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[FYI] Out with the nerds!

[Da wird ein Riesenboohei um die angeblichen und tatsaechlichen 
Gefahren des Patentwesens, insbesondere im Hinblick auf Patente auf 
computer-implementierte Erfindungen, veranstaltet, aber eine IMHO 
wesentlich naeherliegende Schose wird derzeit im oeffentlichen 
Bewusstsein ziemlich heftig verdraengt: Das geplante Absterben des 
universell programmierbaren PCs. Der PC wird systematisch als zu 
haesslich und vor allem zu kompliziert verschrieen. Gadgets aller Art 
à la iPod (natuerlich mit eingebautem DRM) sollen ihn ersetzen. Hat 
jemand schon mal ein Open Source Handy gesehen? Selbst Organiser - 
obwohl prinzipiell mit Linux machbar - wandeln sich immer mehr in 
"Black Boxes". Wenn es eines Tages den (erschwinglichen!) Universal-
PC nicht mehr gibt, weil der Markt dafuer ausgetrocknet worden ist, 
und Universalrechner nur noch fur Firmen als Server im 19"-Format 
handelsueblich sind, wird die ganz grosse Bastelei ab dem 
Schueleralter aufhoeren, und ein wichtiger Mechanismus fuer die 
breite Dissemination von Programmierer-Know-How und Open Source wird 
versiegen. --AHH]   



"Die Initiative D21 öffnet für die Best-Ager sozusagen die 
abschreckende schwarze Kiste, lädt sie zur Probefahrt ein und stellt 
ihnen den Wagen vollgetankt vor die Haustür", erklärte Thomas 
Ganswindt, erster in einer Online-Wahl gekürter Vorsitzender der 
Initiative. Ganswindt, im Hauptberuf Vorständler bei Siemens, ließ in 
seiner Eröffnungsrede kein gutes Haar an der PC-Branche. Er verglich 
ihr Ansinnen, häßliche Rechner an die Kunden zu verhökern, mit dem 
Versuch eines Autohändlers, einen Audi A6 2,4 in einer schwarzen 
Kiste an den Mann zu bringen. Der Händler möge noch so sehr von 
überreichlichen Kilowatt-Leistungen und einem Drehmoment von 380 
Newtonmeter schwärmen, der Kunde würde sich niemals für die Box 
erwärmen. Als Gegenbeispiel führte Ganswindt Apples iPod an, ein 
leicht verständliches, schickes und technisch hochwertiges Gerät. 
"Wir versuchen sinngemäß, das Auto aus der Kiste zu nehmen" so 
Ganswindt. Mit dem ebenfalls von der Initiative unterstützten 
Nonliner-Atlas, der "fortlaufend die Topographie des digitalen 
Grabens" untersuche, werde man den Erfolg der Aktion überprüfen.

Der ehrenwerte Versuch, den drögen PC zum schicken iPod des Internet 
umzumendeln und so die ältere Generation ans Online-Medium 
heranzuführen, ist nicht die einzige Initiative der Initiative. 




Make it simple
Oct 28th 2004
>From The Economist print edition

The next thing in technology, says Andreas Kluth, is not just big but 
truly huge: the conquest of complexity  

“THE computer knows me as its enemy,” says John Maeda. “Everything I 
touch doesn't work.” Take those “plug-and-play” devices, such as 
printers and digital cameras, that any personal computer (PC) 
allegedly recognises automatically as soon as they are plugged into 
an orifice called a USB port at the back of the PC. Whenever Mr Maeda 
plugs something in, he says, his PC sends a long and incomprehensible 
error message from Windows, Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system. 
But he knows from bitter experience that the gist of it is no.  


Steven Milunovich, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, another bank, offers 
a further reason why simplicity is only now becoming a big issue. He 
argues that the IT industry progresses in 15-year waves. In the first 
wave, during the 1970s and early 1980s, companies installed big 
mainframe computers; in the second wave, they put in PCs that were 
hooked up to “server” computers in the basement; and in the third 
wave, which is breaking now, they are beginning to connect every 
gadget that employees might use, from hand-held computers to mobile 
phones, to the internet.

The mainframe era, says Mr Milunovich, was dominated by proprietary 
technology (above all, IBM's), used mostly to automate the back 
offices of companies, so the number of people actually working with 
it was small. In the PC era, de facto standards (ie, Microsoft's) 
ruled, and technology was used for word processors and spreadsheets 
to make companies' front offices more productive, so the number of 
people using technology multiplied tenfold. And in the internet era, 
Mr Milunovich says, de jure standards (those agreed on by industry 
consortia) are taking over, and every single employee will be 
expected to use technology, resulting in another tenfold increase in 

Moreover, the boundaries between office, car and home will become 
increasingly blurred and will eventually disappear altogether. In 
rich countries, virtually the entire population will be expected to 
be permanently connected to the internet, both as employees and as 
consumers. This will at last make IT pervasive and ubiquitous, like 
electricity or telephones before it, so the emphasis will shift 
towards making gadgets and networks simple to use.  

UBS's Mr Coburn adds a demographic observation. Today, he says, some 
70% of the world's population are “analogues”, who are “terrified by 
technology”, and for whom the pain of technology “is not just the 
time it takes to figure out new gadgets but the pain of feeling 
stupid at each moment along the way”. Another 15% are “digital 
immigrants”, typically thirty-somethings who adopted technology as 
young adults; and the other 15% are “digital natives”, teenagers and 
young adults who have never known and cannot imagine life without IM 
(instant messaging, in case you are an analogue). But a decade from 
now, Mr Coburn says, virtually the entire population will be digital 
natives or immigrants, as the ageing analogues convert to avoid 
social isolation. Once again, the needs of these converts point to a 
hugely increased demand for simplicity.  

The question is whether this sort of technology can ever become 
simple, and if so, how. This survey will analyse the causes of 
technological complexity both for firms and for consumers, evaluate 
the main efforts toward simplification by IT and telecom vendors 
today, and consider what the growing demands for simplicity mean for 
these industries. A good place to start is in the past. 



Now you see it, now you don't
Oct 28th 2004
>From The Economist print edition


Out with the nerds

The evolution of these technologies holds some lessons for the IT 
industry today. The first observation, according to Mr Norman, “is 
that in the early days of any technological revolution the engineers 
are in charge, and their customers are the early adopters. But the 
mass market is the late adopters. This is why Thomas Alva Edison, an 
engineering genius, failed miserably in business.” Similarly, in IT 
today, says Mr Papadopoulos of Sun Microsystems, “the biggest problem 
is that most of the people who create these artefacts are nerds. I 
want to see more artists create these things.”

The geekiness that predominates in the early stages of any new 
technology leads to a nasty affliction that Paul Saffo, a technology 
visionary at California's Institute for the Future, calls 
“featuritis”. For example, Microsoft in a recent survey found that 
most consumers use only 10% of the features on offer in Microsoft 
Word. In other words, some 90% of this software is clutter that 
obscures the few features people actually want. This violates a 
crucial principle of design. As Soetsu Yanagi wrote in “The Unknown 
Craftsman”, his classic 1972 book on folk art, “man is most free when 
his tools are proportionate to his needs.” The most immediate problem 
with IT today, as with other technologies at comparable stages, says 
Mr Saffo, is that “our gadgets are so disproportionate”.

A second lesson from history, however, is that a brute cull of 
features would be futile. As technologies, the sewing machine, the 
phonograph, the car and the electricity grid have only ever grown 
more complex over time. Today's cars, in fact, are mobile computers, 
containing dozens of microchips and sensors and other electronic sub-
systems that Henry Ford would not recognise. Electricity grids today 
are as complex as they are invisible in everyday life. Consumers 
notice them only when things go wrong, as they did spectacularly 
during last year's power cuts in north-eastern America and Canada.

“You have to push all the complexity to the back end in order to make 
the front end very simple,” says Marc Benioff, the boss of 
Salesforce.com, a software firm that will be examined in a later 
article in this survey. This migration of complexity, says Mr 
Benioff, echoes the process of civilisation. Thus, every house 
initially has its own well and later its own generator. Civilisation 
turns houses into “nodes” on a public network that householders draw 
on. But the “interface”—the water tap, the toilet flush, the power 
switch—has to be “incredibly simple”. All the management of 
complexity now takes place within the network, so that consumers no 
longer even know when their electricity or water company upgrades its 
technology. Thus, from the user's point of view, says Mr Benioff, 
“technology goes through a gradual disappearance process.”

>From the point of view of the vendors, the opposite is true. “Our 
experience is that for every mouse click we take out of the user 
experience, 20 things have to happen in our software behind the 
scenes,” says Brad Treat, the chief executive of SightSpeed, a 
company that wants to make video phone calls as easy for consumers as 
e-mailing. The same applies to corporate datacentres. “So don't 
expect some catharsis in eliminating layers of software,” says Mr 
Papadopoulos. “The way we get rid of complexity is by creating new 
layers of abstraction and sedimenting what is below.” This will take 
different forms for firms and for consumers. First, consider the 

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