9 Apr 2000 argent   » (Master)

[updates, last 000409.0746]

I see graydon wants more internal hyperlinks as well. But the Powers that Be aren't so happy about the idea. Let's see if you can use labels [1].

Software Genes

I really like aoliva's comparison of software systems and biological systems. Open Systems and Open Source software are the software equivalent of sexual reproduction. The promote the growth, adaption, and speciation of implementations, interfaces, and protocols... read my followup to aoliva's article for more on that aspect.

Since I posted that I've been thinking about one particular example, and how it fits into the whole idea...

Software systems thrive if they can use the work of lots of people to drive them. Even relatively closed systems like Microsoft Windows benefit from this, though they don't develop nearly as fast if you can't get into them one way or another... and they tend to concentrate their development in the one niche the designer planned for them.

Palm has the same problem, to some extent... they see the Palm as a "personal organizer" rather than as a full fledged information appliance... a pocket computer. This model has plusses and minuses, but at least they've been willing to open the OS up somewhat by letting third parties TRG and Handspring do their own versions. The Palm OS is also sufficiently simple and static that OSK Inc. has done their own hosted implementation... and of course there's the incompatible clones by Royal, Oregon Scientific, and Microsoft...

Each of these last systems are examples of the conflict between sexual and asexual reproduction. Palm seems ambivalent about this whole sex thing... after all it can be awfully unpleasant if you're in a bad relationship (sex was never designed to be for the individual's benefit, it's the species that wins big in the sex game)... and it's picky about its partners.

It's happy to open up to the company run by its former guiding light (Jeff Hawkins at Handspring), and it's had a long relationship with TRG... but it slapped Royal down pretty hard, Oregon Scientific seems to be in a slow slide to obscurity (their units are now being distributed with heavy discounts through surplus houses... hardly a good sign), and of course Microsoft is now in their third cycle of trying to emulate the Palm.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Will Palm be like Bell Labs, and open up all the way, or will it be like Apple and drift back to asexual celibacy... or stick to their almost-respectable semi-monogamy with TRG and Handspring for a while longer?

Microsoft is an interesting case, too. They give the appearance of openness... at least, you can buy a Microsoft-compatable PC or handheld from any number of vendors... but they're just a tease. What you're really buying is a Microsoft-specced PC: Compaq and Dell and Gateway are more or less constrained by Microsoft's designs... they hang like hopeful suitors picking up a dance here or there but if they actually exchange genes it's pretty much a one-way transaction... just enough sharing to keep them happy, but as soon as they look like they're able to become serious partners in the trading game... like when Compaq acquired Digital [2]... they get slapped down. "NT on the Alpha? Well, so long as you don't mind doing all the work and slip me a few patents and technologies on the side".

I think Palm wants to be Microsoft, but they don't have the room to maneuver. If they change the OS too rapidly, it'll alienate their existing user base who haven't been trained to buy a new OS every couple of years. If they don't change it rapidly enough, it'll get cloned out from under their control by people like OSK Inc.

And unlike Microsoft they're competing with their own licensees. They could hit the emergency brake like Apple did when they pulled the plug on UMAX and Power Computing, but I'm pretty sure Hawkins has an exit strategy... and the experience to pull it off... if Power Computing had Jef Raskin and Steve Wozniak on the payroll they'd still be in business today.

Sex is complex, disturbing, exciting, and scary... whether the negotiations are played out in a singles bar or over faxes and email in corporate boardrooms. But without it you can't adapt to new circumstances and spread to new niches. That's why Microsoft doesn't dominate... well, not quite everywhere yet.

Let's see if putting the updates at the end with a link at the beginning is less distracting.

bma wants to be able to comment on diary entries too, like this.

You can add comments to diary entries through CritLink, the only problem is that you don't seem to be able to edit or add things when you're looking at Advogato through CritLink. You can also link to specific diary entries... the first (earliest) entry has a label of "0", and they increment... this is particularly convenient because CritLink allows you to add comments directly and easily to labels... like this one...

It eould be really nice if CritLink supported editing notes. There's some horrid typos in those last two!


[1] Yep, you can!

[2] Looks like Compaq's finally assimilated digital.com. Damn.

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