Thu 05 Jun 2003
The Blind Spot
Category : Commentary/blindspot.txt
As my friend observed, the Chinese in China have focused, almost exclusively, on Intel or AMD-based PCs running Windows. Macs and even Open Source software have rarely figured on their radar.
But I believe they may be missing something big here.
If you look at OS X, you will see that most of the best and biggest things happening here are Open Source software. Apple didn't create Apache, Java, Sendmail, PHP, Perl, Samba, OpenSSL, etc. which are the mainstays of the operating environment. Even the operating system, Darwin, is Open Source.
What Apple did was to glue everything together, including creating the crucial pieces that transformed the system from geek-toy to something even your grandmother could use. Apple's genius is in hardware design, building wonderfully integrated systems that are a joy to use. It is telling that, while most PC users look upon their PC as just a utility tool, most Mac users love their Macs.
I believe the future will favour integrated tools. It's a natural progression. Just look at cars. In the beginning, you needed to be a mechanic to drive a car. Now, who wants to be bothered having to peer inside the hood each time you drive a car. The best cars need zero maintenance.
Same with video cameras. In fact, any consumer product. While people used to bang up their own PCs, how many people actually build their own laptop or notebook computers? Portable computer sales have overtaken desktop computer sales. Computers are morphing into consumer products and the best ones work like a Sony or an iBook - sleek, small, powerful, quiet and mobile.
The point I am getting at is that the Chinese can learn more from Apple than from Microsoft. Learn how to take things legally open in the public domain, and re-configure them to things of greater value, which you will get paid for, rather than simply lifting stuff you haven't paid for.
Use Open Source tools because they're legally free. Use the chance to learn how other people write databases, network layers, web servers, because the source code is open. Study Lindows. Couple it with their own emerging capability to build hardware cheaply.
I think the Internet is like a public road. Vendors like Apple make cars like BMWs. The Chinese could start by making a Skoda, which can get successively refined, like today's Octavia or Fabia. One day it'll morph into Lexus. But the point is that we need not be simply users, letting Redmond suck in all the profits, but also be creators, to suck it all back. One day. At least there's hope.
I believe Microsoft's current domination is an aberration. The world has learnt from it. Nobody now is foolish enough to let another vendor create a proprietary de-facto platform and thereby squeezing the future profits out of everybody else. Everybody is going to insist that standards are open, non-proprietary, and neutral. More like a public road. It'll be great to see innovation return in the form of a variety of well-integrated computing machines - so you choose whether you want to drive the Porsche or the Yugo. Apple has shown that this alternative model of computing is quite possibly profitable.
A View from Chengdu
Category : Commentary/chengdu.txt
I've got permission from my friend in Chengdu to reproduce a part of what he wrote me, in the context of a discussion we had on the merits of the Mac vs the PC. But that's not what I want to focus on. What we have here is the view, from another pair of eyes, of the relation between Chinese University kids and their computers.
And that's why we read, right? We can't be everywhere. We read to leaven our experiences with other people's observations. The truth is usually somewhere in-between.
"Walking round the computer shops here... tell you what I see... you know people here are poor, not all university kids can afford new computers (or even computers at all). Sometimes 4 kids combine to buy parts for a PC in their hostel (sleeping 8 students to a room), or 1 kid would skimp together enough money to buy 2nd or 3rd hand parts for a machine.
"In the 2nd hand computer shops, Intel and AMD cpu's are piled in trays like chocolate chip cookies, old motherboards stacked up like magazines. The parts are generally dusty, scratched, dented, but they (in general) work. It's a beat up universe, and very democratic somehow. The idea that a Chinese farm kid in his dirty hostel room, has a dusty little box, with its side open, wires sticking out, staring at his little 15 inch screen; and this little box probably has more computing power than that giant Intergraph we had when we were at NUS in the 80's. The idea of that is beautiful, more than any nice packaging or slick OS look and feel... I ask them if they'd ever considered MACS and I get loud laughter. 'Who can afford it?', they reply."