February 2013

apple car cockpit

In the big story is about Apple’s rumoured “iWatch”, Business Insider took notice of a Steve Jobs idea mentioned in passing:

In a meeting in his office before he died, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and former chief executive, told John Markoff of The New York Times that if he had more energy, he would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car.

This sounds like a perfect time to remind everyone about those old “If operating systems were cars” jokes.

The Classic

The original humour piece went something like this. As you can tell by the names of some of the operating systems, this one’s pretty old.

If operating systems ran your car, and you needed to go shopping:

  • MS-DOS: You get in the car and try to remember where you put the keys.
  • Windows: You get in the car and drive to the shops very slowly, because attached to the back of the car is a freight train.
  • Macintosh System 7: You get in the car to drive to the shops and the car drives you to church.
  • Unix: You get in the car and type ‘grep store’. After reaching speeds of 200 mph en route, you arrive at the barbershop.
  • Windows NT: You get in the car and write a letter that says “go to the shops”. Then you get out of the car and nail the letter to the dashboard.
  • Taligent/Pink: You walk to the store with Ricardo Montalban who tells you how wonderful it will be when he can fly you to the store in his LearJet.
  • OS/2: After fuelling up with 6000 gallons of fuel, you get in the car and drive to the shops with a motorcycle escort and a marching band in procession. Halfway there, the car blows up, killing everyone.
  • S/36 SSP: You get in the car and drive to the shops. Halfway there you run out of fuel. While walking the rest of the way, you are run over by kids with mopeds.
  • AS/400: An attendant kicks you into the car and then drives you to the shops where you get to watch everyone else buying filets mignon.

The Photo Variant

cars as oss

The Gearshift Variant

oss and gearshifts

The “Can You Get Under the Hood” Variant

windows and mac os as cars

linux car kit

The Story from Neal Stephenson’s In the Beginning was the Command Line

Joey deVilla smiles as Neal Stephenson autographs a book for him.

When the Clown Prince of Accordion met the Dark Prince of Hacker Fiction.
For the story behind this pictures, see here, here and here.

And finally, here’s an excerpt from Neal Stephenson’s In the Beginning was the Command Line. It was his 1999 essay in which he proposed that proprietary operating systems weren’t going to be profitable ventures for much longer because the space was about to be taken over by free software. Hey, it sort of came true, and it’s not as far off as Eric S. Raymond’s prediction in his essay, The Revenge of the Hackers:

Windows 2000 will be either canceled or dead on arrival. Either way it will turn into a horrendous train wreck, the worst strategic disaster in Microsoft’s history.

Near the beginning of In the Beginning, Stephenson compared the big desktop OSs of the time to cars:

  • Windows 9x to station wagons
  • Windows NT to off-road vehicles
  • Mac OS (remember, this is pre-OS X) to European sedans
  • BeOS to the Batmobile
  • Linux to tanks that you could customize or get hackers to customize for you.

Here’s the part in which he tells his version of the “If operating systems were cars” joke. Enjoy!

MGBs, Tanks and Batmobiles

in the beginning was the command lineAround the time that Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, and Allen were dreaming up these unlikely schemes, I was a teenager living in Ames, Iowa. One of my friends’ dads had an old MGB sports car rusting away in his garage. Sometimes he would actually manage to get it running and then he would take us for a spin around the block, with a memorable look of wild youthful exhiliration on his face; to his worried passengers, he was a madman, stalling and backfiring around Ames, Iowa and eating the dust of rusty Gremlins and Pintos, but in his own mind he was Dustin Hoffman tooling across the Bay Bridge with the wind in his hair.

In retrospect, this was telling me two things about people’s relationship to technology. One was that romance and image go a long way towards shaping their opinions. If you doubt it (and if you have a lot of spare time on your hands) just ask anyone who owns a Macintosh and who, on those grounds, imagines him- or herself to be a member of an oppressed minority group.

The other, somewhat subtler point, was that interface is very important. Sure, the MGB was a lousy car in almost every way that counted: balky, unreliable, underpowered. But it was fun to drive. It was responsive. Every pebble on the road was felt in the bones, every nuance in the pavement transmitted instantly to the driver’s hands. He could listen to the engine and tell what was wrong with it. The steering responded immediately to commands from his hands. To us passengers it was a pointless exercise in going nowhere–about as interesting as peering over someone’s shoulder while he punches numbers into a spreadsheet. But to the driver it was an experience. For a short time he was extending his body and his senses into a larger realm, and doing things that he couldn’t do unassisted.

The analogy between cars and operating systems is not half bad, and so let me run with it for a moment, as a way of giving an executive summary of our situation today.

3-speed bikes

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Imagine a crossroads where four competing auto dealerships are situated. One of them (Microsoft) is much, much bigger than the others. It started out years ago selling three-speed bicycles (MS-DOS); these were not perfect, but they worked, and when they broke you could easily fix them.

1980s concept car

There was a competing bicycle dealership next door (Apple) that one day began selling motorized vehicles–expensive but attractively styled cars with their innards hermetically sealed, so that how they worked was something of a mystery.

sinclair c5

The big dealership responded by rushing a moped upgrade kit (the original Windows) onto the market. This was a Rube Goldberg contraption that, when bolted onto a three-speed bicycle, enabled it to keep up, just barely, with Apple-cars. The users had to wear goggles and were always picking bugs out of their teeth while Apple owners sped along in hermetically sealed comfort, sneering out the windows. But the Micro-mopeds were cheap, and easy to fix compared with the Apple-cars, and their market share waxed.

station wagon

Eventually the big dealership came out with a full-fledged car: a colossal station wagon (Windows 95). It had all the aesthetic appeal of a Soviet worker housing block, it leaked oil and blew gaskets, and it was an enormous success.


A little later, they also came out with a hulking off-road vehicle intended for industrial users (Windows NT) which was no more beautiful than the station wagon, and only a little more reliable.


Since then there has been a lot of noise and shouting, but little has changed. The smaller dealership continues to sell sleek Euro-styled sedans and to spend a lot of money on advertising campaigns. They have had GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! signs taped up in their windows for so long that they have gotten all yellow and curly. The big one keeps making bigger and bigger station wagons and ORVs.

On the other side of the road are two competitors that have come along more recently.


One of them (Be, Inc.) is selling fully operational Batmobiles (the BeOS). They are more beautiful and stylish even than the Euro-sedans, better designed, more technologically advanced, and at least as reliable as anything else on the market–and yet cheaper than the others.


With one exception, that is: Linux, which is right next door, and which is not a business at all. It’s a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. They’ve been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free.

Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons or off-road vehicles. They do not even look at the other dealerships.

Of the remaining ten percent, most go and buy a sleek Euro-sedan, pausing only to turn up their noses at the philistines going to buy the station wagons and ORVs. If they even notice the people on the opposite side of the road, selling the cheaper, technically superior vehicles, these customers deride them cranks and half-wits.

The Batmobile outlet sells a few vehicles to the occasional car nut who wants a second vehicle to go with his station wagon, but seems to accept, at least for now, that it’s a fringe player.

The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns, trying to draw customers’ attention to this incredible situation. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Hacker with bullhorn: “Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!”

Prospective station wagon buyer: “I know what you say is true…but…er…I don’t know how to maintain a tank!”

Bullhorn: “You don’t know how to maintain a station wagon either!”

Buyer: “But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music.”

Bullhorn: “But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!”

Buyer: “Stay away from my house, you freak!”

Bullhorn: “But…”

Buyer: “Can’t you see that everyone is buying station wagons?”


star wars episode iv opening shot

This could be the best traceroute ever. Open up a terminal window and type the following:

(If you're on Windows, use tracert instead of traceroute.)

After the first few hops, you should see the introduction to a grand space opera:

Apparently, this is what CCIEs — Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts — do when they’re bored.


My Favourite Xcode Improvement

by Joey deVilla on February 9, 2013

Xcode 4.6 was released on January 28th, the same day that iOS 6.1 was released. It adds support for iOS 6.1 and Mac OS X 10.8, and two new devices, the iPad mini and the 4th-gen iPad with Retina display. There are also a number of improvements to the LLVM compiler and Objective-C language, including some new warnings to help find subtle bugs when using ARC and weak references.

The improvement that jumped out at me is a simple one, but one that is already saving me a lot of frustration. It used to happen when typing in the class name NSString. This problem is best explained by this classic pic from the Tumblr called Texts from Xcode:

text from xcode 1

I don’t know about you, but I use NSString waaaay more than NSStream.

With Xcode 4.6, as I started typing in NSString, here’s what happened:


Autocomplete, mirabile dictu, jumped straight for NSString!

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the experience.


We Know MANY People Who Need One of These

by Joey deVilla on February 8, 2013

phone cone

This article also appears in Mobilize!: The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.

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Free Ebook: The Executive’s Guide to BYOD and the Consumerization of IT

executives guide to byodIf people you know are trying to work their way through the hedge maze of letting employees bring their own devices to work, give them the free ebook The Executive’s Guide to BYOD and the Consumerization of IT. It’s a collection of what TechRepublic and ZDNet consider to be some of their best recent articles on the topics of BYOD and its older, more generic cousin, the consumerization of IT.

Here’s a list of the articles contained within the book:

  • Consumerization of IT, BYOD, and mobile device management
  • Survey: 62% of companies to allow BYOD by year’s end
  • Can BYOD make the IT department a hero again?
  • BYOD in the midst of war: How IT consumerization is keeping the US military in touch with home
  • Five security risks of moving data in the BYOD era
  • Surface RT versus iPad: BYOD tablet showdown
  • BYOD is on the rise in Asia, but challenges remain
  • 10 reasons BYOD may be a bad fit for your organization
  • Case study: How Dimension Data is reaping huge benefits via BYOD
  • 10 questions on BYOD in the enterprise, with Peter Price, CEO of Webalo

Once again, the book is free. If you’re a member of TechRepublic, you can download it immediately; if you’re not, you’ll have to register first (it’s free).

Download the ebook here.

More Tidbits from Forrester’s Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends Report

commuter with mobile phone

In our previous post, we featured Forrester Research’s Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends report — yours for the low, low, low price of US$2495 — and showed some data on what smartphones and tablets were used and wanted by nearly 10,000 information workers in 17 countries surveyed.

Here are a few more tidbits from the report that you might find useful or interesting. Alas, we don’t have the “two and a half large” to spare for the full report, so we’re working with material culled from the report from sites with larger budgets.

  • Forrester could tighten up their classification of “information worker”. Their definition is “people who use a computer to do their jobs an hour or more a day.” That could apply to just about anybody with a job in North America these days.
  • Where do people use smartphones? Apparently, a lot of the “information workers” (or should I just say “everybody”?) surveyed use them everywhere, if you take the data to be accurate: they’re using them at home, on the way to and from work, and at work…
    • 64% said “at my work desk”,
    • 69% said “at home”, and
    • 64% said “while commuting”.
  • Over one-third are willing to chip in for better gear. 36% of the survey respondents said that they’d be up for ponying their own money to help the company cover the cost of a computer of their choice. Forrester interprets this as “I’d like to throw in my own money on top of the company so that I get a Mac”, and we think they’re right.
  • Dropbox is big. 70% of the respondents say they use it; half of them say they use it only for work.

Mobile Workers are “The New Norm”

home office

IDC Canada’s Canadian Mobile Worker 2012–2016 Forecast — priced at CA$4,500, which makes Forrester’s Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends report look like a bargain — suggests that mobile workers are the new norm. They define a mobile worker as someone who does some of their work each week outside the office. 68.9% of employed Canadians — 12.1 million in total — fell into this category in 2012. They predict that by 2016, this fraction will climb to 73%, or 13.3 million working Canucks.

The Globe and Mail interviewed the author of IDC Canada’s report, Krista Napier, a senior analyst at IDC and also a board member at Toronto’s Mobile Experience Innovation Centre. Some quick hits from the interview:

  • Mobile workers are more prevalent in smaller companies, where they work away from the office at least three days a week. We’ve seen this ourselves; it’s not all that common in Toronto’s startup/small tech company scene.
  • BYOD in Canada:
    • In 2012, 48% of IDC’s survey respondents said that they were already using personal devices at their main workplace.
    • In the same year, about 30% of Canadian companies had a BYOD policy in place, with another 26% planning to have one in place by the end of the year. That still leaves 44% without any BYOD plans. These guys might want to have a word with us about our services.
  • One device to rule them all? Not in the near future, anyway, say Napier. People these days own more, not fewer, devices, and tablets and smartphones are supplementing rather than replacing laptops outright. Napier often leaves her laptop at the office, preferring her tablet and large-factor smartphone (from the description, it sounds like a Samsung Galaxy Note) when she’s “out and about”.
  • Mobile work has its downsides: Most importantly, less face-time can lead to less collaboration and missed opportunities. There’s a reason why the expression for doing something half-heartedly is “phoning it in”.

This article also appears in Mobilize! The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.


laptop tablet smartphone

Forrester Research’s recent Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends report (yours for the price of US$2,495) is based on a survey of nearly 10,000 information workers from 17 countries, in which they were asked about their usage of desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. We didn’t spring for the full report, but we were able to glean some numbers from online sources and we’ll share them below.

“Anytime, Anywhere Workers” Up 25%

anytime anywhere workers

The photo at the top of this article of my own work setup: laptop, tablet and smartphone. As someone who uses three or more devices and works from a number of locations, Forrester would classify me as an “Anytime, anywhere” worker. Forrester’s report says that 23% of the workers surveyed in 2011 fell into this category; in 2012, that number increased by a quarter to 29%, meaning that nearly a third have three or more devices and move around a lot.

Smartphones: It’s Android’s and Apple’s World; We Just Live in It

smartphone oss at work

Back in January, we pointed to a ComScore MobiLens report that indicated that the smartphone world is an Android/iOS duopoly, with Android taking 54% of the market and Apple taking 35%. The duopoly also exists in the business world, but it’s a much closer race, with Android taking 37% of the market, with iOS following closely behind at 34%. BlackBerry users make up 15%; Forrester also reports that in the financial sector, this share is 26%, and across North America, their share is 20%.

smartphones workers use and want

The workers surveyed were also asked what smartphones they currently had and which ones they wanted. Android has a slight lead over iOS in terms of currently-used phones, but iOS is ahead by 50% when it comes to the “What I want for my next smartphone” category. It appears that the BlackBerry camp are sticking with their devices; I’m sure a good number of them are the sort who love their physical keyboards. The surprise is the number of people who want their next phone to be a Windows Phone: 10% of those surveyed.

Tablets: iPad Rules the Roost, But is There Hope for Surface?

tablet oss at work

As we expected (see this earlier article of ours), the iPad is the most-used tablet among those surveyed, with over twice the share of the runner-up, Android. Windows tablets make up for 11%; since this survey was taken in the fourth quarter of 2012, it’s likely that many of these tablets aren’t Surface RTs runnign Windows RT, but Windows 7 “slates” such as Samsung’s Series 7.

tabkets workers use and want

The growing demand for tablets at work isn’t surprising. What is surprising is the demand among those surveyed for a Windows tablet as their next work tablet. Surface sales have been slow, which suggests that what people want is a tablet that can run desktop Windows applications and not just Windows RT apps. The Surface Pro might appear to be that machine at first blush, but it looks as though it lives in that neither-here-nor-there netherworld between tablet and laptop.

This article also appears in Mobilize!: The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.


I Should Store My Cables This Way

by Joey deVilla on February 5, 2013

rasta cables

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