Category: Hardware

Dream Machine (take 2)

More than three years ago I wrote about the desktop I really wanted… Now it’s time to review that and make some new speculations…

Back Then

The key issues I raised back then were wireless technology, box size, noise, temperature and the interface.

Wireless power hasn’t progressed as much as I’d like, but all the rest (including wireless graphic cards) are already at full steam. So, apart from power, you don’t need any cables. Also, batteries are getting a bit better (not as fast as I’d like, too), so there is another stop-gap for wireless power.

Box size has reduced dramatically since 2007. All the tablets are almost full computers and with Intel and ARM battling for the mid-size form-factor, we’ll see radical improvements with lower power consumption, smaller sizes, much cooler CPUs and consequently, no noisy fans. Another thing that is bound to reduce temperature and noise is the speed in which solid-state drives are catching up with magnetic ones.

But with regard to the interface, I have to admit I was a bit too retro. Who needs 3D glasses, or pointer hats to drive the cursor on the screen? Why does anyone needs a cursor in the first place? Well, that comes to my second dream machine.

Form Factor

I love keyboards. Writing for (int i=0; i<10; i++) { a[i] = i*M_PI; } is way easier than try to dictate that and hope it gets the brackets, increments and semi-colons correctly. Even if the dictation software was super-smart, I still would feel silly dictating that. Unless I can think and the computer creates the code for me the way I want, there no better interface than the keyboard.

Having a full-size keyboard also allows you to spare some space for the rest of the machine. Transparent CPUs, GPUs and storage are still not available (nor I think will be in the next three years), so putting it into the monitor is a no-go. Flat keyboards (like the Mac ones) are a bit odd and bad for ergonomics, so a simple ergonomic keyboard with the basic hardware inside would do. No mouse, of course, nor any other device except the keyboard.

A flat transparent screen, of some organic LED or electronic paper, with the camera built-in in the centre of the screen, just behind it. So, on VoIP conversations, you look straight into the eyes of the interlocutor. Also, transparent speakers are part of the screen, half-right and half-left are screen + speakers, with transparent wiring as well. All of that, wireless of course. It should be extra-light, so just a single arm to hold the monitor, not attached to the keyboard. You should be able to control the transparency of the screen, to change between VoIP and video modes.

Hardware

CPUs and GPUs are so 10’s. The best way to go forward is to have multi-purpose chips, that can turn themselves (or their parts) on and off at will, that can execute serial or vector code (or both) when required. So, a 16/32 core machine, with heavily pipelined CPU/GPUs, on multiple buses (not necessarily all active at the same time, or for the same communication purpose), could deal with on-demand gaming, video streaming, real-time ray-tracing and multi-threaded compilation without wasting too much power.

On a direct comparison, any of those CPU/GPU dies would have a fraction of the performance of a traditional mono-block chip, but their inherent parallelism and if the OS/drivers are written based on that assumption, a lot of power can be extracted from them. Also, with so many chips, you can selectively use only as much as you need for each task for specific applications. So, a game would use more GPUs than CPUs, probably with one or two CPUs to handle interface and sound. When programming, one or two CPUs can handle the IDE, while the other can compile your code in background. As all of this is on-demand, even during the game you could have a variable number of chips working as GPUs, depending on the depth of the world it’s rendering.

Memory and disk are getting cheaper by the second. I wouldn’t be surprised if in three years 128GB of memory and 10TB of solid-state disk are the new minima. All that, fitting nicely alongside the CPU/GPU bus, avoiding too many hops (NB+PCI+SATA+etc) to get the data in and out would also speed up the storage/retrieval of information. You can probably do a 1s boot up from scratch without the necessity of sleeping any more, just pure hibernate.

Network, again, wireless of course. It’s already a reality for a while, but I don’t expect it to increase considerably in the next 3 years. I assume broadband would increase a few percent, 4G will fail to deliver what it promises when the number of active clients reach a few hundred and the TV spectrum requires more bureaucracy than the world can handle. The cloud will have to wait a bit more to get where hard drives are today.

Interface

A few designs have revolutionized interfaces in the last three years. I consider the pointer-less interface (decent touch screen, camera-ware) and the brain interface as the two most important ones. Touch-screens are interesting, but they are cumbersome as your limbs get in the way of the screen you’re trying to interact with. The Wii-mote was a pioneer, but the MS Kinect broke the barrier of usability. It’s still in its early stages, but as such, it’s a great revolution and because of the unnatural openness of Microsoft about it, I expect it to baffle even the most open minded ones.

On the other hand, brain interfaces only began this year to be usable (and not that much so), the combination of a Kinect, with a camera that reads your eyes and the brain interface to control interactions with the items on the screen should be enough to work efficiently and effectively.

People already follow the mouse with their eyes, it’s easy to teach people to make the pointer follow their eyes. But to remove uncertainties and get rid once and for all of the annoying cursor, you need a 3D camera to take into account your position relative to the screen, the position of other people (that could also interact with the screen on a multi-look interface) and think together to achieve goals. That has applications from games to XP programming.

Voice control could also be used for more natural commands such as “shut-up” or “play some jazz, will ya?”. Nothing too complex, as that’s another field that is crawling for decades and hasn’t have a decent sprint since it started…

Cost

The cost of such a machine wouldn’t be too high, as the components are cheaper than today’s complex motherboard designs, with multiple interconnection standards, different manufacturing processes and tests (very expensive!). The parts themselves would maybe be a bit expensive, but in such volumes (and standardised production) the cost would be greatly reduced.

To the environment, not so much. If mankind continues with the ridiculous necessity of changing their computers every year, a computer like that would fill up the landfills. The integration of the parts is so dense (eg monitor+cameras+speakers in one package) that would be impossible to recycle that cheaper than sending it to the sun to burn (a not so bad alternative).

But in life, we have to choose what’s really important. A nice computer that puts you in a chair for the majority of your life is more important that some pandas and bumble bees, right?

iPad

I got an iPad for Christmas. Didn’t buy it, got as a gift, and I have to say that it didn’t change my point of view on Apple a single bit.

A few years ago, while getting an iBook for my sister, I had to configure it to speak French for her and still English for me, which was a pain. I wanted to run OpenOffice, only to learn that there wasn’t one. I couldn’t find the configuration files or anything that would resemble running a Unix system. Some people say I just didn’t find it in the right place, that I could have used such and such software to make it the way I like it, but that kinda killed completely Apple’s spirit of “just work”.

All in all, I was happy to go back to my old faithful Linux and eventually bought a Dell Studio, now running a vanilla Ubuntu 10.10. I used to be the hard core Linux user, compiling the kernel, changing modules and fiddling with the configuration a lot, but there’s something I’ve learned in all these years is that a desktop (or a laptop) has to just work. And having used a iBook and an iPad, the créme de la créme of usability and user experience, I have to say that, unfortunately, there is no miracle.

To summarize my experience with the iPad in a sentence: the hardware is good, the software is average, the philosophy is disgusting.

The hardware

The hardware is good, not great. First, it’s got a good CPU+GPU combo and memory enough to run some cool games without glitches. I was actually surprised with the quality of some games, and the screen resolution and the quality of the capacitive touch-scree is really something.

But the (stereo) speakers I have in my Nokia N95 are far better than the (mono) speaker in the iPad, even in quality (despite its smaller size). There is no camera, and no easy way to interconnect it to the world, unless this “world” is made of Apples. You can only print to an AirPrinter (or whatever that’s called), you can only connect Bluetooth with other iPads, maybe iPhones but it didn’t even recognize my Nokia.

Despite its lack of hardware, the case is pretty heavy, almost a kilogram. I normally think that heavy is good, but in this case, to hold the iPad while you play is quite tiring after a few minutes. I bought the Need for Speed (quite good game) and I ended up using cushions to rest my elbows after a while and a few minutes later I stopped playing because my arms were hurting.

All in all, the responsiveness and screen quality are really amazing, the rest is just not what I’d expect from Apple. However, I hear that since 2005 Apple has slowly and constantly reducing the quality of the parts not to increase the price of the gadgets. It’s a clever move for a while, works even better with a fan base (instead of customers) but that’s bound to fail one day.

Finally, a minor thing. There is a side button for the volume, and one to mute. Problem is, it doesn’t work with everything (even some things made by Apple). It’s mute and you can still hear the sounds. Even the volume works while in mute, only for those applications that ignore the mute button. The others, you need to un-mute it to hear. I expected more from Apple…

The software

The second expectation I had from Apple was that the software would be amazing. I’m not talking about third-party AppStore software, but bundled Apple software. How naive.

My experience developing software for 20 years tells me that every piece of software is crap, people just don’t realise because software engineers can hide the crap really well. Microsoft hides it behind zillions of useless features, Oracle hides it behind zillions of useless configuration steps, Google hides it in a secret box that only his advertisers can read, open source don’t hide it at all and Apple hides it by giving poisoned apples to their fan base.

Because I’m not a fan boy, I’m unfortunately exposed to the naked truth: it sucks.

First, there is no Flash. I don’t care if HTML 5 is better than Flash, the web has zillions of Flash applications, web pages, videos and animations in Flash and it’s not going to change just because Apple doesn’t like it. Youtube has moved to HTML5 (probably because of Apple), but I can’t follow links of any other pages that have flash. That sucks.

Second, Safari sucks. Try to use eBay on safari. Try to sell something on eBay using Safari… I dare you. In many other pages it broke, as in falling back to the welcome-screen. Yesterday it locked the iPad completely. I was using the Twitter application that redirected me to an youtube page, when I opened in Safari it locked. When I closed Safari, the welcome-screen was locked. I couldn’t click (tap?) on anything. Nothing worked, and you can’t turn it off (the way to go for non-unix OSs), just make it sleep. After a few desperate taps on applications, I managed to tap on the Youtube application (that wasn’t running, so far) and when I hit on another random video on it and it played, I closed the youtube app and the rest started working again.

It breaks so many times and in so unpredictable ways, that now I only use it for Gmail and Google reader, because I know those pages were hand-crafted for the iPad. As a web experience, that sucks big time.

Another big fight I had, until I got in terms with the iPad, was iTunes. In the PC, iTunes does it all: play and download songs, books and videos, buys apps, browse the university programme (excellent, by the way). When I got some songs, videos and a few apps, I went to the iPad and where was all my stuff?

Well, I found out that you must use the iPod software to listen for songs, the Video app to view videos, the iBook to read books, the AppStore to buy apps, the… wait, every time I have an argument about Linux vs. Mac, I’m constantly reminded that normal users want less applications, less complication and with Apple you (supposedly) have the same interface all over the platforms. Well, I just learnt that, with the iPad, this is exactly the opposite. I’ve seen systems better integrated than that…

Another big problem is the bloody spell checker. If you don’t speak English, you’re screwed. First, you can’t disable the spell checker and whatever you type WILL be checked and the version that stays is the spell checker version. You can disable on a word-per-word basis, by clicking on the little X button, every time you type a word. The problem is, if you’re writing in a burst, that kills your speed. Also, in some screens you can’t cancel the spell checker. It shows up with the little X but you can’t click it. Does it make sense? To show the balloon with the X that you can’t click? I expected more from Apple.

App Store

For me, it doesn’t make sense to have a computer and not be able to run programs you want in it. Ever since I wrote my first program when I was 5 years old, I learnt that that’s what a computer is. Even Apple computers at that time were like this, I had some, and I could write programs to them and run. The fact that I have to download it from an App Store is out of my comprehension. (I understand the immediate business model, but I still think that it kills in the long term, lets wait and see).

The same friends again had the excuse of it being a quality control, that Apple can control what’s going in and make sure it won’t break the user experience. Well, if you have used the iPhone or the iPad you know very well that that’s far from the truth. Most applications suck, break, explode, or are just badly coded. And let’s be honest, do you really think that Apple spend time reviewing every single application?

In the end, I found some pretty cool apps, but nothing that I wouldn’t have found if there was no App Store.

So, in a nutshell, the software side of the iPad is mediocre, at best.

The philosophy

And here’s where we get the nasty bits. I could go on and on about all the little details, but I’ve said enough already about Apple, DRM and everything. As I read in another blog reviewing the iPhone vs. Android: “Apple, I’m not your bitch”. I don’t like someone else deciding what applications I can use, what books I can read, what songs (and where) I can hear, etc, etc.

For me, this is the crucial point and to have used a iBook before and to have an iPad now, I can categorically say: I don’t like Apple products, I’m not their bitch.

Tablets

To be fair to Apple, they do get one thing right: what people want. Before the iPhone, everyone wanted something like an iPhone, but Nokia was too busy fixing Symbian to realise that (and when they finally realised, they copied Motorola). I always wanted a tablet, really, since I saw it in Star Trek, 23 years ago and I bet every one want one, too. When the first tablets arrived in the 90’s, they were absurdly expensive and only ran a few programs that actually used the tablet, in other words, the touch-screen was merely a substitute for the mouse.

What Apple did was to consolidate the interface into a simple and easy to use touch-screen, which children and animals alike can use as if it was their third hand. What is really disappointing is that they know so well what people want and give so little effort to actually make it complete. They create a very good interface and fail to consolidate the tools, they create a quality control mechanism and fail to control the quality, they give freedom to people, that otherwise wouldn’t be able to use computers, and take it away with so many restrictions, they simplify the use of so many things, and take away the basic assumptions people have about things, like being able to play songs anywhere or to borrow a book from a friend.

It’s amazing that a high tech company such as Apple haven’t yet realised that technology changes the way people live, communicate and do business. There’s no point is give half the freedom technology allows you to, just because you can’t monetise the other half. I’m sure Apple has lots of good people inside that could share some ideas on how to progress without handcuffs, if they would just listen to them…

In the end, tablets are really as great as I thought they would be, and I’m loving it. Pity it’s an Apple tablet… However, that gave me reassurance that I must buy an Android tablet next year or so, when they become as good as I hope them to be.

Final Veredict

  • Idea: 0, at least 23 years old and has been done before many times.
  • Time-to-market: 10, as usual, first to make it right.
  • Hardware: 7, a camera and good speakers would do nice.
  • Software: 5, Flash, Safari don’t work well, bad AppStore quality.
  • Integration: 3, only interconnects with Apple, DRM, iTunes on iPad.
  • Usability: 7, the interface is good and simple and always ready to work.
  • Philosophy: 0, DRM, dev. license only works on Macs.
  • Average: 4.6, don’t buy, wait for the Android tablets to arrive in full.

Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me (DBD)

Defective by design came with a new story on Apple’s DRM. While I don’t generally re-post from other blogs (LWN already does that), this one is special, but not for the apparent reasons.

I agree that DRM is bad, not just for you but for business, innovation, science and the evolution of mankind. But that’s not the point. What Apple is doing with the App store is not just locking other applications from running on their hardware, but locking their hardware out of the real world.

In the late 80’s – early 90’s, all hardware platforms were like that, and Apple was no exception. Amiga, Commodore, MSX and dozens of others, each was a completely separate machine, with a unique chipset, architecture and software layers. But that never stopped people writing code for it, putting on a floppy disk and installing on any compatible computer they could find. Computer viruses spread out that way, too, given the ease it was to share software in those days.

Ten years later, there was only a handful of architectures. Intel for PCs, PowerPC for Mac and a few others for servers (Alpha, Sparc, etc). The consolidation of the hardware was happening at the same time as the explosion of the internet, so not only more people had the same type of computer, but they also shared software more easily, increasing the quantity of software available (and viruses) by orders of magnitude.

Linux was riding this wave since its beginning, and probably that was the most important factor why such an underground movement got so much momentum. It was considered subversive, anti-capitalist to use free software and those people (including me) were hunt down like communists, and ridiculed as idiots with no common-sense. Today we know how ridicule it is to use Linux, most companies and governments do and would be unthinkable today not to use it for what it’s good. But it’s not for every one, not for everything.

Apple’s niche

Apple always had a niche, and they were really smart not to get out of it. Companies like Intel and ARM are trying to get out of their niche and attack new markets, to maybe savage a section of economy they don’t have control over. Intel is going small, ARM is going big and both will get hurt. Who get’s more hurt doesn’t matter, what matter is that Apple never went to attack other markets directly.

Ever since the beginning, Apple’s ads were in the lines of “be smart, be cool, use Apple”. They never said their office suite was better than Microsoft’s (as MS does with Open Office), or that their hardware support was better (like MS does with Linux). Once you compare directly your products with someone else’s, you’re bound to trouble. When Microsoft started comparing their OS with Linux (late 90’s), the community fought back showing all the areas in which they were very poor, and businesses and governments started doing the same, and that was a big hit on Windows. Apple never did that directly.

By being always on the sidelines, Apple was the different. In their own niche, there was no competitor. Windows or Linux never entered that space, not even today. When Apple entered the mobile phone market, they didn’t took market from anyone else, they made a new market for themselves. Who bought iPhones didn’t want to buy anything else, they just did because there was no iPhone at the time.

Android mobile phones are widespread, growing faster than anything else, taking Symbian phones out of the market, destroying RIM’s homogeneity, but rarely touching the iPhone market. Apple fan-boys will always buy Apple products, no matter the cost or the lower quality in software and hardware. Being cool is more important than any of that.

Fool me once again, please

Being an Apple fan-boy is hard work. Whenever a new iPhone is out, the old ones disappear from the market and you’re outdated. Whenever the new MacBook arrives, the older ones look so out-dated that all your (fan-boy) friends will know you’re not keeping up. If by creating a niche to capture the naiveness of people and profit from it is fooling, than Apple is fooling those same people for decades and they won’t stop now. That has made them the second biggest company in the world (loosing only for an oil company), nobody can argue with that fact.

iPhones have a lesser hardware than most of the new Android phones, less functionality, less compatibility with the rest of the world. The new MacBook air has an Intel chip several years old, lacks connectivity options and in a short time won’t run Flash, Java or anything Steve Jobs dislike when he wakes up from a bad dream. But that doesn’t affect a bit the fan-boys. See, back in the days when Microsoft had fan-boys too, they were completely oblivious to the horrendous problems the platform had (viruses, bugs, reboots, memory hog etc) and they would still mock you for not being on their group.

That’s the same with Apple fan-boys and always have been. I had an Apple ][, and I liked it a lot. But when I saw an Amiga I was baffled. I immediately recognized the clear superiority of the architecture. The sound was amazing, the graphics was impressive and the games were awesome (all that mattered to me at that time, tbh). There was no comparison between an Amiga game and an Apple game at that time and everybody knew it. But Apple fan-boys were all the same, and there were fights in BBSs and meetings: Apple fan-boys one side, Amiga fan-boys on the other and the pizza would be over long before the discussion would cool down.

Nice little town, invaded

But today, reality is a bit harder to swallow. There is no PowerPC, or Alpha or even Sparc now. With Oracle owning Sparc’s roadmap, and following what they are doing to Java and OpenOffice, I wouldn’t be surprised if Larry Ellison one day woke up and decided to burn everything down. Now, there are only two major players in the small to huge markets: Intel and ARM. With ARM only being at the small and smaller, it leaves Intel with all the rest.

MacOS is no longer an OS per se. Its underlying sub-system is based on (or ripped off from) FreeBSD (a robust open source unix-like operating system). As it goes, FreeBSD is so similar to Linux that it’s not hard to re-compile Linux application to run on it. So, why should it be hard to run Linux application on MacOS? Well, it’s not, actually. With the same platform and a very similar sub-system, re-compiling Linux application to Mac is a matter of finding the right tools and libraries, everything else follows the natural course.

Now, this is dangerous! Windows has the protection of being completely different, even on the same platform (Intel), but MacOS doesn’t and there’s no way to keep the penguin’s invasion at bay. For the first time in history, Apple has opened its niche to other players. In Apple terms, this is the same as to kill itself.

See, capitalism is all about keeping control of the market. It’s not about competition or innovation, and it’s clearly not about re-distribution of capital, as the French suggested in their revolution. Albeit Apple never fought Microsoft or Linux directly, they had their market well in control and that was the key to their success. With very clever advertising and average quality hardware, they managed to build an entire universe of their own and attract a huge crowd that, once in, would never look back. But now, that bubble has been invaded by the penguin commies, and there’s no way for them to protect that market as they’ve done before.

One solution to rule them all

On a very good analysis of the Linux “dream”, this article suggests that it is dead. If you look to Linux as if it was a company (following the success of Canonical, I’m not surprised), he has a point. But Linux is not Canonical, nor a dream and it’s definitely not dead.

In the same line, you could argue that Windows is dead. It hasn’t grown up for a while, Vista destroyed the confidence and moved more people to Macs and Linux than ever before. The same way, more than 10 years ago, a common misconception for Microsoft’s fan-boys was that the Mac was dead. Its niche was too little, the hardware too expensive and incompatible with everything else. Windows is in the same position today, but it’s far from dead.

But Linux is not a company, it doesn’t fit the normal capitalist market analysis. Remember that Linux hackers are commies, right? It’s an organic community, it doesn’t behave like a company or anything capitalism would like to model. This is why it has been so many times wrongly predicted (Linux is dead, this is the year of Linux, Linux will kill Windows, Mac is destroying Linux and so on). All of this is pure bollocks. Linux growth is organic, not exponential, not bombastic. It won’t kill other platforms. Never had, never will. It will, as it has done so far, assimilate and enhance, like the Borg.

If we had Linux in the French revolution, the people would have a better chance of getting something out of it, rather than letting all the glory (and profit) to the newly founded bourgeoisie class. Not because Linux is magic, but because it embraces changes, expand the frontiers and expose the flaw in the current systems. That alone is enough to keep the existing software in constant check, that is vital to software engineering and that will never end. Linux is, in a nutshell, what’s driving innovation in all other software fronts.

Saying that Linux is dead is the same as saying that generic medication is dead because it doesn’t make profit or hasn’t taken over the big pharma’s markets. It simply is not the point and only shows that people are still with the same mindset that put Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, IBM and now Apple where they are today, all afraid of the big bad wolf, that is not big, nor bad and has nothing to do with a wolf.

This wolf is, mind you, not Linux. Linux and the rest of the open source community are just the only players (and Google, I give them that) that are not afraid of that wolf, but, according to business analysts, they should to be able to play nice with the rest of the market. The big bad wolf is free content.

Free, open content

Free as in freedom is dangerous. Everybody knows what happens when you post on Facebook about your boss being an ass: you get fired. The same would happen if you said it out loud in a company’s lunch, wouldn’t it? Running random software in your machine is dangerous, everybody knows what can happen when virus invade your computer, or rogue software start stealing your bank passwords and personal data.

But all systems now are very similar, and the companies of today are still banging their heads against the same wall as 20 years ago: lock down the platform. 20 years ago that was quite simple, and actually, only the reflection of the construction process of any computer. Today, it has to be actively done.

It’s very easy to rip a DVD and send it to a friend. Today’s broadband speeds allow you to do that quite fast, indeed. But your friend haven’t paid for that, and the media companies felt threatened. They created DRM. Intel has just acquired McAfee to put security measures inside the chip itself. This is the same as DRM, but on a much lower level. Instead of dealing with the problem, those companies are actually delaying the solution and only making the problem worse.

DRM is easily crackable. It has been shown over and over that any DRM (software or hardware) so far has not resisted the will of people. There are far more ingenious people outside companies that do DRM than inside, therefore, it’s impossible to come up with a solution that will fool all outsiders, unless they hire them all (which will never happen) or kill them all (which could happen, if things keep the same pace).

Unless those companies start looking at the problem as the new reality, and create solutions to work in this new reality, they won’t make any money out of it. DRM is not just bad, but it’s very costly and hampers progress and innovation. It kills what capitalism loves most: profit. Take all the money spent on DRM that were cracked a day later, all the money RIAA spent on lawsuits, all the trouble to create software solutions to lock all users and the drop-out rate which happens when some better solution appears (see Google vs. Yahoo) and you get the picture.

Locked down society

Apple’s first popular advertisement was the one mocking Orwell’s 1984 and how Apple would break the rules by bringing something completely different that would free people of the locked down world they lived in. Funny though, how things turned out…

Steve Jobs say that Android is a segmented market, that Apple is better because it has only one solution to every problem. They said the same thing about Windows and Linux, that the segmentation is what’s driving their demise, that everybody should listen to Steve Jobs and use his own creations (one for each problem) and that the rest was just too noisy, too complicated for really cool people to use.

I don’t know you, but for me that sounds exactly like Big Brother’s speech.

With DRM and control of the ApStore, Apple has total freedom to put in, or take out, whatever they want, whenever they want. It has happened and will continue to happen. They never put Flash in iPhones, not because of any technical reason, but just because Steve Jobs doesn’t like it. They’re now taking Java out of the Mac “experience”, again, just for kicks. Microsoft at least put .NET and Silverlight in place, but Apple simply takes out, no replacements.

Oh, how Apple fan-boys like it. They applaud, they defend with their lives, even having no knowledge of why nor even if there is any reason for it. They just watch Steve Jobs speech and repeat, word by word. There is no reason, and those people are sounding every day more dumb than anything else, but who am I to say so? I’m the one out of the group, I’m the one who has no voice.

When that happened to Microsoft in the 90’s, it was hard to take it. The numbers were more like 95% of them and 1% of us, so there was absolutely no argument that would make them understand the utter garbage they were talking about. But today, Apple market is still not big enough, so the Apple fan-boys are indeed making Apple the second biggest company in the world, but they still look like idiots to the rest of the +50% of the world.

Yahoo!’s steps

Yahoo has shown us that locking users down, stuffing them with ads and ignoring completely the upgrade of their architecture for years is not a good patho. But Apple (as did Yahoo) thinks they are invulnerable. When Google exploded with their awesome search (I was at Yahoo’s search team at the time), we had a shock. It was not just better than Yahoo’s search, it really worked! Yahoo was afraid of being the copy-cat, so they started walking down other paths and in the end, it never really worked.

Yahoo, that started as a search company, now runs Microsoft’s lame search engine. This is, for me, the utmost proof that they failed miserably. The second biggest thing Yahoo had was email and Google has it better. Portals? Who need portals when you have the whole web at your finger tips with Google search? In the end, Google killed every single Yahoo business, one by one. Apple is following the same path, locking themselves out of the world, just waiting for someone to come with a better and simpler solution that will actually work. And they won’t listen, not even when it’s too late.

Before Yahoo! was IBM. After Apple there will be more. Those that don’t accept reality as it is, that stuck with their old ideas just because it worked so far, are bound to fail. Of course, Steve Jobs made all the money he could, and he’s not worried. As aren’t David Filo or Jerry Young, Bill Gates or Larry Ellison. And this is the crucial part.

Companies fade because great leaders fade. Communities fade when they’re no longer relevant. the Linux community is still very much relevant and won’t fade too soon. And, by its metamorphic nature, it’s very likely that the free, open source community will never die.

Companies better get used to it, and find ways to profit from it. Free, open content is here to stay, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that. Being dictators is not helping for the US patent and copyright system, not helping for Microsoft or Intel and definitely won’t help Apple. If they want to stay relevant, they better change soon.

Wireless pains

One of the good characteristics of human beings is to be able to understand other people’s pains. To impersonate them, feel what they feel and know how bad/good to them was something you did. But this post has nothing to do with it, it’s just about the pains I had, and why I abandoned having a wireless connection on my desktop.

Freedom

The first benefit of having wireless is freedom to move around. Not a particular strong one with desktops, though, but still appealing if you like to move furniture (as we do). To the desktop, the best benefit is not laying cables around the house, which for a family with kids is a big deal.

Nevertheless, you still have other cables, like USB, video, sound and especially electric cables all around, probably the same length as a network cable would be. And the benefits stop right there…

Configuration

Wireless configuration is not as easy as it should be. Most boards require driver installation on Linux and Windows (although Linux has been particular strong in wireless drivers, just not to my board). That alone makes your installation of the OS a pain, as you have to install it locally, install the drivers and then update it.

Another problem is that you have to set up passwords and keys, which nowadays is more a user configuration. You can’t just start up all stuff (like sshd or web servers) before you actually log in. It means, before you say it’s a geek thing, that you can’t turn on your computer and log in remotely without logging in locally, if you don’t fiddle with the wireless/network configuration of your “easy-to-use” desktop.

Not to mention that, if you have a home server and want to mount the filesystem over the network, you can’t. Once you fiddle with the configuration and manage to allow it, it still disconnects on log-off and blocks your mount points to unmount themselves cleanly. All in all, the wireless network was designed specifically to laptops on-the-go and not to any other kind of device.

It is true that this issues are being resolved in Linux (drivers, global configuration) but it’s still a good source of problems for the day to day use.

Reliability

Wired networks have a very stable communication channel. If no one is cutting your cables or laying it around NMRs you’re very likely safe from interferences. Once the connection is established, the likelihood of it falling down is very, very low and if something do happen, it’s probably server related (i.e. it crashed) than any cable/card issue.

On the other hand, wireless connections are completely unreliable, prone to errors in transmissions, channel overuse (especially problematic on overcrowded areas like most cities) and walls. Most programs are not ready to accept huge delays on transmission.

I’ve put my router on top of the printer and bought an antenna booster, changed to a channel far away from all others in the area. The speed has increased a bit, but the reliability is still bad. It often lags, slow down and the latency is just not the same with cables.

Conclusion

Obvious as it is, wireless desktops are not rare. Many of my tech savvy friends (and me), have opted for wireless connection on their desktops in favour of a safer bet, mostly because of cabling issues. I’ve been using wireless for all my needs (desktops, laptops, mobile phones) for over three years now and I can say that I’m more dissatisfied than happy about it. This is why I’ve decided to have a long white cable around my sofas and TV set. Luckily, my power cable is also white, and as I can’t get rid of it (yet), it blends nicely.

Even my boot efficiency (boot and login) increased a lot (about 2/3 of the time), I have no more mount issues, using the server’s shared drives is easy and fast, gaming issues are over and browsing has lost a source of problems.

It’s not all roses, though. When I had the drive mounted via USB, things were a bit faster (my router is 100mbps, unfortunately), but still way better than wireless. Besides, I now have a printer and scanner server!

Convergence

I’m not into writing generic posts about buzzwords but I have to admit that I’m astonished. We just got a Nokia N95 8GB last week and I’ve been playing with it since then.

It’s amazing! I’ve never used my laptop since I bought it… It has a decent web browser with Flash Lite support. All websites work perfectly: Gmail, Google, Youtube, BBC, The Register, Slashdot. Even the Google calendar works well. But the best thing is that it has wireless 802.11g support, so I don’t even have to pay a penny to browse the internet! And all major websites have their mobile versions as well automatically chosen by user agent.

Games? It supports the n-gage engine (as all new Nokia do) and has some decent games for it’s small screen. The best thing about the games is that they use a OpenGL 1.1 ES GPU on the thing. Skype, messenger, GPS, step counter etc are also available. Can it get better?

Yet, the best thing is that you can develop in C++, Java and Python! Not on the move, though… I guess I’ll have to wait a few more iterations to get a terminal and a (free as in speech) compiler and a good processor to be able to compile code while I browse the web and listen to podcasts…