All Clouds are Not Created Equal

After I read about another Google customer losing all of his Google data when Google decided to delete (or at least suspend) his account, I got to thinking about all of the times that Google has made a mistake and deleted user accounts or deleted email for Gmail users, I thought about how the different approaches of the key players in the emerging world require you to make some choices, some of which may be untenable. So, I thought I'd lay them out in clearer form than you will get from the hard-core technical blogs or the companies themselves. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year (WWDC 2011), Steve Jobs and the Apple executive team introduced iOS 5 and iCloud. During his iCloud introduction, Jobs said this: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." This is Apple's philosophy: the iCloud is the sync-master for  your digital life. It provides the axle to your devices that are the spokes. However (and this is a vital distinction!), your digital content lives on your devices when you are using it. The iCloud, then, is the master copy, but Apple expects you to have copies on one or more of your devices.

This is in sharp contrast to Google. In Google's world, the cloud is the only place where your data resides. You'll use your browsers (on your PC, your tablet, or your phone) to access, manipulate, create, and use your content. You may even cache some of it locally for performance reasons (for example, caching the first part of a video so you can watch it without "stutters"). However, the content is in the cloud and your devices are simply windows into it from Google's perspective.

...and then there's Microsoft. They want to get in on "this cloud thing," too, but they really aren't sure how to do it. Their business is Windows and Office, so how can they use the cloud and keep those lines humming? What they are doing now is having the cloud be a glorified backup service with some of the capabilities of their apps. The best experience, however, is to use their native apps on a PC and hook them into the cloud for backup and collaboration. This means that Microsoft Office 365 is a different perspective than iCloud (which is personal) and Google (which is all about the data being in the cloud only). It's effectively a hybrid of the two.

Regardless, you will want to make a choice based on these distinctions, because to the cloud you will go, one way or the other.

The iPad 2 Cometh

Last week I contacted a local Apple store for the third time since the launch of the iPad 2. "I don't suppose," I began as I reached the store's business desk, "You have an iPad 2s?" After she asked what I was seeking (a 64GB AT&T version), she told me that she didn't have what I wanted, although they did have some iPad 2s (primarily Verizon and WiFi-only, it seems). She also asked if she could put my business into their system. I answered in the affirmative and let it go, figuring I'd keep my eyes open and maybe check back in a few weeks.

That all changed the next day.

I received a call from the Apple Store in the morning asking for my credit card information. During that call, her colleague asked, "When can you come get your iPad 2?"

"What???!"

20 minutes later, I walked out of the store with my new black iPad 2 64GB AT&T, a tan leather Smart Cover, and a few accessories. I've been using it since I sync'd it so it would have all of my apps, incuuding the WordPress app I'm using to write this post.

While I will review the iPad 2 in an upcoming post, right now I'll just say this: Mark Sigal is right. With the benefits of the Apple Stores and Apple's profit margin, it will be extremely difficult for Motorola or Samsung to make inroads into the Apple market.

...and that's a very big deal.

More Phishing... Don't Fall for It!

This morning I was scrambling with a bit of last minute packing before heading out for a few days at a business event in Clearwater Beach, Florida. I grabbed my various electronic devices, and quickly checked my email. When I did, I saw this email with the subject, "Account Re-Activation (Please Reply)" Dear Webmail Account Users,

This is to inform you that we are having congestion's due to the anonymous registration of webmail accounts so we are shutting down some email accounts and your account is among those to be deleted, so we like to know if you still want this account on our e-mail database/mail server.

To enable us upgrade you account and give you the best of our services please you must reply to this mail and Re- confirms your login information to avoid interruption.

Full Name: ............................... Full Email Login: ...................... Password: ................................ Current Password: ...................

After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal because series of maintenance process need to be carried out on your mailbox.

Warning code:.....VX2G99AAJ

Failure to do this will automatically render your e-mail account deactivated from our e-mail database/mail server. To enable us upgrade your email account, please do reply to this mail.

Webmail Regional Mail server Technical Support.

It was obvious to me that this is a "phishing" email, but people fall for these expeditions every day. Help people by showing them why email like this is a scam designed to steal their email credentials. What do you see in this?

Here are a few of the things I see...

First, and foremost, it asks for my account information in the plain text of an email. That's what got me thinking: do people actually fall for this? They must!

Never email a password to anyone. Ever.

What else do I see in this? Well, it's not written to me personally, but to a generic title. Any real business with my account information would auto-fill my name, at least.

How about a webmail company who doesn't ask me to login to my account to make a change? Or at least to use a web page for this interaction?

Of course, the mistakes in the English in the email are keys, too. As are the "From:" address and header, which I haven't included here.

What do you see? How will you warn your friends?

TripIt for Travel Gets Gmail

This morning, travel itinerary site TripIt launched a new integration with Gmail. Now, instead of forwarding your itinerary messages to plans@tripit.com as you have done in the past, TripIt will scan your mailbox for you and import those items into your TripIt account. To create the link, login to your TripIt account and look in the upper right corner of your landing page for the big orange button:

This is so clean that it's a reason to move your itinerary emails to Gmail just to get this capability.

Check it out!

Why "Net Neutrality" is Wrong

In the late 1990s, I worked with an amazing group of brilliant network engineers building the InteropNet for the Interop trade shows around the world. We were always pushing the envelope, introducing next-generation technology before it was really ready. During a number of those years, we delivered real-time video traffic over the network, often using multicast methods that are still not widely used. We were always a little ahead of our time. Before I explain the details, allow me to mention one concept that is critical to understanding everything about the Internet: all transmissions across the Internet are made by packets. This means that every file or stream across the Internet is chopped into little 1400-byte chunks, each of which traverses the network independently of all the others. There is literally no relationship between the packets on the network. They are only reunited at the receiving end after they are off the network and in the device that will interpret them and deliver the result (like a video playback, email, file transfer, or any other end-to-end application).

But over the network, those packets are 100% independent of each other.

Because they are independent, they are subject to all kinds of issues. Sometimes, packets are dropped because a device is overloaded. Since packets can take different paths, they can arrive out of order or with varying time between them (called "jitter"). For many types of data transfer (like email, files, and even instant messaging), most of these things don't matter at all.

However, some traffic is very sensitive. Especially audio and video that is time-sensitive (used for applications like video calls, audio calls, live broadcast).

Back to Interop and the InteropNet... Delivery of video, even over the high-speed networks we were using, meant having to recognize the different requirements of traffic types and using the network resources in ways that accommodated those requirements. During those years, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force, the volunteer organization responsible for the standards that allow the Internet to function) defined the Differential Services (diffserv) standards to provide network performance appropriate to the type of service required.

This is an essential concept! Networks must be able to differentiate all of those independent packets flying around the network.

The New York Times has been reporting on both the FCC comments about so-called "Net Neutrality" conversations and the rumored Google/Verizon agreement on network usage. The typical idiotic political conversation has ensued, of course.

The entire idea of "an open Internet" is foolish at best and dishonest political posturing at worse. In this situation, it's actually both. Besides, "Net Neutrality" is not possible! Not only that, it's not even desirable.

Bandwidth costs money. Equipment costs money. More bandwidth costs more. Differentiated services also cost more. We all want them to be offered by the providers so that we can have live video, reliable voice-over-IP, and additional services that we haven't even imagined, yet.

The conversation, then isn't about "neutrality," but rather about universal access to differentiated services... at an appropriate cost that will be determined by the market if we just allow it to do so. After all, nobody wins by denying access, and in a free market, those who do will lose business.

There is one group who benefits: the idiot politicians who want control.

The entire focus is wrong. Typical of the politicians playing at being engineers. It just doesn't work.

Update: The Wall Street Journal ran a bit more detail on the Google/Verizon agreement today. The comments from the so-called "Free Internet" speakers are very telling: they don't understand how the Internet actually works.

The Price of "Open"

There is a war among geeks and the tech press over "open." The Google Android system is "open" while the Apple iOS ecosystem is "closed." Underlying the conversation is the assumption that "open" is good and "closed" is bad, but is that really the case? This week during the Black Hat security conference, mobile security firm Lookout delivered their analysis of an Android wallpaper app that takes your data was downloaded by millions. Unfortunately, it sends personal information to a user in China and no one knows why.

Given that I have been a standards proponent since the early '80s and a staunch support of open source systems (OSS) since before the term was coined, I understand the value of open standards and open source. However, most people primarily care first about getting stuff done or enjoying their entertainment, not how open the systems are. If this wasn't the case, Microsoft Windows would not be the dominant desktop worldwide.

Furthermore, people prefer that their systems work, that they not introduce threats, and that they don't get in the way.

I have come to realize that there are environments that are especially well-suited to the vast majority of people, and they are those that are fully-integrated systems that are open enough to interact with current and emerging standards in the marketplace. They are not those that allow the user too much freedom, require too much technical skill, or demand more attention be given to the tools than to getting stuff done.

Those are the strengths and weaknesses today, and those are also the reasons why Apple is still on the rise, Google is in second-place, and Microsoft is huffing, puffing, and sweating trying to keep up.

Follow-up: After review, Google has decided that the app is actually OK. There was quite a bit published about this in the technology press, but the points made in this article still hold: There are big differences between open and closed, and you'll need to make your own choices about what the best value is given your experience and expertise and what you want to apply to the environment.

Steve Jobs is Right (Again)

Yesterday, Steve Jobs directly addressed the YouTube videos, press reports, and bloggers who have been reporting on signal strength loss with the new iPhone 4 (I'll address the iPhone 4 in a focused post early next week). He was 100% right in what he said, and I'm appalled by the response from both the mainstream media and the tech bloggers--both of whom I expect to know better and behave with better integrity. So, what is he right about?

He's right that:

  1. The press and many others can't stand it when a person or company performs well and consistently. They tear others down in an effort to look good. What do you call people who behave that way towards others?
  2. Every wireless device is effected by being close to a bag of salt water like a human body.
  3. Apple made it's biggest mistake by having the spot that's most effected by the touch of a hand be marked by the black line between the two antennas.

You know from reading this blog that I think success is to be celebrated, not destroyed, so you can imagine how I feel about the ridiculous attacks on Apple and Jobs by the press and bloggers. But, that's how they sell ads, I guess. What it means for you is the same as it does for most so-called news outlets: take it with a gigantic grain of salt!

What you may not know about me is that my engineering background is in analog electrical engineering. When everyone else in my class in the MSU Engineering College was focused on digital systems, I was working on antennas, transmission lines, and cellular radio technologies. Recently I have returned to work in that area of engineering (primarily with 4G networks), and I can claim far more expertise than the riffraff who have been writing about "Antennagate." As a result, starting with the announcement of the iPhone 4 (in fact, from the photos and dubious article published by Gizmodo of the iPhone 4 before the announcement) I expected that the less-knowledgable would grab onto the external antenna as a bad idea.

But, it was a good idea. And Jobs is right: every wireless device is impacted by proximity to a human. Unfortunately, the FCC creates tests that don't do a reliable job of representing real-world use scenarios. And to add to that, the manufacturers have to comply with the FCC requirement often to the detriment of performance.

Lastly, completely unintentionally, Apple happened to mark the weak spot with the black band at the bottom of the iPhone 4. With the design of the antenna and that obvious black line, curious amateur engineers would bridge the two antennas with their hands to see what happened. What they found was that the device's signal was negatively impacted.

Of course, it's not for the reason that they think. It's not the bridging of the two antennas. If it was, turning off the signals to the second antenna (which is Bluetooth, GPS reception, and WiFi) would eliminate the issue. But, that's not what happens, because that's not the real issue.

I'll post my specific thoughts about the iPhone 4 for business use early in the week next week. In the meantime it is vitally important to understand that most of the people writing about this situation have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, are more concerned with controversy and page views than truth, and do not look at devices as tools but rather as collections of features.

None of which is helpful to you as a person looking for a tool for your business. More about the iPhone and business next week. In the meantime, post your thoughts in the comments...

Here are a few posts from other places on the iPhone 4, so-called "Antennagate," and more rational commentary:

Inside Apple’s Actual Distortion Field: Giant Chambers, Fake Heads, And Black Cloaks

Radio engineer: Consumer Reports iPhone 4 testing flawed (u)

FaceTime and Why Apple’s Massive Integration Advantage is Just Beginning

Total Recall Or Total Bull? Some Perspective On The iPhone 4 Antenna Frenzy

The Anandtech iPhone 4 Antenna Review

iPhone, Android, or Blackberry?

I wrote the following a couple of weeks ago, shortly after buying my iPhone 4. I decided to wait based on some of the initial reports of issues with the iPhone 4. Following the Apple Press Conference today, I've realized that I let the press's typical bad-news advertising-driven reporting skew my thinking. The following remains the truth, and if you are a business person trying to read through the hype, here's what you need to know:

Which Phone for You?

With everyone interested in the battle of the smartphones, Nielsen released their smartphone analysis. The analysis shows steady growth of smartphones when compared to the overall mobile phone market, with 23% of users carrying smartphones in 1Q10, a 2% increase from 4Q09.

Perhaps more interesting, both RIM's Blackberry market share and Microsoft's various Windows Mobile systems lost 2% market share, and Apple's iPhone and the variety of Google's Android phones picked up 2% each (to 28% and 9%, respectively).

As interesting as numbers geeks might find this, what is the real implication for those trying to make a decision about a smartphone?

Here's the easy version:

  1. An iPhone is the choice if you are looking for a full-featured handset.
  2. If you do not like Apple, or since the iPhone is saddled with AT&T in the US and you will not (or can not) use their network, choose an Android phone.
  3. If you only want to use your smartphone for phone calls and email, a Blackberry may be your best choice. I'd still choose an iPhone for you, though.

...and that's really your answer in a nutshell.

It's hard for most people to remember what phones were like in the first half of 2007 when most of the analysts were talking about how Apple was finally going to make a poor choice and fail as they entered the overcrowded smartphone market. Instead, the iPhone completely changed the face of mobile phones--and the mobile Internet--forever.

As Apple introduces the iPhone 4, they are once again creating a challenge for their competitors. The quality and precision of the device itself sets a new standard for how your phone should feel in your hand. Doing so will make every other phone feel cheap in comparison.

This is simply brilliantly competitive.

In continuing to push for their "intersection of technology and liberal arts" as CEO Steve Jobs has mentioned in two separate keynotes, they are developing technology that is far more natural than its competitors. The fact that Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer said during this year's D8 conference that the iPad is "just another PC" shows just how limited the vision of most technology companies is.

So, unless you hate AT&T--or Apple--the iPhone is your best smartphone choice today.

One Number to Rule Them All...

A couple of months ago, my iPhone rang. I was in the Boulder Bunker, my basement home office, and as often happens, the call quality there was a problem. I scrambled up the stairs so I could still hear my new client, and then paced in the back yard as I talked with them so that the call quality would be good enough.
I'd rather be in the office, though, where I have everything at hand.
Today, that call would be different. I'm using Google Voice for my in-bound phone calls, and it really makes a difference. When you call my Google Voice number, my iPhone, my office phone, and even my home phone will ring, all at the same time. If I'm traveling, my temporary office phone will ring. I pick up the most convenient phone, and I can even change phones mid-call.
There are a number of other things I can suddenly do, like easily screen my calls, send them to voicemail (and when they leave a message, Google Voice will transcribe the message and send me an email), record the call, and more. Google Voice has been around for a while, but Google is opening it up so you can get an account if you want. (The Google Voice site is here: https://www.google.com/voice - as I'm typing this, they haven't gotten it opened, but they have announced that they are going to do that.)
If you are comfortable with web pages and are willing to spend a bit of time to get it set up, it's worth it. Check it out.
To YOUR success,
ssh, your Geek Whisperer
PS I've done a recent review on the new iPhone 3GS, the iPhone OS 3.0, and the Palm Pre that you can find on my blog: http://bit.ly/1alUid

A couple of months ago, my iPhone rang. I was in the Boulder Bunker, my basement home office, and as often happens, the call quality there was a problem. I scrambled up the stairs so I could still hear my new client, and then paced in the back yard as I talked with them so that the call quality would be good enough.

I'd rather be in the office, though, where I have everything at hand.

Today, that call would be different. I'm using Google Voice for my in-bound phone calls, and it really makes a difference. When you call my Google Voice number, my iPhone, my office phone, and even my home phone will ring, all at the same time. If I'm traveling, my temporary office phone will ring. I pick up the most convenient phone, and I can even change phones mid-call. That means that, for example, I can switch from my office phone to my iPhone during a call with you and then head out to a meeting without interrupting the call and without you even knowing I made the change.

There are a number of other things I can suddenly do, like easily screen my calls, send calls to voicemail (and when they leave a message, Google Voice will transcribe the message and send me an email), record the call, even listen in as someone leaves a message and pick up the call if I want to, just like you can do with a home answering machine... and more.

Google Voice has been around for a while (it was originally called Grand Central), but Google is opening it up so you can get an account if you want. (The Google Voice site is here: https://www.google.com/voice - as I'm typing this, they haven't gotten it opened, but they have announced that they are going to do that.)

If you are comfortable with web pages and are willing to spend a bit of time to get it set up, it's worth it. Check it out.

To YOUR success, ssh, your Geek Whisperer