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Staying alive – retaining innovation in IT September 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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The history of information technology is littered with the names of companies that were once great and fell on hard times. Whatever happened to Imagine Software, Wang, Pr1me, Commodore, and many others?

Of course one of the greatest success stories in IT, and possibly in any business environment, is Microsoft. They grew from small roots, and a fortunate licensing deal to install their operating system on IBM PCs, and the rest is history. Now, almost all new PC-based computers come with Windows pre-installed.

But the world is changing. Microsoft has been talking publicly about their ideas for Windows 8 and it does not seem clear whether the world is listening any longer.

Almost 4m people in the UK use a tablet-based device and the dominant operating systems are from Apple and Google – with their Android system that is also becoming the key smart-phone operating system.

It would be wrong to suggest that Microsoft is finished because they don’t seem to be able to compete in the tablet and telephone market, but the entire computing market is changing. For years Microsoft has enjoyed the twin cash cows of Windows and their Office platform of office automation software – Word, Excel, and so on.

Windows is clearly becoming less relevant and valuable, but so too is the shrink-wrapped software market. Office automation tools are available free, in the cloud, from people like Google and at a low cost from other suppliers.

How do once dominant companies react to such changes in the market? If anyone can do it then Microsoft can. They have cash, intelligent people, and an attitude that focuses on innovation.

But do they have the will to entirely change the company? One only has to look at a company like Nokia to see that ignoring a changing technology market can bring industry giants to their knees. For the sake of the industry, let’s hope that Windows 8 really is as revolutionary as the Microsoft bosses suggest.
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Is Facebook copying Google? September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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For a long time now, Facebook has offered users a way of sharing content selectively. You can construct lists of your friends, to divide them up into friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for example, allowing the possibility to share personal information only with your family.

But it was always clunky and took a lot of time to sort users into the correct lists, very few people ever actually used it, preferring instead to just trim their friends. Not any more.

Facebook has just launched an improved system called smart lists, helping to automate the process of grouping your friends together, but Google is not happy. Google launched their Google+ social network in June and one of the key features of the network was called ‘circles’ – easy to define social circles that allow you to group your contacts by how you know them.

Google is crying foul and suggesting their idea has been copied and Facebook is responding by saying that they have just improved existing functionality. Who is right and how can intellectual ideas be protected?

There are laws around intellectual property, most people know about copyright, patents, and trademarks, but it feels as if our current raft of laws are archaic and out of step with the online world.

If there really was a legal challenge over the concept of grouping your friends separately to your colleagues then it is likely that a legal battle could rumble on for years and be entirely irrelevant by the time any judgement is passed. And if that’s the case then there really is very little to protect ideas – any company that wants to succeed will ride the wave and take a chance – or face failure because of a desire to comply with pre-Internet laws.
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