Friday, February 22, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Microsoft-Yahoo: It Doesn’t Get Any More Epic than This
Computer-giant Microsoft has gone and done it again: it’s gone and made a proposal to acquire yet-another enterprise. This new catch is nothing less than the search engine “Yahoo”—and it wants to acquire it for $44.6bn. It might be too early to speculate on the modalities of this acquisition, but what is clear is that this latest move to take over YAHOO is a way of stymieing the competition that Google offers.
At least that is the rumour going round. You have got to give it to the information society: its 24/7 access to information has made pundits of all of us. Little wonder therefore that the degree of speculation on Microsoft’s motive has been as rife. In the same vein, Microsoft’s move might come as little surprise given Yahoo’s reported falling profits. Reports from the financial media indicate Yahoo’s been approached before, with the latest being in February 2007. The Board of Directors at Yahoo would reject it.
Microsoft Bad Boy to Cash in on Yahoo in Freefall?
The situation at Yahoo in 2008 is a different matter altogether. With impending job cuts and profits that are predicted to only materialise in 2009, prospects of a boom for Yahoo are not going to happen any time soon. You can imagine that this has made Yahoo rather jittery. Question is: jittery enough to sell its soul to the devil?
Make no mistake: Microsoft has delusions of grandeur that are so big it’s not funny. The European Commission had been behind the company’s tail since 1999, on account of Microsoft’s decision to force Internet Explorer browser on users, by bundling it with operating systems. Small wonder browsers like Netscape—as I reported last two weeks—have bitten the dust. Norwegian browser Opera had also made similar complaints to Brussels, home of the EU’s executive arm, and the EC lawyers have followed suit by slapping heavy fines on Microsoft. According to a press release on the Commission’s website of March 2004, “heavy” turned out to be a €497 million fine against Microsoft for “abusing its market power in the EU”. This, somehow, has not seemed to deter it.
Microsoft’s Got a Reason
Microsoft sees a merger with Yahoo as a great way of taking over not just search engines (Google accounted for 56.3% of all Web searches in December, compared with a combined 31.5% for Microsoft and Yahoo) , but online advertising, which Google is reported to have handled brilliantly through its AdSense service. Should the deal go through, Microsoft will inevitably make even more money, and seek to compete directly with Google. For some strange reason, Yahoo had not cottoned onto this. It would prove to be its undoing, setting the stage for this explosive development that has left many technology insiders with baited breath.
There is no question that search-engine Giant is cognisant of the developments, for it has made both public and private offers to both castigate the decision (on the grounds of being a threat to competition and stretching it to the point where it states this bid merits scrutiny by worldwide policy-makers), and conciliate Yahoo, by offering to partner it. Yahoo executives have bought time by coming out to say that nothing about the Microsoft merger is set in stone.
Google’s Offer Yahoo Cannot Refuse
Although it’s not great news for Yahoo, insiders predict that Yahoo being subsumed under Google—for all the mixed signals it might give off as conceding to Google its superiority in the search-engine world—would be far less harmful than under Microsoft.
The idea that falling for Microsoft represents the quintessence of the Faustian pact cannot be any clearer when you read reports from users using the Yahoo-owned Flickr photo-sharing site writing in groups created on that service messages to Microsoft stating: “Keep your evil grubby hands off our Flickr.” Reports even indicate that users are threatening to dump Flickr if the merger is approved.
What might probably go against Microsoft is CNET News.com report that a federal district court in Washington, in 2001, ruled that the company had consistently violated the law “by stifling the threat to its monopoly position posed by Netscape, which popularized the Web browser.” The article maintains a suit was brought by the Clinton administration, but settled by the Bush one. The outcome, simply put, is that a federal court and a three-member team of technical experts monitor Microsoft’s behaviour.
It goes without saying that this team will be seriously scrutinising this bid, for that Microsoft is being monitored suggests the manifestation of its delusions have been all-to-real for the past six years.
For the rest of us as users, will it be the grass that suffers as two elephants (Google and Microsoft) battle it out (and note: I’m still not talking about the final game of CAN2008!)? After all, which Ghanaian is unaware of a Yahoo email account (whether Yahoo.com/yahoo.co.uk is moot); Yahoo Messenger and Yahoo groups? All of these unique add-ons/services have become part of the daily lingo that is part of the information society many of us in the developing countries have come to (sometimes) love and accept. Now, in the event of a Microsoft-Yahoo merger, what will happen to these services?
At the time of writing, Google is offering to bail out Yahoo, whilst simultaneously discouraging it from going into the claws of Microsoft. A partnership between the two has been proposed, whereby Yahoo would outsource its search and advertising functions to Google, so that it could focus on its comparative advantages, which include mobile applications, social networking and content sharing. If this formula were to go ahead, the company would keep its independence.
Battle not Over
With prospects of Microsoft dominance in both the software and internet world, we are going to see many actors—like Google and the European Commission—that would be quick to avert this hostile takeover. Google, because of the threat it would represent in the search engine world—and less email (remember it was only in 2007 that Yahoo’s mail moved from 1GB to unlimited, when Google, since 2004, had been unlimited!) – and the EC, because it’s watching Microsoft like a hawk.
As the web becomes a space where big scrambles are played out, we are certainly going to see more of these virtual mergers and acquisitions. If there was anytime a “Big Brother” was watching, it is now—and it’s on Microsoft.
Showcasing Ghana 2008 with ICT (2)
Camera Never Lies
Your average digital camera of between 4-5 mega-pixels can take a close-up picture of even your television set. Maybe you were not at the stadium, but you would like to be original? Grab your camera, focus it on the TV set, and capture (replays of) the image of the symmetrical Essien-Muntari delivery for posterity.
You can toe the line, if you are armed with your camera phone—but do bear in mind that unless you are holding a NOKIA N95, which already comes equipped with 5 megapixels (MP) your average camera phone will range from VGA--(640X480) to 2.0MP—enabled film quality. However, it will be a little less for wear—for the quality is never going to be tantamount to a dedicated digital camera.
After you have captured that picture, you might want to consider creating a video capture. Your average digital camera (be it SAMSUNG, CANON, KODAK or less well-known brands) will be equipped with video, but your mobile phone is a different kettle of fish altogether. Whether the capacity is unlimited or not, its ability to record clips depends – yet again -- on the capacity of your SD card. I found out very recently that the ever-popular MOTOROLA RAZR V3 flip-phone does not accommodate this type of card, going to confirm the suspicion that the aesthetics of a phone in no way determines its quality.
Once you’ve taken a video clip, you have to upload the picture somewhere. You can chose to store it on your computer or your laptop (if you have one). What you could also do is upload it onto the Internet. Question is where to?
Gee, this mail is good!
First of all, Google’s PICASA is a great place to start. By going to picasaweb.google.com/m/ on your phone, you will be asked to input your email and password. It’s preferable that you have a google mail, or GMAIL, account. Gmail, to be frank, is all the rage these days. For the fact that you can check any of your emails (yahoo is the only one that remains problematic being checked in gmail) through the service, and have unlimited and ever-expanding space (right now, it’s 63.4 GB and counting!) makes it a boon to both the luddites and tech-savvy people who might be both awed and impressed by the extent of this technology.
For instance, I have the priviledge of being able to check my work email through GMAIL—and respond to those mails accordingly. Excuses of not having received emails are (regrettably!) a thing of the past—as most people are cottoning onto how the service works. That my boss has now asked for assistance on the setting up of GMAIL has personally reminded me my bag of excuses around emails never being received have comprehensively bitten the dust!
In all seriousness, with your gmail account, you can access picasa on the web, and begin your uploading of those beautiful pictures of re-plays by our national team.
Secondly, FLICKR.com—a photo-sharing site—is also another great place to go. By clicking on http://www.flickr.com/tools/mobile/ , you can read up more about how to upload from your mobile phone. It might interest you to know that the top 5 camera phones uploading on that mobile site are: NOKIA N95; Apple I-Phone; Nokia N73; Sony Ericsson K800i and W810i. Incidentally, this is not a Google product--prepare to have your YAHOO email accounts ready for use on this site!
In order to avoid wasting more chances than striker Asamoah-Gyan in the Namibia-Ghana game last week, it might be a good idea to consider creating an online site where your thoughts can be recorded in reverse chronological order—or a blog.
Ready to Hit the Blogosphere?
For the past five years, blogs have also been the latest wrinkle, with one statistic claiming that in early 2007, bloggers would hit the 100 million point. You can imagine that if most Westerners are experimenting with blogs, then a fraction of that number will be by non-Western once, including African ones. This should not discourage you in setting up your own blog. A five-minute process, you can set up one on TYPEPAD.com; WORDPRESS.com and BLOGGER.com. The latter is one of the more popular platforms, and, you can probably guess, owned by Google.
Given that periods likes these turn the average citizen into an armchair strategist and well-experienced coach, why not take the opportunity to showcase some of your analysis and technical skills by writing and maintaining a blog—today!
Connecting Which People?
Nokia says that it’s done a survey, in which more than 50% of respondents in India, Pakistan and nearly 30% in Vietnam have indicated that they share, or would share, their mobile phone with family or friends. I don’t see Africa there, yet Nokia is keen to sell these to so-called emerging markets. Maybe Nigeria might get a look-in. Even so, no-one asked me whether I felt that would infringe my privacy. Whether it’s a cooked survey of the middle class within these countries or not, it can be argued that Nokia is living up to its slogan of connecting people by launching two new mobile phones—the Nokia 2600 and Nokia 1209.
Both phones are designed to be shared by five people, and both handsets would come with multiple phone books (one per person) and a cost-tracker, which would enable one see how much they have spent on calls.
The article from which I found this information claims this is an indication of “how in tune Nokia is with emerging markets.” I am not so convinced. What I do believe, though, is that there might be some value about phone-sharing, in the sense that an increasing number of families are buying mobile phones for the entire family—and not just the household. It’s probably about economics and convenience. The practicalities inherent in phone sharing may be challenging – ensuring that everyone gets to use the phone, for example – but, undoubtedly, we are led to believe that this is the way.
There will be Bluetooth
The new Nokia 2600 comes with a VGA camera (640X480), MP3 Player and FM radio, and will retail for €65.00, or around GHC80.00. The Nokia 1209, conversely, will go for €35.00. Just so that the phone-sharing makes sense, Nokia will most definitely be including nothing less than…Bluetooth.
It is interesting to note that despite the growing dominance of Bluetooth technology, there appears not to be any infra-red—unlike even some of the latest NOKIAs. Can we say that this means it’s dying a certain death?
Showcasing Ghana 2008 with ICT (I)
More specifically, “This is Ghana”, where there are variations of normalcy as far as soccer is involved, but even more so, when football comes home. It is clear that on the ICT front, given the enthusiasm surrounding CAN2008 and the matches, there will continue to be more text messaging than ever.
Last Friday when I was leaving the office for home, I overheard a colleague exclaim to another that “I’ll call you when [Ghana] wins”, adding shortly after that “as for that, I can spare my credits!” Undoubtedly, the camaraderie created by the soccer fiesta is a magnificent reminder of how you most definitely do not need NOKIA to connect people via ICT (tools)!
Whilst we are making a lot of noise about showcasing Ghana, might we turn to some of existing sites out there helping to do just that.
Everywhere You Go
It’s true—it’s everywhere you go; they’ve even got a yellow un-flyable plane at the Tetteh-Quarshie interchange – but they are there. They also happen to be headline sponsors of Ghana’s national team--the Black Stars. Not all is necessarily bad on the MTN front, however. On your mobile phone—through GPRS—you can visit the company’s website mtnfootball.com/mobile. There, you can see summary of results of the latest game, including the score line, and a commentary of how the game went as it was being played.
The London-based Guardian website’s football page on football.guardian.co.uk is also a place to check. I don’t know which news site started the ball-by-ball commentary first, but I re-call that in the 2006 World Cup, those monitoring the Ghanaian games for the Guardian site brought a whole different feel to their game. Coverage of The Cup of African Nations is no exception—for the website, considered one of the most popular online newspapers around, is sure to thrill. You can also get in on your mobile by going to football.guardian.co.uk/pda.
Last June, I opted to leave the oft-inanity of Ghanaian radio to listen more to the BBC World Service. I knew I was right in doing so—as are many BBC listeners, who know they are getting unparalleled quality news and commentary when they listen to news or sport. Just to highlight: a colleague, disappointed by the lack of running commentary for GTV’s coverage of the Ghana-Guinea game last Sunday, decided he’d stick with the station and listen to the commentary from no other than the BBC World Service’s station on 101.3FM.
All that said, accessing CAN2008 score lines and reading up about the tournament on your mobile may prove to be a bit more challenging for your mobile. This is because whereas you can access BBC’s African football website on an easy-to-remember URL like bbc.co.uk/africanfootball, on your mobile, it’s no walk in the park; it’s more like a run through badly-cut grass: news.bbc.co.uk/mobile/bbc_sport/football/internationals/! Once you get there, simply click on “Africa Cup of Nations 2008”, and get access to the best of BBC Sport.
Finally, Ghana almost passes the online test with the official Ghanacan2008.com website. Small trick, however, is that you need to access that site via this URL: ghanacan2008.com/fixtures.php. The site is not designed specifically to accommodate mobile phones, hence the need to add the “PHP” extension, which is optimal for computer-based (HTML) web browsers. If you’re looking for news, pictures, and more, you are sure to find it here. Small caveat on the pictures is that the output will be optimized if your phone has a 640X480 or VGA screen, or higher.
Government is Coming Home!
Forget the fact that the ever-popular social networking tool that is FACEBOOK is all the rage these days. Be afraid; be very afraid -- for government is coming closer to home than you might ever want it to. Over-the-moon by the opportunities inherent in the so-called Web 2.0 world that we live in now, where social networking is globalised, and where everyone can connect together in some sort of digital exuberance, Western governments are leaving behind e-government, and replacing it with Web 2.0.
The managing director and COO of Government Insights that came out with a report about this trend says: “Gov 2.0 will replace e-gov as governments seek to gain additional value from citizen interaction and business transactions.” Inevitably, the cue here is the interactivity enshrined in the Web 2.0, which governments are keen to exploit. I specifically use “exploit”, because there’s a double-edged sword inherent within this trend. To me as a private individual, it’s screaming “where’s my privacy!.” I can expect, however, that those seeking to implement it are thinking that it will foster “greater participation and dialogue with citizens.”
What I can personally tell you about the experience with Facebook is that the more Web 2.0 applications are added to the system, the more it has put me off visiting—never mind using Facebook! Being bombarded by “Funwalls” and messages sent to “all friends” and being asked to send imaginary drinks to friends no longer becomes a boon to the pretenders of tech-“savviness”! I can very well imagine government departments adding so many applications to their websites to “enhance dialogue with citizens” they end up eating their own tail, and realizing that Web 2.0 just might be the future—but not for governments.
When Banking on IT Goes Wrong
It all started with a trip downtown into Accra with the family, which called for a stop by the ATM of my bank. When I got the error message from the first ATM, I shrugged it off, feeling it was one of those things: maybe the festive period had spawned a huge number of withdrawals and the system had heated up. My mind began to change when I went to the second ATM some 10 minutes away—still unable to withdraw.
It was with the third ATM somewhere in town when the frustration begun to build. Seeing frustrated customers shaking their heads and muttering not-so-sweet nothings to themselves compounded the arrival at a decision that something was awry with the ATMs. The straw on the camel’s back was at Airport Shell, when the money pretended to be coming, only for the ATM to issue me a slip of paper, claiming I had “exceeded the daily limit”! This took the biscuit, and prompted me to get to my phone to my bank. They explained engineers were working on the system, and I wondered why they didn’t have the courtesy to have a message displayed at the ATMs that works were in, say, progress.
Far beyond the lack of customer service Ghanaians are wont to rightly complain about, this experience underscored—yet again—the extent to which we have thrown caution of IT and ICT tools to the wind, fully embracing such-systems – with all their imperfections – as if our life depended on it, all the time forgetting that, like this experience, it needs must let us down.
I believe that it will let us down because it is a system created and maintained by human beings. Consequently, the margin of error of its perfection will be greater on some days. This is no mere philosophical pondering but, in my view, a reminder of the importance of complementing old practices – such as keeping money on oneself – with new ones, where we rely on the banks to take care of our money for us. The day the money “refuses”—or fails—to come out is the day we find ourselves as poster children of ridicule. We can certainly avoid it!
Where’s that Mobile?
One thing we certainly cannot avoid is the usage of our phones this year. As it has become an indispensable tool, so has the need to further maximise the functions on it.
This week, we turn to the generation of phones that started using USB connections. Although as far back as 2003/2004, mobile phones, like NOKIA, could be connected to the computer, the cable used was one that was specific to NOKIA. USB connection was introduced to the computer around 1997, but it would be from 2003, early 2004 that they would begin to be commonplace on mobile devices, like NOKIA and MOTOROLA.
Even today that many phones are USB-compatible, few people are chosing to use their mobile devices…as mass storage devices. Quite a number of my colleagues, for example, both own USB flash disk and a mobile phone—but none take the opportunity to exploit the mass storage capability that the phones offer. There are two main reasons for this.
First of all, if the phone has, say, 20 MB space, there is evidently little incentive to use it as a mass storage device. Arm your phone with a memory card, and you might contemplate it. I suspect however that this activity exercises few people’s minds when they’re going to bed!
Secondly, even if you do have, say, 1 GB space on your phone, which is still not de rigeur for many mobile phones, the contemplation of it as a storage device when you have your USB flash disk purposefully for storing data will not be a visceral act.
In my view, these are the two predominant reasons why the trend towards storing important data on your mobile phone has not become the norm. With time, however, this trend will probably not catch on—except for those who consider themselves tech-savvy, and make that extra effort to maximise and exploit that humble of devices.
Smile, you’re on candid camera
Whether you’re a commuter, driver, or passenger, consider yourself a walking reference if you have a camera phone. Even if you are not used to taking pictures with your phone, the very fact that there is one at all on your phone gives you sufficient power to be able to make real impacts and contributions.
Back in 2003 when camera phones were either on high-end phones or non-existent, a close relative of mine who was involved in a serious car accident, which saw the-said relative end up with broken feet, was able to capture the scene of the accident—with a standard digital camera, that had video recording. The video would go to prove the guilt of the driver that slammed into the car from the opposite direction, because the son who was a passenger had the presence of mind to capture the scale of the accident and damage caused before anyone – witnesses or otherwise -- could unwittingly tamper with the evidence.
It would be ridiculous to think that one would carry a camera to capture accidents, but it’s clear from this very real and near-fatal accident that the digital camera was as critical a witness as the two relatives involved in the accident!
More recently, the President’s accident in November 2007 was a moot case, for witnesses on the scene were able to take pictures almost-instantaneously. Some claim they even took video coverage on their mobile phones. As I was in the vicinity leaving a work-related assignment, I arrived on the scene some twenty minutes after the incident. Still, armed with my standard camera, I was able to capture quite a few memorable shots, which I uploaded on my blog. Within two days, the number of people who had typed “kufuor and accident” and happened on my blog surpassed 50.
Whatever the case, it is clear that whoever you are, and wherever you may find yourelf, the phone has become an accessory to capturing a little piece of history that can assist you in an accident, or simply bring a joy to your face—something much needed this New Year!
It was sad news early this year, when reports came in that internet browser, Netscape, is dying a slow death, on account of the new business focus by its parent, America Online (AOL). The new focus by AOL is for the company to be more ad-supported, and, apparently, there is no room for Netscape within this new focus. Furthermore, the success of the Mozilla Foundation, which pioneered the successful FIREFOX browser, will continue to be subsidised by AOL at the expense of Netscape. The long and short of it all is that AOL is pulling the plug on Netscape, preferring for people to use FIREFOX. All that said, the portal netscape.com will still be available for those who hark after the good old times of when Netscape ruled before Internet Explorer came to steal its thunder.