Monday, June 14, 2010

The Joys Of Ignorance

A little bit of knowledge is a reason to instill panic on the unsuspecting masses.

When we elect people to Parliament and they become ministers it would not be unreasonable to expect them to have half a brain. The problem is that they keep opening their mouths and removing any remaining doubt we had.

This proclamation from one of Queensland's finest demonstrate how dangerous a little bit of knowledge can be.

I am not sure who these health experts are but I have not seen one peer reviewed study stating that 3D TV is any worse that any other piece of technology. I know of one anecdotal story from someone who was involved in testing a 3D game and they found a certain level of disorientation in some subjects but as far as I am aware no further investigation was done.

Second, who are these manufacturers that issue such dire warnings?

In reality no one has identified 3D TVs as being any worse than any other bit of tech. It is true that some people are adversely affected by 3D video but no more or less than other technologies such as CRT TVs, plasma or LCD displays, computers, fluros, even my mum was sometimes affected by driving in the car at times.

Oh yes, roll out the old pregnant women and children. How on earth does being pregnant make 3D TVs more dangerous? The truth is that the warning that the manufacturers issue is the standard disclaimer that manufacturers issue for all flat panels, and is not unique to 3D displays. They do this so that people will not sue, not because they believe it is a serious issue.

The paranoia over 3D is no different from that which accompanies any new technology that the ignorant do not understand.

The warnings in the last paragraph are ridiculous.

"They should also avoid watching 3D TV under fluorescent lighting or direct sunlight and it's also suggested the screens should not be placed anywhere near stairs or balconies because viewers can become disorientated and that could lead to an accident."

To suggest that someone walking down a stair will be disorientated as they glance towards a 3D TV shows how ill informed the minister is.

Maybe the minister in question should go back to what he is good at...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Apple iPad - Tablet, slate or what?

Since its launch many commentators have referred to the iPad as a different class of device, and have also referred to it as a tablet. The problem with these commentators is that by doing so they show their ignorance of the sate of computing tech today.

First of all this is not a new class of device. The slate computer has been around for a number of years and a Google search on slate computer will reveal to the least tech savvy amongst us that this type of device is not new. A slate is basically a computing device with no attached keyboard, a touch and/or active screen and minimal buttons for quick functions. The slate form factor has been popular for specialised operations but has not had a large penetration in the main stream. It has remained a fairly niche product, mainly due to user ignorance. Manufacturers have not been keen on publicising slates up until now and no one has put a lot of effort into developing or promoting the form. The iPad is really a low end slate device, without a serious CPU, RAM or OS. Hardly new, if you are talking about a crippled computer being a new type of device, but seriously, I think not.

Tablet? Well the Tablet computer has been around for about ten years and comes in two basic forms. Convertible or slate. A convertible Tablet is similar to a laptop but the keyboard twists and folds up onto the back of the computer to allow it to be used in a slate mode. This makes the device larger and heavier. Many people use a slate form factor and attach a portable keyboard and mouse whe required. The Tablet has a pen, active matrix display and may or may not have touch. It is a mistake to call the iPad a Tablet computer. It is a slate without the tablet functions. To be a tablet you need to be able to use a stylus which has been specifically omitted from the iPad.

I am eagerly awaiting the plethora of Windows slate computers now in the pipe line to see what they are like. It would be nice to see some real slate Tablet computers emerge from the scrum.

At least one good thing will come from the popularity of the iPad. It demonstrates to manufacturers that there is a market for real slate computers (as opposed to the toy that the iPad is) and that some real development work will be put into developing a serious contender.

The truth is the iPad is a very high quality device but the average consumer does not care. They want a device that is cheap and convenient. If the main stream PC maker comes to market with a real computer for the rest of us then then they will carve a huge market for themselves. This reminds me of an exchange between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs from the movie The Pirates Of Silicon Valley.

Jobs "Our products are better than yours."

Gates "It doesn't matter."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The iPad, another view

Interestingly all of the people that said that the iPhone was a looser and would die a quick and unnatural death are now saying what a wonderful device the iPad is.

However there is one dissenting (and in my view reasonable) voice amongst the fan club. The Register report on an interesting article from the NYT's David Pogue.

His wife's observations are exactly what I have been saying. After all the hype has settled this will be seen for what it is. A nice expensive toy. I am hanging out for the HP slate which will be (according to reports) lighter, more powerful and a real computer with real interfaces.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The iPad - Whatever Happend To Innovation?

With the "most important announcement of Steve Job's life" done and dusted, but without the dust having settled what is the verdict? Am I buying this or is it just candy wrapped in marketing?

I have to say that despite the anticipation and hype before the event I did not have high expectations. As more detail was leaked I became less excited until the night before my expectations had plunged to an all time low. In retrospect I have to say that all of my expectations were met. This was a fizzer and the hype appears now to be no more than marketing.

My initial response was one of underwhelmed and nothing at their presentation and all the glowing reports from those who used it have not changed my opinion. All of the fancy things that Steve demonstrated elicited no more than a ho-hum from me. Interestingly it reminded me a lot of the iPhone launch which I can still recall. My reaction to that launch was quite the opposite even though they are very similar devices.

I will start by saying what the iPad is not. The iPad is not a tablet. The tablet computer has a number of functions which are clearly missing form the iPad. First and foremost it has no digitiser and its associated functions. The digitiser is an active matrix built into the screen which allows the use of a multi function stylus or pen. It enables what is called pen computing, It doubles as a mouse in its simplest terms but it also has handwriting recognition, may be pressure sensitive, and write and erase. Pen computing is an extremely powerful tool and for anybody that has ever used pen computing to not include a pen in this format device is unthinkable. Not one of the news bloggers that are tablet specialists think that the iPad is a serious contender in this space. Touch has been around for a long time on these devices but until now they have all had the active digitiser. To remove that feature is like removing an athlete's leg. Some of the functions that require a pen are drawing, fine control graphics manipulation, and handwriting. These are possible with touch but you do not get the fine control with touch as you do with the pen. That is why conventional pens are held and not attached.

Neither is the iPad an e-book reader. As nice is the display is it is not e-ink. The e-ink displays are designed to minimise eye strain for prolonged concentration that is necessary for reading. It does not replace the e-book reader so that idea that somehow e-book readers will flock to this device is mistaken.

The iPad is not a web device. The lack of full web function ensures that you will not display many web pages. To criticise flash is to miss the point entirely and the pronunciation's of Steve Jobs in the last few days regarding his perceived issues with flash is disingenuous to say the least. In the last 24 hours I have visited several web sites that required flash to display, one of which is a daily visit and would be rendered useless without flash. Why would I buy such a device where I would be forced to return to my regular computer of choice just to visit this or that random site.

The iPad is not a portable music player. Lets be perfectly blunt about this, any potential iPad customer will already own at least one of iPhone or iPod, perhaps multiple such devices. Tho buy yet another device to replicate that function that you cannot put in your pocket makes no sense at all.

The iPad is not a movie/media player. Its lack of codecs, lack of connectivity and form factor (4x3) make this a vary poor media player. One can accept these restrictions on a small pocket device but not on a device that is supposed to be a replacement for a mid level computing device.

It is not a personal computer. I know that this is the most radical and potentially controversial statement but bear with me here. It is a closed computing platform. That means that all code that runs on this device has to be digitally signed by Apple. So none of the restrictions above can be bypassed without hacking the device. You cannot run a third party browser. (All browsers that run on the iPhone are simply Safari with different UIs). You cannot install additional audio and video codecs, for instance xVid or FLAC. You cannot do voip over 3G or Skype unless Apple grants their permission. You cannot run linux or parallels or Boot Camp to run your Win apps. You cannot even run your Mac apps without Apple allowing them to be ported, and even then some will have difficulty because of the interface. The addition of docking and pairing solutions makes up some of the gap but there is still a huge gulf between the iPad and a personal computer.

"So", I hear you ask, "What is the iPad".

The iPad is realy a portable iTunes player/games machine and not much more. I will concede that with the additional APIs and applications you can perform some of your more sophisticated tasks but without an open environment and pen functions any serious computing has to be done with a tethered keyboard and mouse(?).

Of all of the positive reviews of this device none have talked about its usability in a wider environment other than reading books, playing movies and playing games They all rave about its wonderful interface which I will concede looks extremely nice. One of the great things about the iPhone is the interface which is a great piece of design. But what is good for a hand held device does not necessarily scale up to a mid range device.

The iPad is light innovative and a wonderfully designed and architected but it fails to produce in its intended market. The things which made the iPhone a best seller will not save the iPad. It is a different format and different market. If Apple think that the success of the iPhone can be replicated by scaling up its features into a mid level device I believe they are mistaken. I am going to stick to my Tablet until Apple produce a serious contender.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ten Things I Hate About MS Windows

1. $500 - give me a break

Most other operating systems for the desktop range from free to about $50, but not MS. They have to squeeze the last ounce of blood from the dying user. True some versions are cheaper - but still over $100. In a day and age where you can buy full systems for way less than the price of the OS there is some rather distorted summs going on here. The price of hardware has dropped substantially over the years but not the OS. This brings me neatly onto No. 2.

2. How many versions for you Sir?

Starter, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. Whilst most other operating systems have a single version (desktop, not server) MS have in their wisdom deemed that the user must pay extra for what most other operating systems provide in their base OS.

3. Legacy

When shall we shake off the shackles? In this day and age of virtualisation we are shackled to legacy compatibility. Run a virtual server, there are plenty to choose from, both free and paid. We are being tied to legacy when we could have a much faster and more stream lined OS if we cast off the shackles of the past and went to a clean 64 bit OS.

4. The Registry

Who's wonderful idea was this? As soon as MS created this multi headed monster anyone with half a brain could see what was coming. Corruption, phantom entries, viruses that place protective shields around themselves hiding inside the registry. Admittedly it has improved since earlier versions but it is still a serious issue.

5. Dynamic Linked Libraries.

I am not sure exactly what it is about DLLs that causes so many issues but they seem to be a nightmare. An installation will randomly "upgrade" DLLs at will and trash several other programs as they do so. Why don't we have standard core libraries which are protected and then additional libraries provided by each program vendor as required. This seems to work for other operating systems.

6. Open kernel

Protect the kernel for goodness sakes. To tack on UAC as an after thought in order to annoy the heck out of any one trying to perform a simple operation is shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Users rejected Protected Computing years ago and this is simply imposing all the inconvenience without any of the protection. If you really want to improve the OS stability protect the kernel and core libraries so that they cannot be changed without a signed package and only by supplying the admin password. The rest of it can be as open as you want. But that means re-designing the OS to behave like a real multi-user milti-tasking OS.

7. The GUI as the OS.

We have this wonderful GUI interface and instead of treating it as an application it has become the OS. The result is that you have this over burden of an overblown program sitting in between the user and the hardware slowing everything down. The GUI should be simply just another program and each user program should run as a separate entry but instead the whole thing has been designed so that the running programs sit on top of the GUI interface. Bring back performance.

8. Paying for bug fixes.

Windows 7 is a bug fix for Vista, whatever MS would have us believe. I fail to see why we have to pay for Microsoft's incompetence. I read recently that Windows ME was a minor upgrade to Windows 98. This was the opposite to Vista/Win 7. ME users were manage to pay for new bugs in 98.

9. Performance Bloat

This is related to, but different from #7. Each OS requires more memory and more processing simply to run the OS. To run the exact same programs I used to run with 512M on XP I need 2G on Win 7. How does that work? If I want to run more powerful tools such as high res 3D gaming or graphics editing then sure, I can accept that. But just to run the OS without any other gains, and then to have the programs run slower into the bargain does not make any sense to me.

10. No economic upgrade path.

It is still a minimum of $100 for an upgrade to the most basic version of Windows. Most other programs are genereous to loyal users but not MS. If they really wanted to stop piracy then price their OS upgrades resonably. Anything more that $50 for a fully blown OS is a rip off IMHO.