The application is finally out of beta. I think many people thought it had been abandoned. It also has over-the-air sync as a paid service.
I loved THL for a while; while it only did a subset of what OmniFocus does, it did the things it did very elegantly. But I was one of the many people who figured it was abandoned, and stuck it out with the Zen-like TaskPaper until finally buckling down and learning enough about the OmniFocus Way to start making it useful.
David Chartier quoted a quip from Merlin Mann on the “Back to Work" podcast ("What about self-righteousness? Does that have gluten in it?"), and made this observation:
Related: I have essentially replaced the TWiT network with Dan Benjamin’s 5by5. I barely get to listen to half the shows I want, but Dan’s put together a great lineup with some killer co-hosts. There’s no pre-roll fluff and Dan’s sparse home-made sponsorship spots don’t need to get gonged off the stage.
I have a lot of admiration for what Leo Laporte has done with the “This Week in Tech” network—it’s professionally-produced and looks just as good as its inspiration, the original TechTV from years gone by. But Laporte’s willingness to exercise editorial control seems to be inversely related to how successful he’s gotten. Sure, the personalities on the show are important, but the fluff isn’t just in the pre-roll. The number of times during each show when I found myself wanting to scream “Shut up!” at a co-host blathering on over someone else who’s actually trying to stay on topic got to be greater than one per episode.
And indeed, I’m listening a lot more to 5by5 podcasts myself now. They all tend to be the same basic format: Dan Benjamin and a cohost who drives the show’s topics. Even when the shows are running upwards of 90 minutes they don’t seem like they’re spending half the time off in the weeds, and Benjamin does an excellent job of guiding conversation without coming across like he’s steering. (The only exception is “The Talk Show,” with Benjamin and Daring Fireball’s John Gruber—which is actually a lot of fun, as long as you’re up for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Pundits.”)
PBS officials told member stations at its recent annual meeting in Orlando that beginning this fall, the Wednesday science series “Nature” and “Nova” would contain corporate and foundation sponsor spots, promotional messages and branding within four breaks inside the shows, instead of at the very beginning and end.
While there’s incredibly fertile ground for cynical jokes here, there is a good point being made:
The change is meant to address a serious problem. Currently, the messages that a PBS station broadcasts are packed into a block at the end of each show, which, for hourlong programs, sometimes stretches to nearly eight minutes. Not surprisingly, viewers routinely flee.
I know this described me with PBS. Eight minutes of sponsorship messages and promotional material is just too much for one uninterrupted block; unless you know what’s coming next is something you want to see, you’re not going to stick around to find out. (However, I hate the now-standard commercial network practice of no break at all between shows. Sometimes I even see the end of one and the beginning of another be overlapped, with the end credits running in squished format at the bottom or side as the next show starts.) PBS shows like “Nova” and “Frontline” are likely to remain unmatched by commercial networks even with commercial breaks—and, of course, public radio stations have had quick breaks within programs for years without anyone kvetching. Even so, I expect some interesting backlash ahead.
For the record, eight minutes of commercials is about half what commercial networks show—a typical “hour-long” show on a commercial station is 44 minutes. I’ve been watching “The Rockford Files” from the mid-’70s on Netflix recently and noticed that an “hour” then meant about 50 minutes.
Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes an article that asks why it’s harder to make money with Android apps than iOS apps, providing a few “answers” along the lines of:
There are three times as many paid apps on the iOS App Store as there are on the Android Market
Android downloads for paid apps are significantly lower than for free apps
Paid applications on iOS tend to be downloaded many more times
Elmer-DeWitt has several bullet points that, to my eye, more or less restate those last two in slightly different ways. The keen observer may note, however, that none of these actually answer the question—they’re bits of evidence to support the contention that iOS apps make more money, but they’re not explanations why.
For that explanation, Elmer-DeWitt makes the horrible mistake of turning to Exploding Head Guy himself, Daniel Eran Dilger. Danny Boy wrote a piece back in April demonstrating his typical taste and restraint in the title, “Distimo Polishes the Android Market Turd" (referring to an earlier report about how Android was "catching up" to iOS in terms of applications). What’s Dilger’s explanation? Why, it’s that Apple’s App Store is curated and the Android Market isn’t. "All one has to do is pay a fee and shovel junk into [Google’s] online listings," Dilger sniffs. "It’s obvious why Google is ‘beating’ Apple in free titles: they’re only comparing fart apps, ringtones and wallpapers."
Now, it only requires a few minutes of work to go the Android Market on the web and determine that there is no category for ringtones; that while typing in fart as a search keyword in Android Market returns “about 320 results,” the same result on iTunes gives you over 800; and that calling the animated and interactive “live” wallpaper Android supports just “wallpaper” is disingenuous. (Personally I find the concept of live wallpaper profoundly silly, but each to their own.) I should go easy on Dilger here, I guess, since I know he doesn’t have time for actual research. He’s too busy producing charts by doing things to OmniGraffle that contravene the Geneva Convention.
Here’s an alternative explanation. It’s just my musings based on observation of the market, and of friends and acquaintances who are Android partisans. (This is distinct from merely Android users.)
It’s historically been hard to make money on Android for the same reason that it’s been hard to make money on Linux.
There are companies making money by selling Linux itself, but there are very few companies which have found a sustainable business by selling Linux applications. The Linux market has a very strong bias toward capital-F Free Software—and also toward little-f free software. If there’s an open source equivalent to what you’re selling on Linux, you can pretty much forget selling a commercial product—even if your application is demonstrably better in important areas, you’re going to lose.¹
This is not a “flaw” in Linux’s world as much as a set of different priorities. I would rather pay for Acorn than use GIMP even though GIMP is not only free but demonstrably more powerful. To me, dealing with GIMP’s UI is only slightly less painful than shoving a fondue fork up my nose and twisting. (That’s GIMP’s “change layer visibility” toggle, by the way.) To most Linux users, the idea of paying money—for closed-source software, no less—just because you don’t want to take the time to learn a UI sounds absolutely nuts; if the UI lets you do what you need to do, it’s good enough, even if there’s room for improvement.
The people who leapt on Android for its own sake, as opposed to reasons that don’t relate to OS preference (cost, availability on their network, insistence on hardware keyboard), have a noticeable correlation with the people who leapt onto Linux. Android developers have an even higher correlation. That creates a very different culture in the Android Market. It’s more hobbyist-focused, less polished—and not so focused on things that make money.
But heading into the second half of 2011, that’s not as true. Android has pushed beyond geek space and software publishers who didn’t care about it until very recently are starting to show up. As publishers like Gameloft and Electronic Arts start shoveling stuff out for Android, do the paid apps take off? Right now I think they’re held back, paradoxically, by one of the things that drives Android adoption—very aggressive carrier pricing. While I have no data I can back this up with, it’s my gut feeling that somebody who spends $299 on a phone is going to be more likely to buy applications than somebody who spends $99 or less. (My extremely anecdotal data set on this suggests this is true for those $99 iPhone deals, too.)
Going forward, though, does this keep holding? As of right now, the top paid apps for Android are “Beautiful Widgets,” ports of WeatherBug Elite and Fruit Ninja, and more than a few nerd-centric utilities like “ROM Manager Premium” and “Root Explorer.”² The top paid apps on iOS include Pages, GarageBand, Infinity Blade and Sim City Deluxe, along with the inevitable Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds. A lot of Android phones aren’t $99 and less; I don’t see any reason why someone spending $249+ on a ThunderBolt or Droid Charge is going to hesitate to spend $3 or $4 on an app.
But right now, they’re waiting on apps that are going to get non-nerds excited enough to pay.
(N.B.: It’s at least worth noting that for many developers, the iOS App Store is no goldmine. The vast majority of applications are along the long tail of the demand curve, and it’s the store that benefits from the long tail’s aggregate volume. I would be surprised if the majority of developers in that tail earn more than coffee money each month.)
There are Linux applications that are sold commercially, of course, but in my experience many of them are cross-platform (like Komodo IDE) or server-focused (like Oracle).
Again, we see a cultural difference: Android fans would point out that you couldn’t even have those apps on iOS, but iOS fans would wonder just why you’d want them. One interesting thing to note, though—the stuff on Android does sell for a few bucks tends to be the stuff that appeals to the nerd contingent. I’d be curious how much, in terms of units, those are actually selling.
With Memorial Day weekend coming up, it’s time to think about summer cocktails. What makes a cocktail “summer?” I don’t know, but I think it means the drink is so light and refreshing that you think it has less alcohol in it than it does.
When you think of tequila, the chances are you think either of the margarita or some night back in college that made you swear off tequila forever. (You think I’m joking, but it’s astounding how many people actually tell me that when I mention tequila to them.) But another classic tequila drink that’s much more of a “summer cooler” style highball is the Paloma.
The quick-and-easy way to make a Paloma is a shot of tequila, the juice of a lime, and grapefruit soda. (Ideally a sugar-using Mexican brand like Jarritos.) The less quick-and-easy but very rewarding way to make it is with fresh ingredients. I first encountered a “fresh Paloma” not at a swank cocktail bar but at, of all places, Chili’s, which also added the neat twist of using ruby red grapefruit juice—then screwed the pooch by using Sprite instead of club soda. So close, Chili’s, so close!
Ruby Red Paloma
2 oz. tequila blanco (100% agave, if you please)
2 oz. red grapefruit juice, not from concentrate
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Shake all the ingredients with ice cubes and pour unstrained into a Collins glass. Add more ice cubes to the top of the glass, top off with club soda, and give it a little stir.
This is an article about the Samsung Galaxy S outselling the iPhone in Japan in the last quarter, which is interesting—but that’s not what actually interests me about it. For years, we Westerners have been told that the Japanese cell phone market is so different from—and in some ways so far ahead of—our cell phones that there’s no way “outsiders” can make any inroad there. But:
For all the mind bending spec sheets that grace our inboxes twice a year when all the major operators unveil their new Spring and Fall collections, most of those devices are feature phones, albeit feature phones that can do things such as near field based mobile commerce and tuning into over the air television.
I keep reading analysts—usually outside America, and admittedly usually of the armchair variety—talking about the importance of feature phones and how not everyone can have a smartphone. But I’m increasingly convinced that this simply isn’t the case. Cheap smartphones are going to push feature phones into a niche—specifically, the “I don’t want any of those smart features, dammit, even if I can get them for free” niche—all over the world. (Even where it means giving up over the air TV on your phone.)
10.1″ display, Honeycomb, and a Qualcomm MSM8660—a dual-core “Snapdragon”—1.5GHz CPU. This seems standard issue for “non-iPad tablet” currently; two questions:
The touch panel supports both resistive and capacitive sensing, so it can work with a stylus more precisely. What’s the use case they’re going for?
Is that use case going to be enough to differentiate it? From what I’ve gleaned the best-selling non-iPad tablet is Samsung’s, and I can’t help but suspect that’s because the 7″ form factor makes it distinctive. (I still think it’d be better off at a 3:4 aspect ratio, though.)
At least, so claims a slide shown on Joshua Topolsky’s report:
Today the company announced two new services, Google Wallet and Google Offers, both aimed to serve retail shoppers everywhere. MasterCard and other high-level partners will be involved with Google Wallet, including 20,000 retail merchants at launch. It looks as though Google will snap up those businesses quickly because of the service’s compatibility with MasterCard’s PayPass. Citibank, Sprint, and First Data are also signing up. It looks like Footlocker, Subway, Toys R Us, American Eagle, Walgreens, and Macys will get into the mix as well.
This is very impressive, although it occurs to me that PayPass was supposed to be the evolution of payments, right? How’s that been working out? (Honest question.)
(You’ll even eventually be able to put your driver’s license in Wallet eventually, which is both amazing and terrifying.)
I’m pretty much sticking with the “terrifying” part, Josh.
Facebook has partnered with Spotify on a music-streaming service that could be launched in as little as two weeks, sources close to the deal have told Forbes.
There are two interesting things about this.
First, Spotify still isn’t in the United States due to legal restrictions, which means this service won’t be in the US, either. Which might mean that Facebook is going to start throwing its weight around to get deals in place for Spotify.
Second: as much as I hate Facebook, it’s remarkable how successful they’re being at constructing an AOL for the new millennia. I don’t mean that as a slight, either—people who weren’t online twenty years ago likely don’t grasp how great AOL was at being your one stop online everything. It took the creation of the World Wide Web and the rise of “big independent” ISPs like Netcom and Earthlink to finally topple them. The idea of “one stop online everything” seemed to have died out—but Facebook is pretty clearly trying to build it back up. The only thing I think they’re missing is direct competition with Amazon as an “online supermall”—and just based on my hunch about Facebook’s ultimate goal, expect that to be announced within a year.
And, for the record, I genuinely hate Facebook. Their contempt for their users harkens back to the days of the Bell System and pre-satellite/data cable companies. Normally, you’d need a government-protected monopoly to cultivate the same “Seriously, where else are you going to go?” attitude.
You made a deal with someone to build you a website. Best of all: you agreed on a flat fee! That’s great, because you know you have a fixed budget. And you’re getting everything you want, because that’s what your vendor promised you. Guess what? It’s not going to happen.
I’ve been on the other side of this, and while I built a pretty respectable web site, I ended up making slightly less money than I would have if I’d taken unemployment benefits during the same time period.
You’ve likely already seen that news if you care, and if you don’t care, well, you don’t care. Ben Brooks muses:
I saw this last night and didn’t post about it because I couldn’t figure it out — I am still scratching my head here. Either Twitter knows something I don’t about TweetDeck, or their management is far worse than I think. Typically I would go with the former, but lately that is getting hard to believe (given their penchant for pissing away VC funds…).
Wait. Wasn’t “pissing away VC funds” always Twitter’s business model?
Of the “also ran” mobile operating systems, I’m increasingly thinking Windows Phone is the one to watch. For all of the heat Microsoft takes (mostly deservedly), Windows Phone doesn’t come across like it’s trying to be “iPhone++” — it doesn’t look like anything else on the market, and they’re clearly putting a lot of effort into user experience. I’m not 100% sure I like all of their ideas, but it’s fantastic that they’re trying to compete by being so markedly different—and it’s interesting how “non-Microsoft” that is.
“Chrome’s version number has been changing so rapidly lately that every time someone opens a Chrome bug on a Stack Exchange site, I have to check my version against theirs just to make sure we’re still talking about the same software. And once—I swear I am not making this up—the version incremented while I was checking the version.”—Jeff Atwood
The real threat [to OS-specific app stores] are web apps. The kind that will download to your device the moment you open them, allowing you offline access, whether they’re news, games, email or some other utility. If you don’t believe they’ll work — and eliminate dependencies on plugins outside of open web standards, like flash — go download a free copy of Angry Birds for Google Chrome and try disconnecting from your local network.
Having said that, though, does anyone think that Apple and Google aren’t both preparing for this possibility?
Only one company plays in both the consumer and business world. We tend to talk about technologies. But the way the user is going to look at tablets means it’s about experience.
While I suspect Cador is going to be in for a lot of ribbing—particularly among Apple fans—he’s right on that point: it is all about experience. And while the first claim is a touch overblown, while there are companies that are more successful in the consumer space and companies that are more successful in the enterprise space, I can’t think of a company that’s been as successful as HP in both. Also, as the more clear-headed Apple fans point out when Android’s growth is brought up, this market isn’t necessarily Highlander: there can be multiple winners. WebOS could do very well in the tablet space without “vanquishing” iOS (or Android).
Having said that, the commenter who asked if “better than number one” meant “a big fat zero” did make me chuckle. While there can certainly be more than one, it remains to be seen whether there’s a practical cap on the number of competitors who can be profitable.
On his site “Business Insider,” analyst Henry Blodget wrote “LinkedIn: The Truth About What It’s Worth,” to explain, effectively, that LinkedIn might be worth more than $100 a share, but it might be worth less, too.
As a former roommate of mine used to say when confronted with this kind of say-nothing thinking (let’s called it “Blodgic”): “Some days I feel one way, and other days I feel differently.”
No one knows what LinkedIn’s worth. Why not? Because the theoretical value of a share of LinkedIn’s stock (and any other stock) is the “present value of future cash flows.”
The present value of future cash flows.
Not today’s cash flows. Not yesterday’s cash flows. Future cash flows. Future cash flows discounted back to the present at a rate that takes into account the risk that the cash flows won’t materialize.
With all the respect to Blodget that he’s due, while I’m sure this is a textbook definition of how to value a company, does he really think that LinkedIn’s apparent valuation “takes into account the risk that the cash flows won’t materialize?” If the cash flows don’t materialize, how is the company possibly worth the $4B their original IPO price valued them at, let alone $10B? Blodget dismisses LinkedIn’s past cash flows as “only relevant insofar as they tell you what LinkedIn’s future cash flows might be”—but given that he’s arguing that their present value is based on estimating those future cash flows, that makes the past cash flow pretty damn important.
And before you join the chorus of folks screaming about bubbles and insanity, remember one more thing: From the day tiny startups called “Google” and “Facebook” and “Zynga” and “Twitter” and “Groupon” first raised capital, people dismissed their valuations as “bubbles” and “insanity.” And, so far anyway, these people couldn’t have been more wrong.
And what are the past and present cash flows of those companies, and what do they tell us about the likely future cash flows of them all? It strikes me that those companies all have very, very different business models. Google is an advertising company. Groupon gets money by actually selling stuff. Zynga gets money by taking advantage of stupid people. Twitter gets money by convincing venture capitalists that they’re going to pay back what they owe any day now but they just need a little more right now to get to pay day won’t you spare some change mister. And Facebook? They’re trying to be Google without paying lip service to not being evil—but as Ben Brooks asked, “If Facebook is profitable, then why does it still need to raise capital through private investing?” Interesting question. In any case, it doesn’t seem to me that the Blodgic holds water here, either.
As to the respect Henry Blodget is due: he is, as his bio reads, “a former top-ranked Wall Street analyst” who’s no longer one because, in his telling, he was “keelhauled by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over conflicts of interest between research and banking.” While “keelhaul” fits in nicely with the telling of Spitzer’s tale that paints him as a hubris-filled grandstander, this downplays that the “conflicts of interest” involved things like publicly calling a stock “an attractive investment” while describing the same stock on the same dayin private emails as “a piece of shit.” The SEC press release on his permanent ban from the industry doesn’t mention banking or “conflicts of interest” at all—it charges him with giving fraudulent investment advice.
This does not mean that his advice now is bad, and of course he’s not now in a position where he could commit similar fraudulent acts even if he wanted to. But he does have a track record of not telling you what he really thinks about a company’s stock, and to my reading, he’s engaging in sleight of phrasing about his past, hoping his readers will take the implication that he’s a victim of Big Government at face value. A good con man may be second to none at spotting other people’s con games—but that doesn’t mean he’s not running a game of his own.
In an Ars Technica article, iOS developer Mike Lee makes an argument for developers flooding Apple with “bug reports” about Lodsys’ patent trolling by saying that it was developer pressure that got Apple to release an iOS SDK rather than keep claiming web-based apps were enough. John C. Welsh calls bullshit on this:
I really think Mike is VASTLY overstating the influence devs had with this. The idea that without dev noise, Apple might not have released the SDK passes neither Occam’s nor any other test. Apple does things to further company aims and make money.
(Update: it was pointed out to me both in comments and on Twitter that, of course, some native apps used the accelerometer for determining the phone’s orientation. I didn’t express my thought above particularly well—those apps originally only determined portrait or landscape; there wasn’t any indication early on that the iPhone could detect its position in as sophisticated a way as it turned out it could. I think. Right?)
Have we not learned yet that patents don’t “confirm” anything? Sigh. It’s an interesting approach, though, and not quite what anybody else is doing. (Whether it should be a patentable approach is another matter, of course.)
Shares of LinkedIn, a professional social network, soared on their market debut on Thursday, feeding a growing investor mania for the latest generation of Internet companies. The shares opened at $83 and rose as high as $122.70 in late morning trading — well more than double its offering price — on the New York Stock Exchange. At more than $80 a share, the company’s valuation is roughly $8 billion, an astonishing figure for a company that was recently valued at about $2.5 billion in the secondary markets.
As of the last time I looked, the share price was over $100, making the valuation closer to $10B. This article asked one question I can answer, though, and then raised another one. The one it raised:
[LinkedIn] is also facing competitive pressure from established job-listing sites like Monster and Careerbuilder, [financial research analyst Cem] Ozkaynak said.
Seriously? Those two have been useless for a decade. Any job site which makes it impossible to do anything without it asking you to upgrade your service to a paid level or buy something from a “partner” is less interested in getting you a job than it is in getting money from you, and the quality of the listings will reflect that. I gave up on Monster after my last resume listing for web development positions kept getting an automated daily “we have positions!” response from MARS International, a car detailing franchiser. (They got upset at me when I told them to stop emailing. I’m sorry, but your crappy mail bot was your responsibility, kids, not mine. By the way, guys, if you read this: your web site is a horrific mess. I’m available for consulting.)
The question the article asked I can answer:
As investor enthusiasm soars, analysts are wondering if the valuations for stocks like LinkedIn are grounded in reality.
A developer’s perspective on some of the differences between the two mobile OSes. I admit I’ve never looked at Android programming (Java gives me hives), but the description of “intents”—sort of a pre-baked event notification system that any application can hook listeners into—is really intriguing.
Also, Android has a declarative UI system: basically, you’re defining a UI layout in relative terms similar to the way you might a web page. Current versions of Nokia’s Qt do this with “QML,” which I used on my last project there. This trades pixel-level precision layouts for layouts that aren’t so sensitive to differing device resolutions.
RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Mike Abramsky believes RIM has sold approximately 250,000 BlackBerry PlayBook tablets to date. If these estimates are accurate, RIM’s PlayBook is handily outselling the XOOM, Motorola’s flagship Honeycomb tablet, which sold 250,000 units in its first two months of availability. Abramsky believes RIM could move 500,000 units during RIM’s fiscal first quarter.
Or, roughly what the iPad 2 sold its first weekend. The interesting question to me isn’t what Apple is doing right, it’s what other tablet makers are doing wrong. It strikes me that out of all the competing tablet makers, it’s the ones who are pursuing different form factors—like the 7″ Galaxy Tab—who might do the best. (Although I haven’t found a recent report on how the Tab’s “quite smooth” sales are going.)
I was traveling last week, and stayed in a small hotel in the LA area. The room had an in-room coffee maker, one of those ones that uses “pods” for the coffee: little paper filter packs filled with pre-measured ground coffee, in this case branded by Wolfgang Puck.
"Magic?" you may be saying. "But those things don’t make good coffee!" No. No, they don’t. They make terrible coffee. But they magically remind us coffee drinkers—or should—that a quarter-century ago, all coffee in America was this bad. Arguably, much of it was worse: the Puck pucks produce something which is recognizably in the coffee family. It’s possible that if that coffee was put in a good, clean brewer it might be better still.
As unfashionable as it is to say, even the snobbiest boutique coffee drinkers owe Starbucks thanks. This is something Marco Arment mentioned on “Build and Analyze,” his podcast with Dan Benjamin; it was a relief to hear it wasn’t just me with that thought. Starbucks was founded by people who genuinely cared about coffee.
Now, Starbucks only makes dark roasts, despite their package labeling. And while Starbucks’ beans are good, they’re not great. These are factors of Starbucks’ size more than anything else: you can’t buy high quality beans in sufficient quantity for ten thousand stores, and by roasting all their beans to within an inch of their lives they get a consistent flavor, i.e., charcoal. There’s also a historical reason for Starbucks’ roast style, though, which is why they do that even to their expensive, limited production “Starbucks Reserve” coffees that only show up at a handful of stores. Their founders got into the business through a then very small coffee chain in the Berkeley area called Peet’s. Apparently, Alfred Peet liked his coffee to have a healthy aftertaste of forest fire. (By the way, don’t tell people in Seattle or Portland that their coffee culture really started here in the San Francisco Area. They’re already suspicious of us.)
I’m not completely against pod-style coffee. The Keurig system is built around a better brewer than you’d expect with some better roasters than you’d expect producing “K-Cups,” which also stay fresher than you expect, so the net effect is sometimes surprisingly tolerable. (I can see the ads now. “Keurig: Sometimes surprisingly tolerable!”) And the Nespresso capsule espresso system will never give you as good an espresso shot as a good barista with a good espresso machine and fresh roasted coffee will, but it consistently beats chain coffee—sorry, Alfred, even Peet’s.
But you know, it was awfully good to come home after the trip and have an actual cup of fresh-roasted drip. Thanks for reminding me, coffee pods!
(For the nerd record, I usually make coffee with a Chemex “pourover” brewer or a single-cup filter cone, or a Technivorm drip brewer I got years ago when they were much less expensive than what Williams-Sonoma is asking now. I’ve started roasting my own coffee again after digging an old roaster out of storage. And while I know it’s quite beloved of coffee geeks, I am not a raving fan of the AeroPress—but as Alton Brown would say, that’s another show.)
It’s actually questionable whether Lodsys’s patents would survive a well-funded effort to have them declared invalid. Even if they could be upheld under the system as it stands, there’s no way that those patents represent a fair deal between society and [Lodsys].”
The idea that patents are supposed to be a “fair deal” between creator/publisher rights and society as a whole sounds almost naively utopian, but that’s what the point of patent and trademark and copyright protection has always been. Lodsys claims that patents from decades ago entitle them to collect a transaction fee on millions of transactions; it’s only a matter of time before someone comes forward with a patent set which, if you turn it ninety degrees and squint a little, seems to cover other digital transactions. What about “in-app purchases” of books? Digital subscriptions? Mobile phone payments? (“A method for initiating a transfer of funds using a mobile computing device.” It’s out there somewhere, you know it.)
To me it seems quite sensible that software patent protection—and to some degree all the other related protections—need to be rolled back to benefit society. But in America we get all twitchy when people talk like that, as if the phrase the good of society inevitably leads to Soviet gulags. So claims like Lodsys’ should be called patent taxes. Everybody hates taxes.
“There are some things Google Docs is great at. But as a replacement for Office, the apps are so limited that using them is like watching a Jerry Lewis movie: you keep asking yourself, “Why is this happening?””—Michael Mace
So a few bullet points. Everybody loves bullet points.
This rumor is from Eldar Murtazin of Mobile-Review.com.
Eldar Murtazin has reported a bunch of crazy stuff about Nokia in the past: that they would replace their CEO last year, that Nokia would move to Windows Phone, that Nokia would kill the Ovi brand they’ve spent millions building up.
Oh, wait, all that crazy stuff was true, wasn’t it? As I learned the hard way, Murtazin’s track record with batshit rumors is pretty good.
Despite My Nokia Blog’s breezy tone, Mark Squires did not, strictly speaking, deny the rumor.
Microsoft has a long history of overpaying for things of questionable value to them, and we’re all breathlessly wondering how they could possibly top the Skype deal. Now we know!
Nokia is still the market leader worldwide in smart phones but they’re dropping fast, from 39% a year ago to 24% now. With their entire platform in transition, it’s folly to think this is going to reverse.
When I originally posted this (a scant half-hour ago) I’d written, “The biggest argument against this may honestly just be the numbers involved: Murtazin quoted a figure of $30 billion, and that’s a big number, but last year Nokia had about €42 billion in revenue and €39 billion in assets—that’s $60B and $55B respectively.” Actually, though, Nokia’s market cap is currently $32B, and their cash on hand is a little under $13B, which my original figures—the ones in the previous sentence—don’t give a good picture of. Even so, I’ll still ask the question that led me to: what is Murtazin actually suggesting Microsoft will buy? It’s clearly not the whole shebang.
I suspect what he’s actually talking about is Nokia’s “Mobile Solutions” group—i.e., the smartphones, not the feature phones. And for Nokia, this may make sense on other levels; there’s room for multiple “winners” in the mobile device game but there’s a practical limit to the number of incompatible platforms that are going to survive. There’s going to be Android, iOS and one or two others. Stephen Elop decided—and I can’t say he was wrong—that neither Symbian nor MeeGo were going to be one of those others. Taking a lot of money to get out of the game entirely and using that cash to pivot into another field isn’t completely nuts.
If the Mobile Solutions group is actually sold to Microsoft, there will be furious accusations that this was Elop’s plan all along; I don’t think so. I think he went with Windows Phone because he couldn’t go with Apple and didn’t trust Google. Why would Microsoft want to own the hardware group? Because it gives them a whole end-to-end platform. In Horace Dediu’s terms, it moves them from a modular architecture to an interdependent one. Microsoft has always thought of themselves (don’t snicker) as an innovative company. And they may question whether they can innovate enough if somebody else is calling the shots on the hardware.
Whether this can work is another question, of course. They’ve tried this once before with the once-excellent Danger Research and the Hiptop (T-Mobile Sidekick), and we know what happened there. And that’s not the first time Microsoft has bought a company, let the original products stagnate (or pull them entirely), then eventually roll bits of the technology into an entirely new brand that sinks like a rock.
Murtazin’s rumor is just about talks that haven’t started yet. “Talks” are a long way off from “done deal,” and if they do happen any deals could be radically modified from what Murtazin’s heard so far, or just fall through completely.
But c’mon, aren’t you all secretly waiting for the Microsoft Nokia Windows Phone N9 Kin Ultimate?
So I have to wonder, how many people have actually heard of iFlow before they started screaming “Apple put us out of business” this week?
I mean, I’m sure they had users—they refer to being the “highest rated ebook reader” on the iOS App Store. (Which is distinct from the most popular, of course.) They apparently had some big business deals in place—they referred to losing one major publisher’s catalog the moment those guys signed up with Apple instead. But from all appearances, iFlow is basically just an ePub reader using Adobe’s DRM, selling from a catalog created for other such devices.
I’m not (quite) as unsympathetic as my tone suggests, but this little tempest brings up questions which remain unanswered in my mind from the first round of “Apple is killing all content competitors!” histrionics back in mid-February.
Why isn’t Amazon taking their ball and going home?
Seriously: everybody talked about how this would mean the end of the Kindle on iOS, for the same reasons that iFlow says they’ve been killed. But Amazon hasn’t made a peep of protest in three months. The Kindle app was updated in late April, but it still works the same way as ever. Is Amazon waiting until the last moment to storm theatrically off the platform? Are they being given a special deal from Apple, because Apple realizes that driving the Kindle off iOS would qualify as a Monumentally Stupid Thing? Or is the understanding of Apple’s subscription policy that we all have actually, well, wrong?
What about stores with more items than the iOS in-app purchase system can actually handle?
As John Gruber pointed out, Apple’s IAP system can only hold 3500 catalog items as it is now, and there’s no way to do bulk uploading of a catalog through iTunes Connect. IAP simply wasn’t designed for book catalogs. There’s no technical way to shove the Kindle catalog—or, presumably, the iFlow catalog—into IAP to begin with.
So do Apple’s new rules just make book stores verboten? iFlow’s developer clearly thinks so, and says, “The whole purpose of this is not to get [developers] to use In-App. It’s to get them the hell off iOS.” He may be right—Apple has never had a compunction about kicking its developers in the nuts—but I’m not convinced it’s so cut and dried. Gruber wrote, “I don’t believe Apple wants to chase competing e-book platforms off the App Store.” I don’t, either; see the sentence above about the Monumentally Stupid Thing. Apple might make a Very Special Exception for Amazon, but so far that hasn’t been their style. They tend to nut-kick impartially.
What about applications that just magically handle file types?
If you click on a link for an ePub file on an iOS device, you get asked what application you want to open it in. Pick one, it gets downloaded to that application. This works even if it’s an ePub I paid for that—gasp!—wasn’t from Apple. (And there are other ways to do that, ranging from Dropbox integration to iTunes.) This is, as far as I can test, also true for Bluefire Reader, another iOS app that supports Adobe DRM.
From a technical standpoint, iFlow could have had an online bookstore of their own that sold protected ePubs for all devices and applications that could read them, and made it very easy for people to get files from that web site to their application. The “worst case” reading of Apple’s new policy is that it prohibited them from tying their online book store and their iOS app together intimately. If iFlow was more like Bluefire, we probably wouldn’t be talking about this.¹
I don’t want to minimize how badly I think Apple’s handled this in general; iFlow’s developer has a right to be pissed off and the call he’s making is—however melodramatically done—understandable: if Apple isn’t going to stick it to competing e-book readers, they’ve had more than enough time to clarify that, and “Apple is going to stick it to competing e-book readers” is certainly the most easily supported position based on what little guidance Apple gave to the press on this a few months ago.
Even so, my only slightly tongue-in-cheek prediction is that come July, the Kindle app will still be in the store and still be working about the same way it always had, and iFlow’s developer will sue Apple for some damn thing or another based on the observation that if Apple was not going to shut down competing ebook stores they could have deigned to make that a bit clearer by now. (An outcome to which I will, again, not be entirely unsympathetic.)
Of course, if by the end of July, Bluefire is gone—which, if iFlow’s developer is right, they will be—we’ll sure as hell be talking about that.
Fortunately I seem to have avoided inviting too many flames, which is always entertainingly perilous when you talk about text editors—they’re very personal choices. Naturally, a lot of people popped up with their favorite editor if I didn’t mention it.
As I added in an update, though, there’s an advantage that BBEdit, Emacs and Vim have that most other editors don’t have: they’re very old. Yes, this may make them a little stodgy, but it also means that they have comparatively large communities around them and that a lot of the problems you run into with them have already been solved.
I want to talk about BBEdit more for a moment. I realized just over the last couple of days that it has one strange problem unrelated to its quality: there is no central repository of extensions for it the way there is for TextMate and Vim (and many other editors). Bare Bones has links to a handful of syntax files, but BBEdit’s main power comes from AppleScript, and nobody seems to be collecting scripts—you just have to hope you can find them in web searches, and hope that they’re not ones written ten years ago for Mac OS 9. I get the impression from BBEdit’s mailing list that a lot of people write scripts to do all sorts of cool stuff… and keep them to themselves. Part of this comes from BBEdit predating the idea of sharing everything on a big web site, I suspect, but Vim is about BBEdit’s age and they adapted pretty quick. It’s like there’s an unwritten code of pain among BBEdit users: if we had to learn how to write crap like set parent_folder to (container of (file of w as alias)) as alias to get anything done, you have to learn it, too.
One commenter said he hated TextMate because it required you to be an “elite programmer” who could “shit TextMate bundles.” I’ve heard that before, albeit with less colorful language. Setting aside the implied argument that AppleScript is easier than other scripting languages (a contention I find highly debatable), this misses the point. Most people using TextMate don’t write their own bundles.¹ They check to see if one of the several hundred existing ones does it first. This is why all those new editors popping up are scrambling to have some level of TextMate bundle compatibility: they instantly get a huge community.
I bring this up because I think BBEdit could have this, if there was a central script repository to both leverage the work the rest of the community is doing and give newcomers a clear idea of just how much power there is under BBEdit’s hood. This may be a pipe dream; maybe I’m misunderstanding the situation. But I think it’s worth a shot.
One editor that came up a lot was jEdit, a cross-platform one written in Java which—unlike the other Java editors I’ve seen—looked pretty nice. I never got into it because it looked like it would require a lot of fiddling with to make me happy, but Dennis Hotson wrote a post in which he does a lot of the fiddling for you.
Multiple people mentioned Sublime Text, possibly missing that I’d mentioned it. It doesn’t look like my cup of tea, but it might be yours, and while it’s new it actually already has its own community going—it’s existed as a Windows-only program for a couple years already.
As I said, I don’t think you shouldn’t be checking out other editors if you’re of that mindset; if I could take about half of Panic’s Coda and half of MacRabbit’s Espresso and shove them together, I’d get fairly close to my dream editor. (Both of them need to be less painful to write extensions for, though.) Given that their respective developers are not carving each bit individually from rare Italian marble they both have a high probability of actually having a 2.0 release this year. Meanwhile, I’ll keep using something old and stodgy but fully functional. That sounds kind of dirty if you say it right.
The commenter also noted that BBEdit lets you record AppleScript so you don’t actually have to write it, which is true, but only to an extent. TextMate can record keyboard macros, which are more useful in some ways and less useful in others. If your goal is just “assign this multi-step task to one keystroke without making me do programming,” it’s largely a draw. And, yes, both Vim and Emacs can record keyboard macros pretty easily.
"Don’t write a text editor; you’re reinventing fire." — Ben Straub
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been a TextMate user for the last few years, albeit increasingly reluctantly. TM has always been a mix of sheer brilliance and stone cold stupid, and while the former outweighs the latter, when the latter pops up it really gets in your face. (Undo character by character, anyone?) We first started hearing about TextMate 2 in early 2006, and as people will always respond if you point out that it’s now 2011, the author never gave an ETA other than “after Leopard.” All well and good, but if your dad walks out one Thanksgiving saying he’ll be back “sometime after Christmas” and it’s now five years later, when your little sister tells you “he didn’t say how long after Christmas” she’s maybe not facing reality. If your dad pops up to make a blog post once a year saying he’s still working on it, he is just possibly not facing reality, either.
So. A lot of old TM users have been looking for the Editor That Will Be TextMate 2.0 By Default. This has in turn given rise to new editors all aiming for that ETWBTM2BD spot. I’ve been following a few of them sporadically. Sublime Text is coming to the Mac! It supports (some) TextMate bundle operations to make it easier to move over to it! And so does Kod, and even though it doesn’t actually do anything yet it’s open source! Let’s not forget Panic’s Coda and MacRabbit’s Espresso, which are both marketed as quasi-IDEs aimed specifically at web developers and—again—sport limited compatibility with bits and dribbles of TextMate’s bundles.
A few days ago, word started spreading around of yet another new editor, Vico! Like Sublime Text and TextMate, Vico is a shareware program developed by just one guy and sold for about $50. This one, though, is a native Cocoa editor that uses vi keybindings, uses Nu instead of Vim’s scripting language, and is partially compatible with TextMate bundles.
Wait. Now we’re trying to make Vim pretty? Really?
I love you all, but it’s time to stage a text editor intervention. Put down the mouse, back away from that download link, and take a deep breath.
First off: if you are a Mac user and compatibility with TextMate is an absolute must-have, let me ask you two questions. Is TextMate 1.5 still working for you? Can you keep living with its limitations? If you answered both those questions “yes,” our work is done here. Go in peace.
Otherwise, I’m going to make a radical prescription. I like both Coda and Espresso, but right now I can’t recommend either one unless you’re mostly doing static HTML files. Your decision is between three editors: BBEdit, MacVim and Cocoa Emacs.
This assertion will piss off BBEdit fans, but BBEdit is the least powerful of those three. Its color schemes are minimal, its “codeless language modules” are underpowered, and it can’t do syntax-aware indenting. And it’s $99, whereas the other two are free. But it’s the only one of the three which is a true Mac program. In its basics, it behaves like every other Mac text window you’ve ever seen and just adds lots of great stuff onto that. MacVim and Cocoa Emacs make a few concessions to the Mac environment, but you gotta learn Vim or Emacs to use one or the other.
But all of these editors are very extensible. Either out of the box or with an afternoon of dorking around, you’ll have everything you miss from TextMate. They all have TextMate-style snippets. (Ironically, BBEdit had them years before anybody else; the extensions for Vim and Emacs are both consciously modeled on TextMate’s.) All of them have folding and multiple windows and pane splits. All of them have quick navigation between files in a project hierarchy. (All of them can use PeepOpen if you want.) If you’re the kind of nerd who knows what HTML Zen Coding is, all of them have add-ons for it. And, oh yeah: they all understand that tabs are a terrible way to manage multiple open files once you have more than four or five open at once, and all can handle files much bigger than TextMate can dream of.
Those of us who cling tenaciously to TextMate do so because of its amazing bundle system; you really have to spend time digging into it to understand how powerful it is. BBEdit, Vim and Emacs all require you to learn a weird scripting language; TextMate lets you write in any language you can script a Unix shell with, from bash to Ruby.¹ The flip side of that, though, is that TextMate’s bundles are—with few exceptions—limited to passing standard input and environment variables to a shell script and getting standard output back. With BBEdit and the Ugly Unix Twins, you can attach scripts nearly everywhere, with deep access to the underlying editing engines.
I keep trying to love BBEdit once more but at best it’s an affable fling. I still prefer TextMate for writing Markdown prose (like, say, this blog post); for code, I’m spending more time hanging out with MacVim these days. It’s not as pretty as Vico, but it retains Vim’s top-notch support for displaying multiple files at once. (None of the native Mac programs except Coda can display more than one file per tab or physical window.) And Vim’s modal editing really is faster once you get used to it for coding. Yes, it takes a damn long time to start making sense. But the first time you watch someone cut a <div> block in an HTML document by putting the cursor somewhere in the open or close block tag and typing three characters—or typing one command for “delete every line after each line that contains this pattern”²—you have to at least concede there’s something to it.
Here’s my baseline test: can I tell the editor I want most code to be indented by 4 spaces but YAML by 2? In 2011, this should be dead simple—but it knocks all but our Fab Four right out.³
Okay, sure. You’re an editor junkie like me. I understand. I’m not saying you can’t keep watching the other programs. Play with ‘em in your spare time. One of them might end up being something that blows our collective doors off. It’s okay. We can all hope. (Maybe dad has just been out on a smoke break all this time, too.)
But in the meantime, you gotta get work done. Either pony up money for BBEdit, pony up time for MacVim (or Emacs), or stick with TextMate.
(A couple Thursday-at-5 updates: as Brian Ashe reminded me I should mention, BBEdit does have a free relative, TextWrangler, also. And, as the plethora of comments below suggests, editor choice gets pretty personal. Why do I recommend three stodgy old warhorses? Well, any editor that has a still-growing community after two decades is probably doing something right.)
Yes, AppleScript is weird. Don’t even pretend.
dat and g/pattern/+1d respectively. Yes, that last one did actually
come up when I was editing an SQL dump file.
In theory Sublime Text can do this but dear God, you thought Vim configuration was arcane? Welcome to the 500 Preference Files of Bartholomew Cubbins.