The Ribbon of Life Has a Powerful Beat

I’ve just read Jakob Neilson expounding the virtues of “Microsoft’s” “New” “What You Get Is What You See” usability initiative in Office (versus Apple’s “What You See Is What You Get” concept). Along with many in the Windows world who have been treated to betas of Office 12, he has swallowed a good deal of kool-aid and come to a bunch of erroneous conclusions.

  1. This is new (it isn’t; heck the “bold” button in Word has always been a bold b)
  2. This is one in the eye for Apple (KeyNote, Pages, several iApps, do this kind of thing already, and they do it better)
  3. It works

I can’t be bothered going into detail here, but first of all this is a step further down the path of obfuscating more efficient ways of using software (e.g., in the case of Word, using stylesheets) in favor of wasting huge amounts of space on fancy toolbars and palettes.

Ultimately, the trend (for both Apple and Microsoft) seems to be to produce a word processor with icons that create an entire “fill in the blanks” document, produced by a “design professional”. So Word’s icons might have something like a “Moby Dick” icon, where you tab to the field containing “Ishmael” to rename the main character.

Secunia, Techworld, Mac OS X, and various Reality Distortion Fields

Recently, a Danish (I am told) internet security firm named Secunia has gotten a lot of free publicity, largely by making the pronouncement that Mac OS X is no more secure than other operating systems, notably Windows XP and its variations, which it considers the most secure of all.

Apple has gotten quite a bit (not a huge amount) of bad press over this, all of it citing Secunia’s Press Release. The most vehement I have encountered is on Techworld.com: Apple Shames Itself Again Over Security.

Unlike some pro-Apple bigots I am not entirely immune to doubting the utter superiority of Mac OS X to all alternatives, so I decided to do a little research. Something, apparently, no-one at Techworld is required to do.

If you visit Secunia’s website, and I suggest you do, try looking at their archives of security alerts, under Apple: Mac OS X, and Microsoft: Windows XP Professional. I won’t link directly, since you should go find these things yourself to (a) prove how easy it is, and (b) demonstrate that I am not cherry-picking my results.

First of all, in their summary graphs and tables, Secunia reports fewer security alerts for Mac OS X (all versions including server) than one variant (Professional) of Windows XP. But, hold your horses, Windows XP Professional is reported as having no serious issues, none, zero percent (out of 67).

But, when you scroll down the page you discover several serious issues listed. Hmm, if there are several, how does this come out as 0%? So either Secunia are incompetent, or dishonest. Certainly, journalists can’t be bothered checking beyond press releases. Well, no surprise there.
What’s more, one of these serious issues has been unresolved for nine months!

And then, there’s the well-known gaping hole of ActiveX (an ActiveX control can do anything it likes to your machine). ActiveX issues are mentioned only once on Secunia’s XP Professional page and shown as having a single serious flaw which has been fixed. (It’s one of the 0%.) Well the fix is that the user has to magically know that this ActiveX control isn’t safe and click “No” while to get his/her daily work done he/she may have to magically know that other ActiveX controls ARE safe and click “Yes”. Whew. Glad that was “fixed”.

Software: The Disservice Model

Note: the author’s copy of Adobe Illustrator 10.0.3 hung twice while being launchd during the writing of this piece, which may explain a few things.

A friend of mine has a theory that if Microsoft ever produced a version of Word that actually worked, it would go out of business. (A lot of Macintosh users think that as of version 5.1 they did, and have never upgraded since, hence the theory.)

New versions of Word are usually notable for additional “functionality” that most users don’t want and can’t figure out how to turn off which slow it down to the speed of the previous version on much faster hardware. Recent versions do “helpful” things like prevent you from making points (a), (b), and (c) … because (c) must be a copyright symbol, or superscripting the “th” in “4th” whether you want it to or not. By far the majority of Word users do not want these features and cannot switch them off.

Meanwhile, Adobe has incorporated some kind of dynamic update service for its various flagship programs (such as Photoshop and Illustrator) which is presumably intended to make sure that if Adobe finds and fixes a bug, it can be seamlessly fixed before you necessarily notice it. Of course, the dynamic update service is the single worst bug in their software, and they don’t seem to be interested in fixing it.

Beyond this, there is a general trend towards switching from software licenses (which work kind of like ownership) to software subscriptions (which don’t). It all started going “pear-shaped” when Microsoft (for example) decided to refer to versions of its software by model year (like cars and evening gowns) rather than significant revision.

The software “service” model wanted to make software products less like appliances (such as your telephone) and more like services (such as your telephone service). Most people I know are happy with most or all of their appliances and loath and despise most or all of their services. E.g. wireless phone services and cable TV services are the two most despised classes of business in the USA (according to consumerreports.com).

It may not seem so bad to only have to pay for Word when you want to use it (which is probably what Microsoft realised when it stepped back from the brink). After all, most people get a version of Office with their computer and then don’t use most of it (how many businesses pay to put a copy of Access on every PC?), and forget they own it when they give the computer away or drop it into landfill. But imagine getting a monthly “Office Service” bill and having all your documents deleted (or just inaccessible) should you fail to pay it; this is the kind of “service” such companies would like to provide.

It’s funny how language evolves. Imagine what the word “service” will mean in a few decades.

What I’m Up To

I’m currently working on enhancements to One Two Red Blue’s “Manager | Builder | Stage” toolset. This is a multimedia presentation system used by most of our clients. It’s written using a lethal combination of Macromedia Director, Flash, and RealBasic.

I’m also working on a new game with Andrew Barry (http://www.barrysoftware.com/) creator of RealBasic and Spotlight Debugger (among other things) and co-creator [with yours truly] of Prince of Destruction and the MARS engine that powered it.

Some people occasionally ask me what if anything I’ve done with ForeSight lately. The answer is *not much*. If I update it, I will probably make it a “D20 System” — I think it would be nice to have a D20 game with a resolution system that works properly…