kottke.org posts about John Gruber
An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.
When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn't able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.
Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.
This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it's becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.
This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple's spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here's Gruber again:
Apple's device-centric approach provides them with control. There's a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft's Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google's search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google's infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)
This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).
The entirety of Apple's post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won't necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.
And here's David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber's move into Europe:
Didn't realize London taxi drivers still have to spend years learning routes. That's just asking to be disrupted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge
Here's the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:
It is the world's most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve 'appearances' (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.
Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They're implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, "ordinary" drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.
Microsoft has a new CEO, Satya Nadella -- birthplace: Hyderabad, India; hobbies: cricket, poetry. Here's a nice succinct piece by John Gruber on Microsoft's past, present, and future.
"A computer on every desk and in every home" was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don't think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car. They spent a lot of time and energy on TV. Not just with Xbox, which is alive and well today (albeit not a significant source of income), but with other ideas that did not pan out, like "media center PCs" and the joint ownership of "MSNBC", which was originally imagined as a sort of cable news network, website, dessert, and floor wax rolled into one.
No surprise: Gruber writes about Microsoft as well as he does about Apple.
On Daring Fireball, John Gruber reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh by noting what seems particularly Apple-like about the Mac.
The second aspect of the original Mac that stands out today as Apple-like is putting just enough whimsy into the experience. Most famously, the smiling Mac you saw as the system booted. Had anyone prior even considered a smiling computer? But fundamental to the genius of the smiling Mac is that it didn't come across as silly or corny. Friendly and fun: yes. Goofy: no. Getting that right required that most Apple-y of talents: taste.
And he's spot on in that second footnote about the lack of whimsy in iOS 7. There's nothing funny about those Settings and Safari icons.
Because I like and respect Jason Kottke, I'm taking this opportunity to express a contrary viewpoint on a documentary he reviewed not two days ago, Rodney Ascher's "Room 237".
Before I forget, happy birthday, Jason.
Now, what I suspect has happened here is that both he and our friend John Gruber, whose tweet spurred Jason's post, sort of missed the point. Which is that the film's ambition was not to cast light on the conspiracy theories around their beloved Kubrick film ("The Shining", in case you're coming to this late), it was not to document further context around the film or to disclose any of its master filmmaker's process or intentions, but rather to paint an artful picture--a media collage if you will-of obsession, and mania.
But "Room 237" isn't about "The Shining" or about Kubrick, it's about a small assortment of unrelated film scholars(?) who have selected "The Shining" as their thing. It's about the degree of their obsessions, the intricacies of their fixations.
Or rather, it's not about the people, it's about the infatuation. Watching the film, you'll notice fairly quickly that the filmmakers have made the unique and brilliant choice to never show the theorists' faces on-camera. All we know of them is their voices and their theories. This was at once a respectful and calculated choice. Respectful in that it protects the interviewees from some of the involuntary judgments we the audience will tend to make when given the benefit of someone's physical appearance. And calculated in that presenting the subjects in audio only frees the viewer from the distraction of a fully fleshed-out human connection. Sure, we can extrapolate character and make judgments based on vocal tone and demographic (not to mention the content of the speech). But the main focus is on the visualizations themselves, which are nightmarishly brilliant.
What we have in the supporting media is a mashup of Kubrickian archive, bizarro warpy analog synth music, some digital wizardy, and old dollar-bin stock footage, all coming together to form a spooky dream fort -- a haunted factory built of unfamiliar nostalgia.
You know that psychological effect that has no name, when you used to find an old VHS tape in the back of the cabinet, one that your family would use to record TV shows a decade before, and you'd play it, only to find that the commercials were still intact? Remember that creepy, kind of gross but comfortable remembrance? That's what "Room 237" has in spades.
I have a unique (or at least memorable) story of my first viewing of "The Shining". Short version: impacted largely by the medium through which I viewed it, the movie scared the living piss out of me. But I'm willing to put a stake in the ground and say that as scary as "The Shining" is to me, "Room 237" is even scarier. Not because I believe any of the conspiracy theories to be true, but because our minds are capable of manufacturing them.
I have not had a chance to check it out yet1, but any iOS app built by a team of John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus has to be worth a look. They released Vesper yesterday:
Vesper is a simple and elegant tool for collecting notes, ideas, things to do — anything you want to remember. Use tags to group related items into playlist-like collections. Vesper imposes no system; organize and curate your notes whatever way comes naturally to you. Eschewing complications, Vesper's focus is on how it feels to use it.
Available at the App Store for $4.99.
 Busy, busy week...sorry for the slightly slow pace around here the past few days. I haven't even had the chance to download and play the new Kingdom Rush yet. ↩
Emeril Lagasse made an appearance on Treme on Sunday. I watched a clip of his scene a few days ago and have been thinking about it on and off ever since. In the scene written by Anthony Bourdain, Emeril takes a fellow chef to the building that used to house Uglesich's, a small-but-beloved New Orleans restaurant that closed back in 2005. The chef is having misgivings about expanding her business, particularly about all the non-cooking things you have to do, and Emeril explains that the way the owners of Uglesich's did it was one way forward:
You see, they kept it small, just one spot, just a few tables. There'd be a line around the corner by 10 am. You see, they made a choice. Anthony and Gail made a choice to stay on Baronne Street and keep their hands on what they were serving. They cooked, everyday they cooked, until they could cook no more.
But there's also another way to approach your business:
The other choice is that you can build something big but keep it the way that you wanna keep it. Take those ideas and try to execute them to the highest level. You got a lotta people around you, right? You're the captain of the ship. Or what I should say is that you're the ship. And all these people that look up to you and wanna be around you, they're living in the ship. And they're saying, "Oh, the ship is doing good. Oh, the ship is going to some interesting places. Oh, this ship isn't going down just like all the other fucking ships I've been on." [...] You've got a chance to do your restaurant and to take care of these people. Just do it.
kottke.org has always been a one-person thing. Sure, Aaron posts here regularly now and I have guest editors on occasion, but for the most part, I keep my ass in the chair and my hands on what I am serving. I've always resisted attempts at expanding the site because, I have reasoned, that would mean that the site wouldn't be exactly what I wanted it to be. And people come here for exactly what I want it to be. Doing the site with other people involved has always seemed unnatural. It would be selling out...that's how I've thought about it, as opposed to blowing up.
But Emeril's "until they could cook no more" and "you're the ship"...that got to me. I am a ship. I don't have employees but I have a family that relies on the income from my business and someday, when I am unable to do this work or people stop reading blogs or all online advertising moves to Facebook or Twitter, what happens then? Don't I owe it to myself and to them to build something that's going to last beyond my interest and ability to sit in a chair finding interesting things for people to look at? Or is it enough to just work by yourself and produce the best work you can?
Or can you do both? John Gruber's Daring Fireball remains a one-man operation...as far as I know, he's never even had an intern. I don't have any inside knowledge of DF's finances, but from the RSS sponsorship rate and the rate for sponsoring Gruber's podcast, my conservative estimate is that DF grosses around $650,000 per year. And with a single employee/owner and relatively low expenses, a large amount of that is profit. So maybe that route is possible?
I don't have any answers to these questions, but man, it's got me thinking. Emeril got me thinking...who saw that coming? Bam!
So this is fun. Back in February 2000, I wrote a post about Amazon being awarded a patent for their affiliates program. In it, I wondered about a world where Apple was the largest company in the world:
And that brings us to Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is perhaps the largest target of this sort of "boycott", organized or otherwise. People hate Microsoft. Companies hate Microsoft. It's the company you love to hate. Apple, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved companies in the world. People love Apple.
But what if Apple were Microsoft? What if Apple had won the battle of the PC and was the largest company in the world? People would hate them. Why? Because they would be using the same tactics as Microsoft to stay ahead and keep every bit of that advantage in anyway that they could. Apple is the way it is because they are the underdog.
I'll even argue that life would be worse under Apple's rein. Apple controls the OS *and* the hardware: if we were under Apple's boot instead of Microsoft's, we'd be paying too much for hardware as well as the software.
Nailed it! Or not. That third paragraph is pretty wrong...one of the things that contributed greatly to Apple's rise is their commitment to pricing their products competitively. And software is cheap.
As for Apple being the underdog, I've always thought one of the interesting things about Daring Fireball, even from the beginning, is that John Gruber never treated Apple as an underdog. In his esteem, Apple was the best company making the best software and hardware, and the DF attitude with respect to Microsoft was very much like that of Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis in a debate with Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush on SNL: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy". Gruber proved correct...what looked like an underdog proved to be a powerhouse in the making. (thx, greg & andy)
Daring Fireball turns 10 years old today and Robinson Meyer has an appreciation at The Atlantic.
Gruber's best when he's writing about perfection, excellence and what it takes to achieve either. He can describe eight iPhone Twitter clients, or the software limitations of the iPad, and evince a common sense of aesthetic. His voice can be muscular and rigorous. The man's clearly animated by a hatred of everything he knows to be BS.
I share Meyer's assertion that Apple's "engorge[ment] as a company" has slightly flattened the site's tires, but Daring Fireball remains my favorite blog, a spot it has held for several years now.
Now here's a look at how DF's design has changed over the years, presented in animated GIF form:
Update: I love this analysis of DF's content over the years, especially the visualization of the shift in interest from desktop to mobile.
The folks from iFixit were first in line in Melbourne, Australia to get one of the new iPads. And then they immediately took it apart. Here's what it looks like, all broken down like a hog:
Amazingly, there's almost nothing to it...it's mostly battery and screen. My kids have toys that contain more components. Makes you realize that a not-insignificant part of Apple's success is essentially 3-D puzzle solving with chips, batteries, screens, and antennas as the pieces. John Gruber calls it "a remarkable engineering accomplishment" on the part of Apple, noting:
Apple doesn't make new devices which get worse battery life than the version they're replacing, but they also don't make new devices that are thicker and heavier. LTE networking -- and, I strongly suspect, the retina display -- consume more power than do the 3G networking and non-retina display of the iPad 2. A three-way tug-of-war: 4G/LTE networking, battery life, thinness/weight. Something had to give. Thinness and weight lost: the iPad 3 gets 4G/LTE, battery life remains unchanged, and to achieve both of these Apple included a physically bigger battery, which in turn results in a new iPad that is slightly thicker (0.6 mm) and heavier (roughly 0.1 pounds/50 grams, depending on the model).
50 grams and six-tenths of a millimeter are minor compromises, but compromises they are, and they betray Apple's priorities: better to make the iPad slightly thicker and heavier than have battery life slightly suffer. And keep in mind that the new iPad 3 remains far thinner and lighter than the original iPad.
Hang on folks, things are going to get a little Apple bloggy around here this morning. First is the news of Apple's new operating system for the Mac, OS X Mountain Lion. Gruber has the details:
What do I think so far, Schiller asks. It all seems rather obvious now that I've seen it - and I mean obvious in a good way. I remain convinced that iCloud is exactly what Steve Jobs said it was: the cornerstone of everything Apple does for the next decade. So of course it makes sense to bring iCloud to the Mac in a big way. Simplified document storage, iMessage, Notification Center, synced Notes and Reminders -- all of these things are part of iCloud. It's all a step toward making your Mac just another device managed in your iCloud account. Look at your iPad and think about the features it has that would work well, for a lot of people, if they were on the Mac. That's Mountain Lion -- and probably a good way to predict the future of the continuing parallel evolution of iOS and OS X.
Riffing off of a short observation I sent him, John Gruber speculates about what an Apple TV ecosystem might look like.
Why not the same thing [as Newsstand] for TV channels? We're seeing the beginnings of this, with iPhone and iPad apps like HBO Go, Watch ESPN, and the aforementioned Bloomberg TV+. Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combine their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.
This smells right to me...it's a very Apple-y way of approaching the TV/movie problem. Rather than fight with the studios and networks over content sold through the iTunes Store (where the studios control the licensing rights), just provide a platform (iPhone + iPad + iTV + App Store) controlled by Apple and if the studios/networks want to reach those customers, they need to provide an app...with Apple taking a 30% cut of the App *and* content sales.
I don't really have an opinion about it, but David Heinemeier Hansson does:
Groupon has filed its S-1 and hopes to raise $750M in its initial public offering. Given they're currently losing a staggering $117M per quarter, despite revenues of $644M, they'll be burning through that cash almost as soon as it hits their account.
At the moment, it's costing them $1.43 to make $1, and it doesn't look like it's getting any cheaper. They're already projected to make close to three billion dollars in revenues this year. If you can't figure out how to make money on three billion in revenue, when exactly will the profit magic be found? Ten billion? Fifty billion?
To which John Gruber adds:
I feel like the Groupon IPO is an elaborate practical joke.
It was a different time and (as DHH notes) a different company, but when Amazon IPOed in 1997, they lost $27.6 million that year on net sales of $147.8 million. That's an 18% loss for Amazon compared to Groupon's, hey, 18% loss. Amazon didn't report their first profit until Q4 2001. No guarantee whether Groupon will ever turn a profit but something to consider anyway. Oh, and probably not relevant but interesting nonetheless: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is an investor in DHH's company, 37signals...and until recently, 37signals co-founder Jason Fried was on Groupon's board of directors.
Notes from John Gruber's talk at MacWorld.
The pessimistic dig on Apple, says Gruber, is that it's a supremely well-organized company organized around one irreplaceable guy. The optimistic view is that Jobs has structured it to run like his other company, Pixar, which manages to turn out hit after hit, year after year, without a charismatic celebrity leader.
From John Gruber, an Apple booster, an essay on Microsoft's Long, Slow Decline. And, is if in reply, an essay called Apple: Secrecy Does Not Scale from Anil Dash, Microsoft enthusiast. A perhaps unsubtle reply to both essays might be "I can't hear you over the continual sounds of the cash register"...MS and Apple continue to be enormously profitable doing business the way they do.
Nice interview with John Gruber, proprietor of Daring Fireball. His explanation of how he selects links could easily double for mine:
As for what I link to and what I don't, it's very much like Justice Stewart's definition of obscenity: "I know it when I see it." There's a certain pace and rhythm to what I'm going for, a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It's the mix, the gestalt of an entire day's worth taken together, that matters to me.
Coda Apr 24 2007
Panic has released Coda, a new web development app for OS X. Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser describes it thusly:
We build websites by hand, with code, and we've long since dreamed of streamlining the experience, bringing together all of the tools that we needed into a single, elegant window. While you can certainly pair up your favorite text editor with Transmit today, and then maybe have Safari open for previews, and maybe use Terminal for running queries directly or a CSS editor for editing your style sheets, we dreamed of a place where all of that can happen in one place.
Ever since I switched to a Mac, I've been seeking a suitable replacement/upgrade for Homesite. I limped along unsatisfied with BBEdit and am finally getting into the groove with TextMate, but the inter-app switching -- especially between the editor, FTP client, and the terminal -- was really getting me down. John Gruber has a nice preview/review of Coda:
Each of Coda's components offers decidedly fewer features than the leading standalone apps dedicated to those tasks. (With the possible exception of the terminal - I mean, come on, it's a terminal.) This isn't a dirty secret, or the unfortunate downside of Coda only being a 1.0. Surely Coda will sprout many new features in the future, but it's never going to pursue any of these individual apps in terms of feature parity.
The appeal of Coda cannot be expressed solely by any comparison of features. The point is not what it does, but it how it feels to use it. The essential aspects of Coda aren't features in its components, but rather the connections between components.
Panic's implicit argument with Coda is that there are limits to the experience of using a collection of separate apps; that they can offer a better experience - at least in certain regards - by writing a meta app comprising separate components than they could even by writing their own entire suite of standalone web apps. Ignore, for the moment, the time and resource limitations of a small company such as Panic, and imagine a Panic text editor app, a Panic CSS editor app, a Panic web browser, a Panic file transfer/file browser app - add them all together and you'd wind up with more features, but you'd miss the entire point.
Panic co-founders Steven Frank and Cabel Sasser both weigh in on the launch. Has anyone given Coda a shot yet? How do you find it? I'm hoping to find some time later today to check it out and will attempt to report back.
John Gruber's latest piece contains a keen insight on Steve Jobs and his legendary reality distortion field. "Jobs, in my opinion, is a terrible liar and a poor actor. When he's able to convince people of things that aren't true, or that are exaggerations of the truth, it's because he believes what's he saying. The reality distortion field isn't something he projects willfully; it's an extension of his own certainty."
John Gruber has more information on what's going on with Aperture at Apple. Bottom line: by throwing too many engineers at the problem, they made a late project later (see The Mythical Man Month, one of my favorite business books), and after it shipped, all those extra engineers were redispersed within the company and the managers responsible for the debacle got the boot. Good stuff.
John Gruber on Apple's Boot Camp, which lets you install Windows XP on your Mac (in beta). "You now get to choose between a computer that can only run Windows or a computer that can run both Windows and Mac OS X."
Google search for "i don't read kottke" versus a search for "i don't read boing boing". Nottke** wins, 39 to 37! Sit on it, Cory!
** Nottke = not Kottke, coinage by John Gruber.
John Gruber has a great bullet-point roundup of the Apple announcements today...mostly stuff that you won't hear about in the tech press. (If you're living in a shack, Apple announced video iPods, new iTunes, downloadable TV programs, new iMacs, etc. today.)
John Gruber is asking folks to renew their Daring Fireball memberships. Money well spent, I say.