Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 17th Sep, 2012

Emotional computing

Kate and I were wandering through the Canberra Centre a week or two ago and passed the new Apple Store on its opening day. And OMG the total losing fanboy idiocy of it was stunning. People queueing for their right to go in, people getting high-fives from Apple staff when entering, videoing themselves going in on iPads and whatever. It was such a great quantity of wankery - sad, self-indulgent narcissism - that both of us instinctively reacted to it by not wanting to be anywhere near it. It actually tarnished the whole experience by being so over-the-top.

Now, we know that Apple works very hard to maintain that emotion-steeped, intellect-free connection to their fanboys - even their programming howto videos come across more as marketing hype than real useful information. The amusing thing is that even there, in my opinion, they still outshine Linux zealots for pure fact-free, judgemental thinking. Linux zealots are much worse than Apple fanboys for telling everyone to convert to free open source software whenever someone complains about any other product, though, so that's kind of evened up. To go a step back from the great T-shirt slogan "No I Will Not Fix Your Computer", we need to stop trying to fix everyone else's problems, or assuming that we have to (or even can).

The really funny thing to me, in this competition of eagerness, is how Microsoft has really given up. The "Mac Vs PC" ads did wonders for that emotional image-based buy-in for Apple, but I wasn't really expecting Microsoft to embrace the image too. They have, though - Microsoft seems to be making no effort to be anything but conventional, slightly stuffy, older and prone to clumsiness. Worse, they've inspired the GNOME 3 developers: Microsoft started "reinventing" the Windows interface and throwing in pointless, ugly, hard to use changes to its Office suite about eighteen months before the GNOME developers started telling everyone that making things more difficult was the way of the future, as far as I can see.

Microsoft is also engaging in exactly the same tactics it used twenty years ago that got it in trouble with the US government. It's paying Intel and AMD a lot of money to create "Windows-Only Processors", on the amazingly naive notion that somehow the rest of the world a) can't read machine code, b) can't reverse engineer, and c) gives a toss, given that those processors are slower, more power hungry and less innovative than ARM processors these days. It's been waging this war on other operating systems via UEFI and presumably thinking that at some point the Linux community will just give up, rather than doing what it's done for the last 20 years and work a way around the problem. It keeps utterly failing to get any real traction with its phones and tablets. It's only now started to try and market a costly product that vaguely duplicates what you get for free with Google Docs.

Personally, I think this is due to Bill Gates leaving. I think he knew that Microsoft was heading toward a brick wall and it was just too big, stupid and uncoordinated to think to take its foot off the accelerator pedal. They've bled money in court cases, in DRM systems that no-one's wanted, in aborted projects (e.g. Pink) and just in sheer lack of anything new. Even that famed vendor lock in gradually erodes - look at how abysmally Vista did in the business world, even if you disregard the various organisations and government departments that are going with Linux on the desktop. And without someone with the fame, or even the charisma, of Gates, they're just hand-waving and hoping that someone cares about them.

Ultimately, I believe that free software won't "win" any more than Apple could "win" the phone market. It'll be part of the ecosystem. As more and more people learn of the advantages of using free, open source software, I think it will be more popular - really, it's problem in not reaching a wider audience has been obscurity rather than active oppression. And I think there's still the emotional attachment to free, open source software, but it's the same emotional attachment one has to science - it's cool and majestic but also based on principles we know and can see. The more Apple and Microsoft try to eliminate their competition, the more they lose the respect of their fans.

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