Yeah You Probably Want to Steer Clear of Google Drive

The Google Drive terms of service:

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services…

Compared to Dropbox & even Microsoft’s Skydrive over at The Verge, the Google one looks a whole lot looser.

Lion Preview

A preview of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion for me at the Apple Store today, before I go and upgrade:

  • Arrrrrrrrrgh, Apple, did you really have to implement rubber-band scrolling in Mac OS X too? It makes sense, kinda, on an iPhone to show “there is no more to scroll”, where you potentially might have your finger over the scrolling indicator. On Mac OS X, I want that to stop scrolling and stay.
  • “natural scrolling” (i.e. what the rest of the world calls “inverse scrolling”) is… surprisingly easy to get used to, actually. Though that said, I can only imagine the hoops the muscle memory will have to jump through when flicking between systems that follow that convention and those that don’t.
  • Thank you for setting scrollbars visible to be an option at least.
  • Thank you (finally!) for any-edge-of-the-window resize.
  • Not so much a fan of full-screen apps, unfortunately. The full-screen button is not a substitute for the Maximise icon in Windows.
  • While full-screen mode is nice, and I can see the point here, some (many) are apt to lose the damn window if you’re doing this quaint notion called multitasking. Alt-… err, Command-tabbing away to another app works when going from a full-screen app; to go back, you have to use Mission Control/Spaces.
  • Speaking of which, Mission Control is surprisingly good – better than Expose/Spaces by a long shot. I hate that spaces is now limited to a in-a-row configuration, but otherwise MC wins comprehensively.
  • In the same vein, Launchpad is pretty and decently usable too, for the right people. I tended to keep the Applications folder in the dock to show as a grid for my parents to launch apps on the Mac; Launchpad is a better/cleaner interface for the same thing, and easily ties into the iPad halo effect.
  • On the other hand… click-and-hold to get apps “wiggling”? It was for right-click that tap-and-hold was created to substitute, not the other way around.
  • I was that close to saying the system-wide autocorrect looked awesome… and then it mucked up a couple of corrections of mistypes. Needs training for sure.
  • Finder. Oh for the love of…
    • No, they didn’t FTFF. Not even in the slightest. It’s even more confusing than ever before.
    • For one, it’s grey. Grey-on-grey action. (yes I know that sounds really bad.) Gone are the at-a-glance hints of folder purpose – forget that, you better concentrate to read or comprehend the lil’ grey icon. It’s not enough that the main folders are all shaped the same, it’s the sidebar hints too now.
    • Even Quick Look has gone grey; gone is the nice looking transparent black pop-over, replaced by a leaden grey window. The buttons are grey, the sidebars are grey. Just about the only thing with a hint of colour in the interface is the Close/Minimise/Maximise buttons, and even they’re shrinking. Is Steve Jobs colour-blind and wanting to impose that on the rest of us, too? Does he want to make this the first Mac interface since the Mac II to be compatible with a monochrome display? Is the next MacBook going to be an e-Ink display?
    • Holy shit is the functionality of the Finder broken. Who the hell needs to see “All My Files” as the default Finder window? A little hierarchy might need a little explaining, but my god is it a power for good after that. Yick. (Ed: turns out, you can change that as a preference. Please.)
    • Ok, I see how I need to right-click to sort by name instead of type… but why can’t I pick the direction of my name sorting? why is the title showing field name now just a translucent label I can click right through? Who decided this would be a good feature? Why has no-one yet implemented cut-paste in Finder? (Ed: that, too, is now available with Cmd+Opt+V) Path Finder, here I come.
  • Resume looks to be a genuine winner. Close an app down, open it up again, poof, it’s back as quick as you could ask for.
  • Didn’t get a chance to play with Versions.
  • iCal & Address Book. Really? The cheesy looks-like-real-life skin? I thought we got rid of this with the 90s. I didn’t like it on the iPad, why would I like it here?
  • Though the integration with Google/Yahoo/Other accounts looks pretty sweet.
  • Mail looks pretty sweet.
  • Don’t think I got to play with anything else that was specifically Lion related.
Overall, I’m going to wait this out a little, I think. Not that I won’t go for it, just that it might be good to wait and see 10.7.1 come around, y’know what I’m sayin’?
(p.s. if you’re interested in a more comprehensive review of Lion and you haven’t already done so, check out Jon Siracusa’s 27,000 word review of it over at Ars Technica.)

Kindling

Call me fickle, but just about a year ago, I was looking at the ebook-e-reader market and thinking that it was a waste of time, that paper books were here to stay for years yet and that it was far too expensive. Who in their right mind would pay $300 – $400 just for the reader, and then more for the damn books to read on it? Up until January, my only exposure to reading electronic books had been the Stanza app on the iPhone, and while it worked for reading short passages, it was woefully inadequate for full novels.

Of course, a year is a long time in technology, none more so than 2010.

First, the iPad came along, and I flip-flopped on the idea of buying that before finally caving. Initially I used it for games, videos, and all manner of internet browsing, before finally deciding to take it along with me on my daily commute. On the train, all those options were off the table – so I tried out iBooks, and found it amazingly readable.

A pity then the iBooks bookstore is so overpriced, none more so than in Australia – paying more for a digital edition is just about the biggest rip-off I’ve heard of. There were some classics for me to catch up on, and I managed to churn through quite a few. There’s only so much archaic 19th century prose you can read before getting a little weary of it, and so I tired of it.

And then came the Kindle…

When the Kindle shows up in the post, you almost think there’s been a mistake. The box weighs more than the device, and seems absurdly oversized. When I say this thing is thin and light, there’s absolutely no kidding – it’s hardly thicker than 20 pages of a typical novel, and so easily held in one hand with its lightness. Turn it sideways, and it’s virtually gone.

Continue reading Kindling

FTFF

If you know the FTFF acronym, you’ll know exactly why I’m posting this today.

If you don’t, I suspect this post will be largely irrelevant. Feel free to wander over to somewhere you get some damn posts, like Kottke or Dooce or something.

Anyway.

Apple, please, Fix The Fucking Finder for 10.7. And fixing the Finder doesn’t mean getting rid of it or obfuscating it or rendering it pointless by making everything in OSX work just like iOS.

I’m not saying that as a purist or a ranter. I love my iPad, despite my earlier reservations to the contrary. It’s perfect for those little things – you’ve just thought of a random website you want to check out, so you pick up your iPad, flick the slide-to-unlock, jump online, do your thing, put it down, you’re done. It’s light enough that you don’t even think about it as a fantastic computer as powerful as your desktop was just 10 years ago.

The problem occurs when I want to get anything… serious done. Well, not even serious, just something requiring more than one program to interact with a unit of data that goes beyond a couple of lines of text on the clipboard.  For that, I need to deal with files. Not just files on an arbitrary and abstracted system that may as well be a data-store for specific binary blobs actionable by a particular application, I need honest-to-goodness files I can throw around. Move, copy, rename, edit, export, upload, email, back up. I want to be able to do that without relying on APIs and frameworks and implementations of these to work coherently together.

These two models of interaction can coexist peacefully, even with overlap. But take away the higher-functioning mode, and you’re asking for trouble, or at least people to migrate away from your service.

So when I see things like the Mac OSX App Store and Launchpad, I get worried. One way to look at these things is that it’s just an evolution of things that have gone before, and not just in Apple’s world. The App Store is a package management system with a nice interface and a payment mechanism built in. Launchpad is really just an app launcher, recreating a now-familiar paradigm on the more powerful computers; or it’s just an extension of the stacks/folder pop-overs for the Applications folder (or it’s a graphical update to the App menu from the classic Mac OS days).

What I don’t like is where this might be going. I don’t want to fix the finder by replacing it with a simpler paradigm, or removing the “need” for it. I just want to be able to do things I can take for granted in other OSes, and have it done consistently. I don’t want to get Mac OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion and find that the majority of the interaction is through an abstract system where everything is “managed for you”.

I’m not stupid, and I’m not so distracted that every task must be performed one-app-at-a-time. I want to be editing a photo while music plays and a torrent downloads and a movie converts and a chat is open with my friends while my mail comes in and I see any twitter updates slide into view through Growl. Multi-tasking, it’s why you have OSX in the first place.

The reason we complain and yet still prefer you, Apple, is that you’re still the one for moving this industry. A plethora of MP3 players have died at the iPod scythe, where once Creative led; smartphones now inexorably follow the Apple lead of the iPhone, where once Palm blazed the trail. No-one has come close to matching the slickness of the MacBooks or iMacs.

Mac OSX showed you can have Unix with a usable graphical interface not beaten with the ugly stick. So we need a leader who is able to keep options open, operate with diversity, not just a single focus that a belies a company with a $50 billion balance sheet.

So, Apple: in the next 6 – 9 months leading up to the launch, don’t shy away from new features, like you did with Snow Leopard. This is the king of the savannah we’re talking about here: there better be some features worthy of the label “Lion”. And Fix the Goddammed Finder!

Back to the Future

We’ve been here before. I wonder if anyone else recognises it?

(Well, I haven’t, though I’ve read about it. Let me explain…)

There’s an eerie sense of deja vu about the computer industry right now, if you look at it the right way.  The PC wars were pretty much over by the time I was born, definitely so by the time I was old enough to be conscious of a computer, but from what I’ve gleaned from my history books and a little recent reading, things weren’t always so straightforward in the computer industry as they’ve been over the last few years.

Once upon a time thirty years ago, there were many computer manufacturers, almost all with significant differences in key technology components of their machines. The chips inside were different, the operating systems weren’t compatible, and if you made a bet on technology occasionally it didn’t pay out – the computer you bought today might be gone tomorrow.

Apple was there, as was Microsoft. That was the genesis of these two giants of the industry, and their approach to the computing world at the time led to their wildly differing fortunes in the 90s. Apple worked as it does now – to control the whole process end-to-end, with the hardware and the software all under the Apple umbrella.

Microsoft on the other hand tied up with a key partner in IBM and picked just the software side of the equation. Someone else would build the hardware, but anywhere Microsoft’s operating system ran its programs could run, too.

Hardware manufacturers were quickly sidelined as Microsoft defined their interaction with the machine. In the end, even IBM was sidelined as “IBM PC-compatible” quickly became the “Wintel” world.

It all looked like a war that was over until the smartphone redefined what a personal computer was.

Today, we’ve got something very much like the 80s playing out again in the tablet and smartphone market – competing, incompatible OSes, different hardware architectures, and a market that is quickly proliferating with options.

Apple’s got a head start like they did last time, and are controlling the end-to-end chain even more strongly than before. They’ve got a major competitor that is selling only the software, not the hardware. Only this time, Google is Microsoft, with Android the biggest challenger amongst the pack.

There are differences, of course. IBM is no longer in the consumer hardware business, and there’s no Big Blue equivalent for either the consumers to go with or Google to work with as a premier hardware partner. Microsoft is still around of course, though not competitive in the segment where the battle is being fought.

And it almost goes without saying, the Internet has changed everything – no longer does your computing platform determine what applications you can use, as increasingly the complex logic is available in a device-agnostic form. No longer is it necessary to be tied to a single platform if what you do is simply accessed through a browser, more than ever a proxy OS environment for the web.

All this is also within the lifespan of the people involved the first time around, and they’re not likely to make the same mistakes twice, especially not Steve Jobs.

Google’s Take-Down Stats

Google recently created a page where they revealed government take-down requests for their services, with some interesting figures revealing Brazil topping the list of take-down requests, followed by Germany, India and the United States.

Australia ranks 10th with 17 take-down requests, of which Google has complied with 52%. China however considers the take-down requests themselves state secrets and so Google cannot reveal that data without legal trouble.

While this is all well and good in Google’s campaign for internet openness and freedoms, what this ultimately makes me even more curious about is the corporate take-down requests they get – where are the stats for those requests, Google?

While it’s easier to target countries and represent their statistics on a map nicely, I suspect corporate entities are responsible for the majority of the take-down requests, particularly for YouTube.

What would be most interesting is if the implications of law means that the corporates effectively act the same way as China, with the take-downs being treated as commercial-in-confidence.

It would also dovetail very nicely with the idea that China is effectively acting as a giant corporation, and as a result just getting stuff done instead of the bickering we see in open democracies.

More on Phones

It’s amazing how Apple has set the agenda in the mobile phone space, and it’s only been too evident in the last few days. Apple’s iPhone OS 4 event last week not only drew the tech media but managed to splash out headlines across what might be termed, for want of a better word, the “mainstream media”. The BBC, ABC, SMH and other generalist/unspecialised all reported on the event in a way they would never have done for Nokia.

Nowhere was it more evident this week with the announcement of Microsoft’s Kin One and Two, the bastard children of Windows Phone 7 and Danger Sidekick, acquired by Microsoft some time ago. Sure, the BBC had a story on it, but it’s accorded about the same prominence even on their Technology news page as a report on the implications of Apple changing some legal terms in their iPhone Developer agreement, something which affects no-one outside the developer community.

Whatever else happens, it’s certain to be an established fact that Apple set the zeitgeist of the day just as much as Google does.

iPhone OS 4.0

As many suspected, Apple finally announced multitasking in version 4 of their iPhone OS. It’s clear that they’re playing catch up here to the bleeding edge of the market in the form of Android, as the multitasking implementation has many similar features (I sincerely hope it doesn’t add to more fuel to the patent suing fire which helps nobody.

Most importantly for me, 4.0 ticks many of the boxes for which I’m attached to my jailbreak, with a couple of exceptions. The multitasking isn’t much to me, apart from the value to be gained from having a VoIP or IM app running in the background. On the other hand, comparatively straightforward advances that could easily have been there from day 1, such as folders, SMS character counts, custom wallpapers (avoiding every iPhone looking like each other), and multiple & save-able on-the-go playlists in iPod are things that put 4.0 on par.

Multitasking, a unified inbox, message threading, full text search, improved spell-check, and finally (finally!) improved support for localisation in the form of English (Australian) in voice control together all make it a can’t-miss. An excellent breakdown is available at iLounge.

That said, I don’t think even with the convenience of multitasking there’s anything quite like SBSettings, and it’ll be hard to let that go – the Settings app will certainly be running in the background for me. There’s also themeing – with the point again being to make my phone more personalised to me, as well as giving me the ability to have my own SMS tone (why a restriction Apple? can’t make money off the SMS tone market?). And finally of course, there’s just the general I-can-screw-with-it nature of the beast that makes me want to keep a jailbreak. Chances are I’ll forgo that though, as missing out on all that goodness for a few small things isn’t worth it.

Finally, in spite of all the advances, Apple still hasn’t fixed the fundamental notifications interaction, nor have they added any method to give more information on the default lock screen. That contrasts sharply with Microsoft, which is a nice segue to the Microsoft Kin.

Kin One and Two

Danger’s Sidekick never actually made it to Australia in any substantial way, probably because it was a Telstra exclusive, but by all reports it made a big splash in the US, and its form factor certainly appeared to influence a number of subsequent designs. They’re certainly fun looking devices, and the ease of messaging on a physical pad made it a hit in a key market segment, the teens and their 20something siblings.

Little surprise then that Microsoft, Danger’s owner since 2008, is hell bent on keeping this valuable advertising market interested in their devices by announcing two new models, the Kin One and Two. They’ve chosen to orient the whole device around “the social” – essentially a way to say it gets twitter, facebook and all the rest of the social networks and puts them in one place. The operating system looks like a slimmed down version of Windows Phone 7. and it doesn’t have any possibility for user-installable apps.

Until the iPhone’s app store was unleashed upon the world, the majority of people got the software from the manufacturer on day one and that was pretty much it. Sure, some devices you could install more apps or run mini Java applets on newer handsets, but none had that customisability. Now though, the apps are your customisation, so to find Microsoft selling the Kins just as Google and iPhone ramp up their devices seems a bit backwards.

It’s the Henry Ford metaphor: Any colour so long as it’s black. Microsoft expects the target audience will see that they’ve got their favourite social networks already available and hope on board – thankfully Microsoft steered clear of the temptation to try to push their own network.

There’s something to be said for the simplicity that this offers for people who want a phone that does the basics well and offers some extra features that you don’t have to go out and find or think too much about. There’s definitely a niche for these.

On the other hand, who exactly does this target? The idea of the installable apps has become embedded in the market, and it would have to be a price point difference that shifts people towards this. When you’ve got a Kin and your friend brings out their iPhone/Nexus/Droid and starts playing with a game, you’re going to want to ask about the games you’ve got. When a new social network comes into play in the next 6 months or year, where are the Kin people going to be? Simplicity is a trade-off.

Either way, the Kin looks like an early preview of where Microsoft intends to go with Windows Phone 7, and for that alone it’ll be intriguing.

Where’s that Nexus One?

Dammit Google, dammit HTC, where do I get my Nexus One/Desire/HD2 Android 2.1 in Australia? Get it here already, I need a new toy!

Google’s Leverage

Up until now, it looked like Google was chucking services out there in the hope that it would stick; Google Apps for Your Domain was mostly about getting businesses into the Google hivemind space by appealing to users who wanted to have their home experience of GMail at work too. Almost by accident they managed to pick up a bunch of micro-businesses whose only presence on the web had been a website built for them years ago but who didn’t want to bother setting up and maintaining a mail server to respond to the three emails a week they were likely to get.

Apropos of this, Apple came along with the App Store on the iPhone, and showed the world there was a whole new way to distribute programs on a platform, instead of relying on people to go to individual developer sites. And now we’re some 3-billion-apps-sold later, with a whole host of pretenders to the throne in the form of the Android Marketplace, Ovi store (Nokia), and others for Blackberries, WinMos and Samsungs. There’s suddenly a profusion of app stores, even to the point where someone saw a market opportunity for a Mac OSX App Store (Bodega) – though not Apple, at least not yet =)

Someone at Google though clearly added two plus two and got five, because Google’s now launched its Google Apps Marketplace – you can now add non-Google web apps to your Google Apps For Your Domain.

Wow.

If you haven’t grasped the wow yet, think of this way: you could previous start up a small business, have the e-mail, calendaring, online doc sharing, and all those lovely Google services hosted for you; now you can also have CRM, or bug tracking, or project management, or invoicing, all available for your business, with a single login, in the “cloud” for access anywhere, hosted by Google. All those IT costs of running and managing servers for businesses whose primary business is not technology-based is now effectively optional. Wow.

As long as you trust Google.

On the Apple iPad

On Wednesday, Apple finally unveiled their long-awaited, oft-rumoured Moses Tablet iPad. And Lo, the Fanboys Rejoiced.

If You’re Going to Do Something, Do It Well.

At least, that’s what I think Apple’s motto is these days, even if it failed a couple of times in the past. Recently though they’ve had a string of hits, and one can’t help but be drawn into that myth. The iPad has to live up to this.

But: i…Pad? Are you serious? Did some geniuses in the marketing department get totally trashed one night when trying to decide a name and go, “wait wait I know it you guys, I have it… the iPad. It’s like the iPod, only it’s a pad! Am I a genius or what!”?

No, somewhat akin to the naming of the Jesus Phone, creativity only extended so far. Something which apparently caught them by surprise was the near instant sanitary ‘pad’ jokes that appeared on Twitter instantly.

I mean, I know I’m being petty when I say this, but even the word shapes of iPad and iPod are pretty damn similar; you would think they would do something which differentiated it immediately.

The iPad is a bit out there. It’s definitely not a phone, it’s not your average music player, and it’s not a computer by a long shot.

It’s not a tumor!

The thing is, phones everyone can understand that they are limited. Until the Blackberry and the iPhone, pretty much everyone just expected their phone to be able to do calls well, and SMS was a bonus, because who wanted to stab the 7 key four times for the letter s? (seriously: S is not that uncommon a letter!)

Some are calling this a gigantic iPod touch, but it’s not that either. While I’m sure it’ll play music well and be the best touchable music interface out there, just because of the size of the screen and Apple’s expertise in designing user interfaces, but that still doesn’t make it practical as a portable music device.

It doesn’t work as a phone, and I don’t think much more can be said there: it hasn’t got phone capabilities, I haven’t heard any mention of a mic, and there’s no video camera to enable a sweet ultraportable video conference/chat device. Just imagine for a second how sweet that would be.

And finally: it’s definitely, definitely not a computer… even though it does all these computer-like things.

Yes, it’s got all the underpinnings of a computer, but it’s one that’s permanently stuck in Kiosk mode, locked down and unable to perform general-purpose tasks on demand. This was acceptable on an iPhone or an iPod, because their primary purpose was Something Else, something other than Being a Computer, and the limitations of hardware were accepted.

Uh, Well, What is it good for?

An iPod is to play music on the go, an iPhone is to make calls. Everything else those two devices do is a fringe benefit.

The iPad doesn’t have a distinct independent purpose – its features are a “But wait, there’s more,” list. Its essential function appears to be to consume content, a convenient and highly portable device to feast on the latest from what I’m going to refer to collectively as Big Content.

While I’d quite happily have a 10 paragraph screed on the evils of Big Content and Apple’s 800-pound gorilla behaviour with these guys on board, here’s a simple way to put it: iBooks is currently US-only.

While Amazon will happily accept my credit card details and international shipping address for a hard form of a book, and ship it free if I spend enough, Apple and the publishers have determined, negotiated, planned, connived to deny an electronic copy, which costs next to naught to copy and “ship” instantly, will not be available here in Australia.

The point of that little example is to illustrate how the content distributors are dictating terms of use – of how and where and when a particular production is viewed, read or heard by a consumer. So much for the freedom of the internet abstracting away location and distance, or the idea that information wants to be free.

And it may be a long bow to draw here, but the difference between the Apple iPad and Hewlett-Packard’s recently announced Slate, or Lenovo’s dockable-touchscreen concept, is that the iPad is locked down and limited to an Apple-controlled sandbox; Apple dictates terms, what applications are available to install, what purposes the system will be used for and how the system can be extended. The HP Slate is a true computer; the iPad is a piece of consumer electronics.

But is that really such a bad thing?

No, it’s not. But there’s an asterisk there.

No, because it works for some, even most people. It works for the average consumer, who just wants the device to work, do some fun stuff, and be above all things easy to use.  Apple understands that, and they deliver – consistently, constantly. The consumer doesn’t want to see a buffering message or a loading screen when they go to play a song on their iPod, they just want it to play like a CD player would, or a cassette deck once did. Apple understands, and by locking down the iPad, gosh darnit, they deliver.

The big asterisk is that the iPad, in the form that it is sold, is not a general purpose computer, not the revolutionary tablet that everyone was waiting for from Apple. While Steve Jobs might be out to make the consumer electronics industry in His image – one button ought to be enough for anybody – there are plenty of people out there who would have killed for a couple of USB ports, the ability to multitask (you already have the gestures to switch apps on Mac!) and the freedom to install whatever you wanted, and hang the battery life or ultra-slim profile.

These are the people who resign themselves to a Slate, despite the lesser beauty. These are the people who bought UMPCs when Microsoft pushed the Origami concept. These are the people who tinker with Linux on weekends.

These are the creatives, once a group that was Apple’s near-exclusive domain. The people who create the content aren’t looking at the iPad as a revolutionary device because it’s too locked down, too constrained by decisions made to sacrifice complexity for wider consumer appeal. Oh sure, there will be Apps That Can Do That, but the apps are constrained by the programmer’s imagination, so the truly creative will have to articulate their vision to a programmer before they can create with their imagination.

And that is why the iPad isn’t getting universal adulation; in creating the iPad, Apple came close to an ideal device – light, instantly portable, beautiful form-factor, and quite clearly capable of doing quite a lot – but they locked it down in an effort to appeal with simplicity, and in doing so have missed the bar that was set.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

So I’d say Apple is creating something here which hasn’t really existed before, and will likely succeed in its own right, simply because it’s useful for doing quite a lot. The market for content consumption is vastly bigger than that for content creators, and I genuinely hope this device succeeds.

But… there will be those that find ways around the limitations placed on it, and there will be those that continue to hold a candle for the One True Tablet, awaiting the true coming of their messiah. And there will be those challenged by it, those who feel they must lift their game to compete, and hopefully those will find their edge in being general purpose.

The iPad may or may not quite suit your needs for now, but the only way to know if you’ll find it meeting your needs is to ask yourself: am I happy to consume content, or do I want to produce it too?

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