History, Redux Edition

What follows is an opinionated rant, feel free to browse elsewhere.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.  –Ben Franklin

As Mozilla finally gives up on the iOS platform, the question that must be asked is who is next?  The constraints that Apple puts on browser developers (straight out of Microsoft’s wettest dream) leads to the crippling of alternatives to mobile Safari.  Apple uses Safari’s webkit browser engine but only allows other browsers to use a crippled and slower version.  Despite this handicap, Google’s Chrome is not only competitive with Safari, but bests it in most usage scenarios.  Apple is just not that savvy when it comes to coding software (hence the need for restrictions to prevent real competition).

As developers begin to abandon the platform we need only look at Apple’s history to see where this is going.  Once Apple made the most advanced personal computer.  But after its release, they sat on their laurels and stopped innovating.  When competition arose, Apple still did not innovate, instead they hired lawyers and attempted to use the courts to stifle the competition.  They eventually lost and the platform languished, never to recover.  While the competition went on to rule the desktop roost.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and Apple had the most innovative phone platform.  But as the competition moves ahead of them, Apple fails to grasp the lessons of history and again fails to innovate.  Once again they attempt to use the courts to stifle the competition.  Attempting to stifle Android’s rapid innovation through a global thermonuclear patent war has so far had the same effect as round one.  One major win (which still can’t be counted due to not being finalized and under appeal) and an entire series of losses and pyrrhic victories which has done little but tarnish Apple’s own brand.  Innovation wise, Apple trails badly.  Still the kings of gorgeous hardware, Apple struggles with mediocre software and even worse web services.

The only thing keeping Apple’s iOS at current levels is consumer lock-in.  People have invested in the app store and they are loathe to abandon that investment.  But, sooner or later, they will cut their losses and move on; and history will have made another revolution.  More important is that teenagers, the bellwether of what’s cool, are fleeing the platform.  When Apple was the small underdog they were cool (well, at least hipster cool if not truly cool), but with their popularity and ease of use they now appeal to the elderly.  Can a device really be cool if your grandmother has one?

A recent report suggested that 96% of all mobile malware is targeting Android, still 7 out of 10 consumers choose that platform.  Apple’s share is falling rapidly and now rests at around 20%…history redux, indeed.

Which brings us back to that Franklin quote above.  It would seem that most people agree with Franklin.  Most would rather have a little in-security in exchange for the freedom that Android offers over the closed, locked down, proprietary, and innovation stifling platform offered by the  fruity company.

Just like in the platform wars of old, Apple’s supporters are loud and rabid.  They will gnash their teeth and claim to be superior (just like they did last time around), they will claim that Apple has somehow been cheated or even stolen from.  And still, their platform will slide into irrelevance.

Perhaps Apple will have better luck with watches.


Electronic Books and Reading Devices Come of Age

E-books have been gaining in popularity the last few years. Devices to read these books come from a plethora of manufacturers; Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony’s what-ch-may-call-it device, plus multi use tablets from Apple and those running the Android operating system. Not to mention the explosion of smart phones some with screens that match the dedicated e-reader devices. The problem for me has been the proprietary nature of these devices and the books that go with them. Buy into an ecosystem and your books are stranded there, harsh digital rights management (DRM) sees to that.

I’ve always been a reader, as far back as I can remember. From the time that my first grade teacher read the class Charlotte’s Web I was captured by the magical escapism that comes from reading. Since then, books have been a constant companion throughout my life. Years ago when e-books were first appearing, I shunned them in favor of the familiar dead tree variety of books. Then with the advent of dedicated e-readers and screens created specifically not to fatigue the eyes my interest grew. But the proprietary closed nature of each seller’s ecosystem held me back. Buy a book from Apple and you can only read it on Apple hardware. While Amazon’s Kindle software runs on a wide range of devices if you choose to end your relationship with Amazon all of your books become inaccessible. The gross and unfair DRM prevents you from actually owning the items that you buy.  As you may recall, digital music went through a similar phase.  Apple’s heavily DRM encumbered music store was a niche product until Amazon released non-DRM music (forcing Apple to follow or become irrelevant).  Then digital music bloomed.  I don’t recall the last time I bought a physical CD, and e-books are nearing that phase now.  I think it is safe to say that when the DRM comes off, traditional publishers, bookstores, and their agents will become a historical footnote.  Authors will go direct to consumers, books will be cheaper and authors will earn more, the middle man will disappear.

I read my first full e-book about a year and a half ago.  Since then I have read 15 or 20 e-books and but a single paper book.  While I don’t have a dedicated reader device I do have a highly customizable Android tablet that allows me to have different settings for different lighting conditions.  This makes it easy on the eyes to read in pretty much any condition other than direct sunlight, since I never really read on the beach this is not a problem.

Much like iTunes helps organize your music and make it accessible, there are organizers that use meta data to organize your books.  I use Calibre Ebook Manager, it is fast, efficient, multi-platform, and open source.  If you can use iTunes, or Windows Media Player then you can effectively use Calibre.  It manages most book formats and has a built in reader application.  For mobile and tablets, where most of my reading gets done, there are a multitude of reader applications available.  I currently use Moon Reader on Android, it handles many formats and wirelessly integrates with Calibre on the desktop.  This provides a no-compromise experience that bests having a large library of physical books (I still have 3 large book cases filled with books but they are becoming less relevant.)

But what about obtaining books?  Most books are still DRM encumbered, holding back the entire industry.  This is a publisher inspired attack on both the reading public and the authors who are trying to reach them.  However, the time is fast approaching when DRM will fall by the wayside, in the meantime there are lots of books available without DRM.  For tech books, O’Reilly Publishing offers thousands of titles on vast topics all without DRM.  Tor, the publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy has gone completely DRM-Free.

The folks at Defective by Design have the best list of places to obtain DRM-free books, the list is currently quite vast and growing.

Currently if one wants to go all digital in their reading, it may be impossible to get some books in DRM free format.  So if you must buy these, leave comments for the publisher/seller that you prefer your reading to be unencumbered with DRM.

It is only a matter of time until freedom wins out and DRM falls by the wayside…in the mean time: Happy Reading.

Losin’ Our Edge

Have you ever read Hegel’s “Philosophy of History”?  While it is dated (think racist, jingoistic) this book still has much to offer.  It has been at least 5 years since I read the book, but today’s news got me to thinking about it.

The basic premise of Hegel’s book is that History is not just a random collection of random events, but an unfolding (almost evolutionary) push for freedom.  If you can get past Hegel’s dated historical view and lack of PC, you can still get some nuggets of wisdom.  Hegel had “history” start in the East and migrate West, he saw Europe of his day as the culmination of all of historical progress.  After reading the book, it was easy to add a few extra mental chapters on the continueing Western migration…the Americas and on to the Pacific rim…

WTF is this post about anyway?

Do you think the Arab’s knew history had passed them by at the time that it moved on to Europe?  Do you think the Europeans saw and understood the passage on to the Americas?  Or is it only in retrospect that we see such things?  And finally, do you think that we North Americans will see and understand when it has moved further West–so far West that it is back in the East?

With today’s delay of the space shuttle launch, just an indicator of our inability to get things done…we are in steep and steady decline.  NASA announced plans to go back to the moon…they project it will take 20 years.  Last time we went to the moon, it took 7 years and we did it with 60’s technology.  Couldn’t do it today.  We need 20 more space shuttle launches to complete the ISS.  I’ll be the first to state the obvious, “It ain’t gonna happen.”  And, sadly, I bet our planned moon and beyond adventure never happens.  We’re incapable.

While Nations mostly stand still, History continues its steady march forward.   Is it too late to start learning Mandarin?