Friday, February 29, 2008

In the mind's eye, it's now Marissa versus Monkeyboy

Funny how the mind works. Sometimes it just makes associations whether you want it to or not.

And now that I've read the feature article on Google's Marissa Mayer in San Francisco magazine, the images from that profile are etched into my mind whenever I think of Google, or even go to Google's gaggle of sites, services, and features. There is now continuity between Marissa, Google and me.

These are actually quite pleasant, floating images of a lower Market Street aerie, with purple walls and the home-spun smell of vanilla-laced cupcakes (supported lovingly by pleated paper). There's laughter, intense intelligence, privilege with a purpose, a subdued sensuality, a hammer-hold on the zeitgeist.

Here's a gal with the whole package to capture the hearts and minds of, well ... the world. The cat is out of the bag, she's an It Girl, regardless of her competencies -- and probably despite them. She could even push Steve Jobs off the ohmygawd pedestal. I'm serious.

I don't know if these images are true, but they are hard to resist. You almost want this all to be real, a fantasy that you can believe in. That holds true for Google as a company, as well. You almost want the corporate myth to work out.

It's all generally very positive, easy to sell by not selling it openly. Just like those web services. I probably will want to read more about Marissa. It will be hard not to. And I'll keep experimenting with Google's services right along with the warm, comfy feelings -- from God knows where.

And then there's the mind's eye on Microsoft. Used to be the image of Bill Gates was etched on that, at least for me. Whenever I thought of Microsoft, some how the floating images of Bill sitting in that chartered plane with Warren Buffett, playing cards, beige carpets and couches, stocking feet, off to cure the world of major diseases and ignorance. I wanted to be there too. If I only had $20 billion to kick in, I'd do it. I'd learn to play bridge. Steaks and cherry coke.

And the image of Bill was good for Microsoft -- and it was the public Bill, the philanthropist, The Road Ahead Bill -- not the monopolist and software mogul. And I have even dreamed of Bill Gates. Totally involuntary, I assure you. But that's how powerful these media-fueled images are.

I've even met the guy a few times, and those images do not stick as much as these Jungian archetypes of the total top dog. We must be hard-wired to seek out someone or something to fill this need to define the very top slot, to latch onto something and endow it with such power. Perhaps it's so we know what to aspire to -- both individually and as a culture. These images may be entirely devoid of reality -- yet remain nearly tangible and extremely powerful.

And so as Bill Gates separates in this regard from the Microsoft mental imagery, the dissonance between the archetype and software company will fade too. Can't have it both ways. The Gates mystique will segue to the foundation, to the cures, to the endowment. He shall rise above the corporation, the brand.

What or who will fill the void? Ray Ozzie seems a tad celebrity-shy. I just can't see Ray on Oprah (Marissa would work, though!). Ray's a geek's geek, not an archetype, nosiree. Mundie? Insufficient profile. All these white guys blend together, nothing sticks out.

But wait, look inside yourself. Conjure up Microsoft and what do you now see? Increasingly, especially in light of the Yahoo! takeover bid, a new image is burnishing my thoughts of Microsoft. It's that darned Monkeyboy video clip of Steve Ballmer. I don't want to see it, and yet I do. Can't stop myself.

Ballmer is the only poster child Microsoft has left. He does not blend in, he sticks out. It's a powerful image, but is it the one that Microsoft really wants nowadays? I hate to think that marketing and global persona images count for as much as software proficiency, but I know it does. Why, oh why, does life have to be like some kind of damned popularity contest?

I have not yet dreamed of Steve Ballmer. I have not yet dreamed of Marissa Mayer. But my mind's eye is doing it's thing, and I am but a passenger. It's now the Google-Marissa mental mashup versus the Microsoft-Monkeyboy machination. Google could have an awesome weapon on its hands here.

Funny how the mind works.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RIA wars heat up with arrival of Adobe's AIR and Flex

In the world of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), the battle for hearts and minds -- not to mention eyeballs and desktops -- heated up this week when Adobe Systems took the wraps off its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR).

Adobe AIR, according to the buzz on the street, "blurs" the lines between the PC and the Web by allowing users to download Web applications to the desktop and letting them access those applications wherever the user may be. For example, eBay has developed an AIR application, so that bidders not longer have to monitor the eBay Web site or constantly watch their email. Instead, changes in an item they are interested in can be instantly displayed on their desktop.

Adobe announced the beta last fall in lieu of a promised alpha release, and, at the time, I said I hoped the company would move more quickly on completing their work on it, as the RIA market seemed to be catching on quickly. There's talk of a Linux version.

Everyone from the New York Times to niche bloggers are buzzing with trying to handicap the horse race that's now developing among the top contenders, including Adobe's latest entry, and offerings from such other RIA powerhouses as Microsoft's Silverlight and Mozilla's Prism.

Adobe is already planning to make its own applications available in an AIR version, and its Web site lists some major online organizations that have already developed AIR applications. In addition to eBay, these include such household names as The New York Times, AOL, NASDAQ, The American Cancer Society, Nickelodeon, Yahoo!, and

Those interested in a more grassroots approach can find over 120 AIR applications at the Airapps wiki.

While the spotlight seems to be on AIR, it's hard to ignore Adobe's other announcement, which is the availability of Flex 3.0, their open-source framework for building highly interactive Web applications, which has also been languishing in beta since last fall.

I recently saw a demo of Workday's human resource management applications build using Adobe Flex, and the ability for users to navigate and customize their work on the fly was very impressive. Workday has artfully crafted on-demand business applications that rival any client-server applications. I expect this to become the standard for online productivity applications, and for AIR to grease the skids for wider adoption of these compelling UIs. [Disclosure: Workday is the new parent of Cape Clear Software, a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Flex 3.0 has added a slew of new functionality to the 2.0 version, as well as enhancing some of the earlier capabilities. Among the new functions:

  • Drag and Drop support
  • Local File system access
  • Local SQLite database storage
  • AIR debugging and profiling
  • AIR application packaging and signing

There are more at the Flex Web site.

While Flex may tickle the fancy of developers, it's AIR that's caught the attention of the so-called mainstream media, with even the BBC weighing in on the matter. One major issue has already reared its ugly head -- security, with some commentators expressing the fear that users could unwittingly download malicious programs.

The developer will sign AIR applications, and it will be up to the user to decide whether to trust the certificate or not. While it's easy to say that end users should be prudent in their choices, experience has taught us that people often blow right by warning screens and download things they shouldn't. Time will tell how much of a problem this is.

Adobe AIR can be downloaded now. Flex is available for purchase.