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Friday, May 16, 2008

Why XP And OLPC Is A Good Thing

Yeah, I know. I'm a bit surprised too. I'm going to defend Microsoft here. I'm going to defend them pretty hard, actually.

News that the OLPC will offer XP (check out the video) has been met with a kind of rabid fanboy reaction that is usually reserved for knee jerk comparisons between screenshots to determine if a 360 bloom effect is better than a PS3 bloom effect.

Here's Mike Arrington of TechCrunch:

There are no financial terms being disclosed, although it wouldn’t be dumb to assume that not only is the software being supplied for free, but Microsoft made a healthy donation to the organization as well. The last thing Microsoft wants is for anyone who’s computer literate to think that a world without Microsoft Windows is possible.

On the upside, though, the pain of having to deal with Windows crashes may make some of these kids excellent technical support people over time. They’d just get lazy with Linux being so stable all the time.

If it isn’t obvious from what I’ve written above, I’m not impressed. OLPC is in danger of becoming a celebrity cause rather than a real attempt to bridge the digital divide. My guess is Linux worked just fine as an operating system for these machines.
-- Poor Children Of The World No Longer Will Have To Struggle With Linux

First - let us note that he assumes Microsoft has made a "healthy donation" to an organization trying to give poor kids laptops and manages to turn that into a bad thing. As if OLPC will be more successful if they had less money.

Second, Mike here continues to repeat a common shortcut ... referring to the OLPC OS as Linux. While that's technically accurate - it runs a version of Red Hat, this version, called Sugar, runs a pretty experimental UI. While Sugar has some interesting design concepts and I'm sure was developed with a truckload of good intentions - the result is a bit of nightmare.

I should note here that I've actually used an OLPC. I didn't use it for very long. I didn't use it for very long because in general I found the OS to be horribly confusing and after trying out some of the apps, it seemed to have more or less crashed.

This is a pretty important distinction Mike and most of the Internet is overlooking. This not about XP versus Linux, per se, this is about XP versus Sugar. And if you asked me which one I'd rather have a poor kid in a developing country use, I will say XP. And I will say it repeatedly.

It's not Microsoft's fault that Sugar is a mess of theoretical design concepts that were never properly tested. OLPC did no usability testing, a move that UI guru Jakob Nielsen called "reckless". OLPC was even proud of this fact:

But XO developers defend their approach, which grew out of a core philosophy of the MIT Media Lab known as "demo or die." Researchers are encouraged to build new things, critique them, and then make improvements—rather than doing a lot of concept-testing up front. They're backed up by John Maeda, a user-interface design guru from the Media Lab who has been watching the XO development process from its beginnings. "They're using the Steve Jobs method," he says, referring to Apple's famous chief executive and design whiz. "You don't use focus groups. You just do it right."
-- The Face of the $100 Laptop

"Just do it right" makes for a great quote and all, but it's actually a pretty miserable development philosophy. And for the record, it is not Apple's philosophy. Here's is the first line from the first chapter of the first part of Apple's document "Apple Human Interface Guidelines":

The best way to make sure your product meets the needs of your target audience is to expose your designs to the scrutiny of your users.

And the second line:

Doing this during every phase of the design process can help reveal which features of your product work well and which need improvement.

Not doing these things will lead to things like shipping a web browser without a location bar, or things like this:

To that end, Sugar offers a simple technique for moving objects—a document, say, or an image—from one application to another. A student can pluck a photo off of a Web site by clicking on it and dragging it to the left side of the frame. Then, after she launches another activity on the display screen, she can click on the icon for the photo and drag it onto the screen. The drop-off spot on the frame is conceived as a "pocket" that the kids can use to carry around things they want to use later.
-- The Face of the $100 Laptop

Because drag, drop and a desktop metaphor have worked so horribly for decades. That someone approached this OS thinking that kids will not get dragging and dropping makes me wonder if they ever bothered to even meet a kid before starting. Most I've ever known take to new technology remarkably well in that freaky "my five year old speaks better French than you" kind of way.

And while this probably reads as indictment of Sugar, which it is, the real point here is that all of this "Microsoft against Linux" talk really should be more about a "Desktop based OS against whatever the hell Sugar is" kind of talk. Maybe if this was XP displacing Ubuntu running Open Office scenario, I could all like "MS is evil" or stuff.

But if OLPC is actually supposed to bridge developing countries to the modern world, then showing them the computer paradigm the modern world uses instead of someone's untested experiment makes perfect sense.

So let's stop with the hate. Not everything Microsoft touches withers and dies. Just because a kid grows up using XP doesn't mean that he won't discover Linux or OS X later.

In fact, he's more likely to be able to discover both of those by having used XP out of the gate instead of Sugar.

Thanks to Thomas for the post that got me thinking about all this in the first place. Also of note is 90% Of Everything's usability review of Sugar.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rumor Mill: 3G Phone out June 27th, Not Cheap

This ModMyiFone post links a few supposed leaks from AT&T managers (who apparently forgot their Steve Jobs Secrecy Oath) together to state that the 3G iPhone will be out late June and that the 8GB and 16GB will cost $599 and $699 respectively.

Personally I don't notice the lack of 3G much. Course, that's because I have a tendency to go from one wifi network to another wifi network and if reading Google Reader takes a little bit longer on the bus it's really quite fine since it's better than wondering when the constant braking will pull my arm out of the socket anyway.

In related news, it turns out I'll be at WWDC (when all this will probably be officially announced, along with more AppStore details). I'm actually pretty psyched. The last time I spent five days rolling around new technology was when Netscape announced Communicator.

OK, now I just feel old.

No Force Unleashed PC ... Why Again?

Anyone buying this?

The Force Unleashed takes place between Star Wars Episodes III and IV and puts players in the shoes of Darth Vader's secret apprentice and is due out in September for the PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PS2, and Xbox 360. Suey elaborated why there will be no PC version of the game in an interview with

If LucasArts had delivered a PC version, it would have been based on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, which feature new technologies that LucasArts has either licensed or helped to develop, such as the Euphoria for emotion-based character actions and Digital Molecular Matter for destructable materials.

"The PC being the gaming platform that it is, someone with a $4,000 high-end system would definitely be able to play the Euphoria, the DMM and really technical elements of the game. But someone with a low-end PC would have a watered down experience, they would have to turn all the settings down and it wouldn't be the same game," said Suey.

Suey believes that developing the game to reach a more mass market will hinder the potential of killer rigs. Therefore, no matter how you cut it, only "a select few people" can enjoy the game as it was intended.
-- IGN: No Force Unleashed For PC

Um. Wait. There's a version out for the Wii and the DS but the PC version got cut because the majority of PC hardware isn't powerful enough?

And does it really take $4K to play a game designed for the PS3 or the 360? Four grand? That's a top notch rig right there. You can get a pretty powerful one for under three two grand and most of the older boxes out there could be upgraded for a few hundred.

I think what Suey isn't saying, but he might actually mean, is that the power PC gamer market is of a size that is hard to justify the cost of the port. This is similar to the story that we've heard from other game houses, like longtime PC developer Epic. It's piracy, it's QA and it's support costs. These are all much larger factors on a home computer running a standard DVD drive with parts of a dozen or so manufacturer than it is with a console running a custom format made in one consistent manner.

It's a very bad sign for the PC game market in general when they start losing even the cross platform titles.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

DVD Watch: Idiocracy

Idiocracy is one of those sleeper hits which has found a nice niche as a cult favorite. From Mike Judge (Beavis And Butthead, Office Space), the movie details what happens when smart people decline to have kids and morons have ten ... 500 years into the future.

The result is pretty funny and while the movie suffers a little bit from being a one joke note - it manages to try and refresh the joke enough times to make it work. Throw in some cameos (including Judge alum Stephen Root), enough crude humor to fill a Brawndo barrel and you have a pretty winning formula.

Apparently Fox wasn't so amused. As the film's distributor, they provided no real advertising and didn't screen for critics. This is often attributed to the anti-corporate message and Rudolph Murdoch's failed sense of humor. Or as The Girl pointed out, in light of Fox's handling of Family Guy, Futurama and even Firefly ... "they like to kill the fun".

Definitely recommended.