Trying whatever Works

According to Reuters, Microsoft will try offering an ad-supported version of its entry-level Works package as a counter to Google Docs, which I have written just about every column in for at least the past six months. However, Microsoft will distribute the software only through OEMs, which is somewhat strange as it limits the broad audience that Web distribution could bring.

Works may be more popular overseas, but we still see PC vendors bundling the far more functional if often just as ignored WordPerfect Office here in the U.S. and I suspect more companies will start looking to OpenOffice over time. It’s been especially challenged since the “student” version of Office became the standard consumer one for all intents and purpsoes.

It would be great to see Microsoft remake Works as a deluxe version of LiveWriter. For example, it could be a lot simpler to put a simple table or calculation in a blog post. Also, as ThinkFree is showing, much of the client value of software in an AJAX world is about seamless offline work and synchronization.

In any case, I remember when the future looked brighter for integrated packages, at least on the Mac, where there was once at least five integrated software programs including Microsoft Works, ClarisWorks, and the very obscure HandiWorks, Ragtime and ClarisWorks-like BeagleWorks. I did a comparative review of them eons ago in what must have been one of the sunset ssues of A+ Magazine.

After bringing the rebadged AppleWorks to OS X, though, Apple scrapped it in favor of iWork, which seems to be in a kind of limbo. Pages reminds me of the elegance of MacWrite II and Pro, but Keynote is just geared toward a different kind of presentation than PowerPoint — arguably a better kind of presentation but simply not how businesses communicate today.

Sub-$200 laptops easier said than sold

In a belated followup to my post last month on the EEE’s price creep, Engadget reports on possible delays for the EEE and a larger-screened Linux-based laptop from Swedish vendor Medison. Donald Melanson blogs, “The company also said that the laptop will not be its primary source of income, with it instead expecting to make most of its money from advertisements on its website (mainly from accessory-makers and the like).” That strategy didn’t work very well for Buy.com when it launched, almost driving it into bankruptcy.

Price crEEEp

Engadget points to another preview of the Asus EEE, which notes in its conclusion:

Asus had initially said that the Eee PC would start at $199, but they’re thinking now is more like $250 for the 8GB flash drive version

It looks like those who have said the $199 price was too good to be true may be vindicated. The otherwise positive preview also dings the EEE for a cramped keyboard.

‘Book of the week

Robert Scoble is clearly a man obsessed with Facebook. He’s mentioned it in posts every day from July 8th to the 15th and 27 times in this post. I can understand the excitement around the applications capability, the so-called “anti-MySpace”, that Facebook is creating, but I have mixed feelings about cracking the cover of Facebook due to my mixed experiences with social networking sites.

Probably the earliest one I joined was Ryze, founded in the dreary days of the dotbomb aftermath. I also joined Friendster in response to an invitation from my younger cousin, but I eventually removed my profile from both. I liked the open access of Ryze, but just became beseiged by invitations from people who seemed to have nothing better to do than build “friend” (don’t get me started on that word) networks all day, like there was some kind of prize for it.

I was skeptical of LinkedIn (my profile) at first, but while I can’t say it’s been a perfect or even necessarily very rewarding experience, it has enabled me to track down some old friends and stay current with others, maybe even learning of some interesting opportunities that didn’t necessarily go anywhere. Scoble praises Facebook pages for listing someone’s e-mail address and phone number, but LinkedIn will also provide an email link if you are connected to someone. One of my pet peeves about LinkedIn is that it defaults to listing concurrent roles chronologically rather than letting the user designate which should come first.

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Fake Steve Jobs’ fake Apple store experience

Once again, I have to disagree with the man in the mock turtleneck (or is that fake turtleneck?). Sure, lines at Apple stores can be long, but overall the Apple store provides one of the best PC buying experiences in the industry as the millions of satisfied customers and the incredible success of the stores prove. FSJ is often spot-on, but sometimes you’d think he doesn’t even work at Apple, much less not run it.

Evolving TiVo’s terrible triangle

For years, TiVo seemed caught in a struggle trying to serve three masters that often had conflicting interests — its customers, broadcasters and cable and satellite companies. In the past few years, it has probably de-emphasized working with broadcasters, but it has stepped up efforts with advertisers and its main Internet video partner Amazon. 

As Multichannel News reports, the move from Web-based to TV-based movie ordering from the Internet may ruffle the feathers of potential TV service providers as well as its most important cable partner today, Comcast. However, realistically Amazon Unbox and cable VOD are not direct competition yet. There’s still a significant delay before movies are downloaded although the movie selection is much greater, there’s still a fair amount of especially VOD content (particularly from premium channels like HBO).that you can’t get from Unbox. At least for now, you can think of VOD as Amazon Unbox for the masses.

And, hey, you FiOS customers, I heard today from a reliable source that Verizon is working on having 9,000 movies available on demand in the near future. That’s the equivalent of almost four video rental stores.

Congratulations, Jim, Lance and Veronica

I intentionally don’t spend too much time talking about people here at The Box, but just picked up from NewTeeVee that Jm Louderback will be leaving PC Magazine and Ziff Davis to rejoin former TechTV colleague Kevin Rose at Revision3. I’m sure Jim will be happy to be more fully back in the video space.

Jim brought me to Ziff Davis in a freelance role in 2003 to launch and run Ziff Davis’s Wireless Supersite (eventually folded into eWEEK) and is a one-of-a-kind fusion of consumer technology expertise and marketing savvy. This is a great loss for Ziff Davis. That said, I congratulate Lance Ulanoff, who is taking over the helm at the venerable PC publication, and wish him well in his new role.

Finally, congratulations to Veronica Belmont, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at CTIA, on her new host post at Mahalo. She’s going to bring a great level of excitement and value to the human-powered search site.

iPhone forking the Web… again

I see some difference between Web “applications” sites such as Zoho or BeeJive (creators of the BlackBerry JiveTalk software so well executed that it is changing my life) developing versions of their sites (or in BeeJive’s and Cerulean Studios‘ case, native software applications), that are “optimized” (or in some cases, simply “work”) on the iPhone, but now AJAXy content megasite Digg has joined the iFray and surely others will follow. According to TechCrunch:

[Kevin] Rose notes that users can still browse the normal Digg website on their iPhone, but the web application is lighter and faster way to visit Digg and takes advantage of some of the iPhone’s user interface features.

So now it’s not the “watered-down Internet or the mobile Internet.” It’s the no-Flash, small-screen, big-buttoned “iPhone Internet.” “Real” browser support should make such conversions less painful but they still suffer from some foibles that specialized versions of Web sites have engendered before. How do consumers find these optimized versions? Is it at iphone.blah.com? Is it at blah.com/iphone? Will all the features of the full site be there? How much work should Web developers have to do to compensate for the iPhone’s browser navigational inefficiencies, even if it is best in class at browsing “desktop” Web sites?

Even if you don’t accept everything about the iPhone as the wave of the future, there are clear advantages to the large screen and great Web rendering it provides. If a broader base of mobile phones adopt these conventions, Web developers should be able to provide one site that balances the needs of such handsets and the PC. Who doesn’t want lighter, faster Web sites everywhere?

P.S. Do you think Apple put any effort into making sure its Web iPhone developer guidelines site looks horrible in Internet Explorer? 

Electric slides

It looks like HTC is starting to get more competition for one of its favorite form factors, the side-slider, beyond Helio and Samsung. My buddy Evan Blass at Engadget posts on what could be the next in the Nokia Internet Tablet series, incorporating a keyboard. Thoughtfix is skeptical that it is the N800’s successor, but speculates that the removal of certain buttons could signal a finger-driven touch-screen like a certain recent release. I’m a bit concerned about having the keyboard off-center.

Meanwhile, Motorola’s reinterpretation of the Sidekick should finally bring the thin aesthetic to the friendly but chunky consumer smartphonesque handset. It would be great to see T-Mo offer this at $299. I’m not sure about this purple kick that Motorola seems to be on, but the ample five-row keyboard looks like a good bar for other side-sliders in terms of maximizing the keyboard real estate.

Lighter Linux

Meandering down a path well tred over at least the past five years, Robert Scoble asks if 2008 is the year of Linux on the desktop. I wrote a bit about the growing enthusiasm for Linux, including Dell’s embrace of Ubuntu, for a recent LAPTOP column.

The answer to the question is no, but Linux is spearheading the move of low-cost ultraportables such as the Foleo into.. whatever markets they are targeting. I’m increasingly intrigued by the Asus EEE which, contrary to my earlier post, seems poised to become a reality later this year. Indeed, I can’t decide whether I like the idea of the 7″ $199 or 10″ 299 model better. The former price resonates more as a companion product. If I’m springing for a high-resolution screen, I’m probably interested in tasks that are better-suited to a more mainstream Windows notebook. HotHardware has an informative article that spotlights the two Linux UIs being considered.