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An unbiased view of Android vs. iPhone

A couple of years ago, I posted An unbiased view on Macs, because I couldn’t find anything even remotely resembling an unbiased view. I looked to see if there was an unbiased view of Android vs. iPhone, and I actually found one. It’s right here: Android vs. iPhone. It’s an extensive list, from a Mac developer who also happens to have a Nexus One, of pros and cons of Android, using iPhone as an opposing reference. I quite like the list. It really doesn’t reek of fanboyism. So if you’re interested in a comprehensive list of pros and cons, that’s the link you want.

I’m presenting it in a bit of a more personal view—why the iPhone appeals to me (why I love using my wife’s iPhone), and why I still use an Android phone.

First of all, I want to say that I think arguments fangirls and fanboys have about Android and iPhone are usually stupid. They tend to be arguments about which platform is “better” or which is more popular. The problem with “better” is that it is a vague and meaningless term that doesn’t help consumers make a choice. The bottom line is that neither the iPhone nor an Android phone will be the best smartphone product for everyone‘s mobile lifestyle. iPhone will be better for some. Android will be better for some. And some will find both equally good or equally useless.

So I’m more interested in the practical. What are the kinds of things that are important to you in making a smartphone purchase?

What I like about the iPhone
I know a lot of people who have iPhones. I’ve played with my friends’ iPhones. I’ve seen strangers use them on the bus. I’ve played with them in the Apple Store. I’ve “borrowed” my wife’s iPhone periodically. Here is what I can tell:

  • iPhones are sexy. The displays look good. The casing looks sleek. Even third-party apps generally tend to look better than their Android counterparts.
  • The interface is designed with touch in mind. That makes sense, since it is a touchscreen OS. One hard button takes you to the home screen if you press it once and then to search if you press it twice. Everything else is through the touchscreen. Android has too many hard buttons (Menu, Back, Search, Home, a trackball).
    Edit (March, 2012): I now own a Galaxy Nexus, which uses soft buttons for Recent Apps, Home, and Back. By default, there is a contextual Menu button and no more dedicated Search button. It looks as if Google is trying to move more in the direction of going fully touchscreen.
  • The touchscreen is very responsive (you’ll notice in a lot of YouTube videos comparing iPhones to Android phones that the reviewer often has to swipe or tap a couple of times for it to register on the Android phone). Pinch-to-zoom is a lot faster—there is no lag.
  • Multi-tasking is not a priority. Yes, I know some people view this is as a con against the iPhone, but I view it as a pro. I agree with Steve Jobs that performance and battery life matter more than multi-tasking. I really don’t use more than one app at a time anyway.
  • Here’s another one I like that I’ve heard many iPhone users complain about—notifications. I like that they just appear and then disappear. One thing I dislike about Android is that, to get rid of notifications, I have to swipe down the notification bar and then either click on the notification or click Clear to clear it. A notification should just notify me and then go away. I don’t need it lingering and requiring a lot of extra taps and swipes to remove.
    Edit (March, 2012): Since iOS 5, iPhones now use an Android-like notification in addition to the old notification system that pops up. This, for me, has now become a con for iPhone, since it essentially has the Android problem, making the interrupting notifications redundant… but still interrupting.
  • Updates come right away to all phones whose hardware can support the latest version. Don’t get me wrong—I definitely think criticisms of so-called Android fragmentation are exaggerated. Fragmentation doesn’t have much direct effect on the end user. But there is a real sense in which consumers just like to have the latest and greatest. If a new version comes out and Google says “Hey, it’s got this cool feature and that cool feature,” and you know your phone is powerful enough (enough processor speed, enough RAM) to support the update, it can be frustrating not to be able to install the update right away, and not everyone is geeky enough to risk a voided warranty to install a rooted rom (rooted roms can also be extremely buggy). With the iPhone, you just plug your phone into your computer, and iTunes will install the newest version of iOS as soon as it’s released.
    Edit (March, 2012): Google has three items in its “Nexus” line that get vanilla Android and over-the-air updates from Google in a timely fashion—the Nexus One, the Nexus S, and the Galaxy Nexus.
  • I may be the only Linux user who thinks so, but iTunes is a nice interface, and over the years it’s just gotten snappier in performance. I love the smart playlists and syncing capabilities. When it works, it works extremely well. Of course, I also know some iPhone users (particularly ones who have tried to use their iPhones with multiple computers) who have had a lot of bad experiences with iPhones and iTunes connectivity.
  • Even with the growth of Android as a platform over the past two years, sometimes there are apps available for the iPhone that are not available for Android. One that comes to mind is Netflix streaming. The iPhone has had this many months now (almost a year). Netflix just has murmurings about it possibly coming to Android “soon” and then for only select devices.
    Edit (June, 2011): Netflix now has streaming on just a handful of Android devices.
    Edit (March, 2012): Now almost all (maybe all?) Android phones on the market can play Netflix.

Why I’m sticking with Android
I don’t get fanboyism or fangirlism. How can you think one popular product is superior to another in every single way and not acknowledge that people have different needs and preferences? How can you not even acknowledge that almost everything (if not everything) in life has both pros and cons? Well, I’m definitely an Android user, but, as you can see, there’s a lot I admire about the iPhone.

Nevertheless, I won’t be switching to an iPhone any time soon. Here are some great things about Android that keep me there:

  • I love Google Voice, and its integration into Android is seamless. Back in 2009, they tried to submit an app to the iTunes App Store, and Apple rejected it (or just simply didn’t accept it, depending on what semantic backflips you want to employ). My guess is that Google then put zero effort into the iPhone Google Voice app for the next year and a half so that by the time it was released it was just garbage (I know because my wife tried it out on her iPhone). Maybe after a few updates Google Voice for the iPhone might be usable, but even then there are some levels of integration Apple simply will not allow. With Google Voice I get free, unlimited text messaging. I can block numbers. More importantly, I have one number I can give everyone, and it can ring my Android phone when I have my phone on, or it can ring my GMail account when I’m on the computer. Voicemail transcriptions are notoriously inaccurate (almost hilariously so), but they are still better than nothing.
    Edit (March, 2012): Google has since updated to the Google Voice iPhone app, and it’s now better, but it still doesn’t match the quality of the Android app and, without jailbreaking, cannot integrate fully with the iPhone.
  • On a related note, Android has the ability (and has had this since at least Android 1.5, Cupcake) to send certain numbers straight to voicemail. So even if people call my real cell phone number (not my Google Voice one) as a wrong number, I can just add them to my “wrong number” contact, and I’ll never have to hear the phone ring again when they call. If they call my Google Voice number as a wrong number, I can add them to “wrong number,” and they’ll simply be blocked—they won’t even have the opportunity to leave me a voicemail.
  • The keys on the iPhone keyboard are easier to peck at accurately, but I still prefer the Android keyboard for a couple of reasons. To sum up quickly, it’s the visual distinction between upper- and lower-case letters, as well as the autocomplete suggestions. You can read in more detail in my The Pros and Cons of the Android Keyboard entry.
    Edit (March, 2012): the Gingerbread (Android 2.3) keyboard is the best I’ve found so far (yes, I’ve tried Swype and all the Swype-like keyboards—no thanks), because of how many auto-suggest options it presents for words as you type. Unfortunately, the stock Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) keyboard regressed a bit (only three suggestions, and you have to long-press the middle suggestion to get more suggestions). Fortunately, you can still install the Gingerbread keyboard through the Android Market (now called Google Play).
  • Occasionally we’ll rent a ZipCar and drive around some place we’re unfamiliar with. Turn-by-turn GPS navigation is really helpful during those times, and that comes with Android for free… even though the voice is a little scary. My wife and I call her the dominatrix.
  • I don’t think it matters that the iTunes App Store has more applications than the Android Market has. Most of the important ones are present in both stores. More importantly, Google can’t tell you what not to install. Even if an app is rejected by the Android Market (which is rare), you can still choose to override that and install apps outside the Android Market (you get a big warning that is a security risk, of course). Now with the new web Market, you can install apps on your device remotely using your computer. Google also allows you to install various web browsers and email clients. There are no restrictions on apps with a claim that they duplicate core functionality of Android.
    Edit (March, 2012): Apple is now allowing for other web browsers like Dolphin, Opera, and Skyfire, but you can’t set your default web browser to anything other than Safari without jailbreaking.
  • In theory, at least, Android can use Flash in its web browsers. You have to have Android 2.2 or higher, though, and your phone has to have hardware that supports it. The ability to play Flash is never a con. Even if you don’t like Flash, you don’t have to use it, and as far as I can tell it is just Flash on demand anyway (you have to manually decide to play Flash to get it to play).
    Edit (March, 2012): Adobe is going to stop developing Flash for Android in the future

So should you get an iPhone or an Android phone?
Well, I don’t know who you are, but I will tell you that the iPhone world and the Android world are very much eco-systems.

If you want the best experience from an iPhone, you should have an iTunes account and use iTunes to manage your music. It’d be nice to have a Mac with Mail and iCal as your main email client and calendar, respectively, and to use iPhoto to manage your photos. Your music, mail, address book, and photos will sync up when you plug in your iPhone.

If you want the best experience from an Android phone, you should have a Google account and use it for GMail, Contacts, Google Voice, and Calendar. You shouldn’t mind dragging and dropping music files to removable storage (even from iTunes) instead of having things automatically sync. Ideally, you should actually prefer dragging and dropping to iTunes syncing.
Edit (March, 2012): I have found an amazing pay-for app in Google Play called iSyncr. If you’re really conflicted about wanting an Android phone but “needing” iTunes, iSyncr is worth the investment.

Since I use Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu all regularly, drag-and-drop (as opposed to iTunes syncing) is ideal for me. I know that isn’t the case for everybody. And since I use three different operating systems, it’s nice to sync to “the cloud” my emails, contacts, and calendar, instead of to a single computer.

It’s certainly possible (and I know people who do it) to use an iPhone with a Windows computer and a GMail account. I just don’t think you’re getting the most out of it by doing so. Likewise, a hardcore Mac-Safari-iCal-Mail-MobileMe user who has no GMail account could use an Android phone but would also not get the most out of the phone by doing so.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. As always, use what’s best for you. There is no empirical “best” for everybody.

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Living the Apple and Google life

Ever since Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone last year, the tech press has tried to play up a corporate rivalry between Apple and Google. Will people pick Android or iPhone? Will Apple make Bing the default search engine on the iPad? Will Google start making touchscreen tablets to “kill” the iPad? I’m sure Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs don’t get along as much as they used to, and Apple and Google certainly have experienced some overlap in terms of competing markets and target audiences. Nevertheless, for a lot of everyday consumers, the Apple/Google dynamic is more of a hybrid synthesis than a divided pledge to one or the other.

Here are a few examples:

  • Me: As some of my Ubuntu-using readers are dismayed about, I recently switched my primary operating system to Mac OS X on a Macbook Pro (still using Ubuntu on the netbook, still will keep updating Ubuntu tutorials). At the same time, I have an Android phone, and I will not be giving it up for an iPhone until Steve Jobs says (in all sincerity, not as a joke) “I love Google Voice and I think it’s the app everyone should install on the iPhone!” To make the most of my Android experience, I use GMail also, even to check my non-GMail accounts (via POP3). And, of course, I use Google as my main search engine.
  • My wife: She’s an Apple user through and through. She uses a Mac at work, and she uses a Mac at home. She has an iPhone. She uses Mail, not Thunderbird or GMail. Safari (not Chrome) is her main web browser. At the same time, she has a Nook (Android-based) e-reader, and Google is still her main search engine.
  • My pastor: Even this Apple hipster recently traded up his iPhone for an Android phone (albeit an iPhone clone), but he plans to get an iPad to keep up his “street cred.”
  • My sister-in-law: She uses a Mac Mini with iTunes and has an iPod, but she also has an Android phone and a GMail and Google Voice account.
  • My boss: She uses Google for just about everything. It’s her search engine. GMail is her email. She just got started with Google Voice the other day. She uses Picasa to organize her photos. But she’s an iPhone user.

In fact, I would say, at least among my social circle, the last example is the most typical. Yes, I know a lot of iPhone users. Before they had iPhones, they had iPods. Some of them still use iPods separately from their iPhones. But Google is the main search engine. GMail is the email. Google Voice is starting to catch on. Even if you don’t have an Android phone, there may be other Android devices (like a Nook) that you pick up. Even if you love Google, you may still have an iPhone.

Who’s going to win? Apple or Google? I say both will win. In some ways, both have already won.

P.S. I do know a couple of iPhone users interested in Google Voice. Anyone with a non-jailbroken iPhone who’s been using the two together for a while willing to share the experience of using the Google Voice mobile page in Safari? Pros and cons?

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Made the move to Mac

As a follow-up to Why I might switch to Mac from Ubuntu, I did actually get a Mac… or, more precisely, my wife got a new Mac, and I inherited her old one.

Clarifications
Unfortunately, it seemed some of the commenters on that entry brought their own agendas and grudges without actually reading what I wrote. I have tried other distros, many of them, in fact—probably at least 20 distros over the past five years. You can read about some of my more recent failed attempts at trying non-Ubuntu distros. Two of my reasons for switching had nothing to do with Ubuntu specifically—that there were hardware regressions in the Linux kernel (and bugs in other upstream packages), and that the whole approach of the operating system development being wholly independent of the hardware development is a flawed approach if you want to increase adoption (which, incidentally, Ubuntu is trying to do, and not all Linux distros are).

To those who claim Macs “just work,” I have to disagree. For more details, read Macs are just computers, not magic and Macs are computers, not magic (part 2).

In terms of what happened in getting the new Mac, it’s been an interesting mix of positives and negatives (Can you believe it? Macs are not the holy grail, nor are they the devil incarnate).

The Apple Store
One of the nice things about the Apple store is that there are a lot of display models of various Apple products you can try out. So my wife and I got to spend considerable time playing around with the new Macbook Pro before we decided on purchasing it. More importantly, the sales staff appear to be trained on finding the right balance between being unavailable and being oversolicitous. A few annoying things about the sales staff, though:

  • They assume you know nothing about Macs, even if you are a long-time Mac owner (as my wife is).
  • They aren’t overly pushy, but they do try to upsell you (AppleCare, training programs, iWork, etc.).
  • They take every opportunity to bash so-called “PCs” in side comments (and by PC, they mean Windows PCs, because, as we all know, Macs aren’t personal computers, and Linux just doesn’t exist, nor does FreeBSD). Want to know where the stereotype of Mac users as being snobby zealots comes from? It comes from the Apple store employees (and from the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials). I like Mac and Linux and Windows. Is that a crime to like all three?

The Migration Experience
At home with the new Mac, we used the Migration Assistant to move my wife’s files, settings, and applications over to the new computer. I don’t know who at Apple is in charge of the Migration Assistant, but that person needs to be replaced. First, it prompts you to make the transfer via firewire. The new Macbook Pro doesn’t come with a firewire cable, though. We had an old firewire cable from an external hard drive, but apparently that’s the wrong kind. We tried to do the transfer via ethernet. We soon realized that was a mistake, as the transfer was going to take three hours. Unfortunately, Migration Assistant is set up so that you can’t do anything else on the computer while the migration is happening, and the time remaining arbitrarily goes up, stands still, or randomly drops. At one point, it said it was going to take four hours. So we canceled it by killing the Migration Assistant on the source Macbook Pro and then forcing a shutdown on the destination Macbook Pro. Then we did the Migration Assistant again but this time with just the settings and applications (not the files). The files we copied over manually from an external hard drive backup afterwards (during that copy, my wife could actually use her new computer).

Apart from the Migration Assistant process being godawful, the migration result itself is pretty good. The setup was exactly the way she had it on her old computer. Wireless keys remembered. Dock configured in the exact same way. Mail with all IMAP accounts set up. Wallpaper the same. It was an exact replica of her account on the old Mac. All the programs worked, including CS3 (I thought maybe that might need a new activation key or something).

Unfortunately, one thing that didn’t work (and this points to a major usability issue with Mac OS X, which is being able to resize windows from only one corner) was her window setting with iTunes. See, her old Macbook Pro was 15″ and this new one was 13″, so the iTunes window extended beyond what the screen could display. We couldn’t figure out how to drag the window past the universal toolbar (I thought maybe there might be an equivalent to Alt-mouse-drag in Linux, but couldn’t find one). Clicking the + button (which usually zooms in other applications) just toggled between full iTunes and the iTunes mini player. Finally, I did a Google search and found that you could go to window > zoom in the toolbar menu to get it to zoom (since the + button in iTunes acts in a way inconsistent with other OS X applications). Solved that. Annoying to have to solve.

Meanwhile, I was tailoring my wife’s old computer to suit my needs. I deleted all her design and font programs (she’s the graphic designer; I’m not). I got rid of Mail, Safari, and iCal. Put on Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Transmission, and some other programs I found at Open Source Mac. I love the smooth animation (when importing photos in iPhoto, when switching applications) that I just never could get in Ubuntu, even with Compiz. I don’t like that I can’t toggle hidden files with Control-H (or even Cmd-H). I don’t like that Finder is an always-on application (meaning, when I’m switching applications with Cmd-Tab, I want to switch between only actual applications, and not the file browser if no file browser window is open). I had to install a third-party application to turn off the annoying boot-up noise.

Really, though, the main draws for me to my wife’s old laptop are not any OS X–specific features per se. What I like most are

  • The magnetic power cord, because I am a klutz and actually broke my HP Mini power cord recently.
  • The larger hard drive. Since the HP Mini was my main computer, it was kind of tough to deal with having only a 16 GB SSD, and the upgrade options for a 1.8″ 5mm PATA Zif hard drive aren’t wonderful.
  • The ability to do Netflix streaming (the PS3 fake-Bluray experience isn’t as good as the web browser experience). I guess you could argue that’s OS X–specific, in the sense that Netflix supports Mac OS X and doesn’t support Linux. It has nothing to do with the usability of the operating system design.

Unlike most Linux users, I have always been a fan of iTunes. I’ve used Foobar, WinAmp, Songbird, Exaile, Rhythmbox, AmaroK, JuK, Banshee, and all the rest. I still think iTunes is the best. But I’m going to keep buying songs through Amazon’s MP3 store, since I want to be able to easily port the music to my Sansa Clip or to Ubuntu, should I decide later to set up a dual-boot. I’m also going to be sticking with Android, even after my phone becomes “obsolete” (obsolescence is subjective, I guess). I do like the iPhone, but it’s a bit too restrictive. I like the xScope web browser, and I don’t see any free web browsers in the iTunes app store like it. I like having a rooted device without worrying that updates will constantly break my installation. I like being able to send certain contacts straight to voicemail. I like the Google Voice app (which Apple has rejected for the iPhone).

In Conclusion
Yes, I will continue to update my Ubuntu documentation on Psychocats. Don’t worry. I plan to have Ubuntu in VirtualBox on Mac OS X. I also still have my HP Mini around with Ubuntu on it. My wife and I don’t travel often, but when we do, a 10″ netbook is far more convenient to travel with than a 15″ laptop. So even though Mac OS X is now my main OS, I will continue to document and test Ubuntu. And, mpt, I don’t know if you got my email, but I would be interesting in helping the Ubuntu experience design team if that offer is still good.

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The window of opportunity for iPad rivals is shrinking

For months leading up to Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPad, tech blogs and so-called “news” sites had been hyping up the new touchscreen Apple tablet. After the announcement, many people (not just tech blogs and “news” sites) were disappointed. Where was the webcam? Where was Flash? No 1080p video? Isn’t it just a giant iPod Touch? Nevertheless, it’s sold almost half a million, and within months probably millions more… all in the first generation (and smart Apple fans always wait until at least second generation to buy new products).

Meanwhile, I keep seeing all these tech blogs and so-called “news” sites talking about “iPad killers” (you know, the same way they talked about iPod killers and iPhone killers). Oh, this tablet is going to be the iPad killer. We got a hold of some secret demo pre-release of this tablet that’s going to be the iPad killer. Tell you what—I don’t know when these supposed iPad killers are supposed to come out, but they’d better come out soon if they’re even going to maim or scratch up the iPad, let alone kill it! I read about how some tablet was going to come out by the end of summer or another by the end of the year. It’s April. By May or June, Apple will have sold millions of iPads. Once that happens, the iPad will be the definitive touchscreen tablet device that all other touchscreen tablet devices will be compared to. And, even relatively rich (i.e., not filthy rich but still well off) people have only so much disposable income. If they have a choice between buying an iPad now and buying a non-existent iPad competitor later, they’re probably going to go with the iPad now. And once that that competitor shows up later, the money will have already been spent on the iPad, more applications will have been developed for the iPad, more movies will have featured Hollywood actors using the iPad, and the rest will be history.

Why are Apple’s competitors moving so slowly? Don’t they remember what happened with the iPhone? Right after it came out, other companies were scrambling to make similar smartphones. But the Instinct and Storm got bad reviews. WebOS was marketed badly. (I personally didn’t get a WebOS phone, because I knew Google’s Android would be bigger.) Meanwhile, Google seemed to be just twiddling its thumbs while millions of people bought iPhones. The first iPhone came out in the middle of 2007. The first Android phone didn’t appear until the end of 2008… and the G1 was kind of weak—be honest. Almost a full year later, the MyTouch 3G (also known as the HTC Magic) appeared on the scene. I bought that phone. It sucks compared to the iPhone 3GS. It’s sluggish. It’s bulky. The touchscreen requires you to press harder to get any kind of response. It wasn’t until the end of 2009 that Droid made a big splash for Android, and then the beginning of 2010 that the Nexus One appeared. That’s nearly three years after the first iPhone appeared. Already there is quite an iPhone ecosystem: iPhone covers, iPhone adapters, iPhone apps, iPhone users. I can’t tell you how many friends and acquaintances I have who own iPhones. I can count my Android-using friends on one hand. It doesn’t matter how cool Android 2.1 is. People who have iPhones and have had them for years already own the product and are used to using it. It’ll take a lot more than a product just being better to get them to switch to something else.

If iPad rivals want to upset Apple, they have to release their products now. I’m not kidding. If people right now see a touchscreen tablet with no webcam, no Flash, 720p video, no USB ports for $499 and then see another touchscreen tablet with a webcam, Flash, 1080p video, and USB ports for $499, a lot of them will opt to buy the latter. But that’s right now. By August or December, it’s too late. And certainly by 2011 it’s too late. The Apple brand is strong, and its marketing deadlier. Once people start associating “touchscreen tablet” with “iPad,” the iPad won’t be one tablet among many tablets; it will be the tablet, and everything else will just be laughable “iPad killers.” Yeah, ICD Gemini and Notion Ink Adam, I’m talking to you. Eric Schmidt, if Google has an Android tablet, better unveil it soon.

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Why I might switch to Mac from Ubuntu

Who am I?
I’ve been using Ubuntu for almost five years now. I’ve offered some technical support on the Ubuntu Forums and been a moderator there off and on. I’ve maintained a new-user-targeted documentation site for every release of Ubuntu except the very first (4.10). I’ve also contributed to a few official Wiki pages. Even though nanotube did all the heavy lifting, I did help out a fair bit in at least the beginning stage of UbuntuZilla. I’ve filed bug reports at Launchpad. I’m not a programmer, but I feel I’ve contributed a fair bit to Ubuntu.

Why I was drawn to Ubuntu
I admire a lot of what Mark Shuttleworth has done. He has an enormous amount of wealth. A lot of people who don’t have a lot of wealth always think if they did that they would undoubtedly give away most of that money. It’s easy to give away other people’s money. It is not so easy to give away your own. My parents aren’t nearly as rich as Shuttleworth. Somehow, they managed to give a large percentage of their money away to church and to various charities, and still maintain a very comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle. My wife and I are struggling to make ends meet while also trying to give away to causes we deem worthy. To sink millions of pounds into what could have been a dead-end project is a risk that I admire Mark Shuttleworth taking. He could have been ridiculed. He could have lost a lot of money on nothing.

He had a vision, though. I liked that original vision. I liked the free CDs shipped anywhere. I liked the idea of one CD with one application per task, not a lot of confusing options, and sensible defaults. More importantly, I liked the idea of Ubuntu—humanity toward others, which showed quite well in the Ubuntu Forums. And Ubuntu was one of the few distros to try to strike a reasonable balance between the lofty ideals of Free software zealotry and the pragmatism of proprietarily-licensed software.

Where did Ubuntu go wrong?
For a while, I had high hopes for Ubuntu. Every release seemed to make Ubuntu more polished, every additional feature seemed to make Ubuntu more accessible for the Linux novice. A few things that have come up recently have made me a bit disillusioned with Ubuntu, though:

  • These days, decisions and “improvements” seem more like arbitrary changes instead of actual user experience improvements. Grub suddenly became less configurable, as did GDM. Notifications would appear and randomly disappear at odd times (for example, if my wireless reconnected, the notification would still say I was disconnected and then change to connected only about ten seconds after I’d actually reconnected).
  • My bug reports have really come to naught. A few years ago, if someone had complained on the Ubuntu Forums about a problem with Ubuntu, I would have been first in line to say “Complaining here won’t do any good. If you want to tell the developers, file a bug report.” After seeing that most of my bug reports have been unanswered or unfixed, sometimes for years, I don’t know that filing a bug report is really the best thing to do.
  • Brainstorm is a mess. Really, there isn’t an efficient way for developers to get proper feedback from users. If I, as a user, can’t make sense of Brainstorm’s thousands of ideas, how can the developers, who are busy developing?
  • I’ve seen too many hardware regressions. A lot of this isn’t Ubuntu’s fault. A lot of this is upstream. Regardless, upstream affects the Ubuntu experience. The real problem is that the Linux kernel tries to support everything well. There isn’t enough focus. So something that is in theory supposed to be Linux compatible (say, an Intel Pro Wireless 2200bg card) can work perfectly in one release, and then have random disconnects in the next two releases and then work perfectly again in the next release. Personally, I’ve had a Broadcom card that works and doesn’t work in alternating Ubuntu releases, and that makes no sense to me. If the problem is that hardware manufacturers aren’t making it easy for Linux developers to make drivers, then that hardware should never work. If, however, the hardware works in one Ubuntu release and doesn’t work in the next release, that is definitely the fault of Linux, whether it is the kernel team upstream or the Ubuntu team… or both.
  • Recent decisions have seemed to focus on whim or business more than user experience, particularly the change to Yahoo! as the default search engine in Firefox and the random moving of the window control buttons from right to left. I have no problem with change. I also have no problem with Ubuntu making money. But there seems to be an utter disregard for how changes affect users. A little more communication would help. More details here.
  • The most important thing is there doesn’t seem to be a real strategy in place for fixing Bug #1. Yes, there are power users who like to install their own operating systems and troubleshoot hardware compatibility issues. In order for your product to take off, though, it can’t be just an operating system. It has to be a product. It has to be something people can purchase. And the limited options from Dell (which recommends Windows, even on the Linux parts of its website) don’t cut it. They also aren’t created by Ubuntu. They just use Ubuntu. Recently, Google released the Nexus One as its idea of hardware matching perfectly the software in Android. There is no Ubuntu equivalent. There isn’t hardware designed to be the ultimate Ubuntu experience. I’ve heard various Ubuntu advocates propose making a Ubuntu commercial. What’s the point, though? If someone saw a Ubuntu commercial, she couldn’t just go and buy Ubuntu, especially in certain countries. The options are limited or non-existent. And hardware compatibility is iffy (Dell still uses Broadcom cards… I have a Broadcom card in my Ubuntu preinstalled HP Mini, which HP no longer makes, by the way).

The straw that broke my camel back
This window button move in Ubuntu 10.04 is really indicative of a bad way Ubuntu is headed. Defaults matter. One of the things I liked about Ubuntu, as I stated before, is its sensible defaults. I don’t have to agree with everything the Ubuntu teams decide or that Mark Shuttleworth decides. That’s fine. You want GIMP out… I don’t agree with it, but I at least understand the rationale behind the decision (it takes up a lot of space on the disk, and most people do not need the crazy power-user features GIMP offers as a photo editor). This decision about the window controls came out of nowhere and had no apparent rationale. Instead of getting good reasons for the change, all we got was… nothing for a while. We got some people saying “Hey, it’s different” or “Just get used to it” or “You can change it back easily if you want.” These aren’t reasons for a change. These are coping strategies. If a change happens, there should be good reason for it. Look, I get Shuttleworth saying Ubuntu is not a democracy. It doesn’t have to be a democracy, though. How about, as self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, just explaining why you made a decision? People don’t have to agree with your decision, but at least if they have a reason for it, they are more likely to accept it. How about, even though you have the power and right to not listen to people, just soliciting feedback?

It took a lot of pressing from users to get Shuttleworth to talk a bit more about what kind of “feedback” and “data” he was looking for. He said at least that the decision wasn’t final, and he wanted genuine data. Based on his remarks in this bug report, it really does seem, though, that he has made up his mind that this is what is going to happen, regardless of what data and feedback people present him with—especially when people present a lot of legitimate points against the move, and then he just replies “And the major argument against it appears solely to be ‘we’re used to it here.'” For more details on those legitimate points, take a look at this and this.

Democracy v. Dictatorship = false dichotomy
In case anyone’s wondering, there are more than two options out there. You don’t have to put every decision to a vote. And you don’t have to totally disregard community input. You don’t have to try to please everyone or please no one. And you don’t have to be subject to mob rule if you offer a little transparency.

My advice to Shuttleworth for the future would be if you want to make a unilateral change, just be open about what your reasons are for it. You can be a strong leader without pissing off large segments of your user base. Just say “I want to change this a bit, because I think it offers X, Y, and Z usability improvements. I realize a change is difficult for everyone, and I also concede there are A, B, and C tradeoffs in making the change. The tradeoffs are worth it, though. Ultimately, the decision rests with me and the desktop experience team. Nevertheless, I would like to hear your concerns about the change, and the best way for you to communicate your concerns is through methods D and E.” Would that be so difficult? Any time you make a change, there will always be some people unhappy about it. You can still make the process a little less heated with just some communication and openness. After all, on your webpage, you say “Ubuntu is a community developed operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers.” Your millions of pounds help make Ubuntu happen. We all know that. Keep in mind that it would behoove you to not piss off your user base, as the success of Ubuntu can’t be bought with pounds alone. Millions of users contribute to Ubuntu in many ways as well.

Why Mac?
When I voiced opposition to this latest change in Ubuntu, I got a lot of “Ubuntu is not a democracy” and “You can always use something else.” Well, as I just explained, you can very well have a non-democracy that is still community-focused. I hope Mark Shuttleworth will reconsider for the future his approach to communicating (or not communicating, in this instance) with the larger Ubuntu communities. Really, though, if I’m going to be using an operating system maintained by a dictator, I might as well go for one who understands that 1) hardware and software planned together make for a better user experience and 2) even if users don’t agree with his design decisions, he should still have rationales for those decisions.

I can’t even tell you how many design decisions I disagree with Apple about (resize only from bottom right corner, zoom instead of maximize, disk image mounting for software installation, dock icons in poof of smoke when dragged off dock, etc.). You know what, though? Each one of those decisions I disagree with I also understand the rationale for. More importantly, I like how Apple doesn’t like to tackle too much at once. Instead of trying to support all hardware and then having regressions on various theoretically “supported” devices, Apple realizes it’s better to have a great experience on a limited number of devices.

And the attention to detail is impressive. The magnetic cord I love. I am a total klutz and can’t tell you how many cords I’ve ruined by tripping on them or tugging them the wrong way. In fact, I just broke my HP Mini cord this weekend and had to order a replacement cord. Not so with the magnetic cord on my wife’s Macbook Pro. When the Macbook is sleeping, the power light fades slowly in and out instead of doing a hard off and on blink. The power button is flush with the frame of the laptop and not jutting out. The sound quality is always good on Mac laptop speakers. There’s a lot to admire about Apple approach. It is one great way to present an integrated hardware-software computer experience. My hope was that someone would present another great way. We’ll see if that ever happens.

Am I abandoning Free software?
Not really. First of all, I don’t know that I’m going Mac. Macs are expensive, so I’d have to save up for one. Even if I do go Mac, though, my Mac experience would be very different from my wife’s Mac experience. For one thing, I might dual-boot with Linux Mint. And even if I stick with Mac OS X, I will use Thunderbird instead of Mail, Firefox instead of Safari, OpenOffice instead of iWork, and my Android phone instead of an iPhone (Cyanogen’s rooted rom has made me really appreciate the Android platform even though the iPhone has its advantages too). No change has to be permanent, though. If Ubuntu comes around or changes the way it does business, or if some other Linux distro focuses its energy on preinstallation and proper marketing/distribution, and thorough hardware compatibility testing on a few select models, I might make my way back. In the meantime, if I go Mac, don’t worry—I’ll still be making my Ubuntu tutorials. A bad decision though the window control switch is, it’s probably not bad enough for most Ubuntu users to actually abandon Ubuntu at this point. For me, it was a tipping point. It’s been a good five years.

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Linux

Apple App Store like MPAA?

After reading Apple’s FCC Response Infuriates Google Voice App Developer, I’m getting deja vu. Kirby Dick, you listening? (This Film Is Not Yet Rated).

I guess with films people can at least view your movie without having to jailbreak their iPhones—though good luck trying to recup your production costs with an NC-17 or unrated movie…

If I were a phone app developer, I’d just go with Android. Even if Google rejects your app, people can still install it without having to root their phones.

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Computers

An unbiased view on Macs

I don’t know why it’s so difficult to find honest, unbiased views on Mac OS X and Apple computers. I know a lot of Mac fanatics and anti-Mac fanatics. I regularly participate in a Linux forum (the Ubuntu Forums, specifically), and it seems to be the same deal there—some users making it sound as if Mac OS X is the be-all and end-all of computing experiences, and some making it sound as if Macs are just the biggest ripoff that Apple can get away with.

Are non-Apple users just ignorant people waiting to be (or too poor to be) enlightened? Are Mac owners unthinking sheep who just do whatever Steve Jobs says?

Why can’t it be somewhere in between? Why can’t we acknowledge that Macs have some good points and some bad points? As I have mentioned before on my blog, Macs are computers. They are not magic. They are not garbage either.

Here is what I consider to be the God’s-honest-truth as the good and bad of Macs, and this is from someone who uses Mac OS X and Linux at home, and who uses Windows at work.

The Price
The entry level for purchasing a Mac is very high compared to purchasing a Windows PC. This should be an incontestable fact. If you compare spec-for-spec on low- to middle-end hardware, the Windows PCs will be cheaper for sure. As you get into more high-end hardware (the most suped-up Macbook Pro, the most suped-up Mac Pro), you’re far more likely to get a better deal with the Mac than the Windows PC.

What I have stated above I have observed by comparing many Windows systems to Mac systems over the years. Once you present a Mac fanatic with actual dollar amounts, you get the backpeddling about the difference in money being worth it and about Mac OS X coming with iLife and Windows having nothing like Garageband. You also get the anti-Mac fanatic proclaiming that Mac is overpriced garbage and Apple is ripping off its customers.

I don’t want to get into questions of whether the price difference is “worth it” or not. That is something each computer user must decide for herself. Right now I just want everyone to agree—Macs are usually more expensive than Windows PCs with similar hardware specifications.

What does this mean? Usually, not a whole lot. As I said before, most Mac fans will pay the difference anyway and think it’s worth it, and most anti-Mac fans will refuse to pay the difference. If you’re on the fence, though, and like Mac OS X and Windows Vista equally (i.e., if you are marginal and almost non-existent segment of the population), then I would say if you have basic needs (email, web browser, word processor, photos, music) and have only a little money, go for a cheap Windows PC (or even a Linux PC). Otherwise, go for a Mac PC. Simple. Isn’t it?

Hardware
I’ve heard many a Mac fanatic say Apple charges more for Macs because the hardware is superior to non-Apple PCs. I’ve also heard many an anti-Mac fanatic say Macs have exactly the same hardware Windows PCs have.

I have found the exterior hardware for Macs to generally be well-thought-out and well-designed. In that sense, the exterior hardware is superior. The edges seem to be smooth and aesthetically pleasing. The weight seems to be reasonably light for the size. The blinking light for sleep mode is not obnoxiously bright (it slowly fades in and out instead of blinking on and off). The power cord for laptops is magnetic (and, yes, I am, like many others, clumsy, and I do trip on power cords, so it’s nice to have the cord pop out without breaking when that happens). The power button is never too small to press, and it’s flush with the surface so as not to be too obtrusive. The laptops all have backlit keyboards and high-resolution displays.

But the interior hardware is exactly the same as the interior hardware in non-Apple computers. I’ve seen hard drive failures in Macs just as often as in Windows PCs. That’s because those are hard drives manufactured by the same people who manufacture hard drives for Windows or Linux computers. The RAM isn’t some special RAM made by Apple. The graphics cards are regular graphics cards also in Windows PCs. Macs use Intel, Nvidia, Seagate—all the regular brand names in Windows PCs.

Apple does put a lot of care into making sure laptop speakers aren’t tinny and webcams work in low light. The hardware is always well put together. That doesn’t mean the hardware is of a superior build.

Customer Experience
I don’t agree with Apple’s closing off (via End User’s License Agreement) of people using Mac OS X on non-Apple computers. I do, however, agree with their being proponents of tightly integrating the software and hardware by limiting the supported hardware options and thus making it easier for OS X developers to optimize the operating system (it doesn’t have to work on everything, just these few models). I wish Ubuntu went this route. The Linux kernel, of course, does try to support as much hardware as possible, but it’d be nice if the Ubuntu developers could especially vouch for no bugs or regressions occurring in certain Ubuntu-supported laptops and desktops.

Of course, Apple does sometimes take it too far. They don’t say “Oh, install it on whatever you want, but we support only these models.” They say “These models only. Only our computers. No other computers.” And that’s generally the Apple way, which is good and bad. If you play the Apple way and don’t mind those restrictions, it can be a very good experience, because you don’t have to worry about anything. If you buy an Apple TV, an Airport Extreme, an Apple Cinema Display, an iPhone, and a Macbook, you know they’re all going to play nice together.

The flip side of that is that you may not get as good support or as seamless an experience with non-Apple products. Maybe the wireless card in your Macbook Pro isn’t playing nice with the WPA encryption on your D-Link router. If that happens, do you think Apple is going to say “So sorry. We will work on getting that working as soon as possible?” No. They’re going to say “It should work, but if you want to make sure it works, buy this Airport Extreme instead.”

It’s certainly possible to use non-Apple peripherals with an Apple computer, but you will constantly get the message from Apple “use our stuff, use our stuff,” and they’ll have very little sympathy for you not using their stuff.

User Interface
Even though Mac OS X’s interface has some nice touches (uninstalling applications by just deleting the application icon from the Applications folder, being able to drag and drop files to an application icon to launch the file in that application), I’ve generally found Mac OS X does not have an intuitive user interface. But I’ve also found that intuitiveness is highly overrated. There are counterintuitive aspects to Windows and Linux as well. These counterintuitive parts of Mac OS X are surmountable, but I do get annoyed when Mac fanatics keep repeating that Mac OS X is intuitive, when it is not. Here are some bits that are counterintuitive. If you can get over these quickly, maybe a Mac may be good for you:

  • Enter renames files. Cmd-O opens them.
  • Double-clicking an application download does not install the application. It mounts the application into a disk image container that has inside the application files that should then be dragged into the Applications folder.
  • Dragging icons from the Dock to the desktop does not move or copy the icons. It makes them disappear in a poof of smoke.
  • Even though you can cut and paste text or copy and paste files, you cannot cut and paste files through the menus or through a universally recognized keyboard shortcut (like Cmd-X, which works for cutting text).
  • Dragging mounted volumes to the trash ejects them.
  • The plus sign on a window has no consistent or predictable behavior. “Zooming” is pretty much useless (supposedly, it adjust the window size to fit the contents of the window, but if the content size changes, the window does not dynamically shift to refit the contents), and in iTunes you don’t even get a zoom—you get a switch between mini player and normal player.
  • Closing the last window of an application does not close the application. This can be useful for some applications, but it doesn’t make sense for most of them.
  • Windows can be resized from only one corner (and that corner may well be behind the Dock).
  • There is no keyboard shortcut to access the toolbar menu.
  • The symbols for certain keyboard keys are confusing (option, control, command, shift).
  • The toolbar is for applications and not for windows within in application. This sounds great in theory… until you are using a huge monitor or extended desktop.

One thing I will give Apple, though—they seem to have put a lot of thought into their interface decisions. For every counterintuitive tidbit I see, I also can easily imagine a rationale for it. A lot of it sounds good in theory but just works out poorly in practice.

Looks
Why doesn’t it matter to Mac users that Mac OS X is counterintuitive in so many ways? Well, apart from the fact that people just get used to counterintuitive interfaces and deal with it, Mac OS X is a beautiful interface, and that beauty makes a lot of its users overlook the counterintuitive aspects. Now I’ve heard many a Linux user say Compiz looks much better than Mac OS X and can do fancier stuff. In screenshots, yes, I have seen some amazing-looking Compiz themes. And, yes, Compiz can do fancier things (raindrops, wobbly windows, spinning cubes).

But Mac OS X has really smooth animation that I have never seen in Compiz. Everything seems to just flow. I rarely see excessive pixelation in icons or stuttered movement when dragging things. And even though a lot of Linux users I’ve “met” online think Aqua is ugly, every person I know in “real” life thinks Mac OS X just looks amazing. I love the high resolution icons, and I’d love for my Linux computer to look just that way (and not a single Mac clone theme I’ve encountered over the years has come close to the real thing).

One thing I will say against the Mac OS X look is that it isn’t very easily customizable. If you’re into customization, I don’t know if Macs will be your bag, though.

I’ve also not seen any real performance gains in OS X. I think all the Mac users claiming Macs are faster than (Windows) PCs must have had malware-infested Windows installations. If anything, I’ve found OS X to require (perhaps like Windows Vista, as opposed to Windows XP) a lot of RAM in order to perform adequately. The smooth animations I mentioned before may also contribute to perceived notions of better performance or speed.

Security
Here is another area where I rarely see balance presented. On the one hand, you have some Mac fanatics saying Macs are nigh-invincible—use a Mac, and you won’t have to worry about any malware. Go on your merry way! On the other hand, you have some anti-Mac fanatics saying Macs offer no security advantages over Windows, and the only reason Macs haven’t been exploited as much as that they aren’t as big a target for malware writers.

The truth is somewhere in between. Yes, a larger marketshare does make you a juicier target for malware, but Macs do generally have better security than Windows, especially Windows XP. Macs are not invincible. You do still have to use strong passwords, not enable extra network services, install security updates, back up your files regularly (note: antivirus is as useless on Macs and Linux PCs as it is on Windows PCs). But Macs implement sudo, which allows administrators to operate as a limited user and temporarily escalate (after a password authentication) to root privileges. Unlike Windows Vista’s UAC, this isn’t annoying, and it also cannot be easily turned off.

Unfortunately, since more and more malware uses social engineering (i.e., tricking the user instead of exploiting software vulnerabilities), Mac OS X will be compromised more and more (as we recently saw with the trojans in pirated copies of iWork and Photoshop) if Mac users continue to be complacent about security.

Security isn’t just the best or non-existent. There are many shades in between (good, okay, bad), and if you have an ignorant and gullible user who can be tricked into installing software from untrustworthy sources, then all your operating system security goes out the window anyway.

I’ll also say that if you are a Windows user who is considering going to Mac for only security purposes, don’t bother. If you like Mac OS X for other reasons, that’s fine. If you actually like Windows, there are some easy ways to make Windows just as secure as a Mac (use a limited user account, install Windows updates, use Firefox with the NoScript extension, get rid of useless antivirus software, turn off autorun, etc.). And if you’re just looking for an alternative to Windows, most Linux distributions actually have more robust security than Mac OS X, and they’re free.

This is like that lie about Macs not crashing. If you have a problem with Windows crashing, you’re either using Windows ME, or you don’t know how to secure your Windows installation (see tips in last paragraph). Occasional crashes might happen on any OS, though. I’ve seen the blue screen of death on Windows XP about as much as I’ve seen the rainbow circle of death on Mac OS X or the black screen of death on Ubuntu Linux. Crashes happen. Get over it.

Application availability
If you are part of a small minority of computer users who uses computers for high-end commercially created gaming (instead of using a game console or just not gaming at all, like the rest of us), then of course you will use Windows. If you use Windows-only applications, you should use Windows. But if you are reliant on only cross-platform applications, then you can choose from Windows, Mac, or Linux.

And for all those Mac users who say “Oh, you have all these Windows-only applications? That’s what boot camp is for,” are you really going to suggest people buy a Mac only to install Windows on it?

The applications you use should be one of the primary reasons you pick an OS. If you need specialized software, make sure it works on the operating system you pick! Only if you are like me (email client, web browser, office suite, photo manager, music player) can you pick from any OS on the market.

Is Mac OS X for you?
Unfortunately, despite my long rant about the pros and cons, I don’t think anyone should make a computer purchasing decision based on what people say on the internet. (Unfortunately, with the dearth of Linux netbooks available in brick-and-mortar stores, I had to do that.) If you are a Windows user thinking about moving to Mac, don’t believe the Mac fanatics, and don’t believe the anti-Mac fanatics. Go to an Apple store and try it out yourself. See how you like it. If you don’t have an Apple store near you, just find someone with a Mac and ask to try it out (it helps if you say you’re thinking about getting one… it also helps if you’re in a public place like a coffee shop and not in some dark alley).

I’m a big Linux fan, and I prefer open source software, so I won’t be switching to Mac full-time, but I do enjoy the time I spend on my wife’s Mac (which has made it financially impossible for me to also get a Mac, anyway). It is a good user experience. It’s not perfect. It’s not magic. It’s not god-awful. It’s just good. Same as Windows. Same as Linux. Just use what works for you.

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Computers

Tech “journalism” strikes again: of course Apple will recommend antivirus eventually

A self-proclaimed analyst at CNET has predicted that Apple will recommend antivirus.

Apart from the fact that Apple already did recommend antivirus a few months ago (but has since removed that page), isn’t that quite obvious? Some prediction. Unfortunately, the reasoning for that recommendation makes me wonder what Jon Oltsik is analyzing. Here are the reasons he gives for Apple recommending antivirus, and they’re all pretty much baseless:

Macs users are a lucrative target. Mac owners tend to affluent and Net savvy [sic]. To the bad guys, this means identities to steal and broadband connections to exploit.

If Mac users tend to be net-savvy, then why are their machines being compromised? Why don’t they have mechanisms in place to protect themselves from identity theft? If Macs are currently such a great target for malware, why is there so little malware out there for Macs now?

Organized cybercrime is diversifying. Cybercriminals tend to work as a loose confederation with each group specializing in a certain task. There are malware writers, botnet owners, mules, etc. Some entrepreneurial bad guy is bound to see a green field market in Mac cybercrime, recruit Mac hackers, develop expertise, and market these capabilities. If there is an equivalent of a cybercrime venture capital firm, they are probably looking at business plans like this already.

Diversifying ways to compromise machines doesn’t mean you attack multiple platforms. That’s just more work for very little return.

Macs are growing in the enterprise. In many large firms, Macs make up about 5 percent of endpoints. If the bad guys infect these systems, they can troll the network looking for other vulnerabilities and juicy data at will.

How about if the bad guys infected the machines that make up 95% of endpoints? Wouldn’t that give them more “juicy data”?

Macs are fairly easy to hack. In March as part of a contest, security expert Charlie Miller won $5,000 for exploiting a hole in Safari in about 10 seconds. If he can do this in 10 seconds, how many techies can do it in an hour? This is a frightening thought to me.

Okay, now this is totally ridiculous. Charlie Miller didn’t just walk into that competition and find a hole in 10 seconds. He knew about that hole for over a year and then exploited it in 10 seconds (in his own words: “It was an exploit against Safari 4 and it also works on Safari 3. I actually found this bug before last year’s Pwn2Own but, at the time, it was harder to exploit”). There’s a big difference there.

And all operating systems have security holes. That’s why Microsoft, Apple, and even Linux distribution maintainers all issue regular updates and patches.

I don’t understand why people imagine that you either have an unprotected computer or you have antivirus. (Or they think that an operating system that ever has a security hole is necessarily as insecure as another operating system with security holes.) Antivirus and protection are not the same thing. They’re not even similar. Antivirus does not offer you any real security at all. Don’t believe me? Go ask all the Windows users infected with malware what antivirus they’re running. Odds are that almost all of them will have some kind of fancy schmancy “security” software installed… software that did nothing to protect them.

Mac OS X isn’t a model in the best security, but its defaults are certainly better than Windows’ defaults. No operating system is invincible, and that includes Mac OS X. But Mac users will be no more protected with antivirus software than they will be without it. Know what the latest security breaches were for Macs? Trojans. Do you know how useful antivirus is against gullible users installing pirated software? Not at all.

Trojans rely on social engineering, and no operating system “security” can stop that, because the security hole is the user, not the computer. If the user can be tricked into giving away her password or giving a bad program access to system files, then you can have all the proper permission level separation or “security” suites in the world, and they will all be for naught. Have NoScript installed? She’ll whitelist every site. Have an algorithm for guessing malware? It’ll give so many false positives that she’ll learn to ignore its warnings.

Why will Apple eventually recommend antivirus? Plain and simple—because antivirus software is the most successful placebo ever introduced to the mass populace. As Mac marketshare continues to grow, more and more trojans will pop up, and more and more gullible users will keep installing them, and Apple will finally have to admit that Macs are just computers and not magic. But instead of saying “Users are stupid and need education,” they’ll toe the party line and recommend people install useless antivirus software, just as Microsoft does now. At least then they can enter into lucrative business partnerships with antivirus software companies.

Break out the sheepskin condoms, people.

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Would Apple’s netbook be the next iPod?

I remember back in 2003 when only a handful of early adopters in America were buying portable audio players. If I’m recalling correctly, some of the big players at the time were RCA and Creative, among others. Once 2004 rolled around and the 3rd-generation iPods came out, suddenly “everyone” I knew had an iPod. Soon, even armed with my Sandisk player, I had unknowing friends call my portable audio player an iPod. The iPod took over a growing trend and made itself a virtual monopoly in portable media devices.

In recent years, phones have been getting more internet-connected. Blackberries have been the standard for business travellers, but most everyday folks have had crappy no-name web browsers in their phones that can do only some very basic tasks. Suddenly, the iPhone came along, and now… well, not nearly “everyone” but it’s getting close to half of the people I know are getting iPhones or planning to get an iPhone when they can afford it. I had high hopes for the Google phone or the Blackberry Storm; however, all the reviews I’ve read of them have been mixed and make it sound as if the iPhone, despite its own flaws, cannot be beat for sex appeal to the masses.

Now we have these netbooks that are “popular” in the sense that early adopters are excited about them, but really very few people I know have netbooks let alone know of their existence. I bought an Eee PC 701, and I still love it but, like many netbook owners, know that the netbook has not reached its full potential. Some Linux users are optimistic, since most netbooks come with a Linux-preinstalled option, that netbooks could be the key to a Linux-for-home-user revolution of sorts. If that’s to happen, OEMs have to wake up and start making a netbook that is unreservedly the best. I’ve read literally hundreds of reviews of various netbooks, and with every review, there’s something seriously wrong. Some key is placed in the wrong place. The keyboard is too small. The sound is tinny. The processor is too slow. The battery life is too short. The Linux distribution it comes with is crippled.

Why is it so difficult? Really. If an OEM (Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, etc.) came out with a netbook that had these characteristics, I guarantee it’d blow the sales of the other netbooks out of the water:

  • 92%-sized keyboard with important keys in the right places
  • No weird side buttons for the touchpad
  • Nice aluminum casing, no cheap plastic
  • Sleeps when you close the lid, wakes when you open the lid
  • Ubuntu-based Linux that takes advantage of the full Ubuntu repositories
  • “Easy” interface that can easily (meaning a box that checked or unchecked, ticked or unticked) be changed to a more typical “advanced” interface
  • 2- or 3-second boot time
  • Definitely cheaper than the corresponding Windows option
  • Battery life of longer than 4 hours
  • Kernel supports 2 GB of RAM without user modification
  • Ships quickly, no extended delays

Why is that so hard to find? Why does Dell’s Mini come with some weird architecture that isn’t compatible with the regular x86 .deb packages? Why does HP’s Mini-Note use a Via processor? Why does any netbook run with a crippled version of Xandros or with Linpus Linux? Trust me, OEMs, for your own financial good, fix these problems quickly and come up with an all-around great product, not just a sufficiently-good-for-early-adopters product.

If the rumors I’m reading are true and Apple may enter the netbook market soon, this could be another iPod coup. I don’t agree with all the design decisions Apple makes. In fact, I actually am opposed to Apple’s whole approach to user interfaces. I cannot deny, however, that Apple thinks out its decisions and tries to create what they consider a good user experience. And they know how to make their products sexy. See, I don’t mind having an ugly MP3 player that also has a radio, has a really long battery life, and costs half the price of an iPod. But I’m not most people. Most people would much rather have a sleek iPod that costs more, has a cool scroll wheel, and works with iTunes.

I’d love to see Linux get some real success among home users, but if there’s not a Linux netbook that I can unreservedly recommend to friends and family before Apple comes out with one, I’m afraid Linux may miss the boat on this one. Or, even if Apple doesn’t come out with a netbook exactly, if the current line of netbooks stays flawed, netbooks themselves may die out, and the iPhone may take over yet another niche.

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Computers Windows

Why does Microsoft port Office to Mac?

So I know Microsoft has recently been trying to counter-market Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign with the Mojave thing, the senseless Seinfeld-Gates commercials, and the “I’m a PC!” declarations. Wouldn’t a simple tactic be just to discontinue porting Microsoft Office to Mac?

After all, I know there are people who use Internet Explorer-only websites and so have not been able to switch from Windows to Mac (now that the latest version of Internet Explorer for Mac is 5). If Microsoft stopped porting Office to Mac, that’d hurt Apple even more, wouldn’t it?

Well, I suppose they know what they’re doing. Maybe they’re worried about antitrust lawsuits or something. I’m no Gates or Ballmer.