Better is NOT Perfect

February 15, 2009

Before Getting Into Retail, Someone Should tell Microsoft That They Don’t Make Computers.

Filed under: I have issues that you don't care about — Gerald @ 6:34 pm

Microsoft doesn’t make computers.
Microsoft makes its money selling OS licenses to computer builders (pro and hobbyist). They are in the license business.

Microsoft is under the mistaken belief that they make computers and sell them to customers.
Dell is a computer builder. Dell buys licenses from Microsoft. Dell is not Microsoft’s “partner”. Dell is Microsoft’s customer. Microsoft is a parts supplier.

By convincing Dell that they are “partners” they can insist that Dell shape their products according to Microsoft’s needs.

Unfortunately, while convincing Dell that they were together in bringing computers to market MS convinced itself that this means they make computers and sell them to end users.

This is based on two outmoded schools of thought:
1. The operating system IS the computer.
2. End users and customers are the same thing.

The operating system IS NOT the computer.
It’s a part. It’s an important part, but just a part. The Operating System the machine-level instruction set that makes the inside parts of your computer aware of each other and sets up the rules of how they interact. The operating system literally operates the system. Modern operating system packages also include application programming interfaces (APIs), kernel extensions (“Drivers”), user interfaces (both command line and graphical), and bundled applications (Programs and Utilities).

This has led many barely-technical types to think that these front-facing parts are the operating system, proving once again that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Forums all over the internet are filled with those who believe that a simple shell-appearance change or new versions of bundles apps is akin to a whole new OS, and a new OS is akin to a whole new computer.

The mindset is: The physical object is simply the “hardware” and the OS is the “computer”.

Microsoft should know better. An operating system is a set of instructions for a computer, not the computer itself.

End users and customers are NOT the same thing.
When you buy a tangible object, you buy that object and you use that object. Software is different. Software isn’t sold. It’s licensed. In this sales situation the item sold (the license) is separate from the item used (software).

In most sales situations, especially if it’s a tangible object, the person making the purchase will be the person using that object for it’s useful lifespan. This is not true of the licenses that make up the BULK of Microsoft’s sales figures.

The vast majority of Microsoft license sales are to computer builders* like Dell and Acer, not to end users.

Way, way back in the 1980s and 1990s the only people who bought computers were corporate IT departments and computer hobbyists (aka “nerds”). Nearly 100% of the people putting down cash for these machines opened them up and tinkered with the inside, either for business or pleasure. In other words, nearly all computer buyers were also computer builders – so OS License customers and OS users were the same people.

This is no longer true.

The computer has broken free from the cubicle and the computer club and has hit the mainstream as a tool and toy for the masses. Non-corporate sales of computers is the fastest growing segment of an otherwise shrinking market, and the bulk of the machines sold are tinker-unfriendly laptops. In the 21st century, most people who buy computers will never install an operating system, much less buy a license to one. They just agree to the end-user license that comes bundled with their computer**. Microsoft seems blind to this fact.

The percentage of buyers that are also builders has shrunk significantly. The percentage of builders that buy their OS license at retail is even smaller. Microsoft seems blind to these facts, too.

Getting Into Retail.
The news that Microsoft is planning on entering the retail game, coupled with this review of Microsoft’s business model, raises several questions. The most important is: WHY!??!

The only reason anyone can seem to come up with is: Because Apple did it.

Why Apple got into retail.
Apple got into retail because it couldn’t get it’s products into many stores, instead it had to depend on mail-order to survive. Not having a place for people to buy your product is a major sales obstacle. Microsoft does not have this problem.

The Side Benefit of Apple Retail.
Before the retail stores, the only way a non-geek could learn about Apple gear was either from their Apple-hating geek friend, or the Apple Zealot in the family… neither of which is a good source of accurate information.

Apple’s retail stores gave people who had never been exposed to their gear first-hand experience in low-pressure sales environments. This new familiarity with their products improved their reputation among the non-technical.

An unfamiliarity with your product is a major sales obstacle. Microsoft does not have this problem.

What problem DOES Microsoft have?
People who have used their new OS dislike it. The existence of a retail store will not make them like it more.

What will Microsoft sell in its stores?
We’ve established that only computer builders buy operating systems, and only hobbyists buy at retail. Unless Microsoft has a new product up it’s sleeve (XBOX 4?), I think that the stores will be filled with non-MS products and advertisements for Windows 7.

Keyboards and mice bear the Microsoft name; but like the Zune 1.0, those are just re-branded products made by other companies. It’s entirely possible that Microsoft can slap their name on a machine made by someone else, but I think they are too dependent on license sales to builders to make their own PC.

The last thing Microsoft needs is a replay of what the Zune did to PlaysForSure license sales: hardware makers and music stores (their only customers) stopped buying.

Can Microsoft succeed where Gateway and Dell have failed?
Who knows. Maybe the secret to PC Retail Sales is to sell someone else’s product. It worked for Circuit City Federated Sharper Image Sears Montgomery Wards Babbages Computer City Radio Shack Fry’s.

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*Dell doesn’t buy EULAs. They buy OS-Loader licenses.
Dell does not buy/resell end-user licenses. They PACKAGE end-user licenses. They buy OS-Loader licenses (known as “Original Equipment Manufacturer”, or “OEM” licenses). This buys the right from Microsoft to install Windows on the machines they sell and obligates them to package a non-transferrable end-user license with the installation. Dell then shifts the cost of the OS-Loader license fee to the customer. (Which is refundable if you choose not to use Windows).

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**The End-User License is a misnomer.
The bulk of the license is not about the USE of the software, but under what circumstances you are allowed to copy the software. The definition of “copying” is not limited to loading it onto your hard drive, or backing up the installation disc. Copying includes any duplication of the data, including such mundane details as reading the installation media and loading into your system’s memory.

In legalese, the act of booting your computer is making a copy. The End-User License grants you the right to make this copy.

All operating systems are computer programs and are the sole property of the individual or group that created it. (Yes, even open source operating systems, such as Linux.) That individual or group may grant a large or small amount of rights to those outside the group (including the right to modify the source code), but no transfer of ownership rights occur. If you want to own your operating system you will have to a) write one yourself, b) pay someone to write one for you, or c) buy the ownership rights to one that is for sale. If you copy someone else’s work, you may still have to pay a license fee if 1) they can prove you copied it, and 2) you are attempting to distribute said work.

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February 4, 2009

Macs Don’t Get Viruses. So, what? They’re still not safe.

Much is made over the fact that Macs don’t get viruses. Even Apple’s advertising campaign plays up this fact. To this I say: So What? Viruses aren’t the only nasties out there, nothing is safe from a trojan horse, and everyone can be phished.

Nothing Is Safe from a Trojan Horse
I can burn a trojan horse on a DVD, and render your DVD Player permanently inoperable. I can put a trojan horse on a thumb drive and plug it into your car stereo’s USB port, and brick your car stereo. Of course, the trojan horse has to be written for the specific target. The trojan horse that destroyed the DVD Player won’t do anything to the car stereo and vice versa.

The same is true of Windows and Macs. A Trojan Horse written for a Mac is harmless to Windows, and vice versa.

What’s the difference?
A virus is a self-replicating piece of software. It requires no human intervention to spread. It just has to exploit a known hole in your system’s security. A Trojan Horse (or just “Trojan”) doesn’t have to find a hole in your security. It just has to bait you. It fools you into downloading it, installing it, giving it permissions, and running it.

Caveat Pirate.
It can be disguised a quarterly report from your supervisor, a viewer for a porn site, a cracked version of iWork or Photoshop, or even a pirated song.

When it’s disguised as a photo or a video or music file, it’s easy to spot because clicking on those things should never prompt your Mac to ask for your password… so when it does: Bingo! Trojan Horse Blocked! However, if I I’m installing something, asking me for my password is perfectly normal.

Another thing no OS is safe from: Phishing.

A phony e-mail link is a phony e-mail link and the fake web page you’re typing your password into doesn’t care what you’re typing on.

On why AV software is necessary on Windows* (especially XP)
* Until very recently, all versions of Windows came with five of its ports open (Mac OS X comes with all of them shut and locked.) Ports are back-door channels to the Internet: one for instant-messaging, one for Windows XP’s remote-control feature, and so on. These ports are precisely what permitted viruses to infiltrate millions of PC’s for almost two decades. Microsoft finally shut those ports after 18 years with the release of Vista.

* When a program tries to install itself in Mac OS X or Linux (system folder), a dialog box interrupts your work and asks you permission for that installation — in fact, requires your account password. Windows XP goes ahead and installs it, potentially without your awareness.

* Administrator accounts in Windows (and therefore viruses that exploit it) have access to all areas of the operating system. In Mac OS X, even an administrator can’t touch the files that drive the operating system itself. A Mac OS X virus (if there were such a thing) could theoretically wipe out all of your files, but wouldn’t be able to access anyone else’s stuff, couldn’t touch the operating system itself, and couldn’t access your backups.

* No Macintosh e-mail program automatically runs scripts that come attached to incoming messages, as Microsoft Outlook does. Outllook and IE are the two most common vectors for malware infection because of auto-running.

On why AV software is a good idea on a Mac.
If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

OK, so a Windows Virus can’t affect your Mac… they’re still attached to that e-mail you forwarded to that mailing list! If you had scanned it, you would have protected your non-Mac using family and friends from having to deal with it. What if their AV software isn’t up-to-date? Wouldn’t you feel awful if little Suzie lost her book report on turtles just because you saw a retro dancing-hamster / peanut-butter-jelly-time flash video and wanted to pass it on?

So am I suggesting you buy the latest version of Norton? HEAVENS NO!!!!

Norton AV software actually has caused problems in the past on Macs and have not provided any protection from anything for all the money they charge.

Check out ClamX AV. There are plenty of free Mac AV solutions, but ClamX is the least intrusive. People say that when a danger finally surfaces, that’s the one they’ll be downloading and using. Until then, no one bothers.

Caveat Complacent.
Now, if you’ve made it this far you may have noticed that in the beginning I said that Macs don’t get viruses. That is not the same thing as Macs can’t get viruses. OS X has set a record for longest time without an outbreak, but nothing lasts forever and no system that communicates is 100% secure.

*Clipped from a Slashdot post, I have no idea who the original author is.

Digg @ http://digg.com/apple/Macs_Don_t_Get_Viruses_So_What_They_re_Still_Not_Safe

A Question for Gamers: Used Mac Pro, Yes or No?

Filed under: I Hate Apple Users, I Love Apple Hardware — Gerald @ 2:02 pm

The PowerMac G3 and G4 each had a long upgrade life, with CPU upgrades from Sonnet and other manufacturers and a host of expansion card makers giving the community what Apple wouldn’t. Many of these machines are still in use, a decade after they were built.

The PowerMac G5 upgrade market never blossomed. It was cut short by the once-every-ten-years architecture switch. (I should have seen it coming. I did own an Apple II in the 90s! I even tried buying a 640K upgrade card in 1992 to keep it alive.)

My barely-a-half-decade-old Dual 2.0 won’t play Spore, it won’t play Sims 3 when it comes out, and it won’t run Boxee. It definitely won’t be able to run Next Year’s Latest And Greatest OS: Snow Leopard.

So it’s time to upgrade.

A big complaint among the gamer community is the Mac Pro’s price tag. Until the subject of money comes up, techie people can argue both ways as to if it’s a good machine or not… and the upgradability of the machine renders many of the points moot.

Unfortunately, it always devolves into one side complaining how you can get twice the machine for half the price complete with links that only prove that they don’t know how to squat about speccing out a machine (or think that 15% less is “half”) and the other side talking about how much the “free” OS X and iLife are worth should be counted for Apple’s side and the price of MS-Office, yearly Anti-Virus software, and yearly tech calls should count for the PC side. NO HELP AT ALL.

So I ask the gamers out there, would you buy used? Fully upgradable used Mac Pros can be had at a very good spec-to-dollar ratio if you’ve got the Google Fu to find them.

More importantly, if you DO own a Mac Pro, would you ever get rid of it? Can you swap out motherboards if CPU/RAM/HD/Video upgrades aren’t enough? Have Mac Pro motherboards changed AT ALL since introduction? Are there any “bad models” I should avoid?

I keep looking for a FrankenMac (the opposite of a Hackintosh) community to spring up around the Mac Pro like it did around the PowerMac G3 and G4 and the Mac Mini… but so far even my Google Fu has failed me.

So I’m throwing this out into the ether: Should I buy one of the affordable used Mac Pros online, or should I save my pennies and buy new and even get AppleCare? It’s like a thousand dollar difference.

Oh, and one other thing: This will be both my primary machine AND my media center. (Yes, I live dangerously.)

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