Proprietary vs Open Source – who cares? Consumers don’t.

In technical circles we love to have these propeller head debates.  Should code be shared?  What about the right to make a fortune off of ones intellectual property? Then there are patents to be protected.  How do I license my open source code?  How should I license my code?  Which governing technical bodies should I listen to?  It is like a love fest for lawyers  I will try and break this down into layman’s terms and then explain to everyone why you should not care.  As consumers do not treat technical folks like a deity.

Proprietary:  This is where the company owns everything soup to nuts and has control on what developers, engineers can access in terms of source code.  The most proprietary is Apple as they literally own everything from hardware design to the software.  Microsoft often is called closed but one of the reasons for it’s success in the early days of the PC industry was licensing it’s operating system to every hardware maker who was building a personal computer. Developers got access to part’s of Windows not the whole thing.  This is what made Open Source advocates so hateful towards Microsft as they want access to all the source code.  The advantage of these proprietary models is if you look at the balance sheets of these two companies today financial clout is not an issue.  These companies will be around for along time to provide high levels of supports to their respective communities.  Despite calls by some to make their trades secrets free to everyone cash is king.

Open Source:  Really the brain child of a Finnish engineer named Linus Torvald’s and his Linux operating system.  There are others but for now we will focus on Mr Torvalds’s community model.The code is posted on the internet and anyway can make additions or changes to the underlying source code.  Provided Linus approves it.  I find it ironic that this so called democracy is run like a dictatorship.  The advantage of Open Source in is you can tap into the talents of thousands of software engineers.  It creates an abundance of innovation and their is nothing better to get a software developer motivated then a technical challenge, which there is an abundance of in open source forums.  It’s free and easy to get access to what you need, which to me is why open source has really appealed to the aspiring developers on the planet.

Now that we have that brief explanation behind us, should you Mr or Mrs consumer care?  Absolutely not.  Let those techno losers go have their fun in tweetle dee and tweetle dumb land.  All you want is technology that works for you.  If Product A (let’s say a iPhone) is better than Product B (A Windows Mobile 6.5 Phone) or Product C (one of those Motorola Linux Phones) you will gladly pay more for Product A.  Why not?  It’s your choice.  I really highly doubt the source code model factored into the purchase.  To those who say sales and marketing do not matter I think they are misguided individuals.  Great Technology and great Sales and Marketing go hand in hand.  Apple in my opinion has done a great job in creating very accessible technology while conveying the message that the technology is colorful and fun and a part of an individuals lifestyle.  The Android folks have gone a bit more technical in their approach but still have been able to partner with companies to make cool consumer devices while providing a  dynamic ecosystem.

Throughout my career I have seen and listened to numerous propeller heads go through their wiz bang demos. Everyone seemed to have a higher purpose.  Sometimes I would look on in amazement as some technical wizard would show me a mobile demo (pre iPhone) and say how cool it is they could look up and find a cool bar on their phone while on the golf course.  It sure was cool to watch that person click ten times and after each click wait 30-45 seconds for the page to load.  In the end the demo took 5-6 minutes.  Time in my life that I will never get back but the memory of the useless mobile app lingers.  We tend to use the term “main street” America too much and too loosely these days.  But I think if we were to start trying to create a definition we could probably agree that the person that represents main street America is not a technologist.

At the end of the day people want items that add value to their lives.  Sometimes that value can be concrete like a automotive vehicle.  It gets me from point A to B in a manor that is useful to me.  That same item though can be purchased on emotional appeal.  I want the Ferrari for what it says about my importance in society.  The latter is hard to quantify and even harder to program for.  But one thing is clear in either scenario no one cares how it is made, it just needs to work.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 25, 2011

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The Rape of Nanking

I do a lot of reading. and in particular history, in part because as I read I find references to other books that capture my interest that I should read.  I just love the journey reading takes me on.  Thus far I have shunned doing too many book reviews but as part of my journey I recently read “The Rape of Nanking” by Iris Change.  It is a powerful and disturbing book.  The events covered take place in Nanking, China in 1937 and covers one of the worst war atrocities in the  history of mankind.  Unfortunately to most of the western world it is one that has been largely forgotten in the passage of time.  At the same time when you hear about hostility between China and Japan in the media, this historical event helps explain a lot of the animosity between these two global economic powers.  A note to readers I will try to be delicate as possible when discussing what took place in Nanking, but in some instances to portray history that may not be possible. Consider this your reader beware notice.

Japan at the time wanted it’s place on the global stage as a word power.  The conquest of China was a primary objective of the Japanese empire, though we often think the second world war started when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 te reality was war was already waging in other parts of the world.  Following the fall of Shanghai the Japanese marched onward towards the ancient Chinese capital of Nanking.  At the time it was also the capital for the Chinese nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek.  Despite an overwhelming superiority in numbers the Chinese would flee and surrender rather meekly to their conquerors.  There was no valiant last stand, no great battle,if they had known what was to follow they would have fought until the last man stood. The date was December 12, 1937 when Nanking fell.  Many people fled the city, however their were still over 600,000 people left in Nanking.  When all was said and done after 6 weeks only half of them would survive to live another day.

When the Chinese surrendered it meant a great many Chinese soldiers were left to surrender to their Japanese conquerors.  In some descriptions it created both logistical and  budgetary issues and the Japanese were not willing to own up to  this new responsibility.  So they decided to forgo the Geneva convention, deciding that mass execution would be the easier route to go. The captured soldiers by all accounts had no idea what was going to take place. At first the Chinese soldiers were separated into smaller more manageable groups. They were then taken to a smaller more private setting where they were executed and dumped into the Yangtze, mass graves etc..It was all very systematic at first but along the way a certain madness seemed to take hold of the Japanese Military and it seemed to become more sport as they would have “games” to see how fast they could decapitate a human.  We have all probably seen photo’s of military personal practicing on human dummies, but in Nanking the practice was horrific in its reality.  Bayonet practice was a game where you would tie up a prisoner and let the soldier repeatedly use their weapon on a live human being.  Other events were decapitation.  How fast could a Japanese soldier decapitate a Chinese prisoner.  As bodies littered the streets and rivers of Nanking, the city became literally a sea of red.  A blood lust had overcome of the Japanese military stationed in Nanking.

The woman endured perhaps the worst having to be subjected to repeated rapes by groups of Japanese soldiers.  They hid, they were found, they were raped, and then either butchered or left for not.  Age did not matter, nor if they were pregnant. It did not matter where or who was present.  Adolescent girls were raped until they could not stand.   Old woman would die as their withered bodies could only withstand so much. There was an international safety zone in Nanking where they could  be in peace, but that did not last long as Japanese soldiers were constantly trying to break in and drag off woman.  The people leading the safety zone were being woken at all times of both day and night, having to rescue Chinese woman from being dragged off by Japanese soldiers.  Nanking is believed to be the second largest case of mass rape in human history, behind the rape of Bangladesh woman in 1971.

There was one savior in all this madness.  It leads to one of those odd paradoxes in history.  It was a German named Jonathan Rabe, besides being German, he was a staunch supporter of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler.  As events occurred he would lead the International Safety Zone in Nanking.  He would confront the Japanese who tried to remove or simply take Chinese citizens from the compound.  He used the fact of the burgeoning relationship between Germany and Japan to try to stop the savagery that was taking place but it would only slow the Japanese, but it would not stop them. He was on call 24/7 and would stay during the duration of the massacre.  The noted German Oscar Schindler saved thousands of Jews from Auschwitz. It is estimated that Jonathan Rabe saved the lives of over 250,000 Chinese men, woman and children.  When he returned to Germany he tried to get an audience with Adolf Hitler to discuss the atrocities in Nanking.  He was unsuccessful and would fall into poverty in Germany.  Years later when his plight was discoverer din Nanking, the people of Nanking sent food, clothes and whatever else they could get to help their patron saint, Jonathan Rabe.

Following the war the greatest criminal act was the lack of historical recognition in Japan and not owning up to the incidents that occurred in Nanking.  Many of the war criminals, in fact most never stood trial.  They would go home to Japan and live out the rest of their lives in peace and harmony, with only their conscience to confront.  There would be no Simon Wiesenthal to continue the fight for justice, because most of the world did not know.  If you do not know you do not care, in the case of Nanking that is an insult and tragedy to those lost and those who survived.

Why tell this story?  Because though there are genocides we know of such as the Holocaust,the Killing Fields, the genocide of Rawanda, there are many that get lost in the passage of time.  It would almost be nice if it were just the ones we knew about but man is not that kind.  For every murder we hear about there are a thousand that go unnoticed in our daily lives.  The same can be said for genocide.  The massacre of Armenians by the Turks in the first World War.  The purges of Stalin behind the iron curtain that would cost the lives of millions of people in the Soviet Union.  Ruthless dictators like Idi Amin, the Shah of Iran, Mao Tse Tung etc..all in the name of what?  The people?  It was never about them, but a few men who decided the fate of millions.  As we move forward in this young century we have not seen the mass genocide of years gone take root yet, but we do see madness in our societies.  Small pockets festering and being reported each and every day.  Where will that lead us?  As Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “To forget a holocaust is to murder twice”,  This is why Nanking is still important and why its history should continue to be shared.  Otherwise the murderers will not be those who commit, but those who forget.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 19, 2011

The Death of the Operating System Revisited

Part of the joy of writing a technology focused blog is seeing where you are and are your predictions on the path to reality, or at least bits and pieces.  Which brings me to a piece I wrote  9 months ago titled “Death of the Operating System“. We could probably tie this also to my last post on the Tablet as they seem mutually inter-twined.  It is amazing what has happened in that short amount of time, but I see no reason to alter my previous projection, which is the desktop OS as we know it will is slowly dying unless the folks in Redmond make some radical change in direction.  Three things in my view continue to drive this monumental change: The Cloud (web), mobility and interactivity.

Not a day goes by where we do not hear something about thee cloud.  Either directly or indirectly.  Some services are designed for the cloud and though the desktop is still useful the cloud is where all the action is.  There are enterprise apps where you have a browser interface and access content stored,  only god knows where on the planet.   An example would be SalesForce.Com which is fast becoming the premier Customer Relationship management system (CRM).  All data resides in the cloud, nothing is loaded on your desktop.   There are also plenty of consumer based applications, some you might say “I did not know that was a cloud application”, but Facebook and Twitter certainly fall in that category.  Try finding your friends profile on your desktop…not there.  it is somewhere on the planet just not in your house or office.

Then there is mobility.  We all want to be free to be productive where we want and when we want,  We do not want to lug a heavy laptop around that we need to sit down, flip open the monitor, press a bunch of keys and that is just to boot up (wait 3 minutes).  We want the device to be in in an instant so we can start doing whatever it is we need to do.  We want longer battery life as we may not be near a power outlet for sometime.  We may want to pass around our device and have it be user friendly for our friends.  We want to be connected, just not by a cord.  We are a society on the go, moving at an ever increasing pace.  The beauty of mobility is it allows us to live.

Finally there is interacting with our devices.  The idea of sitting down at a desk and using a mouse is just not that attractive anymore.  The tablets we have today in the market are all touch screen driven.  Most phones today are touch screen (thank you…Apple).  People are flicking their fingers as fast as they can rather than struggling to find where their mouse pointer is on the screen.Next up I can foresee better voice interaction with our devices. It has been around for a while, it just has not been very good.  How we interact seems to be more and more an extension of our physical presence.

In the end it is not so much about what is the “best” OS, but what enables life’s experience.  It’s not that the operating system is dead, but we need to think of it differently.  There will be no “Windows 95” moment.  That is dated and will not happen again.  There are some who keep waiting for it, but they will be left shuddering in the cold rain, what hey wait for is something called nostalgia  There are going to be lots of breakthroughs in technology in the near future, but as I highlighted they will be in the cloud, in mobility and in the end user’s satisfactory experience, they will enable freedom and they will be fun!!

In titling this “The Death of the Operating Systems” I may be misleading the reader a bit.  I am not saying that you will no longer need an operating systems, but maybe more accurately you don’t care about the operating system.  Though an integral part of enabling the experience no one spends time in their “operating system”.  People spend time on Facebook or writing lengthy blogs that millions of people read (or maybe 10 people read).  Technology has become a great form of self expression.  What the desktop provides is a window to the web or the network (remember the network is the computer?).  To the Facebook, Twitter or whatever experience you want.  The desktop enables these end user experiences but in the end it is not the final result.  There would be those that it would be wise to understand this current phenom or perish in its every increasing velocity.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 11, 2011

Paul Allen and Bill Gates

Paul Allen recently released his book “The Idea Guy”.  I have not read this book, but can already see that it is going to generate a lot of buzz just based on some of the comments about his high school friend and co-founder at Microsoft Bill Gates. Many of them seems very vindictive and paint a poor portrait of Mr. Gates.  I can see the interest on multiple levels.  One being that they are the best of friends and agree on everything.  the second being, unlike Bill Gates, you rarely hear anything come from the mouth of Paul Allen.  Nothing sells lie a break-up.  For him to speak, let alone in this manor, is kind of ground breaking news.  Given that thee two men are local to me and I worked at Microsoft for 18 years allow me to comment and peal back the layers of the onion at a distance.

Paul Allen is quite a bit different from Bill.  First some of the interest will be that he is an introverted character.  You never hear of a speech by Paul or rarely do you see him interviewed.  .  Unlike Bill who was always visible to the public eye  projecting the future of what technology will be and what it will deliver, you never, even in writing, saw much of the mind of Paul Allen on the subject.  His post Microsoft career in technology has been a bit all over the map.  He his the major shareholder in Cable provider Charter Communications, a true dud of a company.  He had a company called Assymetrix, never really did much.  In fact most of the noise he has made has been away from the tech sector.

There was mentioned the issue of his involvement at Microsoft and how much or how little he contributed.  He did coin the  name, Micro-Soft so he will always be able to hang his hat on that .  He and Bill created the BASIC programming language.  But as the article pointed out Bill always had majority control, which seems to hint at Paul’s not standing up to Bill (looking at photos of Bill from this era is kind of comical), when Bill said it should be a 60-40 split, then 64-36 split and he agreed without much of a fight, well it was costly, but he is still worth $15  billion so my tears shall be limited on the subject.  There was the one area of concern, where after he was diagnosed with cancer that he overheard Bill and Steve Balmer discussing that Paul was not pulling hos weight and maybe they should force him out.  Paul confronted them.  The national press seems to stop there, but the Seattle Times did note that both Steve and Bill apologized after the incident.

Even though Paul Allen was 8 years removed from Microsoft when I joined, I always felt that his being forced to leave Microsoft due to his illness was a “blessing” (I say this very carefully and do not mean to minimize or disrespect the trauma brought by cancer to families).  After he recovered from hodgkins disease he explored his passions.  He had the money to do it as well.  Unlike Bill, Paul Allen is not a type “A” personality driven by a singular goal.  That is apparent by all that he has done in the community.  He built the Experience Music Project (EMP) from his love of music an din particular Jimi Hendrix.  He collects art, and having seen his collection at the EMP it is impressive (Manet, Monet, Picasso, etc..),  He owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. Though his technology investments have faired poorly, his Real Estate investments have done very well.  He restored the train station in Seattle.  He has a huge yacht. In short the guy is living.

From what I read there is more focus in the book on his sports clubs and other activities then his days at Microsoft, but the bits about Microsoft make for good press fodder.  A really interesting book would be Paul or Bill writing about the early days.  I have no doubt that it was very passionate and very intense.  It was all the talk in the halls at Microsoft about the intensity of the early days, where screaming matched could erupt in the hallway at anytime.  As Paul said  in the book you could have a screaming match with Bill but as long as you held your ground and could back up your argument that was fine. When you here about companies like Google or Facebook being intense environments you hear a lot of similar stories, they are all just following the path and the format that Microsoft created.  A big contributor to that model of success was a friendship forged at Lakeside High School in the early 70’s between Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 31, 2011