Sunday, February 24, 2008

A New Chapter


Most people who would bother reading this probably already know that I've left Apple. It was a difficult decision, but I start with Yahoo! in a few hours, and it's objectively a better position for me in several ways. Emotionally, it's hard to leave the company you dreamt of working for by the time you bought your first computer.

I'll be managing a team to work on one of Yahoo's mobile applications, working for my former boss. This will be an interesting challenge, doing an entirely new job for an entirely new company. I'm not excited in the kid-waiting-for-Christmas-morning sense, but I do look forward to finding out how I'll fare in this world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Inertia


It seems that every year somebody proclaims that it is the Year of Linux on the Desktop. The curious thing to me is how so many technically-inclined people miss a basic grasp of human behavior: we don't fix what isn't broke.

First of all, let me say that I know the name "Linux" refers to the kernel, and I know what that is, thank you very much. Now let me use the name to refer to one of many Linux distributions like normal people do.

Just as Linux installation grew from the painful dozens of Slackware floppy disks in the early nineties to the slick "live CDs" today, and the "Linux desktop" went from the likes to twm and fvwm to KDE and GNOME, Windows had not stood still. In fact, Microsoft succeeded on two very important fronts: it improved the home version of Windows and made Windows 2000 and XP far more stable than Windows 95 and 98 ever was, and it trained millions of users worldwide to accept massive defects that resulted in computers infested with malware.

If you listen to Linux advocates, they usually start with some form of "if only." If only Windows wasn't pre-installed on virtually every computer sold today. If only Word and Excel and Photoshop were available on Linux. If only web authors weren't so stupid as to design their pages only for Internet Explorer. These are all true, and all serious impediments to Linux adoption, but nonetheless all miss the point.

Which is that people don't change anything unless there is significant pain, or significant gain. Many Linux users had enough of Windows 98 and switched, just as many today have had enough of Windows malware and switched. However, the pain of an operating system so unstable you can hardly get any work done is very much greater than the hassle of having to use anti-virus software. On the other hand, the shiny MacOS X and stellar industrial design brought many to leave Windows for the Mac.

The "problem" is that if you're a normal home user running Windows XP on a 2-year old PC, you have almost no reason to do anything, including "upgrading" to Vista. Everything you want to do runs decently, even if a malware or two is preventing you from using your machine's full power. There's not enough pain to take the risk of switching.

Thus, it's not about OpenOffice.org doing everything Microsoft Office can do, or GIMP doing everything Photoshop can do, although it's important. Why would I switch - and risk losing data and time - to have equivalent applications? What would really get people to switch is to have clearly better applications than Word and Excel and Photoshop, so that it's obvious what you gain by switching. Like it or not, Microsoft controls the pain knob of Windows computing, and all Linux and MacOS can offer is the gain.

Apple's Keynote application is an example of something that's visibly better than its rival PowerPoint. The two other applications in the iWork suite, Pages and Numbers, are less visibly so. The iLife suite of applications blow away equivalent versions bundled with Windows. These are the sort of examples that Linux on the desktop needs, and why merely copying Windows and Windows applications will not achieve the goal.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It Has Begun


When I started using my iPhone, I quickly realized that the Big Deal was not actually the phone, but the Safari browser. I found that I could and would actually surf the web on it, especially if under Wi-Fi coverage. I became pretty convinced that if the mobile Internet promise was ever going to materialize, this may be the best shot yet.

Google now reports that it sees 50 times more searches from iPhones than any other handset. Ladies and gentlemen, the mobile Internet revolution is here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ends, Means, Whatever.


Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, who was allegedly involved in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut and the UN compound, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, among other things, that:

One way or another he was brought to justice.


Wait, I thought it mattered greatly how a person was brought to justice. Such as with a fair trial where he is afforded a chance to defend himself?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tortured


US Attorney General Michael Mukasey has said that he would not open a criminal investigation into the CIA's use of "waterboarding" in interrogations. His reason is that the CIA relied on a Justice Department opinion that said it was legal, and therefore should not be subject to criminal prosecution later as political winds or opinions change.

I can see the logic in that. Basically, the government consulted its lawyer and decided that something is legal. The problem is that this hypothetically means an Attorney General can essentially allow the government to commit any crime it wants to simply by saying it's legal. If the Justice Department provided incorrect legal advice, I would not like CIA grunts who followed it in good faith (after all, they're not lawyers) to be punished later for it. On the other hand, I do want to see the people who misinterpreted the law punished for being wrong, and if they were maliciously wrong, be held criminally liable for their opinions.

If the lawyers don't want this sort of responsibility, then they should talk to somebody whose job it is to interpret laws, and whose opinions are shielded exactly from this sort of hindsight. They're called judges.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Citizenry


I lived abroad for most of my life, so I was never eligible to vote in Taiwan. Yesterday, I cast my first vote, as a US citizen. The experience was rather mundane, on the order of filling up paperwork at the bank. The polling place was a three minute walk from home, so of course I drove there like any self-respecting American would. (Okay, so I was on my way out to meet Mabel for dinner.) The polling place was set up in a small office of the seniors apartment, and had a staff of three or four. There were perhaps six "voting booths," really just small plastic stands with a folder standing on each. The ballot itself was reminiscent of an SAT questionnaire. The whole process took just a few minutes, and upon exiting a poll worker asked if I wanted to feed my ballot into the machine myself. I declined and let her have the honor.