Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Our Banana Republic"?

In the New York Times this weekend, Nicholas Kristof asserts that the USA has become a banana republic. The piece is typical of what I see on the Gray Lady's op-ed pages lately, and why the opinions expressed in what is regarded as our "newspaper of record" have become so meaningless to me.

To me, a "banana republic" is defined by a corrupt political system, typically run by a dictator for his own benefit, where elections are rigged, and government policy is manipulated to enrich the people in power, usually leaving much of the populace in abject poverty.

Kristof chooses to define banana republics on the basis of relative income; by his standard, in the BRs, "the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie".  By that standard, the USA, where "The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976", we are even worse than a typical "banana republic". And we're told that the rise of the Republicans is likely to make it "worse".

Oh, where to start?

The disconnect, for me, is the assumption that our country has a corrupt political system designed to enrich anybody, let alone the ruling clique.

Yes, a few people do get madly rich in this country. People like Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Warren Buffett, the Kennedy's, the Kerry's, Barack and Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, etc. Yes, this list is selective, to make a point: these particular people are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the Republicans who are supposedly driving us into BR status.

Government policy did not enrich any of these people, or anybody else, for that matter. Most of them went into business, took risks, and were rewarded. (Even the Obama's got most of their wealth by selling books; nobody was forced to buy them.) Kristof's complaint seems to be that the government did not take enough of their additional income away from them. This is not "enriching"; this is, if anything, the absence of "deriching", i.e., confiscation of income and/or wealth.

Let's look at the other end of the spectrum. Oh, wait, Kristof didn't. How are working American's doing vis a vis their standard of living? This wasn't addressed in the column. It's a treatise on wealth, not of the supposed deprivation of the non-wealthy.

I say "supposed deprivation" because I am not yet convinced that the middle, or any other, class, is being deprived on behalf of the wealthy. I have not seen a careful assessment of the challenges to the middle or working classes. Certainly housing and medical expenses are up, but the quality (and presumably the cost) of both is greatly improved, mostly as a result of government intervention in building codes and required coverage. There may be more at work, but I'm not convinced that it's a simple case of a particular class being excluded by policy.

The standard of living for the "working class" in this country -- cell phones, cable TV, housing, sanitation -- would be the envy of the working class of  any country otherwise considered a "banana republic". I don't think we have to hang our heads in shame.

Having said all that, I have an open mind with respect to adjusting tax policy. But I am mindful of the difference between current income and pre-existing wealth. Whenever someone writes a column that conflates the two, I smell demagoguery, and tune it out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Four and a half to five years ago…

I speculated that Apple's Boot Camp would (OK, could; I hedged) help Apple boost market share significantly. My rationale was that Mac hardware was suddenly potentially useful to Windows users, as part-time or even full-time Windows machines, and that even a small percentage of Windows users buying Mac hardware would represent a substantial increase in Apple's market share, even if it added only a couple of percentage points to Apple's roughly 4% market share.

Anecdotally, I've seen this happening. At my last two employers, Macs, usually laptops, have regularly been purchased with the intent of running Windows at least part of the time, even by IT types who profess to hate the Mac. Many of these Mac owners started using Mac OS, sometimes for the first time in years, others for the first time ever. I haven't done a comprehensive survey, but it's my informal observation that many are "switching" to Mac OS.

Quantitatively, my expectations have been wildly exceeded. This week, some reports put Apple's market share at over 10%, making it the third largest PC vendor in the US. Apple's share price is nearly 10 times what it was in June of 2005, its market cap puts it at the top of the S&P 500, and it has more cash in the bank than (almost?) any other company in the world.

To be sure, the Mac is not the only driver of this growth; the iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all game changers. But I assert that they are all inter-related; there has been much talk about the iPod (and later iPhone) "halo effect", but it all adds up to Apple's tight focus on their product line.

I see more upside. The iPad is in its first generation, and I expect it to follow the same kind of trajectory the iPhone did. The Mac (and OS X) are back on Apple's agenda next week, and I see a lot of potential there. Mac OS X is way ahead of its developers; mainstream applications that need to support OS X 10.4 (Tiger) are still unable to exploit much of the potential that Apple built into Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6). I have high hopes for OS X 10.7, although I don't have many predictions to offer. A new file system seems like a possibility: ZFS was rumored for Snow Leopard, and it wouldn't surprise me if Apple has something new here this time around.

And there must be something for the new datacenter in North Carolina to do...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Few Short Observations About WWDC '10 (one hint: don't sell Mac short)

Of course, I'm under non-disclosure, so I'll be brief (and careful):

- The conference was light on Mac OS X, but most app developers haven't adopted some of the most powerful aspects of Snow Leopard yet: Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL to name a couple. There is a lot of goodness yet to be extracted from OS X by developers; Apple doesn't need to rev it yet.

- Apple is investing big-time in Dev Tools (Xcode), to the benefit of both iOS and OS X. All Apple devices (and OS's) are positioned to take great advantage of emerging technologies.

- Having seen Apple's development and debugging tools for iOS devices (iPhones and iPxds), I can't see how Android can its multiple manufacturer's can keep up. Sure, they can build a lot of devices and throw them at the wall to see what sticks, but will they ever be able to fine-tune these resource-constrained devices to the same extent that Apple can, with it's tightly-managed platform and well-matched tools? We'll see...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Apple, Flash, and Platform Control

Gruber @ DaringFireball, as always, has already nailed this on the head, and Mark Bernstein (whom I've never encountered before), has driven it home, but I think I have $.02 and a little history to add.