Giving the Big Guy a Poke in the Eye

Systems management vendor Argent has never been shy. I wrote a profile of the company and was pleasantly surprised at how unguarded and uncensored its CEO Andrew Blencowe was in my interview.

Blencowe's bluster reminded me of another CEO: Steve Ballmer.

Argent software competes directly with Microsoft MOM (Microsoft took a perfectly good name, MOM, and changed it to Systems Center Operations Manager 2007 -- catchy, eh?), and is not afraid to give the Redmond colossus a little what for.

Care for an example? Go to and click on the "Argent v Microsoft" tab. Here you'll see how Blencowe compares himself to Mr. Ballmer.

Good News on Mac ROI
Nucleus Research, which focuses on ROI and analysis, is in the midst of comparing Mac to PC ROI. Like Obama vs. Clinton, so far the early results have the Mac ahead. At one company studied, Macs have fewer problems which are solved faster.

I'd like to see more companies embracing the Mac -- not to give Steve Jobs more dough, or to reward what is arguably the most proprietary PC architecture in existence today, but to create competition for Microsoft.

Symantec and XP SP3 Just Can't Get Along
Some users upgrading to XP SP3 have run into a little snag: Their registries got corrupted.

But don't start throwing stones Redmond's way; in this case, it's actually Symantec's fault. It seems that a part of Norton anti-virus is the culprit. Symantec has issued a workaround.

VMware Bulks Up with App Performance Management
When VMware started, it was all about the hypervisor. But hypervisors, while of fundamental importance, are becoming commodities. The real action is in tools for management, as well as applications and storage.

VMware knows this better than anyone and has been building and buying tools to round out the portfolio. The latest deal is B-hive, an application performance management vendor that ships in the form of a virtual appliance.

One question I have is whether VMware will adapt B-hive to work with Hyper-V (the company's main product Conductor already works with Xen). If the action is really in tools, VMware would be giving up dollars by not porting to the big V.

Interestingly, B-hive is one of many -- make that many, many -- virtualization startups with deep connections to Israel. Lot's of cool virtualization stuff emerging from that one small country.

Mailbag: Touch Screens vs. Keyboards
Last week, Microsoft gave a Windows 7 demo that featured touch screen apps, prompting Lafe to ask what readers think about touch screens eventually replacing keyboards and computer mice. Here's what some of you had to say:

You asked if the touch screen would ever replace the keyboard and mouse. I say a qualified no. Assuming the price differential can be overcome, I can see a mouse being replaced but not the keyboard. There are many times where a keyboard is a much quicker, easier input device (typing a letter or e-mail, for example). Moreover, look at the mobile PCs (RIM, Pocket PC, etc.). These are getting keyboards more and more frequently as the input devices (some even use touch screen technologies) hit their limits.

That said, how many great systems have gotten overridden by mediocre replacements? Assuming Microsoft and others don't force it down our throats, I believe the keyboard is here to stay.

I have used touch apps; the iPhone is a great example. They are nice applications. Yes, touch interface and voice interface will replace the keyboard and mouse. That is one thing that Gene Roddenberry got right! I am still waiting for Scotty to beam up Bill.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the mouse (courtesy of Apple) the "temporary" solution that was put into place when it was decided that touch screen technology was not mature/economical enough to be used for Windows?

Personally, I cannot stand using a mouse anyway. I'd much rather use keyboard shortcuts whenever possible since they help improve efficiency by not having you repeatedly change your mode of interfacing with the computer/system. I would definitely consider a touch screen a major improvement over the mouse as there are some things for which you can not find a suitable keyboard shortcut.

Touch screen is used commonly for operating manufacturing equipment and processes, where there is often no place to put a mouse. They are an excellent alternative to a mouse and are a lot better than the pads most of us use on our portables. It usually requires a little attention to the user interface for the applications that we use. For example, size and closeness of touch-sensitive areas, balloons are ineffective, etc.

Replacing the keyboard is a different set of issues and, for some uses, not practical. For entering a few characters screen keyboards are OK. But for writing logs, papers -- anything substantial -- we need something that supports higher speed input and editing.

I have tried the touch screen on a Fujitsu convertible tablet, but found it a bit hard to get used to, possibly due to the small screen size. I believe it does have some advantages on a larger screen, particularly in map, photo and other visual applications that currently rely on a mouse.

But a touch screen keyboard? No thanks! Been there, hated it. As for Bill G.'s constant proselytizing for speech input -- he and his friends must all have private, soundproof offices. In the average cubicle-land, hearing your neighbors talking to their PCs or dictating an e-mail would quickly result in incidents of office rage, or worse.

Back in the days of Win 3.1, my everyday workhorse machine was a GRiD Convertible running MS Windows 3.1 for pen computing. This was the most stable Windows I've ever encountered, and the pen interface, barring GRiD's silly battery-operated implementation of the pen, was a joy. Batteries, however, it consumed as if they were popcorn: Couldn't get enough of them, and still wanted more.

I can't stand greasy fingerprints where I'm trying to read. I have a touch screen on my Treo and I clean it daily -- sometimes more. There are users that will absolutely love it. I won't be one of them.

It is hard to believe how slow touch screen applications have taken. In 1974 at the University of Illinois in Urbana, I took courses that were supported by computerized tutorials on the Plato system. Many of those lessons used a "touch screen" interface. If I recall correctly, the sensing elements were a matrix of light beams across the face of the screen. The sensing may have been a bit crude, but the applications worked, and worked well.

And in the legal back-and-forth between Google/YouTube and Viacom, Lafe wondered if copyright-related lawsuits sometimes cross the line. Here's what Ian thinks:

In relation to the question you raise about copyright issues, why not take the same approach music artists and publishers have done? They allow 30-second cuts or single chapters to be published freely as a tidbit to encourage people to buy the full product. The copyright owner should release an authorised snippet of the full-length feature.

Have something to add? Let us have it! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected].

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.


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