Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | February 5, 2008

New KYC Norms for Mutual Funds Investors

Starting Feb 1, 2008, SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India), the stock market regulator and AMFI (Association of Mutual Funds of India) introduced new “Know Your Customer” rules for mutual fund investors investing Rs.50,000 or more. You can read the details here, but here is the summary:

If you are investing either a lumpsum of Rs.50,000 or more, or starting a SIP (Systematic Investment Plan) where each installment is Rs.50,000 or more, then you have to first complete the new KYC formalities.

Here is what you need to do: Take a few documents (originals and copy, or attested copy) to any Point of Sale branch of CDSL Ventures Ltd. (CVL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Central Depository Services (India) Ltd. (CDSL)). AMFI and SEBI have contracted out the verification process to CVL. You need to take the following:

- Proof of Identity

- Proof of Address

- PAN Card

- Photograph

Once you submit these documents and this application form, you will get an acknowledgment from CVL, after verification. All this is a one time effort. After you get the acknowledgment, just submit a copy of it with any new mutual fund investment you make subsequently. This is valid for all mutual funds.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | February 1, 2008

The Bane of Good Roads

 Have you ever wished for a bad road? I did, tody morning.

The approach road to my office (Magrath Road, leading away from Garuda Mall) is pretty bad, atleast ever since I knew it. The surface is lacking in most places, its full of stones and pot-black-holes that give shocks to shock absorbers. Two days ago they widened the road, resurfaced it really well, and did it all in two night’s time! Kudos to the road workers.

But hold on, the best part of the road was that it did not attract a lot of traffic and we use to drive in modest speed. With the road made so much better, today morning it took me more than 20 minutes to go half a kilometer, with bursts of immobility for many minutes all along. Everyone has discovered the good road and everyone wants to use it now.

How I wish the road was bad again!

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | January 16, 2008

Irony of Top Performing US Mutual Funds

I was looking over the list of top performing mutual funds in the US. The list from Yahoo Finance is here.

The three relevant charts are reproduced here:

Top Performers – 1 Year

Fund Name Symbol Return
AIM China I IACFX 107.93%
Direxion Latin America Bull 2X Inv DXZLX 107.33%
AIM China A AACFX 107.00%
AIM China C CACFX 105.54%
AIM China B ABCFX 105.53%
Nationwide China Opportunities Instl Svc GOPSX 100.74%
Nationwide China Opportunities Instl GOPIX 100.68%
Nationwide China Opportunities A GOPAX 100.27%
Nationwide China Opportunities R GOPRX 99.64%
Nationwide China Opportunities C GOPCX 98.81%
Top Performers – 5 Year

Fund Name Symbol Ann. Ret.
BlackRock Latin America I MALTX 52.51%
BlackRock Latin America A MDLTX 52.12%
T. Rowe Price Latin America PRLAX 51.30%
BlackRock Latin America C MCLTX 50.95%
BlackRock Latin America B MBLTX 50.94%
Fidelity Latin America FLATX 50.43%
Eaton Vance Greater India A ETGIX 50.32%
Eaton Vance Greater India B EMGIX 49.83%
Fidelity Advisor Latin America I FLNIX 49.74%
Fidelity Advisor Latin America A FLTAX 49.27%
Top Performers – 3 Year

Fund Name Symbol Ann. Ret.
T. Rowe Price Latin America PRLAX 57.31%
BlackRock Latin America I MALTX 53.80%
BlackRock Latin America A MDLTX 53.42%
BlackRock Latin America C MCLTX 52.27%
BlackRock Latin America B MBLTX 52.26%
ING Russia A LETRX 52.03%
Fidelity Latin America FLATX 51.23%
Fidelity Advisor Latin America I FLNIX 50.65%
Fidelity Advisor Latin America A FLTAX 50.24%
DWS Latin America Equity S SLAFX 50.02%

It is very interesting to note that 90% of all top 1 yr performers are investing in China, and 90% of the top 3 year performers invest in Latin America, and similar trend continues for the top 5 year performances (with a couple of India based funds thrown in).

There is not even a single fund in the lists that is based on investments in US companies! How ironic is that?

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | January 1, 2008

No entry load for direct investment in Mutual Funds

SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India), the market regulator in India, has issued a circular that asks all mutual fund houses to stop collecting any entry load (usually 2.25%) from all investors who invest directly with the fund house, via the internet or the fund house’s office/collection center.

This is effective from Jan 4th, 2008.

The exact modalities of how this will get implemented by various fund houses remains to be seen. So if you were planning to make some mutual fund investments in the next few days, hold on for a week or two, and ask the fund house for clarification on the process if you want to save on the entry load. If you use any bank’s demat or investment account you will still be inviting an entry load even though you are not going through an agent or broker. It pays to be wise and double check the process first.

I personally think you should be doing your own research and avoiding any broker recommendations. There is a wealth of information online to aid in the research. Value Research Online is an excellent resource that I use all the time.

Update: I was at a HDFC Bank branch today and asked them about this. The person I talked to said SEBI has removed all entry loads whether you buy through an agent or not. If you read through the SEBI circular it says SEBI is not abolishing entry loads everywhere. Clearly there is confusion in the system and not everyone is on the same page!

Update 2: I learnt today that the ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) rules state that even if you are allowed to invest in a mutual fund completely online, the mutual fund house still has to physically verify your PAN card before you invest. That throws a spanner into a pure online investing process. My recommendation would be to invest in mutual funds online through your bank’s netbanking site. Since the bank has verified your PAN there is no need to go through the verification process again and you can do it all online. Infact I did exactly that, a few days ago.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 25, 2007

Searching in Outlook 2007 with Google Desktop

Yesterday Joel Spolsky bemoaned the search capabilities of Outlook 2007 in his blog.

There is no need to go to all that trouble to install the Lookout software that he mentions in his blog entry to do fast search inside Outlook. There is an easier solution – Google Desktop.

Google Desktop has excellent desktop search capabilities that includes searching email in Outlook. When you install Google Desktop, there is a new Google search toolbar that shows up inside Outlook 2007. Typing any text into it brings up search results in a new Google Desktop Search window in an instant. Since the indexing happens continuously in the background there is no delay after you type your search string, it really is instantaneous. Clicking on any emails shown in the results list opens up that email inside Outlook (Nice!). The results window shows only a list of emails – there is no way to drill down or trim your search from there. For that, click the “more desktop search results” link in the results window, which opens up the entire result set in a browser. This window helps narrow your email based on From and To fields. The result set in the browser also allows you to find the search string inside chat messages and any files that Google Desktop indexes. This can be very useful if you are trying to locate any information on your machine about a particular search string. I have found searching emails and chat messages from/to a person to be a handy.

One thing you can’t do is search within a single folder or folder hierarchy.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 18, 2007

Review of the new Staples Store in Bangalore

staples-logo.png

Earlier I had written about the start of the first Staples store in Bangalore. I finally got to visit the store last week.

The store is on the Outer Ring Road, near the Marathalli Junction, opposite to Innovative Multiplex theaters. There are very few parking spots (5 or 6) in front of the store. I went in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and found one free spot. If you plan to go at a more crowded time, you probably have to park on the street or around the side gullies.

As soon as you enter the store you find a row of desktop PCs to your left and laptops to your right. Then there is a row of shrink wrapped software packages and games. Across from the games, there are two aisles of PC accessories – keyboard, mouse, cables, USB drives, routers, headsets, webcams and such. Next there is a long aisle full of laptop bags, backpacks, laptop sleeves, CD/DVD covers and cases. Beyond that you find UPSs, blank media, printers, scanners and paper shredders. This leads you the second floor which is mostly filled with office supplies. The “Apple Store” and “Print Center” are also on the second floor. The whole range of office supplies, ranging from a variety of pens and pencils to papers, art supplies, notebooks, calendars and so on fills most of the floor. In one corner there are a few computer desks and chairs. The other corner is dominated by an area filled with Apple products, and a Print Center that caters to various photo and print needs. There is also an odd corner with cleaning supplies, mops and waste baskets! I am missing some products here and there but this should give you a flavor of what you can expect to find.

Now enough of the facts, on to my opinion.

Ambiance

First, I went to the store with an expectation of seeing a typical Staples store. I have been to a number of Staples stores in the US, and was expecting to find something similar. But what I found was an Indian electronics/office supply store that has a few Staples branded products and few other imported brands. The layout and the arrangements in the store are also reminiscent of other electronics stores like Next or E-Zone. The ambiance is mostly stark and plain. The most likely reason I came up with is that the store is a joint venture between the Future Group (more commonly known as Pantaloon India, India’s largest Retail company) and Staples, USA, and probably the people from the local Pantaloon group designed the layout and ambiance. If you have been to Big Bazaar, you might be reminded of the similarity (though the Staples store is not as crowded or ‘loud’ as Big Bazaar).

Product Selection – Computers and Electronics

The store has put up some ads that proclaim ‘the largest laptop collection’ and such. In the store you will find less than 10 laptops and about 10 desktops. The selection of accessories are also very limited. For example, there are no hard drives (internal or external) available – the only storage device they had was a 8GB USB Drive that was outrageously priced. Among the products they actually have, there are mostly only one or two of each. There is one Linksys router and one Netgear router, one wireless keyboard, one wireless mouse. There were a few webcams and there were probably close to a dozen types of cables (USB, Firewire, Stereo). Few things they had in ample supply were blank CD/DVD media (but most of the supply was the local Moser-Baer brand; very few Sony and other imported brands), laptop backpacks, printer ink and printers (I could find many inkjet and laser printers). The ‘Apple Center’ has the usual range of Macs (iMac, Macbook, MacMini), iPods and accessories that you will find in the Apple Stores. I could not find anything unique about the variety or the product displays. If you are looking for some specific items you have to come to the store and see if they have it available. My hope is that its still early days for the store and their product selection will improve over time. If this is all the range thats going to be available, I wont be a frequent visitor.

Product Selection – Office Supplies

I was more disappointed with office supplies than anything else in the store. Staples is known for carrying a wide variety of office supplies, but what you find in this store is pretty underwhelming. Sure there is the usual gamut of things – multiple shelves of pens, pencils, erasers, highlighters, desktop trays, notebooks, calendars and so on, but two aspects disappointed me — most of the items were Indian brands that you will find in any corner stationary store (there are few Staples branded stuff, but very few other imported brands), and there were very few unique items that perked my interest to look or to buy. I didn’t expect this from a store that carries the Staples brand for its name and markets itself as a premium store. There were some oddities too: a 10 foot long shelf is devoted to art supplies – water colors, acrylics, oil paints of many varieties – but you wont find anywhere in the store a single paint brush, canvas or other things you need for painting!

Customer Service and Sales People

One annoying thing I experienced, even in the first five minutes: when you walk into an aisle or shelf, a sales person will start following you one step behind. Probably trying to help, but most of them neither asked if I wanted help or didn’t take the cue that I didn’t want help. Same behavior all over the store, so it has nothing to do with individuals. It is plain that they have been instructed to follow around. It got so annoying after a while that I had to tell them sternly to stop following me.

At one point, I wanted some help finding paint brushes. I asked a sales person. He said “not in stock”. I said “I don’t find even a single brush; are all brushes out of stock or do you just not carry any brushes?”. He gave me a sheepish smile and said “I don’t know Sir”, but promptly added “we will get it in a day or two Sir”!!!

In another instance, I couldn’t find any hard disks and asked the sales guy walking behind me. He had no idea what I was talking about when I said ‘hard disk’. He went to get someone else. The other guy came and asked what I wanted, and I repeated that I was trying to find hard disks. He walked to an aisle and got me a USB Drive. I told him “hard disk, not USB Drive”. Pat came the reply, “its not in stock sir”. Again I asked, “I dont find even one hard disk. Do you actually carry any, or are you just telling me ‘out of stock’?”. Again the same answer, “We don’t have it now Sir, but we will get it in a day or two”. This points to only one thing: the sales people have been instructed to say “out of stock” any time a customer asks for something that they don’t have, irrespective of whether they carry that item or not. Not a good idea.

It is also clear that the sales people (esp in the computer sections) have very low technical knowledge to really help a layman customer. You have to know what you are looking for or you will have a hard time. Worst, you might end up buying something that you were not looking for in the first place. Caveat Emptor.

Prices

The prices are not surprising if you have shopped at other electronics and office supplies stores elsewhere in Bangalore. The one thing I liked is the clear, large, red price tags/labels they have for each product. They have put the labels on the shelf rather than on the product; the result is you can glance through the shelf looking at the items and prices in one glance without having to lift each item to examine its price. A suggestion to the store management: now that you have a label in the right place, you should add more product information (esp for computer related products) like technical specs and so on. It would really help customers find what they want.

There was a problem at checkout. Out of the four items I bought, the sales person could not ring up two using the bar code (both were art supplies). The products did not show up in their sales register. He had to manually write out a cash bill for them (and in that process made a very careless mistake in writing up the prices, which I noticed an pointed out in the end). I only hope that products not being found in their sales register is only a start up issue for a new store and will get corrected soon.

The Surprise

While I was at the store, I saw Kishore Biyani, the Managing Director and CEO of the Future Group. He was in the store, checking around how things are and chatting with some employees. He had an entourage (probably the store manager and some of his team) following him and listening to his every word! He appeared to be a very simple man, based on his dress, demeanor, and activities. He went around looking at various parts of the store, asked to move some things around and even inspected a dirty patch or two in the floor(!). He had a cell phone in his hand, and pretty much every couple of minutes (in the 10+ minutes I watched him) he got a call. Finally he came out (as I was coming out of store myself) with a large laptop bag and stood outside talking to his posse, pointing to something in the exterior of the store.

Summary

Overall, I was personally underwhelmed after the visit. Primary reason is I went with a lot of expectation. If you have never been to a Staples store in the US, you might like it. The variety of products is not enough for a sophisticated hi-tech buyer, but it most likely meets the needs of the common electronics/computer supplies buyer in India. I am sure if they took some effort to increase the range of products, they can attract a larger range of demographics. You can find most of the office supplies that you find in Staples in either your local stationary shop or any large general retailer like Big Bazaar. If you want to buy Staples branded products, you are not going to find them anywhere else though. I would recommend visiting the Staples store once so you know for yourself whats there and whats not there. If you live close to the store, it might be worth going there occasionally for your shopping needs, but if you live far away from the store (like me), most likely you will find some other place closer that sells the same thing.

Its worth one visit for sure.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 6, 2007

Recyclable Greeting Cards

Greeting Cards that can be recycled easily. Good idea!

You buy a greeting card, it comes with a special “two-way envelope”. If you are the one getting the card, once you are done with it, you put it into the return part of the envelope and send it back to the manufacturer which recycles the paper for making other products.

This idea should be extended to many of the paper products we handle daily – newspapers, magazines, and so on. The last page in a magazine or newspaper could have a tear-out return envelope that you use to return it back to the sender or to a recycling plant.  In a place like US it is cheaper to just chuck the greeting card or magazine into your recycle bin. But this would be especially useful in countries (like India, where I live) where a Recycle bin is not available in every house, and separating recyclables is not yet a common practice.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 5, 2007

Some Respite for Mutual Fund Investors in India

Indian Mutual Fund investors have got some respite from entry and exit loads in certain situations. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) – the stock market regulator – and Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI) have ruled in a case that entry and exit loads should not be charged for mutual fund units that have been given as bonus or against reinvested dividends.

An individual investor, Gokhale, had filed a case three years ago that led to this ruling today.

Prior to this, many mutual fund houses were charging entry loads for units that we granted by them as bonus or when an investor decided to reinvest dividends in the same fund. Some of them also charged exit loads when you redeem any of these units. This is a major victory for individual investors who were losing 2% each way for no reason.

Recently SEBI and AMFI have also proposed that no charges should be levied for investments made directly to the fund houses without using any intermediary agents. That is, when the fund house has not incurred any selling expense (the investor came to them directly) there should be no entry loads in such transactions. When this becomes the rule, along with this latest ruling, mutual funds will become cheaper or put in another way, your returns just went up by 1 or 2%.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 5, 2007

My Firefox Extensions

I use a number of extensions (a.k.a add-ons) in Firefox to customize my browsing experience. Many of them are so useful that I can’t imagine browsing without them. This is one reasons why I rarely use Internet Explorer! Here is my list of Firefox Extensions currently installed.

  • Better Gmail: I use this primary to force Gmail to use secure https sessions and to be able to skin Gmail to a sparser, cleaner look and feel.
  • Colorful Tabs: Colors the tabs. Makes the window visually appealing and easier to find the tab you are looking for.
  • Cooliris Previews: I use this very often. This extensions shows a small icon when you mouseover links. If you click on the icon it opens that link in a small popup window. As soon as you move the mouse away the popup disappears automatically. This allows you to check out what is behind the link without actually clicking it. This is very useful in situations where the page has many links and you have to click on each of them to find something you are looking for. I wish it worked even more faster!
  • Customize Google: This extensions has a number of features that allows you to tweak Google search, Gmail and other Google sites. Some of the things I use it for: removing ads, rewriting links to point directly to the images during Google Image Search. I suggest you visit the homepage for this extension to discover its many  other features.
  • Del.icio.us: There are many extensions that support del.icio.us bookmarks. I use the “classic” one, now called “Del.icio.us Buttons”. This adds two buttons in your main Firefox toolbar. One, called “tag”, opens a popup that you use to save the curent page as a del.icio.us bookmark. The other button opens your del.icio-us page. This is a very very useful extension if you are a heavy del.icio.us user like me (I stopped bookmarking on the browser long time ago).
  • DownThemAll: This is a download accelerator and download manager that supports pause and resume. It really speeds up your downloads and also allows you to download multiple things from a page in one shot without having to click on each one separately.
  • Gmail Notifier: This extension adds a small icon on the status bar at the bottom of the firefox window. It checks your gmail account and pops/lights up when there is a new gmail and shows unread count. First, you need to click on the icon to give it your gmail userid/password. The best thing about this extension is it can monitor multiple gmail accounts. (I found a new extension called “Webmail Notifier” that claims to handle multiple webmail accounts like Yahoo, Gmail, Windows Live Mail etc. I haven’t use it yet, but if you use more than one of these webmail accounts regularly, this extension might be more useful to you)
  • GreaseMonkey: If you dont know what Greasemonkey is, head over here. This extension allows you to run small scripts that alter the pages you visit in small and useful ways. There are hundreds of scripts available for customizing most popular sites. You can download them here. I am not a heavy greasemonkey user. I use it mainly to customize Gmail in small ways – show coversation previews, saved searches, integrate Gmail and Google Reader, few extra keyboard macros, coloring Gmail Labels (this has become a builtin feature in Gmail, so there is no need for this script anymore).
  • HashColoredTabs+: This extension gives each site (that doesn’t have its own website icon) a colored icon in the location bar and all tabs pulldown. It helps you find the tab you want if you had a lot of tabs! I dont think this extension is all that useful given that most sites have their own icons. I have had it for a while and never bothered too uninstall it since its pretty unobstrusive.
  • PDF Download: A very useful extension if you deal with PDF files. Whenever you click on a pdf file link, it pops up a window that allows you to do three things with that file – download it, open it outside Firefox and show it a html. The popup is optional. You can set it to do any of these 3 actions by default instead of showing the popup. The extension has multiple options that lets you control which viewer to open the file in, where to open the html file (same/new tab/window) and so on.
  • ReadItLater: A recently found extension. It allows you to save pages of interests to read later. It helps eliminate the clutter of bookmarks or tabs with pages to read. When you come across a page or link that you want to read later, click on the ReadItLater button on the toolbar or righ-click and choose “Read this page later”/”Read this link later”. These pages/links get added to a reading list that show up as a pulldown in the button in the toolbar. Whenever you want to go back to the reading list, pull down this list from the button and pick the page you want.
  • SwitchProxy Tool: This extension is useful only if you have to switch between proxies. If you login to your work using a VPN Connection for example, typically you have to switch proxies before you can browse. At my work, there are multiple proxy servers located at various locations across the world. I use this extension to switch between using no proxies (when I am not on a VPN connection) to using one of my work proxies. The extensions uses a piece of the status bar realestate and you can switch between proxies with one right click. Its a very convenient thing if you have to deal with proxies. Otherwise its unnecessary.
  • Session Manager: This extension saves the state of all your Firefox windows and tabs either automatically or when Firefox crashes. It can save multiple sessions, and you can even manually save sessions. You can restore any previously saved session (all the windows and tabs that were open at that time) when you start Firefox or even after Firefox is open. Other than the typical use of restoring your sessions when the browser crashes, I use it all the time as a handy “temporary bookmark”. Many times I have a bunch of tabs open that I want to go back to at a later time (usually when I know I have to reboot or shutdown my machine or kill Firefox), but don’t want to bookmark it permanently, I use Session Manager to save the state manually. If all you want is to be able to restore a session after a browser crash, you don’t need this extension. Firefox has a built in feature to restore the session after a crash.
  • Undo Closed Tab: How many times have you closed a tab and then realized an instant later that you want to go back to it again. This is where this extension is a lifesaver. It allows you to re-open all the tabs you closed (during the current session) one by one. Unfortunately you can’t pick which tab you want to re-open. It only restores them one by one in the reverse order of closure.

What extensions can’t you live without? Let me know in the comments.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | December 3, 2007

Staples is in Bangalore!

staples-logo.png

One of the things I have dearly missed after moving to Bangalore after spending many years in Bay Area, California is electronics shopping, or just simply browsing around in stores like Frys, Best Buy, Staples, OfficeMax,… Roaming around in Fry’s was a favorite way for me to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Looks like I might get a little bit of that fun back. Staples has opened a store in Bangalore last Saturday. It is supposed to be a large (20000 sqft) store and well stocked. I haven’t been there yet, but definitely looking forward to spending a few hours (and god knows how many Rupees) there!

Trivia: The Bangalore store is Staples’ 2000th store.

Update: Website for Staples in India – http://www.staplesfuture.com

Update1: The store is near Marathahalli Junction, on Outer Ring Road, Opposite Inox movie theatre.

Update2: You can now read the review of the store in my new post.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 26, 2007

Visual map of Google News

I found this  nice way to wade through and find the popular items in Google News. Check out Newsmap. The largest squares are the most popular ones. It allows you pick the categories you want (see bottom right corner) and countries of interest (top of the screen) and pick prior dates as well (bottom left).

This form of rendering is called TreeMap Visualization and was researched at the Computer Science Dept at University of Maryland. You can read more about treemaps here and here.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 15, 2007

Rule of 72

 This is something I learnt some years ago when doing my MBA, but had forgotten all about it until I saw it mentioned somewhere today.

Rule of 72 is useful as a quick rule of thumb calculation in finance.  If you want to know how long will it take to double your money, divide 72 by the interest rate. For eg, if you are getting a 10% return on your money it will take 72/10=7.2 years to double your money.

Same way, you can use it to calculate the effect of inflation. If inflation is 5%, the buying power of your money will halve in (72/5=) 14.4 years.

Don’t forget that its a rule of thumb, not a precise calculation!

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 15, 2007

Developers do like Mac

This photograph is from Tim Bray‘s post on RubyConf. Almost everyone has a Mac!

Looks like the developer community has really gravitated towards the Mac. Till a few years ago Apple’s strongest presence was in niche markets like graphic design and education. As Jonathan Schwartz said: “Revenue is a lagging indicator of developer adoption“. He said that in the context of open source adoption, but this photograph is no doubt an indicator in the right direction for Apple.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 14, 2007

Inbox 2.0 – Lack of Strategy or Execution?

Past couple of days many blog posts have covered Inbox 2.0 and turning email into a social network. Michael Arrington feels sad for Yahoo’s lack of clear strategy.

I don’t agree with Michael who says OpenSocial is poised to change Google entirely. Google needs to show that advertising through OpenSocial beats all its other ad revenue streams before we can assert that OpenSocial changed Google as a company. It will take a while before it gets there, if at all.

I agree Yahoo seems to be fumbling around, trying to find the “next killer thing” that will make it hot again. But I don’t think its lack of strategy. Yahoo probably has enough talent to come up with the ideas. But in the recent times Yahoo has had a lot of internal churn, politics and management change. That is not really the best environment where bold new strategies are going to be executed. I would guess that, with all the politics that must be going on, it would be hard to advance clever ideas and there might be a tendency to take less risk. Google on the other hand has a stable management which is most likely in agreement on the path to the future.

Yahoo has become boring lately. It needs some “magic” to turn around – Yahoo Mail and MyYahoo don’t have the coolness factor of GMail and iGoogle.

What would I do if I was Yahoo?

I would not focus on individual “features” like profile pages. I would take various aspects of “social” – messages (email, IM), micro-blogs (twits), photos, video, audio (music, voicemail, but twitter-gram style), profiles, contact database – and bring it together in Yahoo Mail “platform”. Y!Mail after is the biggest property for Yahoo. Why stop with integrating IM with Mail? Make Y!M the one place for me to go to to exchange any type of content with those I want to communicate with. Make it dead simple to send (share) video to my friends and family, make it easy to leave a voice message to my friend if he is not online and so on, integrate uploading photos to Flickr and sending a mail to my family (remember, most of my family hasn’t caught on to getting notified through feeds, I still have to email them that I have uploaded some photos). Make it ad free for paid subscribers. I am so used to Yahoo Mail that I would love to see many of my other activities get integrated into that experience.

I would gladly pay for that kind of integration.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 13, 2007

Google Android and NetBeans

Android Logo Netbeans Logo

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, in this blog entry seems to indicate that NetBeans is a supported IDE for Android. This is what he specifically says:

blockquotes.gifI’d also like Sun to be the first platform software company to commit to a complete developer environment around the platform, as we throw Sun’s NetBeans developer platform for mobile devices behind the effort. We’ve obviously done a ton of work to support developers on all Java based platforms, and were pleased to add Google’s Android to the list.blockquotes.gif

But in the Android SDK announcement and documentation, Eclipse is the only supported IDE. There is no mention of NetBeans.

Where does this place what Jonathan said? Was he saying that Sun will build a NetBeans plugin for Andriod and release it on its own, or is he speculating that Google might add NetBeans support later? Maybe he was just hoping for some hype by association with a hot news (certainly not his style though)!

Given all the documentation that Google has provided for Android SDK, it should not be hard to build a NetBeans plugin for Android. But it is kind of a blow to Sun that Google chose to do its own Java VM implementation as well not support NetBeans as a supported IDE. Maybe Google didn’t like CDDL license.

Usually Jonathan’s blog gets mostly supportive and appreciative comments. But they just took it out on him for this entry.

Update:  There seems to be a good amount of interest in using NetBeans for Android development. This is a good opportunity for the NetBeans community to step and fill the need.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 6, 2007

GMail – duplicate mail for multiple labels?

I just  configured Gmail IMAP access on Thunderbird 2. Found that it creates a folder for each label. Nice!

But for those messages that had been tagged with multiple labels, it duplicated the message in each of the folders corresponding to the labels. Is that cool or weird or a bug? I haven’t played around with it to see what happens if I delete the mail from one folder. Ideally it should be deleted from all the folders. Will check it out tomorrow (its just too late in the night and have a busy day tomorrow!).

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 6, 2007

Problems with Yahoo Mail?

Is it just me? For past few weeks I have had lot of trouble with the Yahoo Mail UI. Messages refuse to load, XML and HTML parsing errors show up, UI freezes, errors when sending mails etc.

Esp with Firefox browser. With IE, these problems have been less frequent. I haven’t seen Parsing error dialogs in IE so far.

I have heard from multiple people in my family who all seem to be having issues as well. Anyone else seeing the same things?

Update: For me, in the last few days, the new Yahoo Mail interface has started working again reasonably well in Firefox. Though its still painfully slow and takes ages to load mails in the preview window, atleast I dont see xml parsing error popups anymore. BTW, Yahoo!: when are you going to implement the new Mail Options for the new interface? For eg, if you go to manage Mail Filters it tells you that you have to use the old “Classic” interface to setup filters. It has been this way for months.

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 5, 2007

Google GPhone: Unite and Conquer

Android

Google has launched Andriod, a Linux based open source software stack for mobile phones, and has unveiled the Open Handset Alliance, a collection of handset makers who plan to use Andriod on their handsets.

A few days ago Google also launched OpenSocial, an API for social networking sites and widgets, and assembled a bunch of Social Networking sites as “partners”.

Does this seem like the same strategy? I am calling it the “Unite and Conquer” strategy. Bring together a set of key competitors of the behemoths and hope to flood the market with Google “controlled” (atleast, influenced) software. In OpenSocial’s case it was Facebook and Microsoft. In Android’s case, its Nokia, Apple and Microsoft.

There is also a volume play here.  Google rides on the volumes of its alliance partners – for distribution, marketing and customer acquisition – that gives a huge headstart. In a way Google is playing the “the ones who made the most money during the Gold Rush were the ones who sold the tools” game. Though it plays the opensource card, monetization being the long term strategy cannot be denied.

With Android, Google is also building a bigger eco-system and customer base for its products. Search, Gmail, Orkut, Google Docs, Picasa, Google Maps are all going to get a burst of volume when these handsets start shipping. The integrated experience that Google can provide will be a killer differentiator. Though Microsoft has a lot of products that it ports to its mobile platform, the super-klunky, desktop-like approach to Windows Mobile UI is a big downside. Apple does not have the range of products. If Google can combine its product base with a richness of usability and integration, it might have the killer combination. Add all the third party apps it is talking about and you could have a lethal customer magnet.

Google is definitely onto a new business model, one that takes someone with money, size and influence to pull off.

Anyone want to predict Google OpenMusic Alliance?

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 3, 2007

You can’t ask for passion, Iggy

Here is something from Valleywag: The CEO (“Iggy” Fanlo) of the startup AdBrite sent a memo to all his employees asking them to work 9-10 hours a day. That is a huge eyebrow raiser in itself. But here is the best part:

 “This is still a startup and we need more passion, time and energy from each of our employees than a large company would require.”

As if.
You can’t ask for passion, Iggy. Just because someone spends 10 hours a day at work doesn’t mean they are productive for the company. I can’t believe a CEO was crazy enough to broadcast something like this. I would bet a few dollars that he lost the respect of half the employees that day.

The other interesting thing is his opinion that if you work in a large  company its okay to have less passion. Granted a startup usually has a different culture than a large company, but then would Apple have produced an iPod or OS X or iMac without passionate employees?

Passion is something so very internal to a person. Leaders create an environment which attracts people who are passionate about the work of the company. They still cannot make anyone passionate. Either you are, or you aren’t.

I can create a dedicated team, but I can only assemble a passionate team. 

Posted by: gowrisivaprasad | November 3, 2007

A proud moment

Today, as I was getting my daughter (7 years old) ready to sleep and tucking her in bed, I caught her cupping her hands and mumbling something noiselessly. I asked her what she was doing. She said she was praying to God. I was surprised, and I told her I didn’t know she prayed before going to sleep and asked her if she did it daily. She said she does it everyday and since she prayed silently others didn’t know. She added, “I pray to God that I should help others because then God will help me when I want”.

It was a proud moment for me as a father.

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