I previously wrote that open source freedom helped me choose Western Digital’s MyBook World Edition (MBWE) over Apple’s Time Capsule as our home backup solution.  I hadn’t considered the value of open source freedom to Western Digital’s product planning process.
I initially selected the MBWE over the Apple Time Capsule, even at a $30 price premium, with the following justification:

“…since MBWE is running a Linux kernel, the ability to add functionality to the device was almost limitless. There’s a strong community of MBWE users that have everything from BitTorrent clients, to PHP, to a PBX running on MBWE devices.”

Just after I wrote the post I decided to check for a firmware upgrade.  Lo and behold, the MBWE firmware now supports Time Machine and an open source BitTorrent client.  These two features were top of my ‘wish list’ with the MBWE.

Then it hit me.  Western Digital is reading my mind, and maybe my email.  Well, maybe not.  But they are absolutely learning from MBWE users and adding features to the supported firmware that advanced users have added to their customized MBWE devices.  Reading the MBWE forums as I have for the past 3 months, Time Machine and BitTorrent clients are very popular customizations to the MBWE.  Before Western Digital added ssh access to the MBWE, it too was a popular advanced user customization to the MBWE.  I differentiate between advanced users and typical users.  Unlike typical users, advanced users tinker with products and tailor the product to their own needs. Western Digital is smartly looking at the customizations that advanced users seek and offering these customizations within the base product. User actions trump user surveys in product and feature roadmap discussions.  A typical user may not have gone through the effort, nor had the technical wherewithal, to install a BitTorrent client on their MBWE.  But the typical user is likely very happy to see it as a feature in the MBWE firmware.

I’m convinced that consumer electronics vendors have much to gain from using and exposing open source within their products. Sure, there’s a risk that another vendor could repurpose the open source software to build a competing consumer product.  Considering how tightly integrated and optimized the software and hardware is in a consumer electronics device, access to the software alone isn’t a compelling competitive issue.

I’ve previously argued that consumer device manufactures should open source their firmware.  As a very happy MBWE customer, I’d reiterate this call.  And remember, I paid a price premium over an Apple product for the MBWE.  I’d happily do so again and highly recommended the MBWE.

Kudos to Western Digital for using open source to offer user freedom, a great user experience and value for (my) money, whilst serving Western Digital’s own profit motivations.  A win-win, enabled by open source software.

P.S. My only issue with the MBWE is the network transfer speed, in the 15-20 megabyte  per second range, pale in comparison to the 125 megabyte per second theoretical speed of the advertised Gigabit network adapter. The speed is however faster than the 10-12 megabyte per second I achieved with the Gigabit-rated Apple Time Capsule on the same Cat5e Ethernet home network.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

P.P.S.: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

But follow the niche alpha geek adoption carefully.

As with anything Google does, opinion ranges from revolutionary to lackluster.  Personally, I think it’s too early to tell.  More importantly, I think the success of Chrome OS won’t be based on the success of version 1.0.  Google has the uncanny ability to generate and maintain interest even in the face of negative initial reviews.

Chrome OS will be limited to netbooks, and more importantly, new netbooks that Google approves. Chrome OS is theoretically competition for Windows and Linux which represent approximately 80% and 20% of the operating system market for netbooks.  But Windows and Linux on netbooks allow a degree of user freedom that Chrome OS doesn’t.  Users can store files, be it pictures, songs, videos, spreadsheets, etc. on the netbook.  These files can be loaded, edited and saved with or without a network connection.  Chrome OS on the other hand, requires a network connection to access user files which are stored in the Google cloud.  This will be an impediment to Chrome OS adoption by average netbook consumers.  Rational or not, the fear of needing to get at files “in the cloud” but not having a Wifi/3G connection will diminish the allure of a netbook that starts in under 7 seconds to regular users.

On the other hand, geeks will be chomping at the bits to pick up a Chrome OS netbook to try out during the 2010 holiday season.  Yes, the “geek” audience is without a doubt a niche market.  So it’s easy for Microsoft or Apple to write off Chrome OS.  But that’s a mistake. As John Gruber wrote in his excellent piece, “Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline“:

“People who love computers overwhelmingly prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.”

Microsoft’s losses to Apple aren’t based on “regular people” choosing the Mac.  Rather, these “regular people” were encouraged to do so by the geeks in their lives who had made the switch to a Mac years ago.  Consumer technology vendors can ignore the alpha geek niche at their peril.

Truer words of caution couldn’t be said to Apple, Microsoft and Linux desktop vendors in the face of Google Chrome OS.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

My wife recently replaced her Thinkpad T40 with a MacBook Pro (MBP). To save me time in the future, when a crash or data loss occurs, I decided to get Time Machine and SuperDuper! set up on a Western Digital Passport USB drive (I love those passport drives!).  The problem with this setup was that it relied on her plugging in the USB drive into the MBP on a regular schedule.  The solution was to set up some network attached storage (NAS) on our home network.

I quickly settled on two options.  Apple’s 1TB Time Capsule or a combination of a Western Digital MyBook World Edition (MBWE) and Linksys Gigabit N. In terms of backup, storage and network connectivity, the MBWE plus Linksys router provided equivalent function to Time Capsule.

What to do?

Time Capsule was $30 cheaper than the MBWE plus Linksys router option.  However, since MBWE is running a Linux kernel, the ability to add functionality to the device was almost limitless.  There’s a strong community of MBWE users that have everything from BitTorrent clients, to PHP, to a PBX running on MBWE devices. Even out of the box, the MBWE provided more functionality than Time Capsule, such as a Media Server. These “extra” features that the MBWE provides out of the box versus Time Capsule were not features I’d originally considered part of the purchase decision. But when I learned about them, I tried to figure out if I could add these to capabilities to Time Capsule. While Time Capsule runs a stripped down FreeBSD, it seems that the code is loaded onto a chip and is not modifiable.

While both Time Capsule and MBWE are built off an open source kernel, the user freedom afforded by the two products are vastly different. Time Capsule is not meant to be tinkered with. MBWE is arguably not meant to be tinkered with either, but Western Digital knows that their customers are doing so, and is making it easier to get more out of the device than the functions the device ships with. For instance, the old version of MBWE did not support SSH access to the device out of the box. But since that was the first thing that MBWE users built a hack for, Western Digital smartly responded by adding this function in the new version of the device.

I struggled with the choice. Using Time Capsule meant that Time Capsule and SuperDuper! just worked with the MBP.  On the other hand, there were a few system tweaks I’d have to make to get Time Capsule and SuperDuper! working with the MBWE and the MBP.

In the end, I went with the MBWE solution over Time Capsule. I liked the extra function and ability to add yet more by choosing MBWE over Time Capsule. To me, the freedom, in open source terms, that MBWE delivered was well worth the extra cost and effort to set up.

What do you think? Good choice?

The recent news that the Google Voice iPhone application has been blocked from the iTunes App Store has created quite the stir.

Readers are somewhat correct to suggest that this move is more likely driven by AT&T than by Apple itself.  However, keep in mind that Google Voice aims to insulate the user experience from the underlying phone.  While the iPhone is much more than a phone, if Google is successful in owning the phone-related experience on the iPhone, Apple loses a core value proposition of the device.  This is why I don’t buy the fact that AT&T is wholly to blame for the Apple decision.  I can’t understand how Apple doesn’t have the bargaining position versus AT&T to act on behalf of Apple customers.  Apple does.  This decision helps protect AT&T’s and Apple’s value proposition to users.  Apple acted out of self interest.  I can’t blame them since Apple is not a charity.  But Apple users, and others, should take note and adjust their purchase behavior and legal oversight accordingly, if at all.

Apple pulled Google Voice-enabled applications from the App Store because they “duplicate features that come with the iPhone”.  The fact that Apple can limit the types of applications available to iPod/iPhone users on the basis of duplicate features that Apple provides or will provide in the future, GPS navigation an example of the latter, is mind boggling.  Can you imagine Microsoft not allowing Firefox, Opera or Safari on Windows computers citing the fact that these products duplicate features that come with Windows? Say what you will about Microsoft’s competitive practices, but excluding an application on the basis of providing a similar capability seems awkward in the software industry where there are 42 different ways of achieving anything.

The fact that Apple owns the platform gives it a leg up on any third party applications that may be available before or after Apple decides to add similar functionality.  If this isn’t enough to win versus the third party application, then the Apple product/feature deserves to lose out to the third party application.

To be fair, I find it equally surprising that the RIM BlackBerry App World doesn’t include applications such as Google Maps for Blackberry.  Google Maps is much easier to use than RIM’s BlackBerry Maps.  But since I can get the application directly from m.google.com and there are no limitations on what I can install on my BlackBerry, I don’t much care about the absence of Google Maps from BlackBerry App World.  Since there is only one legal way to install applications to the iPod/iPhone, it really does matter when Apple restricts the applications a user is able to download and use.

Where is the government oversight of Apple’s App Store and iPod/iPhone application development practices?  I care far less about IE integration with Windows than what applications I can run on my phone. My BlackBerry phone has quickly becoming the device I can’t live without; my laptop is well behind my Tivo/PVR.

PS: I don’t own an Apple product, but my wife loves her MBP and iPod Touch, both of which I play with from time to time.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PPS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Here’s a BusinessWeek article about how “Microsoft is Fighting Back (Finally)”.  The most interesting part is about Microsoft’s new “Windows Anytime Upgrade” strategy. Here are some details:

“Because of the smaller size of Windows 7, three versions of the program will come loaded even on lower-end machines. If a consumer on a cheaper PC running the “Standard” version tries to use a high-definition monitor or run more than three software programs at once, he’ll discover that neither is possible. Then he’ll be prompted to upgrade to the pricier “Home Premium” or “Ultimate” version.

Microsoft says the process will be simple. Customers enter their credit-card information, then a 25-character code, make a few keystrokes, then reboot. Brooks says pricing hasn’t been determined, but upgrading “will cost less than a night out for four at a pizza restaurant.””

After reading this, I instantly thought about Cote excellent post titled “The Return of Paying for Software” from last summer.  Cote wrote:

“When it comes to making money with software, the iPhone App Store is the glossiest example of trend I feel creeping up on us: people paying for software.

Yes, people have been paying for software forever, but the expectations for most consumer software of late has been that it’s free.

The change here is an environment where people will spend $0.99 to $20 for a piece of software. I often comment that this user-mentality – spending small amounts of cash on software – exists in the OS X world, but it’s been lacking from others.”

While I initially balked at the thought of a popup window with: “Hey, it looks like you can afford a high definition monitor, so why not get the most out of it with Windows 7 Home Premium, for an low price of $19.99?”, I’m willing to give this idea the benefit of the doubt.  This recent NYT article (via Cote – that man is Gold!) explains the success of an iPod/iPhone game called iShoot, and is a reason behind my openness to the Windows Anytime Upgrade strategy:

“In January, he released a free version of the game with fewer features, hoping to spark sales of the paid version. It worked: iShoot Lite has been downloaded more than 2 million times, and many people have upgraded to the paid version, which now costs $2.99. On its peak day — Jan. 11 — iShoot sold nearly 17,000 copies, which meant a $35,000 day’s take for Mr. Nicholas.”

Consumers are getting accustomed to acquiring software for instantaneous incremental gratification.  The consumer gets some value off the bat, but is faced with a purchase decision to get incremental value.  When the consumer decides to follow through with the transaction, the gratification is instantaneous, not tomorrow in the mail or through a 4hr download.  With the Windows Anytime Upgrade strategy, consumers would get some value off the bat.  Upon hitting a feature/function wall, a purchase decision would be presented.  And if the consumer chooses to transact with Microsoft, it seems that the incremental value would be provided on the spot, without having to download or acquire and install another DVD’s worth of an OS.

Seems like an interesting strategy that’s much closer aligned to how consumers pay for software today.  Maybe an unexpected outcome of Apple’s App Store strategy is to educate consumers ahead of Microsoft’s Anytime Upgrade strategy.

I thought I had a novel idea when I told a friend this weekend that Sun & Apple could make an interesting pair.  However, it seems that this isn’t a novel idea after all.  In 2006 it was reported that Sun had tried to acquire Apple once and considered a merger with Apple on two other occasions.

How the times have changed.  Apple, now with a 25x higher market capitalization than Sun, would be in a slightly different bargaining position.

Sun is trading at ~$3B, which is slightly above their cash and near cash balance of $2.6B. The likelihood of Sun making it through this global recession as a standalone company is, frankly, not a sure bet.  So who would make for a good suitor?  Apple, HP, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Red Hat (merger?) come to mind.

Of these, I think Apple is most interesting (maybe not the best fit, but most interesting).

Both vendors have deep experience in hardware at different ends of the product spectrum.  As such, there would be minimal real overlap across product families.  Sun’s Systems business (servers & storage) would be a great way for Apple to get deeper into the enterprise.

While both vendors offer premium priced products, it’s arguable how much longer Sun brand can uphold the premium.  However, take one of those Sun boxes, slap an Apple logo on it, along with Apple’s styling, and that premium looks to be in tact.

Sun has a strong developer following, while (the cool crowd of) developers love using Apple products during development.  To me, Sun’s developer following is Sun’s single most valuable asset.  Sun gets developer love like no other company I’ve seen (well, except Apple, but the love is more general than simply developers).  Any company considering acquiring Sun needs to have street credibility with these developers or risk losing the most valuable part of a Sun acquisition.

Oh and there may be the minor issue of Apple’s proprietary software strategy vs. Sun’s open source software strategy. ;-)

What do you think?

A friend sent me this link comparing revenue, profit, and cash positions for Microsoft and Apple. I almost fell off my chair when reading this data from Microsoft’s and Apple’s most recent quarterly filing:

Category Microsoft Apple AAPL / MSFT
Revenue $15.06B $11.68B 78%
Net Profit $4.37B $2.44B 56%
Cash & Equivalents Balance $20.7B $24.5B 118%

Seriously, when did this happen??? I mean, I knew Apple was doing well, but I’d taken the time to compare their financials versus Microsoft. Wow. Nice work Team Apple!

Next, via Matt Asay, Gizmodo is reporting that the new MacBooks will prevent Jailbroken iPhone and iPod devices. It seems that the culprit is a new build of iTunes for the new MacBooks. Things work fine on a Windows machine. A gizmodo commenter writes:

“While I don’t like it, I can see why Apple tries to prevent Jailbreaking and Unlocking. Unlocking hurts them in the pocket and they are in the business of making money, after all. Jailbreaking opens up the possibility of piracy of App Store apps, this is just their way of trying to prevent piracy. It’s no different from firmware updates for game consoles that break previous hacking techniques.”

It always surprises me how Apple and Microsoft can make the exact same move and Microsoft will attract criticism, while Apple will attract praise. Part of this is because Apple’s products really are sexy and fun to use. Sure. But the response is also driven by folks pulling for “the little guy”.  However, in the Apple vs. Microsoft fight, two things have changed. First, Apple isn’t in the same fight that Microsoft thinks it is in. Apple is more like Sony than it is like Microsoft. Yet, Microsoft competes with Apple like Apple is, well, your dad’s Apple. Second, while many of us were looking elsewhere, Apple isn’t “the little guy” anymore.