go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

January, 2006

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    more content on iTunes

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    The folks running the increasingly-misnamed iTunes Music Store have been busy bees. They've added a metric tonne of new content: The A-Team, South Park, Punk'd, The Munsters, and lots more. Viacom has added a lot of content from their properties, including MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. They even released the a new episode of Drawn Together three days before it is aired on Comedy Central. This is a great marketing move: many of their shows appeal to teenagers, who have a lot of disposable income and are more likely to buy an iPod than those of us of a more advanced age (read: over 25).

    I mentioned earlier that I like the idea of them releasing old SNL stuff to iTunes, but I'm not entirely happy about the implementation. First, I'm annoyed that each of the 'Best of ...' warrants their own entry in the 'TV Shows' listing. The UI girl in me wants there to be one SNL entry under 'TV Shows' then each 'Best of ...' can have a listing under 'Season'. Ditto for the parodies and sketches. My other issue with the SNL content is that it's rather expensive. I didn't realise that they would release an individual sketch (many of which are less than two minutes) at two bucks. That said, I don't seem to mind the idea of paying the two bucks per song video ('vingle', as iTunes is calling it). It's not as if the vingles are really that much longer than the SNL sketches.

    Unsurprisingly, Disney has several short films available as well. There's seven different Pixar shorts and ten from Disney. The Disney shorts are early ones, the latest of which is from 1944. I have strong memories of Brave Little Tailor and Ferdinand the Bull, although I have no idea why. Again, this is a great move -- this plus the Nickelodeon content means that the iPod is even more attractive to kids. I'm not convinced that I would buy a six-year-old a video iPod, but then I don't have a six-year-old for whom to buy a video iPod, so this is all an academic exercise for me anyway.

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    Google Earth + Entourage

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    Barry Wainwright, one of the Entourage MVPs, wrote up a set of instructions for how to make Google Earth send its email through Entourage instead of Mail.app. I was annoyed that Google Earth assumed that I use Mail.app, but it turns out that it's easy to fix. Thanks Barry!

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    iTunes University

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    Apple has launched a service called iTunes U that provides free hosting for universities who want to make lectures and other audio or video content available to the public. Stanford, of course, has already been there with their Stanford on iTunes for quite awhile [1]. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there were six universites who tested the service: Stanford, Brown, Duke, University of Michigan School of Dentistry, University of Missouri School of Journalism, and University of Wisconsin at Madison. The service can either be made freely available to the public, or the school can opt to require authentication and thus restrict it to students.

    Outside of iTunes, other schools are exploring similar methods of making lectures available to the public:

    • UC-Berkeley is delivering podcasts and webcasts of several of their courses. They have a wide variety of different classes, from the rather obvious choice "Foundations of American Cyberculture" to less-obvious choices like "Animal Behaviour" and "Introductory Physics".
    • Purdue has what they call BoilerCasts, some of which require authentication. Their list is less accessible than the Berkeley one, only listing course numbers (MCMP422?). Someone who's really interested could dig through their current course catalogue to map course numbers to titles.
    • MIT has [what I think is] the longest-standing method for delivering online content through their OpenCourseWare. They've got quite a lot of material on their site, but then they've been doing it since 2001.
    There's others (MIT links to other universities using OCW, for example), but these seem to be the major players.

    I don't think that this is going to replace a traditional degree. I see it as a way for universities to give back to their communities (and the world community) by offering up small pieces of education to people who are interested. I might subscribe to that Foundations of American Cyberculture podcast to see what they're covering there.


    [1] And if you haven't looked there yet, there's a couple of interesting things on iTunes@Stanford. Look under Heard on Campus > Visiting Lecturers and Speeches for Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement speech, as well as more than eight hours of content from the Dalai Lama's appearance there late last year.

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    Disney bought Pixar

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    On the off-chance that no-one else noticed this, it's official: Disney bought Pixar. My link here is to the Sydney Morning-Herald because the top of the article is a big picture of Steve wearing one of his trademark turtlenecks and the CEO of Disney wearing an uncomfortable look on his face. Steve becomes the biggest single shareholder of Disney, and takes a seat on the Disney board.

    I like Pixar. They have consistently turned out great animated films. It's not just their technique, although that's excellent.  But the technique isn't enough.  Pixar creates memorable stories, ones that you want to watch again. I hope that Pixar can improve Disney for the better. I don't think that Disney has been making many high-quality products themselves. Their last few animated films haven't been that great, and their handful of live-action films have mostly been re-makes. They've been living on the Disney name. They haven't been innovating. I hope that Pixar can bring innovation back to Disney.

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    professional outsider

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    I feel like I'm a professional outsider sometimes. Currently, I'm sitting in the lobby of a building on main campus waiting to go to my next meeting. This building isn't the MacBU building, which means that I stand out. I sit here in the lobby with my shiny silver PowerBook on my lap, with its lit Apple logo on the back of the screen. Everyone who walks past does a double-take.

    When I sat down and took out my laptop, the receptionist in this building asked me if I had an appointment and she could call someone for me. I flashed her my badge, which has clearly confused her in some way. She watched me carefully when I went to get a soda from the kitchen. I'm sitting directly across from her now, and she keeps on glancing over at me.

    Having a Mac in a different building isn't the only way in which I'm a professional outsider. As a user experience researcher, I don't fit neatly into most of the other categories of professional at Microsoft. I'm not a developer, or a program manager, or a planner, or a tester. I don't know anything about marketing. My position is unique in that it spans multiple pieces of our Mac suite, but is still very hands-on with the individual products that I work on. I'm a part of many teams, but at the same time separate from them. I have a common background with many of them (after all, I have degrees in computer science and in mathematics), but my job is fundamentally different than theirs.

    I suppose I should point out that I don't mind being a professional outsider. I like my job. The people that I work with are really quite fantastic (and I'm not just saying that because they could read my blog at any time), and they've welcomed me with wide open arms. I get a different perspective on the business, and one that I like. This isn't a complaint, simply an observation, and (for that matter) it's an observation that might change as I grow more comfortable with being at Microsoft. I'm still new here, so everything is still different than what I'm used to.

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    MWSF round-up

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    I keep on meaning to write a round-up of MWSF, but Daring Fireball beat me to it with their Macworld Expo 2006 in Review. I especially think that the thoughts about why Apple didn't change the case design for the Intel-based Macs that they announced was spot-on.

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    may the circle be unbroken

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    I saw the story today about Disney wanting to merge with Pixar, but didn't get much time to write about it. That's okay, though, because Mark Kraft wrote something way more funny than anything I could've managed: Dixar? Pisney?! Here's a quote:

    So, here's my guess on what will happen next.
    Jobs will soon become the most important person on Disney's board of directors, and will have a stronger than expected say in what goes on there, even as he rails against Eisner's former cronies. He'll change the company for the better.
    Meanwhile, he'll merge Apple with Sony, become their CEO, put out a revolutionary operating system that will power all Macs, all Sony game consoles, and all their electronic devices. The new OS will be ported to Wintel boxes, and so many people will switch to it that Microsoft will be forced to merge with Sony/Apple or die.

    Do go read the whole thing. It's worth the couple of minutes.

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    Sun and Apple could have merged

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    I alluded to this in an earlier post, so let's talk about it now. The Register reported last week that Sun and Apple almost merged three times. In an interview at the Computer History Museum (which is about a block from where I'm currently sitting), Sun co-founder Bill Joy revealed that Sun attempted to acquire Apple once, and almost merged with Apple on two different occasions.

    Ignoring the obvious jokes about a company named Snapple (a joke which the Register couldn't resist), I have to say that I'm pretty glad that they didn't. Although their CEOs might have a lot in common, Sun is too focused on the enterprise, and Apple is too focused on the consumer. There's overlap between those two groups, but they have fundamentally different mindsets. Sun's done some great things. As OO languages go, I really rather like Java [1]. But that doesn't mean that the companies should have merged.

    I don't think that Scott McNealy would ever have allowed some of Apple's most recent innovations (and cash generators) get off the ground. Even now, McNealy isn't a believer in the iPod. He spouts the company line that the network is the computer, so no-one will want an iPod in five years because your cell phone will be able to access your entire music library wherever you are. That might be technically possible, but it requires more than just low network latency and high bandwidth. Battery technology needs to improve before I can get there. The network has to improve so that I really can access my entire music library when I'm flying internationally. And with an iPod the size of the Nano or the Shuffle, why not just combine them into a single unit (like the Motorola ROKR, but no artificial limitation on the number of songs that it can carry)? And that's ignoring the issues with how mobile phone billing works right now -- my cell phone bill is high enough without having to pay for the download of songs that I already own on my home media server.

    As a user researcher, I'm very happy with Apple in its current position. There are few companies with which Apple could have merged and allowed Apple to have made the strides in user experience that Apple has made. I like Sun, and even have a Sparc 10 sitting at home right now. But in this case, I want my chocolate and my peanut butter separate.


    [1] My favourite OO language is still Smalltalk.

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    do TV show sales on iTunes result in greater viewership?

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    TVWeek has an interesting article this week: NBC: iPod Boosts Prime Time. They're claiming that, after releasing The Office onto the iTunes Music Store (which is increasingly becoming a misnomer), they've seen an audience increase of 30% in the 18 to 49 age bracket. NBC is placing the credit for this squarely on the shoulders of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store.

    It's interesting to note that NBC also changed the time slot of that show. But, at least in this article, NBC isn't saying that the time slot change resulted in anything. They're giving all of the credit to Apple products. Is it all due to the iPod? A good question. I'm sure that a fair number of people with spiffy new iPods decided to pony up a couple of bucks to try out some of the video content, and maybe there was enough buzz about The Office that it was the one that got the lion's share of the goodies. I do think that the initial offerings were somewhat paltry, so The Office didn't really have that much competition for people who wanted to try out videos on their new iPod. If I download a new-to-me show and decide I like it, am I more likely to continue paying my two bucks per episode, or am I going to just watch it on my free-to-air NBC?

    I have to admit that the video content is making me rethink my previous statement that the video iPod doesn't do anything for me. I've quite a lot of travel planned for the next couple of months, which makes having an ultra-portable video unit more attractive. The latest addition of classic Saturday Night Live skits might be enough to push me over the edge and (finally) upgrade my old 2G iPod.

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    MS releasing new Mac-only keyboard and mouse

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    This got kinda lost in the shuffle of MWSF, but MS hardware has announced that they're releasing a Mac-only keyboard and mouse.

    I think it's kinda nifty. I like the MS hardware (and I'm not saying that just because Bill Gates signs my paycheques), and I'm pleased to see that we're releasing something that's Mac-only. An existing keyboard will work, of course, and I think anything that you can buy currently is smart enough to give you the option of swapping the keys when it's hooked up to a Mac so that the clover and option keys are where you expect them. But even with that, I like the idea of us making a Mac-only keyboard and mouse.

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