Some Tech Critics Are Like Eunuchs In A Harem

John Kirk / January 2nd, 2014

Some Tech critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They see it done, they see how it should be done, but they can’t do it themselves or derive any pleasure from it, so they conclude that it’s a waste of time and effort.1

The Premise

Christopher Mims, writing for Quartz:

2013 was a lost year for tech

All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry

Oh, look! A dead horse! Where’s my stick?

Mim’s article has already been critiqued, in detail, by the likes of John Gruber, Apple 2.0, and Daniel Eran Dilger. But never let it be said that I’m above piling on. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: “This is not an article to be tossed aside lightly. Rather, it should be thrown with great force.”

For that reason, I present to you (some of) what’s wrong with Christopher Mims’ critique of tech in 2013.

Commodities

2013 was the year smartphones became commodities…

Prices for good tablets have similarly collapsed.

What Mims claims is fine and all except for one thing — it just ain’t true.

A commodity is a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.

Phones and tablets are anything but commodities. I could prove that in some detail, but I don’t need to. One can tell that phones and tablets are not a commodity simply by looking at the wide disparity in their prices.

To miss something that obvious isn’t easy to do, but Mims — in this article, at least — seems to be up to the challenge.

LESSON #1: YOUR DEFINITIONS HAVE TO BE RIGHT

If you don’t know the proper definition of a term, don’t use that term to support your argument.

Creative Destruction

Mims cites all of the following as signs that ‘2013 Was a Lost Year for Tech’:

Microsoft lost nearly a billion dollars on the Surface RT tablet…

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be pushed out…

Microsoft bought Nokia‘s devices business….

The outlook wasn’t much better for Intel…

BlackBerry…proved to be a near-total loss.

(T)he best that can be said so far (of Hewlett-Packard) is that it’s gracefully managing its own decline.

(E)very wrong attempt discarded is a step forward. ~ Thomas Edison

In viewing the above, any student of economics would come to the exact opposite conclusion that Mims did. 2013 was not a lost year. Far from it. It was a year of turmoil and turnover — the very embodiment of creative destruction.

“Creative destruction is a process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it. The term is used in a variety of areas including economics, corporate governance, product development, technology and marketing. In product development, for example, creative destruction is roughly synonymous with disruptive technology.” ~ Wikipedia

LESSON #2: YOUR THEORY HAS TO BE RIGHT

If you don’t know the proper economic theory, don’t use it to support your argument.

Planned Obsolescence

(Apple) crippled many older iPhones and led to complaints of planned obsolescence.

John Gruber refutes this argument, in detail, here.

People everywhere confuse what they read … with news. ~ A. J. Liebli

Mims’ naked assertion that iOS7 crippled older iPhones is particularly grating. If you’re going to build an argument, you have to build it on a firm foundation. And if you’re going to make an extraordinary claim, then you have to provide extraordinary proof to support it. Instead, people like Mims simply make spurious claims and then build elaborate arguments on top of virtually nothing. It’s the equivalent of building a skyscraper on quicksand.

LESSON #3: YOUR FACTS HAVE TO BE RIGHT

If you can’t support your facts, don’t use them to support your arguments.

Making Us Sick

(Apple introduced) animate(d) 3D effects that make some users feel ill…

Really?

Seriously?

Little things affect little minds. ~ Disraeli

This is one of the buttresses Mims uses to support his contention that 2013 was a lost year in tech? Would he have similarly claimed that the Model-T, and every car that succeeded it, was a failure because it made some people car sick?

This is a textbook display of the cognitive distortion known as all-or-nothing thinking:

“All-or-nothing thinking: seeing things in black or white as opposed to shades of gray; thinking in terms of false dilemmas. Involves using terms like “always”, “every” or “never” when this is neither true, nor equivalent to the truth.”

Yes, some very few users of iOS 7 did suffer from motion sickness. Yes, Apple immediately released an update to remove the offending motion, if desired. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water. Mims discards all that is good in iOS 7 because he detects one trivial, easily correctable, flaw.

If Mims believes that progress comes without problems — and that any problem, no matter how trivial, outweighs all of progresses’ benefits — then he’d better get used to disappointment. And he’d better stop writing about tech.

LESSON #4: YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

One should never make a mountain out of a molehill.

Lulls

If it’s in the nature of progress to move in leaps, there are necessarily lulls in between. …2013 was a great big dud for technology as a whole.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. ~ Bill Gates

Lull? Lull? Does Mim even know what a lull is?

Geez, get some perspective man. 2013 was anything but a “lull”. Rather, it was a rapid acceleration of some important trends — like a car accelerating from 30 mph to 60 mph. Technology moved so fast in 2013, it was like trying to read Playboy magazine with your wife turning the pages.

Millions upon millions of people who never before had access to cellular or WiFi data connected in 2013. Millions upon millions of people who never before owned a computer bought one in 2013. Millions upon millions of feature phones were converted into smartphones in 2013.

More smartphones – which is A COMPUTER THAT FITS IN YOUR POCKET – were sold in a single quarter of 2013 than PCs were sold all year.

Perhaps Mims’ world wasn’t rocked in 2013 — but the worlds of tens of millions of ordinary folk was, and the world, as a whole, was changed forever.

LESSON #5: PERSPECTIVE MATTERS

If you don’t know the difference between gliding and accelerating, then stop criticizing the racers and stay safely on the sidelines.

No Breakthrough Products

Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled…

Apple’s new iOS7 mobile operating system…felt “more like a Microsoft release”…

(A) faster processor in the iPhone 5S…

(A) fingerprint sensor that solved a problem that wasn’t exactly pressing.

What? No unicorns in 2013? All of 2013? Shame. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

Mim’s whining that there were no tech breakthroughs in 2013 comes off as childish, impatient, petulant. He’s the worst kind of critic — having accomplished nothing himself, he demands annual miracles from others.

But that’s not the worst of it. Mim’s true sin is that he exposes his embarrassing lack of competence for all to see.

The role of the critic is to learn more, know more, understand more about their chosen field and to expose the unseen and explain the misunderstood to his audience. Even more, excellent critiquing consists of seeing what everybody else has seen and noticing what nobody else has noticed.

Does Mims do that? On the contrary.

Big things start small. The gardner sees the giant oak tree in the smallest acorn. Mims, on the other hand, expects the oak tree to appear fully grown.

LESSON #6: The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Conclusion

You are not superior just because you see the world in an odious light. ~ Vicomte de Chateaubriand

If one looks for the bad in tech, one will surely find it. But is that the proper goal of tech journalism?

It seems to me that our job is to illuminate the fog. And while some use the light to illuminate, others use it to obscure.

Some people seem to think that innovation means change. And some think that change means innovation. But innovation doesn’t just mean change, it means making things better. And if you measure 2013 by that standard, then 2013 wasn’t a lost year, it was a year of change and change for the better.

And that’s worth writing about.

  1. Inspired by: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They’re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’t do it themselves. Brendan Behan, quoted in M. Sullivan, Brendan Behan: A Life (1997)” []

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • Bill Smith

    Please tell me where to license that image. I want to use your “like eunuchs in a harem” line in my first presentation of 2014.

    I’m glad you’re starting the year strong!

    • FalKirk

      Thank you, Bill. It’s great to have yours be the first comment of 2014.

  • saywhat

    OMG if Mims doesn’t consider the new Mac Pro a breakthrough product I’d like to know what the hell he does consider a breakthrough product.

    • Herding_sheep

      He’s probably the type that didn’t think the iPhone was a breakthrough in 2007 either, but a “toy.” People like that are the type that never see breakthroughs when they’re staring right at them, but then several years later when the invention proves to be disruptive they pretend to have seen it all along.

      So, when you look at things in that context, you’ll NEVER see breakthroughs when they happen, and will constantly write about being disappointed by lack of innovation.

      The sad thing is (and Om Malik did a great job writing about this) if you look past the mainstream tech media, you can see some pretty amazing breakthroughs that did happen in 2013. But of course I shouldn’t expect a person like Mims to do that, or be excited by some of these smaller but profound innovations.

  • RGinSF

    Thank you for a clearly- and strongly-stated response to a flip and smug tech article that represents just about everything that’s bad about tech ‘journalism’ today.

  • jfutral

    Cynicism is easy. Optimism is hard. To be fair, in the article, he called out a lot of issues that were real. What seems more unspoken is that what he really means is that the companies he follows or admires did not blow him away.

    Let’s not fall into the same problem critiquing his article he falls into in his exposition. But, then, this is the internet after all. It seems to be what we do best (at least three fingers pointing back at me, too). Examine all things, hold onto the good.

    I was actually having a similar discussion about art the other day, especially after listening to an NPR episode based on the podcast Culture Shock 360, http://www.studio360.org/story/culture-shock-1913/. At what point do improvements or refinements really only amount to variations on a theme, which ones really deepen the expression or experience, and which ones really do move the form, not just to the next level, but to a whole new experience or expression?

    Joe

    • klahanas

      I’m delighted you pointed your thoughts out. Well balanced, non-defensive, and considerate.
      I’ve been in Innovations, but also the day to day, my whole career. There are two obvious types of innovation, let’s call them “Revolutionary” (iPhone, Microprocessor, GPS) and “Evolutionary” (iPhone 5S). Right now, Apple seems to be in an “Evolutionary” period. Expecting constant revolution is impractical. On the other hand, it’s hard to get excited over “one more blade” as Gillette has been doing with their razors. That brand isn’t growing because they added one more blade, but because of the marketing dollars behind that blade.

  • klahanas

    “Some Tech Critics Are Like Eunuchs In A Harem”

    And some are like Gregory Hines!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3viQHsBFc4

    (Warning: PG-13 in a Mel Brooks kind of way)
    Happy New Year!

  • JoeS4

    1. Why are you so angry?
    2. Why is techpinions.com such a festering sewer of relentless Apple marketing?

    • benbajarin

      John is our primary Apple guy who writes with a focus on Apple. If you take a look at our overall content you will find many more topics than just Apple. But Apple is the leader in this industry so they are talked about often by many. For good reason.

      • Space Gorilla

        That’s exactly the problem though, the fact that Apple is leading makes a certain group very, very angry. It’s fascinating, there’s some sort of pent up resentment that Apple’s approach to computing devices has succeeded.

        • JoeS54

          I get annoyed when I spend time reading an article, and feel that my time was wasted. I’m irritated by the state of what passes for tech “journalism” these days. That’s it.

          As for Apple, I was a satisfied iPhone owner until September of this year. iOS7 made me switch to a Samsung Galaxy. I know many Apple users, and the reaction of all of them to iOS7 ranges from “eh… whatever”, to the kind of loathing I feel for it. There is nobody who thinks it’s an improvement. For a company that has so much riding on its user interface to put out a design that monumentally awful is unbelievable. When I went and looked at what was out there, and saw how badly the 5S was lagging behind other phones spec-wise, I had to switch. I’m not a fan of Android, or the Galaxy’s relatively flimsy body. There are no good phone options out there for me right now. I may try a Windows Phone next.

          Apple has been very profitable in recent years. That’s not the same thing as “leading”. They’re certainly not leading in market share. But more importantly, they haven’t led on technology or design for several years now. To me, iOS7 was proof of what I feared, and suspected – that Apple without Steve Jobs is not Apple. It’s clear that there are a bunch of people working there who rode Jobs’s coattails, and gave themselves way too much credit – “Jony” Ive being chief among them.

          If I owned Apple stock I would have sold it when Jobs died, and I would not be regretting it now. They have shown no signs of being able to continue what Jobs did for them.

          On a more basic level, the problem with this article is that the author is not being an analyst, he’s being a cheerleader. This is common across the internet. Tech “journalism” is increasingly made up of people with very little technical knowledge, hashing out stuff that comes across like a sports fan rooting for their favorite team. It’s useless.

          • Lerxst

            Walt Mossberg of re/code has a pretty fine article that nicely sums up what you’re writing here: http://recode.net/2014/01/02/its-not-a-church-its-just-an-apple-store/

          • Space Gorilla

            If you are correct about iOS 7 then we will see two things happen very soon, a dramatic decrease in Apple’s customer satisfaction ratings, and a dramatic decrease in sales of iOS devices. So we can measure that to see if you’re right. It’s quite easy.

            As for leading the industry, all we need to do is look at how computing devices work today, all essentially like Apple devices. Every company is moving towards integration and simplicity.

            I wonder if you’re old enough to remember when the ‘real computer users’ said Apple’s graphical user interface was a toy for babies? But slowly all computers adopted a GUI. Just as now all mobile devices have adopted a touch UI. What smartphone doesn’t work more or less like an iPhone? What tablet doesn’t work more or less like an iPad? Android fans are very proud of pointing out that their devices are just like the iPhone or iPad, but with better specs for less money. That’s great, but I think they probably don’t realize what they’re admitting, that their device works like an Apple device.

          • JoeS54

            I don’t think it’s enough for most people to drop their Apple products the way I did. My contract was up, and I was due for an upgrade. I’m more of a “power user” than most people, so I have no problem getting a new device and learning how to use it. A lot of people don’t want the hassle.

            The problem is what it says about Apple going forward. Until they prove to me that Steve Jobs wasn’t the whole company, I won’t be giving them any more of my money. Their products are being surpassed in quality, functionality and price, from Android manufacturers to Microsoft.

          • Space Gorilla

            “For a company that has so much riding on its user interface to put out a design that monumentally awful is unbelievable.”

            “I don’t think it’s enough for most people to drop their Apple products the way I did.”

            So which is it, monumentally awful or not enough for most people to drop their Apple products? It can’t be both. And if iOS 7 is awful, that HAS to have a negative impact on sales, there’s no way around it.

            I think what happened here is you just realized how easy it was going to be to prove you wrong, once we get new sales data and customer satisfaction data, so you’ve modified your position.

            Everyone I know really digs iOS 7. It’s crisp, fun, modern. We’ve got six iPad 2s, all running it with no problems. If you don’t like it, great for you, there’s lots of choices in the market. But don’t make the classic nerd mistake of thinking that your personal experience applies to everyone else. It doesn’t. I’m not going to argue with you about why you should like iOS 7. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Why would I care?

          • JoeS54

            I believe if Apple continues to produce products that range from mediocre to bad the way they’ve done since Jobs died, it will inevitably lead to a decrease in sales. Different people may have different tipping points.
            But these are, in my opinion, facts:
            1. iOS (in general, even before it was ruined by iOS7) has very little to recommend it over the alternatives anymore.
            2. iPhone hardware is superior in build quality, but inferior in specs to almost all other phones in the same price range.
            3. iPads are extremely overpriced. Aside from Apple ecosystem lock-in, there is no reason for any intelligent consumer to buy one. There are Android tablets that do everything the iPad does (and often more) for less money, and with better specs (compare the most expensive Galaxy Note 10.1 to the most expensive iPad Air, and so on). On the other side of the price equation, Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a superior device in every way, that does infinitely more than the iPad, for only slightly more money.
            Apple’s (paid and unpaid) marketing machine and the inertia of current users could stave off these realities for a while. I don’t predict a sudden decline, but a steady one over the course of several years if Apple continues on the path it’s been on since Jobs died, as people slowly realize they’re losing out on features and being overcharged, their cellular contracts come up for renewal, etc.

          • Space Gorilla

            Hmm, you must be fairly young. People have been making this steady-decline-as-Apple-produces-overpriced-inferior-products since the late 1980s. Seriously. Your opinion is not new or original. There’s a failure on the part of the nerd crowd to understand that hundreds of millions of people actually like Apple products and get value from them. You seek to explain away Apple’s success (marketing! inertia! dumb customers!), as many nerds before you have tried, for about 30 years now. How’s that working out?

          • JoeS54

            Uh… Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy when Steve Jobs was brought back, and they were bailed out by Microsoft…

          • Space Gorilla

            I suggest you look into that whole ‘bailed out by Microsoft’ story. It’s exactly that, a story. Apple’s decline through the time period you speak of actually proves my point.

          • Ben Klaiber

            This has been repeatedly debunked. Microsoft was actually caught red handed using stolen Quicktime Code in Windows Media Player and was on the hook for up to a Billion in judgements as Apple was suing them for it.

            Steve Jobs negotiated an undisclosed settlement of that and other licensing cases, along with the $150M in non-voting stock. For perspective, Apple was making that in a month in profits at the time. The $150M was stock purchased and held for six months by MS.

            The real benefit was the commitment by MS to produce Mac Office for several more years. That is what Apple needed, to demonstrate they would still have the office suite used at the time by 98% of the market.

          • steve_wildstrom

            You know, you can actually look this stuff up if you want to report the history accurately. Apple lost $1 billion in the year ended September 26, 1997, after an $800 million loss the previous fiscal year. It lost money in all four quarters of FY97 and I would guess there were at most one or two profitable months in the year.

            The QuickTime allegation was one of a number of complaints of intellectual property violations running both ways between Apple and Microsoft in the mid-1990s. All of these outstanding disputes were settled in a broad cross-licensing agreement that was part of the Microsoft investment deal. And far from being undisclosed, the deal is described in Apple’s 1997 Form 10-K.

            The commitment to continue Office was certainly mutually beneficial because Apple got new software it needed (the version of Mac Office current in 1997 was horrible) and Microsoft made money selling It.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Steve, these things can absolutely be looked up.

            Despite those losses, Apple in 1997 had over $1 Billion in the bank.
            Hardly at the edge of the abyss, despite certain reporters trying to portray it as so. And certainly any honest accounting will recognize that $150M wasn’t a drop in the bucket against those losses. It’s like you want your cake and to eat it,too.

            If Apple was hemorrhaging nearly a Billion a year, how can anyone pretend $150M made any difference at all? That wouldn’t stave off anything, let alone a quarter’s losses.

            Here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/apple/stop-the-lies-the-day-that-microsoft-saved-apple/7036

            Also, here: Mac Office, $150 Million, and the Story Nobody Covered
            http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/RDM.Tech.Q1.07/592FE887-5CA1-4F30-BD62-407362B533B9.html

            As for Mac office being horrible, that’s because MS (despite making a tidy profit the whole time on it) stopped updating Mac Office once it launched the PC Windows 95 version. 3 long years languishing behind in features took it’s toll.

          • steve_wildstrom

            I never said anything about an abyss. The fact is, Apple was losing money badly. Yes, it had about a billion in cash and equivalents at the end of the fiscal year (after taking out the $150 Microsoft infusion), but it started the year with $1.5 billion. There is still dispute about just how critical Apple’s cash position was. Cash on the balance sheet can give a misleading impression of free cash–Apple’s $1.2 and there were knowledgable people at the time who believed Apple was in three to six months of a real cash crunch–its cash position was deteriorating at a rapid pace.

            The real risk to Apple at the time was a crisis of confidence, especially among vendors. It’s hard to think of Apple this way today, but Apple in 1997 needed vendors to extend short-term credit to supply it with components–it was carrying $700 million in accounts payable at the end of the year. Had vendors started demanding cash up front, the company would have been in real trouble. The Microsoft infusion was relatively small, but of great symbolic importance in restoring confidence.

            Regarding Office, the history and the problem was somewhat different. The big problem was Office 4.2, especially Word 4.2., released in 1994. For whatever reason, Microsoft decided to make the Mac version of Word look nearly identical to the similarly numbered Windows 3.1 version. Not surprisingly, Mac users absolutely despised it. And it didn’t help that while it looked the same, it had tons of compatibility issues.

            As part of the 1997 agreement, Microsoft created a separate Mac Business Unit, which developed the Office 1998 Macintosh Edition in record time. Office v.X in 2001 was one of the first major third-party programs with native support for the brand new OS X.

          • Ben Klaiber

            That’s an excellent point about that version of Mac Office. However, when you look at the arc of history and versions to come, a different narrative emerges. Microsoft always kept dangling the Mac Office carrot, while keeping various incompatibilities that crippled it.

            Your point regarding the interface doesn’t quite hold up to cross examination.
            First, remember that Sculley was threatened by MS with the Mac Office bludgeon. If Sculley didn’t sign a three-page agreement that handed over the rights to much of the Mac’s look and feel (and crippled future lawsuits), then MS would kill Mac Excel and Word outright.

            Also, consider that the sales of that version of Office for Mac were quite strong, despite not being updated in three years. Between 1990-94, here were five Mac Office versions. Then, when Windows 95 arrived…nothing for the next three years. Once MS had their foot in the competitive door, they shut of the Mac Office spigot.

            Far from being rejected by Mac users, the outdated ’94 version was still selling robustly in 1996.

            The compatibility issues were precisely the same types of issues I mentioned. They were hardly obscure or random.. and fit neatly underneath the policy of ‘Embrace, Extend, Extinguish’. The 1998 memo from the Office product group sent by Bill Gates himself declared that “We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depend on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities. Anything else is suicide for our platform. This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to destroy Windows”.

            Yes, in that memo he was discussing IE (the subject of the trial), but clearly Gates’ policy was to intentionally break Office products to destroy competing platforms. He was specific about it harming Windows itself, not IE’s browser share.

            That Mac business unit was part of the agreement, yes. It’s minor independence led to some improvements. However, the overall policy didn’t change, once the Mac began to stabilize.

            In fact, the drag and drop issue I’ve referred to? That happened after the Mac business unit and after the ’97 agreement.

            Often, it’s worse when an opponent pretends to be your partner. If MS hadn’t done the deal, an iWork project may have been a far greater priority from day one.

            Look at what happened with Mac IE. The more the Mac stabilized with the iMac, the faster MS killed it off completely, pushing more and more sites to be Windows IE only. There’s a pattern that is impossible to ignore.

            Also, regarding the quicktime lawsuit, Apple had already obtained an injunction blocking MS from using that stolen code, and it wasn’t much in question that the code was stolen and used in Windows Media codec to catch up to quicktime. The sole issue was the ‘plausible deniability’ of MS not directly handling the code during the programming. However, they intentionally hired the people who did the Quicktime code, and there were other successful suits where MS was caught red handed using the same stolen code from others.

          • steve_wildstrom

            The period of the late 90s was one of stagnation for Office and and for office suites in general. It’s true that Mac users had to wait from 1994 to 98 for a new version of Office, but Windows went from 94 to 97. (Office 95 was a hastily kludged 32-bit port of Office 4.)

            But the competition wasn’t doing any better. Lotus, for reasons no one has ever understood, concentrated development on OS/2 (this was long before IBM bought it.) It’s Mac development efforts were a total flop. WordPerfect concentrated on continued development of DOS versions and was horribly late to Windows.

          • Ben Klaiber

            ‘The period of the late 90s was one of stagnation for Office and and for office suites in general. ‘

            Steve, we’re talking about 1994-1997. Those same years saw Office ’96, ’97, and 8.0 on the Windows side, while nothing on the Mac side. So, what are you talking about?

            The OS/2 swindle by MS is another topic altogether. Once again, they entered a partnership with the intent to cripple their partner. OS/2 was to be the only Windows compatible OS . However, knowing that the win32 API was vital to that compatibility and ability to compete, MS delayed the finalizing of the API until just after the agreement expired, forever consigning the partner who gave them much of the future underlying NT improvements to Win16 limits.

            This is the great example of how Closed beats Open. MS knew that there could never be a Windows compatible competitor, which would enable real competition. Only by locking their entire developer base to their OS exclusively ( A lesson Steve learned for iOS) did Windows stand a chance. 1000s of consumers bought and used Windows because there was nowhere else to run. Buying an off-the-shelf PC and want to run any major software? You only had Windows as an option.

          • Ben Klaiber

            I guess there is a bit of confusion on your position… My argument is that the amount of the MS deal didn’t financially bail out Apple – period. The meme of MS bailed out Apple is fundamentally false from a monetary perspective.

            I’m quite familiar with the state of Apple in 1996-7. What you’re saying regarding the PR value of MS committing to 5 years of future Mac Office is absolutely where we agree.

            Where we diverge is the motivation. MS wasn’t remotely doing this out of the goodness of their heart. They were on the hook for some massive judgements regarding IP infringement and it was a way to settle it, while also helping credibility to fend off the monopoly charges. All while selling an Office Mac software that was always a profit center for the company.

            I think if you’d read my chapter on this, Sideswipes, you’d better understand my position. Far from being a moral judgment, I’m looking at what happened for business lessons. MS was a business partner of Apple via the Office dependency. MS tried to screw Apple off the road, and Steve shrewdly outmaneuvered MS. There’s a ton of terrific business lessons in how he did so.

            It’s like the tale of the turtle and the scorpion. When the turtle helped the scorpion across the river, the scorpion still bit him. Why? ‘I’m a scorpion’, he said.

            MS operates by certain methods. They are cutthroat and often have been caught outright lying to the public, or taking advantage of gullible pundits who take whatever their told at face value. However, they are hardly the only company to operate this way, and an educated entrepreneur can use all he help they can get to compete. That is where my book is directed.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Are you actually comparing devices that are dog slow compared to the 64 bit screaming machine of the iPad air? Same price range, yes. And for that, you get few OS updates, an 18 month max future of even possible Android updates (Google’s declared that the cutoff), a high chance of downloading faux versions of apps (Android’s market is full of malware ridden rip offs of real apps) and a resale value that drops like a stone (unlike the iOS devices, which hold their resale value years later).

            The windows surface devices are poorly designed for touch, terrible battery life, and generally require sitting on a desk to use, making them basically netbooks with a little tablet capability on the side. Consumers have roundly rejected the Surface already, based on the software issues, the poor battery life and usual Windows headaches that come along with it.

          • N

            You fell into one of John’s traps with your statement that no one likes iOS 7. I can definitively state that you’re wrong because it’s my favorite version of iOS and I’ve used all of them.

            To each his own but I couldn’t use an OS in which the icons are different sizes. Even Windows never got that crazy.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Yeah, the 60% of iOS device owners who updated IN THE FIRST WEEK certainly doesn’t line up with your claims. http://bgr.com/2013/09/26/ios-7-adoption-rate-60-percent/

            Also, it’s already at 75% and climbing daily. In fact, iOS 7 is the fastest upgrade ever in iOS history. So how in the world are you representative of the general market?

          • JoeS54

            “Yeah, the 60% of iOS device owners who updated IN THE FIRST WEEK certainly doesn’t line up with your claims.”

            I was one of them. Previous updates had been good. Why not? My reaction was to go buy a Samsung.

          • Ben Klaiber

            The reaction of people buying iPhone 5S’s and 5C’s, which come with iOS 7? Making them the top two selling phones on all three carriers and erasing Android’s lead in the US market in a month. I’d say that says more than your anecdote.

      • klahanas

        This isn’t a techpinions failing, or Mr. Kirk’s, but when MS was the leader of the industry they too got an extreme amount of press. For the same valid reasons you cite. They, however, were very closely scrutinized, criticized, and ostracized, over the form of their leadership by the press and users. In fact, if MS had adopted the very same policies for which Apple is praised they wouldn’t be around today. Granted, they were a monopoly. Not being a monopoly does not suddenly make Apple “pure”, or their policies “right”. There’s an air in the tech media perceived by some (myself included) that criticism towards Apple amounts to a glancing blow, with a rapid return to the positive.

        • Ben Klaiber

          ‘if MS had adopted the very same policies for which Apple is praised they wouldn’t be around today.’… that’s about as false as could possibly be.

          Apple isn’t threatening Intel for supporting competing OS’s, nor do they blackmail Samsung into staying out of the mobile space. Both are examples of what Microsoft did to Intel. In fact, they pulled Windows from every intel competitor architecture to favor Intel, in exchange for Intel staying out of the OS business.

          Apple doesn’t produce codecs for web standards, then deliberately refuse to allow them on competing platforms. Microsoft did that with Windows Media Formats, ActiveX, NTFS disk format (read was allowed, not writing by competitors), and even their Internet Explorer for Mac didn’t render the same code as the Windows version. The effect is still there today, in the thousands of corporate and government sites that depend on ActiveX, and won’t work on anything but Windows (Realtor sites are infamous for this, locking a whole category of users to the platform).

          Apple has the identical Pages in iCloud running on Windows & Mac. Meanwhile, Office was deliberately (there is a memo trail proving it) crippled on the Mac versions. For years, basic functions such as dragging an image into a document resulted in an unreadable document when you opened the file in Office for Windows.

          Even today, Microsoft’s #1 ad for the Surface? “iPad doesn’t have Office!” Why not? Because Microsoft hopes to bully people requiring it away from the iPad. Some things just don’t change.

          Microsoft’s lessons in tech combat didn’t go unnoticed by Steve Jobs. He tried every alternative while at NeXT. In the end, he used them to build Apple into the powerhouse it is today.

          Checkout http://www.anatomyofanapple.com/2013/09/chapter-8-excerpt-sideswipes.html for the details.

          • klahanas

            All you say is true. Now imagine MS of the day saying the following:

            -You can only use Windows on MS approved computers.
            -We have a program approval process, which, among other things, you cannot duplicate functionality. You must submit you program to Microsoft for approval.
            -You must code only using pre-approved Microsoft compilers. Java not allowed.
            Cross-compiling not allowed.
            -Device drivers must be approved.
            -Lotus, Wordperfect, Quattro, not allowed.
            -You can only sell through MS and approved distributors. MS get’s 30% of your sale.

            Are you going to tell me they wouldn’t have been busted up into a million pieces during the antitrust trial?

            Apple does all these things on iOS right now. It doesn’t only extend to other companies, but down to the users themselves. What Apple did do, is “legitimize” it. Just because they are not a monopoly, does not mean they aren’t acting anti-competitively, or that this is right.

          • Ben Klaiber

            What you’re describing is the Microsoft Marketplace for Surface. It’s exactly what they do.

            Since Microsoft doesn’t sell computers (until the Surface) your first point has zero relevance. What would be more apt would be “You can only run any of our software on our OS”, which is exactly what the situation is. If Microsoft sold hardware, you bet it would be the only thing Windows ran on. Meanwhile, Apple now gives away the desktop OS, just like they always have on mobile (and originally did with their hardware). Surface cannot have other OS’s installed at all, for example.

            The code approval program MS uses is the same as Apple’s in their Marketplace.

            The Coding with pre-approved compilers, as I documented in Anatomy of an Apple – The lessons Steve Taught Us, is standard practice by MS. In fact they required you to use specific compilers for years which lacked any compatibility with OS/2 (despite the two companies agreement for cross compatibility of win16 binaries). Also, by tying key technologies to the platform, they made porting to other platforms a nightmare for developers.

            On Microsoft Windows Phone, before iPhone existed, Microsoft had these terms. In fact, remember the days of mobile software like simple contact apps charging outrageous $45 per phone licensing? The Apple store transformed the consumer landscape overnight.

            The reliable and anti-piracy measures that you list are precisely what dropped software pricing so steeply. Combined with an authoritative assurance that the software would world reliably and as promised, Apple gave developers and consumers a thriving ecosystem..

          • klahanas

            Okay, pay attention. I said MS “of the day”, “of that era”.

            “Since Microsoft doesn’t sell computers (until the Surface) your first point has zero relevance.”
            I used two words…imagine and approved.

            “The Coding with pre-approved compilers, as I documented in Anatomy of an Apple – The lessons Steve Taught Us, is standard practice by MS.”

            Where did MS ever require a specific compiler to write a program for Windows? There were scads of interpreters and compilers, and there still are.

            “On Microsoft Windows Phone, before iPhone existed, Microsoft had these terms.”
            I had a few Windows Mobile devices at that time. You could get programs from Mobile Planet, Handango, PPC4All, and a slew of other’s. Not only that, they put out a free version of Visual Basic for WM so you could write your own.

            They didn’t do any of the things I listed at that time. All those policies are what Apple pioneered, “legitimized”, and MS copied!

            None of this means I’m sticking up for MS, quite the contrary. It doesn’t correct what Apple does.

            BTW, you can boot a Surface from a USB3 drive. I’ll load Linux on one and let you know if it boots.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Ok, let’s use your yardstick.

            Microsoft ‘of that era’ got away with far worse than anything today’s Apple has in place:

            Signing all PC companies to exclusive agreements that forbid them from selling a PC without Windows on it, regardless of what the customer wanted. They also forbid them from installing a third part OS before shipping it to the customer.

            Falsely installing warnings to convince consumers that direct competitors software broke Windows. (DRDOS).

            Threatening to pull Windows off the Intel architecture unless Intel swore off any direct competition with Microsoft in the software arena.

            Those are just a few of the ways MS did things far worse at the time.

            Now, to address your claims that they didn’t require certain compilers: While on a technicality you can say Microsoft didn’t do that ‘in that era’, it’s entirely a moot point. Microsoft only sold an OS and a few applications. Without third party applications, that OS was worthless. Microsoft mandated which compilers were certified as WINDOWS COMPATIBLE. What you’re missing here is that Apple doesn’t sell their compiler or developer tools. They’re 100% free.

            Since they are free, you could ask why Apple doesn’t ok using Adobe flash recompiled cross-platform code as iOS apps. Why?

            Steve learned very early on that if you allow your platform apps to be held back until total cross-platfrom compatibility existed, you were basically killing any advantage your platform could offer. In other words, it was pointless for Apple to develop these killer technologies for their platform, when developers would refuse to use them unless Windows or Android had caught up. THAT is why Apple required developers to use Apple native tools.

            Native tools and program code allows Apple to silently upgrade features of an app whenever they upgrade the OS frameworks. It’s hardly anti-competitive, since Apple isn’t selling the tools. However, the cross-platform compilers are VERY anticompetitive for platforms. They drag the best OS features to a grave unless their competition has them, negating their advantage.

          • klahanas

            I will not defend MS. I’m with you on that.
            As far as native tools go, I agree that they’re better. Since we’re going to be authoritarian about that, it should all be done in assembly language! 😉
            Or…the developers who write the best apps win…

          • Ben Klaiber

            “Or…the developers who write the best apps win…” – which means exactly NOTHING to the platforms. If the identical game was on xbox and playstation, then there would be no differentiator other than cost. The performance is pretty identical.

            If the same app is identical in capability on Windows, Chrome OS, or OS X, then there is nothing to really offer a consumer. Really, how much of the experience is using just the OS? Some file management maybe. Other than that, the killer advantage is what that OS exclusively enables in its applications.

            What many view as ‘anti-competitive’ is actually the very competition in action. Handing off the advantages of your platform is what IBM did with the PC. All that gets you is replaced by knockoffs stealing your work. Unless you have protection for your advantage, (secret formula, trade secret process, exclusive technology) you’ll be eaten alive by others coasting on your work.

          • Ben Klaiber

            God, I think users would have rejoiced if MS started requiring drivers to actually be vetted and certified as stable and working.

            “Lotus, Wordperfect, Quattro, not allowed ’cause we think they suck.” Considering iOS has Firefox, Chrome, and 100 email programs not from Apple, what are you talking about?

          • klahanas

            A sarcastic analogue of what Apple did with several rejected programs.

          • klahanas

            “God, I think users would have rejoiced if MS started requiring drivers to actually be vetted and certified as stable and working.”

            They actually do. Check out WHQL. It’s just not a mandatory program.

          • steve_wildstrom

            There are a large number of inaccuracies and unsupported allegations in you comment, but I’ll just mention two. NTFS is supported on a wide range of systems; the iMac I am writing this on supports NTFS just fine on external drives, using some widely distributed third-party software from Paragon.

            Microsoft Office Web Apps run as well on a Mac as iWork for iCloud does on Windows.

            I certainly hope there aren’t many corporate or government sites left that depend on ActiveX. ActiveX was a security nightmare that Microsoft has deprecated for years.

          • Ben Klaiber

            NTFS, as I SPECIFIED, was read only for many years. In fact, that third party solution you name didn’t even exist until will into the 2000’s. Paragon also had to reverse engineer the code, because, as I SPECIFIED, Microsoft refused to license it to any competing platform. Microsoft to this day refuses to do so. Nothing about what I wrote was inaccurate whatsoever.

            The fact that MS used this intentional incompatibility as a bludgeon is well documented and known. In fact, Steve, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were being disingenuis by skipping over that part and pretending that a reverse-engineered-solution-by-a-third-party-to-break-MS’s-stranglehold somehow absolves MS of successfully using it as a blockade for years.

            On the Windows Media front, until another third-party (makers of Flip4Mac) broke MS’s stranglehold and brought the capability to view Windows Media video to the Mac, most consumers had no idea why the internet experience on a Mac was so inferior on popular sites.

            Microsoft office web apps didn’t appear until 2013. We’re discussing the decades-long use of them as a blockade to competition. What about them appearing 15 years later, when MS had to answer the cross platform Google Office suite, makes it innocent?

          • klahanas

            MS is under no more obligation to license NTFS as Apple is to license OSX. It doesn’t mean that I find either approach correct. Merely I don’t have say over other people’s property. Just like they have no say over mine, once I pay for their devices. I’m buying them, not leasing them.
            To SW’s point, Paragon has been around for a long time now. So has Macdrive.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Perhaps the term ‘standard’ isn’t in your vernacular? There is zero comparison between a file format that blocks information from being exchanged with other platforms and the OS itself not being handed away. That’s like saying HTML code can be 100% proprietary, because a web rendering engine is.

            In every major industry, certain standards are considered ‘essential standards’ and automatically up for patent licensing at very low fees by law. For example, you can’t create a cell phone standard such as GSM, and refuse to allow anyone but you to use it.

            What Microsoft did repeatedly was use their internal named policy of “Embrace. Extend. Extinguish.” to destroy any standard that could allow any competition with Windows OS.

            There is a lengthy trail of memos and emails that document how MS functions to this day.

            What is finally changing is MS’s attitude.. Not only is IE 11 actually fully compatible with web standards, but MS is finally providing reasonable terms and Apple for Apple’s licensing of Microsoft’s exFAT file system.

          • klahanas

            Standards are decided by standards committees. They also cannot arbitrarily name someone’s IP to be standard. The IP holder must submit it, along with licensing terms, to be included into the standard. If you’re referring to NTFS, then I’m not aware of MS offering it as inclusion to a standard. Maybe they did, but in so doing they offered terms.
            I’m not an attorney, but our author is (a recovering one at least), perhaps he can shed more light on the matter.

          • steve_wildstrom

            Some “standards” are proprietary. NTFS is one example, Apple’s HFS is another. Some standards are developed by standards committees, such as the IEEE’s 802.11 wireless or the ITU’s h.264 video codec. These often contain proprietary elements that are patented and must be licensed. Finally, there are standards that are open and royalty- (but not necessarily license-) free, such as GNU Linux or the W3C’s HTML.

          • klahanas

            Thank you.
            In no case, however, is a standard declared without the owner/inventors permission, unless it’s the owner/inventor that is actually marketing it. NTFS I suppose is declared a standard because it’s Windows’ file system. As such it (and HFS) are “de facto” standards on their platforms.

            No outside party, however, can use these standards without permission. Just because something is a standard, does not make it accessible to anyone. Right?

          • steve_wildstrom

            I don’t know that there is a standard definition of a “standard” aside from the narrow area of patent law, where we have a good understanding of what “standards essential” means.

            I would argue that for a standard to be meaningful, it has to be broadly available. I don’t think NTFS is rally a standard; it is Microsoft’s file system. HFS is Apple’s file system. Linux uses a variety of file systems abstracted through its Virtual File System layer. The Server Message Black protocol is a standard that allows filed to be exchanged freely among these heterogeneous file systems.

            Formal standards, those propagated by recognized standards-setting bodies (IEEE, ITU, IETF, ANSI , DIN, etc.) are available for use by anyone, although their implementation often involves patented components. These are the standards-essential patents, which holders are required to license under “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” terms.

          • klahanas

            Thanks again. Not to belabor the point, but it’s critical.
            “These are the standards-essential patents, which holders are required to license under “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” terms.” Which means that the patent holders offer their invention for inclusion into the standard, but the terms are FRAND. Right? Anything less than that would be theft.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Broadly available would be my fair standard as well. Considering any off the shelf portable hard drive or flash memory over 4GB comes pre-formatted with NTFS, that’s pretty broadly available. In fact, there is no other sized format that Windows reads/writes and so does Mac (Reads). That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

            When Apple gained a majority marketshare with iTunes, the PC world was brimming with articles demanding Apple open up the iTunes AAC format to everyone else, or else be a bullying monopoly. Yet those same PC pundits were on the attack whenever Apple was the minority, saying Apple shouldn’t expect any favors for being a loser in a market.

            It’s been an ongoing double standard.

          • Ben Klaiber

            For further substantiation of my ‘allegations’ as you fancifully refer to them…

            Microsoft Threatened to Withhold Help On New Chip, Intel Executive – “Intel abandoned Internet and multimedia software projects after Bill Gates said Microsoft might not support Intel’s next chips, a threat that slowed innovation..” – WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB910634974859134500.html?dsk=y

            Now, as the duly appointed MS defender, you’ll undoubtedly point to MS denying this happened. Unfortunately, they refused to release the very memo that documented that it did happen. Generally speaking, when you have evidence that exonerates you, you don’t refuse to release it. I’d say the CEO of Intel is an extremely credible witness on this.

            What’s worse, it wasn’t merely OS tech like I originally said, it was in fact actually MS threatening Intel for ANY Internet related software entry.

          • steve_wildstrom

            My role as “duly appointed MS defender” comes as a surprise to me and, I’m sure, Microsoft.

            Sn allegation is simply a charge presented without proof. Doesn’t mean it’s untrue, just unproven. There were many, many of them in the Microsoft case. The dispute between Intel and Microsoft over NSP, a very complex fight, was never mentioned in Judge Jackson’s decision in US v. Microsoft.

            In that particular case, Intel would have lost the argument no matter what Microsoft did. Intel’s case was based on an argument that its general purpose processors could handle signal processing as efficiently as dedicated DSP hardware. This turned out to be a technically unsound argument, and NSP never really became a thing.

          • Ben Klaiber

            Steve, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. However, every time I’ve seen your commentaries on anything involving MS’s wrongdoing, they invariably comment in defense of MS.

            I’ve yet to see a comment of yours acknowledging the criminal nature of MS’s behavior or the documented policies of theirs to viciously destroy any legitimate competition.

            What I do note, is you seem always to make a point to downgrade Apple for the most minuscule of perceived wrongs. It’s nothing personal, but it’s the impression your recorded comments create.

            I wholeheartedly recognize my stance in favor of Apple, in case you’re wondering.

            Presented without proof? A sworn witness who directly had the conversation with Gates and Ballmer isn’t proof?

            Regardless of if the judge mentioned it (which has more to do with the Justice Dept. making or not making it a charge of the trial), it is the sworn testimony of Intel’s CEO. A highly credible witness. MS had in its’ possession the memo that proved it, and refused to supply it at trial, since it would incriminate them. That’s more than enough proof for an objective observer.

          • steve_wildstrom

            Gee, and I thought only my grandchildren would acknowledge my wonderfulness.

            Seriously, I refuse to acknowledge Microsoft’s “criminality” because the company has never been convicted of a crime (nor, to the best of my knowledge, has it been charged with one.) The Justice Dept., I’m sure, considered criminal charges before settling for a civil case it felt it could, and of course, did, win.

            I have never been reluctant to criticize Microsoft–you can read 20 years of my writings on this–but at this point I think relitigating things that happened 20 years ago are a waste of everyone’s time. The conditions of the industry and Microsoft’s place in it have changed dramatically. There’s no question that the Microsoft of 1990-2000 was a bully; only the extent to which that bullying violated the law. But Microsoft today is not in a position to bully much of anyone.

          • Ben Klaiber

            When I say ‘criminal nature’ I am emphasizing the ‘nature’ part, since there aren’t charges. The conveniently timed donation by MS of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the re-election campaigns of the political parties in the states of the attorneys generals that were prosecuting certainly didn’t hurt. 😉

            I agree about the state of MS today. As I said, to me, it’s not academic because falsely taught history leads to major mistakes repeating themselves. It also leads to terrible analysis of today.

            For example, the biggest meme today is that Apple is making all these mistakes in strategy, when in fact, they are duplicating our era’s most successful strategies. Google’s open android isn’t remotely the Windows to iOS. In fact, it’s the linux vs. Windows stratagem being replayed.

            What few people understand is the gamut of NeXT strategies Steve tried against Windows. NeXT did everything – total control. OS on commodity hardware. NeXTStep frameworks that ran on competitor’s OS’s. NeXT as open source free OS. Everything. Nothing beat the lock-in and proprietary power of Windows.

            It was the sole OS for any PC. Every major software package written for it required massive re-writes to support any other platform. It pretended to be compatible, yet all the major codecs and technology it used actually refused to work anywhere but on Windows.

            All the while, proclaiming loudly how ‘open’ it was, since you could use (only) it on any computer. That’s like Pilsbury running an ad campaign touting how ‘open’ it’s muffins are, since you can bake in any oven you own! It’s not remotely like being able to write software that runs on two or more compatible OS’s.

    • arlando

      JoeS4 if you don’t like what you see on this site, don’t come here. You write angry, nasty, hateful comments which make it evident you have a personal problem that you need to address on your own instead of bothering other people with it.

    • FalKirk

      “Why are you so angry?” ~ JoeS4

      “If you can’t annoy somebody with what you write, I think there’s little point in writing.” ~ Kingsley Amis

    • azazello

      @JoeS54
      If you read something that annoys you and you continue reading it to completion or keep coming to sites that you find appalling one needs to ask the question: why are you doing it to yourself? Are YOU the eunuch in the harem? You surely ask the question that fits you—why do you have this impotent rage?
      There is another possibility that follows from the second question: are YOU the shill? The answer seems to be in your later posts if one scrolls down. Either life for you is empty so moving on leaves you with pangs of bitterness of an unrequited lover—from a gadget—, OR you are here on a different agenda of a shill. Neither is a good option for potency, my man. It is a sad life to be castrated/desireless among objects of the others’ desire.

    • Ben Klaiber

      In other words, JoeS4, you have not a single actual rebuttal or correction? Nice try working the ref, but no dice.

      If anything, the original article was blatantly a Microsoft shill’s.

      Seriously, his major data that the tech world was lost was: ‘Microsoft didn’t do something amazing. Microsoft lost its CEO. Microsoft Tablets didn’t take off.’

      Combined with a bunch of ‘Apple leaped mobiles into the 64 bit OS and Desktop class processors? Meh.’, ‘Apple introduced the first fast & reliable radio fingerprint technology, securing mobiles with a level unheard of? Meh.’ The bias was pretty damning. Talk about hateful.

  • Boudica

    Nice takedown of Christopher Mimm’s weak sauce. On this and other critiques of journalists/bloggers is it possible to share the wealth and name the editor who green lighted the piece in a footnote? This would be especially enlightening for articles from NYT, WSJ, and other major news organizations.

  • obarthelemy

    Isn’t criticizing people for criticizing a new level of irony ?

    • Criticism based on easily disproved or irrelevant claims is itself deserving of criticism.

    • FalKirk

      Isn’t criticizing people for criticizing a new level of irony ? – obarthelemy

      Why? I have nothing against valid criticism. I have everything against criticism that is worthless — or worse — harmful.

      • marcoselmalo

        Everyone’s a meta critic. 😉

  • Excellent rebuttal, John. As I have said before on other forums, Mims’ style of techo-hipsterism is devoid of merit, predicated as it is on a pretentious façade of ennui regarding modern technology.

    And at the risk of becoming a broken record regarding the general theme of this topic, I urge everyone to read this excellent transcript of a talk given by the writer Warren Ellis.

    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=14314

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