“Whidbey” has shipped!

This post is about the product/project I have been dedicated to occupationally for the past 3 years.

“Whidbey” is the codename for the set of technologies that form the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005. It includes platform components like the Common Language Runtime, Web Services, ASP.NET and Windows Forms. It also consists of programming languages like Visual Basic, C++, C# and J#. Lastly, there are the tools and designers including Visual Studio, MSDN Help/Documentation, Team Foundation, Enterprise Development/Test and Visual SourceSafe.

I have managed a team of engineers responsible for the set of web development technologies that make up Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition (codename “Venus”) and are also included in all the other Visual Studio 2005 editions.

It is hard to believe the product we have worked so hard and long on is finally done and will be in customers’ hands shortly. Our goal was simple: To create the best development and design tool for ASP.NET 2.0 web applications. I am so proud of my team for the work they have done and hope our customers share our excitement about our product and our work.

If you or someone you know develops web applications for a living or as a hobby, download the free Express Edition and stop by The ASP.NET Forums to tell us what you think.

Dancing Baby

Keith

iPodResQ Saves The Day

In a previous post I ranted about some of the Apple iPod’s shortcomings including the horrible support options offered by Apple for defective iPod’s no longer under warranty. To fix the poor battery performance and defective hard drive issues I was experiencing with my 30GB, 3rd-generation iPod I sent it to iPodResQ.

I am pleased to report iPodResQ did not disappoint. Not only did they replace the defective drive, they also upgraded my player to 40GB in the process. Also, due to an oversight on their side, I received the battery replacement for free. When I contacted customer support to inquire about the missing item on my invoice their response: “Enjoy a freebie on us!” That is my kind of service.

If you have a broken iPod that you are currently using as a paperweight, consider contacting iPodResQ to see if they can help. For $29 up front they will overnight a pre-paid shipping container to you that will be returned to them via overnight delivery for a full diagnosis of the problem. They will then contact you in the next day or so to explain what is wrong and how much it would cost to fix. You then have the option of proceeding with the repair or having the defective unit returned to you.

Keith

Amen, brother!

I guess I am not alone in the iPod Sucks Initiative.

“So why is Apple such an amazing innovator? Supposedly: the iPod. Now as far as I can tell, this device does nothing new. There were mp3 players before it, and there are better ones now. I don’t understand how this is considered an innovation.”

I could not have said it better myself.

Keith

Why Apple’s iPod Sucks – Part 2

This is the continuation and conclusion of my earlier post on Why Apple’s iPod Sucks.

I have already touched on what I believe makes iPods cool: clever marketing. Now I will tackle the true purpose of this two-part post.

Why iPods Suck:

  1. The battery and hard drive are not user-replaceable.
  2. The warranty and support options are laughable considering the cost of the device and #1.
  3. The hierarchical navigation of the iPod is dated and unimaginative.
  4. iTunes purchases cost $0.99 each (or $9.99 per “album”).

The first item is self-explanatory and is an issue because the huge storage capacity and long battery life is what makes these devices better than portable CD players. If you lose one of the two, the device becomes a costly paperweight. Even rechargeable batteries do not last very long (compared to the shelf life of one’s music catalog) before needing to be replaced and hard drives are prone to failure with repeated use within a portable device. It is no surprise, for these reasons, notebook/laptop/tablet computer makers configure their systems such that both these components are easily serviced by the end-user long after the warranty expires.

The PJB-100, which was the first mass-marketed, hard-disk-based, portable music player, predates the iPod by about 3 years and has both a user-replaceable battery and hard drive. I purchased a PJB-100 back in June 2000 and have had no battery issues that require me to send the device off to be serviced — which is great since the company is no longer in business — and I have since upgraded the hard drive to 40GB which is more than the capacity of my current, 3rd-generation iPod. In fact, the PJB-100 accepts just about any Toshiba 2.5″ hard drive so I could upgrade it to 100GB fairly inexpensively, immediately giving that “old” device considerably more capacity than Apple’s largest-capacity iPod offered today.

As indicated, bullet #2 is definitely related to bullet #1. I have had the unenviable experience of having my iPod hard drive fail on me after its anemic one-year warranty had expired. What guidance did I receive by the thoroughly chipper, thoroughly unhelpful representative at the nearby Apple Store after he diagnosed the problem?

Option 1: He would allow me to trade in my broken, 18-month old device for a 10% discount toward a new device. Let me see: My broken iPod cost $400+ and broke after 18 months. Now I was being given the privilege of upgrading to the latest comparable device at $399 + tax minus a 10% discount. Did I mention sales tax in the area is 8.8%. I wish I had a photo of the look I gave the poor sales rep. I think he quickly realized that was a non-starter.

Option 2: He would “swap out” my defective device for a refurbished unit (same model) for the low price of $249. So I could get a used/refurbished device for more than half what I paid for a brand new model just 18 months ago. And what about all the music that would be lost? Sorry, it sucks to be you.

What option did I pick? “C” [sic] and sent my broken iPod to the nice folks at iPodResq to replace the drive and battery for approximately the same price as Option 2. I just could not accept having a $400 paperweight after only 18 months since I do use my iPod a lot. Of course, I may end up with a $650 paperweight in 21-months (the iPodResq warranty is just 90 days) but it is a chance I am willing to take. I am so glad the maker of my laptop computer had more foresight when it came to the serviceability of its battery and hard drive.

On to bullet #3 (I am going to wrap up this post soon…I promise.) The navigation on the iPod is so yesterdecade. Genre->Artist->Album->Song. Umm, the PJB-100 had this back in 1999. In fact, it even supports shuffling by genre/set, artist or album. I want searching ability with auto-complete like my empeg/Rio Car. I want custom search playlists like Windows Media Player but on the device so when I add songs to my iPod they appear in the appropriate playlists automatically (e.g., all Little Brother songs I have listened to more than twice.)

Bullet #4 is just stupid on Apple’s and the music studios’ parts. Not all songs are created equal so they should not cost the same amount. I agree with Steve Jobs that à la carte pricing the way the studios want to do it amounts to nothing more than greed however the middle ground solution is to make $0.99 the maximum price and discount less popular tracks from there. Why is this a problem? Two reasons:

  • A skit on an album is not the same as a song on an album. Many hip-hop albums contain skits that add to the listening experience or are just plain funny but they lose their value after the second or third time hearing them. So “don’t buy them” is not much of a solution for those of us who wish to hear the entire album the way the artist intended at least once. “Buy the entire album for $9.99 then,” you say? Well…
  • Not all tracks are available on a given album so doing the “Buy Album” option really amounts to buy the sanctioned tracks from this album. Furthermore, if you have credits in your iTunes account these cannot be used to buy entire albums just individual tracks.

I promised to wrap this post up quickly and I do not want to scare people away with my maiden post topic. So, to summarize: Apple’s iPod Sucks.

John Dvorak published an interesting article on Media Bias and Technology Reporting focused particularly on the coverage of Apple’s products versus Microsoft. Anyone who has read his writings over the years knows Dvorak is definitely not biased toward Microsoft which gives this article a good dose of credibility. Furthermore, I think his conclusion dovetails nicely with Part 1 since clever marketing + media bias = hype.

Another recent article on CNet discusses Apple’s proposed iPod tax that the company intends to impose on makers of gadgets and accessories which connect to the iPod dock connector. This is inline with my previous assertion that Apple gets away with things with the iPod that no other company would. Imagine Microsoft taking such a similar stance publicly with the myriad companies who make money by leveraging Microsoft technologies. I highly doubt representatives from such companies would react with, “We have a great relationship with [Microsoft], and we fully support the ‘Made for [Xbox 360]’ program.” In fact, I bet lawyers would make more money from such a program than Microsoft ever would.

I promise not to be as verbose going forward but this was just something on my mind that I wanted to put on yours.

Keith

Why Apple’s iPod Sucks – Part 1

I guess I will not waste time tackling some of the more controversial topics. Let us get the party started with a treatise on one of the more popular discussions bouncing around the Internet these days: Apple’s iPod.

Everyone seems enamored with the iPod for its industrial design, elegant form and simplistic function. I have personally owned the largest capacity 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation iPods so there is/was something about the devices that I too fell victim. That something is called clever marketing.

What made and makes iPods popular, I contend, is the cool factor that comes from owning one more than the feature set or support owners receive. The following is my argument for why iPods are cool (in general and relative to the competition) and, more importantly, why iPods suck.

Why iPods Are Cool:

  1. Many influential people (e.g., those with the disposable income) have one.
  2. Many influential people (e.g., those without the disposable income) want one.
  3. The iPod brand includes devices at various price points.
  4. Apple makes the iPod.

All of the items above combine under the banner of clever marketing to make the iPod a success despite its shortcomings. Here is how:

By charging a relatively large amount for a device that looks good but does relatively little and equating that device with “coolness” Apple is able to attract the influential people in bullet #1 (I will refer to them as Group 1). I believe people with lots of disposable income are not typically the trendsetters who establish what is cool so when Apple markets/sells coolness to Group 1, members of said group snatch it up to “look” or “be” cool. Basically, because members of Group 1 cannot define cool but can afford cool, they get caught up in the hype of something being marketed as cool and cannot wait to buy their way in. Apple markets the iPod with talented dancing silhouettes and hypnotic, funky music. How many people — outside the entertainment industry — with disposable income have ever been accused of being talented dancers or creators of hypnotic, funky music? Q.E.D. :nerd:

Contrast that group with the people described in bullet #2 (Group 2) and the difference is while Group 2 is more inclined to create cool than those in Group 1 (e.g., poverty is an excellent motivator to one’s creativity) they will fight tooth-and-nail to instead be perceived as members of Group 1. The poor and middle class covet the lifestyle of the wealthy and will go to great lengths to adopt aspects of that lifestyle even temporarily. You can probably site countless examples of this and the one I am interested in here is there are many people who cannot really afford iPods and $0.99 iTunes but buy them anyway because they wish to be seen as members of Group 1; not because the device is great at what it does.

This brings me to bullet #3. By having iPods at prices ranging from $99 to $399 Apple is able to expand the iPod image as a cool device for the masses since even those who cannot afford the “true” iPod experience (large capacity, sleek navigation) can still be part of the iPod craze. Members of Group 2 can more easily switch to Group 1 even if their iPod is more of a USB flash drive than a music player (e.g., the iPod Shuffle with relatively small capacity and horrible navigation).

Bullet #4 is one of the partially technical advantages of the iPod — since Apple is known for its legendary industrial design — that I still group under marketing. Why do I put it under marketing? Firstly, there are vastly more PCs running Windows than Macs in the world. So one can safely assume the iPod would not be successful as a Mac-only device and Apple has enough business acumen to divert from its Macs Rule trappings when establishing a brand (e.g., Quicktime). Secondly, Apple owns the the entire Mac experience (hardware & operating system) and is known for its cult-like following (particularly among members of Group 1 defined above). I argue if any other consumer electronics outfit (Sony, Microsoft, Creative, etc.) created the iPod it would not have been as successful as it has under Apple’s stewardship. This is obviously not a slight against Apple but more an indication of how marketing and brand recognition are more responsible for a device’s success than the device’s functionality. Apple is known for being a great industrial design house. There is no disputing that well-deserved accolade. However, the iPod receives too much credit for what it actually does and not enough criticism for what it does not do in part because it looks nice but mostly because it is “Designed by Apple.”

I’ll tackle the good stuff — specifically, Why Apple’s iPod Sucks — in a later post.

Stay tuned…
Keith

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