Miscellaneous bits

It’s been quite a while since my last post, and I missed a few news topics I felt like commenting on, so here goes, all in one block.

Canon 5D mark III

Boy has this one kept us waiting. The main hope was even better low-light performance than the mrkII, and the first samples were indeed astounding. But that’s because it applies heavy noise reduction on the jpegs. The raw files show only a much lesser improvement compared to the mrkII. What remains is a much improved auto-focus, something I could certainly do with given that all the focus spots on the mrkII except the central one can be pretty stubborn.

the Linux desktop is dead, and it finally knows it

When someone like Miguel de Icaza publishes a post titled What killed the Linux desktop, it’s safe to assume the idea has gotten wide recognition. It did get a serious backlash from no less than Alan Cox and Linus Torvalds, but neither claimed the premise was untrue, only the causes which Miguel invoked.

For one thing, Alan Cox’s response is spot on, Miguel helped creating the confusion he laments by launching Gnome (though he fails to recognize he was once an active member of Gnome, albeit not a very enthusiast one, as I remember). Gnome certainly helped killing any hope of Linux ever making a dent on the desktop because 3rd-party apps devs would be confronted by a choice no dev want to make : about which platform you’ll code for. The only worst thing to do would have been to offer a “choice” in different C libraries.

Moreover, I really can’t see how Linus Torvalds character or his stance toward Linux ABI compatibility can be seen as part of the problem. Linus certainly did not “invent” the “tough geek” persona, that existed long before him.

And the reason behind that was not that we have a culture of “engineering excellence” as Miguel stated in his original post (though we certainly liked to think we had that). Constantly breaking APIs is not a sign of good engineering, engineering is also about pragmatism, not just lofty ideals. We saw ourselves as programming prodigies able to code better and faster than the old grumpy suits-and-tie corporation engineers, but that was the arrogance of inexperience.

The reason is because everyone still wants to have things the way he likes and nobody is willing to give up his own preferences for the sake of common good. We had the moral caution to keep doing so from the old Cathedral and the Bazar manifesto, since we believed the Right Solution would always impose itself in the end. It never did.

iPhone 5 and iOS 6

It’s already a commercial success, while the press consensus is that it’s boring (“no vision”, “no creativity”, etc… with the recent addition of “you can see Steve Jobs is dead”). It was the same for the 4S, perhaps not so much for the 4 given the redesign, but it was also the case for the 3GS… Anyway, the best description I’ve read about this so far is from John Gruber : “this is (still) how Apple rolls”. No, we won’t ever again feel the same sense of wonder and history-in-the-making that the initial 2007 MacWorld keynote created. The iPhone is an established product, it will only have incremental improvements. Remember that even the iPad was met with collective yawns from the press : “It’s just a big iPhone”. It took a while to understand that it was yet another whole new market.

The only comment I have is, it may actually be too tall for me. The 3.5″ screen format fits my hand perfectly, I don’t have to reach too much with my thumb to activate any control, though the top ones are a bit hard to attain. I haven’t handled an iPhone 5 yet, but I doubt it will be as comfortable for me, and I actually hope Apple will keep maintaining models with both screen ratios, though I think that’s very unlikely.

About iOS 6, the big disappointment of Plans overshadowed almost everything else. Yes, Apple shouldn’t have bragged so much about it during the presentation. That said, the application itself is way better than Google Maps : it displays much faster, zooms and rotates much more smoothly. It’s just the data which sucks, though from what I’ve seen with the satellite tiles around here (south of France), which were updated twice already between now and the first iOS beta, Apple is pretty hard at work at improving it. It’s still remarkable that Tim Cook wrote an apology about it, that’s not a common thing in Apple’s history.

I joke, however, that Plans is actually a ploy to divert the attention from the real fiasco, namely Podcasts. The new app which is supposed to handle that very important functionality of iPhones (the term ‘podcast’ derives from ‘iPod’) may be pretty (if you like skeuomorphic UIs – I don’t, and I find it idiotic that a device like an iPhone should present the appearance of a 4 decades old reel-to-reel tape player) but it can’t handle playlists and, worse, does not properly sync the episodes status with iTunes. As many, I had a simple “unplayed podcasts” playlist (a smart-playlist, actually, giving me all unplayed podcasts from the French national radio France Inter), and the whole thing was maintenance free. Refresh daily on iTunes, sync the iPhone, then in the car, ask Siri to play the smart-list, and that was it. Now iOS 6 has broken this, because even after removing the Podcasts app and having them back in the Music app, iTunes still fails to sync the episodes status, I have to manually mark them as played. It’s hard to think of something more stupid than this. I hope the next release will fix that.