Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That Windows phone

I’m on record as saying that Microsoft really needs its new phone platform, called Windows Phone 7, to succeed. It’s not that the loss of revenue from the declining sales of its old Windows Mobile phones hurts Microsoft much, but rather that it needs to be seen to be competent in a really important market.

Since the first iPhone, smartphones have come to challenge laptops for complexity and, in some cases, capability. Ten years ago, Windows on the desktop faced a small challenge from Linux and a larger (but still relatively small) one from Mac OS X. Now, despite the rise of the easy-to-install and use Ubuntu distribution, Linux is still very small on the desktop, but OS X is increasing strongly, up to about ten percent of total PC sales. But the interesting change is in the hardware: starting with the iPad, we are seeing devices using phone operating systems which are expanding into the space normally occupied by laptops. That’s a threat to Windows, not because of the iOS operating system, but because of Android – which is, of course, a version of Linux – becoming available in large numbers on slate-type devices and challenging Microsoft’s hold on the desktop and laptop operating system market. So, the question for Windows Phone 7 has got to be – not “is it good enough to sell?” but “is it good enough to keep Android out of the market, or at least out of the slate and tablet market?”.

posted by colin at 10:51 am  

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Will Fastmail survive?

Yesterday the people who make the Opera browser announced that they had acquired Fastmail.FM, a commercial email host. Does this matter to anyone except the shareholders of those companies?

It might. Email is critical to many of us on the Internet. It may be true that email is for old people, but I find it pretty much essential for a great deal of the Internet’s usefulness. I’m a heavy user, in case you hadn’t gathered. I want to be able receive and send wherever I am and I archive everything. That’s a couple of gigabytes per year.

I move around a lot, connecting to the Internet through two or three different routes every day. Getting and sending email though the day used to be a problem for me because ISPs’ email servers tend to assume that you are connecting through that ISP. In the early 2000s I went through a phase of having to reconfigure the email client on my laptop wherever I was. To get round that I tried putting all email through a server I owned – Qmail on a Mandrake box – running in my home, running on a DSL line with dynamic IP. It does work, but it cost me grief to support it that I just didn’t need. (Gmail was in its infancy and wasn’t allowing you your own domain name at the time. Besides, I don’t like my Gmail address.)

Winding the clock forward to a few years back, I found Fastmail.FM. They are a specialist email hosting provider. They offer IMAP and SMTP over SSL (SSL is important because otherwise passwords are exchanged in plaintext, which might be over public wi-fi) and an email web client. They don’t do much else, but they do provide their email service brilliantly. I’ve been very happy with Fastmail for over three years. All my machines sync to the server, I have a nice fat email archive which I can search instantly, and I send and receive email on the move wherever I am. It’s just one less thing to worry about.

Now, Fastmail is being acquired. By a company with a marginally-functional email service of its own. Hmm.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Opera. They are another plucky David fighting the Goliath of Internet Explorer. They provide a credible browser which lots people like. They haven’t been as successful as Firefox, but then they haven’t had Google’s money behind them. I met their CE at the OOXML standards meeting in Geneva. He was saying some very sensible things.

But, I’m concerned that Fastmail might lose its service as a result. There are plenty of examples of companies getting acquired and effectively ruined. Will the acquisition of Fastmail cause it to lose focus in its email services? Opera says no, of course, and it’s encouraging that they say the Fastmail team will be kept on. Let’s hope that Opera means what it says and that Fastmail gets enhanced, not trashed.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what it would take to move my mail archive and where I would move it to.

posted by colin at 1:23 pm  

Friday, January 22, 2010

Penguins in Wellington

I’ve just finished attending Linux.Conf.Au 2010, the southern hemisphere Linux conference, here in Wellington. I really enjoyed myself, talked to some fantastic people and learned a lot. Nice.

There were some highlights: listening to the people who have built New Zealand’s free software high school, Albany Senior High. Linux desktops and servers. A great saving for the taxpayer and more money left for educating the kids. Some very committed people showing the way.

Glyn Moody, a UK journalist and activist, talked about how a culture of sharing underlies science, technology and the arts. He’s a fascinating person and I was delighted to be able meet him. He also put my points about ACTA rather more eloquently than I could in my own presentation.

Jeremy Allison and Andrew Tridgell, the men behind Samba (the program which lets Linux servers talk to Windows desktops) both were there and did their own presentations. Andrew talked about teaching the community development model used by Free Software at university; Jeremy recounted some of his experiences in fighting for open standards and made some predictions.

As for the penguin? Tux is the Linux mascot. He was there as well.

All the presentations were captured on video. They’ll be available on the conference website soon.

I was really impressed by the efforts of the organizers. A bunch of volunteers put together an experience that was the equal of many professionally-organized events I’ve been to.

And it was a blast.

posted by colin at 7:24 pm  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

XT – the media event

I went yesterday to the media event which Telecom set up to reveal more about its XT network.

The event was held in the Westin Hotel in Auckland. Paul Reynolds, the Telecom CE, and Alan Goudie, Head of Retail, sat behind a coffee table and spoke reasonably informally to 30-40 media and technology types sitting on brightly coloured cubes. Telecom staffers in branded t-shirts hovered around the edges of the room, ready to show of their new wares. A couple of TV cameras were set up among the audience.


posted by colin at 9:28 am  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Free stuff on the Internet

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll talk mainly about a free stuff you can use and downoad legally from the Internet. My point is that a huge amount of useful and world-class stuff is just there for the using. No cash required. Who said the best things in life weren’t free?

I put out a call for suggestions for this program by email and on my blog a few days ago. If you were one of the helpful people who replied – thanks. This program’s yours as much as mine. Don’t you love the Internet!

Listen live at 11:05 or download the audio as Ogg or MP3.


posted by colin at 7:17 am  

Monday, May 19, 2008

They call me Mimi…I don’t know why

Last weekend I was lucky enough to see La Bohème at the St James in Wellington.

I should start by saying that I’m not an opera buff. I go to the ones I’ve heard of, on the grounds that there must be something in their popularity. Usually I have a good time, but I’m very much on the outer of the opera crowd. I tend to think “use it or lose it” – I’m glad there is real opera performed in Wellington, so I should patronise it. And it was on this basis that I bought tickets for La Bohème.


posted by colin at 9:39 pm  

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

10 Amazing New Zealand things I did over Summer

Having just returned from Summer break with my family, I thought I’d list the top ten wonderful New Zealand experiences we’d had. But I couldn’t whittle it down to ten so there are a few more in the list. What a fantastic country we live in!

posted by colin at 8:01 pm  

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ubuntu – a Linux distribution for everyone

I’ve been fiddling with Linux for a decade now. And, frankly, back then it was a total bear to get it working – you had to really, really, want to. Once you could get Linux to fire up, it was rock solid of course as it has always been, but the process of installing it was challenging even for geeks. Then you had to figure out how to get it to use your screen as anything more than a line by line device – Linux could and can do this beautifully and flexibly, but you had to know so much about your hardware and edit the configurations just so before it would go.

How things have changed! First Mandrake through the early noughties, and now Ubuntu are making wonderfully good and easy to install CDs of Linux. (Just a note to the side – Linux is just the kernel or core of an operating system, and you need a lot of other software to make it work. A lot of that software comes from the GNU project, so it’s more proper to refer to GNU/Linux. And that’s how the different flavours, or distributions of GNU/Linux differ – it’s all a matter of which additional programs are supplied with the kernel, and how it is packaged up for installation.)

Ubuntu was founded by Mark Shuttleworth, a South African man who made a lot of money in the dot com boom and has obviously decided to put something back. And with its latest release, Ubuntu has surpassed the ease of use of Windows in many respects – especially those annoying registrations and activiations, because Ubuntu is totally free.

The latest release of Ubuntu, which goes by the names 7.10 or Gutsy Gibbon, is very good indeed. It installs easily, and provides access to an ocean of free software, some of which is of the highest quality, through the menus. You can try Ubuntu without installing it on your computer, or you can install it side by side with Windows, or you can put Ubuntu on first, then virtual machine software from Virtualbox and re-install your Windows in a VM so it lives in a window under Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a 700 megabyte download or a $15 CD purchase delivered from LinuxCDMall or Copyleft. Give it a go!

posted by colin at 8:20 am  

Sunday, August 12, 2007

King Lear

I confess: despite loving Shakespeare, I had never really “got” Lear before. I know, it’s supposed to be the greatest of the four great Shakespearean tragedies. But it never connected with me viscerally the way the others do – I never got that feeling that, hey that could be me out there behaving like that.


posted by colin at 2:35 pm  

Powered by WordPress