» Archive for June, 2008

Wi-Fi Alert for Travelers

Friday, June 27th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The free Wi-Fi hotspot you just logged into in the hotel lobby to read your e-mail, conduct your banking, or read the news wasn’t necessarily a nice amenity provided by the hotel.  In fact, it might have been operated by the well-dressed gentleman sitting beside the potted palm.  While you sent your confidential proposal, he was collecting people’s credit cards numbers, user names, and passwords, all while enjoying the ambiance and a drink from the lobby bar.

Referred to as “evil twins,” hot spots that seem legitimate but are operated by a hacker are increasingly popping up in public and semi-public spaces (that free Wi-Fi hotspot named FREE WIFI you found in your hotel room doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it?).  These evil twins can even have legitimate-sounding names, such as “Hilton Hotspot” and can also be found in cafés, airports, parks, and even office buildings.

Many laptops are set to connect to any open network and that can lead to trouble.  Travelers can protect themselves by knowing the network they are connecting to.

What you can do to protect yourself:

  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), either through your corporate IT department or services such as JiWire’s HotspotHelper.  VPNs encrypt your online session, making it impenetrable to nearby snoops.
  • If in doubt, don’t log into systems requiring a user name and password that could be exposed.
  • Don’t rely on the lock icon on your browser; illegitimate Web sites can obtain digital signatures as easily as legitimate sites.
  • Watch the Web address.  A hacker could intercept your legitimate request for www.citibank.com and change it to something that might look similar, such as www.cittibank.com, where he collects your user name and password.
  • Turn off peer-to-peer networking.
  • Turn off “automatically connect to non-preferred networks.”
  • Think of public hotspots as shared resources.  If you aren’t using a VPN, restrict your surfing to Web sites and pages that you don’t mind sharing with the gentleman sitting nearby.
  • Disable file sharing (in Windows XP, check the Properties tab of your main folders and look for the Sharing tab).
  • Make sure you are using a firewall, a feature that is included in recent Windows and Mac operating systems.

Even known systems run by hotels and conference venues can be insecure.  More on that in coming weeks.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Trying to Like the Amazon Kindle

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

If you are looking for an electronic book reader, the Amazon Kindle is head and shoulders above the competition. But the question really is, do you want an electronic book reader.

I really wanted to like the Kindle, with its E Ink high resolution display that gives an almost print-like appearance, free wireless connectivity (limited to the U.S. because it uses Sprint’s EVDO network, and post modern interpretation of, well, a book.

But I found the experience of reading a book or newspaper on the Kindle strangely unsatisfying.

At 10.3 ounces (without the cover), the Kindle felt heavier than a trade paperback book although it is similarly sized. The E Ink technology takes a second to refresh when you change pages (it fades to black and blinks), which interrupts the flow of reading and is quite jarring. (On the plus side, you can read the Kindle in direct sunlight so there are pluses and minuses to the display technology).

While reading a book on the Kindle was somewhat akin to reading a book on paper, reading a newspaper was unsettling if you like to scan stories as opposed to having one average less than a full paragraph visible at one time.

Navigating through the Amazon.com store was relatively easy and a big plus of electronic book reader technology is that you can quickly download sample chapters of books you might want to read before making a purchase.

You can bookmark interesting or key passages and edit and export notes. You can also e-mail documents to the Kindle including PDF files. The Kindle always saves your place so you can pick up where you left off. Newspapers, which are normally free on the Web, require a paid subscription on the Kindle (the New York Times costs $13.99 a month) so you are paying for convenience but many books (more than 130,000 available) are $9.99, a bargain. Finally, if you lose your Kindle as opposed to a throwaway paper or paperback book, well…

You can purchases the Kindle at Amazon.com

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Information Overload Comes of Age

Friday, June 20th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Basex, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Symantec, and others join forces to combat IO

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this space that we are writing about information overload.  Perhaps a few of you may even be thinking “oh no, not another information overload column.”  But, dear reader, please continue as we have something new and important to tell you.

Information Overload Research Group (IORG)

I am pleased to announce the formation of the Information Overload Research Group, an industry consortium.  Companies large and small, among them Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Clear Context, and Basex, are joining forces to combat the onslaught of information that faces perhaps as many as a hundred million knowledge workers worldwide each day.

IORG Inaugural Event
Please consider attending the inaugural IORG event, a multi-disciplinary conference addressing cultural and technical considerations and solutions around the problem of information overload.  The one-day event, of which I am conference chairman, is to be held on July 15, 2008 at the Penn Club in New York City.  The day will feature senior executives in the trenches (discussing their experiences in addressing the problem of Information Overload within their organizations) including Max Christoff from Morgan Stanley and Nathan Zeldes from Intel.  It also features a Visionary Vendor panel where we’ll hear from companies offering new and innovative solutions that are already helping companies lessen the impact that Information Overload has on their organizations.  Sign up to attend today.

Information Overload Strategies Multi-Client Study
Our two-year program in this area continues and dozens of companies and thousands of knowledge workers are joining in by taking surveys and participating in interviews.  If your organization isn’t already a participant, sign up now.
Press Coverage of Information Overload
Information Overload was in the news again.  This past Saturday, the New York Times  ran a front page story by Matt RIchtel on the topic.  The day before, Maggie Jackson’s excellent look at IO came out in Business Week.    All in all, there were many dozens of stories around the world, all citing our research and many quoting our analysts.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Goldilocks Phenomenon Part II

Friday, June 13th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

What does this mean for the enterprise?

Last week, we introduced our term for the trend towards increased customization of workspaces by knowledge workers: the Goldilocks Phenomenon.  To recap, as Goldilocks did, knowledge workers want something that is “just right” – in their case tools, not porridge.  If they are not provided with the correct tools, they will find them on their own, or modify the ones they are provided to get the functionality they require.

In the quest for the tools they want and need, they are not likely to ask permission, and will fly under the radar of management and IT departments as they customize software with add-ons, plug-ins, and coding.  This trend towards co-creating workspaces is particulary relevant for the new entries in the knowledge economy, the fresh faces of Generation Y, and those generations that will follow.  They have grown up surrounded by technology that they can personalize – if it does not do what they want, they have the expectation that they can change it so that it does.

For obvious reasons this presents huge headaches for the entreprise.  Many IT department managers can and will cite myriad reasons why computers need to be locked down and all users need to use the same tools.  Allowing employees to customize their work environments might be construed by some managers as relinquishing control and leading to software-use-anarchy.

What needs to be explicitly understood by management and IT departments is that the Goldilocks Phenomenon is not just about improving work tools.  There is a direct correlation to the bottom line; frontline workers know what tools they need, and perform better when they have those tools.  Innovation and increased efficiency are healthy for any organization.

Thus far, the Goldilocks Phenomenon has been happening largely unnoticed.  By and large, managers are not aware of these dynamics and think of any innovation that comes from the bottom up as an isolated case.  Companies are at a great disadvantage when they fail to recognize the innovation and ingenuity that their knowledge workers apply to their work environments.  In the case of Generation Y knowledge workers, if their work style is not supported they may vote with their feet, and go somewhere that allows them to bring the same innovation and talent that they apply to their job to their tools.

Find out more about this trend in Co-Creating the Workspace: The Myth of Standard Desktops and One Size Fits All Work Environments, a new report from Basex.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Goldilocks Phenomenon

Friday, June 6th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The advent of the personal computer in the 1980s did not, contrary to common belief, personalize the user experience.  Most software tools, in keeping with the data processing mindset of the time, were relatively inflexible.

Knowledge workers found some tools to be so unbending that they either ignored them entirely or had to create parallel systems (usually not computer-based) to overcome obstacles and solve problems.

According to research recently completed by Basex, it appears that such rigidity is no longer the rule: software tools are now flexible enough to allow knowledge workers to mold them in order to meet their needs and knowledge workers possess enough technical skill to make such changes.  In a recent Basex survey, 90% of respondents reported that they have downloaded enhancements, plug-ins, and add-ons, and 80% have written macros and other code, in order to automate and speed up their own work processes.

In fact, the latest generation of knowledge workers has grown up, so to speak, in the workforce with tools that allow the knowledge worker to apply the same cleverness and ingenuity he applies to his job to his use of software.

We call this the Goldilocks Phenomenon, since it makes the software “just right.”  The term derives from the story of Goldilocks, who preferred her porridge not too hot and not too cold.  Also worth noting, the bears didn’t like that she ate all the porridge to figure out which one she liked best; this is true of IT departments and management as well, they much prefer knowledge workers to not go around sampling tools and modifying software when they are “out of the house.”  Unfortunately for bears and managers, one size does not fit all.

Next week, we will examine what the Goldilocks Phenomenon means for the enterprise, and why it is of paramount importance for IT departments, management, and knowledge workers to develop policies to harness the innovation and creativity being shown by those on the front lines of the enterprise.  We’ll also be releasing our new report Co-Creating the Workspace: The Myth of Standard Desktops and One Size Fits All Work Environments, an in-depth look at what the end user knowledge workers, are up to, early next week.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

My Favorite Browser

Friday, June 6th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Does the world need another browser war?

You could be forgiven if you thought that the browser wars ended in the 1990s and were between Microsoft Internet Explorer and the Netscape browser,  This month the Mozilla Foundation will release Firefox 3.0, the newest version of the browser whose origins trace back to Netscape (which released most of its code under an open source license in 1998, creating the Mozilla Organization to manage development of the Mozilla Application Suite).  Although the release date has not yet been announced, the Firefox community aims to set a new Guinness World Record for the most software downloads in 24 hours by asking people to pledge to download Firefox 3 on its release date.

Since then, Microsoft has greatly improved Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari 3.0 is decent enough as well.  I’ve been using beta versions of Firefox 3.0 for the past few months and, despite a few small glitches, I have found it provides a far more satisfying Web experience than the competition.  It’s faster, more secure, renders pages perfectly, and has infinite functionality, thanks largely to Mozilla’s vast selection of add-ons, which are created by members of the Mozilla community around the world (remember, this is open source).

A few features are worthy of note including improved bookmark management (one click on the new “star” in the URL line adds the address as a bookmark, two clicks to file it in a folder) and smart bookmarks, which are folders that tell you which Web sites you visit most often.  Firefox (and IE but not Safari) warn users about to visit a Web site known to be a fake, but now Firefox warns of sites that can download malware onto your machine as well.

The battle is on.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.