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Internet Explorer Ruling is Old News Anyway September 27, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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The European Union antitrust head has announced that Microsoft is to be charged with failing to follow a ruling from 2009 related to their failure to offer a selection of web browsers.

This ruling is centred on the ability of Microsoft to bundle their Internet Explorer system with Windows, the web browser that for many years was the dominant choice for browsing the web.

But this ruling feels like old news, even though it was just announced this week.

Internet Explorer is no longer the dominant product for web browsing.

The crown now belongs to Google with their Chrome system and Firefox from the Mozilla Foundation is close on the heels of Internet Explorer. In fact if you now add together Chrome and Firefox, they are used for almost half of all Internet web browsing. Internet Explorer retains just over 23%, but this figure is dropping.

The EU may be throwing their legal muscle at Microsoft, but the market has moved on anyway. Internet Explorer became a bloated, slow product that was full of bugs and subject to endless virus attacks. Google offered a light, very fast product with Chrome and users switched in droves.

Now the browser has become more than just a browser anyway, with Chrome offering a gateway to all the services offered by Google, further locking in users and preventing them from seeking out an alternative.

Microsoft can only wish they spent more time focused on improving the product and letting users decide on the best tool for web browsing. Now they are suffering the irony of being fined by an antitrust body as their product is losing market share to the competition.

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Photo by Varawat Prasarnkiat licensed under Creative Commons

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Blurred Vision on YouTube July 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government.
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The Google-owned video site YouTube has just announced a new feature that allows users to upload their content with faces blurred. The feature allows those who require anonymity to upload videos, but can also be used by anyone – for example a parent might want to blur the face of his children on a video that might receive a lot of views by strangers.

The technology is automated, so the system can detect faces and blur them then the users can preview the video frame-by-frame before publishing it – with the certainty that every individual frame is blurred.

This is an interesting development in the light of recent political upheavals across the world. YouTube was credited as being a major force for change in events such as the Arab Spring and video from the ground uploaded by activists was essential in demonstrating to the world that official government statements were not always to be believed.

Because the original video must be uploaded and then processed it may be interesting to see if there is ever any legal challenge and request for the original video to be released – perhaps where the blurred face conceals a criminal. YouTube are facilitating anonymity, but will people trust that there really is no original copy of their movie online?

Face Shake

Photo by Kaptain Kobald licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

Samsung quashes Facebook copycat rumours June 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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A very strange story hit the media recently about claims that Samsung was planning to launch a Facebook clone. Samsung immediately quashed the rumours, but backtracking slightly they admitted that the Samsung ‘Family Story’ App – which allows people to share photos and news updates with friends – was going to be expanded and improved.

What is surprising about this story is that critics assumed that by adding a photo-sharing tool to their phones, Samsung would be able to in some way rival Facebook.

Facebook is now a global juggernaut with more than half of all connected people using it regularly. Even Google has struggled to build a social network to rival it, with their G+ hailed as a technical success even though very few people actually use it.

And this is the problem for any new market entrant; the network effect prevents a rival emerging quickly. Consider online auctions as another example – you will always turn to eBay first because it is where most sellers go to list their items and they are listed there because it is where most buyers go to find something.

Facebook has suffered negative publicity over their recent IPO and the incredible overpricing of the stock at flotation, but the company is still in a powerful position to control the vast majority of the time people are online – and therefore may yet justify a value far greater than it presently trades at.

If Facebook moves from being just a social network to being considered almost as ‘the Internet’ then what hope does any rival have, whether they have millions of phone handsets in the market or not?

Samsung F490
Photo by Stephane Vieillot licensed under Creative Commons

New domains for a new Internet June 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is the organisation that organises the Internet – assigning the domain names we all know, such as .com and .org.

They just announced plans to create many new domains and asked organisations to submit requests for new suggested domains. Big tech firms like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all asked for new domain names, but what is interesting to see is that even non-tech firms like Land Rover have made requests for domains such as .landrover.

There is a concern that this process has commercialised the control of the Internet itself. Of course, brands and big commercial companies like Amazon and Google dominate the Internet as we know it, but it is also a resource that can be freely used just for the exchange of information.

With brands spending over £100,000 just to apply for the right to create a new domain it means that only those with deep pockets can guide the direction of the Internet and is that really the way we should be taking it?

The US government still takes a keen interest in the overall governance of the Internet and all the key organisations like Icaan are still based in the US, but perhaps it is time for a supranational body to be created – so the future of the Internet is not just auctioned to the highest bidder.

Land Rover Badge
Photo by JW Sherman licensed under Creative Commons

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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Cloud: What about regulated environments? April 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing, Software.
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The cloud changes everything. That’s the consensus view. Whether it’s remote infrastructure management, software as a service, or utility computing or all of these strategies combined in some way, the cloud is changing the IT services market.

But forget the hype you read in a lot of the business and tech press. Most of us are already using cloud-based services with photo-sharing, video-sharing, document-sharing services, or even tools like Google Apps and Gmail. Facebook and LinkedIn are both tools that exist in the cloud and most executives probably use them each and every day.

The question is really how do we move from acceptance of consumer tools to a place where these applications can be used in a bulletproof and robust corporate environment?

It’s a tall order. IT leaders have a different focus to personal end users, particularly when it comes to availability and security. These are particularly important factors when the IT service is purchased from a supplier and will translate into key performance indicators applied to a service level agreement. The small print of the publicly available services does include information about service levels, but it will usually just excuse the provider from any responsibility to give you a reliable service.

If Google Mail was never available when you wanted to use it then it would be abandoned and never used, but it’s reliable enough for most of us most of the time – even with some occasional well-documented failures. Google does offer a paid version of their mail product, with SLAs, so it works better for corporate users who want that guarantee.

But can real companies make this work? It’s more than two years now since Guardian News and Media Group in the UK switched 2,500 users over to Google Apps and with it being such an easy financial decision, more will follow – so it can be done and stepping away from email on individual PCs is no longer seen as such an unusual move.

The cloud is coming and it will change more traditional bread and butter IT services such as ERP and CRM for the supplier market. But how does all of this work in a regulated market such as the public sector, banking, or for a utility. What are your thoughts ahead of the Thomas Eggar Technology and Enterprise Forum on Thursday May 12?

Outsourcing without losing jobs March 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I had the opportunity to spend some time recently with the Chief Executive of a county council. We were talking about the looming spending cuts and what he might be able to achieve through the rationalisation of infrastructure, such as contact centres.

He explained to me that he had eleven premises with call centres handling enquiries from the public. Eleven!

I asked him why he doesn’t just rationalise them all into a single customer service centre. It would mean less property to manage, and without all that real estate overhead he could reduce headcount too.

He explained to me that in his part of the UK, the public sector employs around half of all employed adults. He not only has a mandate to try keeping costs down, but as one of the biggest employers in the region, he has to think of the social consequences of suddenly automating processes and casting hundreds into unemployment.

This is a very peculiar problem that most business leaders fortunately don’t have to face, but even the council leader could be exploring his data centre requirements without an immense impact on jobs.

Every process and system used today requires storage. Those banks of servers used to be lined up in the basement of every office until it became more efficient to use communications lines to large data centres, where the servers could be maintained more efficiently.

Storage is a homogenous kind of product. Apart from differing security considerations, there is not much else that is required other than the ability to store data safely, and to have backup and business continuity plans in place, just in case things go wrong.

Ultimately storage will go to the cloud. The players offering us space to store our company data will be Amazon and Google, but in the meantime there are many organisations – such as the county council – where individual departments still manage their own servers and storage.

Ensuring the enterprise uses a shared storage strategy through a rationalised data centre is one step towards reducing cost and running a smoother operation, but it also gets people ready for the future, a future where storage is on tap.

What’s in your (data) wallet? November 12, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Outsourcing, Software.
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So Google is fighting with Facebook over the right to access the address books of each other. The issue is that Facebook allows the user to find new friends by scouring through your Google address book and determining whether those email address are active on the social networking site.

But Facebook doesn’t allow Google the reciprocal rights to go scouring through the friends of a Facebook user and to scoop up their contact details for the Google address book. This anomaly has existed for some time with Google grumbling about it, but now their frustration has boiled over to the point that they have stopped allowing Facebook automatic access to Google address books. It’s still possible to do it all manually by exporting contacts to a file and then importing them, but it’s fiddly and has multiple steps, especially compared to the automatic check.

So who owns your address book anyway? Isn’t that list of contacts actually your own property? How can these giant corporations be fighting over my address list – as someone who uses services from both companies, like half a billion others. Well, if you still use a Filofax or Rolodex then you do own your contacts, but that doesn’t help very much when you want to send an email or make a call, unless you are sitting at your desk right next to that stack of thousands of Rolodex cards.

Both companies can clearly see a converged future. Mobile phones are synchronising automatically with online address books now, so the player who ends up with the dominant address book system will be in a powerful position, controlling email, social network, and mobile contact databases for hundreds of millions of people and watching how users use those contacts.

I’m interested in the point at which that information, self-created by me, ceased to be my own property. Do I have a say in how my address book is used or squabbled over any longer?

I’ve seen that face before somewhere… May 25, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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What are the commercial implications for technology such as facial recognition?

It’s a technology that is already available today. Users of the popular Google Picasa photo-sharing site that ‘tag’ a friend in a photograph will find that the site scans their photo collection and suggests other photos where the same friend has appeared – asking if they also want to tag that photo.

But think of the implications if a computer can immediately recognise a person. Google recently launched a search tool called Google Goggles that lets users search the Internet for items using a photograph – so you can photograph something with your mobile phone and then search for whatever is in the photo. But they didn’t enable facial recognition for this tool – imagine if you could photograph a stranger on the train and find all their online social networks through a photo search. It’s a stalkers dream tool.

Commercially there should be immense opportunities for facial recognition to improve security, but the companies that are exploring these technologies also need to be aware of what people will tolerate and what is seen as beneficial. For example, most people would feel more secure at airports if passports used facial recognition technology.

But do you remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report? It was set in the near future and focused on a computer that could see into the future – so the police could catch criminals before they ever committed a crime. One memorable sequence in the film shows Tom Cruise walking through a future city centre where the advertising billboards use facial recognition to profile who he is in real time and to change the advert to something appropriate to him as an individual consumer.

Privacy regulations and public mistrust are going to prevent something like that happening any time soon, but with freely available social networks now using facial recognition technology, are we already on the slippery slope to a place where anonymity is impossible?