It’s a great time to be a software engineer

Google just released the Android SDK. Android is the open source platform for mobile devices, mainly cellphones, that is destined to take on the so pervasive Windows Mobile devices out there. Along with the SDK, Google announced a 2 part ‘developer challenge’ open to all, and for anyone interested in developing applications for the platform. It’s ‘crowd-sourcing’ at its best, although, Google can afford to pay the best, what with $10 million up for grabs.

While I was watching the video, it struck me how the platform was trying to mimic the iPhone. Everything from the navigation to the notifications reminded me of the iPhone. With the iPhone’s own SDK due in February ’08, it’s a win-win situation for the consumer. I, for one, am glad that I don’t have to use slow Sony Ericsson handsets any more. Thanks are also due to increasingly powerful hardware. A short time ago, no one had even imagined that we would be able to run an entire 32 bit *NIX operating system on something as small as a cellphone. It’s now possible.

As always, I have downloaded and installed the Android SDK, and look forward to scheduling some time to get my hands dirty with it.

Wish me luck!

Cocoa Programming resources

I am learning Cocoa programming these days, and am actually picking it up very quickly. As I have mentioned in the past, it reminds me a lot of SmallTalk programming. Below are some sites/resources that I am finding really helpful. I’ll update the list from time to time.

COCOABUILDER.COM – A perfect interface to both Cocoa mailinglists
MACDEVCENTER – O’Reilly’s Mac Developer page
COCOADEV.COM – WikiWikiWeb site for the developer community
COCOADEVCENTRAL – A site with great tutorials
COCOA FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
STEPWISE – A classic site on Objective-C
HYPERJEFF – Cocoa Literature
REFERENCE LIBRARY – The official Cocoa Reference Library
MACRESEARCH.ORG – Macs for Scientists

On digital content pricing

It is the end of the year 2007. We use computers for everything, including listening to music and watching movies. Why then, are we still stuck in the last decade trying to price all digital content like we were still buying physical media? Why do we have to buy the same content multiple times for playing it on different devices? Why does it cost more to make a ringtone out of a song than to actually buy the complete song?

I think the record companies as well as the movie industry is full of the most non-technical people possible. And, I bet they hire management that thinks learning stopped at the business school. I don’t need to cite various studies that have shown that more people now get their entertainment over the Internet than at the retail brick and mortar store (including legitimate and pirated content). We have TB’s of data storage at our home, and we want to have entertainment available on demand. Even after so much technological progress, the one thing killing this futuristic scenario is DRM. Everyone hates it. Even the musical bands and singers are starting to hate it now. The only entity still in love with DRM is the industry. The worst part is that the term ‘industry’ now fails to represent the mindset of majority of the content creators (singers, ind. movie makers etc.), yet, the latter is held hostage.

I believe that time has come for the entertainment industry to adopt a new pricing structure. It is obvious that copy protection and DRM is not going to stop piracy. What we need to do is to create a pricing system where the consumer does not feel compelled to pay for something, rather wants to pay for it. Not everyone who pirates something would necessarily pay for it if piracy did not exist. Yet, even though he/she is actively pirating the content, he/she is also indulging in various kinds of ‘word of mouth’ advertising for the intellectual work. When companies calculate the money lost due to piracy, they conveniently ignore these two important points.

There have been several pricing models proposed. I like the commodity market approach to buying music.  It has its flaws, though. Music cannot be traded in a stock market like fashion simply because the supply is not limited. The demand is also inelastic to a certain extent. It’s a good idea, nevertheless. The gist is that value should be dictated by the end consumer rather than the middleman who tends to value all content equally, without consideration to demand, popularity, quality, etc. To that respect, something like an auction would be a good idea. The problem is in micro-managing the bids placed by millions of consumers.

So, what about a donation/charity model! You, as a consumer, get the liberty to give back whatever amount you deem fit for the content. Sure, a lot of people would not pay a dime, but they were not paying anything earlier, anyway. It’s a no loss situation, in my opinion. Also, people enjoy having the freedom to value a commodity/service in their own terms. Philanthropy is one such ‘industry’. Today, people take pride in donating a certain portion of their income to various charitable organizations. Imagine their anger if these donations were made mandatory in the form of a tax. More people would try to evade this tax, even though it might very well be lesser than what they were donating earlier.
It’s time to re-think pricing before the ‘Radioheads’ of the music industry kill the very association that claims to be watching out for them.

Are you a smart shopper?

I have come to believe that you’re a smart shopper if the stock price of the company whose products you consistently buy keeps on going up.

Since my move to Apple products, and since the time I bought AAPL stock, it has gone up roughly about 10%. I own a Mac, an iPhone, Airport Extreme and Express, couple iPods, and some Apple software. It is the best operating system I have ever used, and I find Objective C so much better than anything else I have seen, it is amazing. Java and even C# were more than inspired by Objective C.

Similarly, I am a big fan of OS hardware and software virtualization, and most importantly VMWare. The last few months have seen EMC’s stock price skyrocket along with moving towards a spectacular rating by stock analysts.

I use Tide to do my laundry. The PG stock is one of the best performing stocks in NYSE right now.

I think the only stock not doing relatively well (at least in my opinion) for which I am a regular customer is Microsoft. But then, there’s really no competitor to the Xbox 360 right now!

Free email no longer charming enough

I just realized that I have completely transitioned myself out of using any sort of free email service (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.). One of the lures of free email used to be the cost associated with getting our own domain, along with hosting services, but thanks to mass consumer adoption and services like Google Apps for Domains, that no longer holds true.

If I am scared of spam, I just create a temporary email address on my domain; if I am scared of running out of storage, well, Google provides 2 GB!

Apart from my personal domain, I now use .Mac for almost everything else. It costs a lot, but is more than just an email service.

I wonder if this is going to be an increasing trend as people move away from free email services for personal communication.

To innovate or to excel ?

Isn’t it funny – Entrepreneurs work harder than “corporate drones” only to build something with hopes of getting acquired by another bigger corporation, and then end up as drones in the acquiring company for next few years.

In the last few years, I have only seen a handful of entrepreneurs who actually move on to newer ideas after selling their first one off. It’s just too rare, though.

One of my next posts will talk about the lessons I learned in my very early-on bout(s) with high-tech entrepreneurship. Anyone can do it, but are the trade-offs worth the gains?

10 years ago: Then and now

I was thinking how much things have changed in the last 10 years. We now live in an increasingly connected society, at least from a technological point of view. Yet, at the same time, there are things that haven’t changed at all. We still have the middle east crisis. We’re still fighting hunger and poverty, and we’re still in search of a new source of energy!

10 years ago:

  1. I was trying to get in a good college.
  2. My primary computer was a desktop PC running Windows 95. The processor was 66Mhz Pentium.
  3. I was experimenting with Linux in a big way.
  4. I did not have an Internet connection at home.
  5. I used to dial in to a few BBS’ across the world.
  6. I was excited about being able to finally have a cable TV connection at home.
  7. I was a computer “whiz-kid”.
  8. I couldn’t cook to save my life.
  9. I wanted to grow up to be an engineer working for the Indian Government.
  10. I never thought I would move to a distant country.

Now, things that have remained unchanged:

  1. The Simpsons is still the longest running prime-time animated series.
  2. Human cloning is still banned.
  3. Tony Blair is still the Prime Minister of Britain (although he’s retiring on June 27th).
  4. India’s President is still from the minorities.
  5. Toyota Prius is still quite a buzzword.
  6. The middle east is still strife-torn.
  7. The space race is still on, albeit between the West and the rest of the world.