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Annex Bulletin 2010-06 April 17, 2010
A partially OPEN edition
Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Analysis of PC user's current choices
Steady, As She Goes - Update to 5-yr forecast for IBM
Updated 4/18/10, 8:45AM HIT, adds "Laptops & Travel Vignettes"
MacGoogle Only Slightly Better than Wintel
IT User: Between Rock and Hard Place
For Decades, Computer Vendors Have Been Promising Ease of Use While Delivering More Complexity; Google Apps Offers Ray of Hope
HAIKU, Maui, Apr 17 – For decades, computer vendors have been promising ease of use while delivering more complexity. Which was enough to drive any creative person or a small businessman right up the wall and down the chimney.
"It takes three PhD's and a mule to install it," an IBM business partner from the Bay Area (San Francisco) told us in June 2007. He was referring to a supposedly "easy to use" application intended for small and medium size businesses.
Nor are consumer-level products much more "user friendly." In an effort to try to get away from Microsoft Windows environment, this writer has recently acquired an Apple MacBook Pro notebook and signed up for Google Apps. Apple, Google... two companies synonymous with success in consumer markets. So you'd think that a "MacGoogle" solution would be really easy to use and user friendly. Well, think again.
If it took three PhD's and a mule to install that IBM piece of software, even six Nobel laureates and a camel train could not make Google Apps work in sync with Microsoft Outlook. After a month of utter frustration and countless hours wasted on techie issues, this writer finally had to appeal for assistance to Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO. The practically non-existent Google personal support did come through after that. But the bottom line was that some Outlook features just don't work in Google Apps. Period. Square peg in a round hole.
The sad part it is that it took six weeks for this Google customer to discover it. That's how "good" Google technical support is. Every question this writer posed was answered with more questions and demands for more tests. In the end, we basically figured out what was going on on our own. Google techies just agreed with the conclusions we had reached. By "we," I mean this writer - a non-techie who gets sucked into IT problem-solving only under protest and out of necessity.
Still, now we know what Google Apps can and cannot do, we still plan to use it. Why? Because if a customer can have his applications and personal data available anywhere around the world where there is a web connection, he would not need to lug a laptop anymore, would he? Not even a good one, such as an Apple MacBook Pro (see "MacBook Pro Arrives at 'Rainbow Shower'," Feb 25).
Demise of New and Old Laptops
There is no question that the MacBook Pro has been a marked improvement in stability compared to a virtually brand new top-of-the-line HP notebook running the latest version of Windows 7. In the end, this writer has decided to chuck even such a new product after the disastrous experiences last December (see Broken Windows, Broken Promises, Dec 2009).
The decision to finally jump the Windows ship was reinforced when even the old backup Toshiba laptop failed at the start of a trip to Peru in late January (see "Laptop R.I.P.," Jan 22). That five-year old died an unusually violent death. Once it was pronounced brain-dead by a local Toshiba technician, I did not want to lug the carcass the rest of the trip, up and down the Andean mountains, like some sort of ballast. It's hard enough carrying your own weight at 14,000 ft and higher elevations.
Which meant I had to physically destroy the laptop, lest some clever Lima nerd decided to revive the still functioning hard disk with all our data on it.
As you can see, the laptop execution took place in a Lima hotel room.
In the end, the only blood spilled was my own. A sharp piece of wire cut my forearm while I was breaking the laptop in two. Oh, well... it was self-defense. I understand. I wasn't angry. I would have done the same thing if someone did to me what I had done to that computer.
After the execution, I disposed of the Toshiba body parts in two separate Lima street trash bins. It was after midnight. And I made sure that no one was watching.
"They don't make them anymore like they used to," I told Elizabeth when I came back to our hotel room. "I used to be able to keep my old laptops for backup for 10 years or longer. This one, however, barely made it past its fifth birthday."
Oh well... "so it goes," as Kurt Vonnegut used to say every time someone died in his masterpiece "Slaughterhouse Five."
What's to Be Done?
So what's to be done? Should everybody start switching from Windows to Mac's and Google Apps? Not necessarily. There is another alternative. Smell the roses. Reassess if technology is really enhancing your quality of life. What if you "just said no," as the society urges the drug addicts to do?
I am not saying it would be my choice. You saw from the foregoing that it was not. But it is a choice.
For tens of thousands of years of human history, Homo Sapiens managed to get by without a laptop. If he wanted to put something on his lap, it would be usually a loved one, not an inanimate battery-powered leg warmer. Our happiness did not depend on technology. Nor did our unhappiness. How can you be unhappy about not having something you've never heard of?
Only thirty years ago, there were no PCs to speak of. Apple and other "micro" vendors were serving merely a "hobby market." In other words, they were not a part of life's or business mainstream.
I tried an Apple II in 1981. It was terrible. So I chucked it. Went back to my pen, paper and calculator. An executive secretary was my Microsoft Office 1981. She was much more fun. And infinitely better looking.
In 1983, I did get my first PC. I used it to connect to Newsnet, a precursor of the Internet 10 years earlier. That's where we published some of our early Annex Bulletins (see "Go West, Young Man", Nov 1983).
In 1986, I got my first laptop. It was a Toshiba. Two 3.5" floppy disk drives. In early 1987, I used it to publish our first Annex Bulletin from overseas - Helsinki, Finland. It was a heady time. The future seemed limitless.
That changed when Microsoft became a monopoly and a defacto standard in the PC industry. For, shoddy software also became a defacto standard.
For years, I had resisted the alleged allure of Windows, preferring to stay with the boring but stable DOS. In hindsight, those were some of this writer's happiest computer years. I never knew what an IT migraine headache was until I started using Windows 3.1 in 1993.
At about the same time, a newborn broke through the eggshell of academia labs and entered the public domain. Al Gore called it the nation's "electronic superhighway." Later, it was named the Internet. So some claimed that Gore was the "Father of the Internet." The same people later named him the "Father of Global Warming."
But Gore is yet to make a connection between overheated laptop batteries and the melting glaciers. When he does, the same people will call him the "Father of Wisdom."
For the 15 years or so after installing my first Windows system, I was like Gore - badly misinformed but acting like a wise old ostrich. I pretty much toed the Microsoft line. Sadly, I was not alone. Tens of millions of other ostriches worldwide did the same. Or were we more like lemmings? You decide.
But when Vista premiered in 2007, I said "enough was enough." And I did "just say no" to Vista after trying it out on three different laptops (see Adios, Microsoft Vista!, July 2007).
Alas, skipping a Microsoft generation was just delaying the inevitable. So June 2008, I gave Apple another try. Their PC product was good but the local dealer service terrible. So I chucked it again, as I did 27 years earlier (see MacAttack Falters at Foot of Mount Vista, June 2008).
MacBook Pro, Google Apps Ride to Rescue
Well, when my two Wintel laptops failed, I was surprised by how many of my senior business executive friends urged me to get a Mac. They had apparently already jumped Microsoft ship and were happy with the outcome. And now I can see why.
My MacBook has been as reliable as any old DOS system I remember had 20 years ago, yet it has all the modern features Windows offers. No crashes in the two months I have had it. With Windows 7 or worse, Vista, I would have been lucky to go two days without a crash.
And Apple's service has been top-notch... in American English, by the way, not some unintelligible Indian dialect that you get from Microsoft or HP tech support.
Another European business executive whose opinion I value also urged me to try out Google Apps. Ever since that "three PhD's and a mule" comment, I had been planning to check out Google's offerings in the SMB space. So this person's suggestion was a welcome nudge in the direction in which I was already leaning.
In late January, I placed the order for Google Apps. By late February, I finally made time to start testing it. And now, you know the rest of the story.
When we said in the opening paragraph that for years, IT vendors have been promising ease of use while delivering more complexity, we meant all vendors. No exceptions. Hardware, software, services, web- or garage-based providers are all guilty of overpromising and under-delivering. Customers' choices are reduced to different shades of gray. But their experiences don't vary much. Many end up seeing red, as I did at the height of my Microsoft, HP, Apple or Google hassles.
That is the conclusion to which this PC customer has arrived after a four-and-a-half-month research project, in which he ended up as an IT "guinea pig." Not voluntarily, as you now know.
Keep in mind that things are probably much worse "out there" in the big wide world of unprotected IT intercourses. This writer is hardly a "typical" customer, right? He has been living and breathing computer technology for over four decades now. Yet, Wintel (Microsoft, HP, Toshiba, Compaq...), MacGoogle (Apple, Google...), and other web providers have all managed to make him wish at times he had never seen a computer.
So just imagine then how a "typical" IT small businessman might have felt. Yes, probably "spindled, folded and mutilated." But I am dating myself with that phrase.
My friend, the one who suggested I check out Google Apps, also thought of a solution for me. Hire a nerd to do it all for you, he urged me. Your time is too valuable, he argued.
Alas, I've been there, done that. For me, bringing in a Nerdlander at this stage of the game would have been a step backward. It might have been a pragmatic thing to do, but still a step backward.
Besides, there is always a silver lining in all these computer "horror stories." They become stories. Like this one you are now reading.
You see, I used to have nerds on my staff in the 1980s and early 1990s. I got rid of them in 1997. I thought the whole point of the Internet and the PC revolutions was to simplify life and give the power back to the creative person. My idea was NOT for an artist to morph into a nerd, nor become a slave to technology. It should be the other way around, I thought. Technology serving the creative person and helping enhance his/her art while delighting enchanted audiences.
In other words, improving the the quality of life all around.
"Leonardo Da Vinci, here we come," I thought 16 years ago, "right where you left off, after a few centuries of the industrial era that has set mankind back." In fact, I wrote a story about it in 1994, predicting the trend of PCs and the Internet empowering the individuals and small businesses and bolstering creativity (see Refusion of Arts & Sciences, Nov 1994).
What I did not anticipate, however, was that the whole industry would first have to take a few steps BACKWARD - till new and creative IT companies find a way. And that is what has been happening partly as a result of Microsoft's dominance in the PC industry. Partly also because vendors make money when things break and they have to send their compugeeks to fix systems or take complexity out of them. No wonder services has been such a growth segment in the last two decades.
So even if Google Apps is imperfect, and it is, and even if it may have caused me to tear some of my hairs out, and it did, it is worth supporting a solution that fosters competition and unlocks Microsoft's jailhouse Windows. Because what is at stake is nothing less than man's CREATIVITY. And that's worth sacrificing for, at least in this writer's books.
And now for some lighter fare, also check out these randomly selected stories from this writer's past global travels and adventures with laptops...
Or just click on SEARCH and use "company or topic name" keywords.
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Big Blue Poised for Growth Again - "State of the Union"-type analysis of IBM performance
Rally of Hope over Fact Continues - Analysis of Top IT Cos 2009 performances
Broken Windows, Broken Promises - "State of the Union"-type analysis of current PC/Windows quality
A Shrinking Giant - Analysis of HP's fourth fiscal quarter business results
IBM Stock Takes a Beating (Analysis of IBM's third quarter business results)
Obama's "Don Quixote" Swings and Misses (Analysis of DoJ's latest antitrust investigation of IBM)
Triple Trouble Hits Armonk (Analysis of insider trading charges against a senior IBM executive)
A Rally of Hope over Fact - Analysis of Top 18 IT companies' performances
Tempest in a Tea Pot (Analysis of latest IT services industry M&A's)
Less Than Meets the Eye - Analysis of HP's 3QFY09 results
Big Blue Blows Lid Off Forecasts - Analysis of IBM's 2Q09 results
Apple, Google Lead Comeback - Analysis of Top IT Cos' stock & business performances
Revenues, Earnings Drop - Analysis of Accenture's 3QFY09 business results
IBM Wins the "Gold" - Analysis of IT Services Octathlon 2009 results
Suddenly, All Lines Point South - Analysis of HP's 2Q09 business results
Back on Growth Track - Analysis of IBM Global Services 2008 results
Sometimes Less Is More and Down Is Up - Analysis of IBM's 1Q business results
IBM's Holistic Approach - Treating businesses like living organisms - secret of success
IBM Tries to Pull Dow, HP Up - Big Blue stock up sharply after CFO remarks at investor conf
Hurd's First Stumble - HP's 1Q09 revenues, earnings disappoint Wall Street
Two Thumbs Up for Big Blue - Analysis of IBM 4Q08 business results
Big Blue: All Heart - IBM creating new jobs in American Heartland
When You Catch a Tiger by the Tail... - An editorial about greed & success
Squeezing the Consumer Dry (Greed fueled both bankers & oilmen's try to squeeze blood out of stone - consumer)
The Year of Living Dangerously - Analysis of global investment trends