Innovation shouldn’t always imply full-on revolutionary. Confusing: do people want desktop PCs, or do they prefer laptops to ‘improve’ into transportable desktops?

A lot has already been said about this topic. I want to look at it from one perspective. Imagine, you are part of the product management at a company. And this (anger about MacBook Pro) would be people reaction to your latest product release, how would you consider it, objectively and other ways?

I’ve been taking in all the stuff  written about Apple’s latest MacBook Pro line. If you’d consider it in a logical way, Apple has done a tremendous job, they’ve improved the most important aspects of portability and comfort: weight, display quality, battery life. They’ve made flexible and extensible a part of the computer that no-one seemed to be paying attention to: the function keys. People should’ve been thrilled.

Apparently many aren’t, according to some articles and tweets I saw.

Based on what I see in my Twitter feed, several people are angry about the 16Gb Ram limit. If that were 32Gb, would that have pleased them? Should that be 64Gb instead? How much disk space, 1Tb? 2Tb?, what CPU spec, the latest more powerful intel? And how much battery life to go with that? And would it have to weigh the same as last year’s top spec MacBook Pros? heavier, or lighter?

Until last week, I didn’t see anybody claiming that they needed a laptop with 32Gb Ram, I might not have been paying attention, of course. If Apple had released a weightier but more powerful one, more battery-hungry, wouldn’t people have a fit? Actually, how many potential buyers are there in the disappointed category, 10 Mio? 100 Mio? Or in the  thousands range? How would that compare to the addressable market?

The other group of professionals, which some advocate would be disappointed (are they? will they?) are photographers and media publishers. Apparently the new keyboard doesn’t have as much travel as the old ones. That could be a question of taste, I don’t know. I am not a typist. The loss of SD card and fewer extensions. I can understand that SD card would be a daily use item, but surely in that case anyone with a 2014 upward model is sorted for at least another year, wouldn’t they?

Often, as folks write their complaints, many also note that 2015 MacBook Pro was the finest laptop they ever had! I’ve seen similar things written about the last generation of iMacs. What !? So you’ve got the finest ever, it’s still doing great for you, why wouldn’t you keep things that way for another year or two? I’ve got a 2014 MacBook Pro, I’m still happy with it. When Apple released the 12 inch MacBook it was also a kind of concept machine, not aimed at volumes but setting a new direction. The new MBP might or might not fall into that category. But it seems that Apple does this quite often, all the way back to the first iPhone.

I read that professional developers are angry they’re not getting more powerful laptops. That’s strange. Because, most of the time, I only read pro developers proudly stating that they don’t need IDEs, that they only need a unix-compatible shell session on a terminal and a text editor. Furthermore, these folks practice continuous delivery, run their infra as code, maintain their code repository on GitHub, deploy their workloads on AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, and many variant hosting environments. The cool kids are all creating microservices, spinning up Docker or Kunernetes clusters backed by large datastores or block storage clusters. So a beefier laptop is more apt to running (heaven forbid) monoliths, something that the cool kids don’t do, and surely clusters and more networking would mean cloud or more hardware than just a laptop. These folks travel all the time, they do talks using web-browser based slideshow apps, and on the road they hack using text editors only. So these pros, albeit an elite group, really don’t need laptops with any more memory or CPU power on a regular basis, they need faster networks and faster access to the cloud where their serious stuff lives. The exception is obviously those doing GPU intensive work, again, a very select group.

I am confused about all the hoopla. Especially, when I read how some of the same people are raving about Microsoft’s new hardware, then I get the impression that some undeclared passion is leading to frustration. Samsung regularly releases higher spec’ed mobile devices that Apple’s, that doesn’t drive the same kind of reaction, albeit iPhones get more frequent refreshes. I find it hard to see the rationale for the angry responses. I explain.

The very first laptop I worked with was, wait for it, a Toshiba with 8 Mb Ram and 120 Mb disk. I think it weighted around 6Kg. I stop here with the specs, the point I want to make is around portability. A few decades further, we always want lighter laptops. So lighter and faster  (or at least not slower) and with better battery life, should be good, shouldn’t it?

Furthermore, if you’d put yourself in Apple’s shoes, what have they done so badly wrong here? Before I elaborate, I need to point out that folks insisting in using the term “fanboi” or “fanboy” are just being childish. Those won’t read this blog, or not go beyond this paragraph. I don’t care, I actually want them to go away.

Now, here are some my reasons for thinking that Apple did a good job:

  • all of Apple’s latest hardware have improved computing mobility:
    • more Cloud service for ubiquitous access to data created on any device
    • more wireless services for seamlessly transferring data across devices
  • better displays, slimmer devices
  • function keys typically do nothing all day: Apple rejuvenated that space, and ensured more of your computer is working for you
  • if portability is increased by making devices lighter and no loss of power, then Apple’s scored well here
  • if removing some physical connections would help make a device lighter then, offering more wireless and cloud capability is a good balancing choice
  • If supporting 32+ Gb would require a board consuming more battery life, then the trade-off is to go for battery, expecting folks to keep shifting heavy-duty workloads to Cloud, use more wireless, and their keep already nice earlier models.

Apple also stated that the new MacBook Pro architecture represented a new start, for bringing up more things that they are not disclosing yet. As everybody knows, this is Apple’s code for we’re also working on stuff we find exciting but that aren’t ready yet, so we can’t tell you much more than that folks. This could be the reason that no new iMacs or MacPros were announced this time. They might be trying to find a way to open the next “5 year lead”. Whatever else might be going on, I think Apple’s done enough to keep engaging their customers. Not to lose them, obviously.

Those who’d put themselves in the Apple’s shoes, should see many things to like. The usable life of a laptop is easily 2-3 years, so those with a 2013 laptop should be the ones looking to upgrade now, and if they do they would most probably be thrilled. Their 2013 computers will not suddenly die anyway. My 2009 is still around and works, but with the successive transitions, it’s no longer that useful to me like it used to.

No company in their right mind would make moves to alienate their customer base. Apple doesn’t seem to be, from my point of view. Apple under the current leadership has been more attentive to external feedback than the Apple of yore, so it’s bizarre to read that they are intentionally trying to annoy their customers.

On the other hand, if people expected that Apple’s devices should always be the fastest and more powerful or always be the only ones sporting the most innovative features, if these are the expectations, then I get all the anger. This because Samsung and Microsoft are releasing highly spec’ed devices more frequently. Many of the same people are raving about Microsoft’s announcement, stating that they were switching to Microsoft immediately (out of anger?). I don’t get that one, sounds like an angry rallying call than anything else. I’ve seen Microsoft’s new products, they look nice of course, if I wanted to try it or switchover, I wouldn’t say it’s because Apple didn’t do a good job. Microsoft has done what Apple did, an incremental improvement on what they already had, and the Surface Studio looks very much like an iteration of some models that were released earlier by companies like HP and Asus. This may be folks’ way of encouraging their champion to keep on trying to better competition.

I am following a lof of media and people online. I see and enjoy the regular drop of cogent writing, clear and delightful thinking. But, then, when folks suddenly drop a load of emotion coated with some logical reasoning, they just throw me off course and I get rather puzzled. This is one such instance. It’s a lot more about feelings, much less about unmet needs per sé. Yes, customer feeling is absolutely essential.

Some interesting questions are: how many serious potential buyers are angry, because of the 16Gb limitation? Will reaction persist throughout their buying period? What would happen, should Apple, in a few short months, release some highly spec’ed devices, would the mood turn again? How much of a stable customer base would that represent then? Isn’t hardware lifecycle much longer than say SaaS subscriptions that could be terminated at a snap of the fingers? How would a company do decent hardware design if buyers would turn so fickle?

Maybe people aren’t that angry after all. One doesn’t just throw away years of content, brain muscle and proficiency simply because one particular product release didn’t meet hopes. Maybe it’s just a testament of Microsoft’s move, hold their event just hours before Apple’s in an attempt to steel some buzz. Some will certainly switch. Of those, many might do the same when Google comes up with their next Chromebook for example.

I always follow these announcements with an inquisitive interest. I am not a writer, not a reviewer, just some guy interested in to find out what he can learn. This post might be full of typos and relatively weak prose. But it’s just a simple blog, no ads here, no attempt to create audiences, just a place to jot doen a few thoughts.

Cyber security white elephant. You are doing it wrong.

The top cause of information security weakness is terrible user experience design. The second cause of information security vulnerability is the fallacy of information security. A system designed by people will eventually be defeated by another system designed by people. This short essay is just a reminder, perhaps to myself as well, that if certain undesired issues don’t appear to be going away, we may not be approaching them the right way.

The top cause of information security weakness is terrible user experience design. The second cause of information security vulnerability is the fallacy of information security. Everything else flows from there.

It happened again, a high profile IT system was hacked and the wrong information was made available to the wrong people in the wrong places at the wrong time. This is the opposite of what information security infrastructure is defined as. Just search the Internet for “Sony hack”, one of the top hits is an article from 2011 that reads as Sony Hacked Again; 25 Million Entertainment Users’ Info at Risk

This type of headline news always beg some questions:

Don’t we know that any information system can eventually be breached given the right amount of resources (resource includes any amount and combination of: motivation, hardware, people, skills, money, time, etc) ?

Is it really so that deep pocketed companies cannot afford to protect their valuable resources a little harder than they appear to be doing?

Do we really believe that hackers wait to be told about potential vulnerabilities before they would attempt to break in? Can we possibly be that naive?

This has happened many times before to many large companies. Realistically, this will continue to happen. A system designed by people will eventually be defeated by another system designed by people. Whether the same would hold true for machine designed systems versus people designed systems is an undetermined problem. Once machines can design themselves totally independent of any human action, perhaps then information security will take new shape and life. But that might just be what professor Steven Hawkins was on about recently?

I suggest that we stop pretending that we can make totally secure systems. We have proven that we can’t. If however, we accept the fallibility of our designs and would take proactive actions to prepare, practice drills and fine tune failure remediation strategies, then we can start getting places. This is not news either, people have been doing that for millennia in various capacities and organisations, war games and military drills are obvious examples. We couldn’t be thinking that IT would be exempt of such proven practices, could we?

We may be too often busy keeping up appearances, rather than doing truly useful things. There is way too much distraction around, too many buzzwords and trends to catch up with, too much money to be thrown at infrastructure security gears and too little time getting such gears to actually fit the people and contexts they are supposed to protect. Every freshman (freshwoman, if that term exists) knows about the weakest link in information security. If we know it, and we’ve known it for long enough, then, by design, it should no longer be an issue.

It’s very easy to sit in a comfortable chair and criticise one’s peers or colleagues. That’s not my remit here, I have profound respect for anyone who’s doing something. It’s equally vain to just shrug off and pretend that it can only happen to others. One day, you will eventually be the “other”. You feel for all those impacted by such a breach, although there are evidently far more important and painful issues in the world at the moment to be worrying about something like this particular breach of confidentiality.

This short essay is just a reminder, perhaps to myself as well, that if certain undesired technology issues don’t appear to be going away, we may not be approaching them the right way. Granted the news reporting isn’t always up to scratch, we do regularly learn that some very simple practices could have prevented the issues that get reported.

 

Who is set to benefit from the introduction of Swift programming language

Swift could open up a great opportunity for Apple, getting large number of developers to write programs for OSX and iOS. Conversely, Swift could be the opportunity that some would be waiting for to start leveraging their skills on Apple ecosystem. Swift could be a blow to those ecosystems as Apple is suddenly more attractive to a rising generation of developers enamoured with functional programming.

One of my first reactions to Swift was the following:

In this post I elaborate a little more on the reasons that I held this belief, that everybody wins.

  • Apple, obviously: legions of developers who might have been put off by Objective-C will now give a second look and many are likely to write code for Apple platforms.
  • Groovy, Scala, Objective Caml programmer: programmers experienced with these languages can now leverage their skills to build solutions for the Apple platform without having to learn another language. Their main hurdle would be  to get acquainted with iOS and OSX platform concepts and building blocks.
  • Scala ecosystem: the introduction of Swift might have the side effect of actually making some people understand Scala better and quicker, this because  it shares many concepts with Scala but has a more readable syntax
  • A converse effect of the above bullet point: Apple developers who make the jump to Swift, would also realise the many benefits of functional programming and adopt languages like Groovy, Scala or Erlang.

Folks looking for new opportunities should find plenty. From a business opportunity perspective, here are some potentially profitable developments:

  • Groovy backend for Clang and LLVM: this could make it possible to write native iOS and OSX code in Groovy. People used to writing web only code would suddenly be able to port their solutions to the Apple platform.
  • Cross Training Developers: this could be the best time for Groovy or Scala training organisations to tap into the masses of iOS and OSX developers scrambling to learn functional programming. Why leave that money on the table?
  • Apple and Pivotal work together: this is a bit tangential, but if Apple were interested in expanding their Cloud clout, this is a good way to do that because they suddenly would be able to target the data centre too! Just buy Pivotal and leapfrog both Microsoft and Google in one fell swoop!

I don’t see yet how Swift could benefit either Microsoft or Google ecosystems. If anything, this could be a blow to those ecosystems as Apple is suddenly more attractive to a rising generation of developers converting to functional programming.

Martin Odersky on the Simple Parts of Scala

Martin sums up perfectly the challenges facing Scala adoption in the wider community: ‘extremists’ at each end of the OO-FP divide can be prompt to come out with their ‘pitch fork’s.
I’ve always perceived Martin as a software anthropologist who’d examine long and hard where learning opportunities might be, then come up with applications where most people would get the most benefits. There is no useful reason to be dogmatic about OO vs. FP. If someone doesn’t see the benefits of either then they should just pick what works for them, or avoid Scala. Denying the merits of a programming language fulfils no useful purpose, whatever someone can be productive with is the right tool for them.

In these slides, Martin sums up perfectly the challenges facing Scala adoption in the wider community: ‘extremists’ at each end of the OO-FP divide can be prompt to come out with their ‘pitch fork’s.
I’ve always perceived Martin as a software anthropologist who’d examine long and hard where learning opportunities might be, then come up with applications where most people would get the most benefits. This is just like Anders Hejlsbeg, or Rick Hickey. What you see is that these people bring tremendous value to the software development practice, there’s much to learn in closely listening to what they have to say.

Another way I found useful to look at Scala’s embrace of both OO and FP goes like this:

  • OO provides the structural facilities, the scaffolding amenities, the brick layering capability if you wish. This is how you eventually render your product. You want to be able to tear these apart as you wish, throw parts away as you see fit. A building must obey some basic laws of physics, hygiene and citizenry to be acceptable for any housing purposes.
  • FP provides the means for generalising behaviours that one wish to share and repeatedly reuse. You want predictability, stability and control here. This would be like being able to re-arrange your whole house such that bedroom, the kitchen, the living area, the computer corner or the dining area could be all be shuffled around in an unlimited configuration without having to rebuild the whole house – this is unrealistic in real-life, but we’re talking about software here.

By combining the two aspects, you get more ‘bangs for the bucks’ as they say. With my simplistic analogies, FP would be the content of your house, and OO would be the building frame. If you do it well, you can take your house content anywhere with you, but you usually discard the building frame or leave it behind.

There is no useful reason to be dogmatic about OO vs. FP. If someone doesn’t see the benefits of either then they should just pick what works for them, or avoid Scala. Coming from Java development background, or facing with a future with Java, Scala is a great platform to build sustainable solutions on.

Martin’s Slides – warning, Slideshare might require Flash – not my wish though ;-( :

On the inside looking out

In the consumer realm “shock and awe” rules. Problem number one with “shock and awe” is that it doesn’t work when you need developers and other partners to succeed. Microsoft needs to improve customer engagement, dramatically. Microsoft has to make a clear differentiation between platform and product. It turns out that the consumer ecosystem as well as the community of influencers craves direction and interaction with the vendor every bit as much as Enterprise CIOs do. Put simply, the consumer guys are wrong about secrecy. At least at Microsoft. I hope they figure it out soon, because “shut up and ship” is not helping their cause.

This is a good post, from a former Microsoft executive:

Now I get it, the Consumer guys at Microsoft are just plain wrong!

The Economist: Platforms, Something to stand on

According to The Economist, PROVIDING THE RIGHT platform is sometimes all it takes. This is pitting industry giants against one another in an epic battle t

The Economist gives a brief overview of the platformisation that is pitting the large players in the IT industry against one another.  The real battle raging between Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Mozilla and others is about just that: each want to be a dominant platform player, each with its own take on the game. There are several fronts in these epic battles, but ultimately it comes down to raking up as much mindshare as possible, hence the purse holder’s attention and interest.  Microsoft and Google might be the only ones attempting to fight it on all fronts, it seems to me for example that Apple isn’t really going after Facebook (might have given up), and Facebook’s platform could be seen as both a PaaS and a SaaS play, they may not want or need to go for enterprise data centre market. Linux is also in the same game, though it’s interesting to see that actually Amazon and Google (soon Samsung and Intel via Tizen?) might indirectly doing Linux a favour. I can’t truly read Mozilla yet, Google being their largest source of revenue makes me inclined to think they root for Google in a kind of kinship manner.

I always find it amusing to read some pundits ripping apart one particular vendor, say Apple or Microsoft, and citing Google as a better role model for openness. Linux is the only player that is truly flying the liberal flag, though Linux is more of a movement and isn’t a single vendor in any way. Every vendor is vying for dominance, taking sides is just as much fanboyism as any. Nobody knows for sure where this will all lead us, but I think the consumer wins when there is choice. It’s always going to be daunting to switchover from one platform to another

Here’s The Economist article: Platforms: Something to stand on.

Windows strength was the distribution model, people never loved it per se

Microsoft’s early masterstroke was to have locked down the distribution. Once they succeeded in that, it was easier for them to push their products to users. With the change in the distribution model, Windows strongest advantage started to wither, resulting in the current (identity?) crisis it faces. People got Windows while looking for PCs, they didn’t care about Windows otherwise. OEMs cared about Windows, mostly because they’d not be successful in the market. There was a time when relevance was driven by the distribution model, mostly powered by the OEMs. The Internet provided the first major blow to that model. The rise in mobile computing on smart devices provided a second major blow to the OEM model.

Microsoft’s early masterstroke was to have locked down the distribution. Once they succeeded in that, it was easier for them to push their products to users. With the change in the distribution model, Windows strongest advantage started to wither, resulting in the current (identity?) crisis  it faces.

People wanted personal computers, and those almost universally shipped with Windows, therefore people got Windows by default. Microsoft’s deals with IBM and the OEMs were the reason for this. Since everyone was getting Windows, developers had to target it. In the early days, developing for Ms-DOS and Windows, was much easier and affordable compared to other platforms, this resulted in popular software being available only on Ms-DOS and Windows. Therefore, people created on Windows,  users needed PCs running Windows in order to consume such creations. There was no specific love for Windows pushing buyers to it.

The Internet popularised new ways of using computers that Microsoft didn’t control. Apple helped to popularise new computing experiences and devices that Microsoft didn’t control. The combined force of these major shifts resulted in the emergence of new powerful distribution models, challenging the established OEM model.

Apple created an enviable model that allows them to ship desirable products successfully and repeatedly. Microsoft must have decided to follow a similar path, that could explain why they didn’t hesitate to upset their OEMs, their single biggest force in the marketplace.

Google saw a chance in becoming the world’s Internet proxy, Microsoft woke up to that much later. It would have been a hard sell anyway trying to position Windows there. Even in the data center, Windows has a chance to be present but no chance to becoming the dominant force.

Windows relevance challenge is now mostly a problem for Microsoft, and to some extent the millions of people whose skills and experience would be deprecated should Windows falter considerably. Ironically, Microsoft alienated OEMs, their former virtual Chief Of Growth. Microsoft also seems to be well on the way of alienating users too – force feeding Metro (Modern) UI to legions of users is a sure way of asking them to try something else.

Microsoft virtually dropping their OEMs is a risky bid, it was what made them in the first place and continued to carry them for decades. Somehow, Apple dropping skeuomorphism is a similarly dangerous move, if that sort of emotion and empathy disappears from Apple experience users would start to see fewer and fewer differentiation in the experience. Talking about ‘the platform you love’ would increasingly sound delusional rather than an actual reflection of the market reality.

 

 

It is time for a smart mobile device on the go, and wireless peripherals everywhere

The ultimate convenience in personal computing is to carry very little with you and have everything available at hand wherever you may be. To make a rather tangent parallel, when you see celebrities or powerful people travelling they never seem to be carrying anything at all, and that’s because there are small armies of people doing that for them. In computing, that small personal army would be your smartphone or tablet, such that when you actually need access to bulky stuff (printers, projectors, large display) they are available on the premise where you are. I imagine a (very) near future where all you need is a good smartphone on you, and dumb wireless terminals wherever you go. Perhaps not even a smartphone per sé, but a smart device that holds your identity and most personal items so that you can experience them on all nearby by-you authorised peripheral devices

I imagine a (very) near future where all you need is a good smartphone on you, and dumb wireless terminals wherever you go. Perhaps not even a smartphone per sé, but a smart device that holds your identity and most personal items so that you can experience them on all nearby by-you authorised peripheral devices. Here are the signs that point to this.

Smartphones and tablets cost more than your average PC

Don’t take my word for it, look up any online or offline store for PCs. Do the same for smartphones and tablets, compare the prices, you’ll see that they’re very close. So, if you are going to buy a PC, you probably can afford a smart mobile device and you are likely to choose for the latter due to the superior convenience and personalisation.

Smart devices have your most relevant and up to date data

Again, if you’re using one you won’t have any doubt about that. I actually craved for this for years and tried every generation of products that I could afford to buy in my time. I wasn’t nearly satisfied until I got my first iPhone, a 3G model when they first came out. With either a smartphone or a tablet, you have Internet with you and you can access your email and do banking, collaborate on documents.

Main PC uses: browse, store print or share things, play.

A smartphone or tablet can perform very well everything a PC can do, but the converse is not true. It is more convenient to browse the Internet with a smartphone or tablet, than it is to do it with a PC. Beyond that, you can also store things or share things without a PC. In fact, you may be better off storing things in the Cloud than keeping them on a PC. Printing from smartphone and tablet has been relatively elusive until printers started to evolve too. Actually, wherever there is a printer there is also a good functioning PC nearby. So, if you’ve already got a PC it is likely that it works well and you have no reason to upgrade it. Mobile gaming on smartphones and tablets is taking off seriously. There’s not much left that you could be missing.

My 5 year old laptop is still amazing

I wrote a couple of posts about my Macbook Pro in this blog. They are still relevant, it’s still incredibly snappy and robust. I did recently experience a problem, which might actually be an unpublicised bug with OSX Mavericks (previous blog post entry). Since writing that post, the second disk appears to be back online, as if nothing ever happened, and I haven’t lost any data because I didn’t rush to reformat the disk or anything like that. Other than this brief issue with the disk, the laptop remains speedy and responsive. The tasks that my ageing laptop doesn’t cope well with include: deeply technical tasks such as compiling complex toolkits, simultaneously running multiple OS on VM, I don’t do any video processing but I’m sure it will be slower doing that compare to contemporary machines. When you look at these tasks though, you see that you actually want those to run on the Cloud rather than locally. Cloud hosting is no longer just for data centers, it’s becoming attractive for consumers too (see Amazon new GPU announcement).

In closing

The ultimate convenience in personal computing is to carry very little with you and have everything available at hand wherever you may be. To make a rather tangent parallel, when you see celebrities or powerful people travelling they never seem to be carrying anything at all, and that’s because there are small armies of people doing that for them. In computing, that small personal army would be your smartphone or tablet, such that when you actually need access to bulky stuff (printers, projectors, large display) they are available on the premise where you are. A smart device affords everybody a kind of celebrity privilege except for the publicity stuff, and I suspect lots of fashion moves were motivated by the layman’s envying what the privileged few have got.

I dislike hype, it’s almost pathological. This makes me feel like coming up with contrarian arguments in reaction to most articles I read these days that talk about computing technology market. This feeling is reinforced by the impression that many of these analysts are simply posturing with no work whatsoever to back up their writings. This is also seen in many articles on the so-called post-PC era. So if they can get away with it, I feel entitled to risk some thoughts on the subject.

Blighted by the hard disk

A failing hard drive on my MBP caused a lot of troubles without ever showing any errors or signs that it was occurring. The disk eventually stopped working, then the laptop became responsive as it always used to be.

Recently I had a terrible time with my MBP and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It turned out that a hard disk was failing, this only became apparent after a few weeks of bad experience.

Intermittently there would be severe lags in response to just about any action, no error messages showing anywhere and no signs of any sort of trouble. The timing was bad, to say the least. Eventually, the second disk on my MPB started to eject itself frequently and wouldn’t be visible. I had to reconfigure my machine to have all my files in the single functioning disk. Once this happened, my laptop became the nippy device I was accustomed to.

The early signs: every now and then the laptop experiences long lags, no errors shown. Because this was happening at a time when I was working on an assignment on a different setup. I started blaming everything new I had installed and would reinstall and reconfigure programs hoping that would be the cause, alas to no effect.

MBP Disk auto ejects
MBP Disk auto ejects

Eventually, some clues: the disk would intermittently auto eject. This forced me to find a location for the files I needed in the project I was working on. I run Disk Utility a couple of times and it did show a serious problem with the second hard disk. I had no time to dig into this, chose to wait until my engagement was over.

The final straw: only one disk now available in the system. Once this happened, my MBP started behaving normally again.

I was lucky to have had partitioned off my data such that the boot drive had all the essential programs and files needed to run the computer. The second disk mainly hosts data, and nearly all of it was frequently backed up and copied to a second machine. If I fail to recover the disk, I would only lose a few days of work. The project I was working on, when the incident started to occur, was all based on a GIT repository and I was pushing my changes at the end of the day, so didn’t lose any work there. Thank goodness.

Tech platform curation is good, but let adults take responsibility

In tech, like in many other industries, people need to make trade-offs. Apple chose to curate as much as possible, and they are mostly doing a good job – why else would their devices be such a runaway success? And yes, it is certainly a slippery slope giving so-called power users more choices. But I don’t think the need to curate should be detrimental to good practice, in this case a backup solution should never force a user down a single path, the way Time Capsule is doing it here.

I frequently experience the issue that Apple, in their attempt to totally curate the platform, actually take away vital responsibility from those who could otherwise be more empowered. Most computing devices are good when they function normally and remain responsive to user interactions. But, when something goes wrong, that’s when you really appreciate the ability to get out of trouble. And those are the moments when a technical savvy person could get really frustrated with Apple. Take this latest example with my Time Capsule:

Time Capsule wants to delete my backup history
A dangerous Time Capsule dialog

This dialog might look innocent but it isn’t, here is what it is saying to me:

Time Capsule has decided that it is going to destroy your backup history from the beginning of times. This means that you are starting anew, there is no way back from this. Now I give you two options, a) do this right now and get over it, or else b) I stop doing any backup until you finally accept this situation.

This is terrible for several reasons. The first one is that it defeats the whole purpose of Time Machine, remember when Steve Jobs famously demo’ed feature saying that you “will never lose a file again”? Well, this dialog clearly contradicts that claim, your history will be gone for no fault of your own. The second reason why this isn’t good is that, backup rotation schemes have been around forever, Time Capsule has no business deleting my older backups without giving me any other alternative. What it is supposed to do here, is to allow me to either add a new disk, or take the current backup history offline, or simply suggest to delete the oldest backup (but not the entire history!).

If given more options, since I know how to go about this, I would be able to take an appropriate action and be content with the product. But if it treats me like a kid, giving me no other option, that is a bad user experience and it is frustrating. Another example is that, I noticed the disk free space on my MacBook Pro had shrunk dramatically and I suspected something wasn’t quite right. Luckily I’d used the Target Disk Mode before, so I did that and found out the disk needed repairing, which I run. Before repair it was reporting 34 GB free space, after Repair it reported 124 GB free space! I have one more example with Server Manager (OS X Mountain Lion) but I save that for another post, if time permits.

This Time Capsule issue is one example where platform curation falls short. And at the moment, it looks like Apple is the biggest culprit in such practice – though Microsoft seem to be marching fast on the same track – I’ve been running Windows 8 RC for a while, it’s getting harder to troubleshoot issues, see what apps are running for example.

In tech, like in many other industries, people need to make trade-offs. Apple chose to curate as much as possible, and they are mostly doing a good job – why else would their devices be such a runaway success? And yes, it is certainly a slippery slope giving so-called power users more choices. But I don’t think the need to curate should be detrimental to good practice, in this case a backup solution should never force a user down a single path, the way Time Capsule is doing it here.