a service via your telco. For technically savvy users
    Telcos understand providing dial tone and zero maintenance devices to customers and billing for that services – they’ve been doing it for years with the humble telephone. Sun Ray’s very similar to a telephone. It display apps that run elsewhere, just as a telephone can do anything that the service on the other end provides, from simple voice conversations to ordering cinema tickets, securely checking a bank balance, etc., etc., etc. Sun Ray servers live at the telco datecentre, a DSL line and a Sun Ray is placed at the employee’s home. The telco essentially provides ‘dialtone’ from the employee’s home or the customer’s datacentre. Place a Citrix or Tarantella setup in the customer’s server room and you’ve got access to services and applications.
    The telco has nothing to manage – the Sun Rays, unlike PCs, WinTerms or other products on the market, never need maintenance. If one breaks, stick another one in and you’re up and running where you left off. Beyond the odd tiny firmware update, which occurs transparently to users and needs little or no intervention from admins, there’s no management of local software. The firmware’s tiny. In short, Sun Ray allows this kind of business model, PCs or any device with an OS to manage don’t.
    If a business wants employees to work from home, they rent the service form the telco for the Sun Ray ‘dialtone’. The telco places a broadband connection and a Sun Ray at the employee’s house. A Sun partner installs, test and configures the Citrix/TTA server and your employee’s working securely from home, with no headaches for the telco in terms of app provisions and no headaches for the customer’s IT manager, who just makes sure his Windows app are being smoothly delivered by Citrix, Terminal Services, or whatever.

    Getting a mortgage in Dubai – hassles!

    22/03/2005

    Getting a mortgage here is driving me crazy. I know it’s a stressful thing in any country, but the company we’re buying our place off and the company we’re getting our mortgage from don’t seem to understand or care that it might be a good idea to make everything crystal clear in the contracts, so customers can understand first time around what they’re getting into. First we have all sorts of potential charges started being mentioned while we signed the deposit from the developer. Now the mortgage contract seems to be full of holes – not mentioning whether we can sell the apartment or not, being unclear on the payments that need to be made…. The list goes on.
    It’s an Islamic mortgage, which I hadn’t realised at first as Tabu had started everything off. I’ve nothing against that, but it’s just all rather ‘foreign’. Foreign’s great, unless you’re spending lots of money on a house. Our mortgage advisor just doesn’t seem to be able to explain things properly either, which isn’t much help either.
    I suppose the companies involved will get their acts together as they get more experienced.
    One company that doesn’t seem to learn from experience is my bank here, who I’m probably not supposed to mention. Someone needs to tell them that simply saying ‘that’s procedure’ is not enough when you’re explaining why something can’t be done. Maybe it’s a regional thing and most customers just accept that explanation, but it’s like a red rag to a bull for me. It does give you the opportunity for interesting conversation though –
    – If it’s ‘procedure’ there must be a proper, logical explanation. I can’t see one.
    – Er. It’s procedure.
    – So why is it procedure? Explain to me what the reason is.
    – There is no reason.
    – So you’re telling me that the reason you’re not allowed to send me the documents I need is due to procedure that has no reason.
    – Er…
    And on it goes…

    Moscow

    22/03/2005

    I travelled to Moscow on Monday. It was 10C on arriving according to the pilot.
    Going from Dubai to cold European countries every week is really strange – getting on a plane when it’s warm and sunny and 28 degrees and walking out into 6 inch deep snow and freezing temperatures can feel odd. The summer should be great though; leaving 48C behind in Dubai and going off to enjoy a break from the humidity in some European city will be very welcome.
    I’m visiting the Russian desktop and mobility team and am impressed with the work they’ve done around Sun Ray. We should be seeing some interesting stuff coming out of this region soon.
    I’m staying at the Grand Marriott, which is very grand, as the name suggests. It’s also pretty expensive. I’ll be enjoying the ‘Health Club’ tonight. I really need to get more disciplined about exercising when I’m away. It’s just too easy to get back to the hotel room and slouch around.
    Every office in Dubai has a so-called ‘PRO’ or ‘public relations officer’, whose job is not to write press releases, but to get visas and generally deal with the bureaucracy everyone living in, or travelling to, a foreign country has to face. As a British citizen wanting a single visit visa to Russia, you need your hotel to courier the original documents detailing your stay – a fax is not good enough in Dubai, although Russian embassies elsewhere often accept this. Once these had been DHL’d, Tony, our PRO, then went to the embassy and somehow managed to wangle getting the visa in a day. Quite an achievement apparently. Two pages are now taken up in my passport with a nice beige sticker covered in Cyrllic.
    The girls in passport control had an interesting uniform – normal jacket, coupled with short skirts and stilletto heeled shoes. Bizarre.
    I was last in Moscow in the summer of ’97. First impressions are that the various businesses you see appear to advertise themselves much better. In 1997 restaurants and the like often just had a door in a wall, or a blank window. Hardly the best way to entice passers by. The prize for the most lurid street signs goest to the various slot machine places, who are pretty inventive with primary colours and coloured light bulbs.
    Another observation is that there are a lot more midrange Western cars on the streets. From what I remember last time it was mainly Ladas and Volgas, with Western cars usually being high end Audis, Mercs and BMWs. Now there are plenty of Skodas, Volvos, Fords and other ‘normal’ stuff. My taxi this morning was a Volga. It had no rear seatbelts at all, of course, but somehow I find that less annoying than the many taxis I’ve been in places like Morocco and Turkey where the cars have seatbelts, but no clips, or the seatbelts are helpfully pinned back out of use behind the rear seats.

    GCC Bad Driving Week

    17/03/2005

    I can only hope that the it has more impact in Arabic, but the slogan of the traffic safety campaign going on in the Gulf at the moment is:
    ‘Your driving reflects your manners’
    I do wish they had used a slightly more effective slogan. I can’t see this particularly affecting the driving style of the headlight flashing, lane weaving brigade on the roads here.
    How about ‘Your driving style is killing other people’. Or, ‘By not strapping your child in when driving and instead allowing it to stand on your lap, it will be torn to shreds and brutally killed as it flies out of the windscreen when you have to brake sharply’.
    That might get the message across, along with a few graphic images of burning Land Cruisers and crushed Toyotal echos.

    Gordon Brown’s budget – calculating how it will hurt me

    17/03/2005

    I really enjoyed doing this tax calculator, courtesy of the BBC. By my calculations, since I live in Dubai, I will be paying zero income tax to Gordon over the coming year.

    Sony T6310 review

    15/03/2005

    I’ve been using the Sony T630 since December, after inheriting it on joining Sun.
    Despite initially really not liking it at all and having trouble getting to grips with typing on it, I decided not to let early problems put me off and give it a go.
    Before that I’d had a Nokia 6310 for a couple of years, so I was used to doing things the Nokia way. This meant initial hassles, such as a different key to use to create a space when texting and getting used to a new user interface. Despite perservering, I’m still not happy with it, so here’s a list of what’s good and what needs to be done to improve phone. There are more comments discussing the latter than the former…
    Speed:
    The phone is incredibly sluggish. For example, there’s a neat feature that lets you have a short list of your ‘friends’. You can access this list by moving the joystick up, selecting a name and calling them directly, or selecting a list of other functions; sending a text, editing the number, etc.
    I have 6 names in this list and it takes ten seconds to display them, which makes it effectively useless. It’s quicker to write a text and select the contact to send it to rather than wait for the list to appear.
    Entering text and moving between menus is just too slow for me and I find myself constantly frustrated by this, particularly when needing to something quickly such as sending a text, changing the date and time or looking up a number.
    User interface:
    Tasks that seemed to take three clicks on the Nokia seem to take twice as many on the Sony. This, coupled with the phones generally slow response, is a major negative point. For example, sending a text message to several people was straightforward on the Nokia: select ‘Send to Many’, select, send, select, send and so on. The Sony has a more complex ‘add recipient’ feature that lets you add users to the list of recipients before you send the text. This seems more logical: create and edit a list and then send. It just takes longer, however and isn’t any more convenient.
    There are several other examples of convoluted ways of doing simple tasks.
    Camera:
    Camera quality is pretty useless for anything more than close ups in bright light. I’d thought it would be usable to capture low res images of stuff during the day – a funny advert, an eye catching car or event and suchlike, but this simply isn’t possible.
    Features:
    I love the games, although I’ve never bothered to buy any beyond the Golf and rally game it came with.
    Accessories:
    The usb adaptor doesn’t charge the phone! Annoying and a waste of money on my part as I’d assumed it would, but hadn’t checked. Now I have my USB multi-phone charger, it no longer matters.
    In summary:
    I was given it and have all my numbers in it so I’ll keep it, but I’d never have bought it.