Homepage Design

It is one of the oldest activities when it comes to the Web, but home page design still leaves a lot to be desired. Robin Good points to an essay by Jakob Nielsen on the 10 most violated homepage design guidelines:

1. Emphasize what your site offers that’s of value to users and how your services differ from those of key competitors

2. Use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the homepage size

3. Use color to distinguish visited and unvisited links

4. Use graphics to show real content, not just to decorate your homepage

5. Include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does

6. Make it easy to access anything recently featured on your homepage

7. Include a short site description in the window title

8. Don’t use a heading to label the search area; instead use a “Search” button to the right of the box

9. With stock quotes, give the percentage of change, not just the points gained or lost

10. Don’t include an active link to the homepage on the homepage

Virtualisation

News.com calls in “computer-in-a-computer” – the capability to run multiple operating systems on a single computer. The article talks about the efforts of Microsoft and VMware:

Microsoft announced Monday that it has finished development of a new version of Virtual PC for Windows. The software, dubbed Virtual PC 2004, will be available to Microsoft’s volume license customers and on retail shelves later this year, the company said.

Also on Monday, VMware plans to release new management software that it revealed details about in July under the name Control Center. The software now is called VirtualCenter, said Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing.

VMware’s main software line now is designed for servers–networked machines for data storage and processing. Microsoft’s Virtual Server product, though, isn’t expected until early 2004, and for now, the software giant is focused on PCs.

Intel is also working on this. Adds News.com: “Virtualization is the foundation for the idea of partitioning a server into several independent machines. Partitioning first gained widespread use in mainframes, with Unix servers now catching up and the idea now arriving on widely used machines that are built with Intel’s Xeon server processor. Microsoft and VMware are taking software-based approaches to virtualization and partitioning, but Intel itself hopes to improve the hardware support with a technology code-named Vanderpool, expected in 2008.”

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A PC Company Turnaround Story

Business Week offers a story that one does not get to read often – how a company was turned around, in an industry dominated by Dell. The company at the centre is eMachines.

After eMachines Chairman John Hui took the company private in a $161 million buyout, Wayne Inouye delivered a turnaround that’s just short of miraculous. In the midst of the tech industry’s worst-ever slump, he overhauled everything from PC design to demand forecasting. He cut expenses by outsourcing manufacturing and relying on retail partners to market his products. The payoff: The company is on track to pull in $1 billion in sales this year, up 33% from last year, and has been profitable for eight quarters, Inouye says. This summer, eMachines elbowed aside Gateway to take the No. 3 position in IDC’s rankings of desktop PC makers, behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

Inouye stands a good chance of keeping eMachines’ momentum going. Analysts say anything he achieves with higher-priced PCs will be gravy on top of his successful, fast-growing core business. Large PC players will struggle to sell machines so cheaply. “They offer something you can’t get anyplace else: a low-cost entry-level machine that provides a lot of value,” says analyst Stephen Baker of market researcher NDP Group Inc.

Just goes to show that good management can make a difference in any industry.

Low and High Disruption

Rich Karlgaard (Forbes) writes:

Now that the economy is expanding again, stock markets like growth companies with higher multiples. What CEO or shareholder doesn’t want a higher multiple? So the pressure in boardrooms once more is for growth. At the same time, a new force this column has termed the Cheap Revolution (e.g., the combination of cheap technology, excess capacity and Internet-based pricing arbitrage) is exerting a powerful deflationary gravity.

I may be missing something, but I can see only two general ways out of this dilemma. Call them Low Disruption and High Disruption.

Low Disruption means leveraging the Cheap Revolution for all it’s worth to introduce products and services that are stunningly cheap yet make money because their cost basis is so low. Think Google. It’s ranked third in the world in Web pages served daily. The search engine’s IT infrastructure is built entirely from Linux software and computers that are so cheap they’re junked instead of fixed. Ravi Aron, a Wharton professor, thinks Google’s cost per Web page served is ten times below the industry average.

Low Disruption is the path favored–though not always–by entrepreneurs who nimbly figure out before their established competitors do just how to harness cheap tech and global resources. In 2003 such cheap tech includes throwaway servers; open-source software; Wi-Fi; voice-over IP; radio-frequency identification chips; Web services from Salesforce.com, RightNow or the new Siebel/IBM alliance; network applications from One Network Enterprise; utility computing from Mercury Interactive; “on-demand” computing from IBM; programmers working from India; engineers from China; and Web designers from Estonia–just to name some.

High Disruption is what BMW, Mercedes and Lexus did to Cadillac and Lincoln in premium automobiles (although Cadillac, under new leadership, has fought back impressively of late). It is what Miele did to Maytag in washers and dryers. It is what Pixar is doing to Disney in animation (even as those two companies remain connected). It is what NetJets is doing to commercial carriers in the battle for first-class business travelers.

High Disruption is the act of directing a premium product or service at today’s affluent customers.

Semantic Web and XBRL

Tim Bray joins in the discussion:

Right now, if I hear of some company by name (for example, lets imagine a company called Example Corporation) I know that if I stick www. in front of the name and .com after it, then I can point a web browser at www.example.com and find out a bunch of stuff, including:

– How long theyve been around.
– Whether I know anyone in their management.
– Whether theyre private or public.
– If theyre private, who their investors are, and if theyre public, a whole lot of detailed financial information.
– Where their office is.
– What their phone number is.
– Whether theyre hiring.
– What the names of their products are.

Of course, when I say I can find out I mean that I as a human can plow through Flash intros and HTML pages and PDF printouts to laboriously hand-assemble all this useful information. Which basically sucks.

So imagine that given any www.example.com, I could count on there also being a data.example.com, which would typically have all these facts available in some straightforward XML dialect, so that I could use a program to do the tedious basic factfinding work.

In this context, its interesting to note that I gave a keynote speech last week at the 8th XBRL International Conference; XBRL is Extensible Business Reporting Language, designed to capture all the minutiae of financial statements in a machine-processable form. The value proposition for XBRL is a no-brainer: cost reduction. The financial industry depends totally on consuming accurate financial information, and since at the moment this is generally available only on paper, or if electronically, in PDF or the hardly-more-useful EDGAR version, a huge amount of time and error-prone human effort goes into extracting and repackaging it.

Of course, if companies as a matter of routine posted XBRL versions of their financials at addresses like data.ibm.com and data.renault.com and data.hsbc.com and data.daimler-chrysler.com, a huge amount of time and money would be saved. And youd have taken some useful steps towards a machine-processable web.

Excellent ideas – which we should apply to build a SME Trade Information Marketplace.

MicroPubs

Om Malik writes on the emerging micro-publications:

Micro-pubs have a narrow and extreme focus on one niche category
Micro-pub editor/founder is an expert in his chosen arena
Micro-pubs use open source tools and a content management system like Moveable Type or pMachine.
Micro-pubs all command very high CPM rates because of their narrow focus.
Micro-pubs are more than just a blog, I.e. they have a mix of links and original reporting.
Micro-pubs only work with a skeletal crew – add more people and the business model of these micro-pubs breaks down.

In short, micro-pub is a combination of old fashioned newsletter, blog and a directory service, managed by one to ten people.

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: An IBM for SMEs

In the small-and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment, there has been a co-ordination failure in getting solutions to SMEs. Across the world, while IT has penetrated large companies broadly and deeply, in the SME space, usage has been thin and shallow. Even today, as the various IT players see the SME segment, it is seen as one which almost no one has succeeded in conquering. Yes, there have been the occasional successes like Intuit for accounting. But if one compares the promise of technology and its usage in SMEs, there is a huge gap which needs be bridged.

To build this digital bridge requires two elements: first, an entity which can co-ordinate the actions of many and provide a single, integrated set of solutions to SMEs, and second, do the delivery through a physical presence close to the SMEs. In other words, SMEs need a cross between IBM and Wal-mart.

Consider IBM and how it transformed itself under Lou Gerstner in the 1990s into a solutions and services provider for enterprises. Writes Gerstner in his book Who Says Elephants Cant Dance? in the chapter entitled Making the Big Bets:

Our bet was this: Over the next decade, customers would increasingly value companies that could provide solutions solutions that integrated technology from various suppliers, and more important, integrated technology into the process of an enterprise. We bet that the historical preoccupations with chip speeds, software versions, proprietary systems, and the like would wane, and that over time the information technology industry would be services-led, not technology-led.

If customers were going to look for an end-to-end integrator to helpthem envision, design, and build end-to-end solutions, then the companies playing that role would exert tremendous influence over the full range of technology decisions from architecture and applications to hardware and software choices.

This would be a historic shift in customer buying behavior. For the first time, services companies, not technology firms, would be the tail wagging the dog.

What does such a business take? Gerstner again: The skills required in managing services processes are very different from those that drive successful product companiesIn a services business, you dont make a product and then sell it. You sell a capability. You see knowledge. You create it at the same time you deliver it. The business model is different. The economics are different.

The ideas that IBM put together a decade ago now need to be applied to the SME market. There is a need for an IBM for SMEs an integrated solutions and services provider, but one which can do at much lower price points, because the focus is on the SMEs in the emerging markets.

The next question is on how to provision these services to SMEs. For this, there is a need for a physical presence close to the customer. Think about Wal-mart, the worlds largest company in terms of revenues, and how its scale and proximity provides affordable products for its customers.

Tomorrow: IT Wal-mart

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