Saturday, November 17, 2012

Linux Mobile Originality is Even More Dead.

I originally wrote about Linux desktop operating system distributions that implement user interfaces that have been plagiarised or otherwise "inspired" (if that's the correct description) by either Apple's or Microsoft's designs, which are of themselves, derivatives or inspirations of other designs. I personally believe by association that Microsoft has had its design intentions (from the days of Windows 3) based on OSF/Motif, while Apple's Mac OS X, whether intended or by accident, contains splashes of AT&T's OpenLook interface, namely the round-edged buttons and overall simplistic design. But that's my observation... I'm not prepared to state this as actual fact. Both of these user interfaces may be in use in legacy technologies, but no longer have currently active licensees for the purposes of developing new products that are incompatible with the legacy systems inferred. And the only mention of design and user interface licensing I have ever seen in a product is Sun's Solaris, which states AT&T as its licensor for its OpenLook interface*, despite the fact that Sun Microsystems contributed to the work.

Microsoft's Windows user interfaces have changed markedly since Windows 95... and it keeps on changing. So maybe for once, Microsoft can be excused from making derivative designs for the first time in their endeavours in design innovation. Something which I actually applaud.

But in the world of Linux, particularly Android on mobile devices, and Ubuntu on the desktop, not much has changed. It seems that "free and open source software" means having a falsely self-attributed implicit privilege to plagiarise or otherwise accidentally or purposely reimplement designs that have been developed under commercial research and development settings under the protection of patent and copyright by other manufacturers, despite the fact that these designs are being sold as products, possibly under existing (registered) trademarks.

Repeat after me, Linux developers... there is and you have no such privilege. Your designs must be your own, whether individually or collectively.

Namely, and I'm being daring here considering recent events, Android 4 is obviously (to me) partial plagiarism of the design work of the original iPhone OS (now called iOS) in the operating system's overall look, feel, behaviour and services, and several manufacturers are contributing to the plagiarism on top of Android's makers (since Google license out Android to equipment manufacturers via the Apache Software Licence, and other corporate licences and contracts particular to the OEMs).

While I am not interested in who copied who, I am interested in why designs are being copied in the first place. Why do people have to copy others' work? You wouldn't get away with plagiarism when writing your thesis work in university—you'd be discovered and ridiculed out of your career in due course. So what makes it acceptable to plagiarise artistic design instead? Just because it is not in words, doesn't mean it isn't plagiarism to copy design language.

The evolution of Linux operating systems on desktops and mobiles are again proving that there is no such thing as innovation in free and open source software. And I am not surprised... after all, free and open source software is often a preservation effort more than it is a driver of new technology. While in circumstances where commercial developers have abandoned projects, or have opened projects for quick and reliable adoption by as many entities as possible, this may be a good and useful thing to do, but open source software has all too often been commercially abused, and plagiarism and the ensuing disputes are often the result.

There is no excuse for prejudicially selecting existing technologies for reimplementation in the name of free and open source software. Free and open source software must be a donation to the community by the inventors of the technologies and designs first and foremost before anything else matters.

* The OpenLook trademark is now owned by Novell.


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Friday, November 16, 2012

iTunes Regression #2.

Album Ratings didn't arrive to iTunes until version 9 or something, but when it did, devices older than it would not properly handle the new library category.

With album ratings, iTunes would take some computation of track ratings and devise a rating that was applied to an entire album. One could then make a smart playlist that used album ratings in its criteria for selecting tracks to incorporate into the list.

But not all devices know of album ratings in smart playlists. The first generation Apple TV (with system software 3.0.2) didn't know about this, so when it was instructed to show a smart playlist containing album ratings, the list would come up with absolutely no tracks. So to avoid this problem, one could not use smart playlists with album ratings in its selection criteria if it is to be presented (synchronised) to an Apple TV.

The same goes for an iPhone or iPod running iOS 6, apparently. It cannot show smart playlists that have album ratings as a part of its selection criteria—such playlists contained no tracks on the device. But what strikes me as odd in this particular instance is that:

  • this is not the case on an iPhone or iPod running iOS 5; smart playlists using album ratings actually show up with a useful list of tracks rather than nothing,
  • strictly speaking, this is a regression in the Music app on iOS 6, where the operating system has been released after the first version of iTunes 10, so it is not a case of iTunes incorporating a new feature in which iOS didn't know about.

So, how is it that this bug has managed to slip through engineering and quality assurance? Don't Apple test their software anymore, or didn't they think that anyone would notice?

Last updated 17th November, 2012: revised for readability.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Siri as a Substitute for On-Line Help.

Currently, iOS has no built-in help apart from Apple publications available in the form of iBooks or a link to a Web page, while the Mac's help system is rather scant on documentation and is not assistive (although Apple Help can execute AppleScripts or other tools in response to following links). Apple is missing an opportunity here to allow users to ask their device (be it a phone or a desktop computer) how to perform functions without going through inadequate help documentation, whether on-line or locally installed on a computer system.

For the basic requirements of a computer system help service, why can't Apple employ Siri to help?

On both Mac and iOS, Siri could be used to answer questions about how to use your computer's system software and applications. If implemented properly, Siri can offer a much richer and more interactive interface to on-line help, because:

  1. Siri can obtain the context (window, dialogue, mode, driver or device state, frontmost application, etc.) of the of the system and hence, get more information about the question being asked without the user having to explicitly mention such details,
  2. where Siri cannot discover enough of the state of the system to place the query into context, Siri can follow up questions with previous answers, to allow users to focus in on the topics of interest, and
  3. while Siri could respond with speech, Siri could go one step further (in the direction of System 7's Apple Guide and AppleScript) and actually perform work for you, just like how Siri performs many tasks on iOS.

It may not sit well for those who do not want to speak to Siri about how to use the device Siri is hosted on. To support those who don't want to speak commands, Siri should also allow users to type the questions they want to ask in a text-entry user interface.

It's an elegant idea to a problem which has started to grow ever since the introduction of the World Wide Web and on-line documentation. Ever since computer manufacturers have stopped publishing manuals for their products, the recently-devised forms of help are becoming inadequate for obtaining the specifics of features that users demand but may never learn. Siri can be a new way to dispense product documentation in a way that does not require screen real-estate or local system services, much like how Siri operates today.

And having Siri on a Mac would be so much better than having Speech Recognition services lying around unused—currently, Macs don't use their speech recognition and synthesis technologies for anything other than mucking around, which is a pity.


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Suggestion to Microsoft: Start Writing More Software for iOS.

I wrote this piece some time ago:

but never got to post it. Here it is, in its entirety:

8:30 AM Suggestion to Microsoft: Start Writing More Software for iOS.

I don't see Windows having an easy time of it as people move from desktop computers to one or more tablet computers in the future.

While Windows 8 does provide an avenue for Microsoft to enter into the tablet market, they have again started late in the industry, partly because Microsoft have to wait for hardware manufacturers to step up to the plate, after quite a number of false starts.

The first technology migration from MS-DOS to Windows was met with a need for Microsoft to write Macintosh software as a mitigation strategy until Windows was ready to dominate millions of IBM PCs and compatibles with their Windows operating system.

The second technology migration from PCs to tablets may be a harder move for Microsoft to pull off, considering that Apple have sold, by several orders of magnitude, more iPads than Macs in the first 4 years of their lives since their introduction in 2010 and 1984 respectively. Apple's iOS is definitely the dominant tablet operating system for the immediate future, with not much traction left for Windows to grab a hold of the market.

So, what's there left for Microsoft to do? Do what they did back in 1985... make software for Apple's hardware. While it is not hard to see that eventually, market share for Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system may gain popularity in the marketplace as people migrate their existing solutions to tablet computers (or at least, to Windows 8 and beyond), the initial first step for Microsoft should be to make some incarnation of Office that runs on an iPad. It'll buy Microsoft time to perfect their systems for tablets as the tablet manufacturers strive for market share in an Apple-dominated world, while offering an iOS product in the meantime to perk the interests of Office users everywhere.

So, Microsoft... how about it?

Meanwhile, it has been rumoured here and there about the potential of Microsoft releasing Office for iOS (and other platforms)! It would be absolutely delightful to see Microsoft bring out their flagship applications for Apple's mobile platform just to be able to claim that there is always room for sound, strategic decisions from the Redmond company, despite the current uncertainty of Windows 8 by early-adopters and die-hard Windows fans alike.


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Monday, November 12, 2012

iTunes Regression #1.

As of the release of the iTunes Store that coincides with the release of iTunes 10, iTunes radio services no longer support iTunes 2 on Mac OS 9.

Here, the radio lists appear empty for every single category. Yet another strike against backwards compatibility, due to changes in network services. Meanwhile, iTunes 9 and later continue to list and play them (I don't know if earlier versions have the same problem as iTunes 2).

Last updated 17th November, 2012: slightly revised content.



Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Confiscating Memory.

There is a thing to be said about major mistakes in software engineering, and in all my time in owning Apple equipment, this has to be the worst yet.

Apple release updates for iOS periodically, and since iOS version 5, these updates arrive into people's iPods, iPads and iPhones automatically whenever they get a valid Wi-Fi connection. Without your acknowledgement. Even without notice. Waiting for their users to install them.

That's all well and good if you're one of these Apple freaks who crave for the latest and greatest from the Cupertino company. But if you're not... you're powerless to disagree with Apple expecting you to.

The problem is more drastic than just having a multi-megabyte download shoved into your devices without notice, eating up your Wi-Fi bandwidth. And the problem appears to be irreversible.

In each of these two screenshots of iTunes 10.6 examining the memory usage of an iPhone 4:

and an iPod touch:

both contain a yellow region of memory used as "Other". What this is is the latest system software update for your iOS device, in the bowels of the device itself. Mind you, the iPhone 4 hasn't been upgraded yet, whilst the iPod touch has not had its memory reclaimed despite it being upgraded already.

And you cannot get rid to it to reclaim your memory space, not without resetting the device.

Apple need to provide a control that allows users to jettison the system update package from a device's storage memory. As indicated in the memory usage graph of the iPhone 4, the update has made my 16 GB unit become a 12 GB, as 3.2 GB of memory is held ransom to upgrade demands by the device's makers.

As I understand it, the only way to get your memory back is to back up the device, erase it and then re-install it, and try to restore the data you had on it. However, this is no guarantee that you will be running the same iOS version as the one you had on it prior to the erasure, and no guarantee that future updates will not confiscate the memory from you again.

Care to explain this line of thoughtless engineering, Apple?

After Resetting Your Device.

Since this writing, the iPhone 4 ultimately did get upgraded to iOS 6, but not out of intention.

It turns out that performing a restore will get most of your confiscated memory back, and the memory usage distribution will look much more like for the iPod touch as it appears in this article (with approximately 1.2 GB used in the "Other" category). What that memory us used for by iOS is unknown, but probably contains caches, preferences and other user library data that is not accounted for by the applications installed on your device.

However, performing a restore will not leave you with the same iOS version as the one you had before the restore—instead, it will restore onto whatever the latest iOS release Apple has for your device.


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