Five Reasons Farhad Manjoo is Doomed

All right, maybe he’s not doomed, but once again I’m less than impressed with Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, who says today that
Google’s Chrome OS is doomed.

His article starts out by admitting that Google’s Chrome OS (which I’ll abbreviate GCOS, even if that name has been used before) is intended, at least initially, for Netbooks.

Nevertheless, his first point (“Linux is hard to love”) complains that it’s hard to install software on Linux and that Linux doesn’t have much hardware peripheral support.

Of course, partnering with hardware manufacturers should address immediate peripheral support; the only other hardware most people want on a netbook is 802.11 support, CDMA or GSM wireless cards from various providers, and maybe an external mouse, if decadence is the order of the day.

His second point (“We aren’t ready to run everything on the Web”) is exactly why GCOS is being first targeted at Netbooks. They’re called Netbooks for a reason: most folks aren’t running Microsoft Office on these little boxes.

It’s true that we aren’t ready to run everything on the Web just yet. But Google isn’t shipping GCOS on everything just yet, either.

His third and fourth reasons (“Microsoft is a formidable opponent” and “Google fails often”) are true. But they apply equally to every product those vendors ship. If Manjoo was writing about the Zune, would he say that Apple is doomed? Unlikely—even if Microsoft shipped a great product. Does Manjoo think that Google Mail is doomed now that it’s left beta? Of course not.

Really, points three and four are just puffery to stretch the whole article out to five points. Readers like lists. Well, editors do, anyway. And readers certainly click on top ten, five reasons. But I’m not sure that readers are more satisfied after having clicked through, given the frequent poor analysis of the lists.

Manjoo’s final point claims that “The Chrome OS makes no business sense,” because they’re giving it away for free. His central claim in this section is that it’s “a wasteful customer acquisition expense”: it’s better for Google to spend more money improving their advertising engine than to branch out into new areas.

Correctly, he notes that the primary point of Chrome OS from a business sense “is to screw with Microsoft.” I think that’s defensive: every dollar that Microsoft spends chasing the notebook market and protecting their desktop franchise is a dollar they’re not spending on Bing. Which I haven’t tried, but I hear is pretty good. So by attacking Microsoft, they’re protecting their core franchise. (I doubt that Google’s Web search improvements are hampered by pouring resources into GCOS.)

Within his “no business sense” claim, Farhad Manjoo also suggests that GCOS as customer acquisition is unnecessarily expensive because Gmail and Google Docs can run from Windows. The cost of customer acquisition may be high—but the customer defection rate of users back to Microsoft Office would be infinitely lower on an operating system that doesn’t run office.

Really, though, whether Manjoo is right or wrong is beside the point. In a prior life, I wrote a column about computer security. My job, distilled to its most vaporous essence, was to be controversial, and attract readers; whether I was right or wrong was beside the point, as far as the bottom line was concerned. And make no mistake, attracting readers and clicks was the real objective. The content that did so was secondary.

Thus blogging about Manjoo’s article helps accomplish his real goal: being controversial enough to attract readers. I’m torn between a cynical acceptance of that answer—which would push me to stop reading the damn articles, since they’re worthless from an analytical perspective—and a utopian wish that higher-quality analysis would attract more readers, and be more valuable than “top five reasons X is doomed” journalism.

But how many of you clicked on this article because of its title?

Spam, Spam, Spam Spam…

Sorry about the spam that some of you might have seen — I’ve cleaned it up. Color me concerned as I’m running the latest version of WordPress — I suspect there must be an as-yet-unpatched hole that spammers can use.

If you see any more spam here, please let me know.

In other Spam-related news, I’m learning Python so I can contribute patches to existing software at work, rather than just poke around the edges by writing little Perl scripts here and there. Not that my job officially involves writing software, but sometimes it’s the most straightforward path to a solution. I’m about halfway though Learning Python and it’s going pretty well so far. I’m taking a break from the book to rewrite one of my aforementioned peripheral scripts, as a learning exercise.

Two Writing Milestones

Within a single week, I’ve passed two milestones with regard to my writing.

First, I’ve gone into positive territory on my royalties for Think Unix. Yes, after nearly eight and a half years I’ve earned back my advance, and am now owed approximately three dollars seventy-five cents by the publisher.

I’m exceedingly pleased that people continue to read and purchase this book, and that except for the two chapters on Unix GUIs the book has remained useful. I wanted to write an “evergreen,” and I feel like I succeeded. Not that I couldn’t improve the book, or that there aren’t things I wish I’d done better, but I think I did pretty well.

Second, I’m pleased to announce that a short story of mine is being published. I’ve waited until the magazine was printed and ready to go, as I’ve had things fall through in the past – but you can buy issue one of The Ne’er-Do-Well Magazine, which contains my short story “Lodestar.”

If you’ve read previous versions of this story, I’d encourage you to buy the magazine and re-read it, as it’s been substantially revised. Sheila, the editor, is exceedingly perceptive, and her input did the story a lot of good. I’m looking forward to my copy arriving, and reading the rest of the pieces too.

As a teaser, an unrelated short-short, I still get pictures from him sometimes is on the magazine’s site, along with short-shorts from other contributors.

Back in the saddle…

Last week I returned from Hawaii, and into a whole lot of catch-up at work. I also had to clean up the blog site: although I’d upgraded to WordPress 2.5 already (2.5.1 now), before I’d done so, some nasty stuff had been inserted into one of my blog posts, getting my site branded as an attack site.

Now, that was probably the correct action to take, inasmuch as my site was an attack site during that period of time. But would have been too much to ask to send me mail identifying the problem — or, at least, when I submitted a review request on the site to identify the problem in advance, to avoid a back-and-forth where I fix one problem only to have another one identified before my site status can be returned?

Also, I discovered that my metablog had become stuck, due probably to a prior disk-full condition, and wasn’t posting all of my stuff. Further, del.icio.us changed the RSS feed address, and either I missed it or they didn’t bother to tell me, so that wasn’t showing up, either.

Now that it’s fixed, you can see that I’ve been identifying all of the Mac dive log software. I’ve become interested in getting an air-integrated computer (with hose and console, probably, rather than wireless, due to the substantial cost difference) and tracking my air consumption at depth. I figure that Laura wants to get Nitrox-certified, and as long as I’ll need a new dive computer for that (yes, I will, that’s how old my dive computer is), I might as well track air consumption too and upload log data.

Unfortunately, the list of air-integrated dive consoles that play well with Macs is fairly limited. Suunto and Uwatec would be my only choices. I like what I’ve read about Suunto (though it sounds like the original Cobra, otherwise my best choice, is perhaps overly conservative), but know next to nothing about the Uwatec Smart COM. Reviews and opinions welcome.

VMWare Server + Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon + Cloned Servers = Unnecessary Pain

At work, I wanted to build a single Ubuntu image for VMWare, which I could then clone for virtual appliances.

I settled on 64-bit Gutsy Gibbon Server, as it was the latest and greatest. I built my generic image, which worked great. But then I built my clone.

The clone’s ethernet card never showed up. I used every tool; I could see it on the PCI bus, and I could examine it to my hearts’ content, but ifconfig just wouldn’t see eth0.

Finally, today, I found the culprit. I’d rebuilt the image again, cloned it, told the clone to create a new ID, and immediately the Ethernet interface disappeared.

The culprit? /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules, which relies on the MAC address of the network card to assign ethernet devices. Changing the ID changes the MAC address, which breaks the existing rule.

Solution? Delete the rule for the old card, on eth0, and change the eth1 in the rule for the new MAC to eth0.

That’s it. Wish it hadn’t taken me days of messing around to figure that out. Makes me feel old and not very bright.