Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Microsoft discounts to keep marketshare?

A while back I commented on the unpalatable choices for Microsoft arising from the falling prices of hardware. Well now I think we might have the first evidence that cheap basic laptops running Linux have the potential to hurt Microsoft.

Yesterday Asus did the official announcement for its EEE line of cheap laptops. As expected, Asus hopes to ship 3 million units next year. After plenty of bait and switching by the Asus PR machine the prices are higher than expected (starting at T$7,999 or $US$245) but not too bad for what you get. Prices will fall but but probably not dramatically as the price point is low to begin with. The Reuters article is here.

"In a significant development, Asustek said it would also offer a version of the ultra low-cost PCs with Microsoft's Windows operating system, after initially saying that all the computers would carry the open-source, free Linux system. Windows versions of the computer would cost about T$1,000 more than Linux versions, leading many to say that Microsoft had offered the Windows systems at a big discount from its usual price of T$2,000 to T$3,000 for mass buyers."

It seems XP will be the Vista Poverty edition. PC World reports:

"XP fits the low-cost segment," said Davis Tsai, general manager of Microsoft Taiwan....Asustek showed off one Eee PC running Microsoft Windows XP Professional, version 2002, service pack 2. The Windows Eee PC included Office 2003 versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word

T$1000 is about US$30. Does the large discount indicate that Microsoft is concerned about keeping its marketshare, or does it indicate that Asus is worried that people won't buy their EEE laptops if they aren't bundled with Windows? The good thing is that it seems that consumers will finally have a choice about whether they actually want to pay extra for Windows.

Personally, as a long time Windows user, I'm hoping the EEE or one of the other basic laptops coming out is going to offer me an easy introduction and transition to Linux. If you're interested in an Asus, EEE User is the place to track further announcement and releases. Bestbuy and Newegg seem to be the places that will have them in the States.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Science fiction douche-bags

Cory Doctorow and Ursula Le Guin have something in common. Something that many great artists and activists seem to share. They do great work, they write great books, they say great things... but as people they can be great stubborn chumps, dills and pains-in-the-ass. Unfortunately the fact that they do great stuff doesn't necessarily make them great people.

I really admire Doctorow's activism around DRM and that he made his books available on the net. I practically read boing-boing everyday. Ursula Le Guin is an accomplished author and scholar. The Earthsea novels were part of my childhood. I really felt for her when they slaughtered her books and turned the remaining lips, hooves and arseholes into some of the worst television the world has ever seen.

But look at this and this.

In summary Le Guin wrote a really short story (577 words) and posted it to Ansible. Frankly I've seen better comments on Slashdot. But Doctorow liked Le Guin so much he posted the whole thing on boing-boing. Good for him, helping an old lady get some publicity. But it turned out Le Guin didn't like that. Even though her work was available on the net and Cory could have just linked to it, she objected to the reproduction on boing-boing. Instead of contacting Cory directly to ask him to remove it (which he surely would have) she had someone else write a post dissing his use of the 'work' and mischaracterising the effect of the Creative Commons licence. Now Doctorow has apologised to Le Guin and remove all references to her from boing-boing.

Partly this whole situation results from Le Guin abusing the de minimis rule in copyright. This is the issue about how small does a work need to be before it ceased to have copyright protection. In general, you can't have copyright in one word (that is trademark territory) but you might be able to have copyright in a sentence. Le Guin's 577 word "story" is clearly capable of being a work protected by copyright. Reproducing it in its entirety is not fair use. However just because Le Guin was within her rights, doesn't mean she was right.

My message for Le Guin. Grow up. Doctorow was trying to do you a favour. If "gravy" is all you care about, being a copyright bully about this issue has probably cost you more in book sales than you'll earn with your 577 word "story". Not contacting Doctorow directly to deal with this issue discreetly doesn't say much about your character. Allowing your friend to slime the Creative Commons is just low.

My message for Doctorow. Grow some balls. Le Guin did the wrong thing. She may be right in law but that does not mean she is morally right. The last time I looked Cory Doctorow stood up to copyright bullies rather than backing down and apologising. She's like three times your age boy, find the nerve.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins: love and hate on Facebook

Dawkins has long been a lightening rod for arguments in relation to atheism and religious belief - but in our crazy modern LOLCat bible world there is only one way to truly assess someone's worth. So I ask the ultimate Web 3.0 question, how does Richard Dawkins stack up on Facebook?

Well, there are 29 'Richard Dawkins' listed on Facebook with 9 profiles with pictures of the man himself. However it is highly likely these are all fakes. The Richard Dawkins website already has its own social network. Why join another social network when you have your own?

There are 158 Dawkins Facebook groups expressing a broad range of views but most support Dawkins and his work. Many of these groups likely have overlapping membership so I'll only list a representative sample.

  • If I weren't an atheist I'd think Richard Dawkins was God: 3750 members.
  • Richard Dawkins = Cooler than Jesus: 2978 members.
  • The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science: 1265 members.
  • Richard Dawkins has a Posse: 174 members (my personal favourite).
  • Group for Understanding and Appreciating Richard Dawkins (GUARD): 244 members.

But there are a minority of haters.

  • Richard Dawkins can fuck off: 512 members.
  • Richard Dawkins is Wrong: 194 members.
  • Richard Dawkins is famous for his opinions not his scholarship: 64 members (ummm so is the pope guys).

Some groups are harder to classify:

  • Richard Dawkins can fuck me: 30 members (pro-Dawkins, if he wasn't married to that ex-Dr Who babe he'd have some options).
  • Pray for Richard Dawkins: 21 members (anti-Dawkins ultimate concern-trolls).
  • I don't believe in God but I do believe Richard Dawkins is an arsehole: 39 members (A.K.A I agree with everything you say, but I still don't support your right to say it J)
  • Mr Dawkins, turn that frown upside down!: 49 members (encouraging him to smile more = support?).

So in summary, despite the haters, Dawkins seems to be doing pretty well.

PS. If you're so inclined please support the OUT Campaign by listing yourself as an atheist whenever you fill out your personal details (for example on Facebook). It's well past time atheists stood up to be counted.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Is the success of Linux and open software a hardware issue?

Or is the decreasing price of hardware about to kick Microsoft in the nuts?

This year there has been focus on possible opportunities for low-cost basic computers. There is the one-laptop-per-child (OLPC) project, the Chinese Longmeng (Dream Dragon), Intel's Classmate PC, the Nanobook, and now there is the ASUS EEE laptop with a supposed release date early November.

The concept is essentially the same – a simple, barebones system which almost anyone can afford. For example the ASUS EEE seems to be marketed towards people who just need a small light trashable WiFi capable laptop to take notes, email, use Facebook, look at photos, play some MP3s, skype with mates or browse the net. You know, the 95% of things that most people do on a computer. It's not for playing Bioshock or editing HD movies (you've probably got another computer if you're interested in that stuff). Perfect for students, as an inexpensive second machine or for anyone who only needs to do basic stuff (like your mum).

In previous years, if you were spending US$1500 and up on a laptop, the Microsoft tax you were paying didn't seem like such a big deal. XP or Vista was preinstalled, fairly convenient and face it you didn't really have any choice. But as the price of hardware for these small basic machines comes down, (think under US$250 by the end of next year) then software price starts to become a big issue. Why would you pay the price of your new laptop again just for the software, when all you want to do is really basic things?

Should Microsoft be worried? It seems there could be a blossoming consumer market for very low-cost computers next year, and with hardware prices so low, they almost all run a version of Linux. So after long years of crying in the wilderness and wailing and nashing of teeth there is finally a realistic chance Linux on the desktop is going to take off. Previously Microsoft could "hide" the cost of its operating system within the greater cost of the hardware. As hardware prices have come down they just can’t do that anymore.

If you just paid $250 for a shiny basic laptop, how much would you pay extra for the software to do basic things like surf the web? Not much I suspect. Another issue is that most of these basic systems save money by sporting very small harddrives (down to 2Gb for the ASUS EEE). The minimum system requirement for Vista Home Basic is a 20 Gb harddrive with 15 Gb available space (ouch). Plus you need a CD-ROM drive to install it...

As I see it, Microsoft has a couple of choices and none of them look good for shareholders.

1. They can lower the price of their software so it fits into the new low-cost computing market (how much is their dominant marketshare really worth to them?).

2. They can release lower capability lower-cost versions of existing software (think Vista Poverty edition).

3. They can concede the low-cost computing market to Linux and open software and concentrate on large consumer areas like gaming and multimedia (yeah right!).

4. They can pursue legal avenues to crimp the capability of open software on low-cost computers (because the whole point of a doomsday patent machine is lost, if you keep it a secret).

So it looks like next year is going to be quite interesting…

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Breaking: Top five ways Kevin Rose and Ron Paul use their iPhones to make the front page of Digg [with PIC] - a must see

...or why I don't seem to read Digg that much anymore.

Imagine one of those swirly heat wave things you see on TV when people remember the distant past. Remember when you first found Digg and there were lots of really good articles and links. The user comments weren't great but there was sooo much content. And you thought "Wow! Here I am reading Slashdot and Fark like a smuck". This was going to be the future. Web 2.0 sites like Digg were going to change the internet. Users were going to submit the content AND decide which content should be front page news. There would be no more meta-mod crazy editors or having to pay $5 for the privilege. Slashdot and Fark were toast.

But it didn't work out like that. Increasingly I find I'm not going to Digg anymore and when I do I'm not logging in or making comments. I'm going back to Slashdot and trying other websites like reddit. So if, when and why did Digg jump the shark? In my opinion...

1. Too many categories, badly organised.

This leads to jumbled stories and makes it hard to find stories. And when there is a real need for a new section Kevin and the Gang ignore their userbase. Enough diggers want a picture section. It can't be that hard.

2. The real and imagined digg swarms and bury-brigades.

Ron Paul? Who the fuck is Ron Paul...

3. The Apple bias.

Can you ever have enough iPhone articles? I never really understood Apple fanboyism until Digg.

4. Continuing censorship.

After the HD_DVD code debacle you'd think that Kevin and the gang would have learned something important. Something about walking the walk when it came to users running Digg. But no, they continue to censor articles by removing up and coming articles from the front page. And I'm not talking about articles which breach the terms and conditions, unless its against the terms and conditions to criticise Kevin and the gang.

5. Fetching... a shitty comment system.

I think this is the main reason I never login anymore. Why bother commenting if people can't read your +140 comment unless it is 'fetched'. Why bother even reading the Digg comments if an insightful +167 comment can be hidden under a -36 piece of stupidity.

Unless Kevin etc can fix these issues Digg is just going to continue its slow decline, like Happy Days. Just another also ran in the Web 2.0 era of social news sites. Vale Digg.