nu's not unix


NeXT and the online revolution

posted on Oct 8, 2013

The Steve Jobs nobody knew, Rolling Stone magazine:

A year earlier, a hotshot programmer at the University of Illinois named Marc Andreessen had created the first Web browser, and the dot-com revolution was about to take off. There was a sense that something big was on the horizon -- something that Jobs seemed to have no part of ... nothing he was doing at NeXT was really connected to the online revolution.

Other than the fact that the World Wide Web was invented on NeXT computers, that is. A minor detail, I guess.

What's behind Microsoft's fall from dominance?

posted on Sep 10, 2013

Barry Ritholtz seems to be one of the few tech pundits who understand how Microsoft lost its mojo:

Microsoft had its deal with the devil: Its lightning in a bottle was not some awesome technology or brilliant breakthrough -- it was a clause in a contract that led to an enormously profitable monopoly...

Once the Justice Department and the European Commission found the company in violation of antitrust laws, it was forced to compete fairly. It is no coincidence that as the company lost its vice grip on the desktop, its dominance faded. Revealed as a dinosaur, it was unable to compete with the smaller, more-nimble mammals.

Nothing I haven't said before, but my opinions aren't published in the Washington Post ;-)

Do 90% of computer users hate learning?

posted on Mar 14, 2013

Matt Baxter-Reynolds claims that "90 percent of users just use technology to get a job done and have no tolerance for learning at all." (Well, he quotes Simple and Usable by Giles Colborn, but he agrees.)

But then he goes on to say: "This method, by the way, explains Apple quite precisely. Apple's products don't do much, but what they do do requires no cognitive load or expectation of understanding drawing from prior experience whatsoever." Apparently, Apple makes nipples. Or, Matt is a douche who has no idea that Macs are the everything machines, running Mac, Microsoft, and unix software all at the same time, which is more than any other computer can do, and that iOS is basically the same operating system on a pocket gadget.

Apple's products actually have a steep learning curve. The Apple ][, the original point-and-click GUI, the click wheel iPod, the multitouch iOS interface—virtually every major Apple product category has redefined user interfaces, and required users to completely re-learn how to interact with technology.

The difference is that Apple invests a lot of time finding better ways to do things. That means that learning how to use Apple products is a pleasure, especially when coming from an older generation of technology whose frustrations had become routine and expected. Once you figure out how something is done on an Apple device, there is a moment of surprise and relief. "Oh, that's going to be so much easier than how I used to do it."

The most illustrative example, in my opinion, is how you install apps on a Mac. These are unix applications, which traditionally have one of the most user-hostile installation processes in the entire history of computing. Windows is only slightly better, because it hides this nonsense behind an install applet. When people first arrive on a Mac and try to figure out how to install an app they have downloaded, they are stumped, because they are expecting some bullshit of a similar flavour, but there's no obvious way to launch or even find the expected installer program. When they figure out that you just drag the app to your apps folder or desktop, they are so relieved.

The pleasure is in the realization that this annoying and painful process that you had become accustomed to, is not in any way intrinsic to computing, and that someone has figured out a better way to do it. Learning this may have been difficult, but it is welcome.

But when we are forced to relearn something that we learned at great expense, but the new procedure has no obvious benefit to us, then we do get annoyed. Our internal bullshit detectors start beeping like crazy, and we suspect we are being jerked around for dishonest reasons. In the case of Windows 8, the subject of Matt Baxter-Reynold's article, those reasons have to do with Microsoft attempting to shore up their Windows-everywhere business model, rather than making the lives of their users easier. Resentment is the predictable outcome.