Archive for the ‘tiny details’ tag
Turning around a ship as big as Yahoo is going to take a long time, but new CEO Marissa Mayer is already off to a good start. (See my commentary on CNBC from yesterday.)
Although her moves so far are largely symbolic — removing the company’s stock price from the home page of the company’s intranet, making meals free, and introducing weekly meetings with leadership — symbolism is important. Tiny details add up to a company’s culture and provide indicators to both insiders and outsiders about what’s important to a company.
Mayer’s moves indicate a desire to be a company that wants to be collaborative and innovative, that values the time of its employees.
The first moves an executive makes provide important insight. When NBC’s Randy Falco became CEO of Aol, one of the first things he did was install physical barriers with restricted access keycards to keep rank-and-file employees away from the executive suite. He also redirected the company’s corporate shuttle that flew between New York and Washington D.C. to fly to and from an airport closer to his house. The message was clear: I’m more important than you.
No one is going to join Yahoo because it offers free lunch. But some might choose not to go if it didn’t. It’s not because of the economic value of lunch, it’s because of what charging for lunch represents. It means that the bean counters are in charge. For a rapidly growing tech company, the cost of offering meals to employees should be so insignificant relative to the value that they create that it never even merits discussion at the management level. (Square gets a free pass here because the point of charging for lunch is not the money, it’s about ensuring that employees experience what they create.) It should also ease the transition for Googlers who decide to defect.
I worked at Tellme shortly after it was acquired by Microsoft. Tellme had a history of offering the most delicious cookies I’ve ever eaten. One day an email came down from Microsoft’s food services that the Tellme cookies were more expensive than the cookies that Microsoft could get from the suppliers they used for the Silicon Valley campus. We could either choose to get the free Microsoft cookies or pay a small amount to cover the cookie gap. This started many days of discussions on internal listservs, including a poem that talked about how Microsoft was taking away our buttery goodness because of its generous health plan. In the end, an anonymous Tellme exec covered the difference. But it was a clear sign the culture was changing.
When I visit companies, I notice little details. I notice whether they charge for coffee. I notice whether the CEO sits on the floor with employees or is secluded in a far-removed office. I notice that PayPal doesn’t seem to use PayPal software at its cafe.
I rarely call out such details. But they do help form my overall impression of a company.
Removing the stock price from the internal home page is even more significant. I’ve long said that you can’t innovate when you’re focused on quarterly returns. The best innovation — think iPad and iPhone — take many quarters of expenses before they show any return. Yahoo employees need to be focused on building great products, not each tick. If Mayer’s going to replace it with anything, I recommend load time of Yahoo pages. They just feel much slower than Google.
Yahoo still has a lot of assets. About three-quarters of the U.S. Internet audience visits Yahoo sites at least once a month, according to comScore. Only Google and Microsoft do better on this metric. (Facebook has slightly fewer users, but they spend much more time on the site.)
Yahoo has some great properties. Yahoo Finance is still one of the best finance sites. (Nearly 3 months after Facebook’s IPO, Google Finance still has its market cap wrong.) Fantasy football remains a major draw. I’m a big fan of IntoNow, which Yahoo acquired earlier this year. Although few people use that product, it’s an innovative entry into a nascent space. And it might not be too late to resuscitate Flickr.
Mayer does have one challenge that Page at Google and Zuckerberg at Facebook don’t have: She doesn’t have supervoting control of Yahoo. Page and Zuck can, if they choose, ignore Wall Street. Yahoo still has to deal with activist shareholders.
But maybe, after the previous administrations, those shareholders will realize that Yaho! can’t cut its way (Bartz) or troll its way (Thompson) to success. Yahoo’s success will come from product and innovation. And I can’t think of a better person to get the company on that track than Mayer.
Filed under: VentureBeat
The Aspire S3 is Acer’s first ultrabook. The notebook is almost unabashedly a MacBook Air clone with straight lines and a clean design but it’s also $400 less. There are some trade-offs when comparing this to the Air, sure, but for the most part the Aspire S3 is a fine ultraportible for the Windows crowd.
What Acer and all the rest of the ultrabook makers are building are by all accounts fine computers but will no doubt catch flack because of their similarities to the MacBook Air. The Aspire S3 isn’t a MacBook Air killer. Not alone at least. This notebook gives me hope that the PC isn’t dead and ultrabooks will be the genesis of this revival.
It’s hard to dismiss the MacBook Air as the S3′s inspiration. It’s a virtual clone if you replace the MBA’s aluminum skin with plastic, ditch the backlit keyboard and replace the glowing Apple logo with a shiny Acer one. That’s fine with me. Acer got the major points right. The S3 is lightweight, surprisingly rigid and sports a quality multitouch trackpad.
The S3 is .51-inches thick. That’s .17mm thinner than the MacBook Air at its thickest point. But unlike the MBA or the recently announced Asus Zenbook, the S3 is nearly the same thickness throughout; it’s not tapered to a sharp point. But with a notebook this thin, these tiny details do not really matter. The S3 is just a touch thicker than two iPads 2. It also weighs a mere 2.98 lbs.
Acer pulled off a sort of coup with the S3. This ultrabook has perhaps the best trackpad I’ve ever used on a Windows notebook. The multitouch gestures simply work without a learning curve. The whole trackpad wiggles a bit in a way that’s not necessarily bad, but initially unsettling. The trackpad is so good that it tricks my brain and when I need to right click, my left hand constantly wonders up to the Ctrl and Alt button as if I was on a Mac – I forget this trackpad has a real right click button! I am thoroughly impressed with the trackpad.
Then there’s the screen. The S3 uses a rather low resolution 13-inch LED backlit display. The colors and clarity are just fine, but the 1366 x 768 resolution leaves me wanting more. That’s the same resolution used in the 11-inch MBA — the 13-inch uses a 1440 x 900 which lends greatly to its high-end feel. The S3′s low resolution screen is adequate just not exceptional. Plus, the viewing angle is poor and to make matters worse, the lid’s hinge is loose so it tends to fall forwards or backwards when jarred.
Think that’s bad? The S3 has a set of Dolby certified speakers, but you’ll get better sound out of a thrift store harmonica. They’re that bad, which frustrates me considering the Dolby logo printed right by the S3′s power button. Dolby seemingly sells licences more freely than George Lucas pimps Star Wars. If this is Dolby-approved sound, then Dolby clearly endorses horrible sound.
Battery Is King
Acer proudly touts that the S3 can last six hours on a charge. That claim puts the S3 on par with the MacBook Air’s 5-7 hour life. Unfortunately I never saw six hours of life during my testing. A day of normal activities consisting of mainly Internet browsing resulted in a 5 hour battery life. I only saw 3:30 hours when stress testing the notebook by playing 1080p movies over WiFi. (all of Mallrats and part of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood)
The shorter than advertised battery life is to be expected, though. Where Apple takes great pride in advertising real-life battery stats, Windows PC makers seem to state lives that are only achievable when the notebook is at its lowest brightness and sitting near ideal. Still, the five-hour battery life is below average in the ultraportable scene even though it’s still a good amount of time.
Thin notebooks generally get toasty. The S3 does not. It stays at a comfortable temperature thanks to a fan that kicks on a few minutes after opening the lid. But even the MacBook Air has a fan. After all, there’s a good deal of powerful computing hardware crammed into an area measured by cubic millimeters. At this point ultraportables either have a fan or they double as an Easy Bake Skillet.
The Aspire S3 rocks a mobile 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M CPU with 4GB of RAM. This little guy handled all my daily tasks that admittedly consists just of Google Reader and Reddit combined with a fair amount of YouTube videos sourced from both. Photoshop runs well enough for simple edits, but I wouldn’t want to compose a huge image — partly because of the low-res screen. Future versions in Acer’s ultrabook line will include Core i3 and i7 CPUs, which depending on your poison, will either provide better battery life at the cost of raw power, or likewise, a shorter battery life in return for faster CPU cycles.
Not surprisingly, the S3 isn’t a gaming machine but it runs less-demanding games like Portal and Starcraft just fine. Don’t expect to play BF3 on here.
Intel designed the ultrabook platform to be quick where it’s most obvious: system start-up and resuming. Acer took it one step farther and included several proprietary software packs to make it even quicker. The included SSD helps, too. It takes about 1 second to resume the system when opening the lid. A system boot took an average of 34 seconds from hitting the power button to seeing the WiFi reconnect. It’s clearly far from instant-on but it’s nearly an instant resume, which is more important to daily usage anyway.
Part of the quickness comes from a 20GB SSD that holds just the important system files. A traditional 320GB spinning disk hard drive handles file storage and additional software installations. This unconventional affair is hidden to the user and only one disk shows up in My Computer. Strangely, despite 3rd party confirmation of these hard drives from HD Tune Pro, only 283 GBs show as the total system storage — and that seemingly includes the Windows 7 install.
But This Is An Acer
Buy a Mac and you get OS X and several first party software titles. Buy an Acer (or HP, Dell or most others) and you get a computer loaded with unsolicited software. This notebook comes with at least a dozen bloatware titles including McAfee Internet Protection and Norton Online Backup. (side question: why does McAfee insist on running inside of Chrome as a plug-in? fear mongering) I’ve only had the computer a few days and I’m constantly bombed with software updates, required restarts and random program notification pop-ups. These sponsored offers allow computer manufacturers to sneak in extra revenue and keep prices low, but there has to be a better way that doesn’t require an owner to spend an hour uninstalling software on his new computer.
The S3 is a winner. It’s relatively low $899 price puts the ultrabook $400 less than a comparable MacBook Air. Plus it runs Windows, which, and I know this may be a shocker to some, is a big advantage for a large cohort of consumers. But the S3 isn’t the only ultrabook out there and if you need some extra power, it might do to wait. Nearly every computer manufacturer is launching a full line of ultrabooks. Acer has an early advantage of hitting retailers before Dell or HP who are expected to enter the game late this year or early next. But Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, and Samsung are all launching ultrabooks in the coming weeks, so the competition is looming.
This notebook lives up to my rather high expectations. I’m a bit disappointed by the screen, but it’s far from a deal breaker in my opinion. The S3′s trackpad rocks, the notebook stays at a comfortable temperature and the long battery life makes it an all-day companion. I was quiet pleased and, in the end, it’s not just another MacBook Air lookalike.