A week with Dell XPS13 9343 (2015 model)

Last week I have received the new Dell XPS 13 from the Sputnik program, the one with Ubuntu pre-installed. I wanted to vote with my wallet since I believe Ubuntu is a pretty solid desktop environment, on par with Mac OS X and various Windows.

Design-wise  Dell has produced a very good looking machine, nothing to say about that. Kudos to Dell’s team on designing something much prettier than a Macbook Air. The screen with no border is fantastic with almost no frame and it’s great to look at it.

The only complaint I have towards Dell are the options they picked for the Sputnix program: the only way not to get a touchscreen is to buy a severely limited machine with only 128MB disk. No way. All the other options force you to spend money and sacrifice battery power on a useless feature.

I think touchscreens are uncomfortable to use on desktops and I said so a long time ago. Unless the desktop OS is radically re-designed for touch and hand gestures on the monitor, it makes no sense. I would have never bought the touchscreen if Dell had offered a 256MB option with the regular monitor.

On the Ubuntu side there are quite a few glitches like this issue with the cursor becoming sticky on some applications even if the touch-to-click on the touchpad is disabled and some difficulty to adapt to the ultradense display. By the way, that’s another reason not to get the touchscreen: lower resolution is good enough on such a small laptop anyway. Installing Ubuntu Vivid also was a bit more painful than I thought.

All in all, I didn’t return the laptop as I thought I would, mainly because I needed to upgrade to a machine with 8GB rapidly.

Innovating email clients

I don’t like any of the email/groupware clients I’ve used, from Evolution to Thunderbird to Apple Mail to Entourage to Outlook to Gmail. They are all very bad for me. And I also don’t like email because of this.

This morning I played around with The Email Game, a web app that expands Google’s Gmail client with a couple of interesting features. I like the concept of ‘Boomerang‘ and the countdown for each email-related action. If you have a Gmail account I suggest you to give it a try. I won’t be using it (my gmail account is for spam only and a few mailing list) but I hope that some of these ideas end up in one of the email clients I use on my GNU/Linux desktop.

The Email Game – Conquer your Email from Baydin Inc. on Vimeo.

How is Google damaging consumers?

I kept this post as draft since I read Wired’s article about Google and their supposed dominant position. Today I read again about the new investigation of US Antitrust targeting bigG because it holds too much market share in online advertising and advertisers are getting upset.  I can’t understand why an antitrust agency is taking care of this. How is Google harming consumers? This seems to me a totally different case than the Microsoft antitrust judgement. With Microsoft, consumers were being harmed directly left with little to no choice to use their products in order to have ‘compatibility’. At that time, I think that antitrust bodies had a clear case: Microsoft dominance and abusive business practices were removing options to consumers.

With Google the case seems very different: advertisers are free to stop advertising on Google any time they want. Contrary to Microsoft, Google cannot leverage any network effect to keep Internet users (the ‘consumers’) to stop using Google for search. I can go and use Bing any time I want: Google search uses an open standard, it’s a freakin web site. The simplest thing Microsoft has to do in order to take 40% of Internet users’ search is to pay a sufficient amount of money to Mozilla, and voilà: all Firefox users will have Bing as default search engine.

Same thing with many other Googl services. If you don’t like Gmail anymore you can take all of its archive, contacts, and everything else and move it somewhere else: open standards (IMAP) at work again.

And, should Microsoft not want to pay Mozilla, Google’s search engine can start to suck  any time or more privacy issues may arise, and users will move to the next best one (didn’t we all move to Google from Altavista already?)

What am I failing to see in these new wave of antitrust complaints against Google?

Patents have become landmines

After many years trying to export the US ‘intellectual property’ laws to the rest of the world, China has find a way to use the stupidity of the American patent system against Americans.

Finally, commentators admit that Chinese patents will serve as land mines for foreign businesses. Doh! Great comment from @vwadhwa on TechCrunch:

This is a battle we can’t win. The Chinese economy will be littered with millions of stumbling blocks for foreign business. These companies will have to offer up their intellectual property in exchange for Chinese intellectual property—in the same way that IBM and Microsoft trade patents. Or they will have to pay license fees to enter the Chinese market. And China may challenge the U.S. globally with its new patents as it plans to do with 4G.

This was mainly the argument we used at FSFE to push the European Union to the reject the US-sponsored directive that would have legalized software patents in EU. European citizens won that battle and I’m so glad I had the possibility to help win it.  The suggestion from the author is:

It’s best to disarm before it is too late.That means reforming the patent system. We really don’t need software patents, and we really don’t need patents in other technologies that evolve rapidly.

Read the rest: Let’s Compete on Innovation Rather Than Patents.

It’s all about Contacts: who do you know?

When it comes to doing anything, finding a job, an apartment or a used car, what counts most is who you know. In the old times it was the size of your rolodex, now it’s the size of you digital addressbook. Being so powerful, it’s no wonder that everybody out there wants it: Facebook, Plaxo, Vodafone, AT&T … all want YOUR addressbook because who you know says a lot about who you are, what you like. Also the FBI likes to know that 🙂

It’s good to notice the quantity of efforts from the free software community revolving around your social capital. After my disappointment with the pretty lame addressbook in Thunderbird 3, I was amazed to learn about MozillaLabs Contacts. It’s a Firefox extension that makes the browser aware of your online contacts and friend lists. Why should you care? Because your addressbook is yours and you shouldn’t be sharing it with everybody only to invite them to join yet-another-social-networking-site. As Michael Hanson puts it in his blog post

This information is also special, because it represents the boundary between “my data” and “your privacy”. When you disclose your friends’ email addresses on a website (maybe you want to invite them to a cool new site you just joined), you are trusting the website to keep that address private. […] The disclosure of your friends’ contact information is an important step: we think you should be in control of it.

Contacts also uses the Portable Contacts definition internally. I aggregate and keep all my contacts in sync with Funambol, so I’m thinking that the best way for me to use Contacts would be if I could have it grab the addressbook from Funambol server. How hard would it be to add a Portable Contacts representation of the contacts stored in Funambol? If anybody is interested, I can sponsor the investigation of the issue and the development with Code Sniper grants.

Six comments worth reading about iPad

Saturday morning is the best day to read more in depth analysis. I collected six articles that amused me, largely from the HBR blogs (one of the best source of food for thoughts, IMHO).

If you, like me, are fascinated by innovation and by the physicality of objects I suggest you to read Apple iPad’s Product Development Approach . It’s a brilliant lesson to learn for all companies out there building devices

Beyond the half-pound device’s elegant silhouette, interface, and operating system, the gadget is worth paying attention to for innovation lessons from Apple.

Many comments have given me the impression that the iPad is not clearly positioned. It’s clearly not a phone nor it’s a notebook/netbook. Strategically, the iPad opens a new market for Apple, one that may cannibalize its own products: if you already have an iMac/MacBook and an iPhone, would you buy also an iPad or sell the iPhone and get an iPod nano instead? As Scott Anthony says in Does the Apple iPad Make Strategic Sense?

The two things I admire most about the company are its ability to think holistically about business models (iPod + iTues, iPhone + the App store, iPad + iBookstore) and its willingness to keep innovating. Imagine how different it would have been if Apple stopped at the first generation iPod, or just rode the iPod for as long as it could. Its willingness to step out and enter into new categories is an important lesson for all companies.

The blurred positioning of iPad make it harder to identify a clear competitor. TechCrunch clearly identifies Kindle in Top 10 Reasons The Apple iPad Will Put Amazon’s Kindle Out of Business.

Apple has upped the game for Amazon. Jeff Bezos and his team better start a clean sheet of design if they want Kindle to catch up again and play as a leader with consumers.

For HBR the ultimate competitor is only maybe Kindle, but in The iPad Showdown: Apple Versus Comcast argues that Comcast may get some headache.

At twice the price, maybe the iPad is a Kindle Killer — maybe. But Kindle is a single-purpose device for reading, while iPad is a multi-purpose device for entertainment.[…]  The real face-off  […] is Apple versus Comcast — the largest cable provider in the United States, serving 24 million homes […] [T]he new device creates “anywhere, anytime” access to the broadband Web, including broadband video streams.

A colleague argued that tablet pc have existed for over 10 years, with many more features than the iPad. Looking at the facts, though, tablets never took off: too expensive and with poor user experience due to bad software and hardware. Another lesson about product development and radical innovation is in Apple’s Secret? It Tells Us What We Should Love:

This was validation of Apple’s peculiar innovation process: Insights do not move from users to Apple but the other way around. More than Apple listening to us, it’s us who listen to Apple. This contradicts the conventional management wisdom about innovation.

I learned about the iPad name from twitter while I was at the gym and I didn’t understand the jokes about the name until my american wife explained it to me. The comment The Day Apple Turned the Web into Junior High from HBR about naming is interesting.

Perhaps Apple underestimated the power of a viral joke, but it seems more likely that the company, thinking long-term, has so much well-founded faith in its products and its brand that it has no doubt the real iPad will eclipse the joke iPad in the minds of consumers as soon as it’s released.

I would add that the name has other meanings only for native English speakers, not for the rest of world.