Thursday Sep 18, 2008

Saying hello and goodbye to a great guy

I've had the opportunity to work with some creative and brilliant software engineers over the years (hopefully not dating myself too much) - from Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson (the original Mac creators), to Avi Tevanian (the Mach and NextStep/OS X) lead, and of course folks at Sun who worked on Java,  Java ME, StarOffice/OpenOffice, SunRay, web engineering, etc. etc.  The list is very long.  One of the creative engineers I've had a fun time working with is Hideya Kawahara.  I first met him when we were in Cupertino working at JavaSoft (a Sun division).  We'd always talk about consumer electronics and user interfaces.  Years later, he created a prototype 3D interface called Project Looking Glass.   The early prototype made you open your eyes into thinking of new ways to get beyond today's 2D world.  

We got a few folks together yesterday to say "hello again to Hideya" and sayonara as he heads back to live in Japan.  I'll always remember Hideya playing his Duke ukelele at JavaOne on the sidewalk outside Moscone Center as we "illegally" projected a demo on a rather large building across the street at night.  Fortunately we didn't cause any accidents or road rage.

At Nola's in Palo Alto

Thanks Hideya for all the fun over the years and keeping us all "young" and creative.  Hopefully we'll see you in Tokyo or back in Silicon Valley soon.

Thanks to Calvin for the picture!

Tuesday May 06, 2008

New style of On-line Help

We've had a lot of ideas on how to get "community" involvement on Sun's web sites.  From forums, to blogs, to wikis, to product ratings we've been working really hard to get content not only from inside Sun, but also from non-Sun badged folks who care to contribute other ideas, thoughts, and even criticisms.  Recently, we met with one of Sun's customers whose service we've seen on other sites providing real time expert assistance services.  One of the unique services we got really excited about allows topical experts to "publish" themselves and provide a help service for a fee on websites.  Think about experts who are certified who could provide real time assistance when you need them for very reasonable terms.   And for experts, you could create an additional business providing your service without having to deal with the cost or challenge of finding customers.  And if you could tie in ratings, customers could get a good sense ahead of contacting an expert how helpful they were to previous customers.

So with the newly redesigned Java.com site, check out our Help Center to see Java experts in action. 

java.com Help Center
To learn more about his cool technology and offering, go to liveperson.com.   They not only are a great company to work with, but also a fantastic Sun customer!

 


Tuesday Sep 18, 2007

Acknowledging the StarOffice team in Hamburg

 

ODF logo 

A few years ago, when I had the privilege of managing our desktop software engineering team (which included the Staroffice/OpenOffice engineers) a couple of engineers approached me to see if I would support an effort to try to create a standard on the new XML-based format that StarOffice and OpenOffice output now supported.  It didn't take a rocket scientist a lot of time to think that the world was ready for a truly open standard that didn't include some proprietary binary pieces that was embedded in a competing "open" format.  The format had to be completely human readable and could be used openly by all competing products.  It wasn't a war of words, but a really good idea.  

All politics aside, it makes a lot of sense to have completely open document formats that anyone can create content in and of course read anywhere.  I'd love to see ODF viewers for the iPhone, Blackberry, and even Windows Mobile devices.  This ability would go beyond just PDF and would open up more opportunities for developers, and of course, richer experiences for users (like me).

Hats off to the team in Hamburg for the genesis of the idea, and for the folks across Sun and the industry at large for seeing a good idea really grow into a global cause.

 



 

Wednesday Aug 22, 2007

LinkedIn/Facebook

I've been using LinkedIn for a loooong time now and have built a reasonably sized network.  Recently I signed up with Facebook to see what the user experience is like.  Facebooks is clever in using the companies you've worked for or your address book to find folks.  LinkedIn has been great at reminding me of friends from a long while ago.   At a recent lunch with our interns, I asked a few of them if they were using Facebook, but to my surprise, they told me they used LinkedIn.  I was quite surprised as I thought Facebook was the rage.  The reason may have been historical or at least their impression were that LinkedIn was more appropriate to network to find a job.  

One of the best things is when you use a service like Facebook and connect with an old buddy, you actually can see what they look like if they posted a picture.  And if they post photos of their families or pets you get to see that too.

A friend of my, Eric Ly, was one of the brains behind LinkedIn and he was pretty spot on in seeing an early trend of connecting people with a simple to use service.  And I keep in contact with him (he is a serial entreprenuer) through LinkedIn...

 

Wednesday Jul 25, 2007

Customer "Service"

One of the trials and tribulations (otherwise known as hits and misses) is customer service. We all know the reputation of Nordstroms, the Four Seasons Hotel and others. During last winters storms, one of my favorite airlines, JetBlue, got caught up in a major gaffe of leaving passengers in planes, on the ground for hours, hoping for the weather to clear. And the PR lashing they received was unreal and may take years to "clear their brand image".  This brings me to tech companies, game companies, or even toy companies.

One of the companies I've been an advisor to, Ugobe, is bringing to market a very innovative "life form" called Pleo (check out pleoworld.com or ugobe.com). With any new startup, the investment dollars typically go into research and development, hiring, production, and distribution. But what about post sale customer service? Is hiring tons of folks to man the phone lines the best way, or outsourcing it to lower cost regions? Or with the web and viewable and readable blogs, forums, wikis going to drastically increase self service? In an age were the "web generation" would rather Google search for answers vs talk to a human, is the human-centric call center becoming an un-needed skillset? Looking at today's youth with mobile devices, laptops, game systems I see more "texting" than talking, more online chatting than real chatting, and more over the internet multi-player game play and in person game play. It would be interesting to see what a typical voice minutes used verse the equivalent data minutes. 

As my team provides our partners and ISV's with live support while at the same time trying to also make our web site more self service, I'd be interested in getting your opinions on the trends you see happening over the next 5-10 years?  When we deployed our Teleweb capability on sun.com, the vast majority of contacts are electronic (live chats) vs human chats, even though both are as convenient.  

Monday Jul 09, 2007

The hot new thing...

In looking at a lot of web sites these days, there seems to be a lot of use for topic/theme clouds. I think the feature is very nice on Technorati as it makes it easier to see the "hot topics" that are talked about the most with a very simple user interface. Now, I see the same use on sites like Amazon and Yahoo.


 

I'm wondering if this simple navigation is also an off shoot because most user experience studies also show that text links are more effective than blocks of images?  We are planning to roll this out on blogs.sun.com so it will be nice to measure how many link throughs result and if folks are able to find things they would not have otherwise.


With all the current rage for the new multi-touch user interfaces (from the TED conference, on the Microsoft Table, and new iPhone, it's interesting to also see quick and simple user interfaces continue to develop.


Thursday May 17, 2007

Talk at Google's Emerging Media Conference

I was invited to speak at a conference at the Googleplex on Tuesday.  The topic of my panel was around emerging media, metrics, and learnings.  I have to say, that the Google'ers did an outstanding job of getting this event coordinated and prepared.  Much kudos go to Amy Rouas, Mark Martel, and the other folks at Google.  My panel leader was Jim Lenskold, who was also gracious to send me his book on marketing ROI.  A fascinating way to look at measuring marketing effectiveness.  The other panelist included Scott Berg of HP, Scott Clawson of Oracle, Jim Davis of SAS.  We were given a few minutes of intro speak and then launched into a Q&A session.  It's pretty clear that there are no perfect answers or real best practices that can be applied to new media.  We need to always make sure to focus on our audience segments who may respond and interact differently.  At Sun, we have created different programs for the new Web 2.0 companies vs our existing customer base.  The way our audiences learn about, converse, and build their own communities differ and we need to make sure we understand and focus on that.  This also means making sure the way you metric may be different and what you define as success may also be quite different.

Bottom line, whether you are a company with a small marketing budget or even a huge one, you have to really decide what success really means.  It may not only be measured in revenue, but in some cases, it may be more of a customer lifetime value where in the early years there is no revenue. 

And the rumors of Google cafeteria's are all true.   Wicked great free food!


 

Monday May 14, 2007

Trek to JavaOne 2007

I did my yearly trek up to JavaOne in San Francisco. I think this is my 12th JavaOne. The first one I attended was when I worked at General Magic. Through the years, I've had to speak in front of huge audiences, work with my team to start the Device showcase (Francine Jackson Price and Karen Arnett, were to two that started it all). I also sat very nervously one year when Alan Baratz, who was President of Javasoft, announced the three editions of Java (yes after Patrice and I hurriedly worked on our famous lego blocks). This year, I got to attend technical sessions (ones I didn't have to present at). I found some of the sessions had way too many "guest speakers", to the point where I didn't know if the speaker really was an expert on the topic.

As with all JavaOne's it's a good place to meet up with folks from the past. Folks who used to work for Sun, folks who used to work at partner companies, folks who started their own companies. Through the years, it is a blur on where everyone landed, but gladly, everyone seems to have landed well and are happy in careers and in their personal lives.

I happened to just make it over to the Sony Style store in the Metreon. Love the new HD Video cams. But not having kids at home now, I don't find myself shooting much video anymore, sigh. Hope everyone who went to JavaOne had a good time. My team sure worked extremely hard on the web getting content posted (er, sometimes last minute). They are such a great team. And the extended JavaOne staff, led by Wendy Yamaguma pull off this HUGE industry event every year with amazing precision. You just have to say wow.

Monday Apr 09, 2007

Major Sale on sun.com

You'll notice over the next couple of weeks promotions for our upcoming on-line sale.  This will be a major sale of some of our key products (even our latest ones, not last years models).  Some might ask, but does price really matter in the IT world?  Well, as we serve a diverse set of customers, we think that a sale will draw attention to the fact that we actually have great products that are very aggressively priced.  There is still a perception in the marketplace, probably stoked by our competitors, that Sun is expensive.  Well, you'll see we can be even lower priced than Dell and HP!  Our products are ideal for startups looking at white boxes (or build your own systems) with lots of software that matters, a great warranty, and from a company that will stand behind the products/solution.  So if you haven't tried out one of our X64 or Coolthread systems, now would be an excellent time to do so.

I've been spending some of my time talking to and advising several startups (at different stages) and it's always refreshing to brainstorm and talk about what could be possible.  What I observe as different now is the passion and energy is on a global basis, not just tied to Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Redmond, or the research triangle.  The diversity of ideas is coming from all over the place.

It's clear that the net is only going to continue to grow, but in products other than the traditional PC's, mobile phones, PDA's, web televisions, etc.   Have you heard the "John Clease" voice for the TomTom navigation system?  Yes, you use the network to download it.

 

Thursday Mar 15, 2007

A new toy.... yes, I like gadgets

 

Blackberry Pearl

Well after living with a Treo 650 for 2 years, it was time to give it up.  I was going to wait for the Apple iPhone (being an Apple Alumni, I still have loyalties), but after stumbling upon the new RIM Blackberry Pearl, I made the switch now.  The form factor is just beautiful and makes the Treo look like a giant brick.  For a PDA, it sure feels like a phone in your hand.  Back when I was deeply involved with Java Micro Edition, RIM licensed Java and told us they were going to write all their applications in Java.  After telling them that was awesome, we sheepishly asked them, why?  The answer they provided was wonderful, that they had tried a proprietary platform play and had a difficult time attracting a broad developer community.  Well, I have to say, the Pearl does run Java really well and even their video and music player applications are written in Java.  

Blackberry's are known for email, and even writing short responses to email is easy enough on the Pearl which is the smallest RIM device to date.  The smart key entry is a lot easier to use than T9.  It took me all but 20 minutes to get everything set up, downloading my work mail automagically, and even synching to my Macbook's iCalendar and Address Book.  Hooking into the USB port, it asked if I wanted to put the phone into a mass storage mode and after saying yes, an icon showed up in the Finder where I could easily drag MP3 music, photos from iPhoto to the microSD card that I added to the phone.  

After a week of using the Pearl, I'm a very happy camper.  It's much smaller than the iPhone will be, handles email very well and after downloading the Java Gmail client, it does everything I need a device to do without having my belt look like Batman's.  Bluetooth 2.0, a megapixel camera with a tiny flash, ability to use microSD for memory expansion, and really nice mail makes the Pearl shine.

Now, I can probably wait until iPhone 2 comes out (and all the kinks are worked out).  Great job RIM!  Just wished it had UMTS and/or 802.11 built in and the email client displayed HTML email messages.  After using Nokia PDA phones, Microsoft PocketPC/Mobile Editions, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Palm Treo 650, I think the closest one so far that just works well, is the Blackberry Pearl.  If you want a full size keyboard and bigger screen they do have a bigger brother model.  But I wanted small and thin and the Pearl was it.  The only big issue is IMAP Mail.  If you delete mail on the Mac to you IMAP account, it doesn't reconcile it on the Blackberry.  There is a trial version of an IMAP mail application, but the user interface is pretty horrible.

Don't worry Steve, I'll be back for the 2nd round of iPhones.

 


 

Monday Mar 12, 2007

Simple Web Site Look-and-Feel

In reading Warren Buffett's letter to his shareholders, I find it really amazing to look at Bershire Hathaway's web site.  It is simplicity to the max.  Maybe the growth of Berkshire's stock from $19/share 42 years ago to $70,281 in 2006 speaks for itself.  Now if they used Courier Font, that would have been bold.  Reading Mr. Buffett's letter, I find it amazingly personal in his characterizations of GEICO's CEO and his discussions about the company.  So the big question for those of us running major web sites is will this simplistic style become the norm again when users utilize services that aggregate RSS feeds into a personal page?

 If you haven't checked out Berkshire's site, you should. 

Berkshire Hathaway's screen shot 

 

I like how they promote some of their key invested companies.   Of course, this site is copyright Berkshire Hathaway.
 

Thursday Mar 08, 2007

To DogPile or to Google?

 

 What the dog looks like

One of the questions I've been pondering is if it's better to use an aggregated search engine like DogPile or to just use Google or ask.com. I'm finding myself going back and forth, maybe just to do a comparison between the results. One nice thing with dogpile is you don't see all the ads in your face on the results page. Now if they aggregated all the ad money from google, MSN.search, Ask.com, and Yahoo, they'd have an amazing business model. I wonder why more folks don't use Dogpile. Or maybe folks do, but its more invisibly.

Wednesday Feb 21, 2007

Want to discover some interesting new websites?

 


In looking at our metrics for how people get to sun.com, I noticed a site called www.stumbleupon.com.  Turns out that site is pretty cool in that it allows you to pick different interest areas and it will bring up sites for you to go look at.  I've now bookmarked at least 4 new sites I would have never discovered on my own.  If you are running Firefox, you can install a toolbar which gets to exploring even faster.

 

 

Sunday Feb 11, 2007

Community Next Event at Stanford University


On Saturday, I had a chance to attend the first CommunityNext event at Stanford University. The event was the brainchild of Noah Kagan and he worked night and day for two months organizing the event. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's always enlightening to spend a day with young, bright entrepreneurs. The attendee who traveled the farthest came all the way from Hamburg, Germany.

www.communitynext.com

Logo

One of the highlights of the event were some of the demos. The ones that caught my eye were: loopt.com, a Java Micro Edition application that shows you when your buddies are close, links to maps, and builds face-to-face social networking. Another very cool story was presented by Threadless.com - where they built an "awesome" business with folks submitting t-shirt designs, the community votes on them, and they print/sell them. There certainly are some interesting designs! What they said is you've gotta love what you do. Their motto is "creating online awesomeness".

www.threadless.com

One other discussion that I found interesting was from Nikyl Singhai of SayNow. They started the company to provide really cool voice services, but discovered that was not customers were looking for. So they changed their business and provide a new service built around community.

You have to give a lot of credit to Noah Kagan who organized the event, got sponsors, and put together a nice set of speakers. Sun was a co-sponsor of the event and it was great to see my fellow Sun friends spend a rainy Saturday supporting this event. Innovation is clearly not dead and the energy level of the participants were high (maybe because of all the Energy Drinks).

Monday Jan 22, 2007

Starting up "Startup Essentials"

Some of the bloggers have had a less than optimal experience with the Startup Essentials program.  The program was launched rather quickly because startups were calling Sun to see how they could get our systems at a discount.  The challenge of putting a program together rather quickly is you don't have enough time to work out the kinks and make sure all the right folks are trained.  Not to mention all the legal and finance/accounting issues.  So its clear that we had work to do across the Sun groups to fix some of the initial challenges.  Good news is, there have been a lot of improvements such as quicker response times to get back to the companies who apply.  There are other areas that are being worked on to improve the program so we'd like to make sure to get your feedback, both positive and of course, areas for improvement.  Also, if you have direct feedback on even the criteria that is set that would be helpful.  Do we have the right balance of criteria that defines a typical startup or did we blow it completely?  Or if you have an even better idea, that would be fine too.

 

So for the early companies who tried the Startup Essential program and didn't have a good experience, here is my apology on behalf of Sun, and we'd like to re-engage with you if you allow us to.  And of course, if you find areas of the program you like, we'd like to hear that as well so we know what works for you.

 

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