14 January 2005

Searls and Curry: iPod Shuffle not for podcasting

The talk about the iPod Shuffle, launched this week, just goes on. Here's a different dimension - a focus on podcasting and why the Shuffle may not measure up for that use.

Internetnews.com carries a story today, saying:

[...] But while a 40GB iPod or even a 20GB iPod mini is great for holding an hour-long podcast, Apple's iPod shuffle just doesn't measure up for taking your favorite online talk show on the road.

There's more:

"It's neither a boon nor a bust. It's just not useful for listening to podcasts," said Doc Searls, a respected blogger and co-author of the book Cluetrain Manifesto. "Navigating inside a long podcast -- and many are very long -- is difficult even with a regular iPod, as it is with all players. So, rather than fix the one feature that's lame about the iPod, they eliminated it completely."

And this:

Veteran podcaster and former MTV host Adam Curry said the iPod shuffle makes no sense at all -- and certainly not for podcasting. "Apple hasn't picked up on podcasting because they are thinking about how things work from Apple to the rest of the world. They are not seeing what is happening," Curry said on his Thursday show, Daily Source Code.

As these two gentlemen are at the forefront of podcasting, such views will be influential.

Using the Shuffle mostly for listening to podcasts was in my mind when I was thinking of acquiring one. If I do get one, I'll still give it go!

Internetnews.com | Apple's iPod Shuffle Stifles Podcasting

Posted by Nevon on 14 January 2005 at 17:59 in Communication, Podcasting, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (3)

Doing the iPod shuffle

iPodlounge: Apple's retail store in San Francisco sold 20,000 iPod shuffle units in its first four hours of availability this week, depleting its entire inventory. [...] While some individuals purchased four, six, and nine of the 512MB, $99 units, the day's record was apparently set by someone who purchased 24 at once. iPod shuffles are currently shipping to Apple retail stores.

So it looks like my cunning plan to buy one of these little beauties when I go over to the States in a couple of weeks for the New Communication Forum 2005 conference could be doomed. There may not be any left by the time I get there. I'm after the 1-gig model, though, so perhaps those won't all be gone...

Enjoy uncertainty. Yep.

(Hat tip for the link: Andrew Smith at The View from Object Towers)

Posted by Nevon on 14 January 2005 at 16:20 in Marketing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The harsh reality for PeopleSoft employees

CNET News: Oracle appears to be adding insult to injury in its merger with PeopleSoft - taking the unusual step of notifying workers of their termination by sending pinks slips via express mail to their homes. Shipments to thousands of PeopleSoft employees across the [United States] are expected over the weekend, according to sources close to the company. Those spared pink slips will get packages too - containing new Oracle employment contracts.

So what does everyone expect? One-to-one meetings with every affected employee and negotiations stretching out into the coming weeks? That's not how it works in the US where it seems anyone can be fired at any time without notice in such circumstances (and vice-versa: anyone can quit at any time without notice).

According to media reporting over the past few weeks, layoffs are expected to be in the thousands (see my post yesterday). So Oracle's intentions have certainly been apparent for some time, even if they have created an unhealthy air of uncertainty for many employees.

The picture's quite different in Europe, though, where labour laws in many countries require things like lengthy consultation periods before an employer can make mass layoffs (redundancies, as that's known over here). So while the termination axe can fall very quickly in the US, I would guess that many PeopleSoft employees in some European countries who are earmarked for termination will have some breathing space for a further month or two before they have to clear their desks.

Looking at all this from a purely HR logistical point of view, I can't imagine how else Oracle can effectively execute initial restructuring steps any other way.

That doesn't mean they are doing everything in the nicest way:

"The view of most of the employees out there is that it's a really callous way to do it," said Joe Davis, chief executive of Coremetrics and a former group vice president at PeopleSoft, who stays in touch with his former co-workers. "They view it as just another in a series of steps where they feel like they're not being treated in a very humane way." An Oracle representative did not return repeated calls for comment.

While I agree with Davis where he says this is not very humane, I'd challenge his comment that this is "the view of most of the employees out there" - out of 11,700 PeopleSoft employees, what does 'most' mean?

In any event, I can't see what other choices there are for Oracle the employer as they begin to Oracle-ize their new prize.

The prime reason for the acquisition is for Oracle to gain the assets and resources of a competitor that will give Oracle an opportunity to jump up a few points in the enterprise software market league table. As with any acquisition, part of that is realizing often-huge cost savings from closing or amalgamating offices, for instance, which translates into reducing headcount in order to achieve the financial synergies (as the beancounters would express it).

This is a fiercely competitive market where changing fortunes from even tiny percentage-point market share differences can have enormous financial effects. It's where the niceties of normal human relationships in the workplace will fall into distant second place during a time of radical organization change.

Is that right? No, but it's the harsh reality.

Related NevOn post:

Posted by Nevon on 14 January 2005 at 12:46 in Business, Communication, Internal Communication, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Caveats with new Microsoft AntiSpyware

I've been using the new free Microsoft AntiSpyware tool released in beta last week.

What impressed me in particular is it's real-time preventative approach. Not only does it do what products like Ad-Aware do - searching, finding and killing nasty stuff on your PC - it also sits there in your system tray monitoring what's going on on your PC. It pops up alerts and other messages in response to activity, either when there is something to be concerned about or just to let you know that an activity has happened that the program thinks is ok.

It's definitely a product worth trying. But, there are some downsides to it.

A review in PC World magazine highlights some major negatives which, while aren't to do with the actual antispyware functionality, might nevertheless concern some people:

[...] Microsoft skeptics will likely find plenty to criticize. For example, a browser-settings lockdown feature can only restore Internet Explorer browser settings to point back to MSN as your home page, IE as your default browser, and MSN Search as your default search engine. Another feature that erases your history files works primarily with Microsoft programs - skipping Firefox, Opera, and AOL software.

Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal has similar criticism:

[...] Even worse is the way the program handles another spyware problem, the hijacking of Web-browser home pages and search pages. This is a spyware technique in which the home and search pages in a Web browser are replaced by pages selected by a spyware company, and it's nearly impossible for a user to restore his or her own selections.

The usual way of handling this, with programs like Spy Sweeper, is to detect the page changes and to restore the user's original choices. But the Microsoft program tries to replace the spyware pages with home and search pages from MSN, Microsoft's own online service. This smacks of the same kind of coercion the spyware authors are using.

On browser hijacking, I don't think this is a major issue at all - as long as you don't use Internet Explorer. Use Firefox and that's all history, in my experience.

But Mossberg also raises concerns about some of the product's capability:

[...] the scans missed some spyware found by Spy Sweeper. In particular, Microsoft missed "tracking cookies," small files deposited by Web companies, often without your knowledge or permission, that track your online activities. The Microsoft program deliberately doesn't look for these. Microsoft officials say they are concerned that some legitimate cookies, such as those that store Web-site login information, could be unfairly labeled as spyware. They promise to add tracking-cookie detection in the future.

Concerns such as these reviewers express mean I wouldn't yet ditch programs like Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy - seasoned products that do a thorough and reliable job.

There are still plenty of choices.

Posted by Nevon on 14 January 2005 at 12:45 in Software, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

EU commissioner starts blogging

Margot Wallström, the first-ever European Union Commissioner for Communications, appointed last August, will start a blog today.

A news announcement late yesterday in the EU Observer said:

From Friday (14 January) onwards, the Swedish Commissioner's thoughts will be aired for all to see. The online journal is to be updated two to three times a week and will contain some personal thoughts but don't expect any revealing political secrets or any dirt dished on other Commissioners.

[...] Anyone following the Commissioner's blog can write in their thoughts, which will then be posted on the site. The blog is supposed to reach people that 'Brussels' does not normally reach. A Commission official said "it's a novel and effective way of communicating to people in normal language".

Wallström's blog is called my diary and is already online with a pre-launch post yesterday with commentary about the tsunami disaster in South Asia, plus assorted comments about some of her fellow commissioners. Refreshing!

Will Commissioner Wallström really blog or will it be ghosted by one of the many press officials/bureaucrats in Brussels?

Benefit-of-the-doubt time. From EU Observer's announcement:

[...] Although several politicians have blogs, often they are written by harassed press officers. Mrs Wallström, however, is to write all of her own.

Commissioner Wallström certainly sounds like she means business. From her concise bio page:

We politicians are accountable to 450 million Europeans and you expect us to work together, to be effective, to communicate with you and to give you a voice. We can never be allowed to forget that. That is what gives me my political motivation.

The English-language blog doesn't have many of the usual attributes you expect to see, such as RSS, trackbacks or open commenting. Nevertheless, it's a very bold and welcome step.

Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission | my diary

Posted by Nevon on 14 January 2005 at 07:01 in Communication, Current Affairs, Europe, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

13 January 2005

Smart apple

From a BBC News report today by BBC North America business correspondent Stephen Evans on what is it about Apple and its products that inspires such near-religious devotion from users:

Clearly, [Apple] is getting a lot right. Its devotees (disciples?) swear by their products as being effective and easy to use. It's just that there's something more to it than that: the packaging and sales-pitch have succeeded brilliantly in conveying a whole life-style and image.

That style emanates from the top. Steve Jobs is the counter-image of a stuffy businessman. He wears trainers, jeans and black sweaters.

Apple's attitude to the media is actually tight and highly controlled yet the image portrayed is of a cool and easy-going counter-culture.

Absolutely. Make no mistake - behind all those cool-dude iPods, Mac minis and iTunes is a very focused company with some very smart business people who seem to have some good clues as to what they're doing and where they're going. (And CEO Steve Jobs has a cool blog.)

Evidence: sales of 10 million digital music gadgets and 65% of that market space, plus $295 million profit on total revenues of $3.49 billion in the last calendar quarter of 2004.

From a Reuters report:

Apple posted a quarterly profit [on Wednesday] that blew past even the highest Wall Street forecasts on skyrocketing sales of its iPod digital music players and the highest number of Macintosh computers sold in more than four years. Shares of Apple, which issued a forecast for the current quarter that was above consensus analyst expectations, jumped 13 percent in after-hours trading.

[...] That tore past the high end of analyst expectations, 55 cents, by a wide margin, according to Reuters Estimates, and both net income and revenue set records.

Related NevOn post:

Posted by Nevon on 13 January 2005 at 19:51 in Business, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oracle plans big cuts

Following completion of its PeopleSoft acquisition, Oracle is in the process of a mass layoff of staff that's expected to cut thousands of jobs, Infoworld reports.

And it's not just PeopleSoft employees who will go - reports such as Infoworld's talk only of 'cuts' and 'layoffs' without specifying which company.

Some financial analysts are expecting deep cuts, Infoworld says, quoting a Piper Jaffray analyst's expectation that Oracle will cut at least 4,500 jobs now, and ultimately up to 6,000. Current headcount is 11,700 at PeopleSoft and about 54,500 at Oracle.

Layoffs inevitably follow acquisitions. Infoworld says that PeopleSoft cut 1,000 positions following its 2003 acquisition of J.D. Edwards, and Hewlett-Packard shed more than 17,000 jobs after swallowing Compaq. Oracle has not commented on which departments will bear the brunt of its cuts.

Oracle is also planning to announce broad organizational changes, Infoworld says, as the company works to define a strategy for both its PeopleSoft and Oracle products.

More details are expected to be announced on 18 January when Oracle launches the integration of Oracle and PeopleSoft.

Infoworld | Oracle expected to lay off thousands

Related NevOn posts:

Posted by Nevon on 13 January 2005 at 17:24 in Business, Web/Tech, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Four invitations

Google have given me four invitations for free Gmail accounts.

If you're in the communication business - PR, marketing, employee communication, or related fields, or a student taking a communication-related subject - and would like a Gmail invitation, here's how to get one:

  1. State which part of the communication business you're in.
  2. Leave your request here as a comment.

Just to be wholly clear - leave your request here as a comment: don't send me email. Sorry, but I won't respond to email requests.

First come first served until they're gone!

Posted by Nevon on 13 January 2005 at 15:28 in Bits-n-Bobs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

What you say may not be what others think you mean

If I said to you "You must come over for dinner sometime," what would you think I meant?

You'd probably think, "That's nice, he's inviting me to dinner." Unless you're British, that is. And then you'd know that I was just being polite and have no intention of inviting you to dinner. Ever.

This is a good example of the type of expression the British use to politely say something that is often not what the words being spoken actually mean. I'm a Brit, by the way, just to establish my credentials up front.

This can a minefield for anyone else, and illustrates the complexities of different languages and cultures in enabling different people to understand clear meanings.

I was reading a great article on Expatica.nl (the Dutch part of the collective websites portal aimed primarily at British and American expatriates in various European countries) which discusses the complexities of doing business with the British from a Dutch point of view, as well as dealing with expat Brits in The Netherlands.

As someone who has lived in The Netherlands for nearly six years now, I had a big chuckle in reading some of the descriptions, especially of Dutch business and social mentalities and the differences between those of the British.

What is interesting from a broader point of view, though, is the Anglo-Dutch translation guide included in the article.

This is spot-on in illustrating by example some of the common phrases many British people use to camouflage what they really mean. It's the polite way to express criticism or disagreement. It was reading this that made me stop and think - I use such phrases myself from time to time!

Not only that, the interpretations of what a Brit means don't only apply to how the Dutch would understand them - in my experience, many other nationalities and cultures would think the same.

Would you agree?

Take a look at the guide:

The full story on Expatica is not bad ;)

Expatica.nl | Doing business with the Brits: The art of politeness

Posted by Nevon on 13 January 2005 at 14:35 in Communication | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

12 January 2005

Skype saves you money, period

I know I evangelize the Skype internet phone service a great deal as a highly cost-effective communication tool, and I make no excuses for that!

I just concluded a call with a business friend where we both use Skype. I'm here in The Netherlands, he's there in the UK. We chatted for 45 minutes, totally for free.

Here's another example. Shel Holtz and I do our weekly podcasts via Skype. Including all the set up and testing time, we're probably speaking for an hour and a half each time, he in California, me in Amsterdam. All for free.

Cost effective, obviously! But what if you want to make a call to someone who doesn't have Skype?

You'd use the paid-for Skype offering called SkypeOut, which is where you really can save money as well.

I have no better example than this. Yesterday, I was in a conference call for nearly 35 minutes to a number in the US, in California. I dialled-in to the call using Skype. Total cost - just under 60 eurocents, about 80 cents US or 42 pence UK. For a 35-minute international phone call at a time that's not the cheap rate as charged by the phone company.

Here's the evidence, from my SkypeOut account itemized call record:

The first amount after 'USA' is the cost per minute (which is less than two eurocents). Next is the call duration and then the total cost of the call.

I use Skype's services increasingly for my business calls and, indeed, for all outbound international calls.

Skype has gaps, to be sure, compared to normal phone services. The main one - no one can call you from a normal telephone. But that's not a big deal: they just call you on your normal phone, or get Skype themselves.

Skype continues to improve the service and offer new functionality, such as the multi-chat function enabled in the new version of Skype software for Windows introduced last week. A big and highly appealing improvement soon could be voicemail which Skype is testing at the moment.

In my view, Skype is the only way to phone.

Posted by Nevon on 12 January 2005 at 22:01 in Communication, Software, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (4)