In Fall 1987 at the University of Idaho, I was given responsibility for teaching the Chemical Quantitative Analysis Lab. Historically the class was a mandatory test of laboratory techniques. It required students to perform analysis to a specific level accuracy. When I taught it, the world was at an inflection point: the techniques traditionally taught had become obsolete, and the same analysis was now fully automated by instrumentation. That year the University had received a donation of new personal computer equipment with integrated electro chemistry setup. While more modern than traditional glassware “wet” technique, it was still a couple generations behind the research equipment of the day. My class would be the first to use these new PC setups. Only two of my twenty-four students were chemistry majors, and the rest were completely overwhelmed by just taking an upper division chemistry class. Only one student had any experience with a PC.
My instructions were to teach the class and not bother the professor about details of how I did it. He recommended a textbook and told me to use the computer equipment as much as possible. Of course, the text was written long before anybody ever thought of having a personal computer in a lab. Much of the equipment and chemical reagents it recommended were not available. It was clear I would have to seriously modify the curriculum or create a new one; I opted for the later.
I identified the principals defined in the textbook. I decided what types of analysis I could actually perform, given the availability of reagents on hand, and the abilities of the equipment. I made sure to incorporate the computer equipment into every lab session.
To make the course seem more relevant to the students’ lives, I decided that I would collect the water from the creek that ran through campus and make one big master sample for us to study. While this sounded simple, it required some research to make sure the one large sample would work for the entire term.
On the first day of class, the computers immediately started crashing. The lab computers were very early dual floppy disc PCs running DOS. The lab equipment required a certain delicate touch to operate. Since the analysis was fairly simple on that day, I was able to do a lot of handholding to get the all the students to complete the analysis within the 4-hour session. I remember my main focus on that day was just to keep students calm.
It was clear that I needed to provide the students with some additional material on how to use computers in general, and hopefully understand the nuances of the lab equipment. I sat down and created a three-page, hand-written, introduction to DOS, including how to trouble-shoot the lab set-ups.
Over time, the equipment integrated into the PCs began to fall apart and some simply broke. This meant going back to the library to create the alternative lesson plan for the traditional wet chemistry analysis for the same elements. I now had sessions where some students used the computerized set-ups and other students did the analysis using wet chemistry methods. They often got very different results. By coincidence, combining the computer methods with the wet chemistry methods, the students got a better understanding of both the chemistry and nature of quantitative analysis. While splitting the class had seemed disastrous at first, it had become a powerful pedagogical tool.
At the end of the term, I showed each pair of lab partners how to use the state-of-the-art HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) equipment used in research. This literally meant injecting a syringe full of the sample into an instrument and waiting for a computer printout – accomplishing the entire semester’s work in less than five minutes. The HPLC results were extremely accurate with little deviation. It showed which techniques were the most accurate and drove home many of the important lessons. Most students were excited to have had an opportunity to learn how analytical techniques had evolved. However, I remember one student getting very upset that he had worked so hard all semester to achieve results that took five minutes to attain with modern equipment.
In the end, we grew close as a group. In a class that had a traditionally very mechanical rote-learning curriculum, I had accidentally created a group-learning environment and greatly expanded the course to include the history of lab techniques and computer science. I do remember students breaking into tears of frustration being overwhelmed with the computer equipment and coursework. However, some of my students took an interest in trace analysis and wrote papers for other classes in their other majors. I remember the satisfaction of being thanked for being a teacher. I will never forget the experience.
What if the media really is the message? The idea that television as a media is the message is an often-repeated cynicism of the vapid, often trivially weak, production quality of the majority of TV programming. When Marshall McLuhan first posited this observation in 1964, he used a light bulb as his example of a way a medium can change a culture. However with the backdrop of a culture captivated by black and white TV shows about talking cars and singing cops, the implication of human folly excited about TV was clear. The medium is the message became a battle cry of the elite to judge the mindlessness of TV. Fifty years later we find ourselves asking the same question: what is the actual value of that classic TV programming, or more important, motion pictures? Who actually will pay to see it in the future? Is the Louvre going to set up a wing so people can go see I Love Lucy and pay admission? I don’t think so.
If one considers the top-selling authors of history, we see Shakespeare still leads the pack. However, before you get to number 10 you will also find Dr. Seuss, Enid Blyton, author Noddy books and a fast closing J.K. Rowling at number 11, just passing Tolstoy. The next member of the “literature” category is Dickens at 38 and the likes of Hemmingway, Mark Twain, Steinbeck or other iconic authors that have defined our culture are somewhere way past 50. What the world considers classic literature doesn’t sell.
From a TV programming perspective, there’s almost no demand for classics like the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy. Ironically, Jackie Gleason’s doppletoon Fred Flinstone will outlive Ralph Kramden.
In the entertainment business there’s a dialogue about “the library” or the value of an aggregate set of rights for groups of TV shows or motion pictures. In the Hollywood thinking, there’s an established commodity value that quickly relates to how much a piece of content can yield, mostly in advertising, and how much its rights are worth – but is that thinking justified? Isn’t the bulk of this content pulp celluloid with limited shelf life? The short answer is yes.
So what is the fate of thousands of mediocre to outright awful period pieces of television and film created in the last 100 years. Or more important what is the fate of many critically important pieces of content!? I would argue the economic outlook is especially bleak, even for the classics, as disco-bins in video rental shops are flush with unsold tapes and DVDs that are readily digitized and accessed by file sharing. It’s probably reasonable to assume a hundred years from now that economics will make a 6-minute video of Allen Collins playing Freebird live more valuable than the Wizard of Oz. You can say it’s an indictment of humanity, but it’s simply the reality of the content business. One that the web is designed to quickly adjust to meet – and those Irish dancing chimps may just stay on the most popular list for our lifetimes, while Dorothy is dust in the wind.
Apture may be the next generation of search. It allows webpage visitors to search on terms in the text of a page. The search pops-up a sub-window with details about that term. As it was presented, sub-windows can launch sub-windows in a “russian doll” fashion.
The idea is great: if you see a name you don’t recognize, you simply click on the name and an instant search results on that person are presented. There’s no doubt this has great value to publishers by adding what we used to call “stickiness” to their pages. My reservation is I can’t help thinking about things that could go sideways in the user interface as this type of application grows and greater semantic context is required.
Still I had a dozen questions: what happens when someone clicks on a simple word or term, like a pronoun, and that search yields no results? I could imagine a whole stream of irrelevant or insinuated meanings for terms of art. Heaven forbid you have an article about Intercourse Pennsylvania. There’s an underlying massive semantic complexity to these searches is not clearly defined. Some terms work easily, others don’t — that’s an problem way too easy to hide in a demo, so we didn’t see it.
The demo included context specific search results, specifically maps and congressional voting records. So if you see the word “oxford,” do you mean the town in England, or the dozens of towns in the US, or is it the shoes? Do I get a map, or do I get Wikipedia’s entry for one the seventy plus disambiguated inferences of the noun oxford?
Aptures claim is that this application is available with “one line of code” – and that can’t be true without opening this semantic can of worms. Pages have context and often that has nuance. My fear is that this is a good idea that will work only in its simplest incarnation. As the company grows and its clients make new demands, the user experience could begin to add strange little appendages to address context and spin out of control. Part of my fear is my personal tragedy of watching the AOL I helped build go from a beautifully simplistic “Fisher-Price” user interface to a horror or convoluted navigation elements.
With the caveat that these context and semantic issues are not simple to solve, I’ll still call Apture a potential big winner.
Lesson: Even the best ideas can be killed by feature creep.
When I first met the founders of Grovo at the last Meetup, I was very excited by the idea that they would be offering centralized computer-based-training for basic office applications – that’s what I thought I heard. I visualized myself having someone finally explain to me the nuances of badly designed pseudo smart applications – QuickBooks immediately comes to mind. So when I saw last night’s Meetup pitch focused training for Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist, I was pretty confused. After all, these websites have only a few basic functions and who needs that kind of training?
For the audience of self-proclaimed techno-sophisticates, it begged the same question: who actually needs an introductory video for very basic web apps? In fact, that was a question from the audience that got a laugh: “who needs training on Craigslist?” While that seems like a silly, I know that in the real estate business, agents live and die by posting Craigslist ads. There’s your answer: there are millions of realtors who are largely non-technical and also highly dependent on the Web –they often need to train on Craigslists. So while it does seem a little odd to have such basic training, that’s just a matter of personal perspective by me/us as a propeller heads. These guys may be onto something big.
Only the market will tell if Grovo, as it is today, will be a winner. As a startup I would characterize Grovo as an excellent kernel of an idea that may need to make some adjustments to find the ideal training niches. I think this could be a surprisingly large success.
Jibe puts a new twist on job search by using social networking. Jibe has a mix of features and apparently made a “pivot” to its new incarnation with a full set of tools for job searchers incorporating social networking. I don’t what it pivoted from, but it appears that it added the social networking tools to the other tools previously developed. What it offers is a front end that uses what’s already in LinkedIn and shoehorns in Facebook in a way that demos well, but doesn’t really make any sense.
Jibe has created a killer tool that auto-fills job applications and resumes online. To me that’s prospectively a killer app, and the entire business. Why even make a consumer facing website? I’d white label that tool to Monster, CareerBuilder, et al. Somehow duty calls to layer on a consumer application that targets market buzz more than consumer need.
LinkedIn has created many of the same tools for job searching. Linked in is essentially already a job site.
It’s true Facebook fumbles in its peripatetic broad appeal and doesn’t specifically facilitate job searches. I don’t really want my Facebook world fully overlapping my professional life. When that comment was made from the audience, the CEO quickly dismissed it. I’m not sure how relevant or important your Facebook connections are for your professional pursuits – in fact it’s kind of the point of Facebook. Given that I’m not sure, and am guilty of mixing the two worlds rather sloppily myself, I’ll move on to a more important point.
The problem is that Facebook is not a highly reliable source of personal information. For instance I recently used an app that generated data about my friends’ political affiliations, the same way Jibe intends to use Facebook to characterize friends. Here’s what the app told me: I have NO Republican friends. I have friends that are I know are Republicans. Without getting into politics, it’s obvious in today’s political climate why people don’t affiliate with a party (especially the Republicans). However I can’t imagine building an algorithm to translate how people describe themselves and presumptively leap to party affiliation. The political app didn’t try to do it, but Jibe clearly states they can, and will, make those types of presumptions about people’s professional life.
Jibe boils down to a front end tool for job search that mixes in two social networks. LinkedIn already has these features and Facebook is not appropriate. I recommend sticking with the form fill tool – that’s something I’d like to see.
Admittedly I have a soft spot for brilliantly simple ideas. Kodingen creates Web based user interface that gives developers access to most open-source development tools from any browser, anywhere. All the tools stay in the cloud. It could be so simple that I missed something. I won’t claim the technical depth to fully understand what I was seeing, but there was clearly genius at work.
Why is this idea so important!? A:It that fully demonstrates how development can be done using a webOS – or basically how one can do power developing on an iPad or DroidX. This could be the winner of the night.
Quick Assessments of the others:
NearSay: Hyperlocal media – not scalable, too micro-focused, been there, done that … don’t see it happening this time either.
MeetMoi: Location Based Dating – Great team, not a protectable idea — it’s a horserace to marketshare. But very, very cool!
ProperShirt:– Technically beautiful. I found it especially curious considering the rough start the garment business had in the 90s. They already have a niche market. It’s not clear it can build a large enough market for VC style returns, but they probably make good money already. Even though I’m a TJMaxx kinda guy, I love it!
The NY Tech Meetup never disappoints. There was the usual mix of winners and loser and the comic styling of Nate Westheimer… what’s not to like
Market Publique is an excellent example of a “long tail” strategy, coupled with a passionate entrepreneur. It’s a winner. It carves out a nice clean market from the “head” of the long tail, or the established market leaders in the category. In this case the category is person-to-person online sales, like eBay. Market Publique adopts an already well-understood methods from online stores and then applies it to vintage clothing. There is no learning curve for the new user; they simply see eBay on steroids for vintage clothes – if vintage clothes are your thing, you’re sucked in. The site offers sophistication unique to vintage clothes, a personal vetting process for sellers (“no Dudes”) and superior product presentation. All of these simple features are beyond what generalists like eBay could offer. Market Publique is a simple retail play and potential big winner.
TurnTo: Keep it Simple
TurnTo offers social shopping, which should be simple. Kinda like Facebook meets Yelp meets CNET. The basic idea is consumers personally advise each other on purchases in a social network. Social shopping should be so simple that it’s transparently part of Facebook or whatever social application the user has — and I think that may be the intention. However the demo presented was overly complicated and it’s not clear why consumers would reach outside their current social network to engage with a new tool.
Social shopping has a certain Holy Grail aspect to it and gives this company momentum. Just a small audience of loyal users could make it a valuable company with a nice equity multiplier, simply for gathering and selling data on consumer shopping behavior at the store level. However, as a mass-market application, it’s way too complicated. I would also be afraid of the prospective liabilities of recommendation engines, like Yelp’s recent problems with accusations of extortion. This looks like it could be a system that is easily manipulated or abused. Disclosure: This business was previously pitched to me.
Philo: Originality is for Suckers
Philo reminds me of the early AOL chat applications that simply followed along with TV. The difference with Philo, 15 years later, is that the same application has all sorts of slick graphics and gameplay built into it. Somehow those features make this social TV watching – it’s still not new. The tenuous state of television production and distribution presents a good opportunity for Philo. Philo is a natural application for a TV distribution play, like integration into a cable company or Hulu. There’s plenty of possible upside for this company. The idea is simple and executable. Is the idea protect-able?… that could be the big question.
Indaba: Know Your Market
Indaba gave a demo that was like drinking from a firehose. There are so many rich features in this application that the demo deserves a much longer look. Indaba allows for collaborative music production and joint publishing online – that’s a lot to ponder right there. What made this demo most special was the Q&A. An audience member challenged the business model based on their extensive personal market experience. The CEO threw it right back at the questioner with detailed examples of successes, not only answering the objection, but also nailing home to the audience that “these guys know what they’re talking about.” What I saw: Indaba is already doing deals in a treacherous market, has cobbled together some great looking software, is talking to the right people, and has serious momentum. What more could you ask for when given your 15 minutes of startup fame?
Microsoft: Sometimes Innovation Doesn’t Matter
At the end of the event, a product manager from the Microsoft Bing group gave a demo of new features available in Bing mapping. The most important thing to understand about this demonstration was that this is not a startup. This is a venerable 800 pound gorilla of tech companies, fighting to not be made into a distant memory by a new class of 800 pound gorillas, namely Apple and Google. An audience member asked, “why doesn’t Google do this?” The answer may be even simpler than anyone imagines: maybe they’ve already determined it’s not a good business. This is obviously fodder for a longer post, but the point remains: just because you can do something that gets people to “ooooo” and “aahhh” doesn’t mean you have a product or a business. But if you’re Microsoft you can still blow millions seeing if you actually have a product and sending shockwaves through the market.
A recent post on Inside Facebook reports a decline in Facebook usage by women between 26 and 34. The author presumes this is caused by negative media coverage of security issues. The security story didn’t register strongly in major media, but it did get some coverage, or at least generated some more personality profiles of Mark Zuckerberg. Most Facebook users don’t read TechCrunch, Mashable, MediaPost or even the specialty digital media sections in the New York Times – this is not news to most users. Facebook book doesn’t only have a PR or media problem, to quote my mother in-law: ” it has more problems than a goose at Christmas”. The inside baseball of the digital media press is not the cause of the problems.
Media on Media
The Inside Facebook post is obviously written by a person who exalts media reporting and either is, or really wants to be, a highly considered member of the media. The report only considers media reporting as a causal effect for the decline in usage. It clearly never occurred to them that something else could be driving the phenomenon – like a million silly mistakes managing the user experience and community — or intrinsic problems with the entire product.
Could it be a Product Issue?
The problem from a product manager’s perspective is one of inconsistency and random changes. Facebook baits its users into an emotional investment with their product, lulling the user into a sense that they own or control their Facebook presence. And then sews bad will with its user by randomly changing Facebook with no warning.
In this case, users found out about the alleged security problems first hand. Users watched, yet another, unannounced user interface change on their Facebook pages. Some were warned about various changing privacy settings by other users. For the most part these settings are totally abstract and far removed from where users typically interact. I’m sure that had a chilling affect on many, and could have a causal relationship to the decline of use in this demo; but that’s still different from what Inside Facebook reports. And again, this is probably only a small minority of users, mostly the ones that do read Mashable and Techcrunch. This is how the story broke in the Facebook community, not by CNN or the NY Times.
Like, Facebook, ew!
As a middle aged fat guy in a hyper-consumerist overly-sexualized society, I can attest that females between 26 and 34 are the most easily socially annoyed demographic. I have about 50 years of supporting data, and none of that is all that interesting (at least without the video to support it). I’m sure somewhere in my files there’s a bunch of analysis of the demo that also says they aren’t the ideal target for Facebook.
Then of course, there’s the bluntly obvious part of social networking. Women 26 to 34 are susceptible to digital stalking. Women see that same creepy guy they were trying to avoid in high school trying to friend them and surely their interest in Facebook wains. Again … nothing to do with media reports: it’s a phenomena intrinsic to the product.
The Inside Facebook conversation is like watching Cable news babble inside-the-beltway minutia about politics; it’s not something that registers with the general population. Consumers may care about security and privacy, but most are totally dialed out of the machinations of the new media press or the details of their privacy settings. Facebook’s failure to hold momentum of are many, PR isn’t one of them.
The iPad and iPhone are game changers for personal computing – even a paradigm shift. Apple once again faces the “Mac problem:” figuring out how to maximize revenue from lightening in a bottle. The big question is: will Apple translate its current smart phone market domination in into domination of the new iPad-like category it is creating? Apple could do what it did with the Mac, educate the market to the consumer temperament and slide backward in a losing battle for market share (insert John Scully jab here). It appears that Apple is setting up the market for a very similar scenario. However this time, Apple has learned a few things and has some new tricks up its sleeve. It is possible for Apple to take the high ground with the sexiest most expensive hardware, proprietary software andstill have inferior market share with superior revenues through more lucrative services.
The same conversation about “proprietary” vs. “open” frames the Apple market share conversation, again. What’s different from the Mac’s launch is that PC clones weren’t really open, and opensource UNIX has been gaining momentum for a decade. Opensource will continue siphon off proprietary innovation into competitive open products. Google could completely fail with Android, and yet another variant of opensource UNIX could take its place as the phone/tablet OS of choice. Apple doesn’t have the luxury of Redmond’s fumbling arrogance as it did with Windows v. Mac. This time they have to content with the juggernaut of Google and/or the whole opensource universe at large. This may prove their biggest problem: it’s Apple against the world.
In the next few posts I will examine the factors that control Apple’s fate in creating a market strategy to maximize its revenue and shareholder value for its new category. I boil the conversation down to three factors:
Preservation of Apple’s unique user interface intellectual property.
Ability to maintain a market for proprietary apps to the Apple iPhone OS, as opposed to HTML5
The constant pressure of the “race-to-the-bottom” for knock offs or competitors.
Each one of these is a separate autonomous force that will slowly erode Apple’s current dominance. If Apple’s dominance today is measured in marketshare for phone hardware sales, tomorrow its dominance will need a different measuring stick. Since hardware is not a great business with all the pitfalls of inventory, support, moving parts, it’s not in Apples interest to plan to build “dominance” through hardware sales, but shift to other more profitable sales of soft goods and services.
Facebook has a rare opportunity to breakout as the next Fortune 500 Internet superpower. As much as I personally am addicted to Facebook, I don’t see it making the transition from fad to a viable large corporation. One simple stumbling block stops Facebook: it has not cultivated consumer trust as a brand. It has demonstrated a certain odd tone-deafness to understanding its audience, easily fooled by some very impressive statistics. The consumer perception is one of a Facebook that’s itching to exploit its massive user base in a feeding frenzy for advertisers. I remember Steve Case trying to change the Wall St. perception of AOL by recasting user numbers as a “surrogate measurement of the company’s value.” Facebook is in a similar situation of being lost in statistics and could suffer a similar rapid decline users as AOL.
One of Facebook’s true beauties is its exquisite simplicity. By creating a simple web-gathering place for “user presences”, Facebook has created a holy grail of “universal messaging” or “personal directory services.” This is an accomplishment that has eluded entrepreneurs and major media brands for over a decade — it’s insanely valuable. Facebook could transform its business into a powerful directory services utility – the digital phone book for the 21st century.
To not be a blip in the history of techno-fads, it needs a clever approach to get beyond being primarily ad supported. It must engage a far higher level of consumer trust. Advertising may make Facebook profitable today, but ads create no loyalty, and create a sort of a digital ghetto where parasites leap from every dark alley to steal your identity.
“Personally identifiable information” is a currency, serious equity, on the web. Unfortunately for Facebook, much of its appeal is that all its services and benefits are totally free. There is no reason for users to pay for anything, and no incentive to expose any financial information. Stranger than fiction there is not a means to pay for anything. Users don’t even have an incentive to be who they actually say they are. Personally, I never give out my birthday for what I see as a free entertainment service, and never will — I am not what Facebook says about me. While Facebook can get a lot of mileage with targeted advertising with freebee-self-characterization and user activity; it’s still doesn’t translate to user trust in a Facebook brand.
In fairness, Facebook is doing pretty well with revenue, advertising is working. No one is asking how they’re going to survive; somehow it’s going to work out. I’m simply asking Facebook step up to be what they could be — because I am a big fan.
Facebook has a massive appeal that crosses every demographic of Internet user. While Facebook may have magically captured marketshare and mindshare in a way never before imagined, its only appreciable revenue model is advertising. The opportunity for the company is much bigger than an ad-supported business. In my next post, I will discuss what I see as a bigger problem, Facebook’s ultimate opportunity, and something near and dear to me: its developer program.
Note: Immediately after this post, Facebook radically changed many of the policies and user interface issues I was about to address. I still have all that commentary and analysis in the can, but since Facebook is still dynamically changing, pretty much on the fly, I am going to hold off publishing it, at least until they’ve finished making changes on the fly. Fortunately, for me, my assumptions and analysis still holds.
I spent years deconstructing other people’s financial models for M&A departments. It helped me have something substantial to support my cynicism of ideas that would likely fail, and an excuse to like the ideas I liked. And that’s about how everyone uses them to make a case. In the end that’s all a math exercise — the bottom line revenue shows the truth — all the assumptions and models in the world can’t change that. A business case is actually either made by real financial performance, or it’s just a model.
Far more often then not, models are wrong — they are based on assumptions. It’s just as reasonable to assume that some assumptions are conservatively wrong and that the business may met or exceeded revenue expectations — not necessarily that the model was correct. From a purely statistical point of view, all pre-revenue investing can be reduced to a full on crap-shoot — there just is no real way to know. That’s why when markets trend down, investors want to see “revenue traction,” or basically real numbers, to understand the real business based on as much data as possible.
I love this post at Steve Blank’s blog and wish I though of it: No Accounting For Startups His hypothesis is that you need set expectation with VC’s about the model so you can make adjustments as you start to build a business. This is very sound advice for an entrepreneur working with VC’s. In my mind it validates the reasons to NOT use VC’s, or more specifically Angels. To manage VC’s, companies are required to spend a lot of time on building models, creating phantom variables, to adjust assumptions, and manage financial expectations. The other option is to stay lean, and run hard at revenue and adjust the moving parts in real time when you KNOW what business model works! (But if you need a revenue model; I can build you a beauty.)
Steve suggests that when the model is disproved, that the startup “pivot” to a new model. The problem is that pivoting instantly implies that some assumptions were wrong up to that point. When the supporting set of assumptions start to fail, it could create a total implosion of the entire model. Even without a full implosion, when key assumptions fail and management was depending on the model as a guide, they are forced to go into rescue mode. It tends to get super ugly figuring out what to jettison.
Arguably, this is why the Angel model fails, and VC’s are hard to manage. My new millennium approach is to start with MULTIPLE SCENARIOS, instead of having one “be-all, end-all” model and attempting to “pivot.” To have many approaches to the business argues for the kind of fluidity that requires the single control of a strong CEO. To make that work the CEO has to keep the majority equity, majority control and enough sense to take the risks and know the options. Interjecting pools of investors with voting rights on the board undercuts that true ability to pivot; the one where the leader has to suck it up and take it on their shoulders. Otherwise the conversation about what do when the model fails, is a toothless CEO in a room full of finance guys. The same finance guys who believed bad assumptions in the first place and look a little foolish.
The best way to start a business is to focus on the business, keep majority control as long as possible, at least to being cash flow positive, and most important not get distracted into managing investors.
Google’s Chrome OS very nicely addresses what I have been talking about on this blog. It provides the simplicity and compactness to work on many devices while offering the ability to do the kind of memory management necessary so high quality HD video and audio can be widely distributed. While there are many good reasons to be cynical of Google’s marketing; I whole heartedly applaud the idea of restablishing the PC operating system in the mind of the consumer.
There’s been a lot of banter about Chrome OS. I even took the time to respond to an opinion piece in the NYT. I generally deplore hype and have something cynical to say about it — and Google often begs for it with its arrogance. But today Google is spending it’s mindshare-capital to do us all a favor. It’s about time that Windows death grip on the consumer psyche be broken. Certainly Apple is not Apples to Microsofts Oranges.
PC OS’s are now ubiquitous. The few flavors are all a slightly different twist on the same bad idea of perpetual license one-size-fits-all computing with this crazy notion of one giant hairball universal configuration for every possible services available at all times. Today’s PC’s boot up like someone packing to go the winter Olympics to compete in every sport in a single carry on bag. They’ve always been a big mess of stuff inappropriately slammed together — each piece at a slight detriment to the next. It’s always been overkill to replace a typewriter and not quite enough to replace your TV and stereo. Now they’re used for business everywhere. Worst they’re inherently impossible to maintain. And that’s what Chrome OS is all about, use what you need, and don’t load what you don’t need. I hate to say paradigm shift … but it’s what the market needs, and Chrome OS, at least architecturally, is a worthwhile approach to creating that change. Who knows if Google can or will succeed or completely screw it up, but the game is afoot.
The classic rejoinder to this argument is “what about the mac?” The mac still basically follows the same broken perpetual license model with a less cumbersome implementation of an OS. Ironically some of the ideas in OSX reflect the advancements made by Jobs at NeXT, where boot configurations were tuned to specific tasks. NeXT was a victim of being too successful selling into the National Security Administration — which has an odd way of consuming a company and stifling commercial efforts and so it folded back into Apple. To me it’s the NeXT piece that makes OSX superior to Windows. The Mac advantage is it better memory management for graphics, which make it radically smoother for most of the things people notice — and that’s because it’s UNIX under the hood, like NeXT. I don’t particularly see any advantage to the current Mac user interface — that argument is a nonsense big-endian v. little-endian conundrum. People forgot that Microsoft and Apple spent years fighting each other over who stole what from whom first. The irony of course being that Apple pinched a lot of the clever interface ideas from Xerox. Apple is to Windows, what BMW is to Chrysler, but their both still internal combustion cars, one performs better and cost three times as much.
I hope that Chrome OS provides the kind of prodding the consumer electronics market needs to mature to be able to deliver devices that can drive video convergence. I’d be happy to have PCs as we know them go away, fading into our TV sets. Chrome OS is a massive step in the right direction — is it real? Who knows.
The NY post reported Sergey Brin is worried about Bing …
Surely Google has room for improvement and needs a little rattling to tune up its offering now that a competitor with some financial means to fight is in the game, and not just a startup they can roll over. The fact remains consumers don’t actually care about the features in Bing and have learned to distrust Microsoft for many good reasons. Much of the points in this article are inside baseball for techies that are entirely irrelevant to the actual market drivers. The whole basis of Bing is “me too, only a little bit better” and that bid is a dollar short and a day late from a company that rarely gets it right (with the exception of X-box it’s been been a pretty disastrous run). They immediately demonstrate that they don’t understand many of the consumer critical nuances for success — like making the search page have all sorts of weird misleading visual queues. I think Google has as much to worry about as Apple did with the iPod …