Unix FTW
April 22nd, 2012 by ravi

Imagine an operating system that was conceived and developed as a secondary project, decades before operating systems became a household word. One that its owner (AT&T) had neither the skill nor the legal sanction to sell. One that once out into the wild, forked into a hundred avatars. One that ran natively on (and was sold shrink wrapped for) few or no consumer hardware platforms. A system that was eclipsed in the 90s by the user friendliness of Mac OS and the business savvy of Microsoft Windows. A system that offered (and advocated) a minimalist approach to usage (user interface, programming, etc).

It is now 2012. That operating system is Unix. And everywhere but the corporate IT controlled desktop market, it rules the computing world in the form of GNU/Linux, *BSD, Mac OS X, iOS and Android.

There are I think some very valuable lessons to be learnt from this phenomenal and highly improbable success. Lessons to do with complexity, methodology, motivation… lessons that are in my opinion very much relevant to the obsessions and fashions of today’s technical world, ranging from exotic programming languages to frameworks and platforms like .NET, Eclipse, ClearCase, etc. Any muddled thoughts I might have on these lessons will have to wait. For now, I want to merely enjoy the moment.

The title should really read: Unix + GNU FTW.

The value of Instagram
April 16th, 2012 by ravi

Imagine if you had entered college in 1999 and left grad school in 2005. You wouldn’t know much of the dot-com boom and the bizarre billion dollar acquisitions of companies that had not made a single dollar and had no clear chance or plan of ever doing so. The tech boom of 2010 would seem a new and momentous event. The automobile revolution of the early 21st century, not the tulip craze. Should you meet a naysaying curmudgeon from the last decade, and need a voice to counter his pessimism, Don Dodge would be your man. Here he is, talking about the mind-boggling billion dollar acquisition of photo-mutilation service Instagram by Facebook – he will have none of the incredulity over a billion dollar price on a product that can be built out in a week:

 Success looks easy from a distance. Technology seems simple if the design is great. Attracting great founders and early employees just means rounding up some of your friends. Raising money is always easy, right? Getting great press stories just takes a few emails. Attracting influential users just sort of happens. Viral growth is a simple formula. Solving a problem that millions of people care about is just luck.

He’s being sarcastic, of course. His point is that it’s not the ability to code up Instagram in a week that matters:

From a technical point of view there isn’t much difference between Instagram, Path, Oink, Hipster, or a bunch of other companies that all do essentially the same things. Mobile, social, photo apps that include comments and some type of friend/follow model. Why is one worth $1B and another shut down with no value? It isn’t about the technology or how long it took to build.

Taken together, these two quoted sections, and the refinements that he offers later in the piece (“first mover advantage”, “design”, “timing and luck”), form Dodge’s defence of Instagram:

Technology can be replicated, timing and luck can’t.

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Open vs Free, the Android vs iPhone edition
April 2nd, 2012 by ravi

Over on GigaOm, Tom Krazit spins an old argument as a new one by characterising as silly the many recent blog posts on how little money Google makes on Android, in fact much lesser than what it makes on iOS (I have made such posts myself). Look beyond the dollars, he says, as if that’s a fresh and non-obvious point:

Not all investments are made with the expectation that a big payoff is around the corner. Google’s decision to bankroll the development of Android was just such an investment, which makes the past week’s back and forth over just how much money Google has garnered from that investment quite silly.


The mistake is assuming that Google views this as a big problem, as if Android has been a waste of money because Google makes more money from its competitor. Would Google like to make more revenue from Android? Sure. Money is nice. But Android was a defensive move on Google’s part, and one that wasn’t primarily motivated by desire for revenue or profit.

The mistake in Krazit’s own thesis is that he sees discussion of Google’s revenue as an independent and sole criticism of what Google is doing with Android. That is not the case. The fact that Google does not derive profit from Android but gives it away for free to handset makers and telcos (not users, less than 2% of whom can upgrade to the latest version of Android released many months ago) is part of a larger argument or analysis of the nature of Android vs iOS. Since Krazit wants to rehash these points as if new, I will repeat my criticism which is a bit different from that of famous iOS defenders like John Gruber.
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