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Archive for November 2009

Thoughts on Chrome OS

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Google’s recently announced Chrome OS touts the web browser as the operating system, with native applications replaced by web applications. This marks a departure from the old practice of installing applications and having to support all configurations of hardware.

This move brings to mind two earlier posts – Is Android becoming Windows? and My quivver of apps.

The first post makes me revisit the idea of whether an operating system designed for mutliple hardware platforms is a good idea. It didn’t work so well for Microsoft Windows, but Chrome (not Android) is putting a slightly different spin on it, with applications going through the web browser layer before hitting the hardware. I’m not sure what that will mean for hardware and software optimisation and driver support (which Google says it will handle in innovative ways), and whether it will help Chrome handle Windows’ multi-platform problem, but I guess we’ll see the results soon.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball makes a good case for hardware manufacturers following Apple’s (and to some extent, Google’s) lead of investing in building their own operating system. With today’s application standards, inter-operability is less of a problem than dealing with multiple hardware configurations.

Chrome could, however, make a difference in the netbook market, which is what Google is counting on, where the range of hardware and device options is more limited (when you’re travelling with a netbook, you’re not likely to be carrying around a lot of external devices that require non-standard driver support).

Gruber also makes a point that Google is building for the future by supporting only Solid State Drives (SSD) instead of hard disk drives, which further supports its netbook orientation.

The second post makes me realise that a fair number of the apps that I use (maybe about 50%) also work quite happily in a browser or have browser versions that I could use, and while it doesn’t cover everything I might want to do on a computer, with some adjustments in behaviour and some new web apps, doing everything in the browser could well be a workable solution.

But I also think back to when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and said, “Safari is the SDK”, suggesting that the iPhone could run most of its apps as iPhone-customised web apps in the browser. That clearly didn’t pan out, and Apple decided that a native SDK based on Mac OS X for iPhone was a better idea, to take advantage of the iPhone’s native hardware and features like GPS and Core Location. I wonder if the same reasoning would cause problems for Chrome’s approach. What would happen if netbooks start to find interesting uses and applications involving GPS and other hardware components that the Chrome browser has trouble accessing?


Written by tokyotribe

November 21, 2009 at 1:04 am

Posted in Tech

My quivver of apps

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I’ve settled into a cosy relationship with a bunch of apps that make my life easier. They span my Mac and iPhone and some also sync across both. (Bonus!)


iCal for Mac, Calendar for iPhone and Google Calendar (in Safari) skinned with Helvetical for shared calendars

Address Book for Mac and Contacts for iPhone

Backpack (in Safari) and Satchel (a Backpack client) for iPhone for to-do lists, notes, and the little things in life


Apple Mail for Mac and iPhone set up with various Gmail accounts, and, occasionally, Gmail (in Safari) skinned with Helvetimail

Instant messenger and VOIP

Adium for Mac, eBuddy for iPhone and Skype for Mac and iPhone


Google Reader (in Safari) skinned with Helvetireader and NetNewsWire for iPhone synced with my Google Reader account


Tweetie for Mac and iPhone

Notes and plans for taking over the world

Evernote for Mac, iPhone and, occasionally, in Safari

Project management

Basecamp (in Safari) and Groundwork (a Basecamp client) for iPhone


Textmate, Terminal, Sequel Pro (for MySQL) and Transmit (for FTP) for Mac

PDF reading

Preview for Mac and Goodreader for iPhone

Temporary notes, reminders, links etc.

ShoveBox for Mac

Writing and blogging

WriteRoom for Mac for writing drafts, and Marsedit for Mac and WordPress for iPhone for publishing

Photos and photo sharing

iPhoto for Mac, Flickr (in Safari), Flickr Uploadr for Mac and Flickit and Flickr for iPhone

Videos and video sharing

Youtube (in Safari) and Qik for iPhone

Music and podcasts

iTunes for Mac and iPod for iPhone

Online backup

Dropbox for Mac and iPhone

It seems like I have a reasonably sized online footprint using web apps, with a similar number of native Mac and iPhone apps for core, everyday tasks.

Written by tokyotribe

November 20, 2009 at 7:48 am

Posted in iPhone, Tech

Is Android becoming Windows?

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I think Google Android may become the Microsoft Windows of the mobile world. And I don’t mean it in the all-pervasive, market dominating sense (which Google may well also achieve, but that’s not the subject of this essay).

I mean it in the sense of how Windows has become an unintuitive operating system experience where users get used to doing things in the most unintuitive ways (you turn of the computer by clicking the “Start” button) and begin to forget what an intuitive experience should feel like.

A recent article by Robert Scoble brought this to light:

The Droid fails AS A PRODUCT when compared to Palm Pre and iPhone

The differences in user experience appear to reflect the different approaches in software and interface design held by Apple and Google (and Microsoft).

In the former, software is tied to and tailored for a very specific hardware platform (the iPhone) built by a single manufacturer, and so the software’s capabilities and user experience can be designed (and to some extent perfected) for the hardware. This has been Apple’s approach to hardware and software since its inception, and is also what cost Apple its market share.

In the latter (two), software is designed to work on a variety of hardware platforms (the growing variety of Android phones) built by many different manufacturers, and so the software is unable to dictate the standardisation (and optimisation) of user experience across all hardware platforms. This was Microsoft’s approach to its operating system, and while it meant widespread adoption of Windows by almost-all-but-one hardware manufacturer and eventual market dominance by Microsoft in the operating system space, it has clearly played a part in the kind of user experience we have with Windows today.

So operating systems seem to have to choose between creating a great experience for a single hardware platform, or settling for not-so-great experiences that work on multiple hardware platforms. Based on that, I’m glad Apple doesn’t license its operating systems.

Postscript: Some might argue that Android is more like Linux than Windows. Yes it is, from a technical perspective, but from a user experience perspective, Linux faces the same problems as Windows in having to be flexible enough to support a variety of hardware platforms and hence being unable to deliver as tight and coherent an experience as OS X.

Written by tokyotribe

November 14, 2009 at 3:48 am

Posted in Tech

The Joys of Writing Rediscovered

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I’m rediscovering the joys of writing through WriteRoom – a great little Mac application that does one simple thing – it helps you focus on your writing by providing a full-screen text editing interface with nothing but black in the background. No desktop wallpaper, no Tweetie, no Facebook in a browser window, no instant messenger client, no distractions. It’s amazing how effective it is in helping you focus on just writing.

Distraction-free writing with WriteRoom

What’s equally amazing is the converse realisation, that our computer desktops and interfaces have become so cluttered with distractions that it’s become increasingly difficult to focus on one task at hand. We have so many other applications open and running in the background that it becomes too easy to say “let’s have a look at Facebook for a second,” or “let’s see what’s happening on Twitter right now,” and soon lose that solid half-hour, one-hour or two-hour stretch of undivided attention that we need for a good session of writing, coding, design work or anything else worth doing.

Much has been said about the perils of multi-tasking in the modern age, and I wonder how much that has caused us to lose the sense of craft in what we do – spending time, effort and attention fully on something that we do or want to become good at, in order to get better at it, and produce results that we’re proud of.

Written by tokyotribe

November 12, 2009 at 2:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Rupert Murdoch vs. Google

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This week, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp announced that he will start blocking Google search from accessing and indexing content on News Corp’s websites as a way to encourage people to pay for content online.

The story came out in the Guardian on Monday, 9 November:

Whether you like it or not, I think Mr. Murdoch is on to something here. To some extent, it’s good to see a shift away from the “let’s give out everything for free and let someone else figure out how to make money from our content/effort” model that the web’s got so used to. But it’s a pretty fine balance and hopefully we’ll figure it out someday. This seems to be a step in that direction, as unfavourable as it may seem to many.

There seems to be some argument over the value of content vs. the value of traffic (that Google search provides), and that Rupert Murdoch is saying that his content (and possibly his own ways of getting traffic) is worth more than the traffic that Google brings to his sites. I think that somewhat misses the point.

Now that News Corp (and quite possibly, other content owners following News Corp’s lead) is willing to block Google, I think the chances of them all figuring out some kind of charging or licensing model could be quite high. I’m not sure we’ll see them charging the end-user/consumer, but they may wisen up to charge search engines and other content aggregators/distributors an indexing or other licence fee.

And why do I think this? Because Rupert Murdoch is a smart businessman, and he didn’t get to be so rich by giving stuff away.

Written by tokyotribe

November 11, 2009 at 7:56 am

Posted in Tech