pyehouse
30Sep/110

Bad News For MiniStumble (StumbleUpon Safari Extension)

As you may be aware, I've been working on a StumbleUpon Safari extension to mimic the functionality of the Firefox plugin. I've written about it here on my blog, created a page devoted to the MiniStumble project and also attempted to gather input from the StumbleUpon forums.

Yesterday, my StumbleUpon forum posts were removed, the only message in the otherwise automated email being "not legal". I then submitted a request for more information on the StumbleUpon feedback page. The following is the response I received:

Your request (#######) has been updated.
You can add a comment by replying to this email.

[Name Redacted], Sep-30 05:17 pm (PDT):
Hello Lynn,

Thanks for writing to us,

While we appreciate your enthusiasm for StumbleUpon, unfortunately, we do not allow third parties to create StumbleUpon extensions and we do not recommend you to invest resources on building such an extension from us. Our legal team may be contacting you with more details.

Thank you for your interest!

Best,

[Name Redacted]
StumbleUpon Support Team

Read our blog: http://www.stumbleupon.com/sublog/
Be our friend on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StumbleUpon
Follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/StumbleUpon
Check out our YouTube videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/stumbleupon

Stumbleupon, Sep-29 03:44 pm (PDT):
I'm developing a Safari extension for StumbleUpon based upon the code in the Firefox plugin. This would provide similar functionality to the web toolbar but because it doesn't embed the stumbled content into an iframe it is resistant to frame breaking logic. Additionally it would be always on rather than having to use the toolbar. You know all the reasons it is better to use a plugin/extension in lieu of the web toolbar.

I had posted some links on the forums in response to people asking for just this. Today they were all removed and the only text I got in the email was "not legal".

I would like to know if the implication is that there is an actual legal issue or if that was intended to just mean "not allowed on our forums".

Furthermore I would like to know if there is any chance that I could receive assistance on this, or perhaps offer my own assistance to you in developing a proper, StumbleUpon officially sanctioned Safari extension.

There is definitely desire for a Safari extension to use in place of the web toolbar with the obvious benefits.

I would absolutely love to hear back from you to help clarify things for me.

Regards,

Lynn

As you can see, the claim is being made that not only do they disapprove but that what I am doing is illegal. I'm not sure what exactly is illegal about it. I have my own ideas on why they are as protective as they are about outside parties working on something like this but regardless it would appear that I'm kicking against the goads as it were. As this was intended to be a free offering for myself and other Safari users, to improve upon the web toolbar experience, I have no inclination to fight StumbleUpon on this, especially if they plan to bring in lawyers.

I'm going to update the project page and remove the link to the extension itself and take it down as well. Had I known it would meet with this resistance I wouldn't have gotten anyone's hopes up on bringing this forth. My hope is that they will take the hint that this is really something that people want and that some are willing to invest time and effort into doing if it isn't done for them, and therefore build one themselves with all the bells and whistles. Based on what I see in the Firefox plugin, I think it is absolutely a manageable goal to get a similar capability going on Safari.

29Sep/110

When the Tail Wags the Dog

Java Duke image imposed on Firefox logo, pointing at the fox

The Register is reporting that the Firefox team is considering blocking Java in response to the BEAST attack, which allows the attacker to intercept data from an otherwise secured connection. The move would be contentious given the impact it could have on anyone using Java in their Firefox browser, including users of Facebook's video chat as well as Java applets deployed internally at companies who depend on the Java functionality for their business. Without getting into the details of the problem, it seems that the Java plugin, developed now by Oracle, is causing a big headache for Firefox and their options are both limited and unappealing given possible user backlash. It's just another example of why company's are increasingly tempted to not work with other software projects to obtain new functionality, instead opting to fork existing projects, create their own solutions or just go without the new tech altogether.

A recent example involves Amazon's fork of Gingerbread (aka Android 2.3) to power their new Kindle Fire. Many decried the decision, particularly since Honeycom (Android 3.0) was available and targeted specifically at tablets and the newer Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) was going to be available just around the corner to unify the handset and tablet focused Android versions. More than just forking the code though, Amazon opted to create their own Android App Store meaning users may find themselves needing to repurchase Android apps already purchased elsewhere to get them onto their Kindle Fire or at least having to jump through additional hoops to use all available Android apps. Regardless, the fork means that Amazon is not beholden to anyone else for updates or features and given the open source nature of Android, will be able to pull any choice bits in from newer Android releases without having to work on anyone else's schedule.

We also saw this with Apple's decision to create Safari. Prior to OS X, Internet Explorer dominated the Apple browser market. Given that as connectivity became more widespread, browsing the web became a more prominent activity, Apple was moved to provide a more Apple-esque experience for browsing. The WebKit project provided the core of the browser which resulted in Apple boasting a well known browser of their own on several platforms and no longer relying on another company to provide that key experience.

Apple also showed their desire not to be reliant upon other company's technology in how they have handled Adobe's Flash. Flash has never seen the light of day on an iOS device and is no longer shipping pre-installed on Macs. There were clear performance issues (the 2009 Apple keynote mentions plugins at 10:23 but in retrospect it seems clear the reference was mostly to Flash) but more important were the control concerns. Apple has retained tight control over the user experience of their platforms, control which would only have decreased had Flash become more pervasive on Apple devices. Apple has put considerable effort into providing technologies which developers would have a hard time making use of on a meta platform like Flash, so the less dependence upon Flash by Apple, the more control they retain over their own platform.

Historically we have also seen what happens when companies attempt to coexist with competitor technologies. Witness OS/2's slow death (or lack of uptake) because developers could just develop for Windows and let the OS/2 Windows layer handle running the non-native application. Users never got a taste of what a real OS/2 app could accomplish. And while RIM's PlayBook was practically stillborn, the last gasp effort to renew life by declaring that Android apps would be allowed to run on the device was generally considered a bad idea by pundits since that, as with other similar decisions, would result in less push for developers to target the platform natively.

The lesson here is simple. Only trust third party components to the extent that you can do without them entirely. The more your own platform or project becomes dependent upon the functionality of other plugins or platforms, the more beholden you are to their schedules and priorities. It can be difficult to predict when a shift like that is going to happen (or already has), but it can be crucial.

28Sep/110

Kindle Fire vs RIM PlayBook

John Gruber, at DaringFireball.net, in a post about a comparison between the Kindle Fire and RIM's PlayBook, quoted Ryan Block regarding the Kindle Fire's resemblance to the PlayBook:

From there, Amazon’s team determined they could build a tablet without the help and experience of Lab 126, so they turned to Quanta, which helped them “shortcut” the development process by using the PlayBook as their hardware template. Of course, it’s never quite that simple, and as I’m told Amazon ran into trouble, and eventually sacrifices were made (like using a slower processor).

Although Amazon did refresh the ID of their PlayBook derivative, I’m told that this first tablet of theirs is “supposed to be pretty poor” and is a “stopgap” in order to get a tablet out the door for the 2011 holiday season — which doesn’t exactly leave the best taste in my mouth.

John then follows up by asking:

My question, though: if it’s based on or even just very much similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook, why is the Kindle Fire only $199 and the PlayBook started at $499?

My response: Amazon is hoping for a halo effect, subsidizing a reduced cost tablet, perhaps sold at or even below cost, with the expectation of additional revenue from services provided by the tight integration of the Kindle Fire with Amazon products and services. This halo effect, which is something Apple has counted on with their hardware products, selling Macs and Macbooks because users purchase iPods and iPhones, is also something RIM never counted on. RIM never had services they could push toward PlayBook users which would grow revenue beyond the simple sale of the hardware.

I actually mentioned the idea of Amazon subsidizing Kindle Fire through service revenue a few weeks ago. What makes sense for Amazon didn't for RIM, and I think for anyone trying to break into the tablet market against the iPad, they're going to have to provide a clear improvement on price because the quality and content aren't likely to be matched or beaten well enough to make a difference. And for that to hold true, someone's going to have to take a loss on the hardware and make it up elsewhere. Amazon is one of the few who can do so at this point.

27Sep/110

The State of NFC

Stylized white N on a blue gradient background

The State of NFC

Stylized white N on a blue gradient background

The “N-Mark” logo is a trademark or registered trademark of NFC Forum, Inc.

No, I'm not here to discuss the fact that the Detroit Lions have their first 3-0 start since 1980, though kudos to them. I'm talking about Near Field Communications and particularly how it is used to make purchases. If you've ever swiped a badge to enter a building, had your pet injected with an electronic tag, or swiped your ticket to get onto public transportation, then you have used NFC. In essence, it involves two devices communicating information over a very short ranged radio signal. The smarter the devices, the more interesting the exchanges that can take place. With something like a badge, ticket or card, the communication is going to be, by necessity, rather simple, typically one way and typically simple bits of information. With something like a smartphone or computer, the possibilities are endless, a whole host of information being available and both devices being capable of altering what is sent based on changing needs.

Google and PayPal are squared off against one another in the NFC space  and those are two big players, to be sure. Google is going to launch a phone with NFC payment options but and it has some major players lined up to help, but it's still going to be starting off with some limits like only being in a single new model, only being on the Sprint network, only being usable at certain retailers, etc. But it's still a serious bid by Google to get into the game in the US, where the uptake of NFC hasn't been nearly as pervasive as in other countries like Japan.

Meanwhile, PayPal and owner eBay have been involved with a number of acquisitions and partnerships which, while not being as close to actually going live, have the capability of being more far-reaching and touching on more payment processing possibilities (say that five times, fast) than Google's Wallet would out of the box.

Either company would seem to have a large leg up on anyone else entering the field (pardon the pun). For any other company to stand a chance at playing in the same arena for NFC mobile payments (i.e. paying with your phone), they would have to have equal name brand recognition, the ability to widely deploy large numbers of devices with NFC, capacity to handle purchases securely and an ability to establish relationships with merchants for rapid uptake of their payment processing system. Hmm...

Apple. Yeah, you saw that coming. First off, there have been rumors for awhile now that Apple was going to be dallying in NFC. First the iPhone 4 was rumored to be introducing NFC and now rumors are flying about iPhone 5, though admittedly tuned down  . But consider, the iPhone is in widespread use and has the highest retention rates of any smartphone in the industry so it would seem that the smart money would be on pretty widespread adoption of the iPhone 5 out of the gate. Additionally, we're seeing the iPhone move into more carriers in the US which is only going to increase its reach. Plus they've been processing payments as small as $0.99 for quite awhile now, albeit through their relatively controlled App Stores. And the process for signing up for what is essentially a merchant account to handle payment processing on the App Store is relatively pain free.

That said, a 30% cut of sales won't fly and it might be hard to explain why I can sell you a Doubleplusgood Meal for only a 10% surcharge to Apple but end up with a 30% chunk gone for selling you the latest Lady Gaga track. That's not to mention the hardware that would need to be in each location to handle that processing. Of course, the answer to that might be more iPhones or iPads. After all, Apple is already using them in their own retail stores, so why couldn't a similar system be made available for merchants in their own stores? Set up an iPod Touch on the store's wireless connection, secured of course. Run the merchant iOS app, loaded with the store's inventory plus an ad-hoc item option to ring up random sales that might not be present in standard inventory. Walk around and let your patrons make purchases anywhere on the sales floor or at the main register, whatever you prefer.

Not Part of Apple's Core

The catch to all of this is... this isn't what Apple has been about. The App Store has typically been considered an avenue to encourage sales of Apple hardware, not as a revenue center in its own right. Perhaps that principle was Jobs-specific but I find it hard to imagine that his recent departure would result in a fairly big shift in focus. Still, Apple does seem to have a lot of the tools necessary. Or at least enough of them to give it a go.

Personally, I would like to see it happen through Apple. I already deal with them on multiple levels financially and don't want to have to add to the panoply of companies who have my financial information. Then again, I suppose the same could be said of PayPal. Google... not so much. Wallet is new and Checkout has never really taken off. Regardless, here's to an interesting online battle. May the best tech win.

26Sep/110

Private API’s (Should You Use Them?)

In working on the StumbleUpon Safari extension, I came across requests in the SU support forums about SU providing an API for developers to create SU toolbars of their own. Currently there is a Firefox plugin provided by StumbleUpon but that's it as far as actual extensions available for SU functionality. They created a toolbar that essentially puts the stumbles into an iframe but that's fragile and can be broken by sites that have code expressly to break out of iframes. And there are other limitations too, limitations that the Firefox plugin lacks. Limitations which could be overcome in other browsers if only the private API used in the Firefox plugin were made available to all. I've stared tackling the task of breaking code out of the Firefox plugin for use elsewhere but I'm still left wondering whether I should.

Ask the Right Question

Keep in mind, there are two questions to ask here. One is whether it's a good idea. The other is whether I have a right to do so. Reusing a private API has some pretty nasty downsides. Since it is private, the interface isn't likely to be documented. You're going to be spending time looking at message traffic, poring over all of the usage in their code to see what sorts of return values are checked. And if the developers of the private API get upset over your usage of their API they could change things such that you will be forced to extensively redevelop your version just to keep up. In cases where, as with the StumbleUpon extension, communication with a server is required, it gets worse because now you're dealing with their servers and interfaces there which they define. In my case, I'm actually rewriting their private API, essentially recreating code to reuse their protocol. While it's unlikely they would change the protocol extensively, since that could alienate Firefox users, it's not outside the realm of possibility.

So why do it? If you're considering using a private API, it's likely because that is the only way to do what you want to do. Left with another choice, most developers would typically prefer to use a well documented public API if one is available since the drawbacks are far fewer. There are cases, though, where there are both public and private APIs available and the public API provides less power than the private APIs. This seems to tend to happen when the APIs are provided by a single vendor who also provides applications which make use of the APIs. Their apps can make use of the private APIs, resulting in more features than any third party app can provide.

Really, it seems like this is just a judgement call. Are you crazy enough to want to ride this train? Do you really want to risk pissing off the developers who created the private API, such that you end up having to rewrite your app from scratch just because they got a bee in their bonnet about its use? Heck, that could happen even if they don't know your name. It might have been a planned revision. The fact is, you have no promises. But if you want to create your project badly enough, maybe you're just crazy enough.

A Question of Right or Wrong

The other question is of the rightness or wrongness of using the private APIs. Of course there may be legal ramifications but that's not what I'm talking about. Let me give you an example. With MiniStumble, I'm using the StumbleUpon API to retrieve stumble URLs from their servers. That makes use of their bandwidth, CPU and power. This may be miniscule, but it all adds up. Additionally, consider that they make money off of what they call paid discovery, where advertisers can pay to inject a URL into the stumble lineup for certain categories. What happens, then, if some rogue extension grabs URLs and never reports back that they were visited? SU would not be able to report the proper number of visitors sent to that site which begins to mess with their revenue stream. That is not being a good neighbor.

As it happens, the SU servers appear not to serve up additional stumbles until previous stumbles are reported as having been visited, so there is some sanity checking that goes on, and I'm aware enough of at least that part of what SU does to try to avoid being a prick about things anyway, but it could have been a problem. The Firefox plugin for SU is not the most complex software I've seen, but the code paths are many and it is easy to lose track of where different pieces of functionality will wind up taking you. In the process of trying to rewrite or just reuse a private API, you could be underdelivering to the original API writer's customers. You might be creating problems for the API writer's business. In short, maybe you shouldn't have been doing what you are doing in the first place.

"First do no harm." The physician's creed. This business about doing this in the right is, frankly, the part that gives me the most bother. I think I'm doing it responsibly and I think I'm doing it well enough, making sure folks understand that when they grab my extension, they aren't getting something officially endorsed by StumbleUpon and so on. And the code is there. Granted, just because I can doesn't imply that I should. But then just because I could screw up doesn't mean that I will either. I expect this is also something that has to be considered on a case by case basis too. Apple actively checks for private API usage for any apps entering the App Store. SU doesn't have that option, but I've also posted in their forums about this, so other than sending emails directly to their dev team, I'm not sure what else I could do. I suppose if they want me to stop, they can just send me an email. Until then, I think I'll try to make use of what they've provided, albeit inadvertently. But I'm going to try to place nice while doing it.

Filed under: development No Comments
25Sep/110

Dear Netflix

Netflix logoDear Netflix,

I'm so sorry to see you like this. It seems like just yesterday when you were the youthful embodiment of revolutionary zeal, ready to take on the world and change how everything works. Now you're in a bit of a pickle and it seems like the vultures are circling. It wasn't supposed to be this way!

Back in the day, you were a plucky young thing with a crazy idea of how to take on the ten ton gorilla, Blockbuster. Mail the movies to your customers! It was genius! Of course it was risky, too, which is probably what made your derring-do all the more enthralling. You had to create a supply chain comparable to that of other big name retailers, able to move DVDs out with an efficiency bordering on mania. You had to have inventory available for enough of your customers to keep them happy. And you did it with a panache that turned heads. Oh, yeah, you were the star baby!

And then there was your ability to offer suggestions based on viewer's likes and dislikes. It was like having Miss Cleo right there with you as you picked your next flick! Except it was science! Do you remember that time you set up a contest to see if anyone could beat your recommendation algorithm? Yeah, me too. Those were the days, huh?

Blockbuster was steadily going down, you were on top of the world, and it seemed like nothing could stop you. Then we found out you had your eyes on another prize. Online streaming. Oh, sure, you told us later that was what you originally had wanted to do and I don't doubt it. But like you said, the network wasn't there, the licensing wasn't there... you made the right call, to be sure. But now look what's happened.

You started off well enough, hooked up with that Starz chick, but I told you at the time she was just slumming. I warned you she was just curious about you, not really sure things were going to work out. And sure enough, just when it seemed things were about to get serious, all of a sudden she demanded more. Hey, this sort of thing happens to us all. You know about my history with that girl from.. well, nevermind. No need to go there. But you know that old truism about there being lots more fish in the sea? Those aren't fish here, buddy. Those are barracuda.

See, before, when you were happily doling out DVDs, they didn't want any part of you. Sure, you sent them a check and all was well, but that was as far as it went. But now with this online streaming thing, they're like little gold diggers, wanting a piece of your pie. And if you aren't willing to share with them, well, they've got other takers. You aren't the only one in the market, you know. I hear some of them are even willing to go it alone. That's cold, man.

And now you've gone and ditched your DVD business, handing it off to your little brother, Qwikster. I hope you know what you're doing there. No one has even heard of him and now he's running the whole enchilada. Well, the DVD side anyway. And what's up with that stoner he's hanging out with these days?

Look, man, I know times are hard right now, but if you're going to stick this out, you need to get back up, brush yourself off and go make the best of it that you can. You've still got some good numbers, and your online streaming thing isn't going to melt away overnight, but you've got to get some serious juice lined up to jazz up that online streaming card you're showing everyone. It's a little stale at the moment. Consider what worked the first time, when you were offering people something that they couldn't get anywhere else. Or, I don't know, maybe you could get a wing man! Wait, that's right, I heard you and Hulu hooked up with someone recently.

I know you're the cheery sort, and I hear you've got some big plans, but you haven't been really forthcoming with them yet. That's cool. I'll be here when you're ready to talk. Just don't do anything drastic until we get a chance to discuss this some more, okay?

I'd hate to see things get worse.

-Lynn

Tagged as: No Comments
23Sep/110

More MiniStumble Hacking Fun (We Have v2.0!)

Just a quickie here. We have a version 2.0 of MiniStumble, the StumbleUpon Safari extension bar! You can find more details on the MiniStumble page.

21Sep/110

Fun With MiniStumble – Hacking a StumbleUpon Safari Extension

Image of stick figure stumbling over rockYou may not be aware that I've created a teensy little StumbleUpon Safari extension. If not, go check it out. Apple supposedly has approved it for inclusion in their gallery, but I've checked and I don't yet see it. Regardless, as the page says it is a minimally functional StumbleUpon Safari extension, only providing a few page redirects and using the badge API to query for the view count and page ID from their database. That's all well and good but you can't use it vote on things, and it offers no protection from iframe breakers. What's a stumbler to do!?

Well, keeping in mind that this whole mess is SOLELY being developed because for whatever reason the powers that be at StumbleUpon.com have yet to develop their own Safari extension, I've been hacking around with their Firefox extension, reverse engineering it in order to do what needs doing in mine. It's been fun and I'm making some headway but I'm not exactly sure when the next release will be. I have login capability working, but I haven't yet tested doing anything useful once logged in.

One thing I'm a little concerned about is the fragility of what it is I'm doing. There is no official API for any of this. Assuming for a moment I actually manage to rip the guts out of the Firefox extension and make it work for Safari, there's no guarantee the interface won't change later on. They might alter the FF functionality such that it uses different calls. They might break some single interface that causes my whole little project to fall to pieces. Because there is no official StumbleUpon API, I have no guarantees that any of this will continue working. But, I'm enjoying doing this little bit of hackery and it seems like something useful.

I should mention too that the Firefox extension developers were thorough. I was thinking of something quick and dirty, but there are quite a few corner cases dealt with in the code and as I start bringing things over, I'm becoming torn as to whether to try to rewrite the few bits I want to pull in or try to port the entire back end over. The pain of missing those corner cases and coding for them myself or the pain of suffering through roadblock after roadblock of making Firefox extension-compatible Javascript work in a Safari extension environment. I'm leaning toward the former though the latter would, I think, be a more thorough implementation. I don't doubt that the checks in the FF extension are necessary (like making sure to check for rapid clicking on the Stumble icon and not causing multiple async stumble requests), I may start off with a more fragile implementation in some respects, just to get it out there, followed by some touch up afterward to clean things up. I'll be honest, I'm not doing this with my usual forethought, mostly because I think at some level I still see it as a "small" project.

Anyhow, I just figured I would mention what's going on with it. Bear with me and mind the mess.

20Sep/110

Metro and iOS – One Goal, Two Approaches

I want to touch on this subject once more, because I think it deserves some more attention. I imagine Metro is getting overplayed a bit, but as almost anyone will point out, Metro is essentially Windows Phone 7's interface writ large. Or put another way, where WP7 was a revolution for Microsoft, Metro is the next evolutionary step from WP7, putting it onto the desktop in addition to mobile devices. Yet this isn't so very different from what Apple has been moving toward with various UI elements bouncing back and forth between iOS and OS X and then, earlier this year, the 'Back to the Mac' themed WWDC conference. The fact is both Microsoft and Apple are pushing toward a unified UI strategy. They're just taking different tacks getting there.

The Red Queen - Metro's New Look

I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't dislike Metro. I can't say I like it all that much either. It's definitely different, definitely featureful. I'm not looking forward to some of the support sessions I am no doubt going to be involved with when some of my clients end up with a new computer with Windows 8 installed and no clue how to operate the new UI. Still, I think there are a number of things Microsoft is doing right with Windows 8. One thing I've already mentioned that I think they're doing wrong is making too big a change in the UI too quickly. The shift from Windows XP to Vista and on to Windows 7 didn't involve large paradigm shifts in UI usage and even so there were some complaints for users who were used to the "way things were". But by and large, things have gotten better, folks got used to the new look and layout and things were more or less okay. Windows 8 looks to upend all of that by introducing what is, for all intents and purposes, a completely new way of doing things. Technically anyone who has a Windows Phone 7 device now is already exposed to the core principles. But that's a very small number of people really. I'm not trying to rehash my previous article, but I do want to point out that this whole hog approach is very purposeful. It's not an accident that Microsoft is doing this. I think they realize just how much risk this gambit involves and I think they are going about it with eyes wide open. The question is, why? I'll get to that in a bit.

The White Queen - iOS's Slow Play

Apple on the other hand is taking a slow approach. They introduced iOS, with UI elements similar to those on OS X. The expanded on those elements. Then over time, things have slowly begun to merge. With Lion, we now have the Launchpad to mimic iOS home screen functionality, the scrolling and scroll bars are behaving like they do on iOS, swipes are beginning to work similarly, full screen mode is being rolled out, though not pushed out... slowly we are seeing the iOSification of OS X which itself was the basis for iOS. The emphasis here is slow. OS X is still fundamentally OS X. Take someone who's only familiar with OS X 10.0 and sit them down in front of Lion and they'll still be able to do anything. The reversed scrolling will confuse the hell out of them at first, granted, but once you get them past that hurdle, they'll be fine. Put someone on an iOS device and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the gestures and usage seem relatively intuitive. People pick it up easily and things work as you would expect them to. Yet as dissimilar as the two environments are, they are being brought together. How much further we have yet to go, I can't say. What I can say is that on the current course, it's going to be a subtle shift and I if the scrolling "controversy" is any indication, it will involve little fuss.

King's Gambit

So why then would Microsoft jump so quickly to unify their UI with a fast play that may involve more pain and more screaming from consumers? Simple. The iPad. If it weren't for the fact that the iPad is trouncing all comers in the tablet space, Microsoft would not feel the need to renovate their very non-touch-oriented OS for tablet use. Yes, Windows Phone 7 is already out and seems to be a precursor to anything in the Metro interface, intimating it was in the development pipeline before Windows 8. I'd be willing to bet that Windows Phone 7 was, in fact, a product of the effort to get Windows 8 out and available for desktop and tablet use. Moreover, I think they bet on the phone strategy because at least in the phone space there has been some indication of room to grow, with Android devices challenging the iPhone's dominance and leaving hope that Microsoft might be able to push some of these devices out rapidly. Of course, I can't know for sure. But tell me... if Microsoft really wanted to, couldn't they have simply held off on finalizing Windows 8 and making it operate on smartphones and done a simultaneous release? Surely the WP7 team knew about Windows 8 development. It seems they clearly wanted WP7 out in the real world for users to play with and get used to the interface before Windows 8 was out and available. And they wanted that momentum to carry them forward into deploying Windows 8 on desktops (a lesser concern) as well as new tablet devices now based on Windows 8 and standing a chance in hell against the iPad.

Microsoft is rushing their UI unification in order to take on Apple in the tablet space, with Windows Phone 7 as the vanguard of the UI makeover. I don't know how successful their gambit will be, but as I look it over, I think it's the only move they could make.

19Sep/110

Netflix and Qwikster, Breaking Up Is Hard

Netflix logoI swear, I'm going to quit sleeping. I go to sleep and all sorts of things happen overnight. I wake up and it's like gremlins have come in and moved things around. Now it seems my DVDs aren't coming from Netflix anymore, they're coming from some Qwikster place? Same label and everything, just a different name. Anyone see this coming?

It's interesting they did this, though not completely surprising. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has made no bones about wanting to grow the streaming side and speculation has been running high that they were looking to the streaming business as the focus of their future. Honestly, in the long run I think physical media delivery is going to only be decreasingly attractive, both as a business venture and as a product (the two do go hand in hand after all). But that shift is only going to happen when fast internet is available in more homes and, more importantly, when content is given equal availability via streaming as well as physical media. Until then, sure, if you ship, they will come.

I said not 'completely' surprising though, didn't I? And I mean it. For streaming to take off, one of the two factors is going to be having more content, and higher quality/current content, available for streaming. But Starz is taking their ball and going home because Netflix didn't want to pay the new, much higher rates Starz requested. I get that. I just hope Netflix has a plan in place to replace some of that content.

Of course this may be a way to mitigate potential disaster, too. Consider... if the streaming business does take off, it won't be hampered by what I imagine will be declining business on the DVD side in years to come. Yay. And if this gambit doesn't pay off because Netflix can't secure that higher quality content and all goes to hell in a handbasket... well, they've still got their DVD business, though at the loss of a well established brand in preference to a newly minted brand. Which they now have to share with a pothead on Twitter.

On a personal level, I really want to see Netflix succeed (you know, the new super sleek, purely streamy Netflix, not that mangy old dual business channel, clearly crufty Netflix) because I prefer to stream. It appeals to my whimsical nature when it comes to deciding what I'm going to watch. With a delivered DVD sitting there on the TV stand, I feel compelled to watch. Like I'm obligated to watch it as quickly as humanly possible just so I can return it because "oh my gosh they might be missing it and what about that mother of seven in Wichita who really needs this DVD gaaaaahhhhh". So, dear overlords of movie and tv content, please help me out. Destress my life. Let Netflix have reasonable rates for streaming your schlock er, content. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that.

Now let me get back to watching this next episode of 'Haven'. Gotta get this disc back this week.