Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Did the chicken come first or the egg?

Configuration Management (CM) must be implemented before Change Management (ChM)?
  • A Yes
  • B No
  • C Maybe

While preparing for the ITIL Foundation Certificate exam this was one question I was stuck for a long time. The intuitive answer seems to be 'Yes', because if you don't know what you have how do you know it has changed? This is not a blanket statement, of course a change from Solaris to Linux in the enterprise is perceptible and can be assessed without a CM process in place. However, how do you measure if all the Solaris libraries, packages, etc have been ported to Linux without having a CMDB that holds information about the low-level modules? So to truly manage low-level infrastructure and control its change through ChM CM must be implemented. Right? Wait, but who specifies the order of ITIL process implementations? I didn't come across any suggested implementation guidelines during my study, as far as I had learnt ITIL was a collection of best practices and didn't propose any rigid implementation order for the processes. So the answer must be 'No.' As it turns out the latter reasoning turns out to be the correct one and the correct answer is no. As a side note for those preparing for the exam look out for words such as 'must' or 'should' in the questions, ITIL does not impose the implementation.

To make this interesting...shouldn't ChM exist before everything else because you really want to control everything that gets changed? Shouldn't the CM process and the CMDB be instituted under a controlled environment? I am not sure of what the right sequence of implementation is, in a company where I worked earlier the ChM and Release Management (RM) processes were already in place when I joined and the CM was instituted later. I had a very narrow view of the IT infrastructure through the application I was supporting and I didn't really see the need for the CMDB back then. I can see now how things would have been smoother if the relationships between CIs (applications/modules/libraries) had been documented someplace.

But the question to answer is this, is there really an order in which the ITIL processes should be implemented? If yes, then where are these additional best practices on implementation documented. If no, then is that because there is no 'one size fits all' solution? I am curious to know how other organizations have gone about this, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mapcast...Maps as a podcast

Staying true to my blog name I write this blog at 4:00 AM. I recently went on a road trip with my friends to VA Beach in Virginia and the Outer banks in North Carolina. All my trips were preceded by hours spent analyzing the places on Google Maps followed by at least a thousand pages of directions downloaded from Mapquest (I just prefer the way they outline the directions). Here's my idea. Isn't it possible for Mapquest/Google Maps to convert the directions into a podcast? Its just text to speech after all. I want the ability to download a podcast (nothing more than an MP3 file) that literally tells me the directions. Instead of printing gazillion pages I would prefer to download these map podcasts or mapcasts on my iPod. In fact Mapquest/Google Maps can provide registered users/paid subscribers with movie mapcasts for video iPods. The movies can be animation movies that provide directions with sound. Map providers can insert audio/video ads in the podcast or movies for additional revenue. The ads can in fact be relevant ads about restaurants, or hotels, or places to visit in the users map.

Two Substitutes to this idea:

GPS Devices
GPS devices that can provide real time directions are already out in the market. But a GPS device is a nice to have but not an essential utility for a road trip. At least in my mind. The investment in a GPS device is not justified for people like me who go on trips infrequently. A lot of people need a set of maps to start and end the journey and prefer exploring everything in between on their own. My idea is essentially to replace the needless printouts of maps and directions with podcasts or mapcasts for lack of a better name.

Maps on Cell Phones
Most online map providers allow users to send directions to their cell phones from a web page. In addition users can download directions directly on their cellphone by connecting to the Internet through their cell phone service provider. Both these features are costly or are not free today. The mapcasts is not a replacement for the cell phone service, in fact targeted at a different customer segment. Users who are willing to pay to view directions on their cell phone will continue to do so. This idea is for people who have an iPod or any MP3 player for that matter and as mentioned earlier take printouts of the directions before a journey.

Unfortunately I don't have the technical abilities to create this functionality on my own. If somebody does get inspired by my blog please do let me know. Finally, the best way to sell this idea to users, its better for the environment.

  • I claim this as my idea only after looking on Google Maps and Mapquest. I did not come similar feature(s) on either of the two websites. I don't know of any other websites that provide similar functionality.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Google Fusion - Orkut Whiteboard

Orkut trails MySpace in terms of number of registered users and number of unique visitors. There are many reasons that can be attributed to the phenomenal growth of MySpace as compared to Orkut even though both debuted at roughly the same time. Orkut started as a invitation only social networking website, a restriction not put in place by MySpace on new registrants. Orkut was never really promoted by Google. Google does not overtly promote its products the way Yahoo! does and Orkut never showed up on Google Labs a primary interface for showcasing new ideas. So if you didn't have friends who were on Orkut, you wouldn't even know of its existence let alone register. I joined Orkut about 3 years ago, the website had basic social networking features (photo album, message boards, community), a simple interface that didn't seem to be evolving! If I am not mistaken most new features have been added in the last year. Features that especially stand out are reply to scrap and new scrap notification through GTalk. Someone in Google has finally realized the hidden potential of Social Networking Websites. I am sure more new features are already on drawing boards and keeping people busy.
Here's my contribution. Its not rocket science, just a manifestation of my requirements from Orkut. I don't use MySpace or any other social website for that matter and don't know if they have a similar feature, though I would be surprised if they did.

Orkut Whiteboard
A social networking website is primarily intended to help people stay connected. It brings together people who have similar interests through online groups such as Orkut Communities. The next step is being able to share information with your friends easily and quickly about important and interesting things online. Enter Orkut Whiteboard. User's can exchange information and collaborate online using the whiteboard. Think of the Orkut Whiteboard as a combination of Delicious and Orkut Scrapbook. Here is how I see it being used.
  • It will appear as a link on a user's Orkut home page just like album, lists, and scrapbook.
  • When a user is viewing an item online such as a news link on Google News, a video on YouTube, a text or image search result on Google, or a blog on Blogger they should be able to whiteboard (used as a verb here) the item. Users should be able to link the item on their Orkut whiteboards with comments and tags so that friends can also view them. This is the Delicious part. Friends can then leave comments on the each others whiteboards on what they thought of the link. Think Orkut Scrapbook.
  • Users can scribble thoughts on their whiteboards and notify friends. Or they can leave messages on their whiteboards, such as 'On Vacation' which would otherwise require sending emails or leaving scraps to selected friends.
  • The Google Calendar can be integrated with the Whiteboard and users can mark events on the Whiteboard through the Calendar.
  • Users can link items on their friends whiteboards on their own whiteboards.
Its easy to replicate this feature, after all adding a link to another website is just that...adding a link. YouTube already provides the HTML code to link a video on another web page. The difference is that while other website users will need to copy paste the link on their page, Google users will be able to whiteboard the video directly using a special Orkut Whiteboard button near the video. Similarly users will be able to whiteboard news items on Google News using the same button placed near the news item. This will make the sharing of information easier attracting users. Once the usage increases websites will probably include the Orkut Whiteboard button within their pages just as they have Delicious links. I am not sure if there are trademark implications of using the name Whiteboard. While its an interesting name the name itself is just used as a tool in this blog to put the point across and make it easy to visualize my idea.

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Google Fusion - Introduction

Google at last count has 83 products! This number includes both test-stage and completed products. The uncontrolled growth of products has side effects such as poor integration between the products. For example, till some time back most of Google’s products such as social networking website Orkut, online document editor Writely, Gmail, etc had an independent web presence. Users were required to remember myriad username and passwords making it difficult for them to use the products. The uncontrolled innovation and poor integration of Google’s products early on with one another can be one reason why they still trail the market leaders in their respective categories. Some have likened the uncontrolled innovation at Google to the strategy of throwing a lot of stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. Cofounder Sergey Brin has publicly acknowledged that the myriad product releases are confusing users and is leading a company wide initiative called 'Features, not products.' Instead of developing new individual products in their own silos the company now plans create horizontal functionality across a range of products.

The Fusion series of blogs is essentially my opinion as a user on features I would like integrated between the various Google products that I use. As a user and a strategic thinker I am confident that there is an opportunity for Google to cement its place as the Internet powerhouse by better integrating its products. The name Fusion sounds appropriate for a strategy to fuse or link Google products together to create a unified Internet experience for users. This unified experience can create lock-in as users get better at using the integrated products. Finally, if the series doesn't make any sense or seems impractical consider this series as my wish list in the new year.

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Back on my feet again

Its been one semester and half a vacation since my last post. Needless to say the interruption in my climb to blogger stardom ;) was caused by the 9 courses I took in Fall. My bravado in choosing courses coupled with the fact that Fall was the job hunting season here at CMU was the potent mix that knocked the blogger in me unconscious. Having recovered fully I plan to use the rest of my vacation to blog on ideas I have for everyone's favorite company, Google. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Microsoft Zune

Toshiba will build the Zune player for Microsoft. As it turns out Toshiba's FCC filing for an HDD portable audio player finally let the secret out. Zune has a WiFi capabilities that require FCC approval. The user manual for Zune gives a glimpse of the features of the player, admittedly the wirelessLAN feature is the most exciting. In an earlier blog I had requested WiFi connection between Windows Media Player and Zune so to play songs directly from playlists on laptops. May be someone at Microsoft read this blog :). The WiFi capability definitely helps differentiate Zune. Users will be able to connect each others Zune players and transfer and/or listen to songs, or at the very least play streaming music (so as to prevent DRM violations).

Differentiation will have to be the trump card if Zune is to succeed against the Ipod. Microsoft can certainly add some of its Windows CE applications to Zune and turn it to something more than an portable audio music player. I am not sure this effort is going to bear high dividends because a number of PDAs in the market already support MP3. So what's the killer application that can set Zune apart from the crowd? My recommendation is that Zune needs to have an embedded MSN Live Messenger and my reasons are as follows:
  1. Zune will come with headphones and adding a microphone shouldn't be very difficult. It already has WiFi capability. Why shouldn't a user be able to see his/her friends online through MSN Live Messenger? VOIP is the rage these day. Whenever a user is connected to the internet he/she should be able to make and receive calls to friends. Besides differentiating Zune such a feature will also help grow the MSN Live Messenger user base .
  2. Application for application Apple can match anything Microsoft adds to the Zune (they too make an OS ;)). An existing messenger userbase is something Apple cant really match, it may allow other vendors such as AOL or Yahoo to add their messengers to Ipod, but by then Microsoft will have the first mover advantage.
I am looking forward to the next set of Zune features that leak out. Be sure to check this blog for updated comments.

PS: In case someone in Redmond is actually reading this blog (though I highly doubt it), I am a graduate student at CMU looking for a job.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Writely, Google Spreadsheets, et al

Writely is up again after integration with Google. I am impressed with the interface, it is definitely convenient to work with. To add to that the web word processor supports more than just the MS .doc format, it can currently handle RTF, ODT, and SXW file formats. To test Writely I threw one of my term papers at it and I must admit it did a great job of handling the document. My paper had images, hyperlinks, TOC, formatting, different fonts, etc, so basically the works. Except for one image that had moved slightly everything else was as is! The fonts and font sizes were exactly the same as I had used in MS Word. Even the hyperlinks (external, and within the document) were working flawlessly. Go ahead and try out Writely.

While I was at it I also had a look at Google Spreadsheets which is an in-house online spreadsheet tool from Google. I add in-house because Writely was purchased by Google, I am not sure about the original creators of Writely. Google Spreadsheets on the other hand is a Google baby, to the best of my knowledge. The tool is evolving and is still with Google Labs, I will hold my comments till it to moves to beta testing. I must conclude by admitting that early on I am impressed by at least the number of formulae that Google Spreadsheet already supports. I think the number is well over a hundred!

Hmmm...So what does this mean for MS? Is this the end of the road for desktop software? Is MS Office obsolete? Is this the end of the cycle, after all we started with dumb terminals, is that where we are finally headed? No way. No matter how much people distrust their hard drives we are not at a point where hard drives are going to be dumped en masse. While hard drives crash, fail, and even break, they are for real! Physically real. If I am truly paranoid, all I have to do is unscrew my hard drive and hide it under my mattress or maybe, just maybe, bury it in the garden. But who is to say anything about data stored at some unknown server in an undisclosed location?

So why is Google hell bent on creating online web based productivity tools?
My two cents:
  1. They are after the ad revenues. Its not the tool that is important, not even the contents of the documents. Let me take that back, the content matter but only for creating appropriate ads. Its the ad revenues that can be generated when people start preparing and updating documents on Writely or Google Spreadsheets. Sounds familiar? Gmail? Next time you have a look at either of the two tools (the browser doesn't matter) try to imagine Google Sponsored links in the extreme right hand side covering about 20% of the screen. That's where the money will come from! Here is a picture of what an ad supported spreadsheet might look like (all credits go to me and MS Paint).
  2. There is one more potential revenue stream. From enterprises wishing to secure email attachments. As the global economy expands further and companies setup distant offices email has become critical communication tool. Confidential documents are being sent through email for approval, updates, etc. Organizations are going to great lengths to secure the data exchange, using VPN, encryption, etc. But the weakest link in the entire exchange is probably the desktop tool used to view the documents. A document that was secure on a company software suddenly becomes vulnerable after its been sent over email and has been saved on a desktop. Where do webtools come into the picture? Imagine a corporate email that doesn't have the MS Word attachment but a link to a secure Writely server that hosts the document. You can only view and update the document after authenticating to the server. I believe that if Google can further polish its web based tools companies interested in information security will definitely be interested. A creative licensing policy can help secure long term revenues.

What about MS Powerpoint?
Is the MS Powerpoint hegemony intact? Yes, for the time being. The problem with a presentation tool is that...well you need a presentation tool. I am yet to hear of any web based presentation tools . Do let me know if you come across any.
On the other hand, if Google comes up with Google Presentation (this name is fictional and wholly my creation, but they are free to use it) and some ingenious folks at Mozilla can come up with a plug-in for Firefox that enables Google Presentation html documents to viewed as a slide show then things are going to get very, very interesting. A mutually beneficial deal between Mozilla and Google could potentially upset the hitherto unchallenged MS Powepoint monopoly.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New features in GTalk and random thoughts on IMs

Google has just added a couple of new features to GTalk. The features are not cutting edge, in fact its stuff that most IMs had a zillion years ago such as file transfer and voicemail. Okay, so voice mail has only been around for a thousand years. More interestingly it was the way the updates were installed that stood out. GTalk auto-downloaded the new features and presented them to me when I logged in today morning . I remember years back MSN Messenger would require an upgrade if new features were added. I had to go from version 6 to 7 to do something new and if I didn't I couldn't use MSN to do something new with people already on 7.
I am a big fan of GTalk, in fact I don't use any other IM anymore. I like its sparse, clean features. Other IMs notably MSN Messenger are too cluttered with features, ads, etc. Even the placement of new features in GTalk makes good use of available real estate. In fact it gives the impression that these locations were predetermined. I am trying to guess where the guys from Googleplex will place the next feature.

I was just thinking of new types of call center interactions between users and agents for a Telecom Mgmt assignment. I can't figure out why companies that have call center operations don't have some sort of tie up with major IMs such as AOL, MSN, Yahoo (unfortunately GTalk is not major yet). I mean companies that have good call center operations such as Dell have poured money into chat technology that use HTTP or some MS technology such as Active X. Why not display an MSN/Yahoo email address? Users can contact the agents through their IM of choice.
I see two benefits for companies with call center companies such as Dell:
  1. Reduced maintenance operations cost of the HTTP chat technology.
  2. Most IMs support voice chat. Agents can use the IM to have a voice chat with the customers. VoIP can reduce telecom costs.
I see at least one major benefit for the IM companies such as MSN:
  1. A new revenue stream. IMs can promise a higher QoS to the email addresses of the call center companies so that the customer has a good voice chat experience. The IMs can make money either per call or on annual revenues.
hmmm....may be I should have taken the Strategic Corp Mgmt class.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

MP3 player: Microsoft throws its hat in the ring

Microsoft has decided to enter the portable media player market (mostly MP3 currently) with Zune . I must admit the news caught me by surprise. Why portable MP3 market and why now? I think there are three reasons:
  • Microsoft believes that the portable media market (music and movies) has become lucrative enough for it to focus its resources. Microsoft has rarely if ever been a trendsetter. Instead its strategy is to go after an established market and then ruthelessly compete to achieve dominance in the market. Anyone remember Netscape? Or Lotus 123? Or WordStar for that matter?
  • Secondly, while the portable market can certainly grow the incumbents (Creative, IRiver, etc) are unable to displace Apple from its dominant position. It can only take a behemoth like MS with its warchest and resources to change the landscape of the MP3 market. In fact the biggest losers from MS's entry will be the smaller players such as Creative and IRiver.
  • Ever since MS came up with X-Box their strategy is to diversify. While X-Box may not be making any money now I think its a long term bet which will pay off. Its a great product and they have done a great job with X-Box Live.
So, should Apple hide for cover? Or should it welcome competition which could only help in further growth of the market? The answer to this questions is not simple and Apple needs to wait and watch. MS is not revealing all its cards.

Final thoughts on Zune
To really dislodge Apple MS needs to offer more than just an MP3 player. Here are few things that will be on my wishlist
  • Will I be able to use Zune as an X-Box controller? It will be neat if I could use it to play games when not using it to listen songs.
  • Will it have Wi-Fi capability? I shouldnt have to download songs on to it if I am using it at home. It should be have Wi-Fi capability to allow me to listen to a playlist that I have created on WMP
  • Will it support movies? It will be really cool if MS provides a connector for TV that can be used to see movies stored on the Zune on Television.
Its too early to say anything about Zune, here's what the prototype looks like. The coming months will be interesting.
BTW is Google working on GTunes and/or GPod? Let me know if you come across any information.