Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boom and bust, and other matters

"How to play chicken and lose" is how The Economist describes it. Commenting on former Citigroup chairman Chuck Prince's statement in 2007 that "as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing", they say: "It was not a silly thing to believe. In financial services, wallflowers are losers. A bank of Citi’s size cannot sit out the boom without confronting commentators and investors alike. The winner is more likely to be the bank that dances in the hope that it can scramble to a seat when the music stops (even if, as in this crisis, there are virtually no seats)."

Two thoughts on that:

1. So the people to blame are not the banks, but the regulators who allowed the bubble to develop. If the bubble is there, any bank would, in its own short-term interest, speculate to its own likely long-term detriment. So much for the libertarian free-market philosophy.

2. Isn't this equally true of a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme? You're fine as long as you're early onto the bus and get off before the masses do.

Posting has been slow, but I've been reading (though rarely commenting on) others' blogs. Partly this is because I was busy. Partly because I resolved to use my computer (both office desktop and laptop) only for work-related internet surfing, and move all non-work surfing to my new mobile (a Nokia E63). I was already surfing a lot on my previous mobile, but this one has a larger screen and a full qwerty keyboard.

The resolution hasn't been entirely maintained but it has gone better than I expected (the current post is an exception). The Nokia is fine for surfing, both via its inbuilt browser and via Opera Mini, which I installed separately (as I had on my previous phone). It supports IMAP email services, including Gmail, natively; plus you can install the mobile Gmail application, as I did. The keyboard is quite comfortable for typing: I have sent a few mails without trouble. But the browser isn't really equipped for interacting with blogs. I did try typing a blog post on Opera Mini, but somehow lost it. I posted comments on a couple of other blogs using a computer, but only after reading those blogs first on the mobile.

So for now, I expect the non-workflow to be: read on mobile; write, at night or on weekends, on laptop.

None of the browsers I use, on any platform, is Internet Explorer; this has been true for many years (in fact, it has always been true). But the interesting thing is that it is going to be true for many people very soon. Mobile phone sales dwarf those of computers, and as more and more people use their mobiles to get online or for serious work, website designers will need to drop the already invalid assumption that Internet Explorer is the only browser that matters. Reportedly the most widely used mobile browser is Safari on the iPhone. Opera Mini scores high on quality if not yet on popularity. Mozilla is working on their own mobile browser. Meanwhile, even on regular computers, IE's share is dropping. And the fastest-growing category of computers is the "netbook", the ultra-portable ultra-cheap variety pioneered by the Asus Eee, and the majority of those run Linux, with OpenOffice for office tasks and Mozilla Firefox for web browsing (and are incapable of running Windows Vista).

Microsoft will survive for a long time as an important company in the technological sector, but its days of overwhelming dominance are indeed over.

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