サンフランシスコの空の下から~Kyle's monthly topics~(英語)

Vol.5 AppleとGoogleが織りなすクラウドコンピューティング

I visited the local Apple store one afternoon a couple of weeks ago to upgrade to a GS (note that Apple appears to have dropped the silly space between the G and the S) and found a line of perhaps 15 people waiting outside, all expecting to either upgrade their iPhones or become new iPhone users. I decided not to wait, and instead dropped by the next day when I found no line but also no iPhones in stock. I called the store a couple of days later and learned that they again had the GS in stock, all four models, but something held me back. Perhaps it was the suspicion that for now the first generation was good enough, or perhaps I didn't want to have to spend close to US$350. Now, a few weeks later, I've decided to upgrade but don't feel badly about waiting. The experience should be better now that the initial crowds have gone through the process. I look forward to the speed upgrade and better camera, but especially the speed. My first generation model uses an ARM1176JZF-S CPU, a 90nm 32-bit RISC System-on-Chip (SoC) from Samsung running at 412MHz, while the 3GS appears to be running a 65nm 833MHz ARM Cortex-A8 which has been throttled back to 600MHz. Despite that crippling, it brings about an impressive speed boost.

On a recent trip to New York, I was quite surprised by all the iPhones I saw around. I would estimate that, of those fiddling with handheld devices in the airports (San Francisco International and John F. Kennedy in New York City) about half using were iPhones. Of course, you could argue that people without iPhones are probably much less likely to use their phones at idle moments. Most cell phones support some kinds of game playing and perhaps media playback, but none that I have seen so far (with the possible exceptions of the Palm Pre and one or two BlackBerry models) are particularly good for either games or media. But the numbers were still surprising. With only 8GB, though, I have put very few large media files on my iPhone, but I am starting to use the Windows version of HandBrake to convert my video library to iPhone-suitable M4V files. It pegs all four of my processors at 100%, so it only takes an hour or so to convert a two hour MPEG-2 DVD to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (generally 1.2-1.4GB in size).

In contrast to something like HandBrake, why should it be so difficult to encrypt a zip file? Mac OS 10.5's Compress command makes a straight zip file but with no encryotion, while 10.4's version of zip doesn't even support the encryption option (-e). A friend of mine who wanted to use that option and I unsuccessfully tested a 10.5 binary (Universal from an Intel machine install) on a PowerPC running 10.4, but it just generated a bus error. I need to grab the source from SourceForge and compile it on my 10.4 PPC laptop for him, but why oh why should I have to? It surprises me that I could not easily find a GUI app that includes a recent zip bin that supports encryption. Zippist appears to have been able to do so, but I cannot find an archive site with it, and its original location on nagoya-u.ac.jp appears to be gone. A pity.

Bored of Boards

I've always been a little bit curious about Eric Schmidt's role on Apple's board of directors. Actually, I am somewhat leary of boards of directors of large corporations in general. They're so often made up of powerful people who are already in charge of powerful corporations, interconnected in rarely discussed but extensive ways. Check http://www.theyrule.net/ for an application that lets you explore such relationships based on 2004 data. I would like to see something more recent, but it can at least give you a good idea of how America's corporations are entangled with each other. They aren't keiretsus and few people hold seats on more than two or three boards at a time, but I wonder how much their members work to bring about certain policies simply by commonality of background and interests. To some extent, that defines any successful company or effort: a commonality of interest which drives a group of people towards some goal, so perhaps what worries me is the way that goal may be defined, not necessarily to fill a need of some segment of society but to bring about a reformulation of society, or hinder a rival, and so forth. Al Gore's interest today is "Global Warming" and I expect that his input on Apple's board revolves around that and perhaps not necessarily what is best for Apple or Apple customers. I'm not accusing Google Inc.'s Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt of having evil motivations, but I am pointing out that there are possible conflict of interests between him and Apple, especially now that Google is getting deeper into the operating system market with Android on phones and now Chrome OS on netbooks. Sure, Apple doesn't make a netbook yet, but that isn't the issue. It may, and I expect a tablet machine which I suspect is in the works (as do many other Apple watchers) could compete in the netbook market. Some amusing pundit suggested that Steve Jobs join Google's board, but I personally would prefer that the companies disentangle themselves. I also wonder why the chariman of Intuit's board of directors Bill Campbell is also on Apple's board of directors. Quicken Financial Life for Mac has been delayed until 2010, which might not seem so bad until you realize it was scheduled originally for 2008. The Mac version of Quicken is still 2007 while the Windows versions are 2009. Yes, Intuit has a free iPhone app, but so does Mint.com. I suppose Apple would argue that Campbell's business knowledge is an asset.

Speculation about Apple and Google creating some type of cloud computer has swirled around for several years, positing that Apple would make low cost hardware and Google would provided the software served over the Internet. That doesn't make much sense to me, though. Apple has always been a hardware plus software company and I don't see Apple simply giving up half of that formula to another company. Apple would then be little more than any other hardware maker. Sure, its machines would look a bit nicer, but Dell's Adamo isn't exactly ugly. What makes Macs special is not just their design but their tight hardware/software integration. So why surrender half to Google? Or surrender even more if you give Google both the OS and the software that runs within it? No, that doesn't look right to me. More likely, Apple is setting up its own cloud computing system, along the same lines as the iTunes Music Store plus iPod and the iPhone plus phone applications. Although iWorks looks like a nice set of applications, they still need a Mac to run them, so I'm hoping that Apple extends iWork.com to be more than a simple sharing site and offer a lot of the functionality of the iWorks applications via the web as well. Then I could use either the native application on my Mac or the web app version on whatever machine I happen to be at the time. Perhaps the web-based app would have a more limited feature set than the standalone application, but as long as it was good enough I don't think people would complain. Well, perhaps Windows users who could not run the desktop version, but if Apple wanted to they could port iWorks to Windows, just as they ported Safari. I suspect that Microsoft if getting worried about sales of its Office suite and realizes, looking at the popularity of Google Docs and Apple's increasing sales, that they're vulnerable in the home market despite their entrenchment in the office. For example, Microsoft is enhancing its Home Use Program for MS Office volume licensors which enables their employees to by Office products that ordinarily could cost as much as US$679.95 for just US$9.95, essentially the cost of the media. Microsoft may not be making money on those HUP sales, but they gain something just as important: "lock-in." By locking in those users at home, they deny Apple sales and deny Google page hits. Apple's cloud computing efforts have been a bit troubled so far (remember the MobileMe rollout difficulties?) and iTunes has many limitations when it comes to distributing applications (slow clearance of apps, inadequate support for incremental updates, and so on) but this is still "early days" for Apple and the Internet. Apple will be building a new 46,500 square-meter data center in North Carolina, said to be costing as much as US$1 billion and scheduled to be completed in late 2010, which will no doubt play a part in Apple's expansion into that business. As much as I like and use Google's applications, Google's power, as I have said before, worries me, and I don't see it being a strong ally of Apple going forward. Google is Google's ally only, and Apple needs to get itself engaged more deeply with network services.

Speaking of network services, I don't quite understand websites whose programmers do silly things to prevent people from copying the graphics from their pages. For example, they'll use javascript with something like document.captureEvents(Event.MOUSEDOWN);document.onmousedown=clickER and then define the clickER routine as just return false. How does that benefit them? The website still has to present the image, usually as a <div style="background-image:url(http://wearereallydumb.com/images/we_are_fooling_ourselves.jpg)">, so just looking at the source of the page tells you exactly where to go to get the image. I mean, what is the point of intercepting the mouse click? Perhaps they think they're "protecting" their intellectual property, or perhaps their web designers have fooled management into thinking that they are, or perhaps management says "We don't care if it doesn't really work, we want to block dumb people who don't know how to view a page's source, so just do it. And we'll feel better too." I really don't know. For anyone with a little html knowledge, it is a trivial impediment. There was one site that sufficiently obfuscated its data to stymie me, though. I'm not sure why, perhaps it had something to do with server side processing, but cURLing or spidering down its pages starting at the parent page resulted in mostly garbage.

Welcome back Steve

After his six month leave of absense, Steve Jobs has returned to work. I'm glad for him and hope that his health lasts. His liver transplant will I hope give him back a normal life and let him continue to guide Apple's design and development work.