The Northern Spy
Change and Control
Microsoft has been chomping at the bit
to change the marketplace by cutting in on the music action Apple has generated with the iPod. Not surprisingly, their preferred model is subscriptions, where you pay each and every month for the right to obtain tunes, rather than the more conventional store Apple operates. A purchaser owns certain rights after a buy, but on a subscription service, conditions for sale can be changed arbitrarily at any time, offering the vendor far more top-down control over customers.
However, now comes news that MS talks with the major music companies have failed over the issue of royalty levels (you want too much; you're offering too little), indefinitely postponing any new service, and leaving the status quo, with industry sector giant Apple owning well over 80% market share. (There's something odd about that sentence). This appears to be a case of two parties both wanting to seize control of customers who are content to have a mutually satisfactory business relationship with Apple. Perhaps they don't want to be controlled.
Perhaps MS should start its own label, hire its own musicians. Then it could rigidly control the product from artist through to customer. It would fit their standard way of doing business.
In upcoming Apple product announcements,
expect a video iPod soon, though perhaps not next week. Also due to come down the pike are minor speed bumps, possibly a dual core processor, higher quality (more?) memory, and increased screen resolutions for the PowerBook line--all interesting, but not the stuff to build much excitement.
The last, or perhaps penultimate desktops using the G5 chip are about due, but it's too early to look for the Intel chip versions, except possibly in laptops. An Apple branded phone is no doubt in the wings as well, but their PDA may not be ready yet. The fly in the prognosticators' ointment is the unexpected. Unlike most other companies, Apple always has "one more thing" up its corporate sleeve. That's why it has pioneered almost every small computer related innovation in the industry for over twenty years.
Apple has also prepared a new iteration of the standard iPod, likely with more features at the same or a lower price. However, they may not release this for a while, to avoid depressing sales of the iPod nano, which if all goes well, could account for ten million units in a quarter.
Speaking of the iPod Nano,
the Spy has seen several reports of their nano screens scratching. His advice: either buy a case to protect yours or wait till the next version. This problem does not appear to have affected sales, profits, or Apple's stocks, with all three testing new highs and no top in sight.
Also good for Apple's long term:
news that it is now in second place in North America (behind Dell) for educational computer sales, third internationally (behind Dell and HP), with Lenovo (formerly IBM) slipping to fourth and fifth, respectively. Moreover, Apple's rate of growth in this market is the highest of all. This could mean big changes in the making over the next few years, as the educational market has a powerful influence on buying patterns after graduation. Don't forget the Spy's Fourth Law.
Hoax of the month:
a phoney story claiming that Microsoft was planning to introduce a CD format that could only be played once. The Spy should try his hand at making up hoaxes. How about: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates plan to give all their money to charity and run away together to join the circus. There's change for you, and it ain't chump change.
It seems that Palm
is about to bring out a device based on Windows. Is this the beginning of the end for the popular PalmOS? Only time will tell, but the Spy notes that there is room in the marketplace for diversity. One size (or one operating system) fits all is as out of date as double knit trousers.
TISATAAFB (There is such a thing as a free browser)
and now another one joins the pack. As of last week, Opera can be obtained without charge. The Spy has tried it out and generally likes its look, configurability, and convenience even better than Firefox, but there are a few pages, including of his own sites, that Opera does not render correctly. Seems if it encounters a <center> tag, then a </center> tag, it does not always turn off centred text, for one thing. Still, it does a better job on most sites than most browsers do. Worth a try, but your kilometreage may vary.
The passing technology department.
The Spy still uses an ancient Miranda EE SLR 35mm film camera shooting PhotoWorks 100 or 200 ASA slide film. (Yes, he knows 400 ASA is better for indoor shots in low light, but, airport assurances to the contrary, fast film does not survive a trip through their scanners in good condition.
He was already concerned when he learned that his friendly, not-so-local camera technician (all the way to Vancouver) wouldn't even try to fix the through-the-lens light meter. However, the knife through the heart came when he discovered that Kodak, not content with abandoning film cameras, has also stopped making Carousel projectors and their slide trays. They still make slide film, but charge three to four times as much as for print (processing not included.) The beginning of the end of slides in particular, and chemical film in general has already come. A decade from now it may be impossible to buy film of any kind. I suppose the change is good, and yet, the picture quality...
However, the Spy isn't prepared to leap the digital divide until one of the big four camera makers offers an SLR digital at 8+ megapixels under $1000 and prices it fairly in Canada in relation to the US price.
The not-so-friendly upgrade department
The Spy makes his daily bread with programming languages. These are the notations one uses to encode solutions to problems in such a way as to communicate with computers. Typically, because computers are so dumb, able to interpret perhaps a hundred notational symbols, these languages are easy to learn and use.
Also typically, as the field grows and matures, new ideas creep in to one notation or another, then spread, amoeba-like though the others. Usually, when programming languages do change, it's done in such a way as to keep existing code running. That is, while you might deprecate some old features, suggesting they not be used any more, you don't remove or alter them, so old programs can still run.
Not so with the PHP notation, widely used to automate various web site features. The Spy's web hosting company was bit by several language upgrade bugs last month when moving from version 4.3.9 to 4.3.11. It didn't help that some files were corrupted (which the lower version tolerated), and the hosting software was also improperly upgraded at the same time. Nasty. Customer sites remained accessible, but some features took a week to retore.
The Pitter Patter of Little Feats
Here in the lotusland we call British Columbia, the teachers' union is locked in a struggle with the Provincial government over salaries and who will control learning, class size, and other working conditions. Plenty of rhetoric from both sides of course about students and their supposed needs, but the real issues are power and money, not education.
Recently, in a move that ought to win some kind of award for bad PR, the union went before the Labour Relations Board to argue that education ought not be regarded as an essential service, claiming that even a strike of several months would not affect students materially. Excuse me? This in the information age, where minutes count as years once did?
The union executive are sentenced to write out "Logic trumps political ideology" ten thousand times. Use chalk. Write on the sidewalk. Get the government to cooperate on the assignment. When you're done, research and write a joint paper on the electronic and private alternatives to public education. Can either of you spell "change?"
Book four coming soon (really)
In news from other departments, the Spy (Rick Sutcliffe) has completed book five (The Nexus) in his award winning Christian SF series The Interregnum. Book four (The General) has been available from Arjay Books as an electronic download for nearly a year, but the series publisher Writers Exchange ePublishing, plans to bring both out to retailers in the very near future. Expect to see them in electronic form first, followed soon thereafter by paperback. Watch for it.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
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. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.
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