Performance

Whether or not you’re an Apple user/consumer/fan, you have to admire what Steve Jobs has accomplished as CEO of Apple, Inc. No MBA, no tenure as CEO of a large company someone else built to prepare him. He started Apple in a garage and built a large company, then returned when it was struggling and led it into prominence as the most valuable company in the world. Who else can make that claim? The company that he built and his vision as to what we want, crave, and will buy has changed whole market segments, and will for years to come. Yes, he made mistakes, but they were far overshadowed by the huge successes. The team Steve built continues on the right path; Apple’s stock price keeps climbing while others fall.

There are lessons we can all learn from the way Steve ran Apple. Lessons applicable to any size business and life in general. We can also hope that other CEOs take note of ‘how Steve did it.’

Unfortunately for the economy, customers, and employees, most CEOs and politicians are nowhere as talented and capable. And who stands out today as the poster child for inept CEOs? The CEO of another super-large tech company who shot himself in the foot, damaged the company in many, many ways, caused unrest and confusion among the customer base, killed off a promising product line, then said they really weren’t killing it (just intentionally wounding it and placing it on life support)… and the list continues. Who else but Leo Apotheker, the HP CEO! To recant the company’s history and all recent mistakes in detail would be redundant – you’ve read it elsewhere. Think of all the employees about to lose their jobs because of his ineptness. Think of all the shareholders who thought they were making a good, safe investment, only to see their investment and dreams turn into a pile of ****. Let the lawsuits begin! Several other tech CEOs have been under fire lately for their lack of performance and vision. (Are they all competing for “Who Wants to be a Bozo?”) The others don’t look so incompetent – the HP CEO has focused most attention on himself! My complaint isn’t so much with the bad CEO (I’m sure he is trying the best he can) as with the Board of Directors who hired him and continue to support him. Their guidance and decisions are the problem. I’m not familiar with the HP Board – don’t even know who’s on it – but they have failed us all.

A statement from HP said they were trying to determine the best future course for WebOS to maximize value for their shareholders, something they obviously didn’t give enough thought to before opening mouth and inserting feet. They spent $1.2 billion to purchase Palm, then spent additional millions to further develop the software and hardware, provide training and incentives to WebOS developers, produce TouchPad tablets they sold at a loss, manufacture phones that will likely sit in warehouses (and later sell at a loss), advertise, and do the thousands of big and little tasks necessary to introduce a new product line and bring it to market. What’s that total…$3 billion? More? Just to be thrown away because this CEO doesn’t like and understand this segment of the business? How many million devices would HP need to receive licensing fees from to just recoup their investment? Sell WebOS outright? WebOS was worth much more before HP decided to kill it. HP could have packaged WebOS in a more favorable light, instead of as a liability to dispose of. The key to any sale now is the value of all the patents Palm owns. HP won’t be needing those patents, since they’ve made it clear their only interest for the future is selling software and services to businesses.

After purchasing Palm, HP said they planned to put WebOS on printers, computers, most everything. That made a lot of sense. Own a WebOS phone or tablet; you’d likely want the ability to use some of the same apps on your home PC. If you had a PC that also had the ability to run WebOS, you’d probably try it out, download and use at least a few apps, and possibly buy a WebOS phone. You’d perceive these PCs as being more valuable, so you’d pay a little more, which would have helped HP’s problem with thin margins on PCs. HP is the largest PC manufacturer in the world, so over 2-3 years they would have seeded the market with a huge quantity of WebOS capable devices.

It wouldn’t have happened overnight, but HP didn’t do anything fast with WebOS except kill the hardware division. I don’t know what was going on internally during that time, but we saw very little happen with WebOS in the year HP owned Palm. That was very disappointing. Finally Palm had access to resources and capital, which should have been the launchpad to great things.

The people running HP must believe the talk that this now is the post-PC era, and their huge PC business is in danger of imminent meltdown.  Since their answer to the post-PC era (WebOS) wasn’t selling, OMG — Chicken Little was right – the sky must be falling!  Second, instead of that poorly worded announcement, what if they had waited until they actually knew what they were doing with WebOS and the Personal System Group?  They would have sounded much more professional, and the stock price may have gone up instead of down.  Third, they plan on taking the company in a different direction, but they haven’t done it yet, and don’t know if it will be a success.  I would have kept the PSG going while I decided its fate, tried to straighten out the WebOS problems, while acquiring Autonomous and building the B2B part of the company.  A year from now I would be able to triumphantly announce future plans from a position of strength, instead of  failure and confusion.  But they probably won’t call me to replace Leo.

I’ve owned many HP printers and computers. The most trouble-free printers I’ve owned were from HP. I see three pieces of HP equipment here now. I tried to find a $99 TouchPad when they went on sale. I’ll likely buy an AirPrint-enabled HP printer. I say this to establish that I’m not a hater who wants to see HP fail. I want to see success and innovation, because that drives other companies and the whole economy upward. And that makes everyone a winner.

The Yahoo Board of Directors fired their CEO, and her missteps weren’t as costly. Lack of vision seemed to be the main problem. No sense of direction, no “This is what we’re about,” the stock price and other financials weren’t improving. They weren’t going downhill, but they weren’t gaining. The sad thing is the Yahoo Board doesn’t seem to have a vision for Yahoo either.

I’ve been an employee, and always had the feeling that if I screwed up, or was overshadowed by someone blowing his own horn, I’d be gone. I’ve been a small business owner, and knew that my performance was the difference between eating well and not eating. I can’t imagine making multi-million dollar mistakes, let alone making them then being around tomorrow to make another, and another. And when that CEO leaves it will be with a multi-million dollar golden parachute. Not for success, but for failure.

Isn’t it time to stop awarding golden parachutes for failure? I know, I know, there are contracts involved. So why are contracts written this way? Again, it goes back to the Board of Directors not performing their duties. Maybe not even understanding their duties. Reward for success, punish for failure. Business 101. When any business isn’t operating this way, it shows how out of touch they are. And can even greater failure be far behind?

It’s really sad when a company this large stumbles so badly.  I can almost understand small companies being so busy with whatever they do that they misstep.  However, when companies are as large as HP, General Motors, and other infamous notables, we expect them to devote proper resources to planning, and to be led by executives who have the vision to know where they’re going.  Anything less should be viewed as criminal.

Gazelle.com is a company buying used gadgets.  “Don’t sell it, Gazelle it” is their slogan.  I wonder if they’d be interested in buying used, outdated executives.  How much is Leo worth?

Our economy is sputtering. Too many mistakes by too many people. Too many mistakes, too much blaming, too much justifying, and not enough achieving. When third-world dictators take everything and make people suffer, we ask, “How can they get away with that? Isn’t anyone going to stop them?” But we let it happen right in front of us and say nothing. Or even worse, justify it.

Postscript Addendum Whatever: While I was proofreading this article, the news came over the Internet that the HP Board of Directors had finally awakened, saw the trail of damage, and Meg Whitman is the new HP CEO. I wish her well. It will be interesting to see how much damage can be repaired, what happens to the stock price, the outcome for the Personal Systems Group and WebOS, and the future course for HP.

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Thin Client, Thinner Idea

Every so often a truly great idea comes along. More often though, ideas aren’t so great or are great only in the mind of whoever thought them up, with the rest of us scratching our heads trying to figure why anyone thinks those ideas have merit. You wouldn’t think that a bad idea would float around Silicon Valley for long – too many bright people there – any idea would be tried and used successfully or abandoned when it flopped or before. One bad idea, that like Dracula just won’t stay dead and buried, is the “Thin Client.” In this scenario your computer is just a dumb terminal; all actual computing is done on a server that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away. This was first proposed twenty years ago; it lives on today primarily as Google Chromebooks. It didn’t make much sense years ago; it doesn’t fly today. Since most computing, then and now, can be done locally on inexpensive handhelds, netbooks, or notebooks, why would anyone prefer a more expensive, more complicated solution?

The more you think about it, the more you have to ask, “Why?” That scenario is much more complex than local computing. I did document processing (creating and editing spreadsheets and word processing documents) on Palm handhelds years ago. No remote server needed. Those same handhelds weren’t so great when connected to the Internet. “Lightning fast with no lag” was a dream, and not a dream come true. Today, processors and data connections are faster, but anyone with a Smartphone will tell you there are many places you can’t get a good data connection. Frustrating, to say the very least.

I live in a large city. There’s a very nice city neighborhood about three miles from downtown where cell coverage is iffy. It’s not unusual to drop calls. Another area called Mt. Washington overlooks the central business district. It’s not a real mountain, just a big, tall hill. Looking over the terrain, especially from atop Mt. Washington, you’d think this was the best place around for any type of radio connection. You’re up high, there are communication towers there, plus you have a view for miles and can see many communication towers in every direction. But Mt. Washington is one of the worst places around for cell and other radio reception. Strange, but true. A taxi driver told me that he has trouble using his two cell phones up there, and his taxi radio also has reception problems. There are downtown locations where I’ve had problems, probably due to the tall buildings. I could list other problem spots, but the point is, coverage isn’t universal or perfect, so why would you tie yourself to a device that needs good wireless coverage at all times?

Then there’s the data plan itself. Only one of the large cellular carriers offers unlimited data, and that carrier has coverage and other problems that make them less than perfect. The cost of a data plan and likely overages isn’t cheap; then there’s the cost of your time trying to find the ideal location to get a strong data connection. That ideal location may not exist inside many buildings, out in the middle of nowhere, in many U.S. cities and towns, aboard planes, and many other places. If Wi-Fi is available on the plane or other locations, it’s not free and it’s often not cheap. You can’t live at Starbucks sucking up free Wi-Fi all day, every day. The price you pay for an hour or two of Wi-Fi coverage here and there will add up over the lifetime of a device.

You may think that since these devices do less and have fewer parts and fewer capabilities, they will be relatively inexpensive. And you’d be wrong! These crippled devices, for whatever insane reason, cost more, almost twice what a netbook costs, and netbooks have local storage.

If you’re using computers for business, there’s a cost for business software, likely Microsoft Office. You don’t have the upfront investment if you’re using a Chromebook-type device, but you will pay a few dollars monthly to use most online document services. That few dollars a month will add up over three years to about the cost of a copy of Microsoft Office. You may have some favorite programs or MS Office add-ons. Guess what you won’t be using on your “cloud computer.” Games? Companies may think their people will gain hours of productivity if they aren’t playing Solitaire and other games. This may work for a few days. Then they’ll be IMing each other about the great games they’ve found online – thousands of games that suck you in and waste much more time than Solitaire ever could (while consuming expensive data).

Software does have problems, whether it’s on one laptop, or… oops, the server/service you’re trying to contact is down and your programs and documents are unavailable. Unavailable to everyone in the entire company (and all companies and everyone. Everyone!). You know the outage won’t happen Sunday morning at 5am. Murphy’s Law says it will happen as you are doing something very important, such as a demo to a key client, who will be very unimpressed that you have no backup plan and are left waiting for another company to fix whatever is wrong.

I know, you’ve had problems with your computer. You were doing a PowerPoint presentation last week and your laptop went crazy. The difference is, good planning would dictate more than one laptop ready to go. A few seconds, less than a minute, and everything is back on track. You’ll be praised for your fast, professional recovery, and no one will even remember the glitch.

Many companies have one of more specialized software programs that run only on a certain platform, often Microsoft Windows. Tell your IT professional you want to use these programs on Linux, iPad, or the cloud, and you’ll get a dirty look as he explains “No” to you.

Another thing I don’t understand about this Silicon Valley Frankenstein Monster: many people in that part of the country are very interested in ecology – The Green Movement. I can’t think of anything more wasteful of resources and less green than having to build, maintain, and power a vastly increased infrastructure so that millions of people can compute on distant servers.

Backers of these “computerless computers” claim the ongoing cost of ownership is lower since there’s less to go bad. No hard drive, very little installed software (just a browser and a basic OS), so you shouldn’t need service or repairs. Murphy’s Law says otherwise. Next point, this particular item would have been more valid ten or twenty years ago. Computers weren’t as reliable, and people weren’t as used to using them. Today, computers just work, often for years. Mate a good computer with a local backup plan and an automatic off-site data backup service such as Carbonite or 3Exact and you’re good to go, with a minimum of problems.

The best solution may be what Apple is offering with iOS5 and iCloud. You create and edit documents and do other computing locally on your device. When you Save or a program auto-saves the data is pushed to the cloud (Apple’s servers). The data then gets pushed to whatever computers or iOS devices you designate so your latest data is always backed up and instantly available on other devices. If a data connection is unavailable, you can still perform computing functions on your local device, and your device will talk to the cloud later when a data connection is available. You can also do complete daily backups of each iOS device to the cloud. The concept will take some tweaking for corporate use, but the capabilities will grow. And Apple isn’t alone. Many companies and service providers are putting in long hours developing their own versions of iCloud.

So we return to my question: Why? If you’re the proprietor of a computer museum, these devices would look good sitting next to the Osborne, Pet, and Kaypro computers. Unless you have a unique reason, and there are some, you want to do all or most computing locally on your device. You’re not gaining anything with a Chromebook-type device, you’re not saving money, but you are limiting what you can do. This would be a great device for Fred Flintstone.

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Another Dead Blog?

Three months since the last post!  Hmmm.  Well, as they say, “Stuff Happens.”  In this case it was a physical move to a new residence followed by illness.  The scary thing was that it took a month of tests, Doctor visits, and a stay in the hospital to figure out what was wrong.  The Doctor who figured it out wasn’t even one of my Doctors, and it took him about five minutes to diagnose the problem and the remedy.  He saw the Big Picture; others were concentrating on specific organs, functions, and tests.  Hopefully, all that is behind me, and I can now return to Life As I Knew It.  I’m not a happy camper when I’m ill, and I have no patience.  I want answers and The Cure NOW (I know, doesn’t everyone!?).

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And The Theme Is…

The next two posts, written at different times, echo a common thought: connectivity.  Ten years ago, marveling at how easily the latest devices went online, I would not have believed I would be lamenting problems with connectivity and transferring data ten years later!

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Connect the Computers

You think we’re making progress.  Each year’s technology is better than the last.  Especially in communications.  Aren’t we capable of near-instant communications with each other, almost anywhere on the planet?  Well, sometimes.  Let me highlight one place we’re going backwards – transferring data.

A few years ago, many of us had Palm handheld computers.  One Palm feature was Infrared.  You could beam your contact info, data files, even an entire program, to another Palm handheld.  I can remember attending a monthly meeting where the agenda was beamed to everyone with a Palm, which was most of us.  Then handhelds running other operating systems came along, and also had Infrared ports.  You couldn’t beam programs to handhelds with a different OS, but some data types traveled well among devices.  Many of us went from Palms to Pocket PCs, but we could still beam data between handhelds.  So far, so good.

Bluetooth had a rocky beginning.  Bluetooth was a major advancement, but it took awhile to gain traction.  By this time, PDAs were giving way to the early Smartphones.  The carriers controlled the features, and for some reason, the carriers fought Bluetooth.  Even devices that had Bluetooth were often lacking profiles to do obvious chores like transferring files (a Bluetooth Profile is an instruction set to accomplish a specific task, like connecting a headset or a Bluetooth keyboard and transferring the appropriate data.  Not having the needed profile is like not having a printer driver – nothing happens!).  Finally, common Bluetooth profiles began appearing in many handhelds.  We used Bluetooth to send contacts, transfer files, listen to music, use our phones as wireless modems, and other tasks.  The monthly meeting I mentioned earlier now distributed the meeting agenda to the attendees via Bluetooth.  So far, we had progress, but then…

Manufacturers started eliminating Infrared from Smartphones.  It didn’t make sense – still doesn’t – because the savings amount to pennies per device.  It was simple to beam contact info or even a file to someone you were talking with.  If they didn’t understand how, you could show them how easy it was.  This ease and functionality is needed today – 95% of the people with Smartphones have no idea how to send data to another device!  Bring back the IR port!

I’m not sure if the Bluetooth stack was changed, profiles were eliminated or changed…what happened?  There are many available Bluetooth profiles, but the average device has only a few.  Most devices today can’t use an OS function to send or receive Bluetooth files with someone nearby.  You must e-mail them, so you need an active data connection, and you can usually include a file as an attachment.  Which seems rather silly.  I want to send you a file, you’re three feet away, we can touch each other.  But I can’t send you that file direct, I must e-mail you, which may involve e-mail servers thousands of miles away.

I suspect any future solution may involve Wi-Fi, which isn’t as good as Bluetooth for file transfers.  One reason Bluetooth is better is security.  Most Bluetooth devices have a maximum range of 30-35 feet.  You can usually see who is within that limited range.  Wi-Fi travels much farther, and you may be sending files to someone you’re not even aware of!  I own a small device (about the size of a cigarette lighter) called AirStash (http://www.airstash.com/) that beams the contents of a SD card over Wi-Fi.  It’s great for getting files into and out of Apple iOS devices.  The documentation says it creates a PAN (Personal Area Network) with a range up to 160 feet line-of-sight.  The device is much weaker than a router, probably not as powerful as Smartphones, tablets, or notebook computers, so can you imagine sending files over Wi-Fi with more powerful devices?  How many of my files the neighbors would have is anyone’s guess.  Security?  Many people don’t understand how to set up a secure Wi-Fi network, and others may ignore secure protocols if they are transferring files on a peer-to-peer network, something they expect to take less than a minute.

Mobile devices run on batteries, and it takes less power to send a file via Bluetooth than Wi-Fi.  Compounding that, if you plan to use Wi-Fi, you’ll likely leave Wi-Fi turned on, which really drains your battery.

There is a solution.  If we complain, and complain enough, the missing functionality may be restored in the next generation of devices.  Next time you’re device shopping, complain about the missing features.  Tell the salesperson you aren’t buying today because the devices lack an important feature.  Read an online review?  Ask if the device can transfer contacts or files via Bluetooth, and if it can’t, nicely point out the device is crippled at the starting gate.  Manufacturers do read these online reviews, they hate to read about shortcomings, and at least some may decide to correct their omission.  You don’t think so?  Apple changed the function of a button on the iPad.  There were many complaints, and the next OS revision offered users a choice for that button.

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Get Really Connected

It’s been about ten months since I purchased my iPad.  No, I won’t be purchasing an iPad 2.  The iPad 2 is certainly nicer but I will try to curb my desires, at least until iPad 3.  The iPad has had two OS updates, but getting documents into and out of the iPad is still something for Rube Goldberg (Rube Goldberg was an old-time cartoonist.  Look up his cartoons — you’ll see what I mean and have a good laugh).

When I say documents, most of what I work with are Microsoft Office-compatible files (.txt, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and PDFs.  Most of these are Word documents.  I’m not the only one using an iPad for office functions — Pages, Keynote, and Numbers are consistently in the top 10 of the iOS App Store sales chart.

Transferring files among computers is common at home and office for a variety of reasons.  There is no perfect solution that is best for everyone at all times.  Am I at home, wanting to transfer a file between two computers sitting next to each other, is the file on a computer that’s miles away, or is the file on a Smartphone, tablet, SD card, or external hard drive?

Most devices have an SD card slot and/or USB ports where you can plug in thumb drives, card readers, external hard drives… the list is endless.  Imagine my surprise when I first brought the iPad home.  Having to e-mail documents to myself, or getting documents in or out thru iTunes, seemed strange and primitive indeed.  I’m sitting here with one of the most advanced devices on the planet, and I have to get documents into and out of the device as though it’s years ago.

Another surprise was the lack of support for transferring files with Bluetooth.  We transferred files with Bluetooth years ago, first with Palm devices, then with Pocket PCs.

One of the easiest ways to get docs into and out of the iPad or any iOS device is thru iDisk, part of Apple’s MobileMe suite.  Another solution with advantages (for one, it’s free!) is Dropbox.  MobileMe syncs email, bookmarks, contacts, notes, and calendar; Dropbox syncs files.  I use both.  Dropbox can automatically sync files on all your computers: Windows PCs, Macs, Linux, iOS devices, Android, and Blackberry.  If you want to keep a lot of files synced it will cost you, but the first 2GB of storage is free and you can earn more free storage.  Use this link to sign up for Dropbox and receive extra storage.   The LifeHacker website has frequent articles detailing new uses for Dropbox.  A recent article told how someone used Dropbox to pinpoint the location of his stolen laptop.  There are other sync solutions such as SugarSync.  Read all about each one; there are differences that may be important to the way you work.

Dropbox is an “almost” seamless way to get documents into and out of iOS devices.  Dropbox works well with some apps such as QuickOffice Connect, not so well with other Apps such as Apple’s iPad iWork suite of Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.  There is a simple way to make the iPad iWork suite work perfectly with Dropbox, and it’s explained here: http://techinch.com/2011/02/02/integrate-dropbox-with-pages-keynote-and-numbers-on-ipad/

My only problem came when I tried using the iPad with a local storage device that also uses WebDAV.  The article’s author explained what I had to do (Comments at the end of the article) and everything works fine.

You can set that whole thing up in just a few minutes, but let’s journey ever so slightly into the land of What If.  We’re so close to another solution that could happen with just a little help from Apple.  Apple sells a dongle that plugs into the iPad’s 30-pin connector port.  The dongle has an SD card slot.  So far, so good.  Problem is, this device that could be so very useful is a one-trick pony.  It’s only purpose is to transfer pictures from a camera’s SD card to the iPad.  It won’t transfer documents in, and it won’t transfer anything out.  This could be rectified by a firmware update.

This would serve three purposes.  One, easily transfer files into and out of the device.  Two, extend the storage capacity of any iOS device — keep what you use most on the device and store everything else on SD cards.  Three, back up the entire device to an SDHC card, then restore your current iOS device or a new one from that SDHC card.  Item three would require the most effort (developing a new app or adding that feature to the OS), but the added feature would surely increase sales of all iOS devices.

Under the current iOS device scenario, if you are away from home and office (business trip, vacation, whatever) traveling with only an iOS device, and that device has a problem and needs restored, or the device is lost or damaged and you purchase a replacement iDevice, you are SOL until you physically return to the one computer in the world your iOS device syncs with.  If anything happens to that one computer your data may be gone forever.  If you’re away for a few days, a couple of weeks, or longer, you probably added to and/or changed the data on the iDevice, yet you have no way to sync or back up that changed and new data.  That is so primitive!

One of many rumors is that iOS5 will allow us to back up to and restore from, “the cloud” (Apple’s new North Carolina data center).  I hope so, but that is just a rumor, and it’s always nice to have choices.  If it does happen, backup and restore will likely require a Wi-Fi connection, which may be impossible to find at that mountain cabin, secluded lake, and many locations around the world.  A couple of SDHC cards in your pocket could be all you need!

I submitted this suggestion to Apple and invite you to do the same.  The more requests for something, the greater the chance Apple will listen.  Remember the iPad orientation lock switch issue?  The best example is that Apple originally planned for web apps only on the iPhone until they saw the sheer number of people jailbreaking their iPhones so they could have Apps.  Apple changed their mind, opened the iOS App Store, and here we are more than ten billion downloads later.  Hopefully my suggestion and other solutions are introduced soon.

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Mobile OS and Device Comparison

I was recently in the market for a new Smartphone (after comparing many devices, I kept my old Smartphone).  Friends and salespeople alike assured me this Smartphone or that one would fulfill my needs and do everything I wanted.  I didn’t believe their well-meaning advice for a minute!  Smartphones and their operating systems are quite different, and many people couldn’t answer basic questions about the device(s) they were promoting!  Well, exactly what features are important to me?  I should make a list.  First, the OS itself, then the specific capabilities of the individual phones.

There are three lists below.  You may wish to copy the lists, edit them to your own needs, then print them out or copy them to your Smartphone for use in selecting the best device for you.  I know, I’ve taken what is usually just an emotional decision, and turned it into a process that will take hours of gathering data and impartial comparing.  This is from years of experience doing the same things over and over > get excited, think this is the device for me, buy the device, discover its shortcomings, feel disappointed then mad at myself, decide if I live with this device or take it back…it’s much easier to gather info, then make the correct decision.  First, the OS.  What are the features, strengths, and weaknesses of each Operating System?

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