Friday, July 25, 2008

Cue The Maniacal Laughter!

Noted a couple of pieces of news this week that really got my sense of humor going.

First, newly installed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted in an internal memo to MS employees that the company was launching a plan to improve customers' end-to-end experience with MS Windows. Apparently, this plan has two prongs:

1. Communicate with hardware vendors to provide a more consistent hardware basis for Windows installations, in theory reducing the headaches users have experienced when installing or upgrading to Windows Vista on their existing PC hardware.

2. Launching a series of advertisements directly challenging the perception of Vista as kludgy and troublesome.

To which my response is this:


For starters, Ballmer clearly likes his spin; in his memo, he talks about how "we outsell Apple 30-to-1", but that's only true if you consider the world-wide market, and if you assume every machine not sold with MacOS comes with Windows pre-installed. According to IT News, who gets their info from IDC, Apple has a bit over 3% of the global market for personal computers. Of course, Apple has about 8% of the US market and growing according to the same source, so...yeah.

The more significant point, however, is that if Ballmer is hoping to duplicate Apple's tight hardware control -- after all, the same company making MacOS is making the computers that run it -- he's got a long way to go, and a lot of corporate partners to offend. It'll likely be easy for the big-name manufacturers to follow any directives from MS, given that their current offerings seem to work pretty well with Vista as it is. However, the biggest PC makers -- HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo (maker of the ThinkPad now that IBM has gotten out of the business), and Toshiba -- account for just over half of the world market for PCs and servers. The rest of the market is crawling with bargain-basement manufacturers that throw together whatever hardware they can get their hands on cheaply and throw Windows on top. None of these guys individually is all that large, but if MS's directive to standardize hardware sends even half of them out of business (because they can't make their margins using stardardized hardware), that's a potential loss of as much as 20% of the global market. MS is betting that HP, Dell, and the like can fill in to pick up the slack, but my guess is that Apple is just hoping for an opportunity like that to push its own desktops, laptops, and servers into a larger share of the global market.

Which, of course, assumes that such a directive is actually enforceable. After all, similar strong-arm tactics performed by MS, including requirements on how to present the OS, what programs could and could not be pre-installed, etc., have been investigated all over the world and found to be anti-competitive. And though MS's legal problems at home have declined somewhat during the Bush years, all indications are that a far less friendly administration may end up taking over the White House starting in 2009, so any renewal of MS's old-fashioned monopolistic practices may do way more harm than good, in both the short and long runs.

Let's also not forget that MS is looking to bring those smaller, cheaper manufacturers into line at precisely the same moment that some PC market observers are predicting that a slowing global economy will make those manufacturers more attractive to consumers, as price becomes a bigger selling point than brand.

On the whole, point one looks to be impossible to achieve, and likely to cause a whole lot of damage in the process of making it work. (Not entirely unlike installing some Windows applications, but I digress...)

Point two, on the other hand, is ludicrous. The best explanation as to why comes from Mac site "", which points out that phase one of the ad campaign is basically complete misdirection. Windows Vista has a poor reputation among PC folks for a number of reasons: installation on legacy hardware is difficult, driver support for non-standard hardware is spotty, memory requirements are obnoxious, security enhancements are annoying and largely ineffective. To combat this 'negative perception' of Vista in the market, MS is presenting a series of ads featuring people who dislike Vista who are shown a new OS by MS called 'Mojave' -- once the observers express their interest in the new OS, they're told, hey, it's just Vista! It's better than you think, isn't it?

Such an ad campaign may make the Windows fanboys happy, but I doubt it'll actually make much of an impact on MS's bottom line. Why? It's the central message. Compare:

- Apple's 'Genius' ads of the late 90's had a central message of 'we design our computers for the smartest, most creative people in history. Is that you?'

- Apple's 'I'm a Mac/I'm a PC' ads have a central message of 'Macs are fun, hip, and simple to use; PCs are cantankerous and spend a lot of time complaining'


- MS's 'Vista is the new Folger's' ad has a central message of 'Hey! Vista doesn't suck as much as you think it does!'

Granted, Bare Bones Software gets a lot of mileage out of 'it doesn't suck' as a marketing blurb for their flagship product, BBEdit, but they have two advantages over MS:

1. They're marketing to a small portion of users who need a product that's reliable, functional, and stays out of their way, not to a mass-market audience looking for a replacment for Microsoft Word, and

2. their product doesn't actually suck.

So that news was worth a few laughs. Then I see word of a speech given by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company that distributes Ubuntu Linux in which Shuttleworth calls for open-source Linux developers to focus on the Linux UI, asking "Can we not only emulate, but blow right by Apple?"


Sorry, lost consciousness for a second there.

The simple answer to Shuttleworth's question is 'No'. The more complete answer requires you to understand two things:

1. Linux developers, for the most part, are not interested in the UI.

This is not to say that Linux developers are all knuckle-dragging atavists who long for the return of the days of Big Iron, but rather, in recognizing that if those developers were interested in doing UI work rather than 'productive' work on things like drivers and applications, they'd already be developing for other platforms. They might not be Mac developers, but the Mac is far from the only OS known for great OS support -- there are still active Amiga developer groups out there, for instance.

The best Linux UIs available are basically cleaner versions of the Windows 2000 user interface, which as far as I can tell is about all the farther most Linux developers care to work on the UI. Guys who are passionate about UI programming? They get hired by Apple. Which leads into the next point:

2. Apple is actually still out there and likely isn't planning to stop running any time soon.

Let me illustrate this point by way of analogy: Say you're planning to run a race against a friend -- a marathon, perhaps. On the day of the race, you decide to walk the first 10 miles at a leisurely pace while your friend runs at a competent marathoner's pace. By the time you finish your 10 miles, your friend is far ahead of you. You're not going to catch him by the end of the race. Even if the race were to be extended forever, you're not going to catch him unless you're actually a faster, more conditioned runner than he is and can maintain a faster pace until you pass him.

Did I mention that the guys who are really passionate about UI programming tend to get hired by Apple?

It's always nice when the tech news provide you with unexpected humor.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On A Woman's Mind

I know a woman with a plan. While her parents are out of town on a family trip, she's going to invite her boyfriend over, spend a good long time getting comfortable, and finally have sex. I personally don't have a problem with this plan.

First, she's nineteen, which means she's old enough to make her own decision about when and with whom she's going to have sex.

Second, she's smart, which means her plan is going to include protection and making sure that things are only going to go as fast as she wants them to go. She's already taken enough time to be certain that her boyfriend is the guy she thinks he is.

Lastly, because when it came time for me to lose my virginity years ago, I ended up doing it much the same way she's planning to. In fact, thinking about the plan has sent me down memory lane for much of the day today.

Begin at the beginning:

Christmas, 1991. A friend from high school (lets call him James) comes back home from southwest Arizona, where he's gone to live with his biological father and finish a college degree. He brings with him a videotape of the school's fall theatrical production, 'The Foreigner'. In high school, James had always worked behind the scenes, and had intended to do so in this show as well, but when the actor playing the lead broke his leg two weeks before opening night, James was pressed into service as the understudy.

The thing that astonished me was how good James was in the role. Granted, the lead in 'The Foreigner', like the lead in Christopher Durang's 'The Actor's Nightmare', can be played by actors who aren't bravura performers or even all that experienced; as long as the actor can use his own bewilderment and confusion for the role, it'll work and work well. Still, James was notably good in the role, and was surrounded by other good performers. Something was happening in that little town in the desert, and I decided I wanted to be a part of it. I asked James if he needed a roommate, wrapped up what few plans I had brewing in Minneapolis, and boarded a Greyhound bus for Yuma.

On February 7, I got off the bus, and met her. Let's call her Stephanie.

James was involved in the rehearsals for the college's spring production, back behind the scenes of Neil Simon's 'Brighton Beach Memoirs'. Because he couldn't leave rehearsal to pick me up, he sent Stephanie to do it, despite her having laryngitis -- her first words to me were a croaked-out 'Are you Dave?' while I was on the phone telling my mother I'd arrived in the desert in safety.

Though I expressly refused to give Stephanie a Valentine's gift a week later (having only known her a week, despite James's urging), we did end up spending a fair amount of time together; not only were we all involved in the college theater program -- Stephanie had taken me straight to the college theater to see James, and I ended up spending the evening 'on book'; providing the actors with their cues if they forgot during rehearsal -- but James was dating Stephanie's best friend.

Stephanie was tremendously good to me, and for me. She helped me find a job, working for her father at one of the two Pizza Hut franchise stores he managed in town. She eventually helped me find places to live after I alienated my first Yuma land-lady. And, one day while her family was out of town visiting the Grand Canyon (as I remember it), she invited me over, we went swimming, and she eventually led me into her room where we...

Or rather, she did. I was too nervous, even with the extremely obvious set-up, to perform well and I ended up not officially 'consummating' the evening, though I did my best to make her feel good. Apparently it worked, because she made the same plans a second time, this time when another friend and her husband left town to spend a few days with in-laws.

It's kind of odd, looking back and thinking about Stephanie now -- I might have even married her, had it not been for James. At the end of the 1993 school year, James was announcing to anyone who'd listen that he'd been accepted to a workshop for technicians seeking to work in television, and was very excited for the opportunity. Then, near the end of summer, he sent a postcard to his now ex-girlfriend from St. Louis, Missouri, explaining that he hadn't really gotten into a workshop; instead, he'd decided to follow another woman to St. Louis to be with her.

Stephanie, who'd always carried a torch for James, became convinced I'd do the same to her. So, when I returned to Yuma after Christmas break in January of 1994, Stephanie had begun dating another guy; a guy who, in many ways, was just like me. They eventually got married, but I've lost touch with them both and am not sure how they've done over the years -- the last time I saw Stephanie was, ironically, in a theater, when I went to Tucson to audition for the BFA program at the University of Arizona in the spring of 1996.

I'll always have bittersweet memories of her, and I'll never be able to listen to Mannheim Steamroller's 'Fresh Aire IV' without thinking of the day we spent in her friend's apartment, finally consummating our more-than-friendship, as she'd planned.

And every so often, I have a day where I deeply miss being the most important thing on a woman's mind.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

An Apple Observation

I've been an Apple customer, in one way or another, for nearly half my life now; I purchased my first Macintosh in 1989, and most of the computer gear I have in my apartment is Apple-branded. Because of my experiences, I have to say I don't really 'get' Apple-hate; it seems to me that people who dismiss Apple products as overpriced and overhyped and that deride the Apple culture as elitist and marketing-driven are missing the point.

Here's what I mean.

Folks that know me won't be surprised that I jumped into line late yesterday to pick up a new 3G iPhone. While in line, and awaiting my turn with the one-on-one who'd sell me my new phone, I noticed something:

- A cute girl wearing an Apple T-shirt and smiling at you is attractive.

- A cute girl wearing an Apple T-shirt and offering to let you play a game on her new iPhone is irresistible.

That's why Apple kicks ass.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


Saw the Disney/Pixar animated film WALL-E over the weekend and was blown away -- the first twenty minutes (and a good portion of the last twenty) will have you wondering if you should have brought your small children with you, that's how grown-up the movie is about its theme.

It's great, though -- it's already vaulted to the top of the list of my favorite Pixar films (and the short that precedes the movie is already among my favorite Pixar shorts as well -- watch for the Jay Ward credit!)

So go! See it! (I'll certainly see it again, at least once more.)