“Silverlight on the iPhone”: poetic license, or just plain dishonest?

silverlight-on-iphoneA few days back, the web was a awash with headlines that Silverlight was coming to the iPhone. Behind those headlines was the story that Silverlight video was the only part of Silverlight that was coming to the iPhone. The details of the story appearing to be that IIS was going to support converting Silverlight video into a form that could be displayed on the iPhone.

Yesterday I got into a discussion with Aral Balkan on Twitter over whether or not it was appropriate to call it Silverlight video as the video is displayed using the <video/> HTML 5 tag. In order to better defend my stance that it was, I decided to investigate the matter further to gain a proper understanding of what was going on. In the process, I had to do an about-turn on my position, and conclude Aral was right. Continue reading ““Silverlight on the iPhone”: poetic license, or just plain dishonest?”

I hate arrogant software!

Most people will be familiar with dialogues that prompt you with something like “Are you sure you want to be that stupid?” They rarely put it so bluntly, but that is effectively what they are asking. I have no problem with such prompts, because either I am about to do something stupid and its good to be told so, or I know better than the software and so I gladly accept full responsibilities for the resulting action.

There is a class of dialogue though that really riles me: the sort that says “You cannot do that”. Continue reading “I hate arrogant software!”

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 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.

iTunes 9: nice new features, shame about the face

UPDATE 26/11/2009
As of version 9.0.2.25, which I got around to installing today, iTunes support of Windows 7 features is greatly improved. It now has a drop shadow like other windows and supports the auto maximizing, 1/2 screen sizing etc features of Windows 7. The naff pseudo-OS X look remains, but it is a huge improvement on the original v9.

itunesToday saw the release of iTunes 9 from Apple. It has brought a range of great new features:

  • Home Sharing: share your iTunes stuff between home computers with ease. In theory, it will automatically sync purchases between computers, though this didn’t seem to work properly for me. I was able to manually copy them across just fine.
  • Genius Mixes: these are like standard Genius playlists, ie related music grouped into playlists, but the Genius Mixes are 12 automatically generated endless playlists based on your music collection.
  • Improved Syncing: you can now organise your iPhone apps from within iTunes, rather than via the very fiddly method on the phone itself. There are other syncing features, but this is the big one in my view.

Sadly all this greatness is let down by the crappiness of the iTune’s interface. Continue reading “iTunes 9: nice new features, shame about the face”

Microsoft dither over IE in European Windows 7, but happily rip us off as usual.

Windows 7Yesterday, I commented on the shoddy business practices of Apple. Luckily for me, before people have had the chance to accuse me of anti-Apple bias, dear old Microsoft come to my rescue with a piss-take of their own.

Not long ago, it was widely reported that Microsoft were planning on shipping Windows 7E in Europe, which would be a version of Windows 7 with no browser installed. This was to get around and EC ruling regarding Microsoft’s near-monopoly of the browser market. Yesterday though they did an about turn and dropped the plan. Laughably, this decision appears to have been taken in isolation by Redmond, with Microsoft UK finding out about it no sooner than the public.

Of course all this “will they/ won’t they?” debacle over  the “E” addition of Windows 7 could simply be a distraction away from plans to charge us more than twice as much as US folk for some Windows 7 upgrades.  And let’s not forget that Apple are offering an equally major upgrade to OS X for just $29/ £19, making the Windows 7 upgrades a rip off for just about everyone.

Is the iTunes app store just a “get rich quick” scheme?

App store logoThe iTunes app store comes in for a lot of flak due to the seemingly random way they reject apps. Then there are the stories that the developer must repay the full cost to the customer (including Apple’s cut) whenever a refund is provided. This week though, Apple plumbed new depths of piss-taking over its handling of its developer-partners when it insisted the developer must meet the cost of refunding money to customers after Apple pulled well-established apps from the app store.

Such stories make me think that anyone getting involved in developing an application for the iPhone must be really quite mad. You have to stump up cash up front – both in terms of buying the right to be a iPhone developer and in development costs – with no guarantee that you’ll even be allowed to publish your app. Then, assuming it is published, it could be removed without proper warning and explanation at any time, and all of the money you do earn demanded back off you. To set up a business on top of such a house of cards is sheer madness.

Assuming iPhone developers aren’t all mad, another possible conclusion comes to mind. There are various schemes that have similar rings to Apple’s app store business practices: pyramid schemes, “get rich quick” books and foreign banker/ lottery email scams. All of these scheme pray on people’s gullibility and greed to con them out of money on the promise of huge riches in return. Does that sound familiar?

Now if only I could get my hands on a list of the email addresses of all iPhone developers, I’m sure I could flog many of them a copy of a “get rich quick” ebook and retire a billionaire!

Release version of Silverlight 2 is due tomorrow

According to a Microsoft press statement, Silverlight 2 is due for release on Tuesday 14th (ie tomorrow). This coincidently is the same day that Apple are due to announce a couple of cosmetic changes to the Apple laptop range, which will have the fanboys wetting themselves with excitement as usual, whilst the rest of the world wonders what the excuse for no Apple Netbook will be this time.

There won’t be any excuses of course as Jobs is rapidly turning Apple into the Microsoft of a decade ago, where the fans lap up any old overpriced and outdated crap thrown to them and the rest of the world despairs over the lack of basic functionality – such as interoperability with non-Apple products – and the right to release software without having to ask permission of one’s overlords. By contrast, Silverlight shows just how far Microsoft has come since those dark days of a decade ago. Silverlight is not just Cross-platform with cross-browser support, Microsoft are working to provide an Eclipse plugin for Silverlight development and the control set (components in Adobe Flash speak) will be released as source code under the Microsoft Public License.

No doubt Jobs announcing that the MacBooks are to get SATA drives to hysterical whoops from the brainwashed will grab the headlines tomorrow, but the rapid march of Silverlight will be tomorrow’s real technology story.

Not all parts of the Internet are on the iPhone, and so says the ASA

Here in the UK, Apple have been running a bunch of adverts for the new iPhone recently. One of the ads claims that “all parts of the Internet are on the iPhone”. If, like me, your immediate reaction is “what about the Flash and Java bits?”1, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Advertising Standards Autority agree with you. They have deemed the advert misleading and banned it from further broadcast in its current form.

Apple have apparently declined to comment. My guess is they’ll quietly dump the advert, rather than release a new version with the compliant claim that “most parts of the Internet are on the iPhone”.

1 If your immediate thoughts included “what about Silverlight”, then have a pat on the back. The thought didn’t occur to me until 5 minutes later. Oops 🙂

Adobe opens up Flash to 3rd Party Player Developers

Today, Adobe announced the Open Screen Project, which is “supported by a group of industry leaders, including ARM, Chunghwa Telecom, Cisco, Intel, LG Electronics Inc., Marvell, Motorola, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics Co., Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Verizon Wireless. The project is dedicated to driving rich Internet experiences across televisions, personal computers, mobile devices, and consumer electronics. Also supporting the Open Screen Project are leading content providers, including BBC, MTV Networks, and NBC Universal, who want to reliably deliver rich Web and video experiences live and on-demand across a variety of devices.

No doubt in response to the growing threat to Flash from Silverlight (and a possible, maybe, vague, one day threat from JavaFX, which Sun plan to push at JavaOne in a few days), Adobe has been slowly opening up Flash over the last year. One area that remained completely verboten though was 3rd party players. Creating something that could render a SWF was strictly against the rules. The Open Screen Project though appears to relax these rules as of Flash 10. Adobe are publishing the details of the porting layer APIs and are removing the royalties involved in using Flash on anything but desktop machines.

This means we might finally see Flash 10 and Flex on Windows CE, the iPhone, Symbian OS phones etc, without havign to wait for Adobe to deliver it. We might even – fingers crossed – see the death of the awful Flash Lite.

Does Apple’s update utility constitute malware?

Apple logoLooks like Apple are being more than a little naughty with their update utility on Windows. Whenever you install an Apple application (Safari, QuickTime or iTunes), you are offered the option of installing a handy update utility too. I like update utilities, as they do the hard work of checking for important updates for me. However – as Microsoft found out last year – there are two really important rules to updates: never force updates on those that don’t want them, and never ever ever install a new product under the guise of an update. Apple have broken both of these rules sadly.

Firstly, their update utility has been caught, by John Lilly, Mozilla CEO, of trying to install an “update” to Safari on PCs that do not have Safari installed. Apparently according to the feedback to John’s post, the update utility does this with iTunes and QuickTime too.

Not happy with forcing new software on people through disguising it as updates, Apple also completely disregard the request not to install the update utility. When installing one of their apps, the user is given the choice of whether they want the update utility installed. Regardless of whether you say yes or no, the utility is installed anyway.

Unsurprisingly,this has led Apple-haters to accuse Apple of pushing malware on users, and it has also provoked a strong counter response from the fan-boys. Beneath this schoolboy banter though lies a very serious point as John points out. Updates are vital to keeping machines secure from criminal elements that hijack them for illegal purposes. Anything – by any company – that damages users confidence in updates needs to be strongly condemned and Apple needs to address this situation, fast.

Until Apple do fix it, you can fix the problem yourself very easily. Simply go to the control panel, select “Add/ Remove Software” in XP or “Uninstall a program” in Vista and select “Apple Software Update” for removal.