Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Apple Critic's iPhone Review

I took MUNI down to Union Square today with the goal of trying out one of the sickeningly-hyped iPhones (I also had to get some new shirts at Banana Republic, but that's too boring for a blog post).

First stop: Apple store on Stockton. Mob scene around the iPhone table. I was all sweaty from running to MUNI, so I felt very uncomfortable trying to try it out in this crowd of people. I played with it for about 2-3 minutes and walked away feeling unimpressed.

  • No GPS for Google Maps. Seriously, what's the point when you can't have a phone tell you where you are?
  • The screen rotation feature only works about half the time for me. I turn it, and it doesn't really rotate easily.
  • Browsing seemed pretty slow, and it was actually on Wi-Fi.

Next stop: food. But on the way, I saw a Verizon store and thought I'd check out the competition. Wow, their choices are abysmal. The only attractive phone they have is Motorola Q. The Treos and others are too big, and the Blackberries that Verizon have are terrible.

I thought I wasn't impressed with the iPhone until I tried using Windows Mobile again. I've used Windows Mobile before, but today that thing sucked in comparison to the iPhone. I couldn't figure out how to just launch an app (Google Maps) after I downloaded it. The only icon I could recognize on the UI was internet explorer, and none of the others had tooltips. The Start menu didn't work. So I was screwing around for 5 minutes to figure out how to launch my downloaded app. Eventually, I'm actually browsing into the Program Files directory, full of DLLs, to find the Google Maps EXE and launch that. Yeah, browsing through DLLs... are you f---in kidding me?! Then, even though the Q says it has GPS ("Location On"), it doesn't read GPS. I messed around with it for a little while longer. This phone was $250 with a 2 year contract with $15 data (so approx. $55 voice/data). Why is that a far better deal than this iPhone with 8GB and a $59 voice/data plan? Sure didn't seem it. EV-DO, on that Q, had no advantage because it was so crappy to use.

Then I got some food.

A few doors down was the AT&T store on Third and Market, so I popped in there to try the iPhone again. No one was there, and I got at least 10 good minutes of fooling with it, making calls, etc.

I left there thinking:

  1. EDGE actually wasn't notably slower than the EV-DO I had just experienced on Verizon via the Motorola Q. (And yes, I forced the phone off of Wi-Fi to make sure)
  2. Apple has redefined the consumer-level mobile connected device for the better.
  3. I'm getting one.

Let's talk about points 2 and 3.

As far as mobile data revolution goes, there are a few bulletpoints. The Blackberry started something new with what was essentially a two way pager. Then Danger did it again. The HipTop was an amazing integrated, connected Java device with IM and such. Even though these got a little bit of steam, neither was compelling enough as a consumer device to really change the way we use mobile data. (Blackberry = a business device).

iPhone behaves much more like a home computer than anything else except Pocket PC/Windows Mobile. It trumps PPC in that it still manages to hide enough to be a user friendly embedded device. Back to my earlier experience, who on earth should ever see "DLL" or "EXE" on their mobile?! Answer: no one except devs. Apple understands what Microsoft does not.

The iPhone's lack of a keyboard isn't the best, but at the same time, how can you have a device that small that allows you to watch movies and include a keyboard? Something's got to give. I played with the keyboard a bunch and ended up thinking it was so-so. I've heard it takes hours to get the hang of it. My favorite was when I tried to write "what the heck" and it thought I wrote "what the jedi". That's good. I'm really glad that someone at Apple put "Jedi" in the iPhone dictionary, in case I need to have emergency Star Wars conversations over SMS. Maybe the dictionary people at Apple know more about my demographic than I know about myself.

So how does it behave like a computer? Easy to use mini-applications, a keyboard, etc., combined with a full media experience. No one else offers this. I have criticized the lack of an SDK, but the iPhone has the simplicity of "gadget" applications with an attractive UI. In that light, and considering that the iPhone is a pure consumer device, I'm not sure the lack of an SDK is as major as I once thought. I also never thought I'd actually want the iPod functionality of the iPhone, but I've realized that would be really handy. So would the availability of Wi-Fi connectivity.

While I was playing with Safari on the iPhone, I had a flash back to London, England, September 2006. With me, I had 2 phones (one GSM, one CDMA) and a PSP for music and games. In London, I had bought a £10 Vodafone SIM for my GSM phone so I could have my cellphone connectivity. Then back in the room at the Swissotel, I was trying to browse the web on their free Wi-fi using my PSP. It was ridiculous to configure and try to use (let alone type). iPhone is the convergence of a device that accepts SIM cards as well as browses the web on Wi-Fi. (And while the PSP is a better gaming device, I'd gladly leave the PSP at home to have movies, wi-fi and GSM on an iPhone).

Apple misses a lot of bullet points for former PDA users (and even regular cellphone users). Treo users isn't their market for this device, but it is worth mentioning. However, I've concluded that many of the initial iPhone's shortcomings can be fixed in software.

  • No 3G : Can't be fixed in software.
  • No voice dial: Can be fixed.
  • No GPS: I think this can be fixed. They should already have aGPS in the phone due to E911 requirements.
  • No IM: Can be fixed.
  • No MMS: Can be fixed.
  • No Video: Not sure.
  • No Copy-Paste: Can be fixed.
  • No Exchange support: Can be fixed.
  • No SD card: Cannot be fixed. I think this is a huge oversight.
  • No removable battery: Cannot be fixed. Another massive design-trumping-functionality decision.
  • General AT&T poorness: Cannot be fixed.

When I had finished at the AT&T store, I was pretty sure I was going to buy an iPhone. I say that even though I have ripped AT&T's service recently.

So to point #3, I am going to buy one. It's true, I'm leaning that way. Even though I've wanted Windows Mobile for a while, the devices have never impressed me enough to take the plunge. The iPhone impressed me even with its shortcomings.

Also, something I've realized in the last couple days is that Apple are doing two things with the iPhone that are notable and worth supporting:

  1. They're trying to break down the "mobile carrier as value-add data supplier" b.s. and make them into run of the mill ISPs. As a Verizon customer, I'm all for someone taking up that fight.
  2. There are only two US-based mobile handset makers now, Motorola and Apple. And you're telling me you want to support Motorola? Apple's local to us here in SF. Maybe we should throw money their way because it ultimately helps the local economy.

So I went back to the Apple store on Stockton with credit card in hand, but they were out of 8 GB models. After seeing Die Hard 4 (review coming), I thought I would get one online, but it's a 2-4 week delay. I might as well just wait and see if any new software updates come out, or how opinions change, and keep stopping by the Apple store. I also would need to find out the implications of my Verizon family plan.

BTW, I saw Helio's compare page and wanted to try one of those out today. Did you know the only retail store they have in the Bay Area is in Palo Alto? The only places they sell it in SF are resellers. EB Games on Powell was the one I tried today. They had a Helio shelf display with all of the demo phones ripped off and a Dyno-label that said "Ask a rep to try it hete [sic]". Classy! For some reason, I concluded that Helio just might not have a lot of steam even though it beats iPhone in a technical chart. I wish Helio luck, but man, if they don't have a store in SF and hope to get some steam going, they're going to have to do better than a half-assed display at EB Games.

My final take, after getting a bunch of time with the iPhone today: I'll be surprised if half the country isn't using an Apple phone in ten years. It is easily the best consumer-oriented handset combining mobile data, phone and media on the market today. The first iteration lacks on a lot of things, but still manages to set a new bar. It will take a very determined competitor to try to beat Apple at this game, but I look forward to seeing what kind of cool devices other handset makers offer in the wake of the iPhone.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stop calling gadgets "sexy"

It's just ... weird.

And no this post is not about the zillions of iPhone reviews that call it that. I saw this in a Dell XPS M1330 review that called the red case "sexy". Cripes.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Apple's iPhone Blunder

It's very simple: they partnered with AT&T (nee Cingular).

Here's what happens -- and this is not novel because this is what happens with all hot mobile phones -- you buy the iPhone on June 29, you have a nifty device that no one else has.  You feel cool and special for a few weeks or months as everyone checks it out.  Then more devices start coming out that make the iPhone a little less sexy, or there are just so many iPhones out there that it's not cool anymore (like RAZR).  And what do you have at that point?

What you have is you're still stuck with AT&T.

AT&T is easily America's worst wireless provider.  You can find that out by asking people, but I don't need any opinions to back that up, all I need are some numbers:

SBC purchased AT&T Wireless for $41b in 2004.  Then SBC purchased both AT&T and BellSouth for $16b and $86b respectively. 

Since they have to recoup that money from somewhere, AT&T does not have the financial resources to spend lavishly on network upgrades.  This should be more than obvious with their fits and starts of getting to 3G.  WCDMA was launched in San Francisco by AT&T wireless in 2004.  It hasn't made it very far since.  And this isn't historically different than what they've done before.  After buying out PacBell Wireless, Cingular notoriously let their network lag in California to the point where they were hit with a class action lawsuit

If that wasn't enough, ever since the Cingular merger made them the nation's largest mobile carrier, Verizon has been gaining fast without acquisition.  Verizon finally blew past AT&T/Cingular in April and now has more subscribers.  What does that tell you about the public image of Cingular?

After all of these mergers and Verizon catching up, it's obvious that AT&T had to bend to any of Apple's demands in order to carry the iPhone and boost cash flow.  AT&T is reportedly giving Apple a share of subscription revenue, which is completely unheard of in the wireless business.  Other carriers approached by Apple didn't need Apple the same way AT&T did.  Verizon told Apple to get lost, and now other international carriers are doing the same thing. 

So what does this mean to you, the iPhone owner?  Let me give you an example.

Let's say you had a choice between a Mac with a 1200 baud modem and a PC with a 2400 baud modem in 1989.  You'd probably go with the Mac because, at that time, Macs were a better designed computer to use and the modem mattered less.  The world wide web wasn't around in 1989 and people didn't rely on network connectivity.  But today, if you only had the choice between a 56K modem and an ethernet port, you'd choose the one with the ethernet port, right?

Now decide if you want to use an internet device that has a download speed of up to 474 Kbit/s, or one that's up to 2 Mbit/s.   The former is the iPhone on AT&T's EDGE network.  The latter is any one of hundreds of devices on Verizon or Sprint and EV-DO.  If your goal is getting to data from your phone, does the Apple-ness of device matter less to you when there's such a dramatic speed difference? 

(Also, if you've tried both EDGE/HSDPA and EV-DO, there is also a significant difference in latency. Though I don't have stats for that).

Ok, let's say that makes no difference to you right now.  So let's flash forward 18 months.  You're still under contract with your iPhone and AT&T.  Will AT&T have been able to build out a 3G network that is faster than what Sprint and Verizon will have available in two years?   Verizon might be starting towards EV-DO Rev. B, which is 14.7 Mbit/s max, and Sprint will had deployed WiMax is several markets.  WiMax will have downlink speeds of up to 70 Mbit/s.

Overall, for you, buying an iPhone means you're signing up with a suckier network using suckier technology.  And to boot, that's where most of the iPhone cost will go.  The iPhone might cost you $600 now, but you'll be paying at least $1200 over the next two years to Cingular.

Apple partnered with a company that can't deliver the goods they need--bandwidth--and this is going to reflect badly on their product.  Do you think people out there will think the iPhone is slow, or the network is slow?  When the iPhone is only available on AT&T, does it matter?

Apple wants to make mobile data providers into simple ISPs.  That's a noble challenge because mobile providers desperately want to be value-add services, like games and such.  Their strategy has been working:  the providers hold all of the cards.  Now that Apple has gotten one provider to accept their product -- one that might actually make their product look worse than it is because of poor network performance -- I'm not sure that makes it easier for them.  If the main complaint about the iPhone turns out to be AT&T's service, they're going to have a tough, tough time finding a Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, Telefonica or Verizon who will kneel to their same demands when they want to roll out elsewhere.

Kelo vs. Domestic Spying media attention

The domestic spying scandal has had all of the press lately, but why haven't we heard more about Kelo?

Kelo vs. The City of New London, CT, is the most important Supreme Court decision of our time. It allows eminent domain to run rampant in our country unless checked through local and state legislation. The local legislators have not limited it enough, by design, allowing eminent domain to continue in states where it should not. The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece on this today (subscription may be required). There is a second commentary piece on the excuse of "blight".

Eminent domain was created to allow public projects like railroads and roads over private property. It prevents a private land owner from jacking up the price arbitrarily to allow those types of projects across their land. What it should not allow is a land grab for private condominium builders, and that's exactly what Kelo allows. Last I checked, there's a highly regarded document that has something to say about this:

Kelo, unfortunately, would have passed even in the current Court (with the addition of Roberts and Alito).

With all that, as people lose their property, your chances of hearing about domestic spying in the media are about 5 times greater than the chances of hearing about Kelo. Check out the GoogleFight between the two. Domestic spying sounds really bad, but how many people have it affect their daily right to live? We don't hear about Kelo because too many lobbyists for condo builders are pushing to keep those rights in place. "Dog and Pony Show", as the WSJ called the state legislators' investigations into eminient domain abuse, is pretty much the best term to label it with. I'm sure they were serious about it until the condo builder gravy train started to complain.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Microsoft UK top 5 licensing questions..

#1: What downgrade rights does Vista business have?

Yup.  I think that speaks volumes about how well Vista is doing right now in the business world. 

Here's the link.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

nVidia Tesla: let's see some benchmarks first

nVidia announced their Tesla GPU platform today.


  • 4 GPUs in a 1U rack
  • Recommends 1 CPU per GPU
  • 800 watts at max load

That last stat should scare the crap out of anyone who imagines building a full-height rack (42U) out of these. Ask your datacenter guys how excited they'd be to put in a rack that draws 280 amps? This is double what a rack of dual quad core Clovertown Xeons will use at full load.

They also cost $12000 per 1U, according to Gizmodo I think. A rack? A cool half mil (retail). They'll throw in a free nVidia hat, I'm sure.

If you buy these, you better be damn sure you can get orders of magnitude better performance on the GPU with your algorithm. 3x performance for 3x the price won't make it worth any headaches.

I've long been a skeptic of general computing for the GPU, mostly because of the practicality of the hardware itself in a farm. When nVidia first approached a company I was working for in 2003, we politely listened to the GPU computation idea but knew it wasn't workable. We had 1,000 machines in the renderfarm, how could we justify a $1,000,000 expense of putting a Quadro FX GPU in every one of them, much less add the A/C to deal with it?

That was completely aside of the point that our rendering issues at the time were entirely memory bound issues. We usually could not render two main characters in the same pass. (Sadly, this was just before AMD came out with x64. We could have really used that on that project.)

Finally, when 300 people are trying to get their stuff rendered, the perceived latency of the farm is related to the quantity of machines, not the speed of the individual machine. Having a large swath of your frames rendering appears to be better than knowing frames that have been waiting for 3 hours will eventually run on really fast machines. Either way, it's hard to justify an individual machine's speed increase to double (or triple!) the price of the node (unless rackspace and/or power are a problem).

And now getting down to the nitty gritty... where are the benchmarks for Tesla? I found some for the G80, but nVidia has written an entire 3D renderer that has GPU acceleration. You'd think they would just fire up Gelato on one of Tesla machines and blow our minds with the performance, right?

It seems that nVidia is trying to sell these machines to industry (not just research) by appealing to the financial sector. They've put out a bunch of stats that they can compute billions of Black-Scholes prices per second using their CUDA toolkit on G80. An example that uses random number generation is great, but how about shuttling that amount of data from the network, disk, or even RAM? It doesn't even matter if you have a GPU computing the stuff when your bottleneck is the speed you can get option quotes from the CBOT.

There are crazy number crunchers who can use this, but I'm pretty sure that the overwhelming majority of the time, someone will be better off with x86 (or x64), in terms of cost, power and ease of programming. And let's not forget about hardware reliability and ease of replacement. What's the MTBF? Is nVidia prepared to service one of these GPU compute servers in two hours, like Dell, IBM and HP support offer on plain old x86 units?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Siding with Microsoft on desktop search

Why is Google complaining about Vista desktop search? Answer: because it's better. There's no other valid legal reason, since Microsoft had shown prototypes of desktop search (in the form of WinFS) long before Google ever released their own version.

I'd be sad if it went away because Vista search the only usable desktop search I've tried, and I've tried all of them. Hit the Windows key and type. And the indexing generally doesn't harass me, hang my system, or crash. (Google's windows tools crash on me all the time... Google Talk especially). Plus it actually does a better job of ordering results. Finally, I've always been concerned about privacy with Google Desktop.

I think it would be really sad if Google's legal efforts here reduced consumer choice -- MY choice for what I want in desktop search. I want integrated search in my OS, be it Linux, MacOS X or Windows. Microsoft's an easy target because of their DOJ agreement. I'd really hate it if Google is just playing on that for competitive purposes, rather than having any real interest in the consumer's desktop search desires.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Alternate Sopranos Endings

Slate has a hilarious article outlining alternate Sopranos endings. Check them out before HBO makes YouTube take them down (though they shouldn't be, since they should be considered fair use).

I did want to comment on the end of this show. I'm not an expert in the Sopranos -- I've only watched one episode, this finale. That said, at first I really hated the end, but it has grown on me a little bit after I've thought about it more. I guess the best thing about it is that it opens the door for internet parody.

The end of Six Feet Under was much, much better. I didn't watch that show very much (maybe a dozen episodes), but I thought the last 5 minutes was the best conclusion of any TV series. Notice how in the future scenes the camera is always moving up. Enjoy.

If that depressed you, here's the collection of chicken dances from Arrested Development.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lenovo Ad

I really love this ad.

This is a notebook ad that makes sense to me: it shows the notebook taken to the extremes of hot, cold, acceleration, etc. I can't really think of a computer hardware commercial recently that's at all had any effect on me besides this one. Maybe it's just the Willy Wonka music.

How Sun ended up with such a crappy UI toolkit for Java.

I've always wondered about this -- how did AWT come to be when it was obvious that NeXTSTEP desperately needed to be ripped off with Java?

Java was the perfect language to try to emulate what NeXT was doing with Objective-C.  Sun had control of the language, tons of momentum, and they had just acquired experts in Objective-C app writing (Lighthouse).

Some Java devs did understand what needed to be done. Surprisingly,  Symantec was one.  I bought their Java dev env called Symantec Cafe as soon as it came out. They had some behavior in there that was a lot like Interface Builder.

In any case, it's kind of funny that on The Server Side, there's a raging debate about whether Java or Objective-C GUIs.  No one even brings up WPF... I'm not sure if it's out of ignorance or irrelevance (though they did mention Silverlight).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Itanic: not quite dead yet?

Intel announced 3 new Itanium-based chips today.

Itanium, is that thing still around? Well, according to this article, the Itanic server market is a $3.4b market. You've got to be kidding me. Hold on, it gets better. The market is up 40% year over year.

I can only imagine one thing is keeping Itanic alive, and it goes something like this:

  • Customer currently on expensive Sun or IBM POWER hardware decides to try to save money by moving to Linux or Windows on clusters of x64 boxes.
  • x64 boxes turn out to be woefully unprepared to deal with things like 1 TB databases and the build quality of the hardware is shit.
  • Customer can't deal with ditching expensive migration to Linux/Windows, so instead opt for Itanium boxes over going back to Solaris or AIX.
Does that sound feasible? Because I can't really think of any other reason someone would wake up one day and decide to buy Itanium unless his name is Andy Grove or Paul Otellini. Truth be told, people actually say some good things about the chip -- after all it was based on the PA-RISC, which I used in the mid-90s and really kicked ass. Plus, it's just not as hard as it used to be to support multiple architectures. It's relatively trivial to compile your code for Itanium, x64 and x86.

But let's remember we're talking about a chip that barely anyone has bought in the 7 years that it's been in release. Why is it gaining momentum now?

Then I read this part of the article on the Wall Street Journal: "Because Itanium sells in small volumes compared to other chips, the future of the product line is often questioned. Ms. Bryant said the company wanted to reinforce its commitment to the technology by showing that design teams are working on models for years into the future."

That seals the deal, Itanium is SCREWED! Anytime a company "reinforces its commitment", you know it's the end of the road for that product. As an Intel shareholder with too many shares, I wish they'd run away from this product as fast as possible. Focus on crushing AMD with the x64 architecture. The Woodcrest and Clovertown chips are insane and blow away the competition. Everyone's talking about them. Bet the company on that great stuff instead of screwing around with Itanic, which no one cares about anyway.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Our national white elephant

A couple years ago, I calculated that since the Columbia disaster each shuttle launch has cost me around $150. It must be even higher now that the shuttle has launched so rarely.

And now they've been up there for 2 days and most of their time so far has been spent checking the shuttle for damage. If you look at the interactive timeline, it looks like 4 days will be dedicated to making sure the Shuttle is ok to land.

If you had to rent a car, would you pay $150 if you had to check it out for two days of a weeklong rental to make sure it's ok? So why pay that $150 for each shuttle launch when obviously NASA has so little confidence that they have to spend 1/3 of their time inspecting the vehicle?

It's time to mothball the shuttle. But that's only half of this post. The other half is comparing government spending versus business.

  • In Business: a project that can't continue to prove its worth will be canceled.

  • In Government: a project that is proven to be worthless will be canceled.

Do you see the difference between those two statements? In government, once you've authorized spending the money, it's almost impossible to stop. Look at Social Security. Most people agree something needs to be reorganized about it. But the money pipeline cannot be stopped... and nothing will be done.

That's why I just don't buy it when politicians say they want to make the government smaller. It's almost impossible. Bush is supposed to be of the "smaller government" party, right? This year's budget is almost $3 trillion. Remember that for the next election when the next guy tells you he's going to make the government smaller.

Somehow I just don't think that this out of control spending by the Federal government is what the founding fathers had in mind. Didn't they start this country to escape needless taxes?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Link to a link to a link...

Is this the future of news reading going to be navigating blog-chains just to get the real information?

I saw this article on Gizmodo.  I generally don't read what Gizmodo actually writes about it, I just click on the link to whatever.

Well today that link took me to this link, which isn't the actual results.  Then I clicked their "via" link, which took me here.  Nope, still not at the actual person who benchmarked the new MacBook pro.  I had to click once again to get to the actual benchmark, which is here.

Damn, 4 sites to navigate just to get some simple information.  I guess there's a real business to be made out of linking to other people's information. 

And maybe that's why decent online newspapers like the Washington Post, NYT and Wall Street Journal haven't quite died yet.  Ever notice that the real news often links to one of those three, who have actual reporters in the field getting scoops?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

NHL's in trouble

On PTI today, they discussed the ratings for the Stanley Cup game on Saturday night.

For those of you not in the know about sports, the Stanley Cup is the championship for professional hockey in the US and Canada. Personally, I think it's the coolest award in sports. The cup is a single cup that gets handed from team to team every year. Their names get engraved on it. Each player on a team gets to have a few days with the Cup during the year, and the Cup is followed around by a handler.

That's about the best there is to say about hockey right now because Saturday's ratings were the lowest for any program EVER ON NETWORK TELEVISION. It was a 1.5 or something like that, and was below "Build a better burger" on the Food Network. I actually watched this game and it was a good game. How'd it get to be this way?

First problem is they moved and created teams in weird cities. Who the hell wants to root for a team in Anaheim that was originally created by Disney and named after a Disney film? Hockey should be played in Quebec City, Hartford, Winnipeg, places like that, by guys with no teeth, not pretty boys like Teemu Selanne.

Second problem is you can fill a stadium pretty easily, but getting people to watch on TV is whole different story. The NHL can't do the latter, obviously. Sportswriters say there are 18,000 hockey fans in any city with a hockey club and that's all. There are 30 teams in the NHL, which makes a little more than half a million hockey fans nationwide. I guess the ratings back that up.

Third problem is that too many teams with too many games makes for a mediocre sport. If you watch a regular season hockey game and compare it to playoff hockey, you feel like you're in a different universe. The guys are actually trying pretty hard in playoff hockey. In the regular season, they can't. They've got 82 games to deal with. Plus, with so many teams you just don't get to see rivalries as much, and the caliber of player on a particular team is lower.

When hockey blew up in the 90s, they grew the sport too fast. Frankly, I think hockey got super popular because of video games. The hockey games in the 90s were really fun and made my friends and I watch the sport more. But today's hockey video games are second tier to Madden, NBA and even NASCAR. The problem isn't the video game. The latest NHL games are fun too. The problem is that the product the game is made for is falling off a cliff.

I'm not really sure where the NHL will go, but I think contraction is going to be a necessity. If they get ratings like this, they're going to have to find a way to make the sport more interesting beyond just getting a couple more goals a game. What network would pay to air their games?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why hasn't Mac taken over digital production?

On the eve of MacOS X's release in March 2001, after I had been beta testing the product for six months or so, I predicted that one day, the visual effects and animation companies that I worked for would be using Mac OS X.

Six years later, it hasn't worked out that way.

I thought this was a pretty safe prediction because most of these companies were originally formed using SGI boxes, coding with C and OpenGL. SGI peaked in 1997, and when it became abundantly clear circa 1999 that we were going to have to find a new platform altogether, most ditching SGI started pondering Linux. First it started in the farm. This actually started at a company I worked for in 1995. By 1998, Linux renderfarm machines started rolling in by the truckload. Then when SGI started its death spiral, the desktop was tackled. Linux support from nVidia with OpenGL drivers came out around that time. One day we got this Gee - Force card from them with some beta Linux drivers to try porting some of our custom software to Linux. The rest is history.

Well, not quite. Getting there was a long, hard road. The port of tools took a long time, and lots of IT things had to be worked out. One of my former employers had to fly out the kid who wrote the NFS code in Linux to help out with problems. And today, Linux is still a pretty poor platform when it comes to production (except the farm). No native Photoshop. Actually, not many commercial digital production tools of any kind. Productivity tools are completely absent, so producers and coordinators still can't be on the same platform as the production team.

MacOS X seems to be a great direction for 3D production currently on Linux. It has all of the tools artists need (i.e. Photoshop), even project managers can use it for their tasks, and it's shell-friendly and OpenGL.

Apple even tried to force this issue by purchasing the only two major compositing tools available for Linux and Windows (Shake and RAYZ) in 2002. They subsequently killed the Windows version and, while the Linux version is still supported, it costs 10x what the Mac version costs.

It will be interesting to see what large production companies do in the future. I'm guessing they'll stick with Linux. They all have good deals on hardware with PC vendors anyway. Newer shops are all opening up on Windows and the old guard will probably stay with what they've got... leaving MacOS back where it was originally... in the editorial suite.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tivo vs. GPL v3

So let me get this straight.  Open source advocates would sue Tivo over the rights to their software's intellectual property if Tivo tried to prevent those same pundits from cracking other people's protected property?

This is how I interpreted what I read about this in Information Week.  (Sorry in advance for the full page ad you'll get by clicking the link to read the article.)    It sounds so absurd I just had to reiterate what I'm reading.

Actually I didn't post this to harp on the amazing hypocrisy of the situation -- though, if you consider the outright socialists out there, it's not hypocritical for them to believe "the people" own all intellectual property.  I posted to point out that anything that comes of this is entirely on Tivo's head.

Tivo bootstrapped their product on top of GPLed code instead of either licensing an OS or writing it from scratch.  At the time that they started, this might have made sense.  Linux hype was very high, and it seemed like the Linux advocates were on board with trying to commercialize the thing.  

But this post is about review and outlook, not agreeing that might have looked good in 1997.  This comes back to my post a few months ago about when you should bet your company on other people's tech.  That post was about vendor lock-in, but it applies here too.  Tivo's entire product line is based on a foundation that they apparently have no right to change to their liking, DRM or whatever.  I'm sure that even the die-hardest open source guy out there can agree that, as a company, having your business plan dictated by Richard Stallman is simply not desirable.

Speaking of Tivo and business plans.  Are they ever going to release a reasonably priced product again? I've wanted a Tivo Series 3 for a while, but they're still ridiculously expensive.  I can lease my Comcast DVR, as crappy as it is, for another 5 or 6 years before it costs as much as a Tivo Series 3. 

I'm not sure this whole GPL stink matters because Tivo seems finished unless the mythical  Comcast Tivo ever appears.  I tend to wonder if that deal is a Microsoftian deal on Comcast's part.  Deal with the little guy, then crush them once they depend on your help for survival.  Sad.

10 signs you're in a tech bubble

The Register can be hit or miss, but this is a great article.  I like the points on "Preaching to the converted", "Bogus numbers" and "Community land grab." 

The last point is probably the most relevant to what we see happening today.  How many social networking sites are going to be built up, then bought, then torn down before we're out of the social networking frenzy?  We've had 3 or four major ones since Friendster launched the genre.  Plus, now every startup is trying to latch their product onto social networking. 

I'm also curious... how much money has been made across all of these social networking sites in the last year?  MySpace's revenue was $200m last year, and they're probably the bulk of the revenue.  It seems like an awful lot of hype and VC is being aimed at a very small market -- that's a good indication of a bubble.

Anyway, check out the linked article.