» Archive for September, 2008

Open for Business – Google and T-Mobile Unveil the G1 Android Mobile

Friday, September 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

This past Tuesday in New York, Google and T-Mobile unveiled the G1, the first Android smartphone.  For the uninitiated, Android is Google’s brand new open mobile platform, first announced last November.  After about 20 minutes of introductory remarks and a few teasers, we finally got to see the G1.  The wait (in actuality almost a year) was, without question, worth it.

From looks, the G1 is clearly in the mold of the LG Prada, HTC Touch (HTC also makes the G1), and, of course, the Apple iPhone.  [The iPhone was not the first touchscreen smartphone of its kind; LG and HTC beat Apple to the punch.  Of course, the iPod wasn't the first music player either; it just turned out to be the coolest, easiest to use, and had the best infrastructure (iTunes) behind it.]

Features one would expect include a large touch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an over-the-air downloadable App store, slide-to-unlock, Google Maps including a brand new feature, Street View, which syncs with the built-in compass on the G1, allowing the user to view locations and navigate by moving the phone; a full-screen Web browser; and automatic screen reorientation when you turn the phone 90°.  It also has key features that the iPhone lacks: a real keyboard (under the display), a memory expansion slot, voice dialing, and (very important) a real removable battery that you can swap (especially useful on long trips).

Most importantly, the G1 – as promised – is open.  Open as in the anti-iPhone.  The G1 runs on the open source Android operating system and since it’s open source, anyone can make changes to it without getting Google’s permission.  The Android Market app store, unlike Apple’s, is open as well and the companies promise that they won’t keep some programs from the public, even if the program’s functionality competes with T-Mobile or Google.  Best of all, after 90 days, you can unlock the G1 (it comes with SIM-locked to T-Mobile) and use a SIM from any mobile operator with it.

The G1 is not enterprise ready at launch; there is no current support for Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange but, since it’s open, anyone who wishes and who has the talent can write a program to provide such support.  I have no doubt we’ll see lots of interesting enterprise-class applications any day now.

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

Open Source Reignites the Build v. Buy Debate

Friday, September 19th, 2008 by Cody Burke

Ten years ago, when a company made the decision to deploy a content management system, it was faced with the choice of either building or buying a platform.  It was just as common in those days for an organization to build a custom system from scratch as it was to buy a commercial content management system; indeed, the cost difference was negligible.  Since then the scales have tipped, commercial CMSs have become more affordable and the practice of building custom systems has been in decline.  Recently, however, the proliferation of open source CMSs has reopened the build v. buy question.

Companies have traditionally built their own content management tools because of concerns about the suitability of a pre-built, all-purpose CMS to meet specific needs, as well as the risk of being tied to one vendor.  In reality, these concerns are largely unfounded.  Vendors design such systems to deal with common enterprise situations, it is highly likely that a vendor exists offering a suitable solution.  Also, the risk of a vendor going out of business is less likely than that of a company’s lead programmer leaving, rendering the homegrown system near useless.

Furthermore, creating, upgrading, and maintaining a content management system is the core competency of a CMS vendor; they are able to better and more cost-efficiently improve their software, as need be, than the end-users themselves can.  Vendors also add features requested by other users, which may have widespread applicability.  Not surprisingly, sales of content management systems have spiraled in recent years.  This may, however, change.

Enter open source.  There are multiple open source content management solutions available today that come with the benefit of zero cost and full access to source codes.  Instead of building completely from scratch, setting up an open source CMS means downloading, integrating, and customizing the system initially, and ongoing work to support and maintain the system.  The core issues of the build v. buy debate still remain essentially unchanged.  The organization still must have the expertise to develop the system and maintain it, and pay for the weeks or months of developer time.  In the end, you either pay for the finished product or for the man hours it takes to build it.

A relatively new option, and one that merits serious consideration is the rise of open source specialists, who will pre-integrate open source, commercial, and existing systems using open source tools, and provide commercial level support.  One such option is the recently announced Bluenog ICE platform.  Bluenog offers Bluenog CMS, Bluenog RichPortal, and Bluenog BI.  All are available separately, or bundled as the Bluenog ICE platform.  Bluenog does the heavy lifting by building their products on open source projects, and pre-integrating with other open source and commercial products based on the specific needs of the customer.  The value added from this model is this: by using open source tools, the cost is significantly lower than a commercial product, the customer possesses the source code, and the system can be fitted to exactly the needs of the user, getting rid of excessive bloatware and unused features.  The negatives of open source, and building a CMS in general, are mitigated by the commercial level of support and pre-integration that negates the need to shift or hire staff to set up and maintain the system.

More and more companies are giving serious consideration to open source, and vendors such as Bluenog can present a pre-integrated, customized, and professionally supported open source-based CMS to decision makers.  For companies that do not have the resources to devote to implementing an open source CMS themselves, but are intrigued by the benefits of open source, solutions such as Bluenog ICE can bring the benefits of open source minus the negatives, and offer an alternative to expensive commercial CMSs.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Safe Computing for Travelers – Part II

Friday, September 12th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Recently, we looked at the problem of “evil twins,” hot spots that seem legitimate but are operated by a hacker that are increasingly popping up in public and semi-public spaces including hotels, airports, and conference venues.

This month we look at other risks.

Hotels are a prime target for laptop thieves; look at any unoccupied meeting room, replete with laptops, and you’ll understand why.  But the loss of a $2000 laptop may pale in comparison with the loss of data and the fact that your data may fall into the wrong hands.

To minimize exposure in the event of theft, make sure that your laptop has both a power-on password as well as a hard disk password.  Laptops that use fingerprint readers, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p and X300, only require a fingerprint scan to unlock everything but thieves will be stopped from viewing your data, even if they remove the hard disk and install it in another machine.

Thinking of using your hotel room’s TV for surfing or reading e-mail (via your browser)?  Don’t read any sensitive documents there.  The chances are good that the hotel’s backend systems aren’t secure – and that another guest could read along with you.

Using a hotel’s wired Internet service doesn’t necessarily guarantee security.  Common E-mail protocols such as POP3 and IMAP default to plain text user names and passwords.  Many hotels still use hubs rather than Ethernet switches, and the former are sniffable by those in the know.  If you connect through the hotel’s network, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which can be set up for personal or corporate use.

For greater security and peace of mind, consider using a mobile broadband solution (offered by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless in the U.S.).  Data-only plans are available starting at $40 per month and offer greater flexibility plus the chance to pass on the hotel’s $10 or $15 per diem Internet charge.

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

Chrome – All Shiny and New?

Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

In a new twist on the browser wars, which started in the mid 1990s when Netscape was the dominant Web browser, Google released a beta version of its new browser, Chrome.  Google said that the software, based on the same rendering engine as Apple’s Safari browser, will make Web browsing faster while making it easier to run Web-based applications.

This latest Google software offering is another shot fired at Microsoft.  The two companies already compete intensely in search engines (where Google holds a wide lead) and in desktop productivity applications (where Microsoft is firmly entrenched).  Chrome is intended to support a new generation of Web-based applications.

“We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser,” wrote Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president of product management, on Google’s Web site.  “What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build.”

It’s important to view this less as renewed hostilities in the browser wars and more as part of a continued challenge to the hegemony of Microsoft’s desktop operating system, Windows.

Of course, Windows comes with its own browser, Internet Explorer and a descendant of Netscape, Mozilla Firefox, has captured ca. 20% of the market.

But with an increasing preponderance of Web-based applications, browsers are becoming more like operating systems as gateways for the software apps themselves.  To that end, each browser tab in Chrome operates as a separate process.  If one should crash or misbehave, others will, according to Google, remain accessible.  Google also built a new JavaScript engine, V8, which the company promises will speed up existing Web applications and support a new class of applications that will only run on Chrome (until the other browsers catch up, one would suppose).

In addition, search, one of the most important tools we use, is frequently accessed through a browser.  Internet Explorer comes with a toolbar that is preset for Microsoft’s search engine and Firefox has a search box that by default uses Google, but also will search Wikipedia, Yahoo, Amazon, and other major sites.  Chrome features a combined search and address bar in the apparent belief that users don’t know where they want to go.  In addition, Chrome nannys users; when opening a new tab, the user will see a page that includes snapshots of most-visited sites, recent searches, and bookmarks.  Sounds like a form of information overload torture to me; I hope this “feature” can be turned off.

There’s no question that Chrome will increase competition – and innovation – in the browser market, a market where the product is almost exclusively given away at no cost to the user.  Google has been working on Chrome for over two years while Mozilla and Microsoft combined have decades of experience in making and testing browsers.  Will knowledge workers and consumers even take the time to download another browser onto their computers?

A brief test of Chrome reveals great promise but it’s still in beta and lacking many capabilities taken for granted in a browser, including bookmark management and the ability to e-mail links and pages from within the browser itself.  We’ll circle back in a few weeks with an in-depth look.

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