The Northern Spy
A Meeting of Mindshare
Only the igloo's thin icy walls separate The Spy at his keyboard from the northern dark, the howling storm and 40 cm of new snow. Meanwhile number two son gambols (not gambles) in warm Costa Rica, where he's adding surf and beach lifeguarding and rescue craft operation to his already extensive credentials. Sometimes life isn't fair.
Tell that to Apple, the industry's principal innovator for the last quarter century. First to market with almost every important new personal computing technology, their sales languish in the 3-8% range depending on product and geography. Why so? Because others sell sizzle. Because the company suffered too long under abysmal leadership that employed incompetent marketers who nearly ensured it went under. It's a long way back if the glory days of market leadership are to be seen again, but at least the steps taken in 2003 were in the right direction.
The G5 re-established Apple as the technology leader, and the iPod made the company "cool" with a whole new generation. Now, if only they could get their education house in order long enough to put across the message that the Mac is still ideal for schools because its ease of maintenance, and longevity make it the lowest cost solution in both medium and long run, they'd have a solid foundation for much broader marketing efforts.
Why does education matter? Because mindshare does. A student who surreptitiously listens to her iPod while typing a paper on the school's Mac is tomorrows "own-dollars" and business buyer customer. But market mindshare won this way conveys its benefits in the same timeframe as education itself does. That is, the bottom line comes not in numbers at month's end, but in changed people a decade hence Win her today, and marketshare growth is assured, but not right away. Lose her today, and there'll be no tomorrow.
Ah patience. The Spy needs some of that (right now, please), as he continues to await the "killer appliance" in the eBook reader market. What'll it be? A Palm-OS machine with a bigger screen? A super-iPod with expanded software and more pixels? The Newton II? Here's another chunk of critical mind share waiting to be occupied, not to mention the vast (and overpriced) uncompetitive textbook market, which cries out for an electronic solution.
You might object that so far the eBook market is a mere dust mote on the dtBook landscape. ("dt" = dead tree) True, but before Apple set up a music store, the same was true of the eMusic industry. And, though book readers are less numerous then music listeners, they do represent decision makers out of all proportion to their numbers. This market is important enough to be worth taking a small loss to develop the mindshare that translates into future markets. How hard is it for the worlds best technology innovator to get it right by building an iBookPod or an iPDAPod, then adding eBooks to the music store?
For that matter, how hard is it to get anything right? Take standards. Ephraim Schwartz, in his December 12, 2003 InfoWorld column Reality Check entitled Wi-Fi Buyer Beware writes:
"The failure rate on 802.11b products alone, which have been well established in the market for at least three years, is about 25 percent, according to Dennis Eaton, the Wi-Fi Alliance chairman...Yes, Eaton tells me, all Wi-Fi devices are built to certain industry specs and standards. But like any recipe, they are subject to interpretation."
Neither are products important to Apple's future immune. The article goes on to say, "The 802.11g chip set is supposed to fall back to 802.11b if there are no other 802.11g devices available. That mechanism, what Eaton calls the 'all-back algorithm,' is not implemented well by all vendors."
A hearty "Amen" to that. Like the nuts and bolts that hold your automobile together, the plumbing and wiring that make your house habitable, and the entire communications industry, the computing industry infrastructure stands or falls on interopability. That means standards folks, not proprietary solutions. And it means taking the time to do standards right in the first place, before going to market. And it means not suing the pantsuit off your competitor and the government when your pet proposal isn't the one chosen to be the standard.
It took too many years for JTC1/SC22/WG13 to produce a Modula-2 standard, and by the time it was ready, the market had passed a superior language tool by, settling for the much less well-defined, more bloated, and less robust C++. But this standard was done right. Written unambiguously in VDM-SL, it has not been subject to the interpretation ambiguities of other standards.
How can we get the best of both worlds--sound standards in a timely manner? Only with an industry populated by men and women of good will (to expand a popular mistranslation of the angel's announcement). Unless the giant egos that abound today can be set aside for cooperation, the current fragmentation of the industry into little proprietary non-interopable segments will continue. There'll be a Microsoft NET, one for Sun, another for HP, and so on.
Frankly folks, Microsoft and Sun are making things worse, because they just don't get standards. Apple does, sorta, but is a voice crying in the wilderness. The various open source movements also do, but cannot agree on procedures. Perhaps the only way to get things working properly is to lock the major players in a room until they agree they can do their thing in a standard way. The meeting area would of course have no bathroom. Let's have a little common sense here.
The rumour mill meanwhile, grinds its usual grist, this season tossing out a low-cost iPod, something called iWrite, more trade-in deals for older computers, the 90nm and 65nm G5 chips that will give us better performance and lower cost in both dollars and watts, and a G5 xServe in a 2U form factor (1U if appropriate miracles can be worked.) But who traffics in rumours, especially when they are of incremental trifles, and a spate of announcements is but days away?
The real news of the week is that the judges votes have been tallied and EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) has released finalists for the EPPIEs, awards given for the best eBooks of the year past. So what? So this. The second and third volumes (The Friends and The Exile) of the Spy's Irish-flavoured Christian SF series The Interregnum are both finalists in the SF category. (Sounds of a collar bone breaking as the old croc tries unsuccessfully to pat himself on the back.) From past experience in judging, the Spy knows that there isn't much to differentiate the finalists, and winners are hard to pick, so the real challenge is getting this far, and he's in good company. Winners will be announced at EPICon in March 2004. As the Spy was already slated to be the lead off speaker for the conference with a talk titled Websites 101, it promises to be an interesting experience.
Speaking of conferencing, instant messaging has to win the 2003 prize for the technology that isn't quite there yet. Even iChat AV hasn't proven the killer application Apple and others hoped. Either because there's something too intrusive and intimidating about having a camera pointed at one's nose, or because people are too lazy to enter their info at the iChat AV sites and then actually go on line, there just don't seem to be many active users. Combine the directories? Have Apple take more of a lead role? The Spy isn't sure what the solution is, but sometimes it's necessary to do more than toss a new toy onto the market. Someone has to demonstrate it can be useful.
Perhaps videoconferencing is too bandwidth-intensive for now, but it is at least tempting to think that voice over IP could be the NBT (Next Big Thing). Between that and cell phones, there is no reason any of the upcoming generation will need copper wire telephony to their houses. In the meanwhile, those of us who've been communicating digitally for decades continue to refine the experience for the masses who followed.
The communication problem of the month was generated by an IT staff decision at the Spy's place of employment (you didn't think he was making a living at writing did you?). Seems security bugbears looming under the bed spooked them into turning off the University's mail servers for all but internal use, a none-too-pleasant outcome for the Spy when a sabbatical away from the ivory basement loomed. Of course, standard POP and SMTP servers ARE insecure; account information and passwords being sent in the clear are an obvious security risk. A suggestion or two later saw them modify this change to turn on a secure POP server, one that sends such information encrypted.
Apple's Mail program will recognize a POP SSL server provided you:
1. Select menu Mail/Preferences.
2. Choose Accounts, then the Advanced tab
3. Check the "Use SSL" box near the bottom. The port will change to 993
4. Under the Tab Account Information, make sure the incoming mail server points to the correct one.
Alternately, this is accessed in Eudora using the following steps:
1. Select menu item Special/Settings
2. Scroll the left window until the choice SSL is visible and select it
3. Choose the personality that needs secure POP
4. Under SSL for POP chose Required (Alternate Port)
5. Make sure the box "Maximum compatibility" below is checked.
6. For those accounts that allow secure SMPT, choose Required (Alternate Port) for it as well (not needed if you use the method below).
Eudora will now connect securely to the POP server, communicating with encrypted traffic.
This still left the question, of how he was going to send mail. But then he remembered the power of a complete UNIX crouching beneath Mac OS X. Surely there was a way to activate its SMTP program, and do so in a safe way. A little experimentation produced the following method, which is here summarized, without all the false starts, for the reader's edification and enjoyment. Note that these instructions assume you are running the latest versions of Panther and either Eudora or Mail. (No instructions are provided for any Microsoft products as they are inherently so insecure there is no point trying to use them in a secure environment. The Spy strongly recommends his readers switch to another mail client.)
The "sendmail" program in Panther is called Postfix. It is activated as follows:
1. Log in to an administrator account.
2. Activate the Terminal program.
3. Type sudo pico /etc/postfix/master.cf (or, better yet, bbedit the file if you have that program.) At some point you will need to enter an administrator password to change this file.
4. Find line 77, starting with "smtp" and uncomment it by removing the # sign at the beginning, then enter Control-X, 'y' and the Return key to save the file and exit pico, or if in bbedit, save the file and provide your password when doing so.
5. Now edit /etc/hostconfig in the same way
6. Change the line starting "MAILSERVER=" to "MAILSERVER=yes" and save this file, too. These steps will ensure the mailserver will start up on boot.
7. Also edit bbedit /etc/postfix/main.cf by uncommenting the line mynetworks_style = host, ensuring that only your machine (and not the entire network on which it resides) can use this server to send mail.
8. To start the mailserver for the first time, either reboot, or go back to Terminal and type "sudo /System/Library/StartupItems/Postfix/Postfix start" or just sudo postfix reload (should postfix already be running) This should result in a message informing you that the server is running successfully.
Now, go to the mail program and tell it to use your own box as the sender. For Mail, do this:
1. Select menu Mail/Preferences.
2. Choose Accounts, then Account Information
3. Near the bottom, make sure the SMTP server is correctly set up, or set up a new one.
4. Click on the Server Settings box and in the resulting dialogue box check the box "Use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)"
On the other hand, for Eudora, do this:
1. Select menu item Special/Settings
2. Scroll the left window until the choice Personalities is visible and select it
3. Choose the personality that needs to use your box for SMTP
9. In the box labelled SMPT Server, enter 127.0.0.1, that is localhost, which is always a valid IP number for the box you are on.
That's it. You are now your own SMTP sender, and don't care any more if your IT shop or ISP turns off SMTP altogether.
There's your geek talk for the month, a last minute stalking stuffer to close off December. (Which self-referentially reminds the Spy: Did you know that "nerd" was originally "knurd", the anti-drunk society?)
We'll talk about futures more in January's column, this time after the initial announcements of the year rather than before.
--The Northern Spy
Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services.
Infoworld Article: http://www.infoworld.com/article/03/12/12/49OPreality_1.html
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com