Sunday, July 12, 2009

Circular Patterns Make Me Dizzy

I want to know who is in charge of naming operating systems these days.

Let's say you are a brilliant, young, (hopefully young--because if you think you can write an operating system, you are painfully naive) and naive computer programmer, and you decide you want to write your very own operating system from the ground up. Or maybe just the kernel up. Actually, you are going to use a kernel that's already out there and just build up from that.

Let's also say that you aren't just a hacker who thrives on weird-sounding names like Ubuntu, Debian, RedHat, or Fedora. Let's say that you are a multi-billion dollar corporation who has the resources to actually make a project like this work. What do you call the product?

Before we answer that, let's ask a couple of other questions that might be more important. For example, we might want to know:

1. What this new OS is going to do that others don't.
2. What won't it do that others already do?
3. How is it going to compete with Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS X?
4. How will it stack up in terms of security?
5. How are human interface design questions answered?
6. What kind of file systems will it support?
7. What are the technologies involved?

Neglecting to answer these questions before launching a project would be really stupid. And I'm sure that Google thinks it's answered those questions, at least internally. But it hasn't said anything to me recently, which kind of pisses me off.

But some of the questions have been answered. Namely 1, 2, and 7.

Answer Key:

1. Nothing
2. A hell of a lot
3. It uses a Linux kernel.

Another, perhaps more relevant, question that might be popping into the minds of normal people is this: will it do what I want it to do? Well, we don't know that yet, and that's a big part of the problem with announcing a product that appears to be just getting started.

But the concept is clear. Google's new OS is said to be a "web-OS." In other words, it takes a perfectly functional computer and turns it into a dumb-terminal or thin-client, depending on how much it lets you (yes, lets you!) store on the local machine.

According to what I've read, there is no desktop--only the web browser. And because the web browser being used is Google's Chrome browser, it decided--apparently in an attempt to create as much confusion as Microsoft's pricing structure (is that how you're going to compete with MS? Confusion?)--to call the OS, "Chrome."

What would I call it? I don't know. Maybe something along the lines of Lazy POS, Crack OSmoker, Intarwebz 1.0, or MDOS (short for Marketing Disaster Operating System).

In real terms, it sounds like a huge step backwards in technology. We tried this dumb-terminal computing before in the 60s and 70s. We didn't like it.

So companies like Apple and IBM pioneered more powerful personal computers. Today, my MacBook can run circles around the mainframes of the 60s with both legs behind its ears . . . at a tiny fraction of the cost. Compared to netbooks of various flavors, the MacBook is expensive. But my MacBook can run circles around those too.

While Google says that Chrome (the OS, not the browser) is aimed initially at netbooks, it also claims there will be a desktop version at some point. That's even better. Why in the name of horny dragonflies would I want to cripple my desktop with a net OS? Because it's cheaper?! I can buy a cheap piece of junk from Dell for a few hundred bucks, and it actually has a real operating system on it.

You know--the kind of operating system that lets me store files, open files, change files, upload pics, movies, and pr0n, and get work done when I don't have access to the internet.

I can even have them cripple it with Windows if I want.

Why, Google? Why?


How, Google, How?

The circularity of it astounds me. It's like someone at Google suddenly woke up and said, "Hey guys! You know how bell bottoms and wide ties are back in style again? Let's make computers do nothing but what they used to do in the 70s!!!! OMG! AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

But the problem is that computers (outside of the feature-phone market . . . curse you, LG) aren't just fashion. They are the things that help people like you and me get work done. Also, bell bottoms were only really back in style for a year or so before people realized how stupid they look. Again.

No one I know of wants a computer with limited capabilities. People want computers with the most functionality they can get for the lowest price. There's some room for people like Apple, but that doesn't change the formula--it simply expands the definition of function.

Why Google is writing its own Linux distro that provides extremely limited functionality is directly to how they are planning to make money from it.

That's also a mystery because Google intends to sell it for the whopping low price of nothing. That's right, it's free. Just like the Android operating system for cell phones that been amazingly, astoundingly, unprecedentedly, brain-punchingly (thanks, Mal!) unsuccessful.

Why? Because--as people have shown over and over again--no one wants stuff just because it's free. People want stuff because it does what they want. Free stuff that doesn't cut it is very quickly discarded and very easy to justify discarding. The fact that people pay money for something makes it more difficult to get rid of. If you didn't pay for it, there's nothing wrong with painting a George W. Bush face on it and punting it into the dumpster down the street.

If you can't make money off something, why bother to spend the enormous amounts of money on the R&D to create it? Just because you have money to burn? Just because you want the Linux distro notch on your bedpost? How in the name of sea urchins do you justify this?

Quick recap: Make a shitty product that no one wants and give it to people while costing the company millions of dollars every year.

I really want to meet the person who pitched this to the executive team. And I really, really, really want to know why that person has a job and I don't.

And I really, super-especially want to know why the executive who approved the project still has a job.

This is pure idiocy from a borderline-monopoly who thinks it can do no wrong.

Unless . . .

Google thinks it can make money because the OS is contained in a web browser window. Every time you want to open a file, you get an ad for OpenOffice; every time you want to save a file, you get an ad for a backup solution; every time you want to copy a text-string, you get an ad for Xerox; etc., etc.

If that's the way things work, I can see it being a cash-cow. But I don't really see that as happening. If you're at all like me, you draw a line when it comes to ads. I can ignore them when I'm checking my gmail. I can ignore them when I'm looking for something online.

But I refuse to allow them onto my personal space. Not because I can't ignore them; I can. Because I want my space, dammit.

The clear problem with a Google Chrome-powered laptop is that it isn't yours. Your data isn't yours, your music and pics and pr0n aren't yours. Everything you want on your computer belongs to Google.

My generation won't accept that, except on one condition: it's free or very close to it.

I've ranted about the software problems, let's talk about the hardware involved. Google is going to have to convince hardware companies to make some serious changes in the way they build computers. For example, a Google Chrome-powered netbook doesn't need a hard drive. Just a small flash drive that's only big enough to hold the OS. Again, we've been there before. We called it ROM in the 70s.

But while sacrificing the HDD, you have to upgrade the network card to 802.11N, so I don't really think that's a cost savings. Yeah, you don't have to pay the Windows tax, but that's not really a significant factor in a 300-dollar netbook.

The only way I see this working is if Google sinks an enormous amount of money into subsidizing the cost of the netbook, forcing ads down your throat, and making money off said ads.

That could work. If Google can arrange the OS so that it constantly pumps ads but in a way that remains useable, and then also brings the cost of a netbook down to around 25 bucks, I would keep one in every room of my house. Probably in my underwear too, just in case.

If that's not the business model, I don't know what is. Google isn't creating an iPhone here, or even an iPod or iTunes. Those financial ecosystems work because Apple makes products that--admittedly--have fewer features than other phones, music players, and MP3 apps, but it does those features really well, and (this is the most important point) CHARGES A LOT OF MONEY FOR THEM. Except for iTunes, which is essentially a pipe that allows Apple to make money off other people's content. But still. It's a model that makes sense.

For this to work, Google has to have substantial market share very quickly to appeal to potential advertisers. Without that, this goes nowhere, and no one is going to buy a Chrome-based netbook when they can get Windows for the same or close to the same price.

Also, I just saw two dragonflies getting it on. It was very strange looking. A third tried to join in, but the two were so busy that the other one left. I almost stepped on them because that's how I always thought I'd want to go out: in the middle of getting my freak on. But then I realized that I actually want to go out just after I get done getting my freak on. Then I got bored and smoked a smoke.

Sex is weird. It always looks so bizarre when you see it on the Discovery channel. I think this is why the pr0n industry makes so much money. I have no doubt that I look like an absolute fool when I have sex. The pr0n people make it look less weird.

No comments: