When Google+ was first announced I counted myself among its fans. Primarily this was due to the interface which, unlike every other social media platform at the time, was clean and there was the possibility I could integrate all my social media in the one spot. However as time went on it became apparent that this wasn’t happening any time soon and the dearth of people actively using it meant that it just fell by the wayside. As other products got rolled into it I wasn’t particularly fussed, I wasn’t a big user of most of them in the first place, however I was keenly aware of the consternation from the wider user base. It seems that Google might have caught onto this and is looking to wind down the Google+ service.
Back in April the head of Google+, Vic Gundotra, announced that he was leaving the company. Whilst Google maintained that this would not impact on their strategy many sources reported that Google was abandoning its much loathed approach of integrating Google+ into everything and that decrease in focus likely meant a decrease in resources. Considering that no one else can come up for a good reason why Gundotra, a 7 year veteran of Google, would leave the company it does seem highly plausible that something is happening to Google+ and it isn’t good for his future there. The question in my mind then is whether or not winding down the service will restore the some of the goodwill lost in Google’s aggressive integration spree.
Rumours have it that Google+ Photos will be the first service to be let free from the iron grip of its parent social network. Considering that the Photos section of Google+ started out as the web storage part of their Picasa product it makes sense that this would be the first service to be spun out. How it will compete with other, already established offerings though is somewhat up in the air although they do have the benefit of already being tightly integrated with the Android ecosystem. If they’re unwinding that application then it makes you wonder if they’ll continue that trend to other services, like YouTube.
For the uninitiated the integration of YouTube and Google+ was met with huge amounts of resistance with numerous large channels openly protesting it. Whilst some aspects of the integration have been relaxed (like allowing you to use a pseudonym that isn’t your real name) the vast majority of features that many YouTubers relied on are simply gone, replaced with seemingly inferior Google+ alternatives. If Google+ is walking off into the sunset then they’d do well to bring back the older interface although I’m sure the stalwart opponents won’t be thanking Google if they do.
Honestly whilst I liked Google+ originally, and even made efforts to actively use the platform, it simply hasn’t had the required amount of buy in to justify Google throwing all of its eggs into that basket. Whilst I like some of the integration between the various Google+ services I completely understand why others don’t, especially if you’re a content creator on one of their platforms. Winding down the service might see a few cheers here or there but honestly the damage was already done and it’s up to Google to figure out how to win the users back in a post Google+ world.
My introduction to RSS readers came around the same time as when I started to blog daily as after a little while I found myself running dry on general topics to cover and needed to start finding other material for inspiration. It’s all well and good to have a bunch of bookmarked sites to trawl through but visiting each one is a very laborious task, one that I wasn’t keen to do every day just to crank out a post. Thus I found the joys that were RSS feeds allowing me to distill dozens of sites down to a singular page, dramatically cutting down the effort required to trawl through them all. After cycling through many, many desktop based readers I, like many others, eventually settled on Google Reader, and all was well since then.
That was until last week when Google announced that Reader was going away on July 1st this year.
Google has been doing a lot of slimming down recently as part of its larger strategy to focus more strongly on its core business. This has led to many useful, albeit niche, products to be shutdown over the course of the past couple years. Whilst the vast majority of them are expected there have been quite a few notable cases where they’ve closed down things that still have a very active user base whilst other things (like Orkut, yeah remember that?) which you’d figure would be closed down aren’t. If there’s one service that no one expected them to close down it would be Reader but apparently they’ve decided to do this due to dwindling user numbers.
Whilst I won’t argue that RSS is the defacto standard for content consumption these days it’s still proven to be a solid performer for anyone who provides it and Google Reader was the RSS reader to use. Even if you didn’t use the reader directly there are hundreds of other products which utilize Google Reader’s back end in order to power their interfaces and whilst they will likely continue on in spite of Reader going away it’s highly unlikely that any of them will have the same penetration that Reader did. Even from my meagre RSS stats it’s easy to tell that Reader has at least 50% of the market, if not more.
If you doubt just how popular Reader was consider that Feedly, shown above syncing with my feeds, managed to gain a whopping 500,000 users in the short time since Google made the announcement. They were actually so popular that right after the start their site was down for a good couple hours and their applications on iOS and Android quickly becoming the number 1 free app on their respective stores. For what its worth it’s a very well polished application, especially if you like visual RSS readers, however there are a few quirks (like it not being in strict chronological order) which stopped me from making the total switch immediately. Still the guys behind it seem dedicated to improving it and filling in the void left by replicating the Reader API (and running it on Google’s AppEngine, for the lulz).
From a business point of view it’s easy to understand why Google is shutting down services like this as they’re a drain on resources that could be better used to further their core business. However it was usually these niche services that brought a lot of customers to Google in the first place and by removing them they burn a lot of goodwill that they generated by hosting them. I also can’t imagine that the engineers behind these products, many of which were products of Google’s famous 20% time, feel great about seeing them go away either. For something as big as Reader I would’ve expected them to try to innovate it rather than abandon it completely as looking over the alternatives there’s still a lot of interesting things that can be done in the world of RSS, especially with such a dedicated user base.
Unfortunately I don’t expect Google to do an about face on this one as there’s been public outcries before (iGoogle, anyone?) but nothing seems to dissuade them once their mind has been made up. It’s a real shame as I feel there’s still a lot of value in the Reader platform, even if it pales in comparison to Google’s core business products. Whilst the alternatives might not be 100% there yet I have no doubt they’ll get there in short order and, if the current trend is anything to go by, surpass Reader in terms of features and functionality.
Probably the biggest part of my job, and really it should be the biggest part of any competent administrator’s job, is automation. Most often system administrators start out in smaller places, usually small businesses or their own home network, where the number of machines under their control rarely exceeds single digits. At this point its pretty easy to get by with completely manual processes and indeed it’s usually much more efficient to do so. However things change rapidly as you come into environments with hundreds if not thousands of end points that require some kind of configuration to be done on them and at that point its just not feasible to do it manually any more. Thus most of my time is spent finding ways to automate things and sometimes this leads me down some pretty deep rabbit holes.
Take for instance the simple task of updating firmware.
You’d probably be surprised to find out that despite all the advances in technology over the decades firmware updates are still done through good old fashioned DOS, especially if you’re running some kind of hypervisor like VMware’s ESXi. For the most part this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, DOS is so incredibly well known that nearly all the problems you come across have a solid solution for it, but it does impose a lot of limitations on what you can do. For me the task was simple: the server needed to boot up, update the required firmware and then shut down at the end sop my script would know that the firmware update had completed successfully. There were other ways of doing this, like constantly querying the firmware version until it showed the updated status, but shutting down at the end would be far quicker and much more reliable (the firmware versions returned aren’t always 100% accurate). Not a problem I thought, the DOS CD I had must contain some kind of shut down command that I can put in AUTOEXEC.BAT and we’ll be done in under an hour.
I was utterly, utterly wrong.
You see DOS comes from the day when power supplies were much more physical things than they are today. When you went to turn your PC on back then you’d flip a large mechanical switch, one that was directly wired to the power supply, that’d turn on with an audible clack. Today the button you press isn’t actually connected to the power supply directly it’s connected to the motherboard and when the connection is closed it sends a signal (well it shorts 2 pins) to turn it on. What this means is that DOS really didn’t have any idea about shutting down a system since you’d just yank the power out from underneath it. This is the same reason that earlier versions of Windows gave you that “It’s now safe to turn off your computer” message, the OS simply wasn’t able to communicate to the power supply.
There are of course a whole host of third party solutions out there like this shutdown.com application, FDAPM from the FreeDos guys and some ingenious abuse of the DOS DEBUG command but unfortunately they all seemed to fail when presented with Dell hardware. As far as I can tell this is because the BIOS on the Dell M910 isn’t APM aware which means the usual way these applications talk to the power supply just won’t work (FDAPM reports this as such) which leaves us with precious few options for shutting down. Frustrated I decided that DOS might not be the best platform for updating the firmware and turned towards WinPE.
WinPE is kind of like a cut down version of Windows (available for free by the way) that you can boot into, usually used to deploy the operating system in large server and desktop fleets. By cut down I mean really cut down, the base ISO it creates is on the order of 140MB, meaning if you need anything in there you basically have to add it in yourself. After adding in the scripting framework, drivers for the 10GB Ethernet cards and loading the QAUCLI tool I found in the Windows version of the firmware update I thought it would be a quick step of executing a command line and we’d be done.
Turns out QAUCLI is probably closer to an engineering tool in development more than a production level application. Whilst it may have some kind of debug log somewhere (I can’t for the life of me find it and the user guide doesn’t list anything) I couldn’t find any way to get it to give me meaningful information on what it was doing, whether it was encountering errors or if I had executed the command incorrectly. The interactive portion of it is quite good, in fact its almost a different tool when used interactively, but the scripted section of it just doesn’t seem to work as advertised.
Here’s a list of the quirks I came across (for reference the base command I was trying to use was qaucli -pr nic -svmtool mode=update fwup=p3p11047.bin):
Honestly though it could very well be my fault for tinkering with an executable that I probably shouldn’t be. Try as I might to find a legitimate download for QAUCLI I can’t really find one and the only place you’ll be able to get it is by extracting the Windows installer package and pulling it out of there. Still it’s a valuable tool and one that I think could be a lot better than it currently is but if you find yourself in a situation like I did hopefully these little tips will save you some frustration.
I know I would’ve appreciated them 3 days ago 😉
In the mere months that it has been released Google+ has managed to accumulate quite the following, grabbing 40 million users. It’s still quite small compared to the current incumbent Facebook (who’s users outnumber Google+ 20 to 1) but that’s an incredible amount of growth, more than any other social network has ever been able to achieve before. Google has finally got it right with this attempt to break into the social networking world and it’s paying off for them in spades. What’s got everyone talking now is where Google is heading, not just with Google+ but also with the rest of their vast service catalogue.
Over the past 6 months or so, ever since co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO of Google, there’s been a rather interesting/worrying trend that’s been developing at Google. For as long as I can remember Google had a habit of experimenting openly with their users, cheerfully opening up access to beta products in order to get the wider public interested in them. However most recently they’ve begun to shutter these types of projects with the first signal that this trend could end coming with the closing down of Google Labs. In the months that followed many of Google’s other ancillary services, like Google Health and Google Power Meter, have been shut down with many more facing the chopping block.
For anyone following Google the writing had been on the wall ever since Page announced back in July that they were going to be focusing more closely on their core services. What’s really interesting however is that the direction that Google’s now heading in is not Page’s thinking alone, but one that was heavily influenced by the late great Steve Jobs. Just before Page took the top job at Google he placed met up with Jobs to get some advice on what he should be doing and it’s easy to see where Page’s motivation for cutting the fat from Google had come from:
Jobs didn’t mince words when Page arrived at Jobs’ Palo Alto home. He told Page to build a good team of lieutenants. In his first week as Google’s CEO, Page reshuffled his management team to eliminate bureaucracy. Jobs also warned Page not to let Google get lazy or flabby.
“The main thing I stressed was to focus,” Jobs told Isaacson about his conversation with Page. “Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out adequate products that are adequate but not great.”
Just over a week ago Google announced that another 5 services (Buzz, Code Search, University Research, iGoogle Social and Jaiku) would be shut down in favour of the features of those applications being taken over by Google+. Indeed any Google service that has some sort of social bent is getting integrated under the Google+ umbrella, with many of the sharing features in things like Google Reader being moved out to Google+. For Google this is done to both encourage people to use their still nascent social network as well as reducing their large application portfolio. Integrating everything they can into Google+ may seem like a desperate move to try and grab more market share away from Facebook but Google is betting a lot on the Google+ platform, and I believe it will pay off for them.
The momentum that Google+ has gained over the past few months has shown that Google can do social and do it well. After nailing that down it makes a lot of sense to combine services, especially those ones that are considered core to a social network, under the Google+ umbrella as that builds out the product and makes it far more enticing to end users. It’s sad to see some other services get completely shut down but that does open up the market to start-ups who can take up the slack that Google leaves behind as they increase their focus on their core products.