Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tech fanboyism


This was a reply to the Terry Zink post that became far too long for the MSDN comments section (what a surprise :-)).

As someone who has spent the last 10-odd years coding and administering at least 50% of my time on the MS stack, I can say that there are a number of great things about many of the products and environments offered. Particularly in recent years, the performance and sophistication, not to mention security, of many MS products have overtaken other products and represent excellent ROI. However, I don't believe this is because MS management wanted to make great products, I believe it is because, through hard work and innovation, other companies were able to get around MS's rabidly anti-competitive practices and put pressure back on MS to innovate. MS has been fined billions of $£€ (cumulated) for anti-competitive business practices in many places around the world. A lot of MS products also suck...

When the Apple renaissance started about a decade ago with the introduction of a *nix-based system (based on the open-source BSD!!!), I thought it was great. Darwin was provided to the community and we might just get an open-source system with good device support, I said to myself. Later on they adopted the khtml engine and rebranded to webkit, providing a third, truly viable HTML layout engine. The extra competition would allow innovation to leap forward, particularly with the resources of Apple and later Google. And then Apple's true colours started to emerge. Patent bombs started being thrown around and they turned to their lawyers instead of their tech teams. This was Microsoft/Oracle type behaviour! Forget innovation, let's use the lawyers instead! "Hey, we invented the touchscreen, give us money", "hey, we invented multi-touch, give us money". Yeah right... The final nail in the coffin for me was learning about Steve Job's "Mercedes manoeuvre". Any able-bodied billionaire who uses a legal loophole not only to park in parking spots for people with lives far more difficult than his, but also to AVOID PAYING THE FINE is going to get as little of my money as humanly possible. This in spite of the fact that he would probably my hero for his carpenter quote - the passion to constantly push the boundaries in search of perfection is something that resonates on a very deep level with me.

In my personal situation, Facebook is probably the closest example of what you are talking about. While I am quite sensitive to/aware of privacy issues, I am willing to accept the benefits and I understand the costs. I choose to partake of this new world of ultra-connectivity and zero privacy. I was probably one of the first hundred million or so users but recently actually "closed down" (I know, not really possible) my account for quite a while. Ostensibly it was in protest at Facebook's lack of respect for privacy and the fact that basically your data, once you put it on their systems, becomes THEIRS. In reality it was fanboy behaviour - Google was coming out with G+ and I wanted them to succeed.

So I'm a Google fanboy. Why? Because of a couple of things, one being "Do no evil". While they do plenty of evil, having that as a guiding principle says a lot about the values of management and the company. The second reason is that, in most areas at least, Google competes mainly through simply being better. They have the "we don't need patents/lawyers to protect our work, we are innovating so fast that by the time the competition works out how to copy us we're already 2 generations ahead" attitude. They have their share of secrecy. They have their share of privacy issues. They have their share of quality issues. They have their share of product management issues. But they are also staunch supporters of FOSS in many areas, and I believe that FOSS is fundamentally a tool that can be used to address many of the radical economic differences we see in countries around the world. After all, if only rich people/countries get access to the best tech, they will stay rich and the poor will stay poor. It's very complicated but for me there is truth in this.

But other companies do more in open-source, like Oracle, for example. Yep, but they are also probably worse than Apple on patents, and there is no altruism in their business practices whatsover (proof that FOSS is not just for "commies"!). IBM? Yeah, they are Ok but also are heavily invested in patents and they no longer really make consumer devices, so it's hard to be a fanboy...

Things also change. Not only have my anti-MS rants softened markedly (and your posts are honestly a factor in that!) over the past few years, in some areas I actually really want MS to succeed - I think having three or more viable mobile eco-systems will benefit us all. Now that MS is being forced to compete on the merits of their products, great things are starting to happen again. I am also getting completely fed up with Google's America-is-all-that-really-counts attitude. A lot of products are released first in the US and often don't make it outside there for months or years, if at all. They make absolutely NO attempt to communicate this until you've already got excited about it. You feel they have that good ol' "Europe, oh shucks, sorry folks, we can't support all of the Canadian provinces at this time". Amazon is also bad like this. Apple and MS at least make a good attempt and often do a very good job at doing global releases. Though I haven't followed their tech much, Facebook seem to only do global (at least for what is visible to the casual consumer), and I recently reactivated my account - I still don't like their interface or privacy policies but it is a useful service so why not...

Yes, we all need to feel part of a tribe. This is a deep psychological need that has evolved over the last million or so years. It is part of being human. We now live in massive, impersonal cities and in this context sharing things like sports teams and brands performs an essential function in how we interact on a basic level. But there are also rational parts to these (ok, not so much with sports teams...) and I reject that these are always ex post facto. Many people are not quite as stupid or ignorant as many think and there are genuine VALUE decisions being made. Google better represents my values than the alternatives, and on certain issues I feel deeply enough about social, economic and technical issues that push me to strongly reject some of the participants. But like everything actually real in the world as opposed the abstract constructions of the ivory towers, it's actually all rather shades of grey than black and white...

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