Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New and (sort of) Improved

As Bob Dylan said “the times they are a' changin' “ So what does that have to do with technology? Everything! Lately, we have been inundated by new updates to old friends. It began a few months ago with the Firefox 3.0 launch (which is now up to 3.03 and they are talking about 3.1 soon). Since then we have seen a rapid succession of new versions of Twitter, Jott, Internet Explorer, Skype, and now a UI upgrade for LinkedIn and the long awaited release of OpenOffice 3. In all fairness, IE 8 and Skype 4 are technically beta releases but that's meaningless. Heck, some software has been in “Beta” for so long I'm beginning to think it is just a euphemism for Version 1 (Plaxo Pulse anyone?).

So let's look at two new releases and what they do for us.

Nice, Not Thrilling, but Nice.

The new OpenOffice, version 3, just came out and I have to say that I like it. Of course, I liked version 2. That explains a lot. It is faster loading, but I don't see many new features. The new quickstart menu perhaps? Looks great on a Linux netbook designed for the unwashed masses but does little for everyone else. The UI is still decidedly old school and has seen only minor updates. The new Extension Manager, which looks a whole lot like the Firefox/Thunderbird extension manager, is a definite improvement. The (limited) support for DOCX formats is also very nice. It really doesn't matter since almost no one uses the DOCX format, even users of Word 2007, but it comes in handy on occasion.

Overall, the features that made OpenOffice 2 great are what makes OpenOffice 3 great. While not as pretty as the Microsoft Office suite, it gets the job done just as easily. It costs much less to buy than Office, zero being less than anything. That's a plus. The ability to extend OpenOffice is also useful, especially since major players like Sun do put out decent extensions. The PDF creation capability is a big part of why people use OpenOffice. I can't say that I notice a speed difference but it still works right and that's all I ask.

OpenOffice is still a contender. As more and more netbooks deploy Linux, the market share for OpenOffice will continue to increase. Now, if they could just clean up the UI so it doesn't look like something only a geek could love...

Not again!

Once again, I sign on to LinkedIn and find the UI changed and not for the better. They keep monkeying with the layout and each time they do, important stuff gets buried and yet, the interface gets more cluttered. Neat trick. Less good stuff and more of a mess. Kind of like my garage but I digress...

It looks like LinkedIn is trying to go all Facebook on us. That's fine for college students and teenagers. It doesn't work for businesspeople. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of the new features, especially the groups. It has come a long way from its days as an online resume. They just can't seem to stop fooling around with the interface. Perhaps the problem is trying to shoehorn too much into one piece of software. In contrast, the Plaxo Pulse idea, which is a bit like a Twitter stream, seems to work better. I get ongoing updates from people I know and can dive in further when I want to. It's a clean interface while LinkedIn's is not.

This seems to be the season for upgrades. Cool! Sort of. OpenOffice might have waited a bit longer if it meant a UI upgrade. LinkedIn should have left well enough alone. Jott completely messed up their latest version, annoying loyal users in the process. Xpenser is up next for an new release. Let's see how they do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Here's To The New Skype

I'm one of those people who likes Beta software. I like being one of the first kids on the block to test drive new software. There is the thrill of discovery and the excitement of "the new". In that spirit, I recently downloaded and installed the Beta release (now releases) of the new Skype 4. It is radically different from the current version. It has taken me some time to really get into this release. I'm glad I stuck with it because truly is a step forward. However, the changes are pretty radical and take some getting used to.

Skype made some serious mistakes in the initial Beta release. I thought that I must have gone senile when I first used it. I couldn't find how to access groups anywhere. They were clearly there - other plugins could still "see" groups - but I had no way to access them. That's because there was no way to access them. Skype had taken them out but, gladly, they are back.

The new view is much bigger, more like a web page. This is cumbersome to say the least. Usually, one only wants a simple contacts list visible. More information about contacts and during calls is great and Skype 4 has it. Most of the time, it simply takes up too much desktop real estate. Thankfully, Skype now includes a compact view that shrinks the contact list down to it's old dimensions while allowing the new stuff to be displayed when you click on a contact. Nice save!

The half dozen tabs are now gone and good riddance to old rubbish. That was pretty cumbersome and made it hard to look at a call screen while still looking at the contact list. You had to click all over the place. And try looking at multiple contacts at the same time. Now the contact information pops up to the right or pops up a window in compact mode. I especially like that last option. I can have multiple contact windows open at the same time, making it easy to have multiple IM message streams going simultaneously.

At it's core, Skype is about calling. The IM, SMS, and video are nice but the ability to make inexpensive phone calls is the primary reason to use Skype. SkypeOut is still the least expensive way to call long distance (not including Skype to Skype), especially overseas. That has not been lost in this new release. In fact, My SkypeOut account is easily accessible from the new interface, something that was a bit more cumbersome in earlier versions.

The only thing I am not yet sure of is compatibility with older plugins and hardware. My Pidgin plugin is working fine. At home I have a doo hickey that allows me to use my regular telephone with Skype. I am hesitant to upgrade my home computer to Skype 4 for fear of rendering tha very useful device unusual. Curiously, the speed dial feature that my Skype phone relys on no longer seems to be available. In the end, all UI changes aside, if Skype 4 doesn't have decent backward compatibility with hardware and software plugins, it will be a failure.

All in all, I like the direction. This latest release goes a long way toward making this a worthy successor to Skype 3. I await the next release with great anticipation.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Jott from Jott

A little while ago I wrote about the bait and switch that Jott pulled. For those who only occasionally read this blog (for shame!), Jott offered a wonderful set of features for their service and then, when they finished the "Beta", pulled many of those features into a paid service.

At the time I wrote that post, I predicted that usage would drop off. Many of the more useful features were now part of the paid service, so there was less reason to use Jott. Low and behold, I got an e-mail from Jott this morning saying "Please return to Jott!" That's right, they sent be a beg-o-gram.

Even better, they offered me three tips for "taking full advantage of Jott". Of course, none of their tips included bringing back the valuable links that made the system useful in the first place. My personal favorite was the tip that suggested a link to Google Calendar. That, of course, is one of the features of the Premium, for-Pay version.

So, follow this chain of events:
  • I stopped using Jott because they took away features.
  • I didn't get enough value from those features to pay for them.
  • Please come back, we love you.
  • But you have to pay for that love.
I don't mind ads for free services. I don't get enough value to use Jott at all without the links. I don't get enough value from all of it to pay their rates. Because I don't use it I don't see the ads. They lose ad revenue but don't get subcriber revenue. The begin the death spiral.

If only they had kept the basic service the same and found ways to integrate with corporate systems that I might pay for, everything would be fine. Instead, they got nothing. This email shows that they know that.

So, I'm laughing at this feeble attempt to gain my loyalty by having me pay for it.