08
Jun
10

On Readability

While most of the ink spilled about WWDC yesterday was about iPhone 4 and iOS, the things that interested me most were Safari 5 and Xcode 4. This is mainly because I’ve been running iOS 4 since April and there really wasn’t anything new for me there and because I’m perfectly happy with my 3GS until iPhone 5 comes out. This happiness is due in no small part because my early upgrade “discount” would make it cost $399 for me instead of the $199 for the real upgrade discount. Oh the reality of wireless economics, how they mock me. <faux outrage> How dare AT&T want to make the money that they spent on my subsidy back! </faux outrage> i think that everything that needs to be said about iPhone/iOS 4 has been said, and been said well.

Anyway, as cool as Xcode 4 is, I have to wait for it along with all the other losers who didn’t go to WWDC, which leaves me to play with Safari 5. Besides extension support and enhanced HTML5-ness, the big thing is Reader. Like everything Apple does, Reader has spawned a rather stupid controversy among people who should know better. In a nutshell, what Reader does is simple: It makes irritatingly designed websites nice and easy to read.

Much has been made over the fact that Apple says that Reader “removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles.” The howling goes from hypocrisy to a weapon of mass destruction against the web. People have been complaining about adblockers for years, screaming about how they’ll bring the end of ad-supported media. This movement is so strong that Block Firefox (remember them?) is gone and blockfirefox.com is now a parked ad site.

I’m going to take the other viewpoint that adblockers aren’t the problem. In fact I feel that ads and multi-page stories themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is exactly as Apple says it: annoying ads, to which I’ll add annoying websites that break posts onto multiple pages just to get more ad views. There are ways to do advertising that are OK. There are stories that make sense as multiple pages (like any of John Siracusa’s epic OS X reviews or other long article).

The problem is that way too many websites seem to feel that the content gets in the way of advertising. Ads that fold over the entire windows, keywords that get turned into ads that popup when you mouse over them, flash ads that play automatically, ads you have to watch before you can go to the story you want to read, ads placed into the column of text you’re trying to read, oddly-shaped text columns wrapped around the ads, etc. The other issue is with stories that get broken into multiple pages just to get more pageviews. How many times have you clicked onto the third page of a story only to find that there’s only a sentence or two there? What, they couldn’t fit that last sentence onto the second page? Oh, or when they include a few paragraphs from the previous page? That’s always fun. And the excuse that people don’t like to or don’t know to scroll is stupid. Its 2010, we’ve been scrolling on the web for over 15 years now.

Just look at this Computerworld article for an example. All of those ads for five paragraphs of text and a screenshot that in all likelihood that took less than five minutes to take, crop and upload. Scroll down and look at all of the crap next to and beneath the text. Also note that Reader doesn’t see that story as as story. It thinks that its a link page, so it doesn’t display the Reader button. That alone speaks volume.

“But what about the bandwidth? That costs money!”

Yeah sure, bandwidth isn’t free, but the content I wanted to look at weighs in at 36.8kB, including the image. That’s a whole kB more than the 35kB Google Analytics javascript that got called when I loaded the page. Now, I am aware that serving even text can add up, but let’s keep things in perspective.

After all that, here’s what people are afraid of. Random Mac user is surfing the web as usual, going to all her favorite sites, but using Reader to avoid the ads on each one, thereby depriving the site of its desperately needed ad revenue. Here’s the reality: Safari user goes to a site, gets pissed off at all the crap that makes it harder to read the content that they came to see that they click Reader simply to make their blood pressure go down.

When Apple says that they included Reader to combat annoying ads, that’s exactly true. Reader is not an assault on the ad-supported web, its an assault on shitty, user-hostile web design. If websites want not to be harmed by this, stop annoying people to the point where they’ll go to the trouble to click a button that magically makes it better.

 

Postscript

There will always be people who hate and are offended by all ads. These people tend to have the same characteristics of freetards (and now that I think about it, likely are freetards) and should just be ignored. Websites gotta make money, and ads help pay for it. Don’t like it? Buy a fucking subscription/pro account/whatever.

I also didn’t get into the security vulnerabilities and privacy issues that ads can introduce. Installing a flash blocker, disallowing third-party cookies and hacking your /etc/hosts file to lock out ad networks that like to silently install tracking cookies may be things that advertisers don’t like, but fuck them, I get to decide what goes on my machine, not them. There’s a reason why cops need a warrant to install a GPS tracker on my car, so why should Google or whoever get to do the same thing on my browser for free?

01
May
10

Deja Vu

Recently. I’ve found the incessant screaming debate about and between Apple and its ban on the as-yet nonexistent mobile Flash player to be somewhat familiar. At first, I thought that it was just because its been going in since 2007 with the original iPhone announcement sans Flash. But no, we’ve had this exact same debate before, in the very recent past. In fact, its so recent, I’m surprised that it took this long for anyone to bring it back up.

Flash isn’t the first major third-party format that Apple has refused to bundle with its mobile devices. Years ago, when the only iThing was the scrollwheel iPod, we had another debate that sounded pretty similar to the one we’re having today. All you have to do is take Flash and Adobe, and replace them with WMA and Microsoft. Oh, and you can replace wannabe iPhone Flash developers with Real, Napster, Sandisk, Rio and a host of other names that no one gives a shit about anymore.

Back in 2003-2006, there were a host of Microsoft-supported players and services that were based on WMA. In 2004, Microsoft introduced Plays for Sure with the promise that this huge ecosystem of devices, services and software would all, well, play for sure. The same people who today are complaining about Apple’s draconian control over its own platform are the same ones who were predicting that the iPod would suffer the same fate that the Mac did in the 90′s. (Ironically, these same people are now making the same prediction about iPhone OS devices vs Android, using the same flawed reasoning.)

Back then, there was a constant barrage of stories about how the iPod’s hardware could decode WMA, but Apple locked it down for their own (evil?) purposes. Or the fact that if some hapless Windows user ripped their CDs with Windows Media Player, they’d be confused and frustrated when they wouldn’t be able to transfer those tracks to their new iPod. Even though iTunes for Windows is able to transcode WMA files to MP3 or AAC. Of course, in 2006, Microsoft killed Plays for Sure when it introduced Zune, using Apple’s iPod (and later iPhone) model.

Oh, and about AAC. Did you know that it just isn’t that much better than WMA? Kinda sounds like the argument that HTML5 can’t replace Flash because it doesn’t do everything that Flash does. Of course those things involve stuff like slapping DRM on streaming video or installing spyware Flash cookies that advertisers can use to track you across multiple websites (and that you can’t remove or prevent without messing with the settings of a folder buried in your /Library folder. Something no normal user would ever even find out about, let alone do.)

Am I saying that the Flash/iPhone OS situation is exactly like the WMA/iPod issue? Of course not. But they are analogous. Both involve Apple exerting control over its platform in the face of intense pressure from industry and industry watchers. But then, as now, Apple argued that it was under no obligation to support its competitors’ technology at the expense of its own and of the open standards that it was supporting (MP3 and AAC then and HTML5, h.264 and Javascript now). Then, as now, people accused Apple of acting as a monopolist that should be forced to open up by the government, even though Apple has done nothing to prevent competitors from selling competing MP3 players.

The big difference between now and then is that the iPod was always an embedded device, whereas iPhone OS devices are computers. There wasn’t ever any real expectation that iPods would do anything other than media. The expectations of iPhones and iPads are much, much greater. I have to assume that most of these expectations are from a tiny minority of iPhone OS users, but they tend to be both vocal and influential.

I’m certain that Apple is eventually going to have to cede more of its control over the platform in the platform. In the meantime, Apple will be working to move the industry away from proprietary technology that it doesn’t control to open technology that no one controls.

Postscript

I’m not arguing that no one but Apple should have or use proprietary tech, or that Apple feels that way. Windows Phone 7 is completely proprietary to Microsoft, as is Blackberry OS to RIM, and the good parts of Android (and its web apps) are to Google. This is not a bad thing. I’m just arguing that its a good idea for any company to try to control its own destiny as much as possible. And that technologies that are cross-platform should not be owned by anyone, but controlled by everyone. Apple likes the web because it can do whatever it wants to advance the state of the art, and can adopt what others have done, at will. If this wasn’t so, then why would Apple ever have allowed such a powerful tool as WebKit into its competitors’ hands?

Adobe is as guilty of this as much as Apple, if not more so, since Apple isn’t dictating what Adobe should do with Flash, other than make it run well on Macs. People have questioned why Adobe cares so much about Flash, since it gives Flash player away for free, and makes all of its money on creative tools. Well, the answer for that should be obvious. Despite the claim that Flash is open, that’s not entirely true. Most of Flash is open, but one crucial part is not: DRM. No Flash player other than Adobe’s can use DRM Flash content. Guess who licenses that DRM to media companies? That’s right: Adobe.

Adobe desperately wants Flash on iThings so it can make money licensing Flash DRM to companies that want to stream protected video to those same iThings. I mean, how many sales of CS5 is Adobe really going to lose because Flash apps are now banned? This was never about anyone but Adobe.

13
Apr
10

Has Apple Forgotten the Mac? Umm, No.

Yay, more dumbassery from Gene Steinberg. Its yet another overly-long whine fest about how Apple is way too focused on one cash cow to the detriment of the other. I’m going to save myself the aneurysm and just respond inline.

You know that sales of new Macs are increasing at a speedy pace, generally faster than the rest of the PC industry. You also know that Apple’s mobile platform has long since surpassed the Mac in terms of total user base. With 80 million and counting, against roughly 30 million folks owning Macs, you might see reason for Apple to care less about the computing platform that made it famous

Granted, I’m sure there’s a bit more profit margin in a 64GB 3G iPad than an entry-level Mac Mini, but let’s face it: Apple makes an assload of money from selling Macs, and most of the Macs they sell are nice, profitable Macbooks. Hell, after today’s refresh, I’m saving all my pennies for a new top of the line Core i7 15″ Macbook Pro. You can’t tell me that Apple cares less about that than the 16GB 3GS I bought or the 32GB iPad I plan to buy this summer.

Also consider how Apple has promoted new Mac hardware. Pretty much all recent upgrades have been announced with simple press releases, even the iMac, said to be the hottest desktop computer in years. At the same time, Apple’s mobile platform and even the iPod both earn special media events, where the press is invited to San Francisco or Apple’s campus in Cupertino to get personal treatment and even time to get hands-on experience with the new hardware.

The new Pros got a chipset upgrade. Its a big deal for me, since I’m rocking a first-gen Core Duo Macbook Pro from 2006. One of the reasons I buy Macs is their lasting power. But get real, a CPU revision that everyone knew was coming doesn’t warrant a special event, especially not five days after the last one. Besides, its not like Apple doesn’t hold a week-long party to get everyone acquainted with its new cats.

All right, it’s true that new versions of the Mac OS also get the full treatment. Then again, special demonstrations plus lots of WWDC sessions are essential to help developers learn about new features and updates to Apple’s development environment. No way to avoid that.

So what are bitching about? Snowy isn’t even a year old and Leopard got two WWDCs.

Now in the wake of the unveiling of iPhone 4.0, there are reports that Apple has put off Mac OS 10.7 in order to allocate more developers to work on the mobile platform upgrade. Of course, it’s not that anyone outside of Apple can know for sure. There may be loads of reasons for a presumed delay, if one exists, and perhaps it’s just to give Apple more time to devise a load of sexy new features and make sure they are fully integrated into the existing OS structure.

Dude, 10.6 came out on August 29, 2009. Today is April 13, 2010. Snow Leopard is less than seven months old. OS X releases tend to hang around for 18-24 months, so fucking RELAX! This year’s WWDC will most likely focus on Snowy, iPhone OS 4 and iPad. I’m expecting that 10.7 LOLcat is going to include a bunch of UIKit, which will unify some OS X conventions between platforms. Remember, the iPhone OS and the Mac OS are both based on the same underlying OS. Hell, 10.6 already has a bunch of iPhone tech in it.

It’s not as if you actually need a new version of Mac OS X. Snow Leopard is still pretty new in the scheme of things, and the vast majority of apps still don’t support the most important new features, such as better performance with multicore processors and harnessing the power of advanced graphics chips.

That’s why new hardware always comes with custom OS builds that take advantage of new hardware. Always, at least since I bought my first New World Mac (12″ Powerbook that’s still alive and well) in 2002. Unless you’re arguing that Apple should release a general update that gives my 2006 laptop support for features it doesn’t now, nor will ever have?

Even the enhanced 64-bit support hasn’t lit much of a fire when it comes to companies who build the software that takes best advantage of accessing more system memory. In the forthcoming Adobe’s Creative Suite 5, out of over a dozen apps in the various production packages, only three —Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects — are listed as providing 64-bit support. Then again, I doubt Adobe could offer any reasonable excuse if these high-power apps didn’t gain that capability with this revision, since the Mac was bypassed in CS4. At that time, by the way, Adobe’s excuse was that Apple just completed its Intel migration, and thus there wasn’t enough time to take advantage of Apple’s revised development tools. Then again, Adobe does a lot of cross-platform stuff, and didn’t Steve Jobs poke holes into that approach because he regards the results as “sub-standard”?

Yeah, sure. Because its not like Apple hasn’t been begging Adobe and Microsoft to use Cocoa since 1998 or anything. Neither company supported native Intel hardware until they had to, and neither made the switch to Cocoa until Apple killed 64-bit Carbon. That’s hardly Apple’s fault. As for Adobe’s cross-platform stance: CS4 is ass on both Windows and OS X. It ignores UI conventions for both platforms in favor of its own. It ignores standard OS key commands on both platforms. Adobe’s security is crap and it makes updates (and installation) far more difficult than they should be. And people wonder why Apple doesn’t want Adobe to have any control over the iPhone platform.

When it comes to Mac hardware, it’s not as if speed bump upgrades have been coming at a fever pitch. On the other hand, Tuesday morning’s MacBook Pro upgrade — a step that vindicates the pithy email from Steve Jobs telling a customer not to worry about the long delay since the last refresh of this model — does indicate that Apple is still in the business of delivering compelling upgrades.

Why would Apple update hardware at a “fever pitch?” That wouldn’t make people nervous about buying Macs because something new is always around the corner or anything. Kinda like how Droid owners who paid $200 weren’t at all pissed about the Nexus One or the fact that the Droid could be had at Amazon for $50 two months later? And the rumors that Intel was having trouble delivering Arrandale and Clarksfield chips couldn’t possibly be true, especially considering the lack of such chips showing up elsewhere?

Although the announcement arrived in press release form, in keeping with their recent posture, it does offer the promise of up to 50% faster performance. The graphic chip dilemma, the response to the conflict with NVIDIA and Intel over the former’s license to build integrated graphics for the latter, was resolved in possibly a less satisfactory fashion. Basic graphics are now handled by an Intel HD Graphics chip, with the option of using the discrete NVIDIA GT 330M when you need superior performance.

So what was Apple supposed to do about that? Intel changed its licensing scheme, which forced crappy Intel integrated graphics on everyone using Core iX chipsets. Apple did exactly what everyone expected them to, which was pretty much the only thing they could have done.

As with the previous model, pricing for the cheapest MacBook Pro starts at $1,199. The 17-inch version, the only one containing an ExpressCard/34 slot, lists for $2,299. Battery life is estimated at eight to nine hours, due to the greater power efficiencies of the new parts.

I have an expresscard in my port. Its a card reader for my SD cards. Just for some perspective, I tend to spend between $2000-$2500 on my laptops, which last me for around four years. I expect to spend around $2200 on my next machine. In 2002, that $2500 got me a 12″ Powerbook with a 32GB HDD, 640MB RAM and 866MHz PPC chip. This year, $2200 will get me a 15″ Macbook Pro with a 2.66 Core i7, 4GB RAM and a 500GB HDD. Plus all the extra goodies that unibodies have. Not too shabby.

Now as to the OS itself, remember that Apple exists to make a profit, not to upgrade its personal computer operating system on a fixed timeframe. That upgrades comes when they decide that they can provide value in a new version, perhaps sell lots of upgrades and, more to the point, push out more Macs that take better advantage of the new features. If sales are moving along at a good clip, and Mac users aren’t filling Apple’s Feedback pages with loads of complaints about a long-in-the-tooth operating system, I suppose there’s no real incentive for them to move forward any faster.

It. Has. Been. SEVEN MONTHS. Since Snow Leopard shipped. Apple ships new major OS releases when it has enough new APIs ready and in good enough shape for public consumption. Developers are still learning how to use the goodies in 10.6. I can just imagine the howls from everybody if Apple tried to ship 10.7 this year. “Apple’s screwing users for charging for a new OS again!” “Apple’s screwing developers be dumping too much on them!”

Then again, maybe the rumors about a delay in 10.7 are just that — rumors. Maybe Apple is working full steam ahead on getting the new version out according to an internal timetable that, of course, we know nothing about. Yes, it’s true Apple delayed Leopard’s arrival to finish the first iPhone OS, but don’t assume history is about to repeat itself.

Rational people shouldn’t be expecting to hear anything about 10.7 until next year. Even if we do hear about 10.7 at this WWDC, it’ll likely involve a vaporware presentation about new major features, but there won’t be any beta or new code. 10.7 won’t be “late” at all, even if there’s no new information at all this year. While I’m at it, when’s Windows 8 shipping?

13
Apr
10

Opera Mini

I tried Opera Mini for about an hour yesterday and deleted it after. Despite what a lot of reviews say, its a terrible, terrible browser. I can only assume that the great reviews on the popular sites are only testing Opera on their own popular sites and other popular sites that already exist in Opera’s server cache.

The problem is, I like to go to many sites that aren’t very popular and aren’t caches by Opera. In these cases, OM renders much slower than Safari and it looks like shit. The text is illegible and the CSS is totally broken.

For example, here’s this blog in Safari:

IMG_0344.PNG

And again in Opera:

IMG_0343.PNG

Completely asstastic. I have no idea why people were excited about this trash. In addition to the horrible rendering, its clear that Opera isn’t a real iPhone app. It has serious usability issues beyond its primary function. When scrolling, there’s no momentum, no bounce at the ends and no bounce to the top when you tap the menu. These things are included for free in UITextviews or UIWebviews. That’s why the crap browser that you can put into any iPhone app after about ten minutes of work is better than Opera.

I can’t believe that Apple approved this for any reason other than to a) demonstrate just how good Safari really is and b) to remove one more thing that the blogtards can scream about. It certainly wasn’t for the quality or utility of the app.

18
Feb
10

Bullshit

This is why you shouldn’t use any machine that you don’t control. Its not only the worst kind of spyware, but its an amazing breach of trust. After that, how could you trust any of these people with your children again? Who knows what kind of information they’ve harvested or if they like to watch kids getting dressed, undressed or fucking? I hope the family wins, and the school administration gets fired or, even better, prison time for that.

What this means is that I’ll never, ever accept a school-issued computer for my children. Frankly, I’ll never give them a machine that I don’t own and have all the rights to do whatever I please with.

15
Feb
10

Buzz Off!

Like most power users of the web, I find myself waist-deep in Google’s ecosystem. I have a bunch of Gmail accounts, I use YouTube, Reader, Voice, Calendar, Maps, Earth and of course, search. This hasn’t been too much of a problem for me, since its been mostly a symbiotic relationship. I get access to a bunch of free services, and Google gets user data that it can sell to advertisers. I just want to point out that of all web advertising, I find Google’s to be the least intrusive and by far the most tolerable. Hell, I didn’t even notice the Gmail ads until someone pointed out that they were there. I understand my relationship with Google, and its not one of vendor customer.

After this whole issue with Buzz, however, I’m seriously starting to rethink that relationship. Its not just the horrible privacy implications or the half-assed backtracking they’re doing, its the fact that they just decided to shove this new thing down our throats. I’m not worried about the privacy of my dssstrkl Google account, since its a public persona. Its not what I use to communicate with family, work or government. But that’s still not the point. I like using services that I find interesting. I’m not at all interested in having companies decide that I need to use what they tell me to use.

Additionally, while Google talks the talk about the open web, Google itself is notoriously closed. Letters became less interesting when I discovered that the real reason no one had made a great Gmail-optimized IMAP client is because Google won’t allow it. The Google Android apps are all closed source. In fact, none of Google’s web apps are truly open, and their TOS prohibit scraping. While I laugh at people who cry about how Apple is trying to become like Microsoft because of Flash or the App Store, I’m much more concerned about Google.

Google owns a bit too much of my web experience, especially the sensitive parts, like my email or physical location. I’ve turned off Buzz, which is useless and irritating, but for the first time, I’m thinking about the rest. I hate Google contacts and have to constantly fight with it. The fact that Google insists on controlling my contact list and is of the opinion that “People Who Email Me” is the same as “My Contacts” and gives little or no control drives me insane. Google’s lack of respect for my control over my contacts list is one of the reasons why I have no interest in Android. Regardless of what Google thinks, “People I Email” is not the same as “My Contacts,” and “People I Call” sure as hell isn’t the same, either.

Google really seems like they’re more and more interested in keeping me stuck in their ecosystem all the time. I’m not particularly interested in Google or its ecosystem. I just want good services that improve my web experience. Google’s insistence on control is starting to hurt that experience. I think it might be time to excise Google from everything but search (maybe even that). Its been a while since I’ve set up a personal server, but the hassle might definitely be worth it to get back control.

04
Feb
10

Storage

One of the memes about the iPad that’s both common and irritatingly stupid is the notion that the only good iPad is the most expensive one: 64 GB and 3G. Well, the second most irritating. The iPad = tampon is worse and makes me want to punch anyone who says that in the teeth. Anyway, back to storage. I’m not really sure where people got the idea that everyone has this huge library and so HAS to get the most storage possible on every single device they have. Its my contention that the 16GB version, and the wifi-only one at that, is good enough for most people.

Honestly, most people don’t have huge iTunes libraries. My mom and Claudia’s parents have tiny libraries. They didn’t catch the digital bug as much as I did, and have huge libraries of CDs and vinyl. Hell, my mom still has literally hundreds of Beta tapes that she never bothered to replace. My mom uses her iPod mainly as a mobile stereo to use around the house. Neither she nor Claudia’s parents were ever really into mobile music, and didn’t use Walkmans, Discmans and still don’t really see the need for an iPod, although Claudia’s mom bought an iPod Shuffle. That she doesn’t use. Claudia’s and my brothers have small libraries that are each around 10 GB.

That’s the thing. Most people only bother to collect or digitize the music that they really like and so have small libraries. Its only geeks and music junkies who have huge libraries. They simply don’t need a huge amount of storage. Here’s the other thing. I’m two feet in the digital packrat camp. I’m still interested in the 16GB iPad.

Why? Its simple. Apple doesn’t make an iPad that has enough storage for all my stuff. If I had my music, movies, audiobooks, iTunesU and podcasts, I have an iTunes library that approaches 200GB! My music alone is around 60GB for over 10,000 files. The only thing Apple makes that can hold all of that is (drum roll) a computer! I would go for the smaller iPad for the same reason why I went for the 16GB iPhone. If I can’t fit everything, then I’m just going to go for what I’ll need until I can hit my laptop again.

This is just my own anecdote, so YMMV. I listen to a lot of podcasts and barely catch up to all of them throughout the week. There’s a lot of music on my phone that I don’t listen to. I can usually get through the day with my podcasts and one or two playlists. I doubt that having an iPad will change my habit. The same is true for video.

How many movies can you watch in a day? I mean, in an average day, how much time is there to watch one, let alone several 90+ minutes movies? For me, its not too many, and honestly, its usually when I’m at home where my large TV and comfy chair live.

Then there’s the issue of the use case. The iPad is not going to replace my iPhone for the simple reason that one fits in my pocket and the other doesn’t. I’m not going to carry an iPad with me to the mall or on errands. When I take it out, its more likely than not going to be in my bag with my laptop anyway. So I don’t need to have the same stuff on each device. Nor do I have to take it all with me all the time. Apple knows this, which is why they’ve positioned the iPad the way they have.




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