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Monday, November 27, 2006

Who on earth is Stan Shih??

As I continue to discover new corners of Acer, it's becoming increasingly clear that this is a company with its own, personal history.

It's thirty years old, so it's hardly new-school. In fact, in PC manufacture seniority terms, it's damned near royalty!

Yet where did it come from?

Well, up until he retired in 2004, the man behind Acer was
Stan Shih, noted as one of Time magazine's Asian heroes.

Stan built the entire group around a set of values that, in this fast-moving world of ROI, business models and cut-throat margins, seems to have gone missing...

I finally got my hands on Stan Shih's book, Me Too is Not My Style and would like to dedicate a small portion of this blog to the grocer-store owner's son who gave birth to a group destined to become the world's fourth-largest PC vendor.

I want to do this as a reminder to anyone reading that Acer does indeed have core values. It's not just about the bottom line.

While I'm at it, it might also serve as a "gentle" reminder to any detractors that Acer's continued success come from putting these core values into practice, day in and day out.

After all, if you believe in a company, its values, products and services, what better way than sharing the hopes and fears of its founding fathers to discover whether your heart is in the right place?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The flipside of Tablet technology

Here’s a great one for conspiracy theorists.

I got sent a
link yesterday (thanks Richard) to an interesting article on Engadget that illustrates a law case brought against Acer and other Tablet PC manufacturers.

The gist of it is that just as the Tablet has reached the end of its life (see my post yesterday), a man in Oregon has decided to sue Acer, Gateway, Toshiba, HP, IBM, and Fujitsu for violating his 1996 patent "Hinge Assembly for Electronic Devices".

The strange thing is that this same man appears to have some dodgy friends … Read the
link in the responses section to find out who…

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

2007 all set to be a tipping point for mobility

Next month’s PC Pro is a killer.

I’ve been a subscriber for quite a while now but never has the contents of this magazine filled my curiosity for future technologies like the January 2007 edition.

More than anything else, it’s pretty clear that with so many emerging technologies expected in the not-too-distant future, traditional mobile solutions are about to get a total overhaul.

With rumours rife that Dell is about to launch a Tablet PC, any observant reader would surely read between the lines of next month’s edition to see that this isn’t going to happen, or if it does, it’s probably a last-ditched effort to revive a dwindling niche.

Even Acer’s Jim Wong made it clear at the company’s recent 30th anniversary celebrations that the Tablet’s time is gone, going on to add that “the device we’re dreaming about… is single purpose and so simple to use.”

Although Windows Vista is toted by Microsoft themselves as a sure fire way to Improve Your Tablet PC Experience, it is surely going to face fierce competition from Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC). This is where I see Acer making serious headway in 2007 onwards and where Dell is more likely to enter.

Why am I so sure? Because modern technology is an amalgam of disparate components, whether from different hardware manufacturers or between hardware and software vendors. Standalone technologies simply do not exist. The Tablet PC is a perfect example, as it would not have seen the light of day if Bill Gates himself hadn’t endorsed it.

With mobile technology, that complimentary technology is already in place. We’ve got ultramobile notebooks already on the shelves. These units feature multi-core processors and power efficient component that keep battery life up while offering true multi-tasking ability.

We’ve also got touch screens built into Tablets PCs, PDAs and in-car navigators, wired and wireless technologies and ultra-bright screens ready to deliver high definition content so there’s nothing startlingly new here.

What’s missing is affordable wireless broadband reception.

In September 2006 at the Acer Global Press Conference in Monte Carlo, Steve Brazier from Canalys piled into telephone network providers, blaming them exclusively for the slow uptake of mobile media.

Anyone who’s paid over £200 (€300) just to download emails at 56Kbps like I regularly do when I travel will agree.

But Barry Collins, news editor at PC Pro, took the argument further. In his News opinion column he actually puts the problem into numbers:

Even if you do track your mobile downloads to the last byte, keeping tabs on the bill is a headache. Take Vodafone for instance, Surfing web pages on its Vodafone Live service is gratis; stray beyond the portal's walls and you're looking at £2.35 (€3,47) per MB on its typical Anytime 150 price plan. Move to a pay-as-you-talk plan and Vodafone Live is charged at 0.1p (€0,15) per KB and 0.73p (€1) per KB off-portal. Not only has Vodafone changed the prices, it's changed the units of data measurement, just to make your brain ache and disguise the fact that those prices now equate to a staggering £1 (€1,48) per MB/£7.30 (€10,80) per MB respectively. To put this into perspective, the average fixed line broadband account offers 20GB of data downloads for around £20 (€29,56) a month. Vodafone's most expensive tariff would cost £146,000 (€215.753) a month for the same amount of data.

£146,000 a month? I know it’s hypothetical but how long is the (heavily) paying public going to let them get away with this?

So when 3G launches a flat-rate service with its X-Series, the others will surely have to follow, sending us over the tipping point that signals the end of mobility as we know it.

If connection prices plummet, there will then be no stopping to what PC vendors can and will be able to offer as the demand will simply be exponential.

And that’s where convergency takes another step forward. PDA’s will grow and notebooks will shrink and merge into UMPCs, with Bluetooth connectivity for VoIP headsets and built-in VVoIP cameras etc. These will be online the moment they are switched on, offering PC processing power with web-based telephone communication functionality.

Then there are the smart or hybrid phones which are just the opposite. Always-on communication/entertainment devices with miniaturised PC functionality and endless streaming media sources.

In any case, Wong’s right. The Tablet PC as we know it is dead. The UMPC will see to that.

And if Google’s vision for its Google Apps Enterprise Edition comes true – and frankly there’s no reason why it wouldn’t – maybe even Microsoft’s vice-like grip on the software industry is about to shift, with UMPCs accessing online applications and storage servers straight out the box.

Here’s to a fascinating 2007!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gettin' Swicki Wit It

I thought I'd liven things up with a Swicki.

That's right. A Swicki. To start with it's that funny looking thing with images and red text over on the right.

A Swicki, according to its developers, is "a new kind of search engine that allows anyone to create deep, focused searches on topics you care about. Unlike other search engines, you and your community have total control over the results and it uses the wisdom of crowds to improve search results."

Essentially it should show what people are actually looking for when it comes to Acer.

Obviously it's in its early stages and I still have to fine tune it, but it will be curious to see how this develops. Whatever the results, you'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Goodbye Ferrari, Hello TravelMate 6460

Today I handed the Ferrari 1000 back.

It's weird that something I write about day in day out had such a profound effect on me that bordered on the emotional.

Weird but true. I liked it so much I'm going to buy myself one.

But today, I’m moving on to other less ‘emotionally charged’ issues. As I write, the Acer UK site displays no fewer than 29 different notebooks, ranging from simple entry level devices to full spec multimedia stations. In Italy that number is 26 while in the US, there are a staggering 41.

It’s clear that each country selects its own models depending on specific market needs and with specific users in mind, which goes some way towards explaining why Acer split its site into user groups, and just how much this has helped users identify the right model for their unique needs.

One of the groups that gets less media attention than most is “Enterprises”, and one of the reasons for this is because "Acer offers a complete range of cost-effective enterprise solutions for trouble-free integration into current network structures, delivering world-class manageability, dependable security, effortless scalability and efficient mobility”.

Hardly mainstream blog material then.

Yet despite not enjoying too much blog atention (no Ferraris here), there is still plenty of room for innovation. One of the latest to ne introduced is Acer's
Trusted Platform Module or TPM for short.

Of the many problems faced by large companies, security must rank among the top five. TPM is meant to assist security through an integrated chip that stores keys, passwords and digital certificates directly on the notebook enabling strong user authentication and machine security. In other words, it offers a sure-fire way of validating the true identity of the notebook.

It's a complex issue, and one not helped by the privacy issues raised in this detailed explanation of the technology over on the
Wikipedia site.

This time I have brought home a
TravelMate 6460 to play around with. The specs are what you'd expect from a business machine of this calibre (2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 15.4" WSXGA display, ATI Mobility Radeon X1300, 1GB DDR2 memory, 80GB hard drive etc.) so I don’t expect to unearth anything unexpected there.

No, the reason why I have it is to find out a little more about the Acer TPM features, and test the fingerprint recognition software. That might take a while, as I first want to come to terms with the security and privacy issues discussed in the Wikipedia entry, then I have to see what, if any solutions are offered by other notebook manufacturers, and finally test drive those installed on the TravelMate 6460.

Before I go, I’d just like to mention one thing that's already captured my attention. The TravelMate 6460 is battleship grey. It’s a no mess, no frills mobile work station and boy is it efficient. Now I already know that Acer’s
SignalUp technology is good but the TM6460 takes it to another level altogether. Within one minute of turning it on to charge the battery, the TM6460 had sniffed out no fewer than three wireless networks in and around my home.

No other notebook I've come across so far has had such a finely-tuned wireless nose. It's good to know that Acer delivers the very best mobile solutions right across the board.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ferrari 1000 Shines on TheAcerGuy

Don’t believe the hype.

If ever there was a phrase that sums up the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding marketing campaigns for cult objects, this is undoubtedly it.

Hype is what gets brands noticed and, if they’re not careful, it’s where they fall. There’s no getting away from it. You’ve either got it or you don’t.

The Ferrari name has got it. In fact I’m not sure how many brand names evoke so much passion (love, envy, call it what you will) and at the same time elicit so much expectation. A Ferrari is the end of the rainbow, right? An exotic dream whose sole purpose is to transport its lucky owner into an almost surreal reality.

A bit more down to earth, maybe, but the Acer Ferrari 1000 has got it too. Anyone who’s read my earlier posts in this blog will have noticed that I’ve picked up on some negative sentiment here and there towards this stunning little ultraportable. Doubts over its coolness, and whether the outboard DVD can mess up your life continue to surface, and I wanted to find out for myself whether or not they were valid concerns.

So I borrowed one for the week-end.

First things first. The Ferrari 1000 is gorgeous. The moment you open the box, you know this isn’t your run-of-the-mill notebook. The thought and care that has gone into the details is on an entirely different level here.

Details like dedicated cases for each of the external components. They’re well designed, well made and look stunning. In fact, I wouldn’t feel at all ashamed at pulling the Ferrari 1000 out of my briefcase at a meeting.

And before you even begin to talk about the big, black, masculine Ferrari badge, both my 10-year old daughter and my tech-loathing wife loved it too, so I guess that sets that record straight.

While we’re on the subject, we had some friends over for dinner on Saturday. The Ferrari 1000 was sitting on the table in the living room and one by one, each of our guests commented on how cute/cool/fabulous it was.

Fact 1: this PC attracts attention like no other I’ve ever had.

Fact 2: it’s seriously cool – no matter what cynics may tell you.

So what about all the technical side of things? Hey, I’ll leave the performance ratings comparisons to those that actually care. For me, the Ferrari 1000 has just about everything I’d want from a second PC. I say second because, just like its automotive namesake, you really wouldn’t want to use it as your only means because its unique compactness is a little uncomfortable if you need to sit in front of it day in day out, even if it is a nice place to be.

Don’t get me wrong, the CrystalBrite screen is almost easier to look at than my 24” desktop monitor and the keyboard is a joy to use. But 12 inches of screen is, well, half of what I’m used to. Great for brief use, a bit of a strain if you overdo it.

Having said that, the Ferrari 1000’s got a port replicator port at back, meaning you can use it with a bigger monitor and standard keyboard while in the office, yet still enjoy all the benefits (and there are hundreds) of its seriously compact, lightweight design when you leave. In that sense it’s an ideal combination.

I’ve also noticed that the battery duration has been questioned. Well for starters the Ferrari 1000 comes with two batteries (three and six cells – neither made by Sony) and pressing the Empowering Key brings up an easy-to-use menu that allows me to switch from maximum performance to maximum battery life – which, incidentally, was 3 hours and 53 minutes – in just three clicks. If that's not enough, you can pull out the 6 Cell battery and slip in the 3 Cell one for an indicated 1 hour 39 minutes of extra ultraportable freedom. That’s 5 and-a-half hours - more than enough for me.

All in all, the Ferrari 1000 ticked all my boxes. I personally have never handled such a well-built laptop. No creaks, beautifully solid keyboard, and a joy to use. When you’re used to 15”+ screens pressing down on your thighs (this is my "old" TravelMate 4670 for a size comparison - it weighs almost double too and generates twice as much heat), having this lightweight gem resting almost imperceptibly on your lap is a revelation.

As I write, I’m doing a home study course on SEO techniques. It’s DVD-based with lots (hundreds) of videos to get through. On Friday and Sunday I used the Ferrari 1000 and sat through about 3 hours of videos each night with no trouble whatsoever. Once it had sniffed out my wireless network, flicking back and forth between the Flash presentation screen and the web to check on real-life examples was child’s play. I could have done it all night. Well actually I did.

It’s got 3 USB’s, a built-in 4-in-one card reader, integrated webcam and the brilliant Bluetooth handsfree VoIP phone (Skype users rejoice), and enough storage and processing power to handle everything you could possibly throw at it. Objectively, it’s really hard to find anything to criticize, except perhaps the fact that tomorrow I have to give it back.

Well, even that has a solution doesn’t it?

Friday, November 10, 2006


I know I said I would write in a few days but first impressions count right?

Admittedly I haven’t lived with the Ferrari 1000 for any length of time yet but straight away I know I could. It’s gorgeous. The design is superb, and it’s sooo damned light.

Seeing as the problem lies in this external DVD player, the very first thing I did once I got it powered up was watch a DVD video and admittedly I wasn’t on a plane, but I see no immediate problems with having the thing outside, although I concede that it doesn’t give you the peace of mind you get from knowing that on that one-in-a-million occasion when you actually need a built-in DVD while on the go it’s there.

Still, for everyday mobile use, this thing is amazing. Packaging is on a level with Apple’s iPod, it doesn’t creak or flex like my “old” TravelMate 4674 does (admittedly after serious abuse) and it’s got that über-cool VoIP bluetooth phone gizmo I can’t stop raving about. Can’t wait to try that out on a few unsuspecting relatives.

So this is a teaser I guess. At least till I get round to writing something more, emm, professional.

PS The Leftfield CD was put there to give you an idea of size, not to express my musical tastes…

We're gonna need a bigger site - part 2

I’ve slept on it and have decided that The AcerGuy needs a bigger home.

I want to be able to explore everything about Acer, its products, strategies and beliefs but on a more permanent level, then discuss what I find here, where conversation is free to flow.

For example I have persuaded them to lend me a Ferrari 1000 for a while. I have already posted here about the unfavourable review it got over at ShinyShiny (its got a Ferrari badge) and the fact that many preferred other ultraportables because the Ferrari 1000 had an external DVD.

Now you can’t please all the people all the time fair enough but I wanted to find out for myself just what, if any, drawbacks there are to having an external DVD and whether the Ferrari badge really does cramp your style (unlikely in my case).

The problem is at the end of the month this review, along with the others, will be archived away; unceremoniously placed in the folders on the right whose sole purpose is to show how long I managed to stick it out in Web 2.0.

These reviews – any reviews for that matter – deserve a more permanent home. Somewhere they can be used as open references. Then we can discuss.

Hey, I’m a marketing guy. What do I know about web design…? For now I’ll have to make do with (and learn more about) this format. With a bit of luck though, what I write will be interesting enough to stand the test of time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

We're gonna need a bigger site.

In my brief time at TheAcerGuy ;-) I have discovered that there are many things about Acer - it's massive array of products, the constantly evolving technologies, the innovative solutions and, well, the general direction of the company itself that simply never see the light of day.

Some might argue it's the job of the middlemen to do the talking.

I say they've got more than enough on their plates already.

I have come to the conclusion that a blog is never going to be enough to satisfy this kamikaze desire to get a fuller message across. This is definitely the place for argument, discussion and discovery, but the fact that a blog is at times as fast as a Ferrari 5000 makes it an unsuitable frame for the bigger picture.

Think about it, today the buzz is all about Empowering Technology, tomorrow it's Vista upgrades. We can talk about it to our heart's content, yet while conversations inevitably move on, values do not.

I can see the need to take this a step further. Videos, reviews, articles, perhaps even a user forum. Oddly enough to many that might look like a step back. I mean, blogs are the thing right?

Well yes, and no.

Like I said, this is the place for news, views and opinions, but it's not the ideal playing field for product reviews, technology analysis and long-term brand values. After all, at the end of each month they're archived (by date) under a hyperlinked rock which is almost never unturned.

A blog works better if it has a solid base to work from, allowing it to draw attention to something a little more permanent and create discussion from it.

So the journey takes it's first twist. Anyone know a good web designer?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Entertainment Overkill

Talk about massive.

I saw this at the Monaco Press Conference and it is a seriously-enormous piece of equipment. Massive in scale and massive in spec, and now there's the Core 2 Duo version (9810) it packs an even bigger punch.

I've read several sites saying it's a notebook strapped onto one of Acer's 20" screens and that's not too far away from the truth.

Before I go into (a little) detail, there seems to be a common perception of this multimedia giant as a desktop replacement, while Acer has gone its own way, putting it squarely in the Home Entertainment camp.

First let's clear this up. Acer has split its not inconsiderable range of notebooks into four functional groups:

1. Desktop Replacement - for corporate & medium-sized companies who need to replace their networked/managed corporate desktops with stylish, compact and reliable all-in-one notebooks that offer all the power, security and flexibility of a desktop PC, while providing maximum productivity, enhanced manageability and complete connectivity. The corporate user has different mobility needs, so this group includes normal notebooks, ultra-portables with docking ability and Tablet PCs.

2. Mobility at work - for corporate & medium-sized companies who need powerful and efficient mobile solutions that comply to company rules and management standards. They have different mobility needs, so this group includes both normal notebooks and ultra-portables. This group also includes a sub segment for tablet users, who need mobility and versatility.

3. Small Office Home Office solutions - for users who typically use their notebook both professionally and privately. Consequently, these solutions support professional work as well as entertainment, featuring both professional connectivity and solid audio/video functionalities.

4. Home Entertainment - for private buyers looking for an affordable solution for home entertainment and infotainment that offers high audio/video capabilities and a friendly price-tag. The high-end function group offers rich multimedia features, whereas the entry level solutions feature basic entertainment features.

Notice that Desktop Replacement is clearly targeted towards the business end of the spectrum, while the 9800 series fits squarely in the Home Entertainment group. If anyone should know which mobile solution belongs to which functional group, it's Acer.

So it's designed for Home Entertainment and if you've got the room, there's very little else that can pack so much entertainment into such a (relatively) small space.

I mean, even in storage terms, the spec sheet talks of two, 120 GB Serial ATA drives that support RAID 0, 1 and Intel Matrix RAID meaning you get superior data protection plus this new fangled technology from Intel that allocates a safe storage area for important data alongside a faster area for the operating system and other applications. Fast and secure then.

Then there's that monitor. Take a look at the specs: 20.1" WSXGA+ high-brightness (300-nit) Acer CrystalBrite™ TFT LCD, 1680 x 1050 pixel resolution, 6 lamps. Now that's big and bright. Naturally if that weren't enough, you can always hook up another external monitor and double the impact, as if you'd really need to...

Screen size apart, what I really love about this notebook (and all Acer notebooks with this technology) is GridVista. GridVista automatically splits the screen up into semi-equal parts (depending on your chosen number of divisions) and is one of those technologies you don't really think about until you have to work on an application intensive project on another PC. Boy is this a clever invention! Thing is on the 9800, the screen is so large you can split it up into 8 sections. Which means that, technically, with two screens you could have 16 applications open at the same time and see and use every one of them. Wicked.

I won't go into the HD DVD argument just yet as I haven't been able to test it first hand and as far as I'm concerned, it's not exactly the ideal storage solution as I'm sure blank HD DVDs will cost more per GB than, say, an external hard drive but more of that later.

The 9800 is massive no doubt about it. We're talking 105/6-key keyboard with room to spare. But if you're looking for something that does pretty much everything (digital TV included) on a massive scale and doesn't look like a relic from the office, this is definitely it.

PS Get the optional Acer Bluetooth® VoIP phone. Trust me, your back will love you for it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Acer doesn't shine on ShinyShiny

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark lately. I’ve just tracked down a vlog on Shiny Shiny's site this morning. Susi Scarlett gave a quick one minute overview of the Ferrari 1000 which I think deserves a mention.

I like the
Shiny Shiny site. It’s quick, easy and very girl-oriented and a lot of fun to keep up with. Thing is, quick and easy doesn’t always paint a proper picture.

I know I run the risk of getting flamed by a lot of girls over this but this isn’t an anti-girl thing. Quite the contrary…

First of all, while I can fully understand that car-branded products don't exactly tick every girl's desire box, given a bit of thought, there's more to the Acer/Ferrari co-branding than cheap products and car sounds.

Acer and Ferrari may or may not be cool in your part of the world, but they are recognized the world over for their technology-driven values and share some serious appeal, proven year in and year out by their unstoppable growth.

Look even closer, you’ll find that “cheap” is in fact a cruel interpretation of “value”, with Acer delivering more features per pound/euro/dollar/yen etc.. than almost everyone else, again yet another reason why Acer is so popular.

Acer is an official sponsor of Scuderia Ferrari and anyone who saw Schumacher's final fling in Brazil will always remember the car he did it in. Not a bad team to be involved with if you ask me.

Susi also mentioned brand popularity amongst her male friends. I’d love to have sat in on that top trumps conversation. Bentley and Aston Martin… both undisputedly great brands but suitable for PCs? Really? They may be fast but they’re hardly light (one of the most important decision makers when choosing a notebook). Ferrari gets weight down with carbon fibre, Bentley adds weight with chrome, walnut and wilton – all magnificent for cross continent adventures, but hardly the sort of values you need when your job requires you to haul your notebook around all day.

Audi I agree with. It shares values that are closer to IT standards but does anybody seriously think Audi could out-brand Ferrari? They may win at Le Mans but it’s not as high profile as F1. Besides they win with diesel engines which even Susi’s ultra-high-fashion male friends would have a hard time associating with cool. And let’s not even begin to talk about the appeal of an estate car…

Brand issues aside, I also would like to point out that the “Bluetooth adapter” Susi mentions is in fact the first integrated Bluetooth-enabled VoIP phone on the market, designed specifically to make internet phone calls a reality and to avoid having to wear those bundled headphones you get with webcams or even worse, leaning over at weird angles to shout into the built-in microphone. Oh, it also has hands free capabilities to you can talk and type, for free.

It's the little details like these that makes technology easier to use. Making technology work is what Acer and Ferrari represent, and is why it’s a perfect match.

A one minute video may be quick and easy, but it’s nowhere near enough to show the plusses and the minuses of a serious product and all too quick and all too easy to get it wrong.