The Consumer Unfriendly Business Model

Adobe-LogoAdobe has announced a new business model for Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and their other products. No more sales. Adobe’s creative products will now be leased! Your financial obligation will continue each and every month as long as you use the product.

There’s more and more of this happening all the time. It’s not a good trend for consumers.

Here’s Adobe’s problem. These are mature programs. There are some, but not many, improvements with each update. Businesses balk at spending big bucks for little return.

Microsoft faces the same scenario with Office. They’re adding a cloud based licensing product while maintaining the purchase option.

This doesn’t happen solely in software. I remember speaking with the father of a child with diabetes at a JDRF function. His worry: the majority of research was going toward treatment, not cure!

A cure leads to one sale. Treatment produces a continuing revenue stream. That’s great for the producer. It sucks for those who are diabetic.

Producing mature products that work well and last forever is not always in the best interest of business. I’m not sure how to fix it or if it can even be fixed!

Vide-Oh My

The video was put together in a near automated fashion using Apple’s iMovie, a program which only runs on Macs. Today I am jealous!

I saw a the thumbnail for a video posted by a friend of a friend on Facebook. What the heck–click. It’s a church group and a trip they took to Santa Catalina Island off the California coast.

Forget the scenery et al–what blew me away was the presentation. That’s what it is–a sophisticated presentation. It’s certainly more than you’d expect from a home movie. Video pulled out of scrapbook photos. A timeline traced the trip from the Midwest to California on a spinning globe.

The video was put together in a near automated fashion using Apple’s iMovie, a program which only runs on Macs. By specifying a template the program creates the finished product to match the desired look and feel. Can you see my jealousy?

I sent an email to Eric who pushed the buttons to make it happen. All he could do was tell me how easy it was. Eric–that doesn’t make it easier to take.

A Google search for a Windows application that does the same thing pointed to Adobe’s Premier Elements. It was the most often cited response. I’m going to give that a try. Unlike it’s more sophisticated cousins Premier Elements even handles the HD files from my little camcorder natively.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Google Says, “Please Flash Me”

Don’t pull your hair out. Before you re-write your entire site, here’s good news from Google.

Adobe Flash continues to become more and more of a factor on the Internet. Surf the web without it and you’ll land on page-after-page with big rectangular “black holes.” Though Microsoft, Apple and Real will wince when I type this, Flash has become the “universal donor” for web video. That’s part of the reason Adobe can claim a 97% penetration for Flash V9!

For webmasters there’s a secondary problem. Because of the way Flash files are compiled, search engines haven’t been able to consistently index them properly. If you’re running a website, looking pretty but not being Google friendly is worthless.

Don’t pull your hair out. Before you re-write your entire site, here’s good news from Google:

“Google has been developing a new algorithm for indexing textual content in Flash files of all kinds, from Flash menus, buttons and banners, to self-contained Flash websites. Recently, we’ve improved the performance of this Flash indexing algorithm by integrating Adobe’s Flash Player technology.”

The text contained within Flash elements is finally being read. This is huge! Until now, the only way to guarantee Flash content meant something was to replicate it in-the-clear. The same goes for links. List a URL in a flash element and Google will now understand what it is and crawl it.

There are still shortcomings and they’re very important to note. Images and FLV (video) files are still invisible at the Googleplex. The same goes for any content that is enabled with javascript. There are some Internet Explorer/Flash hacks that use javascript as a workaround, so take note (on this website for instance).

No doubt, this change will accelerate the explosion of Flash content. Some ‘old school’ webmasters will be sad. Most users will stay happy.

How I Use The Web

I’m basically talking about bookmarks and email, but I also maintain a small VPN, using Hamachi.

I’m not sure if I’m early, late or in-between on this, but I am using the Internet differently than I did six months or a year ago. This has a lot to do with my using three or four computers on a daily basis. It’s a pain for them to not be in sync.

The breakthrough was better, faster, more universal, high speed access. Now I clone my bookmarks and email and also maintain a small VPN using Hamachi.

To handle bookmarks, I’ve switched to Weave, an Adobe Air applet which run in Firefox 3.0. Every 15 minutes or so, it looks to see if I’ve changed anything on any of my machines and then attempts to keep them all alike. I could use this for usernames and passwords too, but I’m not quite ready.

The bookmarks have become more important under Firefox’s new ‘awesome bar.’ I’ve seen many bloggers speaking out against it, but I like it. It’s especially good at finding a URL based on my typing a few descriptive words.

For email, I use Gmail. I own a bunch of domains and have many email addresses (most rarely used). They all aggregate to Gmail, which responds with the proper return address.

Gmail is the first web based email I’ve found acceptable. You never have to delete a message. Archives are searched Goggle style, since that’s who owns Gmail. It even hosts my IM client, keeping copies of all my Instant Messenger conversations (Like AOL isn’t already doing this). They come in handy when searchable.

I use a few add-ons to increase Gmail’s value. I wish those programs, like Greasemonkey and Open Notebook, would sync up as easily as my bookmarks.

I often bring things to work I’ve produced at home. I have a 2 Gb flash drive attached to my keys. Most time, it’s just easier to move things across the network. I’m set-up to tunnel into my desktop Linux machine at work and place stuff on its drive for use later in the day.

The power of networks is growing.

A Little Computing Advice

PCs aren’t as expensive as they once were, but for years they’ve been a whole lot faster than we need for most tasks. If you surf the web, read email and occasionally play with photos, a computer that’s a few years old is plenty fine.

If you’re thinking of buying a new computer and you don’t play games or use your machine for other really stressful things, save your money! Really.

This comes up, because I went to my friend Steve’s house last Sunday and, for an investment a little north of $100, refurbished his computer.

He says there’s a real difference. That makes me smile.

I increased the RAM from 512 mb to 2 gb. At the same time, we added a second hard drive. There he added 300 gb to his original 120 gb.

If the darned case wasn’t so anti-intuitive, the whole process would have taken five minutes. Unfortunately, it took closer to a half hour as I fiddled and fuddled, trying to get the hard drive in its bay.

I finally realized pulling the front panel off was the way to go. I’m an idiot.

Steve’s computer had slowed down. There are a few reasons for this. First, with most little utilities you install, programs like Real Play, Quicktime or Adobe Acrobat, small starter programs are also installed. They run every time you boot your PC.

These little programs sometimes check for updates and often pre-load helper files, making the programs start quicker. Each also ‘steals’ a little RAM. That makes the computer run slower!

None of these programs uses enough memory to be a problem on its own, but in the aggregate, they become leeches. Using MSCONFIG, I turned a bunch of these little applets off.

Most computers also run antivirus and spyware suites. These are real resource hogs. I personally choose not to run either. It’s the Internet equivalent of unsafe sex, but it works for me.

I’ve never cleaned a virus from a computer that didn’t have antivirus software! Most new viruses are designed to get around them anyway.

Steve’s computer was also running slower because he was doing more with it. He now loads larger image files from his digital camera and manipulates them with Photoshop. Those files are compressed on disk, but must be expanded to their real size when played with. There’s a lot of complex math involved with photos.

When the new drive formatted (a long and tedious process) and the machine rebooted, he looked at me as if I was a wizard. It was really pretty simple. I’ve yet to kill a machine while trying to upgrade it.

PCs aren’t as expensive as they once were, but for years they’ve been a whole lot faster than we need for most tasks. If you surf the web, read email and occasionally play with photos, a computer that’s a few years old is plenty fine.

Real hard core ‘big iron’ computing is the answer for video editors, heavy duty photo manipulators and gamers. For everyone else, save a few bucks and wait.

Oh – and if you really have your heart set on that quad core smoker with 4 gb of RAM and a terrabyte of hard drive space – I won’t rat you out.

Making Your Website Popular

I got a call from a relative tonight. We were talking about his business and its web presence (something more and more critical by the day). He was disappointed because search engines weren’t bringing a lot of traffic to the site. In fact, they brought almost none!

He’d looked into the idea of ‘search engine optimization’ or SEO and realized he had a problem. I opened my browser, looked at his site and realized the more he knew, the less happy he’d be with his site’s usefulness in the real world.

Search engines don’t see the Internet the way we do. They can’t understand pictures. There are also various methods of page markup that are, at best, difficult for them to understand.

My relative’s site was nearly 100% written in Adobe Flash. That’s one of those tough to read methods.

The site looks good to a human and horrendous to the machines that really decide what we’ll see. There are some small improvements he can make, but his problems are deep seeded.

I was having this discussion about SEO at work a while ago. I offered an opinion on story headlines and how they should be written. In TV, headlines are teasy. They promise to deliver something in the future, but give you almost nothing now.

On the Internet they can’t be done that way. People are searching online for what they scecifically want . They’re not looking for a play-on-words pun or ironic little twist. Headlines that tease and don’t convey the gist of the story are counterproductive on the net!

The intelligence built into Google or Yahoo isn’t as clever or adaptable as you are. Some very good content is lost, because it’s ‘too fast for the house.”

I will help fix my relative’s site, if asked. Sadly, I won’t be improving it for the end user. My goal is to make it more attractive to machines!

Working For You – Not

I’m not in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention. I wish I was.

It’s a hardware, not content, affair. I was there a few years ago, demonstrating products on behalf of a weather equipment vendor. This broadcasters convention attracts a lot more production companies than TV stations.

Announced at NAB and most interesting to me, without really knowing everything that’s there, are new software suites from Adobe and Microsoft. These are made for posting richly interactive multimedia content on the web. This software facilitates an experience more than a few steps beyond just watching a video on YouTube in a small window.

What concerns me is the deep insertion of DRM, or digital rights management into the output of these products. Producers want the ability to make sure you watch the commercials if you watch their content. Certainly they’re entitled to make money to pay for their troubles.

The problem is, so far DRM has been an invasive add-on. It adds another layer of complexity to the viewing experience. It is software designed for the customer, but not the end user… or at least it has been until now.

I worry because Microsoft’s Silverlight platform requires people watching the content to first download a new plug-in (as you do for Flash, Real, PDF files, etc.). When Microsoft asks me to install free software, I instinctively count my fingers and lock the silverware.

A perfect example of DRM gone wrong shows up in the Sony-BMG DRM debacle. Sony’s audio CDs installed secret software on computers to protect Sony. Unfortunately, the software wreaked havoc with some PCs.

There are rumors Sony’s at it again with DVDs that won’t play in some (even Sony’s own) DVD players.

Maybe, in these rapidly changing days, there’s a better way to include commercial content? Maybe the ‘roadblock commercial’ we’ve accepted for over 50 years needs to change?

In the meantime, my opinion is, Adobe and Microsoft are not working for you.

Another Computer Repair

I went to dinner by myself last night. Helaine and Steffie are away. At work all the usual suspects were otherwise engaged. I headed to the Greek Olive.

After my omelet, I schmoozed a little with Tony, the owner. Somehow we got to talking about computers and he showed me an old laptop he had which he had been told was incapable of going on the Internet.

Sheesh! This is such a big crock. The amount of money spent on new hardware for little purpose amazes me. Usually it’s a machine that has slowed down. The owner figures it’s worn out. It doesn’t work that way.

There’s no doubt, in today’s environment this machine is slow. But, for Internet surfing and reading email, it’s fine. Well, it’s nearly fine. It needs about $20 in additional memory. I’ll get to that in a minute.

To me, seeing an unused computer is like having a puppy follow me home. I am unable to help myself.

The first thing I normally do is look for the computer online to see if anyone else has any advice which will make my job easier. A label on the cover says “Viva Book Hand Technologies.” That was worthless. Nothing showed up on Google.

Imagine how obscure a laptop must be to not even show on Google! After all, this is Google, where even typos can bring thousands of hits.

The bottom panel of the laptop had a little more info, including the FCC ID number. That wasn’t much help, but it was some. The manufacturer, long since gone, was located in Taiwan. The laptop had been sold under a few names including ILUFA and Chaplet as the M175.

It has an AMD K6 processor running at 300 mHz. There is 32 mb of RAM. That’s very little (which is why I’ll order Tony some more). The hard drive is 3 GB. That’s tiny, but only if this machine is going to be loaded with programs. As a barebones mail and web machine, 3 GB will suffice.

I copied the license information down and reloaded the operating system from scratch. Then I went to Microsoft and ran all the updates.

Though the laptop is the computing equivalent of one of my Dell laptops, it was very sluggish. I ‘borrowed’ a 64 MB memory stick and threw it in. Still sluggish.

When I scrolled the screen it was painfully slow. Text rippled from top to bottom instead of smooth motion. That is a warning sign that the video driver is no good. I went to the Device Manager in the Control Panel and, sure enough, a generic video driver was being used and a warning was posted.

I installed Belarc adviser, an excellent program that scans and reports on your hardware and software. It could identify the video system. Then I looked at what was being reported to Windows. Just some gibberish and coded data that I couldn’t uncode.

If the manufacturer were still alive… or if this had been a popular model, I’d be able to go to school based on other people’s queries. There was nothing.

I went to Drivershq, loaded up their Driver Detective and hoped for the best. Bingo! The video system was an old Chips and Technologies device. C&T doesn’t exist anymore, but their drivers live on.

Before long I had the drivers going and the screen responding pretty quickly. Make no mistake. This is not a speedy machine. It’s an ‘it will do’ machine.

Right now, I’m finishing up by installing Flash, Java, Adobe Reader and a few other things Tony will need. Then I’ll go back and ‘strip’ the operating system, turning off programs and services he doesn’t really need which only serve to make a system like this more slovenly than it needs to be.

This will never be a P4 3.8 gHz machine – but it doesn’t need to be. On the Information Superhighway it’s a 1996 Chevy Cavalier – and most of the time that’s plenty.