Rohan Jayasekera's thoughts on the evolving use of computers -- and the resulting effects

Occasional thoughts by Rohan Jayasekera of Toronto, Canada.

My Photo
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

View Rohan Jayasekera's profile on LinkedIn Rohan Jayasekera's Facebook profile twitter / RohanSJ
Subscribe in a reader

Or enter your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Monday, October 30, 2006

Microsoft Windows Vista

Apparently Microsoft regards me as a known Toronto tech blogger, because they invited me to a local Windows Vista preview event this evening. I was one of around 15 guests who turned up, including such better-known-than-mine names as (in alphabetical order) /pd, David Crow, Jay Goldman, Joey deVilla, Leila Boujnane, Michelle Tampoya, Randy Charles Morin, and Thomas Purves (there, I’ve just listed half the guests).

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to reach out to the “community”, which is interesting in itself to me as that’s a Web 2.0-ish thing. Microsoft is currently making its second seismic shift, this time to Windows Live and related things. The first time was when it belatedly discovered the importance of the Internet, i.e. Web 1.0. If there’s a “3.0” at any point, I predict that it will cause Microsoft’s third seismic shift. Microsoft is slow sometimes, but it catches up.

The four technical people from Microsoft included two from nearby Microsoft Canada and two from galactic HQ in Redmond, all very knowledgeable, plus a Microsoft PR person and three people from their PR firm. Only a 2-to-1 guest to staff ratio, kind of like on an expensive cruise ship. I had very interesting chats with Bruce Cowper (Senior Program Manager, Security Initiative) about usability improvements in Vista and Office (even though he’s a security guy) and Graham Watson (Senior Product Manager, Windows Client) about his former employer Xerox (even though he now works at Microsoft). I remarked to Graham that his presentation had been largely about enterprise issues, which I figured reflected the greater difficulty of getting enterprises to adopt a new version of Windows. Consumers tend to get the newest version automatically when they buy a new computer, or choose to upgrade their OS; it’s generally only enterprise IT departments that are so risk-averse that they’ll stick with what they have as long as possible (even if, paradoxically, this causes them to run risks that come with using outdated software).

David Crow was very complimentary about some of the user-experience improvements in Vista, which was quite striking to me as he’s such a Mac fan. Speaking of which, I was stunned yesterday when I was trying to help a Mac-wielding friend send out a formatted document as an email message, and learned from a Web search that Apple Mail doesn’t believe in sending HTML mail! I’m starting to wonder why there are so many Apple acolytes around in the Web world given that Apple’s email client and Web browser suck (relatively speaking). I suppose they just use other apps such as Firefox. Which is fine, except that the vast majority of computer buyers use the email and browser programs that came with their computer. Oh right, those would be Outlook Express and Internet Explorer, since that vast majority buys Windows machines! All right, Apple, you have my permission to continue producing substandard email clients and browsers. Well, not really: my wife and some of my friends use Macs and are not going to switch to third-party apps unless pushed by someone like me, and I don’t want to do Apple’s tech support at no charge.

Vista’s new Aero user interface didn’t particularly impress me. So what if you can see through the “glass-like interface elements”? I want to see those interface elements, not what’s behind them. Microsoft claims “spectacular visual effects”, but this is the typical Microsoft programmer’s issue of wanting to impress people. Note to all Microsofties: it’s not about you.

I’m actually happy that Aero is dispensable, because it needs a lot of graphics memory that my computer probably doesn’t have. So I can upgrade to Vista minus Aero and won’t feel like I’m missing out.

Speaking of user interfaces, I mentioned to a couple of the Softies my idea that I earlier blogged about of how to hide advanced features from novice users. They both liked it, but not enough to start agitating within Microsoft to do something like that.

One cool feature of Vista is that it maintains a central store of feeds, one that is used to supply a feed reader in the new version of Outlook but that can also be used by other applications. My thought was that this didn’t go far enough: I want my central store to be on the Internet so that I can feed-read from multiple devices — which I do, because I use Google Reader on both my laptop and my Treo 650. One of Microsoft’s major challenges is to maintain the importance of the operating system at a time when things are migrating to the Internet. Even in big corporations, people are starting to use Web-based applications no matter what the IT department says.

Some of my fellow guests had been using early versions of Vista. I could have too, but I’d rather not use beta software unless there’s a significant benefit for me or my customers. Unlike most people with a geek background, I prefer to use what the masses use, whenever practical. Otherwise I’ll lose touch with them. When I worked on (now, I tried to get content developers to sometimes use dialup modems instead of their broadband connections, so that they could experience the content the way the users did. It didn’t work: as far as I could tell I was the only person to sometimes use a dialup modem (and I wasn’t even developing content).

DISCLOSURE: Thanks to Microsoft for the freely flowing red wine, which fueled this post, and the marvelous tapas at Kultura Restaurant, which the staff were justifiably boastful about.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Nicholas Reville on the future of online video

I only just found out about it, but on September 14th Nicholas Reville of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the makers of the Democracy player for Internet TV, wrote an excellent essay called Openness Matters. RSS Can Help. and subtitled The Future of Online Video. Read it here; did I mention that I think it’s excellent?

Hats off to him for often calling it “television” rather than “video”. Where I live, a “video” is now a physical object (DVD or videocassette), while TV is anything watched on the television set that comes in electronically, including a video-on-demand movie or something recorded on a PVR (e.g. TiVO). Internet content falls in the latter category. Furthermore, the Internet is becoming just another source of TV shows. TiVO has been trialling a “TiVO Video Download” service which includes Rocketboom, and is usable by anyone with a Series2 TiVO box who has hooked it up to a broadband connection. (TiVO isn’t available here in Canada, but I understand that many Americans have it, from watching Sex and the City.) And when Apple releases its iTV next year, we may finally see a commercially successful marriage of PCs and TVs. I look forward to watching Ze Frank on my TV set. Even more I look forward to dropping my cable TV subscription and getting all my television directly from the “publishers” over the Internet. (Someday.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

ICT Toronto - and Toronto's mayor

I blogged earlier about an upcoming meeting with ICT Toronto, an organization which wants to be “the forum where [Information and Communications Technologies] organizations, firms and other stakeholders come together to advance the interest of the Toronto region ICT industry cluster”. Although a bunch of us with blogs were there, including some who had made somewhat inflammatory comments about ICT Toronto, since the meeting only two attendees have posted about it (I’m the third, and it’s been 11 days already): Joey deVilla gave a quick summary of the meeting, and David Crow wrote about a specific thing that had emerged at the meeting, namely the need for a new organization.

I think our lack of energy around this is interesting in itself. Have the firebrands let off steam and lost their energy, or have we been assimilated, or have we just admitted defeat?

Yesterday I was at a lunch event with Toronto’s Mayor David Miller, at the invitation of the organizer who is a friend of mine. I sat at the same table as the organizer and the mayor (no, I didn’t crash it; there was a placecard with my name on it) and during some discussion took the opportunity to mention ICT Toronto and Toronto’s lack of prominence in the tech world, including our poor showing relative to the nearby small city of Waterloo. My rant was met with a nearly complete lack of interest on the part of my five tablemates. The only reaction was this from one person: “But Waterloo’s a one-trick pony, isn’t it?” I replied “Yes, but it’s a big trick”, which elicited no further comment.

There was an additional minor outcome when the mayor gave his speech: he mentioned a bunch of areas in which Toronto can excel and included “ICT”. Since nobody in the audience would have had any clue what “ICT” referred to, other than me, I’m sure he said this only out of politeness toward me. More interesting was that he mentioned this recent achievement of the city: the opening in Toronto’s downtown of the Canadian headquarters of SAS, which he explained is the world’s largest privately held software company. The key point was that SAS wanted to locate where its employees want to live, in the central city and not out in the suburbs, i.e. good news for Toronto which has been losing businesses to its neighbouring suburbs where land is cheaper and municipal taxes are lower. Now, SAS is in the ICT sector but you would never have known it. Clearly all that mattered was that it was big enough to put up a building in downtown Toronto.

I conclude that in places like Silicon Valley and Waterloo there is a lot of awareness of the importance of the tech industry, because it represents a significant percentage of the local economy. Here in Toronto tech is just another sector. Never mind that it’s large: what matters is its percentage share, which is low, and hence its mindshare.

One of the questions the mayor took from the audience was from writer and strategic-communications consultant Pauline Couture, who expressed her shock at Torontonians’ passivity in accepting whatever minimal funding the federal and provincial governments feel like doling out to us. She explained that she was from Montréal where the local elite are quite active on representing their city’s interests. I’m from Montréal myself and am similarly mystified despite having lived in Toronto for over 20 years, so after the mayor’s speech I collared him and asked him more about how to counter this problem. He doesn’t think getting mad will work and that we just have to keep pushing for what we want. I suppose he’s right — I guess Torontonians are just spineless. (Now watch people prove me wrong by threatening me for saying that.) This doesn’t augur well for ICT Toronto, which really needs some fire behind it. Anyway, I got back to the subject of ICT Toronto with Mayor Miller, and mentioned my frustration at the meeting with the lack of a sense of urgency. He tensed up a bit and I’d clearly connected with his own general frustration at trying to accomplish things as mayor (Toronto currently has a “weak mayor” system though that’s about to change somewhat): I forget his exact comment but it amounted to “That is not adequate; we need to GET THINGS DONE!” (He was speaking, but I could hear the capitals.)

My gut feeling is that even if ICT Toronto becomes more energetic it will still have its work cut out for it: Torontonians just don’t really care about the tech industry, just like the rest of Canada doesn’t really care about Toronto (other than as a place to throw insults at). What I think is worth putting our energies into is the new organization that we need to create. Comments welcome.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Rohan Jayasekera is on the job market

These days I do freelance work, but for a while now I’ve been on the lookout for a Web 2.0-related “real job” (permanent, or longer-term contract). There is so much happening in the Web 2.0 world, and for me it’s brought back a level of excitement I haven’t had since the mid-1990s when public use of the Internet was beginning to take hold. Back then I ended up being co-founder of what became Canada’s largest Internet service, Sympatico, and its companion portal which was Canada’s busiest website. Now I’m again looking for something to sink my teeth into.

What I do is to define and develop software-based products, preferably Web-based. I call myself a “product development manager” (= product manager leaning toward development, as opposed to a “product marketing manager” who leans toward marketing). I started out as a programmer, moved into project management and staff management, and along the way became interested in not only the actual building of the product but also what it does. I love improving a product in a way that helps lots of its users. My ideal best fit is with a smaller company that is creating or extending one or more Web-based products, but I’m certainly open to variations on that. There’s more info and a résumé on my website. If you might have a job for me, or know of someone else who might, I’d appreciate hearing from you (my website has contact info). Thanks!