Tag Archives: Operating system

Daring Fireball’s wishful thinking

I totally understand where John Gruber is coming from with his post on “The OS Opportunity“. The problem is that there’s a whole lot of wishful thinking in there.

First of all, go read John’s post. Rather than try and summarise here and potentially mischaracterise what he’s saying, you just go read it.

Back? Good. Then we’ll begin. John’s first point is that what kept people on DOS was simply file compatibility:

“In those days, before DOS ran most competing platforms out of the market, interoperability and data interchange were at best difficult, and often impossible. Data was stored in incompatible file formats written to incompatible floppy disks1 by incompatible apps compiled for incompatible CPU architectures. Even later in the ’80s, when networking became common (at least in businesses) the network protocols were proprietary.

That was the world where DOS won out. Get everyone on DOS and you could all open each other’s WordPerfect and 1-2-3 files, if only by sharing them on floppy disks. So DOS gained users, and because it gained users it got developers, and because it gained developers it got more users.”

While this is partially true, it ignores two other factors which always mitigate against switching platform – and which continue to do so today.

The first is familiarity. Familiarity, to geeks like me and John, is something you often avoid like the plague. Geeks like us like tinkering with new stuff, learning how to do new things with new tools. We switch because it’s fun (today’s example of this from John: Switching to Camino. Only geeks like us look at switching browsers as the kind of thing you can do on a whim. Why else does the blatantly inferior IE retain so much market share?)

But for someone with years of experience of DOS (or Windows), running WordPerfect and Lotus, switching to an alternate operating system and set of applications was always a big deal. The path of least resistance was always to stick with the platform you’re on, because learning new stuff got in the way. GUIs mitigated this a bit – but didn’t change the situation with applications. For someone who’s been using Excel professionally for 10 years, switching to Numbers is a big, big deal – and that’s despite Numbers being pretty easy to get your head around.

This is even more apparent in the business world, where switching means training hundreds of users in how to use the new tools. There’s a very good reason why corporates tend to be a couple of versions behind the latest, even for products where there’s a clear, delineated upgrade path and a level of familiarity.

The second reason is the oldest one in the book: money. If you’re a seasoned Windows user, switching from Windows to Mac doesn’t just cost you the time to learn new applications (even when there’s a Mac version of a Windows app, they’re usually different enough to cause angst). You have to actually buy the applications, because few (if any) companies give freebies to switchers.

Of course, this second issue isn’t an issue if you’re switching from closed source to open source. And some of it is also negated by being able to use freebie tools on the web. But the more complex your needs, the less likely it is that either can fill them. And the quality of both free online tools and open source stuff is (to be kind) variable, particularly when it comes to the kind of simplicity of interface design that someone switching OS’s is going to appreciate. I know – I’ve done it.

“A similar feedback loop is going on with the iPhone today, but it’s far less sticky. The DOS/Windows monopoly grew impregnable because it was a platform where the only way to play along was to join it.”

John’s right that this feedback loop is going on with the iPhone, and that it’s less sticky, but there’s two reasons for that. First, the smartphone software market is nascent: it’s in the equivalent of the era of (as John puts it) “the Apple II, the IBM PC and DOS, Commodore, Atari, Acorn. The TI-99/4A.”. People forget that DOS wasn’t the only game in town – only the weight of IBM’s brand and the anti-trust rules which allowed Compaq and a slew of others to clone the IBM PC really made it the overall winner. Even the iPhone, which is massive in terms of mindshare, only has 17% of the smartphone market. That’s about as much as the Apple II had at its high-point. The smartphone market is still massively fragmented – and it’s a very open question whether that will continue.

John’s bet, I think, is that it will continue to be fragmented – although I don’t think he overtly states this, so please forgive me if I’m reading something in that’s not really there.

I think that assuming this is true says a lot about what you believe is the future of mobile software. If you think that smartphone software is fundamentally one-trick apps, throwaways, stuff which is easy to develop and easy to dump, then jumping from one smartphone to another is always going to be easy.

But if you think that developers are going to create more and more complex apps, and that these are what consumers will increasing demand and use, then switching becomes more of an issue. The fact that Omnifocus is only on iPhone will almost certainly mean that my next phone will also be an iPhone, despite my constant pain at the fact that the iPhone doesn’t multi-task. If there was no Omnifocus, I would switch. And I suspect that I’m going to be increasingly not alone – with 100,000 apps, the potential for the “just one app that I need” being on iPhone grows.

“If Palm can create WebOS for pocket-sized computers — replete with an email client, calendaring app, web browser, and SDK — why couldn’t these companies make something equivalent for full-size computers? The hard part of what Palm is doing with WebOS is getting acceptable performance out of a cell phone processor.”

Because no one would buy it. It’s not like people haven’t tried. There’s a very good reason why people have chosen Windows netbooks over Linux ones, even when Linux has been cheaper – they want to run the apps they are familiar with. And they don’t generally just want web apps – they want native ones. Rich beats thin, every time.

“These PC makers are lacking in neither financial resources nor opportunity. What they’re lacking is ambition, gumption, and passion for great software and new frontiers. They’re busy dying.”

And this is where John’s wishful thinking really comes to the fore. Who, exactly, is dying? HP, which made $2.2 billion profit in its last quarter? Dell, which made $472 million profit? While those aren’t as good as Apple’s numbers (because SteveJ has played a very smart game), neither looks like a company that’s “busy dying” to me.

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Is the App Store heading for legal trouble?

Fraser Speirs thinks yes, and I think he might be right.

Last year I posed a simple question:

“But what happens if Apple’s market share grows to the point where it has a monopoly – 70-, 80- or even 90% market share? That might take ten years, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and it’s certainly something that Apple would like to have.

At that point, does Apple’s control over third-party applications become an abuse of a monopoly – something that is, of course, illegal in both Europe and the US?”

Fraser’s essential point is that Apple doesn’t actually have to reach that kind of high market share figure to potentially fall foul of anti-competition law:

“The Essential Facilities doctrine rests on the control of a particular resource by a monopolist. Apple is not a monopolist in mobile phones, mobile phone operating systems. That’s not the issue.

Apple is, however, a perfect monopolist in “technologies necessary to sell an application to an iPhone owner”. How many iPhone App Stores are there? Exactly one. Who controls it absolutely? Apple.”

So is he right? What do you think?

(Photo by slowburn)


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Come, gentle readers: Help me buy a new phone (Part 1)

Within the next month, my contract with o2 runs out – and that means it’s new phone time. However for the first time since the release of the iPhone, I face a serious choice: do I stick with iPhone, or not. Here are the runners and riders.

iPhone 3GS

Let’s be clear: I like the iPhone. Compared to everything that came before it, it’s a wonderous thing of amazement. There’s the responsiveness. You touch it, it responds, and you almost purr with pleasure. Yum. This thing was designed by someone who really, truly understands that the most important thing about a touch interface is how it responds to being touched. Sounds obvious – but try any one of the competitors, and you’ll quickly see how few companies have really got this fundamental point.

But… I’ve run into some walls with the iPhone. Things which actually have begun to drive me what can only be described as “batshit crazy”.

First, multitasking – or rather the lack thereof. I cannot begin to describe how painful the lack of multitasking is. I’ve used an OS with multitasking that I’ve forgotten what computing was like before it. Or rather, I had forgotten it – until the iPhone.

Using iPhone is like taking your lovely new MacBook Pro, ripping out Mac OS X, installing System 6, and disabling MultiFinder. But still letting you run the powerful lovely apps you’re used to. Just one at a time. It’s dark ages computing – and I’m bored of it. The novelty has worn off. I can multitask – why can’t my phone.

I don’t care that I might do terrible things – like making my phone run at less than optimal Jobs-dicatated performance. It’s my phone – treat me like a grown up and let me do it.

Multitasking is the big beef, by it’s by no means the only one. There are plenty of elements in the iPhone which are half thought out, or just plain half baked.

Take email. Like a lot of people, I have work and personal email accounts, and I check both a lot. And on the iPhone, the elegant, minimal iPhone, it takes four taps to get from one inbox to the other. By happy coincidence, that’s the same number of taps it takes to type “suck”, which is what the iPhone’s email client does.

This “make ‘em tap” approach is elsewhere, too. Tethering, for example, takes five taps from Home Screen to turning on, and the same five if you want to turn it off – which is, of course, what you should be doing. This should be on the home screen, but it’s not. It’s almost like the developers were so pleased with how well tapping and scrolling and touch generally worked, that they decided to make you, the user, do more of it so you’d appreciate just how responsive the interface is.

Worse yet, no developer other than Apple can create the simple app to do it, because that is a Part Of The OS Into Which Only Apple Is Allowed. Thou shalt not mess around with those bits, sayeth Steve.

And that’s a great example of the other great flaw of the iPhone: developers cannot fill in the bits which Apple doesn’t do right, if it means digging into some bits of the system. Leaving aside the fact that the App Store is broken, what developers can do is firmly in Apple’s control, and the company keeps tight reign on where they’re allowed to poke. Want the ability to link up an external keyboard to your Mac? Can’t have it – not because developers don’t want to make one, but because Apple won’t allow them to do it.

But… having said all that… the iPhone is still my front runner. Why? Put simply, because it’s the path of least resistance. I have lots of Apps, which I like, and I’d need to install and run some of them on my iPod touch if I didn’t have an iPhone. And that touch interface really is seductive. So for all my complaining… maybe iPhone is my best option.

In part two, I’ll look at the two other contenders: Android (of some kind) and the Palm Pre.

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How Microsoft is snatching Windows 7 defeat from the jaws of victory

I made the point with rather more swearing on Twitter yesterday, but Joe Wilcox says it without the bad language:

“After commandingly executing Windows 7 development, Microsoft had run off the track right before the finish line. Suddenly, Windows 7 is a disaster potentially like its predecessor. Could anything be worse than Vista?”

What’s the cause of our ire? The insane hoops that Microsoft is making customers jump through to upgrade to its latest and greatest operating system. In response to a query from Walt Mossberg about the upgrade process for different legacy versions of Windows, Microsoft a chart which consist of  6×11 matrix, 66 different options, and a few hundred words explaining the different options.

On one hand, I can understand Microsoft’s predicament. There are a lot of potential versions of Windows that you can upgrade from, and testing all of them with all the different widgets, bits and pieces is tricky to do and even trickier to explain. 

But it’s not the explanation that is at fault: it’s the fact that Windows XP users, the people who Microsoft most needs to get to upgrade to Windows 7, will have to perform a complete wipe-and-reinstall of Windows, plus every application they have, plus all their drivers, and restore all their files from a backup.

I’ve done this a few times. It’s not trivial. It’s not fun. And for the average consumer, it will be a terrible experience as they have to look through old boxes trying to find original install disks, root through their email for download and license details, and generally go through a day’s work.

Here’s the deal: Microsoft cannot consider Windows 7 finished until there is a single-click upgrade from Windows XP. If it ships the product without one, it will miss out on millions of potential upgrades, cause its users considerable pain, and leave Apple laughing all the way to the bank next time those users upgrade their computer.

Windows 7 is a good operating system – in some ways better than the current version of OS X. If Microsoft messes up its release it will not get another opportunity from a big chunk of its consumer customers, and will be handing Apple another couple of points of market share on a plate. 

This might not sound too bad when you consider the commanding lead that Microsoft has in operating system market share. In my next post, I’ll write about why it’s not only bad news – it could spell disaster for Microsoft, and turn John Gruber’s prediction into reality faster than even he imagines. 

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Amazon begins offering Snow Leopard pre-orders in the UK (nearly)

Amazon begins offering Snow Leopard pre-orders | Mac OS X | MacUser | Macworld:

“If there’s one thing more fun than ordering software it must be pre-ordering software. We may not have a hard release date for Snow Leopard—during the WWDC keynote, Apple said it would be available some time in September—but that’s not about to stop the likes of Amazon, which this weekend began offering pre-orders of the forthcoming Mac OS X release.”

Not in the UK yet, it doesn’t, although you can already go to the product page and sign up to find out when it’s ready.

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Chrome OS is not a threat to Windows « GartenBlog

“Launching a new PC OS is not easy even if your target is a cloud. Targeting netbooks in 2010 isn’t the answer either. As I’ve pointed out, netbook are laptops with a pivotal axis of price. We’re seeing netbooks with 12″ screens, full sized keyboards and 300gb of storage. Does anyone think that netbooks aren’t going to evolve further? Consumers have overwhelmingly rejected Linux flavored netbooks for Windows capable machines that they could actually accomplish things on, such as run PC applications.” 

While I disagree about netbooks being only about the price, Michael is completely correct to point out that customers have generally rejected Linux-based netbooks in favour of Windows ones. Although I think there’s a lot of mileage in improving the Linux experience on netbooks (and Moblin/UNR are already ahead here), given the choice I would expect the majority of people to buy Windows.

Of course, the key question is whether they’ll continue to have that choice, given Microsoft’s transition to Windows 7. But given the date of Chrome OS’ release, which isn’t until some time next year, we’ll know the answer to that question before Chrome comes out.

Another thing to note: Chrome (the browser) has had almost no success in gaining market share. And a whole OS is a much more difficult sell to consumers than a browser. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on Chrome OS getting more than single-digit market share any time soon.

Posted via web from Ian Betteridge’s lifestream

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Windows 7, Mac OS X and Ubuntu: A Tale of Three Operating Systems

Joe Wilcox picks up on a comment that I made on his post about Windows 7 and its relationship to the Mac:

“As you know, Joe, I’m a Mac to Linux switcher (with over 20 years Mac use under my belt). But I’m also a tinkerer who’s curious about OS’s, so I’ve been running Windows 7 as my main system for a month or two. Count me amongst the impressed. Microsoft has actually applied some real serious effort to the user interface design, taken some of Apple’s ideas, and made them better. That it’s much, much faster than Vista is a bonus.

Mac fans should take a serious look at 7—not because it will persuade them to switch, but because it’s the first serious competition from Microsoft in quite some time.”

Joe’s timing is impeccable, as in a couple of weeks I’ll be switching my main computer back to Ubuntu from Windows 7. But the reason isn’t exasperation with Windows 7, and it’s not one that should give Mac fans hoping that the new Microsoft OS will be a failure any kind of comfort.

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