One of the lessons I’ve been a bit slow to learn is that waiting for free is expensive. It can be infinitely expensive.
Here’s how I learned it: 3d software. I love 3d, but really I’m a bit of a dabbler. Back when I first got into 3d there was nothing terribly good available for free, so I ended up paying a lot of money for things like Strata 3d, Form*Z, ElectricImage, 3d Studio Max, Alias Sketch, and so on. I’d sunk a lot of money, probably over $20,000, into 3d software in about ten years — a lot of money for a hobby, but hey I was single, earning a ton of money, and it was all tax-deductible. Even so, I started baulking at the prices when 3ds max started getting revved every year or so with $1000+ upgrades — I stopped upgrading my software and for a while I coasted… but eventually it got too out-of-date and incompatible.
It was around then that I got into Blender (which is free). I couldn’t get my head around Blender’s UI, so I did as much as possible in other packages, like Wings3D and Silo, only ducking into Blender for lighting and rendering. I got to like Blender, despite its flaws, and lately it has started promising to be truly competitive with commercial packages, even in usability.
But it’s been over five years since I started working with Blender and I’m still not very comfortable in it (there are very few software packages I use that I don’t feel comfortable, indeed expert, with, so it’s pretty amazing to fumble my way around a program I’ve been using for five years). And it looks like being a while before Blender 2.5 is really useful (right now, it won’t import my Blender 2.49b animations). If I had been depending on my 3d work for a living, there is no way I would put up with Blender.
Indeed, when I started doing some serious 3d work, I ended up buying several packages and — in pure productivity terms — they each paid for themselves within a few days.
Life is short. If I think I might have some talent as a 3d artist, what’s the cost of spending extra time figuring out how to use needlessly difficult software? And what’s the cost of waiting to start using a product that promises to be awesome some time in the future?
Tim Bray has very publicly joined Google’s ranks with the express purpose of killing the iPhone. He is quoted as saying:
The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.
There’s more of this vitriol, but I think that gives you a pretty good idea. Tim Bray certainly deserves a bit of respect for his many achievements, but this is just silly.
You know what I really want for my phone? A third-party task manager to kill runaway background apps.
The big difference between Apple and Google is that Apple has always had a more holistic view of “the user experience” than Google (or pretty much any other company). Apple wants to make sure users have lots of software to choose, and they’d prefer it to be good. They want to developers to make lots of money, but adhere to standards. (Standards they’ve never been able to get most developers to stick to on their “open” platforms.) They want a great experience for everyone, but there are tradeoffs involved. Sometimes, making things better for users means making life difficult for developers.
Perhaps the best example of this is Apple’s approach to DRM. They put in just enough to please content producers, and so little that it has almost no material effect on end-users. Do you know anyone who has had serious problems with Apple’s DRM? Ah yes, a sterile walled garden guarded by vicious lawyers — which makes musicians money and consumers happy.
Google simply doesn’t care. It wants cell phones to have decent web browsers in them. That’s basically it. It doesn’t care if people like their cell phones, or if developers make money producing software for their cellphones, or if cell phone companies sell users phones with outdated software, or if carriers force users to pay for “free” features. It makes almost no effort to force cellphones to be upgradeable, or adhere to minimal quality standards, or be interoperable. As far as Google is concerned, once you’ve bought your Android phone and can click on its ads its work is done.
But hey, it’s “free” — and, you know, if your time is worthless then enjoy.