2010-09-10: Searching ...
By now, everyone (except for a few G-paranoids) has tried out Google's new "instant search" feature. My first impression was that it isn't anything new, but then someone reminded me that I'm used to the browser search box in Firefox and Flock, where search suggestions are generated from your default search (and in the case of Flock, other engines in your list) as you type.
This will force competing search providers to do the same, which could wind up placing a heavy load on the back-end servers for bottom-rung competitors like Ask and Cuil. In order to pull instant search off, a provider must (if I understand it correctly) use AJAX/JSON to send keystrokes back to the server, match those keystrokes with patterns stored in the database, and retrieve searches whose patterns were matched, sending the list of searches back to the user quickly enough to offer useful assistance.. I don't see the guy with a server in his garage connected on a DSL line as being able to offer anything like that kind of interactivity.
Now, Microsoft's Bing (and by extension, Yahoo, which gets its results from Bing) can definitely afford the server power to compete. AOL is using Google for much of its back-end processing, so it may also offer similar functionality. But what of Ask, Cuil, Wolfram Alpha, and other small search providers? What of DuckDuckGo, which relies on Yahoo/Bing for much of its resultset?
Actually, I just tested some sites. I went to the following sites and started typing "Dodgers" to see how quickly results came up and whether the results reflected queries someone might make about the team.
|Site Name||Site Results|
|AOL||Very little delay; search queries pretty accurate|
|Ask||Works, but has a visible delay before it starts. By the time it came back with anything related to baseball, I had finished typing the team name.|
|Bing||This engine was late to start with results, but lightning fast with its response. I was almost finished typing "Dodgers", but the baseball-related queries were fully populated before I could finishe the word.|
|Cuil||Cuil does not yet offer a predictive search feature.|
|DuckDuckGo||DDG does not yet offer a predictive search feature, although they have other features to recommend them. I use DDG as my alternate to Google.|
|Quick, relatively accurate dropdown list of search queries|
|Yahoo||Quick to start filling in, but by the time it realized I mean the baseball team and not the brand of trucks, I was one letter away from finishing the team name.|
|Wolfram Alpha||Alpha does not offer any kind of predictive search, but if you finish the word and hit enter, you see many of the important facts you'd want to know right there on one page.|
All in all, I think predictive search is going to help separate search engines into the big guys and the little guys.
I keep trying Bing, and I'm back with my Google-DuckDuckGo-Yahoo sequence within a day. Actually, I rarely have to go to Yahoo anymore. If bigG doesn't have the answer, DDG has it. If DDG does not have it, the answer is buried several pages down in Yahoo's results or not present at all.
As we watch Yahoo get digested, will someone else rise up to challenge Google? Bing is clearly inferior, even though they have greatly improved since the Live.com days and before.
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2010-01-18: Yahoo Continuing To Surrender Its Assets
VMware's acquisition of Zimbra from Yahoo points to a new form of partnership in the tech word. It's one that could define the big winners in the battle for a major piece of the enterprise market.
The acquisition shows how VMware is seeking to do more than provide virtualization technology. By packaging Zimbra's popular, open-source collaboration software, VMware can provide a more enhanced service, one that combines virtualization technology with email and calendar applications.
Looking at the behavior of Yahoo!, one can only surmise that someone in company headquarters is wanting to get back at the company for some (real or imagined) slight. First, they took the second-best search engine and agreed to throw it away. They aren't doing so well with their plan of reassuring searchers that their current engine's content is good enough, while still justifying the company's upcoming dependence upon Microsoft's "Bing" search engine for results.
Then, we read that Yahoo is disposing of its offerings. Things like GeoCities (which was like Angelfire or Tripod with bigger traffic, until Y! stopped improving or promoting it), Zimbra (the primary open source competition for Microsoft's Exchange communications server), and Yahoo! Shopping (and the corresponding API that allowed access without going through the site). It is almost as if someone near the top of Yahoo! decided that they could no longer compete successfully, so they are giving up.
Sad, really. Yahoo has long been a user and supporter of open technologies such as FreeBSD, Linux, PHP, and Perl. It is sad when corporate mind rot afflicts such a company. I'd really like to see them recover the "we can do anything" attitude they had several years ago (not the "we're superior to you" attitude that the Y! workers had when I worked downstairs from them in 2004-2006).
Will someone come in and reawaken the Y! spirit? Or will they join a long list of formerly great companies in the dumpster?
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2009-05-23: Browser Monopoly
Google has done a lot to buff its browser recently. It regularly talks up the program?s speed, helpful updates, and growing developer community. But despite plenty of buzz among early adopters, Chrome holds a measly 1 percent market share.
That statistic could skyrocket if the European Commission has its way. A recent proposal would force Microsoft to include competing Web browsers with every copy of Windows. The EC hopes the additional options would break any potential monopoly that Microsoft could leverage by bundling Windows with its own Internet Explorer, which enjoys more than 90 percent worldwide market share.
Microsoft strongly protests the measure. According to its lawyers, the EC proposal would prevent one potential monopoly by promoting another. This argument ties back into how Google got its billions.
It is a poor argument. Having a monopoly is not illegal, assuming it wasn't obtained through illegal, anti-competitive actions. What is illegal is misusing a monopoly to restrict competition or consumer choice in another area.
In this case, including the browser with the operating system that comes pre-installed on over 90% of desktop computers sold is anti-competitive, because it makes it more difficult for the makers of other browsers to compete. Adding competing browsers breaks the monopoly by creating an oligopoly instead. This is slightly better, as "NotW" said in the comments, but does not solve the market competition and consumer choice problems that are caused when the monopoly-share operating system vendor pre-installs a non-OS application.
"walterbyrd" says in the comments, "Why is it okay for msft to have a monopoly, but a disaster for anybody else to have a monolopy[sic]?" This strikes at the heart of Microsoft's objection. Microsoft's fear is that Chrome (and Firefox) both come with Google search as the default, and this may help their search engine shoot even further ahead of others, making its advertising network stronger than it already is. This neglects the way that every user on every machine gets Windows Live Search as the default now, but its inferior results drive people to pay the neighbor's 13 year-old to switch it to Google. Having a choice of browsers merely means that people won't need to pay for a switch--they can just use a browser that already gives them good results for searching.
I have said it before: Microsoft is a powerful competitor and makes some pretty good (and some pretty bad) software. Their problem is that they fear the competitive market, the level playing field, and they do whatever they can to prevent having to live in that market. Personally, I believe that Microsoft will become smaller, nimbler, and even harder to beat once it sheds its evil monopoly-monster personna and allows its pieces and products to compete openly and without choice-restricting product-tying.
The key is getting the company to drop its anti-competitive and anti-user activities and get back to building software that knocks our socks off. That is the direction that the world is moving toward, so I encourage Microsoft to join the tide of freedom that is moving forward around the world. I encourage the EU to follow NotW's suggestion. Failing that, the top five browsers (as enumerated by NotW) should be pre-packaged with Windows.
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2008-11-13: If Your Browser Continues Losing Share, Cheat
Since Microsoft upgraded their Windows Live Hotmail service last night (30-10-2008) I cannot write new messages or reply to messages. The message body (where I want to write) is greyed out. Restarting did not help. I assume this is a Microsoft problem but I post it here anyway.
It is not plausible that this is anything but intentional. With 1 in 5 users running Firefox (and it would probably be much higher if it weren't for corporations and their reluctance to switch), it is inexcusable not to test with Firefox and to make sure the site works.
I have a Hotmail account. I have had it for years. I kept it during the difficult transition when Hotmail moved from using FreeBSD to using Microsoft Windows servers. I kept it during the dot-bomb crash, when they were cutting size limits and requiring that you log in regularly to keep it active. The company has been known to push users to go with IE, but this goes beyond what I've seen before.
Maybe Microsoft fears that the browser share for IE is about to plummet. Whatever the reason, it is a dirty trick to pull, and one that can only cause their money-losing MSN/Live unit to fall even further behind. I wonder whether we can nominate the MSN/Live unit for a Darwin award?
A loud razz for Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail, which is chasing away its users.
2008-08-08: 3% Of UK PCs Sold With Linux
LINUX HAS MADE headway in Microsoft's UK heartland, the PC sales channel. The number of machines shipped with Linux preloaded on them has multiplied a whopping 28 times since Microsoft launched its Vista operating system in January 2007
The Linux share of this route to market has edged up ever since the Vista launch. Then it broke the two per cent barrier in May after the latest release of Ubuntu, the strain of Linux most capable of kicking Microsoft in the shins.
While it will be years before we can really see it, Microsoft is in decline, and Windows Vista is the proximate cause. While Vista retains a huge fraction of the market sales-wise, end-users have rejected it, and continue to do so. They reject it for its annoying and intrusive so-called security features, such as User Account Control (UAC), and will reject it even more once they move to high-definition video and find that Vista has technological usage restrictions (TUR, often misnamed as digital rights management/DRM) deeply embedded into the OS, such that simple things like copying your own home videos will be blocked because it cannot verify that a corporate distributor grants you the right to copy them.
Further, MSFT miscalculated just how much governments meant it when they said they wanted open standard file formats for their documents--they came up with MS Office 2007 with horrifying interface and file format changes in response--and just how large of a backlash they would feel for resisting the already-standardized OpenDocument Format (ODF). Microsoft has announced that it will integrate ODF functionality in a patch to be delivered next year, while they will still not fully support their own standard, OOXML (Office Open XML). This means that the greatest portion of MSFT's publicity among technically-savvy people and both open technology & open government activists has been negative for the past two years.
One of the great benefits, I think, will be that software companies will have to make their products a lot better at cross-platform functionality. Device-makers, too, will adapt or die. Platform lock-in will almost die. (I'd expect surviving proprietary companies to try to keep it, but it may be the thing that finally kills their businesses the way that planned obsolescence put the Detroit automakers on the slide to nowhere.)
2008-06-06: Firefox Worldwide Share Approaches 20%
This is an outstanding achievement, considering all the legally-questionable product-tying that kept people from making use of non-Microsoft browsers for so many years.
Microsoft Word and Microsoft Frontpage are both well-known for the junk they spew into their HTML output. That junk is used to give specific hints to IE about how the page should look. This helps to keep large businesses and government agencies ("enterprise users") from switching, even today. This kind of tactic ties non-standard HTML markup with non-standard behavior in an attempt to prevent the use of competing products.
And yet, Firefox market share grows, slowly but progressively. It could be better pop-up blocking. Firefox's refusal to automatically run certain malware hidden in banner ads. Speed advantage. Standards compliance. Or it could be the efforts of free software / open source software advocates to promote the browser as an alternative to proprietary software. It could even be the wide variety of community-developed extensions that are available. The fact that its default search engine is Google, which gives clearly better results than Microsoft's MSN / Live Search.
There are other browsers, both closed and open source. Opera is a fantastic product, with blazing-fast speed (on Windows, seems slower on Linux) and standards compliance that even surpasses Firefox. Opera is now freeware (zero-price software), with a proprietary license. Safari is said to be great also (I'm using Linux most of the time, and Safari is not available). And there are several other such browsers out there. All of them offer dramatic improvement versus IE 6 and noticeable improvement versus IE 7. None of them, however, has captured the public imagination the way that Firefox has.
One thing we know is that no trend continues forever--imagine market share numbers that continued past 100%--but one can hope that this trend continues long enough to make browser-specific code on Web sites untenable. I look forward to continued growth for Firefox, along with Opera, Safari, Galeon, Epiphany, K-Meleon, and many other browsers. My goal is for no single browser to have a commanding market share.
One thing that this has shown is that competition drives product improvement. After IE permanently surpassed Netscape, development stagnated, coming to a complete stop (except for security patches) for years. It is only in response to revitalized competition that Microsoft again put its energy into making IE better. We can look forward to much-improved browsers in the near future as Firefox 3, Opera 9.5, and IE8 are released. It is an exciting time to be a Web user.
2008-04-25: Windows Vista Sales Fall
The world's biggest software maker said sales of Windows for PCs sank 24 percent and revenue from its online advertising unit came in at the low end of its projections. Microsoft's report contrasted with positive comments from chipmaker Intel Corp. and computer company International Business Machines Corp.
Is the monopoly starting to fade? Windows sales were down 24% from last quarter, even as other reports said that PC sales were up by 15%. Considering how many buyers of computers with Vista installed are going back to buy XP, this is really big. It looks like someone is going to be Sleepless in Seattle for a while.
Certainly Apple's sales are rising, as are Linux PCs. In fact, today was the release day for Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron". Downloads are heavy. With three computers and a 5Mb/s connection, it is still taking about 12 hours to update each of these computers. So it isn't that the market isn't buying computers. Maybe the market isn't buying computers with Windows Vista.
My suggestion for the folks in Redmond is to make "Windows 7" kind of a slimmed-down and more secure version of Windows XP. Forget the security nanny from Vista, and all the technological usage restrictions ("TUR", often euphemized as "DRM"). Even drop the extreme requirements for device drivers. When Windows cannot install a USB laser mouse (using a driver that is built into Windows) because it is "missing required security information", something is really wrong with the security model.
Here's a hint. Like everything else about using a computer, the user is the key. A trained, educated, trusted user is a blessing to work with. On the other hand, an untrained, uneducated, untrusted user is a problem in the making. There is no technology that can completely overrule this. It is a matter of making sure the user knows what to do and what not to do (and most importantly, why, so he/she knows how to tell the difference).
While we do not wish ill toward Microsoft, we see reduced market share as healthy for the entire industry and consumers, even if it is temporarily bad for Microsoft.
Thanks to James Robertson for the tip.
2007-07-17: Clashing Swords: Corporatism Vs. Openness
The forces of the "evil empire" decided to pack the committee in an attempt to win outright in the ANSI / INCITS vote, but were unsuccessful. This is just one stage in the process, which will continue. The committee was deadlocked. One can expect the pro-ONXML (Office Not-so-open XML) crowd to continue to resort to dirty and underhanded tactics in their fight to force their unwanted format on the world.
Marbux has an interesting take on the process:
Letters to Congress Critters complaining about NIST's improper delegation of governmental functions to an industry consortium would likely be far more effective than buying into the practice of responding to the illegal stuffing of the ballot box by a countering effort to outdo the other side in the illegal stuffing.
Asking elected federal representatives and senators to explain how NIST acquired the legal authority to represent the U.S. government at ISO and how it legally acquired the right to delegate such authority to an industry consortium (both clearly set out in the memorandum of understanding) asks the right questions AND will result in massive pressure on NIST to intervene. That is because the Congress critters will forward those letters/emails to NIST for response and NIST folk know who writes the checks for their salaries and programs. I speak from long experience here.
In other words, when money and lack of ethics corrupt the process and the representative is a private industry group acting on the behalf (or as a delegate) of a government agency, it is time to involve Congress.
I have news for you: whether the movement toward freedom prevails on this issue or not, the movement toward freedom is continuing to build strength. Corporatism is the idea that large organizations are more important than individuals and smaller organizations, and should therefore be catered to in politics, law, taxation, and any other areas where their desires conflict with the desires of individuals and smaller organizations. Corporatism will lose its struggle against freedom and openness.
Take a look at some of the key conflicts:
- Net Neutrality -- large telephone and cable television companies wish to use their ownership of the wire and fiber coming into our homes and businesses to squeeze out content providers that compete for our business.
- "Locked" Mobile Devices -- because there are only a few large service providers for mobile phone service, they are able to force device -makers to restrict their products' functionality and interoperability. In an opinion piece in USA Today [Thursday 2007-07-12], Steve Largent, head of the industry trade group, opposes efforts to devote a segment of public spectrum to unlocked devices where a consumer could use his or her phone with any compatible provider (that has bandwidth in that segment of spectrum).
- Single-vendor "Standards" -- the controversy over ONXML has focused attention on just how many of the goods and services we use every day are designed according to standards that get set in smoke-filled rooms, without any input from the people that will actually have to use the items. Single-vendor standards prevent competition which could lower prices or spur invention. Open standards, on the other hand, can be freely implemented by any competitor in the market, including competitors that are not yet in the market, which benefits the consumer because it forms a basis for competition and therefore stimulates invention.
- Corporate Compensation Disparities -- the guy in the corner office practicing his putting contributes less to the success of the company than the people who actually make the products, provide the services, and convince customers to place their orders, yet he is likely to make in excess of twenty times the amount that one of the productives earns. The CxO not only gets more cash, he gets options and bonuses, he gets medical / dental / vision insurance, and he gets a retirement package that dwarfs what the productives get.
- Anti-Consumer Contracts -- the majority of consumer contracts are in "take it or leave it" form, when a contract's terms should be negotiated between the parties. What's more, many such contracts include language such as "we can change the terms of this agreement at any time." The consumer can't change the terms at all, but the company can unilaterally change the terms and they are binding upon the consumer? That is unconscionable! The worst contracts, of course, are credit card and other financial agreements, where companies routinely tack on outrageous and unjustifiable fees.
- Banks and Insurance Companies -- as people in the Gulf Coast found, even when you have insurance, the company that was so happy to take your money all these years suddenly looks for any excuse to refuse to give your money back when they are supposed to. Banks are masters of bait-and-switch, using their right to unilaterally change interest rates, fees, and terms to stick you between the buttocks with the checking account they told you was "free."
- Copyrights -- using undue influence in our political system, the Robbers In Adamantium Armor (RIAA) and their friends (MPAA & BSA) bought themselves a law that makes it a crime for you to put a folder on your computer for music and then share it across your in-house network with your daughter. No one wants to harm the artists, but the corporate types that prey on them add no value now that we do not have to hear a song on our local radio station and then drive to the local record store.
Each of these apparently separate conflicts is part of a society-wide conflict between individual rights and freedoms and those of corporations. For the past several years, the balance has tipped really heavily in favor of corporations.
The good news is, change is coming. Many of us will walk away from corporate employment and from giving our paychecks to support the corporations that fight so vehemently against us. Instead of supporting the companies that are outsourcing our jobs to foreign nations, we will establish and buy from locally-owned businesses that have locally-designed and produced products made with locally-produced raw materials. We will use locally-produced services, from locally-owned businesses.
There will be no need for large corporations any more. They will not matter.
2007-05-03: Questions Arise About Market Share Numbers
More Macs Mean Many Fewer PCsThis is more news showing that, despite the bragging, Microsoft's Windows Vista is unwanted by consumers and corporations. Apple's unit sales rose significantly over the past year, and each Mac tends to last about twice as long as a PC.
The worst news for Microsoft is that every new Mac sold to a former PC user means that at least two Windows PCs will go unsold: the initial PC and its mid-life crisis, second string replacement.
Compared to the 240 million PCs sold last year, Apple’s small share of around 6 million Macs per year won’t put Microsoft out of business any time soon. However, it means that 12 million Windows licenses will go unsold. That’s up from less than 4 million Macs eating up 8 million potential Windows licenses just two years ago.
The faster Apple grows, the more devastating this effect will be to Microsoft's automatic sales machine, which in turn will help open the market up to new choice and options, including Linux desktops. Once Microsoft loses its monopoly control of the OEM market, Windows will fare as well in the market as the Zune.
A prime segment of choosy consumers are going out of their way to not buy Windows. Microsoft doesn’t want to dominate the low end of cheap PCs; that market is already headed towards Linux anyway.
Microsoft wants to retain the valuable top tier of the PC market, the segment rapidly buying new Macs.