Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in September, 2005

Re: Soft on Microsoft?

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More on Microsoft:

Is Microsoft Vista the new QuarkXPress?, by Daniel Erans:

Quark has long owned the desktop publishing world. Yet, after a decade of dominance, the company stumbled, leaving the door open for serious competition just as Adobe was introducing a strong competing product. Is Microsoft about to do the same?

Worth reading, although I don’t agree with all his conclusions…

Also lots of stuff on the Mini-Microsoft blog.

In other news, Microsoft reorganizes into 3 main divisions. No word yet on where their Mac software division will fit in…

Re: Soft on Microsoft?

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Daniel Steinberg kindly pointed me at Tim O’Reilly’s comments on Phil Wainewright’s piece about Google and Microsoft occupying different spaces:

Google’s turf is the Internet. It’s not interested in devices that don’t connect to it – Microsoft is welcome to that market. It simply wants to extend its reach to any device that does go online.

…Microsoft’s business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google’s depends on everyone exploring what’s new in their computing environment every day.

This illustrates my original point very well. Google isn’t trying to compete with Microsoft at all (although Microsoft may be trying to compete with Google…)

Soft on Microsoft?

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I usually pay relatively little attention to news about Microsoft, not counting the usual jokes about virii and blue screens. What one hears about XP and Vista is usually not too exciting, and even MSFT stock has been slowly but steadily going down since 2000.

But lately there’s been some philosophical discussion of the whole Microsoft story. For instance, Forbes has a very interesting discussion of Microsoft’s midlife crisis:

…In the dog years of Silicon Valley, Microsoft, at 30, is in advanced middle age. The company relies on Windows and a suite of desktop applications – products released a decade ago – for 80% of sales and 140% of profits. Newer products – the Xbox videogame machine, the MSN online service, the wireless and small-business software – collectively have racked up $7 billion in losses in four years…

The article goes on to draw parallels to IBM, which suffered a similar crisis in the Eighties. Then I saw a couple of Business Week articles, including one about employee dissatisfaction. It was interesting to read how far Microsoft has come from its beginnings – both in the positive and negative senses – and in what varied direction.

Then I saw this great post over at Matt Gemmell‘s blog:

I just don’t have any real anger towards Microsoft anymore…

…I’m not interested in Microsoft bashing or even much Windows criticism at this point, and that surprises the hell out of me, to be honest. I guess I just don’t really care anymore. I have an OS that I really like, without the sense of compromise I had way back in the days of classic Mac OS. I feel I’ve got the best end of the deal, and I still get the “elite club” thing we’ve all always cherished. I don’t want Apple to destroy Microsoft, nor are they going to…

…I wouldn’t want to use Windows on my own machine, but at long last I think I’m finally really comfortable with it being around. I guess that if I was Microsoft, I’d find that pretty terrifying.

Of course you should read the whole thing; I’ll be translating this for publication in Macmania magazine later on, since I thought Matt’s really spot on here.

Finally, while considering writing something up here, someone pointed me at the latest Rob Enderle Apple Death Knell (here are the other ones – currently 46!). I won’t dissect it too detailedly as The Mac Observer folks have already done so, but what I found most striking about that piece was the great disconnect between the writer’s view of Apple and “Linux” as minor/doomed competitors of Microsoft for the entire computing market, and my (and other’s) feelings of Apple and Microsoft inhabiting increasingly different spaces.

Yes, there’s still part of the rivalry over the desktop OS market – the Tiger/Vista face-off which both sides view as mostly decided, each in their favor. And the QuickTime/WindowsMedia thing, which has largely migrated out of the desktop space into the music player space. But, come on, it makes no sense anymore to speak broadly of “marketshare”. The computer market has split into multiple markets. Servers are going one way, cheapie home or office computers another, high-end game machines yet another, and so forth for at least a dozen of splinter markets. Apple is interested in some of these segments, but not in most others; and correctly so, as they shouldn’t fall into the trap of overextending their reach, as Microsoft seems to have done. Instead, with the iPod, they’ve defined and dominated one new market with great focus and competence.

I can’t resist quoting one paragraph of the Enderle piece, however:

For Office 12 the clear advancement is discoverability. The product has over 1,500 features and most of us use 30 or 40. The massive UI enhancement has to do with being able to find and understand these features, the vast majority of which have been included in earlier versions of the product. This is something where the words “long overdue” seem incredibly inadequate. Everything else, no matter how compelling, that is new in this product simply seems unimportant when compared to this one comprehensive overdue enhancement.

If I understood this alright… the user now needs a search facility to find out which of these 1,500 features should be used to turn off, say, automatic uppercasing? This is the microcosmic analogue of Microsoft’s error of trying to do all things for all markets. And failing, if Forbes’ numbers are correct.

If my hunches are correct (as I’ve explained in the previous post), Apple will probably seize the PowerPC->Intel transition to leave the retail OS market entirely. They’ll sell updates for holdout Mac OS 9 users for some time, and updates for MacIntel boxes, but in 2-3 years they may even stop breaking out OS update sales figures from other software sales figures. It will be great fun reading these columnist after that happens.

Merlin over at 43 Folders always has useful advice, but this one on Writing Sensible Email Messages is essential reading:

Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:

1. Why am I writing this?

2. What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

If you can’t succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. People get dozens, hundreds, even thousands of emails each day, so it’s only natural for them to gravitate toward the messages that are well thought-out and that clearly respect their time and attention. Careless emails do not invite careful responses.

I get an awful lot of emails myself, and I wish more people considered making them easier to read… and to respond to.

TPM etc.: a follow-up

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It appears that a new version of Mac OS X for the Intel Transition Kits is out. As I expected, it has new protection measures in place. (Note: I don’t have a transition kit and would be under NDA if I had one, so all this is speculation based on publicly available data…)

There’s still very little information out on what they actually changed regarding use of the TPM chip. Of course, the previously published patches don’t work on the new version; this also confirms my idea that Apple is using the pirates as a test bed for their protection algorithms. Also, it seems that applications compiled for the new version won’t run on the old version, as the ABI (Application Binary Interface) has changed. This was to be expected; it also happened several times before Mac OS X 10.0 came out; the fact that it also makes the patched systems out there useless for most practical purposes is just a positive side-effect for Apple.

Most comments I’ve seen from the PC user’s side show a lack of information about the TPM chip’s capabilities; they either have an unconditional faith that it will be hacked in a few days, or that it will kill their firstborn. As I’ve said before, my opinion is that it will be very hard to hack – maybe even impossible in practice – but that Apple won’t press its use beyond the one of protecting their intent of restricting Mac OS X to Apple-built machines.

There’s one further misconception to be addressed. Some people say that, once they buy a retail copy of Mac OS X, the part of the shrink-wrap license that says that they can run it only on Apple-built machines need not be obeyed. While I’m not sure if such restrictions have ever been tested in court, there are a few ways that Apple can strengthen its position.

For one, they could simply stop selling retail licenses of Mac OS X; a copy of the system would be included with every machine and they would sell only updates separately. Remember that the only reason that retail copies of Mac OS X for PowerPC were put on the market was to entice users to upgrade from Mac OS 9; it’s not like Microsoft selling retail copies of Windows for generic PCs. And of course I don’t believe that Apple will make Mac OS X available for generic PCs in the foreseeable future…

The first Mac, in 1984, had most of its operating system contained in ROM; the boot diskette contained the Finder and a System file which consisted essentially of patches to the ROM. Apple’s ROMs were jealously guarded – relatively easy as they were part of the hardware – but boot diskettes were freely distributed. With Flash memory capacity going up, Apple might even return to this model.


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On Sep. 12th power went off in Los Angeles, where DreamHost hosts my web pages. Everything seems to be working again, I’m not sure yet for how long they were down, but from the stats it looks like several hours.

Seems it was human error; someone overloaded one small part of the system and everything else shut down overprotectively. Obviously these things can’t be tested in practice. Still, analogies with certain pieces of software occur to me… icon_wink.gif

Re: nPod, hm

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Michael Tsai links back to my previous post and to lots of other great comments. I particularly recommend Brent Simmon‘s analysis. And of course John Gruber‘s take is hors concours.

nPod, hm

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The phone thingy leaves me completely cold; I don’t own a cellphone, and don’t intend to buy one in the near future. Still, I suppose I should be glad that the market appeared to like it; AAPL even went over the magic $50 mark today for a few minutes.

The iPod nano looks great, even if it’s a little expensive per gigabyte. If I find a suckerbuyer for my 40GB (3G) iPod, I might even switch… given that I use it mostly as a glorified shuffle in the car and in the gym, and I have larger drives elsewhere to keep my main music database, it would make sense. And the “no moving parts” aspect is of course ideal.

(I was puzzled by repeated references to “nano” being a dumb name… until someone told me it refers to a 70s(?) TV show, which I’d never heard of. I wonder if all future “nano” products – and there will be zillions – will be affected by this?)

The third aspect is the new iTunes 5 interface. Dan Wood dislikes it, as do most others who’ve commented. It took me a moment to look beyond the Mail-style splitter control to notice that metal had gone, replaced by Yet Another Different Interface Style.

Personally, I thought the margin-less aspect is positive, and the new gradients aren’t too bad. I never use Mail, so I found the divider-less splitter very strange; although I like to experiment with new UI, this is one thing I won’t try out in my products. (However, users of RBSplitView should note that this is easy to do with it.)

Overall, this reinforces my opinion that Apple is now moving away from a intelligent design approach to UI, towards a more survival of the fittest sort of thing. Each application’s group tries out new UI elements and the ones that survive get incorporated into Interface Builder’s palettes one or two releases down the road. It’s certainly more exciting but also, at times, disconcerting…

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