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Esse Quam Videre

Fast Company: "The cardinal rule at Google is, If you can do something that will improve the user's experience, do it." [Google IPO News Feed - RSS]

That all depends on who the user is, and what they perceive to be an improvement.

If the user is someone who's just bought a buttload of adwords from Google, then, hey, damn straight...

To paraphrase Fernando: To look not-Evil is much more important than to be not-Evil....

What's Virtual, Next?

It's not all good, at least not for everybody. The virtualization abstraction breaks the link between "a server"--in fact, the operating system--and the hardware on which it runs. This is counter to the way that some companies, notably Microsoft, see computers. Load a new Microsoft operating system on a machine and the first thing it does is lock itself down harder than a limpet on a rock. It scans the computer and uses all the details of the hardware it finds to generate a security code to make darn sure it can't be moved onto another machine. But when the hardware it scans is virtual, what good is that? If your license states that you can only ever run your OS on the computer on which it was first installed, do you give up on virtualization or do you find an OS with less draconian conditions? [Rupert Goodwins, ZDNet, "Virtual computing: real benefits, real changes"]

The F/OSS answer is "obviously, the latter." But as Rupert points out: "[Y]ou never get something for nothing, especially not from a company whose sole purpose is to sell you stuff." [Corrollary: A company whose sole purpose is to sell you stuff will expect to get a return on it's OSS investments.]

So the next great battle starts. IBM will play on the side of commodification (because they know that's what they do well), and Microsoft will play on the side of lock-in (because they think that's what they do well).

What we will fail to understand until too late -- if we ever do understand it -- is that "total freedom" (i.e., IBM's commoditized-service world) may well end up being "less free" (as in freedom or free beer) than a highly (but not totally) proprietized world, a la Microsoft.

Choosing [Real] Life

I used to see a sig-line on a Plastic profile, and debated over it a few times: "The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." That ends up being the slogan writ in fire that keeps me going -- striving to find new and better ways to articulate how painfully, insultingly wrong it is.

It's trivially true, at best, and yet to most people with enough imaginagation to get out of bed in the morning, it's so plainly irrelevant to actual human lives in the world. In that, it serves as another illustration of the fact that the trivially true is more or less meaningless without some actual understanding of what it would feel like to have it be true for you.

Of course, to the mind that would think up such a slogan, there's no trumping the trivial truth. Such minds think that they actually operate on the rational principles that they espouse. Which makes hard-core libertarian rationalists a ripe target for many types of confidence game....

Sometimes "Creativity" is Knowing What to Steal

Forrest Gump's fruit company has gained a soaring reputation for creativity and innovation in design -- despite gripes over the years from usability experts and a series of industrial-design failures. Their reputation has always seemed to me to be driven by two maxims:

  1. Never admit you didn't invent something. (Unless it fails.)
  2. Never admit you made a mistake.

As examples of the latter, Apple clings stubbornly to the "top-menu" UI design that they originally deployed to accommodate the 9-inch screen on the original Lisa, despite the fact that it's demonstrably awful for large screens and rich multi-tasking environments. Similarly, they insist on the elegance and simplicity of the single-button mouse, ignoring the clumsy workarounds (delayed-reaction onClick, keyboard combinations to emulate scroll-wheels) required for a Mac user to accomplish what two-button and scroll-wheel mouse users on Windows/*nix have been able to accomplish for years.

But it's the former that really interests me today, as I run across a Wired "Cult of Mac blog" article unmasking the long lost father of the iPod. Fadell is said to have come to Apple with the core idea -- a ground-up, risk-managed, high-design hard-drive based MP3 player that could integrate with an online music service. But then, maybe not: "One source who talked but asked not to be named, cautioned that Fadell's story should be treated with skepticism. The source noted that the hard part of the iPod -- the device's interface and integration with iTunes -- was done by Apple's engineers."

But then, the slap-down could be an Apple source, sticking steadfastly to the vision of the Dark Steve: "Since Mr. Jobs returned to Apple, he has increasingly insisted that the company speak with just the voices of top executives, so Mr. Fadell was not permitted to comment for this article." Of course, that's another story...

Or it could be that old developers inferiority complex rearing its ugly head. Saturated as most skilled developers are in the mistique of the "hacker ethos", they respond to the fact that they depend on the grace of inferiors for their paychecks with subversive ideations: They do all the really hard work; marketing and business wonks are leeches, sucking their life essence in pursuit of outrageous personal profit and corporate mediocrity; if the developers had their way, the products would all make sense and work better. (Which is just about never true, despite superficially contradictory examples.)


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