More proof that Apple is becoming the new Microsoft

Microsoft: Big evil monopoly with closed, proprietary systems that exclude competition.

Apple: Fun loving small guy, fighting the big evil Microsoft.

apple-monopolyDoes the above sound about right to you? If you answer “yes”, then you are likely an Apple “fan-boy” living in cloud cuckoo land. Whilst these statements may have been true in the past, events this week reinforce the idea that they are no longer even remotely true.

I use iTunes. I started using it because its podcast support is second to none. I didn’t have an iPod when I started using it though. iTunes only supports iPods. So I had to indulge in a complex process of downloading the podcasts in iTunes, then  running an application that dragged them out into a standard mp3 format, loading them into Media Player and finally downloading them to my mp3 player. Windows Media Player, incidentally, supports just about every music player on the planet, except for iPods of course as Apple blocks them from talking to anything bar iTunes. These days I have an iPhone, so my iTunes experience is more pleasant. It’s still horribly slow, difficult to use and ugly, but it makes syncing my music and podcasts to my music player a breeze.

Apple only wants iPods to work with iTunes. Palm had other ideas, and used a hack to enable the Pre to work with it. Since then, Apple and Palm have indulged in an update war with each other as first Apple blocks the hack, then Palm uses a new hack to get around it, then Apple … ad nauseam. When this will end, I don’t know, but Apple have just released their latest attempt at blocking the Pre. No doubt Palm will respond in a couple of weeks.

A few years back, Palm made PDAs. One essential feature of a PDA is that it syncs its email data with your email servers. Palm made valiant efforts to get their PDAs to work with Outlook and Exchange, but Microsoft didn’t want this and put many hurdles in Palm’s way. Microsoft were roundly – and quite rightly in my view – condemned  for such practices. The EU even fined Microsoft for anti competitive practices and ordered it to open up its proprietary systems to others. This resulted this week in them announcing plans to reveal full details of the .PST file format and allowing anyone, on any OS, to write software that can read and write to these files.

So at present, we have Microsoft continuing its recent move toward openness and (sometimes begrudging) cooperation with alternate OS and office application suppliers, and we have Apple (ab)using its music player dominance to exclude Pre owners from using iTunes. So perhaps its time to update the stereotypes. I propose:

Microsoft: Old toothless ex-empire that’s learned to share the world with others (though it’ll no doubt throw its weight around occasionally).

Apple: A small, but rapidly growing, evil monopoly with closed, proprietary systems that exclude competition.

Perhaps, when the EU has finished with its current distraction of imposing an unelected president on the people of Europe, it can get back to the serious matter of fighting evil business empires…

Adobe pay homage to failed development methodologies with WorkflowLab

waterfall methodThis week’s Adobe MAX event has seen a sizeable number of interesting and potentially exciting announcements and releases. One rotten apple stood out amongst these releases though.

As anyone who has been involved in software development over the last couple of decades will know, everyone once used to slavishly follow the waterfall method of software development. Projects were consistently late, over-budget and of poor quality. An endless succession of solutions to solving these problems were suggested, with little success. Then one day, the penny dropped and it was realised that the the waterfall method itself was to blame. It is a crap way of developing software; this is well recognised today. Instead of the design, implement, test, ship step approach to development, agile methods, such as Scrum, are growing in popularity. The reason is simple: agile methods are far more likely to deliver projects on time, in budget with a high quality value.

Given this, I was excited to see a work flow tool appear on Adobe Labs, called WorkflowLab and eagerly installed it to see what the tool would offer. To say I was disappointed would be a gross understatement. I was actually shocked by what I found.

The first – and relatively minor – problem was the poor user experience it offered me as a Windows 7 user. Rather than use the Windows chrome, the developers have opted to implement their own chrome. As a consequence, it lacks the nice drop shadow that “proper” windows applications have. It doesn’t support the new Windows 7 window resizing controls (ie dragging on the titlebar when maximised didn’t cause it to resume its non-maximised size). And it basically plain looks crap as it sits amid a sea of aero glass-decorated programs. My guess is that the developers use Macs and did no Windows 7 UX tests. As the latter has been freely available via the beta programme for months now, the developers have no excuse for this.

The second – and way more important –  problem can be observed in the screen shot below (click on it to see the full size image). What you see is a supposed “best practice” work flow for “InDesign to Kindle Store”.

WorkflowLab screenshot
WorkflowLab screenshot

The developers seem to seriously believe that completing the layout before previewing the result is “best practice”! And lest you think that this is a one-off, even the “Workflow Behind WorkflowLab” work flow show the classic design, develop, test, release waterfall approach and sells this too as “best practice”.

In case you haven’t worked it out by now, I strongly feel this is a rubbish application, full of bad work flow advice. By itself, this wouldn’t be too bad, but this is an Adobe-endorsed product that is supposed to sell the use of Flash Catalyst in the development work flow.  Catalyst has come in for criticism from some developers as the beta releases of the product only support one-way design -> develop work flows. I had assumed this due to it being a beta and that the final release would support circular, iterative, development. WorkflowLab opens up a worrying possibility though: that Catalyst will only ever support this one way flow, and Adobe are trying to con the world into thinking this is OK by presenting a failed work flow method as “best practice”.

Adobe Max 2009 missed headline: “Windows users can now develop iPhone apps”

Using Windows to develop iPhone appsAt yesterday’s keynote, Adobe announced that just about every mobile phone manufacturer – except stubborn old Apple of course – was working with them to add Flash 10.1 to their devices in future. Then they made their “big announcement” that the next release (CS5) of the Flash authoring tool would support compiling iPhone native applications. Flash is coming to the iPhone, sort of.

Amidst all the excitement of deluded fools thinking now was their chance to make millions selling iPhone apps without having to learn “real” programming, the real big announcement seemed to get missed. Reading through Adobe’s FAQ on the matter, two important things stood out for me:

  1. A version of the Flex/ AIR SDK is to also to be released that will let Flex Builder (and presumably other developer tool) users to compile up iPhone apps.
  2. Those tools will run on Windows.

Until now, the iPhone app developer has been faced with a huge initial cost hurdle of having to buy a Mac. The reason for this is that, until now, only two possible solutions to developing iPhone apps existed: Apple’s own objective C development environment and MonoTouch. The latter is a .NET development tool for compiling C#, IronRuby etc into iPhone native applications. It, like Apple’s own tools, only runs on OS X. Also MonoTouch costs a lot of money, whereas the Flex SDK’s tend to be free. This opens up the possibility that Apple’s “iPhone development kit for Windows” may well be free too.

The FAQ suggests there will be compromises. My reading of it is that one cannot test the apps in Apple’s iPhone simulator, only directly on the phone itself (this applies to Mac users too) and I don’t think the normal set of iPhone APIs are accessible either.

Obviously a lot of this is speculation. A public beta of CS5 is due out by the end of the year though so we will know for sure within the next three months.