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A bit of vaporware (or "Microsoft's Secret Newton Killer")

A bit of vaporware (or "Microsoft's Secret Newton Killer")

One of the funniest things about Microsoft is how predictable they are. Each and every time they perceive a threat to their cash cows - be it Windows, Office or completely new models of software distribution, they have the power of concocting an underwhelming and barely credible product that is either utterly fictitious, as to damage the sales of their competitors that actually have taken the time to develop real products, or is so infuriatingly flawed that it hampers the credibility of the whole model its competition is trying to steer the market towards.

I first observed it with Windows for Pen Computing, a response to the Newton, to the Momenta and to the GEOS-based Tandy and Casio über-PDAs. Then there was the Cairo/WinFS database/file system that was never delivered, a more generic confusion tool for the times some other vendor promised a better way to manage data. It span decades without as much as a working prototype.

I also remember the flurry of multi-touch things after Jeff Han demo went viral. From Surface to silly interaction on a precariously balanced notebook screen. There was a video of that one here, but Microsoft canned Soapbox as soon as they realized they could not compete with a Google-backed YouTube and the video is toast.

More recently, we saw Project Natal overpromise a sci-fi worthy way of interacting with games, complete with a special-effects covered video, over the more realistic and obviously less impressive offerings from Sony and Nintendo that were actually being launched. Did you see articles on the stuff being introduced at the same show? Me neither. It was all Project Natal.

Milo and Kate is quite impressive, but if Microsoft can do that, I don't know why they are wasting their time launching Windows versions - they could release a notebook version of HAL-9000. Or Skynet.

And now, under the buzz of a gigantic iPod Touch, an iNewton or whatever the Apple tablet may be called, Microsoft shows this: the "astonishing" (according to Gizmodo) Microsoft tablet, with software working so well you can't possibly trace its Windows heritage.

It's like Apple pretending the Knowledge Navigator was to be a real product about to launch instead of a fancy concept.

But, again, that's the Microsoft and that's why we love them.

At least I do. They make me laugh.

And, just to finish it off, the classic video of the Longhorn PDC2003 video. Unless you want to be disappointed with Courier or Natal, consider how this video relates to the actual shipping Windows Vista:

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I really want to like Apple

Posted by Ricardo Bánffy at Jul 27, 2009 01:25 PM |

I do. Seriously.

I loved my Apple IIs passionately. I love my Macintosh collection (from SE to Bondi-blue iMac). While not being a heavy Mac user, I keep a Mac on my desk as a second computer to my main computer (a netbook running Linux because I like carrying it around, because it's cheap and because I like Linux better than OSX for work), I still like Apple's products and recommend them when I feel it's appropriate. For instance, when my then fiancée wanted a new notebook, I convinced her she would be happy with a Macbook, and so she is. She even married me after that.

But I don't think Apple loves me. Or, by the way, any of their lovers.

One cable

Some time ago, I bough an iPod Touch. I was about to build an application for it, and, so, I needed one. I quickly fell in love with it as a media player as well as a über-PDA with web access. At the time, there was no iPhone SDK and the project was canned, but, by then, I already liked the iPod pretty much. The cancellation was also fine by me because, while Objective-C is a much better idea than C++, being better than C++ doesn't say that much. Still, I kept the iPod and soon listening to audio podcasts became part of my morning routine as much as watching the video ones became a lifesaver when our weekly air-traffic-control meltdown left me stranded on some small airport with no wireless access.

So, it was only natural for me to buy a cable to hook it up to my TV.

Despite the size of Brazil's consumer market, there are no Apple Stores here. Many people attribute this, along with what appears to be active sabotage by Apple, to its deep hatred for the only country that had a company that dared to attempt to produce a Mac-compatible computer (that's one ugly story). fortunately, there are some companies who decided they would try to cater to the unrequited love Apple turned its corporate back on and build the stores themselves. So, I went to the next best thing: the local "a2you" chain of stores and got myself a composite cable.

It worked beautifully.

I mean... The user interface is really horrid for playing videos and watching them from the couch. Unless your videos happen to be long enough, you will have to play each one from the iPod itself. There appears to be no video playlist thingie anywhere on the iPod. Audio went just fine, but not video.

Then I got involved in another project involving podcasts.

So, the time came for me to update the iPod's software. It is a first-gen iPod Touch that came with 1.0 software (update to 1.1.5, if I remember correctly), so I created an account on the iTunes store and downloaded the software. OS 3 is a nice improvement over 2.x and is a huge improvement over the 1.x I was running. It's not as snappy as the 1.x (it really seems built for the "S" iPhones) but it's bearable.

But it had one unwelcome side effect: my composite cable no longer works.

DRM (as in Digital Restrictions Management)

I mean, it does, then it doesn't.

It's not a cable problem. It worked flawlessly with 1.x. It still works on 1.x units.

The problem seems to be the software. It, apparently checks if the cable is made by Apple and then, in the middle of the playback (just demonstrating the cable works perfectly), it freezes the video and spits a "This accessory is not compatible with this iPod" or something like it. Well... It's a cable! How incompatible with something can a cable be? Is it a DRM issue? Is it built-in for future HD iPods to render cables that do not provide copy-protection useless? It's an analog cable! The lowest-quality one! Who would consider using it for piracy? And to pirate what? TED lectures? Episodes of Cranky Geeks? Conference presentations? It's much easier just to rip the DRM off the original file (and there are many automated tools for that).

This and the recent Amazon Kindle problem - Jeff Bezos can apologize as much as he wants, the ability to remove content you already purchased is still there and can be abused anytime Amazon feels like breaking promises - got me really weary of DRM. Even for single-purpose devices I buy for a single purpose, a software update can break the hardware I already own, even something as simple as a cable. It's not my device if Apple can do things like this with it. I may possess it, but, in reality, it belongs to, and obeys, Apple. If Apple decides to brick it, bricked it will be.

Then, there is also the shady process Apple uses to approve applications. It's not in the best interest of their customers to Apple to have a stranglehold on applications for the platform. I understand they want quality control, but customers may want to circumvent that control for their own uses. Or because they have different ideas about quality.

Defective by Industrial Design

You know... The Apple tablet the Financial Times seems to have confirmed today looks sweet. I would love to play with it. I would even consider buying one, but I won't. The point is, as much as I like Apple's attention to detail, its outstanding industrial design, I can't justify buying a product that's not really mine. Call me spoiled, but using stuff like Linux made me feel I am really in control. The netbook is mine, and nobody will make my computer do something I don't approve. If it ceases to work, it will be my fault.

So, if Apple would please unbreak their software ecosystem in a way it doesn't actively try to screw its customers, I may consider buying a tablet (or an iPhone or even another iPod touch for the day this one dies).

But recovering the trust I had on their attention to their customers will take some time.

An Interesting Update

I must confess I did not search the web (or Apple's forums) before either upgrading or buying the cable (that one was not my fault, as it worked by the time it was purchased and stayed that way until a couple days ago), but, because someone reminded me I could do that, I googled for it and found this:

So, at least now I know I am not alone with my cable problems. And, finally, I am convinced it's not a cable problem and not a connector problem, but a vendor selection problem.

Also, for some time, a lively discussion about it, and, perhaps, my scientific method, happened here:

Hacker News (the site at is considered a Troll-free zone and I wish it to remain so. Please, if you want to participate there, mind your manners and read and obey the guidelines.

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