July 30, 2016

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Behind the iPhone Frenzy

Let me say right up front that I have not accepted the Jesus Phone as my personal Lord and Savior. The iPhone might turn out to be insanely great. It might become the best-selling mobile phone ever. Or it might not.

Either way, the iPhone’s arrival and the attendant frenzy mark the beginning of a new phase in the mobile phone world – a phase based on the radical notion that it’s possible to make a pocket-sized device that is a pretty good phone and a pretty good networked computer at the same time.

From a purely technical standpoint, this isn’t surprising at all. Phones are basically computers, and we know how to cram a decent computer into a small, low-power package. The engineering isn’t trivial but we know it can be done. Apple might have modestly better engineering, and significantly better human-factors design, but what they’re doing has been technically possible all along.

Yet somehow it hasn’t happened, because the mobile carriers don’t want it to happen. They have clung to their walled garden models, offering limited, captive services rather than allowing easy development of Internet applications for mobile devices. An open system would provide more benefit overall, but most of that benefit would accrue to consumers. The carriers would rather get a big share of a small pie, than a small share of a big pie.

In most markets, competition keeps this kind of thing from happening, by forcing producers to account for consumer preferences. You would expect competition to have forced the mobile networks open by now, whether the carriers liked it or not. But this hasn’t happened yet. The carriers have managed to keep control by locking customers in to long contracts and erecting barriers to the entry of new devices and applications. The system seemed to be stuck in an unstable equilibrium. All we needed was some kind of shock, to get the ball rolling downhill.

Only a company with marketing muscle, design mojo, and a world-historic Reality Distortion Field could provide the needed bump. Apple decided to try, in the hope of selling zillions of the new, more capable devices. The real significance of the iPhone, whether it succeeds or fails in the market, is that it will trigger the transition to more open networks. Once people see that a pretty good phone can be a pretty good mobile computer, they won’t settle for less anymore; and mobile networks will be pried open.

Whether or not the Jesus Phone achieves worldly success, it will succeed in its own way by convincing people that the world can be different.

Comments

  1. Indeed all that the iPhone does is ‘technically possible’ – and probably has been for a bit now. However, there is a huge gamble in *how* all the existing components come together to make up the final product. That’s where the design comes in and although Apple might be one of the few good candidates to pull it through, the iPhone might indeed turn out to be nothing more than a technical achievement like the rest of phone companies develop: full of amazing specs that simply don’t add up to something exciting. Although, by the looks of it, it will be a great product.

    And while we’re at it, iPhone doesn’t seem to be the most open of platforms (what with being able to install only Apple apps). Although it’s a step in the right direction design- and concept-wise it also lies safely within the realm of the rest of the phone-producing companies.

    And as for mobile carriers, it will definitely require more than the iPhone to lure them into releasing some of the control they have over their infrastructure. For it’s this their ‘walls’ is protecting: the investment they have made these years in covering whole countries with their antennae. Although the iPhone might not be enough, it might indeed get the ball rolling. I think it’s a bit on the pricey side to have that much of an effect – yet. Give it some time though and it might do the trick.

  2. Dimitris has already hinted at it, but is it possible that most people use phones as, well, phones? And little else? Well, email and texting, being just other modes of verbal communication.

  3. Something similar to iPhoto, but completely open (as in carrier choice as well as development for the platform) is in development — OpenMoko (http://www.openmoko.org). If things go according to the plan, it will come with completely open source stack in October 2007.

  4. avatar Rob Adams says:

    The iPhone doesn’t do anything that my Treo can’t do (and my Treo does a lot that the iPhone can’t!), and PalmOS at least can support third-party applications.

    The only real advantage the iPhone has is better industrial design. The fact of the matter is that this another closed, locked-down platform with long-term contract strings attached like everything else.

  5. avatar Matthew says:

    The real key is that the iPhone is probably running a nice normal firmware and OS that can be customized as consumers see fit once someone figures it out. nothing would be better than getting Linux onto it and getting it open for development and innovation. Too bad Cingular has some of the worst data plans of any carrier. When Sprint opens up its network to devices like this it will really be revolutionary because of their dirt cheap data plans.

  6. avatar easy way to go broke says:

    Like much of Apple, it’s a wonderful interface that mainlines its users to for sale music, video and what-else? It won’t be long for many before this $600 phone will be worth a couple grand. God forbid that your dog munchs on it.

    It’ll be popular with the tv’s talking heads, but for the rest of us it’s a pauper’s grave.

  7. avatar Michael Fötsch says:

    If there’s one thing that the iPhone doesn’t offer, it’s the freedom to tinker.

    http://www.defectivebydesign.org/blog/1044

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    People who are saying this is just another phone don’t have a clue. If you’re talking about specs you’re talking about the wrong thing. You can’t compare the IPhone in a quantitative sense. It is all about the software. Traditional phone manufacturers, and electronic manufacturers in general, make crap products because they don’t know how to write usable software. It doesn’t matter if it has X many gigabytes more storage if the difference in software is night and day. The problem is you can’t measure software ‘goodness’ so people (especially management) don’t know how to compare them and resort to things that have numbers.

    There is no question that the IPhone will be mind-boggingly successful because Apple knows how to write user interactive software. Apparently no one else does.

    That said, if I can’t run my own apps on what is essentially a mobile computer then you can keep your ‘trusted computing’.

  9. The lack of meaningful Bluetooth capabilities is an indication that the
    carriers are still having their way. Can you sync the iPhone’s address
    book with your computer via Bluetooth? No. Can you use the iPhone
    as a modem via Bluetooth, connecting from your laptop to the Internet
    via the phone when that’s the only network connection you can get?
    No, that’s one of the features that wireless carriers disable in their phones
    in hopes of selling expensive, dedicated, PC card-based Internet service.

    So I don’t think that, so far, the iPhone appears to represent a victory over wireless
    carrier lock-in. What the iPhone does seem to be is a wireless device with
    a decent user interface for a change. I hope that it stimulates not a feature
    war with the other handset manufacturers, but some striving for excellence
    in user interface design.

  10. avatar hexatron says:

    I’ve been using the phrase ‘a whole cookie instead of a big slice of pie’ for this phenomenon, because it shows the direct connection between the corporate mind and the three-year-old mind.

  11. avatar Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

    You’re right about the phone companies’ fondness for building walled gardens. The iPhone may be disruptive to this, but unfortunately it’s not disruptive enough. It is its own walled garden, and third-party developers will not be able to write applications for it beyond pretty lame things that work through the Safari interface.
    That’s where I think the whole idea falls down. It’s all very well to open up the market to all comers. It’s quite another to try to grab control of the market for yourself–those already in control will not look kindly upon this.

  12. I’m not from the US, so I am not aware how the US carriers work, but in
    Australia it is quite uncommon for a device to be banned or locked to a
    specific carrier. We also have number portability laws which makes it very
    easy to switch carriers without losing your number.

    I’m assuming that Apple have a revenue sharing deal with AT&T (Similar to Apple selling music on the iPod).

    Given such an exclusive arrangement, there will be a great conflict of
    interest in Apple really opening up the phone and platform.

    In an ideal world, the phone carriers merely become IP providers and
    the ‘phone’ becomes just another IP enabled device..

  13. You wrote, “An open system would provide more benefit overall, but most of that benefit would accrue to consumers.”

    That’s right – a more open system than the iPhone would provide that.

    Why did you fall for the iPhone trap – two year contract, early termination fee, provider lock-in, minimal ability to add software – when you could have waited a week and a half for an FIC Neo1973 running only Open Source software that is built with the “freedom to tinker” in mind?

    You wrote, “Only a company with marketing muscle, design mojo, and a world-historic Reality Distortion Field could provide the needed bump.”

    Or, the “needed bump” could be provided by Taiwanese firm FIC and a community of programmers and engineers who respect your freedom. You can read more about the July release at http://lists.openmoko.org/pipermail/announce/2007-June/000013.html .

  14. avatar Fred Hamranhansenhansen says:

    > when you could have waited a week and a half for an FIC Neo1973
    > running only Open Source software that is built with the
    > “freedom to tinker” in mind?

    It has already been announced that OpenMoko is delayed until next year.

    It has already been announced that OpenMoko will not feature a real Web browser, no Firefox with zooming screen to present competition for iPhone.

    Also, nobody cares about programming phones in C except C programmers. That is less than 1% of phone users, who also outnumber PC users by over 2:1.

    The Web is full of open source code that current phones CANNOT READ, except for the iPhone. That is what iPhone is solving, not your desire for yet another API in which to write a calendar craplet.

    Also, iPhone is compatible with the Internet using BSD, and with Web 2.0 using WebKit, both are open source projects.

  15. There’s one thing and only one thing behind the iPhone frenzy — is Apple sales-hype acting on fanatical Apple buyers who think they are buying coolness. There is NOTHING new or innovative about the iPhone.

    Playing MP3? Motorola and Nokia have been doing it for over a year, even on the low-end models. Browsing internet? Way old, years old. Touch screen? Many of the higher end PDA/phones already have touch screens. Sync with computer? At least 10 years old. Mobile email? I thought RIM already 0wnz0r3d all your mobile email :-)

    Now for the badly designed stuff:

    Battery is not removable… Apple have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to make batteries that handle more than a few hundred charge cycles (count the number of dead iPod shuffles) and to add insult to injury you can’t even detach the battery and keep a spare.

    Flash is not removable… the worldwide standard in flash is either compact flash or SD. Anything that doesn’t support one of these is a waste of time. With a removable flash card you have a method of getting your data back in case of complete phone failure (e.g. when, not if, those Apple batteries let you down).

    No java support… and they say it is designed for the Internet, sheesh.

    Keypads are actually easier to use than a touch screen, especially when dialing. Everyone who produced a touchscreen PDA ended up rediscovering the keyboard.

    Undocumented network capabilities… Apple specs claim both bluetooth support and 802.11b/g but many other people claim 802.11n (which barely even exists yet), however there are further claims that wireless sync and wireless phone capabilities (e.g. SIP over 802.11) are missing. Thus, the buyer has no idea what they are really getting.

    No video camera… did they run out of time writing code or is the CCD too slow?

    No connectivity with USB peripherals… Apple were the ones who pushed the USB market when no one else would touch it and they are pretending that the iPhone is a self-contained computer but they don’t give it any peripherals. Ummm huh? What sort of a computer has no peripherals?

    Despite all these limitations, iPhone managed to get a segment on the nightly news, both for the first demo and the product release. That’s not a news item, it’s a blatent plug but even the public service proadcasters had Apple advertising pretending to be a news item. For an extremely average, ordinary and unexciting product.

    Whether or not the Jesus Phone achieves worldly success, it will succeed in its own way by convincing people that the world can be different.

    Frankly, the iPhone will do nothing more than convince Apple nuts to part with a bit more money. The iPhone breaks no new ground whatsoever and the iPhone certainly is nowhere near a “pretty good networked computer”.

  16. avatar Anonymous says:

    @tel

    What’s ‘innovative’ (with respect to mobile phones) is the software — it doesn’t suck and it is the feature you conveniently neglected in your analysis. And it is the only feature that really matters. Watch the guided tour:
    http://www.apple.com/iphone/usingiphone/guidedtour.html

    Other phones don’t work like that. Watch the D5 conference sit down with Jobs. There Jobs (correctly) states that they are successful in the electronics market because of the software side. Apple knows how to make interactive software. Electronics manufacturers don’t.

    So rattle off your features that you claim makes the IPhone inferior to other mobile phones. As long as you neglect software you are way off base.

    (P.S. I’m a free (freedom) software adherent. I probably could have stomached the proprietary OS, but not being able to run any meaningful software of my own makes the IPhone a non-starter for me. Apple can keep it.)

  17. avatar Nick Johnson says:

    @Fred: If you actually read the page linked to, you’d see that the first release is, as mentioned, coming out in a little over a week. The subsequent full ‘retail’ release is 6 mo. after that.

    The fact that only, say, 1% of phone users are C coders is irrelevant, because once one of those 1% write an app, the other 99% can use it. You don’t have to be a coder to take advantage of an open phone.

    As for “The Web is full of open source code that current phones CANNOT READ, except for the iPhone. That is what iPhone is solving, not your desire for yet another API in which to write a calendar craplet.” – how is the iPhone going to take advantage of any of this, given that third party applications are not allowed on the iPhone?

  18. Well I would look at the guided tour but it is all proprietary codecs and large bandwidth video files. I could probably figure out how to view it under Linux but it seems like a lot of effort.

    I’m one of those old fashioned people who believe that the Sumerians were onto a good thing when they invented the written word and that if you can’t explain a concept in under 10M of data then you probably don’t really have a concept to explain. I’ve never been impressed with the Apple user interface (yes I have tried OS X, briefly). For a computer, the best interface anyone has invented is a keyboard and command line — the reason being that a human can remember tens of thousands of words and recall them at an instant. No GUI can come even close to that speed and efficiency.

    For an embedded device the only important thing is to keep the interface as simple as possible and don’t fill it with junk that gets in the way of the primary purpose of the device. I saw them demo the iPhone on TV (thinking I was watching the nightly news) and what I saw was a lot of glitzy eye-candy. I also heard about the special touch-screen stroke recognition (poke, pinch, flick, etc) and there’s another “nothing new” feature — Mentor Graphics had stroke recognition 15 years ago. Most regular users of CAD systems end up turning off the stroke recognition and setting up some keyboard shortcuts instead because the keyboard is more reliable and faster.

    When I’m waking up at 03:00 to take an after-hours support call, I don’t want to accidently hang up on the guy because I “flicked” when I should have “pinched” or because my eyes are fuzzy and all the little icons look pretty much the same. The best phone interface I’ve ever worked with was a cheap LG phone with a flip front. If you want to answer a call you open the flip, you want to hang up you close the flip. That’s the sort of user interface that works.

  19. In response to Fred Hamranhansenhansen:

    Fred wrote, “It has already been announced that OpenMoko is delayed until next year.” For other readers, I’d like to correct the record.

    Sean Moss-Pultz from OpenMoko wrote at the link I gave, “Starting July 9th, we will launch openmoko.com and start taking orders” as well as, “In our factory in China, 400 Neos are waiting for you all. Another 600 will be ready before next week. More are queued up waiting for us to say go.”

    There are already applications in Python, which is nicer than C in many ways. The C API, for what it’s worth, is the GNOME standard set, not “yet another API,” as you wrote. And Nick already pointed out that not every user of a cool application needs to be able to develop it.

    Granted, the July 9 release is a developer release. Sean Moss-Pultz writes further, “GTA02 (AKA: The Mass Market Neo 1973) is on schedule to go on sale in October.”

    The truth is that we’re going to see a lot of phones in the world: open and closed, GSM and CDMA, locked and unlocked, expensive and cheap, featureful or not, easy to use or not. It’s going to be up to consumers how they prioritize these attributes, and what surprised me was Professor Felten prioritizing freedom so low. Most surprisingly, as a computer scientist, I thought he would value the ability to program the computers he owns.

  20. I think you’ve struck on the key to the whole phones success. Apple position right now as a design/marketing leader. After the iPod Apple has WAY more muscle than any computer company. They say the IPhone is big news everyone beleives them. Another company could have introduced the exact same phone and it would have have caused nearly as much interest.

  21. avatar Anonymous says:

    @Tel:
    If a dumb handset suits you that’s fine. However,
    nearly everyone today expects more from their phone than simple dial+talk. Even a simple feature like a phonebook or ‘missed calls’ is so poorly implemented in other handsets it is unbelievable. For those people the IPhone is salvation from the monstrosities that have afflicted them in the past.

    RE: OSX
    We are not comparing OSX to the commandline. We are comparing the IPhone UI to the Motorola/Nokia/Blackberry/etc UI. And there is no comparison (A special FU to the cruel abomination that is the Motorola UI which I have had the particular displeasure of being familiar with). The CLI may be austere but it is powerful. It’s not better because it’s harder but because it can do more. On the other hand, previous mobile phones are just more crippled compared to the IPhone. In the CLI the learning curve is steeper but more rewarding. In other phones things are just unnecessarily complicated. You don’t get more features or more ability, everything is just hard to do.

    Contrary to your depiction, answering a call appears trivial. Two big buttons appear, answer or ignore. The gestures, like ‘flick’ and ‘pinch’, are not used to make actions that are simple on other phones more complicated, but to make actions that were complicated simple and intuitive. Simple things are trivial and most complex things are pretty simple as well.

    I’m not claiming that there is anything new the IPhone. In fact I think Apple did the *obvious* which makes it all the more outrageous. How long have we suffered with phone manufacturers that are either incompetent or uncompetitive, un-inspired oligopolists? A company from outside their industry came in and is eating their lunch in the *first* generation.

    The fact remains that no matter how un-original the IPhone is in theory, it is by far the best designed (from a UI perspective) on the market, no contest (under the assumption that you want to do more than just dial+talk). The great thing is that even if, like me, you won’t be buying an IPhone, phone UI (and more generally mobile UIs) will improve across the board as other companies (try) to compete. (I fear the only real competition will come from MS because phone manufacturers really don’t know how to do software).

    RE: Gesture recognition
    That gesture recognition has been poorly implemented by some in the past says nothing. Why the hell *would* you use in a CAD system to execute shortcuts? On the other hand, when correctly implemented in the right role it can have great utility. Additionally, you can’t compare use of keyboard on a mobile device to a desktop computer, their usability is entirely different. Even if we ignore the obvious deficiencies of a keypad on a mobile device, some things are just far easier using touch screen + gestures. Think for a moment how much more complicated it is to zoom in on a *particular* region on a photo with a keypad than with the ‘pinch’, for example.

    I’m sure with moderate effort you can find a non-proprietary video demo of the IPhone that will enlighten you on how the IPhone actually works and save you from wild conjecture.

    Again, there is plenty of reason to hate the IPhone, ignoring the UI. Even criticism of aspects of the UI can be fair but saying that other phones on the market today have better UIs is laughable.

  22. avatar graphex says:

    This is a very good discussion (as frequently occurs here – thank you Ed) but I don’t see any comments from people who have actually used an iPhone.

    Personally, I find it difficult to conduct an evaluation of a user interface without first experenting with it. As an aside – when i read Tel’s comment about the apparently human ability to use command line interfaces so easily, I wondered aloud how one could think that. It occured to me that, to a blind person, tactile punch cards would be a preferable interface to a command line, but i’d have just as much trouble with those as i would with a foreign command-line, so I suppose I’ll reserve judgement.

    While, as a programmer, I certainly hope that an Objective-C 2.0 API for the iPhone is released with Leopard, that sentiment doesn’t mean I’m any less thrilled that the interface of the iPhone lets me actually browse Ed’s blog and write this post. In theory, I could have done this with my $500 symbian phone a couple of years ago, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy. In this case, and for this person, what was once possible is now actually being done, and that is the unquantifiable difference for me.

  23. I’m a bit late on the party, and don’t have much else to add, but I want to reiterate:

    The iPhone is not “open” by any reasonable definition of the word. It is pretty; it has a fast processor; it has some clever HMI stuff. That’s about it.

    There is much to be said for a “convergence” device — phone, camera, music player, portable computer — for geeks like you and me. Quite a lot of people, though, just want a phone.

    Also, the iPhone is going to suck at text messaging, and suck hard. No amount of clever software design can get you around the fact that the face of the iPhone is a single pane of smooth glass. No tactile feedback = slow typing, as we’ve seen time and again (and again, and again). Maybe “the kids” will work out an alternative to IM/SMS, but for right now, that’s a huge chunk of the mobile market, and once the hype/newness wears off and people take a cool-headed look at what the iPhone can do, its poor text ability is going to hurt sales (though probably not that much — the text-crazy youth market probably couldn’t afford one of these things to start with).

    As some other posters have pointed out, even what little connectivity the device has has been crippled — several common, important BT profiles have been left out, for no apparent reason. I just got a Nokia 5300 that frankly is more capable in most ways than the iPhone, and I paid 1/10 as much (with contract).

  24. Yawn. You can bet that several other companies already have other phones out or close to production, with just as much coolness factor.
    If history will be the judge, Apple will start releasing accessories in a coupel of months. Driving consumers to buy speakers, larger screens…etc. I also think the pricetag will keep mass market appeal at a distance, at least until At&T starts offering extended contracts for reduced cost units. (Admittedly, they might already, since I haven’t checked.)

  25. Tel wrote: “For a computer, the best interface anyone has invented is a keyboard and command line.”

    Are you mad? After using even a halfway-decent GUI, trying to use a command line for anything is like being suddenly struck blind, then having to grunt to a seeing-eye dog and attempt to interpret what it barks back at you to get a vague idea of what might be going on around you. Naturally, productivity drops off rapidly to approximately zero. The human visual apparatus is a marvelous thing: two high-resolution video cameras with adaptive optics, logarithmic response curves to function in a wide range of lighting conditions, some built-in noise cancellation and error correction, as well as preprocessing such as contour tracing, and each connected to the brain with a pipe the bandwidth of a LAN cable. That’s a few hundred MB/s of data, potentially. Using those to stare at an 80×25 terminal is wasting most of it. When everything is happening on only the bottom line of that terminal, you’re using those twin T3s to feed your brain about … 300 baud.
    Needless to say it takes a LOT longer to grok your surroundings and situations with that kind of bandwidth in. It’s like looking around a dark place with a dim, narrow-cone flashlight instead of turning on big overhead fluorescent lamps, and seeing shadows leap about anchored to obscure shapes. Is that a faucet? Maybe that big hulking thing is a refrigerator. Could that be a stove hood? Turn on the lights and you instantly see a kitchen, and instantly see where every single tool and appliance in it is, including the ones that aren’t where you remember them having been. You can quit poking around and start grilling some hamburgers right away without further fuss.

    The difference between the best commandline systems I’ve ever seen and even a mediocre GUI is like the difference between night and day. Very much so.

  26. Contrary to your depiction, answering a call appears trivial. Two big buttons appear, answer or ignore. The gestures, like ‘flick’ and ‘pinch’, are not used to make actions that are simple on other phones more complicated, but to make actions that were complicated simple and intuitive. Simple things are trivial and most complex things are pretty simple as well.

    Like I said, at three in the morning the thing goes off on your bedside table and you feel around half-awake knowing the magic iPhone is around somewhere. Good old touch-screen, you touched something and the ringing stopped but you didn’t quite notice what you touched and now have you lost the call or what? Can you swear safely or is there someone listening? Thank you for playing UI roulette, do come again next time.

    The only way to safely control the outcome is to get out of bed, keep your hands right away from the table, then bring the phone into focus as you wake up and now reach down to touch the screen. Please give me something old, heavy and bakelite — at least it would be easy to use.

    After using even a halfway-decent GUI, trying to use a command line for anything is like being suddenly struck blind, then having to grunt to a seeing-eye dog and attempt to interpret what it barks back at you to get a vague idea of what might be going on around you. Naturally, productivity drops off rapidly to approximately zero.

    Well it’s a lovely metaphor and quite emotive but somehow I would like to see a bit more real-world evidence and perhaps a logical connection between observation and conclusion. Hey, call me a stick in the mud, I don’t care.

    The human visual apparatus is a marvelous thing: two high-resolution video cameras with adaptive optics, logarithmic response curves to function in a wide range of lighting conditions, some built-in noise cancellation and error correction, as well as preprocessing such as contour tracing, and each connected to the brain with a pipe the bandwidth of a LAN cable.

    It’s a pity that an icon-driven and/or menu-driven GUI doesn’t actually use any of that.

    I’m all for graphical presentation of analytical data in graph format or a contour map or even something 3D. Colours also work well for higher dimensional data… if you want to really go overboard it’s easy to build animation sequences to include a time-domain factor… and all of those things are faster and easier to do from a command line. There’s command lines that support graphics output (e.g. display, mplayer, etc) and even (shock!) more than 25 lines.

    You won’t see any of those data-presentation capabilities in a GUI because the typical GUI user is not actually working with large data arrays or high-dimensional analysis. They are working with a small set of well known tasks that they want to achieve. They are trying to read the news, or read their email/SMS, lookup an index (phonebook / calendar / todo-list / song-list / preferences / etc ) or select an action from a short list of options. That’s about all that any of these mobile computing devices actually do.

    At the end of the day, clicking on icons is not much more than learning a new language where you have a whole new alphabet of symbols (the icons) and a new grammar (the sequence to hit the icons to get the desired result). You learn a new language and a new grammar to accomplish less than what the old language already did for you. Sure you have a huge bandwidth input device, but the information carried is merely the same icons that you saw yesterday, plus a bit of irrelevant background and translucent borders.

    I’ll agree that a photo can be helpful at times (sometimes a video is even better) but only when used sensibly with additional textual metadata and for working with concrete visual subject matter. For example, taking a photo of a damaged cable before and after repair. Those photos are useless until they they have a date, time, location, identification of the repair man, and other meta-data added to them. If you want to search for the photo six months down the track when it fails a second time, you would be searching by some word-tag not by sketching up an approximate drawing to what you think you want to find.

    You can quit poking around and start grilling some hamburgers right away without further fuss.

    Errr like, “grill burgers –sauce=chilli –extra=onion”, seems easy enough.

    As an exercise, just get a piece of paper (or your favourite drawing package) and present the same argument as above… starting from “Are you mad?” and finishing with “without further fuss” and do it WITHOUT using written language. Use only images and icons and the sort of things you might see on a GUI display. If you get it done then by all means post a link to the image (hopefully in JPEG or PNG format) and maybe we can try running it past a neutral third party to see how sharply the message carries through.

    If I’m cutting wood with hand tools or digging a hole with a spade or stacking bricks then I’m working with visual input in a language-free environment. It’s low-level non-intellectual work. Satisfying, but nothing that hasn’t been done since the stone age. If I’m instructing other people to do the same tasks then I need language, something to represent abstract concepts like wages, union-reps and lunch-breaks.

    Similarly, with a computer, I can drag-and-drop particular files around the place, or I can express a pattern-matching rule to extract the files that I’m interested in. The first method executes a lot of manual operations, the second method has the same result with one operation letting the computer do the work for me (usually more accurately). If I do this operation often, I write a script and give the script a name that is easy to remember.

  27. -bash: grill: command not found

  28. avatar Anonymous says:

    @Tester

    You seriously are way off the mark regarding the command line. Nearly every one of your assertions is a misrepresentation or a strawman. Your experience seems to be the Windows command line (and operating system) so that’s no surprise.

    However, GUI-vs-CLI is irrelevant, when the context of the discussion is the UI for the IPhone. I’m not sure why Tel brought up the CLI seeing as how it is clearly not a suitable interface for a mobile phone. Perhaps he was arguing for a non-touch interface, but that clearly has nothing to do with CLI/GUI. And trying to compare a non-touch interface to the CLI is absurd, there is no analogy.

  29. avatar William Swearingen says:

    Amen!

    You wrote: “The carriers would rather get a big share of a small pie, than a small share of a big pie.”

    I think a small share of a big pie is bigger, but you know how scary such a transition can be. There isn’t enough incentive in markets that are tightly controlled by a few sellers and have barriers to entry of new sellers with more to gain and less to loose by trying something different.

    What’s the answer? Increased government regulation? Ugh. That is the chemotherapy of market fixes. I guess we just wait around for a smart company with a lot of money to rescue us. In this case it is like waiting at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. I hope Apple has enough gas to take us to futureland.

  30. You are quite the connoisseur of strawmen, arencha?

    First off, nobody would need all 2500 of those commands displayed at once. Having a toolkit with the most frequently accessed ones, menus with more, reducing their number somewhat by rolling bunches of related ones into generalized ones or dialog boxes, and hotkeys to each would certainly be workable. Also, those 2500 commands probably would be spread across several tools instead of just the shell. Most obviously there’d be a separate help browser and shell, each with subsets of the 2500, and some of the more obscure ones would be in configuration tools. Mounting drives in a control panel app for example.

    Second, you don’t have to use the mouse if you really, really don’t want to and the GUI is well designed.

    Third, it is not slower to work with a mouse. People consistently report mousing being slower; the stopwatch consistently reports keyboarding being slower for actions the mouse is good at (making selections and navigating). See http://www.asktog.com and http://www.useit.com googling them for “mouse keyboard faster”.

    Fourth, flipping screens in some manner is not going to enable “having the help and documentation open side by side”, and the fact that the mechanism for flipping, or even knowing which one you’re viewing, is invisible poses its own problem. For one thing, I’ve had a few occasions to encounrer linux boxen with no GUIs and didn’t even know this was possible; knowing might have made them slightly less painful to use, but nothing about the UI advertised such a capability — nothing whatsoever. With a window system it’s obvious when your new window appears but the taskbar now has TWO buttons. It’s also obvious how to switch — click the other button. And there’s an easy to learn keyboard shortcut: alt-tab. And you can position the windows to not overlap and be side by side, or to not completely overlap so you can switch simply by clicking the visible bit of the other window…

    What you’re describing with page-flipping sounds like the result of taking Windows and crippling it by a) removing the high resolution display and replacing it by 80x25xmonochrome text, which massively reduces the information that can be presented at once — 10 menus with 10 submenus and 25 items each genuinely WOULD be painful in text mode! — not to mention forcing all windows to be maximized and hiding the taskbar so you can’t see your other running tasks or which one you’re in (if it’s not obvious from the screen contents), or easily switch. And of course by making sure the switch key isn’t alt-tab, so absolutely nothing familiar or obvious will work whatsoever.

    Of course, you mention some text-mode app that can divide the screen into “windows”, without bothering to mention that having your open documents displayed in various 3×11, 10×9, and the like little boxes of text is going to be even MORE an exercise in fumbling-in-the-dark…there just isn’t enough ROOM in a text-mode display to do anything worthwhile. Even full-screen coding in that cramped a space is painful, when a long and complex else-if clause wraps and covers half the display instead of being a long single line nearly the width of the screen with the entire block it guards visible below it AT THE SAME TIME. And of course no GUI = nothing remotely resembling an IDE. Command line compiling tools. Line mode debugger. Separate help, if any help at all. Welcome to the Dark Ages! It’s amazing they were able to use such primitive tools to cobble together the first barely-functioning GUI and bootstrap the personal computing revolution of the 1990s, yet they somehow managed. Now it’s time to put those archaic tools and difficult-to-use idiosyncratic text-mode editors and help browsers in the museums where they belong and get on with being productive using more modern tools.

    Here’s some other things, each minor on its own but cumulatively delivering a devastating blow to productivity and usability:
    * No scrollbars. So long lines have to wrap, and you can’t see where the hell you are in a long document.
    * No menus. If you forget a hotkey it’s exit (or figure out how to switch to another of your poor-mans-windows, if they aren’t just mythical) and fire up the help browser … AGAIN …
    * No context sensitive help whatsoever.
    * Even searching or navigating the help itself requires consulting the help. That simply doesn’t happen on Windows or on a Mac or under a decent KDE/Gnome setup.
    * You can’t just list a bunch of stuff, then simply point at the one you want and do something with it. Instead you have to type its name somewhere. Of course, you probably have to actually MEMORIZE its name, since it probably isn’t going to happen to be on the last page of the listing, and will scroll off the top when you continue to reach a command prompt where you can actually use the name to accomplish something useful.
    * Tab completion, long repeated prefixes … type two characters, hit tab, and get an unhelpful alert that your prefix matches 84 items and you’ll need to type more to disambiguate. Quite a lot more. Yuck.
    * To rename those example files at all quickly you apparently would resort to writing two scripts. With a decent GUI you need zero. If basic and common tasks are really painful for nonprogrammers without a GUI, it’s no wonder GUIs were needed for personal computing to seriously go mainstream! Even a programmer such as I prefers not to have to gratuitously write extra programs just to get basic tasks done decently fast. Of course there’s also the question of what happens when those scripts run out of matching files, or if you rename a file to still start with DSC for whatever reason…
    * To extend your chainsaw analogy, a lot more nasty chainsaw and axe accidents happen when a home is designed so that you can’t even open the cupboard door to get at the crockery without using a chainsaw or an axe, versus these only being needed for yard maintenance and preparing firewood.
    * Spaces in filenames are painful without GUI tools. Underscores or dashes in place of spaces are ugly, with or without GUI tools.

    And a parting reminder:

    * Powerful capabilities can be had in a GUI tool. Nothing makes beginner ease-of-use and everyone ease-of-navigation inherently incompatible with power, automation ability, or anything of the sort. But the most common and basic use-cases should be easy and intuitive with a window and menu driven interface, while doing so exposes you to information about keyboard shortcuts (e.g. underlined menu item letters or “Ctrl-C” after “Copy” in the Edit menu) and somewhere in there are more advanced capabilities.

    And there is really no, absolutely no excuse for making the help anything but extremely easy to use and navigate. Crippling the help by making IT arcane to use and unnavigable without memorizing a cheat-sheat essentially posts a sign saying “newbies not welcome”. It becomes a painful affair to ever get started using such a system, and it becomes clear that such a system was intentionally designed to be like an exclusive club for the founders and existing members only. There are fancy rich-men clubs and religions like that too. All of them show the same immature and childish attitude, as well as discriminatory elitism, of a crayon-scrawled sign on a treehouse saying “NO GIRLS ALOUD” (sic).

  31. This is just getting silly… most of the previous comment is just plain wrong and demonstrates exactly what I was saying about a generation of computer users who know nothing about what their computer is capable of.

    … crippling it by a) removing the high resolution display and replacing it by 80×25xmonochrome text, which massively reduces the information that can be presented at once …

    A “command line interface” is a mechanism for providing language-oriented instructions to a computer via a keyboard (or keypad). The resolution of the screen or the font you use or the capabilities of the display device is irrelevant and completely beside the point here. Of course you can run a text-mode screen in something higher than 80×25, or for that matter you can take a high-res bitmap screen and use it to display a text matrix in any font at any size. That’s all implementation detail and nothing to do with the principle of language-oriented input as compared with graphical, icon-oriented input. My standard xterm runs at 167×58 which I find space enough for most things.

    Command line compiling tools.

    Typing “make” isn’t all that difficult. Look inside a makefile and you will find more command-line instructions… each one a tool… together they fit together into a larger, more powerful tool.

    For that matter, all of programming is language-oriented. When you call a function in C or Java you are doing the same thing that the command-line does: issue an instruction, give it parameters, do something with the result. Does anyone write programs by pulling up a list of functions and dragging-and-dropping them into their code?

    No scrollbars. So long lines have to wrap, and you can’t see where the hell you are in a long document.

    Oh please, take a look around yes you can scroll-back in emacs, you can scroll-back in a Linux console, xterm has supported scrollback since day one, the “screen” utility supports scrollback. Sheesh. Learn something. Line-wrap can be turned on or off depending on what is most useful at the time.

    I’ll also point out that in “screen” and in emacs you can SEARCH back then grab a bit of text then jump back to the bottom again and paste the text then edit it a bit again to build a new command (all without taking fingers off the keyboard). How do you search through the history of your previous actions in a GUI?

    No menus. If you forget a hotkey it’s exit (or figure out how to switch to another of your poor-mans-windows, if they aren’t just mythical) and fire up the help browser.

    I’ll point out that there ARE menu programs for text-input systems but the whole point of the command-line is that it works better than a menu system because you have at least an order of magnitude more commands available in less time. There are also search tools that will search for all the likely commands based on a keyword (e.g. “apropos”). For example:

    apropos copy | grep string

    Gives you all the functions that can copy a string. Much faster than bringing up the help browser, finding the search feature, typing in the box, figuring out how to prune down the results with a second keyword (not all help browsers support that) then clicking on whatever does a second search. Sure, not everyone knows what “grep” does — not hard to learn with just a little effort.

    No context sensitive help whatsoever.

    The idea of a command line is that you don’t really have a context-sensitive situation to work with. Each new command prompt brings you back to a standard context so there really is only one context to worry about. There are many commands that give detailed error diagnostics for badly-entered parameters (although more work in this area would be good), especially if the program can recognise a common mistake. To some extent, the craze of context-sensitive help is related to the craze of context-sensitive user interface. One of my pet-hates in MS-Windows is that many of the important dialog boxes can only be reached by first visiting a long and arbitrary string of other dialog boxes. Later you remember which dialog box you need but you can’t remember how to get into there. Then of course, it’s different in every version and there’s no standard for it and no way to search other than brute force… visit everything and see where you end up.

    Even searching or navigating the help itself requires consulting the help. That simply doesn’t happen on Windows or on a Mac or under a decent KDE/Gnome setup.

    Well it simply DOES happen… there’s a learning curve for everything. I’ve had that stupid MS-Windows “troubleshooter” pop up and give me completely useless advice so many times that I just close it automatically. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever seen use MS-Office kills the “paper clip” ASAP. It is conceivable that these tools are useful under the right circumstances but I can honestly say they never helped me when I was ignorant and once I got a bit more knowledgeable, their inane suggestions were painfully annoying.

    In comparison, when you run emacs (one of those archaic text editors that you distain) it gives you:

    Welcome to GNU Emacs, one component of a Linux-based GNU system.

    Get help C-h (Hold down CTRL and press h)
    Undo changes C-x u
    Exit Emacs C-x C-c
    Get a tutorial C-h t
    Use Info to read docs C-h i
    Ordering manuals C-h RET
    Activate menubar M-`
    (`C-‘ means use the CTRL key. `M-‘ means use the Meta (or Alt) key. If you have no Meta key, you may instead type ESC followed by the character.)

    That pretty much spells out what to do. Hmmm, a tutorial… what an aid to learning.

    To rename those example files at all quickly you apparently would resort to writing two scripts.

    No, if you actually take the trouble to read you will see that I mentioned the ability to up-arrow and change a few characters of earlier commands. The scripts merely make the process faster and more reliable and since they each only have a few lines it doesn’t take long to write them. Suppose you were offered the chance to spend an hour now to save ten minutes a day for the rest of your life… would you take it?

    Of course, you probably have to actually MEMORIZE its name

    We’ve been through this, the help is searchable by keyword, scrollback is available and all user-interfaces require effort spent learning. The difference is that when you learn text commands you get access to the language centres of your brain, ultimately providing a faster and more powerful data entry system.

    Tab completion, long repeated prefixes … type two characters, hit tab, and get an unhelpful alert that your prefix matches 84 items and you’ll need to type more to disambiguate.

    For the last time, no it does not work that way. If there’s a long common prefix then it completes ALL THE PREFIX and then waits for input at the first DIFFERENT character. Then you type one more character and hit TAB again.

    … a lot more nasty chainsaw and axe accidents happen when a home is designed so that you can’t even open the cupboard door to get at the crockery without using a chainsaw or an axe …

    As they say on Wikipedia, “citation required”.

    Look, clearly I’m talking to someone who doesn’t use a command-line, doesn’t understand how they work and doesn’t want to learn. I’m trying to cover the points logically but repetition is starting to set in.

    Crippling the help by making IT arcane to use and unnavigable without memorizing a cheat-sheat essentially posts a sign saying “newbies not welcome”. It becomes a painful affair to ever get started using such a system, and it becomes clear that such a system was intentionally designed to be like an exclusive club for the founders and existing members only. There are fancy rich-men clubs and religions like that too. All of them show the same immature and childish attitude, as well as discriminatory elitism, of a crayon-scrawled sign on a treehouse saying “NO GIRLS ALOUD” (sic).

    Newbies with a genuine desire to learn and involve themselves are welcome. Newbies who are completely uninterested in reading the documentation that is abundantly available (not just on the system itself, but in books, on google, on irc, on blogs, all over the net) but yet who insist that they already know everything there is to know… well they probably aren’t bringing much to the table anyhow.

    I don’t recognise how wealth or religion or being a boy or girl makes any difference to the use of a command line. Can you point out a study which concludes that girls have more difficulty working with written language than the boys do?

    Speaking of getting help on IRC… with a command interface, you can go to an IRC channel, ask “what is the command that does blah?” and someone can give you an example command for you to use (or if you don’t trust them, at least you know which man page to read). Ask about an MS-Windows question and you end up getting told, “look in the top of the window but not in the menu it’s a little icon just below the menu with a kind of triangle thing on it; then a dialog pops up and there’s tabs on the dialog so you have to choose this and that tab; then there’s a check box that enables further dialogs”. It’s hugely complicated just to explain how to find where the controls are. They end up taking screen shots, editing the screen shots in “paint” to put bright red arrows all over the place and sending a 50M email — just to find the magic button. The GUI doesn’t even make it easy for other people to help you when they want to help. Unless they are right there in the room pointing stuff out over your shoulder, they can’t explain it.

  32. Umpteenth repost attempt.

    Oh boy. Another post full of anti-user stuff, and now with some insults directed at me sprinkled in for good measure.

    I’m not going to bother replying in enormous detail.

    [some stuff about faking a text mode with a graphics screen]

    Why the hell would you want to do that, when you can just have a proper GUI? There isn’t even any reason in principle why the GUI can’t let you write scripts or send written commands whenever that’s somehow more convenient than using the GUI the normal way. Just because Microsoft doesn’t do more than provide a brain-dead MS-DOS emulation in Windoze doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.

    When you call a function in C or Java you are doing the same thing that the command-line does: issue an instruction, give it parameters, do something with the result. Does anyone write programs by pulling up a list of functions and dragging-and-dropping them into their code?

    I have no problem with writing programs in such a way. I do have a problem with having to essentially write a new program every time I simply want to move or rename some files, which is what lack of a GUI entails. The GUI essentially automates writing the one-liner to move a group of files in response to your mouse click. It’s way faster than spelling out all those files’ names!

    Oh please, take a look around yes you can scroll-back in emacs, you can scroll-back in a Linux console, xterm has supported scrollback since day one, the “screen” utility supports scrollback. Sheesh. Learn something. Line-wrap can be turned on or off depending on what is most useful at the time.

    That wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about having actual, proper scrollbars that give a visual indication of your position in a long document, and allow quick and precise movement within it. Your “scrollback” a) is as usual blind, you can’t see a bloody thing and have to hit an unobvious key to do it, and b) presumably forces you to page one screen at a time up rather than jump anywhere. This is analogous to a Windoze scrollbar whose “thumb” (the raised slider part) is invisible and undraggable, so all you can do is click the little arrows to move a line at a time or nearby to move one page at a time. Except it’s worse even than that since you can’t even see it to know the capability is there, or remember what bloody key to use since it sure won’t be anything so lame and obvious as Page Up! (Indeed I’ve yet to see ANY console app interpret Page Up in any way that made sense, except for MS-DOS apps, and precious few of those. Unix? Forgeddaboudit.)

    I’ll also point out that in “screen” and in emacs you can SEARCH back then grab a bit of text then jump back to the bottom again and paste the text then edit it a bit again to build a new command (all without taking fingers off the keyboard). How do you search through the history of your previous actions in a GUI?

    My God, what contortions you’re forced to endure to get anything done without a proper UI. First of all a GUI often avoids your even having to do something like that. Second, when editing and stuff you can scroll quickly to anywhere you want to, select and copy text, scroll down and paste. Better yet you can open a window and position it beside the first one and put stuff in there that you often want to copy and paste into the main document. In fact you can do a lot of things and arrange your tools to suit your individual workflow or style. With the type of tool you seem to favor it’s the tool-maker’s way or the highway.

    Of course, most GUI apps provide Undo and Redo and the like with a command history. The command shell on Windows also provides your scrollback, and even lets you use the mouse to select text to copy. Of course, it’s mostly moot, since you can compose commands in a proper text editor and paste them into the command prompt to use them. My one complaint there is that ctrl+V won’t work to paste forcing menu use, even though ctrl+V isn’t a valid character to type into the prompt. You can still keep your hands on the keyboard using alt-something-somethingelse of course.

    the whole point of the command-line is that it works better than a menu system because you have at least an order of magnitude more commands available in less time.

    In less time? Come on. Not counting the time spent messing with the crufty help system looking up the magic word to type to get it to do what you want is cheating. Counting that time, it’s at least an order of magnitude slower. Have you any objection to the compromise of a UI with menus for frequently accessed commands and one command that opens a little prompt box to enter more obscure ones? (I’ve seen such a UI a time or two. Old Macs had Hypercard with this sort of interface.)

    [continued]

  33. I should not have to tinker so much just to successfully post a comment. If the spam filter is suspicious about a post why doesn’t it just give me a captcha? I don’t like things silently disappearing until I post them from six different IP address in six different ways with or without html tags, putting tag pairs or spaces in various words, and so forth before it will let me express myself.

    continuing …

    [There are also search tools that will search for all the likely commands based on a keyword (e.g. “apropos”). For example

    apropos copy | grep string

    Gives you all the functions that can copy a string.]

    I give up. If you think this is superior to the state of the art in GUIs you really do have your head wedged so far … somewhere that it will take a 700-horsepower tractor to extricate it, which means you need more help than I can possibly hope to provide with my fraction-of-one-horsepower.

    Still — the contortions — random cr ap to memorize — arcane incantations — my God …

    [The idea of a command line is that you don’t really have a context-sensitive situation to work with. Each new command prompt brings you back to a standard context so there really is only one context to worry about.]

    Bingo! There’s the whole problem, right there. This one context necessarily has to be an “everything but the kitchen sink” context, which then becomes unwieldy to try to menuize and iconify with your 2500+ commands. The key to scalability and keeping the learning curve from ascending like a rocket from a standing start instead of starting off shallow was, of course, to invent a unified application interface and to use more specialized applications. Half those Unix commands logically belong in control panel applets rather than as first-class shell commands. A lot of the rest are specific applications themselves, better off organized somehow. The Windoze Start Menu isn’t the worst idea MS ever came up with, though it has its annoyances. Creating workspace directories with shortcuts to context-specific tools and other directories is a clever GUI idiom that can’t be done in your world. For example for Q uake map editing I have a quake tools directory with shortcuts to various tools, from the level editor to a compiler frontend and a bunch of other stuff, as well as directories where map sources go, directories where compiled maps go, and the game’s configuration file among other things. All the stuff for the one particular task is organized in one place, and it doesn’t get in the way anywhere else. I don’t work on image renaming, go for a command list, and get extraneous Q uake related commands mixed in there, along with everything else in the entire computer, because it was all thrown into a single everything-but-the-kitchen-sink context. GUIs support compartmenting off various task-specific contexts and thereby reduce clutter and cross-talk confusion, and each such context can elevate its specific commands to menu item status or ho tkeys without interfering with everything else or ending up with a single menu system clogged with 20,000 commands.

    [One of my pet-hates in MS-Windows is that many of the important dialog boxes can only be reached by first visiting a long and arbitrary string of other dialog boxes.]

    A legitimate complaint. The solution is to make such configuration tools better organized and browseable in the control panel, rather than to completely give up on the whole idea of a GUI.

    [Later you remember which dialog box you need but you can’t remember how to get into there. Then of course, it’s different in every version and there’s no standard for it and no way to search other than brute force… visit everything and see where you end up.]

    This is a weird echo of the experience I have with CLIs — you need to remember all sorts of crap, and ho tk eys in the applications, and they’re different and inconsistent all the time, and there’s no standard keyboard commands for even such basic things as cut, copy, and paste, and no easy way to search something to find the right command to use…

    [Tel proceeds to cite the worst MS attempts at “help”, including the infamous paperclip, as putative rebuttal evidence]

    Right. The paperclip was indeed a P OS. It doesn’t prove all GUIs are evil. Give me a plain purple-book help file anyday — it’s easy to search, easy to navigate, and it just plain works. Unlike pretty much anything I’ve run across on the non-GUI side. MS-DOS Help? OK, except you have to quit what you’re doing to run it, then memorize something and quit that to resume your task, as is typical of CLI help. At least you could get a quasi-graphical help viewer. Unix man? Ugh. It’s not obvious how to page up — needless to say, the obvious, Page Up, simply doesn’t work. It’s even less obvious how to search it. As a result, if you’re successfully searching inside “man” it’s likely inside “man man” and not “man the-command-I-really-need-to-search-the-help-for”. And don’t even get me started on “info”. They get an A for effort, since they at least attempted to make a bona fide hypertext help browser. “Attempted” being the operative word here.

    [No, if you actually take the trouble to read you will see that I mentioned the ability to up-arrow and change a few characters of earlier commands.]

    Still a massive pain, just slightly less massive, like the mass of Earth’s moon instead of the planet Mercury. Why self-flage llate with an unstu dded whip instead of with a stud ded wh ip when you can use a GUI and skip the whole whi ps and chai ns kin k altogether? Unless maybe you’re into that sort of ki nk …

    [continued]

  34. Final part; crossing fingers

    [The scripts merely make the process faster and more reliable and since they each only have a few lines it doesn’t take long to write them. Suppose you were offered the chance to spend an hour now to save ten minutes a day for the rest of your life… would you take it?]

    These scripts were for a hypothetical one-off job of renaming a particular batch of files one time! What are you on?! I’d certainly write code to automate something that would be far more frequent and recurring. If, say, I planned to do lots of renaming and moving of files into the distant future, with of course no idea what their names would be over all that time, I’d make, I dunno, maybe a visual browser for directories that shows the files and lets you just point at them to select them? Just type the new name only to rename them? Just point somewhere else to move them? Oh, but it’s already been invented; it’s called Windows Explorer. Looks like I don’t need to bother writing all that code then; I’d be reinventing the wheel. Saves me some effort to just use what’s already out there.

    [We’ve been through this, the help is searchable by keyword]

    The help is searchable by keyword only if you’re so knowledgeable about the arcana of the system that you don’t NEED the help anymore. I won’t consider such a system anything but medieval and crude until a rank n00b can sit in front of the keyboard and search the help almost immediately without assistance. As far as I’m aware, that only ever happens with a GUI, where even if you know only the basic operations of the mouse you can quickly find the help browser and the search box to type in a keyword. On a unix system, the very fact that there is any help may be woefully unobvious. Type something random and you get an error message that doesn’t point to any help, except maybe a specific command’s “usage” instructions display. Half the time, these are lengthy and scroll rapidly, so only the bottom part is actually readable. (Scrollback? What scrollback? There’s no obvious way to scroll back, not to this hypothetical n00b. He might tap the page up key a couple of times and then give up when it doesn’t work, or he might not even bother trying.) It doesn’t mention “man” or anything else external, just the one command’s panoply of arcane option flags. More likely you just get the equivalent of “Bad command or filename”, the equally unhelpful MS-DOS one. At least typing “help”, something a n00b is likely to try eventually, actually produces help on MS-DOS. Try that at a shell prompt on a unix box and it’s just the equivalent of “Bad command or filename” over again.

    Your preferred interface invariably fails the “n00b in a hurry” test — whether or not a newbie or infrequent user in a hurry can get something useful done and get on with their day. My preferred choice passes this test much of the time.

    [Look, clearly I’m talking to someone who doesn’t use a command-line, doesn’t understand how they work]

    I do understand how they work and I do sometimes even resort to using one. I still find them painful and awkward to use. Yes, you heard that right — it is possible to dislike a CLI for a reason other than ignorance, even specifically with some experience!

    Yep, experience. Even when some feature like scrollback is available and I actually know how to use it, or tab completion is there, or even a help I can find and search is there, EVEN THEN I find it painful to use — it’s grunting commands to a butler with a questionable grasp of English to instruct him to act on your behalf and get him to describe what he sees, and I can’t see myself doing that for real unless I’d been struck blind and paralyzed from the neck down. Much better to just be able to see and do things myself!

    [Newbies with a genuine desire to learn and involve themselves are welcome. Newbies who are completely uninterested in reading the documentation]

    The problem is the level of dedication you expect from these newbies. You expect them to drop everything and spend entire months doing nothing BUT read and memorize documentation and fiddle with stuff, with a net productivity of zero. I prefer being able to sit down and be somewhat productive immediately, albeit more productive with time and experience. For one thing, for anything that’s infrequently used, any interface dependent on memorization is an abomination as it will surely be forgotten before next use, and I don’t want to invest 13 days in studying the ins and outs of some app I intend to productively use for all of 5 minutes.

    Now really, WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST AN INTERFACE THAT LETS BEGINNERS GET STARTED BEING PRODUCTIVE IMMEDIATELY, AND LEARN AS THEY GO, INSTEAD OF TAKE A FULL-ON TRAINING COURSE UP FRONT BEFORE THEY CAN EVEN GET IT TO RUN, LET ALONE COUGH UP SOME ARCANE AND TECHNICAL ERROR MESSAGE?!?!?!?!?! Really?!

    I might mention other mortal interface sins commonly committed by unix stuff, such as using solution-domain language instead of problem-domain language, unfriendly error messages that reference implementation details the user should not have to know to use the interface, and the like … implementation guts hanging out everywhere is almost as big a cardinal sin as unusable help and just as common in the unix commandline tool world.

    [Speaking of getting help on IRC… with a command interface, you can go to an IRC channel, ask “what is the command that does blah?” and someone can give you an example command for you to use (or if you don’t trust them, at least you know which man page to read).]

    I don’t want to go play on IRC. I want to get the job done and go home.

    And with tools with proper help systems and UI, I don’t have to resort to actually finding and asking a real live expert who probably can’t be bothered, may turn out to be a jerk that gives a wrong answer as a prank, or even to be outright malicious and give an actively damage-doing wrong answer, and etc. etc. — why should I have to jump through such hoops just to format a document or rename a few files? Really? Why? You would foist this on everybody in a heartbeat if you had the power — what for? I can’t think of any reason except exclusion. You’d make using computers productively the exclusive province of an exclusive, small band of dedicated geeks again, the way it was back in what I’m sure you believe were the good old days.

    You’re an elitist pig, pure and simple.

  35. Finally managed to successfully post the whole blasted thing.

    Ed, FIX your stupid antispam. Too many goddamn false positives. At minimum when it would currently just “disappear” a post make it give the user a captcha and post it (perhaps “awaiting moderation”) if they answer the captcha correctly.

    And fix your site security already. It can’t be coincidence your antispam left all of my posts alone for weeks and then suddenly became a real bugbear about my responses here, where there happens to actually be some controversy and debate going on. Tel must have hacked it somehow to shut up his opponents, probably using whatever vulnerability was previously used to add malicious iframe code to the site twice.

  36. “it’s possible to make a pocket-sized device that is a pretty good phone and a pretty good networked computer at the same time”
    My Symbian phone does that quiet well I think. There is nothing in the article that shows why the iphone is special in this respect, neither how it influences the carriers in a beneficial way to consumers. (It seems my dutch carrier allows me to do everything the iphone can, only w/o a 2yr contract.)

    In fact, I think the iphone is exactly the opposite of these things. It locks users down into software endorsed by apple and at&t. So certainly no open media players or voip there. This is an antirevolution, if people will not be allowed to use their home brewn or third party software.

    “open system would provide more benefit overall, but most of that benefit would accrue to consumers.”
    The iphone is an anathema to this, both in a software and carrier aspect. To be honest, I was expecting more on these issues on this blog.

  37. avatar Peter W. says:

    Well, just like my iPod, my iPhone has already died.. why didnt i learn. Although i couldnt do it myself, my friend download a do it yourself guide for me and fixed it for me. These dudes seem to be offering the only guide for iPhone Repair.

  38. Could you be a bit more specific? What do you disagree with, exactly, Daniel?

  39. I think I can let maddox speak for me about how I feel w.r.t. the iphone (and nokia)
    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=iphone
    You should have animated gifs allowed to loop to fully enjoy the experience. For people new to maddox, don’t be offended by the language/style, that’s kinda a gimmick.
    (hmm it seems i’m unable to post..)

  40. The fact that only, say, 1% of phone users are C coders is irrelevant, because once one of those 1% write an app, the other 99% can use it. You don’t have to be a coder to take advantage of an open phone.

  41. Personally, I think the public went WAY to wild about the iPhone. It’s not even Apple’s fault that there was so much hype – people just thought it would be incredible (probably because most of the public really like the iPod and love Apple MACS). In my opinion, the iPhone is really not that great and there are a range of ‘alternatives’ (which were there before the iPhone anyway) that are much better and more suited to the the job. Iphone is just overrated, that’s all. And it’s taken some time for people to discover that.

  42. The iPhone has been one of the hottest items to acquire over the last year, and Apple has begun its takeover of the smart phone market with it. Currently, the iPhone is sold through AT&T, the sole service provider for it, Best Buy, and Apple stores. Apple is looking to add a new partner in its distribution of the iPhone – retail giant Wal Mart. Wal Mart has been looking to stimulate its consumer electronics sales, and is rumored to be on the cusp of adding the iPhone to its roster of mobile phones that they offer. Apple is said to be preparing a Wal Mart edition of the iPhone to hit shelves in the stores by just after Christmas. The iPhone, which retails at $199 for the basic edition, so far comes in 8 and 16-gigabyte models. The rumor is that the edition about to be sold at Wal Mart will only carry 4 GB of storage, and will retail for $99, half of the basic edition that is currently offered. Another rumor is that the basic model will arrive at Wal Mart instead, at a discount of only $2, so it will sell, with a 2 year AT&T plan, for $197 instead of the customary $199. (Not rolling it backs TOO far, I see.) The idea is that if Wal Mart carries the 4 GB phone only, it will move mass units without undercutting the market for the 8 and 16 GB models. Wal Mart is starting to bring in third party advisors to educate their staff and consumers about late model technologies, in anticipation of the event. Click here to read the article at the payday loan store.