Monday, 15 August 2011

Google's Not New Microsoft

Despite what a significant (or at least an influential) part of the tech press is trying to tell you, Google is not the new Microsoft.

If you're not old enough to remember the really bad old Microsoft days you may be excused for buying the argument you are presented with. After all, it is in fact mostly the older journalists who tend to forward it. And knowing they have been there and have seen it certainly gives their argument added weight. It also means they can craft their argument in a very deceivingly persuasive way.

However, and despite a lot of correct analysis they proffer, their final conclusion is wrong. For all its failings, mistakes, and blunders, Google is not, and never will be the new Microsoft. Yes, it has virtual monopoly over web search (and a good few other things). Yes, their promise of a "completely open" Android is misleading, to say the least. And yes, it does not always follow its creed to "do no evil".

And yet, there is a major difference between all these failings, and the way Microsoft ruled the computer world in its heyday. The difference should be blindingly obvious, but if you haven't live the "Microsoft years" you may miss it quite easily. And this difference can be summed up in a word. Or rather, two words: one for Microsoft, and the other for Google.

Let's hear them now, then: Microsoft, a stifler - Google, an enabler.

Yes, it's that simple. And here's how:

As the end user, ever since the days of MS DOS, I have always felt constrained by what Microsoft offered as "user experience". Yes, there were productivity gains, but they always came with a heavy dose of "you can't get there from here". There was always the sense that a better solution is possible, and may even have been available for a little while, until Microsoft arrived and offered its vision of how things should be done. And then, using its well known corporate muscle, it would just trample over superior products and ideas and leave the carnage in its wake, the carnage mostly having the shape of wavy windows...

On the other hand, from the word Go, Google has been an enabler. All the products and services it offered actually made me do things in a better and easier way. Most importantly, they made me feel liberated every step of the way. Switching to a Google product always felt the right thing to do, and the existing competition did not die for being small, but not being good enough. Even when it copied, Google added value. True, sometimes the added value was a bit intangible. Like, while I (may) have to buy my apps through Android Market (or not, there's alternatives), at least I can take them with me to my next device. Oh, yes: iTunes allows that, too, but with a difference: you are restricted to just one manufacturer who has only one product to offer. Sorry, but I prefer to be able to shop for a different phone every time I need a new one.

And so on, and so forth. If you allow yourself to think about things that really matter, you will likely find that your Microsoft experience (even now, but even more back then) well and truly stifles you. If a company is a new Microsoft today, surely it is Apple. At least for those who have decided to drink Apple's Kool-Aid, bless their little pleasures.

So, don't listen to just about anybody telling you how Google is new Microsoft. While it may yet has a chance to mess up, it has so far been a force for he good. If you are a phone manufacturer, you may not be happy that you need to compete on hardware rather than have users locked in by the OS, but then it's been a while since pretty much all software has become a commodity.

And, as a matter of fact, I don't think we'll see the like of the Microsoft of the yesteryears. Even if having massive resources is still quite essential for mega success, the bar for entry into the game has been lowered so much it is barely distinguishable from the ground you stand on. Got an idea? Got time and wherewithal to learn some light programming skills? Yes, and yes? Go ahead, shell out $10 on a domain name, only a little bit more for some entry level web hosting, and off you go. If you're capable and/or lucky you can even hope for making it all the way to the top on your own. If you're capable and/or lucky you will be gobbled up by someone bigger. Yes, you'll probably not enjoy the limelight alone, but you will succeed anyway, and your idea will become a part of the human heritage (even if it does little more than ... whatever).

Finally, from where I sit - and where I sat when Microsoft was the Evil Empire - it seems quite clear that Microsoft slowed the progress way down, while Google... well, it is in large part the enabler of it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Food: Now With 25% More Tomatoes!

Hello there, and welcome back to these pages after a (not so) brief self-imposed hiatus. No, I won't tell you why I was gone. It's not important, and, more importantly, it's also not very interesting. To you, at least. Yes, I know it's patronising. But then that's why you come here, isn't it? To be patronised, or hoping to see somebody or other beign patronised. I know how you people are...

But anyway, back to the business of patronising...

I've recently bought a bottle of Hellman's ketchup. I think it was this one. Actually, on careful inspection, it is that one. You can just make out the breathless claim of having "over 25% more tomatoes".

What you may not make out, even if you hold the bottle quite close to your nose (which you may have to do if you're as short-sighted as yours truly, are the two little marks urging you to look for the fine print. There's a tiny little asterisk, and right next to it an even tinier cross. I'll ignore the fact the cross is the one Christians use as their fetishsymbol, and plough on on a different topic.

(Don't you just find it weird how Christians can use such a horrible instrument of torture as their symbol and something they treat almost as a fetish. Well, not almost - a lot. There's something morbid about idolising alleged pain and suffering of their chosen deity. But then religions are often like that. Weird. Anyway, back to tomato ketchup...)

So, the little asterisk tells you that the "25% more" claim refers to the fact that "normal" Hellman's ketchup uses 132g of tomatoes for 100g ketchup. Meaning, of course, that this new and improved one uses (fetches his trusty calculator) a whopping 165 grams. This, after some googling, tells me that one average sized tomato is used to get a 100g of new and improved Hellman's ketchup. Which sounds like a good deal. Or does it?

Let's look at it from another angle...

The bottle in question holds 430g of ketchup (don't ask why 430 and not 500 or at least a pound). This means that 4.5 tomatoes have been used to make it. Let's be generous and say five. Or, better, let's apply Hellman's own data and some maths and get to 710g of tomato going into a 430g bottle of ketchup. This still sounds like a reasonable amount. It's almost a kilo, and substantially more than a pound.

But have you actually seen what 700g of tomatoes look like? Well, by virtue of having a tomato addict in the house, I actually see all sorts of quantities and types of tomato all the time. And from that (not as traumatic as it sounds) experience I can tell you that 700g of tomato on a plate or in a plastic bag does not look like something that can reasonably produce 400g of quality ketchup, let alone 430.

Just try it for yourself. Go to your local supermarket, weigh, buy and bring home 700g of tomato. Remove all the green bits (one hopes Hellman's do, too). Put in a blender. Blend. Check consistency. Realise the stuff needs a lot of reducing over slow heat in order to come close to being considered a ketchup.

Now, Hellman's also boast their fare has no artificial whatevers. Which is good. But they still obviously had to add something to make the required amount out of the advertised quantity of tomatoes. And, while probably really all natural, I do wonder what is it that has been added to that "tomato" ketchup. My bet would be on flour. That's nice and thickening, barely detectable, and probably also can be made "vegan", too.

So, in conclusion, don't fall for headline advertising. Too often when you scratch the surface you find quite a lot of unflattering facts. Or at least facts which, while supporting the headline, don't really add up to an exciting improvement of the product in question.

Oh, and sometimes you will find, as I did with Hellman's ketchup, that the product itself leaves you a bit wanting. Yes, it may be true that Hellman's now has "over 25% more tomatoes". Yes, it may be that their ratio of tomatoes to ketchup is the highest in the industry (that's what that little cross tells you, if I remember correctly). But in the final analysis, Heinz ketchup wipes the floor with this one any day of the week.

Caveat emptor, indeed...