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Comment: Re:With TVs there's the "software update" problem (Score 1) 367

by jimfrost (#36251886) Attached to: Are Streaming Media Players a Passing Fad

I think you miss my point, but sure ... at this point they're not loss leaders. But it wasn't "a short while" that they were, it was several years (excepting the Wii of course). Even so, that just hammers the point home that it is worth the investment in software updates for the consoles -- the longer the console hardware lives, the more money they make, especially since virtually all of the profit is selling the games.

This is completely different than for TVs, where the vendor only makes money when they sell new hardware. Unless they start getting kickbacks from the cable company there is no incentive whatsoever to keep the TV software up to date, and significant incentive *not* to in that you will drive new purchases if the old stuff stops working. (I wonder sometimes if this is a primary reason for RAM limitations in PC designs; PCs can live a lot longer if you can stuff more RAM into them to cope with OS and application growth, but most PCs I have purchased are at RAM limits within 2 years, e.g. a PC bought in 2007 probably cannot have more than 4G RAM, a bare minimum for Win7 so that machine feels very slow even though the same hardware with 8G would be reasonably zippy.)

Back to TV firmware updates: Have you ever done a firmware update for your TV? I did once, since I bought an HDTV prior to HDCP (consider that to be a rough equivalent to buying a TV prior to standardization of an IPTV format, the situation we are in for the next 5+ years). The vendor offered it at a "discount" for those of us who bought early, it was "only" $300 to update since it required a tech visit. Compared to replacing the $3,500 TV (it was less than one year old) this was quite a bargain ... but it's still a pretty big chunk of change.

Ok, with built-in internet updates become a whole lot easier, you don't have to have a tech show up with a laptop full of proprietary software. Ideally, then, it will become a lot more cost effective for vendors to provide those updates. Unfortunately Blu-Ray provides a peek into how it will really work -- BR players have always had the ability to do consumer or even automatic firmware updates -- yet as I pointed out the BR vendors do not have a habit of releasing updates beyond a couple of years out. Why should they? The warrantee doesn't require them to support it beyond the end of the period, usually either 90 days or 1 year. If it stops working you are almost certainly going to go buy a new one (which, in fact, I did). They spend money providing you updates, they make it when you buy new stuff.

TVs are just like that and as a result I see no reason to believe that we're going to see high-function TVs go mainstream any time soon. The vendor won't want to support them long term, the consumers won't like the higher up-front prices, and the TVs will get a bad reputation within a few years as the software goes out of date and stops working. And that assumes that the software is decent quality (i.e. usable) to begin with, which is more than a little unlikely if history is any judge.

Comment: Re:With TVs there's the "software update" problem (Score 1) 367

by jimfrost (#36244044) Attached to: Are Streaming Media Players a Passing Fad

It's to the vendors' advantage to keep game consoles running as long as they can, especially these days when the consoles are loss leaders. TVs have no such monetary incentive. You'd think phones would, but Apple is one of the best at putting new software on old phones and even they tend to give it up after 3 releases (maybe 2 for iOS5, no 3GS support if rumors are to be believed).

Comment: With TVs there's the "software update" problem (Score 2) 367

by jimfrost (#36242940) Attached to: Are Streaming Media Players a Passing Fad

One problem I've long had with the idea that this functionality will migrate into TVs is that traditionally TV firmware has been next to impossible to update.

IPTV protocols are numerous and evolving fast -- there is not now, nor do we really expect there to be any time soon, a hard-and-fast standard for it. If you don't have the ability to easily update the software then it will stop working within a few years.

Now, my TVs have mostly been paragons of reliability, but one thing I cannot say about the TV manufacturers is that they are any good at all at complex software. Or even the very simplest software for that matter; even with the very limited software functionality in a modern TV the configuration and display of information is almost universally lousy.

And it's not just TVs. Most of these consumer electronics guys also make phones, and look what their software looks like when they do it themselves. It just sucks.

Worse, their dedication to ongoing support of hardware that has already sold is damn near zero (there is, after all, no incentive whatsoever once the warrantee periods expire). Ever see an Android phone that cannot be upgraded to the most recent Android, even if the hardware is capable? That is not only common, it is *typical*. And that is pretty much the rule across most consumer electronics. For instance: My first Blu-Ray player had one firmware update a year or so after the model was introduced, and nothing since. The player no longer works on BR discs that use certain new copy protection schemes and there will never be a fix for that, so it became a boat anchor in just two years.

These things are only a mild annoyance for a product that costs perhaps $200. For a nice TV at $2000ish it's a huge problem. Maybe some years hence when there is a real IPTV standard it will stop mattering so much, but that is not going to happen any time soon. Until it does it will be much more cost effective to buy cheap little boxes to attach to the TV.

Comment: Re:Not believable (Score 1) 154

by jimfrost (#35042592) Attached to: eBooks Nearly Outsell Print Books At Amazon

I can't speak for industry averages, but in 2010 my average e-book price was $8. I calculated out how much it would be for cheapest new versions in paper; ignoring shipping costs, it was about $13. I bought 87 books last year, IIRC. 87*$5 gives you the approximate amount of money I saved by buying e-books. It is quite significant, and actually 2010 was the worst year ever. 2008 e-book prices were more than $1 lower and all told I believe the savings were well over $700 (not including books I got for free).

I note that most of the "higher than paper" prices I'm seeing come from B&N. I have seen the effect on Amazon, but it's very rare ... one book in all of them I've ever purchased. It's fairly common to see differences of about a buck, though, which to me is essentially equivalent. And the difference between current hardcover and e-book prices is usually stark: Around $18 in paper, versus $10 to $12 e-book. That's huge. Back-catalog books used to be great deals but the prices have crept up over the last couple of years, though they still tend to be at least a couple of bucks cheaper and there are many deals where they're being sold for only a few dollars to try to drum up business for relatively obscure authors.

Several people here say that there's no reason to buy them if they're available in your library. I don't know about the rest of you, but library hours in my town so heavily overlap working hours as to leave only four hours per week that I could possibly visit. For a heavy reader that's untenable.

To me the value of e-books is several fold. One, I can get them whenever I want with no waiting. When you've finished your current book at 3am and still can't sleep it's great, and god help me I can't even put a price on the value of being able to have a decent book selection while stuck at the Salt Lake City airport (that bookstore BLOWS). Two, it is becoming increasingly easy to get books that are out of print, and which are difficut to find even used. Three, I can carry around a lot of books without much bulk or weight. I don't need hundreds or thousands, but I'm usually reading several books concurrently and it's nice to have all of them with me for whatever mood I happen to be in. Four, I have a personal paper book library of thousands of books. They take up a lot of space, and it has been difficult to trim (though a flood last spring got rid of five cubic yards of them). There really aren't many books I feel I must have in paper; these days I just buy those kinds of books and save the shelve space everything else used to use.

The fact that they save money, quite a lot of money, is just gravy.

Comment: Re:Why I pirate books (Score 1) 304

by jimfrost (#34832744) Attached to: Book Piracy — Less DRM, More Data

I keep hearing people like yourself claiming that e-books don't have cost savings versus paper. That is just baloney. It's not even close, and it is really easy to go on Amazon and prove that to yourself. For those of you too lazy to do that, I offer some real numbers.

I have purchased literally hundreds of e-books going back to 1998, mostly fiction and science fiction. Over the last three years since the release of the Kindle I've purchased around three hundred (about twice as many as in all previous years, owing primarily to dramatically enhanced e-book availability). So let me talk about real-world e-book prices.

Back prior to the Kindle, if you could get an e-book at all, it tended to be back-catalog stuff from minor authors and small publishing houses ... and about $4-5. In cases involving major publishers they tended to demand full retail price for their books - $8 for paperback equivalents, and a whopping $20-24 for new releases (even though the new releases in paper were available for $18 at local retailers, and $14 from Amazon). Anyway, compare those to paperback prices of the era of $7-8 and you see that I was saving 40-50% over paper. I bought hardcovers for almost all new releases because it was much less expensive.

Amazon changed everything overnight. New releases were $10, and that's the price everyone thinks Amazon sold all their books for -- but they didn't. That was *only* new releases, and that $10 compared to $16 or more for paper from the cheapest sources. Back catalog stuff *never* sold for $10, it was $4-6, compared to paperback prices that were rarely less than $8. Typically you could expect to save $2-3 for an e-book version of a paperback; not big money, but as a percentage quite significant.

As catalogs expanded prices for paperback releases, particularly from the large publishers, went up a bit to $6-7, but new paperbacks were rarely less than $8 -- so you were still saving a couple of bucks per book. I read a mix of new and old stuff and in 2007 and 2008 my average e-book cost was just over $6 (there were a lot of $1-4 steals in there, even by major authors), whereas my average paper price from Amazon in the same period was $12. (That excludes shipping.) From local booksellers, $14. I saved, quite literally, more than 50% by buying e-books. Even considering the $400 cost of the Kindle I saved almost $300 on books by the end of 2008.

When Apple got into this a year ago the market changed again, and Amazon lost the ability to sell new releases for $10 from most of the major publishers. Costs went up -- to about $12. I think I spent $14 on one new release last year, the most I'd spent on a e-book in I think eight years; I haven't bought a new release in paper format for less than $18 in quite some time, and many are $20 now. Paperback books from most publishers are around $5-8 in e-book format now, with major publishers in the $8-10 range. Paper books, of course, got more expensive too -- most of them are $10 or more now from major publishers, and there have been cases where the e-book was within $1 of the cost of the paper book (but that's very unusual). I save less than I did a year ago, but I'm still saving money -- a lot of money.

Because I kept hearing all these claims that the books were now at least as expensive as paper, even though I hadn't thought that was the case, I had noticed the creep up in prices and a few weeks ago I went back and did a sanity check. I looked at my 2010 Kindle purchases. My average e-book cost (on 87 books) has gone up quite a bit since 2007. It's now just under $8, about a 30% increase. I took the opportunity to price all of those books versus Amazon's paper prices too, to see how they compare. Average price would have been just a bit over $12. This represents a 30% savings, a bit more than $4 per book. Times 87 books, that is a savings of around $350 for the year. A new 3G Kindle is $190, so even factoring in the cost of a new device (I didn't buy one in 2010) it would have been a healthy savings.

So: When someone tells you e-books are "just as expensive, if not more so" than paper, they are lying. They aren't. In fact, they're cheaper than just compensation for paper and ink would justify (that being around 15% of the cost of a paper book). The publishers might or might not be making more money from e-books than they would have from paper -- without actually seeing their accounting books, and they're not talking, you can't tell how much warehousing and returns costs them. 30%, though, doesn't seem out of line for the savings they get. For sure they are neither losing their shirt nor making a killing on e-books today. Over time the dramatically reduced risk of publishing e-books should reduce their costs pretty substantially in high-risk segments (don't print paper at all unless the book turns out to be popular), and I expect them to take that entirely as profit.

Anyway:

You don't steal books because the publishers aren't charging less, you steal them because you don't want to pay anything for them. You do save money with e-books versus new paper books -- quite a lot of money. The prices seem pretty fair to me, knowing a little about the economics of book publishing without actually having publisher books to run hard numbers.

That does not mean that I think e-books are a great deal in all cases; in fact, they're really only a good deal if you are buying new, and if you read enough to offset the cost of the device (or read on a device you had anyway, like a cellphone). They aren't much of a deal if you tend to recoup some of your cost by reselling, although in my experience that works out to pretty much a wash: I rarely net more than a few dollars on resale after all the costs are totalled up ... little enough that I do it more out of a desire to free up space in my house (and give someone else a deal) than to make money. YMMV, but to me the real value in reselling versus e-books is not economic but goodwill, allowing secondary market purchasers to save a little money.

If you are one of those people who buy almost all of their books at used book shops then sure, e-books are a raw deal. You will usually be able to beat an e-book's price, and sometimes quite significantly. On the other hand, that's waaaay less convenient. Personally I have frequented used book stores less to save money than to find books you cannot find on the shelves of first-sale retailers, and I really welcome the expansion of back-catalog e-books as a way to eliminate "out of print" availability problems. Moreover, if you happen to like the classics then e-books are the best thing to hit book buying since Gutenberg -- tens of thousands of books that are simply free for the taking, books that publishers like Penguin used to charge full paperback prices for.

On the whole, I'll take the e-books thanks. They save me money, they're vastly more convenient, the catalog on Amazon nowadays is larger than you'll find at any physical bookstore (to say nothing of the likes of the bookstore in the Salt Lake City airport, which blows), and I am not accumulating books in my house at anything like the rate I was three years ago. (I have thousands of them, although much fewer than before I lost around five cubic yards of them in a flood last spring.)

Mind you, I understand that a lot of the value of paper books is not economic. It's much nicer to curl up with your favorite book in paper, and it's nice to have someone be able to learn something about your tastes just by looking at your shelves. Now, though, I only buy and keep paper books if I know I like them ... and I look forward to the day, probably not long hence, where print-on-demand (made possible on large scale by e-books) allows me to buy quarter-bound copies of books that were never offered in that format, even when new.

Comment: Re:As much about the UI as anything else. (Score 1) 184

by jimfrost (#34748546) Attached to: Why Digital Newsstands Stink

The Wired iPad app does give you a way to see the breadth of the content without having to go page-by-page using a navigation bar that has images of a number of pages across it. It uses a scroll bar whereas I'd rather flick, but either way it is a fine way to browse quickly and I use that pretty regularly. I would like to be able to make the icons bigger, though, so I could get more of an idea of what's on the page ... and maybe that becomes a whole new mode.

Zinio does more or less the same thing.

Comment: What cost, digital? (Score 2) 184

by jimfrost (#34748458) Attached to: Why Digital Newsstands Stink

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm disinclined to spend $5 for every issue of things that I pay $12/year for in paper. I have continued to buy most issues of Wired for the iPad because I really like the layout, but I haven't bought all of them because the cost is kind of ridiculous, and I've bought only a handful of issues of any magazines other than Wired. I'm hoping they (and others) offer subscriptions soon. It's crazy that it hasn't happened yet.

I don't know what it's like on Android devices, but this high cost does not carry over to the Kindle -- I get The Atlantic and The New Yorker on the Kindle at very reasonable prices. From magazine-specific apps to Zinio, though, iPad magazines are overpriced. I am really looking forward to photography magazines on the iPad once they realize that one of the big benefits can be to provide high-resolution images for everything they publish; it's irritating when space constraints force small images, and right now that irritation is carried straight to the electronic form ... but if they continue with obscene prices I guess it's just going to have to be paper.

Another big irritation e.g. with Wired for the iPad is sheer size. A third of a gig? That's a big hunk of the total storage of the machine, and while I can shuffle them on and off it is really irritating to have to wait for that to download to the device (and wait some more while it "installs"). The result is gorgeous, make no mistake, but I have to believe that there is a better way than providing images of every page.

Comment: The simplest explanation... (Score 3, Interesting) 449

by jimfrost (#34295210) Attached to: Why Tablets Haven't Taken Off In Business

...is that they wre horribly overpriced. I wanted a Windows tablet when they first came out, right up until I found em priced at $2000 and up. What the hell? You could get two nice laptops for that.

Even today they run about twice what they should. Apple waltzes in with a tablet half the cost of a Windows tablet, and it actually works well with its touch interface ... It is not at all hard to see why people liked it.

Comment: Re:What's the deal with the rush of TSA stories re (Score 1) 1135

by jimfrost (#34262978) Attached to: TSA Pats Down 3-Year-Old

This is not true. Scramble time alone is around 40 minutes near Washington, that's why they had those "stay in your seats" periods, and that's pretty much best-case. And you can be very sure that they aren't going to shoot that plane down right away, they'll give it every chance; a mistake would be very, very bad.

But it is moot. The ability to take airliner 9/11 style didn't even last out the day of 9/11. Once passengers got the idea that the best thing to do was take down the terrorists, they did so on their own. All of the terrorist attack attempts on planes since then were defeated by passengers, not the TSA or air marshalls.

We are not going to see another 9/11. We are almost certainly going to see another Lockerbie though.

Comment: Re:No ABP in OSX? (Score 1) 509

by jimfrost (#34132270) Attached to: Flash Can Rob 2 Hours From MacBook Air's Battery Life

I've been using Firefox on the Mac for years without issues (other than rampant memory growth, but relatively recent versions aren't so bad). It used to crash a lot in the early 2.x days, but that was awhile ago. I typically use FlashBlock, though, so maybe it's not FireFox that gives you the trouble.

Comment: Re:Steve Jobs has clout (Score 1) 681

by jimfrost (#34042646) Attached to: Are Consumer Hard Drives Headed Into History?

You are making a couple of presumptions. First, that you're going to be able to "fix" the user; and second, that there is not a suitable replacement tool that doesn't have the trouble.

The first is certainly not always true. Some people are difficult or impossible to retrain, yet in today's world they lose a lot of they can't use a computer. These people really want an appliance.

And that brings us to the second point. Windows is not the only viable choice in computing! That is *especially* the case for consumers, but it is becoming more and more the case in business too as business apps move to the web.

Back to the case of the Mac for my problem user: There is not much difference from the user perspective these days between a Mac and Windows box. They look almost the same, they work almost the same, there is plenty of software to do whatever you want to do as long as you aren't a hardcore gamer (and let's face it, the people with these problems are rarely if ever hardcore gamers).

That being the case, perhaps there are times when it's better to look at a different tool than to keep blaming the user, especially when blaming the user doesn't actually make the problem go away *and* better tools are readily available.

I note that it's not just blatantly stupid users who have problems with Windows. Malware infections are *endemic* on Windows. *Most* consumers get a malware infection within a year of getting a new PC, and most are completely incapable of removing it on their own, even with commonly used (and recommended) commercial software. Nor is the problem specific to consumers; businesses have fast re-imaging software because they *need* it. That is the elephant in the room when it comes with Windows: Nobody likes to talk about how easily it gets screwed up, and from a consumer's point of view nobody likes to talk about how hard it is to fix problems once they crop up.

Consumers tend to deal with it by buying new PCs much more often than they really need. "It got really slow" and "it does weird things" translates into "PC is broken" and since fixing the PC -- having a Geek Squad type person come and clean it up or reinstall -- can often cost nearly as much as buying a whole new one, they buy new ones. It's like replacing your car when the maintenance gets too expensive.

This is the cost of using Windows. Clearly business finds it an acceptable cost, but that cost is much higher for a consumer. For a long time the consumer really didn't have a whole lot of choice, especially at reasonable price points.

If we presume that this is happening with consumers, then a device that does not get messed up in this way, even if it costs more, may be a better solution. That is what we've got when we talk about Macs. They are more expensive (much more expensive at the low end) but they break much less often, and when they do break it is usually not difficult to fix them. The end result is much longer hardware life. My experience is that the lifetime is double or more. If the cost is less than double that of the Windows PC, and it is, then it's a win for the consumer financially. It's a win anyway because of the reduction in hassle, but there you have it.

I don't think the Mac is going to be a particularly good value proposition much longer, though, if it indeed is the best value even today. Like I said before, most want an appliance. That is what they're getting with an iPhone or Android phone today, although their limited screen size makes them relatively poor internet access devices. We see that kind of appliance scaling up though: The iPad is a terrific web access device, and Android tablets ought to be as well, and GoogleTV and its ilk certainly could work as well. Pricing on these things is already competitive with the least expensive PCs, and ought to be significantly better as volumes rise, simply because they don't need anything like the kind of hardware you need to run Windows effectively.

The iPhone gave the iPad a strong applications base right from the start, so it isn't hobbled there either, and it wasn't hard for many application writers to scale their phone software up to use a larger screen effectively. Android tablets and GoogleTV ought to benefit from the same effect as they hit the market over the next year.

As this happens consumers are going to be faced with new choices. Do they want an expensive PC to replace the nth PC they have had that stopped working? Or do they want to try something like the phone they have that never broke, and that is less expensive too? I bet more and more pick the latter over the next five years, and the computing appliance is dominant not long after.

So who wins? Jim's Law: "The cheapest thing that gets the job done wins." I think that's Android and its ilk, although there is the possibility Apple will win because of its huge head start and economies of scale. I consider that fairly unlikely because we'll see such a variety of Android stuff that it'll fill all kinds of niches that Apple doesn't want (in particular, cheap-ass hardware that doesn't really work very well but sells simply because it's cheap). I think Apple ends up in roughly the same niche here as did the Mac previously, although probably with upwards of 25% market share.

Comment: Re:Steve Jobs has clout (Score 1) 681

by jimfrost (#34013710) Attached to: Are Consumer Hard Drives Headed Into History?

Obviously YMMV. I have had my share of weird problems with Macs, although none took more than 45 minutes to solve with the help of Google. Regarding hardware, there was a period around 2005 where their initial build quality left something to be desired, every system I bought in 2005 had to have a warrantee claim for some hardware issue. Systems before 2005 and after have been very high quality. En-toto, though, it's been much, much easier to keep them running ... and not one single full rebuild in the nine years since I started using OSX aside from a total hard drive failure.

I bought my first OSX laptop in 2001 to replace my wife's Windows laptop. I had been forced to rebuild that Windows laptop every 3 months like clockwork. (This was Win98, XP hadn't hit the scenes yet, although I'd been using NT for years on the desktop.) It drove me insane because rebuilds took 10 hours apiece between the OS reinstall and all the applications. (Reasonably priced imaging software was not yet available, nor back-up software for that matter.) We got the Mac (a Ti Powerbook) and I did almost nothing to it for its entire 5 year lifespan at home, and nothing at all for the 2 years after before the hinges broke from heavy use and destroyed the screen connection ribbon. 7 years out of that laptop and I spent less than *one hour* keeping it running. That is one heck of an improvement.

I thought XP would make things better, but it didn't. The registry was (and is) still a huge disaster, but luckily (or not) most XP boxes are so hugely malware infected within a year (sometimes within weeks) that you have to wipe and rebuild them. (Eradication is nigh impossible these days, and certainly much slower than a rebuild even when it works.) I don't own Acronis True Image because I felt like paying a bunch of money[1], I own it as a purely defensive measure: The Windows systems get imaged at every major installation point so at least I can return them to a near-current configuration within about half an hour.

Malware infections happen despite antivirus software. In fact, I find they're worse when using something mainstream like Norton versus something more oddball like AVG ... and most people use mainstream products.

Then there are the users. I had one who would randomly delete things. Like drivers. Her system would just stop working in weird and inscrutable ways, and of course she had no idea what she did. I finally gave up and forced her onto a Mac. I have had to deal with fewer than one issue per *year* since. That is another big improvement, and I think it comes down to the nice separation between system and user permissions; she cannot delete system things willy-nilly.

This is of course possible on Windows systems too (in fact, I gave a talk on how to configure your NT system's security back at WinDev in 1996) but unfortunately a wide variety of applications simply stop working if you are not running as administrator and people totally hate it if you lock the systems down so they can't install things. (That is true on Mac and Windows, although the Mac's security system is vastly less intrusive than UAC despite accomplishing the same thing.) The state of things on Windows has improved a lot since Vista, at least consumer games don't need admin rights just to run anymore, but I still run into it regularly with poorly written or legacy applications. It makes it quite difficult to convince users to run on securely configured systems.

I thought Vista would be a big improvement versus XP and pushed people to upgrade. I was mistaken. Everyone turns off UAC, the only significant improvement in the whole system, because it's just so intrusive. The first year to year and a half of Vista were disastrous due to immature and missing drivers too. But hey, most Windows users skipped Vista and went straight to Win7 so they missed that pain.

Win7 did not improve the malware situation over Vista, UAC or not. Both, according to the statistics, are vastly better than XP ... but it's very hard to tell based on the systems I get to disinfect. I think the quantity of successful malware infections is down, but when infected XP systems came in they'd be infested with four or five things while Vista and Win7 are usually just one or (rarely) two. Unfortunately those one or two are often the meanest and hardest to clean. So, back to wipe and reinstall. Fun fun fun! And when they're not systems I administer frequently I don't have an image and get to do the oh-so-lovely three hour Win7 install and update rigamarole, then a few more hours reinstalling all the apps. I *hate* that.

YMMV. My personal XP, Vista, and Win7 systems have not had any stability or infection problems to speak of, modulus bad drivers early in Vista. I spend little to no time managing them. I am clearly unusual, though, because I see plenty of damaged systems come through and spent stupid amounts of time fixing them. Macs, not so much. Every user who converted from Windows to Mac dropped off the radar in terms of administration overhead. The problem users no longer have systems that need major repair, but the depth of the repairs fell way off -- they now need really easy things like putting the URL bar back onto Safari, or making the Dock stay put.

Oh yea, no crapware to deal with on Macs either. And no need to buy and continually update antivirus and anti-malware (at least not yet).

Again YMMV, but I deal with Windows, Linux, and MacOS every day and of the three MacOS is the easiest to keep running, with Linux following a little behind. Windows takes a lot of time, with more problems and much more time-consuming solutions. And it did not get much better with Vista and Win7.[2]

Regarding hardware quality, I agree that Acer does a much better job than Dell or Compaq. (For the last four years or so I have preferred Acer systems.) In the field they're not very common though, and in the end analysis the laptops not anywhere near as durable as either a Thinkpad or Macbook[3]. All that plastic does not hold up that well. I realize it probably doesn't matter to you, I bet you replace such hardware no less often than every 3 years, and probably closer to every 2, just like I do with my Windows boxes. (Actually that's not quite true, the desktops get recycled into Linux servers and tend to pull another 3 to 4 years in that role ... I love Linux. But I have to repurchase hardware for Windows regularly because it continually gets bigger and slower to a degree where it is difficult or impossible to expand the system to keep up. Hopefully the hardware is getting sufficiently expandable now that the cycle will get broken.) But the Macs ... 5 years is a minimum and then they go off as hand-me-downs to someone else for years after. Newer versions of MacOS since 10.0 have worked better on the same hardware than the prior version. Leaner, meaner, more efficient despite greater capabilities.[4] All told that is really good bang-for-the-buck in my book, particularly when combined with much lower administration costs.

jim frost
jimf@frostbytes.com

[1] As an aside, Time Machine does a great job of this out-of-the-box. The one time I had a full hardware failure (a Mac mini's drive failed) the reinstall from backup was remarkably straightforward without any external tools. And it took less than half an hour. I really wish Microsoft would do a better job with in-the-box backup ... granted it's much better today than it was with XP, but it is still pretty lousy particularly on restore. Did I mention how much I liked Acronis?

[2] Some of the problems got much weirder, although not ultimately inscrutable. For instance, I had a user using a legacy app that would save a file and then try to load it in another app ... and it was not there. Go back to the first app, there it is. This was because of the virtualization of "Programs and Settings"; the app default was to save into a subdirectory of its install, and Vista virtualizes those directories to improve stability. Run a different app and it has a different virtualized directory so it can't see the file. What made it worse is that Search couldn't find the file in the virtualized directories -- they're specifically excluded (at least in Vista, have not checked Win7) -- and of course the whole directory structure is hidden from the desktop. The user had no chance of finding that file and was completely perpexed. It took me almost an hour to figure out what was going on too, until I saw the virtualization directory in the CMD shell and it twigged my memory about directory virtualization. I think the virtualization is too simplistic; it needs to share data files between apps per-user, but isolate DLLs and the like per-app. And no matter what form virtualization takes Search needs to be able to find stuff in those directories!

[3] The achilles heel of the Powerbooks was the power cord; when stressed it was not too difficult to break things inside the laptop. Unlike the Dells and Compaqs this was a daughterboard item on the Powerbooks and pretty easy and inexpensive to replace, so the laptop wasn't a loss if it happened. The move to the magnetic connectors has totally eliminated that particular problem. I rather wish Apple would license that to other manufacturers. What kills Mac laptops over the long haul today is monitor backlight failure. It's too early to know if the LED backlight systems common in Macs today will have similar issues to fluorescent backlights, although I suspect not.

[4] Win7 was the first new version of Windows in two decades that hadn't required double or more the resources of the previous (ok, ignoring WinME I suppose), and in the case of XPSP2 even the service pack doubled RAM requirements. Win7 didn't get any better than Vista in my experience, despite claims otherwise, but thank god it wasn't any worse. The Vista upgrade required wholesale machine upgrades, very expensive....

Comment: Re:Steve Jobs has clout (Score 1, Offtopic) 681

by jimfrost (#34003542) Attached to: Are Consumer Hard Drives Headed Into History?

Like a bunch of others I use Firefox too, and recommend it, on MacOS X. Safari is fine these days, but for a long time I got more reliable results with Firefox and it's nice to have the same software everywhere.

The Apple tax bit is a little disingenuous. The mini is indeed expensive (but so very small and quiet and there is value in that) but above that the machines end up being pretty well price-competitive with similar hardware.

I hear "I can get a way better Dell laptop for $600" compared to a Macbook, but it isn't true. The display is crap, the build quality is worse than crap. A comparable laptop is a Thinkpad ... And the prices are damn near identical.

Last I checked that was true of all--in-ones too (not my cup of tea). The low end of the Pros are a little expensive, but by the time you're halfway up the line they're a bargain.

Mind you, it irritates me no end that there is no expandable desktop unit except at the high end. On the other hand, the G5 Quad I use for photography is five years old in a couple of weeks and still going strong. Typical Windows desktop lives (and Linux for that matter) are no more than 3 years before it becomes difficult to expand the box enough to run the latest software.

None of that is whoy I buy Macs though. My time is valuable. I spend almost zero time maintaining Macs. No malware. No weird-ass registry issues that are only solveable by rebuilding the machine. Back-ups using in-the-box software that are unobtrusive and restores that are fast and painless. Basic software that works at least reasonably well, and often extremely well, without having to buy anything extra.

I use and manage all of the versions of Windows manufactured in the last decade regularly (some much more often than the Macs). I find it telling that in order to make it run smoothly, reliably, you have to spend hundreds on aftermarket software, and recovery from malware is painful beyond belief if you don't have a recent image. Even migrating to a new box is painful. Dealing with these things costs time and money, and the problems are all but nonexistent on Macs. (Many are nonexistent on Linux too; I make heavy use of Linux for development and on servers. Great bang for the buck.)

From a consumer point of view Macs are a way better deal. Not so much in business given the poor bulk management tools and Apple's legendarily bad business-class hardware support. Remember, though, that many of those tools exist primarily because it was impossible to manage the fragile Windows infrastructure without stuff like fast re-imaging. Windows breaks way more often than anything else and is the least repairable without rebuild system I have ever seen (and that's saying something, I wave worked with a lot of weird stuff).

Someday you should get me going about the design of the Windows VMM amd NTFS; the apathy Microsoft shows toward improving basic function is mind-boggling. There is no reason I should have to defrag drives regularly, that was a solved problem in 1985, for instance, and Microsoft could have all but eliminated it with trivial (and backward compatible) changes to the block allocator. Drives me nuts.

 

Comment: Re:wrong OS? (Score 1) 1348

by jimfrost (#33936768) Attached to: Desktop Linux Is Dead

IMO there isn't a whole lot of difference in the basic UI of any of these things anymore. MacOS is easier to use than any of them because it is a whole lot more consistent within and between apps, but realistically things are not so bad anywhere else either.

Anyway Linux is lacking a whole lot more than just major studio games, and WINE only closes the gap in a few places (and with significant irritations). I use Linux daily, so this is not just idle speculation. Creativity products in particular are nonexistent or weak (I'm looking at you Open Office) with the exception of GIMP (and I still strongly prefer Photoshop). It's a superb programming environment though, I wish I had valgrind for Windows. (I do have Purify. When it works it is great. Most of the time it does not work. Oh well.)

I use Windows daily too, many things are just not available anywhere else. I find that a pretty good development environment has Windows running native and Linux in a VM. (I'd rather put Linux native, but Windows has plenty of trouble being performant even when it's on the bare hardware. It's gawdawful in VMs. Linux works fine in VMs excepting mediocre network performance.)

When it comes down to it my favorite desktop environment is the Mac. Excellent applications plus all the goodness that is UNIX, and it's easy enough to run Windows in a VM if I have to (though these days that is a pretty rare exception). I could do without a lot of aspects of His Steveness but I have to weigh that against the huge benefit of how easy it is to keep Macs running even in the hands of naive users.

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