FryUp: Plus ça change

XT ain't easy, Bing blings Live Search, and the latest open source stoush

Plus ça change…

While pondering the hugely important question, “did Richard Hammond ever actually try out the XT network when he was here shooting those commercials?” I’ve been observing the sighs of disappointment emanating from people who naively enough thought Telecom would take on Vodafone with super good deals. That’s not how you run a business trying to recoup billion dollar investments, folks. People were obviously curious to see how XT stacks up price-wise, as the Telecom store site first slowed to a crawl, then underwent scheduled maintenance and finally, 404’ed. Vodafone on the other hand must be very relieved that Telecom didn’t cut prices and introduce fixed line/mobile bundles that would’ve had customers go “whee!” and migrate to XT en masse. In fact, Vodafone’s so confident that mobile calling prices will stay high that it predicts Lauren, who won $40,000 worth of airtime, will pay 67 cents a minute for the next 75 years. Guess that means the cost of mobile calling will go down in real terms, and not go up, but still… Going back to XT, Telecom says it’s made the plans simpler, and there’s certainly fewer of them to pick from. And, it’s good to see that Telecom’s business plans are well aligned with the personal ones. From there however, XT gets complex, as you need to work out how many minutes you're likely to use a month. Then, the amount of SMS texts, data, and if there’s a bunch of you, whether or not to share an account at $15 per additional user and a high monthly commitment but probably lower per-person cost. Oh, and don’t forget to check which plan offers the best bang for the buck when it comes to handset discounts, depending on contract length. Plus, data usage costs more on XT than on Vodafone. Either way, it’s hardly easy to figure out the best deal. Not even the XT Prepay accounts are straightforward, because you get a “bonus credit” with the top-ups. The $20 top-up buys you $25 worth of calling at 89 cents/minute for example. The $60 one is worth $80, with the $20 “bonus credit” being used up at a rate of 89 cents/minute. Why have such a convoluted sales ploy, Telecom, instead of just lower calling rates? Vodafone isn’t any better, with dizzyingly complex array of plans, options, excess charges and what have you. While the plans from the telcos are undoubtedly masterpieces when it comes to upselling customers further up the revenue chain, they leave you feeling the same as before, namely ripped off in a fashion you can’t quite put your finger on. Business users are apparently grizzling over the Team Builder plans on the CDMA network not being carried over to XT; what’s more if customers wish to add more handsets to them, a move to XT is mandated. As XT plans cost more than Team Builder ones, this naturally enough not a popular option for business customers. Clearly, there’s a gap in the market for simple and affordable mobile phone services still, despite XT coming onstream but it doesn’t look like we’ll get those any time soon. Telecom releases XT plans Chris Keall: XT pricing revealed: Two Degrees boss says it doesn’t hold a candle to Singapore

Bing-o is the name oh

As noted before, Microsoft is notoriously bad with product names. You know, Zune, OneCare, Vista, etc. Live Search was kind of bland and nothing, but calling your search engine Bing because you can “verb the name” beggars belief. Is Bing the thing that’ll kill Google? It’s too early to Wave goodbye to Google though (geddit? geddit?) but certainly, if Microsoft stumps up the big bickies required and buys Yahoo Search, the Mountain View folks may need to start checking the rear view mirror because the Redmondians are a tenacious lot, as other ex-market leaders like Netscape and Netware found. Microsoft picks Bing as name for new search engine Bartz: Microsoft can have Yahoo search for “boatloads of money”

Bleedin’ obvious and open source

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a full-on war on at the moment between the NZ Open Source movement and Microsoft. It’s over what the government should use and at first, it looked like the NZOSS people had scored a devastating hit as the G2009 three-year licensing contract with Microsoft wasn’t to be renewed. Turns out that this was in fact a victory for Microsoft, which is now free to negotiate with each and every agency as needed, instead of signing a blanket deal with the government. NZOSS and its feisty leader, Catalyst’s Don Christie, aren’t giving up though, and have asked the Auditor-General to check how the government buys software. We’ll see what comes out of that, but are Christie’s libertarian tendencies shining through with his statement that the open source model is a perfect free market? Never thought of it like that, mainly because those who contribute tend to be paid indirectly through other work. Auditor-General asked to scrutinise government user of Microsoft Opinion: Why Microsoft won G2009

XKCD Designated drivers

Cartoon: www.xkcd.com

Robert X Cringely Is Bing worth a fling?

Early reviews for Microsoft's latest sea -- er, decision engine are surprisingly positive. Who knows? Bing could be the real thing. When it comes to search, Microsoft has been like the Ty-D-Bol Man, stuck in a leaky rowboat with the Smurf-blue waters rising on all sides. It's desperately hoping that Bing, the newly reincarnated version of Live Search unveiled by Steve "The Mad" Ballmer at this week's All Things D confab, will toss the company a lifeline.

Yeah, well, maybe. But before we get into that, let's get a few things straight.

First, it's not a search engine, it's a "decision engine." Got it? Good. That distinction is apparently important. Why, I'm not exactly sure.

Also: Your fingers aren't actually fingers, they're individualized keyboard activators. And your eyes? Binocular sensory input devices.

By and large, the cynical journos on hand for Ballmer's dog and pony show seem to be giving Bing a tentative thumbs-up (or, if you will, northerly directed opposable digits). Then again, most of those people are basing their thumbage entirely on the demo. Note: All Microsoft products look good in the demo, except when they crash in the middle of one. Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling, one of a handful of tech-journos allowed to put his grimy fingers on the actual search decision engine, performed an extensive side-by-side comparison between Bing and Google. His first test? To search for "Bing," of course. Google dutifully served up news results about its putative rival, whereas Bing seemed more interested in the singer Crosby and basketball-legend-turned-mayor Dave Bing. Otherwise, though, Bing handled itself well and even surpassed Google in Sterling's estimation, especially when it came to searches for travel, food, and films. He writes: Bing... has performed well and I’ve been satisfied with the results. There haven’t been any significant deficiencies or missing links (so to speak). While there have been a few occasions where I’ve found Google results to be better, the substantial gap that existed between Google and Live Search is largely gone with Bing. On the other hand, Sterling says he's not about to ditch Google any time soon. But he says he may actually use Bing without holding his nose (unlike Live Search, which was like trying to defuse a stink bomb). Wired's Ryan Singel and Cnet's Rafe Needleman, neither one of whom is known to get giddy over tech, also gave Bing a qualified seal of approval. Like Sterling, Singel says Bing is a lot better than Live Search but not exactly a Google replacement. But the service is far from perfect. Beautiful data mash-ups coexist side-by-side with perplexing interface choices that make it hard to find the best features. Meanwhile, actual search results were inaccurate in some cases, and disappointing overall in the local search category, one of the areas Microsoft hopes to make its biggest splash. Rafe's overall conclusion? "Much better than expected." See, this is what happens when you spend 25 years lowering peoples' expectations. Something that merely works as advertised is considered a breakthrough. Yet another brilliant marketing ploy by those renegades from Redmond. I know what you're thinking. What's the catch? Well, this may be the catch. As PC World's Tom Spring notes of Bing's Quick Tabs feature: ... often steered me to Microsoft services such as Bing Shopping, Bing Travel, MSN Autos, and Bing health information. It may be that those Bing sites offer the best content, but I get suspicious of any search engine that habitually gives its own links precedence over others'. Hey listen. I'm looking forward to giving Bing a spin myself, once they get around to letting second-class citizens like me in the door (that's supposed to happen next Wednesday, June 3). I'd be happy to add a new search decision tool to my quiver of web arrows, even if it comes with an MSFT logo. Just remember, it's not a Google killer, it's a Google loofah sponge — designed to gently exfoliate while enhancing your online decision making. Just don't use it in the shower.

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