Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Immigrants in Technology

America is Losing the Edge

I decided after much contemplation that I wanted this to be the headline topic for this week's post because it's something that people don't like to talk about enough but it's a serious problem. There's not enough American-born students with degrees in technology and yet the American government still has very stringent policies on immigration. There are arguments to be made for and against allowing more foreigners in the country to fill these positions, but the point is that we have a fundamental problem. Over half of all startups in the Valley are founded or co-founded by immigrants, and yet more immigrants aren't able to get their idea off the ground in America even if they were educated here. We're living in a world economy in our own bubble. We can't shelter American workers from the rest of the world. By turning away these great ideas, we're doing one of two things: letting them grow in other countries instead or letting them die off instead of possibly benefiting humanity. In the former case, we're reducing our influence in the world and in the latter we're doing a disservice to everyone because there are countries where starting your own company simply isn't as feasible. We can't shelter ourselves from outside pressures in the hope that we're going to continue to come up with the best ideas. Technology is growing too fast for it to be contained in a single country, the question is how big a part we want in that future.

Bing's Share Grows

I'm officially impressed by Bing. They managed to grab 10% of the search market. When they got a couple percent, you could say that they bought it with their advertising. At this point though, they're actually getting enough mindshare to maintain a pretty big piece of the pie. I think we are seeing the aftereffects of the advertising campaign and it'll be interesting to see if they can maintain this. They've definitely been working hard to differentiate themselves from Google and that's going to be key to their long-term strategy. They recently launched visual search, which allows you to browse results with pictures rather than texts. Supposedly, people can process pictures faster than text, but it's just kind of a neat feature that gets them good press coverage. It's actually clever and I think an implicit strategy in Google's arsenal since they're constantly making updates to their products and launching new ideas, which gives them free press coverage and makes them more prominent in people's minds.

Fast Flip and Chrome 3.0

Speaking of which, Google has made a few noteworthy announcements recently. The first is Fast Flip, which allows you to read newspapers and magazines digitally as if you were flipping through them on paper. They're trying to get rid of the taboo associated with reading newspapers and magazines in an electronic form that traditionalists have acquired. It allows you to browse through the articles with more words than you can currently get on Google News, but they're hoping that people will be enticed to click through and read the whole article, which will contain some more advertising. It looks like in the browsing itself the advertising will be off in a bar on the right side so that it's not too obtrusive. I don't know if these publications will accept this or if it will work out as Google hopes, but I think it's a really good idea still.

Another bit of Google news this week is that they've released version 3 of Chrome, which is faster but, more importantly, supports HTML 5. If I'm not mistaken, Chrome is the first major browser to support HTML 5, which supports embedded video, audio, and canvas tags.

Chrome Frame

There was actually one more big announcement from Google last week: Chrome Frame. This is a plug-in for Internet Explorer that allows you to render pages with Chrome from withing Internet Explorer and gives you the bonus of being able to properly render HTML 5. Why would Chrome do this? It's not simply to make the lives of web developers easier since Internet Explorer is notorious for being terrible with web standards, but rather to help increase the audience for their products that utilize additions in HTMl 5. Given that some employers are skeptical to allow employees to install Chrome, Google is probably hoping that at least this frame will be allowed. It shouldn't be too surprising that Microsoft advises against people installing the plug-in citing that it poses a security risk. They haven't really given hard proof that this is true and have instead done a lot of hand waving and proclaiming generalities.

Zune HD Faces Off With New Nano

The Zune HD is finally here, and the reviews are pretty positive overall. I feel like Engadget had the most balanced review that I read really giving a good balance between high points and lowlights rather than focusing too much on one or the other. Microsoft has definitely put a lot of care in the interface and making this a solid competitor, and I think it has succeeded in shaking things up a bit. I don't know if it'll get the popularity they'd like in light of the recent iPod releases, but it sounds like it definitely should.

One of the open questions for the Zune HD is if the app store will work out anywhere near as well as the iTunes app store. It's unlikely to ever be quite as successful, and is off to a bit of a slow start as you're faced with ads when starting up the applications available right now. I think that's a really bad model. I think it's better to say you can pay a buck or two to remove ads from an application and just have ads if someone really doesn't want to pay for an application or just wants to try it out in its full glory without having to worry about an expiring evaluation period or something like that. By having pre-roll ads though, they're really disincentivizing folks from using them.

Meanwhile, the new Nano is out there and doesn't seem all that compelling to me. It's definitely a beautiful device, and Ars Technica gave it a positive review overall, but the only really big addition is a video camera that can't take still pictures. If you really want a camcorder though, you can just get a Flip MinoHD instead. Sure, it's a separate device, but it's better quality (and easily pocketable) and that seems to be the only reason someone would upgrade their Nano to this model.

Switching to Linux

I really enjoyed this article about a guy who had been working on his development of a project solely on Windows and decided to try switching to Linux instead. Surprisingly enough, even with the initial setup he had a much easier time overall in Linux. Things were much speedier and wrestling with dependencies seemed to go easier for him. I actually switched to Linux myself a while back and haven't looked back. The command line tools you get with Linux right out of the box are invaluable and doing scripting just feels so much easier because everything you need tends to come right in the box.

CableCARDs Now Open

36% of all households in the US now have DVRs, which is a staggering percentage when you sit down and think about it. DVR adds a whole new dimension compared to VCRs, and it totally changes the dynamics of how people watch TV and advertising on TV. It's kind of ironic that most viewing still happens live with people turning to their recordings when nothing good is on TV, but that shows that people still aren't ready yet for a 100% on-demand model, which is what proponents of IP TV would be in support of.

You'll probably see DVRs become slightly more prominent now that CableCARDs (the card you use to decode the cable signal) can be acquired outside of an OEM, which makes it easier for people to build their own Home Theater PCs (HTPCs). This is an attractive option for people who have a spare PC lying around and I'm sure Windows 7 aims to make it even easier to have an HTPC. This is a pretty big victory for DIYers and overall just a great thing given how bloody the fight for DVRs and CableCARD acceptance has been over the years.


Ok, it's getting late so it's time to race through the last stories.

There are some pretty solid rumors out there regarding a tablet from Mirosoft called Courier that has the interesting physical feature of a spine to split it in half making it feel more like a book. It looks neat, but details are still scarce.

The FCC chairman has taken a harder stance in favor of net neutrality and made it clear that inaction is not an option. That's more than refreshing to hear, and hopefully he stands by it.

After several years, the IEEE has finally approved the 802.11n wireless standard, which is is capable of much faster speeds than 802.11g (which is probably what's in your computer right now) and over longer distances. Say goodbye to routers with 802.11 draft N support and hello to full-on 802.11n support (hopefully).

Yahoo started a $100 million advertising campaign to try to salvage the Yahoo brand by bringing Yahoo back in the picture as people's choice for a web portal, but only time will tell how successful it will be. To be honest, I'm not optimistic from seeing some of the ads already:

This stick figure guide is probably the best explanation of AES I've seen and why you shouldn't use it. Ever. It's a really fun read.

Gnome 3 looks pretty.

Whether or not you've heard of the Windows 7 launch party promotion, you'll enjoy this parody of it. Trust me.

One more bit of humor: the evolution of a programmer. If you're a programmer then you're sure to love it.

Have a great week everyone (though I'm sure the change in weather will make that harder for those of you in Seattle)!

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