Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Power Corrupts

I was recently told I should not expect a job offer from Microsoft to land on my lap in the near future. I was at the office and I was going through yet another of my “why does everything from Microsoft suck so much” moments of frustration. The guy’s right: although my history includes working for various Microsoft shops, and although I used to own an Xbox, I am no fan of the company; I think they are responsible for subduing the vast majority of the world to use their products and no other. I also think their main problem is that their products tend to be inferior copies of whatever else the market has to offer.
Microsoft, however, is not alone. Other companies abuse their ruling class status to walk over their clientele. Check out one of Microsoft’s most distinct competitors, Apple. Yes, Apple, that company with the sainthood halo that likes to think of itself as the knight in shining armor rescuing us from the evil clutches of mediocrity.

This particular story revolves around Jo’s need for a new organizer to replace her old Palm. Palm, the operating system, is now effectively gone; Palm the company is just another company selling Windows Mobile phones.
Most people in need of an organizer use their mobile phone, but the Nokia mobile phone issued to Jo from work is not the most usable gadget ever. She can buy another mobile phone and stick her SIM in, but there are network locking issues. And which one should she buy anyway? She has seen my ever quest to subdue my Windows Mobile phone and she knows better than me not to mess with that Microsoft devil where doing the same thing twice never ends up with the same result. And an unlocked iPhone, at north of $800, is prohibitively expensive.
The best compromise we have arrived at thus far as the iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone stripped of its phone and microphone. Designed primarily for entertainment, it does provide useful organizer functionality, including Outlook synchronization and even better yet – Google synchronization.
Indeed, the iPod Touch seems an ideal solution for a non tinkering user. That is, until you get into the annoying details.
First, there is the iTunes problem. An iPod Touch forces you to use Apple’s iTunes software, but iTunes and the Touch don’t like Linux; thus buying an iPod Touch means you’re stuck with another application that forces you away from the preferred Linux environment (Outlook is a similar application in this regard).
Second, when you install iTunes (as you have to), iTunes takes the liberty of installing other software you don’t necessarily want, including the Safari web browser and other even less useful stuff. Thus iTunes demonstrates the fallacy of non open source software, where you’re stuck with what the manufacturer force feeds you with.
Third, let me ask you this. The 8gb iPod Touch sells for around $300 while the 16gb model sells for around $400. Since when do 8gb of solid state memory cost $100? And why does Apple force you to commit to specific memory requirements instead of doing what other manufacturers have done and supply an SD card expansion slot?

My point is simple. As heroic and cool as Apple want us to view its brand, Apple is just another Microsoft. The only difference is that, unlike Microsoft, Apple actually makes good products.

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