posts tagged with technology

August 28, 2011 August 22, 2011

Full circle. Are we heading for another single platform lock-in?

Everything around me is going Apple-shaped.

When I first worked as a contract web developer in the late 90s, the standard issue was PCs for developers, Macs for designers. That’s just how it was for most of my missions, with few exceptions. Personal preference? Bah! To the technical decision makers at the design agencies where I worked (IT departments), providing Macs at all was only a necessary expense to keep the designer prima donnas happy. There were probably other reasons, from developer tools, to network compatibility, but mostly I think it was down to cultural bias of IT departments and developers alike: an affinity to big-number specs. Speed. Capacity. Grrrr.

I had learned to code on a Mac, so although I missed BBEdit on the job, I grew to like Homesite and appreciate the various things I could do with Windows XP. They are just tools after all, and not to be blamed. By 2003 when I set up my own business, I had mostly given up, and kept my iBook for portability, but otherwise I was a PC shop (with a couple Linux servers under my desk). I worked a lot with a designer, and he had a Mac. Every now and then there were some issues with exchanging files and fonts, but mostly we got along fine between our arguments over the necessity for rounded corners and drop shadows.

How times have changed. These days Macbooks seem to be the preferred tool for developers (in the media and design world anyway). Go to any conference or hack day, and you will see fewer HPs or IBMs, and those that you do see are probably running some form of Linux anyway. Apple has provided a great platform for developers, and some great hardware. Good design has won the day, and things have turned around. Or come full circle…

The more Apple-shaped my environment, the more I am niggled by the increasing dependency on a single company’s (or single CEO’s) vision. Sure I have choice. I could, for the sake of diversity and freedom, give up my iPhone for an Android, or switch to Ubuntu Desktop for development. And buy an HP Touchpad (or not, anymore). But the more  software and apps I buy, the less likely I am to change. And anyway, I like my basket of Apples, they are solid, and I use them to great affect daily. But what if they end up a basket of eggs?

In this time of the surging tech wars going on between the major players, our privacy, identity, personal data and creative output as developers are potential pawns in a bigger game, and this question is more and more prevalent to me.

The answer, I think, is to make sure I am collecting tools, not eggs or apples. The real value lies in the open technologies and formats I choose to use to build websites and run my life.  Maybe one day I will be cursing the ubiquity of Ubuntu or some other flavour of openness, but at present, Apple provides the best balance  for me of openness, productivity and enjoyment. Some of these unfortunately require lock-in on a functional level, such as native apps. But where possible I will make sure I am investing in something that is open, portable and adaptable to any of  the changes that lie ahead.

December 18, 2009

links for 2009-12-18

  • My first thought was, surely the military would not expose itself to the risks of a consumer device? But then I thought it is inevitable that technology as ubiquitous as the iPhone seems to becoming gets put to some usage that many of us would not feel comfortable with. It’s usually the other way round anyway, we get the military gadgets that have been civilianized. But as the article points out – the applications have their place in disaster emergency situations.
  • Another checklist to run your decisions by. There is probably a lot of sense in this article, but the truth is, when you are in the interview situation, from either side of the table, you know when you have a match. Sure there are basic skills that must be met, but most important is the idea that you can work with this person. If you’re starting from a checklist, you are probably starting from the wrong angle.
  • I haven’t so far really got into Foursquare. I have checked in a few places, but no-one else I know is playing. (Let me know if you are) This aims to be even more limited in terms of social circles – and I agree with the principle. I think there is something to be said for deeply valuable connections over multiple, transient ones. Unless you’re like me and no one else you know is playing, in which case you have to resort to real conversations, perhaps face to face.
  • No not user interface menus. Some good business principles here taken from restaurant menus, understanding what you really have of worth to offer your clients and users, and what they are willing to pay for. The basic idea: know your customer.
  • Paul Kedrosky points to what could be Google’s weakness, whereby it is the victim of its own success and via adword fuelled top search results its search results become useless to the average user. Google eats its own tail. This of course assumes the giant is incapable of accommodating a changing landscape and reacting to this threshhold. Will a new pattern emerge?
  • This could be useful for my blogging workflow!