January 1, 2011

At QuakeCon this year, in the course of discussing the current state of the mobile gaming market and unveiling the iOS version of RAGE, John Carmack mentioned one of their previous games for a portable device called Orcs & Elves, specifically the Nintendo DS version. He mentioned that due to the expense in making the port and the lack of promotion by EA caused the game to be unsuccessful, even losing money.

I actually sort of felt bad because Orcs & Elves was on my list of games I wanted to get at some point but never got around to. I’m sort of a sucker for games which hit certain significance criteria, even if I’m not necessarily sold on the concept or the content of the game. For example, I bought Daikatana on the day it was released because I had read the incredible story behind it. I bought SiN Episodes: Emergence because I liked the idea of supporting Ritual, one of the last surviving independent Dallas-area developers (they’ve since gone under unfortunately, after only one episode released). I bought PREY because I had kept up with the game in 1997 and the idea of walking out of a store in 2006 with the game was just wild to me. And next year in 2011 if all goes according to plan I’ll be able to buy Duke Nukem Forever. I’m definitely getting that one in the store on principle, same way I bought Chinese Democracy on vinyl. And if DNF isn’t using Steamworks I’ll buy a second copy on Steam.

Orcs & Elves was the only game id Software ever released on the Nintendo DS. In fact, it may be the only game they ever made for a handheld game console – the Game Boy Color version of Commander Keen was designed by another company and the Game Boy Advance ports of DOOM and DOOM II were also ported (recreated) by other companies. Strictly speaking id Software didn’t completely do Orcs & Elves either, the game was done by Fountainhead Entertainment, whose founder and (I think) CEO was Anna Kang, who is John Carmack’s wife. To be honest, I’ve never 100% been sure what Fountainhead did exactly. They had an impressive Quake 3 mod out at one point and I think they were doing some gamer documentaries but it was always unclear what their main goal was. Today their website is dead, I haven’t heard from them in a while, and recent id Software phone offerings either have the “id Classic” logo (the iPhone ports of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3-D) or “id Mobile”. My guess is that Fountainhead was assimilated into id Software at some point and they just because the id Mobile team, but I have no proof of that.

Also, Orcs & Elves was the first new IP from id Software in a decade. The last IP (name, anyway) was Quake in 1996. Orcs & Elves came out on mobile phones in 2006 and it was the second mobile phone id Software game, after DOOM RPG (also by Fountainhead). For something so significant, it sure seemed to not have a ton of promotion behind it. Back when DOOM RPG came out in 2005 I had a Motorola V551, an unsophisticated featurephone limited to Java (not BREW) and I could buy the game, so I did. It was a neat little game which played to the details of the phone (i.e., the occasional keypad in the game mapped to the keypad on the phone) and it was neat to hear the MIDI music of the DOOM theme (but that was about it, the Java ports – at least the one on my phone – had no sound effects). But I don’t remember finishing the game – I think I got to a place where I was stuck in a situation where I had no health and would die quickly, I had no other saves (I think it only allowed one save slot) and no way to get to anywhere with health, so I quit playing. For what it was, though, it was neat.

I did think it was sort of disheartening to see that id didn’t want to come up with a new IP and instead wanted to shoehorn in DOOM. So when I heard that they were finally making a new IP, Orcs & Elves, I thought that was pretty cool. Granted, it’s a very generic IP: it basically takes a couple of elements from Tolkien and calls it a day. Then when the game came out I couldn’t buy it. This was pre-Apple App Store when every handset maker had one way to buy games and it was through their provider, and if you changed phones you lost all your games. Granted, the games were cheap (I think DOOM RPG was like $5.95) but it really didn’t encourage much of an investment in my opinion. Then, for a brief while I was running a slightly more advanced Samsung featurephone. I forget the model but it had a second, smaller screen on the outside which could tell you the time at a glance, serve as a mirror of sorts for the camera, etc. It could run Orcs & Elves, so I bought it and saw a bit more of why my older phone couldn’t run it – it had something much more closely approximating a 3D renderer. But really, other than a higher resolution and more sound effects (which I’m sure came with the “higher end” versions of DOOM RPG) it was basically DOOM RPG poured in a different glass. Neat, but I wasn’t all that impressed. At some point there was even an Orcs & Elves II released on cell phones but other than the occasional mention I’ve heard absolutely nothing about it. It seems to be one of those phantom sequels no one paid attention to, like Dragon’s Lair III.

So anyway after Carmack mentioned how the DS version of Orcs & Elves lost money, I felt kinda guilty so I looked it up on GameStop’s website. Not only were there still new copies of the game in local stores, but they were only $9.99. So, on my way to QuakeCon the next day I went and picked up a copy. Now like I said, I bought it mainly on principle and not because I was actually interested in the game. After all, I had owned it on a cell phone and didn’t think much of it and I didn’t even think much of Wolfenstein RPG for the iPhone which I was also playing through. I mainly got it because I thought it would be neat to own the one and only Nintendo DS game from id Software and because it’s a neat anomaly – their first new IP in a decade and it was largely ignored. I figured I’d play the thing a little but seeing as how there’s so many games, including DS games, that I’ve never finished (including the epic Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars), I didn’t think whether or not I’d like the game would be important.

I have now played the hell out of this game.

I’ve played it all the way through, finding every nook, cranny, and defeated just about every enemy. I’ve beaten the game and I’ve started over, something I haven’t done with a game in a long time. I really really like the game and it’s gotten me to really put some more time into my DS, which I thought might be a stretch in the post-iPhone era. I’ve even found a few glitches.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a game this much, and it’s been a while since I played my DS very much. It’s been very interesting – the system is technologically inferior to the iPhone, but it’s been refreshing to play on a system which was actually designed for gaming, instead of being designed to be such a general purpose device that it can’t have buttons. The graphics aren’t as good but the fact that it has physical buttons is a big plus. The fact that instead of a tiny speaker which is naturally covered by your finger, it has two speakers next to the screen to do stereo sound. It lasts much longer on a battery charge, the games are generally longer affairs of much higher quality, and the device doesn’t get extremely hot after an hour of play.

The engine itself is an interesting animal. I’m not sure how it works out exactly, but the engines for all of id’s mobile offerings have a very similar look and feel. Obviously there is some amount of diversity in the development, seeing as how the offerings like DOOM RPG were running in Java and BREW. At the very least they’re using some of the same content pipelines since they all have more or less identical fonts, layouts, etc. Carmack mentioned in an online posting once how the iPhone version of the engine which would go on to power Wolfenstein RPG and DOOM II RPG was derived from the Orcs and Elves engine on the DS, but it’s unclear if the DS engine was from scratch or from, say, the BREW port (which itself would be basically C++). The DS game was an odd fit in some ways – although they did introduce some mechanisms which took advantage of the touch screen, and the game’s graphics were above what they were on featurephones, they were still below what you would find on even an average DS game.

And the interesting thing is that I did own and play all the way through Wolfenstein RPG on the iPhone, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I did Orcs and Elves on the DS. Part of that is probably due to Orcs and Elves being more of a “dungeon crawler” than Wolfenstein RPG. Part of it is probably due to the simpler mechanics (Wolfenstein RPG tried, I think, a little too hard with new mechanics like a sniper rifle whose aim is determined by the acellerometer). But I think the biggest reason was the physical buttons. The idea that I’ll never screw up due to something like my finger slipping to the wrong part of the screen. And the game seems much faster than the iPhone offerings. The map feature was superior to the phone offerings because it could remain on the bottom screen. Right now I have DOOM II RPG on my iPhone and I’m not really motivated to play it, but I’m replaying Orcs and Elves.

As I’ve said the graphics are primitive, but what I really noticed was the primitive feel of the gameplay. It really feels like an early, old-school PC RPG like Stonekeep. It has a “we don’t know what we’re doing” feel, which is one of my favorite things from the PC gaming golden age. In some ways, the portable consoles and phones almost represent a reboot of gaming – a good chunk of what we’ve learned works on a game console or on a PC doesn’t work or needs adapting on a portable device, both for the sake of gameplay dynamics, as well as the strengths of the device and a consideration for decreased computing power and battery life. Additionally, the game has a number of pointless mechanics, such as being able to destroy the pile of bones of your slain enemies, or being able to extinguish flames on the wall (with no effect on the lighting).

Back in the day my first PC was a Packard Bell 486SX 20MHz (and yes, they did make them that slow). In many ways, my iPhone 3G is like a little 486 in my pocket. Both in terms of the actual games it plays (i.e., Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Rise of the Triad, etc.) but also in that it’s underpowered and now outpaced. The iPhone 3GS gave users a speed bump with an otherwise identical form factor, and the iPhone 4 gives an even larger speed boost plus additional memory. There’s now literally a high end game running on the Unreal engine, and between the time I started working on this post and now Epic has released a UDK with the capability of outputting to the iPhone. There are hundreds of games released every day, and the App Store is sort of the modern day equivalent of putting your game on a 3.5″ disk and packaging it in a floppy disk and selling it in a Ziploc bag for a buck at the local software store. Only hilariously it’s sitting right next to another game from a major developer, only they’re also putting their game on a floppy disk for a buck because if they don’t then they can’t be competitive.

The Nintendo DS then feels like a very old school way of doing things. Its software is almost entirely physically software based (there is some downloadable software on the newer DSi models but it’s smaller titles and is considered a second class citizen). The titles debut in the $30 range, $20 at least. And the development path is very traditional – the development tools are prohibitively expensive to the casual developer, the barrier to entry to produce cartridges is in the purview of major publishers only, and the marketplace is dominated by major players.

And yet the physical advantages of the device are very clear. Orce & Elves is a game that is remarkably similar to two games on my iPhone and yet I have much more fun with it. The fact that I don’t have to touch the screen at all times to play seems to be the main difference. I can click the buttons so much faster than I can fart around with making sure my fingers are on the right fake keypad on the screen on an iPhone game. This is not to say that it can’t be done well on the iPhone, but I think a combination of quick movements, physical buttons, and instant feedback works for this game. It’s similar to how Civilization games lead to you always wanting to do one more turn.

As recently as 2008 we were seeing the DS receive really unusual “games”, not just the Brain Age type stuff, but things like Personal Trainer: Cooking. There was this entire subcategory of software titles that would benefit considerably from an ultra-portable computing platform with simple inputs, but there wasn’t really a good, widely-used platform to do it for. Feature phones were a bad fit, the smart phone market of the time was hopelessly splintered, and laptops weren’t really a proper fit (the cooking game, for example, requires it to be in the kitchen which isn’t necessarily a good idea). But there were over 100 million DS units out there and although these weren’t “games”, it made sense.

And then the iPhone came out and changed everything – now we had a computing platform which made even more sense for the task, could be programmed by many more people, and spawned competitors like Android. Plus it’s a device (the phone anyway) you have with you all the time anyway. Handheld gaming consoles still make sense – I don’t care what you say, they’re superior gaming platforms – but the iOS/Android ecosystem has its uses as well.

Anyway, bottom line is that – whether they meant it to be this way or not, Orcs & Elves is a very effective old school RPG. That to me is the most interesting part – the mechanics the game employs are very old and not used much anymore. And to some degree the technical limitations of the platform have a very “art through adversity” feel to them, which is what brought them out in the first place. Back in the day when you could spend a relatively small amount of money on a game and still sell enough copies of it to break even or make a profit, game developers were much more willing to take risks. Strictly speaking a generic turn-based RPG with a rudimentary 3D engine isn’t really a “risk” except in the respect that it’s a generic turn-based RPG with a rudimentary 3D engine in a modern marketplace on a platform where this sort of game is uncommon and not always rewarded. And since we know from Carmack that Orcs & Elves on the DS lost money, we know it didn’t pay off.

But one has to wonder – what game mechanics were born out of technical necessity, what game mechanics were born out of lack of experience, and which of these mechanics still have a use in modern games? In some RPG’s you can kill off a character that will make the game unwinnable. Is that good game design or bad game design? Is it a bug or a feature? In Return to Zork there’s a plant on the very first screen that if you handle wrong (pull it out instead of dig it out – with a shovel you find later in the game) you kill it and the game is unwinnable. Is this hardcore or idiotic? Is this there because the designers thought it was cool? Or funny? Or because they had no idea what they were doing? In Metroid there are sections where if you don’t jump completely right then you get stuck and you basically have to restart the game. Is that extremely hardcore or just short sighted?

In any event, I bought Orcs & Elves purely for the sake of buying it and I played it on what I thought were token occasions. I had no idea the game would suck me in despite being an anachronistic title in a modern gaming world. It’s too bad it didn’t sell better but I’m almost glad that it won’t be done to death like id’s other properties. I almost think improving it would cause it to lose its charm – much like remastering Exile on Main Street took some of the veneer off of the sound and removed some of the mystique. Or how trying to fix the special effects in a Star Wars movie just didn’t have the effect they wanted it to.

Some games are just games. And that’s how we like it.

On an administrative note, I figure there’s no better way to ring in the new year and continue this blog, which some believe is a dying medium and an antiquated form of social media, with the first significant visual tweaks I’ve made to the blog in literally over a decade. This blog hit ten years back in September with almost no fanfare whatsoever (although I did run down the history some months prior) and I finally decided the look was just too old. I’m still keeping it as simple as I can but I’ve changed the font to Georgia, tweaked the text color, changed the line hight, and added some margins. I’ll probably dink with it some more in the coming weeks but I’m hoping this is now even easier to read. It’s not much of a change, and it’s still fairly old school looking, but I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade from the Mosaic 0.9 look and move into the Netscape 3.0 era.

September 30, 2010

It should come as no surprise by this point that I’m primarily a PC gamer. Of course all I really mean by that is that I don’t game on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I do own a Nintendo Wii, a Nintendo DS (Lite), and an iPhone. The phone gets used for other things as well, of course, and the DS and Wii consist primarily of games that I can’t get on the PC (and in the case of the DS at least, would be physically impossible).

So I don’t consider myself a “console gamer”, although strictly speaking I own at least two current consoles. And really, this is sort of an ongoing experiment for me – last generation I owned a GameCube, an Xbox and a PS2. And I own plenty of other consoles which are all sitting in my office closet packed away in plastic bins. So it’s not like I have never deigned to own a console or use one.

So why am I doing this? Well, this is the first generation of consoles where I believe there’s something approaching hardware parity with consoles. In the past when a “multiplatform” game was released it would be either vastly different on the consoles versus the PC’s, or it would be reduced in quality significantly for the consoles due to their relative lack of power. Today though, it’s different. DOOM 3 came out on the PC in 2004 and despite famously being developed at the same time, the Xbox version came out ten months later and featured considerably reduced graphics and levels. However Quake 4, which was built on the same engine, shipped as a launch title on the Xbox 360, one month after it came out on the PC.

I knew things were changing when I went to go pick up my preordered copy of Prey and they had put me down for a 360 version by mistake. That had never happened to me before because I had never preordered a game which was part of a multiplatform launch. In hindsight, I realize I never specified which version, I just assumed PC and the clerk assumed 360.

The problem is that these days the console version sells better than the PC version for various reasons, mostly due to convenience on the console side and piracy on the PC side. This has led to a couple of things. First, it means the console version is developed first and the PC version is developed from that, which irks PC gamers because it doesn’t play to the PC’s strengths. They then vote with their dollars and don’t buy the “consolized” game, which exacerbates the problem. Second, some games just don’t come out for the PC at all. Gears of War 2 didn’t come to the PC even though the first one did, and Alan Wake was used by Microsoft as a technical demo for many years to show of DirectX 10 and then they decided to cancel the PC port and put it out on the 360 exclusively, where DirectX 10 is impossible.

But the big problem with PC gaming isn’t console ports or piracy. It’s PC gamers. Besides the fact that too often the PC port doesn’t sell well enough to even justify the time put into it, developers and publishers have to be sick to death of what all grief PC gamers put them through. Mostly the bitching. That’s what PC gamers do. They bitch.

If the game is released six days late they bitch.

If the game is released at the same time and patched later, they bitch.

If the game goes through Games for Windows Live so it can support achievements they bitch.

If the game only goes through Steam they bitch.

If the game doesn’t go through Steam at all they bitch.

If the game has a Steam and non-Steam version but the non-Steam version can’t be added to your Steam account, they bitch.

If the game has DRM on it they bitch.

If the publisher removes DRM then they likely won’t sell enough copies to make back their investment, so they have to make the next game console exclusive, and they bitch.

If the publisher puts out DLC they bitch.

If the publisher doesn’t put out DLC, they bitch.

If the publisher doesn’t put out enough DLC, they bitch.

If the publisher comes out with a sequel “too soon” they bitch.

If the publisher takes too long to make a sequel, they bitch.

If the publisher never makes a sequel, they bitch.

Yeah until the developers/publishers can come out with a game which delivers at the same time but for lower price and with more content than the console version, doesn’t require Steam but can be bought on or carried over to it using all of its features and achievements, uses DRM so mild that it’s unnoticeable, requires no patches whatsoever, never crashes, runs perfectly on every machine in existence, and has the perfect amount of content to keep everyone in the world satisfied with the cost/length ratio while at the same time lasting them until the perfectly timed sequel which is both not a cash-in and not something required either, there’s always going to be something to bitch about.

Oh and the best is that they get angry about it. They get offended by it. They act as if they’re being forced at gunpoint to purchase these things. It’s like a bizarre hybrid between having to buy the latest sneakers or else you can’t play with the cool kids and acting like PC games are like doctor bills where you really don’t have a choice as to whether or not you pay.

Console players bitch but not nearly as much as they buy shit tons of games in volume at whatever price they’re charging.

The console purchasing world has a much higher percentage and number of mindless purchasing drones, mostly as a function of the fact that there’s just so many more of them to begin with.

Console gamers have a much easier time trying out games blindly thanks to used games – they come in, buy whatever is new, and in a week when they don’t like it they take it back to GameStop for credit towards another one. Which is why you see about a thousand copies of Enter the Matrix or Halo Wars at every GameStop.

A lot of people think that console gaming is what video gaming is – as if it doesn’t exist on the PC. The fact that a large number of people spend their day in front of a computer means they want to stay the hell away from them at the end of the day, so they’d rather sit on their couch with a controller. Net result is even if piracy didn’t exist, PC gaming would still be a minority.

I see PC gaming going the way of vinyl in music – never goes away, and offers a superior experience, but is minuscule in purchase numbers and the rigs needed to experience it properly are the domain of the enthusiasts and the insane.

Apr 21, 2010 10:52 AM

Back when I was a kid, probably middle school, I was home sick one day watching morning television. I happened to see a commercial for that station’s Cheers rerun where they said the show was starting over that night – they had run through all their reruns and so the series was restarting from the first episode.

Well being a weirdo I found a video tape I could sacrifice and set it up to record that night. And then the next night I recorded the next episode immediately following it on the tape. It was an eight-hour tape and I filled it with sixteen or so episodes.

And I continued doing this for a long time. I filled video tape after video tape of Cheers episodes, trying to record the entire run of the show. I got a routine down – when I would get home from school I would rewind the tape to the end of the previous night’s episode and before I went to bed I would power off the VCR so that the automatically scheduled recording would fire off at the right time. I think the show was on at 11:30PM at night or something so it was a little too late for me to stay up and watch with school the next morning (although I never get to bed before midnight these days). On Friday nights I would stay up and watch it and also pause out the commercials, which created the side effect of never knowing how much time the tape had left on it. I found myself doing “test runs” of recording stuff on the end of the tape so that I could see how much more tape I had on the cassette – the VCR had a timer on it so I could see how long something was but unless it was at the right speed with nothing “stopped” in the middle, you couldn’t correctly gauge how much time was left.

I eventually filled at least fifteen VHS tapes, most of which were T-120 (so, six hours at EP/SLP speed). At some point I started recording the new episodes when they came on since I didn’t know when they were going to hit syndication or if they would do so in time to be caught by my 11:30 recordings. However, I didn’t have much luck since the new episodes had a much higher chance of being delayed by sports, moved around when NBC had something else to run, colliding with times when the VCR was already in use (still a kid living at home at this point), etc.

At some point I was finished although I honestly do not remember how – either the syndication run restarted again or I got tired of doing it, or something. But when it was all said and done I had videotape of almost every episode of Cheers, ever. And for the next few years before I went off to college, I would watch them more or less incessantly. Every time I was doing something I would have Cheers on. Every time TV got boring I would just watch Cheers. It never got old, ever, mainly because there were so many episodes. I know that one of the episodes taped in syndication was the 200th episode (which was the cast sitting being interviewed by John McLaughlin, Inside The Actors Studio-style – this was before that show came on, I think). So figuring 200 episodes at about half an hour each (occasionally there would be an hour-long episode split into half for syndication) at five nights a week that’s about ten months of video taping, and it didn’t end there, so I probably did this for over a year.

There were some quirks. Sometimes the episodes would get out of order and while a show like Cheers is perfect for reruns, it would fuck with the occasional story arc, like how in one episode Sam is definitely with Diane and the next he’s not, but they get back together. I would miss the occasional episode, and sometimes an episode wouldn’t be played. Most notably the premiere of the sixth season is missing (either they didn’t air it or I missed it) so the introduction of Rebbecca (Kirstie Alley) is missing, along with the stuff from that episode like <SPOILER>the explanation of Sam’s boating career, the introduction of the uniforms, how Norm stopped going for a while, etc.</SPOILER>. At some point we got a new VCR (old one died I think, wonder why?) and this new VCR had this horrible trait of rewinding the tape a little bit before it records, so the tail end of a stretch of episodes is clipped off before I figured out what was going on.

When I went off to college I didn’t have a TV for the first two years (Corps of Cadets, long story) so I left the tapes at home, where my parents (mainly my mom) watched them all the time. I think I brought them to college at some point. I know that my parents have them now where I think they still watch them on occasion.

Now I have all of the seasons on DVD. It’s neat – they look way better than my old VHS tapes recorded at EP, there’s no cut off endings, no commercials, no funkiness, all the episodes are there, in order, and none of the scenes are missing (turns out syndication regularly cuts out a few minutes of most episodes to fit in more commercials for the stations buying them for syndication). So I’m starting to watch them again.

It’s sort of a byproduct of when my obsessive packrat/collector’s nature coincided with the only way to reproduce television being a VCR and the only way to get a hold of some episodes being recording them. Most TV shows were never sold in home formats prior to DVD. Star Trek was and a handful of others, like Bonanza or something, but that was it. And those were almost always sold in some sort of subscription format on television commercials since carrying the entire collection of a TV show on VHS tapes would take up too much shelf space and stores wouldn’t carry them. Actually now that I think about it, Cheers may have also been sold in that subscription VHS format which is perhaps why I was doing this in the first place – I could get them for “free”, all I had to do was religiously video tape them every night for over a year. Brilliant!

Nowadays TiVo does a lot of what I was doing manually/the hard way, but simply and automatically. And I don’t need to record stuff as much as I used to since now I can pause, rewind, etc. And dual tuner TiVos mean I can record something I’m not watching. And TiVoToGo means I could back all of this up to DVD. Plus now an entire season of Cheers fits in the same amount of space, shelf-wise, as a single video tape (well, maybe a little more) and a single tape, commercially, could hold only four episodes. Even at sixteen episodes on EP, DVD wins. All of this would have been a godsend back then, but it’s still neat to look back and see what collecting and consuming television was like.

But suffice it to say I kick ass at the Cheers Trivia Game.

April 1, 2010 12:00 AM

So, I’ve relaunched this blog.

And by relaunched I mean, changed the backend to WordPress, imported all the old posts (including the pre-Blogger ones) and made no visual changes or tweaks whatsoever. It’s actually sort of weird to try and circumvent any and all style tweaks.

Besides the fact that I’ve been using WordPress with clients for a bit now, the other reason I went to it was that I had finally had enough of Blogger. The biggest thing was that Blogger for some reason wouldn’t publish enough of my archives. I never figured out if it was a bug or what but anyway it was time to move on. Not to mention my workplace blocks Blogger so there’s no chance of the occasional blog post from there.

The process in moving to WordPress and vicariously looking back was interesting for sure. My first post was in September, 2000, so that makes this blog close to a decade old now. I’m actually trying to remember what the process was that lead me to this. I think back when the web was relatively new – think 1996 or so – everyone had to have a “web page”. This is what lead to things like GeoCities where everyone had a brief but hideous online presence with an unrememberable URL. So I had probably made many “pages” about myself up until then but most of them were on tamu.edu domains, so they were destined to be purged as soon as I graduated.

I went with Tripod for hosting back then and I don’t remember why other than Tripod had some particular advantage at the time. I think maybe it was FTP access. GeoCities, I believe, limited you to using their built-in editor which was very limited and worse, pretty much condemned you to making laughably bad pages. That, or maybe it was because Tripod allowed for a simpler URL. I forget.

The look of the site has always been, and as of this writing still is, very simple. When I was making the site we were in this bizarre transition phase between the ugly GeoCities sites of the world and the maturation of CSS. Consequently most personal webpages were either Comic Sans nightmares or trying to be so ridiculously slick that they frequently rendered incorrectly (this was before Firefox and the rise of standardized browsers) or were performance nightmares. So when I made this page I decided to chuck all that and just do a dead simple, Times New Roman affair. That first post promises a better looking site is “coming soon” but that’s never happened. At some point I decided I liked this page (which, for all its simplicity, still doesn’t render right in the first Mosaic.) I liked that it was more like reading a book than a website. I’m not saying it will never ever change, but it’s neat to have something that’s more or less constant.

I went with a company called NameZero for the domain name. NameZero appears to still be around as a domain registrar but at the time their main gimmick was that they would allow you to get your domain name for free with the proviso that your web site was basically a frames page on their site with your page in the top and a banner ad in the bottom frame. I believe you could also purchase domains from them as well but this was the era of the “free whatever so long as we can serve ads” where you could get things like free Internet access or even a free PC so long as you looked at ads (then the bottom fell out of that market and that was that)

Initially I had the page hosted at NetZero do some JavaScript forwarding and send the user to the Tripod page but then I learned a secret – since NameZero didn’t sanitize HMTL from their inputs you could submit a title or a meta tag with HTML in it that would circumvent their frames page altogether. This was an awesome trick that worked marvelously for some number of months until NameZero caught on and locked out the domains of everyone who pulled this crap and so for some amount of time, so I was actually without a domain. I don’t 100% remember why I didn’t pay up other than the concept that back in college I was living off of my parents and after I graduated I didn’t make crap for money but eventually the domain lapsed and I repurchased it.

Some time after the NameZero debacle, I moved the site to Blogger. Prior to Blogger I was actually making the page, by hand, using FrontPage (2000, I think). I vaguely seem to recall making it across multiple pages and then manually doing the “older posts” / “newer posts” links. Blogger, it seemed, was perfectly suited to this task. It was primarily aimed around the concept that it would store the posts in its database and then create the entire site and send it via FTP to wherever you told it to go. So I did the work to make Blogger’s version of the site look like what I wanted it to and started using that. If I’m remembering right, there was no ability to manually set the date or time on posts, so I had to keep the pre-Blogger posts in a separate file. When I opened up that file’s source to import them into WordPress, it still had a GENERATOR tag of FrontPage 4.0.

After I moved to the DFW Metroplex a local friend who did onsite hosting offered me free web hosting, which was good because Tripod at this point had multiple popups and embedded ads – they literally injected ad HTML source into your site after you uploaded it. So yeah, that service – while free – turned rather lame rather quickly. I’ve stuck with my friend’s hosting ever since – he just recently helped me by setting up WordPress on this server (no small feat as he’s a pure Windows shop).

Something that came along with the Blogger transition was the name “blog”. I had never called what I did a blog even though that’s essentially what it was. It wasn’t some webpage showing off my cats or talking about how awesome I am or displaying fifty animated gifs, it was basically me just putting online whatever I felt like whenever I felt like doing it. In the beginning I blogged a lot more often. I would have one-sentence posts or quick insights, maybe even the occasional linked image results of a quiz. It was sort of like my own one-man Facebook.

Really though I’m a very wordy person and so this blog has always been a good way for me to prattle on and on about some subject or other and commit it all to something. Even more interesting is how it’s out there for the Internet to read. I just feel like writing whatever I want and on whatever terms I want. Quick and dirty posts are fun and all but the short novels I write here are definitely the most fun to do. Hopefully the most fun to read, too.

As for readership, I have no idea really. I don’t do web statistics on this site, never have. I sort of don’t want to know. I think if I knew how many (or how few) people were reading this thing it would change things (I’d get depressed if no one was reading it, I’d feel stressed if too many people were). I get the occasional email from a random person who read a post and has a comment – I’ve posted some of these in posts before. Sci-Fi author John Scalzi wrote me once to correct a point I’d made on a book he wrote. I once did a web search on “Schnapple” and some other random term and found a school paper (college or high school I don’t remember) quoting a post of mine.

Back when I started RSS existed but no one used it. There were a few variants of it (typical open source quibbling/splitting) and really it was a newer version of RDF, which as I follow it was something Netscape just invented several years earlier. So this site did not have RSS for a long time. At some point Blogger started offering an RSS feed as a “pro” subscriber offer. In keeping with my “please don’t spend money” theme, I didn’t subscribe to the “Pro” version. At some point Google bought Blogger and so the “Pro” option went away and most of the features now became free. RSS wasn’t one of them. At some point you could get an Atom feed. Atom was an attempt to bridge the RSS standards, and just wound up being another standard itself (trying to merge two standards into one standard just makes a third standard). I used Feedburner to turn the Atom feed into something that could be used by anything (I should check to see if anyone subscribes to that…) Nowadays RSS is so ubiquitous the idea of charging for it seems ludicrous.

With rare exceptions, I never got personal with my posts. I had an entry on my childhood cat, an entry on a coworker that annoyed me, and some info on my move to the DFW Metroplex. That’s about it. I have a post somewhere I wrote about the process of moving and changing jobs which was initially much longer, but I was paranoid that I would somehow “jinx” it, causing me to lose my job or whatever (it sounds silly, and it is, but this was 2003 at the peak of the offshoring/shitty economy bit). Over the years I have seen people fired for blog entries or Facebook updates, so I’m glad I played things pretty close to the vest.

Anyway my posting continued pretty much unabated for many years, although in more recent years it’s slowed down tremendously. This was a byproduct of two reasons – first, I started putting out longer and longer posts, and second, I got busier as life progressed. For the first few years I blogged a lot. Frequently multiple times per week, occasionally multiple times per day. I think this was because my job at the time was pretty lame. My first job in the Metroplex – which I held in various capacities for four years – was a lot more hectic but I still was able to blog and post. About three years ago I switched jobs and I really haven’t blogged a whole lot since. As you can see, I went an entire year without posting. In fact, this post has a date of 4/1/2010 even though you won’t be able to see it until later. And the post before that was 4/1/2009. Again, the reasons are various and personal but suffice it to say I’ve been busy.

Plus in the meantime “blogging” got all weird.First there became this term, the “Blogosphere”, which was this umbrella term for the ecosystem of bloggers. It’s also a stupid term. I wonder how many of these terms are just someone fucking around. Second, the definition of a “blog” got cloudy. I define a blog as what I’m doing here – posting, writing what I want, a personal “web log”. But CNN has a “Political Ticker” on their site which is considered a blog. Commercial sites run by enormous entities have “blogs”. Sometimes those are cool, usually though they’re just marketing speak with an RSS feed. A movie comes out, launches with a website, the website has a “blog”, and then as soon as the movie opens the blog is never touched again. Of course the same could be said for a large number of “real” blogs – I’ve had a dozen or more friends tell me about their new blog, I bookmark it, then it never sees an update past the first or second entry.

“Blogging” also peaked. The concept of blogging is now passe depending on whom you listen to. Which is sort of fine to me – I never wrote this thing to be hip. Today social networking is the craze. I know someone who briefly abandoned their blog in favor of MySpace, which to me is sort of like abandoning the concept of drinking milk in favor of motor oil. And then MySpace became passe. Now it’s Facebook. And Twitter. Facebook is sort of neat – it solves some of the problems MySpace had, like how to figure out where your friend is if you know their name and not their Internet handle of snookycakes57, or if you only knew her maiden name back in high school, or if you want to make sure that this John Smith is the same one that attended San Dimas High, class of 1996. But I don’t see much use for it – as it stands now for the most part I get to see people I knew in college bitch about Obama, or people I knew in high school play with each other’s virtual farms. Bonus points for when their account gets hacked and I get ten email messages from “them” because they only discovered the Internet yesterday apparently and have never heard of a Phishing scam. Also I’ve only posted one picture of myself there but there’s dozens of me because other people tag old pics of me. Not sure if I like that.

Twitter is a neat idea, but it’s not a good idea. It’s neat that I can follow Ice-T and see him mention what happened on the set of SVU that day. Or the guys from Mythbusters. Or Electric Six. But that’s about it. I don’t see how people get value out of it. I don’t see how Twitter makes money. I don’t think ten years from now it will be seen as a source of data. And as you can tell from how I write my blog posts, I think having only 140 characters is worse than a joke. Twitter does not allow for long form posts and thoughts and while some people see that as a useful zen limit in order to condense your thoughts, I think it’s an idiotic limitation designed to accommodate arcane technology (SMS messages). I use it for when I have a wild hair thought that can be summed up in a single sentence, but that’s it. I simply don’t see how it can last.

I actually thought Blogger (the company) invented blogging (the concept). Now I’m not sure which came first. In any event, when I first started using Blogger you typed your post, HTML and all, into a box and I think it had some sort of preview mechanism but that was it. It led me to use some piece of software, w.bloggar, to do the actual composting and then I would paste it into Blogger. Initially there was actually some sort of length limit so one of my really long posts kept getting eaten alive by the site until I split it into three different posts. Which I then had to post in reverse order so that it would look right.

At some point Blogger created a realtime WYSIWYG interface, which made things nicer and easier. But I noticed that the archives would never post right. And there was a longish stretch in there where it flat wouldn’t work with my FTP server. I would literally have to have it FTP the files to my local machine (an IP-address based FTP server) and then transfer the files “by hand” to the server. Meanwhile my wife wanted a blog for her website and she had heard WordPress was the best so she had me set that up. I had barely heard of WordPress, had never worked with the LAMP stack before (much less in hosted-by-GoDaddy form) but I gave it a shot and it worked. And I was very impressed by the WordPress software. Way better than Blogger, had real RSS, and an impressive ecosystem of plugins. I considered using it for my site, but never moved on the idea. Then the other shoe dropped with Blogger – they announced they were discontinuing FTP support, the one thing I used, in favor of “Blogger for Domains”. I said no thanks, exported my blog (to Atom, of course), and got to work on importing to WordPress.

WordPress can only import from RSS and Blogger can only export to Atom, so I had to find some online service that turns Atom to RSS and then point WordPress to that. Amazingly, it worked. I imported the pre-Blogger entries by hand and then went through the cleanup process. Blogger kept certain metadata fields for itself in the export as “posts” so I had to ditch those. It also published all the “drafts” I had as posts, so I had to unpublished those (most of those will never be posted – they’ve pretty much rusted over). Overall I’m impressed with how well it worked, and I’m surprised I have over 300 posts. It’s also amusing that the posts are imported in such an order that they’re backwards (i.e., the most recent ones have low ID’s, the oldest ones have high ID’s, then there’s this one)

Something I noticed when I switched this thing to WordPress that I never really saw before was the fact that every post I have has no title. I could be wrong, but I think back when I started using Blogger, they didn’t let you give titles to posts. Which was fine with me since I never titled my posts anyway. Now, though, it just seems odd since the RSS feed just has a lot of entries with “No Title”. In reality the “title” is four or five spaces but I guess WordPress trims that out. For now I’m going to name the posts after the date they’re posted. I’m not sure what I’m going to do long term.

One of the things that’s really annoying about the Internet sometimes is when the premise of hyperlinks break down. Namely, when I went through a lot of my old posts I would click on things I’ve linked to discover that the links are dead. Sometimes the server is gone. Sometimes it’s a page on someone’s vanity site which has long been purged. Sometimes it’s a page on a major site which is still in existence but the link itself is dead because they purged old pages, or because they changed their link system and didn’t put in any reverse compatibility. This last one is the situation I found myself in – I had many posts which linked to other posts, but those links would be dead once I moved to WordPress since they’re based on Blogger’s schema. It took several days to find enough time to do it but I went through and edited all these internal links to fit with the new WordPress world order so that at the very least I wouldn’t be guilty of everything I hate.

Anyway, enough prattling. I’ve gone through my blog and I’ve selected a number of my favorite posts:

Music – I go on longish diatribes about KISS, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen and Chinese Democracy. Also, the compilation album and the death of radio.

Professional – I hate on Visual Basic, mavel at C++, I dissect .NET (I wrote this in the .NET 1.0 era so don’t kill me if I got some stuff wrong), and murder the occasional keyboard. Oh and I hate job hunting. Also I like things complicated.

Movies and TV – I run down Disney, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Twin Peaks.

Mythbusting – I try to set the record straight on technology multiple times. Also, I take on the whole “analog vs. digital” bit (which, in hindsight, I got somewhat wrong)

Predictions – Well, they weren’t really predictions but I do pine for things that eventually came true, like GOG.com and the move to DVD cases for PC games.

Gaming – a whole lot of posts on this blog are about gaming, so these are far from all of the posts on it but the highlights for me are things like when my PC could barely play DOOM 3, the time I got tired of waiting and put my PC games in DVD cases myself, that time I drew a correlation between EA and a bar in College Station, or my explanation of where The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Master Quest came from. Here’s that three part rant on MMO’s I mentioned above. I write PC Gamer Magazine a love letter. I dissect game porting. I postulate on underpopulated games. Finally, I must be a curmudgeon.

Miscellaneous – sometimes my completely random shit posts were the most interesting. Like how I lament the death of the phone book. Or how I over-analyze cola. Then I prattle on about books, bowl games and cars with one headlight.

But my wife’s favorite post of all time, hands down, is this one on Velveeta. Yes, the cheese. I think it was the fact that I referred to a part of the grocery store as a “subset of rows” that really put it over the top for her. I can’t say I blame her.

Anyway this post has been a long time coming. Here’s to hoping WordPress actually makes me post here more often.

I wonder if I’ll still be posting in 2020…

April 1, 2009 17:44

So this past year for Christmas my wife and I decided to get our immediate family books. Like, our “theme” was to get everyone a book.

We came up with this idea, of course, on the Saturday before Christmas on Thursday.

I figured we would just go to Barnes & Noble, pick up like 6-7 books and be done with it. My wife though decided to get online and make a wish list of the books we thought would be perfect for everyone.

Of course, for various reasons the books will not be delivered in time if we had ordered them online. Like, some would but some wouldn’t. And the ones that wouldn’t are not in the local Barnes & Noble here in Frisco, they’re in stores scattered all over the Metroplex. And some can only be found in Borders stores.

But, being the awesome guy I am, I tell my wife to heck with it, I’ll go pick these things up on the way home from work. Yes it will be a bit of driving but hey, why not? She tells me I’m awesome and I go “reserve” the books using the online “hold in store” bit that both Borders and B&N have on their sites.

Over the course of the next day I wind up whittling it down to four bookstores in the Metroplex. So about 6 PM when I’m done with work (yeah, kinda started out late) it’s freezing outside, pitch black dark but hey no worries – I have the iPhone now with Google Maps!

This is all in the DFW Metroplex, so locals can laugh at how dumb I am…

So I head to the first one, a B&N on Preston, a few miles from my workplace. I go to the register, they have the book I reserved, and the stoner kid says “woah, cool – a lot of times when people reserve stuff online we don’t have it!” – given that I have like six more books to go across three stores this isn’t a good sign.

I head to the second one, a Borders on Preston. I pull into the wrong shopping center with the wrong Borders because I saw “BORDERS” and freaked out. Got back on the road, passed the real “Borders” because the sign is covered by trees somehow, turnaround and get Book #2.

I then plot out the third store, a B&N on Beltline in Dallas. The trip is 29 miles and 40 minutes away but who cares, I need to get these books, right?

So I’m driving and driving and driving and it’s still freezing outside, raining a little, dark as heck, and I have no idea where I’m at or where I’m going but Beltline is a longass road so I don’t think anything of it.

Towards the end of the trip one of the “roads” Google has me turn on is actually a turn-in to a parking lot. Like, I thought I had screwed it up but as I look down I see my little blue dot on mu iPhone going across the “road” in the parking lot so I figured “whatever” and kept going.

I turn onto Beltline and I’m really close now, so I keep looking for the B&N. At some point though the road stops. Like, dead-end. Not sure I’m technically on Beltline anymore since I thought the idea was Beltline was a loop or went on forever or something. Suddenly I’m at someone’s farmhouse with like cattle and shit. OK, so I overshot it right?

I redo the calculations on the Google Maps app and sure enough I drove right past it.

So this time I turn around and look real close and at some point I realize that there’s nothing but residential houses where Google has told me to go.

No big deal, I’m sure it was an approximate location and it was in some strip mall I passed, right?

Only then do I see that Google has not sent me to Dallas but rather to Grand Prarie, TX.

See, when I told Google “5301 Beltline Road, Dallas, TX” it said “hmm, I don’t see a 5301 Beltline Road, in Dallas, TX, but I do see one in Grand Prairie, TX, which is near Dallas, TX, I assume he meant that” and sent me there.

And me, seeing “Dallas, TX” on the B&N website and realizing that it would be a ways from Allen where I work just sort of assumed that this long-assed distance was normal. I didn’t think to check the endpoint close enough.

It should be clear by this point that I have no sense of direction, a condition exacerbated by the darkness and just enough rain to be annoying and not enough to actually merit windshield wipers.

So I fire up Safari on my iPhone and go find the location on the Barnes & Noble website. I find the phone number. Only I either have to briefly memorize it or write it down because the iPhone does not have cut and paste nor is it smart enough to figure that if there’s a phone number on this website for some reason that you might want to click it to call it (usually it can). So I have to hunt down a pen in my car. And I can’t find one. I’m in the parking lot of some kinder care center in motherfucking Grand Prairie, TX, and I can’t find a pen. I have to dig one out of my briefcase.

So I write down the phone number on paper using a pen so that the Jesus Phone can dial it (note, I love my iPhone but damn). The phone number tells me where the B&N is.

It’s in Addison. Like, right near where I was earlier in the night.


For the sake of reference, here’s a map of how far I was from where I needed to be.

See, the DFW area does this weird thing with some cities where they’re occasionally considered the city of their name and occasionally considered “Dallas”. So in this case the store is in Addison but it was listed as being in Dallas. I have a relative who for years lived in “Dallas” but he really lived in Carrollton. It was like this weird pimple of Dallas in the middle of Carrollton and if he had people send him mail as Carrollton it wouldn’t get delivered to him but if it was addressed to “Dallas” it would.

On my way out of Grand Prairie, I stop at a McDonald’s to get some fries because at this point I’m starving. The woman who handed me the fries was the most terrifying person I’ve seen in a while and the fries were stale. Pretty on par for the evening.

So I drive all the way back to Addison and find the store. At which point I had the one smart thought I had all night – the fourth B&N was the local-to-me one and the only reason they had the remaining books is because those books are easy to find anywhere, so I picked up the rest of the remaining books and headed home to Frisco.

All told it took me like 4.5 hours but hey, at least we got all the books.

So yeah the moral here is – I rely way too blindly on technology and still can’t maneuver for shit in the Metroplex. But I got nearly caught up on my podcasts so it’s all good.

March 14, 2009

Right now I have three posts which are epically long and that I’ve never completed. And it’s been over seven months since I posted and some amount of the information in those posts is now out of date so I’m taking that as a sign and starting fresh.

I am now one of the many people who own an iPhone. My wife and I both got one back in November.

The phone blows me away, though part of that may be due to the fact that this is my first smartphone (and yes I know some people don’t consider it a smartphone because it doesn’t have copy and paste – whatever). Previously, I had an attitude of “I want my phone to just be a phone, I don’t want it to do everything for me.” But after dealing with this phone for a few months now, I start to understand why it’s such a big deal and how useful having a portable computing device in my pocket is.

One of the things that still boggles my mind is how many apps there are for the thing. As of the time I’m writing this, the only way to write an app for it is to use the official SDK. The official SDK only runs on Mac OS X 10.5, which in turn requires a Macintosh. I figured the mere fact that there are not that many Macintoshes in the world, much less Macintosh developers, would limit the number of apps on this thing. I guess I’m wrong. When I look at the fact that the guy who wrote the iFart application was clearing $10K a day near Christmastime, I start to curse the idea that I didn’t drop the $599 on an Mac Mini.

Of course something I’ve learned in the meantime is that a lot of the “best” games on the device started their life somewhere else. Sally’s Salon – which is a really fun game, even if you’re a macho man – started out as a Flash game, so the gameplay elements and all the graphics and so forth were already done. A fairly good GTA clone, Payback, started out its life on the homebrew handheld platform GP32. And SimCity on the iPhone is more a less a port of SimCity 3000 for the PC (with iPhone-specific controls).

Probably the best game on the device, Rolando, is indeed an original game but clearly inspired by the PSP’s Loco Roco, though it does have the advantage of actually being able to use the tilt controls of the iPhone itself, something Loco Roco had to emulate using the PSP’s shoulder buttons.

There’s another offering from Apple, the iPod Touch. Essentially it’s the iPhone without the phone part. I know I’m in the minority here but I think the iPod Touch is the most pointless device ever. It’s an iPhone without the phone. It’s an iPod without much space. It doesn’t have 3G or a camera or GPS, and it can only get online when you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot. And maybe this is just familiarity talking but I think the iPod functionality of the iPhone and the iPod Touch is very weak – sure it’s prettier but it’s harder to use and is missing functionality. But at least the iPod Touch is really expensive – space-wise, the iPod Touch is as expensive or more expensive than the iPhone subsidized by AT&T. Sure, you don’t have the two years of monthly bills from AT&T but I just don’t see why anyone would want one of these things instead of an iPod Nano or a real iPod.

Of course, it does play games. And I like it as a gaming device. But it’s got nothing on real portable gaming devices like the Nintendo DS. Forbes thinks the iPhone could kill the DS. Forbes is good in their area but they’re clueless when it comes to gaming.

First you can make the argument that the iPod Touch/iPhone cannot hope to compete with the DS (and I’m going to keep saying “DS” but really I’m lumping the PSP in there as well, so please just assume I’m saying both) at the price it is. The Nintendo DS is $130 (the PSP is $170) and the cheapest iPod Touch on the market is $230 (the cheapest iPhone is $200 layout but costs $70/month for two years). It is indeed impressive that Apple has sold over 13 million iPhones (and some number of the iPod Touch) but Nintendo has sold 100 million DS units. Literally. Like, last week they sold the 100 millionth unit. And while the PSP is no DS, they’re no slouch either at 50 million units. Sure, some of that is momentum – the DS has been out since 2005 and saw one major must have hardware revision and the iPhone/iPod Touch have only had affordable apps for about a year now, but the fact is that more people are going to buy a $130 gaming device instead of an overpriced iPod or an expensive phone. Even Sony didn’t quite get this – they figured an initially $250 portable PS2 would sell like hotcakes and it didn’t make any real traction until they lowered the price to Gillette Razor levels of uptake.

Second, you can make the controls argument. Rolando works on the iPhone (and since I’m no longer talking price, just assume when I say iPhone that I’m also talking about the iPod Touch) because all it needs is tilting and the occasional light touch on the screen to play. A number of people thought Nintendo was crazy for making the DS have a touchscreen. They proved that there was indeed an entire genre of games which would benefit from a touch screen (though to be fair, it was similar or identical to the kinds of things which could be accomplished on a PC game with a mouse in most cases). So the touchscreen of the iPhone is not the problem. In the right sorts of games, the iPhone’s touch screen makes for some very interesting gameplay.

No, the problem is that that’s all the iPhone has. It has no buttons or control pad (the one button the iPhone does have closes the app). This severely limits what kinds of games it can play. Tilt controls are frustrating – the We Love Katamari game on the device requires the iPhone be level and then tilted from that position in order to control the on-screen character. Fine, unless you wanted to play a game while laying on the couch. Every single Nintendo DS game works fine on the couch. You can put buttons or a control pad on the screen, and some games do, but that kills screen real estate, and in my opinion kills the point. Plus you miss all tactile sensation, which is one of the reasons I don’t like the iPhone as an iPod – with my 5.5 Generation iPod, I can move to the next track by just feeling for the device and clicking. Can’t do that with the iPhone. Heck, some of my favorite games for the DS use the control pad and buttons exclusively. Some even ignore the second screen. This is why FPS games like Brothers in Arms and the forthcoming Prey just don’t work well on the iPhone – they’re cramming a square peg into a round hole.

But the real deal breaker for the iPhone is battery life.

Nintendo came out with the Game Boy in 1989 it had no light on the screen. And neither did any Game Boy unit until the Game Boy Advance SP came out in 2003, some 14 years later. And it’s not like Nintendo didn’t know people wanted a light – people had been begging and pissing and moaning about it for years and years.

Why did Nintendo hold off on the lighted screen? Battery life. People kept telling Nintendo that they didn’t care about battery life but Nintendo knew better – ask anyone who owned a Sega Game Gear, which came in 1991, what they remember about the system and to a one everyone will say first and foremost how they had to buy six AA batteries to use the thing and even then they got at most 2-3 hours of life out of the thing, tops. Sure, it had better graphics than the Game Boy and the lighted screen everyone said they wanted, but who cares when the thing couldn’t play games for very long and was enormous as a result of the batteries to boot?

When Nintendo finally did put a light in the Game Boy it only did so when they could put a rechargable non-standard battery in there. Ironically this put the Game Boy and Nintendo DS in the same category as cell phones in that now they were these devices where instead of buying standard batteries you plugged them into the wall overnight.

I’ve noticed that my favorite games on the iPhone, like Rolando and Fieldrunners, drain the battery like popcorn. And with the iPhone in particular, this is a big problem. The 3G already drains it fast (much moreso than edge or wifi). Besides just the battery argument, the other big problem with the iPhone losing battery power is that it leaves you without a phone. When your DS dies, you curse a bit and move on. When your phone dies and you’re not near a charger you could be in trouble.

The iPhone does have some advantages as a gaming platform – unlike your DS, you will carry your iPhone with you everywhere you go. My wife and I have actually cut off our land line and just use our iPhones exclusively now (the only people, we noticed, who called us on our land line were our parents and telemarketers, and we can just have our parents call our new number). Playing with your DS in public as an adult could make you look silly – using your iPhone looks completely normal. Plus, the Nintendo DS is a platform whose development is expensive and exlcusive – you have to invest in pricey development kids, and your game has to be manufactured on physical cartidges. Anyone who can afford a Mac, a $99 fee, and can set their own price can develop for the iPhone. iPhone games tend to cost $10 at the most, DS games tend to cost $20 at the least (usually at least $30 new).

But the real irony is how the DS is starting to head the other way in applications. A game was released over Christmas Personal Trainer: Cooking. It’s literally a “game” where you play along and cook. My wife has told me she’s going to get me that game so I’ll cook something other than Hamburger Helper, the IKEA furniture of cooking. There’s games that teach you how to speak foreign languages like Spanish. There’s a game that’s designed to help you quit smoking.

All of these “games” fall under the category of applications where you’re doing something which can be aided by a computing platform, and in some cases a portable one. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to have your Spanish coach be portable, but since normal people don’t want to be in front of a PC after their work day is done, it makes sense to place these programs on a different device.

But if you have an app which would be best on a portable device then where do you put it? The iPhone is attractive for a lot of people but it doesn’t cover all of the people without an iPhone. The PDA market is dead. The rest of the smartphone market is fragmented amongst Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Android, etc.

To say nothing of the fact that most people don’t have smartphones and putting out a game for normal phones, even with Java, is a nightmare. John Carmack, in a QuakeCon keynote, relayed his experiences getting DOOM RPG onto phones. He had to write it in two languages, Java and BREW. He had to make a “High” and “Low” version of each (for the different capabilities in cell phones). And then he had to hand it to EA’s mobile division where they made 40+ different iterations for all the different cell phones out there. Write once run anywhere my ass.

But 100 million people own a DS. If you could convince 15% of them to buy your app then you’ll sell more copies than if you convinced every iPhone owner in the world to buy your app. Of course, that’s just number of copies – if you account for manufacturing and distribution costs you might come ahead charing $5 for your app and keeping 70% of that (which is your cut, Apple takes the other 30% which given that they’re facilitating the whole process, is pretty fair) and not losing any money on “copies” you don’t sell.

The iPhone is a great device, and a great gaming platform. It’s just not the be-all, end-all that analysts say it is. Still, it’s great.

Except for that time that the Google Maps application sent me to Grand Prarie by mistake. But that’s another story…

July 27, 2008

The greatest blogger on earth is Joel Spolsky. He has an article he wrote recently called Martian Headsets. In a very roundabout analogy way, he explains why the fact that Internet Explorer 8 is going to be standards compliant is both a good and terrible thing and why Microsoft is screwed no matter what they do. Now, it’s not like Microsoft deserves sympathy for the mess they’re in because they created it.

To recap: versions of IE up to and including IE6 are not only non-standards compliant but they were downright hostile to standards and now if IE8 actually does wind up being standards compliant it will break every page out there that’s been coded to account for IE6’s quirks. Developers actually call it “quirks mode” and IE7 went a little ways to fix this but IE8 is actually going to try and implement the standards fully. Depending on who you listen to, IE6 (often called out because it went the longest time without an update) either did not meet standards because standards were too loosely defined or too difficult to follow (it’s all in the article above).

There’s one bit in the article though that I think really needs to be pointed out

Jon Postel should be honored for his enormous contributions to the invention of the Internet, and there is really no reason to fault him for the infamous robustness principle. 1981 is prehistoric. If you had told Postel that there would be 90 million untrained people, not engineers, creating web sites, and they would be doing all kinds of awful things, and some kind of misguided charity would have caused the early browser makers to accept these errors and display the page anyway, he would have understood that this is the wrong principle, and that, actually, the web standards idealists are right, and the way the web “should have” been built would be to have very, very strict standards and every web browser should be positively obnoxious about pointing them all out to you and web developers that couldn’t figure out how to be “conservative in what they emit” should not be allowed to author pages that appear anywhere until they get their act together.

But, of course, if that had happened, maybe the web would never have taken off like it did, and maybe instead, we’d all be using a gigantic Lotus Notes network operated by AT&T. Shudder.

Basically there are all kinds of stuff that you shouldn’t be allowed to do in a standards-compliant webpage in a standards-compliant web browser. You cannot follow certain kinds of tags with certain other kinds of tags, it’s illegal. It doesn’t really make sense that it’s illegal, since the basic effect is the same, but it’s still illegal.

But if web browsers enforced everything, would the web really have become as popular as it is?

MySpace is a site to go to if you want your eyes to bleed. The guys there have constructed their code in such a way that it’s fantastically easy to make a web page, and damn near impossible to make a web page that looks good. Years ago (think 1996) there was a site called GeoCities which did something similar, without the social networking capabilities. Web site hosting was expensive and out of most people’s grasp, and they sure didn’t know how to use HTML. GeoCities would let you create a webpage, get it online, and also had a tool to edit the HTML for you. Sure, you had about 2MB to work with and sure, the URL was half a mile long, but you could do it. And the web became littered with tens of thousands of sites that essentially consisted of pictures of their cats, a couple of animated “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” gifs, and every tag trick in the HTML 2.0 book, with at least one blinking text tag which became useless when IE decided not to implement it.

Most of the people who made GeoCities sites either abandoned the concept of making their own pages (and maybe moved on to making YouTube videos or something) or they went forward and maybe pursued a career in technology. The new generation of people who want to make a spiffy web page and don’t know how have moved on to MySpace. Namely, High School teenagers.

Now I may come across as a snob here but really I’m giving MySpace some faint praise. It’s not like MySpace is the first site to try this – it wasn’t even the first site trying at the same time that it got started and running. It was just the first one to nail what people need – an easy way to create content, and an audience.

Same thing goes for YouTube – people don’t remember (even though it was maybe 2006 when this all happened) but YouTube was one of a number of video site competitors. And if you’re like me and you mainly just watch the videos, they were all the same. So why did YouTube succeed? Easy, they made it dead simple to upload a video and share it. No one else quite got this. Not even Google, who had their own competing video hosting site and wound up buying YouTube.

And it’s not like video sites were a new concept or anything – there had been sites for years that hosted online videos, but they all suffered from the same problems, namely the technology involved. You had to embed the videos on your site, or make them streamable. Most video players, like RealPlayer or Windows Media Player or QuickTime could be embedded but which one did you go with? If you went with any of the three you wound up locking out people who didn’t have the one you picked. If you went with Windows Media Player, which has the greatest install base, then you locked out the Macintosh and Linux users. If you went with QuickTime you locked out people who were purposely keeping Apple off of their systems. If you went with RealPlayer you locked out everyone who didn’t purposely go out and download that player. And since Real Media did so many shitty things for so many years with their player and how it would operate many people, myself included, just boycott the thing out of sheer spite.

And then every once in a while the program you wrote the embedded video player support for in your website would change and decide to not work with your page unless you updated the tags in your document – but doing so would then break the support for anyone who didn’t upgrade. You could just tell everyone going to your site to just upgrade to the latest player but a large percentage of your audience would just say to hell with it and move on.

This all changed when Macromedia (now part of Adobe) added the ability for Flash to play video content. Initially I thought it was a dumb idea – why would anyone want to play a video in a Flash document? I also figured for sure it would be abused – great, now all those sites out there who annoy you with Flash-only content will throw videos in your face. But it turned out to be brilliant – now instead of worrying about the ten different kinds of video codecs and who has what player, now you just had to worry about who had Flash. And 93% of web users have Flash (out of desktop users, not phones or anything). So while Google Video was trying to implement and enforce an open source standard based on VLC on their users, YouTube would literally take just about any sort of video file on Earth and just play it. They solved the technical issues involved with video on the Internet, and because they solved the problem YouTube became easy, and that made them popular. YouTube didn’t win by having the best ad campaign or spending a lot of money convincing people, they won because they were the best in a field suddenly ripe with competitors.

Of course the other problem with video sites on the Internet was bandwidth. YouTube ran advertisements from day one but no one believed for a second that they were making enough money with them to cover their bandwidth costs – especially since they were literally doubling their bandwidth usage every month. Everyone wanted to know what their business plan was. As it turns out their business plan was “get purchased by someone bigger” and that’s exactly what happened. But that’s another story.

There’s a reason the web took off – because it became easy to make a web page. If making a web page was difficult – and if the initial web browsers of the day had enforced this – then the web might not have taken off. It’s not like this was the first thing to appear on the Internet – email and newsgroups go back further than the web, along with IRC, FTP, etc. For that matter, if Microsoft hadn’t made Internet Explorer a built-in feature of Windows, would the web have taken off as quickly as it did? Suddenly you had no excuse not to be online – there was a web browser built into your system. Netscape sued Microsoft for bundling IE with Windows 98, and it’s not like Microsoft really did them any favors there, but even as recently as 1997 Wired Magazine was prognosticating that the Web Browser would go the way of the Dodo in favor of “push” technology. “Push”, as it was configured back then, never really took off (the idea that instead of you seeking out content it would come to you) but in a modified form it exists today – RSS feeds, instant messages, podcasts, etc.

So why doesn’t the Macintosh take over the world? Especially since, as so many of its fans decree, it’s so much better? Simple really – it’s not easy to run one. There’s one place you can get one – Apple – and if you don’t like their offerings or their prices, then tough. Want to run a PC with Windows? You have hundreds of manufacturers in an ecosystem of computer hardware makers to choose from. Back when Apple started making computers, every manufacturer did their own thing, no one ran programs from anyone else, and the market was very fragmented. Apple still runs their operation the same way today. So while Steve Jobs can make rooms full of people in turtleneck sweaters cluck like chickens at the sight of a new iPhone, Apple can’t get past a single-digit market share.

Their #1 success story, the iPod, only sells and works as well as it does because it runs what people want it to run, namely the scores of MP3 files they’ve amassed over the years. The Macintosh, by comparison, doesn’t run what people want it to run, namely all of the Windows programs they own, and all of the games they’d like to play. If the iPod had, from day one, only run AAC files then no one would have purchased it. They would have just gone on to the next iPod-like player that would. In fact, the iPod never really picked up steam, sales-wise, until the third generation which officially supported Windows. Sure, you could do it before if your PC had FireWire (few did in 2001) and if you were willing to try and run one of the reverse-engineered programs people were releasing, but until Apple officially made the thing support Windows, it didn’t go anywhere. And today probably 70% or more of iPod owners run Windows, which Apple treats as a second-class citizen with regard to iTunes. The Macintosh is selling better nowadays, but it’s likely to have nothing to do with the witty “Mac vs. PC” ad campaigns – it’s likely due to the fact that now the Macintosh runs on an Intel processor, which means you now run Windows on your Macintosh, either through dual booting (which Apple officially supports, via Boot Camp) or through a program called Parallells which allows you to boot Windows at the same time as Mac OS X. So in other words, the Macintosh is becoming more popular now because it gives people what they want – the ability to run their existing Windows programs and games.

Anyway the point of this whole long diatribe which took way too long to write is that there’s usually really good reasons that things take off and it’s not just because someone can advertise better than someone else. The Internet took off because it made it easy to get information out to the massess, especially when you could guarantee that they’d be running a web browser. MySpace made it even easier to have a website when you don’t know how to make one. Video sites were always a lost cause until Flash took away the technical barriers to entry, YouTube took away the content posting barriers, and Google took away the bandwidth concerns. The Macintosh has always been a bit player until Apple took away the barriers to running Windows and the programs everyone already owns.

We want to believe in conspiracy theories. It’s fun. But IE wasn’t standards noncompliant because Microsoft wanted to fuck the web, it was noncompliant because standards are really hard to nail down and Microsoft just screwed them up. YouTube isn’t the #1 video site online because they advertised, they’re #1 because they made it easy for people to put videos online – they figured that out before anyone else. The reason someone wins in a technical field is just because they figure out the barrier to entry and the elminate it.

Since my short and stupid posts tend to garner a lot of people liking them, here’s another. Moe blogs about her kid. I don’t have kids, so you get to hear about my cats.

We have two Tonkinese sister cats, Liza and Sandy. We’ve had them since about 2001 or so. They’re pretty different, personality-wise, so it makes for an interesting contrast. Liza (“my” cat) is fat and skittish, doesn’t run around a whole lot, and whines a lot more than her sister. Sandy (my “Wife’s” cat) runs around a lot, is a lot more adventurous, and (ironically) tends to like food a lot more.

Our house is two stories tall and when you get to the top of the staircase there’s this taller than waist-height “wall” (I’m sure there’s a better term for this) that runs parallel to it on the second floor, forming a bit of a “hallway” leading to our bedroom. Sandy likes to jump up and perch on the wall for various reasons: she’s a dorky creature of habit, it makes it easier for her to get close to eye level with us, and her sister won’t go up there so it’s a great way to get away from her when she’s being chased.

For some reason a few weeks ago she screwed up and went straight over the wall. She landed on her butt and went tumbling down the stairs. She seemed fine, but a day or so later we noticed she was chasing her tail. A lot. At first we just figured she was just being a dork again but then we noticed her tail was twitching a lot. We sprayed Bitter Apple on her tail but it wasn’t effective, seeing as how a couple of days later she had literally knawed off all the fur on the tip of her tail. We took her to the vet who believes it’s a pinched nerve in her butt from the fall and gave us some medicine to rub in her ear (way easier than making her take a pill).

In any event, the entire point of telling you that story was so that I could show you this – I was explaining to a coworker what happened and they weren’t getting what I was saying, so I illustrated it for them on the whiteboard.

She didn’t really go tumbleweeding down the stairs, that was just funnier to draw. She’s getting better and other than the now-subsiding biting habit she’s fine like before.

But in the meantime I’ve taken to calling her “bonetail”

Earlier this week Slashdot ran a story on obsolete technical skills, and it inspired me to share my personal level of insanity with the group. So, if you like weird posts this one is for you. If not, tune in… whenever the hell I finish the other posts I have unfinished right now.

Back when I was a kid, I grew up in a modest town of about 50,000 people. Too big to be a small town, not big enough to get on most maps. Our phone book was about one inch thick. Small towns had phone books that were essentially glorified pamphlets, about 1/4″ thick, and even then they shared it with all the neighboring towns. I knew people from small towns who thought phone numbers were four digits long, since the first three digits were always the same (and the then-optional area code was the same for probably a hundred miles).

When my family would go on trips we would visit “big cities” like Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Memphis, etc. and in the hotel rooms I would notice that the phone books were always really thick. Like 4-5″ thick. And sometimes, that was just the yellow pages, the white pages were an entirely different book, itself 3″ at least. And they always had these awesome pictures on the front of the local skyline instead of the giant public domain “fingers do the walking” logo that would grace the phone book back home.

So consequently I made the connection early on in my mind that living in a huge city meant you were a success. And living in a huge city meant a huge phone book. Therefore, having a huge phone book in your home meant you were a success. A tenuous connection, but even then I had big dreams of moving to a “big city” later in life and one of these days I would have a big phone book in my house because hey, that’s what big successful people living in big successful cities do.

Years and years pass. I grow up, go through High School, go to College, graduate, get married, and eventually my Wife and I move to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. We get good paying jobs and rent then eventually buy a house. Initially the phone books that would appear on our porch would be the same standard one-inch affairs I grew up with because we live in the suburbs and they only cover the suburbs, but then one day a bag with two phone books, a 3-inch white pages and a 5-inch yellow pages, shows up on our front porch. These phone books cover the entire Metroplex. They have amazing photos of the Dallas skyline, with Reunion Tower on them (under a stuck-on ad for some ambulance chaser, but that peels off easily enough).

I’m elated. After all these years, I’ve finally made it! I’m finally in a good job making good money and living in a big city and hey, like all big successful people living in big cities, I have a pair of bigass phone books. I’ve arrived! Every time I look at these phone books I’ll remember how I’m in a big city.

So I put these phone books next to the phone and the first thing my Wife says was “Just throw those things away. We have the Internet now.”

I ignore the order and I keep the phone books under the phone cradle for a few years, exchanging them out when a new one comes in. I never tell my Wife the insanely silly “but I’ve always wanted a big phone book” bit because I’m not in the mood to get laughed at (though, apparently, I don’t mind that people reading my blog will laugh at me). I get to keep them in place with the razor thin “well what if we want to look up a phone number when the power’s off or our Internet is down?” excuse.

But then one day I’m cleaning the house and I’m trying to reduce some clutter and it occurs to me that in two years I’ve never opened these things, ever, and they’re just collecting dust and the odds of the power going out or the Internet going down at the same time as my cell phone battery dying and me having to have some obscure phone number are vanishingly small. Oh, and in the years since we moved out here we’ve switched to Vonage so we couldn’t even use the phone in a power outage anyway. And I now have Internet access on my phone (hell my wife has a Treo) so if we needed to look up a number there’s better ways. And the inconvenience of a computer in another room is moot since I put Ubuntu on an old laptop and keep it in the kitchen, hooked up wirelessly to our router.

So I tossed the phone books into the recycle bin (literally) and do so for every other phone book that comes in. At some point I figure they’ll stop putting them on my doorstep, and people will stop advertising in them. They’ll go the way of the pay phone and TV Guide’s printed listings.

Now I’ll just have to contend with dialing ten digits to call someone or remembering ten different area codes to be my reminder of how I’m in a big city. That’ll work.

There’s always been this conspiracy theory that Microsoft purposely made crappy operating systems over the years because then they could always sell us upgrades and patches. Besides being just way off base (we don’t pay for patches, for starters), it’s always had this one flaw – by the theory’s own admission, one day Microsoft would actually get it right and then they’d be screwed. It’s like the flaw in Al Bundy’s Bigger Idiot Theory: eventually you find the biggest idiot (and he called her Peg).

So, while I don’t think that was really Microsoft’s plan, one aspect of it has seemingly come true – they finally got the operating system right with Windows XP.

Windows XP was the first Windows consumer operating system from Microsoft that didn’t require a daily reboot. It was the first Windows that felt truly stable. Blue screens of death were more a function of driver conflict than random occurences (Windows 95 actually had a bug wherein the OS would crash 48.5 days into a session, no matter what happened). Even the most skeptical Windows users were convinced by SP2.

XP worked so well that Microsoft would not release another major operating system for over five years. This was a change from their usual procedure of every two to three years. One operating system, Windows ME (Millenium Edition) was a marketing stopgap release between Windows 98 and Windows XP – someone literally just decided at Microsoft that they needed a new operating system to sell and so they wound up delivering probably the least stable operating system in their history. This probably had something to do with the change in scheduling,

Windows XP being so popular and stable had one side effect – it made it much harder to be a Microsoft critic. No longer did you have Windows to kick around any more, at least with regards to stability. Security was still a concern and over five years, security patches were always a concern – in fact, installing the original Windows XP (no service packs) while connected to the Internet will result in a system infected by worms. However, a fully-patched copy of XP is the best operating system Microsoft has ever released.

Earlier this year, Microsoft delivered the XP followup, Windows Vista. The reviews on it are decidedly mixed. While it offers many new features, uses 3D acceleration for the desktop, and finally adopts a limited user account user model (technically XP had this but it was a joke), it comes at a performance hit and requires more resources like processing and RAM. It has DirectX 10, which is good news for gamers – except that few cards support it and almost no games need it yet (and those that do only use it for marginal effect).

So relatively few have upgraded to Vista. I know of people who have and have had no problems. I also know of people who’ve pitched it out entirely out of frustration. Myself, I used to dual-boot between XP and a Vista RC but I just bulldozed it when the RC expired. It is, overall, a nicer operating system than XP but I just haven’t felt the need to shell out the money for the Ultimate version (I’d have to get that one), especially when XP does everything I want it to.

It doesn’t help that even Microsoft has issues with Vista – the first version of Visual Studio 2005 SP1 wouldn’t work on Vista, and neither did the Zune software, both from Microsoft. Major vendors had problems making drivers for the OS – Nvidia was shipping cards with “Windows Vista Ready” stickers on the boxes while at the same time the drivers were causing major issues for users. Many people had older, unsupported peripherals whose manufacturer decided not to come out with a Vista driver for – they would prefer the customer buy a new device, one that they haven’t discontinued. Myself, if I were running Vista today, I would dual boot with XP for those times when you really need to use something that Vista won’t do. I think it would be different if my computer was completely for personal or entertainment use, but as it stands now I use it to make part of my living, so it’s more important that it use an OS that works, instead of a flashy one which might not work.

So many people prefer XP right now that many are rolling back. Dell is offering it six months into 2008. Microsoft is about to roll out XP SP3, something they had previously stated they would never do. Actually, they had to unveil SP2c, a service pack whose lone function over SP2 was that it allows for more product keys than SP2 did – implying that XP is still selling well.

One of the problems Microsoft has developed over the years is that they’ve pretty much tapped the entire market. Nowadays everyone has a PC already and so most people have a Microsoft OS already. I paid for XP back in 2001 and they haven’t seen another penny from me since on operating systems. If I were the type to buy my PC’s premade from Dell then every time I would buy a new PC, I’d also be buying a new OS license, at some price. If the Dell PC came with Vista, then I’d be buying a Vista license with the PC, but overall the amount of money that goes to Microsoft is unchanged (since Dell likely buys these things in the same bulk quantities/prices that they did with XP).

No, what Microsoft wants is for people like me who run XP (or people who bought a Dell PC in the last few years with XP) to go buy a Vista upgrade. This way, they get the money from the initial OS sale, as well as the money from the upgrade. Their stock price hasn’t budged in years since, while they always have been and always will be selling operating systems, they’re not selling more operating systems except for when people just buy more PC’s. So they want people to upgrade to Vista, but when people refuse and just stay on XP, it screws this plan up.

But really no one thinks that it’s the biggest problem in the world that everyone just prefers to stay on XP. Everyone will upgrade, eventually. There have always been stragglers. There are people to this day that refuse to upgrade to Windows XP and continue to run Windows 2000 (and are only now running into the issue of programs locking out 2000 for artificial reasons). I knew someone who ran Windows 98 until about 2005 – he would spend the LAN Party BSOD’ing and reinstalling his OS while the rest of us played.

Now, the real humor comes from people who somehow view the Vista disdain as an opportunity.

Yes, the Macintosh is a good system, especially now that it’s essentially a PC running an Apple OS. Double especially now that it can dual-boot Windows. But people aren’t going to switch to it. Yes, some will but not in a mass number. At some point you hit this tipping point and you really need to have a PC running Windows. You could run a Macintosh with its 10.5 “Leopard” operating system and use Safari or Firefox instead of IE for web browsing, and iLife or whatever Apple calls its Office competitor for word processing and email and so forth and it will work OK. But at some point you will need to run some Windows program that Parallels won’t run or a game or something and then you’ll have to boot into Windows to do it – at which point you might as well have saved some money and bought a Dell laptop anyway. Dell is still more cost effective (albeit marginally so these days) and offers more choice.

But really the Macintosh is just a symptom of the bigger problem – the bigger problem is the clued-out perception that computing is interchangeable. That you could go to your parents’ house and swap out their PC for one running Ubuntu and they wouldn’t notice. After all, they’d still have web, email, and office applications. What do they care, right?

They’d care. As soon as they get the idea to download or purchase some software from Wal-Mart they’d care. As soon as they buy the $50 scam HP printer from Target and it won’t work on Linux until they do a herculean amount of Googling and have to set up a root password to print off an email, they’d care. Linux zealots have been prognosticating the “year of Linux on the desktop!” for a decade now and they’ve gotten nowhere. Their rallying cry of “Ubuntu is getting better! Give it some more time!” goes hand in hand with “Vista has had a year, forget it, it’s too late! Move on!”

I go to Slashdot from time to time and it’s such a piece of shit site. The stores that make it to the main page are about as incendiary as they come. Just last week came a story titled Microsoft Disses Windows to Sell More Windows, poking fun at how Microsoft has to point out flaws in “older operating systems” (XP, in this case) to sell Vista. This from the community that produces a new Ubuntu every six months. And praises Apple for coming out with a marginal upgrade every 1.5-2 years and charging $129 for it.

The funniest thing about Slashdot is the posters to the forum threads attached to the stories. I’d love to see a venn diagram of them. You see a lot of people posting stuff like “Death to Micro$oft!” “Windows Sucks!” “Linux for Life!” “.NET Sucks!”, etc. Then you see a number of people saying “Why can’t I get a job?” “Why won’t anyone hire my Linux/PHP skills?” “Why do companies insist on running Microshaft software?!” I wonder how many of these people are the same people. Yes of course no one’s going to hire you – you spent all your time learning a bunch of free stuff that the marketplace isn’t interested in. Yes, Google runs almost 100% on Linux, but companies that do are few and far between. Yes, over half of the web servers in use in the world run on Apache and the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) but when you whittle it down to the Fortune 500 companies (the people who tend to employ others) it’s 80% Windows and IIS.

Apple actually makes their own web browser, called Safari. They unveiled it on the Macintosh in 2003. Earlier this year, they released a Windows port to coincide with the fact that the iPhone runs Safari and they need web developers on Windows to use it to develop apps. Within the first 24 hours, over 100 security vulnerabilities were found. While some of these vulnerabilities were a side-effect of how Windows handles issues (i.e., they didn’t exist on the Macintosh port), many of them were simply inherent to the browser itself (i.e., they were found to exist on the Macintosh port). Four of them were quite severe. Part of the reason they were found so quickly is because the software tools needed to discover them exist on Windows and not on the Macintosh (a side effect of the hacker community existing mainly on Windows), but part of the reason is because there’s just several orders of magnitude more users on Windows than on Macintosh. The security vulnerabilities languished undiscovered for four years simply because not enough Macintosh users were looking for them. To their credit, Apple released a patch for the most critical ones within 48 hours, and a flurry of patches since then.

If I were Microsoft, I’d be saying “It’s not so damn easy, is it?”

Apple has been experiencing similar problems across the board. They released Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” in October and many Macintosh users have experienced issues. Some have seen slowdowns, others have noticed less stability. A number of people have rolled back the upgrade. The whole affair sounds suspiciously like the XP versus Vista debacle. Apple shifted resources from this upgrade to the iPhone project, which was a lot more difficult than they had envisioned, and it shows.

It’s not so damn easy, is it?

Linux zealots proclaim conversions. They want people who are fed up with Windows to convert to Linux. They want people to convert from an operating system designed for the masses to an operating system designed for hardcore techies. This goes back to that interchangeable computing garbage. The notion that companies can take their existing codebase and products and throw them away to migrate to an operating system which will run nothing they’ve ever created and was instead written and concieved by a group of individuals, most of whom have never met in real life. Ever notice how Linux doesn’t do much if anything innovative? Ubuntu runs a lot like Windows, because they copied Windows. Microsoft has rooms full of people coming up with stuff like the Ribbon UI in Office 2007. The Open Source movement has people connected online trying to write a competitive web browser.

The Open Source and Linux movements have done good things but they lose sight of one simple fact (or are in denial): money makes things happen. More specifically, money makes things happen faster, and in the technology field this is vital. Let’s take a look at the Open Source Software (OSS) Movement’s big success stories:

Linux: A successful example of OSS working well. However, consider how slowly it has evolved. It was unveiled in 1991 and is still unusable for the average user to this day. My wife’s grandfather can figure out Windows 98, an OS that’s closing in on a decade now. But putting that aside, consider that Linux was born out of a group of individuals looking to clone UNIX, which was written by a commercial entity. In fact, that group of individuals (The GNU movement) was unable to complete anything until a plucky Swedish college kid wrote them a Kernel and finished the thing off. And consider that most of the innovations in Linux nowadays come from companies like IBM, Red Hat, and Canonical (the Ubuntu corporation). People with financial motivations, in other words.

Apache: Another success, and pretty much an organic one. I can’t really take anything away from them on this one. Same thing goes for MySQL. PHP is a poor man’s ASP clone (and not even ASP.NET, mere ASP) but hey, it’s free.

Firefox: An increasingly popular web browser, but it was based off of the Netscape 5 codebase (Netscape 5 was never formally released, it was essentially the maturation of the 4.x line). So, code written for commercial reasons. And this is after many years of a loose net of people working on it. Firefox is a good browser but it wouldn’t exist were it not for the commercial desires of another company. And it’s not even 100% standards compliant (that award will likey go to Opera 9.5).

OpenOffice: A solid product, but it suffers both from the fact that it, too, was originally derived from a commercial codebase (a German company which was swallowed up ages ago by Sun Microsystems) and the fact that it only offers a fraction of the features of Microsoft Office. Office products are in this difficult spot in that literally everyone in the world needs to use them and they have very diverse needs. True, the average user only ever employs 10% of Office’s features, but that 10% is different for everyone. Many a person has attempted to migrate themselves or their secretary to OpenOffice only to learn that some obscure feature that Office had is missing and is a complete deal breaker. Microsoft Office has pretty much hit feature saturation point and it took it twenty years or more to do so. OpenOffice has been out for five years. Not so damn easy is it?

Not that I’m 100% a Microsoft apologist, I call them out on the rug when they need to be. Like the bizarre decisions surrounding the Zune. Or the licensing policies for Vista. But they’re not stupid, or even necessarily evil. Yes, they have made some shady ethical business decisions in the past and I’m not excusing that. However, some of the things people blast them for are simple business decisions. Yes, of course they’re going to charge money for their operating system and software – they’re in this to make money. Yes, they’re going to cut Dell a volume discount – why not? Dell’s offering Linux PC’s now so it’s not like Microsoft’s not “allowing” them to do so or something. A lot of the people who blast Microsoft for the business decisions they make either have never worked in the business world or are in denial about how it works. If Apple had Microsoft’s power, they’d be worse. Apple hates buttons on mice for crying out loud and doesn’t trust you to change your own iPod battery.

But the people who think the world need to migrate away from Microsoft have it all wrong. Apple can’t make a secure web browser and the OSS movement can’t make anything happen without financially motivated people, which they’re against (look at how they’ve turned on Red Hat for doing just this). Moving entirely to a less mature option (and both are less mature in terms of experience with a critical mass of users) would be a huge step backwards. I’m not saying that other options can’t exist – I run Linux myself and hope to own a Macintosh one day – but this notion that one all-encompassing entity needs to be removed and replaced by another all-encompassing entity, just one you like better, is naive.

And this is why the world is seriously not going to move away from Microsoft technologies – because the real world is staffed by intelligent people who get this.