Thursday, August 10, 2006

Watch your step: the drop is a real killer.

The recent Apple WWDC brought with it the last major hardware milestone in the transition from PPC to Intel in a predictable follow-up to Intel’s June and July announcements of the release of different processors utilizing the Core 2 micro-architecture. Despite the proclamations of some it was widely-assumed that when Intel finally put the nails in the coffin of the Pentium 4 that Apple would meet the hardware end of its transition: the PPC front had been stagnating with little for Apple to offer outside of using the PPC 970MP in the Quad in 2005. It is the ISV side which still remains lagging that has been expected to take the most significant amount of time to move, though Apple has deftly mitigated this transition by licensing the technology behind Rosetta from Transitive, even if Rosetta has had warts of its own. An overly-delayed adoption of Intel’s new offerings even when considering the limited production runs until 2007 would merely serve to provide many belated “Me Too” moments for Apple should the original projections for the transition have been taken at face-value. “Now announcing the Mac Pro—with the same technology Dell has been using for nine months in its Precision line of workstations.” It merely would not have had the same punch as the timely adoption of Yonah and later Woodcrest.

Despite numerous errata with the Macbook and Macbook Pro Apple’s share of the laptop market is reported to have risen to 12% in June, resuscitating Apple’s successes in the portable market which began when AMD and Intel’s processor offerings still provided poor competition in performance-per-watt measurements with the G3 and G4 iBooks and PowerBooks. For many years the portable market has increased its share of the overall personal computer market as people have become more accustomed to associating the computing experience with the freedom of wireless networks instead of viewing the computer as a typewriter adjoined to a large suitcase that is attached by numerous tangled wires to a desk. Apple’s growth in this area signals at worst indifference to the transition and at best a welcome return to performance competitiveness with other portables while affording those with growing antipathy for the security troubles of Windows a way out at a decent value.

Even though there are numerous advantages for having a high-performance portable, there of course still exists a strong demand for increasingly-capable desktop computers for those that do not require the expense the portability of a notebook computer implies for equivalent functionality. Apple has already provided options for the SFF market with the Mini and the everybody’s-mom-should-own-one iMac, both of which utilize enough of the mobile hardware platform to provide for lower power-requirements while eschewing the complete mobile form-factor for offering lower-prices and larger displays. There are also the needs of those for whom the necessary storage, performance, and peripheral options are simply not tenable in a portable form factor. So finally there is also the Mac Pro, which squarely places itself in competition with Dell’s Precision line of workstations and Apple’s own G5 Quad for its current customers.

Utilizing Intel’s workstation and server platform permits Apple to more capably compete against its Quad by affording it 2x2 configurations that are not possible with the Conroe platform, and should Intel meet its projections for Clovertown 2x4 configurations in the near future. It also permits the utilization of the higher FSB frequencies and FB-DIMMs for potential gains in bandwidth. Having this as the only option however means that Apple is stuck with the price and power requirements of FB-DIMMs, Intel’s Xeon chipsets which do not support CrossFire and will never support SLI, and the future pricing of Intel’s Xeon processors as they begin to increase production of Merom and Conroe. It also places the base cost of a Mac Pro at over $2100 without a display. The decision to rely exclusively on the Woodcrest platform means that for those desktop applications where a 1x2 configuration would be adequate but there exists a need to have some manner of flexibility in storage, display, GPU configurations, and other internal peripheral options Apple is saying “pony up or live with the iMac.”

Even after Apple transitions the Yonah-based iMac to Merom there is still an enormous gap between the limited flexibility of the iMac platform and the expense and power requirements of the Woodcrest platform. This need will be further met by other PC workstation and desktop vendors shipping computers running Windows XP derivatives and later Windows Vista with the Conroe platform with chipsets from Intel and NVIDIA. The drop from the Mac Pro to the iMac is quite large and most will just grab on the branch extended by Dell on the way down, when Apple could really use a “Mac” to exploit professionals seeking to mitigate Windows to the land of Boot Camp or Parallels. It is likely that instead of investing in a parachute or some climbing gear, that they’ll just be getting a Dell, dude. That's like, a bummer.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When you're done giving me your recipe for lasagna, go out and buy a Coke.

The seigneuries of the contemporary Web are a sort of marketing genius in the spirit of the sale of the New Economy in the later half of the 1990s. The facilitators belie the laborious roles of their workers behind an air of community wherein forging relationships, writing, and foraging through mounds of information are not profitable endeavors but rather the construction of collectives.

Would-be laborers are drawn into the manor by following the scent trails left behind by scouts that have already made the trek, and once inside of its borders they are driven by egotism to seek out recognition. The recognition is obtained through the building of the community, and building the community is accomplished by finding information and returning it to the others, by creating information and presenting it to the others, or by creating links between members in the collective. The more building of the community is performed the stronger the trails to the community become, and the more serfs that find their way into toiling at the construction of the collective.

While the laborers superficially view these works collectively like an early kibbutz, the work is really in the maintenance of a manor for a lord who adorns its alleys with various advertisements, sells statistics gathered about the laborers, and waves the idea of possessing all of the humans and their works it has amassed before others in hopes of trading the imaginary tracts of land for real currency. While the laborers put in hours of work creating value in exchange for the idea of building a community, the lords busy themselves in capitalizing on all of the free labor. It is truly a clever means of exploiting the extraordinary value of branding.

The same greed that permitted the fiction of the New Economy to liberate capital from investors helps funnel it into the creators of sites like MySpace, Facebook, Digg, Flikr, del.icio.us, etc and previously sites such as Kuro5hin. The costs associated with creating original content or providing editorial discretion are eschewed, and the product and the bulk of the workers beyond those maintaining the backend hardware and software are largely the same unpaid group. Investors have been convinced that much value can be continuously extracted from these workers and their labors without any monetary compensation, which has fueled ever-larger sales and association arrangements between such sites.

The workers of these sites are as convinced of the communal value of these sites as investors are that they can obtain unpaid labor from them in exchange for being advertised to or used for market research. They hold defensively to the value of the sites they contribute to. For example considerable outrage is emanating from Digg serfs because Netscape opted to take the basic premise of Digg and use it to bolster the value of its own website. The Web 2.0 link magnet belongs to the Digg community in their minds, and Netscape is seen like an outside aggressor come to steal the lifeblood of the community. There is further consternation that Netscape would actually employ people that participated in the construction of these other communities to do the same for them, with the exchange of capital inspiring hostility and garnering the paid laborers the label of sell outs.

The hostility toward obtaining monetary compensation for the creation of value in such communities is not limited to paid employees of Netscape: referral links to products reviewed are chastised and in many instances the links are posted again by another without the referral codes, those that frequently link to personal sites are occasionally derided, and those with genuine enthusiasm about various products or services are regularly called out as astroturfers. There is hostility toward anyone benefiting personally from the collective except for the lord of the manor, who is merely seen as protecting the existence of the community.

The marketing to both investors and workers is quite effective. Unlike the tracts of land feudal lords would defend and serfs would work, these online sweatshops are transient. They are subject to the fickle ebb and flow of fashion, and which site happens to be fashionable at any point in time varies. It is undoubtedly the case that new sites will spring forth with the same basic premises, and people will follow the trails and build new imaginary communities and users will gradually move from one lord to another. The workers most entrenched in the unpaid construction of these communities due to the investment of considerable amounts of time, and the investors eager-enough to have handed over vast sums of money stand the most to lose, but thanks to the salesmanship that we all remember from the New Economy, they will never see it coming. No doubt they’ll eagerly follow the scent trail to their next investment.