Apple, postmodern consumerism and the iPad

It’s not very often that I feel impelled to quote someone else’s blog post in its entirety, But Ann Althouse says of the iPad

I have it, and I feel like I could be using it. But I don’t really use it. Maybe I think I’m going to be using it. But I also think it’s possible that I’m never going to use it. I seem to have a need for it, but I have other things that fit that need that I go back to instead over and over again. And yet there it is, over there. I think I’m going to be going there, maybe later. Maybe tomorrow.

Amazing. The iPad is the ultimate Steve Jobs device – so hypnotic that not only do people buy one without knowing what it’s good for, they keep feeling like they ought to use it even when they have better alternatives for everything it does. It’s a triumph of style over substance, cool over utility, form over actual function. The viral YouTube videos of cats and two-years-olds playing with it speak truth in their unsurpassable combination of draw-you-in cuteness with utter pointlessness. It’s the perfect lust object of postmodern consumerism, irresistibly attractive but empty – you know you’ve been played by the marketing and design but you don’t care because your complicity in the game is part of the point.

This has to be Steve Jobs’s last hurrah. I predict this not because he is aging and deathly ill, but because he can’t possibly top this. It is the ne plus ultra of where he has been going ever since the Mac in 1984, with his ever-more obsessive focus on the signifiers of product-design attractiveness. And it’s going to make Apple a huge crapload of money, no question.

But what comes after this? After reading Althouse, I’m getting the feeling that the ultimate may also be terminal. The way I thought the iPad was going to go was to get disrupted from below by less expensive, less locked-down Android tablets. Now I’m not sure there’s enough reality there to sustain the product category at all. The entire segment might well turn into as huge a bust as PDAs were in the 1990s. And that means that over the medium term, two to three years out, Apple is in even more trouble than I thought.

I’ve alluded before to the fact that the two most fanatical and longest-term Mac loyalists among my face-to-face friends are carrying Nexus Ones now, having migrated from Sidekicks but passing up the iPhone. The fact that Jobs couldn’t get these two people to change cellphone providers to worship at his shrine tells me more about the fading of Apple’s magic than the hot air and bullshit in a dozen market surveys. Apple has bet its company on the Jobs philosophy, but at the same time I see it losing the adhesive loyalty of the fanbase that’s been with it since the Mac Classic.

Fast-forward this a couple years and I can see Apple in hell, committed to sexy overpriced products that nobody actually needs, undercut by Android from all directions, and subsisting on a decaying aura of pop-cultural cool. Because that’s what tends to happen when you put yourself in the fashion business and you’re past your peak; those who live by hipness get to die by it too.

180 thoughts on “Apple, postmodern consumerism and the iPad

  1. Don’t worry about the hard core mac fanatics. Jobs have a bigger fish to fry, that is the rest of the so call luddite that can be easily sway by beautiful design and crappy performance.

  2. Related – here’s my Amazon review of Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style

    Confuses Popularity with Quality, January 17, 2008

    An interesting book, very readable, full of interesting anecdotes. The big problem is her message. The book is an interesting example of “Free-Market Religion” and libertinist branches of libertarianism. The basic argument presented reduces to the market favors the aesthetics of ordinary people, therefore the aesthetics of ordinary people are superior to actual engineering quality which only a relative handful value, and even fewer understand. Aesthetics / design is important, but the market is a mediocre judge.

  3. Hah, dead nuts on about Apple, but the part about tablets being the next PDA is equivalent to your laughable prediction that the 64-bit transition would kill Windows, worse in that at least the latter was plausible while you have no argument against tablets. I know what you mean about PDAs, as a I bought one 15 years ago and never used it, but tablets are clearly usable for mass consumption like web browsing and playing music or movies, while PDAs only ever had a few potential uses.

  4. For some time now, we’ve had a bunch of different devices that try to do the same thing, with varying degrees of success. What all the manufacturers are working towards, driven by what the public actually finds useful, will be the Joymaker (“We are all the same.”) When that actually happens, the devices will really be the same (two-finger stroke patents be damned!) because the people won’t accept anything less. (Imagine what the auto industry would be like if you couldn’t sit in any car and just drive it with the now standardized controls.)

    Of course, the downside of the Joymaker scenario is the total control exerted by the masters of the computers in the cloud that the Joymaker interfaces you to…

  5. >your laughable prediction that the 64-bit transition would kill Windows

    You know, you’d be more credible if you responded to what Rob Landley and I actually wrote. As it is, anybody who actually bothers to read what’s on the other end of that link is going to find your next cranky rant harder to believe, rather than easier.

  6. “Now I’m not sure there’s enough reality there to sustain the product category at all.”

    When all is said and done, it would be still better to read your blog and the thousand other things I read on the web comfortably relaxed on the couch instead of uncomfortably crouching over a laptop or a desktop screen+keyboard setup with that annoying stiffness in my neck. This alone justifies a book-shaped, book-sized, book-weighting web reading appliance – may it be an iPad, or an Android tablet or anything else. Computer ergonomy was designed for _working_ – putting stuff in via the keyboard with only a limited level of comfort and relaxedness in mind. Not really suitable for reading stuff as a relaxed free-time activity.

  7. > what Rob Landley and I actually wrote

    Do you guys have any plans to update or write a sequel to World Domination 201? Right or wrong, still one of my favorite educational reads, in how it demonstrates technique for trying to predict the future. (Which is always a difficult task for any interesting subject.)

    Rob L. wrote fascinating comments elsewhere about how, in the 1990′s, the low-end market cashed in two
    generations of Moore’s law advances for price reductions instead of performance increases, which is what threw off the graphs in WD201 by 3 years. I’d like to see that document updated with his and your latest theories.

  8. Shenpen Says:
    > When all is said and done, it would be still better to read your blog
    > and the thousand other things I read on the web comfortably relaxed
    > on the couch

    Right on the money Shenpen. This is the key feature of the iPad. “Works on a lazy boy.” That fact makes up for all its other shortcomings. Using a laptop on a non desk environment sucks.

  9. I’m honestly puzzled by your assertion that tablets will be a failure. The bust of PDAs and ‘Tablet PC’ occurred in the late 90s and early 00s, when computing power, data storage, batteries and wireless network access were severely limited, so these devices had few or no compelling use scenarios.

    The situation today is vastly different, as the striking success of netbooks makes clear. In fact, a modern netbook will perform about as well as a full-blown desktop system in 2001, even after accounting for the modest (assuming sensible SW choices) increase in software bloat.

  10. I’m dubious.

    I’ve been thinking about the issue, and it sure seems to me like an iPad (after the first price drop) would, in fact, admirably replace my netbook.

    IIRC, Althouse doesn’t use hers because she wants to write on it… another function that my 9″ netbook is crappy for as well.

    But for idle surfing and email reading and as a Media and network appliance, and for casual (and probably soon not-so-casual) gaming, the iPad has great virtues, like battery life and simplicity/ease. In other words, it’ll kick my netbook’s ass at everything I really use it for.

    The hacker market (eg. ESR readers) is not remotely like mass market, remember.

    (“No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.” Remember that? NEVER FORGET IT. Interface and industrial design mean far more than feature checklists, and Apple raised the bar in the mp3 player market just like they did for phones.

    Same reason “but it doesn’t have a USB port!” doesn’t and won’t matter. In terms of the mass market? Nobody cares about that.)

  11. esr, hmm, yes, I see now that I was simply responding to the overstated title and the popular exaggeration of your 64-bit piece, which is actually fairly hedged and prescriptive. However, the transition has turned out to be pretty much a non-event, as many others responded at the time. As for my “cranky rants,” I’ll take such truth over silly predictions that tablets won’t go anywhere any day. :)

  12. IIRC, Althouse doesn’t use hers because she wants to write on it… another function that my 9″ netbook is crappy for as well.

    Apple sells a ‘docking station’ for the iPad which includes a keyboard and audio jack. And of course, competing tablets will most likely include some sort of connectivity (USB, Bluetooth or both) which will allow for input from 3rd party keyboards. For plain vanilla tablets, the best input system would seem to be Dasher, or perhaps some chorded input gimmick exploiting multitouch.

  13. It’s the perfect lust object of postmodern consumerism, irresistibly attractive but empty – you know you’ve been played by the marketing and design but you don’t care because your complicity in the game is part of the point.

    If I didn’t know you better, I’d say an utter hardcore lefty was writing this. :)

    Considering only the iPad as it is now, I would have to agree; but we must remember that the iPad is just the latest in a long line of sexy but seemingly useless or functionality-crippled Apple products (which also includes the original Macintosh, the original iPod, and the original iPhone). Those other products eventually found their legs, and went on to revolutionize and define their product categories; I see no reason why the iPad won’t do likewise.

  14. # Sigivald Says:
    > Same reason “but it doesn’t have a USB port!” doesn’t and won’t matter.

    Sorry, I don’t agree. This was a major omission, along with a camera. It needs some sort of external connectivity at least for your media input devices (such as a camera or a video camera, BT isn’t good enough yet) and to have an option as a keypad. I’d also argue that it should have had a little stand build in so that you can set it up on the table, plug in a keyboard and go. That would have made it adequate as a replacement laptop for the large majority of people (one of these little roll out keyboards would be fine.) I think the camera and the port will be in the next version. However, the other major omission — a stylus with a little stylus holder — will probably not be remedied, despite the fact that it offers a whole range of important applications that this form factor opens up. However, Jobs seems allergic to styluses (perhaps to prevent developers bleeding into over use of the stylus.)

    Jeff Read is right. The first version of Apple products tend to have these sorts of omissions. iPad 2 will remedy the shortcomings, and all the iPad 1 owners will buy new iPad 2 to boot.

    I am disturbed to agree with Jeff also in an earlier comment he made which is basically that right now, and for quite a while past, Apple seems to be setting all the running, everyone else is playing catch up. Isn’t it interesting that Microsoft doesn’t even exist anymore. They are basically a utility company, with no real growth prospects.

    Does anyone have opinions on the recent purchase by Google of a secretive non-fab chip maker? My inclination is that they want a cheaper, lower power server, and that this doesn’t impact the phone and pad market. But, given the connection with the iPad, perhaps I am wrong. (The principals of the fab designed some of the chips in the iPad, then spun off to start their own company, which Google bought.)

  15. >This alone justifies a book-shaped, book-sized, book-weighting web reading appliance – may it be an iPad, or an Android tablet or anything else.

    I agree. The iPad, however, seems to me to just miss being right for that set of requirements. I think an Android-based followon to the Nook or Kindle seems more likely to fulfil them.

  16. Apple has shown you how people want computers to work: the UX should have no stutter and no jitter when scrolling, resemble familiar tangible objects where appropriate, run at a contiguous 60fps, and supply animated transitions between view states that make sense (which is to say: suggest a narrative that is coherent with the user’s mental model of how the application functions).

    Where’s the low-end linux device and window manager that between the two of them can scroll a list of contacts without stutter or jitter? I’ve tested every single android handset and most of them can’t even keep a consistent framerate within the core function.

    What linux needs to do to win in the tablet space: run at a consistent 60fps, with no jitter or stutter in the UI while doing the expected basic tasks, in particular when scrolling.

    If the combined braintrust of the broader linux community can’t pull that off you’re basically hosed in the handset and the upcoming consumer tablet space.

  17. Shenpen: I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably deeply weird in this regard, but I find a desktop an infinitely more comfortable reading experience than an actual paper book. Book emulators seem like they’re for bus trips, not for home reading.

  18. >What linux needs to do to win in the tablet space: run at a consistent 60fps, with no jitter or stutter in the UI while doing the expected basic tasks, in particular when scrolling.

    Even my G-1 seems to manage this. Or else I don’t actually know what you’re talking about.

  19. >Isn’t it interesting that Microsoft doesn’t even exist anymore. They are basically a utility company, with no real growth prospects.

    And that’s one of several reasons I laugh at the people who think open source is a geek toy doomed to niche status. Because Steve Jobs didn’t cut off Microsoft’s oxygen – we did. Look at all the markets Microsoft thought it was going to use its dominance of the PC to lock in – cellphones, high-end servers, embedded, the “cloud”. They’re all effectively closed to it now. Apple’s share in all of these is single digits; it’s Linux and Linux’s Android offspring that have locked Microsoft out.

  20. Even my G-1 seems to manage this.

    Either you overclocked the hell out of that G1 or you have very slow eyes. My HTC Hero hiccups like crazy.

  21. Even my G-1 seems to manage this.

    Next weekend, we can put it side-by-side with my iPhone 3G and see if it truly does scroll as smoothly. I’ll be curious to see the result; I truly don’t know, not having played with an Android phone at all…

  22. Generalize much?

    A great many people have a use for an iPad, or an iPad like device. Of course many of us wish the iPad were better — more open, more expandable, more . But it’s also a remarkable device.

    I have a netbook, and it sucks. I have a laptop, and it’s great. But I’m not going to sit in bed and read a book on it. Nor am I going to take it on a plane and use it to consume media. The battery life isn’t good enough. Nor am I going to carry it in a car and use it to find directions. The iPad appears to be great for those use cases.

    Note that I don’t have one, but I have used one. For me, not worth the money yet. I’m holding out hope for an Android tablet. But an iPad certainly does have valid uses, whether or not they apply to Ms. Althouse or to you.

    The attitude that anybody who buys one is simply a sucker is condescending. And regarding your friends who don’t use iPhones, their preference is clearly in the minority even among (or perhaps particularly among) technically proficient users.

  23. > Look at all the markets Microsoft thought it was going to use its dominance of the PC to lock in – cellphones, high-end servers, embedded, the “cloud”. … Apple’s share in all of these is single digits

    Actually the iPhone is doing better than single digits in the US right now. “The iPhone accounted for 16.6% of global smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter, compared to 18.1% in the third quarter, ABI Research said.” [http://www.informationweek.com/news/telecom/business/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222600940]

    I totally agree about everything else, although I wonder about the decay of the fanboy base. It has been there for a very long time. I see them decaying more into something similar to the US automotive industry, where diehard fans argue about the relative merits and shun the opposition (e.g. Ford v. Chevy) but most people buy on price, features, and warranty rather than brand loyalty.

    Oh, and the Nexus One scrolls and plays video with impunity. No idea whether it reaches 60fps but I find I don’t care. :)

  24. Android isn’t as easy to use, and Windows sucks on handhelds (and everywhere else, but it really sucks on handhelds). Apple hit one out of the park in the “ease of use” category when they released the iPhone. It’s not a big deal to us technically-inclined folk (I’d love a phone with a CLI), but it’s pretty amazing that I can give it to a CEO and they can use it right away. My support costs for iPhones are practically zero. That’s a big deal. I’m not sure the iPad will be as big of a success, but I think it has a solid niche and will probably sell in the tens of millions of units in the first two years. I haven’t evaluated one yet (busy), but I’ll probably buy one soon now that the 3G models are coming out.

    To me the most amazing thing is that Apple handled the transition to mass-market products pretty well. They don’t really care about having a huge market share in the overall PC industry – they’re happy have some massive percentage of market share in the segment that’s actually profitable (PCs over $1,000). Hence the ridiculous financials they put up.

    Apple does two things really, really well – make easy-to-use products, and make money off of them. That’s a long-term winning combination.

  25. esr Says:
    > Because Steve Jobs didn’t cut off Microsoft’s oxygen – we did.

    I am sure I am going to regret challenging you on this, since I was in school, and you were running the show, but that doesn’t reflect my understanding of what happened. To the best of my understanding it was the federal government that cut off Microsoft’s oxygen. They strangled them and make them so innovation shy that they couldn’t do anything. All MS have done since that dreadful action was the XBox and .NET. Pretty much everything else amounts to nothing else. Microsoft strikes me as an organization with 50,000 programmers, with nothing to do. Most of these people are remarkably smart, if the shackles came off I imagine they could do some really great things. Instead, like most programmers with nothing to do, they built a big complex software framework, which is to say, productive work with no underlying business model. No wonder Gates got out to fight mosquitoes.

    It just seems ironic to me that the government, the source of all real monopolies, should tut-tut-tut at a company with a dominant market share based on providing a system that people, apparently, wanted. Is the world really better because Microsoft was spanked? Not that I can see. And we are shorted 500,000 programmer years working on useful productive things.

    Your claim that Linux owns the server market doesn’t seem right to me at all. Microsoft makes a very good living selling servers of all kinds, and, from what I understand, the market is split between Linux and Windows down the middle (Apple and others being statistical noise.) But I don’t have any stats to back that up. What I can tell you is I know dozens of people in my area who make a full time living doing nothing but supporting Windows servers.

  26. >Your claim that Linux owns the server market doesn’t seem right to me at all.

    We don’t own the entire server market. Crucially, what we do own is most of the higher-margin bits of it – financial services, Hollywood’s render farms, corporate DB (except for the few really huge ones on Jay’s z-series iron). Basically, all the world’s Solaris and HP-UX servers and a good chunk of the AIX ones have gone to Linux. This was a major defeat for Microsoft’s strategic planners, who had managed to use Office and Outlook to capture a lot of the departmental and workgroup servers even while operating under the consent degree. Those are a decent sustaining business, but their actual game plan was to use that as an entry point to entrench themselves on bigger iron, where the customers are performance- rather than cost sensitive and the margins are truly lucrative. We headed them off at that pass.

    The government isn’t the reason they’ve been farting around with XBox and .NET; Microsoft still has enough money to buy the regulators out of pocket change, and their legal arm has proven quite adept at end-running where they couldn’t simply buy influence. The problem is that the cash gusher they were expecting from owning the big servers never materialized. (Larry Ellison deciding to push hosting Oracle over Linux helped a lot here.) That means, in turn, that underneath their accounting flimflam actual profit margins have been dropping like a rock – they’ve had to give away more and more margin to maintain 90%+ desktop market share as the laptop and netbook makers in Taiwan used the threat of Linux to squeeze them ever harder. They still have an effective monopoly, but their ability to charge monopoly rent is almost vanished and most of their cash hoard with it. That’s why they look beaten and unadventurous these days.

    To be fair, it wasn’t all Linux. Part of it was the telecomms companies saying “No, fuck you very much.” when Microsoft pitched Windows as a one-size-fits-all smartphone OS. The telecomms guys had seen what happened to the PC market and didn’t care to be commoditized while Redmond creamed off all the profits. Android, being open source, offered them at least the illusory hope that they might maintain control of their business.

  27. NEWS FLASH: there is no such thing as an “iPhone Killer”, nor, will there ever be an “iPad Killer”; the iPad will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits. AND, do you want to know why?? I’ll tell you.

    Pick up a copy of the book “Blue Ocean Strategy“. Then, read it; cover to cover.

    If you do, it will become obvious as to why no company will ever be able to compete with Apple in these categories–because Apple isn’t competing with them. Apple is creating entirely new categories of products that have never been imagined before. These products buck convention; you can’t have a smart phone that doesn’t allow unlimted multitasking? That’s what YOU think–Apple sells millions and millions of them. What? Unless you have a full OS and keyboard and video camera, you can’t compete with netbooks. Really? I guess we’ll see.

    The point is–you are all competing with Apple in markets that Apple created; Apple is not competing with you. That is why Apple products instantly become the touchstone for success–because they defined the market and you are only playing catch-up–trying to emulate and copy what they did in order to make a buck. If you REALLY want to compete with Apple–quit trying. Don’t copy what they do, but show some gumption and identify untapped market needs and solve them. Then you too can be a market leader instead of simply trying to compete with Apple on their own turf.

  28. @esr> Even my G-1 seems to manage this. Or else I don’t actually know what you’re talking about.

    No it doesn’t. I own both a G1(dev phone) and an iPhone 3G.

    @Jessica > Does anyone have opinions on the recent purchase by Google of a secretive non-fab chip maker? My inclination is that they want a cheaper, lower power server, and that this doesn’t impact the phone and pad market

    Ya mon, haven’t you heard? Rumor on the street is that Apple is in talks to acquire ARM.

    I’m not saying its true, but if it *is* true, *poof* there goes your Android market, for at least a couple years.

    ARM is denying, of course.

    @Ajay> esr, hmm, yes, I see now that I was simply responding to the overstated title and the popular exaggeration of your 64-bit piece, which is actually fairly hedged and prescriptive.

    … and dead-nuts wrong once you take out the hedging.

  29. >What I can tell you is I know dozens of people in my area who make a full time living doing nothing but supporting Windows servers.

    One reason that’s true is that Windows servers have to travel in flocks. They’re too unstable to be used as more than single-function machines, and the instability also means you have to do stuff like round-robining backup machines to maintain uptime, which means more servers and more admins. Contrast this with Linux: you can take commodity-grade hardware and drop several different functions on it and it’ll still run stable as a rock. I know a lot of people whose Linux servers never reboot unless there’s a power drop. We’re talking continuous uptimes in the multi-year range with parts from the corner PC store.

    What this means is that if you measure by plain server count it’s going to look like the Windows boxes are doing a lot more heavy lifting than they actually are – and since sysadmins hired tends to scale directly with the number of machines that need watching, you get similar inflation in those numbers. OTOH, when you weight by productivity or business-function criticality, the Linux servers completely run away with the game. Despite needing fewer sysadmins.

  30. I am sure I am going to regret challenging you on this, since I was in school, and you were running the show, but that doesn’t reflect my understanding of what happened. To the best of my understanding it was the federal government that cut off Microsoft’s oxygen. They strangled them and make them so innovation shy that they couldn’t do anything. All MS have done since that dreadful action was the XBox and .NET.

    What were the federal government restrictions that ended up getting placed on microsoft? I can only find reference to large numbers of “settlements”.

    As much as it was pretty wrong headed and broken, vista was an attempt at innovation. as was office 2007.
    MS were in part the originators of SOAP which amusingly enough now really only exists in legacy and the open source world.
    DirectX went through it’s best versions during that period with it only really being worthwhile around the v5/6 era which is post antitrust.
    The zune was terrible but it was striking into an area that MS hadn’t gone before. The wireless could have been interesting if it hadn’t been so restrictive.
    To my knowledge tablets got their commercial lease of life from a joint MS/Toshiba venture.

    Funnily enough all of these examples bar one (directx) or possibly two (the tablet) are microsoft attempts to break into other people’s markets and embrace and extend.

  31. I realized right away that I have no use for the iPad, even though I’m typing this on an iMac, and have an iPhone sitting in its cradle on top of my right-hand speaker (right next to the USB DAC). But, with a few software changes to eliminate the need for a “real computer” tether, the iPad could be the only computer my Mom, or my wife, own. Add a wifi router, a powered USB hub, a keyboard dock, and a USB disk (for backup and additional media storage), and they’d be good to go.

  32. ESR> …Despite needing fewer sysadmins.

    And let us not forget that, by making use of all the excellent server management tools that have been developed over the last 4 decades for Unix-based systems, the number of linux boxen that can be administered by a single admin makes Linux scale MUCH better than Windows.

    I’d also add that Microsoft hasn’t done much for innovation since GWBASIC, as almost everything else was bought technology, or “embraced and extended” standards. To me, the lesson of Microsoft is the same as the lesson of IBM. When marketing drives your development, you get crap for products. That’s why the old-timers loved HP and hated IBM. HP was an engineering company, IBM was a marketing company. Sam analogy exists for Microsoft vs. Linux.

  33. The Bride of Monster had the Project Runway marathon, incuding the season finale, on the TV last night. Each episode, Heidi Klum reminds the contestants:

    In fashion, one day you’re in; the next you’re out.

    Apple is not in the computer business; they’re in the fashion business.

  34. > What linux needs to do to win in the tablet space: run at a consistent 60fps, with no jitter or stutter in the UI while doing the expected basic tasks, in particular when scrolling.

    I looked very closely at my Droid and was indeed able to discern a little bit of jitter during scrolling. I never noticed it before now. I’m pretty sure this is not what’s driving the market.

  35. Apple is not in the computer business; they’re in the fashion business.

    Except, modulo that long sad stretch in which Steve Jobs was driven from the company, Apple has been “in” since the seventies.

    No other microcomputer company from that era except IBM has exhibited Apple’s staying power. And IBM got out of the PC business. It’s not about fashion, it’s about good design — inside and out. That tech fashionistas happen to glom onto you, in the hopes that some of your good taste will rub off onto them, is a separate issue.

  36. > I looked very closely at my Droid and was indeed able to discern a little bit of jitter during scrolling. I never noticed it before now. I’m pretty sure this is not what’s driving the market.

    It’s one of those things that is immediately and somewhat jarringly noticeable if one has spent a lot of time tooling around with an iPhone / iPod Touch (the iPod in my case). When my roommate got his (pretty darn sweet) Droid, the first thing I noticed (well, no, second thing… the first thing was its beautiful display) was the jittery interface. It just doesn’t feel smooth. Compare scrolling in google maps and it’s even more apparent.

    It’s a nit-picky thing, but it seems like it should be a simple and obvious point. Even if the ‘smoothness’ is simulated, it still gives a positive impression. iPhone OS cheats a lot to make it seem faster than it is, but effectively.

    Should it matter to techie-types? Probably not. But, I’m still holding out for The One Phone and The One Tablet that hits all the notes.

  37. It’s a nit-picky thing, but it seems like it should be a simple and obvious point.

    It’s not a nitpicky thing, it’s everything. The interface is the product. If a device feels cumbersome and clunky to use, all the technical prowess and sophistication in the world won’t save it from being thought of as a piece of junk.

    My HTC Hero makes a damned fine pocket computer but as a phone it sucks: the interface is simply too laggy, confusing, and error-prone. I haven’t really used an iPhone but the odds are hella good that Apple got this part right.

  38. iPhone OS cheats a lot to make it seem faster than it is, but effectively.

    Not cheating. It’s all native ARM code, running one task at a time, blazing fast, as Steve (pbuh) intended. :)

    Android hoists itself by its own petard by running on a VM and allowing multiple tasks to share limited CPU resources.

  39. Alsadius:

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably deeply weird in this regard, but I find a desktop an infinitely more comfortable reading experience than an actual paper book. ”

    I don’t really think it is a matter of taste but rather of something much more objective: it depends on how well your back and neck functions. Body posture, stiff of relaxed muscles etc. If you like the desktop then probably your neck functions so well that you don’t even get neck stiffness from riding a bicycle for several hours. That’s probably a very good thing.

    The rest of buy tall chairs with headrests, recumbent bicycles, motorbikes with tall back-and headrests and suchlike – we need something to rest our heads onto.

  40. Don Says:
    > When marketing drives your development, you get crap for products.

    What the heck is wrong with “marketing” driving your development? You’d rather have “engineering” drive development? Because engineers are so stereotypical of the products’ user base? When you say “marketing” drives development, you mean companies make things people want, and competitively work to find the trade off between quality, price and other factors. Personally, I think that is a good thing. Unless of course you are an engineer who is more concerned with satisfying your own sense of “quality product” rather than paying the bills.

    To be clear, Apple is not an engineering driven company either. It is mainly a Steve Jobs driven company. BTW I often wonder how well Apple will survive without Jobs. They can live on his legacy and future planning for a while as they did when he was sick. But three years out will the company collapse without his oxygen? I understand that he has built a culture, bla, bla, bla, that he has hired quality people, etc. etc. etc., however, when the shepherd is striken, will the sheep scatter? we have an example to consider with the arrival of Sculley. Is that Apple’s future post Jobs?

  41. I still think there’s an interesting alternate history SF novella out there for an inflection point that looks like this:

    In response to the US DoJ consent decree, Microsoft pulls what they think is the ultimate ‘Atlas Shrugged’ maneuver:

    They hire Richard Stallman as their Vice President in charge of Licensing.

    Is it a high probability alternate future? No.

    Would it be fun to read? Oh yeah….

  42. Probably not missing; just not developed and marketed yet. As with most things, Apple won’t be first, but they will be first with one that works well with the iPad, and having a huge captive market, they can ramp up production and price it to sell.

    If you think about it, even for regular laptops, it would be sweet to have a wifi-based USB hub. Apple has enough marketing muscle to retail one of these for $50.00 at 70% margin.

    Sure, in some ways it’s not as nice as a built-in USB hub, but the lack of tethering while you are actually using the USB is a distinct advantage in many usage scenarios.

  43. Eric: One of the big changes in Enterprise Computing is that just about everybody is going to VMWare for their servers. Sure, you have to single-instance
    Windows for each application, but you can run a dozen or more VMs on a single high-end server. And VMWare even lets you do VM migration transparently and on the fly. This means that you can get the “best” of both worlds – little physical equipment with the optimum way to get Windows “stability”. Some of the VM implementations are even setting themselves up to do copy-on-write of memory pages to be shared between VM instances so that your 8 copies of Windows running only take up the memory of 1 or 2, leaving lots for applications.

    Sure, it’s expensive, but it meets the demands of enterprise customers.

    Disclosure: I have no affiliation with VMWare, but I do work for a company which as a small part of their business integrates with some of their stuff.

  44. >> When marketing drives your development, you get crap for products.

    >What the heck is wrong with “marketing” driving your development? You’d rather have “engineering” drive >development? Because engineers are so stereotypical of the products’ user base? When you say “marketing” drives >development, you mean companies make things people want, and competitively work to find the trade off between >quality, price and other factors.

    I think “marketing” has multiple colloquial meanings. One is Jessica’s meaning: it’s figuring out what your potential customers want, making it happen and then telling them you made it happen. This is more or less the dictionary, academic meaning of the word:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_marketing

    A lot of folks use marketing in a different sense, based not on the academic meaning of the word but on actual experience with the folks in the marketing dept of a company. Or having seen the making of a TV ad. This meaning of marketing is basically selling “fool’s gold”. Selling stuff that’s shiny but worthless in the sense that the buyer will quickly get disappointed with it. But it looks excellent in a sales demo, on a flyer or in a TV ad. It’s the “only the first impression counts” way of thinking is what many folks call marketing. In the academic sense it’s not a correct term but it correct in that sense that the suit-with-a-pink-shirt, gel-haired guys in the marketing department actually tend to think this way, so it is marketing in the sense that it is what the marketing folks (“marketroids”) often actually do.

  45. “OTOH, when you weight by productivity or business-function criticality, the Linux servers completely run away with the game. ”

    I agree with the comment except the last part, business-function criticality. Your mileage my vary, but in my experience for the business Linux = webserver and nothing more. The LAMP stuff. So if a virus would shut down all SBSes, half of the small-to-medium business in the world would have no e-mail. If the same happened to SQL Server, chances are that half of the retail shops could simply not open in the morning. F.e. pretty much every Adidas shop that depends on Landsteinar Retail running on SQL Server etc.

  46. Jeff:

    Not cheating. It’s all native ARM code, running one task at a time, blazing fast, as Steve (pbuh) intended. :)

    This is probably the reason iPhone OS 4.0 won’t do true multitasking on anything older than a 3GS, which runs a faster processor than the original and 3G. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that running multiple tasks on the older machines made the UI run unacceptably slowly to Apple’s thinking.

    Garrett:

    One of the big changes in Enterprise Computing is that just about everybody is going to VMWare for their servers. Sure, you have to single-instance Windows for each application, but you can run a dozen or more VMs on a single high-end server.

    True, but I think this came along too late to help Microsoft take over the server world in the way they intended. It also doesn’t cut down on the admin effort required; a virtual machine takes nearly as much admin time and effort as a single-instance real machine.

  47. Sales is tactical. Marketing is strategic.

    When your product development cycle is sales driven, eventually it costs you customers.

    When your product development cycle is marketing driven, you stark asking “what do my customers want to do?” rather than “How do I get my customers to buy this?”

  48. I agree that sales is tactical and marketing is strategic, and that “How do I get my customers to buy this?” is often a (tactical) sales question, and “what do my customers want to do?” is usually a (strategic) marketing question.

    But the history of marketing will show that the true geniuses ask “How can I create a new market with significant barriers to competition?”

    So, “How do I get my customers to buy this?” is merely a sales question if “this” is something you are currently producing. OTOH “How do I get my customers to buy this?” might be a pertinent marketing question if “this” is not yet something you produce, but is something you could conceivably produce if you feel that you can actually create demand for it.

  49. Jessica Boxer:
    >> When marketing drives your development, you get crap for products.

    >What the heck is wrong with “marketing” driving your development? You’d rather have “engineering” drive
    >development? Because engineers are so stereotypical of the products’ user base? When you say “marketing” drives
    >development, you mean companies make things people want, and competitively work to find the trade off between
    >quality, price and other factors. Personally, I think that is a good thing. Unless of course you are an engineer who is
    >more concerned with satisfying your own sense of “quality product” rather than paying the bills.

    I would refer you to my comments WRT IBM a few weeks ago. What I mean by “marketing driving development” isn’t “market driven development”. It’s when the Marketing Department does the design and specification and ignores the input of the engineering team. Several good examples, the IBM RISC6000′s non-release of zOS, the AS400′s inability to handle databases in DB2 beyond a certain number of rows (10M I think), and my all-time favorite: Microsoft BOB.

    The first two examples are where the Marketing department put handcuffs on a product that would have sold like hot cakes and would have saved IBM from loss of massive market share to smaller servers running *nix, Novell, Oracle, and Microsoft based systems. The last one, well Bob speaks for itself. It’s what happens when you have a system that is exactly what the marketing department THINKS the public wants.

    Marketing droids will tell you to make dog turds if they think they can sell them, and if the people in the board room listen to marketing more than engineering, you’ll wind up with a kennel full of Shitzus and more crap than you can handle. :^)

    This is why I’ve shunned large companies my entire career. This sort of stupidity seems to be a requirement for large corporations and I’ve decided to forgo the lobotomy necessary to participate.

  50. This is probably the reason iPhone OS 4.0 won’t do true multitasking on anything older than a 3GS, which runs a faster processor than the original and 3G.

    My understanding was that it wouldn’t do true multitasking full stop, except for certain functions like GPS gets and audio playback. Just like the original Mac, which was explicitly and purposefully single-tasking, except for the specific exception of “desk accessories”.

    It was a part of the Amiga philosophy that a desktop computer should always respond instantaneously to a user’s commands — no compromises and no exceptions. I suspect the same is true of Apple as well, which is why the Mac was originally single-tasking and didn’t gain PMT until Mac OS X. Unix, having been designed for time-sharing, takes more of a “come back later, I’ve got shit I gotta do” approach. Sadly Windows has inherited many of the annoying bits of the Unix tradition — like this — and few of the good bits. This “instantaneous response” principle becomes even more crucially important on a mobile phone than on a desktop computer; and Apple follows it while Android blithely ignores it.

  51. This has to be Steve Jobs’s last hurrah. I predict this not because he is aging and deathly ill, but because he can’t possibly top this. It is the ne plus ultra of where he has been going ever since the Mac in 1984, with his ever-more obsessive focus on the signifiers of product-design attractiveness.

    I’m a wee bit disappointed in this posting; it seems uncharacteristically shallow for your standards. In essence, it boils down to two classic judgments of Apple’s design approach:

    (1) Apple gear is shiny bling wrapped around standardized engineering.
    (2) The Shiny may give pleasure but is ultimately useless.
    [Or version (2a): The purpose of The Shiny is extra-technological, such as social status, which does not contribute to functional satisfaction.]

    I see both of these as fundamentally wrong, but what disappoints me is that you seem to just throw them out as if there was no valid question on their truth.

    [Lest you rightly accuse me of doing the same, here's a microcosmic counter-proposition:
    (1) Apple engineering is aimed at a different but valid purpose from the one you seek. (2) The Shiny is useful, and in fact is highly productive in the context of its design uses.]

    As for Apple’s inevitable doom at the hands of Open Source, it’s getting easier to sustain a “this cannot go on” narrative for Apple. Traditionally, companies riding exponential expansion binges end up in near-death overreach; how can they not? You ride that trajectory until it gives out; how can you possibly get off even if you wanted to? Apple actually seems in relatively better shape, because it still feels its previous near-death in its bones.

    I’m actually not that interested in discussing the finer points of Apple’s doom. I am a bit sad that you seem so sure that Apple’s method is “just bling”, that you’ve closed your eyes to some interesting lessons to be learned there.

    (As for the “Mac loyalists” that provide you input, do note that Apple’s customer base is undergoing a violent upheaval at present, and finding old loyalists deeply upset is not entirely unexpected.)

    Cheers
    — perry

  52. “It was a part of the Amiga philosophy that a desktop computer should always respond instantaneously to a user’s commands — no compromises and no exceptions. I suspect the same is true of Apple as well, which is why the Mac was originally single-tasking and didn’t gain PMT until Mac OS X. Unix, having been designed for time-sharing, takes more of a “come back later, I’ve got shit I gotta do” approach. Sadly Windows has inherited many of the annoying bits of the Unix tradition — like this — and few of the good bits.”

    The Amiga could get away with it because the typical use case was 1) insert Speedball 2 disk 2) drag-and-drop it to the RAM disk or whatever it was called 3) double-click 4) play. It was a console with keyboards – expect for the demosceners but that was a niche, although an excellent one. (Sceners were the only computer subculture that could compete with the LISP/Unix hacker subculture in the sense of being very smart and very good at programming, with a subculture that had so vastly different cultural values that it really blows the mind.)

    Single-tasking is simply too primitive for most advanced use cases. Now of course on a tablet one does not necessarily want/need advanced use cases…

  53. >I am a bit sad that you seem so sure that Apple’s method is “just bling”, that you’ve closed your eyes to some interesting lessons to be learned there.

    Wow. You really haven’t been paying attention the last five years, have you?

    In fact, I have repeatedly gotten into controversies precisely because I have championed the notion that Apple has much to teach the Unix community about UI and autoconfiguration. As a recent and pointed example: I have had to fight my own developers on GPSD over my refusal to allow device-type and baud-rate switches, because my position is that you ought to be able to plug a GPS into a USB port and have it just work – no fiddling with config files or option switches required or even allowed. In rare cases this has allowed refusing to support a device because it couldn’t be autoconfigured, a strategic decision Unix geeks tend to choke on.

    So it is absolutely not the case that I consider Apple’s method to be “just bling”!

    However…I think it is true that Apple’s natural failure mode is “just bling” and the-shiny-as-social-display in much the same way that the Unix culture’s natural failure mode is crappy UI and a tendency to surround strong core designs with a thicket of poorly-thought-out options rather than Doing The Right Thing. When Apple fails, empty bling is how it fails – and the iPad looks to me like an example, possibly a terminal one.

  54. # Don Says:
    > It’s when the Marketing Department does the design
    > and specification and ignores the input of the engineering
    > team.

    The input of the engineering team should be limited to: is this technically feasible; what technical limits will there be; how much will it cost to make; and “we could do this extra feature too, for a limited investment: would this help the product?” Marketing “droids” are tasked with the specific goal of finding out what the market wants, and, to a limited extent, making a market for something that doesn’t have one. Engineers know almost nothing about this, despite the fact that they think they do.

    It is an interesting phenomenon of intelligence that people who are really smart in one area think they are smart in all areas. However, true polymaths are rare indeed, especially so when the mathetai in question are of widely different subject matter.

    Let me offer you as evidence the typical GUI produced by most engineers. The expression “la-la land” springs to mind.

    > Marketing droids will tell you to make dog turds if they think
    > they can sell them,

    That is a ridiculous stereotype. You are basically saying that all marketing people have no desire to do good work, or produce quality products. That is no more true than saying all engineers are passionately concerned with quality above all else. My experience is quite different than yours. I find sales people, who sell things beyond commodity widgets, are usually quite passionate about the needs of their customers.

    There is one interesting thing here though, namely the nature of motivation. There are two types of motivation, roughly speaking, intrinsic and extrinsic. Engineers are generally intrinsically motivated: the work itself is the passion. Marketing types, and even more so, sales people, tend to be extrinsically motivated: the reward is the passion.

    This is something for engineers to consider: that is why sales people are paid on bonus and you are not. There is not an insignificant body of evidence to suggest that bonusing engineers is actually detrimental to their performance, transferring, as it does, their motivation to extrinsic, and destroying their work ethic. But that is a whole other story.

    Smart engineers are smart enough to listen to marketing types because they are interested in making products that people like, find useful, and enjoy. For all its faults, that is something Apple is very good at.

    > This is why I’ve shunned large companies my entire career. This
    > sort of stupidity seems to be a requirement for large corporations
    > and I’ve decided to forgo the lobotomy necessary to participate.

    I know many engineers who also take that view. However, despite the widely held belief that sales and marketing are parasites, the truth is that everyone in a company is necessary to pay the salaries. Engineers should do their best engineering and should make the products marketing say need made, just as marketing people should not be selling “the space shuttle for $15.99″. Different skill sets contribute to a profitable company. Profit is good, despite the apparent opinions of the current US Government. It pays for our amazing lifestyle. I might add that proximity of marketing and engineering is one of the few conditions that prevents all engineering being shipped to foreign shores. So we should be glad of their input.

  55. >>Marketing droids will tell you to make dog turds if they think they can sell them,
    >
    >That is a ridiculous stereotype.

    Many stereotypes got that way by being true far, far too often for anyone’s good. This is one of them.

  56. # esr Says:
    > Many stereotypes got that way by being true far, far too often
    > for anyone’s good. This is one of them.

    As I said before, that is not my experience at all. I will grant you that generally marketing people tend to be less vested in the product than engineers, but my experience is that engineers are vested in products in the wrong way, which is to say their interest profile is very different than the interest profile of the people with the checkbooks. My experience is that sales people tend to care more about the customer than the product, and marketing fits in between the two. But that seems a good thing to me.

    The fact is that marketing and sales provides a very important function in the economy, and I think this common stereotype of “business suits” is very counterproductive for everyone. Engineers have tried to kill off sales and marketing with the supposed disintermediation of the Web, but the fact is that people still want to talk to people, knowledgeable about the product or service, web pages and Google notwithstanding.

    I think we should all respect the range of skills each brings to the table, and recognize the contribution each makes to the miracle of the free market.

  57. > he can’t possibly top this.

    I wouldn’t bet on that. First, you need to realize that SJ’s not so much an inventor as a filter. Many ideas arise among the thousand or so engineers at Apple, and the ones we see are the ones that make the cut. Steve has been very good at picking the right products to move forward on, and leaving the others in the lab.

    Maybe the future is a voice-controlled, wristwatch-sized, memristor-based device with 500 TB of storage, that uses bluetooth contact lenses for its display, and gets a week of use from a charge, maybe its something we can’t even imagine yet, but one thing I’m very confident of is that Apple’s going to be the vendor that does it right, even if they don’t do it first.

    And speaking of not doing something first, I’ve got to say I really feel sorry for those schmucks who put years of their lives into tablet PCs that were crippled by Windows XP, only to have their main competitor come along with a product that says “no, do it like this, stupid!”

  58. > the number of linux boxen that can be administered by a single admin makes Linux scale MUCH better than Windows.

    Damning with faint praise.

    I’ll just point out that I’ve seen a staff of four full-time sysadmins handle just over four thousand NeXTStations. NetInfo was wonderful, and that’s one of the things we regrettably lost in the NeXT to Apple transition.

  59. > To the best of my understanding it was the federal government that cut off Microsoft’s oxygen. They strangled them and make them so innovation shy that they couldn’t do anything.

    Nope. Microsoft’s problem is far simpler than that. They’re suffering from the end stages of the Peter Principle. There are eight layers of management above the typical MS software engineer. Google for “windows shutdown crapfest” to get an idea of why they can’t get anything done.

    Apple, on the other hand, had a near-death experience back in ’97, and one of the upshots of that is that Apple management is very, very lean. (Amazingly so for a company in the top 3 for market cap in the USA.) Also, instances of non-engineers managing engineers are uncommon. Apple gets some bad managers of course, but their careers tend to be self-limiting since advancement to director level requires a vote by their peers. Most bad managers there just use the Apple entry on their resume to bail out to a job they’re not good enough to do at some other company.

  60. I carried a PDA (Palm IIIx and IIIc) everywhere, every day for eight years (1999 to 2007), and the only reason I stopped carrying it was that my first-generation iPhone made it obsolete. I can’t yet report on my personal use cases for the iPad, since I’m waiting on the 3g version, but I fully anticipate finding it indispensable.

  61. Jessica:

    You are talking about “Marketing People”, I’m talking about Marketing DEPARTMENTS. You’re talking about individual motivation, I”M NOT. There’s a difference. Think “Group Think”. More bad products have come out of great companies because of marketing departments driving the “innovation” than almost any other reason. If you can’t see that, you either haven’t been paying attention, or you haven’t had a long enough career yet to experience it when it bites you in the ass.

    Microsoft’s absolutely insane licensing is one such animal (you buy the server, then you buy the workstation, then you gotta license the workstation for the server… Huh? … then you gotta buy MORE licenses for the server when you get more workstations … double Huh?)

    I’m not saying that ALL marketing departments are bad, or that this happens to EVERY company that uses a marketing department, but when a company is making ENGINEERING PRODUCTS (e.g. computer and network systems), then it sorta makes sense that you listen to the people who would be the logical users … the engineers.

    >I think we should all respect the range of skills each brings to the table, and recognize the contribution each makes to
    >the miracle of the free market.

    I don’t think Eric or I suggested that we didn’t respect the job done by marketing folks (hell he was the lead “marketer” for Open Source for years), but I think he, and I know I, have experience first hand the kind of stupidity that comes out of a marketing department who feels that they alone should control the destiny of the company. It happened at IBM, it’s happening now at Microsoft and (to a lesser degree) Apple. It happened at Sun. It a happened at Borland. It happened at Lotus (of course, the lawyers then got their turn to run things, which was a double wammy). It happened at Caldera (SCO) (and again, the damned lawyers). It happened with Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler.

    I’m not talking in a vacuum here. These were all good companies that fell, some flat on their faces, because they let the marketing department make all critical development decisions. Ultimately, the failure lies with management, but the rot almost universally starts with the marketing department being unleashed. If your experiences are counter to this, then I think you are in an extreme minority.

  62. From Steve Kondik’s Twitter feed (today)

    @cyanogen: We just got hardware-accelerated video playback working :)

    … next step sounds like a Cyanogenmod release for the HTC G1/Dream. Yummy Android 2.1 goodness …

    Not that the large majority of Android phone owners will ever get an update with this in it.. but hey, Open Source FTW, eh?

  63. Everyone should know what Fake Steve Jobs said on this:

    “Jonny Ive came in to see me and we spent a long time trying to decide where on Mazlow’s triangle this product would sit. Because we knew if we couldn’t be way up above the very top of that pyramid, floating above it, totally outside the needs it describes, then this wouldn’t be a product we wanted to make.”

    http://www.businessinsider.com/an-open-letter-to-the-people-of-the-world-2010-4

  64. > The fact is that marketing and sales provides a very important function in the economy, and I think this common
    > stereotype of “business suits” is very counterproductive for everyone.

    when engineers make products without the filter of marketing, you get aesthetics like the G1 Android phone and the APIs of Android.

    seriously, how many people here have written (in Java) for Android? Raise your hands.

    I have, it *sucks*. The issues around platform fragmentation are HUGE.

  65. # Don Says:
    > More bad products have come out of
    > great companies because of marketing
    > departments driving the “innovation”

    Building bad products is hardly a terrible thing. If you are building only successes, you are probably not trying hard enough. Regardless, that is quite a claim. Do you have any basis for such a claim, or is it just a SWAG.

    I think it is interesting that everyone rags on BOB. It was before my time, however, it seems to me that it was MS trying a different user interface paradigm, which didn’t work out. I think trying different things is a good idea, even if they don’t work in practice.

    > Microsoft’s absolutely insane licensing is
    > one such animal

    Is it insane because you think it is too complicated, or because you think it is immoral, or because you don’t like licensing, or because you think Microsoft is evil? It is a model that many commercial users find perfectly normal and practical, and isn’t much different than the rest of the Windows world. (With deference to the chicken and the egg.) I don’t find it insane at all. I don’t even find it particularly complicated.

    > when a company is making ENGINEERING
    > PRODUCTS (e.g. computer and network
    > systems),

    That is engineer thinking. Microsoft doesn’t make “engineering products” at all. They make email systems, and places to store and share your files, and word processors, and spreadsheets, and black boxes that make your computer work. Engineers are a tiny fraction of the users of MS products. (Though they are important users, and tools like Visual Studio are obviously exceptions to this.) Programmers are not, generally speaking, the audience for most computer programs.

    > I don’t think Eric or I suggested that we didn’t
    > respect the job done by marketing folks

    And the terminology “droid” was meant in a complimentary way?

    > I know I, have experience first hand the kind of stupidity

    Yes indeed, and genius is all that comes out of engineering departments? Lets get real here, software engineering must be the only profession where the total industry’s productivity would increase if we paid 90% of the workers to stay home and out of the way.

    > that comes out of a marketing department who
    > feels that they alone should control the destiny
    > of the company.

    Every department in every business, thinks this. But they are all mistaken. I think it is lamentable that more engineers don’t make it to senior management, but it seems that many of them don’t want to, partly because of the attitude that I am complaining about here that is so prevalent in engineering departments.

    > It happened at IBM, … Microsoft … Apple … Sun … Borland
    > … Lotus …. Caldera… Ford … Chevy … Chrysler.

    Wow, marketing killed all these companies? I though the unions killed the car companies. Elsewhere in this thread I have been told that eight layers of management killed MS, no, no, it was lawyers, no it was the government, no it was marketing, no it was Linux, no, it was cell phone guys, no it was lack of cash (they only have $36 billion, the poor babies.) I’m confused, it seems everything killed Microsoft! Sorry, I am sure poor market analysis had some effect on the failures of these companies, but there were lots of other reasons, and I doubt “marketing” came in the top three.

    > I’m not talking in a vacuum here. These
    > were all good companies that fell, some
    > flat on their faces, because they let the
    > marketing department make all critical
    > development decisions.

    So you are arguing that companies that failed due to bad product selection, failed because the department that makes the selection of products did a bad job? That is a tuatologically redundant tautology.

    > If your experiences are counter to this,
    > then I think you are in an extreme minority.

    So you think that if I went to the nearest business school around here and asked them what was the cause of the vast majority of corporate failures, that they would answer “poor marketing”? I think that perhaps I am in the minority in the select group of techies who read this blog and who are in your circle of friends, but I doubt that is the case with anything like a representative group of people who know what they are talking about.

    No doubt marketing failure is a major cause of corporate failure, but so are cost overruns and run away bug lists, and interminably delayed product delivery timelines. As also is under capitalization, over capitalization, poor cost control, ineffective management, extrinsic causes, and on and on and a million other causes of business failure.

    I hear these sorts of things from engineers all the time, but it is just standard human nature. “My tribe is far and away the most important, and if it wasn’t for these idiots in the fancy ties, if they would just listen to me, everything would be great.” It is nonsense. Each different skill is necessary for a successful business, and if anyone screws up, everyone is screwed. This is true regardless if the screw up is in marketing, sales, engineering, operations, delivery, management or investment.

  66. >I am a bit sad that you seem so sure that Apple’s method is “just bling”, that you’ve closed your eyes to some interesting lessons to be learned there.

    Wow. You really haven’t been paying attention the last five years, have you?

    I have, on and off. That’s why I commented on this post, which seems a bit off your usual acuity. Sorry if I misunderstood your point.

    So it is absolutely not the case that I consider Apple’s method to be “just bling”!

    However…I think it is true that Apple’s natural failure mode is “just bling” and the-shiny-as-social-display in much the same way that the Unix culture’s natural failure mode is crappy UI and a tendency to surround strong core designs with a thicket of poorly-thought-out options rather than Doing The Right Thing. When Apple fails, empty bling is how it fails – and the iPad looks to me like an example, possibly a terminal one.

    Good point on the appearance of Apple’s natural failure mode. I agree that if Apple stopped developing iPad and simply milked it for revenue, it would likely fail that way. Apple-before-Job’s-return might well have done that. I don’t think the current Apple will. But it’s certainly possible; massive screw-up is always an option.

    I see iPad as an exploratory prototype platform. (What you see as Bling, I see as prototype usability functions.) What’s really magical about iPad, though, is that Apple is managing to sell its product prototype platform as a product in its own right – its reputational capital and marketing is that strong. So in a sense, those complaining about the constrained, unfinished nature of iPad are quite correct. Yet by the same token, declaring it on a doomed trajectory towards uselessness is, I think, missing the point. If it’ll fail, it’ll do so falling short, not stagnating in Bling.

    (The things being prototyped are primarily User Interaction models, hardware/software integration, and developer/manufacturer interfaces. Some of these are not mainly technical, but they still require prototyping, deployment, testing, and iterative development. Google gets this. Most of Apple’s other competition doesn’t seem to.)

    Here’s a thought: Apple’s OODA loop runs substantially faster than its competition’s, to such an extent that it can fix major mistakes before their loop can lock onto them. The remarkable thing about Apple isn’t its juggernaut-like nature, but how nimble it’s been recently. Think of iPhone’s development in terms of just-in-time engineering, and much of Apple’s strange intransigence and mysterious capriciousness becomes a lot less incomprehensible…

    I’ve alluded before to the fact that the two most fanatical and longest-term Mac loyalists among my face-to-face friends are carrying Nexus Ones now, having migrated from Sidekicks but passing up the iPhone. The fact that Jobs couldn’t get these two people to change cellphone providers to worship at his shrine tells me more about the fading of Apple’s magic than the hot air and bullshit in a dozen market surveys. Apple has bet its company on the Jobs philosophy, but at the same time I see it losing the adhesive loyalty of the fanbase that’s been with it since the Mac Classic.

    See, this is why this post seems so odd to me. “Worship at his shrine”? I wonder whether you get “the Jobs philosophy” at all, actually, if you think that “worshipping” has anything to do with it. It’s certainly true that Jobs (and Apple) do not much try to satisfy their classic “fanbase” anymore. Do you see your friends as canaries in the Jobs mine, somehow, such that losing their loyalty dooms Apple’s future? How?

    Cheers
    — perry

  67. That reminds me, why didn’t apply add netinfo back in… it was incredibly powerful.

  68. Actually, the multitasking issue is more to do with battery life than anything else, i’ve heard.

  69. Jake:

    Not that the large majority of Android phone owners will ever get an update with this in it..

    This is the problem I see with Android. The carrier controls what version you can run on your phone, and it’s more than possible that the version of Android you need to run that new app you’re drooling over will never appear on your phone with your carrier. The space is fragmented, and it’s going to cause problems for consumers.

  70. Jessica,

    I’d like to have this conversation with you in another 10 years. I think it would be very interesting.

    Until then, I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

  71. >The input of the engineering team should be limited to: is this technically feasible; what technical limits will there be; how much will it cost to make; and “we could do this extra feature too, for a limited investment: would this help the product?

    Sorry, but technical feasibility and limits are not either-or choices, they are a matter of trade-offs, which is why for competent design engineers must be invovled in all stages of the design process. This is something Apple seems to be doing mostly right, just now, just as Sony was doing a good job of this in the 1970s and 1980s.

    >You are basically saying that all marketing people have no desire to do good work, or produce quality products.

    This is a classic fallacy – you are jumping from a generalization to “all”.

    >widely held belief that sales and marketing are parasites

    There are a few who claim they are parasites, but most realize they are necessary, but also realize they are secondary. Without the products designed and built by the engineers, there would be no marketing or sales. They can definitely add value by working with the engineering design team to produce more marketable designs, as Apple seemed to be doing well with OSX and the iPhone, but without good engineering design, as Eric said it’s just bling.

  72. But what comes after this?

    I’m reminded of a line from Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” :

    “… He would think of something.”

    Disclaimer: I’ve never owned an Apple product in my life.

  73. ESR: I think that most of what you have to say would be valid criticism if the iPad was some new kind of computer. It’s not. In my judgment, it’s a new kind of *television*.

  74. William B Swift Says:
    > but most realize they are necessary, but also
    > realize they are secondary. Without the products
    > designed and built by the engineers, there would
    > be no marketing or sales.

    If there was no sales and marketing, there would be no way for users to obtain products, no sales, no salaries, and engineers would not have the resources to make their products. Isn’t that extremely obvious? Both need each other (not to mention management, capital, operations, delivery, sales support, technical writers, graphic artists, tech support, quality assurance, and pizza stores.) That is the genius of the economic system of specialization.

    On what basis do you decide that marketing is secondary to engineering? It seems entirely arbitrary to me. Perhaps, I suspect, that your personal familiarity causes you to overestimate the important of what you do in the whole scheme of things. Not that what you are doing isn’t important, just that you evidently underestimate the importance of other things.

  75. # Don Says:
    > I’d like to have this conversation with you
    > in another 10 years. I think it would be very
    > interesting. Until then, I guess we’ll agree to
    > disagree.

    No problem. Feel free to call me an ignorant young whippersnapper. However, I suggest you go spend a month working with a good quality sales person and find out how hard they work, and how they slog through a lot of BS to enable us engineers to get our products to the people who use them.

    See you back here in 2020.

  76. Perry is pretty much spot-on on everything here. The post’s ending rests on a pretty inaccurate assumption: that Apple actually cares about the insane gaggle of culted zealots that kept it alive up until the early ’00s. They should’ve seen the writing on the wall when Jobs declared that he wanted Apple to be the Nike of consumer electronics, which they’re pulling off quite nicely. I think Apple realized long ago that catering to such a vocal, rabid fanbase was a losing game, and they’re much, much happier selling tons of ipods and iphones to normal people. Also, after a very rocky start the whole OS X-centered ecosystem is maturing quite well, and the progressively less their products actually suck the less they need an unpaid, untrained army to troll forums for them. Apple is on a roll now, and there’s much to be learned by tracking them without having to compulsively hate on them, as it was the case with Microsoft during their golden era.

  77. Note, Windows was dead on the SmartPhone market long before anything Open Source was a player. It’s RIM and Nokia who killed MS in that space, with Apple driving the last stake. WinCE died as a viable choice when the BlackBerry became nearly a synonymn for SmartPhone.

    Functionally, the only place where Linux has had a significant effect on MS is in the Server space. Windows never had significant uptake in Embedded (and WinCE was even less well suited to that than it was to PDA’s and Cellphones, Linux simply took over from specialized lightweight OS’s whih had already proven themselves superior to Windows in that space).

    As to Tablet PC’s, well they’ve been the next big thing for 20 years and 20 years from now they’ll still be the next big thing. As a general-purpose computing device their UI paradigm is simply inferior to a keyboard and mouse outside of some specialist applications. What Apple did right was in making a peripheral with some computing features rather than the Tablet PC everybody was asking for and expecting. The upcoming Android tablets will succeed if they produce an iPad-like device without iPad-like lockin. If they decide to go for the Tablet PC paradigm they’ll sink rather quickly.

    Note I expect the iPad to be a distinct success for Apple, but not as marketed. I’m already seeing some brilliant uses of iPads for such things as DJ’ing (Korg has a great Synth app, and iDaft gives you all the samples you need for some Daft Punk fun) and Portfolio work. In particular you can expect the Professional Photograpsohy world to embrace the iPad massively, it’s the digital portfolio they’ve been dreaming about for quite a while. What the iPad is overall doing is extending the iPod’s paradigm to things that require a larger screen for UI or display.

    I also expect it to functionally kill off in-car entertainment systems. Why pay the money for one when you can get two iPad’s for half the money and let each of the backseaters enjoy their own choice in entertainment.

  78. William B Swift Says:
    > but most realize they are necessary, but also
    > realize they are secondary. Without the products
    > designed and built by the engineers, there would
    > be no marketing or sales.

    If there was no sales and marketing, there would be no way for users to obtain products, no sales, no salaries, and engineers would not have the resources to make their products. Isn’t that extremely obvious? Both need each other (not to mention management, capital, operations, delivery, sales support, technical writers, graphic artists, tech support, quality assurance, and pizza stores.) That is the genius of the economic system of specialization.

    On what basis do you decide that marketing is secondary to engineering? It seems entirely arbitrary to me. Perhaps, I suspect, that your personal familiarity causes you to overestimate the important of what you do in the whole scheme of things. Not that what you are doing isn’t important, just that you evidently underestimate the importance of other things.

  79. I work in an industry where the creatives are also usually in charge of packaging and product design and marketing.

    Most game designers can’t market. Most engineers make game designers look like brilliant marketing geniuses. Largely, this is because game designers effectively lay out their own books and have to think about being customer facing.

    (The number of times I’ve had the exact same conversation between myself as a publisher, and a ‘misunderstood genius’ game designer and myself as a tech journalist with a ‘misunderstood genius’ engineer is staggering. I don’t doubt the same thing applies with wanna-be SF writers as well.)

    Linux still needs improvement in customer facing marketing.

  80. Rick Says:
    > [...something strangely familiar...]

    Rick, I have to say I agree 100%. That is the smartest thing you ever said :-)

  81. jake:

    seriously, how many people here have written (in Java) for Android? Raise your hands.

    *Raises hand*. It’s far from perfect, but it’s at least as good as the iPhone development environment. Much of that is due to using a quasi-modern language instead of screwing around with header files and segmentation faults. (By the latest decree from The Steve, you are not to even contemplate using anything other than C variants). And maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, but fragmentation hasn’t been a significant problem. Granted, my layouts are mostly a big custom view that I draw into directly, so different screen sizes don’t matter much. The only things I’ve had to change are shorter button labels for tiny screens, and using reflection to call methods that exist in Android 2.0 but not 1.6.

    And fragmentation is unavoidably coming to the iPhone; the original models won’t run the upcoming OS, and they aren’t going to stay at 480×320 forever.

  82. What’s really magical about iPad, though, is that Apple is managing to sell its product prototype platform as a product in its own right – its reputational capital and marketing is that strong. So in a sense, those complaining about the constrained, unfinished nature of iPad are quite correct. Yet by the same token, declaring it on a doomed trajectory towards uselessness is, I think, missing the point. If it’ll fail, it’ll do so falling short, not stagnating in Bling.

    There was an interview with Steve Jobs some years ago when he pretty much talks about this and how it relates to Apple’s success. To paraphrase from my admittedly poor memory, Jobs was lambasting car companies over “concept vehicles”. He talked about how they spend so much time and effort on these concepts, and they’re the cars the people really do want, but then they water them down and make them practical and standardized and when the concept finally reaches production, it is but a shadow of its former self. Apple on the other hand, takes the approach of forgoing the concept products. If it’s worth building, it’s worth building the way you want it and offering it to people. It’s a risky way of doing business, as one or two wrong guesses and you can sink yourself utterly, but when it hits big you really get payoff (see iPhone, iPod and perhaps now the iPad), and even when it misses, you can recover if you just keep rolling and don’t try to beat a dead horse (see AppleTV)

  83. > Feel free to call me an ignorant young whippersnapper.

    I won’t. I’m a pushing fifty geezer who has worked as an engineer at companies big and small. You are dead right and Don is dead wrong. He obviously hasn’t had enough experience (because he has deliberately avoided it) with large engineering departments. They routinely produce back end systems (not AT ALL market department driven) with brain dead specs, design and implementation. They also routinely produce miracles large and small.

    Getting large groups of people to work effectively together is really difficult. It’s a good thing Don is staying away from big companies. It sounds like everyone is better off when he works at the small companys he loves. It’s great when things work out that way! I hope he keeps building cool stuff and finding a new good gig when he creates a hit and the suits sell out to some big firm. Hopefully it will be my firm and we’ll go big with it!

    Yours,
    Tom

  84. The most important thing about an iPad is what it doesn’t have. I will never gladly go back to a mouse or (God forbid!) a trackpad now that I have used the iPad touchscreen. I’m even getting used to the internal keyboard. As for USB, who wants all kinds of stuff hanging off your computer – all right, TV – when you’ve got it in your lap?
    There’s still some work to be done in copying and pasting from websites using your fingers and in compatibility with different sorts of email setups, but, darn, it’s good and it’s new and I’ll never get carpal tunnel syndrome!

  85. @Garrett: Yes, but VMWare ESX is being used as much for Linux servers as it is for Windows servers.

    @esr and others: What I see in the corporate enterprise server rooms most often is a mix of Windows, Linux and SAN/NAS appliances (most of which run Linux). Enterprises use Windows most often on the desktop because it’s what end-users are generally familiar, so they tend to need ActiveDirectory and such. Traditionally these ActiveDirectory servers were Windows servers, but increasingly enterprises are starting to replace even those with Linux as Samba 3 gainted ActiveDirectory member server support, and Samba 4 has gained ActiveDirectory controller support. Most also use Outlook on the desktop, but with the proliferation of Exchange-compatible mail stacks on Linux, many are beginning to replace those with Linux as well. Still, much of non-critical parts of the enterprise IT stack tends to be Windows, but corporate IT managers are replacing as much as they can with hardware appliances running Linux or sometimes Linux servers themselves if for nothing more than to reduce costs.

    However, all the mission-critical parts of the IT stack, like enterprise intelligence, CRM, PLM, HPC, etc., are generally running on Linux (or sometimes still commercial Unix), especially mission-critical databases, and more importantly they have been for 10 years or more. Corporate IT managers love Linux and other Unixes because they are rock-solid stable. They love Linux because it runs well on cheap hardware, and does well inside virtualization systems like VMware. And virtually all high-performance computing applications are running either on z-Series or Linux.

    Just my personal experience.

  86. > I work in an industry where the creatives are also usually in charge…

    And that’s your problem. And why unions run Hollywood and “Flash Operator” is a valid job category.

  87. Robert Speirs Says:
    > I will never gladly go back to a mouse … I’m even getting used to the internal keyboard.

    You do know these two things are related, right? The touch pad screen is so functional, because the touch screen keypad is so dysfunctional. A mouse is a mouse because a keyboard is a keyboard. A touch screen is good for pointing things, bad for key presses. A mouse/keyboard is bad for pointing at things, and good for key presses.

    It is also worth considering the two things pointing things that touch screens are worse at. Specifically, touch screens tend to be much more fatiguing to use, due to the position of the arm. When there isn’t a lot of input (such as watching a movie) that is not a problem, but try to type a letter, or layout a presentation. Second, touch screens have much lower pointing resolution than even mouse devices. Your fingers are way to fat to hit a ten by ten pixel group, never mind a single pixel. With a mouse it is difficult but possible to hit a single pixel. This is significant enough to change what is actually functionally possible with these pointing devices. (Again, I think it is a big mistake to not include a stylus with these devices — or perhaps not a mistake, certainly something that quite significantly reduces their functionality and capability space.)

    Question for you iPad/iPhone users, since I have never used one: what is the impact of long fingernails on the usability of these devices? Can the screens detect a touch initiated with the tip of a fingernail, or do they require actual flesh?

  88. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > Still, much of non-critical parts of the enterprise
    > IT stack tends to be Windows, but corporate IT
    > managers are replacing as much as they can with
    > hardware appliances running Linux or sometimes
    > Linux servers themselves if for nothing more than
    > to reduce costs.

    That is exactly the opposite of my experience, though feel free to discount my experience, since I work in development, not operations. However, from what I see IT managers tend to use Windows stuff for critical things and Linux for non critical. For example, I don’t know any IT manager who would consider risking the AD domain to Samba, since the cost difference is tiny compared to the high risk of incompatibility, same for exchange. SANs, routers, load balancers? Yes. Business functions? No. Furthermore, from what I hear, IIS is still 50% of the web server market, and all those ASP.NET stacks are backed by SQL Server, not MySQL, or Oracle. Although Oracle is popular in huge organizations, most ASP.NET hosting sites don’t even offer it as an option.

    Of course, there are obviously exceptions, and obviously some people do run Samba and other such Windows server emulators. But the perception of most Windows network admins I know is that the small extra cost of the Windows network infrastructure is a small price to pay for the putative additional risk of “compatible” Linux servers. You might disagree with their judgment, but that is what what I hear.

    And FWIW, this old saw of unreliable Windows servers is simply not true. Windows servers run for years without reboot too. From a cost perspective in most organizations 99.99% reliability is the same as 99.999% reliability. The difference is 45 minutes a year.

  89. Capacitive touchscreens cannot detect fingernails. Use your actual finger, or get a capacitive stylus–in fact, any electrically conducting object should work.

  90. An iPad-with-a-stylus could be fantastic for sketching, especially if it had something like the Newton Notepad for handwriting-based note-taking – text recognition, shape recognition and reflowable, style-able “ink text”. However, there’s a UI issue which makes it tricky to combine finger-touch and stylus input in the same large-screen product. If you look at how people write on a large pad of paper, they tend to want to rest the heel of their hand on the paper as they write. Writing without doing that is tiring. But the heel of the hand (a) applies pressure, and (b) is capacitive, so it would be tricky to distinguish that touch from an intended finger-tap. This wasn’t a problem with tiny screens where you could rest your hand on the bezel, but it would be with iPad-sized screens.

    One might finesse this a bit by having the system recognize the size or some other characteristic of the stylus tip and lock out other multitouch input points during a window when the stylus is in use, but that’s an inelegant solution liable to confuse users.

    Regarding “the entire segment might well turn into as huge a bust as PDAs were in the 1990s”, I’m confused. How were PDAs a bust? PDAs *won*. The battle was between PDAs and paper-based planners/organizers; who carries around their phone list in paper format anymore? Apple fired the opening salvo on that front and Palm won the war but eventually we stopped needing a dedicated PDA-only device because those features migrated into our communicators. Are Blackberry and iPhone not PDAs? Is there not a smooth continuum between Newton, Palm, Blackberry, iPhone, and Droid in terms of the core feature set people take for granted?

  91. Glen: PDA’s lost. They damn near put Palm out of business and did kill Newton, Inc. There was never any market-significant levels of uptake on PDA’s and sales were low enough that the market dwindled to being Palm and Palm alone.

    Smartphones on the other hand won. They killed the paper organizer and the PDA and are well on their way to killing the portable media player and compact P&S camera as well. It was email and calendar on a phone which revolutionized things, not a contact/calendar-storing offline device that is somewhat outwardly similar. Connectivity was the key to the Smartphone’s success, not the data storage, and the PDA never had that in a practical matter. Smartphone’s are not the child of the PDA as a practical matter aside from outward looks (and some software commonality, but note that both PDA-derived OS’s were serious commercial failures as SmartPhone OS’s).

  92. @Jessica Boxer:

    Well, what sort of development do you do and what sort of organizations do you work in? From my experience, what I mean by “mission critical” would be things like business intelligence, customer relations management, supply chain management, product lifecycle management, data warehouses, etc. Stuff like SAP, Teradata, Teamcenter, etc. Most often, these are running either on Linux or other Unixes like Solaris and AIX. (And Oracle is used for a lot more than Web databases. SAP runs on Oracle, Teamcenter runs on Oracle. You get the idea.)

  93. The modern business practically runs on Outlook and Exchange, without which it would be tedious to organize meetings and events and notify all attendees of the same.

  94. >Robert Speirs Says: … As for USB, who wants all kinds of stuff hanging off your computer – all right, TV – when you’ve got it in your lap?

    Certainly – it’s silly to use a wired interface on an rf-connected device. Look to see add-ons that connect to later models with Bluetooth, or more likely, some closed, proprietory Apple rf system.

  95. LS:

    or more likely, some closed, proprietory Apple rf system

    I doubt this one pretty strongly. Apple learned that lesson long ago. They know a robust market in third-party peripherals makes their products stronger in the marketplace. Just look at the masses of gear available to plug into the iPod. The iPad will be the same way.

  96. My experience is that far more mission critical software in our organization runs on Unix and the newest target state architecture is Linux running in virtual slices. Where I work Windows servers don’t do that much. Oracle and Java beat the pants off opensource stuff where I work. (I know, Java is OSS now, but that has not been the case for most of its life.)

    Yours,
    Tom

  97. @Tom DeGisi.

    Exactly.

    Unfortunately for open source databases, and open source BI stuff like SugarCRM, much of the proprietary application stacks win because PHB’s are easily swayed by marketing and names. Microsoft isn’t a name that matters much to them anymore.

    I do think as esr does that as applications move into the cloud, you’ll find more of those running open source stacks. Plus, in the area of cloud computing, stuff like MySQL and PostgreSQL will carry a lot more weight because people that know how to write cloud applications — Web developers — know and trust two open source stacks: LAMP stacks and J2EE. Oracle might also see some action there, but the open source offerings will be on a more equal footing. Why do you think Oracle was so interested in acquiring Sun?

  98. Morgan,

    > Unfortunately for open source databases, and open source BI stuff like SugarCRM, much of the proprietary application stacks win because PHB’s are easily swayed by marketing and names. Microsoft isn’t a name that matters much to them anymore.

    No, I don’t think so. We have invested so much human capital in Oracle training and so much development capital in Oracle specific development and tools that for any individual manager it is cheaper for their budget to go with Oracle. Moving away from Oracle for our very large company would be very expensive in the short run. Right now we have to make our short run capital pay off immediately and unambiguously. No one is going to give kudos to our CEO for moving off Oracle. He is making a lot of smart moves right now – some involving open source – that really play well and have very strong money making potential. The money saving potential of moving away from Oracle, well, it would mainly be a distraction. The move to Linux, OTOH, is an easy play.

    Yours,
    Tom

  99. Jessica Boxer> … I suggest you go spend a month working with a good quality sales person and find out how hard they work …

    Uh, my mom worked with some of the best petrochemical sales people in San Antonio, I grew up with those guys, and I KNOW what make good sales people, and great sales people. I know that archetype better than I know the hacker archetype. But again, you’ve missed the entire point of my posts. I’m not talking about SALES PEOPLE. There is a difference between a sales guy, and a MARKETING guy. Go talk to a really experienced sales man and ask him if he’s a sales guy or a marketing guy. He’ll know the difference and will probably be as happy to tell YOU the difference as I would be to tell you the difference between a hacker and a cracker.

    MARKETING guys position your products, they decide things like pricing a feature sets. They do large-volume advertising and their typical MO is do the marketing (advertising) then WAIT for the sales to come to you. SALESMEN go out and find clients, woo clients, determine a clients needs, get the client what he/she requires to fit their needs.

    The difference is apparent from the engineering point of view because the SALES guy wants to talk to the engineers to see what they CAN do, the marketing department wants to tell engineering what they SHOULD do and doesn’t give a rats ass about a specific customer’s needs or the engineering departments abilities.

    Here’s the difference in a nutshell: the marketing guy will tell engineering to cripple some feature because they can make more money making it an “upgrade” and because they don’t need that feature to be competitive in the market. The sales guy will say something like, “That’s great! Wait till I show Foo, Inc. that! We’ll get the deal for sure.” It’s the difference between the hunter (salesmen) and the farmer (marketers).

  100. Tom: Thanks for the warm wishes :^).

    I’m afraid you read more into my posts than was actually there. I never said that engineering alone could save the day. As I stated, when the situation exists such as I described repeatedly, then the failure is NOT in marketing OR engineering. It’s in Management. The slide into disaster starts when the marketing department is given free reign to run the production pipeline and engineering becomes subservient.

    And you’re wrong, I HAVE experienced this, first hand. My dislike for big companies hasn’t protected me completely from this idiocy. My last project ended exactly this way. Unfortunately I underestimated the stupidity of nepotism (and spent 2 miserable years paying for it).

    Oh, and if your next question is, “What happens when engineering’s are in charge?”, same thing, but that almost never happens in a company of significant size. I think that’s because the majority people who make it into C-level positions have a distrust of engineers’ business acumen (with good cause) and would never even consider going along with a plan to turn the controls over the nerds.

    My dislike for large companies is honestly earned, watching my mother being abused by one of the largest petrochemical firms in the country after having her original company bought, then working as a contractor for #6 on the Fortune 500 in the early 90′s and witnessing a level of abuse that went on WRT employees that’s absolutely astounding.

    Small companies have their problems too, generally they are run by a dictator and the company takes on the personality of the guy running it. If you can’t stand the guy that’s in charge, then don’t work there.

    I must be having trouble speaking clearly because I’m being repeatedly misunderstood. Sorry if I’m not being clear.

  101. RE: Distribution of OS for Applications

    From what I can see of my customers (I run a data center), I find that it depends on what their apps are. If they are working with customer-facing apps, these are frequently .NET, and so Windows. Also, if they are running a business where they are looking for off-the-shelf products (e.g. Exchange), these are again frequently Windows based.

    If they do their own development , or they use customized software, these are usually non-windows.

    The pattern that I see is the initial investment costs. Windows-based systems using off-the-shelf software are usually cheaper than developing a custom app. But if there’s a need for a custom app, then Linux is frequently cheaper.

    Of course, if you have a specific app in mind (SAP, Oracle Financial, IBM’s transaction based services, etc.), then you go where that app leads you and cost is a secondary issue.

    The majority of what we are hosting is Windows boxen.

  102. I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty much the majority of medium-to-large-sized companies run on Exchange and Outlook. It really, really is tough to beat as a solution for business communications. The only other real competitor in this space is Lotus Notes, an abomination.

  103. > Here’s the difference in a nutshell: the marketing guy will tell engineering to cripple some feature because they can make more money making it an “upgrade” and because they don’t need that feature to be competitive in the market. The sales guy will say something like, “That’s great! Wait till I show Foo, Inc. that! We’ll get the deal for sure.” It’s the difference between the hunter (salesmen) and the farmer (marketers).

    Now that is an interesting analogy.

    > Thanks for the warm wishes.

    You are welcome. I really do hope you build something cool and it goes big. If my firm took it there that would be a bonus. And if it’s well written code and I’m assigned to maintain it….

    That never happens except in the rare case that I take the time to write it well myself. Sigh.

    > Oh, and if your next question is, “What happens when engineering’s are in charge?”, same thing, but that almost never happens in a company of significant size. I think that’s because the majority people who make it into C-level positions have a distrust of engineers’ business acumen (with good cause) and would never even consider going along with a plan to turn the controls over the nerds.

    All right, now I think that you and Jessica and I are actually substantially in agreement. Jessica’s point is that companies need all their people in various specialties to work together. A typical failure mode is that one speciality, like marketing or engineering or accounting becomes too powerful, which prevents the other specialites from reaching their potential which the company desperately needs in order to succeed.

    Like when the sales people, in order to meet their individual sales goals, “give away the farm”. This really frustrates a good farmer marketing guy.

    Yours,
    Tom

  104. Jeff,

    > I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty much the majority of medium-to-large-sized companies run on Exchange and Outlook.

    If you think this is the extent of our mission critical software you are sadly mistaken. It’s a tiny fraction of it. Our billing, payroll and the very services we sell all run on Unix. We have hundreds of mission critical apps. Some even run on mainframes. Some do run on SQL server. I have to say that if you think email is important compared to the software that sends out our monthly bills to millions of people, well, please question your assumptions, OK? We could far more easily and far more cheaply and far less disruptively switch to Gmail than to change our billing system. (Not saying we would, because Exchange and Outlook is very good software!)

    Yours,
    Tom

  105. # Don Says:
    > MARKETING guys position your products,
    > they decide things like pricing a feature sets.

    See here is the thing I don’t quite get. Marketing people are tasked with a big picture analysis of what exactly the market wants and will bear. This big picture analysis is the architecture of sales so to speak. Yet you are claiming that developers, who have a microscopic view of the market, and the wrong mindset are better positioned to make these judgments. Surely the lesson of economics, science and the industrial revolution is that broad data is better than gut instinct, or private opinions. You might argue that marketing guys suck at that, but I would suggest that programmers not throw rocks in that particular glass house.

    > Here’s the difference in a nutshell: the marketing
    > guy will tell engineering to cripple some feature
    > because they can make more money making it an
    > “upgrade” and because they don’t need that feature
    > to be competitive in the market.

    I guess from your tone you think this is a bad thing. And that is precisely the point. Engineers are often not focused on the bottom line of a company. Perhaps you think excessive focus on the bottom line is terrible, but it is the essence of the capitalist system that has brought us from cavemen scrabbling a living from the dirt, to a nation where “poor” means “live like Kings” mean two hundred years ago.

    Profit is a glorious thing. Arranging your business to maximize profit is an equally glorious thing. The fact that you made the above statement pejoratively tells me that I would not have you making decisions for my company about product placement.

    Just so as you know, the technique you mention — price differentiation — benefits those above the line and those below. It allows for low cost products with most of the features people need, while still extracting top line revenue to pay for the whole product development. This technique is taken to the extreme in OSS. You get the product for a very reduced price (zero), in exchange for a reduction in typical features (tech support, installation and customization support, guidance from sales staff and so forth.) You can upgrade for those features is you like. Red Hat would be happy to help you out.

  106. If you think this is the extent of our mission critical software you are sadly mistaken.

    Hardly. By “run on” here I meant “rely on for communications”. My scope was limited to the office communications domain.

    And of course, Outlook and Exchange are more than just email. There’s contacts, calendaring… People use it to arrange meetings and even reserve conference room space. It’s the kind of thing us “do-one-thing-and-do-it-well” Unix nerds sneezed at in the nineties (email systems should focus on email, dammit!) but it was a significant innovation that seems obvious in hindsight, much like building cameras into cellphones.

  107. Jeff Read Says:
    > It’s the kind of thing us “do-one-thing-and-do-it-well”

    I should also mention that all the office products are very good. They have been damaged in my opinion with the bs that is Office 2007, however, there are few word processors easier to use than Word, few spreadsheets easier to use than Excel, and few project management tools as good as Project.

    One other thing worth mentioning: Visual Studio is an amazing tool. It is extremely well designed, fast to use, and bristling with powerful features. That is not to say the Eclipse is not good, it is. However, I have tried using XCode, it is like stepping back into the middle ages of development tools.

    Bottom line, despite the animosity, and in particular despite the weakness of Windows operating systems, many Microsoft products are actually very good, trend setting, and stable.

    Jeff Read and I agreeing? And in other reports, I am pleased to announce that the Porcine Ariel Acrobatics team will be performing their first show next week.

  108. Bottom line, despite the animosity, and in particular despite the weakness of Windows operating systems, many Microsoft products are actually very good, trend setting, and stable.

    This is something most open source advocates don’t realize. Microsoft won the browser wars of the 1990s because Internet Explorer was better. It was the best browsing experience you could get, on Windows or Mac. Visual Studio is better than the franken-IDEs most Unix people have to work with (vim or emacs + associated tools). DirectX is a one-stop solution for cutting-edge graphics today whereas OpenGL only provides crufty, vendor-specific extensions, its core API until recently being still drafted at the whims of a few CAD system vendors whose code base has gone largely unchanged since the early nineties.

    However, I have tried using XCode, it is like stepping back into the middle ages of development tools.

    I guess you haven’t tried Emacs, then; I suppose you would consider it to be squarely within stone-knives-and-bearskins territory. :)

  109. Profit is a glorious thing. Arranging your business to maximize profit is an equally glorious thing. The fact that you made the above statement pejoratively tells me that I would not have you making decisions for my company about product placement.

    Back in the seventies, auto executives from the U.S. and Germany were interviewed about their line of business. The Germans responded, “We build cars”; the Americans responded, “We sell cars”. Now imagine that you could only buy one car for the next twenty years; would you rather own a Benz or a Caddy?

  110. @Jeff: I’d rather have a Mercedes, thank you. But it occurs to me that -if the anecdote is real- the Germans might have been perfectly aware of what they were saying. Conveying the impression that you’re a serious engineer that prides on quality is also a valid marketing strategy. Considering also that the slogans I can remember from European cars have this slant (Vorsprung durch Technik, Das Auto, etc.) , I’d venture that this was a conscious decision.

  111. @Jessica Boxer:

    Profit is a glorious thing. Arranging your business to maximize profit is an equally glorious thing. The fact that you made the above statement pejoratively tells me that I would not have you making decisions for my company about product placement.

    No doubt. And while I personally have no problem with any random company selling two or three different versions of the same software with various levels of “crippling” — UltraWidget 2010, UltraWidget 2010 Professional and UltraWidget 2010 Sunshine-Coming-Out-Your-Arse-Edition, the real question at hand is this: why does open source win over companies that package secret bits? If you think the answer to that is that “it’s cheaper,” you haven’t been paying attention.

    I should also mention that all the office products are very good. They have been damaged in my opinion with the bs that is Office 2007, however, there are few word processors easier to use than Word, few spreadsheets easier to use than Excel, and few project management tools as good as Project.

    No, Microsoft Word is not easy to use. Users don’t bother with more than 90% of Word’s functionality not because they don’t need it, but because they don’t know how to use it. Most users use Word as a fancy typewriter and fail to realize that Word will do whole lot of stuff for you. Many users don’t even know how to use the built-in automatic bullets and numbering feature, and some even turn it off when it doesn’t do what they want instead of altering it’s parameters. Work with a few clueless end-users before you go spouting off stuff like “few word processors are easier to use than Word.”

    And don’t you even get me started on Excel; let’s just say it isn’t the easiest to use spreadsheet, it’s more like the easiest to use database. :-P

    (Project is a decent tool and, unfortunately, there aren’t very many other tools out there like it. Too bad for Microsoft they had to acquire it from another company, otherwise they could claim innovation!)

  112. @Morgan:

    “No, Microsoft Word is not easy to use. Users don’t bother with more than 90% of Word’s functionality not because they don’t need it, but because they don’t know how to use it. Most users use Word as a fancy typewriter and fail to realize that Word will do whole lot of stuff for you. Many users don’t even know how to use the built-in automatic bullets and numbering feature, and some even turn it off when it doesn’t do what they want instead of altering it’s parameters.”

    Could you actually specify a word processor that is easier to use than Word? The ones I looked, and that provided acceptable communication with Word, were just as difficult (in part because they tried to copy the Word interface as much as possible).

  113. Adriano,

    Exactly. The anecdote is illustrative of where companies put their focus: in engineering or in marketing. Good engineering gives marketers something real they can market. Jessica Boxer is trying to make the point that a marketing-focused company is better, because bottom line and profits and warm fuzzies about capitalism and yada yada. Look at where it got General Motors. Paragon of American capitalism, that.

  114. Could you actually specify a word processor that is easier to use than Word?

    WordPerfect. 5.1, for DOS. Reveal Codes and F-key templates FTW!

  115. @Jeff: I’m actually torn with your reply. I don’t know whether to say “comparing WP 5.1 for DOS against Word 97 or newer? LOLOLOL” or “Hm, my dad used to be proficient at WordStar for DOS and now can’t guess a GUI for his life.”

  116. Tom DeGisi: Yes, I agree, we are mostly talking about the same thing. You sum it up nicely.

    Jessica Boxer: I got NO problem with maximizing profit (hell, what do you think I was trying to do with MY BUSINESS???), but if you’d looked at the examples I gave, many of them were not “differentiated” products. They were CRIPPLED products. As in, “You could do that if we wanted to let you, but we don’t want to let you because then you wouldn’t buy the other thing that really sucks except you can do this one thing with it!”

    There’s no TECHNICAL reason for doing it, there’s competition out there that’s ALREADY doing it, but the Marketing Department will be damned if they’re going to get less money for product X tomorrow just because Product Y, which costs half as much, can do the same job. Eventually, your users start going to buy from Wang, or Compaq, instead of IBM because they can do the same thing with cheaper, easier to maintain hardware at a fraction of the cost.

    Do you have any idea how long it was before an American automobile that cost less than (in today’s money) $25K had things like cruise control and delay windshield wipers? You got them on the Caddy, but certainly not on the Chevelle. There was no reason for it, these options cost VERY little to add (and would have dropped in costs dramatically with quantity), but they just wouldn’t do it because they had to “differentiate” the Caddy from the Chevelle (and in the mean time, Toyota and Honda were kicking Detroit’s collective butt by adding simple, ergonomic features … oh, and better engineered engines too, but that’s not what most people noticed when they took a test drive).

    Marketing has a job to do, as does engineering. But when one of them starts running the show solo, it’s a bad day for that company, and it’s almost always Marketing because of the afore mentioned mistrust of engineers (as this thread seems to spell out). That’s all I’m saying.

  117. @Jeff: “Exactly. The anecdote is illustrative of where companies put their focus: in engineering or in marketing.”

    No, the anecdote is illustrative of where the marketing departments of those companies put their focus. That’s the point I was trying to make. As for European car brands being of higher quality than American ones, that’s another ball o’wax. Personally, I despise huge-ass gas-guzzlers, and like the Appleness of Audis, BMWs, etc. but there’s something about a Gran Torino that warms my fuzzies, too.

  118. @Adriano: You fail to recall the golden age of word processors. The answer is, truly, that all of them were easier to use than Word is now and Jeff Read is right: WordPerfect 5.1 on DOS was drop dead simple and supported just about everything Word does today, sans the DRM and SharePoint crap. (Yes! Graphics, tables, the whole 9 yards).

    The fact is Word has offered absolutely no improvement or value add to the state of the art in word processing. Ever. And if Jessica Boxer did her homework, she’d have no choice but admit that. (And no, Word was NOT even close to the first WYSIWYG word processor.)

  119. Jeff Read Says:
    > The Germans responded, “We build cars”; the Americans responded, “We sell cars”

    That seems entirely off topic to me. The matter at hand is “marketing departments ruin good companies”, whereas you are arguing “short term focus ruins companies.” There is some truth to the latter, I will grant you, though my formulation is overly simply — short term focus is often a good thing. But that proves nothing about the former.

  120. # Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > the real question at hand is this: why does open
    > source win over companies that package secret
    > bits? If you think the answer to that is that “it’s
    > cheaper,” you haven’t been paying attention.

    If you think I think that, then I have to assume you have never read any comment I made on OSS. However, if you think the purchase price of open source software is not a major, if not dominant factor in its selection, then I have to say you would be mistaken.

    > No, Microsoft Word is not easy to use.

    Who said easy? I said easier. Quality document creation is intrinsically difficult. What you gonna recommend? TeX? Troff? (Yes, I am aware of Open Office, AbiWord etc. but they are all just poor quality copies of Word.)

    > “few word processors are easier to use than Word.”

    And the winner is?

    > And don’t you even get me started on Excel;
    > let’s just say it isn’t the easiest to use spreadsheet,
    > it’s more like the easiest to use database. :-P

    I have no idea what that means. Just two weekends ago the eight year old child of a friend of mine used Excel to produce some beautiful graphs of his school science project, along with averages and attractive data tables, all without adult supervision. I am sure you can keep up with a third grader.

  121. I’ve heard from a number of well-known authors who still use WordPerfect to this day.

  122. Don Says:
    > There’s no TECHNICAL reason for doing it,

    But there is a business reason for doing. So your point is?

    > Eventually, your users start going to buy from Wang,
    > or Compaq,

    Wang, Compaq? Never heard of them :-)

    If your argument is that it is sometimes wise to sacrifice short term profits for long term profits, you might be right in some circumstances, you might be wrong in some circumstances. However, I guarantee that a decision like that is many steps removed from the day to day reality of engineering. Quality is a feature, and not everyone necessarily wants that feature, or is willing to pay the price for that feature.

    > things like cruise control and delay windshield wipers? You
    > got them on the Caddy, but certainly not on the Chevelle.
    > There was no reason for it, these options cost VERY little to
    > add (and would have dropped in costs dramatically with quantity),

    There was a reason for it. It was a business reason though, not a technical reasons. The reason? To maintain the price differentiation between the expensive car and the less expensive car. I have no idea how much it costs to add these features to a car, however, sensible businesses try hard to sell by value not by cost plus. Cost plus is for screw nails and curtain hooks, not for cars.

    Once again, you are making the mistake of thinking engineering is business. They are two completely different fields of expertise, and they operate under completely different rules. All the more reason to let business people rather than engineers to run businesses.

  123. # Jeff Read Says:
    > Look at where it got General Motors. Paragon of American capitalism, that.

    Oh, really? I though it was out of control unions, and exceptionally bad engineering quality that ruined GM. The marketing was nothing short of amazing. It kept a company alive that should have died decades ago due to these fundamental business flaws. That whole dishonest “Buy American Cars” which is the very essence of vacuous marketing fluff saved a company that was bleeding like a stuck pig.

    GM was largely run by the unions, since they controlled most of what went on there. So I’d say it was more like a paragon of American socialism rather than capitalism (socialism as opposed to Socialism.)

    I feel so much better now I am back to disagreeing with Jeff.

  124. @Morgan: you fail to understand my answer: I implied that at least wordstar was a very good word processor.

  125. Jessica said: It needs some sort of external connectivity at least for your media input devices (such as a camera or a video camera, BT isn’t good enough yet) and to have an option as a keypad.

    I’m not sure what you mean by option as a keypad, but it can use those crazy “wireless” keyboard things out of the box, if they’re BT, rather than proprietary RF.

    And Apple sells this little thing that you can plug a camera USB cable or SD card into! It’s just not built in, which is okay because… you almost never need it (i.e., you need it once after each photo session, so why build in the weight, space, and cost, for something comparatively few users even care about? It’s not a laptop replacement!).

    (Turns out it the little adapter doohickey works for a wired usb headset, too. So really, “it doesn’t have a USB port” only means “it doesn’t have a standard USB port built in and the ability to write arbitrary drivers for hardware”. Which, well, outside of the super-geek market, nobody cares.

    I repeat. The mass market does not care about USB ports. Even most of the geek market doesn’t once they bother to look and see the Camera Connection Kit.)

  126. Jessica Boxer> There was a reason for it. It was a business reason though, not a technical reasons.

    Wrong. It was a MARKETING reason! A business reason is it’s best for the company. The MARKETING reason is it protects our margins. Therein lies the difference between a marketing department run amuck and a well run business. It has nothing to do with engineers!

  127. Jessica said:

    > However, if you think the purchase price of open source
    > software is not a major, if not dominant factor in its selection,
    > then I have to say you would be mistaken.

    Well, I’m not any kind of market or psychological researcher, so I can’t speak to the reasons that other people use open source software. For me, “purchase price” certainly enters into the equation, but perhaps not in the same way as you are thinking. For a very simple example, if something is free, I can just try it out and start using it without getting purchasing involved, or worrying that if it it seems like a “must-have” technology, we would need to by X seats at Y dollars per seat. At most companies there is an internal friction associated with paying for something (especially something expensive) that comes into play well before any dollars leave the company. Open source, even with support contracts, turns this around — instead of paying money for potential future value, money is only paid out for the perception of value currently being delivered.

    I don’t mind paying for software. In fact, an editor I used to use a lot on Windows (UltraEdit) brought out a Linux version, so I bought it. It has a few nice features that don’t appear in most other Linux editors; but so far, it’s got some rough edges. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have bought it, because it keeps crashing, and if it were open source, someone probably would have figured out why that is by now.

    Bit I digress a bit. Paying once for software is no big deal. Even paying for enhancements is no big deal. Paying over and over, or having to pay to use the same software at home and at work, is a big deal. Earlier, you pooh-poohed Don’s concerns about Microsoft’s licensing practices, but those practices are, in fact, a big deal. One reason I bought and used UltraEdit is because, after I buy it, it’s *mine*. I can legally install it on as many machines as I want, no big deal. I can use it at home, at work, at a new job; doesn’t matter.

    Open source takes this three steps further: (1) the upgrades are mine, too, at no additional charge; (2) I can actually participate in the upgrade process and add features if I so choose; (3) if I need to make additional deployments of the software (for a co-worker, for example), then a) I know he will be able to legally use the same version I’m using, even if it’s old and crufty; b) I know that the cost of a new license acquisition won’t be set to an arbitrarily high price at some later date simply because the vendor assumes he has a captive market. (Have you priced MS Office lately?); and c) if I need to repurpose a deployment (from a departing employee to a new employee), there is never any legal issue.

    The point I’m trying to get at is this: vendors are not the only ones making investments in software. Their customers make huge investments as well, both in learning to use the software, and in deploying it. For most software packages, the bulk of the customer investment is actually in employee knowledge, but if you think about it, that’s an investment that is made “on the ground” by the customer’s _employees_, not directly by the customer.

    My company will let me (perhaps even encourage me) to use tools like MatLab, Word or FrameMaker, Cadence NC-Verilog, and a whole host of similar proprietary tools to do my job. Yet I invariably choose the open source alternative, if one is suitable, not because it saves the company money (sometimes it actually costs a little bit more in my time in the short term), but because I know my investment in learning open source tools can be leveraged into a lot of different environments (including more easily doing work at home) that are made difficult or impossible with proprietary licensing.

    I cannot stress enough the difference in mindset this makes: years ago, when I became proficient in tools like MSVC and Word, I became an unpaid salesman for Microsoft. Every time I went to a new company, they had to buy new licenses for me, and I had one at home as well. Other people working on the same projects also needed licenses. Today, I have much more incentive to invest time and energy in proficiency on most of the software I use, because *I own it.* Technically, maybe I just own one or more copies, but nobody can take that away from me. Any investment I make in a technology I can reuse with no real restrictions is an investment in *me*. Any investment I make in a technology that Microsoft can arbitrarily discontinue or change the price on is not an investment at all, but simply an irretrievable sunk cost.

  128. Don Says:
    > A business reason is it’s best for the company.
    > The MARKETING reason is it protects our margins.

    Perhaps I need to go back and get my MBA, but it isn’t clear to me why “protecting our margins” isn’t a business reason, and isn’t good for the company.

  129. I’ve used every major word processor from WordStar 3.3 through WordPerfect 5.1 and Word.

    Honestly, with the exception of table formatting, there is NOTHING in them that I can’t get just fine with WordPad.

    WordStar’s keyboard commands are built for typists. They’re lovely once you grok that.

    I DETESTED WordPerfect’s stupid function key assignments.

    Text creation and text formatting should be two different applications, and are. I use Word for most text creation (and turn off 95% of the formatting tricks), and for revision tracking. I lay stuff out in InDesign where I’ve got more control.

    As to Excel – it is probably the only piece of software native to Microsoft that wins out largely on being better than anything the competition puts out in its space. It blows the doors off of Calc in capabilities and speed.

    (And I say this as someone who regularly commits atrocities in Excel).

  130. WordStar’s keyboard commands are built for typists. They’re lovely once you grok that.

    I can’t stand the fact that so many Linux distros come out of the box with nano configured as the default editor.

    Nano is for tards.

    Joe (a WordStar clone) ftw!

  131. Jeff:

    Now imagine that you could only buy one car for the next twenty years; would you rather own a Benz or a Caddy?

    Actually, what I’m hearing from Mercedes buyers since they took over Chrysler was that Mercedes’ standards dropped to Chrysler’s, rather than Chrysler’s rising to meet Mercedes’. If I’m stuck with the two choices you list, I might well get the Caddy. My true choice would be a Lexus, though.

    oe (a WordStar clone) ftw!

    Amen, brother! Though I always do cd /etc/joe; mv joerc joerc.orig; ln -s jstarrc joerc when doing a fresh system setup with joe. jstarrc is much closer to WordStar than joerc.

  132. Was it Wordperfect, or maybe wordstar, that had those stupid templates that would overlay the keyboard?

    Always thought those looked dumb.

  133. In other news:
    what do you guys make of Microsoft putting Office in the cloud?

    Must be feeling the heat from Google.

  134. # Patrick Maupin Says:
    > For me, “purchase price” certainly enters into
    > the equation, but perhaps not in the same way
    > as you are thinking.

    I was thinking along similar lines as you, though perhaps more broadly where the free beer matters too. However, the point is that there is a big difference between a price of $1 and a price of $0, and you have enumerated very well many of the benefits of that. For the most part I agree with the points you are making.

    > you pooh-poohed Don’s concerns about
    > Microsoft’s licensing practices,

    No I didn’t. Don gave description of their licensing model with the tone that this was on its face really stupid. I just asked him to explain what his objection was. As I said, it is a very common model for software in the commercial world, and is not, as he implied, all that complicated to understand. So I didn’t pooh-pooh it, I just don’t think it is self evidently bad, and, FWIW, many purchasers of software apparently don’t either (or not to the point that they are willing to make a different choice.)

    > For most software packages, the bulk of the
    > customer investment is actually in employee
    > knowledge,

    And here is where I wanted to get to in your reply. This is a very important point. The cost of learning software is generally much higher than the cost of acquiring that software, which makes price much less important, oftentimes, especially on the desktop. MS Office is one of the longest lasting pieces of desktop software in existence. People are confident of their learning investment.

    I might add that this is why I think Office 2007 was the largest gamble Microsoft has made in twenty years. They basically threw away all that user knowledge in one fell swoop. All those billions of man years of effort. I am shocked that they were foolish enough to do it, and absolutely amazed that it didn’t destroy the product. This was a bigger mistake that Vista, but somehow they dodged the bullet.

    And FWIW, you can currently buy Office 2003 for about $40 per seat on eBay, and Microsoft Visual Studio Basic editions are free as in beer. So I don’t agree that the prices are outrageously high at all. That is less than the cost of the chair you sit on.

  135. Sigivald Says:
    > I’m not sure what you mean by option as a
    > keypad, but it can use those crazy “wireless”
    > keyboard things out of the box, if they’re BT,
    > rather than proprietary RF.

    Ah, thanks for the correction. FWIW, I had the chance to try out an iPad at a friend’s house over the weekend. It was very nice indeed. Classic Apple. Simply to use. Lots of flash (with a lower case “f”), fast, pretty. Touch screen worked with my fingernails just fine (though they are pretty short.) Keypad was not terrible.

  136. Jessica Boxer>Perhaps I need to go back and get my MBA, but it isn’t clear to me why “protecting our margins” isn’t a business reason, and isn’t good for the company.

    Well actually, if you want to know something about running a business, there’s no substitute for running a business. The MBA is useful, but you gotta remember that those who can’t do, teach :^). Most MBA programs are geared more toward management (as an employee) than entrepreneurship. Some MBAs get it, but bunches don’t. Kinda like Computer Science students.

    Maintaining your margins only works IF you can give sufficient value to support those margins in the customers’ eyes. You can only sell inflated crap for so long before the name just no longer does it.

    Look, it’s obvious that I’m not going to convince you of anything so I’ll just exit stage left.

  137. # Don Says:
    > Maintaining your margins only works IF
    > you can give sufficient value to support
    > those margins in the customers’ eyes.
    > You can only sell inflated crap for so long
    > before the name just no longer does it.

    As Jack McCoy would say: Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.

  138. > Jessica Boxer Says:
    > Quality is a feature, and not everyone necessarily wants that feature, or is willing to pay the price for that feature.

    So true. Marketing is not always evil. Although sales is. ;o)

  139. Jessica Boxer asks:

    >”Question for you iPad/iPhone users, since I have never used one: what is the impact of long >fingernails on the usability of these devices? Can the screens detect a touch initiated with the tip of a
    > fingernail, or do they require actual flesh?”

    My experience has been that my (short) fingernails do not work on the touchscreen. Flesh has to touch. I don’t consider that a problem, though. At least it’s consistent. Some people have mentioned the problem with touch-selecting small pixel groups. That can be overcome to some degree by two-finger-expanding the screen, which has become almost automatic for me when small things have to be selected. I’m still frustrated by the inability to easily select and copy exactly the words I want from a large block of text, though. As to the superiority of an external keyboard, that still is not enough to get me to go back to a mouse. And, of course, if I never do get the hang of the internal keyboard, I’ll just get a docking station and keyboard for those times when I need to type more than a few words. The iPad is a browsing/reading/entertainment machine, not a full-fledged word processor.

  140. The iPad is having a good deal of success in the pro audio marketplace as a control surface. That we techies don’t get it is largely irrelevant. And face it – both the original PC and the Mac Classic were junk when they were released. Kaypro, other marques were vastly technically superior. Game changing computers are almost always a “Huh?” on a tech basis.

  141. Les Cargill,

    And of course Android tablets can’t even compete in that space, as the latency and jitter in the I/O event stream that inheres to Android will completely fuck up the feel of any real-time audio control app.

    Score another for Apple and their development model.

  142. what do you guys make of Microsoft putting Office in the cloud?

    Must be feeling the heat from Google.

    No — more from OpenOffice. That doesn’t mean OpenOffice is a viable competitor to Microsoft Office — it isn’t. However, the practice of Microsoft is to not let anyone who might gain a foothold in the market and thereby pose a credible threat to do so; and with sufficient development effort, especially on the usability front, OpenOffice might one day be taken seriously.

    And it was WordPerfect with the F-key templates. People here tend to hate the F-keystrokes, but a secretary suitably trained in them was more productive than in just about every other word processor around, including Word for DOS (which sported a mouse-driven interface that was rather innovative for a PC in the 80s). That’s why it absolutely dominated the DOS word-processing market.

  143. Yeah I remember those templates. And I heard that you could be really productive with it. But somehow it always seemed sort of…. kludgy.

    BTW, Jeff Read, do you think they will ever put OpenOffice in the cloud? That could be interesting.

    Personally, I use Google Docs. It loads fast, the word processor part of it is quite easy to use if you are familiar with Word, and you can access your documents from anywhere. My hard drive dies, I’m good.

    It may not have the bells and whistles of Office, but I never use those anyway. A fast running stripped down app is all most people need.

  144. I know how much you guys hate Apple, but I use apple’s “Pages” its far better than MS Word in just about every possible way I have checked.

    Also, Word has always been a POS back in the day I used to use Claris, because Word would choke on a 10MB document. Also, if you use a mac, you will find that third party products are more compatible with mac and pc powerpoint than mac and pc powerpoint are with each other.

  145. Pages is a joke. Superficially friendly, yet infuriating when you try to do anything serious. It is still, however, better than Word, which is just infuriating without the redeeming easiness. I usually give up and use TeX, or InDesign*, depending on the project.

    * Because complex layouts in TeX are about as painful as math anywhere else.

    Most of Apple’s software products they make in pairs: an entry-level product, and a professional-level product. Thus, iMovie and Final Cut, iPhoto and Aperture, Garage Band and Logic. This isn’t merely price differentiation: Logic, for instance, is far too complicated for casual use; Garage Band is simply a better product, if your needs are basic.

    The problem is, iWork is the Garage Band of desktop publishing. Nobody makes a good pro-level equivalent. (Adobe doesn’t count; ask me why later.)

    That said, iWork is full of outright bugs, mostly related to typography. If you adjust the leading, you get uneven lines. Uneven lines! And the spreadsheet doesn’t support lining figures. (The OS’s standard text system does, and if you copy and paste a spreadsheet into another app, the correct figures magically appear.) So much for “gorgeous output”, which is supposed to be the whole point of iWork.

    I love Apple, but here they have disappointed me bitterly.

  146. TeX lets you do things commercial word processors don’t do at all, or do very, very poorly.

    In that sense, it’s hella user friendly.

    I’ve run up against the glass ceiling imposed by word processing software (including Word, and OOo) enough times to where I simply bite the bullet and learn whatever LaTeX formatting magic it takes to produce a letter, resume, etc. and do so from the comfort of Emacs.

  147. Jeff Read Says:
    > TeX lets you do things commercial word processors don’t do at all, or do very, very poorly.

    I’m not TeXpert, but it seems to me that the reverse is true also. For example, isn’t it much easier to put a drawing into a Word document? What is the TeX command to embed a spreadsheet with a 3D bar chart with an automatically updating link to live data?

    Math? For sure the equation editor in Word is difficult, but the above are more common in the domain that Word operates in. Donald Knuth is not a typical user.

  148. Jeff Read Says:
    TeX lets you do things commercial word processors don’t do at all, or do very, very poorly.

    In that sense, it’s hella user friendly.

    I’ve run up against the glass ceiling imposed by word processing software (including Word, and OOo) enough times to where I simply bite the bullet and learn whatever LaTeX formatting magic it takes to produce a letter, resume, etc. and do so from the comfort of Emacs.

    Jeff, I cannot help but be reminded of my favorite Adequacy.org post

  149. We don’t own the entire server market. Crucially, what we do own is most of the higher-margin bits of it – financial services, Hollywood’s render farms, corporate DB (except for the few really huge ones on Jay’s z-series iron). Basically, all the world’s Solaris and HP-UX servers and a good chunk of the AIX ones have gone to Linux. This was a major defeat for Microsoft’s strategic planners, who had managed to use Office and Outlook to capture a lot of the departmental and workgroup servers even while operating under the consent degree. Those are a decent sustaining business, but their actual game plan was to use that as an entry point to entrench themselves on bigger iron, where the customers are performance- rather than cost sensitive and the margins are truly lucrative. We headed them off at that pass.

    Eric, do you remember the Innovator’s Dilemma? Microsoft is currently growing in the server market, and Windows now outnumbers Linux 3:1. Based on my understanding of disruption, it looks like Microsoft is poised to gore all the companies depending on Linux. Furthermore, hasn’t Microsoft been making increasing inroads into the supercomputer market lately?

  150. It was a part of the Amiga philosophy that a desktop computer should always respond instantaneously to a user’s commands — no compromises and no exceptions. I suspect the same is true of Apple as well, which is why the Mac was originally single-tasking and didn’t gain PMT until Mac OS X. Unix, having been designed for time-sharing, takes more of a “come back later, I’ve got shit I gotta do” approach. Sadly Windows has inherited many of the annoying bits of the Unix tradition — like this — and few of the good bits. This “instantaneous response” principle becomes even more crucially important on a mobile phone than on a desktop computer; and Apple follows it while Android blithely ignores it.

    I am not so sure about that, Jeff. I have had apps (mostly Safari) crash/hang on me many times, and the only reliable way of getting rid of them is to open Terminal, find their PID and ‘kill -s 9′ them. It is too bad Apple did not copy the userfriendliness of Linux’s kill command.

  151. Jay Maynard Says:

    Yellow Cat:

    In my judgment, it’s a new kind of *television*.

    That’s an interesting assertion. Defend it.

    I’m basing it largely on the mental state of the “typical” user.
    When using a computer, most people are in creation mode. Even if they’re building an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document, they are making something new.

    When using a television, most people are in passive consumption mode. They are – largely mindlessly – taking in what is being presented to them by another creator.

    And what is the iPad best for? IMO, it’s for consumption, not creation: reading web pages, not making them; reading books and magazines, not writing them; viewing video, not editing it; looking at pictures, not taking them.

    -YC

  152. I remember not groking the iPhone until I brought one into my life. It’s easy to see only the downsides. A new usage experience can’t be understood by reading about it. A 1 Ghz tablet computer with a snappy instant response UI and none of the PC kruft is a wonderful thing. I got an iPad 3G yesterday and haven’t put it down. No hard drive grinding, no mice clicking, no keyboard clacking. Can’t imagine I will use anything else around the house for casual surfing on the couch, at the dining room table or in bed nearly flat with the thing on my belly as I am right now.

  153. I am not so sure about that, Jeff. I have had apps (mostly Safari) crash/hang on me many times, and the only reliable way of getting rid of them is to open Terminal, find their PID and ‘kill -s 9′ them. It is too bad Apple did not copy the userfriendliness of Linux’s kill command.

    Amigas used to crash and hang too :)

    But anyway, with the rise of the iPod and related devices, Apple is more than willing to make compromises in favor of Unix-grade system stability on their Macintosh and Xserve line. But for their consumer electronics devices — no way. And that’s part of why you don’t see “real” m

  154. Sorry, last part should read “real” multitasking on the iPhone and iPad. They are devices intended to mesh seamlessly with the human psyche, which can only sustain one major task at a time. (Walking and chewing gum do not count as “major”. :))

  155. Jeff Read Says:
    > They are devices intended to mesh seamlessly with
    > the human psyche, which can only sustain one major
    > task at a time.

    The human psyche can’t calculate the logarithm of a ten digit numbers to eight decimal places either. Isn’t it useful if computers can do things that humans can’t? Do we have to limit our computer devices to the limits or our brains, or can we use them as leverage to extend and improve our capabilities?

  156. This post is based on Althouse’s blog post, where she is somewhat ambivalent about the IPad.

    Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh had a post on his site today raving about his ipad, stating among other things that he loves the virtual keyboard.

  157. Argggh… goddamnit. I hate trying to remember html tags. There has to be a better way.

    ESR says: Fixed that for ya.

  158. The human psyche can’t calculate the logarithm of a ten digit numbers to eight decimal places either. Isn’t it useful if computers can do things that humans can’t? Do we have to limit our computer devices to the limits or our brains, or can we use them as leverage to extend and improve our capabilities?

    You’re right, Jessica.

    But where the computer must interact with a human, it should do so in a way that is friendly and easy for the human to comprehend with as little cognitive burden as is possible for the task at hand. This is why, for instance, the latest 100% digital, 24-bit 96kbps mixing table has a row of sliders just like analog mixing tables from the 60s and 70s. The engineers who mix professional audio are so used to relying on the tactile feedback of the sliders, and listening to the output of the mixer, that anything else would jar them and disrupt their flow.

    Likewise, while a computer can do more than one task at a time, it comes at an expense: multiple tasks require more management, consume valuable CPU cycles and drain battery power. Multitasking is usually wasted, even on a typical PC: most of the tasks without user focus are simply waiting for some I/O event to happen. There are some exceptions, like playing music in the background, but most users are really only doing one thing at a time. This is a technology that was invented so that multiple users on a single mini or mainframe could run interactive programs at the same time and Apple, understanding that most iPhone users only do one thing at a time, saw the increased battery life and snappier response of a single-tasking phone as a worthy tradeoff for the lack of “true” multitasking. This is why Apple is at the forefront of user-centric engineering and innovation.

  159. > Likewise, while a computer can do more than one task at a time, it comes at an expense: multiple tasks require more management, consume valuable CPU cycles and drain battery power. Multitasking is usually wasted, even on a typical PC: most of the tasks without user focus are simply waiting for some I/O event to happen. There are some exceptions, like playing music in the background, but most users are really only doing one thing at a time.

    I really want my PC to react immediately to input. For example I think I’d like each program to have a little status bar at the bottom where it prints a response to each command I give it – even if it’s only ‘Save File my_important_work.doc command waiting to start’.

    Yours,
    Tom

  160. Jeff Read Says:
    > You’re right, Jessica.

    Ah, Jeff, if only you had stopped at this line!

    Your original argument was that computers (or phones at least) should only single task because humans only single task. But here you make an entirely different case, specifically:
    1. Software needs really good GUIs
    2. GUIs need to be really responsive
    3. Small computers are not very good at multi tasking.

    I largely agree with the first two, and don’t know enough to comment on 3. But they are all rather pragmatic rather than philosophical, which was the realm of your original comment.

  161. Your original argument was that computers (or phones at least) should only single task because humans only single task.

    It was more that computers need only single-task because humans only single-task; and that if multitasking compromises the responsiveness and usability of the UI, it’s a good tradeoff to lose it.

  162. That is a ridiculous stereotype. You are basically saying that all marketing people have no desire to do good work, or produce quality products. That is no more true than saying all engineers are passionately concerned with quality above all else. My experience is quite different than yours. I find sales people, who sell things beyond commodity widgets, are usually quite passionate about the needs of their customers.

  163. Actually, the real selling point of the iPad is that it’s locked down, and you can’t modify the system. Like root access, this is a dangerous freedom that screws millions of non-techies over every day. The iPad is the first computer “the rest of us” can’t screw up. Every time a person screws up their windows PC, it’s due to freedoms they don’t need and don’t understand, which they’re either misusing, or which are being used against them by malicious developers.

    We programmers care about this stuff, [i]but we’re not the target market.[/i] They’re marketing it as a computer alternative to people who DON’T care about those freedoms, and never will.

    iPads don’t need utility (e.g. defrag, norton etc) software. iPads don’t need antivirus. iPads can’t install toolbars/drivers/extensions/background-apps that screw up/slow down your system. 2 years after buying an iPad, the whole thing still runs like it’s in mint condition (unless the actual hardware breaks). In other words, the iPad is like a nintendo, and that’s exactly what most people want.

    This is like the whole controversy that raged through the *nix community about whether it was right or not to ship unix without a root account. This is the same thing, just taken to the next level of user-permissions.

  164. Bear in mind – I don’t mean dangerous as in morally reprehensible. I mean dangerous as in rm, or dangerous as in power-tools. These freedoms should always be accessible to people who understand them and can take advantage of them – but they’re doing a lot of harm in the hands of people who aren’t ready for them.

    If “j random user” doesn’t understand that installing that nifty “comet cursor”/”animated wallpaper”/etc program will slow down everything about their windows box, they shouldn’t be allowed to do it at all. It should be something only accessible to computer experts who understand the constant drain it will put on their processor. And that’s exactly what the iPad delivers.

  165. The Apple phenomenon is interesting to study from multiple standpoints, philosophical, sociological, psychological, and so on. It is certainly fascinating to observe the behavior of specimens known, in common lingo, as “fanboys.” I never understood the burning passion for defending any company who likely doesn’t give a shit about you and never will. I suspect it has to do with the desire for an identity, and something about unmet needs. Marvelous stuff indeed.

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