Best. Conference Loot Bag. Ever.

(Well, maybe “best conference loot bag in a long time”, anyway.)

The swag that every attendee gets here at the Ajax Experience
conference gets comes in a very nice custom knapsack, and it's
surprisingly heavy. I'll post a video entry later, where I'll go through
what's in the bag. We're swagging like it's 1999!


My "Ajax Experience" Itinerary

From Sunday afternoon until Wednesday night, I'll be reporting from The Ajax Experience in Boston, the premier gathering of developers interested in building Ajax-ified web applications.

Take a look at the conference schedule. Content-wise, it's pretty meaty (six tracks!) and seems to offer something for Ajax developers of all levels. It's also pretty intense, with Monday's and Tuesday's sessions running until 6:45 and evening panel discussions running until 9 p.m.. I don't think I've seen a schedule this hardcore since RailsConf back in June.

Over the next couple of days, I'll be posting my general impressions and detailed notes and photos from the sessions I attend, both here and at the blog I do for work, the Tucows Blog.

I have to tip my hat to Brent Ashley, local developer and longtime friend of Tucows. He's a presenter at the conference and as such, was entitled to two freebie passes, one of which he gave to me. He'll be doing a talk on alternate transport mechanisms, which I will attend. I also have to thanks Tucows, for footing the travel and hotel bill. Best! Employer! Ever!

I'm trying to decide which sessions to attend, and I've listed my choices over in this Tucows Blog article. I'm open to suggestions, so if you have one, let me know in the comments.



Schneier: Casual Conversations, R.I.P.


If memory serves correctly, the general consensus  amongst my peers in the P2P space  was that a statement attributed to Scott McNealy — “Privacy is dead, deal with it” — was just a throw-away phrase made by a dumb tech CEO who loved to shoot his mouth off way too much.

The general consensus may have been correct, but McNealy's statement was prescient. When McNealy's line about privacy was still heavily quoted (about 5 or so years ago), instant messaging was still largely the province of early adopter-types, SMS messaging was something that only disgruntled Filipino voters used and 9/11, which brought with it a new wave of bloggers, had not yet happened.

Nowadays, even among “late adopters”, casual conversation appears in electronic forms of all sorts, from email to chat to blog and discussion forum postings. Unlike smail mail, which the police would need a warrant to read, and face-to-face and phone conversations, for which they'd need a warrant and to be at the right place at the right time with a recorder, electronic conversations, as data on the drives of service providers, are easy to record, duplicate and subpoena.

George and I went to university together and each of us has said a number of things we regret (George, maybe a dozen; me, three or four…dozen…). This was back in the late 80's and early 90's, so most of our skeletons live in an offline closet. It's different today, where instant messaging and email are used in addition to face-to-face conversation, the conversational faux pas you make in your callow youthfulness can return to haunt you years later.

Bruce Schneier covers this issue in a Forbes article titled Casual Conversation, R.I.P.. Although he uses U.S. Representative Mark Foley's inappropriate IMs to pages as a launching point for his essay, he makes it clear that Foley is an anomaly and explains why we need some kind of legal privacy protection for our electronic conversations:

Most of us do not send instant messages in order to solicit sex with minors. Law enforcement might have a legitimate need to access Foley’s IMs, e-mails and cellphone calling logs, but that’s why there are warrants supported by probable cause — they help ensure that investigations are properly focused on suspected pedophiles, terrorists and other criminals. We saw this in the recent UK terrorist arrests; focused investigations on suspected terrorists foiled the plot, not broad surveillance of everyone without probable cause.

Without legal privacy protections, the world becomes one giant airport security area, where the slightest joke–or comment made years before–lands you in hot water. The world becomes one giant market-research study, where we are all life-long subjects. The world becomes a police state, where we all are assumed to be Foleys and terrorists in the eyes of the government.

I'll close with my favorite line from the article: “A world without ephemeral conversation is a world without freedom.”



Google's New Adwords Gizmo: Website Optimizer

As George pointed out in the previous entry, Google makes the big bucks thanks to their knack for hooking up people with the information they want. I will extend his statement by saying that they also make the big bucks by helping other people make the big bucks using the ecosystem they created with trible combo of search, AdWords and AdSense.

Over at Google's Inside AdWords blog, there's a call for beta testers for a new website optimizer tool. Here's what it does, in the words of Ann-Lee of Google's Website Optimizer team:

Website Optimizer allows you to experiment with different headlines,
copy, and images on your site in order to find out which combination
results in the most conversions. You can use this tool on your landing
page or any page that represents a conversion.

At the end of
each experiment, graphical reports show which version of your landing
page users liked best, as measured by which variation had the highest
conversion rate.

Here's a screen capture  of Website Optimizer yanked from John Battelle's Searchblog:

Screen capture of Google's AdWords optimizer.

This looks like a pretty easy-to-use tool. From the screenshot of Website Optimizer shown above, you can tell with only a glance which landing page design is likely to yield the most conversions (if only we knew what “Combination 11” looked like!).

Website Optimizer looks like it'll be a big hit; after all, compared to other SEO tools, which feel like “drill bits”, Google's offering partners what they really want: holes.



Gartner to Jobs: License Mac OS X to Dell

In a bid for column inches and a share of blogchatter, Gartner analysts have tossed the following bomb:

The future success of Apple, Dell and Intel lies with a licensing deal between Steve Jobs' company and the PC maker according to analyst Gartner.

Increasing component costs and pressure to cut its prices mean Apple's best bet for long-term success is to quit the hardware business and license the Mac to Dell, analyst firm Gartner claimed on Tuesday.

Gartner claims that with the right partners, distribution channels and a more affordable price, computers running the Mac OS could eventually account for 20 percent of the total PC market.

Game on, Gartner.

Props to the world's largest IT analysis firm for trying on something controversial, but I can't really agree with their suggestion, which seems to be predicated on a few assumptions:

  • Dell can significantly outperform Apple's own current operations
  • Dell can meaningfully augment Apple's current distribution and sales
  • Both of these things will be necessary once Intel stops subsidizing Apple

The first assumption seems to be a bit of a layup: Dell's a manufacturing and logistics monster. The Wal-Mart of the computer business. They run the leanest supply chain in their industry and, as a consequence, sport some of the lowest costs per unit sold in the PC business. Thing is, since the arrival of Tim Cook, Apple's no slouch at this either. Their operations may not be as lean as Dell's, but they outperform everyone else in their peer group. What's more, Dell's reign of terror over their supply chain doesn't just benefit Dell; over time, their suppliers bring the same components and subassemblies, built with the discipline they've learned from Dell, to the whole PC market. In other words, everybody eventually benefits from the Dell effect. Pretty soon, what was once an advantage exclusive to Dell is the standard operating procedure for the industry as a whole.

The second assumption is even shakier than the first: that Dell's direct and enterprise sales focus, as opposed to Apple's consumer and retail focus, would open up huge new markets for Mac OS X. This is something of an article of faith for me, so perhaps I'm merely demonstrating my own intellectual inflexibility, but I think this is a pipedream. Much as I would love enterprises to adopt Mac OS X en masse, I can't see it happening. There are large companies out there still running Windows 2000; the demand element to this equation is, by definition, conservative relative to the consumer and small business market (rightfully so: they have decades of investment in complex legacy systems to protect). Moreover, the supply side element (Apple) isn't about to get into the unglamourous, distracting business of creating an enterprise-friendly product line. We won't be seeing Apple's CEO share the stage with SAP to announce…anything…any time soon. So Dell's vaunted market strengths would bring an audience that doesn't want Apple to a supplier that's uninterested in serving it. Bra-vo.

Oh, and if Apple's a significant player in the mythical converged, digital home, who says they even need the enterprise market to grow their marketshare to 20% or beyond?

On the last assumption, that Intel's supplying Apple with kit at cut-rate prices (and thus goosing Apple's margins), even Gartner admits it's just speculation. Now, it's probably well-educated speculation (Intel's in a war with AMD for partners), but it also imputes an awful lot of value to the tin that Apple sells, as opposed to the software atop it. If, in fact, Apple's core (but not only) strength is in designing and developing elegant, highly-functional sofware anyone can use, why would they not be able to preserve their margins through software innovation, without worrying (much) about Intel's need to increase component costs? And if Apple demonstrated the same prowess with other services (I'm looking at you, .Mac) as they do today with the iTunes Store, there's a further value-add that exists beyond the hardware costs alone.

As Apple fanboys (like yours truly) are fond of observing, a Mac (any Apple product, really) is more than the sum of its parts. Preserving that magic would require strict control of a licensee's designs; so strict, in fact, there'd be no room for differentiating features between a Dell running Mac OS X, or an Apple. I doubt either company would want that kind of relationship


[Important disclaimer: Gartner Inc is the corporate parent of my employer. Obviously, my opinions as expressed in this post represent neither Gartner nor the people for whom I work.]

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Google 3Q Profits Surge 92%

Another expectation-defying quarter from Google.

Google Inc. reported late Thursday third-quarter profit rose 92% on another strong surge in revenue from the ads it places next to Internet search results. The report sent Google shares climbing in after-hours trading.

The No. 1 search provider said profit for the quarter ended September 30 rose to $733 million, or $2.36 a share, from $381 million, or $1.32 a share, a year ago.

Sales rose 70% to $2.69 billion as more businesses paid to place ads on Google's own sites and those of its partners. Excluding the payments Google makes to acquire Internet traffic, sales rose about 79% to $1.86 billion.

Even so, there will be a group of investors who point to the blowout numbers as proof of a slowdown in Google's core business—online advertising. Instead of growing 96% (as it did between Q3 F04 and Q3 F05), revenues grew only 70%, year-on-year.

We should all have such problems.

I'd especially like the problem of being the #1 US search engine, accounting for half the searches made by people (around twice as many searches as my next-nearest competitor, Yahoo!).

While legacy portals like Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL attempt to build their old businesses based on exclusive content destinations (while simultaneously investing in search), Google's racing past them with the perfect business model in a world of pieces, loosely joined. Google's a destination, but a transient one: it's a broker, a way station, on the road to the information people want. They recognize that, on an ever-expanding network of useful information, their ability to match people and content is far more valuable than any temporary Big Content hookup the portals can arrange with Hollywood.


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Internet Explorer 7 Released

Internet Explorer 7 logo

If you're feeling particularly bold, you can venture over to the Internet Explorer page and download the final release version of Internet Explorer 7, which became available to the general public yesterday afternoon.

Although the Windows machine I have at work is a pretty nice one (developers are assigned machines with the same specs), it's largely relegated to Windows compatibility testing and a teensy bit of .NET development. Since I don't store any crucial files on that machine, I thought it would be the perfect guinea pig on which to test IE7. Over the next few days, I'll report my experiences, complete with screenshots.

Here's a screenshot of IE7 showing the Global Nerdy site. It's still not gettting the CSS layout right; the page is still flush left when it should be centered (Firefox and Safari render it properly).

Screen capture of Internet Explorer 7 displaying the Global Nerdy main page.