Tales From Silicon Valley: The Inside Dope on Apple, OSS, Microsoft and Google

I live in Silicon Valley, and sometimes I wonder if someone’s putting something in our water. For instance, one of our local folks, who evidently treated his agorophobia by playing “Resistance: Fall of Man,”has sued Sony for stealing money from him as a result of Sony’s banning him from the game. Evidently, three warnings about his hostile online behavior weren’t enough; he feels he has a right to behave badly and wants at least US$55,000. I think Sony would like him to buy an Xbox. There’s plenty more weirdness where that came from, though, and I thought it would be a fun focus for this week’s column.

I’ll close with my product of the week — in line with the topic, it’s a lap desk that will allow you to play games using a high-end laptop without cooking your junk.

Apple’s Sadistically Insane App Store

Apple is on a roll. Among PC vendors, it is currently showing the best growth and the best profits, largely because it has uniquely carved out the Lexus part of the PC market. A good chunk of its success can be attributed to the iPhone, and a good chunk of the iPhone’s success can be attributed to the massive number of good applications available for it. However, the dirty secret in the Valley is that about 90 percent of applications available for the iPhone are, excuse the technical term, crap.

What is driving folks nuts, given this sad fact, is how hard it is to get an application into the App Store. On the radio last week, one developer compared the process of getting approval to Russian roulette (other related terms: “arbitrary,” “suicidal,” “baffling,” “grumpy,” “giant middle finger” …). Apparently, none of the developers can figure out how to get through the approval process quickly or easily, and the massive work they go through doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the quality of the application. It is as though the real purpose of the process is to try to drive developers insane. And based on the link above it is apparently working!

I had a meeting withAppcelerator earlier in the week, a company that specializes in helping folks build applications that will run on RIM, Android and the iPhone. Its fast-build and multiplatform approach seems very powerful, but when I asked about finished applications, the response came with a sigh: Most have been tied up in the Apple approval process for months. You can build them fast, but approval is evidently a bitch. That probably explains why Google has as many developers as Apple does, even though Google has a fraction of the installed base.

Any guesses as to which part of the iPhone Steve Jobs probably doesn’t touch?

HTC’s Embarrassing Fix to Google’s Wonder Phone

Speaking of Google, there are great stories floating around here regarding that company: how you can’t park in its parking lots unless someone personally vouches for you; howGPA is one of a job applicant’s most important qualifications — regardless of age or experience; how Google requires applicants to memorize — exactly — the official line on how Google makes money. You may recall that a while back, in response to accusations that its HR practices were impersonal, Google employed a computer algorithm. That’ll teach people to complain!

But the buzz last week was on the new Google Android phone from HTC, the Hero. This phone has folks raving about how much better it is than the iPhone, how much easier it is to get an application on the Android Market, and how much better-looking the phone is than the old HTC Android G1.

Much of this buzz surrounds the fact that HTC actually went into the phone and, much as it did with its Windows Mobile phones, improved the user experience substantially. What is funny is you evidently can’t buy the phone in the U.S., meaning that the only way Google employees and executives can use one is if they buy gray-market products from overseas. I’m guessing they are a little embarrassed that HTC had to fix the phone and that one of the things HTC did to accomplish this was license ActiveSync from Microsoft to get Outlook and Exchange support. (Apple wisely did the same thing).

While availability may be more a problem between HTC and the ugly wireless carrier approval process (now I know who Apple learned from), Google didn’t even show up at the launch for this product. My guess is that’s because it didn’t want others to realize that HTC had to fix the platform before selling it.

Hey, Google, HTC does the same thing to Microsoft, and Microsoft shows up at events and even praises HTC phones! Then again, Microsoft doesn’t focus on executive GPAs or company-mantra memorization techniques in interviews. As a side note, HTC, which isn’t located in Silicon Valley, wins my award for the most likely to kick Apple’s butt if it can work around Google and Microsoft.

Microsoft Is an OSS Fanboy?!?

Microsoft actually had a booth at OSCON (O’Reilly’s well-attended Open Source Convention) this year and was talking to a lot of open source developers at the show. To build booth traffic, it set up Xbox game machines with Guitar Hero and had running competitions between Google, Red Hat, other OSS folks and Microsoft. There was only one guy who dropped into the booth and was snarky that I heard of (probably this guy), and the rest went, well, better then it often does at one of Microsoft’s own developer events. This is likely because folks were having fun and not just talking tech and business. This, in turn, was likely because Microsoft donated (“Pigs do fly”) 20,000 lines of code to OSS, targeted at helping Linux and Windows Server interoperate.

What was also interesting was that in one of the keynotes, the speaker asked the audience — clearly heavily open source — who was more evil: Google or Microsoft? The Google crowd likely thought this was a joke, given they seem themselves as the good guys. The vote was split 50/50 between Microsoft and Google. Once again, this wasn’t a Microsoft event; it was an open source event. This suggests that Microsoft is effectively passing the Evil Empire baton to Google, showcasing that it truly is better to give than to receive.

One other funny story I picked up was how, on his last day at Microsoft, Bill Gates wanted to know why the company wasn’t being vastly more aggressive in adopting open source and selling open source products. I’m kind of surprised no one held up a mirror. I can also picture a bunch of folks at Microsoft suddenly seeing the irony of Bill getting the open source bug on his last day at the firm. Better late than … oh crap.

I figure both Craig Mundie and Ray Ozzie (both open source fans) have on their daily agendas, “Convince Steve Ballmer that Bill Gates was right on open source.” Bill isn’t helping — he is too busy trying to harness hurricanes (you can’t make this stuff up). Probably seemed easier.

Product of the Week: LapWorks Junk Protector

Actually, the real name of the product is the “LapWorks Gamer’s Desk”, now with Max MouzPad (gotta have the “z” to screw up the spell checker) for about $40. It’s summer, and for those of us who have gaming laptops like the AlienWare Area-51 M15x, like I have, or the M17x, which was my product of the week last month, you learn to love pain. That’s because you often sit around with very little on, because it is frickin hot and one of these laptops in game mode is like putting an iron on your junk. Trust me, it doesn’t take the wrinkles out.

Anyway, this is a vented foldout desk that now has a big attached mouse pad for gamers, so we can game to our heart’s content without risking an unfortunate accident that will have folks making fun (yes this does happen) of us for weeks, if not our entire lives. It is actually rather handy for real work as well, and it really helps center and balance a laptop, making working vastly more comfortable. So, if you don’t want your junk ironed while you game, this LapWorks product is for you.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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