Friday, April 28, 2006

Lexmark and Xerox -- Good news, bad news?

Or should that be "Bad news means good news?". Seems both companies' announced quarterly results this week were weak, but at least in the case of Lexmark, they were viewed in the "bad but not that bad" category. LXK reported revenues down by 6%, and profits down by 19%, but the company's press release bragged that both numbers exceeded expectations. And Wall Street was also kind, with the stock up and Citigroup issuing an upgrade from hold to buy. The company's stated strategy includes a shift from low-end inkjets to multi-function machines, both ink and laser. XRX, earlier in the week, also reported declines in sales and earnings, but the stock market was not so kind, deflating their stock by about 5% over the course of the week.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More iStockphotos available

Referring to last week's post about a free stock photo offer from HP and iStockphoto, a hawk-eyed reader points out that the "missing" 30 photos from the freebie deal are now available. Thanks!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dell Downgrade

Wall Street was buzzing about Google's good news this morning, but on the negative side, Dell was downgraded by Citibank analyst Richard Gardner. He cites margin pressure on PC's and servers, based on competitors' effective response in matching Dell's legendary inventory exposure (or lack of, actually). Interesting their printer business doesn't even come up in the text of the downgrade. (And an amazing (to me) footnote to Dell's downgrade? It's the first time ever!)

A friend of mine taught me a new word not long ago. Schadenfreud.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Further quantifying PDF

In my April column (Jim Lyons Observations) I referred to some installed base data that helped make my case about PDF's solid position as an entrenched file interchange standard. But then a dedicated reader communicated with me that he may buy my argument but challenged my numbers, especially the "20 million PDF files" number that he remarked seemed "way low".

I remembered having similar feelings when putting the column together, and like on so many other occasions during my business career, I faced the dilemma of quickly trying to develop a gut feel about raw numbers -- what's a lot, what's not, what's altogether laughable and not even in the ballpark? So as a result, I revisited the topic with a little back-of-the-envelope math in a blog posting on April 14, with the "null hypothesis" that the 20 million PDF files on the Internet, the main bone of contention, was a correct number.

But now, my original source of the PDF data has come in with some further clarification that I really appreciate. And the 20,000,000 files is not only an old number (four years old), it apparently only applies to .gov web sites. (My friend that disputed my data was barking up the same tree, actually, wondering if there were some definitional problems with "public internet" versus intranet, etc.)

So what's the real number? According to my data source, there are more like 613,000,000 PDF files out there on the "surface web", and included in that number are 129,000,000 .gov PDF files, meaning that number has grown more than 6x since the 20,000,000 number reported from four years ago.

Wow, all interesting stuff. Going further (is this wise?), the ratio of Acrobat readers to files is virtually 1:1, but of course this is really still an oranges to apples number, because readers are used to view lots of files, at least in my case, that are not on "the surface web", e.g. email attachments.

Enough for now, except to thank my challenging reader and my generous data-supplier. And what's next? I see a Wikipedia entry...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

HP's new photo laser

HP announced a bevy of new printing products today, but the one that caught my special attention (read: I want one) is the Color LaserJet 2605. HP's news includes new hardware, software, and partnerships, all aimed towards the needs of the global small business market, ie "in-house marketing."

The HP (NYSE: HPQ) Color LaserJet 2605dtn, per the release, " the world’s first single-function color laser printer to have photo memory card slots." Of course, memory slots in ink jet printers have become pervasive over the last few years, and are one of the defining elements of photo-specialty printers, according to the research firms that track such things. And speaking of research, Lyra's September 2005 Hard Copy Observer published a few snippets of data from one of their studies, indicating a user preference for laser output (over inkjet and other technologies) for photo printing, as well as for more typical office documents.

So the opportunity is there and it will be fun to watch the market success of the 2605!

Free Stock Photography from iStockphoto, courtesy of HP

HP and Istockphoto have teamed up and are kicking off their relationship with a free photo download offer.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A great image helps you communicate clearly, quickly and efficiently. Combine your HP color printer with a ready-to-use stock photograph to create a marketing campaign with impact.

Web-ready images: just $1 each. HP has joined forces with iStockphoto, a leading source stock photography site. Find your image in iStockphoto's 500,000+ image library - from business to lifestyles, technology to nature - we've got the right image to help you reach customers.

From their brief lead-in (above) it's nice that HP's not only thinking about printing but also web-ready images. It speaks to their understanding of the full breadth of modern marketing campaigns and not just the print pieces that are usually just a part of such a campaign.

Being a lover of great deals and freebies particularly, I had to immediately click through on the "Learn more about ISP's free images for HP customers" link, to find an image of one of HP's new inkjet printers with what looks to be a full-size (8.5 by 11) photo coming out of it -- not exactly an in-house marketing application, but oh well? (Also interesting that the companies apparently chose the acronym "ISP" to indicate iStockphoto -- literally accurate I guess but confusing. And nowhere else that I look does iStockphoto refer to itself as "ISP".)

Next to this image and an oversized HP Logo (an examination of the url indicates we've entered the Istockphoto web domain) is the following text:

iStockphoto is the Internet’s premier royalty-free stock photography community , where designers can search and download over 742,000 images , starting at just $1.00 each. Our international community of photographers and administrators work tirelessly to bring over 1,000 new images each week!

Choose 30 images from 60 of the hottest shots -- free! Plus, we'll put 5 credits in your account to spend on any images in the iStockphoto libray.

Feel free to download 30 of our sample photos for free. Just click on an image to download the hi-res version.

Moving on to the important things though (i.e. freebies), it's not clear where the other 30 photos are (I only see 30 but was promised I could choose from 60), and the downloading is accomplished via a somewhat clumsy, brute-force user interface, but I hung in there and got my 30 free stock photos and they're beautiful!

I never did figure out how to get my five additional credits, but maybe that's reserved for new customers only, and I've been an "ISP" account holder for some time. Anyway, I've got my 30 shots and they're nice to have!

Overall, I'm glad to see this partnership between two great companies, focused at the specific needs of small business marketers. The user experience needs some cleaning up but this should be a long and prosperous relationships for companies and customers alike.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How many PDF files?

In my April column, I quoted a source provided by Adobe that included the following statistics regarding PDF:
"Adobe reports an installed base of 600 million Acrobat readers; 20 million individual PDF documents are available on the Internet; and the IRS reports that 1.3 billion PDF tax forms have been downloaded since 1996."

My first thoughts were the 20 million Internet files seemed low, and a reader picked up on this and compared the 600 million readers to the 20 million files. Something seemed fishy to him too. Well, I'm going to continue to think about it and probe, but one interesting finding was that the IRS web site has less than 1,000 PDF files on their site for current download, at least without drilling very deeply. (This count covers forms for the 2005 tax year, so there are no doubt ways to get at past years' forms as well.)

Assuming there are a 1,000 forms for each year, going back ten years that's 10,000 files -- meaning they're five-hundredths of one percent of the 20 million files (10,000/20,000,000=.0005). If they (the IRS) have seen 1.3 billion downloads in the last ten years, that's an average of 130,000 downloads per file. But one can imagine what a Pareto must exist when it comes to the distribution of downloads of the various files -- I imagine Form 1040 downloads would be somewhere in the tens of millions every year (and no doubt growing), while there must be really obscure ones that only are used by a handful of taxpayers.

Anyway, with all this tax talk at this time of the year -- hope I haven't depressed you!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Observations: Microsoft’s XPS—After All These Years, More Mumbo Jumbo?

This month, Jim Lyons, a 25-year veteran of the printing and imaging industry, looks at the evolution of document formats and shares his insights on the symbiotic relationship between Adobe and Microsoft.

It was 1989 when Adobe cofounder John Warnock memorably decried Apple and Microsoft’s joint effort to circumvent true Adobe PostScript as a requisite for PC publishing. The stage was the Seybold publishing conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. As a strong-willed industry leader, Warnock was fiercely defensive of his company’s technology, strategic direction, and profits. Still, as the saying goes, it was a shock if not a surprise to witness Warnock’s virulent, unscripted response to Bill Gates’ opening speech announcing Microsoft and Apple’s effort. Warnock famously (and emotionally) described the announcement as the “biggest bunch of garbage mumbo jumbo,” a comment that lived on in infamy for years.

Still, Warnock had a point! Apple and Microsoft had haphazardly come together around a font standard code-named “Royal” and a strategy to develop a PostScript clone (these were later trade-named TrueType and TrueImage, respectively). A software pied piper named Cal Bauer had promised an easy path around genuine Adobe PostScript technology, and he somehow convinced the usually circumspect executives at Microsoft and Apple to follow it. (It was during the John Sculley era at Apple, who coincidentally employed a Royal-evangelist lieutenant named John Scull.)

Back then, the Seybold conference was no stranger to controversy. At the same venue just three years earlier, HP attempted its own publishing-language end run, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously declared HP’s PDL tactics (document-description language, or DDL, instead of PostScript) to be “brain dead.” And between 1986 and 1989, Apple and IBM announced an unlikely alliance to develop PowerPC-based products at the Seybold conference. Even though this announcement was only marginally related to publishing, in those days it seemed that if a company had something weighty and controversial to announce, Seybold was the place to do so, so the show had long sparked discussion and debate among attendees.

But the 1989 “mumbo jumbo” blowup was probably the show’s most memorable, and here we are again, 17 years later, with Microsoft poised to introduce its new Windows Vista operating system, which includes a built-in portable document format built around industry standards (XPS stands for XML Paper Specification). One easily derived prediction is that the software giant’s clout will soon eradicate the currently entrenched document format, Adobe PDF. Another contrary take is that XPS has too many restrictions (it is really not cross-platform, for example) and that PDF is too well-established in the marketplace. Sounds like the same arguments bandied about in 1989!

It is amazing that many of the same players are still involved, although the scenario has evolved from the classic love triangle of the late 1980s between Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft to more of a face-off between Adobe and Microsoft. Apple, it could be argued, is the platform of choice for the publishing industry, but the company is not central to this fight. HP, the leader in desktop printing back then, remains an interested party. A list of new, smaller companies such as Global Graphics, Monotype, Quality Logic, Software Imaging, and Zoran have a role in the XPS/PDF debate and may benefit from the XPS momentum, provided they can respond quickly and proficiently to market demands.

Despite the many similarities between the situation in 1989 and today, I’m not saying things haven’t changed—things have changed radically. The biggest difference is the character of the “documents” being described by the XPS and PDF standards. In 1989, publishing was nearly synonymous with printing. Today, and for a long time now, publishing includes electronic formats, and the documents described may never be available in hard copy. PDF was developed as a PostScript by-product in the early 1990s, and despite its strength and industry-standard status in the printing market, its real growth has been as an electronic exchange format, boosted by the emergence of e-mail and the Worldwide Web. Although document portability is part of both yesterday’s and today’s debate, back in 1989 file exchange in publishing was largely accomplished via Syquest cartridges and FedEx shipments.

Today, the pervasiveness of PDF is staggering. Adobe reports an installed base of 600 million Acrobat readers; 20 million individual PDF documents are available on the Internet; and the IRS reports that 1.3 billion PDF tax forms have been downloaded since 1996. Those numbers alone make XPS knocking PDF off its perch as the dominant file-exchange format seem to be a monumental and unrealistic goal indeed, at least in the near future.

I predict that there will be a role for both PDF and XPS, but it is safe to say the technologies will follow a path with many twists and turns. Since the momentous 1989 Seybold show, PostScript clones have caught on, but TrueImage never found widespread market success. TrueType fonts live on today, and while Display Postscript is a distant memory, Adobe subsequently created Acrobat and PDF.

Ever since writing my initial “Observations” column in December 2005, I have been reflecting on the past—in this case at events that occurred almost two decades ago. But in my columns, I have also endeavored to look ahead, applying lessons of the past to suggest what we might expect in the future. While I am looking farther back than I did in my original column, I am also looking further ahead: it seems Vista is now scheduled to ship in 2007, rather than the mid-2006 date promised earlier this year!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jim Lyons Observations blog going public!

I'm very excited to announce that I'm going public with this blog. I'm inviting my printer industry peers and others to visit here, to keep up with my columns and other musings. In addition to posting my Hard Copy Observer columns, I'll be sharing other observations -- like my hands-on experiences with some of the products and services that catch my attention. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

As promised, more on Riya

First, I did find an excellent clarifying review that really helped me get a perspective on Riya's product/service, and also brings out some of the pros and cons of the Riya beta. It's Edward Baig's Personal Tech column in USA Today, from last week. Ed does a far better job than I could of giving an overview, and I recommend his column for those wanting to learn more.

Second, though, I will describe a few major flaws and minor irritations I've found:

1) When you do a search by name, there's apparently no way to match the mis-identified photos with the proper person, like you can in manual training mode.

2) I suggested via an email to Riya's tech support that they might want to make the "default" "Don't Know" rather than "Full Name", and it was suggested back (promptly I must say) that I really didn't understand the purpose of Riya, which is to identify friends and family members in your photos. characteristic of my photo collection is I have a lot of group shots, crowd shots, and even quite a collection of "portraits" I've captured for a couple of photo directory projects, so I have a very large number of "Don't Knows" and frankly, "Don't Cares". So it would really be an advantage for me to at least set the default for my account to "Don't Know".

3) I wanted to do an incremental upload of new photos from My Pictures and it started reloading my entire 10,000-plus photo collection, and I let it go, thinking it might correct itself, but no, it went through the whole nearly-two-day process again.

4) Related to topic #3, I haven't found a good way to get a simple "Windows Explorer" look at all my photos, in their respective file folders, etc. Maybe I'm missing something.

More soon...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Riya Evaluation -- a work in progress

I've had fun with Riya's face recognition capabilities, but have had difficulty in understanding the real intended use of the product/service. I went back to the original Riya Demo presentation video. And I'm still confused. I need to go read some other reviewers' takes on it.

Riya does amaze though! It found my 17-year-old face, in cake frosting, in a photo from my 50th birthday party back in 2002.