Saturday, July 31, 2010

Escape velocity part II

I sent the previous post about my frustration with my new computer to the CEO of Velocity Micro. Admittedly, it was a plea for help and on Saturday at 1PM, 15 minutes after sending, the CEO sent me a note back inviting me to call him to discuss/help resolve the issue. Wow.

He agrees that I probably have a bad drive, and that's not good news. However, there's a real person on the other end who really cares and wants to help and seems really committed to building great product and a good company. His attitude exactly mirrors that of the sales and support reps I have worked with at Velocity. A good customer driven culture is in the air.

This customer's benefit of the doubt is given to Velocity. Next step is to send them my hard drive and, hopefully, get a new one (with my data re-installed) rapidly back.

Kudos to the CEO (For the skeptics, I am not just kissing up on this one).

Escape Velocity?

I set out to buy a new PC last week and intended to buy a Dell. However, their 'advisor' chat was so bad that I figured if they can't answer a simple question in the selling cycle, the support must be even worse. By the way, the selling issue began with 'are you a business or consumer account' and ended with them transferring me to someone who asked the same questions as the previous person, then barraged me with questions about past purchases, before I was cut off as the chat failed.

Seeking refuge, and a better quality experience I went to Velocity Micro and bought a well reviewed Z35 with a 1Tb 7200 rpm hard drive. Unfortunately, the system arrived with a drive that sounds like horses galloping. I called customer support who had me take off the covers, disconnect drives, interfere with fan(s), and take off the front panel. The tech was really helpful and polite and diagnosed the offending issue as a faulty front panel. They immediately sent me a new one; unfortunately, it did not solve the problem. the horses are still galloping, just like Caligula heard them.

Today, an outsourced technician arrived to diagnose/repair the issue. He noted the galloping sound and told me "this is a fast drive which the chassis is not properly designed to handle". Not what I wanted to hear. But, I am not sure he's right. At least I really really hope he's not right. He can't be right, I just spent too many hours transferring data from my old system onto this one, for him to be right. As they say, I am now invested. I trusted a company that seems to take its products more seriously to do this to their customers. But, the alternative is that they shipped me a bad drive when their brand image is all about quality components, and extensive pre-ship QA.

This is a problem that should not have happened. I am frustrated that I've spent too many hours on this issue and am [ ] that close to returning it and taking my chances with Dell again. Or, maybe, I should throw my lot in with the Applehaulics in the household.

BTW, Velocity only has support M-F 9AM-10PM (these are posted on their site for caveat emptor)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flipping it around

I am now the lone MSFT holdout in the family.

I recently upgraded from a Dell XP based machine to a Velocity Windows 7 based system (shame on Dell for having such a terrible site with horrendous advisor workflow; otherwise I would have bought their XP 7100), I am now an Island in a sea of Apples. It happened over the past year, first with phones, then laptops, iMac's and now iPad's. It got me thinking about a broader trend we are seeing.

For the past couple of decades, technology paradigm shifts have rested on a three legged stool:

* Processing power (e.g. Moore's Law)
* Bandwidth speeds
* Software innovation

Each leapfrog one another but, when two move radically, you tend to see a wave of innovation that augers a fundamental change in the information technology business. The now ubiquitous move to 3G wireless, coupled with broadband to the home are rapidly moving many applications to the 'cloud'. This move is coupled with innovations in software development, led by open source movements ranging from the LAMP stack to Wikipedia to Google's Android. The pace of innovation is staggering.

The great strides in bandwidth availability and reliability, plus the progress in advancing the software infrastructure is impressive, however, it seems to me that these are the forerunners of a bigger phenomena we are about to see.

Oftentimes, advances in processing power have been nearly invisible to end-users. Sure, photos edit quicker, but for the most part, absent gamers, the mainstream has not seen wonderful improvements in computing capability. Mom still has a devil of a time dealing with this stuff. Except if you use Apple computers. A large measure of their success, certainly in stark contrast to MSFT, is the massive investment they have made in making the interaction between their customer and their devices as seamless as possible. The iPad is magical. It powers up in no-time and the gesture based User Interface defines intuitive. This takes serious processing power to pull off. While many vendors in the Wintel orbit have invested billions of dollars in software 'plumbing' and expanded features, Apple has poured their money into changing the 'face' of computing.

The intuitive nature of gesture based computing has been embraced by more than 100,000 programmers offering more than 225,000 programs on Apple's Application Store. But I think the innovation is just starting. Having recently downloaded an iPad product Flipboard or seeing the interaction between me and Zinio, the standardized, yet now static Windows interface, that served us so well for nearly 2 decades is now obsolete. This is a change as profound as MS-DOS moving to Windows.

Of course, Apple does not have a monopoly on gesture based computing. We are seeing a two horse race between an open Google OS based world (Android and soon Chrome OS), soon to be flooded by a myriad of computing devices from phones to tablets to systems, vs a 'curated' (e.g. closed) world of Apple. HP will soon join the fray with recently acquired Palm OS based systems. I suspect MSFT is not too far behind.

The effect of investing processing power in making more intuitive User Interfaces will be to greatly broaden markets, upset the status quo in existing industries, and fragment users in Hatfield vs McCoy camps. Fortunately, due to widely accepted standards (e.g. HTML5) we won't step back into the tower of babel. Instead, we are poised for a great leap forward.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


My neighborhood tennis joint is blessed with clay/dirt courts and, during this time of year, ant hills are a common site along the service lines. Marching over to verify the mark for a line call, I was struck by the way these little guys scamper around in a seemingly irrational way; wondering how they get anything done in a world of such micro disorder. Yet the length of the court has at least 15 ant hills, perfectly aligned; order amid seeming chaos. It set me to thinking about what we are now seeing in the Internet Commerce space.

Today brought news of an investment in fast growing Modcloth by Accel and First Round. Yesterday's news brought the acquisition of Woot by Amazon. Earlier in June, Ebay bought bar code scanning infrastructure from Red Laser. Of course, funding stories abound from places such as Gilt, Ideeli, and elsewhere.

On the surface it seems as if there is a mad ant scramble in the commerce side of the internet. Hmmm, I suppose there is a mad ant scramble in the commerce side of the internet. I think it's justified. Let me explain.

In an area I've recently been looking at (and a microcosm of the vast commerce arena), teen commerce, enjoys less than 6% of all apparel sales online. It's a number that is probably appropriate given that most of the leading commerce sites were built and implemented prior to the social revolution, massive broadband acceptance, mobile search (which is fundamentally changing as people increasingly tend to search from within applications, as opposed to via the browser), real-time alerts/buying, and the prevalent use of video for presentation of items. In other words, the legacy sites were implemented more than two years ago. The change in the infrastructure and supporting technologies, individually, may seem like ants running about, but stepping back, there's a method to the building.

We are at the beginning of a fundamental platform shift in commerce. It has the appearance of a random ant walk, but I am convinced there's a method to this capitalistic ritual. The leading economic indicator I can point to is the rut that same day store sales are in, coupled with the double digit growth of internet sales by the same brands. I don't think we are in an economy induced retailing rut, and think the move away from physical stores will accelerate as the innovative factors mentioned above are adopted by mainstream sites, optimized by independent vendors, and embraced by savvy consumers. Now, I don't think remote sales will totally replace physical shopping, nor do I think the 95/5% ratio is justified.

Consumers are benefiting from better prices passed along to vendors who are far more inventory efficient, but the benefits extend beyond 'permacheap', into enhanced selection, real-time curation by your peers/experts, emotive real-time offers, far more efficient promotion and many other attributes which passionate entrepreneuers will uncover.