Friday, November 19, 2010

TBL warns Web fragmenting into walled gardens

While I've yet to read more than the first page of Tim Berners-Lee's latest, I've already stumbled across several statements that merit response, the following in particular.

TBL writes "The Web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles and because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked, both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its capabilities based on those principles."

Certainly, in part, but the potential for profit played no small part in motivating most of those involved, who shared that egalitarian vision only insofar as it served their own proprietary purposes. For example, contending browser vendors attempted to push through their own extensions to the initial standards, with an eye to reaping licensing fees for their use.

It's testimony to the purity of TBL's own motivation that he can still see the development of the Web in such terms, and apparently believe that it is only recently succumbing to the taint of divisive commercial interests, but, as well informed as his view undeniably is, it fails the test of objectivity.

There was never any chance that the Web could grow as it has while existing in isolation from such influences. The best possible outcome would be if the Web continues to make provision for the unencumbered exchange of information and opinion, alongside the walled gardens and pay-to-play sites, far into the future.

Monday, November 15, 2010

something BIG

When Steve Jobs suggests that Apple's $50+ Billion in liquid assets was being saved for the opportunity to acquire something big, we shouldn't confine our thinking to the obvious, companies with market caps smaller than Apple's mountain of cash.

Take, for instance HP. If things continue as they are for awhile longer, Apple's cash reserves will surpass HP's market cap in a few years, but even before that it might be possible to execute an acquisition that included an issue of new stock.

So, why would Apple be the least bit interested in buying HP, nostalgia aside?

HP is among the more nimble of the well established technology companies, and has a reputation for quality that suggests its corporate culture might at least be compatible with Apple's. It has a more diverse product line than does Apple, with distribution channels to match, and has a huge collection of intellectual property, including that recently acquired along with Palm.

But HP sells computers that run Windows! What good would that be to Apple?

To begin with, Apple could make sure those computers all shipped with Safari, iTunes, and MobileMe Control Panel preloaded, and include the same trial MobileMe account that they do for Mac buyers. Apple has plenty of experience with supporting Windows, so this much wouldn't even be a challenge.

Beyond that, Apple could alter the circuit board designs to make them Mac-compatible, and offer them with Windows, Mac OS X, or both, picking up some additional after-market business from people who bought Windows-only machines and later had regrets. People who were leaning towards getting a PC but tempted by Macs would flock to HP in droves, taking business away from its PC competitors.

I'm not predicting that Apple will acquire HP, only pointing out that a case for doing so might be made, and suggesting that this illustrates how broad a net is needed to gather in all of the possibilities for what Apple might do with its hoard.

Friday, November 05, 2010

of rack-mount systems and mysterious data centers

Standard 19-inch and 23-inch rack-mount systems exude the sort of geekiness found in serious IT departments and data-services operations. Is it even conceivable that their days might be numbered?

Apple's choice to discontinue their Xserve line just as their own huge data center in North Carolina is about to come online might seem to suggest they think so, but chances are that new data center will be chock-full of rack-mount hardware, just mainly not Xserves.

I expect a significant contributing factor in Apple's decision to discontinue the Xserve is that they found it wasn't a competitive option for them in equipping the new Maiden, NC facility, even considering that they could sell it to themselves for something like 30% below retail.

Perhaps also, and this is pure speculation, given their investment in miniaturization, a 19-inch rack-mount system is simply too inefficient in its use of space. That might not seem relevant when the size of your data center is measured in acres, but once it fills up that space becomes precious, and configurations that waste it won't survive long. Perhaps they plan to switch to a narrower (10-inch ?) rack-mount system that can fit nearly twice as many devices into the same space. Given the size of the facility, they can probably design and build something for themselves more economically than they can buy from another supplier, especially considering the possibility of using A4 chips or similar ARM-based SOCs, paired with commodity hard drives, and running some variant of Darwin, iOS, or Mac OS X, and doing so would provide them with valuable experience, helping them gain traction with the enterprise in the future.

On the other hand, their need for such a data center may have developed too quickly for them to rely upon technology developed in-house, at least at the outset.

For most of us, the nature of the services that data center will support is more important and far more interesting, but those of us with a geekstreak will continue to wonder over the technology in use until such questions are answered.

getting a handle on Flash

Cult of Mac has published instructions for uninstalling Flash, together with instructions for reinstalling it if you decide that's what you want, and a pointer to ClickToFlash, which replaces Flash content with an inert rectangle bearing the word "Flash", unless you click on that rectangle, in which case the Flash content is displayed.

And here's John Gruber of Daring Fireball on essentially the same topic.