Sunday, 12 July 2009

Chris Anderson "Free" spoof

To readers of this blog, (who are almost exclusively Apple-fans), Wired editor Chris Anderson's argument in his new book, "Free," will probably not ring true. After all, when has Apple ever released a free product? (OK, so there's iTunes and Safari/Webkit, but they're the exceptions that prove the rule). Heck, Apple even charges for MobileMe.

It's this strange habit of producing killer products, and then having the temerity to charge top-tier prices for them, that in part inspired Wired to argue that "Apple got everything right by doing everything wrong."

Renowned writer and all-round polymath Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) waded into the debate with a somewhat challenging review in The New Yorker. This, in turn, prompted a "friendly" response from Anderson.

I've just finished reading Free, and whilst it's a great read, I do see Gladwell's point. So, for kicks, I posted a parody on my other blog, Secondomics.com, entitled "How can buses be free?"

Why "Chrome OS" won't have Cupertino or Redmond quaking in their boots

As embarrassing as it may be for Google, there really is no need for Eric Schmidt, their CEO, to resign from Apple's board. After all, their recently announced Chrome OS is not their first attempt at an operating system, and by all accounts, it's even less of a threat to Apple than Android, their other free OS offering.

To understand why, let's look at what Google are proposing, which is essentially a stripped down Linux distro, bundled with the Chrome web browser. As a product, this is in no way comparable with either Microsoft Windows or OS X. Why?

There's a lot of confusion about what an operating system actually is, and this is not helped by Apple and Microsoft confusing matters by marketing their operating systems by focusing on the features of the applications that they bundle with them.

These days, an OS comprises of the following:
  • A kernel, which manages memory and controls processes (for Apple, this is the Mach kernel, for Google OS, this is Linux, whilst Microsoft have their own home-brew)
  • Various services running on top of the kernel, for things like the file system (Apple uses a BSD layer, called "Darwin," Google will presumably use GNU, whilst Microsoft, once again, do their own thing)
  • Device drivers that allow the software to talk to all kinds of different hardware (Apple and Microsoft invest an enormous amount in this area, whilst support is sometimes lacking in Linux distros)
  • Application frameworks & GUI - these are the crown jewels of a modern OS. They're what makes a Mac Mac-like (Cocoa), and Window the distinctive thing that it is. This is where Apple switches from open source to its own propriety layer. Chrome OS will apparently not provide an SDK for third parties to access this layer
  • Applications - these are core apps that you'd expect to come with any OS, such as a text editor and file browser. These days you'd also expect things like e-mail client and web browser, plus plenty more besides. Chrome OS will only come with a web browser, (ironically, this is based upon Apple's own Webkit rendering engine.)

In other words, Chrome is simply a bundle of existing technologies: Linux, GNU and Webkit. There will apparently be no support for 3rd party applications - taking a stand similar to that Apple initially adopted for the iPhone, where they said that they would not allow 3rd party developers access to the iPhone, recommending instead that they developed web applications to run in Safari. Imagine how things would have turned out for iPhone had they stuck to that line. We would never have had the App Store!

If anything, Android looks like a more promising technology than Chrome for netbooks - and that's really saying something. The sad truth is that Google will now have two OSs for low end computing, and apparently neither of them will offer serious competition for Apple and Microsoft. Seems like Schmidt can stay on Apple's board for a while yet.