Archive for April, 2008

New Gadget: Asus Eee PC

Just got my new Asus Eee PC from Damson (thanks Fin). Now I am truly mobile.

It’s so small it even fits in the glove compartment of my car. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s what I think of it:

It Just Works

Originally designed for kids, this little gem has also captured the minds of the corporate guys too (and everyone in between from what I can tell). Almost everyone I’ve shown it to so far, wants one! The custom UNIX distribution looks great and is a cinch to use. Boot time is less then 10 seconds and the tabbed style navigation feels more like a webpage then an OS frontend.

Mobile Broadband: No Software Required

I’ve been using Three’s mobile broadband dongle for a couple of months now and I love it. But I was keen to see how it would work with the Eee PC seeing as how there is no official software for the UNIX platform. But I was delighted to find that there’s support for all HSDPA devices built in. The Eee PC treats it as just another network connection, so there was no need to go searching for drivers or software, it really was just plug and play.

No Hard Disk, No Problem

Like the new Apple Air notebook, the Asus Eee PC has no hard disk. And with most of my productivity tools now online, that’s really not a problem. I’ll keep my data safely up in the cloud and off my local hard disk where it’s at risk from all sorts of things, like theft. (Attention BOI IT Manager).

All Round Happiness

Being able to read my email or catch up on some work while I’m out is great, I’ve been able to do that on my N95 for almost a year now, but with the EeePC and it’s 7 inch screen makes it so much easier. (The N95 has a 2.5 inch screen).

If you can get your hands on one of these little gems, then buy one. Buy three if you can because you can be sure that whoever you show it too will probably want one as well.

Damson are selling a limited number of them until they run out. Get’m while they’re hot.

Microsoft’s Mesh Operating Environment

This morning, Microsoft launched a preview of what they’re calling the Mesh Operating Environment (MOE). It’s an online platform geared at solving the device divergence, data convergence issue that I wrote about recently.

From the new www.mesh.com website, here’s the official description:

“Live Mesh puts you at the center of your digital world, seamlessly connecting you to the people, devices, programs, and information you care about— available wherever you happen to be.”

Sounds like the perfect solution, except it’ll only support windows devices (for now). See Scoble’s review for the full background to the launch.

Why Am I Interested?

This is Microsoft’s first real attempt at an online application. When it’s fully launched (probably in October this year), it’ll no doubt prove extremely popular, and as a developer I need to make sure that my own applications will be ready when this happens.

Microsft’s Mesh is going to provide a few interesting ways for developers to hook in their own applications. It’ll support ‘two-way RSS’ and have a RESTful API. Both of which combined enable other applications to fully interact with the MOE.

So why am I interested again? I’m interested because if this is where the community is going, my applications will need to provide tight integration options with it.

Critical Mass of Adoption

Once there are enough people using it, and I don’t think that’ll take too long (there are over 10,000 beta testers alone), Microsoft’s Mesh will likely become a one stop shop for online file management.

If it’s possible to integrate this online file system with existing web applications (my own included), which I think it will be, then people’s expectations of traditionally ‘stand-alone’ web applications will sky rocket.

Having fragmented data strewn across the Internet at various locations may not cut it anymore. People want their data in a central location (at least I do), so if I stumble across a web application that does what I need and also integrates with my existing online storage, I’ll be sold on the spot.

Now all I need is a beta preview account to help me prepare. Anyone feeling generous?

Franchising Website Design

Restaurants do it, printers do it, and even gyms do it. Looking around, it seems that almost every area of commerce has some sort of franchising opportunity available. So why aren’t there more in web design?

As far as I can tell, there’s no good reason why it hasn’t happened.

A Perfect Fit

I think that the area of web design is a perfect franchising opportunity. Granted, it’s a skill that needs to be learned, and you need a certain flair for creativity, but you also need a solid business plan and a sound strategy for success. A franchise in web design could provide this to freelance website designers struggling with the business aspect of their endeavours.

A typical franchise provides:

  • Permission to adopt its valuable brand
  • Usage of its proven business model
  • Support and Training
  • Pooled advertising funds
  • Access to established products and services

Stick to What You Know

From my experience, web designers are great at creating interesting websites and beautiful graphics, but not so great at running a business. A franchise could help with this aspect of the business.

The most difficult parts of setting up a web design firm are, in my opinion, the following:

  • Getting legal contracts drawn up (maintenance contracts, terms and conditions, software licences, etc.)
  • Generating best practices for business (lead generation, advertising, tendering, CRM etc.)
  • Creating a sound pricing structure (with recurring revenue streams)
  • Paper trail workflow management
  • Company branding

These are the kinds of things that could and should be provided by a good franchise.

Hit and Miss

Searching through Google, there seems to be a few companies offering this type of service already, but none of them have convinced me that by buying their franchise I would be any better off then if I went out alone.

What’s needed, is a strong brand with a proven track record to put together all of their successful business practices and package it up as a franchise offering. Allow the franchisee to sell their CMS or e-commerce package, and to use their legal documentation, and to adopt their best practices for lead generation and to pool their advertising budgets.

In return, the franchisee would pay an initial purchasing fee and a royalty from their gross monthly revenue (in 2006 the national average was 6.5% – Franchising in Ireland 2006 – PDF). Often, there is also a pooled advertising fee (typically around 2%).

Possible Opportunity

If there are any existing web design franchises that I’ve overlooked, please leave a comment and let me know. But to be honest, I think a franchise in web design is a great opportunity for some of the more established design firms to expand their brand and make some profit at the same time.

Heck, if someone else doesn’t do it soon, I might even give it a go.

Device Independence for Your Data

Maximise Your Cloud Coverage

We used to think that device convergence meant that a single device would replace all of our other current digital media devices. With the concept of ‘The Cloud‘ this idea has been turned on it’s head.

I use multiple devices every day to access my email, browse the Internet, manage my schedule and read my blog feeds etc. Keeping each of them synchronised used to be tricky. But with the notion of keeping your data in ‘the cloud’, there’s no need to keep your data sync’d up. It’s all online and can be accessed by any connected device.

Multiple Devices, One Cloud

Recently, the cloud has become the latest in a line of buzz words on the Internet. It’s cropped up it’s head a few times in the past but it’s back in vogue again because there’s been an adoption of various standards that allow different systems to talk to each other more easily. iCal is one, RSS is another. Providing an open API as part of an application release also helps developers to build new ways to interact with it.

Here’s what I use to maximise the benefits the data cloud:

Email

I use Google Apps plus Gmail (I use my own domain too) and take advantage of IMAP support so I can keep using my favourite mail client whilst leaving my email somewhere accessible when I’m out and about.

Calendar

My phone has a calendar, so does my laptop. I also want to be able to access it online when I’m away. The solution for this is a combination of gCal, Lightning and my Nokia N95. Using a service GooSync I can keep my Google Calendar and my N95 sync’d up, and using a great Thunderbird plugin called Provider for Google Calendar I can keep Lightning up to date with everything as well.

Task Lists

I’ve struggled to find the perfect to-do list software. I need to be able to keep the list updated from any device and it needs to be really quick to use. If I can scribble it on a notebook faster then I can enter it, then nine times out of ten that’s what I’ll do.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far: Start off with an account on Remember the Milk. Then add their Firefox plugin that adds the task column to the Gmail interface. Then add the iCal stream to Lightening. This is an almost perfect solution but at the moment, the iCal stream is read-only. For ultimate happiness it’s got to be a two way connection. Hopefully this will happen soon.

What’s Next?

Online file storage still hasn’t taken off for the masses. Amazon’s S3 service has helped a lot of developers to outsource their storage needs, but it’s not a realistic option for general consumers. Services like Box.net offer online storage but, it’s still a little pricey. Where’s the Google Gdrive that we’ve heard so many rumours about?

I’ve got this almost all figured out. But if anyone’s got a better combination of blurring the divide between online services and offline apps, then lets hear them.

Summary

Point 1: The Cloud is becoming a reality

Point 2: It’s not there yet.

Point 3: It’s happening because of adopted standards

Point 4: I use online services with my desktop software using iCal, RSS, Firefox plugins and open API’s.

Point 5: Online Storage still needs to be solved. Gdrive perhaps?

New Address at the HotHouse

New Address at the HotHouse

So I’m moving my business to the Docklands having been accepted into the PDC HotHouse. It’s a 12 month incubation programme designed for entrepreneurs and business owners of high tech, high potential startups. I’m absolutely delighted about this development and I think it’ll give me a great opportunity to meet new people, bring my business forward and learn some new skills along the way.

Moving Forward

The programme accepts 16 new companies every 6 months and is now in it’s 8th year. It provides:

  • Free office space in the Docklands Innovation Park.
  • A student training grant of €550 per month.
  • Business mentoring.
  • Networking opportunities.
  • Training workshops, two days a month.
  • Access to PDC’s extensive alumni network.

I’ve been told that as part of the programme we will be guided through the process of applying for Enterprise Ireland’s CORD grant, which can provide the equivalent to half your previous years salary up to a value of €38,000. It also provides support for preparing and delivering a sound business plan fit for seeking further financial or investment aid. The programme has recently been accredited by the Dublin Institute of Technology and successful graduates will receive a post-graduate diploma in New Business Development.

Exciting Times

I recently wrote a post about completing the excellent BRITE Programme and had a little moan about how I’d miss the great networking opportunities that it provided. Well, I think the HotHouse might just fill that gap.

The programme is due to start on April 21st. Many thanks to Jarek from Grip Communications for encouraging me to apply to this programme. Cheers bud.