Putting the "Anal" in "Analyst", and Other Dumb Opinions

Tuesday, 2007-11-06; 15:44:00

Marc Hedlund at O'Reilly Radar, on Google's recent announcement about their Open Handset Alliance:

This announcement and the focus on open platforms make me think back to Apple's recent, seemingly rushed announcement that it will finally be supporting third-party apps on the iPhone. If Apple had made that announcement after Google made this one, it would have fallen very flat. By announcing beforehand, they were able to tell an "open platform" story while they still had the whole stage to themselves. Did Apple announce iPhone third-party apps as an aside in their "Hot News" column (instead of on Steve Jobs' home court, a conference keynote) in order to get the news out fast -- before Google?

Hahaha. Don't make me laugh. As if Apple knows what and when Google is going to announce. Besides, a "rushed" announcement is one where the company schedules it a day before the other company makes an announcement. Steve Jobs' iPhone SDK post to the "Hot News" page occurred 3 weeks before Google announced their Open Handset Alliance and Android. Rushed my ass.

We don't know anything about how the iPhone SDK is going to work or who is going to have access to it or anything. All we know is it will allow native third-party apps on the iPhone and that it will come in February. It was pretty much a "everybody just shut the hell up yes we will give you third-party apps but FUCKING GIVE US A DAY OR TWO, jesus h. christ" announcement.

Later in the same post:

It's remarkable to see Apple once again in the position of selling a whole-stack platform (software and hardware, at least -- network sold separately), competing with a broad coalition of commodity hardware companies using a common software platform. I think they'll repeat history -- they are already repeating history -- by not doing whatever they can to bring developers to their platform. I wonder if Google will teach them what they should have already learned from Microsoft.

Hahahahahaha. Yeah, they're already repeating history: you know, the history of the iPod? The one where Apple takes 70% market share? That's the history they're repeating.

Besides, this whole "Apple would have totally won the OS war against Microsoft if they had just licensed their operating system and become a software company" is seriously getting tiring. It's true that Apple went after insane profits instead of market share, and that cost them in the long run. (Arguably, Apple is still going after insane profits instead of market share.) But to argue that Apple should have further diluted their product offerings by allowing others to make the Mac into commodity hardware is ridiculous. We already saw what happened when Apple did that: clone makers undercut Apple's own offerings, and Apple's sales revenue suffered because of it. There's a reason why one of Jobs first actions was to axe Mac clones when he came back to Apple. There's also a reason why Apple is the only computer manufacturer who's really able to distinguish itself from the competition in any meaningful way.

In any case, Apple did learn from their mistakes in the 90s with regards to developers. Apple is actively courting developers to the Mac platform, and has been doing so since Mac OS X came out, with good, free developer tools, creating new ways to make applications (AppleScript Studio, the technology that first made me a Mac developer), and adding useful new frameworks to their OS (CoreAnimation, CoreVideo, QTKit, PDFKit, WebKit, etc.). It's ludicrous to think that Apple doesn't value third-party developers on its platform.

That Apple didn't immediately open up the iPhone to third-party development doesn't mean they didn't eventually want third-party applications on the iPhone. But letting third-party developers loose onto a platform that Apple itself is still trying to get a hang of would probably be a bad idea. (For example, Apple is still figuring out how to implement copy-and-paste in a natural way on the iPhone.) That's not to say that the iPhone would have been a flop if third-party development was possible from the outset, but that with a product like the iPhone, you want UI conventions to solidify before you allow others to make apps for your product.

Steven Frank of Panic has it right:

What a travesty this Android announcement is. A 34-company committee that's going to oversee the development of a currently non-existent suite of open-source mobile applications to run on as-yet-unspecified hardware. I've never seen so much hot air, and honestly I'm kind of shocked that it came out of Google.


People don't want FEATURES. They'll tell you they do until they're blue in the face. But what they actually want is ease-of-use, and solutions to real-world problems -- looking at a map, finding nearby restaurants, sending a photo to a friend without going through 6 submenus, not to mention making phone calls. You're Google, you're actually not too bad at this. Ditch those other 33 companies, put 20 of your smartest people on it, and you stand a fighting chance. Otherwise just let it go -- this PR non-announcement isn't worth the time it takes to read.

Fake Steve also knows what he's talking about:

Companies don't form alliances and consortia when they're winning. Also, whenever you see companies start talking about being "open," it means they're getting their ass kicked. You think Google will be forming an OpenSearch alliance any time soon, to help also-rans in search get a share of the spoils? Me neither.

Yes! Being "open" is the hip thing to do nowadays, but being "open" doesn't mean that it's automatically going to succeed. Unfortunately, due to the nature of open-source, open often equates to "designed by anyone who can write Hello World code" -- worse than "designed by committee". Successful software needs direction and vision as to what purpose the product ultimately serves. Open-source projects often lack this, so while the technical merits of the software may be off the charts, everyone's pulling the project in different directions that it becomes a schizophrenic piece of software that doesn't know what it wants to do.

Again, there are plenty of examples of successful open-source software, like Apache, WebKit, Firefox, and Adium. Note that in each case, each of these examples has a significant organization behind them to move the project forward in a consistent direction: the Apache Foundation, Apple, the Mozilla Foundation. Adium doesn't have an official organization behind it, as far as I know, but it does have a core team of developers who are constantly working on the project and moving it forward: Evan Schoenberg, Chris Forsythe, Colin Barrett, as well as a couple others.

Switching gears, let me turn to a few apparently newsworthy items regarding Mac OS X: first up, the OSX.RSPlug.A trojan horse.

My initial thought was one of amusement, mainly because this trojan horse needs to be downloaded from one of several pornography websites. I wonder who initially reported the trojan horse, and whether or not they thought twice about reporting it due to which website they had to visit to encounter the trojan. The term "trojan horse" in this context is also mildly ironic.

What I thought was completely dumb though was Intego's security announcement regarding the trojan. Their risk rating? Critical.

No. Bzzzzzt. PHAIL.

You have to manually download the trojan horse, you have to manually double-click the installer, and you have to manually type in your administrator password to allow it to install on your Mac. This thing is a non-starter. Rating it "critical" is severely blowing the situation out of proportion. Not only that, but their security alert says that the best way to protect yourself against this trojan is to run Intego VirusBarrier, which, BTW, costs money. Could they be any more obvious about their real intentions?

Honestly, I can't trust any security company that sells products anymore. Like Norton, they all seem to simply want to spread fear about viruses and trojans just to drum up purchases of their products.

By the way, if you have been bitten by this trojan somehow and need to get it removed, Mac OS X Hints provides the method. I'm still a little annoyed by the editorializing at the end of this hint, though: "As OS X grows in popularity, I expect that this type of thing will become more commonplace." Guh. We've had like three instances of needing-to-be-manually-installed trojans on Mac OS X, but not a single actual virus. The last time I've encountered a Mac virus was the MBDF A virus for the Classic Mac OS, repairable via a free utility called Disinfectant. That was over a decade ago. By all accounts, Mac OS X has had fewer problems with viruses and trojan horses than the Classic Mac OS did.

Then there's a security report by Bit9, which according to MacNN claims that "QuickTime is among the most security flaw-ridden Windows applications." The hilarity in this comes from this choice quote from Bit9: "The reason most Microsoft software doesn’t make the list is because by now most companies have a pretty good process in place for identifying, patching, and fixing vulnerable Microsoft software. The same cannot be said for apps like Firefox, iTunes, and other packages."

Whoa, whoa, hold on there a second. So Microsoft gets a free ride on all the vulnerabilities in their products because people know how to identify and patch the problems? Hahaha, that's great. That's a great way to measure vulnerability. Yep, a sponge is so much better at keeping water out because it's so easy to see where the holes are!

Again, that's not to say that QuickTime isn't vulnerable or subject to a number of flaws that have been documented over the years. But can we stop the fearmongering, and use a reliable and truthful way of reporting security vulnerabilities?

Yesterday, Slashdot reported on a "data loss bug" that occurs in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, that manifests itself when you're moving data from one volume to another. Tom Karpik found that if you hold down the command key to simply move data from one volume to another, then your data will go poof if the destination volume suddenly disappears mid-move.

What? You didn't know that the Finder supports the "move" command? Yeah, if you hold down the command-key while dragging something from one volume to another, you'll initiate a move command which will copy the data over and then delete the data from the old volume. At least, in theory.

Now, again, this is a severe bug and it's one that Apple should fix. But this is again being blown out of proportion. First of all, does anyone actually use the move command? Seriously? I've known about it for quite some time and I don't find any occasion to actually use it.

Besides, this problem has existed since Panther, and while this was discovered after Karpik first reported the bug, do you think any news sites went back and amended their news reports? No, of course not, because a bug in the latest version of Apple's operating system immediately equals news. Maybe someone could submit my list of unfixed bugs in Leopard and blow them out of proportion as well!

That the bug has only just received massive attention, even though it has existed for four years in Mac OS X highlights how insignificant the problem is and how few people will actually encounter it.

I know, I know, now I'll get pointed to my own weblog entry where I was really annoyed at Microsoft for a bug that caused catastrophic problems when saving in certain edge cases. And I was annoyed that Microsoft didn't fix the bug, because data loss issues should be solved regardless of how rare they occur.

And that's completely fair to say in this case as well. Apple should fix this bug, and they should have done it a long time ago. Data loss bugs should be Apple's top priority to fix, and I'm surprised that it wasn't fixed in four years. And yes, just because it's a rare bug doesn't mean that I should dismiss its severity. And making a big stink about it will probably cause Apple to fix it soon. And that is good.

But while MacRumors' reporting was fair and honest, Slashdot's was not. Using the words "glaring" and "horrendous" without the requisite "few users will actually encounter this bug" note is what changes news reporting from "bug report" or "report on a bug report" to "sensational". And of course it brought out all those Slashdotters who think that Mac users find Apple to be infallible, whereas the reality is that we are probably the PICKIEST. BUNCH. EVAR. We make a stink about the friggin' tiniest things, that I think any other corporation would have probably sent a "fuck off" e-mail to all of us already.

And while I'm at it, let me finish by clearing up a misconception, one sarcastically used in the comments of the Slashdot article.

No, "Volume Shadow Copy" in Windows is not the same as Time Machine in Leopard. The former is a version-control system implemented at the file-system level. It is used to make snapshots of a volume at a specific point in time; these snapshots can be used via the System Restore functionality of Windows, allowing you to "roll back" to a specific point in time, just like a version-control system. You can also roll back to a specific version of specific file, too, if you'd like.

Time Machine, in contrast, is for backups. It's to prevent data loss, so that when your hard drive fails, or if you accidentally delete or overwrite something, you can get your data back. The whole point of Time Machine is that you can attach an external hard drive, click a single button, and then forget about the fact that your data is now backed up automatically.

It's a subtle point, I admit, and I'm not trying to knock Windows or Volume Shadow Copy, either. The two features have significant overlap in their abilities: both Volume Shadow Copy and Time Machine can restore previous versions of files. Both essentially save "snapshots" of your filesystem at specific points in time, which power the Windows System Restore feature or the roll-back of specific files. But while Time Machine is a set-it-and-forget-it backup feature, Volume Shadow Copy is not.

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