Archive for the 'Opinion' category

Walt Mossberg heaps praises on the HP TouchSmart PC – or maybe not…

July 1, 2008 10:37 pm

Here’s the summarizing headline/link:

The TouchSmart Has Improved–But Not Enough

I’m surprised at how relatively positive the article is. Thanks Mr. Mossberg!

Maker Faire drowning in success

May 3, 2008 4:07 pm

I’m happy that Maker Faire in San Mateo is having great success, judging from today’s experience. Our family attempted to go today to take part in the clothing swap, mostly. But when we got there, all the parking lots were overflowing/closed and they had people walking around with bullhorns asking cars to turn around and park elsewhere.

It would have been nice if they had updated the website with this information. That could have saved us burning all that gas, just to turn around and go back home.

If you’re going, my guess is you should arrive right when the doors open in order to get a spot.

Or even better: take public transportation.

One side benefit for the local economy from this somewhat “wasted” trip: we spent some money at a local German butcher on the way home. Mmm. Delicious German sausages!

Windows "7": What will Microsoft learn from Windows Vista?

February 10, 2008 12:25 am

Vista Service Pack 1 is in the can. It’s no coincidence that Vista SP1 and Server 2008 are “here” at the same time. They’re one and the same apart from the differences in “configuration”, i.e. Client vs. Server stuff. Server 2008 is the product that should have been released in a “Client” version under the Vista branding, but Microsoft caved to enormous pressure from the market and released it a little over a year too early.

Microsoft undoubtedly knew they could never afford to release a Server version in the state the code was in at Vista release. Corporations running mission critical things on Server would never adopt anything not rock solid. So Microsoft took the time they should have put into the “Client” version to finish things off properly for Server. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.

What can be expected of Windows “7” after this? My guess is Microsoft will cave to market pressure again and release something not quite ready for the consumer market. With Vista, part of the reason for releasing too early was that Windows XP seemed to be getting too old. For Windows “7” part of the reason will likely be a perceived need to catch up with Apple’s OS X.

With Vista, Microsoft was incredibly open about providing early builds to lots of people in order to get the quality right. And yet it wasn’t enough. It also seems that the biggest “achievement” that came from the openness was that people weren’t much impressed when the final product came out. In my view that’s a bit of a shame, because there are lots of truly great innovations in Vista (one of which is WPF). Microsoft will probably be more tight-lipped about Windows “7” as a result. They might take a more Apple-like approach and keep things secret until the last minute. Surprise the world when they release Vista’s successor.

The problem is that Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand what it is about Apple’s offer that makes it so compelling. It’s not OS X. It’s not iLife or iWork. It’s how it’s all wrapped up in an end-to-end package. Beautiful, well performing hardware; good OS; good everyday software with features that people find useable and useful, integrated with revenue generating .Mac Internet services. And all because Apple has control of the entire chain, from hardware to software and services. Heck, they even control the retail experience.

Microsoft doesn’t have an answer for that. They play a different game. They play in many arenas and with many, many different partners. The ecosystem Microsoft provides the basis for is much, much bigger than Apple’s. Microsoft can never be Apple. And I don’t think they should even try to be.

I’m hoping that Microsoft will not cave in to market pressure but chart their own course for Windows “7”. Perhaps kick off work for another “NT” project (from the Dave Cutler/NT 3.x days) and focus on creating an operating system that is focused on the total consumer experience. Throw away all backwards compatibility in the consumer market, if needed (ironically, sort of like Apple did for OS X.) Provide backwards compatibility through virtualization or by keeping a separate line for corporate mission-critical applications. But mainly chart a course that doesn’t look too much at Apple or Linux or anything else, but follows new visions for what can be done with software running on ever more capable hardware. They have enough smart people to lead the way. There’s no need to follow anyone.

The software free-conomy

December 19, 2007 11:50 pm

Richard Stallman, the prophet of free software, St. IGNUcius After looking through the comments to Jeff Atwood’s recent post on software product keys, I noticed that quite a few went down the rabbit-hole of  free versus paid software. People suggesting that if you don’t like paying for software, typing in license keys, managing them and other hassles, you can always go to using free software.

I can see where these people are coming from. I use plenty of free software myself: Windows Live Writer, Audacity, WinMerge, Process Explorer, PowerMenu, WiX, Notepad2, Firefox, Reflector, JAlbum, Gallery, Linux (, Paint .NET, etc. etc. etc. Many of these are essential for productive work and I’m glad they let me accomplish things.

In October 2002 I attended a talk by Richard Stallman, where he was spreading the gospel of free software, which is often equated with open source software, or OSS. It wasn’t the first time I’d started thinking about the implications of OSS, but his comments sparked further puzzlement: Is it really possible for programmers to make a living on open source software? Seeing the comments on Jeff’s blog brought back that question.

It seems to me that a lot of the more successful open source projects out there had their origin in the world of what I want to call the free-conomy, or perhaps the carefree-conomy. It’s the world all around us consisting of people who do not have to worry about real-world problems connected to making a living: Students, living on their parents’ money or borrowed money; programmers employed by large corporations (that have other means of generating income that enable them to pay the programmer to work on free software); professors in tenured positions at universities, contributing as part of their research. You get the idea.

I’d be curious to know how many of the commenters to Jeff’s post fall into that category. I’d also be curious to know how all the people who contribute to open source, or free software make a living, or how they sustain themselves. These are honestly things I’m curious about. If you’re one of them, please tell me.

I think once you transition from the free-conomy to the reality-based economy (“real life”?), your perspective changes. You start realizing that you need an income to pay the rent, clothe yourself and your family, buy food, utilities and transportation. You begin to see that if you don’t pay for the music you like to listen to, the programs you like to use, the books you like to read, the movies you like to watch and the games you like to play, the people who produce those things will not be able to support themselves, and thus there may come a time when you will no longer have that music, those programs, those books, those movies or the games.

So all the hassles that the producers of software or other digitizable content make you go through to access their creations begin to seem like a small inconvenience to pay for the privilege.

Of course, you can still debate what a fair price for such creations is, but that’s a topic for a different post. You can also debate the principles of “fair use” of the creations you may have paid for. That’s also a topic for another post.

What’s your perspective on the implications of open source software for people who make a living at software programming/development?