Monday, January 29, 2007

New Address!

I converted Ask Uncle Mark to use the new "Blogger" system that Google put together for blogs using The changes are pretty good. The most notable from a "user's" point of view is that they make it easy to use your own domain name. You will see, also, some changes to the layout.

The new address is

What is different is that now the domain stays when you go to, instead of redirecting to the address. The new system works pretty well!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Microsoft Prediction

When Bill Gates announced his retirement from Microsoft in July, that, to my mind, marked the end of the "Microsoft Era." Microsoft has been losing ground in the world of personal computing (actually, in computing overall).

Microsoft isn't over, and won't be over for a long time. After all, COBOL, the 1950's era business programming language, is still very much in use. But, Microsoft's dominance is on its way out, to the point where it will be a choice to use Microsoft products, not a requirement. I see this being fully fleshed out by 2010 or 2011.

It is difficult to predict something like "market share" for the PC market. In this world of laptops, BlackBerries and iPhones, what is a PC? Currently, Microsoft has a commanding 95%+ share of the PC market. Does this mean that 95% of all people who have any computing device also has some PC running Windows? I have a BlackBerry, a PC, and an iPod. So, in my case, two out of the three computing devices I have are non-Microsoft. But, there is no doubt that my primary device is a PC.

Perhaps it is enough to say that by the end of 2011, the percentage of people who have Microsoft-based product as their main computing device will drop below 50%. I think that should this statistic occur, it will be obvious: Many businesses will have moved off Windows, people will be using their non-Windows mobile device for their main device (many use their BlackBerries that way now!), and homes will have either a Mac or a Tivo-like Linux device as their main unit.

Why do I think this? Because Bill Gates is Microsoft, and he is leaving. Also, the Microsoft vision of a PC in every home has been achieved. The new vision is "I can get whatever information I need (including entertainment) from my hand-held device."

Vista does not fit into this world. The iPhone does. So does Linux-based wireless kiosks cruising the web.

Microsoft Vista? Not Yet...

Here is an article in ComputerWorld indicating why people should hold off on Windows Vista. Vista is the latest version of Windows, set to replace Windows XP.

From my perspective, Windows Vista is so unimportant, that I haven't even looked at it. So, why am I going along with the "wait, wait" crowd when I haven't even seen it?

I have been thinking that before I write about Vista, I ought to at least look at it. The problem is, I have zero desire to do so. To investigate it would take days and days, absorb my machine, requires a "fall-back" plan in case it all goes to pot, and I just can't gird myself to do it.

Which, I think, is interesting in itself.

Here is the latest version of Windows, the software that runs 95%+ of all personal computers there are, the software that started out as "Longhorn" and was marketed as being the first computer operating system that can read your mind (well, almost), the software that you will be running if you by a new computer any time soon, and... I don't care about it.

Why? Because:

1. Like all Microsoft products, it is big and piggy (or, should I say, "bigger and piggier"). Every reference to Vista has the addage "need to upgrade your PC." (They leave out "in order to run this pig!"). I am tired of big and piggy software. I run a very fast machine at work, and it yet I have to wait, wait, wait while running Windows XP. Why would I want slower?

2. The operating system is mattering less and less in the new Internet World. Almost all the time I am doing something using a Web browser, on the Web, i.e. Internet. Online Banking, Email, News reading, "googling" (which now includes using Google products, such as Google Calendar, Google Desktop, and other products), blogging, and research. What do I need an operating system for? I use Excel, MindMapper (the subject of another posting), Word, iTunes, and some sundry utility programs. I can do the bulk of my work on Linux or an Apple, now. I don't because I have some tools I need to get to on Windows.

3. The advertised features of Vista... well, what are they but more of the same? More XP than XP. Generally, when people use Vista for a while, they like it. Walter Mossberg liked it, but was generally underwhelmed. So, it is not a "gotta have," at least in my book.

4. The licensing issue. Vista "phones home" and forces you to re-activate the software if you change your computer's configuration, and there are a number of other limitations. I do not have full details, but gone are the days when you could just be on your honor and not have to worry about calling Microsoft to start your machine up. This also means that to use Vista, you will need a network connection of some kind.

5. It costs money. Google, iTunes (the client), most web content, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, are free. Microsoft wants money?

So, I add these up, and I am unenthused. I know that, if I stay on the Windows platform, I will be forced to move to Vista at some point. I see no need to hurry. I certainly don't want to spend money on it!

So, wait it out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Time Sort (Noguchi) Filing System

In my attempts at organization, I came across what I think is a rather ingenious idea for filing -- at least for files for current projects.

The idea is deceptively simple:

Take a large vertical envelope (I use 10" x 13")

Cut off the top flap (leaving the top open)

The envelope should be about 12" tall now.

Label what you want to file on back, vertically down the left edge of the envelope.

Put today's date under the label.

Put what you want to file in it.

Place it on your desk or on a bookshelf between bookends.

As you create new envelopes, add it to the shelf on the left side. Thus, the last one created will be the furthest left.

As you pull a file for use, replace it on the left side. Thus, the last file you worked with will be on the left.

As you create files, and use them, all your "active files" will stay toward the left of the shelf, and all the inactive files will end up on the right side of the shelf. Occasionally review the right side files to see what needs to be filed away permanently or destroyed, and cull them out.

When you need a file, look for it by starting at the left, and moving through the envelopes until you find it. You will find that you get to your most used files faster and your least used files later. Again, when done with the file, put it back on the left.

The result is a set of files holding information on your active projects, sorted by last used, with the most used files being easier and faster to find. You spend zero time trying to figure out where to file your envelopes (they are always put back on the left) and you spend less time finding the files that you use most often (they are clustered to the left). The files you no longer need are never in the way: you never touch them until you decide to cull the system of dead files.

I have been using this now since November 29th. I currently have about twenty files in the system. I use it to hold files on projects on which I am working, vendors or technologies I am investigating, and curious information that I may have to get back to in the coming weeks. I do not use it for long-term or archival storage -- the old files eventually get there if I need to file them away, and then they are files alphabetically by category in the "normal" way.

The brilliance of the system is in its simplicity. It automatically sorts by need without any thought on my part. It automatically "tells" me which projects are either stale or complete because they move to the right, and which projects are "hot" because they are furthest to the left. It reduces time hunting for files both when filing away, or when searching for files. It removes the need to have "absolute" categorization, since you are not filing or searching by category, you are merely looking for a file left-to-right. It saves space, since all my active files are in one space and not arrayed in stacks on my desk.

As mentioned, the system works best for current projects and activities. This does not replace traditional filing systems, but it does reduce the need to root around in them. The traditional files get touched far less often -- only when moving files from the Time Sort system, or when older information is needed for whatever reason.

One lesson learned when implementing the system was that I occasionally created two files for nearly identical activities. Usually this happened when I hadn't touched the file for a while, and I forgot that I already had a file in place. I fixed that by scanning the file system before making any new files to ensure that I hadn't already made a file for the project, or for a similar task. As projects morph over time, I may rename a file to reflect what it is now, keep the name, or perhaps the project really has branched and a new project (and file) is in order.

Where did this system come from? Apparently, it was created by a Japanese author named Yukio Noguchi. I say "apparently" because Mr. Noguchi's books are written in Japanese, and I can't review the source material. About a year ago, this file system was written up by a number of bloggers who are interested in Time Management. They referred to a web site in which the system was described by a Japanese translator, borrowing liberally from it, to the point where the translator took umbrage and removed the posting. Therefore, the system as described herein may or may not reflect what Noguchi proposed. Because of this, I am calling it the "Time Sort Filing System."

It have found it to be very effective -- let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Productivity Issue: Planners

Ever since I started using computers in Earnest, back in the '80s, one of my goals was to have everything be "electronic," meaning, everything on the computer, and nothing on paper. That, of course, was a mission for computers in the '60s: The Paperless Office. The idea was that since everything would be on "The Computer" (this was way before PCs, or Personal Computers, and there was only one capital "C" Computer), paper would be obsolete. All memos, correspondence, reports, etc., would be read from the screen.

Well, that was my mission, too. From a pure efficiency point of view, it makes sense: Enter it once, and access it forever from a computer. No need to re-write to-do lists, Rolodex cards, schedules and calendar appointments, etc. If you have your to-do list, say, on your computer, you do not need to re-create the new list every day. You just create the list, and as you finish the items, they disappear from the list, and the unfinished items are carried forward.

Over the years, computer programs and devices were created to make this happen. From a personal productivity point of view, there were a number of programs on PCs that would help out -- I used Borland Sidekick, for example -- I coded a lot of software using the Sidekick editor. Others available at the time were Lotus Agenda, and Netmanage Ecco. There were hand-held devices, like IBM's Simon, and Apple Newton. In 1996, the Palm Pilot made its debut, and we were off to the races -- new Palms, Windows CE computers, BlackBerries, "Smart Phones," etc. They all promised to allow you to go paperless, get rid of the Day Timer, Franklin Planner, or Filofax, and run your life electronically.

Well, I gave up on the "dream." This is a prime example of "just because you can do something, does not mean you should do something." At the end of the day, a personal productivity system, or personal information manager (PIM), or agenda, or whatever you want to call it has a primary goal: To make you more productive. Secondarily, it is to allow you to find information on who you know, what you are doing, what you did do, and what you want and need to do. As it should be, the goal trumps the method.

Electronic devices seem to be excellent for use for personal productivity -- except that they are not. Computers and hand-helds are great for keeping your address list in order, and are good for calendars and appointments, but lousy for tracking tasks and progress and goals. Tasks, progress, and goals are the heart of productivity. At the end of the day, paper and pen (or pencil) is the "killer app" for personal productivity.

My next few posts will cover some of the things I have been looking at in this area, including time tracking, task tracking, filing, etc. "Stay Tuned"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cisco Sues Apple for the iPhone Name

So, this is a bit bone-headed on Apple's part -- use a name that Cisco and its aquirees have been using since 1996. So now Cisco is suing. I guess they did not come to an agreement on time. My guess is they will -- or Apple will call it the Apple Phone -- which is a better name, anyway, in my opinion, since the iPhone, er, Apple Phone is really a hand-held Mac and not a beefed-up iPod. Cisco's iPhone is a Voice over IP home/business unit, and is a lot more utilitarian.

Cisco has embedded either Skype or Yahoo into its units, and uses that "transport" to do internet phone calling. It is a replacement for (or augmentation to) your "land-line." It is wireless in that your wireless phone at home is wireless: at home only, although there are also Wifi iPhones as well, that use a wireless internet connection and do not need a PC to work -- so you can use it at your local coffee shop that offers free Wifi access. Cool in its own right, but geeky. I have not tried it, so I don't know if it works or not, but I can say, it is not an Apple.

This changes nothing fundamental -- the ApplePhone is very cool, and as I said, I'm getting two.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The iPhone: Get One

Here is an example of a news item every blog and their brother will have: Apple announced and demoed the iPhone today at Macworld in San Francisco.

Rather than an extension of the iPod, it is actually a Mac in a phone -- it runs the Mac operating system, OS X, and seems to be a full fledged computer phone.

What is my take? When it is released in June, I am getting two: one for my wife, and one for me. It makes everything else, including the BlackBerry, which I currently use, obsolete. It buries Microsoft's offerings -- actually, it buries everything that is out there.

This was the capper on some other really good announcements made today: Apple TV, which links your iTunes to your TV set wirelessly; and nothing less than a name change for Apple. They are no longer "Apple Computer," they are now "Apple, Inc."

Apple is taking over, along with Google, Oracle, Linux, and VMWare. I predicted last year that Microsoft will be just another company, and its innovations like these that are making that happen. If you are a consumer, you can currently easily live your life without Microsoft products. If you are a small business, same thing. It is coming to pass, soon, that the same will be true of larger businesses. Large businesses will not be locked in to Vista, Office, or Windows server products. Businesses are already moving to Linux and Open Source products for their server needs, like web-based applications. Oracle has positioned itself very well in this space, with their announcement in October to fully support Linux.

If I were to advise someone what to buy for computing at home, now, I would say: Get a Mac. If you have a tech-savvy kid who likes erector sets and Lego, I would say: Get a Linux machine running AMD Athlon chips (and VMWare Workstation). That's it. There is no need for Microsoft technology in the home, period.

Why does this matter? Because Microsoft has been riding a desktop monopoly for years and years, and coasting on the inertia of legacy software. Windows ran DOS programs, so people moved to Windows. NT ran Windows 3.1 programs, so people used NT. Etc., etc. Apple had delivery issues in their youth, as well as pricing problems, as well as being very proprietary. This last is still there, but it is not the issue it was in the past -- actually, Apple is fairly open. Much more open than Microsoft.

In this period of Microsoft dominance, they continued to be fat and lazy. Huge programs, many, many bugs, many many patches. The viruses that we are all suffering from are for the most part aimed at machines running Microsoft. There are two reasons: one, they are everywhere, but more importantly, there are holes to exploit. Ubiquity would not matter if there was no way to exploit the machines. But there are.

Now we have Vista, which is a monster, and requires a very fast machine to run well. Who cares? I really don't. There is nothing that is compelling me to move from XP to Vista, especially for my home machine, which is a couple of years old. However, I will buy an iPhone. Need I say more?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Okay, so I was not really back!

Welcome to 2007! The last couple of months have been hectic for me -- and probably for all of you as well. Entering entries here on Ask Uncle Mark require dedicated time and thought. Oh, I know that some bloggers just spew their thoughts down ongoing during the day, but I can't really do that. When I write something, it can't just be an unbacked opinion, or just a comment on something someone else said, but it should have back-up and some analysis. Otherwise, it is just rehashed news.

For example: last night at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Bill Gates gave a keynote on "Connected Entertainment." The "house of the future", "PC in a car", all that stuff. Today, there is a lot of blog entries and news stories about it. So -- the news is out. Not only that, these are written by people who were actually at the show. So, what can I, at Ask Uncle Mark, add to the conversation?

My answer is not to just rehash the information already available. All these people are rehashing what Bill said, and reporting that he said it. What I can add is the question: "Does it matter?" analyze the overall scene of Microsoft and computing. One keynote does not really change much of anything. I've seen several keynotes by Bill Gates over the last thirteen years, and, to be frank, his message and vision have been pretty much the same: Computing everywhere, making our life easier -- if we use Microsoft products. Microsoft, according to Bill, is there to make your life easier by making computing technology do more for you.

I try to take a broader view -- such as the above. Microsoft has been around for a long time, and Gates's vision has been consistent during this time. What has changed is that Windows Vista is bigger and does a lot more than Windows 3.0 and Windows NT. But, Microsoft was pushing pen computing in 1995 and 1996 (and earlier), and I saw my first demo of the Auto PC in Redmond in 1998. So, is this new? Not really.

So, what matters? What matters is:

1. Everything is going digital.
2. Everything is getting connected to the Internet.
3. Everything that is connected to the Internet "wants to be free."

Look at Google, Linux, Yahoo, Napster (before it was killed), iTunes (free, with $1 songs), YouTube, Skype, Firefox, Instant Messenger programs, etc., etc.

The Internet is driving the cost to communicate in all methods down, down, down -- to less than $100 per month per household. The main cost is the attachment to the Internet itself, and the cost of the computer. Even the cost of connecting is going down -- more and more communities and stores are providing free wireless internet access! Once that is in place, the rest is almost free.

So, Microsoft built this huge pig called Vista, and in actual fact, it is not much of an improvement over Windows XP. Microsoft is only in business now because Linux is still too hard to use, and Apple is preventing OS X being run on non-Apple hardware. Despite these two issues, Apple is gaining market share, and Linux use is moving up, up, up. Linux is already taking over the data center. It is far superior to Windows as a server operating system, and the tools are free.

As the year moves forward, I will post shorter, more concise posts, and see how it goes. But, if only by doing so I can add some context.

Cheers, everyone, and Happy New Year!