#207 All Things Digital

This week’s episode is my synopsis of the All Things Digital conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal. In Chit Chat Across the Pond Bart regales us with his adventures helping his parents switch from Windows to the Mac.


Listen to the Podcast Once (1hr 38 min)

Today is Sunday May 31st, 2009 and this show number 207.

Rose soundbite
Let’s start the show off with a little soundbite from Rose:
======insert rose===========
Aw Rose, love you always too, and that goes for StevieP too!

3 Fingered Swipe on Firefox Redux
Last week I answered a Dumb question about how to get three fingered swipe to move from page to page in Firefox, and I suggested holding down option and using 2 fingers. I got a better answer from Orlando Ferrer. He wrote:

Hi Allison, One of the cool things about the finger swipes while browsing is that you only need one hand most of the time to browse around (option + swipe is a little cumbersome), so I kept using Safari or Camino until I found out about this little application called MultiClutch (wcrawford.org)- it’s an extra option that gets added to the System Preferences.

I have a MacBook Pro early 2008, which means this one doesn’t support four finger swipes for Exposé (like the latest model). With MultiClutch you can configure any of the swipes or pinch gestures to substitute keyboard shortcuts. The standard back and forward button in the browser can be substituted with the keyboard shortcut command + arrow left and command + arrow right, so you can configure the three finger left swipe to represent command + left arrow while using Firefox.

This app has been out for a while now in beta form, but shortly after it was released the author (Will Henderson) was hired by Apple (good for him), but this means we won’t be seeing any updates – I haven’t had any issues with it so far though; works great! I’m sure this is probably the 17th e-mail mentioning MultiClutch, but wanted to mention it just in case. Orlando

Well Orlando, you were not the 17th email on this, you were the first and only! This application sounds great! i love the mac developer community. reminds me of when Apple wouldn’t let you drive a high res display with the iBooks – but someone wrote a hack that let you do it! Thanks for taking the time to send along this great review!

All Things Digital
This week was the All Things Digital conference hosted by Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal. This was the 7th conference, so it is dubbed simply D7. This is a two day conference that features the people in the digital industry that Walt and Kara find interesting. Subjects covered are very broad from how NBC should be monetizing Hulu to the newly announced search service from Microsoft, to the future of Nokia in the United States. The intereviews on stage are the keys to the show, but they also have (sometimes) interesting product demonstrations sprinkled in between. A huge part of the conference as is normally the case are the hallway conversations with interesting people.

If you want exhaustive coverage of the event, the best place to go is allthingsd.com where you can actually watch videos from the event (I’ll tell you which ones are the best) and read in depth analysis of the interviews. Instead what you’ll find here is my own particular flavoring of what I learned. If you’re listening to the podcast right now, I encourage you to head over to podfeet.com to check out the shownotes because I put in a TON of great photos of the event.

Twitter’s Evan Williams & Biz Stone
Evan and Biz on stage from TwitterThe first night Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter took the stage. I was delightfully surprised by their maturity and focus. Many people said afterwards that they didn’t actually SAY anything, but I think that was a reaction to the fact that Walt could not get them to fess up to how they intend to monetize. Walt pushed them from every direction possible and they just gave him answers like “well there’s a lot of ways we could monetize.” They were unflappable. I guess I’m getting old because I suspected that these young kids would buckle under the pressure but they were very mature.

They did say that they don’t intend to sell Twitter any time soon, that they expect Twitter to be around for a long time. They were smart enough to recognize that they’re the media darling right now but that that will pass and they need to keep their heads down and focus on their work. One thing that really surprised me is that Twitter is made up of only around 45 employees! That’s crazy to me. anyway, during the cocktail hour I had the good fortune to meet Biz Stone who was delightful. There’s a picture in the shownotes of him graciously posing for a photo.

Biz Stone from Twitter poses with Al

Randall Stephenson – CEO AT&T
AT&T CEO Randall StephensonThe next morning we had AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on stage, and Walt grilled him about network quality, which delighted me, because over the past two years since I bought the iPhone, the coverage inside my house has been slowly dwindling away until now there’s only one room in my house where I can actually use my phone! Walt grilled him on the fact that they really weren’t prepared for the popularity of the 3G iPhone – he said that AT&T had 800 towers in DC that could have been turned on, but only 80 were operating at the 850mHz band that the 3G needs. Stephenson’s only reaction to that was to say that the demand was bigger than they expected.

He went on to talk about the improvements they’ve been making in their network, and said that their churn (which I interpreted as meaning people leaving AT&T) had reduced dramatically since they started improving the network. I guess he wasn’t talking about my house.

He then started talking about new network technologies they’re beginning to deploy – using terms like 4G, LTE, and HSPA 7.2. I had to go to wikipedia to try and sort these out, and I suspect I will get some of those classic emails only NosillaCast listeners seem to enjoy sending that start with “hey Allison, you got it all wrong…” But that won’t daunt me from trying to explain all this to you anyway! Just stay tuned for the corrections next week.

First of all he said that 4G and LTE are the same thing. Whew, narrowed that down! He said 4G is is far more efficient, and that it’s all about data and speed, with a theoretical 20mbits/second. The problem is that they won’t start limited deployment of 4G until 2010, with full deployment in 2012. The good news is that they can upgrade the current 3G network much faster using this HSPA 7.2 technology.

Ok, so what’s HSPA? And is that the same thing as HSDPA or HSUPA? Well HSPA stands for High Speed Packet Access – that sounds like something we’d want, doesn’t it? and HSPA is actually the superset of HSDPA and HSUPA where the D and the U stand for download and upload. I’m actually glad I learned that because I kept thinking I was saying it wrong when I said HSPA like it was missing a letter! Ok, so now that we have our acronyms straight, what the heck does it mean to us in terms of real speed and when can we have it?

Evidently the 7 in HSPA 7.2 means 7mbits/second. That sounds pretty darn fast for a cell phone network to me! The good news is that AT&T can start providing HSPA 7.2 now, which provides them a ramp towards LTE/4G in the future. The downside is that current cell phones can’t take advantage of the HSPA protocol, so you’ll have to get a new cell phone…hmmm…new iPhone perhaps in a week or so? He did say that some of the current laptop cell phone cards already do support HSPA 7.2.

Walt then shifted the conversation towards LTE/4G and asked whether when they get to 4G you could move a phone from AT&T to Verizon since Verizon is also going to 4G. Stephenson pointed out that today you can switch to T-Mobile (unless you’re on an iPhone) and that in the future when Verizon and AT&T are on LTE you would be able to move between them. it wasn’t clear to me why the iPhone can’t move networks – did they build something into it to prevent that?

Let’s take a quick break to talk about my favorite subject – ScreenSteps! Ok, maybe not my favorite, but it’s in the top five for sure! I was listening to Mac 20 Questions today and Dave had on the Mac Mommy, and she was talking about how she makes cheat sheets for her clients and she does it by taking screenshots and pasting them into Pages. I was, of course yelling at the iPod at this point saying ” USE SCREENSTEPS!!!” and right then Melissa says, “I know, Allison’s probably yelling at me right now telling me to use ScreenSteps!” I cracked up at that – am I getting predictable? Or perhaps she knows what so many of you have figured out – that if you’re making any kind of documentation with screen shots on your Mac OR PC, the only enjoyable way to get that done is with ScreenSteps. Nothing makes it easier to drop in the images, annotate them, write some instructions and then quickly export to PDF or html and get wows from your clients, friends, and relatives at your professional work. If you haven’t given it a spin yet, check it out over at screensteps.com and get the free trial. When you’re ready to buy (notice I didn’t say “if”? be sure to use the coupon code NOSILLA for 25% off! and now, back to our regularly scheduled programming!

Product Demo Flip Video Share
You’ve all probably heard of the Flip Video cameras like the Flip Mino and the new Flip Mino HD. They had a product demo of the soon to be released Flip Video Share service that was pretty intriguing. The showed that now when you attach your Flip to your computer you can download the videos to your computer. In the new release you’ll be able to create channels, and you invite people to those channels. So let’s say for example that you’re taking pics of the grandkids, you invite the grandparents to the channel. When you share a video to that channel, the grandparents get notified, and they can view in their browser with no additional software. They demonstrated the video share on a Mac, a PC and an iPhone. When they deleted the movie from the host machine, it was instantly gone from the other three devices. I’m not sure this would make me buy a Flip camera, but it sure was an easy way to share video in a private way rather than through a more public online video sharing site.

Carol Bartz CEO of Yahoo!
Kara Swisher laughing with Carol Bartz of Yahoo!The hit of the entire conference had to be Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo! She took over from Jerry Yang since last year (I’m sure he stepped down because I gave him such a hard time last year at the show!) She gave out some interesting statistics, like 12% of online minutes are on Yahoo! Isn’t that surprising? My friend David and had lunch with the Chief Marketing Manager of Yahoo! and I told her I was shocked at that because I don’t use ANY Yahoo! services. And then I started thinking about it – Flickr is a Yahoo! product, so that counts. Oh, and I use a Yahoo! email account to get into Yahoo! right? So that’s two. And then if I need to find a person in real life I always use Yahoo! people search. And then I remembered that I’m a member of an email group that’s a Yahoo! group. Hmmm…even without using the Yahoo! landing page I can name r services off the top of my head that I use.

She also said that Yahoo! uses creative software to reach 76% of the United states. Not sure what that stat entailed but it certainly indicates this isn’t the sad little wrecked company we have come to believe it is. When we were with the Marketing officer, David made a very insightful statement, he said “Yahoo! allowed Microsoft to define it.” By that he meant that the way MS started to buy them, then left them at the alter, and then that made them start trying to get someone to buy them, all made them look pathetic when in fact they’ve got some pretty darn good products and services, they’re just kind of a mess organizationally.

Carol Bartz with her mean face onThat was most evident when Kara asked Carol, “Why the hell did you come to Yahoo!?” Carol described what happened. Jerry asked her after a board meeting if she would be interested in running Yahoo!. She told him “go away” and she said it with this awful sneer. Kara asked her if she actually made that face and she said, “yes, I think I did!” She said that then Jerry asked her over to his house, and she thought, heck, maybe there will be wine, so she said yes.

She asked Jerry to explain the organization to her. He went to the closet and got a flip chart! She’s thinking, “who the heck keeps a flip chart at their house???” And then he starts drawing boxes and pretty soon there’s arrows going all over the place, up and down and there’s two names inside some of the boxes, just like a Dilbert cartoon She knew right then that she could fix Yahoo! – they just needed MANAGEMENT, and she’s good at that. She said there’s a freedom when you know who’s in charge of making decisions. this is a fantastic group of people, now we have cleaner lines, cleaner responsibility.

Another big problem they have is that they grew quickly, they made acquisitions, things started proliferating and then changes get really hard. She asked for a product review of the home page and the anchors. She asked some questions about changes, and they said “not so soon, we have 33 different code bases for the home page”.

Kara asked her what she needs to do – shed products? Get lean? She said that with a 76% reach in the US (she loved that stat and kept repeating that) – we have to give them the wow experience, video snacks for news and entertainment, and make everything both more social and more local – personalize it by being social and local. She also said that they need to do a better job on mobile making the small screen as good as the PC screen. I thought that was interesting since that’s exactly what Jerry said last year, and I pointed out to him that looking at Yahoo! on an iPhone was horrible, and it was nearly impossible to find the mobile friendly version, and guess what? Yahoo! still defaults to the full messy Yahoo! and finding the mobile site was still impossible for me! I did have someone tell me it’s m.yahoo.com which is an improvement because they didn’t even have THAT last year!

Kara asked her what she needs to do to Mail. Carol said they have to on the one hand make it more simple – they drive people away because it’s too complicated to register especially in other countries. It also has to be more customizable, how you prioritize, photo sharing, Flip Video Sharing, seeing your Facebook in your mail.

Kara questioned whether they have the staff for that with the layoffs they did. Carol said they had too many people thinking about products, product managers, need more people MAKING products.

Kara also asked her about selling the search business to Microsoft. She pointed out that they have a 20% market share, and she needs to figure out what they have to do to maintain that. Interesting that she didn’t talk about growing it, just maintaining it. She thought at first that she’d never sell it, but then she decided that if the right opportunity came along she’d consider it, like someone with a boatload of money and the right technology. When asked if she’d sell the entire company she said it would have to be a BIG boatload of money!

Carol was a real presence, and if you’d like to see some videos of the interviews so you get the full experience of her style, I really encourage you to follow the link I put in the shownotes to some short video clips on the All Things Digital website.

Martha Stewart
At the conference they have what they call the Science Fair, which is really just a select number of companies doing demos of their products. HP had a big section, in particular they were showing off their HP TouchSmart computers. Basically it’s a big monitor with the cpu built in like an iMac, and you can touch the screen to flip between products. You get a strip of applications like movies, pictures, games, and you touch them and manipulate with one finger at a time. We tried multi-touch and it didn’t work as I suspected since Apple is all over that patent. It worked well but it just seemed kind of gimicky to me, I can’t see really using that tool to edit my photos for example. I would think I’d want a full featured editor like Photoshop or Lightroom but not this simple thing that lets me crop only. It did perform well, I’ll give them that.

HP Vivienne Tam ickThen I went over to see the HP Vivienne Tam, which is the HP Mini-Note done up to be girly. I know I’m not a typical girl, heck I don’t even buy shoes until Steve makes me, so I thought it was just silly. It’s fire engine red with pink flowers all over it. Yeah, right, that’s so me! But then I thought I should ask a woman with actual fashion sense, so I turned to Martha Stewart who was standing next to me. When I asked her what she thought of it, she picked it up, peered closely at it, turned it over so she could see both sides, and then said emphatically, “I wouldn’t use that in a MILLION years!”

She the went on to tell me how she had an idea for a laptop – she wanted to put a faux crocodile back on the bottom. She asked me if I would buy something like that. I pulled out my Blackberry Bold and showed her how it has a faux leather back and how it was one of the first things I liked about it – people buy cases to give that feel to an iPhone, so yes it might just be something I’d buy. Of course I didn’t tell her I’d never buy a Windows machine. She said she showed her idea to Dell and they hated it, and she was sure they were wrong to pass on it.

then I told her how much I hate it when companies put flowers on things or make them pink and they think that’s what it takes to make a woman like it. I remember when Craftsman came out with a line of pink tools – give me a break! I told her about how I’d read that some companies were actually making things FEEL right to a woman’s hands and that’s how to go. For example the Nikon D40 was designed to fit better in a woman’s hands and that I had actually bought it for just that reason, I’d held so many SLRs in my hands and they all felt HUGE to me. So I handed the D40 to her, and she said, “NO, that’s WAY too big, here’s the camera you need!” And then handed me her Canon G10 – the same magic camera that Don McAllister just bought! So I guess Don, you’re in good company, Martha approves of your choice!

Research in Motion CEO Mike Lezaridis
Much of the conversation at D7 was about networks and the affect of all these mobile devices on those networks, with not just voice but video and application delivery. Walt direct many of his questions to Mike Lezaridis of Research in Motion (makers of the Blackberry) along these lines. I didn’t find the conversation terribly revealing to be honest. Lezaridis stressed that they have to provide a perfect delivery of the voice call, push email and PIM – which i think is personal information management. Since I get regular dropped calls while standing still using the Blackberry Bold, I’m not certain he’s got the “perfect” thing down yet.

A particularly enjoyable part of the conversation was when Walt asked him, “what happened with the Storm?”
Lezaridis answered, “um, it was the #3 smart phone in sales.” And then he blathered on about how they want to make the best products in the world but they’re not afraid of trying new things. He proudly stated that they not only put out a multi-touch screen but it also had innvation in it – they were trying to get to where you didn’t have to think about the experience, you just press. Two which Walt said, “but it wasn’t a good experience.” Walt tried to lead him to say the next Storm will be a touch screen but won’t have the movable screen with SurePress, but Lezaridis said that SurePress is here to stay. Well knowing that now, we don’t have to bother testing out any new versions of the Storm! That reminds me, during one of the breaks I sat next to a guy who I thought had a Storm in his hand, and I asked him what he thought of his Storm. He said, “I LOVE IT!” He talked about what a great interface it has. I expressed my surprise and mentioned that I couldn’t stand the Storm, and he said, “oh, I’m sorry, I misunderstood you – this isn’t a Storm, it’s the latest Blackberry Curve. The Storm is HORRIBLE! I’d never buy one of those!” And that made a LOT more sense to me. I turns out the Curve looks a lot like the storm end on, which is why I was confused. It’s a really light little phone that feels really good in your hand.

They talked about the new RIM app store called App World and while Lezardis was thrilled with it, I was underwhelmed. I did a search for Twitter clients and there weren’t ANY in App World at all – even though there are several reasonably good Twitter clients out there in the wild. They did have one app that would post your photos to Twitter but it wouldn’t do normal Tweets, and then it showed me a TON more apps that had nothing to do with Twitter. I’m not sure if those apps had Twitter somewhere in their description or if they were just filling it up with junk to hide the fact that there’s not many apps in there yet. It is a young service so I shouldn’t be too harsh I suppose but for right now it’s pretty thin.

Plastic Logic eReader for business
flexible Plastic Logic screen with Walt's face on itNext up was a demo of the Plastic Logic eReader for business, which is a very thin, large format eReader which has transistors actually made out of plastics. The screen is very flexible, the demonstrator held the bare screen in his hand and was able to flex and roll it with ease. He had a picture of Walt Mossberg on the standalone screen which was interesting. He said that their original prototypes were flexible but that people were convinced that they’d break it, crinkle it, bend it in some way, so they gave up and made the case stiff for the eReader. The Plastic Logic is designed to work with PDFs, word, excel, powerpoint, newspapers. He said if you can print it, you can get it on here – it’s an open format. This is what makes it much more practical for business – you’re not paying 10 cents a document to move things to it – it’s made for business type documents, but of course it can do books and newspapers too.

man holding Plastic Logic deviceThere are no buttons on the Plastic Logic, it’s all touch screen. They demonstrated how touching in the bottom left corner popped up a menu, and then on the right side of the screen if you were reading a long document like a book, you could bring up page numbers in sections – showing for example pages 1-100, 100-200, and then by touching there you could get more granular results. Like the other eReaders on the market, you can change the font size. They’re working on an e-commerce site right now which will allow you to buy books and magazines. This device will allow you to transfer documents to it via USB or wireless – both wifi and 3G. In comparing it to the Kindle he said that the Plastic Logic is optimized for the business user, because about 50% of what a business user reads is user generated content. They will fill that need where devices like the Kindle do not.

closeup of the Plastic Logic page

They haven’t settled on a price yet, and even though Walt tried to push him to say it would be under $500 all he would say was that it would be in line with prices for devices in the same market. I am very intrigued with the Plastic Logic device, and I was excited last fall when I saw it an DEMO. I was a little disappointed that 7 or 8 months later they weren’t in production with this yet. The Plastic Logic will not be shipping until 2010 unfortunately.

Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo CEO Nokia
Nokia demo in progress with Olli and WaltMy second favorite speaker of the event was Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo the CEO of Nokia. I know I live in a bubble where the iPhone is the center of the phone universe, because I learned last week that the iPhone only accounts for 1.4% of the phone market worldwide! In contrast, Nokia has 35-40% of the total market with all of its phones. Olli talked about his competitors – he pointed out that 3 years ago he would have talked about Motorola first, but it’s all changed now with Google, Apple and Microsoft – as he said, some of the mightiest companies in the world.

Olli talked about his decision to buy the Symbian operating system, and then open source the project. His investors were very confused at that move but he believed it was the right way to go. He said that Symbian is “the only operating system that’s open and mature.” I’m not sure where he gets that… Walt then asked him if Symbian is so great, why are they pursuing their new operating system Mimo, which is a variant of Linux? He explained that Mimo will be for the high end, linux-based tablets. Olli then went on to demonstrate the Nokia N97 which will be available in the US unlocked with no carrier for $700.

Nokia N97 showing widgets for weather, mail and Facebookthe N97 has a 16×9 640×360 screen, with a front facing camera so you can do video chat with it. The camera is a Carl Zeiss 5MP with auto focus and flash. it has a standard headphone jack, stereo speakers, and an FM transmitter so you can push music directly to your stereo. The phone features widgets for your home page – he demonstrated how it used the GPS to determine where he was and showed automatically the weather in San Diego. He also had a widget for Facebook that had a scrolling news feed, and his Exchange email right on his landing page.

Nokia built in twit picture supportThe N97 has built in support for tweeting your photos – in the Images library you have buttons for TwitPic, MobyPicture, Posterous and Twitgoo. The N97 comes with a 32GB SD card,which is pretty cool. They do have a music store but he didn’t demonstrate how that works. He did demonstrate how you could have the N97 read your emails to you through the stereo speakers. Walt questioned the value but Olli did explain how when it got done reading one email it would automatically go onto the next one, which makes it kind of interesting – you could listen to your emails on the way into work.

They talked a bit about the application store – noticing a theme here? Everyone recognizes the strength of the iPhone and iPod Touch is the applications. The app store for Nokia is called Ovi – and evidently Ovi crashed and burned on day one – with the excuse of “we didn’t anticipate the demand”. Oh come one – 40% of the global market and you didn’t think people might try to hit the store???

N97 keyboard flips up at 30 degreesHe was almost done with the demo when he said, “oh gosh, i almost forgot to show you, it’s got a flip out full QWERTY keyboard too!” They showed that the screen sort of flips up at a 30 degree angle so it’s nice for viewing while you’re typing. Now the phrase full qwerty keyboard might not be quite right – there are only three rows of keys – no number keys so I guess you have to hold down a function key to get to the numbers. Probably one of the most exciting things about the N97 is that it supports flash natively anywhere on the web! This is the first phone I’ve heard of that will do this, so that was pretty cool – people have been begging for that on the iPhone. There was a light moment when he showed the web browser and he’d set the home screen to All Things Digital and Walt asked if that was permanent and Olli said yes, you can’t change your home screen from All Things Digital!

You can record movies at the full resolution of the screen, again 640×360, and you can download movies from Amazon Unbox right to the phone. After all these bells and whistles Walt asked about battery life and Olli claimed he gets a full day’s worth of fun from all these apps without the battery dying on him. Overall I was extremely impressed with the N97, I think when it comes on a carrier with a subsidized price this really could give the iPhone some real competition.

Wozniak and Mark Cuban
One of the best parts about the show is the access to some amazing people. I went out during a break, and there’s Steve Wozniak just hanging out talking to people! I couldn’t resist the chance to meet one of the greatest technical minds of our time who also has a terrific sense of humor so I wandered over and talked to him. We got probably three or four minutes to talk – I wanted to ask a more interesting question than something like, “what’s it like to work with Steve Jobs?” or “so, the Apple II, cool invention!” So instead I asked him what it was like getting to teach 5th graders. Well he loved that subject, I don’t think I got a word in edgewise for several minutes! He said the proof he loved it was that he did it for eight years. He explained that he taught them how to use computers to improve their homework, then taught them how to fix computers too. He said he had the luxury of buying them all new computers, so the kids liked him instantly just for that! He used a strategy of teaching them something and then letting them play a game – he said that helped to get their focus better.

Right about then some rude guy barges in on us and says, “May I have this dance?” Well I had to forgive him, it was Mark Cuban, former owner of Broadcast.com, current CEO of HDnet, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and notable because he also was on Dancing With the Stars. He was actually a lot of fun, chatted with both Woz and I for a bit, and then told me that Woz needed to be prepared to have people no longer remember him for his real accomplishments, that people would only remember him as “that guy on Dancing with the Stars!” I thought he was kidding, but I’ve showed the photo I got of Steve Mark and I together and every non-geek I’ve showed it to has said, “hey, those two guys were on Dancing With the Stars, weren’t they?” How very sad is that? Well my parting shot to Steve was to tell him that I was SOOOO happy when he finally lost on Dancing because I could finally stop watching that horrible show! He laughed a good belly laugh over that one!
Al mugs with Mark Cuban and Steve Wozniak

Steve Ballmer Microsoft
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft was on stage yet again this year, and Walt asked him questions about the effect of the economy on Microsoft. Steve had an interesting perspective, he suggested that we stop looking at where we were as normal, maybe where we are now is normal. Maybe money simply has to come out of the economy. He described a housing bust in the 1870s that took 50 years to recover from. In terms of the effect on Microsoft he talked about flattening out the cost base and idly dropped the information that their IR&D budget is NINE BILLION DOLLARS. That’s almost 30% of Apple’s revenue! It’s so easy to think of Microsoft as this failing company because they don’t enjoy the limelight of good new technology any more, but dang, that’s a big company!

Ballmer demoing Bing to WaltWalt started asking him questions about search, in anticipation of the promised revealing of their new search product. Google is now at 54%, Yahoo! is at 22% and Microsoft only has 8%. He asked Steve if Search is the most important thing – is it what takes most of the CEO’s job? or is it the mobile platform? or Windows 7 acceptance? Steve said that his job as CEO is to make sure they have enough great people in place so they can have 7 big things. He spend my time on making sure we have the right people, and they aren’t afraid to swap out people (he called it upgrading the talent). He said, “I’ve got 7 children I love, you can’t ask me who I love more, some are barely out of the womb, some are expecting children of their own some day.” He went on to elaborate on search that the world wants more vibrant competition. He said that mobile is hot but many of these things are in their infancy. He was complimentary in saying that Apple’s done a nice job on a lot of stuff, so has Blackberry, but the high volume is in the PC business – 300M units v.s 20m units in mobile.

bing home screenFINALLY they got to the search unveiling and after a slightly humorous movie about how they chose the name, Ballmer leans over close into Walt’s face and yells BING!!! Yes, bing is the name of their new search service. I actually rather like it – you can picture yourself saying, “let me bing that” and it also evokes the feeling when you query for something and bing! it hits you. The most important thing to realize is that this is definitely not a rebranding of Live Search, this is a whole new thing.

bing showing some cluster searchHe showed doing a search on the phrase cannes film festival. On the left sidebar you see a list of ways to filter the search – winners, news, videos, and images. This is an example of a technology I’ve talked about on the show before called Cluster Search. A cluster search provides you with sorted piles of search results that are created on the fly depending on what you searched for. Another example would be searching on Star Trek, those clusters would be movies, TV shows, actors, and fan clubs. I think cluster search looks really promising so I was excited to see it in bing.

airline flightsI think they’re also using a technology called semantic web, which I find one of the most irritatingly vague terms ever invented, right after infrastructure. I have to give Ballmer credit for not over using this term but he did mention they bought PowerSet to do the semantic web. What that annoying phrase means is that the engine actually interprets what you mean, takes it in context and gives you what you want. So on bing he searched on flights from Seattle to San Diego. Instead of coming back with a bunch of generic results, bing came up with a beautifully formatted list of airline flights showing prices, flight times and airlines. On the left side you were able to drag sliders to adjust your leave and return times, and use check boxes to eliminate or add airlines to the search. I don’t know about you, but I would LOVE this service. I don’t travel a great deal, so when I do it’s always a mystery to me what airlines even travel between two cities! I find myself going to each airline’s web page and trying to figure out if they fly where I want to go. I’m sure specialized travel sites do this already bu this really worked exactly like I’d like to see it.

bing shows probabilty of flight cost going up or downThey also bought a company called Forecast so when you search on airline flights, you get a tip graph showing you the probability that your flight will go up or down in cost in the next 7 days. They tell you how much it will go up or down with a confidence rating on that prediction. Probably the biggest crowd pleaser on bing was when he typed in UPS and the search revealed the 800 number for customer service. He went on to demonstrate that every company name search gives you the customer service number, EVEN Microsoft! How cool is that? While he was demonstrating all of these cool features, he mentioned that in normal search, the most clicked item is the back button – 25% of the time we hit back. When you think about your own behavior, don’t you think that sounds about right? We don’t have long to wait for bing – it goes live on June 3rd. I think they just might have a winner here, but we’ll have to give it a good runthrough when it comes out to see what else it can do!

After all the search excitement, Walt asked Ballmer whether Windows 7 is on track, and Steve emphatically said YES. and then he pointed out that they haven’t said when track is, but they’re on it! Walt also asked if Ballmer thinks that Windows 7 will be adopted faster than Vista, and Steve replied that Vista was adopted faster than XP and it looks like Windows 7 will beat Vista. I’m not sure what world he’s living in, unless XP was a LOT slower adoption than I remember, but Vista sure isn’t taking of like great balls of fire!

Mozilla Mitchell Baker and John Lilly
John Lilly and Mitchell Baker of MozillaA real high point of the conference for me was the interview of Mitchell Baker and John Lilly from Mozilla, the makers of Firefox. By the way, Mitchell is a woman so don’t get confused when I say “she”! Walt warmed them up by saying that the first thing he does with a new computer is to put Firefox on it. He said that if it doesn’t run Firefox well, then there’s something wrong with the computer! He asked John how many people load up Firefox instead of using the default browser on the machine. John said that 300million people have downloaded Firefox so that’s about 23% of users who have chosen over just going along with what came with the machine. He pointed out that he spends more time with his browser than he does with his family. We all laughed, but it was definitely a nervous laughter as we thought, “how true that is…” Then he pointed out that even though that’s true for most of us, 75 of the computer users out there do NOT make a conscious decision about their browser.

Walt asked why people don’t load a different browser, and John suggested that it’s just like how he can’t explain to his wife how important his glasses are to him because she doesn’t wear glasses. He described the browser as this mediation layer that really affects how you experience the web. I really resonated to this concept – my enjoyment of Flickr went up 500% when I loaded the Cooliris plugin to Firefox because now I could browse images so much more quickly and in a much better interface, same thing with Google images and Cooliris. Hard to explain to someone else. Mitchell also pointed out that there’s a lot of people who are simply afraid of their computers!

When Walt started pushing them on how they can possibly compete with the big companies, John pointed out that they’re a zero billion dollar business with 250 employees. Mitchell said that if you were going to pick who to compete with you certainly would not pick MS, Apple and Google, but when they went into this adventure MS had 95% of the market. She described it as a daunting space to compete with them but they’ve always been successful doing what everyone knew was impossible. John said it’s all about scratching an itch and depending on this community around the web intermingling with the employees.

Walt asked what’s harder for you to do than the big guys, and what’s easier for you to do. John said that as a CEO I can’t just swap out a search engine because I said so, because we distribute our decisions including all of the people who write the code. On the other hand, when Firefox 3.5 comes out, they will have it in 71 languages on day one because of their vast staff of volunteers across the globe. That’s easy for them. Walt started picking at some points that I’m not sure he really believed in but are worries from a lot of people. He asked how he can trust the translation in his language if it’s done by volunteers, wouldn’t it be better and safer if it was done by employees? Mitchell suggested that he has a deep distrust of something that ins’t a centralized control system. Walt countered that he has a deep distrust of when he doesn’t know who’s responsible for the product – doesn’t know their fiduciary responsibility.

Mitchell was quick to point out that if you’ve got a Portuguese translation, the Portuguese users will let them know right away if there’s problems with it because they can check it. Walt suggested it’s better to go to a company that has hired Portuguese staff. Mitchell challenged him bay asking how much software he thinks is great, knowing he would say not very much. She then said “and that’s written by “experts”, right?” That got huge applause. Of course he came back and said that not very much of the open source software is any good either.

Walt pointed out later that John and Mitchell have marginalized IE 8 which he thinks is the best version they’ve done in years, but they’re calling it not a modern browser. John said they feel that way because you can’t write complex web apps that run at a reasonable speed in IE8, and that people are still writing two versions of their code, one for real browsers and one from IE8 because MS still doesn’t support the new graphics standards. Walt had to admit that IE8 was very slow in his testing too.

Walt asked them how they felt about competing with Chrome since they had a good relationship with Google and now they’ve gone into business against them. Mitchell paused and said it feels complex, because the do still have a good relationship with Google but now they compete in some areas and cooperate in others. For example, they cooperate on geo-location which is a feature coming out in 3.5 because the backend of that service is from Google, and Firefox will be the first browser to ship with it. She also admitted that since Firefox users have demonstrated that they’re willing to switch browsers that makes Chrome an even scarier competitor.

Walt asked them why they don’t make any other apps than a browser, and of course John pointed out they make Thunderbird. Walt countered though that Thunderbird is a geek product, and doesn’t feel “finished” like Firefox does. John countered that Thunderbird has 400million users! I was shocked at that number actually. Mitchell did say though that they had to make a fundamental shift from being a geek niche open source product in Firefox over to a mainstream app and that they had to take this geeky group of developers and move them over, and that it was really hard. They hope in the next 6-9 months to make some of the same shifts in the Thunderbird world. I bet Bart will be glad to hear that they’re going to really work on some improvements here!

As in every single interview, the conversation had to move on to mobile. John said that they had to wait until the application store model got a foothold because before the App Store it was geeky and fringe to add an app to the iPhone. Now that’s in place, it moves the power away from the cell providers and the manufacturers. The importance of that is that they didn’t want to do a Firefox mobile version, they wanted real Firefoxwith the awesome bar with full on javascript. Their first foray onto mobile computers will be on the Nokia Mimo Linux (yet another reason to consider the Nokia N97!) Next up will be Windows Mobile. For now Apple says no browsers, so they actually can’t go there yet.

Overall I was fascinated by the development process and philosophy of the Mozilla folks. I cornered Mitchell at lunch that day and asked if i could do an interview for the show, and she said she’d love to, gave me her address and then told me that it’s really hard to get her attention in email, that she’s really bad at it. I sent her one email so far but I’ll keep pestering her, I think you guys would really get a lot out of hearing her explain the way they create Firefox for us.

Siri checking flight arrivalI know I’ve been talking for about 3 hours here already, but you know when I go to D that you’re in for a marathon show each year! We’re almost done though, hang in there! The second to the last thing I want to tell you about is a niche product for mobile devices called Siri that comes out this summer. It’s a search service that’s very specifically tailored to some specific things we tend to search for when we’re on the go with our mobile devices. Here’s a big one – you have to pick someone up at the airport and you want to know if their flight has landed. I do this ALL the time! For the demo the guy had on a huge screen showing what Siri would return from a search and what Google would give you, and he was doing this real time, not canned. So he types in “did united 22 land”. Google’s top hits were “did the US land on the moon”, “did United 93 crash or land” and something about America as a British colony. Clearly nothing to help us there. With the same query Siri returned a full page with the departure and arrival times of the flight with the airline codes, a map showing the progress of the flight with a little airplane and information on scheduled arrival. It was fabulous!

The next thing the guy did was even more impressive. He typed in “book il fornaio at 5 for 3”. Il Fornaio is an Italian restaurant chain in California. Google showed him a link for the Il Fornaio home page. Sir showed him the site OpenTable.com where you can book restaurants – and the party size was set to 3, the date was today and the time was 5pm just like he’d asked. then he realized there’s a lot of Il Fornaio’s so he simply typed “in palo alto”, NOT repeating his search term, and Siri actually understood that he was adding to the previous search not doing a new request. Now opentable.com had his correct reservations. on the other hand, Google only say the words “in palo alto” so it helpfully gave him a map of Palo Alto and a link to the Palo Alto website, having completely forgotten that we were talking about DINNER here!

Siri making restaurant reservations
He typed in Tom Hanks Movies and it popped up Fandago where he could buy tickets to Angels and Demons. He typed in “Red Sox Yankees tickets in Boston” and while Google showed him where Fenway park was, Siri took him to a site where he could buy tickets showing him a chart of the stadium so he could choose his seats. He pointed out that Siri doesn’t do everything, that they’ve included some fairly specific stuff, so you have to learn what it can and can’t do. For example there’s nothing about TV in it (sorry Lola), but it can do Q&A. He asked Siri how old Walt Mossberg is and it said 62 years, 2 months and 1 day old. the he asked it “how old is kara swisher?” and it replied, “it’s not polite to ask for a woman’s age”!

I was already blown away by the possibilities of Siri, but then he took it up a notch by using speech recognition. He held the iPhone up and asked it to find a plumber near his house, and it returned a list of plumbers near him. He asked for direct flights from Chicago to San Jose and it understood his request and returned relevant results. Because they use these services like opentable.com, their revenue stream will come from fees they earn from those services, so that way they’ll be able to offer this as a free iPhone app in the store this summer. They will do other devices but the iPhone is first. I guess since the iPhone doesn’t get Firefox we have to be happy about this. I went over to siri.com and signed up to be notified the minute it comes out!

Palm Pre
Palm Pre Home ScreenI really should have finished up with something I was REALLY excited about, but instead I’ll finish with the Palm Pre. I was breathless with anticipation to get to see it with my own little eyeballs after all the hype, and I have to say I was underwhelmed. I’ll walk you through what we saw. We saw it go to Fandango and order movie tickets. WE saw the home screen that looked sorta like a merge between the iPhone and G1 home screens. It had YouTube, Srint TV, Nascar, a calculator and a link to their App Catalog. Yawn.

Palm Pre 'Cards'It was rather pretty how you could flip between the cards as they call them, which are the currently running applications, looked pretty much like the way web pages flip by on the iPhone when you have a bunch of windows open. flinging an app off the top of the screen to quit the application was very cool.

contacts with info from lots of places I also thought it was interesting how when you looked at your contacts, you could see information about them from lots of services like Facebook and Google, not just info you’d typed into an address book. They also showed us how you could buy songs from the Amazon mp3 store right from your phone which could be really handy…or really expensive!

Pre showing usb options and keyboardThe biggest excitement around the Pre came when the guy plugged it in via USB to his MacBook. The screen showed 3 options – Media sync, USB device and Just Charge. I actually would love to see those options on my iPhone and iPods, wouldn’t you? anyway that’s not the interesting bit. The audience perked up from their stupors when he touched on Media Sync. Get this – it LAUNCHED ITUNES. Yup, his Pre showed up in the left sidebar of iTunes just as though it were an iPod. He told it to sync, and it moved over photos from iPhoto, videos and songs from iTunes. We were all thinking what Walt said next – he asked them how long they actually thought Apple would allow them to do that! They were convinced that since Apple is clearly a monopoly that they wouldn’t be permitted to stop them from doing this. I think they’re incredibly naive. In fact, I thought the two guys were unprofessional, uninteresting, and their product definitely did not blow my socks off.
Palm Pre syncing with iTunes

Bottom line
So let’s bottom line the whole show – I expected to love the Pre and I didn’t take to it at all, I thought I’d hate anything Microsoft showed me and I thought bing looked very promising. I was tantalized by the Nokia N97 which came out of nowhere for me, and I thought Siri could solve a few key problems for the mobile warrior. I’m looking forward even more to the new iPhone Apple better come out with in June to take advantage of this HSPA 7.2 network from AT&T, and I grow impatient waiting for the Plastic Logic to not come out till 2010. I was tickled to death to meet Steve Wozniak, Mark Cuban and Biz Stone. I got fashion advice from Martha Stewart, and I became much more open minded about Yahoo! I knew I liked Firefox going into the show, but now I’m more informed about how they perform their magic. I’d say that’s a pretty good haul for a 2 day show, wouldn’t you?

Honda Bob
So last week when I was at the conference I was sitting with my dear friend David Roth and for some reason I brought up Honda Bob and the fact that he’s having his 30th anniversary picnic soon. I almost fell out of my chair when David said, “Honda Bob is a real person? I thought he was just one of those internet myths!” Isn’t that wonderful??? His service is so amazing people don’t believe he really exists! Well as amazing as in home care of your Honda or Acura is, that’s exactly what Honda Bob actually does. He services your car right in your very own driveway or at your place of business. You get someone who knows the Honda family like the back of his hand, he cleans up after himself, and he even throws in a few bad puns for free! If you live in the LA or Orange County areas, call the mythilogical Honda Bob at (562)531-2321or shoot him an email at [email protected]. HDA Bob’s Mobile Service is not affiliated with Honda, Acura or Honda Worldwide.

Chit Chat Across the Pond

Security Lite:

  • Apple failed to patch a serious Java flaw that Sun patched ages ago

  • This is typical for Apple but it puts us in great danger as Java Applets run on the web!
  • This flaw is easy to expliot in just pure Java which is cross-platform, so once you figure out the exploit code you can use it on ANY system, Windows, Linux, Mac.
  • Proof of concept released, goes like this:
    • Visit web page with malicious Applet
    • computer p0wn3d!
    • POC uses the say terminal command to speak to you to show it has taken over
  • Protection – disable Java (NOT JS, Java) in ALL your browser. Even things like NetNewsWire

The Parent’s and The iMac:

  • Parents got a 24" iMac which I went home to help them get going
  • Dad’s first impression was that it was too big – "no one can use all that screen space", "it’s bigger than my TV!" – "actually it’s not Dad, it’s exact the same size"
  • By the end of the long weekend he thought it was just perfect
  • Had been priming my parents for this move for ages:
    • Their mail was in Thunderbird
    • Their bookmarks in FireFox
    • They used Pigin for Chat
    • All Dad’s immense music collection was in iTunes with iTunes managing the files (also done as a primer for a future iPhoto switch)
  • Two known issues before hand – MS Money, and Clean (LP cleaning software with it’s own USB sound card)
  • Offered options of Dual Boot or Virutal Box since they own a full (non-OEM) copy of Windows XP.
    • Full dual boot was considered awkward and clumsy
    • So Virtual Box was used
      • My first time using it ever  (with a nervous Dad looking over my shoulder)
      • Had to do quite a bit of Googling to get to even see the CD to start the install of Windows – this DEFINITELY needs improving, why have a Windows XP preset if it’s wrong and you have to manually fix the settings afterwards!
      • Once OS was installed it worked well. Was able to get it to a good resolution, and could see the Mac via file sharing
      • Could not get Virtual Box shared folders to work at all, no amount of Googleing worked – again, poor show Sun!
      • No support for sound devices on OS X – d’oh! Could not get Clean to work
  • In the ended Virutal Box is not being used at all
    • MS Money being run on Vista Laptop
    • Clean is so old it wouldn’t run under Vista, so decided to just bin it and replace it
      • Considered Sound Soap – but expensive
      • Settled on OS X version of Adium
  • Imported all Dad’s photos into iPhoto – proper import, no referencing crap – too confusing
    • He was very impressed by iPhoto, particularly the smart albums, and the geotagging stuff
  • By the time I went home parents were very happy – biggest "stumbling block" was the quest for a Majhong app that looked as good as the one Mum loved on Windows – Victor sorted that out for us over Twitter – MyMajh from http://www.mymahj.com/
  • Dad now very happy with OS X, but says he’d never have changed if he didn’t have Windows on the machine as a safety blanket
  • They are having some small issues:
    • not getting the most out of the Finder because of thinking like Windows users and wanting one big explorer Window instead
    • Not getting Spotlight
    • Not closing apps but just their windows so the dock keeps filling up

Well to the three of you that are still listening and haven’t gone into a coma this was such a long show, I guess it’s time to call it a night…or maybe it’s morning for you! Please keep up all the fantastic emails, I really love to hear from you. Sent comments, suggestions, and all of dumb questions to [email protected], and if you’re of the Twitter persuasion follow me at twitter.com/podfeet. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.

10 thoughts on “#207 All Things Digital

  1. Chris - June 2, 2009

    Loved the show. I had never heard of the All Things Digital and the topics were really interesting and your recap got me to the D7 website to check out some of the video features.

    As I was listening to the show, I paused when you said: “[Google and Firefox] cooperate on geo-location which is a feature coming out in [Firefox] 3.5 because the backend of that service is from Google, and Firefox will be the first browser to ship with it.” I paused because of your use of the word “ship.” You could have easily used the word “release” and it doesn’t really matter, but it got me to thinking… Do web browser companies still, or did they ever, ship (as in send you a CD after purchase) their web browsers? With all the downloading we do, updates, etc. I wouldn’t think it would make sense to ship/make a CD of a browser anymore, but does it have applications? Maybe a really dumb question for dumb question corner. Actually, I found a Firefox 3 CD for sale at the Mozilla store: http://store.mozilla.org/product.php?code=14%2093124&catid=1

    Why? Why would you buy a CD of Firefox when you can get the most update version for free? A keepsake…a memento? To fall back on for older computers?

    As always, love the show.

  2. debbie T - June 2, 2009

    Oh what a fun and awesome show. I really was sorry to hear it end! I can’t believe you were so cavalier about meeting Martha Stewart. LOL

    You really had a great couple of days!

    Loved the show!!!!! and I loved Bart too

  3. BJ Wanlund - June 3, 2009

    Wow, you got to meet Martha?? Cool! If I ever met her, I’d talk about food and maybe swap a few recipes.

    And Woz just has a fantastic sense of humor, doesn’t he??

    Great show, tho I tuned out about the time you talked about Ballmer. Talk about a mean guy…

    I will most definitely be watching the ustream next week, since I’m now ensconsced in my new place with actual Internet!! 😀


  4. Sandy Foster - June 16, 2009

    Hi Allison,

    I was just listening to your podcast on the All Things Digital conference and noted that you thought “girly” equipment was a waste. Nope; I have to differ with you on that. A pink mouse or something similar has definite value — in keeping my husband from “borrowing” my stuff!


  5. podfeet - June 17, 2009

    Oh…my…gosh Sandy! That is SUCH a great point, I didn’t even think of that! Steve keeps stealing my Firewire 400/800 adapter even though I bought him his own – I should have bought a pink one!!!

  6. Sandy Foster - June 17, 2009

    I rest my case. 😉 Thanks for a great podcast, Allison!

  7. vextmax - June 2, 2010

    where can I buy one of those fancy red chairs !! ??

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