Apple, Network

Apple iPod Touch Set to Become VoIP Phone

31 Dec , 2007  

Coming Tomorrow, January 1 – Make VoIP calls on the iPod Touch.

Three French developers have created a hack for the Apple iPod Touch thatwill allow it to be used as a VoIP phone. I have to assume they’ve added the SIPstack to the Touch and are using the WiFi connection on the iPod Touch to makeVoIP calls.

Will Apple squash this French iPod VoIP Revolution and make bricksout of iPod Touch devices? Possible but since there’s not a required ATT serviceagreement for the Touch like the iPhone there’s not the same networkrestrictions.

Interesting idea, I can see the tagline now.  Let your Apple iPod Touch reach out and touch someone! Ha, those craaaazy frenshhh peep-pulz!

Blog

Do you twitter, twhirl or use air?

30 Dec , 2007  

This has been one of those weeks. Sometimes I try out more stuff and I wonder if my Vista machine will keep running or keel over. I was reading Jeremiah Owyang’s blog and learned that he’s moved on to be an analyst at Forrester covering social networking. I guess if you are covering social networking even for a major analyst firm they have to let you keep your personal blog, lol. But I digress…

I haven’t played with twitter much but after watching an interview with Guy Kawasaki and hearing them both talk about their twitter networks I thought I should try it out. That led me to try out twhirl, a desktop client for twitter, which meant I had to download and run Adobe Air, something I’ve also not checked out before. Adobe Air is very fascinating — I’d equate it this way; Adobe Air is for html/ajax applications, what the Java Runtime is to Java, more or less. You only wonder about the security, or lack of, in these things too. Such is living on the edge I guess.

Anyway, if you twitter and want to be part of my network I would certainly join yours in return. I twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mitchellashley. (Pardon the bad background image… I’m looking for something better.)

Uncategorized

The end of Netscape as we knew it

29 Dec , 2007  

Netscape_browser_2The passing of an old friend… Yesterday AOL announced it would no longercontinue the development of the Netscape browser. Along with Mosaic and HTML,the Netscape web browser (Mozilla-based) is what most of us thought of as theInternet, even created the Internet as end users know it (though there is nowevidence that Al Gore worked on Netscape code early in its existence.) 

It seems like only yesterday (if you close your eyes and squint real hard)that you were cool if you were using the Netscape Communicator server to developweb sites and products for the world wide web. (It’s seems odd now to say "worldwide web" instead of "the web".) My original business plan for BoldTech Systemswas to be a web site development company. The business plan modeled out how manycustomers we’d have, how many sites web be developing per week, etc. Despitesome early efforts with a few local companies and GNN who was bought by AOL, weinstead became a telecom systems integration consulting company. (I thinkthere’s a connection there somehow, lol.)

Netscape created a lot of excitement, was new and cool, and marked thebeginning of the ’90s Internet hay day. It was a heady and hopeful time. Youhad the feeling that you were working on the forefront of a new generation oftechnology. Networking and software came together in new and interesting ways.Web sites led to web apps, delivery of all kinds of content, and new kinds ofbusinesses. It also led to the market breathing a lot of its own exhaust, likestartups whose business plan was to register domain names like furniture.com orpharmacy.com. While things did get way out of hand and then later suffer througha needed correction, you can’t take away what Netscape did to lead the way creating a new generation of software and networking.

Hats off and a thank you to the Netscape browser for helping reshape theindustry we work in today.

Security

The IRS has a refund waiting for you. Not!

28 Dec , 2007  

A phishing scam is circulating via email posing as the IRS claiming there’s a refund waiting. Given two seconds of thought, who would actually believe this email?

Unfortunately, many recipients of the phishing email will do just that. But think about it. When is the last time the IRS contacted you to let you know they have a refund waiting. All you have to do is click a link and it’s yours. Also look at the email (text below) and notice the misspelling of "deparment".

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity wehave determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of$109.23. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-9 days inorder to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. or example submitting  invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access your tax refund, please click here [malicious link removed]

Best Regards,
Tax Refund Deparment
Internal Revenue Service

In addition to breaking laws about scams like phishing attacks, I’ve got to believe there’s some law against impersonating a federal agency like the IRS.

I would expect lots of refund scams as the new year approaches posing as the IRS, retailers and others.

Update: I was lax in thanking my buddy Blake Nelson (stud salesman of performance management software for SaaS businesses, btw), who turned me on to this IRS phishing scam. Thanks, Blake, for taking care of your buds.

Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Good design incorporates all user interactions, and why Error Messages aren’t always the user’s problem

26 Dec , 2007  

Product_bistro_fortune_cookieWhen you’ve developed a few products, you start to see trends in how productsare development, issues that come up, and areas of products that tend to receiveless attention than others. Software error messages are a very good example ofthe latter; something that is often overlooked or paid little attention. It alsomakes a difference who or what skillset is paying attention to various aspectsof the product.

Here are three often overlooked areas of product design and development andwhat you can do about it.

User Interaction Design vs. User Interface Layout.

Great products often have a very well, attractive, and easy to use userinterface design. But UI design is often a misnomer, most of us think that userinterface layout is equivalent to user interface design. Here’s a very goodexample I experienced in a product today. Just what should the user (me in thiscase) do when this message shows itself?

Bad_error_message_example_5Huh? Was FeedDemon feeling a little under the weather when I asked it to movean RSS feed to one of the folders I created? Should the user come back and tryagain later? Is the error due to loss of a network connection? (That’s not thecase in this situation.) Is some service on the Internet down? Is this featuredisabled in the trial version of the software? What? Probably the only lesshelpful error message I’ve seen is when a software product popped up the errormessage "an unknown error has occurred". After searching in the vendor’sknowledgebase, I’m left to email product support to try and entangle the meaningof this message. Or move on.

Solution: Think user interaction design, not just user interface design.

What are all of the user interactions with a product? That interaction startseven before the user ever sees the first web page or screen of aproduct; Downloading the software, obtaining a license or serial number,installing other prerequisite software or updates, the application installerprogram, and somewhere down the road (hopefully far down the road) the uninstallprogram.

Once the product is installed and running different situations come intoplay. What are the first time, and maybe only time, actions the user performs?Accepting the EULA, creating the first user account, entering the license orserial number, configuring all or the minimum required to get the productworking product, changing default settings that don’t work for the user,registering the product, applying updates, restarting the software, etc.

All of the things we’ve talked about up to this point contribute the Time ToValue concept I’ve written about before; what time, effort and resourcecommitment is the user required to invest before they begin seeing value fromthe product. All of these interactions, especially configuration requirementscan greatly lengthen the Time to Value, adding to frustration, and in the worsecase, losing the user before they ever are able to see what the product can orcan’t do for them.

A well designed interface, what we were referring to earlier as userinterface design, is topic all of it’s own. We’ll concentrate on other areas inthis blog post.

Next, information, alert, error and system messages. These messages areprobably the most important part of a user’s interaction with a product and theycan be very informative and helpful, or can become the most frustrating partof trying to use a product.

The first question that must be answered is, what’s the purpose of themessage? Is an action required of the user? Is the message to inform them of anaction or event that has happened, such as a confirmation message? Whatinformation does the user need to know to resolve the problem or take the nextstep required? Probably the most important questions are; will the user knowwhat to do, and is the message helping the situation or adding to theproblem?

A good example of the last question posed, are messages that actually becomean annoyance factor, or even making the product unusable. Need a good example?Try using Microsoft Windows Vista with User Account Control enabled. You’ll quickly learn what abad user interaction design is.

Blog

Recommend Your Favorite Blog Reader

20 Dec , 2007  

Rss_readerI’ve outgrown reading my RSS feeds in Outlook and am looking at what RSS reader I should try out next. I’ve tried Google’s reader and while I like it, Google Reader doesn’t work well when you have as many RSS feeds as I like to follow. The RSS reader in Firefox doesn’t cut it either. I think I would prefer a web based reader  over a standalone app, but I’m not sure.

So I thought I would call out to you and see if you have a favorite RSS reader and why. Feel free to comment here or send me an email.

Thanks!

General

A different kind of 12 days of Christmas

19 Dec , 2007  

A friend sent this amazing YouTube video of a performance by Straight No Chaser from the University of Indiana. This is their rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas. Very creative and an excellent performance.

Enjoy.

Security

FTC Hands Off When It Comes to Selling Your Personal Information

18 Dec , 2007  

Byron Acohido and Jon Swartz, of USAToday and coauthors of Zero Day Threat book, remain on message with their quest to expose the hypocrisies oforganizations that play it loose with your personal information. Their most recent article is about criticisms the FTC hasn’t upheld its responsibilities to protect consumers information.

Ftc_chairmanIn June of 2005 FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified in front congress "This information is like gold …and it ought to be treated that way."

But now that the credit bureaus are playing fast and loose by sellingpersonal information of loan applicants to others who follow up with additionalloan offers to lure you away to another loan provider. That’s been a big factorin the sub-prime load scandal leading to so many mortgage foreclosures.

Now when questioned why credit bureaus can so freely sell this information,Platt Majoras says "We’ve not heard that the FTC simply is not doing enough withrespect to the credit-reporting bureaus," she says. "If people feel that way,then I do want to hear about it."

ErrrtErrrrt?

Then the FTC has their head in the sand and isn’t listening, or franklyignoring the present credit crunch in an effort to avoid taking anyresponsibility for the mess.

It’s time the FTC take responsibility for protecting the consumer and thepersonal financial information we are forced to entrusted to the creditbureaus.

General

A Few Good Ads

18 Dec , 2007  

I came across this YouTube spoof of A Few Good Creative Men as applied to the advertising "blanket of creativity" we sleep under.

I think you’ll enjoy this.

Microsoft, Security

Better Security Doesn’t Automatically Mean A Better Product

17 Dec , 2007  

I’ve been writing quite a bit about Vista (and February’s Vista SP1) and amnow beginning to write about the Windows Server 2007 RC1 on myNetwork World blog. It’s not news to anyone that Vista has had some roughspots since it’s introduction in early 2007.

What’s interesting is that we all anticipated the introduction of Vistabecause of improvements in security. Today we hear very little about security inVista. That could be good, and could be bad. In many ways Vista is a big leapforward from the security model in Windows XP. Though there have been manypatches and fixes, we’ve not had a major vulnerability scare to date with Vista(cross our fingers, lets hope we don’t.)

But the focus on improving security in Vista caused Microsoft to take theireye off of something very important; the user experience. User Account Control(UAC) forgot the lessons of so many personal firewalls and created another"barking dog" Vista users had to put down. Performance and reliability issues,something any operating system rewrite will inevitability face, became front andcenter because new dual core machines and big disk drives don’t have don’t havethe same zip we are accustom to in Windows XP and Windows 2000. While addingsomewhat of a "cool factor", Aero and 3D icons only updated the Windows Explorerexperience, not made it easier or more useful to end users.

The lesson is that while intending to fix or improve an area of your product,security in the case of Windows, it cannot come at the expense of the experienceto which users have grown accustom. This is a lesson I’ve learned myself in myown product development experiences over the years. Sometimes you do take a hitand delay new features to address a more fundamental need in a product, butforcing the user to step back and accept reduced functionality or lesserperformance caused a significant backlash for Vista.

Rewriting something like the Windows operating system is a massiveundertaking. Frankly, I’m surprised in many ways there haven’t been biggerproblems than we’ve experienced. I’ve used Vista since it’s introduction and nothad to revert back to Windows XP. That I’m pretty surprised about. But I thinkit is still worth stepping back and learning from what Microsoft hasexperienced over the past year with Vista.