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Give Me Simplicity or Give Me…

I used to have a zippy little tablet PC from HP as my main machine.  Not a Ferrari, more like a Miata.  With a little TLC, it was fun to use, and gave me a great deal of pleasure as I went about my daily work. But you know, it has become more like Grandma’s Valiant than the PC I used to know and love. On Thursday I ran through a 15 minute boot cycle on my little tablet!  Between the networking applications, the update applications, the various PC utilities I use to “simplify” my life, and a variety of other software, all competing for the CPU and the network during the boot cycle, my once speedy PC had been reduced to the performance equivalent of a 1987 386 running Windows 1.03… a slug!  And you know what?  I had the same problem on the 3Ghz desktop I use in my home office.

Time for some strong medicine.  

I scrubbed both PCs — backed up the data, formatted the hard drives, and installed fresh.  On the home office PC I’m running Windows Vista RC2, Office 2007 Beta 2TR, and TrendMicro PC-Cillin for Windows Vista.  On the tablet, Windows XP, Office 2003, Microsoft OneCare Live and IE7.  On both, I run MSN Messenger, Skype, and Foldershare as well. 

ASIDE: You can really tell that Windows XP is getting long in the tooth.  Immediately after installed, I ran Microsoft Update for 90 minutes, downloading and installing 76 fixes, patches, and other assorted goo for Windows XP and Office 2003. 

I made some hard choices on quite a few applications.  I won’t be installing some old favorites like Gizmo Project, Google Talk, SightSpeed, Hullo, and Vox. Every one of these programs have great features that I love, but not enough people I know use them and all of them are trying to uniquely capture me into their network. I will be living without a bunch of my favorite utilities — Anagram, and Skylook for instance. They’re all great technologies, but they all also impact the performance of my PC.

That brings me to the point of this sorry tale.

This past week Preston Gralla asked Why Has Microsoft Abandoned the Power User?  He asserts that Windows Vista and IE 7 are far less customizable than they used to be, and that Microsoft is catering to a more general audience. Tim O’Reilly sees this as a sign of the maturity of the PC, and that innovation has moved elsewhere.  Maybe, or maybe not.

In the VoIP world, a much less mature market than the PC, Martin Geddes hammers on Gizmo Project for usability flaws, while Garrett Smith defends Gizmo as a tool for developers and power users. 

O’Reilly and Geddes are right.  Give me simplicity.  Give me ease of use.  Give me a whole experience.  Don’t make me jump through any more hoops than necessary, and most of all, don’t try to lock me in. 

So, I grudgingly keep MSN and Skype, because most of the people I want to communicate with using these tools — IM and P2P telephony — use products from these vendors.  Trillian, while a great idea, won’t work for me.  The developer licenses from the IM companies (and iotum is an IM developer) prohibit the use of “multi-headed” clients.  I use iotum on my desktop, and today it works with MSN directly, rather than a third party abstraction API like Trillian. 

By holding our identities hostage in their networks, and prohibiting the use of multi-protocol clients, the IM vendors maintain the equivalent of the telecom walled garden, but in cyberspace instead.  In the process, they’ve radically jacked up complexity for ordinary users.

Gizmo, Google, Sightspeed, and Hullo… get together and build an open portable identity scheme with a single sign-on scheme for all your networks. Make those networks interoperate. Let us pass traffic seamlessly back and forth, without having to do brain surgery config files, or learn special peering codes.  When I can use Sightspeed to chat with a GoogleTalk user, or Hullo to call a Gizmo account, then you’ll win me back.  Then it’s my choice as to which client I use — not my choice, and the choice of the person I am trying to reach.

And as for you incumbents… well, consider yourselves served notice.  Even the power users of the world are fed up with complexity. 

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Rob Hyndman October 22, 2006, 6:44 am

    "Give me simplicity. Give me ease of use. Give me a whole experience."

    Sounds like an anthem for Apple Computer :)

    Seriously, after over 20 years of trying to manage complexity – and priding myself on my ability to figure anything out when it came to Windows, I surrendered a few months ago and bought a Mac. Now my whites are whiter, everything is shiny and new, and I'm a brand new man :)

    Well, I do have much more time, and I spend less time banging my head against the wall.

    I suspect pigs will fly before you switch, Alec, but my impression so far is very positive.

  • PaulSweeney October 22, 2006, 7:48 am

    Sound like you have just had the same experience as "the average user". Its probably going to be the case that those outside the walls will have to consider themselves the "3rd way". Google-world's Talk seems a bit of a duck now to the average user (I think there is a great behind the scene standards play for them in this space still though); Yahoo-MSN have lined up, so the 3rd way might be a la Meebo, OpenID, ect.

    BTW: can you recommend a tool that I can run on my machine to tell me what's the big hold up? my bootup times are getting close to the ones you wrote about!

  • Alec October 22, 2006, 11:53 am

    Hey Rob, it's not impossible. I have an awful lot invested in PC's — there are at least a half dozen around the house, for instance — but I don't have a closed mind. I actually interviewed for a senior position in the MacOS group about 5 years ago, but in the end we didn't want to move to Silicon Valley. Pigs may fly yet.

  • Alec October 22, 2006, 11:54 am

    Paul – unfortunately I don't know of such a tool. If I did, I might have used it rather than taking the drastic steps I did. I do know this –> many applications that need network access block on startup unnecessarily long before they determine that network access isn't available. Gizmo Project is one such.

  • Andy Abramson October 22, 2006, 3:25 pm

    Alec,

    While I wish I could jetison a lot too, I can't. Too many different networks that too many different people use. But I wouldn't be keeping MSN over some of the ones you tossed. I just wish more interoperability was around, that way, we can all use what we like, and still chat and talk to those who use different apps.

  • Alec October 22, 2006, 4:37 pm

    Andy, I am totally with you. I want to be able to chat with someone on AOL using Sightspeed, and have us both escalate to Sightspeed when we want to do video, because AOL doesn't handle it yet. I want to start a text conversation on Yahoo, and move to a conference call on Skype, seamlessly. The standards provide for this… but the vendors won't implement it.

    As for MSN — as you might imagine I have a long history there and a substantial contact list there. Give me interoperable solutions, and I will sell everyone I know on them. But until that happens, why should any of my friends switch from one proprietary lock-in to another?

  • Kanti Purohit October 24, 2006, 6:55 am

    Alec:

    All my life, I have been evangelizing "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity" like "location, location, location" in real estate. My latest: Make PBXs mass marketeble (like routers and PCs). So I agree with you.

    But, why toss Hullo?

    It lets ANY of your phones (landline or cell) connect to ANY phone connected to PSTN (cell or landline) in US and Canada.

    If "…but not enough people I know use them and all of them are trying to uniquely capture me into their network." are your criteria, Hullo exceeds both of them compared to Skype and MSN: (1) more people (300 million – you probably have a more accurate count) have landline and cell phones in US and Canada combined and; (2) they don't lock you into anything.

    True, if you want to IM, you need either Skype or MSN…but you already chose to have more than one :)

    PS: A note of thanks. I started using Hullo after I read your college student analysis and I love it. What was a pleasnat surpised for me was that the phonebook was NOT local. When I logged into Hullo on another PC, there it was, same as on the other PC.

  • amber April 5, 2007, 10:35 am

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