Showing posts with label Macintosh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Macintosh. Show all posts

Monday, April 8, 2013

Injured by a mouse

Over the last few years, I've often discovered that excessive use of my Apple mouse can give rise to a dull pain in the lower corner of my right wrist, which rubs against the surface of the desk while supporting the weight of the hand.


Yesterday, this pain became so annoying that it hindered my work. So, I dropped in at the local pharmacy to see if they might be able to supply a remedy. One of the pharmacists advised me to shop around for an object that I had never heard of: a mouse pad with a cushion to rest the hand. I jumped into my Kangoo and drove to Valence, where I had no problem in finding such a pad, for around 12 euros. The pad I bought is black, but here's an Internet photo of the blue version:


At first, it didn't work well with my Apple mouse, because the flat upper area of the pad seemed to be too short, and I was constantly pushing the mouse off the upper edge. Finally, I found an ideal solution. I simply rotated the pad so that most of it was dangling off the near edge of my desk. Then I used the cushion for my hand while placing the mouse itself on its usual big rectangle of cardboard.


The layout may not look elegant, but it works perfectly, since my wrist no longer touches the desk. Meanwhile, the pad appears to be stuck conveniently to the surface of my desk. I hope it stays that way.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Frilly-necked postcard

Yesterday, while browsing through old papers, I came upon this postcard:


As an Australian, I recognized immediately this fine photo of a dancing specimen of our celebrated frilly-necked lizard [Chlamydosaurus kingii]. It's not really dancing, but simply running speedily across the sand in the direction of the photographer, with its frills flattened by the airstream. Now, who would have sent me such a postcard, and why did I keep it in a box of precious old documents? Here's the other side of the postcard:


It was mailed to me from Tokyo, 28 years ago, on 1 September 1984. The message reads:
Erimaki tokage, la nouvelle idole of Tokyo, le Macintosh des lézards!
In English:
Erimaki tokage (frilly-necked lizard in Japanese), the new idol of Tokyo, the Macintosh of lizards!
And the postcard was signed by a great French filmmaker, 63-year-old Chris Marker, who was a good friend of mine at that epoch. He was in Japan to film the making of Akira Kurosawa's movie Ran, which resulted in Marker's documentary AK, released at Cannes in 1985. Here is one of the rare portraits of Chris Marker (who detested the idea of personal photos and biographical stuff):


During the three or four fascinating years that I spent at the Service de la Recherche de l'ORTF [French National TV Research Center] in the early '70s, private screenings of Marker's short movie La jetée [The Pier], created in 1962, were one of our staple foods.


Pierre Schaeffer—founder and chief of the center—often explained to us why Marker's cinematographic essay was a great milestone in the history of movie-making. And countless cinéastes have indeed been impressed by Marker's ground-breaking style expressed for the first time in that tiny masterpiece.


And what does all this have to do with frilly-necked lizards and Macintosh computers?

Japanese fascination with an Australian lizard was the outcome of a promotional project created by Mitsubishi Motors. Confronted with a vehicle called the Mirage, the people at Mitsubishi's ad agency found that this word sounded like the Japanese "tokage". So, the expression Erimaki tokage became popular overnight, in the typical way in which certain memes apparently proliferate in that country.


Soon, the Japanese transformed the image of the Australian lizard into a cute manga creature.


In Australia, of course, we're not accustomed to thinking of our native fauna as imaginative objects of adoration... maybe because we've become accustomed to seeing the real creatures up close.


We know that many of our exotic animals are not as friendly or cuddly as they might appear. On the other hand, Australians are no doubt happy to pocket yen from tourists who arrive Down Under with aims of seeing Erimaki tokage. I can imagine a version of the Paul Hogan ad:
"We got some visitors here who like lizards. I'll slip another frilly on the barbie."
By coincidence, the original ad I'm referring to (directed, not at Japanese, but at Americans) dates from the same year as Chris Marker's postcard, 1984. But it looks terribly old hat today.


And 1984 was also the year in which the Macintosh computer arrived on the scene. I've always thought that their celebrated commercial has a science-fiction style that vaguely evokes the Chris Marker movie.


Since Chris Marker was fond of sophisticated machines such as the Mac, he was rapidly brought into contact with the French branch of Apple Computer, whose director was Jean-Louis Gassée. At the same epoch, I had submitted to that company a project for a futuristic video application, while knowing full well that the current technology was not yet capable of supporting my project. Apparently Apple France gave Chris Marker a copy of my project—named Videoville—and that's how we became friends. Chris was tremendously impressed, like me, by the potential of the Mac, and we dreamed about the sorts of creations that might soon appear. However, not long after that time, I went out to Australia, and I lost contact with Chris.

A month ago, I was sad to hear of his death [obituary]. Many of the papers written about Chris Marker have mentioned his adoration of cats. At the time I knew him, the creature that fascinated him most was, not the cat (nor, of course, the frilly-necked lizard), but rather the owl. Inside his house in Neuilly, Chris Marker had a marvelous collection of all kinds of artistic representations of wise and less wise owls.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Totally operational once again

My iMac running under Lion is once again in a perfectly operational state. For the moment, I don't know what it was that knocked out my machine on the evening of 1 January 2012, and I may never know. But, contrary to what I suggested in my preceding blog post, this was not a hardware bug. It was a mysterious software glitch that seemed to manifest itself in the middle of the night, when I was no longer using the Mac. Was it something to do with the New Year? Maybe…

A guy at the Fnac store in Valence succeeded in erasing the memory of my machine. Funnily enough, that operation thrilled me, because I've been operating inexcusably, for ages now, in a totally stupid way. I've had a nice explicit list of all my confidential codes in a folder named CODES sitting in a remote corner of the memory of my computer. This was most convenient when I wanted to consult my bank account, or order a book from Amazon, say... but it was totally crazy from a security viewpoint. Yesterday, I finally rectified that stupidity... and that might well be a positive lesson from this mysterious crash.

When I took my iMac home, I set about reinstalling the system from scratch, using my original CDs. Unexpectedly (for me, in any case), the installer suddenly asked: "Would you happen to have a Time Machine backup, which could be used to reboot your Mac?" I said yes, with enthusiasm. And that's exactly what happened during the next ten or so hours. Slowly but surely, my iMac was restored, magically, to its pristine state! Thank you, Time Machine!


My advice to all Mac users: If you don't have Time Machine yet, think about acquiring it. Meanwhile, it was reassuring, too, to know that Carbon Copy Cloner had done its daily job, providing me with a perfect copy of everything in my iMac at the moment it crashed.


The two backup tools constitute a tandem, apparently with a bit of overkill… but it's better to be too safe than not safe enough.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Three vague projects

Contrary to what you might imagine, after glancing through my recent blog posts, I've been totally preoccupied, over the last fortnight or so, by no less than three separate projects that I would designate as deep, where this adjective means that they are puzzling challenges that concern me profoundly.

Feudal land registers

Last Monday evening, I was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Royans historical association, for a rapid presentation of my research concerning the six cadastral parchments created here in the Royans during the period 1351-1356. I'm still trying to stir up enthusiasm for these precious documents, in the hope that I might be able to obtain finance enabling us to translate and publish them. On Monday afternoon, I printed out the contents (nine A4 sheets) of a single "page" (the correct term is folio) of one of the registers, and glued them roughly onto a cardboard backing, 60 cm wide and 75 cm tall.

This gives you a rough idea of what the parchments look like. The six registers—for the villages of Pont-en-Royans, Choranche, Châtelus, Rencurel, Echevis and St-Laurent-en-Royans—occupy a total of 59 folios of this size. For the moment, the scanned registers are presented in my French-language website [access], which incorporates password protection. Well, I'm starting to wonder whether it might be a good idea to create an English-language version of my website, in the hope of maybe attracting specialists in medieval Latin in places such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, etc. The thing that bothers me concerning these ancient parchments is that their likely contents (I say "likely", because nobody really knows yet exactly what information they contain) are no doubt quite boring, unless you happen to be standing on the actual lands with which they are associated. In other words, if a doctoral scholar were to work on such a register, he or she would normally obtain fulfillment by comparing constantly the text with the actual site. In any case, I'm convinced that it would be extraordinary to be able to read a description of my Gamone property that was penned in the middle of the 14th century.

Collaboration with Pierre Schaeffer

I was contacted recently by a music specialist at ABC radio [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] who would like to interview me on the subject of my collaboration in 1970-1972 with Pierre Schaeffer [1910-1995], inventor of musique concrète (music composed with real-world sounds, including noises).

The problem, in this domain, is that my personal evaluation of the achievements of Schaeffer may not necessarily coincide with those of a musicologist. My experiences at the research service of the ORTF [French Broadcasting System] were a highly significant chapter of my existence in Paris, but it's a subject that I prefer to handle in detail in my autobiographical writing, rather than in an Antipodean radio interview.

Software development

Concerning my intention of developing a Macintosh tool to access the archives of my Antipodes blog, I've truly been running around in circles for the last few weeks, changing constantly from one approach to another. First, I was thinking purely in terms of a Mac application, but I soon realized any such tool must incorporate the blogger's password. So, I would be able to create this tool for the Antipodes blog, and then give copies of the tool to other people. But I would not be able to envisage a tool that would work for other blogs, for which I don't know the passwords. Then I got around to thinking that a better approach would be to build a website, rather than a Mac app, so that any blogger could use it merely by entering his/her own password. More recently still, I've been looking into the idea of using the PHP language to develop a tool that can analyze the so-called Atom feed, which any blogger can download instantly by clicking a button. Today, though, I've got back to my starting point, in considering that a Mac tool is maybe the best approach. The only thing that's certain is the fact that, whichever approach I finally adopt, it's a much more complex affair than what I had initially imagined. We tend to think that a blog is surely just a simple set of text files with an assortment of images and videos. In fact, the structure of a vast system such as Google's Blogger platform is diabolically complicated.

So, that's a summary of questions that have been running through my mind over the last fortnight or so. The common denominator of these three affairs is that each one seems to be complicated, indeed confusing, in its own way.

Maybe I would be better off sitting out in the sun and admiring the clouds, or watching my fig tree grow.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In front of what?

Friends see that I follow current affairs on the web (including events in my native land). Then they hear me raving on about my blogging, my Internet-assisted genealogical research, my use of word processing for creative writing and, now, my intense involvement with the complex domain of Macintosh and iPad programming. Inevitably, they pop the obvious question: How many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer screen? This question annoys me, because I can see their brains ticking over and getting ready to subtract my answer from 24, obtaining X, enabling them to conclude: This poor guy only lives in the real world for X short hours a day!

Their question is indeed poorly worded. No doubt poorly conceived. A more significant question would be: How many hours a day do you spend in front of your brain, your reflexions, your intelligence, your background, your culture, your identity, your ambitions, your creative activities, your intellectual projects, your passions, your destiny, etc…? And my answer would be something in the vicinity of 17 to 18. In other words, I have little spare time to waste, to be bored.

Back in Paris, when I worked as a technical writer in the high-powered ILOG software company (now a part of IBM), my fellow-workers used to laugh about a cleaning lady who, before dusting down a computer screen, would always say to the user, politely: "Excuse me, give me half a minute to clean your telly." Her use of the term "telly" gave us the impression that she looked upon our group of ILOG software engineers (who often worked late into the evening) as a joyous throng of guys and gals who seemed to be paid to spend hours on end watching mysterious TV shows, in languages that they alone could comprehend. Well, she wasn't really wrong. Except that purists would have pointed out that our screens didn't capture and display the heavenly signals designated as TV, but something a little different, emanating from within our "tellies". We were watching and appreciating shows that we ourselves had just produced. But none of us had the courage (nor the desire, for that matter) to attempt to explain that situation to the cleaning lady.

In a similar sense, I wonder if there's any point in trying to explain to friends, today, that the vast time I seem to spend sitting in front of a computer screen is not simply "time spent sitting in front of a computer screen". It's much more than that. As I suggested earlier on, I'm seated, for much of the time, in front of… myself! Introspection, maybe, or even narcissism. I would speak rather of computer-assisted cogitations or meditation. Much more, in any case, than dumb screen-watching.

To my mind, in terms of wasting time, there are worse things than a computer screen to be seated in front of. For example, the steering wheel of an automobile. Or fellow passengers in public transport (trains, buses, trams, etc). Sitting in front of a TV screen in certain English-speaking societies (which I hardly need to name), or their media in general, can be a most effective way of plowing mindlessly through time. Personally, I would not willingly swap the least amount of computer screen-watching for, say, time spent waiting to be served in a dull restaurant offering poor-quality food. But the deal would be off, of course, if I happened to be dining on a warm evening, say, in Arles with a dear Provençal friend [display]. It's not so much a question of where you're sitting, but rather a matter of the quality of the entity in front of which you're seated!

I don't deny that spending hours in front of a computer screen might, in certain circumstances, be thought of as a waste of time. (But who am I to judge?) Maybe that's why I detest all kinds of games (including bridge evenings with suburban neighbors… who don't exist here, fortunately, at Choranche). On my Macintosh, there has never been anything that looks remotely like a video game. I hate all that fake stuff. On the other hand, it's fact that I can "waste" precious time gazing up at the Cournouze, or down into the eyes of my dogs. As I said, it's not so much where you decide to sit down, but rather what you want to watch. And I would be a liar if I were to suggest that I don't like spending a lot of time watching what gives on the screen of my faithful Macintosh. I hasten to add that I'm also very fond of my splendid TV screen, and vaguely concerned (when it's absolutely necessary, which is rare) by the relatively insipid screens of my iPad and iPhone.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

New keyboard

Over the last couple of months, I've noticed various tiny frailties, almost imperceptible, in my faithful Macintosh keyboard. For example, the tail of the comma is wearing away, meaning that I can confuse it with a full stop. And I have the impression that the movement of certain keys might be affected by an accumulation of inaccessible muck. So, when I saw the latest superb Macintosh keyboard at a store in Grenoble a few days ago, I didn't hesitate in purchasing one.

The difference is a matter of day and night! The old keyboard was nice, in an old-fashioned way, but the sleek new one runs rings around it.

I would imagine that inspired authors have already drawn attention to the obvious fact that, for a keen computer user, the keyboard is an extremely sensitive organ of the beast. The user communicates with the machine by running his fingers over the sensitive keys on this device. (Please excuse me for using male language.) On the surface of the keyboard, the rows of keys are ripples (nipples) that the user excites by touch, in the course of his obligatory foreplay with the machine. And a new keyboard is a little like a new woman.

Please excuse me for this blatant sexually-oriented effusion. As I said, I was disturbed to imagine (maybe no more than an anguished illusion) that the tail of the comma seemed to be fading away.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inside that bag

The primeval Macintosh computer was taken out of its bag exactly 25 years ago.

The following video shows us the historic moment when this happened:



That instant was the start, not only of the Mac era, but of the ascension of Steve Jobs into the role of a superstar. I'm convinced that the gasps of awe and the applause, on 24 January 1984, were for the machine, more than for its maker. In any case, it was the Macintosh itself that started the myth of Steve Jobs when it referred to him as "a man who's been like a father to me".

At almost the same moment, there was a grand unveiling of the new machine in a cabaret on the Champs-Elysées... to which I was invited, accompanied by my 17-year-old daughter. Shortly afterwards, the French Apple company provided me with my first machine, and I was able to bring out my book a few months later.

Today, I'm amused to discover that Google Books with the argument "william skyvington" provides a reference to my book. It's a 1986 issue of the periodical of the Apple University Consortium called Wheels for the Mind (which still exists today).

The reference to my book is brief but firm:

The machine that Steve Jobs pulled out of a bag a quarter of a century ago has accompanied me non-stop ever since then, day in, day out, in evolving versions. And that state of affairs has nothing whatsoever to do with my being, or not being, a fan of the man in a black turtle-neck sweater. It's simply a matter of my having encountered the most friendly computer that has ever existed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Apple deception

I've been using Apple products since 1981. In general, I've always looked forward to product updates, because Apple's new hardware and software are inevitably better, often in subtle ways, than what existed beforehand. Well, for the first time ever, I've experienced a reversal of this situation.

For the last couple of years, I've been using an excellent Macintosh word-processing tool named Pages, designed and sold by Apple. At the Apple Expo that has just taken place in California (which will go down in history as the last one at which the Apple company participated directly), many observers were shocked to discover that there were few announcements of new products from Apple. Personally, I was nevertheless happy to learn that an update to Pages had appeared. Last night, I downloaded a trial version of the latest version of this word processor and started to play around with it. I had imagined that, after testing the updated product to make sure that everything worked as indicated, I would purchase it immediately. Well, surprisingly, this is not going to be the case. There is nothing whatsoever in the new version of Pages to justify my paying 79 euros.

The most disappointing thing of all is a new Apple-hosted website service called iWork.com. The basic idea is that, if an author uploads his Pages files to this website, then his friends can view his writing, make comments about it, and keep copies of the files. On the surface, this sounded like a great idea for both my genealogical documents and my ongoing autobiography. The nasty truth of the matter is that the proposed service is incredibly slow. Besides, it doesn't really solve any problems that I haven't solved already by means of the nice technique of PDF files. On the other hand, there are new gadgets for Pages users who want to create cute newsletters with illustrations and gimmicky layout. Meanwhile, the glaring weaknesses of Pages still persist: namely, the impossibility of creating indexes and cross references to figures.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Messages from Mac men in black

Many years ago, my marvelous friend Marie [whom I encountered at a Paris computer fair, where we were both employed] told me about a trade show of female lingerie where she had been working as a hostess: "William, I can't be expected, of course, to know what goes on in a man's mind when he sees sexy females. But there were times during that trade show when I imagined that, if I were a male, gazing at some of those girls parading in front of us would have been a kind of sweet torture." I told Marie that her imagination was no doubt spot on.

Faced with entities of a quite different kind, the latest sexy Macs, I've often felt that Apple's men in black are capable of enhancing their products with an aura of lust. Click on the following image to see a video that describes the latest MacBook:

At one point in the video, I felt frustrated that I couldn't lay my hands upon the naked aluminum unibody, as it's called, run my finger tips over the glass trackpad, or simply gaze wide-eyed and breathlessly upon the LED-backlit display.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not ready to discard my Mac

I've played the following video several times, in an attempt to grasp its profound meaning:

It certainly doesn't make me want to throw away my Mac and move to MicroShit. On the other hand, this sketch with Mr Bean is charming:

It's amusing to see that the Apple ads of the "I'm a Mac... and I'm a PC" series have created what might be called a publicity paradigm, in the sense that they're being used as a yardstick of excellence. PC people realize that they can't create anything better than these ads, which viewers are not likely to forget overnight, so they merely try to jump on the bandwagon in one way or another, in a vain attempt to borrow the Apple momentum.

Monday, May 12, 2008

To catch a thief

This can only be described as a beautiful Macintosh story, almost a fairy tale in crime detection.

A burglary was committed in the New York apartment of a woman who happens to be an Apple store employee, and the thief got away with TVs, iPods, DVDs and two laptop Macs. The lady had subscribed to the .Mac online service, which included a tool named Back to My Mac that enables you to use a second machine to get in contact with your home Mac, and to operate the latter in a remote fashion, just as if you were sitting in front of it. Realizing that the robber was using her stolen Mac, the lady used Back to My Mac to take control of the machine, whereupon she was able to use its built-in camera to take a photo of the robber, staring at the screen, and to receive an email copy of this portrait. She showed the photo to friends who had been to a party in her apartment, and they instantly recognized the robber, and supplied his name and address. The lady then wandered into the local police station and supplied the startled cops with a complete description of the crime, including an excellent portrait of the culprit. She immediately recovered nearly all her stolen stuff. As for the robber, if ever he were to find himself behind bars for a short spell, he might look into the idea of using his spare time to do a bit of reading about the advanced possibilities of the Macintosh.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tech marvels

Apple aficionados were thrilled as usual by the announcements made by Steve Jobs in yesterday's keynote presentation at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. After last year's introduction of the revolutionary iPhone, many observers weren't sure that the Apple CEO would be able to surprise the world in a comparable fashion today. For me, the most striking aspect of today's keynote was the emergence of a coherent and integrated approach to computing, multimedia and the Internet that might be designated as the wireless philosophy. To see what this expression means, let's start with the most spectacular product presented today: the world's thinnest notebook, called MacBook Air. Steve Jobs actually extracted a specimen of this amazingly compact silver computer from an interoffice Manila envelope.

Much could be said about several splendid qualities of this machine: its LED-backlit display, its black backlit keyboard, etc. [Click the image to visit Apple's site, where you can find a lovely ad concerning this product, along with a guided tour of the new laptop.]

But I prefer to draw attention to a familiar component that is totally missing in this computer. It has no CD/DVD drive! At first sight, that sounds pretty crazy, because we've all become accustomed to using removable disks on our Macs to install new software, perform backups, play CDs and DVDs, etc. You can, of course, attach an external CD/DVD drive, but the absence of an inbuilt device sends out a new message. As far as the all-important question of backup is concerned, Macs running Leopard will henceforth be able to get backed up constantly and automatically by means of the extraordinary Time Machine software tool, which will store our precious data through a wireless connection on a delightfully simple piece of hardware called the Time Capsule:

This new approach to backup will be truly a godsend for a Mac user such as me... who has been struggling with the ugly Retrospect tool for too long.

As for other exciting announcements made by Steve Jobs, such as the possibility of renting movies through the Internet, they affect a spectators' multimedia universe that doesn't really concern me greatly. Maybe I'll end up giving in to the gadget charm of the iPhone, whose new software will make it possible to ascertain the user's geographical location by means of an ingenious system that has nothing to do with GPS. [See Apple's website for details.]

Right from the start, back in the early '80s, I became a fan of Apple products for the simple reason that they were usually ingenious, powerful and friendly. Over the last few years, I haven't been too astonished to discover that Apple's imagination and superiority are soaring exponentially. I can understand perfectly why Steve Job is looked upon, throughout the planet, as an exceptional visionary.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mac user

Who is this middle-aged Macintosh user, in a cluttered office, whose personal computing comfort apparently necesitates the simultaneous use of no less than three giant 30-inch high-definition screens? Hint: For over three years, this American has been a member of the board of directors of Apple Computer. Other hints: He recently made a highly successful movie, and the existence of this movie no doubt influenced the folk who award Nobel prizes... because they gave him a shared Peace Prize! It's Al Gore, of course, who happens to be one of the planet's most high-profile Mac enthusiasts.

As the old saying goes (well, more or less): "Tell me what computer you use, and I'll tell you what sort of a person you are." We've evolved a lot since the time when the French Socialist politician Laurent Fabius, asked whether he used a computer, replied: "Yes, I have a Minitel." The Minitel was the primitive little gadget (now obsolete) built by French Telecom, in pre-Internet days, which enabled ordinary citizens to access various databases. Here in France, I'm surprised that journalists don't seem to have got around to producing an in-depth report on the daily down-to-earth personal relationships between prominent politicians and computing... as distinct from the things they pay specialists to do for them. Let me lay my head on the block. I would bet that Sarkozy does not have a personal Macintosh, and that he knows next to nothing about the technicalities of using a computer and the Internet. I don't know why, but he strikes me as that kind of individual.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

With or without the web?

These days, there are two major approaches to using computers. For a long time, it was a matter of switching on your personal machine and running a software tool such as Word or Excel, for example. More recently, the Internet has provided a more powerful means of exploiting computing resources, which consists basically of getting connected to countless remote machines whose geographical whereabouts are not only unknown but irrelevant. Ideal examples of this new approach to using computers are provided by the Google behemoth, but less spectacular web-based computing services make it possible to make purchases of books or even groceries from your living room.

In the case of Apple's iPhone, we are at present on the borderline between these two approaches. Up until now, if a developer wanted to extend the possibilities of this device from a computing viewpoint, the only possibility consisted of working through the Safari web browser. This wasn't a very convenient solution, because you can't even access Flash websites on the iPhone. A few days ago, Steve Jobs decided to turn the situation upside-down by announcing a forthcoming software development kit that will enable developers to work with the iPhone as if it were more-or-less a normal Macintosh computer.

Some observers see this as an indication that the web-based approach has been a failure in the case of the iPhone. Be that as it may, developers will be happy to envisage the iPhone as what it really is: a genuine Macintosh of kinds. Nobody likes castrated computers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Two Apple announcements in France


In this morning's French news, there are two much-awaited Apple announcements: the Leopard system on 26 October, and the iPhone on 29 November. I immediately ordered the so-called Leopard "family pack" allowing for five installations, including two for me, and one for my daughter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Europe versus Microsoft

At a professional level, I used to be in close contact with Microsoft. Once upon a time (in the early '80s), their spreadsheet tool was called Multiplan (inspired by the grand ancestor VisiCalc). In the context of my initial contacts with Apple France executives Jean-Louis Gassée and Daniel Blériot, I was asked to produce a demonstration floppy (non-rigid disk) of Multiplan on the famous Apple II computer. Shortly after, this primitive hardware/software tandem was replaced by the revolutionary Macintosh and Excel.

Several years later, I wrote stuff about Microsoft tools running on the Macintosh. This work must have been appreciated by the French branch of Bill Gates's corporation, for they offered me a helicopter ride to a journalists' get-together in a fairy-tale castle near Chartres.

That was the time when computer users everywhere were delighted to discover that Microsoft's word-processing tool, named Word, was totally (and no doubt deliberately) unprotected. That's to say, anybody could start using it freely on their PC or Macintosh. That was the ingenious marketing trick that got a whole planetary generation addicted to Word. It was the computing equivalent of free marijuana.

It could be said, retrospectively, that this pioneering epoch of personal computing was an essentially macho affair. For reasons I can't explain, neither the managerial nor the technical levels of the PC revolution seemed to put the limelight upon any outstanding females.

Today, I find it ironical that Bill Gates's arch-enemy in the Old World is a brilliant 66-year-old Dutch woman, Neelie Kroes.

In her powerful role as the European Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes doesn't want Europe to become a capitalistic jungle, where the strong devour the weak. In 2004 she set out to bust the Microsoft trust, by accusing the US corporation of failing to implement system-level interoperability, thereby condemning all competition. A European law court has just confirmed that Microsoft's fine of 497 million euros was justified.

Here in France, to verify that Microsoft is not yet playing the game in the sense implied by their European condemnation, you merely have to wander into a retail store and say that you want to purchase a PC without the Windows software. As a surprised salesman pointed out, that request sounds a little like wanting to buy an automobile without a motor. The analogy, though, is stupid. It's silly to try to compare computers with old-fashioned machines such as automobiles. The motor in an automobile (essentially hardware) is not at all the equivalent of software in the context of a computer. Somebody who wants to buy computing hardware without imposed software is more like a guy who wants to get married without having others choose his wife. But we no longer need such metaphors to get the message across. Today, almost everybody is aware that it's perfectly feasible to envisage buying a PC and installing Linux on it. So, to put it metaphorically, Bill Gates should pull his finger out.

This whole affair might, of course, turn out to be a non-problem... if Europeans were to wake up to themselves, and decide massively to buy magnificent Macs.