Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Marc Andreessen and Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader: Separated at Birth?

Marc Andreessen and Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader: separated at birth? You be the judge ...

The second picture is Sebastian Shaw, the actor who played Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) in the first three Star Wars movies (Episodes 4-6, otherwise known as "the Star Wars movies that didn't suck").

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Firefox MASSIVE FAIL - frequent, incompatible upgrades and instability

For years, I have been a dedicated Firefox user.  Before Chrome, Firefox was a browser that really
met my needs.  Firefox was faster and more flexible than Internet Explorer.  Firefox was innovative, supporting tabs, add-ons, standards, and multiple platforms.  Over the years, I customized my Firefox environment to meet my needs, with add-ons that made my many tabs manageable, that enabled my news curation on Twitter, that remembered my many user names and passwords.

I've retained Internet Explorer, since many corporate apps I use are supported only on IE or otherwise don't work well on Firefox.  But my main browser use has been with Firefox until recently.

I'm sad to say that this post marks my final use of Firefox.  I'm switching to Chrome finally, with IE for some corporate apps.  This is not a sudden decision of mine; rather, this is a decision I've been putting off for a while in the hopes that things would get better with Firefox, but things just keep getting worse and worse.  What are my complaints?
  1. I rely on Firefox add-ons to achieve productivity and for their many innovations.  Yet, the good folks at Mozilla have decided to frequently update Firefox and to do so in ways that are not upwardly compatible.  Firefox updates unpredictably break add-ons on which I rely.  With each update, and updates now seem to come about once per month, some add-on is broken.  You might argue that the add-ons I need are not likely to be available on Chrome, but more and more of the Firefox add-ons I need are not maintained with the same cadence as Firefox.  I think the add-on makers are demoralized and are giving up.  You might also argue that I could find other add-ons to replace my favorites, but who has the time?  And, anyway, you just know that no add-ons will keep up with the Mozilla cadence.  If you are going to that update cadence, you need many things to be upwardly compatible. :(  At the same time, Google has found a way to do frequent Chrome updates while keeping updates compatible enough to keep Chrome add-ons working.
  2. Firefox has become a slow, buggy, bloated product with little apparent innovation.  With all these releases, you'd think you'd see tremendous changes from release to release.  Instead, other than breaking the add-ons, I can't see any improvements in user experience or functionality from Firefox 20 to Firefox 23.  These days, it seems like most of the innovation is in the Chrome ecosystem.  In the past, the innovation seemed to be partly in the Mozilla team, and partly in the add-on ecosystem, but that add-on ecosystem has all but ground to a halt.
  3. Back to Firefox being slow and buggy.  At least once per day, Firefox becomes unresponsive; sometimes it recovers after a few minutes, but more often it just hangs and must be forced to shut down.  Firefox has become very unstable.
  4. But Firefox is also slow.  I know that some recent projects focus on Firefox performance and some recent benchmarks show Firefox performance improving, but that is not my experience.  In fact, the more tabs you have open, and the longer the pages you view in Firefox, the noticeably slower it gets.  And then it crashes.  And takes a VERY long time to restart.
In the end, though, the killer for me is Firefox's constant upgrades blowing away its crowning jewel - the add-on ecosystem.  Without add-ons, Firefox is just another browser.  Stacked up against Chrome, Firefox lacks adequate support for Android, lacks stability, drags slowly on start-up (especially on restarting after crashing), and shows little or no innovation.  Mozilla needs to slow down the upgrade cadence, attempt some bigger and more innovative projects, support the add-on ecosystem to be ready with updates whenever the browser gets updated, and find a new reason to exist beyond fighting the bygone bogeyman of Microsoft hegemony.

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with me?  Let me know by leaving comments below ...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Database Billboards: Times and Cars and Oracle Competitors Gone By

Database Billboards: Times and Cars and Oracle Competitors Gone By

Driving up or down 101 these days, you can't avoid the new SiliconView billboard - it's a double-sided electronic billboard, so you can see it whether you are going north- or south-bound, and most of us on 101 are driving slowly enough that we get to see several iterations of the billboard content as we sit in traffic.

A few weeks ago, the billboard started displaying ads with that distinctive SAP orange/amber/mustard/whatever color, drawing my eye to something that normally just existed in the background.  Yes - it was an SAP ad!  That's odd, I thought - very few business decision makers for large SAP-style prospects drive up and down 101.  Wouldn't it be better to put something up in San Francisco airport, like Oracle does, or in San Francisco?

Then I realized - this billboard was advertising SAP HANA. Could it be?  Could SAP be making the same silly mistake made by so many other database competitors over the years?  Could SAP be falling into the same trap sprung on IBM, Ingres, and Informix?

Yes, it appeared that SAP was getting into the chest-thumping, one-upsmanship game played by Oracle's database competitors so wastefully in the past.  Those companies started focusing on Oracle, rather than on Oracle's customers' needs.  It was more important to Informix to try to tweak Larry's buttons than it was for them to properly account for their software in the channel, or to do a better job meeting customers' needs.

As I was thinking about writing this blog, I looked for images of those older billboards.  If you have any images (especially IBM or Ingres billboards), please post a link in the comments below.  I was able to find online only Informix billboards.

That last billboard was the one Informix displayed as the company was in tatters, falling apart from its latest scandal.  After that, no more billboards (from Informix).

Did these billboards help Informix beat Oracle?  Did these billboards focus Informix's employees on the goal (better serving customers)?  Did these billboards help recruit and/or demoralize the best developers and others at Oracle?


SAP HANA is a product that has a great deal of potential, as I and other Enterprise Irregulars have written in the past.  However, in conversations with SAP HANA customers and experts, there are still significant issues to be overcome before this becomes a worthy competitor to Oracle - issues in cost, stability, scalability, standards support, openness to a third party ecosystem, availability of complementary solutions, and availability of reasonably priced expert resources.  Hopefully, SAP is focusing its R&D investments on this issues, and on being a platform for a new kind and new generation of in-memory applications rather than the RDBMS-focused applications of the 1990's, even while SAP marketing participates in what is perhaps just harmless competition and good-natured rivalry.

However, I hope SAP will remember that Highway 101 is littered with the burned out wreckage of SAP HANA's predecessors who took Oracle on directly in the marketing arena, rather than delivering more value to customers.  In fact, SAP even owns one of those defunct database companies itself ...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Essential Android Apps for Business

I have been an Android user ever since the first day the first Motorola Droid was available for Verizon back in 2009.  Over the years, I've accumulated some experience using Android on phones and tablets, and certain apps have made this experience better for me at work.  Here's my list of essential Android apps for business - let me know in the comments below if you have any other suggestions.  By the way - these are all FREE apps.

This list reflects the way I work, and your style of working may require different apps.  I have a lot of meetings (including conference calls and WebEx sessions), travel a lot (locally, domestically, and internationally), and need to view and edit a lot of documents.  I spend a lot of time with customers, have a quota, and need access to the corporate intranet.  I write a lot of Microsoft Office documents, and read and write hundreds of e-mails per day.

Google built-in apps

Let's start with the standard Google apps, most or all of which come pre-installed on most devices.  Not all Google apps are equally useful for business, but these are all quite helpful.

Calendar Widget: My most useful business app.  This widget comes built in with your Android device.  My home page on my phone is pretty much a nearly fully-screen calendar, plus Google Voice search, a folder for mail apps, a folder for navigation destinations I use a lot (like home and work), a folder for phone numbers I use a lot, and a link to a flashlight app.  By the way, you can also edit which apps show up at the bottom of each Android screen - I like phone, Chrome, Settings, and the Camera, since I use those frequently.  I hardly ever use any other page on my phone.
Chrome: Many older Android devices come with a browser that predated Chrome.  Chrome is now the default browser on Android devices.  It is stable, fast, and has some nice features (see Chrome to Phone).
Chrome to Phone: Chrome to Phone allows you to send web pages from Chrome on your PC or Mac to your phone.  Let's say you're looking at a hotel web site on your laptop and want to send it to your phone to have the address (for giving directions in the cab) or the phone (for checking to confirm your reservation) - Chrome to Phone to the rescue.  Since I often use just my phone in meetings, I often use Chrome to Phone to send reference web pages to my phone in advance.
Drive: Drive replaced Google Docs.  You can use Google Drive to edit word processing documents and spreadsheets, as well as to view and share presentation documents and files across devices or with other people.  As long as you have a network connection, Google Drive is a useful tool.
Gmail: Sometimes you need to send yourself information - or deal with personal business while in a meeting.  Manage your Gmail accounts with this app.
Goggles: Google Goggles may be the Google app that has the most unrealized potential of any Google app.  Goggles works well for QR and bar code scans, searching for information on a company by photographing its logo, and a few other applications.  Where it falls down, however, is in its most potentially useful area for business - business card scanning.  I've never successfully scanned a business card with Google Goggles.  Worst of all, it doesn't even work with Google business cards.
Mail: Android devices come with a second e-mail app that connects with Exchange servers to send and receive corporate e-mail, set and receive calendar appointments and meetings, and access the corporate directory.  If your company, like most, uses Exchange Server for mail and calendar, this app is indispensable.
Maps (and Navigation): When heading to a meeting, this app is a great way to get directions, check traffic, and save places ("star" them) for future reference.  If I'm going to some exotic foreign location, I often scope out sights and places to see, save them as favorites, and then use Google Maps to walk from one to another.  You can get driving, walking, and public transportation directions with the navigation mode, which does turn-by-turn directions.
MyTracks: MyTracks is an app that tracks your travels on GPS.  You can use MyTracks to trace the route you walked from a parking space to a meeting, so you can find your way back later.  You can save any pathway with MyTracks, really useful for retracing your steps particularly when in a strange city.

Search (and Google Now, and Voice Search): Google Search is an essential app (and home screen widget).  Google Search not only surpasses Siri in voice search, but also includes Google Now, one of the most innovative mobile apps available.  Google Now checks your calendar to see what you have coming up, and tells you when it is time to leave based on traffic.  It tells you about any delays to upcoming flights, whether in cities you are in or will be in soon, sports teams you care about, and much more.
Translate: Helpful for translating web pages, e-mail messages, and phrases.  If you want to add a thank you phrase to a message, read an article written in a foreign trade journal, or figure out if you're at the right restaurant, Google Translate is a must have app.
Voice: Google Voice is a great app for staying in touch, as well as for making cheap international calls.  You can retrieve messages using a web interface while on the road - most are even transcribed for you automatically, allowing you to get your voice mail via text message, e-mail, or web browser.  While not traveling, Google Voice can ring your cell phone and work phone (multiple phones at your choice) for in-bound phone calls.  Very handy.

Other useful Android apps:

Adobe Reader: Open and read PDF files with the authentic app from Adobe.
AK Notepad: Simple way to take notes during meetings.
Alarm Clock Plus: In my opinion, the best alarm clock to use, particularly when traveling.  Very flexible way to set multiple alarms, including in advance.
Amazon Kindle: Another good way to read PDF files.  Also useful for reading other kinds of documents sent wirelessly to your Android device.
AnyConnect: Cisco VPN access to corporate intranet from the road.
ASTRO File Manager: Astro is like Windows Explorer for your Android device.  You can see, open, and manage all your files.  Especially useful for finding that attachment you just downloaded.
Concur: If your company, like mine, uses Concur for expense reporting, this mobile app allows you to take note of any expense while traveling by taking a photo of the receipt and uploading the image.  Very helpful for getting those expense reports in in a timely manner.
Dictionary: Sometimes you run into a word you don't really know - this is a handy app for looking up the definition of a word.
DroidRecord: There are lots of times when you need to record a meeting - in compliance with all laws and ethics.  DroidRecord is the app to record these meetings for future reference.Evernote: Some meetings require more sophisticated notetaking, including words, drawings, and photos (screen shots of PowerPoints is a lot more efficient than trying to type it all in or take notes on a presentation you won't get until later).  Evernote is a cross-platform app that works on many devices (not just Android devices), and allows you to sync notes across them for future reference.
GasBuddy: GasBuddy helps you find gas stations when you're driving around.  Plus, you can find the best price when you need it, and it connects to Google Navigate to get you turn-by-turn directions to the gas station of your choice.
Kingston Office: I prefer Kingston Office to other Microsoft Office-compatible document editors.  It's free and works well.
Magnificient Magnifier HD: Great little app for magnifying anything small you can't easily read, including magnifying, lighting up the item, and taking a picture.  Very handy for things like serial numbers, which are maddeningly small for folks my age.
Okta: If your company uses Okta for single sign-on, this app can be set up by your IT folks to give you convenient access to everything from everywhere.
PDANet: A lot of carriers charge a monthly fee for using your phone as a hotspot or for tethering.  With PDANet, you can use your cell phone's data plan over a Bluetooth or micro-USB cable to get network connectivity on your laptop if you don't have a cellular modem for your computer.  The free version of PDANetcan be used to access any non-secure web site (http) or Internet connection (this works for Outlook for most companies!).  For a small, one-time fee ($20), you can also access secure connections (https).
RealCalc: Great scientific calculator.  Good for most business calculations.  For you financial geek types, there are calculators compatible with your HP-41C if you need one.
Salesforce Mobile: Just about everyone uses for CRM these days, and Salesforce Mobile gives you a great way to use it from anywhere.
Skype: So many people use Skype to stay in touch, that this app is indispensable.  If you use Verizon, you'll need this version of Skype instead.  Skype may be the best Microsoft app ever!
Stopwatch & Timer: Ever need to time a presentation, to make sure you don't run out of time during a speaking slot?  Good for timing demos, presentations, or anything else.
Swype: Not available on the Google Play store.  Google Swype revolutionized text input on mobile devices.  If you have trouble typing on the small, on-screen keyboards, or if you think you can't give up your Blackberry, you'll love Swype.  Seriously, I was a HUGE Blackberry user, and Swype allowed me to type two or three times faster and more accurately than I ever could on a Blackberry keypad.  However, if you get Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, there is a built-in keyboard replacement that uses the same approach as Swype, so Swype's days may be numbered.
TeslaLED: You just need a flashlight sometimes, and this one works on just about every device I've ever tried.
TripIt: Organize all your travel info, if you fly a lot.
WebEx: I do a lot of web and teleconferences, most of them on WebEx.  This app allows me to join in on any WebEx conference from anywhere.  I can't present using this app, but I can view the web conference.  I've used this in airports, my car, and many other places where I just couldn't conveniently use my laptop.
Where's My Droid: Some Droid devices come with a "find my phone" app - this app is for the rest of us.  Easily locate your device when you've mislaid it.  Keep your phone secure with a password, regardless, for those rare times when you may have actually lost your phone.  Ask your IT shop if they can remotely wipe and disable your phone if it is really lost.
Wifi Analyzer: Find the best WiFi signal when you have a choice.  Of course, also useful for setting up your WiFi at home or in the office.
Wikipedia: Sometimes, you just have to look things up.  Of course, you can always do this just using your browser if you prefer.


I still haven't found two free apps I'd love to have - a great business card scanner and a document scanner (including optical character recognition - OCR).


Some folks love their iOS devices, and some won't give up their Blackberries, but I love Android.  Android has great voice input, Swype, widgets on the home screen, great integration with Google Apps, and all these great free apps.  Let me know if you have other favorites or your thoughts on this list in the comments area below.  Enjoy!