On walkabout in life and technology

The Myth of the Wireless Spectrum Crisis

Great article by Tim Farrar, a real pro on Gigaom entitled The myth of the wireless spectrum crisis, presents the fact that wireless data growth has stalled because of tiered pricing, low caps and market saturation instead of growing out of control:

However, underlying the statistics are numbers that tell a far different story: in fact, there was a dramatic slowdown in wireless traffic growth during the first half of 2012. Of course, CTIA doesn’t want anyone to realize that, because it is significantly at variance with CTIA’s narrative of an impending “spectrum crunch” into which so much lobbying effort has been invested.

He reviews the trend of offloading to WiFi, examines who is presenting what story, and what motivates them; and concludes:

Then perhaps we will realize, as others have notably pointed out, that “there is no more scarcity of wireless spectrum than there is a shortage of, say, the color purple.”

Huge Last Week in October 2012 for Tech

It’s going to be a huge week in tech this week, with launches and events from the big three, Microsoft, Google and Apple. Here’s what happening and my take on each.

Microsoft Windows 8 and Surface

On October 25, 2012, Microsoft will hold an event to launch their new Windows 8 Operating System for release the next day. I expect to see more demos of the system itself, a lot more Metro, er Windows UI, style applications and some great hardware that is tuned for it, especially touchable wrap-around laptops from Lenovo and Acer. It will be a good show, unless Ballmer speaks, in which case all bets are off.

The next day, Friday October 26, 2012, Microsoft will also release it’s first true tablet, the Surface, running Windows 8 RT. This is not the full Intel tablet that can run legacy applications (the Pro), for that you’ll need a Samsung tablet or a flappy-laptop still, but it will run all Windows RT applications, such as the few Metro, er Windows UI, applications and a custom, but very limited version of Office. Oh, and the key selling feature, the keyboard cover is an add-on!

My take: Windows 8 is a huge but superficial change to Windows 7 and will take time to roll-out and become the primary OS in corporates (most will finally go XP -> Windows 7). Initially, there will be massive confusion between RT and Pro in the market, and complaints about the Metro interface gestures and lack of the start button. But since Windows 8 is just Windows 7 underneath, and since Windows RT is just Win32 (see Ars Technica Turning to the past to power Windows’ future: An in-depth look at WinRT), the corporates will eventually switch as they roll out new laptops. Once more laptops gain touch, Windows 8 will make more sense. The learning curve is not that steep, but it’s going to generate a huge amount of noise.

On the Surface, I don’t know. Windows RT is limiting and most purchasers are going to expect it to be different. That being said, the hardware, keyboard and UI look great. But the lack of apps, the incompatibility with traditional Windows applications, the difficulty of touch on “desktop” mode applications, and the sale of the hardware at a loss are huge problems. They are way behind the iPad and Android ecosystem, not a position that the new Microsoft thrives in.

I will upgrade my Development Virtual Machine to Windows 8 (once I secure a copy of the latest Visual Studio and SQL Server), but will not even consider a Surface tablet until it matures as a platform.

Google’s New Android and Nexus

While Microsoft is releasing stuff on October 29, 2012, Google will be hosting it’s rushed event to launch their next version of Android as well as updates on Google Play and their Nexus product line. I expect the new Android to be a good update to 4, especially the tablet version, and I think their ecosystem integration across web, Chromebook and tablet to mature. I also expect higher capacity Nexus tablets and a huge price drop. They’ll probably also talk about their new cheaper Chromebooks.

My take: Android 4 is good, and the update will be better, but the adoption rates of the platform still suck. By taking a huge loss on the new Nexus tablet (and possibly phone too), I expect Google to try to claw back the share it’s been losing to its older third-party Android brethren, as well as refresh in the minds of non-iPad buyers that their tablet experience has many more apps and is more mature than the Surface.

I will be watching. With a cheap Nexus, Google can effectively take control of the bottom end of the tablet market away from Amazon’s Fire and squeeze the Surface between it and the iPad, and this just before the biggest holiday buying season. I think Google will do well from this, and depending on the price, I may purchase a cheap Nexus to play with.

Apple’s new iTunes, iPad mini and iBooks

But the biggest news this week is Apple’s event tomorrow, October 23. It’s expected that this event will focus on an updated iBooks for education, building on iBooks Author and iTunes U, with a shot of going after textbooks, something the late Steve Jobs was passionate about. Apple will also demo, and probably release, the new iTunes 11 version with the new iOS UI, which will stink like all iTunes versions because the product still does too much in it’s own, un-Mac-like way.

They will probably also announce a whole bunch of new hardware for the holiday buying season. New iMacs that are thinner, maybe; a 13” retina Macbook Pro, probably; an updated iPad 3 with the new lightning plug, most likely. But the biggie may be the iPad Mini or Lite or Air, the new 7” iPad, priced for the education and reading market.

My take: I have no idea why Apple would really want to make a smaller iPad between the iPod touch and the current iPad, but speculate it’s to fill in the narrow price gap between the two, and replace the current “cheap” iPad 2 that is still on sale. Tech pundits will bullshit that this is to compete in the mini-tablet space against 7” tablets from Amazon and Google, when in fact the current 10” iPad is already winning (maybe we should make this into a drinking game). I expect the iPad mini will be lower capacity, and probably not have a retina display, and will create an additional form factor for us developers to develop for. What does makes sense is a mini for poorer countries and for mass release into education (especially if they add textbooks), which is why I think Apple is doing it. As to the rest, meh, a refresh before the holidays is just fine to boost replacement sales.

I will buy an iPad mini for dev and test purposes, and update to the new software. But only to ensure that my existing applications run on it. And I’ll upgrade the laptop next time round in 2013.

What’s missing

I think there is a lot missing for the holidays though. Nothing from RIMM, their tablet is being further delayed. Samsung is being quiet, even though they are blitzing the Galaxy SIII on TV and pumping out new products. Amazon has a already announced its holiday lineup. Lenovo is quietly launching it’s new ‘yoga’ laptops which are amazingly well designed and built for Windows 8, I guess their marketing splurge comes later. Sony, nada. Dell, nope. Motorola, zip. HP, nope.

My take: They are waiting for Windows 8 or the new Android to launch and the hubbub from this week’s announcements to die down. I think Lenovo will do well in corporates as they replace older laptops with Windows 8 ones, but not the other PC makers. I think Windows 8 itself will grow very slowly (once the early adopter rush is over) and that corporates will not update their desktops for at least a year, or until the Metro interface works better on desktops with touch. I think Google’s new Nexus will be big, but I don’t expect the carriers or handset manufacturers to speed up, or even perform, Android 4+ upgrades on existing or even currently selling hardware.

I do think the iPad mini will be the must-have purchase this season. And I honestly don’t know why.

Solutions Born From Deep Experience

Comment of the Day:

That clearly illustrates the difference between charging for our time and charging for our experience. Clients want cheap, quick fixes, but we sell solutions born from deep experience. The latter is worth more.

In response to:

I love it when my clients casually ask, "Can you teach me how to [insert knowledge that comes from supporting Macs for 20+ years] so I don't have to [call/pay/wait for] you?" Um, sure... Have twenty years or so?

45 Revolutions

When the Earth was in the same relative position to the sun 45 revolutions ago, a baby boy was born at the southernmost point of a continent called Africa. The Earth did not stop, or even pause as it continued its solitary journey.

Yet the baby grew up and made his own journey. Cape Town to Sydney to Tokyo to New York. Via Jerusalem, Johannesburg, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Nice, Geneva, Munich, Salzburg, Milan, Rome, Athens, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Singapore, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Saigon, Hanoi, Vientiane, Sapporo, Kobe, Nagano, Kuala Lumpur, Borneo, Berlin, Barcelona, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Venice, Malta, Sicily and hundreds of places in between, all filled with wonder, sights, tastes, experiences and joys.

But it’s not the journey that matters most, it’s the people and the friends that share in the journey that are most important and valued. Without them, the journey would be as empty as Earth’s mindless rotation around the sun, and the experiences we treasure most would never have happened.

The joyous experiences are wonderful, the pains too. The jokes, the meals, the arguments, the quiet times, and the losses, all wonderful, all combine to fill me out as better person who never journeys alone.

My 45 revolutions are full of wonderful experiences, full of you. All of you. Thank you.

Say NO to Spec Work

TL;DR: Spec work is delivering creative work for free to prospective clients, encouraged by a bunch of work-listing or contest-hosting services. Say NO, even if that means you have quiet times, or you’ll never become a professional.

One of the negative things about being an indie is that the consulting and project work comes in fits and starts, and there are times, like now, when we have no client work to do at all (so contact me). On a positive note, it means we have time to spend on personal projects and building our own products. To use an American phrase, it’s a wash. Client work pays the bills while we develop our own products, too much client work and our products never get done, too little client work and we cannot fund our own products.

As an indie, I like having several days a week on client work and a few days free to do my own thing. There are times when the client work chews up my own time, and that’s OK, because when the client work dries up, I make that time back.

A few days ago, I was discussing how I client work finds me, and how quiet things were, and a friend mentioned that I should actively look to Craigslist or Elance to find new clients for myself by doing some spec work.

My response: “Hell no! I’d rather give up being indie and get a boring job working for the man!”

Why NO to Spec Work

Most of the work offered on Craigslist is spec work! Spec work, for those who don’t know, is when you get asked to do something, deliver it, and if the client likes it, you may get paid. Else you get nothing. That’s not business, that’s just stupid. I have no idea how or why, but a lot of people still do spec work. Shame on them.

Elance works on a bidding system, where the cheapest bidder gets the work, regardless of talent, experience and capability (no matter what the marketing blurbs say). The cheapest bidder is usually the one who offers spec work. It’s essentially a race to the bottom in terms of price and service, where the “winner” of the contest is actually the loser financially, and the client also loses by getting the cheapest, lowest quality product. As an indie, I pride myself on delivering the best quality product to meet my client’s needs for a professional fee. Unlike Elance, with my service no-one loses.

My professional reputation is based on the quality of work done to date, and on the satisfaction of my customers, not on the number of spec contracts completed. The number of Craigslist or Elance contracts won is like a Klout score, a completely meaningless number (unless you want to know how much spec work they do). Large Klout scores to me means that the person spends way to much time pumping social networks to increase their Klout score, instead of doing great work. These services have no check as to whether the candidate’s presented experience is real or not, no way to determine professionalism or quality, no feedback loop, and no recourse when the work either does not get done or gets done badly. With a professional indie, there’s a Professional Services Agreement that protects both parties.

I believe is providing the right product and service for a client, which means spending time getting to know them, their business, their goals and issues. I believe in building long term relationships where I not only support the work I did for them, but also continue to grow and add options to the product to lead their business. I’m just not that interested in the business version of a one-night stand. Sure, spec work can create some kind of relationship, but that only lasts while the work is spec (and free).

In short, if a professional competes with a bunch of amateurs in the amateur’s playground, they are not a real professional. Or to put it another way, Picasso did not create cheap pictures on napkins:

The story goes that Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer approached and asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, swiftly executed the work, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years”

Now I’m not saying that there is no chance of getting good work from these services. This friend did get great business through this channel. It’s just that it’s rare and hard to do, and you will be competing with people who are prepared to do spec work. Sadly, for many clients, nothing beats free.

Say NO to Spec work Channels

I found a great article on this topic by Kevin Potts @kevinpotts, written in 2008 on his blog Graphic Push entitled 99designs: Bullshit 2.0, where he takes down 99designs, a service offering freelance designers a channel to offer art and logo services for spec:

Hmm. Yes, by all means, we want to avoid the time and consideration professional designers offer and go right to the lowest common denominator of grade-school dropouts whose portfolio’s crown jewel is a logo for their dad’s wholesale llama manure clearing house. We definitely do not want any in-depth communication. We do not want any understanding of the company, the brand, or the direction and aspirations of the organization. We definitely do not want any long-term working relationships or any real investment in the single most important public-facing piece of design a company owns. We just want a fucking logo for $250.

and to the designers:

To summarize: you’re doing spec work for third-world prices with no option for copyright retention. Everyone wins! Oh wait, except you.

Say NO to Spec Work

If you do spec work, you’re not only selling yourself short, you’re selling your future short too. What clients get for free today, they’ll expect for free tomorrow too. If you do spec work, you’re also selling the rest of us short. Those of us who provide a professional service find ourselves having to justify what we do to clients who are used to spec work quality and price. And that’s just insane. It’s difficult to explain to someone who only knows street franks what a proper gourmet sausage tastes like.

So please, say no to spec work. Build your business and reputation properly, by doing good quality professional work for a proper professional price. You’ll be better off, your clients will be better off and the industry will be better off.

I support no!spec, see their FAQ.

Why Windows Just Can’t Win

Mat Honan, writing in Wired in Why Windows Just Can’t Win, concludes:

It doesn’t matter if Microsoft creates the greatest operating system in the world if it then allows others to junk it up. And, ultimately, it means that Microsoft isn’t in control of its brand.

The Metro name, the crapware, and the horrible release dates all point to the same problem: Even when Microsoft has a great product on its hands, even when its product, engineering and design teams manage to hit one out of the park, it won’t matter once the business team comes in and ruins it for everyone. Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Windows Surface — these are all potentially great products. But if past is prologue, that may not matter.

Microsoft has the talent and the technology, and a lot of the work in Windows 8 and Surface reflects that. I think Mat has it right when he points out that it no longer is in control of its brand. But I think its more than just third party crapware, it’s also shockingly bad leadership, extreme conservatism to suit the large IT shops unwillingness to change and adapt, and no true and consistent vision for the future. Lead the business with vision, take a few chances and Microsoft can do anything!

Too Many Menu Bar Apps?

These days, in order to maximize my productivity, I seem to be running a lot of menu bar apps on my Macintosh OS X system. So many that I had to buy a menu bar manager, Bartender! Add what you use in the comments.

Here’s what each one is and why I use it (in no particular order):

1Password - One of my must have tools, enables me to reach and log into sites securely using strong site-specific passwords. Without it, I have no access to anything https://agilebits.com/onepassword

Alfred - Quick launch applications and files, starting to use the saved clipboard too. Replaced Quicksilver, alternative to LaunchBar. http://www.alfredapp.com.

ChronoSync - Automatic synchronization with my desktop when it awakes, and automatic backup to my USB drives when they plug in. Just works. http://www.econtechnologies.com/pages/cs/chrono_overview.html

Committed - New app that notifies whenever any of my Github repositories gets updated. http://www.secondgearsoftware.com/committed/

DayOne - The very best journalling application, containing what I did every day, and auto-loaded with my tweets, posts and instagrams using Slogger. http://dayoneapp.com

Dropbox - All my current notes, settings and key files synced across all devices, nice and safely. https://www.dropbox.com

Growl - Still using growl for old application and scripted notifications, redirecting to notification center in Mountain Lion. http://growl.info

Hazel - Automatically cleans up and moves my files around, leaving me to worry about other things. http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php

Keyboard Maestro - The indispensable productivity tool for mapping keystrokes to actions, making markdown links, opening and closing applications for different work scenarios and saving me time. http://www.keyboardmaestro.com/main/

Moom - Moves and resizes windows, set up with keystrokes to place my application windows where I want them spatially. http://manytricks.com/moom/

Postgres - Runs my development PostgreSQL database server in the background without having to go through the pain of installing it. http://postgresapp.com

TextExpander - My other must have tool to save me keystrokes on things I type a lot, like paths, file names, special characters and mail messages. http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/index.html

Trickster - Quick access via keystroke to my most recently used and downloaded files and applications. http://www.apparentsoft.com/trickster

Apple Sync - Seems to keep coming back, currently syncing my Google contacts, I think.

iStat Menus - CPU Temp - The current CPU temperature, usually hidden unless I’m running a lot of compiles or data analyses, then it gets back on top. http://bjango.com/mac/istatmenus/

iStat Menus - Memory - How much RAM is being used right now, usually hidden, but I move it to the top when running VM’s.

Apple Volume - The OS X Volume Slider, occasionally used to switch volume output with the ⌥ key.

Billings - Always running when I am working, Billings tracks my time on client projects, so it makes the top. http://www.marketcircle.com/billings/

Fantastical - Quick access to my calendars and quick creation of new appointments, I seem to open this many times a day, hence it’s on the top bar. http://flexibits.com

Bartender - The magical little utility that moves all the excess menu bar app icons onto its own bar, so I don’t see them all the time. http://www.macbartender.com

Apple WiFi - I often switch from home to client to coffee shop, WiFi shows me when I am connected.

iStat Menus - Network - I like to see how much bandwidth is being used. Often, a glance at this explains why things are slow. http://bjango.com/mac/istatmenus/

iStat Menus - CPUs - Displays how busy each CPU is on my system, gives quick access to running apps (quiet while capturing the image).

Apple Time Machine - Shows when last the time machine backup ran and when it is running, reminds me to keep an eye on it.

But that’s not all, there are a number of applications that I run when needed (or run headless) that also add icons to the menu bar, including:

Most of these menu bar apps spend their days hidden by Bartender because there are too many of them and most are accessible using keystrokes. All save me time and effort day in and day out.

What do you use and find indispensable on your menu bar? I’d love to know and try them out.

FYI: The cog at the end of the bottom bar is the Bartender preferences icon.

Walled Gardens Are Permeable

There is an incredible amount of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) on the internet about walled gardens, or closed ecosystems, especially focussed on Apple and ignoring everyone else. The open versus closed ecosystem holy war is in full force, with a lot of words written in absolute and extreme terms. Yet the so-called walled garden systems appear to be most popular and most successful.

I believe that in reality these closed ecosystems actually have very permeable walls and that we’re really working in the middle ground between open and closed. They both have benefits and problems, but the balance is achievable and, in some cases, already working. We can end this war of words with knowledge, understanding and in making our own choices.

After all, it’s much ado about nothing.

What is a Walled Garden

A walled garden is an analogy used to describe a closed ecosystem. Imagine a garden, completely surrounded by a wall, wherein you are sitting. The implication is that the plants, people, wildlife and layout of the garden is determined by the gardener and no other. If you are in this garden, you have no choice to but to see and use only what the gardener decides and provides.

In contrast, an open system is a garden left to nature, no wall, no gardener, wherein anyone can plant anything, any wildlife can exist, subject only to the laws of nature. Theoretically, you get to decide what plants go where as long as you accept that others have the same choice and powers as you, and are willing to live in natural chaos.

The walled garden analogy falls apart when you try to look at how the plants, you and the gardener actually get in to this walled garden, and how an ecosystem can survive without outside air and services. And the open analogy falls apart when you consider that deserts and ice-caps and turf-wars are natural too.

In reality, walled garden systems have gates, where ingress and egress is controlled and managed, and open systems have less material but just as valid barriers of their own. They are not absolutes.

Popular Walled Garden Systems

Almost every technology platform you interact with these days is actually a closed system is some way. Lets define these as systems where an exclusive set of services is provided for its users (Wikipedia). In which case, the following are walled gardens:

  • iOS, with it’s strictly enforced App Store and locked down hardware/software combination
  • Google, with its proprietary mail, contacts, documents, music, books and video (YouTube) services
  • RIMM, with its need to have a Blackberry server to control what goes on the device
  • Amazon, with its Kindle infrastructure, locking you into its books
  • Facebook, wherein you consume their services their way
  • Microsoft, with its new Metro App Store, XBox live network and new Phones

One could argue that all operating systems are really walled gardens as code written for one does not necessarily run on another, which means you are restricted in what you can run given what features are available.

Popular Open Systems

In counterpoint to the walled gardens, there are a lot of systems promoted as open, such as

  • The Internet itself, with HTML5, CSS and Javascript, where anything goes
  • Linux and the open systems movement, wherein you can do whatever you like on a computer
  • Android, the open phone operating system

The reality is, though, that these systems are not as open as you think. There are barriers, they may not just be walls. The prevalence of bills to censor the internet and the frequency of ISP’s blocking or throttling services make the internet a little more closed. The barrier to Linux is that you need to be a programmer to get anything done outside the walled gardens of the distributions. And Android is getting hemmed in by locked bootloaders, patents, fragmentation and carrier required crapware.

Benefits of the Walled Garden

So what is so good about closed ecosystems? Why are walled gardens with their managed gates better?

For one thing, there are fewer, if any, viruses, malware, trojan horses and secret key-logging systems in walled garden platforms (or none yet on the tougher ones like iOS). Whereas most people live in fear in the more open systems of getting hijacked and spend fortunes on protective tools that really don’t work, people in walled gardens feel safer.

Since the walls and gates exists, walled garden systems are inherently more secure. The walls keep unwanted stuff out, the gates control access, and the closed nature of the platform makes it harder to hack. Security by obscurity seems to work in their favor.

Closed systems are more deterministic, which means they experience far fewer crashes than open systems operating in a dynamic environments. The hardware is known, the bios is known, the chipset is known, the screen is known and a single vendor does it all. They can be built to higher tolerances, tested better and to a much higher quality standard.

The maker of the closed system controls the experience, which, theoretically keeps the crapware out. The carrier, retailer, or other third parties don’t get to install their own stuff in walled garden systems, leading to a better user experience.

New software, software updates and bug fixes are guaranteed to work, because the walled garden curator has tested and made it so. Users can be comfortable that these installs and updates will work as advertised and not brick their systems.

Walled garden systems are easier to use and learn because you don’t need special skills to get in. They are targeted at regular people. They are made into comfortable and safe environments, where the limits are known and it’s easy to see and understand what is going on.

And walled gardens are a business and businesses exist to grow and make money. Walled garden systems are profitable, popular and create jobs. Profitable walled garden systems are a better long term investment as you know they’ll be around and supported in the future.

Why Walled Gardens are Bad

But walled garden systems are not all benefits and no costs. Here are some.

Walled gardens limit functionality, there are things you just cannot do in closed systems. In more open systems, you can, if you have the skills, change the system to provide the functionality you need. You cannot change closed systems.

Walled gardens also limit access to services and features that are valuable to those both inside and outside the walled garden. An example would be iCloud or Notification Center on Apple platforms, only available to App Store apps, and not available otherwise.

The decision on what you can and cannot do, can or cannot access, is not yours, it’s the closed system maker’s decision. If you don’t agree, tough. If there are things you want to do, and think it’s OK to do, but the maker disagrees, tough.

And the rules that define what is acceptable and not in a walled garden are subject to change. Makers can unilaterally change their rules at any time, and take away functionality or access you used to have. Which leads to uncertainty.

And then there is platform lock-in. If you buy all your books at Amazon on Kindle, you cannot transfer them to other services. If you spend a lot of money on iOS apps, you’re less likely to change platforms. I concede that with content, this is starting to change with the removal of DRM on iTunes music.

And then there is the legal system. DCMA and patents are being used to make circumvention of these walls illegal, whereas in open systems, such circumvention is encouraged to grow and innovate.

Fallacies spread about Walled Gardens

As with all things, there are a lot of fallacies being spread that confuse the issue, such as:

It’s a fallacy that there is no way in or out of a walled garden. Of course there is. Almost all walled garden systems have interfaces or APIs to enable upload and download of data (except Twitter!). People have successfully migrated from Windows to OS X, from iOS to Android. It may not be easy, that’s on purpose, but it is doable.

There is a common refrain that walled gardens create consumers instead of creators. Very often this is applied to the iPad. It’s bullshit. Look at the number of writing and drawing tools on the platform, look at the New Yorker covers created and tell me you cannot create content in the iOS walled garden.

Another argument is that walled gardens are a threat to the open web and openness in general. I have yet to have the open web defined satisfactorily, so I shall assume the open web is the internet accessible from a web browser. Name one walled garden system that cannot be circumvented by opening a web browser.

And then there is the argument that walled gardens stifle innovation. Really? iOS, the poster child of walled gardens, is the most innovative operating system in decades. Twitter and Facebook, both severely walled gardens, are the most innovative things to happen in human social interaction ever!

And finally the argument that walled gardens are a new thing, that we never had them before. Hoo boy. The original telephone networks did not interconnect, walled gardens, cable TV decides what channels you can get, walled garden, newspapers decided what stories you get to read, walled garden, the postal service before Fedex and UPS, walled garden, online access with AOL and CompuServe before the Internet, walled garden. Heck, the US private healthcare system is a walled garden, others decide what care you can and cannot get. Your motor car is a walled garden, I cannot put the BMW 3-liter diesel engine in a Nissan GTR body if I wanted to.

My Take

The argument over walled gardens is presented as one between choice and safety, between freedom and central control, between good and evil, but really it’s one about capability and trust.

Is the average person capable of surviving in the chaos and risk of the open systems world, or can they trust the curators of the walled gardens? Are they capable of changing their systems to meet their needs, and who should they trust if incapable?

The answer is simple.

If you can program and understand technology and can fix issues and can deal with malware and know what you want, open is surely better for you. You can apply your capabilities to do what you want, and be productive with open systems. To us geeks, walled gardens are restrictive, so we call them evil.

But most folks cannot program or fix issues or understand technology. Walled gardens provide a safe, comfortable environment in which they can be just as productive as us geeks. They can write or compose or draw or browse without worrying about or understanding their systems. Just like we drive without understanding how internal combustion engines work. Not only do walled gardens work for them, just look around you, they work very well. Look at the popularity and profitability of walled garden systems like iOS and Facebook and Kindle. To regular people, walled gardens are safe and good.

The thing is, even if you do use a walled garden system, you really are not limited by the walls anyway. The walls are permeable. Open a web browser and the walls cease to exist. And so does this war.

The Post-PC Future, iCloud Turns One

Apple’s iCloud service turned 1-year old on October 12, 2012. The day passed with a whimper in a tech press focussed on irrelevant issues such scratching, purple flares, maps and other Apple so-called “failures”.

I think it’s a big deal, because with iCloud, Apple may finally be getting internet services right and the post-PC era just got real for most people. And no-one seems to have noticed.

As an early adopter, though, post-PC started early for me. I had one of the early Motorola V710 phones, the ones Verizon got sued for and lost because they advertised sync on the phone, then blocked it on release. I managed to acquire the original Motorola version of the V710 operating system and installed that. Whenever the phone was within bluetooth range of my PC, I could manually sync contacts. How amazing was that, I did not need to maintain two separate address books. Surely that was the post-PC future.

That was followed by years of Blackberry ownership. The Blackberry servers at my firm ensured that my Outlook contacts, mail and calendar were available and synchronized. And I used remote access to the corporate network to synch my home data with work Outlook. It was a hassle to set up, but it worked great. Result: My contacts, calendars and mail were on all my devices without manual intervention. Surely that was the post-PC future.

At home, I signed up for iTools, which became MobileMe. I paid $99 a year to make that my hub for mail, contacts and calendars because I needed to separate work and home. Then I got my first iPhone, and MobileMe copied my contacts and calendars on setup. With that, post-PC started to become real. MobileMe grew to enable synchronization of mail, contacts, calendars, mail accounts and web bookmarks. Now my phone, work Mac, and home Mac had all the same data, with no effort. Change one, they all updated. Surely that was the post-PC future.

Then I got an iPad. My first truly post-PC device. With one login on setup, it too joined the group. By then I was getting used to assuming that all my devices would have the same data. And I was arrogant in the face of others who still struggled with separate home and work devices and manual address books. Surely that was the post-PC future.

Then, one year ago, Apple rebranded MobileMe as iCloud. They added device location, and over the year added notes, reminders and document storage and synchronization. And with iTunes Match, I moved all my music into iCloud. I purchased an iPad 3, one login and it was set up. I purchased an iPhone 5, one login and it too was set up. Even my music was available without effort. Create a presentation on the iPad, edit it on the Mac, show it on the iPhone, without having to copy the file once. Surely, this is the post-PC future.

Apple is not the only player in this space though. Google has Google Sync for Android (Mail, Contacts, Calendar) and Google Drive for storage and these services are growing into it’s version of iCloud in leaps and bounds. Buy an Android 4.0+ phone (if you can find one), one login and you’re set up. For older devices, it’s harder to set up or you can get a easy workaround using ContactSync.

Microsoft has Device Sync for it’s older Windows Phones to copy music, photos and videos over, but that requires you to plug in to computer, and they now have backup to Skydrive. They already have Outlook Sync for over the air mail, contacts and calendar as long as you use an Exchange server. It won’t be long before they brand their iCloud too, maybe in Windows 8 Phone.

But this is just the beginning. iCloud is only one year old. We still need iTunes sync for some things like videos, ringtones and books. We still need products like Dropbox to keep live files in sync (because iCloud product limits files) and we still need Time Machine drives and Backblaze to back up our remaining devices. Who knows where the geniuses at Apple, Google and Microsoft will take this kind of technology in the future as they grow their post-PC device businesses. Exciting times ahead.

I do believe that the post-PC era started with the iPad, that easy to use, take anywhere, amazing device, but it became real with iCloud. I don’t think it will be too long, whether you use iCloud or Google or Microsoft, that we’ll forget what it was like not to have all our data synched across all our devices seamlessly. Can anyone remember what it was like before mobile phones? Surely, the post-PC future gets real here and now.

Fixing Open With in OS X

If you use the Open With… contextual menu on OS X (right-click on a file in Finder), you may find a lot of applications get duplicated or are just plain wrong. This is how you reset this menu.

In my case I had this for Markdown files:

What a mess. Open a Terminal session from Applications/Utilities and type the following command:

/System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/Versions/A/Support/lsregister -kill -r -domain local -domain system -domain user

Make sure the whole thing is on a single line and wait for it to finish.

Then restart Finder. Hold the control key and the option key and right-click on the Finder icon in the dock to bring up the menu:

Click on Relaunch to restart the Finder.

Now, when you use Open With…, you get a much better list:

Note: Tested only on Mountain Lion, should work on older versions.