August 2008 Archives

There's a real sense of flailing around in BT's latest missive to its broadband customers plus a cracking public-relations use of the word "confusion". A couple of weeks back, BT sent out a pretty unambiguous email to people on the BT broadband service:

"We wanted to let you know we will be withdrawing the BT Digital Vault Basic (2GB) product shortly. This means you’ll need to upgrade to BT Digital Vault Plus within the next 60 days to access, upload or share your stored files.

"Upgrade to BT Digital Vault Plus for only £4.99 a month...We’ll switch off your BT Digital Vault 2GB service on the 30th October 2008, so make sure you upgrade now to get continuous protection for all your precious photos, files and more."

The Digital Vault Basic is/was the one that broadband users get for free. The August 15 email demonstrated that BT was using the drug-dealer business model for promoting the service: offer a sample for free, get people on it, then withdraw it. I wasn't overly bothered as the system was not exactly Mac-friendly and I've got a fair few gigs in the cloud through other services. I thought no more about it.

Then, today, another email arrived apologising for the "confusion", apparently hoping that it could hide a change of mind by blaming customers for not reading emails correctly:

"We recently sent you an email advising you about the withdrawal of our 2GB Digital Vault Basic product. We would like to apologise for any confusion this email may have caused. Our 2GB Digital Vault product is an old product which is no longer available to new customers therefore we are removing it from our portfolio."

So, the 2GB product is safe, right? Er...not exactly. The 2GB service is being withdrawn:

"We'd like to assure you that any data you currently hold in your vault will continue to be stored safely. Your free Digital Vault Basic (2GB) account will be converted to a free 1GB Digital Vault Basic account automatically in the next 60 days."

So, what happens to people who happen to have stored more than 1GB in BT's wobbly cloud:

"You can continue to access all your stored files from your free 1GB Digital Vault Basic, however you won’t be able to upload any new files until your total usage falls below 1GB or if you are a BT Total Broadband customer you can upgrade to Digital Vault (5GB) at no extra cost."

So, let's go through that again. BT claims the 2GB product is being withdrawn, then says it never meant that. But the company withdraws the 2GB product anyway, replacing it with a 1GB service. That's unless you're on the Total Broadband package in which case you have to do the upgrade yourself rather than waiting for BT to simply up the storage to 5GB. I think I may have to draw a diagram.

If BT customers weren't confused, they probably will be now. I don't know why the company couldn't just come out and say: "Sorry, we messed up. It was a bad idea to offer a free service and then just kill it, so we've changed our minds about switching off the 2GB service. Here's 1GB as a consolation prize."

Claiming that it's all down to confusion just insults customers, treating them as though they can't read. It's not surprising but demonstrates the thinking that goes on inside a lot of companies.

Update: A spokesman for BT said the main aim of the change was to encourage customers who aren't on the Total Broadband package to go look at the new portfolio of services. In an update, he said: "BT Digital Vault Basic 2GB has not been available to new customers since June 2007 and the majority of users are BT Total Broadband customers who qualify for the larger 5GB product for free. This is why we are now withdrawing the [2GB] product".

There's some more on the Guardian Technology blog about this.

Theresa Shafer for SK Murphy has posted five mistakes that CEOs make when giving demos. I assume we're talking startup CEOs here but when I looked at the list I saw much of what is wrong with many press briefings. Most of them are adapted from sales presentations and, it seems, the same structure gets applied when CEOs go out for venture capital.

Is there some kind of dread Dale Carnegie template that gets used to construct all of these presentations? Is it the one entitled: "Bore your prospects to tears"? Because it's the only explanation I can think of.

Basically, all these presentations are done backwards. Point three in the SK Murphy list is the most important one for me:

"'Why I should care about your product' is left to the end of the presentation."

Resistance is futile

14 August 2008

I signed up for a Twitter account about eight months ago to check something and then ignored it. That was until someone found me yesterday using some top search-fu. So, now I've started using it: you can find me as chrised at the emporium of ephemera.

I've vowed to try to keep it useful, doing things such as flagging up features I'm working on. We'll see how long that lasts.

Intel's paper on Larrabee in the ACM's Transactions on Graphics, published to coincide with Siggraph next week, is now up. Although aimed at 'visual computing', Intel stresses in the final pages that it could be used for a lot of other things. The obvious one is finance, as trading systems already use FPGA and GPU accelerators to speed up calculations. Less obvious is this one:

"Larrabee's highly threaded x86 architecture benefits traditional enterprise throughput computing applications, such as text indexing [Intel's emphasis]."

I'm not sure when text indexing became a "traditional enterprise application" but it's precisely what search-engine operators like to do a lot of. Maybe it's no coincidence that one of the researchers who wrote on asymmetric multiprocessing in IEEE Computer this month is now at Google.

As far as 3D graphics goes, it looks as though Intel has taken a similar approach to ARM to try to reduce the amount of memory bandwidth issue in 3D graphics. It is using tile-based algorithms to split up the processing rather than the immediate mode favoured by high-end GPUs. The caches can also be loaded by software - their cache behaviour can be overridden, which should help in 3D work.

Larrabee, Intel's graphics processor that wants to be a general-purpose processor, looks programmed to fail. From what Intel has said so far, the compromises made in favour of running regular code will make this thing look over-priced and under-resourced for games software. The chances are that it will be like the early days of the Sony Playstation 2: it didn't look great because games weren't written to its strengths until somewhat later.

Long term, an underperforming Larrabee may not be enough to preserve the graphics processor market for nVidia. Larrabee's architecture is a hint of what a future x86 processor will look like. If Intel gets its way, much of the processing that goes on today in a dedicated GPU will be sucked into the core processor. That Intel decided to go with plonking down loads of reworked Pentium cores onto the Larrabee die rather than a new processor indicates that the company has its eye on the future of the x86 rather than today's GPU market.

Intel has concentrated on programming ease by giving each processor regular level-one and level-two caches instead of software-managed local memories. Caches are good for programmers but they can get in the way when the emphasis is on making the most of memory bandwidth with graphics-intensive work. And memory bandwidth is precious on a GPU, particularly as power consumption becomes more of an issue.