Do you like the new sticker from Defective by Design?

The campaign to free the digital world from Digital Restrictions Management just got a new sticker. The old one is on my laptop’s screen represents the famous iPod silhouettes with white wires acting as shackles. It was a simple and powerful design. The new one is a the famous 1984 Apple ad, but I’m not sure its message is as clear as before. It also seems to give a sense of ‘victory’ for Apple fans: they now rule the digital world –with shackles, ok, but still winning.

Is it just me or you also think that you’ll have to explain the new sticker to your non-geek friends?

Beyond removing GNU software from mobile stores

Last week the Free Software Foundation asked Apple to either remove the game GNU Go from the iTunes App Store or change the terms of service on it. Apple chose to simply remove GNU Go from the store and the move was not a surprise, as FSF Compliance Engineer said in the blog post.  I am puzzled by this move.

I don’t think that FSF goal it to prevent iPhone users to run GNU software on their device, as David ‘Lefty’ Schlesinger paints it and seems to discuss,but nevertheless this is the immediate effect.  Mobile app stores and locked down devices are hostile to free/libre software and GPLv3 can have a difficult life in the mobile environment because of its ‘full installation instructions’ provision. Also, there are still too few free/libre mobile applications.

Having this in mind, a plausible explanation of FSF’s move was to educate free software developers that mobile app stores are not designed to respect users freedom. Fine, but the following question is: how to we proceed from here? What’s the next step of this education and what’s FSF’s plan to bring freedom to the users of mobile phones? I suggest for FSF to sponsor a mobile app repository for free/libre apps: it would have to run on non-free operating systems, but that’s what GNU had to do when there was no Linux. Also, it would be good and probably easy to extend the Free Software Directory to take mobile world into account. What else should FSF do to promote freedom in the mobile world?

Six comments worth reading about iPad

Saturday morning is the best day to read more in depth analysis. I collected six articles that amused me, largely from the HBR blogs (one of the best source of food for thoughts, IMHO).

If you, like me, are fascinated by innovation and by the physicality of objects I suggest you to read Apple iPad’s Product Development Approach . It’s a brilliant lesson to learn for all companies out there building devices

Beyond the half-pound device’s elegant silhouette, interface, and operating system, the gadget is worth paying attention to for innovation lessons from Apple.

Many comments have given me the impression that the iPad is not clearly positioned. It’s clearly not a phone nor it’s a notebook/netbook. Strategically, the iPad opens a new market for Apple, one that may cannibalize its own products: if you already have an iMac/MacBook and an iPhone, would you buy also an iPad or sell the iPhone and get an iPod nano instead? As Scott Anthony says in Does the Apple iPad Make Strategic Sense?

The two things I admire most about the company are its ability to think holistically about business models (iPod + iTues, iPhone + the App store, iPad + iBookstore) and its willingness to keep innovating. Imagine how different it would have been if Apple stopped at the first generation iPod, or just rode the iPod for as long as it could. Its willingness to step out and enter into new categories is an important lesson for all companies.

The blurred positioning of iPad make it harder to identify a clear competitor. TechCrunch clearly identifies Kindle in Top 10 Reasons The Apple iPad Will Put Amazon’s Kindle Out of Business.

Apple has upped the game for Amazon. Jeff Bezos and his team better start a clean sheet of design if they want Kindle to catch up again and play as a leader with consumers.

For HBR the ultimate competitor is only maybe Kindle, but in The iPad Showdown: Apple Versus Comcast argues that Comcast may get some headache.

At twice the price, maybe the iPad is a Kindle Killer — maybe. But Kindle is a single-purpose device for reading, while iPad is a multi-purpose device for entertainment.[…]  The real face-off  […] is Apple versus Comcast — the largest cable provider in the United States, serving 24 million homes […] [T]he new device creates “anywhere, anytime” access to the broadband Web, including broadband video streams.

A colleague argued that tablet pc have existed for over 10 years, with many more features than the iPad. Looking at the facts, though, tablets never took off: too expensive and with poor user experience due to bad software and hardware. Another lesson about product development and radical innovation is in Apple’s Secret? It Tells Us What We Should Love:

This was validation of Apple’s peculiar innovation process: Insights do not move from users to Apple but the other way around. More than Apple listening to us, it’s us who listen to Apple. This contradicts the conventional management wisdom about innovation.

I learned about the iPad name from twitter while I was at the gym and I didn’t understand the jokes about the name until my american wife explained it to me. The comment The Day Apple Turned the Web into Junior High from HBR about naming is interesting.

Perhaps Apple underestimated the power of a viral joke, but it seems more likely that the company, thinking long-term, has so much well-founded faith in its products and its brand that it has no doubt the real iPad will eclipse the joke iPad in the minds of consumers as soon as it’s released.

I would add that the name has other meanings only for native English speakers, not for the rest of world.

iPad DRM endangers our rights

The Free Software Foundation guys are ready to remind us the real threat that iPad furthers:

The iPad’s unprecedented use of DRM to control all capabilities of a general purpose computer is a dangerous step backward for computing and for media distribution.

Yesterday a group of FSF volunteers set up “Apple Restriction Zones” along the approaches to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, informing journalists of the rights they would have to give up to Apple before proceeding inside.

Well done guys and thanks. Join FSF today.

via iPad DRM endangers our rights | DefectiveByDesign.org.

How to sync Mac OS with Funambol (part 3)

I noticed that my posts about using Funambol on Mac part I and part II are two of the most viewed posts on my blog, so I decided to update them with a new tutorial using the official Funambol Mac OS Sync app. Since I was at it I decided to test also Prezi, a pretty good software for presentations.  Although not free-as-in-freedom software, I hope it inspires other developers to write better tools for presentations.

Here is the result: enjoy it!

http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf

Why that thing on Nexus One?

I can’t get my head around one feature of Google’s superphone: why did they put that scroll-click-button at the bottom of the phone? Shouldn’t the touch screen be enough to use the phone? Besides, being so close to the bottom edge, can it really be used? If anybody is still thinking that Google wants to become a hardware manufacturer, that detail alone shows how G still has lots of road to cover.

But I don’t think Google is going to compete directly with HTC, Samsung and all others. I agree with Fabrizio, Ars and HBR: Google is disrupting the mobile phone market in the USA introducing what us Europeans had forever: choice. In Europe we can choose the phone we prefer and use it with any carrier. In the USA carriers tend to make monopolistic agreements with phone manufacturers, so consumers that want a phone usually have only one choice of carrier. Think iPhone which is limited to AT&T in USA but in Italy you can buy it from three different carriers. For this Nexus One is like the iPhone: it’s a game changer. I think that other hardware manufacturers like Nokia could profit from Google’s move, too.

How to avoid frustrations with BlackBerry and Mac

Just don’t buy that combo: Mac and BlackBerry are two very closed environments, they don’t want to be interoperable, they hate each other and their customers.

Not that I would make such mistake, never. But I have friends that do this kind of stuff and then I’m enough of a friend to share with them the painful experience.  A very good friend of mine loves Mac: it’s a cult (no rationality, only emotions) coupled with a very strong lock-in strategy with non-standard data format and in general poor interoperability with the outside world. She hates touchscreens, so she ruled out buying an iPhone. I can’t really say that this is necessarily bad because the iPhone would have tightened her data in stronger shackles.

So she decided to buy a BlackBerry Curve 8900 hoping that RIM’s newly released Desktop Manager for Mac would work. As she soon realized, that was a wrong assumption. I tried to help her out but DM for Mac is a smelly piece of **ap.  The software installs fine and when you connect the phone for the first time the DM happily tells you that there are upgrades available for your device. Do you want to install them? DM asked. Not now, I answered, as I first want to do a backup of all data. Ok, clicked on Backup.  The DM tried to shit but only farted: after 3 minutes with a progress bar not progressing, it said ‘Sorry, can’t backup’. Ok, I said, lets try this again. This time no useless progress bar, nothing. I noticed that the BB seemed disconnected. I unplugged and plugged it in again several times but nothing changed.  I tried soft rebooting the machine with no result, so I hard rebooted it taking off the battery. Everybody hates rebooting a BB: after waiting for 3 minutes I connected the usb cable again to the Mac Desktop Manager and the device showed up again, connected. DM asked: Do you want to install the updates for your device? This time I answered Yes, thinking that maybe declining the request the first time was the reason for the mess. Well, it wasn’t: the DM started the upgrade process but, after a few painful minutes watching the progress bar not showing any progress, it eventually gave up. I tried again the soft reboots, unplug-replug., hard reboot, etc. I even uninstalled and reinstalled the RIM Desktop Manager as suggested in the BB forums (wow! a pure Windows mentality) until I finally gave up.  I’ll see if I can find a Windows machine for her to update the BB firmware and see if that solves the problem of communication between Mac and BB.

The lesson learned is: if you buy highly proprietary products like Mac and BlackBerry don’t expect them to be interoperable between each other. These companies hate each other and they sacrifice their user’s freedom of choice only to see the other company suffer.

Will Nokia become FLOSS best friend?

Google’s power is making more people concerned that their motto ‘do no evil’ is not reassuring enough. Fabrizio Capobianco’s blog post summarizes the concerns of the Winston Smith Project. Google is scary because it controls the access point to the internet for 90% of users and because it’s expanding its reach to the mobile network. But G is not the only one trying to blend the separation between your desktop computer and your cell phone: it just happen to be a very visible one. Look at the chart on Funambol’s white paper on mobile sync opportunities and strategies: everybody is doing the same.

Mobile sync opportunities

Microsoft is not less scary, because with its monopoly on the desktop computers it controls the users’ applications and data. Extending their power from the desktop to the mobile environment is within their reach: after all, they succeeded expanding from the desktop to the server. They can do it again, if they play it right. Apple controls and has access to data for millions of desktop+mobile users: maybe MobileMe is not yet widely used but nonetheless the closed and proprietary nature of all Apple things and the quantity of iTunes+iPod users makes them scary enough.

Nokia is peculiar: it has a huge market share on mobile phones, but its Ovi services don’t have a strong companion on the desktop. With all the other operating systems controlled by competitors, Nokia could start collaborating more with the free software community to better integrate Ovi with Gnome or KDE for example. I think it would be a wise move since there are many GNU/Linux desktops out there, and more will come during 2009.’  Will Nokia become the next Free Software community Best Friend Forever, now that Google has become scary?

How Apple will dramatically increase revenues

My architecture professors repeated ad infinitum that an image is worth a thousand words. Following is a pictures that clearly shows how Apple will dramatically increase its revenues in the next year:

MacBook internals (source: iFixIt.com)
MacBook internals (source: iFixIt.com)

It’s not (only) the cool design or the (un)cool software: it’s mainly the reduced (~60%) bill of material you see in the picture (compare it to an older iBook internals). And the 30% reduction in the packaging volume. The latter reduces complexity in costs of acquisition and management of the parts, plus the servicing costs after the sales. The former means 30% saving in the shipping costs.’  Brilliant.’  This is the kind of sustainable competitive advantage that MBA classes teach managers to aim for.’  I’m ready to bet will make Apple’s revenues skyrocket, even without increasing marketshare or total units shipped.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (3/3)

After two days bashing Apple, here is the good stuff as promised.

iWorks is good stuff. Keynote is simply amazing: everything is where it should be, the templates are gorgeous, animations are fluid, automatic aligning of pasted items is superb. Pages is beyond any wordprocessor out there. I haven’t used Numbers enough because I don’t have much time to learn it, but it looks amazing and innovative too. Seeing iWorks made me think of the amount of work for free/libre software developers to catch up.’  To OO.org (and koffice) developers my suggestion is: stop wasting time imitatin Microsoft Office, abandon Base (not useful), invest on improving Presenter and new UI paradigm. And get designers to work on good templates.

Time Machine is another masterpiece: that’s how backup and restore should work on all systems. I’ve always dreamed of having something so simple on GNU. All the tools are already there, but nobody ever designed such a beautiful and simple to use interface. I should probably talk of ‘experience’ instead of simply an interface because Time Machine barely has an interface. To backup you simply plugin an external disk and all the job is done without a question asked, magically. To restore you simply click on the Time Machine icon and you’re brought back in time with the interface of the software you’re running. It’s too difficult to explain, you have to watch it live. GNOME and KDE guys: please, learn from that.

Finally the hardware: bad keyboard, but amazing case. I love the magnets to hold the screen down, very very convenient. And I love the power plug. If Dell or HP made gorgeous GNU/Linux compatible machines, especially desktops that you’re not ashamed to put in a living room, I’d spend extra bucks to buy them.

So in the end, I’m happy I tested Apple’s system but I wouldn’t buy one for me: it’s too expensive for what it gives back to somebody like me that already knows how to use well a GNU system.’  Considering that GNU learning curve is so much less steep than it used to, I really don’t see many reasons not to start walking it today.