Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Phones and mobile devices like tablets are part of the Micro Maturity  phenomena.  I think my phone exceeds the capabilities of my desk top computer for the majority of my working life.  My phone has a dual core processor, Android, and a crystal clear picture.  My former PCs had none of that.  Even with all the capabilities (including wi-fi) buying another phone of the same type is cheap at under $100.  If my phone breaks, I have a slightly older phone ($17 on EBay) that can pinch hit until I'm up and running again with a primary phone. 

In the advertising sphere of my life, I see the mobile portion of our web site getting nailed with loads of hits while the desk top side is not so busy.  I'm glad because the mobile side is easier to update.  When we buy promotions, the coverage usually concentrates on the mobile side.  The big screens where the ad takes over the use experience until banished or 12 seconds do not seem to do as well. 

I hear in the third world, phones get used as all in one devices.  This is fueling a new computer revolution without the huge infrastructure needed to run a large desk top.  Places with intermittent power do well because I can recharge my mobile with a block of batteries.  Phones help bridge the gap between third world and first world Internet usage. 

Don't underestimate phones, they work well too, and are a symptom of Micro Maturity.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Muscle Computers

 I'm wondering if we missed a golden age of computing by just upgrading as our equipment turned three.  Older machines work quite well, but they sure do like to use power.  Some older computers I have (like the 2 Xeon processor work station) can heat the room they live within.  Yet, even though they have raw power, they still work.

Newer chips seem to have slower clocks.  My modern laptop has an i5 4 core that gets 8 or 10 hours battery life, and that just would not be possible with the chips that ruled the earth in 2005 to 2008.  Some of my old laptops blow a lot of heat.  I had an old red Gateway that had a core 2 duo that heated up my lap quite a bit.  I gave it to my son, (a common end to my computers) and as best as I know, he still uses it today. 

I have an old Dell from 2007 that, according to the Microsoft Windows Experience rating, delivers a better experience than my wife's six month old i5 gaming rig.  Back in the day, this was not possible.  Today, though, new computers work similarly to the way computers used to, so long as they were good hardware.

I'm thinking we're spending too much on new computers.  Tablets are usually less than $200 and are quite handy.  By the way, few tablet have a four core processor.  Rarely they have a two core, but more commonly a one core processor.  This means that a late Pentium 4 has enough computing power for almost anyone.  (And power to burn if you put Linux in)

Is the Cloud Killing PCs?

Over at ZDnet, Stephen J. Vaughn-Nichols has a great article asking if They're Killing the PC  .  An additional article on their site laments the passing of repairability,  It's not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead.   

I think these articles, and others like them are premature.  I see many reasons for PC sales to be poor:
  •  The quality of used computers is a primary reason why the market continues to soften.  
  • A continuing lack of full time, full wage jobs (see the NY Times article on long-term unemployment).  This is an issue because PCs are most likely to be used in the work place.
  • Economic stagnation meaning that macroeconomic growth is slow. 
  • Cheap software on Apple and Android devices.  Face it, an app, or using cloud apps is cheaper than buying that shrink wrapped set of Microsoft Office disks.
  • Any 64 bit PC can run any piece of commonly available software for most needs.  There are exceptions, like CAD or CAM, and engineering or scientific applications, but for the most part, if a computer was made after 2004 or 5 its just fine.  (With the exception of bad capacitor mobos)
  • New chips work very similarly to old chips, except they don't use as much electricity. (And the difference is usually less than 40 Watts)
  • Does anyone need an i7 based system, or is a $60 used Core 2 Duo good enough?
With that said, though, I am seeing signs of a PC market collapse.  Just the other day I bought a T60 Thinkpad IBM laptop for my son with everything except a hard drive and a power cord for $18.  It has 2 cores and runs 64 bit software.  Nothing wrong with that.  An XPS 730x with an i7 (no hard drive) sold on an auction site for $212 last week, which was a computer that should be worth close to $1,000 now, and probably cost $3,809 new.  Run of the mill Core 2 Duo computers now run around $49, and can still run almost any software.  Yes, the i3s, i5s, and i7s are sweet processors, but the most important factor is the strength of the graphics card, not the strength of the CPU.  I'm running an old XPS 720 that has as its choke point the hard drive, not the video card.  If a seven year old computer has a hard drive choke point, then newer computers are no better. 

Companies that are expanding likely buy their workers thin clients or tablets rather than the latest greatest PC.   Entrepreneurs probably just buy a 7 or 8 year old computer for less than $100 which will work fine for the vast majority of businesses. 

The biggest factor the articles miss is the usage of PCs in third world nations.  PCs will probably keep going there because they are cheap and can be run with open source programs.  As the developed nations sell off their stock of used computers, the third world will be the place where they go.  Places where the Internet is undependable is where these old machines will wind up staying.  They will need the old fashioned software that can run without a network.

All in all, we live in interesting times.  I wonder if the ongoing stagnation in the US economy is due to the technology industry running out of innovation.  When you think about it, tablets, phones and the Cloud are an evolution, not a revolution.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Productivity Operating System vs. Media Consumption OS

Microsoft has great potential to weather their current difficulties.  The trick will be to market what they have effectively.

Microsoft is a good example of a large incumbent being hit by destructive (or at least disruptive innovation).  Clayton Christensen published a good book on this theme, The Innovator's Dilemma.  His thesis is how disruptive innovation brings down large incumbents.  Examples are everywhere, from the pharmaceutical company making obsolete cancer drugs to Kodak, the company who invented digital photography, who went bankrupt when no one wanted to purchase film.  Putting the theory succinctly, incumbents have too much invested in infrastructure to be able to change as an organization when they are faced with disruptive change.  In the case of Microsoft, tablets using ARM processors are breaking up the Duopoly of Windows and Intel.  Desktops are no longer king.

Microsoft is doing some things right.  Outlook.com is being touted as a mail service where the postmaster doesn't read your mail.  The X-Box gaming system is a fine example of contract fabrication, and an example of millions gaming together via the Internet.  The Surface, after a rocky start, looks as though the second version will be a really good piece of hardware, even though it has Windows 8 on board.  I think the jury is still out on the Microsoft Windows phones.  I almost bought one from Verizon, but balked when Verizon wanted two years of commitment plus $30 per phone.  (We went to Sprint and have been very satisfied with our HTC 4g LTE phones that hooked up for free not to mention unlimited data)  The specs on the Windows phone were superior to other phones offered by Verizon, and the camera was to die for.  I think the Windows Phones will have a lot of life once they get going, although now they look like Microsoft is trying in vain to keep up with Apple. Bing coupled with Yahoo! advertising is a good service, and I like to reach the other 20% of Internet searchers.  All in all, Microsoft's businesses outside Windows seem to be doing well.

So what happened with Windows 8?  I'm not understanding the causes until I look at an abstract representation, almost a black box approach to what the operating system does.  Windows 8 is a great tactile way to interact with computers.  The little windows are meant to be touched with one's finger leading to the operation of the software.  I think this is a futuristic way to begin the process of displaying computer screen on clear glass the way they did in Minority Report.  At the same time, though, Windows 8 is only geared to one way of using computers, that of media consumption.

Media consumption is what we do with tablets and phones.  Until voice recognition gets better, we will not create.  Creating media for consumption takes a different type of computer, the desktop or laptop.  This opens up the box of market segmented operating systems.  I think the Surface will work to produce content if purchased with the optional $110 keyboard. 

Lets get honest, Windows 8 is a beautiful operating system for those who just want to see the latest Facebook post, or surf the web.  Windows 8 should have a touch screen to use the tactile input abilities.  However, if a person wants to produce media, then their needs are different.  I like Windows 7 because it is modern, and works well.  I can get to any place I need to be with fewer clicks than Windows 8.  This is important when I sit down to write my exams, or a feasibility report, or some other production effort I need to get into the computer fast, and get producing quickly. I want to produce, not to be always clicking away to get to some place else.

I'm calling on Microsoft to start marketing their Operating Systems differently.  Windows 7 should be for professionals engaged in production, and Windows 8 should be for media consumption, entertainment, and home uses.  Lets keep both Operating Systems going and recognize they each have a different application.  Microsoft tends to want to push the market, and in the case of Windows 8, neither the hardware nor the users are ready to use this system.  Lets go back to the days of Windows 98 for homes and small businesses and Windows 2000 or NT for business production uses. Lets not sell Windows 8 on anything that doesn't mount a touch screen, and when a new user turns on a computer for the first time, how about a choice in Operating Systems?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Windowws 8 Review

My wife brought Windows 8 home on a new piece of hardware.  She bought from a friend.  The hardware is very nice.  HP i5 w/ 12 GB RAM, 2 TB HD, and believe it or not, Beats sound.  I like Beats.  Really good sound quality and from an unexpected source.  I never knew Dr. Dre appreciated sound quality.  I wrote him off because he performs rap.  Unfairly as it turns out.

At any rate, I had to examine her stray.  My first impulse was to put it out of its misery and install Windows 7.  But my wife had other plans.  She wanted to use the programs her friend pre-installed. Makes sense, so I start up the wounded beast of a desk top.  Sure enough, I can't get the keyboard to work.  I check everywhere.  I think I've never seen a Microsoft operating system with no key board and the mouse only able to put blue boxes around stuff. 

I'm very good with computers, and I was cursing at the computer within 30 seconds.  Took five or six days, but I finally figured out if you hit ESC two times, a box appears asking if you would like to shut down Narrator.  I shut it down, and then the keyboard worked.  I went into Narrator on the control panel and discovered I could tell it not to run when Windows starts.  How nice, now we have a computer that works.  Oh, and by the way, the previous owner complained about how her key board was broken.  No coincidence there, she must not have known Narrator was running.  Some of the options included run Narrator minimized with no sign of the program operating.

With Narrator out of the way, I decided to check out Windows 8.  My first impression is that my wife won't last with this wounded beast.  When you think about it, Windows 8 is the only Operating System bad enough to be protected with UEFI protected boot.  Means you can't change it easily.  You have to go into the BIOS to tell the computer to run differently.  The screen seem to look more like my Android phone than Windows.

All the tiles seem evocative of Android, and then I noticed that when I added user accounts, the machine asked me for my e-mail, my phone number, and my alternate e-mail.  As soon as they wanted the phone number, my impression was that they were handing all my info over to the NSA.  Actually I think they wanted the phone number to send your password to you when you forget.  Still, though, a phone is registered to a unique user that is validated by a phone company that knows who pays for the account.  What better way to get a verified digital ID for any commercial and espionage purpose.  What can I do? I add in the information, hoping my wife's wounded beast won't give away too much of my identity.  And, oh, by the way, if you use a Microsoft e-mail like outlook.com or hotmail.com to log into Windows 8, you get special privileges.  I passed on those, and the sign up sheet asked me if Microsoft could use my information to send me targeted ads.  Shades of Google again.  I said NO.  Then Microsoft wanted to send me junk e-mails, so I said NO to that too. I noticed a shopping bag in the icons, and sure enough, Microsoft has an app store just like Apple and Google Play do.

Windows 8 is a cheap hack copy of Android OS and Apple OS.  Microsoft wants to make more money on advertising with their Bing/Yahoo service, and Microsoft wants to know exactly who you are so they can give your digital identity to the NSA and make money on your likes and dislikes and track your every move on the Internet. 

When are we, as consumers, going to say ENOUGH?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's it all about?

     My buddy Ron always calls me up and has thought provoking ideas and observations about the computer industry.  He is a top notch computer repair man, and he fixes the computers where I work.  As a hobby, I like to play around with refurbing (is that a word?) old hardware.  Ron's business and my hobby intersect in interesting ways.  I like to read his Blog, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if he followed a different path.  That's just from my point of view, what he puts down is good.

     Lately, I've been thinking that CPUs aren't changing much compared to back in the day.  Back in the 90's each generation of chip had radically better performance.  Check out this ExtremeTech chart::

 To sum up, CPUs aren't getting any better since about 2004.  Check out the purple line on the graph.  The reason? CPUs are prey to heat.  As the amount of components on a CPU go up, so does the heat.  At some point, the heat is impossible to handle, so that's why Intel went to dual cores and more.  Power, and its side effect heat,  is getting better as chip manufacturers make smaller components.  That's why the smart phone in your pocket lasts all day now, rather than having to be charged in the middle.  (Batteries haven't changed much at all, just consumption)

   The fact that computers aren't getting any better, just smaller, has human effects.  Even though our methods of interacting with computers (like typing, touch screen, mouse, and keyboards)  haven't changed, the fact their performance is roughly the same means the microelectronic market is maturing.

Mature markets work differently than expanding ones.  A mature market is exemplified by an item, like a toaster, that is the same year after year.  Symptoms of a mature market include commoditization where an item sells based on what it is rather than a differentiating characteristic like brand.  We are already seeing this in desktop PC sales, and the vanishing sales of netbooks

The most interesting development is how the world is moving away from the PC for consuming data.  Consumers are adopting phones, and to a lesser extent tablets.  My phone can even scan and print from my stone age networked printer.  My phone has a dual core processor, which seems like overpower, but I like it a lot.  The fact that my phone is always on and always with me fundamentally changes how I interact with technology and the wired world.

Its this change, combined with changes in the PC market that lead me to write this blog. The Wintel duopoly will likely not survive these changes in its current form.  And more importantly, our popular culture will change as well as our relationship with computers.

This blog will synthesize various developments in our cultural changes brought about by stagnating computer ability, and the change to always on devices.