Battle Royale–Part the Second

When trying to discern the differences between the many computing system choices out there, it becomes clear very quickly that this is no easy task. For one thing, there are questions of what sort of form factor makes sense (i.e., netbook vs. laptop vs. desktop), what sort of power you need, and what it is that you’re going to be doing with your machine. Additionally, it can be maddening trying to distinguish the operating system from the many add-ons available and that come prepackaged with a machine bought at retail.

So I’ve decided that the best way for me to get a grip on everything, I will start with a comparison of what you would get if you obtained only the operating system. In other words, what would you get if you went to a store and purchased, say Windows Vista Home Premium, or OS X, or downloaded a Linux distro. What, in other words, is built in if you had only that installed on your machine and nothing else. It isn’t necessarily the most logical place to start. After all, if you don’t have Apple hardware, you can’t install OSX legally. And it is unclear to me that many people buy Vista at retail. (And to top it all off, Vista is a dead brand, soon to supplanted by Windows 7 and all of its many flavors.)

The reason I’m starting here, however, is because I want to get at the heart of what you get with the operating system, and what the value of the software is from that approach.

I think it’s important to look at what you get from the following categories: internet capability (i.e., built-in browser(s)); general productivity applications (i.e., word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, non-web-based email, et cetera); data backup; entertainment (i.e., media playback and games); photo management (i.e., ability to display, manage, and edit digital photos); and content creation (i.e., ability to create music and/or movies). Additionally, I have looked at miscellaneous goodies that are built-in, that aren’t necessarily things that are deal-breakers, but nonetheless may factor into a decision.

Read more “Battle Royale–Part the Second”

Battle Royale, Part the First

I just wrapped up a response to the USPTO on a trademark registration I’m working on, and to celebrate, I thought I’d do a little thought experiment.  I’ve noticed how Microsoft’s latest ads are getting the Apple-ites all riled up, which is funny in itself.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Microsoft has been running “Laptop Hunters” ads (where are Grant and Jason?) which show that laptops running Windows are cheaper than Apple’s laptops.  First, there was Laurena, and then the Giampaolo guy, and most recently, an 11-year-old kid with his mother (Lisa and Jackson).  (Am I the only one who thinks of Amy Sedaris when I look at her?)

To counter the obvious differential in up-front cost, Apple fans like to say something to the effect of “Look what you get built in with OSX, though!  To get your crappy Windows machine up to speed with my beautiful Mac, you need to spend more money, and then your cost savings are non-existent!  So, nyah!”

It’s not a bad argument to make.  After all, people buying cars are urged to take “total cost of ownership” into account when making purchasing decisions.  (Edmunds.com has a nice little tool called “True Cost to Own”, for example.)  After all, that $15,590 Mazda3 may cost less up front than this $16,260 Honda Fit, but after all is said and done, over five years, you come out just about even.   (See also, the Total Quality Index issued by Strategic Vision.)

So Apple has a point.  Maybe OSX comes bundled with so many goodies that the price differential disappears.  Of course, there’s one very noisy contingent that gets ignored in all these comparisons: all the various flavors of Linux distros: Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, Linux Mint, OpenSuse, et cetera et cetera.  There are hundreds of variants, and almost none of them cost one penny.  What’s more, the software that works in that environment also costs nothing.  With Linux, generally speaking, your hardware is your only cost of ownership; it’s almost as if you bought a car, and your gas and repair bills were covered.

So this got me thinking about the economy and small business owners, about the true cost of getting a computer (or computers) for the workplace, and about what really makes the most sense.  Is it the general familiarity of Windows, warts and all?  Or is it the cool insouciance of OSX?  Or maybe it’s a nice solid Linux distro.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking time here and there to look into this question, and at the end of the process, I hope to have come up with some sort of answer.

A few obligatory qualifications:  I currently run Windows Vista, generally like it, and haven’t had any problems with it whatsoever.  I also have family members who swear by OSX, and also have played around with it extensively since the time Jobs was there before he wandered in the wilderness for a few years.  And I have played with Linux on a once-awesome, now-sluggish laptop, didn’t especially like the experience, but will pick up the mantle once again.  So I really don’t have a dog in the fight.

And with that, this post ends.  My next post will be on the difficulties of establishing a baseline for comparing the many options available to consumers.

The Redmond Underdogs?

Well, I guess it’s happened.  The conventional wisdom in the OS world appears to be that Apple has truly won the OS wars.  Not from a distribution standpoint, of course, but from a “who makes the best OS?” standpoint.  (Of course, Apple fans will say that this has been the case since before OSX came about, but I would definitely not agree with that.  In fact, I would say that it was only after Apple decided to use Intel that the true power of OSX was apparent; PowerPC chips were pretty pitiful.  Would I have preferred Apple use AMD?  Yup, but you can’t have everything you want in life.)

Anyway, my point was that Vista has been a marketing failure, and a technological disappointment.  There are things under the hood in Vista that make it more than Windows XP SP4, but they are incremental changes that didn’t really change the way that people interact with the computer, the way that using OSX is such a change.  And the new “features” in Vista, such as always asking if you really want to do that, are just annoying as hell.  (Of course, if you’re running an aggressive firewall on your machine, you essentially get asked that question all the time, too, so….)  So, Vista as a brand is gone:  “Microsoft introduced what it said would be a slimmer and more responsive version of its Windows operating system on Tuesday, while unceremoniously dropping the brand name Vista for the new product.”  So sayeth the New York Times.  And the tone of the article definitely suggests the folks in Redmond have essentially conceded the best-OS argument, and now see themselves as the underdogs:

Mr. Sinofsky took the stage and issued an apology of sorts for the problems and frustrations associated with Windows Vista. He said the company had listened to and was responding to the feedback.

“We got feedback from reviews, from the press, a few bloggers here and there, oh, and some commercials,” he said, with a nod to a lengthy Apple advertising campaign that has mercilessly poked fun at Microsoft’s woes.

I don’t know if Windows 7 is going to be any good.  I happen to not mind Vista all that much, where I’ve worked with it, but it isn’t very interesting.  By the same token, I’m not that big a fan of OSX–it’s pretty and all, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t satisfy me, though if the OS were sold on its own, without being tied to the hardware, I might be tempted because of BootCamp and/or Parallels.  I’d be really interested in Linux distros–and since I don’t really do much gaming on my PC, that’s an option that could work for me–but there’s one thing that would be much more difficult if I went that route: having to use OpenOffice, which is a really good program in so many respects, but there’s one crucial flaw.  Do you know how difficult it is to make a Table of Authorities in OpenOffice, and how easy it is in Word?  From what I’ve seen, there may be a way to do it using the bibliographic function, but I don’t think it’s the same thing.  The best thing would be a triple-boot system where I could play with all three whenever I wanted.

Update:  I figured out how to do a Table of Authorities in OpenOffice. The How-To is here.

Getting Netflix on a Mac

As time goes on, I may begin to seem a little more critical of Macs than non-Macs.  Macs are gorgeous machines (if a little blah in the color-scheme; a guy can take only so much Bauhausian asceticism) and OSX is a very nice piece of work.  It certainly has a hell of a lot more bells and whistles than XP.  But, on the flip side, though Vista has its problems, it is a graphical improvement over XP, and as time has gone on, my experience is that the OS has sped up, not slowed down.  Probably an anomaly.  (In any event, does anyone really think that Microsoft couldn’t program a hell of an OS if it only had to worry about two or three pieces of hardware, was allowed to lock its OS to one hardware platform, and not offer it to the rest of the computing population?)

The point is: Macs aren’t perfect, and despite their touted advantage in A/V capabilities, watching streaming video on the internet has been difficult for Macs.  That has been especially true when it comes to watching streaming movies from Netflix.

The New York Times, and others, have reported that Netflix has found a solution for its Mac customers: Microsoft’s Silverlight.  That’s because Apple’s DRM positions got in the way, according to Netflix: “Apple does not license their DRM solution to third parties, which has made this more difficult, but we are working with the studios and content owners to gain approval for other solutions.”