Thursday, June 21, 2007

Finder For Windows in our lifetime

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When Apple changed it's name to Apple Inc., it wasn't only celebrating it's victory over Apple Records and the Beatles, it was branding itself as more than a product; rather a philosophy. Apple enthusiasts have been talking the Apple way and "Think Different" for a long time, of course. Apple products are well known for being easy to use and understand.

Apple came out with the iPod and for the first time successfully extended its brand of computers. The Newton was a failure because it was too complex to understand and too difficult to use. At the time, I thought the iPod was a joke. I had a Nomad Jukebox which easily worked with Mac and PC, had replaceable rechargeable batteries, and easily fit into existing CD cases. The iPod was overpriced, less powerful, and less compatible. I was wrong because it wasn't about how functional it was, but how people felt about it. It was the same concept of the disposable camera: more expensive than buying film but easy to use.

With the iPhone, I still believe it is an inferior product. I said at MacWorld, and I'll say it again, the first virus in the "wild" that self-replicates and installs without requiring the user's password will be via the iPhone. The iPhone will be popular, highly configurable...and to be easy to use, bypassing much of the Mac's security. In addition, I don't want my phone to crash, because my cell phone company already makes my phone frustrating by dropping calls all the time. You thought the screen of the Nano was susceptible to scratches...just wait to people start abusing their phones. Of course, with the iPhone, the scratches won't just be aesthetically displeasing, but the phone will cease to work.

That being said, I think the iPhone will be successful. The iPod and iMac are now brother and sister, made from the same genetic stock with common traits. iTunes is the glue that holds these two products together and extends the reach of Apple. At WWDC, Apple made it clear that even the Leopard operating system will be more like an iPod and iPhone, using the visual and stylistic elements common to all three. It will be a short matter of time, before the touch screen features of the iPhone extend to an iPod and then to an iMac. The ability to shift from portrait to landscape mode on the monitor will also be a common element.

In the near future, the difference between an iPhone, iMac, and a iPod will simply be the software it runs. Learning one product will instantly make you an expert on all the others. This is a common user experience in other walks of life. Even if you've never been to someone's home, you generally know that hot water is on the left and cold water is on the right. If you drive a Toyota Corolla you have a pretty good idea where the key features on a Toyota Camry are.

To further extend this common experience, Apple is creating more software for Windows to train the next generation of Mac users. Already, a user of iTunes instantly understands how to use iTunes for the Mac. They then extend that experience to iPhoto and iDVD. The minute they actually use a Mac, they have a better experience because the iTunes philosophy and experience is becoming more and more a part of the operating system. The first time a majority of Mac users heard the term library to refer to a collection of information on their Mac was via iTunes.

Boot Camp for the first time was Apple saying, "If you can't beat them join them." If people insist on running Windows, we are going to do a better job of it than Microsoft does. We are going to create a Windows experience better than Microsoft can deliver: the ability to run Windows software on your Mac. Now the best machine to run Windows is Mac.

Safari is a further extension of this philosophy and a risky one at that. Their plan could fail if Safari doesn't create the cult following of Firefox. Internet Explorer is lousy, we know that. Netscape is the Woolworth's of browsers---simply couldn't compete though people use it for nostalgia value. Safari will have to be significantly better than Firefox to win Windows users over. I personally don't think it's going to happen. Safari on Windows is still Windows, and whether it's Apple's fault or Microsoft fault Safari crashed, people will blame Safari and it will hurt Apple's brand image. People will still buy iPods, but won't look at the Mac with reverence and awe and will view it as another computer susceptible to the same problems Windows users have. If Safari is lousy on the PC, then it's lousy on the Mac...and therefore because the Mac relies on Safari, their Mac will suffer crashes just as often as a PC. It won't, but the perception will still be there from Windows Safari users.

However, if Safari is successful on the PC, I firmly believe Apple will extend their reach to the ultimate on the PC: Finder for the PC. Then Apple will truly have it's cake and eat it too. Unsuccessful, and they'll be caught with pie on their face.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Remote Control Made Easy and Inexpensive

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"Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Reach out, call up and just say hi. Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Wherever you are, you're never too far." Sure, I'm dating myself, but that jingle has always been stuck in my head. This was the slogan of the old AT&T of 1979. Of course, since that time, AT&T was broken up, and then merged together yet again. Instant Messaging and Texting have replaced picking up the phone. However the desire to reach across the miles still remains, and anyone who has tried to provide or receive technical support over the phone knows how inadequate voice can be to communicate technical problems.

Remote control software has existed for years and programs such as Timbuktu Pro and VNC are almost as old as the AT&T jingle. The problem with those applications, though, is that you need to install a program to run them, configure it for access, and possibly configure your router and firewall to allow the program to pass through. These programs are not designed for the casual remote user because they require the person you are "reaching out to" to install and configure the software in advance. That's great for consultants or helpdesks, but what if you just want to help a friend configure their email or help them do a mail merge?

MacHelpMate allows an easy download to provide remote assistance to your friends, among a laundry list of other great features to remotely fix a computer. It works great, but it's designed for consultants and costs about $600 a year. For that price, have your friend fly you out to help. CoPilot, by Fog Creek Software, is unique because it requires a simple download in order to help a friend out and it costs $5.00 for a 24 hour "day pass". Best of all, CoPilot allows your friend to pay for it. Your friend is already getting free advice, so make them pay the cost of a venti mocha in order to help you out. With gas prices the way they are today, it's cheaper to help remotely than drive half way across town.

The software is a bit slow and depends on the speed of the Internet connection, but it really does work. I've tried it numerous times, both from Mac to Mac and Mac to PC. PC to PC allows the fastest connection and more features, though really don't PC users need lots of help? All your friend needs to do is click on a link in an email. That will download the "host" application and you'll need to download a "helper" application for your end. Double click the applications on both ends and you are magically in control of their computer. When done, you and your friend can trash the applications knowing that nobody can secretly get into your computer later. I particularly like this option, since almost any other remote control option requires you to leave software on your computer--which can expose your computer to threats by hackers.

For computer professionals, Copilot offers a monthly subscription option that starts at 200 minutes for $20.00 a month. They don't lock you into a subscription either, you can change your mind later and either upgrade or downgrade your plan as your needs change. I wonder if they offer a cell phone plan? Darn, still have that jingle on my brain! Seriously though, this company sets the bar incredibly high for customer service. Check out the owner's blog on customer service and Fog Creek's hassle free return policy: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html

CoPilot is the perfect software to instantly help your friends and family remotely at little or no cost to you. Support professionals will love the fact you can save money with a subscription that doesn't lock you into a yearly fee. Best of all, if it doesn't work, they'll refund your money.

Pros: Works instantly without a subscription or configuration at the remote end
Cons: Could be faster