Amazon India Launched, but Don’t Count Out Others Yet

After years of speculation, it has finally happened. Amazon India is now open for business. More than a year after launching Junglee, a price comparison engine, the ecommerce giant has launched its own full-fledged marketplace.

“Our vision, at Amazon, is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online. With Amazon.in, we endeavor to build that same destination in India by giving customers more of what they want – vast selection, low prices, fast and reliable delivery, and a trusted and convenient experience,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President of International Expansion at Amazon.com. “We’re excited to get started in India and we will relentlessly focus on raising the bar for customer experience in India.”

India is Amazon’s tenth marketplace, after countries like USA, UK, Canada, China, and Japan. The Seattle based online retailer is starting off with its strong suite – books. Amazon India claims that it currently has more than 7 million books in its catalog. The Indian store also has nearly ten thousand movies and a little over one thousand TV shows for sale. Other categories including Mobiles and Camera are expected to be launched soon.

The Amazon India launch was months in the making. However, the biggest stumbling block was the Indian government. Restrictions on foreign investment on multi-brand retailers prevented Amazon from setting shop in India. However, it appears that Amazon has found a way around the regulations. Unlike in the US and many other countries, Amazon won’t be maintaining its own inventory. Instead it will be operating purely in a marketplace based model. Times of India is reporting that Amazon has signed up 100 vendors across the country, and has setup a 1.5 lakh sqft fulfillment center near Mumbai to service online orders. Amazon is also inviting other retailers to sign up and list their products in the Amazon marketplace. It is providing two options for vendors – Selling on Amazon and Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). The former allows the seller to list their products on Amazon.in, while retaining control over inventory, shipping, and customer service. The latter allows the seller to leverage Amazon’s expertise by offloading logistics, shipping and customer service also to Amazon.

Amazon-India-Infographic

[Editorial] What Is Wrong With HTC?

Extremely long post ahead. Please make sure your stomach is full, and your bladder empty before continuing further. Skip the tl;dr if you are brave enough!

tl;dr – HTC started making similar phones, locked bootloaders, made its skin too bloated and slapped the Beats Audio branding as a gimmick. Made lots of promises in 2012 with One series, but they all turned out to be a dud. To save their ass, they need to fulfil their promises and support the Android modding community.

HTC was the first handset manufacturer to release an Android running phone, the T-Mobile G1. Both, HTC and Android have grown to great heights within a short span of time, and have complemented each other’s growth. Without HTC, Android might not have ever taken off. Without Android, HTC would have been still known for making Windows Mobile based phones and its Sense skin.

However, over the last 1.5 years or so, HTC’s growth has slowed down tremendously while Android has continued to grow and has grabbed nearly 50% of the world mobile OS market share. So how is it that a company that helped an OS grow, is suddenly struggling with its profits and market share shrinking with every passing quarter, when the OS in itself is reaching new heights?

No, it’s not Samsung that is to be blamed for HTC’s falling market share here. HTC is itself responsible for its own demise.

In 2010, the company released some iconic handsets like the Sprint EVO 4G, Desire, and the Desire HD.

In 2011, when the company’s fortune changed for the worse, it released more than 15 different handsets all that were hardly different from each other. At MWC in 2011, which is arguably the biggest mobile tech event of the year, the company unveiled three single core phones – Incredible S, Desire S and the Wildfire S. The first two handsets had the exact same internals, except for some minor differences, which in turn had the same internals as the 2010 high-end phone from HTC — the Desire HD.

Yes, these phones looked different, had different resolution cameras, and a few other differences, but they were ultimately powered by the same 1GHz single-core processor and packed the same amount of RAM. The worst part was that these phones were priced way too close to each other to make any sense. The Desire HD retailed for around the 30k mark in India in 2010, while the Incredible S and Desire S costed 28k and 25k respectively when launched in India in early 2011. The Galaxy S2, which Samsung had also announced at MWC, was also priced around the 30k mark, and was much better than these handsets from HTC.

Then in March, HTC announced its first dual-core phone, the HTC Sensation. On paper, the Sensation looked like a decent competitor to the Galaxy S2, with a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, 768MB of RAM, an 8MP camera and a qHD (960*640) resolution screen.

Sadly, HTC’s greatest advantage — Sense — turned out to be its biggest disadvantage in the Sensation. The Sense 3.0 skin from HTC was way too bloated, and even lagged on a dual-core powered smartphone, which was downright unacceptable. Random reboots, poor battery life, and a sub-par camera were other serious issues with the phone, that did not go down well with the few Sensation users.

Adding salt on the wound of the original Sensation owners, was the Sensation XE, that the company released just a couple of months later on. The Sensation XE packed similar internals to the original Sensation, except for a slightly faster 1.5GHz processor, a much better 8MP camera, a Beats Audio logo and a beefier battery.

As 2011 progressed, HTC kept on releasing phones that made little sense. The Sensation XL had a big 4.7-inch screen but was powered by a single core processor and was priced higher than the Sensation and Sensation XE, which was downright stupid. The HTC Rhyme, Amaze 4G, Vivid, Hero S, and the Raider 4G are other phones that the company should have never released.

By releasing so many phones that barely had any difference, HTC confused its potential customers who ultimately brought a Galaxy S II or other Galaxy branded phone from Samsung.

Beats Audio Filled Non-Sense And Broken Promises

In a pre-Android 4.0 world, HTC’s Sense skin was considered to be the best OEM Android skin out there. However, in 2010, HTC made its biggest advantage its biggest weakness as well. The Sense 3.0 skin from the company looked downright jaw-dropping beautiful, but it was slow and was just too bloated. Even in 2012, it is not uncommon to see the HTC’s Sense launcher — Rosie — restart itself after a session of gaming.

HTC loyalists and quite a lot of other people still preferred HTC’s Sense skin over Samsung’s childish and ugly TouchWIZ. Most people would just install a de-bloated Sense based custom ROM and be happy with their phone.

Then, in late 2011, Google announced Ice Cream Sandwich, that completely over-hauled the look of Android OS. Stock Android in itself looked beautiful now, and there was no need for OEM customisations. However, OEMs needed skins to differentiate their Android handsets from each other, and thus continued with their skins.

In 2012, HTC finally realised its mistake of releasing so many handsets and unveiled the ‘One’ series of phones. The One X and One S have a build quality to die for, power packed internals, decent camera and battery life and sufficient storage space. The company also de-bloated Sense 4.0 and made it much lighter.

Once again, things looked good on paper for HTC and it looked like that the Taiwanese maker finally had an answer to Samsung’s Galaxy series. The One X sold like hot cakes when it was initially released, but soon people realised that not all is well with the phone. HTC may have made Sense 4.0 lighter than before, but the skin was still a resource hogger. HTC had also tweaked broke the multi-tasking on the One X to optimise battery life.

While I completely understand OEM skins are very-much needed to differentiate handsets, they should add some useful features instead of adding some useless gimmicky features.

There was no sign of the Holo inspired Magazine style swipe UI in Sense 4.0. The company even removed the stock Android 4.0 animations to include its own, which made little sense. With Android apps themselves using the Holo theme with Swipe gestures, the lack of the Holo theme and swipe gestures in Sense 4.0 was downright stupid from HTC. If anything this will create more confusion among users and lead to UI inconsistency, and ultimately give Android a bad name.

HTC, and even Samsung, should learn from Sony and Motorola on UI skinning. Sony’s skin adds some much needed features to core Android, without going over-board. Motorola has also done an excellent job with its skin with the ICS update for the RAZR. The company has changed the icons and add some tweaks but has otherwise left the Holo theme on ICS untouched.

HTC had also invested heavily in Beats Audio and started branding its phones with the Beats Audio logo. The Sensation XE was the first phone from HTC to carry the Beats Audio logo, but at that time Beats Audio was nothing more than a software tweak.

In 2012, it was expected that HTC will release phones that live up to the Beats Audio branding. Things however, took turn for the worse. The international One X carried the Beats Audio logo, but the sound quality of the phone was pathetic to put it politely. The Beats Audio feature still remained nothing but a software tweak that only boosted bass and did nothing else.

HTC’s promise of the ‘One’ brand was also broken with the release of the EVO 4G LTE on the Sprint network and the Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon’s.

On the other hand, Samsung managed to release the Galaxy S III on all the major carriers of the United States without any modifications in design, name or software thus maintained the ‘Galaxy S’ brand. Oh! and while the International Samsung Galaxy S III does not come with the Beats Audio logo or anything similar, it does come with a Wolfson DAC that provides an excellent audio quality.

They Locked It!

Until 2010, HTC handsets were the favorite of the Android modding community. CM and other AOSP based ROMs were always available for all HTC handsets within weeks of the release of the handset. In 2011, HTC started locking bootloaders on its handsets starting with the Thunderbolt. This unexpected move from HTC definitely shocked the whole Android community. The whole Android community took a stand against this with numerous petitions, but HTC turned a deaf ear to them. It was only when the company’s handset sale stared falling that the company realized its mistake and promised to release a bootloader unlocking tool for its handsets, which the company soon did.

Once again, things looked good on paper but were not in real life. HTC’s bootloader unlocking tool only did its job partially and did not provide true S-OFF, making the rooting process of their phones much more complex. All this did not go down well with the Android community and they started recommending Samsung’s Galaxy series of phones over HTC phones to normal users.

How Can HTC Rescue Themselves?

Fulfill all your promises. Don’t use the Beats Audio for just marketing, deliver brilliant music quality from your phone as well. Tone down Sense. Yes, you already did that with Sense 4.0 and 4.1, but you need to tone it down even more. Use Sense to add some useful features to your phones. Follow the rule of Don’t fix it if it hasn’t broken. Provide developers with full S-OFF, and for God’s sake don’t release a XL or XL+ model, which as rumors suggest you are going to do with the One X.

Editorial: Why Amazon’s Rumored Smartphone Will Likely be a Failure

amazon-kindle-smartphone

Rumors of an Amazon branded smartphone have started to fly suggesting that the retail giant is looking for viable options to enter the smartphone business after seeing an immense success with its tablet, the Kindle Fire.

A big question about this story has been hitting me for two days that whether the rumored Amazon smartphone will ever be able to achieve the same milestone or not. My less than stellar mind says no.

Before diving deep into my thoughts, let us first recap the launch of Kindle Fire and the factors that helped it become the best selling Android tablet ever.

kindle-fireBack in 2011, when the iPad was enjoying unrivaled success in the tablet market, it was only Amazon who was able to successfully challenge it with its own tablet, the Kindle Fire. Amazon did what other manufacturers were doing wrong:

  • First, it kept the price of Kindle Fire as low and affordable as possible knowing the fact that there are many people who’re interested in owning a tablet, but cannot afford an iPad.
  • Secondly, Amazon also realized that people primarily use their tablets to consume content — read books, magazines, watch movies, TV shows, etc., and so, it offered Kindle Fire owners with access to a huge library of its digital content.

And Boom! The Kindle Fire started selling like hotcakes. In just three months after its launch, it had managed to capture approximately a quarter of the tablet market share while other Android tablets were still struggling to reach even 5% of it despite boasting superlative specifications.

But can Amazon achieve the same feat with a smartphone? I doubt it. Smartphones are totally a different story.

Kindle Fire’s most impressive feature was probably its price — 199 bucks. Despite the fact that it offered virtually zero profit margin to Amazon, Amazon still turned it into a profit making machine by using it as a medium to sell eBooks, magazines and other digital content to Kindle Fire owners. But can Amazon do the same with a smartphone? No. People rarely read books or magazines on their smartphones — they instead consume applications, which Amazon doesn’t have enough to offer.

Applications drive an ecosystem and they’re probably the biggest hurdle for Amazon. Although the rumored Amazon smartphone will run on Android, which has more than 600,000 apps available for it in the Play Store, Amazon will undoubtedly replace the Play Store with its own App Store in the phone — as it did with the Kindle Fire — which has approximately only 37,000 apps or just 6% of apps in the Play Store.

os-market-share-2012Apps are the sole reason why Android and Apple are dominating the smartphone market and the sole reason why Windows Phone has failed to take off despite sporting a superb software. On a comparison note, even Windows Phone has more than twice the number of apps available in Amazon’s App store.

There are just not enough apps in the App Store for Amazon to sell a smartphone with negligible profit margin and still make money out of it on the longer run by selling apps to those phone owners. This leaves Amazon with no option for making profits other than selling its future phone at full price and that too with a decent profit margin.

This demands another question to be answered — what will be then the selling factor of its phone? Relatively cheap price?

Yes Amazon can do that. In fact, it’ll have to do that considering the fact that it will be nearly impossible for it fight with Samsung or Apple at similar price levels. But it cannot manufacture a phone that is both cheap and high on specifications at the same time. It’ll be most probably based on Android and so, the phone needs to be high on specifications or else the result will definitely be a slow phone with a choppy user interface, like we’ve seen in the Kindle Fire. And people will hate that.

Interestingly, Adrian Hughes of ZDNet thinks that Amazon can adopt a different game-plan by developing an user friendly interface to give Samsung, HTC and Sony a run for their money. I’ll just quote his words here:

While there’s no doubt that Android smartphones have experienced tremendous success, one of the complaints that I hear leveled against the platform is that it isn’t particularly friendly, especially to those who don’t consider themselves to be technically literate.

… a much-needed dumbing down of the platform that could give it an enormous advantage over both Apple iPhone and the entirety of the Android ecosystem.

A dumbed-down Android experience could be just what average users are waiting for..

But, in my opinion, he’s wrong. Although it is true that Android is not very user-friendly, Amazon will still not be able to beat Samsung and others just by making its UI user-friendly as Samsung has already been doing that for long and so have other manufacturers.

Compare the following two screenshots of dialers present in ICS and Samsung Touchwiz to get an idea of what I’m talking about:

dialer-comparison

It took my dad two full days to figure out that the clock icon on the top is the call logs tab. And it is obvious — how is a non-techy person ever going to discover that touching that clock icon will open call logs? But Samsung’s dialer (on the right) mentions the tab names clearly and makes it easier for laymen to understand the UI. It is one of the many areas in TouchWiz UI where Samsung has made considerable efforts to make the UI as user-friendly as possible.

In short, an user-friendly UI is also not going to help Amazon to win this race of smartphone wars. In fact, I cannot think of a single distinctive feature with which Amazon can impress consumers and I’m very skeptical of its success unless it manages to pull out something that… changes everything.

[Image credits: BGR, MobileShop]

Is Opera Losing its Innovative Edge?

The newest version of Opera is out, and it’s a handsome enhancement. It ramps up performance, improves stability, increases security, and features quite a few nifty tricks. All in all, it’s a significant update that will please Opera fans. Yet, I can’t help but feel a tinge of dissapointment with Opera 12.

Opera-12

I have been closely following Opera Software for nearly a decade. I still remember installing Opera v7 and falling in love with its speed and intuitiveness. Opera was never particularly popular among the masses, but its strong culture of innovation allowed it to amass an extremely loyal fan base. Opera was the first browser to fully exploit the power of tabbed browsing (it wasn’t, however, the first tabbed browser), it was the first browser to allow full-page zooming, it was the first browser to incorporate session management, it was the first browser to add a dedicated search bar, it was the first browser to integrate a pop-up blocker, it was the first browser to have a private data cleaner, it was the first browser to support mouse gestures, it was the first browser to have speed dials, and so on and so forth.

Almost all major releases of Opera sported one or more innovations that allowed it to stand out from the crowd. Opera 8 featured voice recognition and text-to-speech support. Opera 9 introduced content blocker, widgets, bit torrent downloader, site preferences, and search engine creation wizard. Opera 10 introduced visual tabs and Opera Turbo. Opera 11 introduced tab stacking, and visual mouse gestures. However, when it comes to user facing innovative features, Opera 12 draws a blank.

The biggest new feature in Opera 12 is a lightweight skinning engine that both Firefox and Chrome have had for years. Other features are a mix of cosmetic changes, under the hood stuff that most users will not care about, and features that already exist in other browsers. Opera 12 is all about playing catch-up. Instead of leading from the front, Opera Software is now merely plugging the gaps in its existing offering. Make no mistake, there is no harm in taking inspiration from others. In fact, I was highly appreciative of Opera 11, which introduced extension support, and resolved several of my longstanding complaints. However, when you are the underdog, you need to do more than just equal your competition. You need to give people compelling reasons to ditch the browser they have grown comfortable with and try your product.

The problem with Opera 12 is that it simply doesn’t offer any incentive to folks who didn’t like the earlier versions to come and try out the new version. I have had Opera as my default browser for close to a decade, but earlier this year, I finally switched to Chrome as default. I still miss some of the features in Opera like its excellent built-in Notes, great RSS feed reader, simple IRC client, powerful keyboard shortcuts, and customizable speed dials. However, they are no longer reason enough to stop me from switching to Chrome, which offers powerful web apps like TweetDeck, full profile sync (including extensions), hardware acceleration with WebGL, and web notifications.

Will Microsoft Face the Ire of Antitrust Regulators for Windows 8?

As you must have heard by now, Mozilla is furious. The non-profit organization behind Firefox is angry because Microsoft is practically making it impossible to develop third party browsers for Windows 8 for ARM through artificially imposed restrictions. A short while back, even Google backed Mozilla and expressed its concern about Windows 8 restricting “user choice and innovation”. My colleague Paul Paliath has already weighed in on the debate. While he believes Mozilla’s complaint is baseless, I am not quite so sure.

Windows-8-Platform

Before proceeding any further, let’s delve a little deeper into the technicalities involved. With Windows 8, Microsoft is introducing an entirely new class of applications. These applications will run in Metro mode, and will be built using the WinRT API. The Windows applications that we are accustomed with are all built using the Win32 API. Now, Microsoft isn’t exactly killing the Win32 API. Windows 8 for x86 (desktops) will continue to offer a classic mode, which will be capable of running all Win32 applications. However, if an app wants to run in Metro mode it has to use the new WinRT API. The trouble is that in an attempt to make WinRT power efficient, fast, and secure Microsoft ended up making it way too restrictive. Due to this, several classes of modern applications can’t be developed by leveraging WinRT alone. In order to skirt around this significant roadblock, Microsoft created a third category of applications. This category of applications have a frontend developed using WinRT, but they can also leverage the power of the Win32 API. In other words, they look like Metro apps, but offer the power and flexibility of a traditional Windows app. Unfortunately, on ARM devices, the only apps which will be allowed to leverage both WinRT and Win32 APIs are apps from Microsoft. Paul is right in saying that Microsoft isn’t specifically targeting browsers. In one fell swoop Microsoft has put all third party apps at a significant disadvantage. Whether it be office suites, media players, or browsers – all apps will have a hard time matching products from the Redmond giant as they will practically be running on two different operating systems. To make matters worse, Windows 8 for ARM won’t allow third party apps to run as pure classic apps either. Asa Dotzler explained the trouble faced by browser developers quite succinctly.

Microsoft has made it clear that the third category won’t exist on Windows for ARM (unless you’re Microsoft) and that neither will the first category (unless you’re Microsoft.) That means that IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs — even when it’s running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access. Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.

You might be wondering exactly what kind of restrictions does WinRT impose that makes it impossible to develop a competent browser. Here’s an example – WinRT doesn’t allow translation of code at runtime. This is something absolutely critical for a technique called JIT (Just-in-time compilation). You might have heard of JIT before, as over the past few years, all browsers have been using JIT to deliver astounding improvements in JavaScript rendering speed. Lack of JIT will instantly push a browser back by several years. Keep in mind that this is just one example. Modern browsers are pushing the limits of what is possible within a browser. With the restrictive sandbox offered by WinRT, many of the bleeding edge features offered by modern browsers can’t be implemented in WinRT.

Mozilla has already issued thinly veiled threats of legal action, and considering that Windows 8 is pretty much done, the threat of another anti-trust ruling is the only thing that can realistically make Microsoft change its mind. However, is Microsoft really abusing its monopolistic position to crush competition? The answer is trickier than you might think.

Indian Government and Courts Ignore Common Sense and Laws of the Land in a Drive to Leash the Internet

Even as the anti-SOPA protests continue to gain momentum in the US, time may have come for a similar campaign in India. A Delhi High Court judge, while hearing a criminal complaint against Google, Facebook and other online services, threatened to block all such websites “like China”. This comes just weeks after Kapil Sibal, India’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, courted controversy by asking Facebook and Google to pre-screen content.

Backstory

CensorshipThe latest controversy began when, Vinay Rai, the editor of an Urdu-language newspaper, moved the lower court to prosecute 21 websites on which he discovered objectionable content. Speaking to the WSJ, Rai stated that the content he found “offends several religions including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity” and “involves pages and groups where users have mocked Hindu gods and goddesses, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ”. In response, the trial court issued summons to the concerned organizations, which were approved by the Ministry of External Affairs.

“The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials produced before him and after considering and examining the same, he is satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused persons under section 153-A, 153-B and 295-A of the IPC,” the Government said in its report.

Google, Facebook, and several others named in the complaint moved the High Court to seek exemption from the trial court as a similar case was already pending with the High Court. However, the HC judge – Justice Suresh Kait, not only refused to stay the trial court proceedings, but also threatened to go the China way if web-services didn’t clean up their act. He asked websites to develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages.

As you might expect, the court’s remark sent alarm bells ringing and have elicited sharp criticism both within and outside the country. Google’s advocate N K Kaul, remarked, “The issue relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression and suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China”. Manoj Nigam, VP-IT, Vodafone India, termed the demand to monitor and remove content “slightly absurd”, while Tamal Chakravarthy, CIO of Ericsson India believes that “Its (sic) highly improbable that such an act would come into existence”.

Windows 8: When Two Worlds Collide

Steven Sinofsky, the President of the Windows division at Microsoft, has dubbed Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, and for once, it’s not just PR-speak. Windows 8 introduces sweeping changes that affects both users and developers. In many ways, it’s probably the most significant release of Windows since Windows 95. Windows 8 is a touch-first operating system, which offers a new immersive user interface that actually does away with the concept of windows.

Windows-8

From the start, our approach has been to reimagine Windows, and to be open to revisiting even the most basic elements of the user model, the platform and APIs, and the architectures we support.
– Steven Sinofsky

Windows 8 is Windows reimagined. However, Windows also has its own legacy and tradition that it just can’t axe at one fell swoop. Currently Windows has hundreds of thousands of apps that are utilized on a day to day basis by its millions of users. It simply can’t turn around and ask everyone to begin from scratch. Doing so will almost certainly have disastrous consequences for Windows both among enterprise users and consumers. As a result, Sinofsky has had to pull off a balancing act. Even though Sinofsky has stated that his goal was a no compromise design, Windows 8 is full of compromises.

Windows-Reimagined
Windows Reimagined

Windows 8 attempts to put the focus on the modern Metro interface, without abandoning the classic Windows shell. Windows 8 tries to put the focus on touch, without forgetting keyboard and mouse users. Windows 8 tries to simplify computing, without alienating its power users. In short, Windows 8 tries to please everyone. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. When two worlds collide, baby eating aliens are to be expected.

Ribbonized Explorer in Windows 8 is Good News [Editorial]

Yesterday, Alex Simons from the program management team of Microsoft Windows shed some light on the planned enhancements for Explorer in Windows 8. I enthusiastically welcomed the new Ribbonized Explorer that Microsoft showed off. Minutes later, I was left scratching my head as negative responses begun pouring in from across the web.


Download

BetaNews compared the new Explorer with an overstuffed refrigerator” and dubbed it as “a maze only navigable by your home’s primary cook, while Laurie Voss concluded that Microsoft UI has officially entered the realm of self-parody. The overwhelming consensus is that the Ribbon for Explorer is a bad idea as its overly complicated, and plain unnecessary. Of course, my personal opinion is drastically different. I will try to tackle some of the most common complaints and offer my perspective in this op-ed.

Windows-8-Explorer-Ribbon-UI

It’s Useless: This argument couldn’t be any further from the truth. The tabbed interface makes it possible to expose a multitude of features in the GUI, without overburdening a novice user. Here are some of the neat little things that will be possible with the new Explorer:

  • Compressing multiple files into a single zip file and emailing it with a couple of clicks.
  • Single click sharing of files with networked users.
  • Contextual searching that is both simple and powerful.
  • Enhanced and simplified keyboard navigation.

The Ribbon interface also makes several nifty existing features more accessible and discoverable. Here’s a very brief list of stuff that’s easier to do with Windows 8.

  • View hidden files and folders with a single click.
  • Launch command prompt in admin mode directly from the Explorer.
  • Rollback documents to a previous version with a couple of clicks.

Some of the buttons such as Copy, Paste, and Delete are redundant as most users perform these operations through context-menu or keyboard shortcuts. However, not including them also would have been quite controversial as they do represent the most commonly performed tasks by a user. Hence, even though almost everyone other than novices wouldn’t find these buttons of much use, it makes sense to feature them prominently. Microsoft also probably went overboard with the various selection options. However, on the whole, the Ribbon UI adds plenty of value to the Explorer.

The Pitfalls of Firefox’s Rapid Release Cycle [Editorial]

If you have been following the recent Firefox releases, you are probably already aware that Mozilla is now following a rapid release cyclefor Firefox. Frustrated by the innumerable delays that plagued the release of Firefox 4, Mozilla decided to take a leaf out of Google’s book, and release a new version of Firefox every six weeks. Unfortunately, the new quick-fire release policy creates some major issues that Mozilla doesn’t seem to be willing to tackle.

Firefox-Rapid-Release

The first problem is that it makes version numbers redundant. A major version number bump normally indicates the introduction of major new features along with significant enhancements to existing features. However, the biggest new feature in Firefox 6 domain highlighting in the address bar, is something that wouldn’t excite even the most passionate Firefox user. Firefox 5 was even worse.

The biggest feature in Firefox 5 is that the Do Not Trackfeature, which we have discussed in a fair amount of detail in the past, is now more accessible. It is now available under the Privacytab, instead of being buried under Advancedoptions. Yep, the biggest user-perceivable change in Firefox 5 is a minor interface tweak.

Of course, this alone isn’t such a big problem. Undoubtedly, it’s annoying and stupid. However, Firefox’s auto-update does a good job at making the update process hassle free. Add-on compatibility was another issue that I was worried about. However, Mozilla seems to be doing something right in this area. All the add-ons I used were compatible with Firefox 6 at launch. At the time of writing, 99% of the top extensions, which constitute 95% of the total extension usage, are compatible with Firefox 6.

Unfortunately, there is one issue that Mozilla doesn’t seem to have a solution for. The rapid fire update policy means that every year we will be witnessing eight to nine major version trunks of Mozilla. However, Mozilla isn’t willing to support the older version trunks. If you are on version 4, which was released just a few months back, then tough luck. Mozilla won’t be providing any further updates to the 4.x trunk. Updating to newer versions might not be a big issue for home users, but it is a major undertaking for enterprises. Each major update has to be tested for regressions and other issues before it can be deployed. Mozilla’s reluctance to support older trunks mean that enterprises stand the risk of being left vulnerable to serious security vulnerabilities over extended periods.

Enterprises are notorious for their reluctance to switch to newer and better browsers. It’s only recently that some of them have begun to opt for Firefox. However, with the new rapid release cycle, Mozilla will almost certain succeed in making all of them revert to Microsoft Internet Explorer, since Google Chrome also follows the same quick-fire release cycle and Opera has too many website compatibility problems (often due to factors out of its control) to be considered seriously. In contrast to Mozilla, Microsoft will be supporting Internet Explorer 9 till January 2020.

Google-Motorola: It’s All About Defense [Editorial]

You have probably heard by now that Google is acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. On the face of it, the acquisition seems like an incredibly aggressive move by Google. However, in reality, this acquisition is all about defense.

Motorola-Google-AcquisitionForgive me for being clichéd, but as they say, offense is the best form of defense, and that’s exactly what this deal is all about. As we have already discussed, one of the key assets of Motorola Mobility is its patent trove. Android and its partners have come under fire in the recent months due to alleged patent infringements. In fact, Microsoft has found a smart way to earn possibly even more than Google is doing from Android by licensing its patents to manufacturers like HTC. Unfortunately, there’s not much Google can do at the moment because of its weak patent portfolio. It can’t hit back at the likes of Microsoft or Oracle. That’s the reason why Google was desperate to grab the Nortel and Novel patents. That’s the reason behind Google’s public outburst at the current patent scenario. However, Motorola with its twenty five thousand patents (17,000 granted, 7,000 pending) will change all of this. If you consider that Nortel’s patents were sold for as much as four billion dollars, the $12.5 billion price for Motorola doesn’t seem very steep. Motorola will undoubtedly offer Google other benefits, including the ability to build the Android device that it really wants to, and shape the ecosystem with firmer hands. However, the real reason for buying Motorola is undoubtedly to protect Android and its ecosystem from being devoured by patent infringement lawsuits from competitors. Larry Page doesn’t try to hide this in his announcement. Although he does throw in the usual generic remarks that the acquisition will help accelerate innovationand supercharge the entire Android ecosystem, he goes on to dedicate an entire paragraph on the significance of Motorola’s patent portfolio.

We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android. The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to protect competition and innovation in the open source software communityand it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.

If you still have doubts regarding the real reason behind the acquisition, have a look at the official reactions from other Android handset manufacturers.

We welcome the news of todays acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem.
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC Corp.

I welcome Googles commitment to defending Android and its partners.
Bert Nordberg, President & CEO, Sony Ericsson

We welcome Googles commitment to defending Android and its partners.
Jong-Seok Park, Ph.D, President & CEO, LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company

The common phrase in the statements released by HTC, Sony Ericsson, and LG is defending Android and its partners.