Friday, August 25, 2006
Because of Google's popularity, Yahoo and MSN are playing catch-up on a very uneven and unsteady market not least because the two haven't figured out the magic of Google yet. These two websites operate on the philosophy that to be top, you need to be the best at everything and, in MSN's case, be in every possible online market. Google proved this wrong. Simplicity, ease of use, and minimal design has raised the company to the web-dominating power house it is today.
Yahoo almost had the minimal design going for it, but recently updated its site to look more modern. Its email remains one of the most used email sites in operation, but Yahoo Mail hasn't made the switch to an Ajax environment, which made Gmail so popular at first. Yahoo's news service remains widely used as well, and based on my own findings, outpaces Google News. What's strange is, Yahoo and Google seem to have a mutual peace between them, neither company seriously attempts to steal users from the other. And based on my own personal experience, Yahoo Publisher beats Google's Adwords.
Microsoft, on the other hand has gone out of it's way to be in every possible market online, but arrives to late to have much impact. MSN's social networking can never touch the popularity of Myspace or the more intelligent Blogger. You know, maybe all of MSN's ventures online do make some sense. They may be second rate at best compared to it's competitors, but with Vista and IE7 coming out at either the end of this year/beginning of next, Microsoft may finally be able to bring MSN services to the forefront by making them the default to Windows customers. It worked so well for them with IE, why not try it again, right?
A Brief Explanation of AJAX
To illustrate this updating, I give you the following pictures:
Thank you Jesse James Garrett for these images!
It's a topic that just won't go away. What's the best browser out there? No one can answer that but yourself, you just need to be open. I've given in depth reviews on the major browsers, but unlike many reviews you might read, I not only reported the date, but how usable and stable each product is. Seems to be that the browsers with the least usability have fallen by the wayside (Netscape and AOL browser, notably).Others remain somewhat obscure, such as Avant and Maxthon. These two are both wonderful at what they do, but their market seems limited to those who've used the programs since their heyday. And now we have the Big Two (er, three), Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the competition between them is fierce. I'd be remiss to mention Opera, it fits in the obscure category as well as entering a phase where it can be considered a major player.
Marketing, pure and simple, is the driving force behind the three major players and their success.
Internet Explorer has the obvious advantage. Not only has it been around for years, but it comes pre-installed on almost all personal computers. IE is a seasoned veteran, having won the first Browser War against Netscape in the late 90s. Microsoft doesn't need to rely on any major marketing to keep IE on top simply because it relies on the complacency of the average home users. Not only do people new to the online world accept that IE is the Internet, but people who are resistant to change also continue to use the program. For example, my girlfriend uses it 95% of the time (the other 5% she uses Opera, not by choice but because it's already open). She doesn't mind that IE crashes every half an hour as long as it gets her online. She also uses the search bar on her home page instead of the address bar to access websites, if that indicates anything.
In short, IE is a beast that will never go away, it's dominance tied to the success of Windows and the ill-informed average PC users. There a several ways to improve upon IE, user outcry is first and foremost. Within the last few years users have been switching from IE and Microsoft, ever so late to realize, is only now making steps to improve the program.
Firefox has an amazing marketing strategy, one that could not have even worked five or six years ago. Through the utilization of minimalism (of design, not necessarily code), FF has became a huge force in the browsing market. Knowing that the only way to have a successful browser is to offer a free browser, the FF team went even further. By making their program Open Source, not only would FF be free, but the programmers would be also. Thousands have freely given their time to the project, improving upon it. And some of the biggest names in the industry, such as IBM and Google, have donated large sums of money to the Firefox Foundation, and at times even brought their programmers onto the Firefox team. By word of mouth alone Firefox was huge even before 1.0 was introduced, and the constant release of new builds heightens the excitement of many FF users, whether they contribute or not. Problem is, unless Microsoft packages FF alongside IE in Windows, FF is unlikely to threaten IE's dominance.
Finally there's Opera, maintained by a small Norweigan company. The browser is only now becoming a major player alongside IE and FF. This is mostly due to the fact that up until a year ago Opera wasn't free. There was a free version, but it contained advertisements, which no one wants to be subjected to. Supported by these ads and paying customers, Opera had to remain very innovative if the company was to survive under limited resources. Small, fast, and efficient wasn't going to be enough, though. new features were introduced (M2, the built in mail client, an RSS feed reader, among others). Unfortunately, Opera's market share couldn't get out of 1%. Then, risking it all, Opera went free, relying on revenue generated by ads already seen on websites. The response was mixed, some embracing the browser not that it was free, others having already converted to FF and not wanting to make another switch. Now, with Opera 9 out, even more users are converting. It may never become the top browser for reasons stated above, but along with Firefox has the potential of moving IE closer to irrelevancy. It's growth in the last year and a half alone has been phenomenal.
Three different marketing techniques brought these three browsers to the forefront. IE's dominance through force, Firefox's viral campaign, and Opera's risks to become more visible have all been successful to varying degrees (Opera may not have the resources to launch a full on campaign as of yet). Obviously, out of the three, if you haven't tried Opera or Firefox, isn't it about time?
Opera , Firefox , Internet Explorer , Google , Microsoft
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Then the old guys come in and start talking up a storm about how good it was in the 1800s. I had to stop writing because I thought I was going to lose it. I start reading when my phone rings. I then get up and walked outside so as to not disturb anyone. Now, yes, it isn't a library by any means so making a little bit of noise isn't such a big deal, but when someone is near you trying to work quietly, what's the harm in leaving them well enough alone?
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The Google Operating System
I guess it began with Google Desktop a few years ago. Since then there's the web accelerator, Gmail, Google Spreadsheets and Writely. There was some speculation whether Google would begin developing an Operating System to more directly compete with Microsoft. It has happened, it took only a few years, and has been apparently successful. And oddly enough, it probably has little to no impact on sales of Windows.
The Google operating system (though perhaps the Google Desktop Environment may be more appropriate) has almost symbiotically attached itself to Windows. So long as your computer has Windows (and soon Linux, it appears)you can access the GDE. Instead of using Outlook and Hotmail, you have Gmail, which you can easily access through outlook if you so choose. The benefit to Gmail is that so long as you have your web browser open, you have a feature rich mail client at your fingertips. All the power, but less resources wasted. Google knows that in this day and age a user's browser is open 24/7 and is able to serve web-based applications that are secure and relatively bug-free. For free. More users visiting Google web sites means more revenue generated from adsense.
Someone asked on Slashdot a few days ago what Google could possibly gain from giving away free services. Google's sole business strategy is to serve ads to as many people for as little cost to itself. Gmail and Blogger must have proved that the cost to maintain and build these services was worth it, or else Google wouldn't have designed Spreadsheets or aquired Writely. Also, interestingly, are programs that the company provides that exist merely to enhance the user's online experience. Neither Picasa or Google Web Accelerator serve ads, but instead give Google more visibility.
Their version of an operating system is simple, even if it's use is aided by the fact that it's "not Microsoft".
As long as I'm contributing again, there shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Writely In Open Beta
That wonderful web-based word processor Writely has undergone some changes since i wrote about it last. Earlier this year it was acquired by the online behemoth Google. While I still hold some trepidation over the acquisition, for the founders it was likely a wise decision. Some users may be apprehensive putting their documents on Google's servers, but the few who refuse to use the program now are nothing compare to the number of users Writely will attract due to its high profile owner Google.
The only real criticism I've seen was its lack of support of Opera. Sure, I may be a bit of an Opera fan boy, but these opinions came from non-Operacentric sites as Slashdot and Betanews. I only hope that past the acquisition, the Writely team and the Opera team continue to discuss further and better implementation.
As I've Stated before, I'm not from New Orleans, or in any of the Gulf Coast cities directly affected by hurricane Katrina. I live in Baton Rouge, an hour's drive from New Orleans.
Pre Katrina, Baton Rouge was a "city" of about 300,000 residents. In regards to infastructrue, the city is more of a Smalltown, USA type. Traffic was always bad, the roads never seemed to catch up with the population, and the drivers always thought they were in a NASCAR race rather than trying to adhere to the rules of the road. After Katrina, with the influx of refuees, problems in the Baton Rouge infastructure were exacerbated. I personally refused to drive at any point between 7 am and 7 pm until late November (nedless to say, that was probably the best semester I ever had).
It seemed that with these problems becoming worse, and a population ranging from 750,000 to 1 million, some things would likely be fixed. The Mayor-President allocated funds for the timing of traffic lights, temporary housing would be provided to the refugees, and many other solutions to local problems were proposed.
Fixing a traffic problem in Baton Rouge is always solved, in the eyes of those who make such decisions, by putting another light on another intersection. One of the busiest roads in town is Sherwood Forest/Siegen Lane. On a six mile stretch of this thoroughfare there are 12 traffic lights, none of them reliably timed for the flow of traffic. It's a mess every day, even on Sundays.
The job market in town is also awful. As a friend of mine put it, everone is hiring, but no one is getting hours. Our local economy has a lot of potential to grow in the next few years, but only if the city and its residents choose it to. So far, few new businesses have opened their doors with the exception of a new Lowes, a Best Buy, and a new movie theater. That'll be good for a few hundred jobs, not nearly as many as needed. Baton Rouge must open its doors to new buinesses, considering that many refugees are here to stay, the city now has an obligation to look after the welfare of these new citizens. Not through handouts but by convincing businesses that oportunity lies in this small town by the Mississippi River.