Friday, May 26, 2006

The Datastick

The Datastick

In one of the collections of Ron Cobb's fantastic artwork (I believe it was "The Art of Alien" but I could be mistaken) there is a device which looks a bit like a flashlight labelled "datastick". As far as I know, the device never appeared in the movie.

I've been thinking about the Datastick ever since. To me, it's essentially a smart storage device (not quite a computer) which serves as an interface between anything that creates or consumes data. Because it isn't itself a computer with a UI it can be cheap and rugged. It's been a considerable source of disappointment to me that many companies build devices which are tantalizingly close to being a Datastick, but none of which are as useful, versatile, or robust.

The iPod

An iPod could be a datastick. It has a standardized hardware interface and decent storage. It would be more compelling if you could replace its battery and/or plug in more storage.

PDAs and Cellphones

I group these two because, today, any decent PDA is a cellphone and any decent cellphone is a PDA. Sadly, these many of these devices don't yet support decent mass storage options (e.g. normal sized SD cards), standardized interfaces, and they all have too much computer functionality to be cheap and not enough to be useful. (I'd make the computer an accessory.)

So that's the Datastick. I think there's a huge potential market, although the first one will need to pretend to be a PDA/cellphone/iPod to get traction.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Addendum: Six SKUs of Separation

Addendum: Six SKUs of Separation

Microsoft is currently planning on six versions of Windows Vista, including two versions of Vista Home.

Gone is an earlier SKU oriented towards idiots gamers. Or maybe that's the "ultimate" edition.

This seems like a bad idea to me, but then I'm not a Microsoft Marketing Genius™. From a developer's perspective, the more I can rely on the target platform to be similar to the development/testing platform, the better. This in turn means that the fewer variations of the overall platform that are out there the better.

(Note: this is one reason why Linux remains such a terrible desktop platform.)

Currently, XP has Home, Media Center Edition, Tablet, Professional, and Server. From a development standpoint, this equates to Home/MCE/Professional, Tablet, and Server. So while the retail picture of XP is pretty complex, from a developer's point of view we have a single, pretty unified, target platform (since a server app is a server app and we probably don't care about Tablet).

But in the new world we have Home Basic and Home Premium which will have different looking GUIs just for starters. So when I write documentation for my users, I'm now going to need to do a lot more work (forget testing, etc.).

Annals of Usability: Windows Vista

Annals of Usability: Windows Vista

Disclaimer: I haven't used Windows Vista for even five minutes, so my opinions on it are just that valuable.

Windows Vista is the new version of Windows Microsoft plans to ship in 2004*. It features many groundbreaking new features, such as a search field on its file browser, a 3D chess game, and pixel-shader-powered rectangular window frames.

Ed Bott has posted thirty screen shots highlighting features of Windows Vista which he thinks particularly noteworthy, and it's certainly interesting.

Ed Bott's Blog Entry and Screen Shots.

Until I looked at this I really couldn't think of any reason one might want to use Vista (aside from the distant prospect of Microsoft dropping support for XP), but these two links show that the jump from XP to Vista looks at least as compelling as that from Win2k to XP... i.e. not very compelling, but a lot better than say the jump from Windows 98SE to Windows ME.

Of course, screenshots don't crash or take four days to install.

The biggest benefit for me: Microsoft is so busy imitating the Mac GUI in Vista that all the folks who claim they prefer the Windows UI are going to be explaining why Vista is better to themselves and their fanboi friends. This was fun back when they were claiming command line UIs were better than graphical UIs, and that mice were toys. It's still fun now.

That said, it's pretty hilarious that the performance rating system rates his Dual 3GHz PC with 3GB RAM etc. as "3/5".

* Based on the assumption that Jesus Christ was actually born in 5AD.

LOST has lost it.

LOST has lost it

I'm sorry to say that LOST seems to have jumped the backwards-talking midget shark. It seems to be the TV show no-one minds admitting they watch, but the formula, which is apparently Twin Peaks but with more writers and less drugs is wearing thin on me, and I suspect a lot of other viewers.

This started to get way too long, so I'm going to summarise:

1. Twin Peaks was, at its best, better.
2. Twin Peaks sucked pretty bad towards the end ... but we haven't seen how much LOST is going to suck yet.
3. At least Twin Peaks ended.
4. There is no way to resolve LOST at this point without aliens, creamed corn, and magic.

Of course the heart of the problem is the economics of TV production in the US. If you produce something and it's successful it is mandatory that it last at least five seasons so that it can make money in syndication. Thus, LOST must run five years to justify its existence, which means stretching out a pretty shaky story for about eighty episodes more than necessary.