Monday, November 26, 2007

Blogging to Pay for an XBOX 360 with Google Adsense

I couldn't help wondering what the revenue potential of Google Adsense ads hosting really is - and I mean, earnings potential for me, not for Google (god knows Google is making boatloads of cash lately; you need look no further than their financial statements). So, the question is - can I (or anyone else) make enough "extra" income from people visiting my blogs and clicking on these Google Ads to pay for an Xbox 360 console within a year?

What has lead me to consider this? Well, speaking of Google Ads, perhaps you have seen the same context-sensitive ads here on Blogger that I have -- where ads come up with the ad-content being text like "Earn $3000 per month by blogging", and so forth. Yeah, right! I don't have a clue what clicking those ads leads to, or what whoever pays to place such ads online has as their own, real, method of making money is (once you were to follow the link), but I can rather certainly guarantee you that what you find isn't going to be the secret that will have you generating anything beyond a small fraction of that monthly figure just by writing blogs. I just don't think it is humanly possible.

From my experience, there just aren't many people clicking the ads, or finding the content within the ads useful and pertinent enough to click - at least not on a "micro scale" as is observable here on my blog. Certainly, for Google as a whole, there are a LOT of ads being clicked somewhere (and, paid for by advertisers of course - which is what Google relies on as their sole revenue generation model). That is the power of having many, many websites hosting their Google Adsense advertisements -- multiplying a small amount of revenue by millions and millions of web sites leads to spectacular daily income totals for Google. So, what does Adsense offer for personal money-making potential on the content I create by blogging regularly?

I have a decent feel for how many people view my blogs in a given day, and it is what I consider a fairly high number (across all my web properties, it is in the thousands of unique daily visitors). And, I have a rather substantial amount of content online - hundreds of blog entries, hundreds of web pages with access to free source code (for programmers), free recipes (for gluten-free people), and other useful content that draws readers in.

With all those readers, and all that content I have online, typical ad-revenue is a trickle - with most days producing much less than a dollar, especially on days where I have not written or posted any new content online. This makes the thought of blogging to pay for a new XBOX 360 nothing more than a dream, or at a best case, a dream that would take well over a year to fulfill. And, it would cost me so much more in time (creating useful content) than I could ever get in advertising dollar returns. So, if the XBOX is out of the question, $3,000/month is definitely NOT going to happen - what a surprise! (not!)

The good news for me is that I never started writing blog entries with the intention of making money from advertising (Google Ads or anything else). I started all my web content-creation as an expressive outlet for my thoughts, ideas, and advice / opinions rants. I don't see how anyone could, or would want to, try to create content just for the sake of generating ad revenue from click-throughs - the returns on time invested would be terrible!

By the way, can somebody explain to me how some of those Google Ads work where certain ads just go to pages full of more Google ads?! What is up with that? My first problem with it is how I consider it to be nothing more than a massive pile of Internet-Index-SPAM essentially, but even more so, what is the business model behind it? Do people and companies buy advertising for some keywords at like a penny-per-click with hopes that if someone clicks it and goes to their own advertising "meta sites", that the person will then continue clicking on those ads, which presumably have been filtered to include much higher per-click payback for the meta-site owner, thus resulting in a substantial net-profit? If not something like that, I just don't get it.

Well, bottom line is this: I have a long way to go to making enough from Google click-through Advertisements on my web sites before I can ever buy an XBOX 360 from the proceeds :( Oh well, given time, and much more content creation on my part, perhaps that will change... but, I'm certainly not kidding myself thinking I can blog my way to riches. lol. Instead, I will continue to blog because Ilike to, and if ever I create enough content to have millions of readers daily, that'd just be a nice bonus.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday Toys and Gifts Made in the USA

With all the Chinese-made toy and product recalls, due to lead and other safety hazards, you may be looking for some products for your children, relatives, or friends that are actually SAFE. Although there is no way to ever be 100% sure of product safety, I think one good way to increase your chances of getting a safe toy or gift is to purchase one that is actually made in the USA.

You probably already know this is easier said than done these days, as many products (especially toys, clothing, electronics, etc.) are rarely made in the United States. But, there are exceptions. After poking around looking for "safe gifts" for Christmas, I located the following US-made products that you may find as interesting as I found them to be:
  • Uncle Goose Toys - USA makers of the highest quality American Made Alphabet Blocks (from sustainable Michigan basswood). These get high marks and meet all U.S. and European safety standards, and feature child-safe inks.
  • Channel Craft - Authentic American Toys, Games & Puzzles maker. They carry a variety of classic games and the like, all made in the USA.
  • Maple Landmark Woodcraft - their toys include their NameTrains Wooden Railway system, a nice selection of high-quality wooden jigsaw puzzles, building blocks, toddler toys, trucks and trains, and many more US made toys. Check them out.
  • Now comes a personal favorite: Zome products. This company has a rather unique product line that includes USA-made building / construction kits and products that I think could be fun for both children and adults. They have Color-coded and shape-coded construction kits for building all sorts of unique things. And, their prices are quite reasonable, since they sell parts by the pound too! I would have loved having some of these when I was a kid, and would have built some awesome 3D geometric structures given enough parts to do so. They definitely appeal to my science, geometry, and architecture curiosity.
  • Vermont Teddy Bear - that says it all perhaps. This company offers the definitive high-end high-quality custom teddy bear. They are made in the U.S.A., but what I don't know is whether every single component they use in the production of the teddy bears is of US origin. You could perhaps search their website more or contact them to find out. Either way, it's probably a much safer bet than their Chinese counterparts.
Hope that helps you find some safe Christmas gifts this year. And, at the same time, you can help out the United States manufacturing industry and perhaps create some jobs here (or, at least keep some of the last remaining US manufacturing jobs here).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Eclipse 3.3 for Rich Client Platform Applications

I discarded Java/SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) as an application development language option a few years back (like, somewhere around 1999-2001). I remember trying to build even a simple application in Java, using Borland's JBuilder 3 product, and discovering how bad the overall development experience in Java was - slow, buggy, under-powered, lacking features, and just generally painful. This went for both the JBuilder 3 IDE (which ran at a snail's pace back then), as well as the resulting Java "application" (presuming one could ever be created, beyond the simplest of applications that actually worked).

At the time, I was comparing Java to the powerful and robust Win32 applications I built using the exceptional Borland Delphi development products (now owned by CodeGear) - there was no comparison. Native Windows applications built using Delphi were robust, stable, fast, and relied on a mature object-oriented framework (the VCL - Visual Component Library). Java - well, to summarize, it sucked. Now, I am once again looking at cross-platform development options, and as such, I am reconsidering Java (as well as Python, C++, and perhaps even Ruby - though I think the latter is just a fad til proven otherwise long-term).

Well, things have improved considerably for Java-based software development from what I can tell. I think the main driver of this change is Eclipse. It seems that much of the work on the Java classes has to do with the Eclipse framework's own requirements, and the Eclipse Community has some major players behind it - like IBM, Borland/Codegear, and other major technology vendors, researchers, and independent developers.

After digging into the latest version Eclipse 3.3, and the latest enhancements to the Java SWT, I am seriously reconsidering it as a development platform (with "it" being the combination: Eclipse + Java). I also will use Eclipse as my Python development platform of choice, but I am going to focus on the Java development tool portion of things mainly here.

One of the first things I think any good software development tool, framework, and environment need in order to succeed is a good set of "getting started" code samples to help developers quickly hit the ground running and productive. Eclipse now provides a nice set of code snippets for Java / SWT that will certainly help anyone get started with Eclipse/Java/SWT development. The source-code samples are all rather straight forward, and that concise and well-categorized (by type of functionality) library of code chunks should be enough to get a developer going, as many common-tasks are clearly coded.

Next, did you realize that Eclipse has turned into not just a platform for IDE's (Integrated Development Environments - for software programming / coding), but also into an application-development-framework? They are pushing it as an application-platform totally, and you can customize any programs built with it to where nobody even knows it is Eclipse underneath. Per their (Eclipse Foundation's) own description:

"The Eclipse for RCP/Plug-in Developers contains what you need to build Eclipse applications, including plug-ins for the development environment and Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) applications. Designed specifically for the task, this is the best tool available for building Eclipse plug-ins and applications (it is also considered by many to be the best Java development tool available)."

Now, I MAY be speaking prematurely, since I have yet to build any RCP Applications with it, but, I downloaded Eclipse RCP/plug-in development version from here with high hopes of doing so: http://www.eclipse.org/downloads/moreinfo/rcp.php

I THINK it can help me do exactly what I want with my existing Developer StemCells Studio (tm) program — an updateable language-neutral template-based software programming tool:

1) give me a cross-platform reach. I am currently limited to Windows development since the tool is a Windows-32 native executable now.

2) provide a "host" into which my code processor/plug-ins can be installed, and then make my StemCells(tm) technology available to any developer, using ANY language hosted inside Eclipse. It seems the Eclipse infrastructure will make many things EASY (or easier), if I can figure out how to use them to my advantage. Like, did you know they have a neat little "diff" control that makes it easy to show visual side-by-side compare (of two files or text-sources)? That's cool. Basically, any feature in Eclipse can be used in your apps.

Since C++, Python, Java, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, and so many other languages can be worked with inside Eclipse through various open-source (and commercial) editor plug-ins, Eclipse provide the "common ground" that I am looking for in a programming tool. I wish Delphi was also supported as well as Microsoft DotNet like C# and VB.net (maybe Mono has something supporting that, though any C# plugins I found seem rather old and lacking active development - I need to look further)... then, I'd have ALL the languages I want access to for my StemCells to "target". (note: Codegear now offers JBuilder 2007 built on Eclipse, which makes me wonder if eventually Delphi will become Delphi on Eclipse too).

There are a lot of neat "plugins" also available at Eclipse Plugin Central, like this Jigloo SWT/Swing GUI Builder that seems interesting and gets high marks from users. I plan to try this one out, as well as the PyDev Eclipse Plugin (Python Development assistant), and a few others. I'll play with those things to see how far the platform can be pushed, though my main interest right now is being able to use Eclipse as a Java development platform.

I just felt like sharing some excitement about modern Java software development, using Eclipse... now, here's hoping it lasts :)

Continue to read this Software Development and Technology Blog for computer programming articles (including useful free / OSS source-code and algorithms), software development insights, and technology Techniques, How-To's, Fixes, Reviews, and News — focused on Dart Language, SQL Server, Delphi, Nvidia CUDA, VMware, TypeScript, SVG, other technology tips and how-to's, plus my varied political and economic opinions.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gluten-Free Black-Friday and Cyber-Monday Sale

It used to be that "Black Friday" was the day of the year when most retailers would finally go into the "black" (i.e., turn profitable) as sales soared as the Christmas holiday season kicked off with the shopping frenzy that occurs on the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving. Now, with the importance of online (Internet) shopping, there is also the concept of "Cyber Monday", where upon returning to work after the Thanksgiving break, most workers will (abuse / use) their employers' Internet connections (and time) to place online orders and set records for "e-sales" (online sales).

To coincide with these two phenomena, many retailers run very specific super-discount sales on highly sought after items. This makes a lot of sense when you need a "hot item" (like an Xbox 360 or Nintento Wii or Playstation 3) to draw people into stores - in hopes that once they buy a discounted game machine, and continue shopping for other (higher margin) items throughout your store. Basically, many retailers will put out a popular item at or near cost (in some cases below cost), just to make sure you get into their store to spend more money.

Now, where does this leave the little guy that sells only a single item or a few items? Well, I really don't know, but I'm about to find out as I attempt to partake in Black Friday and Cyber Mondy with my own "super-sale", where I will offer the lowest price ever on my Gluten-Free Desserts Book, but only for a brief period of time during these key shopping days. I will start by testing the concept out with my Gluten-Free Black Friday Sale, and then if that is a hit (or, perhaps even if not), I may also offer a Gluten-Free Cyber Monday Sale with the same deal -- on each date(s), the discount will show automatically when people click the "Order this Selection" button on my web-site's purchase page.

Much like other retailers, I'll be selling at a price that is definitely going to put a crunch on margins, but I'm going to hold out hope that people on a gluten-free diet (or those who know others on a GF diet) will take the opportunity to perhaps purchase multiple copies of my gluten-free recipes book (for this one-time, best price chance) to give as gifts to others with Celiac Disease that they know, and so forth. Only one prior to this have I even come close to the price I plan to offer - and that was at an in-person Celiac Conference event in Long Island, New York, where I offered a steep discount to make up for the fact I had no provisions for accepting credit-cards at the event (luckily, I can now accept all major payment types online!)

Here's my (rather uncreative) advertisement for the 2007 Christmas holiday gluten-free recipe book sale:



Here's hoping any additional sales volume makes this all worth the bother :)

I'll post a summary of my findings here later, under a "Finance and Investing" label/group, to share my experience. I'm doubtful I can compete with the giant retailers like Walmart and BestBuy, but what the heck, at least I will have tried.


UPDATE - AFTER THE HOLIDAY SALE - THE RESULTS

OK, the 2007 peak Christmas shopping days are behind me now. Here is what I saw for Gluten-Free Recipes book sales at my Gluten-Free Desserts Book website. "Cyber Monday" ran about 50% higher volume than "Black Friday", and both were decent volume, though nothing like the electronics-retailers are experiencing this year :)

We moved more books in two days than a typical two-week period. But, we still have a lot to do to increase our sales volume. I meant to advertise (with Google ads) this year, but never got around to it. Oh well. Maybe next year. lol.

Also, I plan to perhaps do one more pre-holiday promotion yet - taking the advice of another online retailer I know, and offering free priority-shipping or such when closer to Christmas, since people get concerned about receiving their gifts in time for the big event. I need to work out details yet, but that's the general thought right now.

So there you have it - Black Friday and Cyber Monday do exist, and from my experience, the online sales really are higher on Cyber Monday (with the same sale price offered on both dates - so level playing field for my "experiment").

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2008 Nissan Altima Coupe Review - Nice Car!


I stopped by a nearby Nissan dealer recently and checked out the gorgeously styled new 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe as I was researching cars and the wheel-size and tire-size options available on various new automobiles these days (I did that for my recent environmental blog about how wasteful large wheels and tires are).

One thing that surprised me about the Altima Coupe (with the 4 cylinder engine) was how it offered decent gas mileage (23 city / 32 highway with manual transmission, and 31 highway with automatic transmission) and out of all the cars I looked at it used the least expensive OEM 16-inch tires ($71/each at TireRack) of the various cars I checked out. This surprised me, especially considering the car I looked at was rather "loaded" with an incredibly comfortable full leather interior, moonroof, and all sorts of creature-comforts. So many other automobile brands would have forced me to 17-inch (or perhaps even 18") wheels and tires just to be in a car with so many other high-end options.

I wish the price-tag for the entire car was a bit more in-line with its tire prices though, since the loaded 4-cylinder 2008 Altima Coupe I sat in was sticker-priced at nearly $27,000 (ouch!). It would take a lot of miles and tire-price-savings to make up for that price tag. Perhaps I'm just out of touch, since I expect to be able to find a nice car for under $20,000, which seems a bit of a stretch these days. I have found some that I consider decent in that range, but this 2008 Altima Coupe was certainly in a bit of a different league than the sub-20K cars I noticed. Nissan did a great job with the styling (in my opinion), both inside and out, and I guess this will allow them to command a premium price for this automobile.

At this time, my review is limited to the car's interior and exterior styling, its gas mileage specifications, and its wheel and tire size options (and other options, which are numerous and include that awesomely over-the-top comfortable form-fitting leather seats option), since I didn't bother to drive the car yet -- I don't think I can justify the price tag, though I'm rather sure I'd enjoy the car if I could. I may end up going back (on a non-rainy day, as it was this time) for a test drive just to see first hand if the 2008 Nissan Altima's road-test delivers what the styling and specifications suggest it would.

And, note to Nissan (and any other car companies interested enough to care): the only reason I even looked at the 08 Altima Coupe (4 cylinder - not the 6 cylinder) was because it had a mileage rating above 30 mpg (miles per gallon), which is my current bottom-threshold for consideration in any new automobile. And, it had reasonably-sized and reasonably-priced tires (a major consumable) that also carry with them a nice wear-rating!

Coming soon: Car Cost-of-Ownership Analysis
Car cost is one thing, but cost of ownership is another. I'll be exploring, in more detail, how expensive some consumables like tires can be in the overall cost-of-ownership equation soon. But, to give you a quick sample...

If you read yesterday's environmental blog posting I did (about tire size and wear), you'd have seen how the OEM tires on the decked out 2008 Honda Accord Coupe (18 inch low-profile sporty things) cost over $250 per tire, or well in excess of $1,000 per tire change, and were only expected to get perhaps 20,000 miles per set. Do the math: the tires alone are costing that loaded 2008 Accord Coupe owner over 5 cents per mile! By comparison, if the car manages 30 miles per gallon highway, and gas is $3.00/gallon, the gas is costing 10 cents per mile. So, those "top of the line" 18" tires can easily add a full 50 percent to the cost of driving a mile! That's some serious cost to consider.

Contrast that per-mile tire-cost to the cost for the standard 16" tires on this loaded 2008 Altima Coupe I just talked about - which were running under $300/set. Instead of budgeting 5-cents per mile for tires, you can save a ton and budget as low as a penny per mile for tires (since the smaller 16-inch tires also carried upwards of a 50% greater tread wear rating). Saving 4 cents per mile may not sounds like much, but if you drive 100,000 miles, that is $4,000 real dollars to be considered. And, when you need new tires, perhaps you won't have to go in debt to afford them.

On a related cost-of-ownership topic, you may need that extra 4 cents/mile to cover the rising gas prices! At 25 MPG, that 4 cents per mile savings covers another dollar-per-gallon gas price increase (i.e., you'll be better prepared for that four dollar per gallon gasoline that seems inevitable).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Environmental Impact of Larger-Diameter Car Tires

A recent trend I see that makes me even more conscious of our race to destroy the planet is this push towards large diameter car wheels and tires. Did you know that, counter-intuitively, a larger-diameter tire that has more surface area to wear down, actually nearly always wears more quickly than a smaller diameter tire?

Just go to a car dealer and ask them how many miles to expect out of those bigger and fancier 18" tires, and then ask the same question as applied to the same model car but with smaller (less "premium" / "sporty") tires. Or, go to a place like Tire Rack dotcom (which I highly recommend for great deals on tires), and just check out the wear ratings on the various size tires. I can pretty much guarantee the smaller tire is going to last longer. And, to top it off, the smaller tires are cheaper (conversely, the larger tires that are going to wear faster are more expensive)

So, not only do the larger tires wear faster, but the also cost more - talk about a double whammy to the pocket book! I recently saw a new 2008 Honda Accord Coupe in its "top of the line" configuration, which sported snazzy 18" low-profile sporty 235/45VR18 tires. I asked how many miles to expect out of a set -- "about 20,000" I was told. Eeek! Only 20K miles! Wow, what happened to the days where a Honda Accord was a family car that sported 15" tires capable of 50,000 miles between changes? And, these new 18-inch Michelin Pilot HX MXM4's are going to set you back at least $255 each (that's the discount Tire Rack Price too)! (read: over $1,000 just for a set of new tires that you may be putting on your car once ever year or two with "normal"-mileage driving habits).

Sure, like anyone with a sense for visual appeal, I can appreciate how fantastic these large wheels and tires look on something as sharp as the new 2008 Honda Accord Coupe, but what I can't understand is who wants to spend this much money on their tires regularly. And, I have yet to get to the environmental-impact side of the equation. Honda sells this car as something like a near-zero-emissions vehicle. Well, perhaps so (with regards to what comes out of the tailpipe), but what about all that (quickly) spent rubber that ends up polluting the environment? Oh, and "rubber" tires require a lot of OIL in their production. But, what's a little more oil consumption these days as oil reaches a record $100/barrel?

By the way, I don't want to seem like I'm picking on just Honda here. Fact is, after this little Honda experience, I went shopping around to see what all the various new cars sported for tires these days. Over and over, regardless of automobile brand, I was confronted with "base" models that had at least 16" tires on them, and quite often larger (even a little Scion Tc has 17" wheels by default now!). When asked why all the wheel options (which, never include downsizing, but nearly always include upsizing) are the way they are, some dealers say it is "customer demand", but others indicated that they believe tire manufactures have essentially worked deals with the car companies to push these larger, quicker-wearing, more expensive tires (gee, I wonder why!?).

If you are under 25 years old, perhaps you are not even aware of the day of 13" diameter rims on the small economy cars like the Ford Escort, and how these tires would last "forever" (certainly by modern terms). I'm not saying we need 13" tires on all cars or anything, but we really need to look at the impact that decisions like selecting the biggest wheels and tires possible for our automobiles can have on the envirionment. If you want some light reading on the matter, check out this 2004 USGS article on Tire Wear as a source of Zinc (pollution) to the Environment - it has all sorts of other neat tire-wear and pollution data in it too.

We can't just talk about making the environment cleaner, we need to have our actions reflect the essence of this talk. Car companies are advertising all over the place about going "green" and all, and I really think automobile manufacturers need to consider the tire side of the green equation too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lead-Free Christmas : Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii

With all the news about Chinese-made toys containing lead and other toxic chemicals, I can't help thinking that the beneficiary of this widespread problem will be the major video game makers this year - Microsoft with the XBOX 360, Nintendo with the Wii, and Sony with the Playstation 3. I have no idea if the game consoles, controllers and other accessories, and the CDROMs for these game units are perfectly chemically-free, but it seems a bit more likely that they will be lead-free than anything that is covered with Chinese paint these days.

I'm looking at this from two angles as well:
  1. what can people "safely" purchase for their families this Christmas season, and
  2. how will such purchasing decisions affect stock prices?
It is only my personal opinion, but I am assuming that companies like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) will show some direct benefit as people move towards the XBOX 360, as well as towards computers in general as a gift option (since Microsoft makes the operating systems that appear on nearly all consumer-oriented PCs). There are plenty of PC-Based games out there for all ages. Next, there is Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY), which is a nearly pure video-game play, but must be purchased as an ADR (American Depository Reserve) stock since it's native trading location is the Nikei / Tokyo stock exchange. Likewise, Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE) is an ADR, and will likely show very little video-game-sales effect since the PlayStation doesn't make up a very large part of their total revenue.

Another angle to consider is the game retailers in general. "Traditional" game stores like Toys R Us or whatever are bound to have a challenging time with all this Chinese lead paint recall news, and I think that electronics retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City may end up reaping a large (sales) benefit from this situation, but will their stock reflect it? Prior history would seem to indicate otherwise, at least for the short-term following the big post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend. In fact, when I looked at the charts, it seemed as though quite regularly the "pattern" would be over-optimistic investors would cause the stock to hit a short term "peak" price the day before Thanksgiving, and then nearly without fail, in the coming week the stock would fall (as, presumably, over exuberance was tamed repeatedly with less than stellar sales reports from retailers during Black Friday). But, that aside, perhaps someone like (NYSE:BBY) could still show long-term benefit.

All I know is that right now, from where I sit, I see all the "cool" products being electronic ones and anything that is "safe" from a lead-free perspective. I'm not in tune with what anyone buys for young people though (under teenage years especially); perhaps clothes this year... got me. But, for teens on up, I'm thinking electronics (and video games in particular) will be quite a hit this year.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comparison: Windows Live Hotmail vs. Gmail

Summary
I have free hosted email accounts with both Microsoft Hotmail (now "Windows Live Hotmail") as well as Google's Gmail. Ages ago, prior to Gmail's existence, I used Hotmail nearly daily, and since Gmail arrived on the scene, it's my daily full-time Email system of choice.

After Hotmail was "upgraded" to Windows Live Hotmail, I gave it another look, and if possible, Microsoft made Hotmail worse with this "upgrade". The Windows Live Hotmail interface is nearly unusable and completely intolerable to me. It is so SLOW, I don't know how anyone can deal with it - just checking a checkbox in the Inbox carries with it a significant delay while the screen refreshes, and the overall interface doesn't even work properly in non-Microsoft browsers (i.e., Firefox - where the splitter-control in the Inbox view is completely non-functioning).

Bottom line: Windows Live Hotmail has only one thing going for it - it is FREE - but, free doesn't make it good enough to compete with Gmail even in the least.


Functionality Comparison
Where to begin? These software products, both web-based email programs, are so completely different, with Gmail being fast, responsive, full-featured, and well designed from a usability standpoint, and Windows Live Hotmail being at nearly the complete opposite end of the spectrum.


Interface Speed and Usability:
As I already hinted above, there is no comparison: Google's Gmail wins this hands-down. Regardless of which browser I use with each product (yes, I have tried both Firefox and IE with each), there is still no comparison. Gmail's user interface is fast and responsive and logical, Hotmail's is the complete opposite and is slow, inefficient, and pure drudgery to use.

OK Hotmail staff, explain to me why you feel the need to show a default image in your checkbox column of something other than a checkbox? (envelope images, closed ones, open ones, ones with arrows, etc.) This is insane. It further slows the event-code on the rows and makes the UI controls exhibit anywhere near "standard" behaviour. Many times I just want to select a few messages to delete, but it takes forever, since your code has to refresh so much junk on the page, and the onclick routines are tyring to update the message-preview window below at the same time, and so much more. It is unusable. Just dragging the "splitter" (between inbox items list and the preview pane below) is slowwwwww. I'm using a FAST machine by the way, so what the heck is going on?

This type of experience persists throughout the entire offerings from each - Gmail tends to just "get it right" and do so in a fast and efficient and usable manner, whereas Hotmail tends to somehow overdesign their interface and generally make for a dismal user experience.


SPAM Filtering:
The default SPAM filtration in Google's Gmail is wonderful! Whatever Gmail is using for their SPAM-Detection logic is superb to say the least. In a given year, I can't recall a single piece of SPAM making it through to my inbox. As for "false positives" (i.e., valid email being considered SPAM), I have had only 3 or 4 emails per year fall into that category, and that is almost always a condition that occurs just once with any given sender, and typically the first time a new sender ever communicates with me where they just happened to use keywords in their email that looked suspect or something. By comparison, Hotmail's default SPAM filter is no where near as accurate... considering I use Hotmail much less than Gmail, it is rather ridiculous that I get at least one SPAM messages a day on average in Hotmail. Speaking of SPAM, one of the regular pseudo-spammers is Microsoft themselves, always sending messages from the "Windows Live Team" announcing something, whether important or not.

Related: In Hotmail, by default, if you get an email with a URL / link to an external web page and you click that link, a popup will show stating that "Attachments, pictures, and links in the message have been blocked for your safety. would you like to unblock the content of the message?". OK, this sounds like a nice security feature, but if my email had been properly filtered to begin with, chances are that the link in my email is one that I really want to view and this popup is nothing more than another clunky and annoying aspect of this interface.


Grouping of Email Conversation Threads:
No comparison! Gmail does it, Hotmail does not. The Inbox in Hotmail gets cluttered so quickly with conversation responses that it is overwhelming to manage it. Every new inbound Email is a line item in the inbox, which coupled with an incredibly slow user-interface, multiplies the absolute torture of using the Hotmail product. By contrast, Gmail presents your email Inbox lines as conversational-thread summaries, thus keeping all the back and forth communication on a single topic together in the inbox-view, whether there is a single exchange or 100 exchanges on a topic - this keeps the Inbox MUCH more manageable to say the least! Gmail gets mega-points for this well planned and well-implemented feature.

What I wish they (all email products - Gmail included) would allow for yet, would be the option to "split" a thread if I desired, and allow me to rename the subject-line (essentially, I want to be able to label a subject-line with something meaningful or more accurate if needed - especially when someone sends me an email about something important, and either leaves the subject-line blank or labels it "HI" or some such thing). If Gmail did this, their product would be nearly perfect in my opinion. Anyone at Google listening? Just abstract the subject-line property a bit, and allow for a user-defined override "label" if desired.


Conclusion:
I'd like to continue with the detailed comparison of these products, but the fact is, as I sit here writing this, and using both email platforms as I type (to remember what the differences are), I just get so frustrated with the Hotmail product that I don't even want to deal with it anymore. I don't need to see a bunch of MSN Today crap on a "home page" for my email,... I don't need any of this user-interface frustration with the Microsoft product either. I'm sticking with Gmail, and just enjoying the fact it is so vastly superior. Enough said. Try both out, and see what you think.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

IBM Lotus Sympony for Windows - the brand returns

Do any of you remember the original Lotus Symphony software package, circa 1984? It was originally released in back then as an integrated software application for DOS, which so many of the younger persons today are not even aware of. Now recently, IBM has revived the Symphony name for a new office suite (currently in Beta 2 stage) that is to be released free of charge.

If you want to get the free Windows Office software package, it is available here at the IBM Lotus Symphony web site, and it includes a word processor (IBM Lotus Symphony Documents), a presentation tool (IBM Lotus Symphony Presentations), and a spreadsheet program (IBM Lotus Symphony Spreadsheets). From the looks of it, the IBM Office software is quite similar to the OpenOffice suite (OpenOffice.Org), but lacks a database tool and vector-based drawing tool like OpenOffice offers.

What I find even more interesting is how IBM supposedly joined the OpenOffice.org community, just a week before announcing the early public release of this re-emerging Symphony branded office application. IBM will be contributing code to the OpenOffice project, but also taking code from it to use in its own office suite. What I don't understand is why IBM just couldn't focus entirely on making OpenOffice a better product instead of releasing yet another office suite that will no doubt end up being just a marginal player on the desktop, aside from their need to promote their own brand recognition, if even for free. I guess I can just hope that whatever IBM does decide to contribute back to the OpenOffice project is something useful and technology that will help OO better compete with Microsoft Office. From my experience, OO is pretty decent, but it has a long way to go to catch up to MS Office 2007, and I'm sure this new IBM Symphony application will fall into that same status without some serious investment on IBM's part.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a free desktop office productivity suite, perhaps the new IBM Symphony Office will be an option for you. Can't hurt to consider it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

National Do-Not-Call Registry and permanent registration

For any of you who have signed up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry, especially those of you who signed up a few years ago already, you will be pleased to know that the FTC has pledged to not drop any numbers from the Do Not Call database pending final congressional lawmaker decisions about whether to simply make the don't call list "permanent" once you sign up.

This all sounds great, but my paranoid side has to wonder if this will ultimately turn out to be an orchestrated effort (pushed behind the scenes by telemarketing interests) to subvert the intentions of the do not call list through a tightly choreographed appearance of an attempt to make the list permanent, while the real objective is to have all of the names on that list that are reaching maturity (i.e., the existing 5-year limit) hold off on renewing their desire to remain unbothered by telemarketers as Congress "works on the issue", ultimately to have Congress not extend the 5-year period to permanence, and worse yet, do so with little notice and little press, effectively having all of us that are currently on the list "fall off" temporarily and subject ourselves to the harassment and calls we so want to avoid.

The real solution, and the obvious solution, to this do not call list is to make ALL phone numbers be automatically on the do-not-call list, and have it be an OPT-IN option to inform marketers that you actually want to receive calls from them (versus the current, and unbelievably lame, opt-out process that is nothing short of an obvious appeasement of telemarketing lobbying interests -- certainly not a consumer interest)! Of course, since the logical answer is to have all phone numbers be on a do not call list by default, that is one thing Congress will never require. So what if 76% of Americans have signed up to keep their numbers off the marketers' lists? (and, I presume most of the remaining 24% would do the same, but just don't take time or are not aware of how simple it is to do).

Let me start with a real-world example of how messed up the current do-not-call registration process-flow is, and what backs my presumption that Congress will, "after careful consideration" and so forth, not make the Do Not Call list a "permanent" thing. Recently my mother-in-law started receiving harassing calls in the middle of the night from some whacko that just happened to choose her number to call. Her existing number was on the do-no-call list, and she rarely received calls aside from the "exempted" stuff like "surveys" and political-campaign messages (gee, who would have guessed lawmakers would exclude themselves from being censored). After these harassing calls persisted for a few days, my mother in law decided to just have the phone company change her number.

Gee, guess what happens after changing your phone number? You are no longer on the do not call list, since it is an OPT-OUT (of being harassed by telemarketers) program vs. opt-in, and instantly you start getting bombarded with marketing calls, even if you go online and instantly register your new phone number with the FTC as not to be called, while the marketers have a sort of grace period to abuse you for a month or so. In my mother-in-law's situation, she went from rarely getting any calls, to literally turning off her ringer after a day because so many marketers were calling her. The phone companies obviously have financially-rewarding agreements with telemarketing firms to sell any information about new phone numbers ASAP so you can be abused and harassed "legally" for as long as possible. This is pure bull@#$! Especially if you were already on the do not call list, and are forced into changing your phone number for any of a variety of reasons.

It would be really nice if Congress would wake up and do our (the people's) bidding and implement some logical consumer-protection laws, but it isn't going to happen as long as lobbyists can hand them more cash and incentives than we, the public, do. It's not good enough to get our votes, they need constant monetary incentive up there on Capitol Hill in order to hear us it seems. So, don't be surprised when the "permanent registration" being considered in Congress somehow doesn't come to be (though, I sure hope it does!), and you suddenly start getting marketing calls during a period where marketers will exploit a giant hole created by Congress where your registrations lapses as an "unfortunate and unexpected side effect" of lawmakers efforts - since they'll postpone making a final decision until after many of us early signup persons pass our initial 5-years of peace we signed up for. I hope I'm wrong, but you can almost predict this sort of thing from lawmakers.