Dell vs. HP – who “gets” consumer Linux first?

As I’ve outlined in recent posts, there is a race between HP and Dell for being first to market with a consumer Linux computer that receives the consumers’ blessing. I have a hunch that Dell will win this one, because they are completely focused on doing whatever pleases the consumers most at this point. Dell will find out that Ubuntu is the currently popular kid among Linux distributions, and they will collaborate with Ubuntu and Canonical to bring consumers the distribution they love on a computer that works. HP, on the other hand, may rely on its in-house Linux expertise. They may therefore be more accepting of the idea initially, but may realise too late that their in-house expertise is for the server market, and is not the kind of expertise they need in order to produce a compelling consumer laptop or desktop. Take my comments with a pinch of salt because it’s early days and HP’s cards aren’t really on the table yet. They may end up doing the right thing, and their existing ties with the development community (the kernel, particularly) may serve them well in preparing better software support for their chosen hardware components.

The dishmaker – another kind of replicator

Leonardo Bonnani suggests that instead of making products, we should create product life cycles within the home. His prototype can make and recycle acrylic dishes, cups and glasses in various different shapes. Apparently (although he does not demonstrate this) you don’t even have to wash up. Link.

MIT really seems the place to be – here’s another, similarly superhuman project. Drawing recognition is the new voice recognition, apparently. Does that make multitouch devices old news?

How to make bad software? Just hire too many people!

The most impressive thing about Microsoft is that they manage to just about hold on to their marketshare while never leaving the bad headlines. Here is just one recent example. Just goes to demonstrate the old adage, “it doesn’t matter what they write about you, only how many column inches you get”. I’d had a suspicion for a while that Microsoft goes for quantity over quality of coders, and there was a comment somewhere recently saying that Microsoft was the only company recruiting by interview rather than code review (and they use those idiosyncratic questions including how to get A, B, C and D across the bridge fastest, or how to figure out which of three switches turns the light on). Microsoft has over 71,000 employees, which of course does include sales and marketing people, but still. Apple has about 18,000 full time employees. Yahoo has 11,000 and Google 10,000. I see a pattern. (BTW, since I wrote about Adobe recently, they have about 5,900.) You can look up those figures on Wikipedia.

Windows is now a software console

Someone commented earlier that Windows is the new Classic, but then I read the comments on this post, where one Mac user says that the graphics DirectX 10 produces are almost cool enough to upgrade for. Of course, the same graphics will play on a Mac via the latest Parallels Desktop or the upcoming VMware Fusion (but, yes, you do need a Windows license), so it looks like Windows is now an expensive software console, just like, erm, ScummVM et al.

And on that note, isn’t it great that I don’t need to buy either Vista or OS X to enjoy them? Screenshots and videos on the web will do as much. Thanks Youtube et al.! (And leave the lawyers at home, please!)

Adobe’s Linux problem

Adobe has a problem. Dell customers have strongly voiced their opposition to pre-installed proprietary software, both the operating system and applications. After painful consideration, Dell will give in to their customers, and see a landslide of sales. HP is going down the same track. Of the big brands favoured by the tech elite, Sony will be last to go, who apparently make a special effort to include their own proprietary software with their PCs in an attempt to draw level with Apple’s functionality (my recent VAIO purchase contains the equivalent of iLife in Adobe products). When all this happens, Adobe will have only begun to port applications to Linux – a platform on which they know it will be hard to compete because the free offerings are competitive. Direct competition from a set of Adobe products that all integrate rather better with each other than existing free Linux products do (I’m discussing price here, not openness) will lead those Linux products to draw even. Note, for instance that with Adobe Atmosphere discontinued, Adobe has no product to compete with Blender, meaning that open source products could conceivably become better integrated with each other than Adobe’s line-up.

Microsoft’s quagmire is deeper still. While Office 2007 is an epiphany in office product usability, it will take years for the Wine project to catch up and let 2007 run on Linux, barring direct involvement for Microsoft (we know they’d rather die, at least while Ballmer is CEO). In fact, a full productivity suite for Windows now exists in open source: OpenOffice, Scribus, GIMP, Inkscape, and PDFCreator. The emergence of freeware Adobe Reader replacement Foxit shows that an open source equivalent can’t be far off. Nothing will stop users from leaving the Windows tax behind once they have embraced platform-independent open source applications such as the aforementioned. Open source software for Windows is already being distributed in several downloadable CD formats, such as OpenCD, and the Open Source Software CD; the Ubuntu install CDs for at least some releases have also contained open source productivity software for Windows.

The Adobe brand lures consumers with the free Adobe Reader and cheap Photoshop Elements, but Google’s free Picasa will be welcomed by many that use even fewer features than Photoshop Elements provides, and the feature-laden Adobe Reader may also be too much for some.

The only remaining disadvantage for open source software is the virtual absence of a marketing budget, meaning that it will spread at the product of the speed of word of mouth and the rate of convincing.

I believe that the reason former developing nations in Asia are emerging as ferocious competitors in the technology arena is that they have less red tape, less vendor lock-in (aka inertia), and strong recent rates of natural selection in the absence of government benefits for the unemployed and sick; therefore selection for intelligence may have been stronger in those countries. By this reasoning, South America and Africa will be next to emerge from the shadow.

Dell’s imaginary Linux problem

Dell has a problem. On the IdeaStorm website, many customers have supported the idea of Dell computers being sold either without an operating system or with Linux pre-installed. They have also asked for Firefox and OpenOffice to be pre-installed, and for an option not to have extra software pre-installed. So Dell has a problem. They have to decide to either satisfy their customers, or to become able to negotiate more favourable terms with Microsoft. The solution to their problem is going to be… er… what was the problem again?

Garlik vs. Facebook – your privacy online

I recently posted “does what happens on facebook stay on facebook?”, a very nice flash video revealing some rather distressing details of Facebook’s terms and conditions, as the top link in the sidebar for this site. Then I read about garlik, an online service which says it “finds, tracks and monitors your personal information online”, and that it is “the simple and effective way to protect your privacy and identity”. Right. I’m not sure why they thought consumers who are worried about an unknown company collecting and inappropriately disclosing personal information about them would trust another company. Interestingly, one criticism raised in the facebook video – government ties – equally applies to garlik: one of their board members, Wendy Hall – otherwise an apparently distinguished computer scientist – is “a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology” (source). That said, I’m not sure how this situation can be satisfactorily addressed, that is, how to search for personal information online without using third party tools, and without accessing various resources on the web in a way that is fundamentally opaque to the user. Basically, you’d need to run such an application as a desktop app, and have a traffic monitor digest each packet for you before it’s released to any third party website, in order to be sure that it is only requesting, but never supplying, information. Nonetheless, I do feel that garlik has not undergone sufficient scrutiny, and I’m seriously worried by the CEO, Tom Ilube, stating in a lecture that he intends to sell the business within three years.

Weekly web review 1 March 2007

Let’s see if I can introduce this as a new feature.

I had another look at Zamzar, which now allows not only conversion of different image, document and audio formats, but also conversion of videos from YouTube URLs and other flash-based movie sites. The list of supported sites is here. I had a quick look at Wikia search, which, judging from the technology which is now being quoted as being contained in it – Lucene and Nutch – seems to be a far more ordinary beast than was widely claimed. ChaCha, on the other hand, really does offer search supported by live experts. This reminded me of my old friend qunu, a system for finding volunteer tech gurus to chat with live and help you sort out your problems – and be part of the revolution. And yep, qunu is still there, still apparently growing. Casting my net wider, I found kasamba, which allows people to also get paid for their services – complete with customer ratings. click4assistance has a colourful website advertising their engine for doing the same on your company website. I don’t know whether this is what Rackspace use on their website, or whether they rolled their own. As always the same technology is available from a number of other vendors, including groopz and WebsiteAlive. I’ll certainly believe the statistics that most web customers have questions beyond what most FAQs offer. A positive surprise was the website of my – admittedly pricey – broadband provider, Zen Internet. Their website seems to have an answer for everything (actually, I did ring them up with two questions before signing up, and they answered them gracefully, not to mention not keeping me in a loop on their phone system). Finally, everyone and their aunt is talking about SecondLife. I tried it and found it laggy and boring, but maybe that’s because my laptop isn’t a Core 2 Duo. In any case, I don’t buy into the hype (yes, that is a pun). Just another opportunity for us to become even more socially inept. No, thankee! No doubt Linden Labs make a lot of money out of this. And btw, Linden Lab does not have any track record before SecondLife, as everybody keeps implying. They just have a nice name. Did anyone watch Batman Forever? Or the Matrix (of course, everybody has seen that, right?) Oh, and if you liked Minority Report, you should watch The Power of Nightmares.