Sat 13 Mar 2004
Category : Commentary/blackelk.txt
I don't where I first discovered it, but I've always liked this poetic rendition of the words of Black Elk (Chapter 1 of Black Elk Speaks).
"How it is made, and what it means." I thought about this while re-reading my last post - about how we don't think enough about the meaning of the tools we are using.
I'm thinking about events of ten years ago, about an organisation I had worked for, and the proposal paper that was written to standardise the organisation on Windows, which ultimately sounded the death knell for Mac, in this and in so many other organisations. I was thinking about how that paper was written on a Mac, and how it got through a few management levels, many of whom were also using the Mac to read, edit, and approve it.
When the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, we have a clinical term for it - schizophrenia.
I don't really know who - except for a few people I know - really reads this weblog. But I write to untangle my own thoughts, and to see where I ought to be going.
I'm writing about how we don't reconcile what we are saying, and what we think we believe in, with what we're really doing. The management books are full of "delighting the customer", creating "stark raving fans", "building things to last", doing things "the right way", thinking "creatively", thinking "out of the box", "teaching elephants to dance", "passion for excellence", and "taking the path less traveled".
But the gurus don't seem to be able to recognise what they are writing in praise of, even when it hits them on the head.
Somewhere, along the line, we've got to reconcile all these. And think things through, if we are not to be humbug.
The problem with espousing these ideals and thinking out loud is that people may come along and try to make you live up to those ideals, to serve their own ends. For example, when they want help with their Mac. Or want support, free or otherwise, to the ends of the earth, for the things I've put up? Hey, after all the things you said in your 'blog. That's the danger. But we've got to move on. Like how the Vietnam War vets took to saying, "it don't mean nothin".
Writing is a good way to clarify one's thoughts, and to take part in shaping the emerging worldview (the Weltanschauung). And when it stops being fun, it should stop.
The Alternative Model
Category : Commentary/alternativemodels.txt
Rob Enderle wrote the following reply to a reader of his article about "Apple's Competitive Advantage" :
"Microsoft grasped the core dynamic that was going to define the industry first and Apple never got it. They, like IBM, wanted to do both software and hardware and both firms lost as a result. Apple, who arguably created the first real PC, and IBM who defined the most popular version, are both shadows of what they should be against firms that are more specialized and often far less creative."
Yet, in his article, Enderle had also said, "Apple's designs are, well, elegant. There is no better word for it. Sony and Toshiba can come close at times, but, on average, Apple has the best-designed hardware from an aesthetics point of view of any vendor."
So how could we believe both statements to be true? We could believe that computing devices can be, architecturally, both open and closed at the same time - like the Mac (an attractive, proprietary, custom-built interface wrapped around platform-neutral Open Source parts). We could also believe that Apple's designs are elegant precisely because Apple is able to control the way its hardware and software come together, in a way that Dell can't. But it is not clear why we should believe that an admittedly well-made product is doomed to failure just because it doesn't conform to the ideological model that the analysts have in their heads?
The way Apple chose to do their technology has rewarded them with a famously loyal customer base. And, except for the periods where they had poor management - which could justifiably lead one to believe that the problem was poor execution rather than the wrong concept - Apple has always been profitable.
So, why the air of inevitability, whenever an analyst intones about the might of Microsoft's "model" - of flat, layered architectures controlled by Microsoft?
I believe that Apple's diametrically opposed model - vertical integration of industry-standard platform-neutral software layers (as opposed to Microsoft-centric ones) - is not only as viable as Microsoft's. It is also of more relevance to an age where the ability to produce small, portable, stylish yet useful, information-driven devices is the defining skill for new companies and economies to emulate. Here, the ability to decide what to leave out, is just as important as the decision about what to put in.
That's the importance of watching the war currently being waged over the iPod and the iTunes Music Software. If Apple wins this war, and holds on to its market share, even as it is stubbornly holding on to its notion of building both the hardware and the software, then it will destroy the purity of the model that the analysts have worshipped for ages, which justified the existence of all those mediocre Windows-based PCs.
I believe that neither Apple nor Microsoft has a monopoly on ideas about how we could use computers and other information-based devices. But if Apple's model can succeed, then it will inspire other aspirants to exploit the same idea - take all these Open Source parts and make them work even better than Apple has done. Apple's model leaves room for others to compete. Not so, Microsoft's. Computer architectures are a lot more subtle than the simplistic model people like Rob Enderle and Charles Ferguson have room in their heads for. (Jim Carlton had to use a Mac to write his tome celebrating the fall of Apple. Would he have had the time, focus, and energy to find the right turn of phrase to turn the screws on Apple, if he had been writing all that on a PC? In other words, if he had to be "a rocket scientist of system administration"?)
The question is: whom do we wish to serve? Ironically, cheering on Apple doesn't mean we're Apple-groupies, and cheering on Microsoft doesn't mean we are rooting for the "industry". To me, it is always the other way around, and I hope I've managed to articulate why. We should be rooting for computers that work better, and for better competition (at the very least better than Dell). I think we have a better chance with Apple's model, than with Microsoft's.