The Breakfast Club (Breaking Netscape)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgYeah, usually I’m the first and last guy to break format.  The first because I need something that suits my style and the last because once you’ve set up something that works, why fix it?

Today I find myself caught between conflicting forces.  I’ve been much busier than you think in my personal life and the schedule that I normally adhere to quite rigidly (9 to 11 and 4 to 6 with the orchids) is shot to hell, has been since the holidays, and I expect it to continue at least through Groundhog Day.  This bothers me much more than it does you or should because it’s not necessarily bad news unless you pride yourself on certain expectations of performance.

The second is that there is one piece of earth shattering news that kind of eclipses everything else.

What?  Obama suddenly turned populist during the State of the Union?

You wish.  Microsoft is going to be giving away Windows 10 for “free”.

Allow me to explain.

Windows 8 was a stinker, a deal breaking piece of crap that was not only buggy as hell (ala Vista to which it was never too early to say Hasta la to baby) but fundamentally required businesses, only 70% of Microsoft’s market, to invest in exhorbitantly expensive hardware upgrades and even more in training costs.

Let me emphasise the training costs, most workers only know what the need to know to get the job done.  They are trained by the people around them to the level of competancy required in order to be productive and in most cases personel turnover is not high enough to justify a dedicated and highly compensated staff to educate them.

If you go into an office situation you’ll find that most desktops look and feel remarkably similar to the standard set down by Windows 95, the last radical interface introduced by Microsoft to gain wide acceptance.  This is true whether they run Windows 98, XP, NT, Server, Vista, or 7 (or variants of them like XP-64 Pro).

As a home user your experience is quite different.  Each default installation has all kinds of incompatible visual tweaks and cues and garish backgrounds and skins to make it look “fresh”, “exciting”, and “new”.  IT pros knew that there was always a secret hidden button that would restore the Windows “Classic” look and feel and eliminate training the basics of interacting between the screen, mouse, and keyboard.

But the business market is stable and not growing.  They buy solutions to problems and once the problem is solved have no incentive to change.  XP still has 18% penetration in offices, my Doctor’s for instance where they just rolled out a new paperless record keeping system that took Billions to develop and deploy.

Here is where economics and greed raise their ugly head.  Because the Stock Market is nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme casino, profitability doesn’t matter- only growth.  I can charge you a Dollar for a program that is stable and requires no investment besides the nickle it costs for a CD to burn it on and make 95 Cents Millions of times a day.  Wall Street does not reward that behavior.

Nope, Mr. Market has already discovered the value of that and unless you’re into clipping coupons and collecting dividends at rates in line with the prevailing economy with little risk it has no attraction.  You want to be a Lion Tamer.

Apple ran into this problem early.  They had the Educational sector sewn up but were not making any progress otherwise with their proprietary and high priced hardware and software.  For them the solution was to get into the toy business.  Who needs a digital Walkman if you have a Walkman that works perfectly fine?  Nobody, not even a Walkman that plays TV.  But you can promote this attractive nuisance as a business category that is growing and in which you have a dominant position and attract lots of money from gamblers who you can con into thinking this is the next big thing no matter how tiny and insignificant it actually is.

At last even mighty Microsoft fell into the trap.  Windows 8 is an Operating System for toys and gadgets, not for working and businesses who were very unhappy.  To its credit Microsoft heard them, sacked those responsible for doing the Opening Credits in Norwegian, and rushed back to redo the User Interface.  Thus Windows 10 is born.

About that price

Microsoft’s 3 year obsolescence cycle is about more than driving new purchases.  They’ve also decided it’s not cost effective to be stuck with maintaining old products.  Likewise they are trying to reduce the number of them.  One goal which has not changed is making Windows work across many platforms (phone, tablet, PC) which Microsoft justifies on ease of use but is really intended as a cost reduction measure.  They’re also not above giving away software to get greater penetration and destroy the market, witness what they did very successfully to the Netscape Navigator browser with Internet Explorer.

Attempts to repeat that have a mixed record, Windows Media Player and CD Burner has not really killed Nero (which costs a pretty penny but is mostly bundled free with your optical drive) or StarBurn (always free), Windows Defender has not replaced the multitude of anti-virus programs (most of them no better than viruses themselves), nor has their speech recognition Dragon Naturally Speaking.

They’re under increasing pressure from other “free” applications like Goggle Chrome which is a browser based Operating System to Linux which does it all and is arguably better.  To counter this Microsoft has said for years that they want to move to a service based business model where you, as a consumer, don’t actually “own” anything and instead pay a yearly fee like your phone or cable bill.  Think this won’t work?  Ask anyone who’s had the misfortune to put Norton’s or McAffee’s anti-virus on their machines where it is practically impossible to remove and will brick your computer (i.e. turn it into a non-functional door stop) unless you pay for their annual update.

Also, in the gadget marketplace (phones and tablets), they are already giving it away in a desperate attempt to win share.  The profit margins in those appliances is virtually non-existant anyway, companies give you the hardware to get your signature on a long-term contract and then nickle and dime you into bankruptcy.

Will Windows 10 succeed?  The price is right but no amount of money is sufficient to compensate for the cost of re-training.  If it were everyone would be running Ubuntu.

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The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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