g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Saturday, August 1, 2009
06:54 - Well, I'll be switched

(top)
Part of John Gruber's much-linked-and-discussed recent treatise on Microsoft's declining fortunes of late (and its followups) has to do with whether Windows 7 will cause people to switch back to Windows from the Mac.

But which to choose as the primary platform? Many chose one, many chose the other. But it was an interesting test group, because they were exposed to both platforms. These web developers were not like the people who, in a form of tribalism, claim to despise one or other other platform without having actually used it. Web developers had to know both the Mac and Windows, at least with passing familiarity, and the truth is that many, if not most, preferred Windows.

Today that is simply no longer the case. Microsoft has lost all but a sliver of this entire market. People who love computers overwhelmingly prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.

This is true in many markets with broad appeal, not just computers. Microsoft is looking ever more so like the digital equivalent of General Motors. Car enthusiasts lost interest in GM’s cars long before regular people did; the same is happening with Windows.

Or consider cameras. Companies like Canon and Nikon make most of their money from consumer-level point-and-shoot cameras. But they are intensely competitive at the high end of the market, too. Enthusiasts are valuable customers not just because they themselves buy expensive products, but because they, as enthusiasts, tend to recommend products in their area of expertise to others. The photo nerd who’s delighted with their $2,500 Canon SLR is likely to recommend a lot of $250 Canon point-and-shoots to friends and family.

Vista was a disaster for Microsoft. Windows 7 is, supposedly, the light at the end of the tunnel. But the best consensus about Windows 7 is only that it’s not going to be a complete and total clusterfuck like Vista. That it’s something XP users will actually want to upgrade to. Something that, when it comes pre-installed on a new machine, will not prompt questions about how to downgrade to XP.

But no one seems to be arguing that Windows 7 is something that will tempt Mac users to switch, or to tempt even recent Mac converts to switch back. It doesn’t even seem to be in the realm of debate. But if Windows 7 is actually any good, why wouldn’t it tempt at least some segment of Mac users to switch? Windows 95, 98, and XP did.

In a followup he quotes Harry McCracken saying that "History suggests that people don’t like to switch operating systems". And that's worth looking at in detail with regard to his camera metaphor, which is more relevant in this case than the car metaphor. Cars are interchangeable. Operating systems, like SLRs, are not.

When you buy a $2500 SLR from Canon or Nikon, you're not just spending $2500 on a camera and heading for the hills for a happy day of shooting; you're spending $2500 plus however much money you're prepared to plunk down on lenses. Either you're starting from scratch in the SLR world (in which case you should budget for probably three times the price of your camera body for a serviceable set of lenses of commensurate quality); or you've already got a set of lenses which already cost you a few thousand. And, crucially, those lenses will only work with one camera brand. Canon lenses are not interchangeable with Nikon lenses, which are not interchangeable with Sony/Minolta or Panasonic or Pentax lenses. Which is why the guy who puts down $2500 on a new Canon SLR is making a pretty big brand loyalty decision, a bigger one than it seems at first when he just recommends a $250 point-and-shoot to his family. If he's going to switch brands, he's throwing away (or, well, Ebaying) not just $2500 worth of investment; it's more like $10,000. And committing to making that same investment all over again with a new brand. That's a big decision.

Operating systems are a lot more like cameras than cars in this way. You can switch from GM to Ford, or GM to BMW, without a lot of fanfare; you just buy the car and drive it home on the same roads and stick it in the same garage where you had your old car. Beyond that you're still the same guy, until the point where the BMW begins to seep its eldritch curse into your brain and cause you to start cutting across gore points and swerving between lanes. Other than that, though, a car is a car is a car. And you can always switch back without trashing your investment.

People don't like switching operating systems for the hell of it. Granted, this varies a lot depending on their expertise; a computing novice won't have that much investment into a given OS with regard to expensive third-party software and entrenched music/photo collections that have to be migrated over, but he'll also be a lot more reliant on rote step-by-step instructions and muscle memory for getting various tasks done. Conversely, a power user will be a lot better equipped to make the switch if he decides to, but he's got a much tougher (and more expensive) row to hoe when it comes to moving his whole digital life and all the apps that support it over to a new platform. Switching isn't easy no matter who you are.

If Windows 7 is going to tempt any switchers, it'll probably be people who have never used Windows and are simply curious. People who grew up on a Mac. Because there are quite a few of those now: kids who came of age since 2001 or so, who have no memory of the pre-Mac-OS-X era or a time without iPods, and no experience with Windows other than an occasional gaming session at a friend's or some Windows-centric class at school. These won't be people who switched from Windows to the Mac and now want to give Microsoft another chance. For that latter group to have made that decision to begin with was quite a momentous occasion, and it's astounding that Apple has been so successful in coaxing so many people to do it. They're not going to go through all that again, in reverse; not without an extremely good reason. Because as regards software they'd have to buy and new techniques they'd have to learn, enough time has passed that they'd essentially be starting over from scratch again.

My suspicion is that the field of potential "switchers" in the world has become very small. Anyone who had the wherewithal to switch in the first place has already done so, from Windows to the Mac; and now they're no longer potential switchers, because they don't want to go through all that again. New users entering the market are doing so at a smaller rate than they used to, because computing is so ubiquitous now; and those new users are now spread a lot more equitably across the two platforms than they used to, so of that group the ones who are susceptible to the urge to switch will just be swapping market share with their counterparts in the same uninvested part of the market. And like the rest of the world, most of them will only have one "switch" in them.

In other words, I think the only "switching" that Windows 7 will inspire anyone to do is "from XP".

Friday, July 31, 2009
06:05 - Stop-motion? Really?
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/07/30/not-so-fantastic-mr-fox/

(top)
What is this, 1989?



And wouldn't that be awesome?


05:54 - They should call it the 7GS
http://www.engadget.com/2009/07/29/ifr-developing-ipod-like-interface-for-infinitely

(top)
Now there's a good use of appropriate interface elements:

Race cars and many sporty street cars have had (near) infinitely adjustable suspensions for a long time now, but not so many can be so tweaked from behind the steering wheel -- and none outside of an international racing series can use GPS to auto-configure themselves to best suit any upcoming corner. That's what Spanish boutique automaker IFR is developing for possible future inclusion in the company's radical re-imagining of Colin Chapman's classic Lotus Seven, called the Aspid, and also for licensing to other marques. Drivers would use a "dial similar to that of an iPod" to tweak suspension damping to manipulate handling and could also modify the engine's timing and other parameters to make it torquier for short circuits or more powerful to blast down long straights.


Wait. Then again, what's wrong with a knob?

Remember how the whole iPod interface discussion centered on fundamental differences between physical and soft interface elements? How it's pointless and counterproductive to try to replicate a tangible object—like a volume thumbwheel—in software, just because we think it'll give a new user an affordance and a clue how to use it, even though it's dismal from a control and usability perspective?

I applaud IFR for recognizing that a continuously variable, linear adjustment is best made using a rotary control with visual feedback to indicate where in the rotation you are. Just like an iPod scroll wheel. And also just like a volume knob.

Sure, if there's some compelling reason for them to replicate a physical knob as a touchable, strokable LCD—for example, if the adjustment wheel has to share very limited space with other controls that can take its place, or if it has to have visual feedback to describe its functionality in several different modes, I can see how a touch-sensitive scroll wheel might be useful. (Clumsy, mind you, since as many readers know I've never liked the stationary electrostatic touch-sensitive wheels anywhere near as much as the first-generation iPod wheel that actually rotated on a spindle, keeping your finger in constant contact with the same point on the wheel as it rotated and guiding your finger in a circular motion, rather than making you consciously trace out a circle on a simply funny-shaped yet otherwise undistinguished laptop trackpad; but useful.)

But if they're doing this just because it means they get to use words like "iPod-like" in press releases...

If that's the case, then I'm afraid they're late to the party. Even Microsoft couldn't get a proper grip on those coattails.

Still, that's a pretty bitchin' Seven.

Via JMH.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
08:34 - Let's keep this on the down-low
http://www.osnews.com/story/21882/Microsoft_s_Linux_Kernel_Code_Drop_Result_of_GPL_V

(top)
You know, I'm honestly starting to feel bad for Microsoft. It's like every news item concerning them lately has been something they'd just as soon keep covered up.

Sometimes, some things are just too good to be true. Earlier this week, Microsoft made a relatively stunning announcement that it would contribute some 20000 lines of code to the Linux kernel, licensed under the GPL. Microsoft isn't particularly fond of either Linux or the GPL, so this was pretty big news. As it turns out, the code drop was brought on by... A GPL violation.

. . .

A "break from the ordinary" and a "significant milestone"? None of that - just a silently handled case, with an overdose of marketing spin, to prevent a major embarrassment for Microsoft.

Not if this gets traction.


05:53 - No accounting for (my) taste

(top)
I seem to be in the distinct minority of opinion here. TTAC offers its collective community aesthetic judgment on the new Ferrari 458, which seems overwhelmingly positive:



I dunno—to my eyes, it's distinctly fugly. The beltline crease leading down to the rear wheels gives it a weak, skinny-waisted look; the overwrought haunches are trying too hard to make it into a baby Enzo; and the pointy B/C-pillar shape is just plain gross. I've never been a fan of such clumsy shapes ever since they showed up as a matter of inelegant necessity on the 911 Targa; here, the effect is made all the more painful by the nails it pounds into the coffin of the iconic quarter-window shape shared by all the mid-engine V8 Ferraris from the 308 to the 355. It was still there in ovoid vestigial form in the 360 and 430, but now it's gone for good, if such a word even applies.

And what the hell is up with those headlights? Pop-up lights were cool. Their demise was tragic, but I eventually grew to love and appreciate the crystalline molded units we see on most cars today. But now apparently the game is to see who can create the most inefficient and aesthetically unbalanced shape possible; these lights don't quite outdo the professor-professor-look-at-me-I-did-something-original boomerang things on the 370Z, but they come awfully close.

In short, this is the first descendant of the 308 that seems to be so deliberately divorced from its history as to be filing family-court lawsuits against it. (Yet even though there's no central grille in the front, they've mocked up a pretend one with a big black expanse just so they could stick a prancing-horse emblem in there as some kind of cynical afterthought callback. Sorry, I'm not impressed. Get rid of the shiny blinger wheels and put on something with a tasteful satin finish and we'll talk.)

And then there's this, which the TTAC community seems to think is boring and lame: the new Saab 9-5.



"Is it ugly or what?" the site propounds in question form. Well... yes? Yes it is. And that's why it's awesome.

Recent Saabs have been far too anonymized, watered-down, and “normal”. Saabs in the past were always sort of what you’d expect a Martian to build after you described a car to him over the phone, to quote a friend's take from years back. This is the first Saab to look like a Saab—weird, concave in all the wrong places, and yet oddly endearing—in over a decade.

Indeed, in this day and age, all cars have started to look like one another even more so than ever before; true, in a given era everybody builds to the same aesthetic standard, but the more years we rack up in the history of motoring, the more historical baggage we have to drag along and the more difficult it is to do something truly maverick-like. Today, even making a retro-mobile to cash in on a formerly profitable nameplate or body form is predictable and passé. It takes some real guts to design something like this—not retro, but obstinate. It won't win any new converts to the brand from focus-group-tested prime market demographics, but it'll serve its loyal, long-suffering following with exactly what they were looking for.

Ugly? Saabs were always ugly. And that’s why people loved them so.

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