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Tech Support – the HP Way

Reading this gem (hat tip: Ben Casnocha) about the nightmare of trying to get HP support their PC’s reminded me of my own horror story. Actually, not horror – just comedy.

Anyway… yeah, I was weak, fell for the good deal at Costco, and got myself a Vista-loaded junk from HP. There’s one component that shines – literally: the display. 22 inches of shiny black beauty, sharp screen, it tilts and moves around in every imaginable way, even pivots for a vertical view. But there was a little glitch with pivoting: I had to lie down to read the screen. There was no way to get the screen image rotate – something that should happen automatically.

I’ll spare you the first 20 minutes or so of the online chat with HP support, let’ s just jump to where it got really interesting:

Support: You probably have a video card that does not support auto-pivoting.

Me: That’s not possible. I did not build this machine, it’s a standard HP system out-of-the-box.

Support: I don’t understand.

Stop. Take a deep breath. This is just hilarious. Rather than trying to find the answer, the easy way out is to claim a standard configuration HP is selling consists of a mismatched video card and monitor.smile_angry She has absolutely no idea how she is damaging the brand. Oh, well, let’s get a supervisor … wait .. disconnect.

Btw, “disconnecting” appears to be a standard HP solution to support issues: I’m still waiting for this other fellow to “gather all information” to my email over a month ago. Perhaps he’ll figure it out by the time I dump this PC. smile_sad

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Bloglines Has Become a SPAM Engine

Hello, Fellow Bloglines user … has recommended the following blogs. You can choose to add some or all of these blogs to your Bloglines account

Does this email look like spam to you? It certainly does to me. Oh, well, let’s quickly check my Bloglines profile to turn recommendations off… oops.. I can’t. This is definitely SPAM.

In my two years of using Bloglines I’ve never seen this before. In fact all I have there is a dormant account that I haven’t logged into for a long time – so I certainly could not have opted in to this program. I guess Bloglines “volunteered me”. smile_angry

Is Bloglines so fed up losing market share to Google Reader that they think spamming will win users back? This can only backfire – btw, Gmail’s spam filter is pretty good, so this is the last junk mail I received from Bloglines. But so far I haven’t activeley disliked Bloglines – now I do. Not a good deal for Bloglines, if you ask me.

Oh, and while I’m at it: all those Plaxo Pulse invitations from unknown people are also spam. They just don’t learn.smile_sniff

Update (11/18): It’s worse than I thought: I received the same spam to another email account which Bloglines should not even be aware of – not unless they deep scan old blog posts for buried mailto links.

Update (12/4): Tom Raftery is also fed up with Plaxo spam.

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EverNote Free Giveaway Only Today

EverNote was my favorite notetaker for several years – now I have a love and hate relationship with it. Why?

The love part is easy to understand; it’s a handy, easy-to-use notetaker, which I preferred to the comparable Microsoft OneNote, and the $0 price is quite unbeatable. (I did not need handwriting, so I used the free “light” version).

The hate part: it really did not fit into strategy of moving off the desktop into the Cloud.

In fact it was the only application that broke my sync efforts between two laptops using FolderShare: if EverNote was loaded at bootup (which is the best way to use it), it “renewed” it’s data file even on the PC I was not actively using, and FolderShare would attempt to overwrite my good working copy with an older one (which however had a newer time stamp). Eventually I just got sick of it and stopped using EverNote.

Ideally I would need an online/offline note-taker, and I really don’t care if it’s a web-based product with offline capabilities or a client product with sync to the Web. Last year EverNote received $6M funding and was expected to release the web-enabled version in a few months. A year later than predicted, but here’s a new version, but from what I can see without the Web capabilities. That said, it is still a good – perhaps the best – offline notetaker, and if that’s what you want, then today is the day to download it: The $50 full version is available free, only today.

Installation is a bit confusing: first you unzip a file, click “setup” only to find it unpacks yet another set of files, then you can click the real install file. Before you get to install the program, you somehow find yourself connected to giveawayoftheday.com which will tell you your program is now activated. Whether that’s the case or not I don’t know; after installation there is no way to tell if my program is registered or not, there is, however a “purchase” link… not very promising, but let’s hope. You will know in 60 days, when some features either de-activate or not. Confusion aside, you should perform the installation today, as somewhere along the process I saw a warning that the install, not just the download has to complete within the promotional period (today).

As for the Foldershare / Sync problem, here’s a good workaround. Happy note-taking!

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Email is Still Not Dead

Yet-another-email-is-dead-article, this time on Slate. It’s the same old argument: teenagers using IM, or increasingly SMS, and most recently Facebook instead of email which they find cumbersome, slow and unreliable – hence email usage will decline.

I beg to disagree. Sure, I also get frustrated by the occasional rapid-fire exchange of one-line emails when by the 15th round we both realize the conversation should have started on IM. Most of teenagers’ interaction is social, immediate, and SMS works perfectly well in those situations. However, we all enter business, get a job..etc sooner or later, like it or not…smile_wink Our communication style changes along with that – often requiring a build-up of logical structure, sequence, or simply a written record of facts, and email is vital for this type of communication.

Email in business is being “attacked” from another direction though: for project teams, planning activity, collaboratively designing a document, staging an event… etc email is a real wasteful medium. Or should I say, it’s the perfect place for information to get buried. This type of communication is most effective using a wiki. No, email is not dead, and it won’t be any time soon. But we all have to learn to use the right tool in the right situation. As usual, Rod Boothby says it better in a single chart:

(The above post is an almost verbatim reprint of an older one from July 2006. I rarely re-post old stuff, but in this case I felt it was still a valid point. And it still will be, next year when someone declares email dead again. smile_tongue)

Related posts: mathewingram.com/work, Techdirt, Fractals of Change, Don Dodge, WebProNews, Thomas Hawk’s Digital …, Andrew Hyde and This is going to be BIG., Rev2.org, CrunchGear, A VC , Good Morning Silicon Valley, Socialtext Enterprise … , Between the Lines, Publishing 2.0, Jonathan Nolen

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Zoho Suite Gaining Muscle

If you follow the online productivity / collaboration market, you’ve probably noticed that Zoho, the company that earned their fame releasing new products at breakneck speed is slowing down. But are they, really?

I think they are just going through adolescence – you know, the stage when you can grow muscles fast. smile_wink They’ve been silently updating several of their products in the past months. Today’s Writer update includes support for pagination, headers, footers and spell checking in 43 (!) languages. Incidentally, some of these are the very features the Burton group listed as missing from Google Apps in their recent report titled “Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?” The original report is 55 pages long, but here’s the InfoWorld summary:

Microsoft Office has a huge lead in features over Google Apps, the Burton Group says, giving these examples:

– Documents: “Google Docs does not support a table of contents, headers, footers, automatic creation of footnotes or end notes.” …

Although the Burton report focused specifically on GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition), it could be construed as criticism of the the web office market in general. Well, with today’s updates Zoho Writer meets all the Burton Group “requirements”. In fact, Zoho delivers most of what the Burton study considered missing features outside Documents, in the areas of spreadsheet(Sheet), presentation (Show), custom business applications (Zoho DB & Creator) , web conferencing (Zoho Meeting), and wikis (Zoho Wiki).

Several of the above services received updates in the past month – sometimes announced, other times silently appearing, without further ado. In fact that’s an obvious benefit of using web applications: the enhancements are simply available, without the need to apply annoying patches (I could go on listing failed client-side updates from Microsoft, Macromedia, Adobe.. you name it). Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu explained his views on updates vs. new products recently. He is obsessed about eventually delivering the “perfect” web applications that fully stand up to Microsoft Office, and recognizes the limitations these services have today.

Frankly, I think he is a perfectionistsmile_wink and perhaps would not even need to go all the way…after all, the point in web applications isn’t simply to replicate the offline experience. Moving applications to the web opens new dimensions, namely mobility and easy, native collaboration. Today’s Writer updates are important, because in our legacy world the challenger is measured against the standards of the incumbent. But Microsoft Office was created at a time when the purpose of document creation was to eventually print it. In the 90′s we thought we’d reach the dream of “paperless office” only to see paper-consumption grow dramatically. (Secretary prints email, faxes it to boss, who makes hand notations, faxes it back for secretary to type again…smile_angry). Today, in the age of better online collaboration (that you can NOT manage on paper) and ergonomic large screens, who prints anymore?

So while I recognize the importance of layout-oriented features (user acceptance), the real value to me is in real-time collaboration (co-editing), version control and restore, embedded chat, web-conferencing, linking, linking and linking – the things that make web documents live. On a side-note, this is why I am surprised that the latest Web Word Processor entrant, Buzzword, beautiful as it is, does not support entering URL’s and real-time co-editing: those omissions defeat the purpose of being on the web.

By the same logic I find Box.net’s Openbox a significant move: it allows to store one’s files online, while making it really easy to use a range of services, initially including Autodesk, Echosign, eFax, Myxer, Picnik, Scribd, Snipshot, Thinkfree, Twitter, Zazzle and Zoho on those files. There will be users who prefer the All-in-one concept, and they will likely settle on Google (bigger brand) or Zoho (more and better apps), but others will prefer picking their individual services, and for those Openbox is a good platform. Choice is good.

Related posts: Wired, CenterNetworks, Mashable, web 2.0 weblog, Zoho Blogs.

Update (10/17):  Google Docs added footnote support.

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The Enterprise Irregulars Button Up

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.. so I’ll save you the agony of reading through 3000 words, let the photos speak for themselves:

The Enterprise Irregulars with SAP Board Member Peter Zencke

The Enterprise Irregulars with SAP CEO Henning Kagermann

The Enterprise Irregulars with Oracle President Charles Phillips

Do you see what I see? Is there a trend here? I defer further analysis to our in-house fashionistas. smile_shades

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Windows “Live” Foldershare Dead For a Week

Foldershare is a very handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – when it does.

Although the actual synchronization process is P2P, in fact in a local network your data typically stays behind the firewall throughout the entire process, Foldershare needs to log in to their servers to read your configuration data. And that’s where the process often dies. So far it hasn’t bothered me though, sometimes Foldershare could not log in, but I could safely rely on it getting through in a few hours and catching up with synchronization.

Now it’s been dead for days, which is really bad, as it has become a key part of my infrastructure: I sync three computers using Foldershare, and run Mozy to create online backups on one. With these types of services it’s all about trust: you don’t actively use them, check them daily, you just trust that they are there, doing their job in the background. When they don’t you’re in trouble, since you don’t know what fell out of sync. There goes the trust, quickly.

Foldershare was acquired two years ago by Microsoft, and it’s now branded as part of the “Live” services. A brand that turns into pure irony when it comes to a dead service. smile_sad

Update: there’s now an announcement on the FolderShare site. Thanks, Chris, for the pointer.

newsNovember 12, 2007

Windows Live FolderShare experienced a few technical difficulties over the weekend. The service is functioning normally now but it may take a while for all clients to reconnect. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.

Update (11/16): The above announcement turned out to be optimistic – that much is obvious just reading the comments below. As of today, FolderShare is completely down, with this status message:

Nov 16, 3:00PM PST
Windows Live FolderShare is being taken offline for maintenance.
The service will be resumed in the next 48 hours.
Thank you for your patience.
FolderShare Team.

I keep my fingers crossed.. and if it really works in 48 hours – well than it only took Microsoft a week to fix a so-called “Live” service. smile_angry

Update (12/11): FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – on TechCrunch

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Improving Customer Service

Jeff Nolan rants about his bad experience with Frontier and United Airlines. Nothing new there, we all have our own horror stories. (My “favorite” one is the Christmas flight to Los Cabos, which was supposed to be a 3-hour quickie and became a day-and-a-half nightmare by way of Phoenix, airport motel..etc, courtesy of Alaska Airlines.)

The reason why this rant is quote-worthy is that Jeff moves on, and comes up with some creative ideas to improve customer service.

This led me to highlight a couple of things I could wish to inflict on United:

1) United CEO Glenn Tilton has to give up his private jet and fly around the country on scheduled flights in the last row of the airplane, next to the lavatory.

2) United’s top 500 executives will get dispersed around the country to different airports for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to work the baggage handler, mechanic, cleaning crew, customer service, gate agent, and flight attendant jobs. Everyone works a new job each day until they rotate through all of them.

3) United’s top 500 executives have to greet passengers in the terminal at O’Hare, Denver, SFO, and Dulles airports one day a week until their customer service ranking moves from last to the top 3.

4) Lastly, and this one is serious, Tilton and the other execs have to personally call 5 customers a day to apologize for their shitty airline.

I love these ideas, and seriously, they would work. If United Management cared to improve service, that is… smile_sad

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The Real Meaning of Red-Eye Flights

In my early years (ahhh..) I actually preferred red-eye flights, as a time-saver; nowadays I refuse to fly them. But it wasn’t until today that I found out what flying a red-eye really means:

Two commercial pilots allegedly fell asleep on a flight between Baltimore and Denver, with one pilot waking up to “frantic” calls from air traffic controllers warning them they were approaching the airport at twice the speed allowed.

(full story on MSNBC; hat tip: Kevin McDonald)

Vinnie, time to re-consider travel plans? smile_omg

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Reading (Rod) Between the Lines

Rod Boothby posted his thoughts about mashup startup Teqlo’s demise, ending with a personal note:

What’s next for me? I have very luckily landed on my feet. I’ll blog about that next.

We did not have to wait long to find out – not if we read between the lines.. the sidebar, to be exact. There’s a not-so-subtle hint there: Rod probably joined Joyent.

I guess I should wait for the announcement…but, hey, who cares, congrat’s Rod! smile_regular

Update (11/12): It’s official: Rod is the new VP Platform Evangelism at Joyent. Congrat’s, again.martini