Perhaps sometimes we must look into the past to better understand the future we face. I remember when I and a friend of mine organized a Macintosh user group meeting in Tokyo, which (strangely enough) we decided to name "MacTokyo." We met once a month in the basement hall of Tokyo Union Church in Omote-Sando, and I remember the flurry of work my friend Francis Barker and I did each month in writing and printing the newsletter, arranging for presentation topics, obtaining hardware and software to show, hauling our equipment from to and from the hall, and so forth. I remember writing my newsletter articles on my Mac II and printing them on a LaserWriter, and may have a copy or two somewhere in a cardboard box in the garage somewhere. But the electronic copies are no doubt long since lost. I might have some floppies somewhere with some or even all of them, but the magnetic alignments of the rust coating the discs will likely have long since decayed into randomness. Although MacTokyo meetings were conducted primarily in English, we usually had a good mix of Japanese and foreign attendees. I remember one Japanese fellow who attended our meetings would sit towards the back and listen carefully, and take a copy of the newsletter. After attending a number of meetings, he introduced himself as Katsumi Yamada, that he was the editor of a new magazine about the Macintosh, and that he wanted to translate the article I was writing in the MacTokyo newsletter and reprint it in his magazine. He didn't want me to change it. He liked it as it was and thought that his readers would like it to. And so, issue #1 of MacJapan magazine, published in May of 1989, contained amongst a lot of other material and article called "Kyle's Meditation Space." It was a tremendous moment for me, a true turning point in my life, for it gave me a precious and unique opportinity to express myself to people who shared a passion for a quirky, equally unique computer. I continued to write for MacJapan for many years, and very much enjoyed watching the Mac and the Mac community in Japan grow and mature. I eventually moved back to the United States but have maintained my relationship with Japan and Gihyo, and both remain very important to me. Sofware Design was already a well-established publication when its editors asked me to write a column for it, and my first appeared I believe in issue #71, October 1996. I must confess that although I have an entire bookcase of MacJapan, Software Design, and other magazines which contain my articles, I have an incomplete set (if you happen to have any spare copies, please let me know. I would like to buy back issues to complete my collection, if possible!).
It was interesting to look over my old article, entitled "RISC and New Mac." I appear to have talked quite a bit about CISC and RISC CPUs, the 88000 and 68000 CPU families, various Mac models using them, and the NeXT machine. But it was great fun to look over the old advertisements. Wow! A two page inside front cover Apple ad for the LaserWriter II NTX-J! A 300 dpi printer with 1MB of ROM, 4MB of RAM (!) upgradable to 12MB, and a 68020 CPU (there's even a mention of the Business Show '89 at the bottom of the page). There were ads for Jasmine hard drives: only JY128,000 for a 20MB external drive! And for a 300MB drive? Only JY648,000! How times have changed. Here I am, about to order an 8GB thumb drive for only US$15, though I am thinking of getting a 32GB for US$59. Twenty years isn't that great a span of time, but the changes in our technology are astounding. For example page 27 shows three printout examples, from an ImageWriter II, an Epson VP-2000, and an Epson AP-800. As you might expect, the examples are grainy and inconsistent. Compare that to my Canon PIXMA iP3000 whose prints on glossy paper look to me just as good as a regular, chemically developed photograph. I suppose one could argue that the fact that the printers were connected to the Mac via a printer adapter could have detracted from the print quality, but I don't think that anyone would argue that the output of a 20 year old dotmatrix printer bears much resemblance to a modern photo inkjet.
So many "blasts from the past" floated up as I flicked from page to page. QuickDraw, HyperCard, FKEYs! I remember using ResEdit to hack the FKEYs on my Mac, making the Command-Shify-[number] key combinations do various (and sometimes peculiar) things. And the advertisements from the Mac retail stores were treasure troves of memories: HyperCraft selling Illustrator88 (J) for JY120,000, Copy II Mac 7.
Unfortunately, while we have advanced stunningly far from the days of the Mac II, we sometimes still take a few steps backwards. Such is the case with Microsoft's Games for Windows Live (GFWL) utility (oops, I mean "Games for Windows - LIVE"), the General Manager of which Microsoft recently fired. I suppose you could blame Chris Early for GFWL's problems, but I suspect that the root cause of Microsoft's trouble cannot be pinned on just one man. Microsoft fails where Apple excels... at system design. Microsoft throws a bunch of things together and usually manages to get them to work well enough together to not totally alienate its userbase. Apple combines different technolgies into a seamless whole. GFWL probably works well enough to satisfy Microsoft, and it apparently works okay for XBOX users, but for far too many normal Windows users it is a nightmare. People describe terrible experiences with it, and some simply give up and remove it. I myself was looking forward to buying the "downloadable content" or "DLC" that Bethesda is releasing for Fallout 3, but it seems that Microsoft paid them a lot of money to make it available on the XBOX and PC platforms only, locking out the PS3. While I feel sorry for PS3 players, I myself will not be buying the content either. I need to install and use GFWL to do so, and frankly it is not worth the hassle. I don't want yet another thing running in the background, sucking resources, offering a potential avenue for attackers. I don't want to run the risk of damaging a working Fallout 3 installation, nor risk my working Vista install either. And I don't want to have to buy through GFWL's Marketplace. You see, things cost "Microsoft Points" there. For example, the FO3 DLC costs 800 Microsoft Points. Unfortunately, Microsoft only sells points in quantities of 500 and 1000. So although 800 Points would cost me about US$10, it would really cost 20% more than that, because I would be left with 200 Points paid for but unusable. The last thing I want to do is let Microsoft hold on to any of my money.
Funnily enough, the UI of the older version of GFWL looks a lot like Apple's brushed metal interface: http://
Compare GFWL to Valve's Steam. Steam works smoothly, is unobtrusive, has a great variety of downloadable games, demos, and videos, and offers its products at reasonable prices (in US dollars). Why can Microsoft still not offer a download system? Apple has something like 70% of the downloadable music market, and is the largest music retailer now. Microsoft's Zune is a complete failure, and just look at what happened to all the Zune 30 devices at 12:01 a.
This makes me think of Google. Let me be perfectly clear: Microsoft's control over the market is worrisome, but Google makes me far, far more worried. Although a large company, Google seems to have much more the mindset of the small entrepreneur, willing to take risks and experiment, and it deserves high praise for that. Its products are excellent and "free" (paid for by advertising, by all the eyeballs hitting their pages). But it is moving in very disturbing directions. I already mentioned Google flutrends, just last month, and the company is moving to gather and distribute other personal information as well, most recently with Google Latitude. With Google Latitude, you can send your position as determined by your telephone to your friends. Letting them know where you are lets them plan better, or feel comforted, or something. Google I am sure wants to use it to delivery geographically relevant advertising, and getting lots of people into their system is simply the first step to building a large enough body of users that they can then deliver to their advertising customers. I hate to sounds cynical about it, and I am sure that the service will have some genuine uses, but I have long given up thinking of Google as a kindly helper that will not be evil.
No doubt about it, there is a lot to like and admire about Google. Like Apple, they have earned a reputation for building solid products that really meet many people's needs. I recently searched for "Shin-Kawasaki Mitsui Building, Tokyo" in Google Maps to see if it would find the building I was in when I worked for Canon's NeXT Computer Group, and oh my goodness, there it was. But not only that, I could zoom right down and look at it in Street View. Curious, now, I found my first apartment building, in Komagome on the Yamanote line, and I was so very surprised to see it too had a Street View of it, even the little tiny street, hardly more than an alley, that went right in front of it. This technology is truly impressive. But Google, Like Microsoft and many other companies suffering in the current economic climate, has had to make adjustments and has had to acknowledge its share of failures. It had some kind of a shared-world, somewhat like Second Life, but shut it down recently. It has shut down or will at least mothball a number of its projects, including one that I use every day, Google Notebook. Notebook is sort of a clipping service, where you can select a URL or part of a webpage and save it in a sortable and searchable listing. Google released a plugin that let you view, edit, and add notebook entries while remaining within another webpage. But Google decided to cancel active Notebook development. It won't kill the service outright, but they will no longer support the plugin or develop new features. Of course, what can we expect for tools the a company gives us fpr "free." We pay for them by viewing their advertisements, but Notebook had no advertisements within it. Other projects recently killed or curtailed include Print Ads, Catalog Search, Dodgeball (mobile social networking), Jaiku, Mashup Editor, and is slowly killing Google Video.
Many people are very disturbed by Google's recent product decisions. Some have been expressing anguish, shock, even real anger at the company. But Google, like many other companies, is undergoing a reappraisal of itself and its position in the market. In a way, Steve Jobs' decision to take a medical leave of absence from Apple for six months is another kind of renewal, giving Steve a chance to recover and Apple to adjust and learn and strengthen itself. I can understand how some people are very disturbed by Steve's decision and it will be a distraction to Apple for a while, but I think it will ultimately be a good thing. Of course, looking at history we see that Apple fared very poorly when Steve left the first time, but he had not built (or rebuilt) the organization according to his vision. Rather, he had hired someone to come in, John Sculley, to rebuild the company for him. These companies and people are taking positive steps to improve themselves, and I see the same happening here at Software Design, where Gihyo has made the significant and challenging decision to remake SD. It gives all of us a chance to reevaluate ourselves and identify what we must improve, to meet your needs better. I'm very pleased that Gihyo has asked me to make this transition with them and hope that you will like the result.