Our great computers fill the hallowed halls

It’s not often you’ll see me defend Apple on this blog. As a whole, Steve Jobs and his gang of merry men (here’s looking at you, Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall) are annoying in the way they create products, present those products, and immediately claim that those products are the greatest thing since sliced bread and that EVERYONE needs to get out and buy them. I’m not a huge fan of companies taking direct shots at other companies (with a few exceptions; see Verizon vs. AT&T) and the PC vs. Mac ads are a great example of classic Apple advertising: comical, but at the very least misleading and some just outright lies. (It should be noted, however, that those ads might work. I currently own an iPod 5G (with video), iPod Touch, iPod Shuffle and iPad, work every day on a MacBook pro, and have spent a small fortune on songs from the iTunes store. I’ll go stick my face in a food processor now.)

But the recent war of words and action between Apple and Adobe is a little different. A lot of the Internet is bemoaning the fact that Apple is not only blocking Flash on the iPhone OS devices, but it’s also using its admittedly Draconian App Store policy to block Flash-developed, Objective-C compiled apps because they use a third party API or SDK. I, however, am on the other side. More after the jump.

A bug by any other name

I ran across this post today on TechCrunch (er, sorry, I guess it was on MobileCrunch). For those uninterested in reading the full article, I’ll speak a little bit about the bug, which has the potential to be very costly. Basically, the article states that when you’re viewing a motion-JPEG (a video format based on JPEG photos – often found in digital cameras or security cameras) file in Safari on the iPhone and then closing Safari, the browser actually stays open. Mobile Safari will continue to use up bandwidth as it loads the motion-JPEG at the specified interval, and if you’re on a pay-per-megabyte-downloaded plan, you could foot the bill for thousands of dollars.

The article kind of justifies this bug. After all, it states, it doesn’t affect you if you’re on an unlimited plan (because hey, if you have all that extra bandwidth, why not waste it?) and it only seems to occur if you’re viewing a motion-JPEG (which isn’t the most common file format, but it’s not unused either). So, fine. It’s a bug, it doesn’t really affect a ton of people that greatly, oh well, right?

Wrong.

The first comment on the article:

How is this a bug?

The website refreshes…it’s not apples fault the person would have a crazy bill, it’s the user for not closing out the page.

And here’s the real beauty of making an Apple product. No matter how bad it sucks, no matter what kind of problems it has, Apple users defend Apple products like they’re defending their children. This attitude either stems from or causes Apple’s ridiculous arrogance about its own products. (For an example, check out any of Apple’s recent commercials for any of their products.)

I’ll address the commercial first. Here’s the thing. Apple’s made a good operating system. It didn’t happen overnight. If you think this operating system has been rock solid from day one, look again. If you remember, OS X only really started even getting stable at around 10.3, and it got good at around 10.4. The OS has been really a work in progress since 2001, and it’s had its share of problems. That’s not to mention Mac OS 9 and below, whose codebase was, for all intensive purposes, abandoned when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy in the late nineties. But that’s an argument for another day.

Let’s get one thing straight: when you close a program, it should close completely or give you some indication that it’s still open: in OS X, an open program is a shiny light under the icon in your Dock, in Windows it appears in your taskbar or system tray, etc. ┬áNot only does Safari not give you any feedback that it’s remaining open, it’s the only application on the iPhone to do so. It’s far from expected behavior, and when using an electronic device, users prefer devices that they can guess what’s going to happen based on their actions.

If any users get a bill in the triple digits (in some cases, as noted in the article, over $3000 for an hour of unknown downloading), Apple should pay it themselves. This isn’t user error. It’s either by design (for whatever reason), or it’s a bug. Apple should fix it.

Already standing on the ground

So I’m writing today for one reason, and one reason only: because it is too cold to walk back to my apartment. Yes, despite global warming’s best efforts, it is 10 degrees outside, with -6 degree windchill. People always think global warming is such a bad thing; I think the grass is always greener on the other side. Except in this case, of course, because the other side is a world with no global warming and thus another ice age, apparently.

  • Barack Obama’s inauguration (which is next Tuesday, finally. Doesn’t it seem like this whole coronation has been going on for years?) is going to cost a lot of money. For those too lazy to read the article, the figure is $160 million, according to this and a few other sources. (Interestingly enough, you can’t find a cost of the inauguration anywhere on CNN, NYTimes, etc. Weird, eh?) For a nation with an economy that “is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression,” this seems a little excessive, particularly when the same Democrats who are okay with this huge party were not in the same free-spending mood when Bush took office in 2004.

    The whole attitude with Obama taking office really disturbs me. Not only is CNN covering Obama’s rise to power like ESPN covered the Boston Celtics and New England Patriots last season (“Isn’t it great kids? Now you know that all it takes to have a winning team is millions and millions of dollars and a league that gives you the calls you need to win!”), but it’s almost like the nation is at a standstill while we wait for Obama to take office. And why wouldn’t we be, when when he states that all we need to do is wait and the government will bail us out?

    The attitude should be completely different: if you’re down and out, work your way up. If you’re at the top, think of the people who are down and out and make sure you keep working so you stay up. I think the biggest stereotype of conservatives is that we don’t care about the people who are less fortunate than us. This is completely untrue: instead, we rely on ourselves and our churches and our communities to help out the less fortunate when they need it, instead of waiting for the government to do it. And unlike the government, we expect that our resources are used wisely, not squandered away before getting in line for the next check.

  • In other “one-guy-is-treated-as-a-savior-when-really-he’s-not-all-that-great” news, Steve Jobs is taking a leave of absence from Apple. Coupled with modest sales in the holiday season, Apple is now without its leader at least until June (but who knows).
  • It’s really cold outside. Like, really really cold.
  • I don’t really follow the Cavs much, but its hard not to notice their impressive start: 30-6, after Tuesday’s win in Memphis. It would be really nice if LeBron stayed in Cleveland, but I honestly don’t see it. One benefit of the NBA vs. MLB, however, is the salary cap: LeBron, the Cavs, the Knicks, the Celtics, etc. know that there is an absolute ceiling, so if LeBron is able to win the eastern conference with the Cavs this year (or maybe win it all) he’ll know that Cleveland gives him one of the better (if not best) shot at being a perennial contender.

    As an aside, I recently attended a Cavs game for the first time in a couple years (last Wednesday, against the Bobcats). It’s a completely different experience than any baseball game I’ve ever been to; baseball games, I think, let you just kind of blend in and enjoy the game, where the Cavs game (and maybe all basketball games in general) are constantly fighting to keep you engaged in the game. I have no problem watching the game with my full attention, but I don’t particularly like being shot at with T-shirts every timeout. And I think this is mostly a function of being in a smaller space indoors, but I left the Cavs game with a headache.

  • Expect my pre-season report on the Indians soon, including my projected starting lineups, rotations and bullpens.

I think that’s all from the frozen tundra that is Cleveland, Ohio. Hope you’re all staying warm, wherever you are, and it’s good to be back in the blogosphere.

DRM-free downloads for everyone!*

Everyone seems to be really excited about Apple finally announcing that songs in iTunes will now be DRM-free. I’m not.

To start, let’s review what DRM is. DRM, or digital rights management, is a nasty little bugger that prevents you from listening to songs that you don’t have rights to listen to. Additionally, it prevents you from listening to songs that you feel you DO have rights to listen to (because, you know, you BOUGHT them). Apple’s iTunes Store has had DRM since its inception, largely because the labels (understandably) didn’t want one person to simply buy the music and then share it on KaZaa for everyone to download.

A couple years ago, Apple introduced “iTunes Plus”, a special upgrade for some songs that would supposedly have no DRM, and better sound quality. Initially, these special songs were $1.29, $.30 more expensive than the normal song. A couple months later, Apple announced that the iTunes Plus versions would be available at the normal price for artists who chose to release their songs like that.

Then, conveniently, for you, me and everyone who had ever bought a song before, we were offered a chance to “upgrade” our previously-downloaded songs to iTunes Plus at the low low price of $.30 a song (and $3.00 an album). What a deal, right? So now, Phil Schiller (just think of him as Steve Jobs plus a couple hundred pounds and a lot less charisma) comes out an announces that the entire iTunes library would soon become DRM-free, and that the same deal would apply for every artist: you could upgrade your existing library for about 30% of what you paid for it.

First of all, what is this crap about making us pay an extra 30% for a song we’ve already bought? That song is MINE. I bought it. Apple is fixing a “mistake” or imperfection with the system, and we’re expected to foot the bill? That’s absolute garbage. For someone like me, who has made quite an investment in the iTunes Store, 30% of your money spent to upgrade is no small figure (for me, it’s $106.78), and there’s no way to do it in pieces either: it’s one-click, and poof, the upgrade occurs.

I guess that means it downloads new copies of each song? That’s a brilliant move. A couple years ago there was a piece of software called the Hymn Project that was available for free and would strip all your downloaded music of its DRM, leaving you a completely anonymous, free MP3 file. In typical Apple fashion, instead of using what is out there and let the problem solve itself, the Hymn Project got served with a DMCA takedown, and here we are, a couple years later, and iTunes gets to serve over 100 billion new song upgrades.

But wait, you say. You don’t have to upgrade, do you? It’s a completely optional purchase, your existing music works. I guess you could say that, for a while. But instead of seeing this as Apple just spreading the musical love (Steve Jobs would play a certain Beatles song about friends right now), I’m seeing this as Apple downsizing, and not wanting to worry about DRM anymore. Sometime in the future, not this year, and not next year, Apple will release an announcement that there’s a brand-new iPod that will only work with DRM-free files, not the ones that you and I downloaded until this keynote. That’ll force you to upgrade, or lose your music.

Why? Because as consumers, we will. What’s the other option, buying it all again?

I’m definitely a proponent of buying your music, but I cannot stand how many hoops I have to jump through for doing the right thing. People who illegally download MP3s don’t have this issue. They also don’t have the issue of not being able to play their natively in Linux, or on my XBox 360.

Here’s the message: if you want people to do the right thing, don’t punish them for doing so. Make the upgrades free. If something like this happens again, I’ll either take my business elsewhere or I’ll just start downloading music too.

(And P.S.: it’s not completely DRM-free – according to Slashdot, iTunes Plus files still have personal identifiers which prevent you from sharing safely. While this issue is not as reprehensible as the others I mentioned, it’s a problem that we have to put personal information in files that do not require them. Hymn Project didn’t have this problem, so clearly the technology exists.)

And Apple: please, please, please, fix iTunes. All it would take is testing on one or two Windows machines every once in a while to determine that the performance makes iTunes unusable. When you have better programs such as Winamp, Songbird, and even WMP performing better, it’s no wonder you’re having problems getting people to buy music.