Yes the retina display iPad is beautiful, but the software is starting to feel dated

OK I am completely conflating issues in this post but that accurately reflects my state of mind.

Like everyone else has said, the new screen is beautiful, the pad does run a little hot, the extra weight and thickness is a little noticeable, blah blah blah. Nothing new to add here. For me, the greatest impact is on the readability of text in retina-enabled apps, it really is easier n the eye. And kind of bizarrely, the few iPhone apps I use on the iPad now look really nice when blown up to full screen, they no longer look clunky.

To the point, tho, the iPad hardware continues to improve and I find myself using the iPad more and more.

However iOS is starting to feel dated. The iPad is delivering a Windows 3.x shell experience — a big beautiful screen and all it shows is a sea of spaced icons. And when you tap them, you get full screen apps, it is actually like earlier versions of Windows.

This works fine if you are basically just launching full screen games, videos, and books all day, which is admittedly the greatest part of iPad use for most people. But i actually have to do some real work in my life, I need to accomplish things. I need a tablet that is a little more productive. Right now if i want to work on a project, I have to navigate a sea of apps, and all the project details are spread around in a million places — I’ve got notes in Evernote and docs in Dropbox and Keynote/iCloud and relevant emails in Mail and todo lists in several places. It is not a great experience dealing with all this — hop into mail or evernote to see what I should be working on (and navigate the folder/tag hierarchies in those as necessary), then hop over somewhere else to work on a doc, meanwhile fighting off distractions from other incoming mail or whatever. My projects and my tasks take a distinct backseat to the app hierarchy and that seems wrong. I’d like to have a screen per project — slide over to my screen with all the things i am working on with respect to a portfolio company, and i could see the docs i need to work on, my todo list, upcoming meeting dates, and the latest email thread, and i could send notes and work on docs right there. or slide over to my maker project at home and work on that. or to home remodel project screen where i can see the plan docs, the latest email, the upcoming schedule and discussion items, etc.

I also want all my data to sync everywhere. If I have a project I am working on, I should be able to go to a folder on my desktop machine and see all the related files. And these should all be available on my work machine, my home machine, wherever. Right now I have content stored in Evernote and synced across all my machines, in Dropbox and synced across all my machines, in iCloud synced across all my machines. If I want to get all the content and files for a project, well good luck. None of these storage solutions are really working the way I want to work. Evernote does a nice job keeping everything ordered by folder and project, and has a nice UI, but it is work to get content in and out of evernote and into other apps. Dropbox has the very natural folder-on-the-desktop model which makes it super easy to use with a million apps, but my Dropbox folder is now chaos with all kinds of random stuff intermixed, apps creating their own confusing folder hierarchies (Byline I am looking at you), and it is just chaos. iCloud also keeps stuff stored by app, not by project, and is just further fracturing my storage.

So to summarize, I want a very project-centric experience, with transparent and complete syncing of project files and contents across all machines, and I want all my apps to work with the same project contents. I could use a web product like “OneHub”:www.onehub.com (an Ignition investment) and they have a good ipad app, and this may be the way to go, I am seriously considering. Box.net is too expensive, Basecamp doesn’t have an iPad app. All these solutions have a lot of great collaboration support but that is secondary for me — I just want to keep my own life in order and get my own stuff done. The iPad and current cloud storage solutions aren’t really helping me to focus, keep things ordered, and get things done.

Great visit to Tier3 this week

I had the chance to meet “Jared Wray”:http://www.jaredwray.com/ at “Tier3”:http://tier3.com/ (one of our portfolio investments) on Friday and I was incredibly energized by the meeting. Jared is a star and Tier3 has a huge future.

I’m not generally an enterprise IT guy. I’ve worn an IT hat at times, but always for small businesses or small offices. I’ve done some enterprise app development, but eons ago. I’ve worked on software teams that have sold into enterprises and have spent time working on features to support enterprises, so I have some sense of their issues, but I am no expert. So take my views with a grain of salt.

With that caveat — wow have these guys done a terrific job creating a relevant cloud offering for enterprises. It seems super easy to roll apps out to their service because Tier3 supports a huge range of enterprise software with preconfigured orchestration blueprints for setting it all up; they support enterprise security requirements, they understand and provide great monitoring, they provide enterprise SLAs, all while delivering the great cloud attributes like elasticity. And with their new “service provider partners”:http://blog.tier3.com/index.php/2012/02/federated-cloud-release-tier-3-cfn-services, there are going to be a ton of hosting options in locations that work for enterprises, to serve the need to “hug your servers”.

It seems like a no brainer for people to try and adopt Tier3:

* If you are in enterprise IT and want to move some of your apps to the cloud, this seems like the way to go. Or at least consider. And with great “no-cost self service activation”:https://www.tier3.com/Activate/, there is really no reason not to try.
* If you are a startup targeting the enterprise, Tier3 provides an environment giving you access to the computing environment of the enterprise. Again free to sign up and a pay as you go model, so why not try?
* If you are a service provider and want to provide enterprise grade services for your enterprise customers, a great set of services available for adoption.

We (Ignition) really have to step up and help Tier3 get the word out about what they are doing. They are already growing at a great clip but we can and should help them do more. They need great people in sales, marketing, and product development. And they need trials from customers and feedback.

Very exciting, great to be working with these guys.

My current photo backup recommendations

“Johnz”:http://www.igncap.com/who_we_are.html#john-zagula recently asked me about photo backup and sharing strategies.

I’ve settled on two basic schemes for the moment.

* My “autonomic” choice is “backblaze”:backblaze.com tho you could just as well use carbonite or crashplan or any of the other N choices. This is a “set and forget” system — I tell it to backup my hard disk, and it just chugs away all the time and keeps me backed up. If my machine ever explodes or my house burns down, I have a recovery option. Now I’ve never had to test the recovery, so fingers crossed, but I have a plan. And this provides me great backup, but provides no sharing features or even remote use for myself.

* For more intentional sharing and remote use, I use “smugmug”:smugmug.com. A little overkill for amateur photographer, but provides great viewing and sharing features. And integrates well with Aperture or Lightroom. And has a decent iphone app.

An alternatives I’ve considered: Dropbox would be super easy to use if I just cared about my own remote access, and is pretty appealing. But no sharing. But I could dump intentionally shared images up to facebook or flickr. This would not be an unreasonable combination to use.

Mix and match all these as you wish…but I hope you are using something, because it would suck to lose all your photos to a machine failure.

My overall reaction to iOS5? Confusion.

OK like the rest of the working world I spent hours yesterday trying to upgrade my iPhone4 and iPad2 to iOS5. About a dozen retries for the phone, maybe half that for the iPad, and I finally got there. Not a great experience but no harm done, just a half day of my life wasted that I will never get back, Apple.

So now what? Well my iPhone 4 seems a little zippier but I suspect that is largely due to grinding the old OS off and laying down a bright new clean install. I like the tabs in the Safari. The Newstand seems like an utter waste and sadly cannot be off hidden in an “Utter Waste” folder, thanks Apple. Notifications are cleaner. Renaming the iPod app to Music is good.

and iCloud? Well this is just confusing. Settings spewed all over the control panel — in the iCloud section, but also in the mail/contacts/calendar section, the photos section, the notes section, the store section. Much discussion online about how to make this all work with exchange and how it does or doesn’t work with outlook — for instance http://daggle.com/outlook-icloud-google-calendar-sync-2748. I’ve no idea where things are actually stored in the cloud — the photostream for instance that I have turned on, where is it, can I go see it at a URL? Or Notes — they are associated with an account now, my gmail account. So when I create a new note does it go somewhere in the cloud? Where? The only thing that my cloud control panel lists as being stored is a backup of my phone — why exactly do I want to do this, I never had this in the cloud before, why do I want it in the cloud now?

The design compromises of iCloud — storage limits, and trying to work with a bunch of existing cloud services — seem to have led to a really fractured, incomplete experience. Not all my stuff is in the cloud, what is in the cloud is spewed across many services, and I don’t really know where anything is. Yay.

UPDATE: Ok, new Notes show up in a gmail folder named Notes. Which seems strange, why would I want my notes there? And not in Google Docs or Dropbox or Evernote or … ?

Scientific computing and the cloud

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This year I’ve had a chance to experiment with tools for compute intensive applications. In particular, tools that harness the profusion of inexpensive CPU/GPU cycles available — OpenMP for multi-threading on single machines so that multiple cores can be leveraged; MPI to distribute compute load over clusters of machines; OpenCL for handing general purpose computation off to a graphics processor. And then on top of these tools, NumPy and SciPy for scripting and visualization from Python. The amount of excellent computational software which is now available is amazing, these capabilities would have cost immeasurable amounts of money just a decade ago. And the first time I tied together a cluster of machines or yoked up a GPU and did a massive computation, and then displayed the animated results using Python — what a great feeling! The ability to attack really hard, really large problems is better than it is has ever been.

But what a nightmare of housekeeping. Breaking up computation into threads and spreading it across multiple cores with shared memory and file system is tedious and error-prone — hand-offs between threads create opportunities for many errors. The work to break up and manage the computation load across multiple machines is even more mind-numbing and error-prone, and now the lack of shared memory and files are additional complications. Using graphics processors is even more obtuse, with their funky fractured memory spaces and architectures and limited language support. And getting all the software piece parts running in the first place takes a long time to work through all the dependencies, mixing and matching distributions and libraries and tools, and then getting it all right on multiple machines. And then you get to maintain all this as new versions of libs and runtimes are released..

But again the results can be stunning — just look around the web at what people are doing in engineering (“Youtube video”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z1STnnA3aM), life sciences (“Science Mag article”:http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6019/848.full#F3), or any of a dozen other areas. Harnessing multiple cheap processors to perform complicated modeling or visualization can have huge payoff in financial services, bioinformatics, engineering analysis, climate modeling, actuarial analysis, targeting analysis, and so many other areas.

However, it is just too darn hard to wield all these tools. The space is crying out for a cloud solution. I want someone else to figure out all the dependencies and library requirements and spin up the correctly configured virtual machines with all the necessary componentry. And keep that up to date as new libraries and components are developed. I want someone else to figure out the clustering and let me elastically spin up 1, 10, 100 machines as I need to, and manage all the housekeeping between these machines. I want someone else to buy all the machines and run them, and let me share them with other users, because my use is very episodic, and I don’t want to pay for 100 or 1000 or 10000 machines all the time, when I only need the machines for a week here and there. Maybe I want to run all my code in the cloud, or maybe I want to have all the VMs and clustering info delivered to my data center, but I want someone else to solve the housekeeping and configuration issues, and let me get to work on my problems.

Amazon is doing some great work in AWS with their HPC support (“AWS HPC support”:http://aws.amazon.com/hpc-applications/#HPCEC2).
Microsoft has made a commitment to provide scientific computing resources in the cloud (“NYT article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/science/05cloud.html). There is a lot of great academic work happening (“ScienceCloud2011”:http://datasys.cs.iit.edu/events/ScienceCloud2011/). But the opportunity is out there to do a lot more.

Busy week at Ignition — Bromium, Storsimple, Glympse, ScaleXtreme

I’ve fallen out of the habit of talking about Ignition portfolio news up here, but it has been a busy week and I am re-motivated to talk about some of these companies.

* “Bromium”:http://vator.tv/news/2011-06-22-bromium-gets-92m-to-make-the-cloud-more-secure has a great team and working in an exciting spacen — the intersection of security, cloud computing, and virtualization. I am very interested to see how this team evolves, I can personally see myself using their technology.
* Continuing in the cloud space, “ScaleExtreme”:http://www.scalextreme.com/ is making it really simple to manage all your servers in the cloud, I am also excited to try this out. And check out the super sweet “pic of Frank”:http://www.thewhir.com/web-hosting-news/062111_ScaleXtreme_Closes_11_Million_Funding_Round_Names_Board_Member in this press piece!
* “StorSimple”:http://www.storsimple.com/press-releases/bid/59821/Latest-Funding-Establishes-StorSimple-as-the-Safe-Bet-in-Enterprise-Cloud-Storage integrates enterprise storage with the cloud, giving the benefits of local storage performance and cloud backup/archiving/tiered storage. Probably not something I can ever personally use, but a great space to be in.
* In a whole different direction, “Glympse”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/glympse-raises-75-million-to-help-you-share-your-location-a-few-hours-at-a-time/2011/06/22/AGfztafH_story.html lets you share your location with friends and family. I’m not a big public checkin user (foursquare, etc), but keeping family and close friends up to date with my location is a lot more compelling to me. Great team and a nice intersection of our software and mobile investment biases.

The Nook dude at the Barnes&Nobles looked forlorn today

How bad would it be to be a Nook pusher right now? The Kindle has its adherents, the iPad is out there, why would anyone buy a Nook? I have to think that B&N is going to bail on this strategy at some point.

Amazon on the other hand I think is playing its hand well. At the end of the day, I doubt that Amazon cares that much about maintaining control over the Kindle hardware — it was just a vehicle for jumpstarting ebook sales. If people prefer to consume ebooks on phones or iPads or PCs or whatever, Amazon is there with the Kindle software and nice sync’ing of state across all your bookreading devices. I’d expect to see them continue to invest in the software and service asset, and it wouldn’t shock me if they sold the Kindle asset to some hardware company at some point.

Apple faces an interesting conundrum — why would you buy a book in the Apple store which can only be read on the iPad, when you could just as easily buy it in the Kindle store and read it in a dozen places?

Another thought — so many people look at the Kindle vs iPad battle as if it is some head-to-head winner-take-all cagematch. In fact tho, as the cost of electronics keeps driving down to zero, I’d suspect that rather than one unified device in my bag, I’ll have many smart devices all sync’ing to shared data in the cloud. Magazines, books, and newspapers all coexisted just fine in the old world, I carried them all in my bag. No reason why I won’t carry several different smart devices in my bag with different form factors and benefits. As long as they all sync data to the cloud, I’ll be happy (again, nice job Amazon).