Tag Archives: business

My del.icio.us bookmarks for March 27th through April 1st

  • Spam blights e-mail 15 years on – The thing that I'll never understand is that some people must read spam otherwise it wouldn't be a profitable business. Why?! My domain received over 40000 spam messages last month, none of which I've read so please stop sending them!
  • WordPress 2.5 – I just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress. I don't think I've managed to break anything but please do let me know if you know differently.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express Now Live – A neat, on-line mini-Photoshop is now available in beta at least. Clearly some way short even of Elements but it's probably sophisticated enough for a lot of people.

So, you got a bad review?

Daniel Jalkut in his recent blog discusses a generally positive review of a useful Mac utility that closes with the suggestion that it “should be free.” The crux of his piece seems to be:

In short, if the product were free as in charity, would the product even exist, and be good enough to mention on MacBreak Weekly, where Leo could wish that it was free?

People have different motivations for making good software1 but I think it’s fair to say that the most polished software usually has some form of income stream, whether that’s a licence fee, banner adverts or something less direct.

Of course one problem about selling software is piracy, but fortunately Brad Wardell wrote a great blog entry about just that and the effect that it has on his games company:

It’s irrelevant how many people will play your game (if you’re in the business of selling games that is). It’s only relevant how many people are likely to buy your game.

How, you might ask, is this connected with Jalkut’s argument? Well, the simple truth is that reviewers of your software are not paying customers. Their needs and desires and value judgements are not the same as yours2. Of course reviewers can raise the profile of your program but unless it results in more sales and not just more usage of your software then adding features or lowering the price only to please them is a waste of time.

If you want to sell software, your first priority should be keeping your customers happy, not reviewers.

  1. Jesper notes his reasons for offering his software for free. His argument makes complete sense but does not invalidate Jalkut’s complaint. []
  2. I’m reminded of the comparative reviews of word processors that you got before there was little alternative to Microsoft Word. No matter how fully featured the program was, disregarding how user-friendly it was and regardless of the quirky or unique innovations it had, no word processor would ever get an unreserved recommendation without a decent word count feature. How many people even use a word count? []

My del.icio.us bookmarks for January 29th through February 3rd

Is Microsoft-Yahoo the next HPaq?

So Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo. I’ll leave the detailed analysis to people better qualified than myself but I thought that I could add a little perspective simply by looking back and remembering something that happened less than ten years ago.

MSFT, HPQ and YHOO stockAs you can no doubt guess from the title, the event that springs to my mind is the merger of HP and Compaq. The main problem with HPaq at the time was that merging HP’s loss-making PC business with Compaq’s loss-making PC business just wasn’t a good idea. Fiorina pushed the whole MBA line of thinking: being the biggest player will allow greater economies of scale, lower prices and more profit. Unfortunately, two big losses merged tends to make a big loss also, albeit perhaps smaller than the old combined total1.

The saddest things from my perspective are that HP had a great engineering tradition and Compaq had some great technologies (Alpha for one), all of which were rapidly divested. HP traded a future for short term benefits. And, as can be seen on the above stock chart, the 2001 merger didn’t really do much for the market price.

Compare this to Microsoft and Yahoo. Yahoo have been in the doldrums for a while now. Back in ’94 they were the Google of the day, but they fairly quickly lost their way. Their indexing method (actual people as I recall) just didn’t scale as quickly as the Internet as a whole and they were quickly outpaced by up-and-coming new, automated systems like Altavista, Hotbot and Google. Yahoo retaliated by buying wholesale into the portal phase of the dot com boom and just outright buying interesting looking technologies, everything from music to photography sites.

And that’s pretty much where they are now. Of course they’ve changed management team a few times, but the share price has been fairly flat since 2001 (not sure what that little peak in 2004 was).

Microsoft are the company that brought you Windows and Office, and don’t really need much more of an introduction. Pretty much everything else they do loses money2. Or at least, any profits they do make in other divisions is line-noise compared with Windows and Office.

So if you combine Microsoft’s barely known Windows Live service3 and Yahoo’s fairly popular if not hugely profitable web sites, what do you get?

Well, like the HP/Compaq merger, you get a lot of duplication. Microsoft and Yahoo both have search, instant messenger, photo publishing and, most famously, webmail. By some accounts, if they merge they will have over 80% of the webmail market. But where do you go from there? Do you migrate all Yahoo’s Mail users over to Hotmail?

And, most importantly, do a large number of regular visitors automatically mean big bucks? Is Microsoft buying a future — by saving time developing code and attracting users — or simply buying the past?

In the end, I just can’t see what Microsoft think they’re buying. Yahoo seems not to have the technology required to take on Google and their combined page impressions have no obvious quick routes to profits. I hope it works out — a world where Google is as dominant as Microsoft is now is not much of an improvement — but I have doubts.

  1. HP obviously have other areas that do make money, most notably their ink cartridge printer division. []
  2. I like this Cringely article that explains why they like to do this. []
  3. If anyone uses this it’s because it’s the default in Windows. It’s undoubtedly getting better, but then so is the Zune. []

My del.icio.us bookmarks for January 12th through January 16th

  • Apple introduces new Apple TV software, lowers hardware pricing – Now potentially more useful with the movie rentals. But where is the price drop in the UK?!
  • Dell tells customer ‘Mac is good option’ – “Now, it’s possible that the techie was referring to a 1970s rock band, or to an item of waterproof clothing. But we can’t help concluding that he was indeed talking about Apple’s operating system.”
  • Steve Jobs gets cohesive – Some cool stuff from Apple at the MacExpo. I think the Time Capsule is going to be on my shopping list when it ships next month. The movie rentals (when they get to the UK) look interesting but they really need to build their catalogue!
  • How to recognise a good programmer – Great discussion on recognising great developers. The problem would seem to be finding them! Most recruiters just pattern match on CVs which tends to favour the “career” developer.

My del.icio.us bookmarks for January 8th through January 11th

  • Behind bars – Looks like another fascinating documentary by Louis Theroux.
  • Music lessons – Why the music industry as it’s currently structured is dying.
  • “You Don’t Understand Our Audience” – The whole spiel by Justin Long in Die Hard 4.0 about the media cynically manipulating audiences is much closer to the truth than most people would like to admit…