Friday, July 31, 2009

Microsoft's long, slow decline

There's a thoughtful article on Microsoft over at Daring Fireball today: John Gruber analyses the recent bad news from the software maker and comes to a rather obvious—to my mind—conclusion.
Back in April, when the new PC Hunter ad campaign started, David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft, said the following in an interview with Newsweek’s Dan Lyons:
He says the idea was to turn Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign to Microsoft’s advantage. “We associate real people with being PCs, [but then Apple] ends up looking pretty mean-spirited, the way they go after customers,” he says. “It’s clear that’s who they are insulting.” At the same time he can’t resist taking a crack at the preciousness of some Mac users. “Not everyone wants a machine that’s been washed with unicorn tears,” he says.

Quoting the above, I wrote:
It seems clear that Microsoft’s stance on the Mac’s sales growth is that there’s nothing wrong with Windows or right with the Mac, but rather that there’s something wrong with Mac users.

Now, some of you might agree with Webster but—if you want to tempt people back to using your product rather than your competitor's—then insulting them is not a good strategy. But, as it happens, that is not really the meat of the matter.
Microsoft is no longer ignoring Apple’s market share gains and successful “Get a Mac” ad campaign. But the crux of these ads from Apple is that Macs are better; Microsoft’s response is a message that everyone already knows — that Windows PCs are cheaper. Their marketing and retail executives publicly espouse the opinion that, now that everyone sees Apple computers as cool, Microsoft has Apple right where they want them.

They’re a software company whose primary platform no longer appeals to people who like computers the most. Their executives are either in denial of, or do not perceive, that there has emerged a consensus—not just among nerds but among a growing number of regular just-plain users—that Windows PCs are second-rate. They still dominate in terms of unit-sale market share, yes, but not because people don’t recognize Windows as second-rate, but because they don’t care, in the same way millions of people buy metric tons of second-rate products from Wal-Mart every hour of every day.

If I had a pound for every time that I have heard a friend or colleague say, "I really want a Mac, I just can't afford it" then I would be able to upgrade mine. But Apple just does not compete in the low-cost space.

First, there is an Apple tax—although it is not as much as everyone thinks—but this isn't just to do with brand: you are paying for the research and development that goes into developing novel machines and innovative software.

These costs have to be recouped and—since Apple is the only company that researches and manufactures Apple hardware and software—then, of course, it will be Apple consumers who pay the price for it.

The indication that Apple is right is the fact that so many people think that the price is worth it—and that so many people are fanatical about the company's products (some are not so keen on certain ways that the company operates, of course).

Fundamentally, Apple only competes in the high-end market because that is where the profits are. Research and development has a dollar cost attached to it (rather than a percentage cost): if you need to make, for the sake of argument, $350 on each machine to be profitable then you aren't going to be in the market for selling machines at $450, are you? No, you are going to compete at the high end where your 30% profit margin is going to make the dollar amount that you need.

And, given that Microsoft dominates the low-end market—ironically, since Jobs originally set up Apple with the dream of offering the first sub-$1,000 personal computer—why compete with them in that unprofitable space? What is the point?

Bigger market share? But why would Apple want a much bigger market share? The company is amazingly profitable as it is—a bigger market share can only bring trouble, in the form of viruses and the need to support more hardware.

And, yes, there is the cool factor. Mac-users tend to be creatives, but they also tend to be successful. If you aren't successful, then you won't be able to afford a Mac. Apple Macs are a status symbol—a sign that you are either a creative (and thus unique: every good designer has their own style) or unusually good at what you do. Or, of course, both.

One of the articles that Gruber refers to concerns an NPD analysis that shows that Apple captures 91% of all retail sales of computers over $1,000. 91%! Yes, this is retail only, but Apple has always been popular in educational and research establishments (in the US at least) and they are starting to make inroads into commercial companies too.

And where does this leave Microsoft? It leaves the company making the majority of its sales in the low-end market, with wafer-thin profit margins. It's not the space that I would like to be in, that's for sure.
I’m not arguing that Microsoft will collapse. They’re too big, too established for that to happen. I simply think that their results this quarter were not an aberration, but rather the first fiscal evidence of a long, slow decline that began several years ago.

We will see whether John is right—I suspect that he is.

P.S. Just as an aside, and via Stuart Sharpe (with whom I'm working on a small project), these quotes demonstrate just why I love the Apple ethos.

First up is Steve Jobs, on why Apple doesn't do market research:
“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

Next up is Apple's chief designer, Jonathan Ive.
“Apple’s goal isn’t to make money. Our goal is to design and develop and bring to market good products…We trust as a consequence of that, people will like them, and as another consequence we’ll make some money. But we’re really clear about what our goals are.”

As the commenter says, Apple's ethos could be summed up as:
“Make the very best products. Business will follow.”

Now, one can argue whether or not Apple does make the very best products—obviously, I think that they do. Equally, however, my Chairman argues that "there is no such thing as a perfect product"—what is right for one person may not be right for the next one.

However, those of us who are most involved in new product development at my company share Apple's ethos: we genuinely want to make great products that make people's lives easier and more pleasant.

And, as the person who directs the User Interface (UI) in our new products, I can tell you that—although I don't (consciously) plagiarise their work—Apple is a big inspiration nonetheless: not least in the fact that, rather than it being almost an after-thought, the UI is now at the centre of our applications...

UPDATE: a couple of days ago, an exploit using SMS was found in the iPhone. Apple have released a fix for this: just plug in your iPhone and choose Check For Update in iTunes.

DISCLAIMER: I own an insignificant amount of Apple shares—which are most definitely on the up again: in fact, they've nearly doubled in price since February.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

But why would Apple want a much bigger market share?

To make more money, brainiac.

Now excuse me while I go upgrade my PC...

Council House Tory said...

The first Apple product I ever bought was the iPhone. I'd never go back now and would happily pay more for the next one.

Anon at 7.53

There comes a point when increasing market share and falling profits cross. Just ask the supermarkets.

13eastie said...

Apple and Microsoft are basically the same.

They are both intent on controlling everything without your input being sought.

e.g. I run ProTools (expensive music software) on my PC. Good stuff. Until one day, an automatic update installed IE8. Harmless enough you might think - it's only a web-browser, isn't it? So why the fuck did it stop ProTools from running? An OS that does this is rubbish. Plain and simp.

e.g. How many places can you get iPhone software from? A competent OS would be open to everyone.

UBUNTU.

Chris said...

DK, is that you? I thought I'd clicked on a Boing Boing link or over to a Rands article for a vertiginous second. ;)

Interesting restatement of "build a better mousetrap". Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"And, given that Microsoft dominates the low-end market—ironically, since Jobs originally set up Apple with the dream of offering the first sub-$1,000 personal computer—why compete with them in that unprofitable space? What is the point?"

Microsoft don’t sell PCs they sell software, software that costs the same no matter what PC you buy, if Microsoft charges $50 (to pluck a number out of the air) for each windows licence, then they make $50 for every PC sold regardless of the price of that PC. Cheap PCs sell more units, so Microsoft makes more money from cheap PCs than expensive ones.


"Apple only competes in the high-end market because that is where the profits are. Research and development has a dollar cost attached to it (rather than a percentage cost)"

The vast, vast bulk of the R&D that has gone into the current generation of Apple computers was done by Intel using the money it gained from selling PC hardware. Nothing has done more to bring down the price of computer hardware than the modular and open nature of the PC and Apple has been little more than a parasite, using the open standards created by/for the PC while giving next to nothing back in return.

Mr said...

"Apple Hardware"?

You disqualified the rest of your fanboi rant /right/ there.

True, Apple did have a hardware arm (back under the time of St Woz), but that's long gone, even after the Motorola partnership.

Apple now buy commodity hardware that is uniform, build a solid motherboard BIOS to protect it, then nicked BSD Linux to run it(1).

They control the platform with a rod of iron, have a codebase that was orignially written to be secure from bootup, and charge a bastard fortune to access their private APIs.

Then their Bruno's put a pretty windowed face on it, at a premium.

Apple is no longer a hardware company, nor a software company. It's a design company that does a bit of software and is intelligent about where it spends the money on that.

I can't fault them on their business strategy, but I can get pissed off with ignorant Mac user fanboi's smug faux superiority.

MS Windows, on the other hand, is a steaming pile of shit put together by a committee of marketers. It only works because MS has the money to throw at the brightest and best engineers, hand them the shit sandwich that is the Windows codebase and tell them "make this work for all hardware, across all versions of Windows, quickly".

I've no love for either OS, and even less for tribalism. You're trying to restart an argument here, DK, that's been going since AOL started.

Survivors of this conflict realise that Macs are pretty, do some nicehe apps very well and some mainstream apps poorly, but are expensive to buy, Windows PCs are cheap to buy but expensive to own, have a lot of mainstream apps that work well but few niche apps that work at all, and Linux is still the underdog for now.

HTHKTHXBAI

Devil's Kitchen said...

First Anon,

"To make more money, brainiac."

Seriously, did you bother to read the post? I explained that the costs could be seen as being higher than the benefits.

Look: Apple is fantastically profitable and respected: they don't need the market share.

Mr,

"You disqualified the rest of your fanboi rant /right/ there."

Would you prefer that I said "Apple-branded hardware"?

But that would be inaccurate: the hardware is not purely the chips, etc. I include the package—the casing, e.g. the aluminium unibody—as well.

Besides, the MacBook Air, for instance, has a customised chipset—do you think that Intel developed that for a bit of a giggle? For charity? Um... I think not.

Sure, Apple doesn't physically make the hardware—but it does finance other people to do so.

To claim that Apple has no hardware because St Woz is no longer wrapping wires around pins is just stupid.

Anon,

The argument above applies to you too. And as for this...

"Microsoft don’t sell PCs they sell software, software that costs the same no matter what PC you buy, if Microsoft charges $50 (to pluck a number out of the air) for each windows licence, then they make $50 for every PC sold regardless of the price of that PC. Cheap PCs sell more units, so Microsoft makes more money from cheap PCs than expensive ones."

Have you not noticed the plethora of Windows Editions—each priced differently? Do you not think that Microsoft would prefer to sell a PC with a Premium Edition rather than a Starter? Which do you think has the bigger profit margin?

Do you not think that Microsoft would like people to buy upgrades to their Windows OS?

Do you not think that Microsoft would prefer to sell, for instance, full edition of Outlook, rather than Outlook Express?

Ah, sod it: I'll let Steve Ballmer speak for Microsoft, shall I?

"Of course, Ballmer also explained that the company’s goal is to raise PC prices in the next year. That’s due both to expected popularity of a new class of higher-end and higher-priced netbooks, a new pricing strategy around Windows 7 that the company hopes will result in far more upgrades to premium SKUs, and a reversal of a strategy in the last year to cut prices to spur demand in emerging countries. “The theory was wrong,” said Ballmer, in that Microsoft didn’t tap enough untapped demand to compensate for the price hit. “You’ll see us address the theory. We’re going to readjust those prices north” with Windows 7."

DK

Anonymous said...

Yawn, another mac fan-boy rant. zzzzzzzzzzz. Nothing to see here people move on.

cabalamat said...

Mr: "BSD Linux"

LOL

You don't know what you're talking about, do you?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"Yawn, another mac fan-boy rant. zzzzzzzzzzz. Nothing to see here people move on."

And yet you still felt the need to comment. How very, very sad.

cabalamat,

I didn't even bother to pick up that piece of crap. Thanks for filling in.

DK

Roger Thornhill said...

Anon@08:45 "The vast, vast bulk of the R&D that has gone into the current generation of Apple computers was done by Intel using the money it gained from selling PC hardware. Nothing has done more to bring down the price of computer hardware than the modular and open nature of the PC and Apple has been little more than a parasite, using the open standards created by/for the PC while giving next to nothing back in return."

Gates swung a very lucky deal with IBM, who are the ones who produced a standard for the PC. Not Intel. If you want to see parasites, look at EVERY PC maker 'cept IBM, look at Microsoft. Apple? No, Apple has moved into Intel support but NOT leveraging off the PC Standard (see below).

@Mr. "Apple now buy commodity hardware that is uniform, build a solid motherboard BIOS to protect it, then nicked BSD Linux to run it"

WRONG. Apple Mac motherboards are not commodity, are based on EFI, not Phoenix BIOS (which is a core part of the PC "standard" and dates back to 1984). EFI is server-grade, normally found in Itanium-powered servers and I doubt if those beasts spend much time running a flavour of Windows. If Apple ever used Itanium or OpenVMS was ported to Xeon, I'd get a Mac and boot up probably one of the most stable, robust and secure OSes ever made. OpenVMS makes Linux look like Windows 3.1.

John A said...

They are both good.

But also, as you state, "what is right for one person may not be right for the next one."

Which is why decades ago I bought a WinTel machine running DOSv3. Not for the as-is PC, but because I could modify it, usually with hadrware/software from other than Intel/IBM/Microsoft. Things like what was then a high-bit-rate modem (1200bps instead of "standard" 300bps), software to use it for remotely communicating with my company mainframe (a package which emulated over 100 terminal types), a TV interface (so I could use my 40" TV at 3AM without necessarily using my glasses, rather than a 12" monitor - especially useful for the above-mentioned communications), a removeable-hard-drive box (with two 10meg cartridge drives[!] at a time when 4meg was considered huge), and on and on.

Being retired for some time I no longer have needs which Apple might find too esoteric to address. And as noted above, MS did not address them even at the time, just "allowed" them. But I do sometimes modify my hardware even now (eg I am about to replace my four-year-old NTSC/MPG video card with a new one capable of 1080i). Which, coupled with being largely house-bound, is also why I have a "tower" rather than a "laptop."

Anonymous said...

@ Roger Thornhill "Gates swung a very lucky deal with IBM, who are the ones who produced a standard for the PC. Not Intel."

Anon@8:45 never suggested Intel did, but rather he quite rightly suggested that the affordability of IBM Compatible PC's is a direct result of it's modular design philosophy which allows for competition.


At the end of the day this is yet another pointless fanboy battle that misses the point entirely.

OSX vs. Windows is not the same as IBM PC vs. MAC.

For a start the Mac has for all intents and purposes become an IBM Compatible PC in a shiny proprietary form factor, both operating systems can run on either hardware (yes Windows supports EFI) but only one company will actually let you, and because of IBM PC's modular design philosophy I can tailor make my system to suit my budget, taste and performance requirements.

If Apple were to license it's OS to run on different hardware they might have a shot of taking over the corporate market but they would also sacrifice most of their revenue stream because the vast majority of OSX systems would then be running on non Apple branded hardware as happened before when Apple DID license their OS. Manufacturers like Power Computing were making machines that were vastly superior in the marketplace and as a result Apple would not approve the hardware configurations for sale but neither would they explain why. Thus, since they did not provide a reason, as required by the T&Cs the licensee had the ability to ship. Soon Apple yanked the whole licensing program because they were getting outsold, even though it was getting their OS out in the market faster than they had ever experienced before

Anonymous said...

Those of us who do engineering design need to use a machine that has the appropriate s/w available, such as simulation and analysis programs. Macs are still 'toy' machines used by sad media-centric people like Stephen Fry. Sure, for the 'Guardianistas' and other fellow-travellers, then the sort of s/w available does what they (and it would seem DK, you) want. In the real world it simply is not good enough.

Mitch said...

Another option which I use is a "live" linux distro on a memory stick,I then can have my PC anywhere and on virtually any PC.
Running this doesn't affect the PC at all and when I unplug it they have their computer back.

Works for me and except for work stuff (cad/cam) does it all.....Oh its free as well.

Rob said...

I find Apple's attitude to customers completely infuriating. Their products are generally very good, but my experience of dealing with them was that the company and its staff are uber-cool, and you are supplicants who should fall at the feet of their shrine of coolness.

The staff in the Apple shop in Regent Street perfectly embody this. I'm giving you money, you twats. I don't want fawning obsequiousness, but I would like you to show even a passing interest and minimum of respect. Thanks.

Rob said...

BTW, I find the whole Microsoft/Apple debate tedious. I have a PC which does the job; other people have Macs which do the job. Who cares?

Ian B said...

Well, when you get down to basics, people buy a Mac because it's a big box of snob.

Remember the good old days when the Macnuts used to go on and on about how the Mac was better because it didn't use an inferior Intel processor..?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"Those of us who do engineering design need to use a machine that has the appropriate s/w available, such as simulation and analysis programs. Macs are still 'toy' machines used by sad media-centric people like Stephen Fry."

Yes, yes: of course they are. Oh no, wait: they are in fact used by serious scientists.

Macs are "'toy' machines" in the same way that engineers are simply builders of toys.

Rob,

"I find Apple's attitude to customers completely infuriating. Their products are generally very good, but my experience of dealing with them was that the company and its staff are uber-cool, and you are supplicants who should fall at the feet of their shrine of coolness."

I have never needed to deal with Apple staff. That's right, after 12 years and numerous machines, I have never needed to contact any member of Apple staff—no customer support, nothing. So I'm afraid that I cannot comment.

Ian B,

"Remember the good old days when the Macnuts used to go on and on about how the Mac was better because it didn't use an inferior Intel processor..?"

Yep. One of my first posts on The Kitchen.

By the way, one of the things that I find incredibly frustrating is the fact that not a single one of your has actually addressed any of the points about Microsoft.

Even those of you who profess to hate Apple cannot stop talking about Apple. Interesting, no?

No. Pretty fucking tedious really.

We know that I am an Apple fanboi (in that irritating phrase) but this is mainly a comment on Microsoft—anyone got any opinions on that?

Anyone? Bueller...?

DK

Anonymous said...

I think the reason that some of us find Apple-centric views such as your own quite fascinatingly bizarre is that they are so parochial and irrational. There is a world out there outside your own narrow 'design' (actually merely styling, not design) profession. My earlier comment about engineering s/w is because engineering designers such as myself (a fellow LPUK member by the way) use electronic circuit simulators such as low-cost SPICE packages, and also, in my case, audio and acoustic measurement and analysis packages such as PRAXIS and ARTA. These high quality and cost-effective packages simply don't exist in the MAC-osphere.
Yes, MACs do have wonderful software for the graphics arts industry, but don't let your narrow, blinkered view fool you. In the wider world they are still seen as 'something for the section of the company that reads the Guardian' to play about with.

Anonymous said...

Apple have essentially got out of the hardware side of their computers - that's a fact (no, making a case doesn't count). It's actually a good thing and entirely sensible from their perspective, as it's meant they now have access to more powerful and cheaper components, without all the expense of R&D they had in the past (especially with the CPUs).

They even did this at exactly the right moment - Intel's core2 family and descendents are great processors, powerful but with low energy consumption (compared to the previous gen, which were portable furnaces and a total dead end). Apple could never hope to compete with that, and that they weren't pigheaded enough to try is to their credit.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"I think the reason that some of us find Apple-centric views such as your own quite fascinatingly bizarre is that they are so parochial and irrational. There is a world out there outside your own narrow 'design' (actually merely styling, not design) profession."

Yours is a far narrower profession than mine and the fact that the applications that you use are not an indication of the fitness of the machines themselves—they are an indication of the market share.

It is not worth porting highly specialised applications to the Mac at this time (although I believe that it will become so): especially when those applications must interface with very specialist hardware.

Anon,

"Apple have essentially got out of the hardware side of their computers - that's a fact (no, making a case doesn't count)."

I should have been clearer: I was counting the case—amongst other things, the unibody enclosure did require a whole new—and unique—production line to be set up. That still costs money.

That said, in other respects you are right: the AIM partnership was going nowhere (although is was ironic that, IIRC, as Apple abandoned the PowerPC chip, Microsoft started using them in the X-Box).

DK

wonderfulforhisage said...

“Make the very best products. Business will follow.”

Are you listening David Cameron?

Ian B said...

Well DK, you started going on about Apple, not us. There's little to say about Microsoft. They make an operating system, that's all. It's a dull bit of software that creates a unified environment in which the useful software- the applications- works. People simply get too excited about operating systems. For most uses, as long as they can start their word processor or browser, they don't give a shit. It's like caring about who wrote the software in my washing machine. It washes clothes. Who cares?

Actually, having mentioned browsers; we have this same thing with the "browser wars". There's this big conspiracy theory that Microsoft (or whoever) mustn't "control the browser" because then they'll "control the internet". That isn't true. A browser is just a really fucking dull utility that displays content created by other people; it's the content that matters on the internet, not who wrote the code that draws the window it is in. Browser design has a fundamental design constraint- that is, it must display the content provided by the website. All the rest is bells and whistles, and different browser makers supply different bells and whistles. And just as with operating systems, they're actually running out of features to add in- that is bells and whistles.

Operating systems and browsers are now both mature software technologies. In the early days there were huge differences between products- DOS vs. the Mac for instance, but now basically all OSs have to offer pretty much the same suite of convergent facilities, and which you use is just no biggie. Use the cheapest that does the job, basically.

Saying that OS producers control the desktop or browser producers control the internet is paranoid conspiracist hyperbole. It's like saying that car manufacturers (or in fact manufacturers of car engines or dashboards) "control the roads". Utter piffle.

The whole anti-microsoft thing happened because Gates dared to be a capitalist, a successful one, when most computer users were utopian "cybercommunists" who expected all software to be "shared" and "free" and all that bullshit; because they were generally middle class ageing hippies with state funded computers in education and universities and so on. They found the idea of commercialism inegalitarian and vulgar. So Gates became a hate figure. That's all it is. Jobs managed to create a farcicle illusion via his infamous reality distortion field that, despite himself being a corporate capitalist, he was the "little guy" fighting the evil Gates goliath. Thus, the Mac user can buy a computer from Apple Corporation, and sit smugly there in his black turtleneck pretending to be anti-corporate. The higher price tag acts as justification that he is bucking the vulgarity of the marketplace- which is for ignorant lower class people with no taste. The same mindset as those who spend more money on organic food and deride the lower classes for gorging themselves on "cheap junk".

Obsidian said...

Microsofts problem is one of making boneheaded decisions. Ballmer really ought to quit and take up ballet or something, because he sure as shit can run M$ successfully.

All he can see is Apple and Google, and instead of taking care of M$ he's more interested in using as a blunt instrument to beat the competitors. Idiocy.

Apple, as I've said before, love the product, hate the control-freakery.

Plus, Apples development tools are terrible, as is their implementation of MVC. Visual Studio is far superior to Xcode/IB.

Ian B said...

*farcical

Devil's Kitchen said...

Ian B,

"There's little to say about Microsoft. They make an operating system, that's all. It's a dull bit of software that creates a unified environment in which the useful software- the applications- works. People simply get too excited about operating systems. For most uses, as long as they can start their word processor or browser, they don't give a shit. It's like caring about who wrote the software in my washing machine. It washes clothes. Who cares?"

I care.

Do you seriously not think that the whole experience of using a computer doesn't matter? That whether the OS crashing a lot or not doesn't matter? That how easy it is to find your web browser, and how quick it is to launch, and how stable it is, don't matter?

Well, they do matter to me.

And as for browser bells and whilstles... I wish that browsers would concentrate less on the application bells and whistles, and more on the rendering.

If you want to see a browser that's driving innovation in this way, I suggest that you download a nightly build of WebKit and then look here—and especially at this.

And if you cannot see the potential of using CSS animations (rather than Javascript) then... well, fair enough. But as a web developer, it makes me very excited.

DK

Ian B said...

I care.

Do you seriously not think that the whole experience of using a computer doesn't matter? That whether the OS crashing a lot or not doesn't matter? That how easy it is to find your web browser, and how quick it is to launch, and how stable it is, don't matter?


The problem is, you're just declaring your perceptions to be objective. You think Macs are better, so people who don't agree are either stupid or suffering false consciousness.

My PC very rarely crashes. I start my browser with one click on the taskbar. The whole thing seems to work very well for me. About what am I objectively wrong? This is like arguing about whether rock'n'roll is better than opera. Depends what you like. We're all individuals. ("I'm not!")

If you want to see a browser that's driving innovation in this way, I suggest that you download a nightly build of WebKit and then look here—and especially at this.

I don't care, DK. I'm different to you. Can you grasp that? I'm glad you find webkit's wahtevers exciting, but I just need something that runs me Photoshop and me email and me browser. You are confusing your perception of technical excellence with the overall product "best" as defined by other people on their individual basis.

And if you cannot see the potential of using CSS animations (rather than Javascript) then... well, fair enough. But as a web developer, it makes me very excited.

Well, the main thing I can see to be honest is that the unholy bodge of HTML, CSS and Javascript is shit, and we have to do the best we can with it. CSS in particular as a design paradigm is entirely broken- it's hard to think of something less ergonomic. But of course the W3C, being a bureaucracy, worked very hard to do the worst they could do, and succeeded. If Microsoft had privately invented CSS, the howling from geeks would curdle milk worldwide.

Why don't we hear complaints? Why do web developers slavishly toil at the HTMLCSSJavascript mountainside, ecstatically declaring I WINZ when they can just get it to work, and reserving all their ire for microsoft? Because it's that old cybercommunist ethos, that's why. It was designed by a committee on behalf of the people. It must be good. All hail Timbo's Trabi!

So when I see somebody with a white mess in their underpants over CSS animations or some such damned thing, I just sigh, to be honest. The HTML/CSS/Javascript system puts immense load on browsers as they trawl through multiple passes trying to render something- don't worry, there'll be a faster processor along in a minute- and it's frankly a miracle that developers can make the thing work at all.

But I doubt you're going to agree with me, because libertarians turn into socialists when it gets to their pet subject of web standards, which they see as this noble battle against the Microsoft juggernaut, instead of the disastrous "solution" that committees working for The Common Good inevitably produce. Raise the red flag and carry on the struggle, comrades! It'll all work soon. Promise.

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget that Mac OSX was the first to go at the latest blackhat conference exploiting zero day security holes.

I have been using Vista since RC1 and it has crashed for me exactly.... once. Which was primarily related to me choosing the x64 architecture for which no stable Nvidia drivers were available in the release candidate phase.

As for Macs being too expensive I have to say that unfortunately for what I need to do with my Computer they aren't expensive enough... just one of the two GPUs I use in my professional life costs half as much as the most expensive Mac Pro.

And that right there is the biggest problem with Apple and why they had to be rescued once before by Microsoft, Apple will decide what computational requirements the consumer has and then build that product whereas a PC lets ME decide what it is I need my computer to do.
If it wasn't for the IPod/Iphone Apple would have disappeared into oblivion already.

Anonymous said...

Only Vista crash I ever had was due to using an obselete DVB-S card, where I had to hack the drivers. Otherwise, despite breaking and tweaking it to absurd lengths, overclocking it by 50%, amd filling a huge case with countless bits and pieces, it's utterly rock solid. That's pretty much been the case since Windows XP - unless you have broken hardware (or duff drivers), it won't ever crash.

I've actually had more crashes on macbooks than PCs in the last five years, and I only use the Apple maybe 1% of the time.

Obsidian said...

I see with the CSS Transforms Apple are taking a leaf out of M$ book - extending standards.

All I want is every single bloody browser to render the same bloody markup/CSS/JS in the same bloody way.

Mind you, I'm expecting the browser to die a horrible death when people start realizing how inane all this web2.0 stuff is.

You can build a text editor in a browser? Woo! Look at all that unoptimized code, slow loading javascript and memory leaks! What larks!

How about you build the text editor in native, optimized, compiled code and use XML to pass data across to the server?

Ian B said...

The browserspace is ridiculous. People building menus with raw code! It's like DOS all over again, or programming pull down menus on me ZX Spectrum. It's basically using a highly advanced operating system (Windows, MacOSX, etc) to run another, primitive operating system in the browserspace. So you get a very slow, very difficult to program, inconsistent experience. What a load of old clagnuts.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Ian B,

"The problem is, you're just declaring your perceptions to be objective... [blah, blah, more of the same]..."

Yes, and? You might note that, in the post, I wrote stuff like:

"Now, one can argue whether or not Apple does make the very best products—obviously, I think that they do."

Do you note the subjective view there?

Or the acknowledgement that they may not be for everyone in the following sentence?

"Equally, however, my Chairman argues that "there is no such thing as a perfect product"—what is right for one person may not be right for the next one."

Of course it's a subjective view: when I say "Gordon Brown is a cunt" that is subjective too, but it doesn't stop the lot of you applauding like trained seals in a zoo, does it?

As for your comments about CSS/HTML/Javascript, may I ask what you see there instead? And don't, for fuck's sake, say "Java".

"CSS in particular as a design paradigm is entirely broken- it's hard to think of something less ergonomic."

Really? How about layout in HTML fucking tables?

And perhaps you would care to tell me what, exactly, you don't like about CSS? No, it isn't perfect but it is the best that we have and, actually, it is not a bad system—in fact, it's incredibly flexible when written well.

"But I doubt you're going to agree with me, because libertarians turn into socialists when it gets to their pet subject of web standards, which they see as this noble battle against the Microsoft juggernaut, instead of the disastrous "solution" that committees working for The Common Good inevitably produce. Raise the red flag and carry on the struggle, comrades!"

Oh, fucking yawn.

I like standards because it actually allows people to view a fucking webpage.

The standards are voluntary—which makes your comparison with Communism particularly puerile.

Yes, I like the standards because it means that I can deliver the information that I need to deliver.

Equally, I like the fact that browser manufacturers are breaking out and attempting to develop new functionality over and above the standards—do you see?

Anon,

"I have been using Vista since RC1 and it has crashed for me exactly.... once.

Did I make a comparison between Mac and Vista crashing?

NO, I FUCKING DIDN'T.

"As for Macs being too expensive I have to say that unfortunately for what I need to do with my Computer they aren't expensive enough... just one of the two GPUs I use in my professional life costs half as much as the most expensive Mac Pro."

Then you are a massive specialist—whoop-de-doo. Oh, and so fucking what?

"And that right there is the biggest problem with Apple and why they had to be rescued once before by Microsoft..."

Um, or not. MS buying $250 million of shares bought is hardly a "rescue" when Apple still had $4 billion in the bank.

"If it wasn't for the IPod/Iphone Apple would have disappeared into oblivion already."

*yawn*

No it wouldn't. It wouldn't be so successful, but it would not have disappeared.

Obsidian,

"I see with the CSS Transforms Apple are taking a leaf out of M$ book - extending standards.

All I want is every single bloody browser to render the same bloody markup/CSS/JS in the same bloody way."


You are to browser advancement what the Greens are to economic growth—you want a dead-end.

"How about you build the text editor in native, optimized, compiled code and use XML to pass data across to the server?"

Yes, this would be lovely. Unfortunately, XML is really finicky and often breaks, e.g. at my company we run Windows servers with Cold Fusion (don't blame me for that)—every time that we turn on Cold Fusion debugging, any XML breaks.

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

Ian B (again),

"It's basically using a highly advanced operating system (Windows, MacOSX, etc) to run another, primitive operating system in the browserspace."

Yes, Ian, but it is a cross-platform space—you don't have to write your web pages in Mac OS code, Windows code and UNIX code to make them work.

By the way, I am not going to bother engaging with this conversation anymore: you people aren't actually bothering to read what I wrote and, as per fucking usual, most of you are wanking on about Apple things that are no longer true (or never were): it's like you are discussing British politics and saying that "Tony Blair is the president of England".

Still, at least no one has wheeled out the "one-button mouse" yet...

DK

Anonymous said...

DK
"Do you seriously not think that the whole experience of using a computer doesn't matter? That whether the OS crashing a lot or not doesn't matter?"

Anon,

"I have been using Vista since RC1 and it has crashed for me exactly.... once.

DK
"Did I make a comparison between Mac and Vista crashing?

NO, I FUCKING DIDN'T."


so go on then... tell us... what OSs were you comparing?

Ian B said...

Yes, Ian, but it is a cross-platform space—you don't have to write your web pages in Mac OS code, Windows code and UNIX code to make them work.

No, you have to write them in a primitive bodge of three different codes, plus whatever you do on the server, building a poor quality UI from scratch. It's crap, isn't it? It's indefensibly crap, isn't it?

Think of the quality of the Macintosh OS UI. Or the Windows UI. Now think about the shoddy mess in a browser window. It's little better than drawing onto video RAM in DOS. Why? Becuase Timbo and the Seven Dwarves still think websites are "documents".

It's bollocks.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"so go on then... tell us... what OSs were you comparing?"

None. Ian B said that he didn't really care about the OS—any OS—experience: I simply highlighted some experiences that you might get with an OS.

Ian B,

When people try to build non-web applications—when they try to simulate the desktop experience on the web—it is often crap, yes.

But web applications that are built to be web applications are often not.

It's a question of horses for courses.

Unless you have a better idea, of course, this is the way that things are going to run, because the cross-platform ubiquity of the web—the value that is gained through bringing services to people—outweighs the code disadvantages.

Or should we return to the days when websites regularly told you what browser you had to use?

(On that point, I remember—back in 2005—going to Visit Scotland's website, only to be told that I couldn't access it because I didn't have the right version of Netscape or IE—neither of which existed, in a high enough version, on the Mac.)

DK

Anonymous said...

DK
"We know that I am an Apple fanboi (in that irritating phrase) but this is mainly a comment on Microsoft—anyone got any opinions on that?

Anyone? Bueller...?"

For an article that is "mainly a comment on Microsoft" you do seem to do a whole lot of talking about apple, just look at the word count.
Microsoft 10
Apple 28
PC 4
mac 12

If you want people to talk about Microsoft can I suggest that you do an article about Microsoft and shut the fuck up about Apple.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"If you want people to talk about Microsoft can I suggest that you do an article about Microsoft and shut the fuck up about Apple."

No, I talked about Apple in the context of Microsoft's situation—and I did it at such length, explaining every little assertion that I made, partly to attempt to stop the kind of bullshit that has gone on in the comments above.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked.

In the meantime, how about I write what the fuck I like and, if you don't like it, you fuck off...?

Seriously, this is becoming mildly annoying: this is my blog and if I want to write about Apple, I shall do so—all you wankers who seem to think that I shouldn't be allowed to write what the fuck I like should just piss right off.

DK

Ian B said...

Of course it's a subjective view: when I say "Gordon Brown is a cunt" that is subjective too, but it doesn't stop the lot of you applauding like trained seals in a zoo, does it?

Well as it goes I pretty much invented the term "clapping seals" to describe the sweary hordes around some blogs, so since you were replying to me... No.

As for your comments about CSS/HTML/Javascript, may I ask what you see there instead? And don't, for fuck's sake, say "Java".

Ah right, this thing can't be crap because it's what we have? Java? No.

How about a rethink of what a web page is; like it isn't a technical document that you "style". WHATWG have at least attempted to make some move towards sense by hitting the W3C with teh astonishing news that webpages aren't actually single documents, and they have distinct areas.

CSS as a layout tool- you can barely dignify that at all- is pathetic. It does not encode relationships between structural elements. It produces obscure code which does not specify the intentions of the designer. The basic of any layout in a 2D space is teh vertical and horizontal relationships in the space- a grid. A designer says "I want A above B, and C to the right of them". You cannot encode that intention directly into CSS. It does not exist within the paradigm.

So you have to try to imply the relationship isntead by floating this and specifying a height of that, and hope it puts your elements in the right place. Then you change one thing, and it breaks. It is based on a fundamentally broken paradigm. 2D layout is a simple idea. The fact that it requires hand coding of rules by specialists is a certain indication that it is broken.

(The fact that it requires hand coding by specialists is of course why those specialists tend to support it. It's making things difficult so that the masses can't do it- always a good way to protect a job).

And tables? Hmm. They work, every time, as intended, without head scratching. They're not elegant either- but you can create a WYSIWYG design tool that lays out a table, perfectly, in every browser, and the designer never even needs to see the underlying code. Tables aren't particularly ergonomic either- but CSS layout is a step backwards.

And finally, CSS is supposed to separate style and layout from content. Even in this they fail. The CSS is integrally dependent on the order and structure of the HTML. You can't just move things around- changing the order of elements- with CSS. You have to recode the HTML. By hand. Want to swap the order of the columns? Get into that HTML boy- the CSS can't help you there. And because of inheritance through the DOM, the effect of CSS on an element will again vary depending where it is... in the HTML. So even in the supposed great advantage, it fails. Then you can mention that the braindead lack of constants- let alone variables- means you can't assign just one value- e.g. a color value- with that standard from the earliest days of computing, so you have to type it into your nice ruleset over and over again.

I can cut my lawn with a pair of nail scissors. That doesn't make nail scissors the best- or even a good- tool for the job.

So why do we have it? Like I said, because computing is full of "liberals" who believe in centralisation and committees. Bureaucracies. "Standards" bodies who write little red books full of rules like Ye Shall Not Use Tables For Layout. And every time more rules come out from the ruling committee they clap... like seals.

John A said...

"By the way, one of the things that I find incredibly frustrating is the fact that not a single one of your has actually addressed any of the points about Microsoft."

Uh, do you mean the original post before comments? I just re-read it: paraphrased "Apple stresses ease of use, MS stresses affordability - I prefer ease of use."

Fine. By and large I agree with the analysis of marketing. And as I said in my earlier post, I think both are good systems. But I had, and still have, reasons for going WinTel. And yes, with an income of 18k/year US, price is a factor and a big one - just not the biggest.

- - -
Browsers? Sheesh! OK, I have IE8, Firefox, Chrome installed and have experimented with a couple of other (Mozilla-based) browsers. But again, I have a usage that even most here may not have - over 2100 bookmarks, arranged in folders (blogs, news, shopping, search, bills [accounts payable, alas, no receivables], etc. Which is why, despite problems, IE is my default: all the others very carefully break the folder contents out and sort the whole mass as one HUGE drop-down menu, even though they also include the folder entries. I have heard of an add-on allowing seperate top-level bookmark folders per session, which might be useable, but as a work-around for a problem IE never had...

James Higham said...

Good stuff, DK. The Yahoo biz is clutching at straws.

Winston said...

A month or two back a friend asked for some advice on buying a new computer he was interested in a Mac, I offered no opinion one way or the other as I know very little about them but went to their web store to look at specs and prices.

Clicked on the 24" iMac and almost fainted when I saw it costs £800 to upgrade from 4GB of RAM to 8GB. Maybe this is super amazing RAM made of moon dust, I dunno, but at that moment I could only come to the conclusion that these people were trying to rip me (or rather my friend) off.

4GB of RAM costs about £60, charging £800 for it is simply obscene.

Apple has 91% of the market share over $1000 simply because most people don't buy ready built PCs that cost that much. The sort of person who doesn't build their own PC doesn't need one so powerful that costs $1000 and the sort of person that needs a PC that powerful/expensive will build it themselves. If we were to compare the market share where we included user built PCs rather than just ready built I think Apple would come off very poorly even in the $1000+ market, just think of all those gamers out there running 24"+ monitors, dual GPUs, quad cores, 8GB+ RAM.

As for Windows, I'm the sort of guy that likes to tinker with my hardware so for me the only alternative would be Linux but as I find Windows does 100% of everything I need I have no reason to change. It does what I want, I can upgrade, it's cheap.

If Apple's market isn't simply 'cool people' what is it? Windows does everything a Mac does, sometimes not quite as efficiently from what I've heard, but when you can buy a PC for £500 but have to cough up £1000 for the most basic iMac it's worth saving the money and not being quite as efficient in some areas.

In case I haven't done enough to warrant some abuse from our host....

Typical Mac users.

Obsidian said...

@DK

You are to browser advancement what the Greens are to economic growth—you want a dead-end.

Nope, I'm quite happy with advancements - going from doing layout in tables to be able separate markup and layout with CSS has been a godsend.

I just don't want to see anything engine-specific.

Yes, this would be lovely. Unfortunately, XML is really finicky and often breaks, e.g. at my company we run Windows servers with Cold Fusion (don't blame me for that)—every time that we turn on Cold Fusion debugging, any XML breaks.

XML isn't finicky at all, quite the opposite. Whatever is building the XML will be what's broken, which is then a programming flaw than an inherent technological one.

As for CF, meh, it's not that bad - before Macromedia and Adobe hacked at it, it was a very powerful way to quickly knock out web sites. I used to enjoy developing in it.

I'm with Ian B on this one though, having applications run in the browser on modern OS's is the equivalent of sticking a Morris Minor's engine into a Bugatti Veyron.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Winston,

DDR3 does not cost £60, sorry. 4GB is more like £300 and 8GB is nearer £600.

Having said that, everyone knows not to buy RAM from Apple (as I said in the post, not every Mac fan likes aspects of the way in which Apple operates).

Ian B and Obsidian,

Criticisms duly noted. However, I believe that CSS is far, far more flexible than tables.

I take your point about web apps, but I just haven't seen hide nor hair of a better technology for page layout on the web.

The relationship layout aspect laid out by Ian B is the thing that I most relate to, certainly. Some of the advances in HTML5 might help there though.

Having said that, I like the dynamism of CSS—or the instability as Ian might put it. If I remove an element, everything else slots into place in a predictable way.

DK

davidncl said...

"Apple’s goal isn’t to make money. "


You fucking knob.

Winston said...

DK, 4GB DDR PC3-8500 NON-ECC for a PC

Why the difference? OK so it's on a smaller 204pin board. But come on, even on those prices you quote alone Apple make a £500 mark up, not taking into account their increased margin from purchasing power.

If everyone knows (I didn't) not to buy RAM from Apple, what does that say about Apple and their users? To me it says people know that Apple are trying to rip them off, they still want an Apple but don't want to pay Apple prices.

If we're being generous we could say Apple must make really great software, people will cough up the money for the basic machine just to be able to use the software but then look elsewhere for other parts.

If we're being not so generous we could conclude that people want to be seen to be using an Apple but don't give a shit what the internals are.

Roger Thornhill said...

@Anon 01:33

Anon 08:35 wrote a non-sequitur criticising Apple but I made the best of it I could. Was he complaining that Intel was a parasite off the IBM standards? Not exactly, but, if he asserts Apple are now then Intel were and are, as their chips romped home because of the PC standard, not because their 8088 or 8086 and microcode was a master stroke in engineering. Contemporary 16 bit Motorolla chips 68000 were better when the war was fierce IIRC.

The point is not missed. It is about both issues and even then, as I mentioned, almost all PCs are BIOS driven piles of 1984 CRAP. Apples are EFI and at least from the correct century.

Since when did OSX boot properly without major hacking on non EFI hardware? Since when did Windows outside of the rarified end run on EFI? THe issue is Apple sells hardware and its hardware is EFI based and is therefore more advanced than the junk being bought.

Fact is many people do not want to go into the messy depths you might want to and I have done. Most laptop owners are not swapping motherboards or GPUs. I have swapped my HDD in a PowerMac G4 but it is not for the faint-hearted. Not Apple's issue, just a fact of life in the form factor. The extreme rarified tinker-toy end of the PC market is hobbyist. If you blame Apple in that space, blame Sony and their Vaio's!

@Anon 08:23: "Macs are still 'toy' machines"

Don;t show your ignorance. Do not confuse simplicity with simplistic. A toy that is a full blown UNIX machine wherever you wish?

I will give you "toy" - LINUX. I worked with OpenVMS and that makes LINUX look like Windows 3.1!

I had three reasons for buying Mac in 1999. ONE: I had a PC and used PCs at work for email and Web. TWO: I had a PC and hated - and still hate - the utter ARTLESS nature of it all. Devoid of humanity not just in Microsoft but all those companies who produce the software and use ugly fonts and grey borders. THREE: I am an OpenVMS "fanboi" and so Windows and BIOS machines grate intensely. Apple was irritating in 8.6 mode but I got the OSX public beta and it worked well. Now, UNIX is still not that great at process control but my god Windows was awful. They had their chance as they stole VMS people, but the ball was dropped before NT3.51 in the search for speed on Intel (Alpha NT was fast for its day).

Fact is, commodity PCs, most Linux and Windows are artless. If you think you can write code without art being involved, you are deluding yourself IMHO

Anonymous said...

DK
"Seriously, this is becoming mildly annoying: this is my blog and if I want to write about Apple, I shall do so—all you wankers who seem to think that I shouldn't be allowed to write what the fuck I like should just piss right off."

No one is saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to write about Apple if you want to.
But when you write an article where Apple is mentioned twice as often an Microsoft, is it really that surprising that people start talking about Apple?

Captain Fatty said...

Anonymous - re engineering

It's all very odd. At the space science lab where I work the scientists and software engineering folk all use macs because of the wealth of available programs and the underlying unix base. The electronics engineers have recently switched from sun mentor graphics to some windows pc based system and a group of more unhappy bunnies you have never seen. Productivity is down, morale is lower and system support required has gone through the roof. As for the mechanical engineers they are still very happy with their abici (or is it abicuseseses?) and we don't talk about them. Personally, the realm of noddy systems is the seattle based numpties. Oh yes, I do hope microsoft and their awfulness disappear from the face of the earth. Just my 2ps worth and totally irrelevent to dk's post.

Winston said...

Fatty,

I'm sure what you say is true but it's difficult to come to any conclusions from it. So many of these things are driven by creator bias and user bias.

For example...you don't give much information, I wouldn't expect you to and you probably don't know everything we would need to know to make a proper judgement. But the creators of software will build something using the knowledge they already have, if the person is a Windows user they will build software for Windows, the creator bias. The software will filter down and over time be developed further, users will get used to it and know of no other way of doing it and will kick up a stink if you switch to another platform, whether or not the new software is better or worse, it's simply because it's different and they have to relearn how to do things.

I readily admit I'm completely Windows biased, I've tried to use Linux but hated it because nothing was where it 'should' be. My office changed from Outlook to Lotus, we hated that, because nothing was where it 'should' be, it's the user bias.

These situations can come about from the most simple of situations, some lab guy asks his mate to write him a simple bit of software to do XYZ, 20 years on it has developed into some behemoth piece of software that 400 people in a company depend upon and if someone tries to replace it all hell breaks lose, not because the original was the best way to do it but because it was the only way those 400 people had learned how to do it.

Like I say, this might not apply to you it's just an example of why we need to be careful when judging these things.