Letters to Redmond
Hooked on Computers
I received my first issue of Redmond [June 2010] and started reading Barney's Rubble.
I'm a retired corporate lawyer who got hooked on computers, the Internet and programming back in the '80s. My first modem was 300-baud acoustic coupler. This winter, I wrote a Visual Basic program that shows how often words are used in a document. It was my first VB program -- I've always sort of looked down on VB. Real programmers use C or Perl, or anything other than a visual programming environment.
So why write you?
Well, I founded the Cleveland Amiga User Group and, of course, subscribed to Amiga World! I doubt that I'll look forward to Redmond like I did Amiga World, but it's nice to know the editor in chief has a good background! I moved on in the early '90s, but the Amiga was great fun for a while and got me started.
Cool vs. Un-Cool
I enjoyed Doug Barney's editorial [Barney's Rubble, "Who's Cool, Who's Not," July 2010]. Mentioning Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates in the same piece was somewhat ironic. Both spent their careers building huge fortunes and both ended up giving away much of those fortunes. Steve Jobs is of the same generation as Gates (and has built himself a similar empire) but we don't hear much about his philanthropic activities.
Equally ironic is that using the term "cool" these days is not very cool!
You asked what I think about Microsoft. Well, Microsoft is destined to follow in the footsteps of most big monolithic corporations (the phone company, the cable company and IBM all come to mind). These entities have lots of customers. Lots of people hate them and lots of people love them. Most people really don't care. While they might introduce a "cool" product now and then, they're never really considered "cool." These companies never really die, but they often just fade away. (Don't be confused, though, IBM never really faded away. It's still the largest computer firm in the world. It just returned to its roots as a services firm.)
Apple is chock full of "cool," but what happens when Jobs is gone? I wonder if he'll leave a lasting legacy. Jobs comes across as supremely competent -- and equally arrogant. Gates comes across as somewhat of a geek -- and somewhat less arrogant. Yet, in some ways, these guys are cut from the same cloth.
Apple is much more your typical computer company than Microsoft is. These companies usually spring up overnight, have a few big "cool" products and find themselves displaced just as quickly. In my view, Apple is still a player in very large part because Steve Jobs is a marketing genius. He sells "cool"-looking -- dare I say "sexy" -- products to well-healed customers. Few people have Steve's vision and sense of style. Who will replace him?
C. Marc Wagner
Indiana University, Bloomington
Every kid I know says "cool." "Cool" has never gone out of vogue. "Out of vogue" has, but not "cool." It remains a very groovy thing to say.
I love technology. I look back on the '70s and think, "If I needed to contact someone, my only option was to find a telephone that was tethered to a wall somewhere." Ma Bell's final introduction of the RJ11 for general use was the greatest technological blessing of that decade, more important to me personally than the moon landing of the previous decade.
But the Kindle? $200 versus a book that costs $.50 to $25? A book can be resold and reused. If a book is lost it's just an annoyance, not a noticeable financial hit.
And the iPad? It's not as functional as a laptop. It's too big to be a phone and doesn't make calls. It's probably the most expensive conversation piece ever, unless you collect art.
And the netbook? They don't seem to represent any great savings; you have to purchase outboard hardware if you want a larger hard drive or a DVD burner. If you just can't get to a laptop, I guess it's better for working with documents and spreadsheets than on a smartphone, but when was the last time you had an Excel emergency?
And what I especially don't understand is paying $500 for a new version of the same phone you already have and standing in a long line for the privilege of doing so.
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