Steve Jobs – The Henry Ford Of Computing?

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It’s finally happened, Steve’s stepped down. Immediately triggering articles and tweets from Apple haters and fanboys.

Over the last few hours I’ve seen his role in the history of computing overstated, underplayed, or just simply misunderstood.

I’ve seen Apple innovations downplayed because they didn’t “invent” some of the technologies they are associated with, specifically the GUI and the mouse. True, they didn’t invent them. Apple didn’t invent the phone either, and Bill Gates has been talking about tablet computing for years. What Steve Jobs has is vision and an understanding of how people want to interact with technology.   Jobs is able to see a prototype piece of technology and understand how it can change the industry.  To steal a phrase from Anthony Painter “Jobs has always been a master at connecting research to market.”  He’s revolutionised our idea of what well-established technology should do and how we should interact with it.

Apple will be OK for the next few iterations of iPhone and iPad and the inevitable articles that judge Tim Cook by the next couple of products fail to grasp the problem.  The problems for the new CEO are about vision. How is the industry changing and how does Apple shape and dictate that change?

Apparently some have compared Jobs to Henry Ford and while others are more qualified than myself to compare the two, I think the difference is that Henry Ford changed the way a product was manufactured to generate huge volume at a significantly reduced cost.

Michael Dell and Bill Gates seem a better comparison to Henry Ford. Windows drove the costs down by enabling hardware manufacturers to compete with each other on price without worrying about a lack of software. Dell could slash costs by cutting out the need for brick and mortar stores, direct marketing and buy on the phone or online. The problems for Dell, Microsoft and Ford came when the product was ubiquitous, people had moved beyond just wanting a car or a computer- they now wanted style.

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black.” – Henry Ford

Microsoft have only recently woken up to the fact that people want more than just functionality.  It’s has to be a joy to use.  When the iPhone was announced, Steve Ballmer appeared in a video demonstrating exactly how little he understood this change. He laughed at it.

“The most expensive phone in the world.”

“It won’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.”

Referring specifically to the Windows powered Motorola Q he started ticking boxes: “It’ll do music, it’ll do Internet, it’ll do email, it’ll do instant messaging.”  Box ticking functionality. Nothing about the way people want to interact with technology. “Right now, we’re selling millions and millions and millions and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones a year”

This is the phone Ballmer thought could compete with the iPhone.  They still wanted to compete on features, and were unprepared to go beyond that.  Dell and Microsoft achieved the Ford style ubiquity but struggled to find answers to a new set of problems.

Fatman iTube Carbon Mk2

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I never did get around to adding my thoughts on the Fatman iTube Carbon mk 2.  I’ve had it for a year now so I may as well post some comments.  In short – I love it!

iTube Carbon mk 2

My Sony Mini-Disc player finally died last year and I did some digging to find out if an iPod dock would be the best way to go, having experienced mixed results in trying to get a networked media centre.

I very quickly spotted the Fatman range of valve amplification docks & despite a truly awful logo that’s emblazoned on all of their otherwise nice looking machines, the reviews seemed good enough to buy one.  As suggested in the what hi-fi review, I paired it with some Tannoy Mercury F1 Customs.

Initially I had a problem with a crackle & to their credit both Superfi & Fatman both tested the unit and couldn’t find a problem, I’ve later found out that my own wiring inside my house has been the cause – this issue has now been totally resolved.

So how does it sound? Fantastic. Nice punchy bass. For future Fatman valve forays – it would be nice to see a network mp3 player.

Buggy & outdated, why does iPad need Flash?

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As the debate about the lack of Flash on the iPhone & iPad rumbles on I thought I’d offer my own thoughts.

Flash can be a creative tool but when browsing the web each day what is the most common use of flash (excluding video delivery)?  I’d suggest that it’s probably banner adverts.  I usually install a plugin to disable Flash content on page load to avoid downloading unnecessary & intrusive flash overlays and banners that seize my browser window and usually do a great job in hiding the close button – if I found stuff like that annoying on a zippy broadband connection on a 21 inch screen, why would I want to download that on a slow connection and play all of that on a mobile device?

The only Flash content that I use regularly is Youtube.  But with an iPhone app available to play Youtube videos, I struggle to see a compelling reason for Flash on a smartphone.  Add to that the fact that Google is embracing HTML5 and it’s video capabilities – why is Flash apparently such a ‘killer app’?

Steve Jobs has labelled Adobe as ‘lazy’, Flash as ‘buggy’ & suggested that Flash is responsible for the overwhelming majority of browser crashes.  But hey… no program is perfect right? And as long as Adobe keep an eye on fixing bugs when they appear then it’s not too bad.

If your company had created a device like the iPhone and knew that the majority of performance problems were related to some software that was not controlled by you – wouldn’t you be annoyed?

Gizmodo suggests that ‘Flash video performs terribly on Mac OS X and Linux‘ and I can see this on my own Linux PC’s & iMac where Youtube’s sound stutters badly & frequently leaving me with no option but to shutdown Firefox.

I’ve worked on websites that use sIFR and found that on Linux machines, text doesn’t render because the Linux version of Flash doesn’t play nicely with the transparent property.

Flash may very well have widespread adoption, but it is not and never will be a recommended web standard and as such Jobs is under no obligation to allow Adobe to roll any old crap out onto their new platforms.  However, I also think that this highly publicized feud between Steve Jobs and Adobe will highlight the problems with this plugin, and embarrass Adobe to address these issues.

But then again, perhaps Adobe are distracted, spending far too much time blocking the specification of HTML5… that technology that ‘The world is moving to‘.

Fanboy alert – A Portable Sega Dreamcast!

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I’m a massive Sega fan.  Growing up in the late eighties & early nineties you were either a Sega or Nintendo fan (never both!).  Although I own a PS3 and a Wii I’ll never be as interested as I was during the days of the Sega Dreamcast & I still ocassionally fire it up for a quick game of Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur or even lesser known gems like Rez.  So I was particularly impressed when I saw this homemade console mod – a portable Dreamcast.

Despite looking like a cross between a lunchbox & an etch a sketch this is a very impressive mod indeed. Very cool!  Right, I’m off for a game of Power Stone, thanks to Alex Ross who kindly sent me a spare copy he had kicking around.

Iphone or not…

I’m finally due a phone upgrade this month.  After suffering for the last year with the Windows Mobile based Samsung Omnia,  I can’t wait to own a phone that I enjoy using.

Problems I’ve had with the Omnia include a terrible inconsistent UI – sometimes you can scroll through your contacts at speed in a similar way to the Iphone, but when selecting a contact to send a text message, your thumb has to act like a stylus and control the tiny scrollbar – good luck!

Unfortunately the majority of problems I’ve had stem from repurposing a flawed, buggy, slow Windows Mobile to emulate features found in the purpose-built Iphone OS.

In short: Windows Mobile – avoid!

So I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices.  I’ve already bought an Imac and I’m sure an Iphone would work seamlessly well with it… but still I find myself tempted by the Nokia N900 which runs a version of Debian, a large screen and has a slide out keypad – it does look a bit of a brick however. The latest HTC running Android looks rather nice as well.

I defintely need a good Twitter & Facebook app, as well as a good mobile browser – I noted with great interest that Google Wave didn’t work in Safari on the Iphone but seemed to run on the Nokia N900.

Not sure yet… decisions decisions.

Update

Gone for the HTC Hero, looks like a lovely phone, open source OS & it should integrate seamlessly with my Gmail and Google Calendar, fingers crossed!

iGoogle’s slick revamp

I love iGoogle, it feels like my control centre.  I logged in this morning to be greeted with the familiar arrangement of Gmail, Calendar and collection of my favourite RSS feeds, but today I found that things have been tweaked a bit.

I’m impressed so far.  The way individual widgets can expand to fill the screen really helps to make the page feel less like a rather useful portal linking disparate elements and much more like an application, everything feels much more integrated.  When I need to read an email, it appears within the expanded homepage widget, likewise I no longer log in to Gmail for creating a new email (although I still have to if I wish to add an attachment for some reason!).

I also prefer having the section navigation on the left rather than the old tabs, but I think this change may prove more controversial.

Firefox 3.5 jpeg colours bug?

Here’s an odd one,  I just looked at a website I used to work on and spotted a problem with the background of the header graphic not matching with a phone number graphic that’s been put on top.  Apparently it worked fine for one of the developers, so I checked in other browsers and obtained very odd results.  Here’s a screenshot across Firefox 3.5, IE 7, Chrome 2, and Opera 10.

Weird!

firefox 3.5, IE 7, Chrom 2 and Opera 10

firefox 3.5, IE 7, Chrom 2 and Opera 10

6 WordPress plugins I can’t live without…

WordPress is much more powerful than you might think and I love searching through the plethora of plugins available that can add in functionality that will turbo-charge your blog.

All-in-one SEO Pack

One of my main gripes with WordPress is that you can’t apply tailored meta tags and title tags to a blog post.  By default, all tags inherit from whatever tags you’ve specified for your homepage – unsurprisingly enough if you want to get ahead on the search engines, you’ll need to make sure you can specify apropriate titles and meta tags per blog post.  This excellent plugin fixes that.

Akismet

When you first set up your blog – be prepared for comment spam, it’s very annoying and even if you set up moderation on comments you’ll still get an alert everytime someone wants to post vague and poorly worded comments like ‘Good post. I like.’, accompanied by a link to some site selling viagara.  Akismet is a spam filter that makes my life much easier, I’ve heard there are other good alternatives but I’ve not had a problem with Akismet.

TweetMeme

Twittering is obviously a good way of getting some immediate traffic to your latest news articles and blog posts and giving a clear call to action to encourage people to post your link via twitter is great!

Twitter Status

A good way of adding a constant stream of fresh content to your site by displaying your current Twitter status – a great way to get new followers too.  My only issue with it, is it’s reliance on JavaScript – but I’ve looked at some alternatives and they’re not as good.

WP-Gravatar

Ever been on a blog and found that the users posting comments have avatars – that’s because they’ve registered on the site right?  No!  Gravatars is a global avatar system and wordpress blogs can hook into and extract the correct avatar based on the email address that’s posted a comment on your blog – very cool!

Google XML Sitemaps

Like the All-In-One SEO pack – this makes your life easier if you want to get some traffic from natural search.  Your XML sitemap comtaining URL’s of all of your pages are automatically generated after updates to your blog.

Any recommendations and suggestions for other plugins I should look at,  post them below.

BING it on! Microsoft’s ‘decision engine’

“Hang on one second and I’ll just Bing it!”… no, it doesn’t sound very likely does it? Having criticized MSN/Live Search for lacking a brand name that rolls off the tongue, it would appear that Microsoft reached for the scrabble set, threw it in the air and picked whatever tile combination landed at their feet.

From a marketing point of view – how do you get people to use Microsoft Live Search, or MSN? Those names just cannot enter the publics imagination in the way that Google has.  MSN is probably too strongly identified with Instant Messaging and ‘Live Search’ isn’t something likely to get used in conversation. Google has become a verb, Google defines what a web search is, and while ‘Bing’ is probably an attempt at addressing this issue, it just sounds terrible.

The most puzzling thing about Microsoft and the web, is that there doesn’t seem to be a strategy, with search sites seemingly abandoned quickly after hoping that setting it as the default engine in IE is enough to steal the market share from Google. It won’t. Google is the dominant search player because it delivers relevant results. It appeared at a time when alternative search engines were increasingly being overloaded by spammy results and creeping functionality led to unbearable homepages. Anyone remember Yahoo from a few years ago? An incredibly busy homepage with links to features and content that the vast majority of users didn’t need. Then came this new site which just had a search box, delivered relevant results in a clean uncluttered way.

So uncluttered in fact that if you dressed up identical search results and branded them up as Google, Yahoo and Live Search respectively, users believed that Google delivered the more relevant results.

The Register’s analysis is an interesting read, particularly when it talks about Microsoft’s decision to label Bing as a ‘decision engine’.

FOWD 2009

Jquery, using personas to test for accessibility… and watching Microsoft pimping a table – it was an interesting few days at Future of Web Design, a series of presentations and workshops organised by Carsonified.

Jim Coudal (Coudal Partners) kicked things off nicely with an engaging presentational style and distracted me for a bit too long after revealing the band/book name combination game, (‘The Color Deep Purple’, ‘Fear & Loathing in Glasvegas’ sprang to mind).

I was impressed with Meagan Fisher’s presentation about developing for mobile devices but the whole area seems a very grey area; for instance I (unfortunately) have a Samsung Omnia – an awful windows mobile phone featuring a hotch potch mess of an interface which feels like an ill-thought out Iphone wannabe… . When I use Opera on my phone, some sites work ok as full fat incarnations of the site, but some don’t work very well because of the very dodgy touch screen controls… so do you presume mobile phones can handle the full version of a site, or do you develop a mobile version – if so which features do you drop. I’ll also keep my eye on a site Simplebits are currently developing – dribbble. I’m not a graphic designer so I wouldn’t really get much use from it, but it looks cool.

Mark Boulton’s Typography presentation was more relevant to Dave Bowers (Evolutia Design) than me but it was still interesting and delivered by someone passionate about his own subject.

The 2 presentations immediately after lunch left me a bit baffled, one encouraged designers to basically say no to clients more – felt like a waste of half an hour. This was followed by a presentation about interaction design that seemed to fall a little flat – it felt like half an hour of looking at someone’s portfolio.

The next 15 minutes were very bizarre though… Microsoft were pimping the table thing again. You know the one where you touch it and move things around…and um…. yea you know you’ve seen it on Youtube. But this was a presentation with a slight difference.

You know Alan Moore right? Crazy looking guy with wild hair, looks kind of like the guy eating crickets in the pet shop in Hellraiser. Alan Moore is regarded as an incredibly important and intelligent writer. A man who writes articulately and creates thoughtful and provocative titles such as V For Vendetta & Watchmen. He’s so protective of his own writing that he regularly insists that his name is removed from the credits of the films based on his work.

So… what would Alan Moore think if you distilled The Watchmen down into a 15 minute demonstration… of a table? A Microsoft table. Initially I thought they were going to build up to something but they didn’t. They just told the entire Watchmen story in 15 minutes with a combination of dry narration and cut up crudely drawn characters which were moved around on the table.

I haven’t seen The Watchmen. More importantly – I haven’t read The Watchmen. I’ve just had the entire plot of The Watchmen ruined by a silly attempt to make Microsoft appeal to a room full of geeks. Thanks for that.

Molly Holzschlag gave things a welcome lift with her excellent presentation about the future of web standards – thought provoking because I haven’t really looked into CSS 3 yet, I will take a look shortly though.

The workshops the following day were both excellent – Kath Moonan from AbilityNet gave presentations which covered accessibility basics but introduced important ideas about how you should test your site. The group exercise involved analyzing a website from the perspective of a user persona. The persona was a fully fleshed out character, with a name, likes, dislikes. So when looking at the site from the point of view of this character I think it did help to work out which elements of the design could potentially cause issues. The identification of the persona as a real person helped you get inside a user’s head a little more than if you were just asked ‘if you had learning disabilities what problems may you have with this site?’. Interesting and useful.

JavaScript libraries pop up all the time and since it makes perfect sense to reuse your existing code, I was interested to go to Stuart Langridge’s workshop which dealt with basic Jquery & then editing a complicated script written by someone else. Very enjoyable.

All in all I was very very happy with FOWD, very well organised by a good bunch of people, I’d definitely go again.

Acer Aspire One A110 – Upgrading it to Fedora

My shiny new Acer Aspire One A110 has arrived.  Although I’ve already got a decent specced Dell laptop, I’ve wanted a netbook for a while.  They’re small and light enough to take around everywhere I go (and therefore blog and tweet more often) and also cheap enough that if it gets trashed in my bag on the way to work one day – it’s not the end of the world.  For only £169  I’ve got quite a good spec with an inbuilt webcam – the only thing I wasn’t too keen on was the preloaded version of Linux.

Now – don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic version of Linux for my mom to use (she also has an Aspire as it strips down all of the things she doesn’t and shouldn’t ever need to worry about – just give her Firefox on a light laptop and she’s happy.  But  I’d like to be able to have a more powerful Linux distribution.  The April edition of Linux Magazine had a very good article which suggested a few different netbook distributions such as: Eeebuntu, Fluxflux-eee (guy’s seriously – have a think about these names it’s getting increasingly insane!)

Ubuntu Netbook Remix caught my eye because I already use Ubuntu on both my desktop and other laptop and I love it, and the Netbook remix interface looks rather nice!  Unfortunately I tried installing Ubuntu on the Acer but it wouldn’t work and I received an error message which after a quick search appears to be related to detecting seagate hard drives – shame!

I ended up finding a guide to installing Fedora 10 instead.  I’d not used Fedora very extensively but it looks basically the same as Ubuntu, if you’re used to using Ubuntu it’s not much of a transition.

Thankfully the guide to installing Fedora 10 on the Acer was written very well and the minor issues that I did have were solved very quickly with the help of the guys at FedoraForum.

The problems I had were solved by immediately installing all of the available Fedora 10 updates, and following some of the instructions found in the Fedora 10 Acer Aspire installation guide (things like getting the webcam working).

It’s working very nicely now and I look forward to getting a MySQL frontend working on it shortly – and hopefully finding a way of using my mobile phone’s internet connection as well, I don’t much fancy the idea of paying for a separate mobile broadband connection – that’s just taking the piss.

Neuros OSD

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A couple of months back a friend of mine, Pete Oliver mentioned a Linux event called LugRadio Live that he was helping to co-ordinate at the Light House in Wolverhampton. It sounded like it might be interesting for a few hours so I went up on the Sunday.

I’d been meaning to try out Ubuntu on my HP laptop for a while as XP Professional and the crap that HP bundled with it, had slowed it down to a crawl and all I needed it for was web browsing and IM (more on that in another blog). Point being while I hadn’t actually done much with Linux I was interested in seeing some demonstrations etc.

I sat through one presentation called the $100 embedded media device given by Joe Born of Neuros Technologies promoting an Open Source Multimedia Device – the Neuros OSD. The first half of the presentation was very much focused on the technical side of things whereas I was more interested in the – ‘but what does it do…?’ aspect.

The basic idea of the OSD is that you can ‘free your media’. It has a lot of different inputs on it, including a USB port, and two digital camera card slots which will support MMC, SD, MS, CF Card and Microdrive.

There are a lot of possibilities, but here is what I have done with it – right now I have all of videos, all of my music away from the PC, and stored onto a LaCie 500 gigabyte Ethernet Hard Drive. The Neuros OSD is connected to my router and can access the drive and play most of the media on it (more and more file types are being supported with each new firmware update).

So right now I can use the OSD as a kind of… multimedia jukebox. I now no longer have to bog down my PC with a massive winamp playlist while I surf the web (and incidentally stutter every time Yahoo Mail loads up – I suspect thats a combination of Ad-Block in Firefox with Yahoo Mail). Plus I can rip a DVD which I own but would like to access quickly without having to wait and sit through an endless amount of trailers of films that I don’t want to see when all I want is to see one episode of the Adam and Joe Show or Family Guy or Clerks Animated etc as I’m getting ready to go out.

The OSD can record from virtually any source and one of the things I have done is gather up my last remaining VHS tapes that I wanted to digitise, connected a VHS player to the Neuros OSD with a Scart to composite lead (Neuros OSD uses composite leads for input and output) and recorded the tape to an external hard drive as an MP4 file.

Tapes have included:

  • The Wonder Stuff – Finally Live – Phoenix Festival 1994
  • Mark Kermode – Scream and Scream Again (History of the slasher film)
  • Mark Kermode – Interview with John Carpenter
  • Wolves vs Newcastle Utd – FA Cup 2003

So yes, not stuff you are likely to find released on DVD any time soon 🙁

Recording was incredibly easy, theres a record option on the main menu, select the quality, the device you intend to play it back on, choose a filename, press record. Playback showed that it gives very good quality recording.

As the Neuros is open source, anybody is allowed to look at how the device works and alter it, program for it etc. So there are quite a few programmers out there, looking at porting a few Linux programs to it, and adding extra functionality. For example when I bought the OSD, the music player was pretty poor, but now some clever peeps have ported XMMS2 (a winamp style player for Linux) and added a Youtube browser – yes thats right – you too can view all the pointless shit you watch when you think your boss isn’t looking on your TV set at home. At the time of writing Windows Media Audio is not quite supported yet, although I have a development version of the firmware where it seems the support is almost ready.

But other ideas that I personally would like to see implemented in the OSD:

  • Support for subscribing to podcasts – I love listening to Mark Kermode’s Five Live film reviews and it would be super excellent if the OSD would allow you to subscribe to different podcasts and download them when they are ready (in fact at the moment this particular podcast just won’t play at all and I have no idea why, I am sure they’ll fix that though).
  • Streaming Internet Radio – I’m a big fan of BBC 6Music, and it would be excellent if I could stream that on the OSD.
  • Emulation – This one is pure wishful thinking, but it would be bloody cool if you could play MAME on the Neuros OSD as there is a USB port allowing a joypad to be plugged into it.

Its certainly come very far in a short space of time so its a very encouraging device which doesn’t cost much at all. I bought mine for £130 (that included postage and customs charges) and the LaCie ethernet Mini Disk cost £133.

I took these very poor photos with my mobile phone but it gives you a quick overview of what the OSD looks like, the interface design and the size of it.

XMMS2 Running on the Neuros OSDNeuros OSDNeuros OSD in my current setup