Monday, February 27, 2006

An ALternative Way to End SPAM?

A little while ago I wrote about the proposed email charges from Yahoo and AOL.

Well our roving reporter (EF) in the field, uncovered the following article in IT Week.

So IT week would have us believe that digital certs are the way forward (which in itself is no bad idea), but there are many organisation but some organisations that don't allow encrypted content emails - which includes digi sigs.

Nice idea but needs work and more buy in from the large corporations.

Of course all this assumes that YAhoo and AOL were actually trying to combat SPAM in the first place and not simply trying to come up with a new revenue model. Of course I am nowhere near cynical enough (or highly insured enough) to suggest this was the case.... No sir, never would those words spew forth from my lips.

http://www.itweek.co.uk/itweek/comment/2150192/spam-menu

Numbers, Signals, Folders and Monkeys

so we have 37 signals, we now also how 43 folders - what's next 12 monkeys??!

anyway http://www.43folders.com/ seems quite cool in its own way and the lead article on the 24th February antitled 2 ways to make RSS readers smarter offers some very interesting thoughts.


- have a look ;)

I suppose there's still always the classic 99 red balloons ;)

(With thanks to Ef for sending this one in)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Now Thats what I call Marketing

Over on Russell Davies' Blog I've just found an incredible campaign using the Interactive Mix and the ideals of Advertising 2.0. Its using Blogging as a review tool for Mobile Phones.


The Solution is of course remarkable, simple, totally in keeping with the march of new technology and working from a ground up marketing basis. Absolute genius! I can't wait to see the results.

Why Advertising Sucks: Simple truths. Why people work in and stay in advertising.

One of my favourite Blogs has to be Why Advertising Sucks. I feel as though I know this person and shared Cosmos on Maddison with them. The latest pearl of Wisdom from this great head is Why Advertising Sucks: Simple truths. Why people work in and stay in advertising.

Read it and weep, smile, laugh and nod, all at the same time.

Advertising 2.0

Over on the Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion Blog, I found this entry with a link to a white paper written by Paul Beelen regarding advertising, marketing and the way in which technology is affecting it. HAving just gone through it over coffe and toast (rough night last night), I'm seeing a lot of things that are interesting, and which are completely complimentary to my own theory of The Interactive Mix. I hope to have more on this later in the week.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Linking to James Governor

Im settling in to a new office and missed this post on James Governor's journal.

My favourite quote is :

"My key argument in the last blog was that ten years ago nobody would have believed that Linux would be used widely in the enterprise. Open source was something for sandal-wearing university students.

But the costs of supporting a proprietary industry were being borne by customers."

Given my own recent move from Windows to Linux I can do nothing but agree. As a desktop it provides all the tools that most users need, at a dramatically reduced cost of purchase. So far my cost of ownership has been about the same as Windows. Sure I have had to click around looking up things and ask for advice on Blogs and lists, but I would have had to have done that if I had switched to a Mac.

I honestly think that this is a year when Linux as a desktop should be taken very seriously by the rest of the industry. After all I've never owned a pair of sandals in my adult life.

Oh and apparently he can also get hold of free Sun Boxes.... Yes please James! Have you got something that I can run the largest viral campaign ever on?

Print isn't dead, its just sleeping in the sunday corner

ON Brand Republ;ic Today I found an article entitled An Element of Doubt over Digital says The Time Editor. It appeared in PR Week.

In it Robert Thomson puts the case for Print Media and it definitely made me smile.

He argues that Digital doesn't have the same in depth analysuis as print but accepts that editorial teams for print and digital are being merged. He also accepts that when a big breaking story happens it is digital which gets it first and obviously most of the follow up (London in July last year proved that, and I think that the Death of the Princess of Wales was reported first online, beating CNN by a second or two).

So where is prints advantage? From my own experience I kept hold of a copy of the Standard this week (found on the train seat rather than bought) because there were some interesting reviews on new eating clubs in London, but I cant think of anything that the actual news told me which I didn't already know (apart from Barcelona apparently beating a London side at football).

Finally Thomson points out that the Sunday's are the safe house for pruint, but seems to have missed the point that having been driven away from the daily market, that it can only be a matter of time until home use reaches critical mass to begin an assualt on that as well.

All in all I've been surprised by the fleet Street's attitude over the years. Back in 99 I was arguing that print and digital should be used hand in hand, to drive traffic between the two of them, but its gone beyond that now. Readership of daily newspapers is reaching critical levels and advertising revenue is down dramatically, both from large consumer ads and (perhaps most importantly) from classifieds. Craig's List may come to town and kill off 'The Sun' yet. Now I am actually a fan of The Times and Sunday Times so it will be a shame if when they finally do 'get it' they find that it is already too late.

So the book opens on when we will see the first three pound daily newspaper. Answers in a comment.

Remarkable and taking chances

Its an interesting situation when a client comes to you with a brief and in it you see the opportunity to make their commmunication truly remarkable. Im talking about exceeding their expectation by 200%/300% and having ther opportunity to add a few magnitudes on top of that. In so doing you will be creating the most successful campaign of its type, and even re-defininhg the effectiveness of the medium.

All it takes is the courage to do it. Naturally it will cost a bit more than you were hoping to pay, but think of the rewards. Being ramrkable takes courage, and some people don't have the courage, but we have seen time and time again, how just running with the herd is actually asking for failure. So playing it safe become more risky than being remarkable.

Then your brilliant idea (which will keep until the right client comes along) decides that your pitch is too expensive and that they would rather run a campaign that is likely to lose money.

Such a shame

I am of course still referring to The Purple Cow again which everyone should read.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Musing on a Brief.

Am currently working on several briefs

One of which concerns a charity organisation concerned with the well being of a particular demographic. The demographic is supported by carers and is also of interest to medical professionals.

My idea is to make the site the central resource for information and to support this by providing blogs to carers, and people who the charity is designed to help. I'm thinking this also needs to be backed up by some form of promotion, and I suspect search is the way to go. The site needs to be about the audience, not about the organisation.

What I need is a phrase to encapsulate the attitude and aims of the new site.

Everything needs to be ready on Friday.

Time to muse on this over a pint. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Constituent parts of the Interactive Mix

I've talked quite a lot today about the need for The Interactive Mix and why it is good for both clients and agencies, but I haven't talked about how it works.

Interactive Media is different from traditional media in that it can be the means whereby a relationship begins with a customer, but it also can comprise the method whereby a decision to purchase is made and also the method of purchase itself. Interactive Media therefore can exactly follow the model where a prospect becomes a customer, and this is the basis of The Interactive Mix which then packages Interactive Media Services in a highly strategic way to clients, in order to meet their needs and requirements. It consists of:

Drivers
Acquirers
Converter
Retainers

Drivers
Drivers, promote interest from non customers to begin a dialogue with them focussed on the brand or product and its benefits.

An interactive driver can be:

An email
An interactive ad
A search result
A text message
A viral game
A viral campaign
A Bluejack
A Podcast
A corporate Blog or blogging activity
An offline communication

The purpose of a Driver is to drive traffic to an Acquirer or a Converter.

Acquirers
An acquirer is a method of initiating a relationship with a customer

It requires the customer to give up information in return for an experience of the brand or company

It further requests from the user whether the relationship can be carried on beyond this transaction. It therefore carries on the relationship beyond the first transaction.

An interactive acquirer can be:

A website
An initiated email
A mobile short code
An MMS request
A WAP site
An interactive TV site
A landing page
A viral response
An offline campaign such as Direct Response

The purpose of an acquirer is to provide a cost effective acquisition of prospects to Convert to customers, but more importantly, to initiate maintain and extend a relationship with a prospect and therefore build awareness of your company and brand with your audience.

Converters
A converter is the place where the customer makes a decision to purchase, but can also provide the opportunity to purchase if required. This distinction is important because consumers will purchase in the ways that they feel comfortable not the ways that they are told to. Customers of Amazon may therefore be surprised that some people in this world still do not like buying online, however their research and decision to purchase may very well be conducted online and Converters provide a highly cost effective way of reaching that audience.

It appreciates that different customers wish to purchase in different ways, and is flexible enough to accommodate this

A converter can be:

A website
A WAP site
An MMS or 3G service
An iTV site
An affiliate program
An offline point of sale

Converters therefore control the decision to purchase but can just as easily drive the customer to another Converter method for the purchase to actually take place

They can influence this choice by presenting the customer with the advantages of each purchase method.

If necessary/required these can provide incentives to preferred converter methods.

Retainers
A retainer continues the relationship with a customer to provide them with the maximum opportunity to remain a customer.

This can include repeat purchase, cross purchase and up sell.

A retainer can be one or a combination of the following:
A Customer Relationship Management program
An Affiliate program
A Web,/mobile, or interactive TV site activity analysis
A permission email program
A permission text program
A permission MMS campaign
A referral program
A viral campaign
An offline CRM program
An incentive, loyalty or rewards program

The role of retainers is to help customers return to Acquirers and Converters in order to continue the relationship and maximise the sales potential of each customer.
It also provides opportunities to enlist existing customer’s help to acquire new prospects.

Adaptable and measurable

The Interactive Mix’s strength lays within its measurability and adaptability
It works on a cause and effect basis where each cause creates a response from a customer or prospect
This means that as long as the effect remains within the Interactive Mix, then it can be accurately measured immediately
Immediate results enable immediate assessment
Interactive Media is the cheapest method to make changes to.
Those changes can be instant
If results are therefore not in line with expectation they can be analysed and (if necessary) changed
To ensure that results are optimum


The Interactive Mix can include any aspect of the traditional Marketing Mix at any point

The Interactive Mix is not isolated from traditional media

It enables any offline component to be included in its framework at any point.

It is therefore complimentary to offline media and provides choice to clients.


I see this point as being key as it therefore enables offline agencies to adopt the model in their offering, which makes it applicable to both offline and online agencies.

The Interactive Mix Mantra


We work with our clients to define what they want to achieve
We plan how to achieve this using the elements of the Interactive Mix
We manage the implementation of this plan either alone or with chosen partners
We accommodate traditional media activity
We measure the plan’s effectiveness
We analyse, adapt and change in response to unforeseen or unexpected results
We deliver results to our client’s business

These points sound to me like the kind of things that an agency should be offering to its clients, and also the kind of things that clients have been longing to hear from their agencies.

If I can, I would like to persuade people out there to adopt this model and work with me to refine it based on their experiences. Maybe then we can create the standard for Interactive media that i think our clients and the industry deserves, but why would you want to do that? Well here are the reasons I came up with:


Advantages

The Interactive Mix as an offer places the focus on results for clients
It therefore encourages clients to think about bottom lines
It places our decision maker at board level, not a junior manager or a marketing assistant
This speeds up the sales process and encourages buy-in from the client
It ensures that our solutions are strategic decisions for clients which makes budget approval easier for them
Our offer is more accountable and more measurable than offline and more strategic than most online offers
We can make a hard ROI business case to board level prospects
It places us as managers and experts, at the top of the food chain of suppliers

Obviously I would love to hear from anybody interested.

Just one other thing, I know that some people might just want to take this model and run with it themselves, which is fine, but if you do that I would ask that you give me credit as the creator and would also request that you give me feedback on how it works for you. The more people who do adopt the Interactive Mix as a process the better the feedback will be and so therefore the better we can make it. This needs to be a live project, as Interactive Media itself is live and constantly evolving, that's the main reason why I have opened up the copyright of the idea. It needs to become a freely available meme to move throughout the industry. So, if you like this approach please link to it in your own Blog. Go forth and propagate!

Related Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Interactive Mix Vision

In my previous post I talked about why there is a need for The Interactive Mix and why it would benefit clients and the industry as a whole. The ‘Interactive Mix’ seeks to simplify the buying process for clients and to focus on the important issues. By asking the important questions the Interactive Mix accomplishes the following:

It gives an excellent picture of where client’s brand and products are, and where they want them to go
We take this information and formulate a plan which will deliver the results client’s want, within the budget that has been set.
It can include one, more, many or all elements of the interactive media services that are available.
We then deliver these services to clients
In house
In partnership
Through managed relationships
We will then measure the results achieved against the plan
To make recommendations on how to maximise the benefits, and minimise any risks

The interactive mix is
Client focussed
Solution oriented
Emphasizes listening and understanding of clients needs
Provokes thought
Encourages creative solutions to business problems
Is focussed on ‘the idea’ and the correct implementation of the idea
Delivers a plan which can be measured
Provides flexibility to change things if results are disappointing
Gives clients the freedom to outsource management of their interactive mix
Encompasses combined media campaigns
Is therefore responsive to the real world
Minimises risk
Emphasizes the importance of adding to the bottom line

Oddly enough these benefits focus on exactly the things that clients say most interactive media agencies are lacking in. Listen to your client folks.

Related Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s decision makers have a lot to contend with.

When I look around the marketplace at the moment, I feel a lot of sympathy for decision makers inside client organisations. There is so much choice in the marketplace and yet in my view a lot of organisations are not helping their prospective clients make the right decisions and most of the reasons for that seem to me to be with the agencies themselves.

I'll explain what I mean by that. Agencies in the marketplace today are loosely split between traditional offline Advertising agencies and online media agencies.

Most (not all but definitely most) offline agencies see the web as an advertising medium. They offer campaigns designed to drive traffic to a point of sale or point of offer, however at that point their interest and skill set ends. They therefore offer extensions of their offline campaigns online.

Online media agencies tend to specialise in particular areas of the online world such as Search Marketing, Mobile Marketing, Web Design, Web Development etc. Their offer to clients tends to be tactical in nature. They therefore place the focus on soft issues such as brand presentation.

One of my big bug bears is that there seems to be a need to complicate the offers are and Interactive Media is starting to use as many acronyms as the computing industry. Hands up all those who think that is a bad idea. Every sales person and Account Director wants to push their own solution to the decision makers whilst decision makers themselves have very little information to go on in order to make the best choices for their campaigns.

Currently digital marketing is in vogue, but typically there will be one supplier knocking on the door and talking about SEO, and other one talking about SEM, a third asking about design and build and yet another talking about metrics and measurement. There are so called 'integrated' interactive agencies out there but its not an exaggeration to say that each one of them has its own definition of what 'integrated' actually means.

The problem is that very few metrics and processes are around to assess suitability of which interactive media will work with which campaigns and which products, and meanwhile the poor client has to make decisions on which their brands futures will rest.

This isn't an ideal situation and one which I would like to change. The marketing industry created an approach and a process for itself with the Marketing Mix, and it is long overdue that the Interactive Media industry did the same thing, and so Over the last few months I have been working on a process for interactive media agencies which I have called The Interactive Mix.

My observation is that Everybody is talking about technology and explaining how media works, and the questions they are asking are not designed to help the client:

Do you want a website?
Do you want a top Google listing?
Is your site optimised for search engines?
Have you heard of the benefits of email marketing?
Have you heard of the DDA?
Is Usability important to you?
Would you like a viral campaign?
Who is your mobile audience?
Who is your online audience?
Who is your interactive TV audience?
Can we show you what iTV does?
Would you like to have 5000 page impressions delivered?

Nobody is actually asking clients the important questions:

What do you want to achieve for your brand?
What ROI are you aiming for?
What is you target to increase sales this year?

Related Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Yahoo and AOL to charge for emails

I received an email today which stated that Yahoo and AOL have announced that they are to start charging for emails sent to their email addresses. I actually hadn't heard anything about this but sure enough The Register reported it on the 6th February.

The idea is that they will have a business class delivery which bypasses SPAM filters and regular free delivery which will go through SPAM filters and possibly have links and images removed, which the two companies announce is an attempt to combat SPAM (and make a very tidy profit).

The writing is obviously on the wall for all email hosts to do the same thing.

I'm really not sure what I feel about this. On the one hand I know that SPAM is a problem for a lot of people, but a paid for email service to guarantee delivery is surely against the spirit of the web, and against the forces that make it such a global success.

One thing we do know about the web is that whenever something comes along that the worldwide web audience doesn't like, then some bright spark invents a way of doing things that circumvents the offending criteria.

So are we looking at any of the following:

One of those 'we might do this, oh look at the publicity we have got' articles?
A desperate attempt at revenue generation from companies past their best?
The end of email?
A paid for service where every business communication will incur a cost?

Obviously the impact on business would be significant and may very well change the way we communicate online. I wonder what it will do to SPAM.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blogging about Blogging in my Blog... Dude! Meta!

I'm seeing some interesting figures, hypotheses predictions and analysis appearing this morning concerning the Blogosphere

Technorati's SirFry Alerts has produced a two part State of the Blogosphere Report, which concludes that a new Blog is created every second. There does appear to be a tail off of activity after three months of blogging but it does seem to be on the rise as a habitual activity, with the Blogosphere now 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago.

Part one of his report is here, and part two is here.

Over on Steve Rubel's Blog he has gone through the article which appeared in New York Magazine about blogging entitled From Blogs to Riches.

Now I am really impressed with Steve's commentary on this. Americans have a tendency to over analyze everything, and the temptation must have been there in the wake of the Super Bowl to go into view rates, and other such data. Steve however takes a much more informed position and calmly and quietly explains his view that the numbers can mean what the New Yorker says they mean, or they could mean something completely different. He brings out the analogy of a billboard chart so a great band comes along has a few hits and then goes quiet to work on their next major work.

I like this approach and of course RSS feeders make that a very easy thing to implement, but the main point of the article highlights what types of Blogs succeed, and they cite accidental tourists (those who stumbled into blogging), blog networks, boutique bloggers that find a niche and stick with it.

My interest is to apply the principals of the Purple Cow to the stories in the article. It asks why a college kids celebrity gossip site doesn't do as well as the professional celebrity gossip site it modeled itself on. Duh! First off he was copying an original which had a dedicated reader base, and secondly he didn't try to differentiate it at all. He gave the same news so that there was no reason for people to defect. Now there's a brown cow if ever I saw one.

The article itself has obviously caused a lot of comment and is well worth a look, whether you agree with it or not.

Have you paid your PC License fee?

Another story which is nearly a year old but gathering momentum concerns the BBC and the government waking up to the idea that digital could threaten the way people access television specifically through broadband and using computers instead of television sets.

The article appeared on the Register.

Now I know more than one person who does not own a television but routinely uses their entertainment centre PC to play video games, watch movies or hook in to digital TV via a TV card, and they can of course claim legitimately not to posess a television if there is a knock on the door.

To move that though to a blanket PC tax which is given to the BBC sounds like a very long leap to me. I mean the BBC didn't invent the Internet, nor are they guardians of the web. True, they do have a very good website but a lot of people have good websites.

It does start to look like yet another example of large organisations who don't understand what they are dealing with trying to make a buck out of the Internet and holding back its overall propogation throughout the UK. I'm seeing this in the same way that BT refused to give out free Internet access points on dialup in the early days, which led to me and many other early adopters paying enormous telephone bills. Meantime our counterparts in the US were getting their standard local call rates (usually a flat fee), and consequently the Web in the US had a much larger percentage audience than the UK for ages.

Broadband is the most exciting thing that could have happened to the UK for Internet and braodcast media and it's fast spread through the UK will mean that companies can create ever more appealing applications for it. If the audience growth is slowed down, then the profits will be later. Similarly someone else from overseas will develop the applications and them launch them here removing what could be a British success story. Why don't people get it? The essential thing is to get absolutely everyone on broadband as quickly as possible, so that British companies can create money for Britain. Anything that slows that down is shooting the country in the foot.

Of course the problem of how to fund the BBC doesn't go away, and possibly paid for content or opening them up to advertising is the answer. Other alternatives would be to tax PC Cards rather than the PC itself, or Digi Boxes, or directly tax the feed provider such as NTL and Sky. but this particular suggestion really isn't the answer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Concerning Cows and Viruses

Following on from Sir Martin Sorrell's comments at the tail end of last year and his predictions for this year regarding above the line advertising, suddenly everyone seems to be questioning the effectiveness of media as whole and demanding much more solid numbers of its effectiveness. Of course ATL will have a bit of a problem doing that a lot of the time, but I think Sir Martin is missing the point a bit.

It seems to me that Above the Line Media isn't so much having a hard time, as evolving into something else. The Lastminute and Honda ads are living examples (going by their download ratios) that people are prepared to search out good advertising creative but it is happening at a time when the consumer chooses, not when the broadcaster chooses. In July last year I was asked by a well known Direct Marketing Agency about the emerging media types. They obviously wanted me to talk about Podcasting and Blogging but as far as I am concerned, they were part of the mainstream (or at the very least established into the early adopter bracket). Instead I talked about billboards which blue jacked your phone or enabled you to gather more content via MMS. I note that Channel Four have produced the first of these ads. Another format I talked about was to have have Bus and Taxi screens carry content which was delivered via wireless depending on where you were on your journey (Local search anyone?).

Apparently these ideas were too off the wall for my audience and quite a few people looked at me as though I was from Mars (which is often an understandable response).

Digital Television was ill conceived in this country with its red button, dial up, home version of the web, structure, and this is why I think the red button is having so many difficulties. What is needed is real interactive content linked via broadband.

Content which is remarkable enough that consumers 'want' to interact with it, and can do so quickly and efficiently to gain a real experience of a brand and create a relationship between the consumer and the product. The current Red Button isn't going to achieve that. What I think is needed is for a new platform to come along which is based on broadband and a golden opportunity exists to do this on Freeview, which is where my money is going for the dream to become a reality (It will not have the price prohibitive access point and therefore provide a much better viewer ratio, plus it is early enough to plan ahead and have this service based on broadband and therefore offer a zero cost response to the consumer. Once that is offered suddenly the idea of tracking becomes a lot easier to manage, thereby fulfilling the requirements of advertisers to measure effectiveness)

Ive finally got around to reading Seth Godin's The Purple Cow, and in that he writes of the need for marketing communications to be remarkable and for products to be remarkable. This approach is totally in keeping with the points above. His point is Purple Cow advertising is the only option left, as Brown Cow advertising will be invisible to consumers and therefore not even worth pursuing.

I also remember seeing a piece in Last week's Marketing Week which talked about the rise of the independent agency as a creative force together with it's predicted fall.

Over on WK London's Blog (who are one of these ascendant independents) they countered this by saying that their independence underpins their creative talent, and Honda would seem to agree. They note on their blog that their business is now about creating work that people 'want' to search out through a series of media and watch, rather than to passively absorb it between Coronation Street, which actually gives their work a lot more power.

I've always thought that viral fell into this category as well. Work which people think is so remarkable that they 'want' to pass it on. An interesting point on the Chinwag UK Net Marketing List this morning highlighted how bad most viral marketing was on the Viralmonitor list.

I think there are going to be times when a client spends money on a campaign rather than investing in something which will work but surely its our job to educate them on this (totally understand the need to get cash in through the door argument only too well, but....).

I'm not one of those who thinks that there has to be a direct link between budget and creative result, but a lot of what you see on viralmonitor does look like people took the money and ran a lot of the time.

So a lot of brown cows out there on interactive media as well, and most of them have a nasty case of mad cow disease, but every now and then something purple does come along.

Has Slashdot predicted the end for Yahoo?

An article on Slashdot reports on Yahoo considering giving free music giveaways to users who make it their homepage, and muses on how companies faired when they tried this during the boom. They correctly conclude that the vast majority of these companies went to the wall or straight inot the dollar store sales bucket, but they do also find an example of one that was sold to AskJeeves.

Whatever the result of Yahoo's considering this it does however give a message (in this humble commentators opinion), that they acknowledge how tough things are getting for them.

Personally I don't want an Internet without a Yahoo but they have had a lot of years to smell the coffee and have not reacted whilst Google built a better search engine, Microsoft built a portal empire and the advertising world grew up.

Come on guys, surely you must reqalise that a few Britney singalongs is not going to sort out their flagging position as an ad medium of choice. Time to think a bit outside of the box methinks

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I noticed This commentary on the Brand Republic Site. Its a piece about a London Undergorund Campaign. The piece begins:

"London Underground is seeking to tie up with a ready-to-eat breakfast foods brand to run a media and sampling initiative to minimise delays caused by travellers with empty stomachs falling ill."

Now I'm all in favour of out of the box thinking, but as somone who has suffered the tube for decades I cant help feeling that making improvements on the network to run more trains and not have quite so many of us standing nose to armpit in conditions that is outlawed for cattle and pigs would be a much better way of reducing the likelihood of 'being taken ill' on the tube. They decided last year that it was impossible to introduce air conditioning on tubes whilst it has been in place in New York for donkey's years. Good old London Underground, proving that you can spend money and achieve nothing.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Linux - Not just for Geeks But Now For Everyone

At the beginning of the week I did something momentus, and installed Linux Fedora Core 4.

It all came about because the hard disk failed in my laptop. That was replaced but I didn't have a backup of all my software (data was backed up). Over the years I had misplaced the copy of Windows that came pre-installed, although I did have the registration code still on the underside. A replacement disk was going to cost almost as much as buying it new and then there were other factors such as not knowing exactly where my disks were for other applications as well. The choice I had was whether to attempt to crack an installation or look for an alternative.

Looking around, copies of Windows are rife to download but not the version which matched my registration code. I'll admit to being tempted to knock off a copy but I soon found out that the new safety guards on Windows Pro make that impossible. I therefore decided to look for an alternative. Ive now been able to build a stable full featured system and finally able to get back to doing some proper work on the business plan.

Overall impressions are very very positive. I have a Word Processor and Spreadsheet client in Open Office although it does seem to be less stable than it was under Windows which is odd. The Word Processor has crashed on me several times although its always able to recover my document so no harm done there, just a bit annoying. The type of files I create though have been known to bring Word crashing down as well so perhaps its just me pushing the boundaries. I like OO because it can edit Word files in the native Windows format, and the same with the spreadsheet and presentation tools which edit excel and Powerpoint files natively.

There is just one thing which annoys me about the WP, which is that it doesn't seem to allow you to mix your own colours for fonts and bullet points. Given that you can do this using the Presentation tool I don't think it should be that difficult to add it in on the WP, and it is annoying when you are creating branded documents to be limited to colours which are fairly close, but not quite the same as the logos you are using. Oh and it also seems to be temperamental about how it handles images in the Header bar, which is also annoying but as long as it does so eventually and long enough to print a PDF its not the end of the world.

To counter this I've also downloaded Scribus which is a Desk Top Publisher tool. It is very powerful considering its weight (but I'm noticing that Unix apps are just generally lighter than Windows apps), and seems to give me all the layout tools I would want. My only gripe with it is that it doesn't seem to handle bullet pointed text which is a major omission. It does enable me to create a new text style which incorporates a graphic for when I use bullet points so it can kinda do it with a bit of fiddling. Its not in the same league as In Design or Quark though.

As a Photoshop clone I am very impressed with the GIMP under Linux. I had used it under Windows and found it about as stable as your average 17 year old goth chick. Under Linux however this is a completely different story with layers and some nice effects. Admittedly I don't use it in the same way a heavyweight designer would but for my needs it is perfectly fine. Ive also found a drawing package called Inkscape. Now I was never a heavy (or even regular) Illustrator user, and Its very early software (v 0.43) which probably accounts for the difficulties I am having with it. It installed apparently without a problem but is not too happy at running. For the number of times though that I used Illustrator, I can definitely wait for an update.

The RSS client I've used so far is LifeRea, which I think is short for LifeReader, and this is absolutely fine for my uses. Very much like Feed Demon under Windows which a lot of people use.

Now for the fun stuff. I have managed to find just about everything I need to establish an agency's systems and services, including Accounts Packages to help with planning and actual P&L (GNUCash). It is brilliant and already being used to refine my P&L plan forecast. There is also a tool for Time Management (GnoTime) which handles automatic billing based on time spent on a project, and Paymaster which handles actual payment and provides some very good accounting features which apparently then feed into GnuCash. Project Management is handled with an MS Project clone and in my tests it has everything I would want, nothing I don't want, and is very stable. I love it, and cannot think why MS turned their tool into the bloated creature that it is. Ad Servers, Opt In Mailing Servers, Search Bidding Tools, eCRM, all these tools are available a plenty and it is actually going to take me a while to decide on what will work best for me. Thanks to some good advice I am looking for Postgress and web based solutions to run alongside Apache, maybe even with some kind of thick client but that isn't essential (or actually desirable).

My one disappointment is not being able to find a real Contact Management tool. Most people seem to think that an address book is contact management and don''t seem to understand the relationship between a Company, its prospects within that company, individual contact numbers, and the tasks, meetings, emails, contact reports and notes associated with each prospect. Some kind of sales opportunity management is also desirable. It all comes down to a fairly complex relational database behind it which understands task lists, and apparently nobody has attempted to write one. At least not that I can find on SourceForge or Freshmeat.net.

In some ways I understand this as most places I have worked didn't understand this concept either. What I'm after is an open source clone of Act! and apparently it doesn't exist. The closest thing I've found is a project called Mozart, which was abandoned a few years ago and is actually aimed at Lawyers, but it does have the concept of Prospects/Clients, Cases/Projects, Tasks and Documents/Notes. Its not ideal but it is the closest I have found. Problem is it needs MySql to run where as everything else uses Postgress and I am wondering whether two databases running on my little laptop will be too much strain for the old girl who will be 5 at the end of this year. Of course investing a few hundred quid in some more hardware will solve this problem.

Firefox is of course taking care of my web needs and Thunderbird for Linux has imported my mail from Thunderbid for Windows without any problems. I do however love the look of Evolution and anyone who likes Outlook would be right at home as it is a complete clone (without the slow performance of large mailboxes). If I could get my existing email into it I would do so without a second thought, although there would then be the issue of getting it out of it if I needed to move to another Platform. Thunderbird at least provides a very convenient and transportable mail format. Currently I am using KORganizer as my scheduler with Thunderbird Email although this was supposedly to be used under KDA desktop and Im using Gnome so this might give me a problem. Not sure if that is or should be the case so if anyone has any ideas I'd love to hear them

A final word on the Desktop. There are two supplied desktop management packages, Gnome and KDA. I started off with Gnome and it did take a bit of configuring to get it to how I felt comfortable using it, but it does seem stable and fine, without being outstanding in any way (although I have no idea why the Firefox Icon on the background is 3 times the size of any of the others). It was also the desktop I started with and so a lot of the applications I downloaded may only run on Gnome which is why I'm sticking with it.

Having now seen KDA, I regret my Gnome decision as KDA has a much more intuitive and familiar feel to it. Instead of a Start button on the left hand corner it has a Red Fedora hat which is quite cute but after that, any Windows User would feel right at home going through the menus and launching programs. At some point I'll have a look and see if all the programs I am using will run under KDA, but I suspect that things like GnuCash and GnoTime will have problems.

All in all I am extremely impressed. I had known all along that Linux was a server system of choice for anyone Internet related, but it now looks as though it is a perfectly reasonable Desktop choice as well. For someone like me handling Account Management and dabbling a bit in Design with Presentation Graphics and such it is a perfectly reasonable system. Heavyweight designers would no doubt find the system's limits but they would be on Macs by choice, not Windows so it is a mute point.

Suddenly Linux should be cause for concern for Microsoft in terms of security (no more MS attacking virus), reliability (its Unix!), power (Its Unix!), but now also in terms of preserving your investment in older equipment, which Linux runs on quite happily but which Windows would be much too heavy for, and most importantly in terms of the available applications for it. I am running the type of applications which on Windows if I bought them on the open market would require an investment upwards of £4,000. The cost of these projects on Linux.... £0.

Per head thats a massive saving for most companies and a god send for start-ups. Support is available via the various forums and as Microsoft makes its software more and more difficult to pirate, I suspect that the choice of many will not be to try and crack it, but instead to legitimately install an alternative, and Linux now is a very real alternative.

Its interesting, that if a replacement disk had been easy to get hold of, then I would still be on Windows. As it is, Microsoft has lost a customer and Windows is minus one seat. I am wondering how common an occurrence this is and whether this policy may actually work against Microsoft. Macs are moving to Intel, and Linux has come of age. My feeling is that Linux is going to play an ever increasing role on the desktop. It definitely is no longer purely for Geeks, but for everyone.