google open sourcing vp8 codec

Interesting but perhaps not surprising news that Google will make the VP8 video codec open source. You can read in more detail by following the link but here’s a quick rundown: Many companies have decided to support H.264 for video streaming, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. Others, like Mozilla (the creator of Firefox), have not, as they are concerned about adopting, as a standard, proprietary technology that may one day require payment of royalties. Instead, they have chosen to support Ogg Theora, an open source codec based on a much earlier version of VP8. Making VP8 open source will remove this divide and will likely encourage the adoption of VP8 as a standard in place of either, as VP8 appears to be technically superior to both H.264 and Ogg Theora (which was developed from a much earlier iteration of VP8) and presumably would be free of potential licensing issues (and fees) associated with proprietary solutions such as H.264.

Perhaps not surprising given Google’s approach in mobile (i.e. the Android open source platform). Though it is worth noting that Google isn’t enchanted with all things open source, as evidenced by the hubbub about it and the Affero GPL a few years ago…

Why I Love the Brits

As history has clearly demonstrated, the British have no equals when it comes to keen and slightly caustic humour. At the risk of testing the limits of fair use, I excerpt some rather large chunks below from a brilliant article in the Guardian Unlimited about the British version of the Mac ads – I’m sure you’ve seen them (at least the US ones) – the ones with a rather geeky fellow being the poor PC, with the rather cool looking dude being the Mac. Well, one Mr. Brooker had this to say in response:

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, “I hate Macs”, and then I think, “Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?” Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.

Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because “they are just better”. Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul – that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn’t really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.

Ouch! And, skipping ahead to the finish:

Ultimately the campaign’s biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow “define themselves” with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that “says something” about your personality, don’t bother. You don’t have a personality. A mental illness, maybe – but not a personality. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me slagging off Mac owners, with a series of sweeping generalisations, for the past 900 words, but that is what the ads do to PCs. Besides, that’s what we PC owners are like – unreliable, idiosyncratic and gleefully unfair. And if you’ll excuse me now, I feel an unexpected crash coming.

I have just finished erecting a small miniature shrine in honour of Mr. Brooker. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

The Costs of Sarbanes-Oxley

No, this post is definitely not what you’re thinking. Its not about how more and more companies are looking into going private or going to markets like AIM instead to try to avoid the increasingly greater burden of legislation like SOX.  In fact, quite different altogether. Its a story about how Apple will be charging a few dollars to unlock a feature already built into one of its products. That in itself is nothing particularly earth-shattering. What is a bit wonky is the reason Apple cites. According to another story at iLounge, its because of SOX:

Another Apple representative has added details on the Sarbanes situation: it’s about accounting. Because of the Act, the company believes that if it sells a product, then later adds a feature to that product, it can be held liable for improper accounting if it recognizes revenue from the product at the time of sale, given that it hasn’t finished delivering the product at that point. Ridiculous.

I don’t purport to be an expert on SOX but I thought it had to do with internal controls, rather than accounting standards, which I thought, if memory serves, were still at least primarily driven by the pronouncements of the Financial Accounting Standards Board in the US, and not SOX.

So, if you are the proud owner of Core 2 Duo Macintosh, you too will be personally experiencing the cost consequences of SOX, even if you are not a US public corporation. And you can’t even avoid it by going private. Very odd indeed.

Microsoft v. Apple, Round ??

Another recent story/editoril in The Inquirer egging on Apple to divorce the way cool OSX and license it separately from the somewhat maybe less cool hardware (at least in the eyes of the Inq). And who else to better promote OSX than Dell. Anyway, a snippet:

Apple could position the move as “Dell is so cool, we had to do a deal with them.” Underlying that is “Let’s face facts, with the exception of a pretty case, and a couple of hardware features, we’re an Intel box all the same.” (I know I’m going to get foaming rabid Mac owners that say the bits under the hood of their machines are especially selected by Zen Master Craftsmen and assembled by virgins in a far off land with blessed incense burning on a 24×7 basis, but it just ain’t so).

What has Apple got to lose? Zero.

I certainly would be interested in seeing Apple do this. On the other hand, I don’t know if it would come at “zero” cost. As their user base increases, so do the variations of hardware that people will want to use, and the drivers, and the third party software and, before you know it, you’re starting to make compromises here and there to let everything work. Then as more users come on board it starts becoming more of a target for hackers, who then start working feverishly to craft attacks, trojans and viruses, then leading your users to suggest that your platform is inherently security-deficient, requiring further investment in updates, patches, etc. Then of course you get on MS’ radar, who also produces a rather important office productivity app for OSX and may not take too kindly to Apple trying once again to eat its lunch.

I don’t know. I just don’t see it happening. OSX is nice and all, but to my simple mind, there is, and has been, a viable alternative to Microsoft operating systems for quite some time – replete with easy installation, cool features, nice interfaces, good security, and even relatively broad hardware compability – its called Linux and its free. And unlike the old Slackware days, Ubuntu (along with several other variations), is pretty easy to install and configure. But even with all this, where’s Linux on the desktop? Yes, its certainly being used, but has it made more than a few percentage points dent on MS market share? No. Why? Inertia. Windows has the biggest installed base, therefore the biggest possible customer base, so developer develop for Windows and put less effort into others (with of course some exceptions). Therefore more apps for Windows. And users don’t pick an OS because they like it – they pick it because of the apps they can run on it. So they continue to buy Windows. Not because its that much better than Linux, or OSX, but because they have MS Office, Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, Premiere, SAS, Mathematica, Cubase, AutoCAD, etc. etc. etc. all at their disposal. Sure, there are some nice apps for Linux and of course OSX – but certainly nowhere near the depth or breadth of Windows apps.

Given this, why the heck would Apple bother trying where Linux (which has a nicer price point) hasn’t (yet) succeeded? I guess we’ll see. It would be neat to see how far they get. But I ain’t holding my breath.

Apples and Oranges and Mobile Phones

This won’t be long and has no legal bent to it and you’ve probably already seen it elsewhere, but if you haven’t, you really should take a look.

When the iPod came out, I though “meh” – its OK. Not great. Just OK. Of course, as everyone knows, it did very well.

On the other hand, the new iPhone? Wow. Stunning. Remarkable. I can’t imagine how this thing will *not* fly off the shelves.

After all the particularly bad attempts at doing this in the past, finally, someone got it right.  Sure, its not absolute perfection, but it comes pretty close.
My humble opinion? Unless some major disaster happens with it (like it doesn’t work as described, or breaks when you drop it, etc.), iPhone will make the iPod look like a wee, tiny drop in the bucket.
Live from Macworld 2007: Steve Jobs keynote – Engadget