Steve Jobs has an amazing talent for delivering great concepts in hardware, and failing to understand that it's really all about software.
That's why he lost the market to Bill Gates, and that's why he'll never have it. Computing is about software. That's what does the work. The result is that while Jobs does great and important things, he winds up as Gates' research lab and beta testing facility. Those concepts that work in the Mac environment eventually make their way into Windows, and Jobs makes millions while Gates makes billions.
So forget about what the new iMac looks like, forget what's wrong with it, and concentrate on what it's saying. What it's saying is - server. As Jobs told "Time" magazine, people are getting all these digital doodads in their homes - MP3 players, digital cameras, DVD players - and they need a way to tie them all together.
While the iMac box is designed to look great in the foreground, in an office or living room, the actual CPU could go into the back of a closet, or behind your TV, VCR, and stereo. Everything else is input, output, and storage. Servers don't live in plain sight -- they live in closets.
The new iMac fits perfectly into an 802.11 environment. The family just needs a keyboard, a monitor and a network card. They can then access everything they have - music, movies, software, and the Internet. Any device that can access a network in any way - through a CD as well as a direct connection - can then use the iMac for central storage and retrieval.
The problem here is that while the concept's great (as usual), the execution leaves the product under-powered. Once a family uses a server, it loads the server, and starts making demands of the server. The appliances make demands of it, the kids make demands of it, and pretty soon the server gets overloaded. (Anyone who has run a Web site or a corporate network understands this.)
Dell or Compaq can take this idea and run with it. A simple box with a single card, hard drive, and an 802.11 antenna goes into a closet. Then everyone (and everything) reaches for that power as they need it. You don't need industrial design, you don't need something that "looks cool." You need something that's infinitely expandable.
Windows, unfortunately, creates so much overhead and carries so much baggage (like digital rights management) that the clued-in who most need to embrace this concept of the "home server" won't take to it. The actual Apple product is too limited, and Linux remains difficult as well as obscure to most consumers.
There's a tremendous opportunity here that isn't being seized. Combine Apple's ingenuity with Microsoft's market power and Linux' infinite expandability and you have something the digirati as well as the Wal-Mart shoppers will use to suck up all the digital bandwidth and video product you can imagine.
And as I was writing this it occurred to me there is a company that combines (or has combined at one time) all those elements, and still combines most of them. It's a company that dominated American markets, and marketing, for decades, until its bureaucracy got too big. It creates Linux servers, buys millions in TV ads, and makes some interesting stuff. It has a big enough market capitalization ($202 billion) to consider Apple's $7.42 billion in market cap an appetizer. Do I have to tell you who it is? (When you give up, click here.)
It's here! Finally, the Print on Demand version of "Living on the Internet" is available for purchase at BookSurge.Com , for $29.99. And you can get the PDF version for just $7.99 (such a deal). The December update to the book will be coming out soon, and it's easy to get on the list via e-mail.
This month I opened a new market for my articles with Ray Fix of Wildwood Marketing. The first one appeared here . More exciting deals are on the way.
You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , BtoB, and Boardwatch. I'm also on the mast-head at Bottom Line Personal , a great print newsletter. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
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Takes on the News
Silicon Valley Socialism
It doesn't surprise me, but it might surprise you, that many conservatives become socialists when they get into trouble. Let a poor man's boat spring a leak and principle demands he (or she) be thrown to the wolves. When their ox is being gored, however, the rest of us are supposed to care - and give generously.
Here's a great example of how little you can learn from the professed ideology of people . TechNet, the Silicon Valley lobbyist that counts such big Bush supporters as Craig Barrett of Intel and John Chambers of Cisco among its grandees, wants the government to launch an "Apollo Program" with the goal of getting half the country on broadband by 2010 .
The report is filled with conservative rhetoric , but when you look at the details you find this little gem. "Investment incentives, potentially including targeted tax incentives, should encourage broadband deployment to under-served communities and businesses." This is practically a lift from the Tauzin-Dingell subsidized monopoly bill. This is a recipe to handing the future to the Bellheads and paying them to take it.
The application of Moore's Law to bandwidth is making the SONET networks of the Bells worthless. Technologies like 802.11 and 802.16 are making their last-mile networks irrelevant. Letting the market work its will could destroy great fortunes and institutions, but new, greater ones will emerge in their place. Left alone, I think the market can even get the job done by 2010, and have a lot more than half of us on connections running, not at 1.5 Mbps, but 55 Mbps, by that time. It's creative destruction, evolution in action. It's what they're supposed to be for, what they claim liberals oppose.
But too-many conservatives like creative destruction only when others are being destroyed. This TechNet program is pure socialism on behalf of today's wealthy institutions. If they get their way, government will subsidize their networks and let them use monopoly power to destroy competition. Consumers will pay more, and get less, than they do now, when it should be the opposite.
Your Clue here is simple. Ideology is not your guide to how people act in power. Where you stand depends on where you sit. Don't read their lips, look at their butts.
We're Still Standing
One of the little miracles of the Internet recession is that, while fancy-pants magazines like The Industry Standard and video services like Scour have gone under, text services such as the one you're reading just keep going (and hopefully getting better).
It turns out I'm not alone. Iconocast, Israel's Debkafile, and now the Standard's former Media Grok are all continuing . We have two things in common. First, we don't spend money we don't have, on employees, space or technology. Second, while we offer insight, we don't really pretend to be the last word.
The last word is yours, the readers'. It's always yours, and always was yours. The big-spenders may have pretended otherwise, but they were wrong.
Good News Indeed
While on an island vacation won by my lovely wife a week ago, I chanced upon some very good news indeed.
Old-timers in this business may remember the Boston Computer Exchange and its co-founder, Alex Randall. Alex was an intense, heavily-bearded entrepreneur, dedicated to doing good while doing well, and his lovely wife Cameron was the same (only without the beard).
Then tragedy struck. Cameron contracted cancer. She passed away in 1999, leaving Alex with three children and few assets beyond an insurance policy. He visited his mother, living in retirement on St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands.
There, a miracle occurred. Alex Randall made a choice. He chose not to give up. He chose to remain optimistic.
Other miracles followed. The home across from his mother's came for sale, and he left Boston behind forever. He sought a mother for his own children on the Internet and somehow she found him. He's now turning his compound into a vacation paradise. He turned a gun emplacement there into a swimming pool, and when the Kon-Tiki Party cruise came around the bend last week, he fired an air cannon from it while I hoisted the American flag to the partiers' cheers.
Alex also went to work for a local radio station, WSTA. He began producing daily reports for them called "Good News." First, it covered the island, where happy vibes are a vital part of the local tourist industry. Today, it covers the whole country . I mentioned to a cashier in one of the shops that I was going to visit Alex Randall. "Oh, the Good News Guy?" she said, and smiled.
Yes, the Good News Guy. While many baby boomers have narrowed their time horizons to next month or next year, Alex Randall now looks ahead 10 and 20 years. He smiles, he plans, he's shaved, he looks good. Maybe he'll never be wealthy, but he's already rich in all the ways that matter.
You can be, too. Don't let today get you down. Look for the good news. That's the only way you'll find it.
Clued-in is Kevin Kelly, who managed to get a story into the "Wall Street Journal" detailing how the miracle of the Web is that 3 billion Web pages have been done in 2,000 days since the Web was spun, mostly with no thought of money in mind. He called it a "miracle of sharing" and it is. Commerce, in other words, is just a tip of the Internet iceberg, and while commerce may get buried now and then, that doesn't mean the Internet isn't still growing.
Clueless is Bill Jones, a candidate for Governor of California. I e-mailed his organization several weeks ago after someone working in his name sent me a political spam. Instead of thanking me and dealing with the spammer, Jones' minions put me on his e-mail list! I don't know what he stands for, but frankly I don't care anymore.
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