January 2008

« December 2007 | Main Index | Archives | February 2008 »


Ian Hickson, on Microsoft's plans to add a new compatibility mode in IE8:

If Web authors actually use this feature, and if IE doesn't keep losing market share, then eventually this will cause serious problems for IE's competitors — instead of just having to contend with reverse-engineering IE's quirks mode and making the specs compatible with IE's standards mode, the other browser vendors are going to have to reverse engineer every major IE browser version, and end up implementing these same bug modes themselves. It might actually be quite an effective way of dramatically increasing the costs of entering or competing in the browser market. (This is what we call "anti-competitive", or "evil".) [source]

If they go with their current plans, Microsoft will be attempting to redefine "standard" as "what IE7 does", and everything else as an extension that needs to be opted into. They feel entirely justified in doing so because from their perspective, IE's market-share makes it the standard.

Heavier than Air

  • 11:49 AM

When Apple first introduced the iPod, it was greeted with the now classic Slashdot lead: "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame." When Apple first introduced the iPod Mini, the pundit consensus was that, at only $50 less than the iPod classic, nobody would buy a device with a quarter of the hard drive space of its older brother.

(John Gruber's rebuttal is fun to read in hindsight, as the Mini went on to out-sell the Classic iPod)

You can go back further. Every single generation of iMac has been greeted with complaints that there are no expansion slots, you can't upgrade it, you can't replace the screen, and in the case of the original iMac it was missing that most vital of peripherals, the 3.5 inch floppy drive.

The tech press, it seems, has a bad record on judging products on criteria you can't fit on a feature matrix.

Which is a problem, because feature matrices suck. A feature matrix says: "Here is what everyone else is doing. To be competitive you must do the same." Where's the differentiation? Where's the innovation in doing exactly what everyone else does, ticking the boxes, shaving off one or two points in each row so you get the green tick?

Ever watch Top Gear review a car? There's always the point in the review where they run through the list of cars that are cheaper, more powerful and better fitted-out... but just aren't half as fun to drive. If it were up to most tech pundits you would buy a car from a spec sheet -- horsepower, miles per gallon, price, optional extras -- without ever sitting behind the wheel and giving it a run around the block.

Enter the MacBook Air, a device that is under-powered, has too small a hard drive, has only one USB port, lacks firewire, a replaceable battery, wired ethernet and an optical drive. Sure-fire flop, right? Even those sites willing to give the Air a look have labeled it as a "secondary" machine, only suitable for those rich (or geeky) enough to own more than one Mac. That's an opinion I can sympathise with because if I were to buy an Air (a distinct possibility), that's the role it would play.

I have to remind myself, though, that I am not a normal person. Nor are most people who write for tech weblogs. I think the step that Apple is taking with the MacBook Air is much like the one they took when they decided to ship the iMac without a floppy drive. They know where the world is going, and they want to be there first.

If you think about it, everything that Apple have left off the MacBook Air is something that 90% of the population don't need 90% of the time. If my MacBook Pro didn't have Firewire, or only had one USB port, or even didn't have an optical drive, I don't think I'd even notice more than once a month, and I'd not find it hard to compensate for their absence those few times.

Don't think of the Air as a secondary machine, think of it as a primary machine, with headless appliances like Time Capsule and the Apple TV filling in the space around it. All that's really missing is some "myLife" storage appliance to hold overflow of mail, documents, Photos, videos and music when that 80GB internal drive fills up.

To prove my skills as a cutting-edge blogger, I would like to deliver this, my reaction to Steve Jobs' keynote at Macworld 2008. "But Charles!", you say. "The keynote isn't for another three days!"

"Bah", I say. "Irrelevant."

All I can say about this Macworld keynote is yawn. how disappointing. After all the rumours and speculation, all the poring over every patent Apple has ever filed, all the speculative leaps, we're supposed to be satisfied with this over-priced, under-specced junk missing almost every feature we've been salivating for over the last month?

What is the world coming to, when Apple can't even come up with a product that competes with our fantasy specs and Photoshop mock-ups? With this ho-hum display, the company has well and truly jumped the shark.

Stay tuned for our next round of rumour coverage, six weeks before WWDC.

Album Art Meme

  • 8:52 PM

How to create your album cover:

  1. Your band name is the title of your first hit on Wikipedia's random page
  2. Your album name is taken from the end of the last quote on this random quotes page
  3. Your album cover must be made from the fourth picture on Flickr's interesting photos page

I swear, I didn't fudge this at all:

...mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese, by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus

(larger image, title, quote, cover art)

Addendum. Using shrijani's formula to create the back cover:

  1. Reload Flickr's interesting photos page twice. Take the seventh picture, desaturate it.
  2. Reload the random quotes page. Take the last few words of each quote to make song titles. Use them all.

The track names are: 1. a mere adult. 2. your enemies will not believe you anyway. 3. rainy sunday afternoon. 4. a good citizen. 5. how others saw me. 6. all virtue. 7. self-evident. 8. the most perfect refreshment. 9. waiting for the other person to die. 10. the more compelling the path, the more lonely it is.

(larger image, cover art)

Jeffrey Walker wrote an article on what he looks for in a resume. I was going to write a long "me too", but it seems more efficient just to list the links I was going to use as source material:

I think what many people forget is that a resume is an exercise in marketing. You're trying to sell yourself to a prospective employer, but so often I get little more than a dry list of technologies, and some useless self-assessments of the applicant's ability.

For the kind of developer who considers him or herself above marketing, it might be something of an alien landscape.

What surprises me most as one of the pool of Atlassian developers who reads incoming resumes, is not that we get so many submissions, but that so many of them come through recruiters. Don't recruiters have an incentive to make sure their candidate makes the best possible first impression?

I killed my iPhone the week before Christmas. I was particularly drunk and managed to mishandle it in a fashion I wouldn't expect any electronic device to survive. As such, my life is now divided starkly into a time when the iPhone was the coolest thing I owned, a wondrous device that had changed my life; and the new age during which I've been continually telling myself, "It was just a phone".

One senses a similar cognitive dissonance from Apple regarding the Apple TV. When it was first demonstrated at a Steve Jobs-hosted special event, the then-codenamed iTV was the "missing piece" in the Mac/iPod puzzle. By the next year's D: conference, after what turned out to be quite a limited device had failed to set the market on fire, Jobs was calling it a "hobby".

Rumours on the internets say that Apple will announce iTunes movie rentals at this month's Macworld. If so, it's likely that the Apple TV will at least get a minor update so you can get those movies from your computer to your TV. Not that it makes any difference to me. iTunes movie rentals would simply join their television and movie sales (and Amazon's mp3 store) on the list of things that would be cool if I ever moved to America.

I still own an Apple TV. What's more, I still stand by the largely positive review I gave it nine months ago. It wasn't the game-changer that some were expecting to be (and as such found its way onto quite a few end-of-year "biggest disappointment" lists), but it's still a competent v1.0 product.

The crime would be to write off the hobby entirely, and leave it at 1.0.

Things I Don't Care About

  • Additional video codecs. I'm quite happy to convert my videos to mp4.
  • Larger internal storage. If anything, expanding the hard drive would make my existing 40GB model less useful, as it would leave Apple less incentive to make improvements that bypassed the local hard drive. (see below)
  • HD-DVD/Blu-Ray support. Actually, I might buy a new Apple TV if it was reasonably priced and supported one or both high-def media... but the chances of it being "reasonably priced" would be pretty slim, and it still wouldn't make my existing Apple TV work better.
  • Opening the platform. I've already got three or four general-purpose computers, I don't need another one.
  • Games, web browsing, home shopping, or other things that would divert focus from the main purpose of the platform. Keep it simple, stupid.

Basic Stuff

  • Add an explicit stand-by menu option, and an automatic stand-by-on-idle mode. Alternatively, have Al Gore slap the shit out of the rest of the Apple board for not including this feature to start with.
  • Fix the YouTube client so it doesn't die on long videos like the Authors@Google talks.
  • Fix video streaming so there isn't the annoying n-second hang a few seconds into watching a video hosted elsewhere on the LAN.
  • The Apple remote doesn't give you the same kind of fine-grained, intuitive control as the iPod scroll-wheel. As such, finding anything in a long scrollable list is painful. Add an alphabet-bar like the one in the iPhone address book, so you can skip easily through lists.
  • Add some kind of smart auto-completion to the YouTube search box. Typing with a remote control sucks.
  • Improve the handling of sequences of videos, such as music DVDs that have been ripped as separate tracks.
  • Don't stop the music just because I've navigated away from the "Music" section of the menu. Having everything go silent when you're just browsing the library (or someone else's library) is really annoying. Keep playing the current song until I press stop, or I select something else to play.
  • Allow me to buy stuff from the iTunes store and subscribe to podcasts in the iTunes directory through the Apple TV interface.
  • Allow streaming of photos from iPhoto (currently, only synched photos are available on the Apple TV)
  • Add AirTunes (Airport Express) support so the AppleTV can act as remote speakers for other iTunes on the network when it's not playing anything itself
  • Add some equivalent to the iTunes Party Shuffle. When you're manually shuffling through songs, or for that matter when you're at a party, "play this next" is more useful than "play this now".
  • Act as an iPod USB dock, so visitors can play their music through the Apple TV.

Bigger Stuff

  • Seamlessly aggregate all available libraries. Don't force me to go to the sources list just because the next song is in Donna's iTunes not mine. Don't make me care where the content is. If it's on the network, put it in the directory.
  • Treat the local hard drive more like a cache. Have the Apple TV list all the content on its main iTunes library in its directory, regardless of what is synched to its internal hard drive. Some intelligent mix of recently added / most played / highest rated content can be automatically cached, and the Apple TV can wake the host machine over the network to grab anything else on demand.
  • HD content. What's the point of making a device that requires at least 720p, when all you can do with it is photo slide-shows?
  • Make iTunes video content available outside the USA. Hey, I can dream right?

(A note to our litigious society: all these suggestions are submitted into the public domain. I assert no ownership of these ideas whatsoever, and am quite happy for any company to implement any of them without so much as acknowledging my existence.)\

As much as possible, allow users to do whatever they want at all times. Avoid using modes that lock them into one operation and prevent them from working on anything else until that operation is completed. -- Apple Human Interface Guidelines

Dear Apple iLife team. Please remove the distinction between "browse" and "edit" modes in iPhoto. It is the perfect example of why modal interfaces are bad, as I constantly find myself in the wrong mode for whatever operation I happen to want to perform.