Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Comments on quality

Dare recently made a comment about quality from my previous post in SaaS. Here is right in what I meant is better accountability in SLA, but I was also thinking to about quality that is not in the software itself, but rather from customer service and accountability.

When Apache breaks in an enterprise, there is no one to call, no one to claim to directly, no one to fire (except the guy who made the decision to go with open source). There is the desire that the feature/bug be addressed in a timely manner. Also, new features are not driven by existing customers as much as when someone is paying real $$$.

If GE goes to Apache foundation and tells them to fix something, they would say: stay in line (or worse: that is stupid, fix your process). If GE goes to a big software company they are paying top dollars to and say the same, the answer will be: yes sir.

Also, if users start complaining that they don't understand how to configure apache, the best solution is to say: hire an expensive consultant or learn it. The quality that comes from other service because of big margins is: call our technical support, or read the tons of books, or heck..we'll even send you an expert on it.

As a matter of fact, this is exactly what Red Hat sells. They may not sell the software, but all that devs they have are either paid by support money they get from their users or from developers working for another big company that pays them kind of in the same way. Either way, the users always has to pay. There is no such things as a free lunch.

SaaS may be similar in that the margins are very very very small. You need tremendous scale to support infrastrucutre or transfer the cost to someone else. Ads don't have a place in productivity applications, so that cost is transfered to the user by subscription. What SaaS as basically done is said: we'll charge you much less for the same thing, and we are able to do this by economies of scale. And we'll also reduce your TCO because we'll do the upgrades and deployment for you. But nothing prevents a shrinked wrapped software company to say: wel'll deploy and fix all your problems for free, and we'll give you free upgrades for life. Just don't burden us with servers costs.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SaaS thoughts

Dare, a coworker has posted an article about Software as a Service (SaaS) and the paradox it creates for software vendors. His thoughts are on target when he compares the Innovator's Dilema theory that and cheaper and seemingly worse technology overtakes a higher profit and apparently better technology over time.

Even though I agree with Dare, I sometimes remember the multiple rises and falls of server/desktop environments and the prediction of how free software models will topple the old shrinked wrap ones. With Linux turning 17 years or OpenOffice at age 8, I still wonder how come they haven't fulfilled their rein the world destines. That is because things have to be put in perspective and analyzed case by case. (before you flame me, I know that Linux and OO is pervasive but you can't argue that the prediction of Linux ruling the desktop has not materialized and Windows still dominates even the server)

The main reason I believe that shrinked wrapped software still has plenty of life against SaaS (or open source) is because it brings something that neither free nor cloud can give easily: accountability and quality. Both things go hand in hand and cost a lot of money, things that SaaS has little of (low margins) and OS has none.

Accountability is probably the biggest one. Imagine a manager explaining that the company went down last weekend because your cloud provider was not working. Not easy to point fingers here: most will points to the manager. And this is not the same as electricity. Just because you can outsource marketing, back end processing, etc, doesn't mean you do it. You still keep some things close while you outsource others. Same with computing. You may outsource backup processing, peak load, and similar, but not the main processing.

Then comes quality. Quality is not only in service but also in products. To be fair, Salesforce, Linux desktop (KDE==windows or Mac) OpenOffice (==MS Office) and other alternatives take most of use-and-feel from existing software that were paid by larger profits.

Finally, comes the whole processing power in our hands thing. If we offload everything to the cloud, why do we need all that processing power for? I claim that software needs a bigger transformation, like smart AI, context awareness and Data Mining and use the cloud like a huge database. There is where I feel software + services will go.

I drifted off topic, like always, but anyways...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Howto: Argentinean BBQ == Asado

One of the things I miss the most from home is the food. Being from Argentina, that means beef in particular. Argentina is known for their meat, not only because of its quality, but because of the quantity. We eat almost every other weekend an average of 1.1 lb of meat per person in a feast called Asado.

Asado is nothing more than glorified BBQ that you share with friends and family, where multiple different types of 'cuts' are served. The most famous cuts are asado de tira (or costilas), bife de chorizo, vacio, matambre, entraña. The food is prepared using coal (or preferably wood coal) to give the meat a better taste. We also marinate the food with an assortment of things and serve it together with empanadas and salads, but the main event is the meat.

While trying to make an Asado I was faced with the problem of getting those cuts (and the price of course). After almost 2 years here, I have found the way to get them and just wanted to share the knowledge. Like in Argentina, the secret is to know a butcher. Any butcher can do, even those you find in your local convenience store. I'm in Seattle, so I go to my local Safeway ask specifically for the following:

  • Asado de tira: ask for ribs, flaken style, 2 inch wide and as much meat on top as possible.
  • Entraña: ask for skirt, and tell him to leave the fat that comes on top.
  • Matambre: rolled flank stake. This is very easy to get at any grocery store, although in the US they remove most of the fat. You can ask them to keep it.
  • Vacio: flank stake, although not quite. This is hard to get right as well. It is flank stake together with sirloin, so it is hard to ask.
  • Bife de Chorizo: I found this hard to get. You should ask for New York style Strip steak.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friendfeed vs. Facebook

Today I read an interesting entry from Dare about his prediction of how much time it would take F/B to mimic Friendfeed. I actually always thought about it, because after all, FF is just a fancier feed aggregator that people have to configure while everyone else is already using F/B.

I'm really starting to hate the fragmentation so I welcome F/B additions. Although I think it is really irrelevant as FF is becoming the hub for Twitter frustrutaed users.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Active Sharing vs. Passive Sharing

Came home and was reading about Supernova Conference down in the Valley. Something resonated with me was a talk by Joe Kraus (a Google PM). Although he was talking about Google's Open Social, I was more interested in his framing of Active Sharing vs. Passive Sharing (the thinking revolves around something our group is working, but I like the Active/Passive term more).

The difference is kind of obvious. Active sharing, you are using email or other direct communication to 'share' some information with someone. You consciously decide the receivers. During this process you may miss people, may not be sure if they are interested or simply don't consider the information that important (people can become arrogant or spammers for sharing certain things, right?) In the presentation, Joe calls it high social activation energy. I think he misses the point that this is not only social, but that is because I believe he sees things through the Open Social lens.

The passive sharing is when I don't necessary send people direct communication, but relay on he connections to the people I have to get notified for me. There is a certain contract with this form of communication (that is represented most prominently in the form of feeds) that the recipient can access the information if they choose to and if they find it interesting. From there, they can even navigate and discover more information I left open to other people.

F/B personifies this example as it enables, through the social connections, the ability to notify my friends and let them filter out what they want. However, F/B lacks a compelling active sharing mechanism, or at least one as solid as email. They have direct messaging and even chat now, but they are not tightly integrated into each other as well as the feed. Before F/B, people relied on RSS as the feed. Blogs, flickr and youtube allowed to passively sharing news, photos and video while attracting eye balls to a site. But RSS is not as friendly as F/B connections which I'm sure make uploading pics in flickrs less popular these days (F/B statistics here and here). Nonetheless, because of their demographics and branding, they appeal more for the "social" interactions, and not the IW one, which is where I believe we should focus on.

The most critical discussion though remains how to move users from one model to the other, without alienating them of their current habits. I have some ideas (that may not work), but was more interested in yours.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Getting sucked into the borg

I printed a large sign in my office that read "avoid conforming to the norm". I worte as a reminder to myself that I now belong to a big company, and that in that company, you are normally just a cog.

I believe that my group is not like that, and at moments, feel like a smaller company within a company. But lately I'm starting to doubt myself. Everything takes sooo long to get done. I wish I could code so I can help people get some of the stuff done. Í wonder what good am I doing planning if I have to wait 'till my stuff gets done. Unfortunatly, I'm conforming to the norm and adapting to the way things get done.

I need to get strenght to fight this. I must admit that there is a reason why MS products are not that used today and I wish...just be able to change a litlle bit of that. Lets just see.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Apple wired article

Yesterday I read a wired article of how Apple creates their products. Working at MS right now, it is interesting to me the comparison of how Apple vs. the rest of the industry, where is seems like most is designed by committee. The article highlights that Apple products can only be a result of employees having less power and that most decisions are made by a benevolent dictator (AKA Steve Jobs).

This model of not giving employees’ power only works when Steve is around, and is the reason why he is so revered by Apple. When Steve was out, Apple did not innovate; the model did not work, and the rest of the industry passed them. Now that Jobs is back, it seems like a great model to follow. So, the reality here is that, simply put, Steve Jobs has good taste.

Witness other companies that have higher level executive making decisions on what is good for customers: mobile companies. They demand certain designs from manufacturers and had (until the iPhone) the final call. Some executive have really bad taste and are the opposite of hip-Steve. Thus the need to give control back to employees so they can innovate.

But having employees control causes another problem. How do you create a seamless user experience if you have every single person thinking about their own feature in a different way. The only solution I see is to have a good process to review and merge different feature into one consistent way. I've seen these processes at work, but they tend to only focus on review and fail at the merging stage. This is why you see some products as a frankefeature of things, instead of a consistent whole.