Thoughts on Chrome OS and the Cr-48

Much to my surprise, I receieved an unmarked box containing a Cr-48 laptop from Google.

No warning. Just arrived. I’m not complaining.

I’ve been using the Cr-48 with Chrome OS a lot this past week. It’s been a pretty enjoyable experience. This is very much a beta, and this is why I’m posting thoughts and not a review. There is no way to review prototype hardware or beta software. Some things just don’t work. That’s why it’s a beta.

I’m not going to talk about the things that don’t work because this is a beta. The fact that the USB ports aren’t fully functional yet has nothing to do with what the final OS will be like. The performance of Flash does, however, because Flash has been on Linux for years (and Adobe never cared about Linux performance until a huge, mainstream company like Google started developing Linux-based products such as Chrome OS and Android).

Here are some thoughts and questions I’ve had so far:

It’s really not that jarring — Most of what I do involves websites: Gmail, Google Docs, WordPress, a few Drupal CMSes, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google, ESPN.com, Google Reader, Hulu, Netflix, nytimes.com, etc, etc, etc. It’s really not that jarring to use a Chrome OS computer. Most of the time, you won’t even notice that you aren’t on Windows, OS X or a version of Linux such as Ubuntu (Chrome OS is Linux based). If you spend most of your time in the browser, Chrome OS feels very familiar.

Forget about boot times – Chrome OS boots in about 12 seconds, and unlike most OSes, it doesn’t take awhile from signing in until you can do something (I swear it takes about five minutes for my XP machine at work to boot up and be ready to use). When you can boot and have a website open in about 20 seconds, it changes your relationship with a computer. My main computer is a Mac Mini hooked up to two monitors. It loads Dropbox, Mozy, Alfred, etc, etc, etc on startup. All things that I need when I’m doing heavy-duty work, but it also means that I can’t really use my computer for a few minutes. If my computer is turned off, and I just want to play around on the Internet, I usually keep it off. With a device like Chrome OS, those considerations don’t come into play. This is a lot like the iPad where you can just leave it laying around your house and pick it up and use it whenever you want to surf around the Web (the Cr-48 also sleeps very well and can go about a month in standy-by mode).

But can you work on it? — The jury is still up in the air. Anything you can do on the Chrome browser — my main browser — you can do on Chrome OS, except for anything requiring Java. It’s unknown if Java will be coming to Chrome OS or not. I can use WordPress on it, as I’m doing right now. I can do light image editing and graphic design work with Aviary. I can use social networking sites, read ebooks and even do light programming on Chrome OS. Video editing, screencasting and some of the other activities that I do are out of the question.

The Cr-48 is slow — This is a prototype, so you can’t get too down on it. I imagine that as Chrome OS approaches version 1.0 it will get faster even on older harder like the Cr-48. Chrome 9 — the browser — and Flash 10.2 both would give Chrome OS a major speed boost. As of this writing neither has made it to Chrome OS. The computer itself is a single core Atom chip, which is not enough to handle Flash video, because Flash is resource intensive (Flash 10.2 promises to solve some of these issues). So, my slower iPad can easily handle 720p HD video at 30fps without any issues, whereas Chrome OS can’t even do 480p video properly. That’s an issue. I would think that just about all Chrome OS netbooks will ship with dual-core Atom processors and hopefully have hardware acceleration for video. My cell phone handles video better than my Chrome OS laptop. Every Chrome OS computer needs to ship with the ability to handle 720p video at 30fps. Beyond that, Chrome OS feels much slower than using Chrome on my Mac Mini. Let’s hope that changes.

Flash is terrible on Chrome OS (and Linux in general) — One of the major arguments against Flash is that Adobe controls how well it runs on a platform. JavaScript is the exact opposite. Chrome. Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, etc are all trying to see who can process JavaScript the fastest, which has led to JavaScript-heavy websites (think most Web apps such as Gmail and Google Apps) to render much faster. And they keep rendering Web pages faster all the time as new browsers with better JavaScript engines come out. Flash doesn’t work like that. There is no competition and until Apple stopped using Flash in many of its products and HTML5 emerged, Adobe had no incentive to improve Flash speed. Flash is slow on your computer? Just buy a newer, faster machine! That was essentially Adobe’s message for years. Flash has always run best on Windows, which has left OS X and Linux users out to dry. But OS X users have it much better than Linux users. Adobe has never cared about making Flash usable on Linux until Google decided to develop a Linux-based OS with Chrome OS. Flash makes the whole browsing experience slow on Chrome OS, even if you aren’t directly using a Flash-based site. Any site with Flash-based ads on it will be slower than expcted. The good news is now that there will be a version of Linux from a major company, Flash should get much better on Linux. Web pages without Flash render very fast and are a pleasure to use.

So, who would want this? — Anyone who just wants to get on the Web and not worry about viruses, security, system updates, plugin updates, browser updates, etc. Chrome OS just works. It can’t do anything other than the Web, but for an increasing number of people, that’s pretty much all they do outside of perhaps iTunes or some other media-management software.

Enter business? — Chrome OS really screams out for business use. So many employees don’t use the full functionality of their computers (or use virtually none). They use websites, occasionally open Word or PowerPoint docs, do some research and use some custom software. Most of those people could switch to a completely Web-based OS. But why would they do it? Simple. Chrome OS is a very secure platform that requires no IT management. The system updates itself without needing any input from the user and Web apps do the same as well. Would IT managers go for something that writes out much of their job description? Maybe not. But the smart ones — the ones you want at your organization — would realize that Chrome OS would free them up to do bigger thinking. It would allow them to spend more time investigating how to us IT more efficiently and how to makes workers’ jobs easier. Instead, much of IT work right now is tech help. Imagine a system that is very secure, sandboxed (even infected apps couldn’t affect other apps or the system itself), auto updates, and makes employees take care of their data by forcing them to save everything to a redundant and secure platform. How many of your employees save important documents to their computers hard drive instead of to your server? Far, far too many. With Chrome OS, that’s simply not an option. Chrome OS would save money and time. For many of your employees, they’ll need a heavy OS. But for the ones who don’t need one, why would you give them one?

The perfect parent computer — Chrome OS would seem like the perfect computer for my Dad. The only thing he does is surf the Web. He reads websites, checks e-mail and plays fantasy sports. I could definitely see him having a Chrome OS netbook on his desk. It doesn’t take up much space, can be easily powered on in seconds, lasts for a long time on each charge, is very secure, updates itself and requires no maintenance.

Can this work in a tablet world? — That’s the biggest question. Pretty much everything I have said about Chrome OS  could be said about an iPad or some of the tablets coming out. True most tablets don’t update their software in the background for you (I think this will be changing), but tablets are much less complicated to use than a traditional OS and should be much more secure. People who need a dedicated keyboard and trackpad will appreciate Chrome OS. I could certainly see Chrome OS receiving business adoption for employees who don’t need much computing power. Ultimately, I see a world where most households have one main computer that runs either Windows or OS X. After that they’ll have several other computing devices — smartphones, tablets and perhaps Chrome OS netbooks. It makes sense. Most people don’t really need more than one-heavy OS device per house. For students writing and researching papers, Chrome OS makes more sense than a tablet. On the other hand, a tablet makes more sense during class. I don’t know how this will shake out, but I do know the days of most households having multiple heavy-OS computers are over.

Google got the netbook right — Prior to Chrome OS and the Cr-48, netbooks were about taking a full-featured OS and mating it with simple hardware. The Cr-48 is about taking full-featured hardware and mating it with a simple OS. The typical netbook isn’t good at anything, regardless of how good the software could be. Anything less than a full-sized keyboard is worthless for serious writing or programming. Most traditional netbooks have cramped keyboards that are hard to type on (often harder than a touchscreen tablet). The Cr-48 comes with a fantastic keyboard. You don’t need a full-featured OS to do research or type papers, blog posts or news stories, but you do need a good keyboard. Netbooks currently excel at nothing. They are just small, cheap laptops. They are worse than tablets. The Cr-48 has some things that it genuinely does better than a tablet. It comes with a fast HD (SSD) that allows for quick startup, a Web cam for video conferencing and audio calls, a nice sized screen and more. Yes, the processor isn’t that fast, but Chrome OS doesn’t need a fast processor, and why spend money on something you don’t need? Finally, Google has found a way to give netbooks a niche beyond being cheap devices that people later regret.

So how does this fit into my workflow? — Too early too tell. For programming, video editing, screencasting and some other activities my Mac Mini will get the nod. It’s fast, has two monitors, can run a variety of development environments and more. For surfing the Web and lounging around, the iPad is king. The iPad is just fun. Using your fingers to navigate the Web and flick pages up and down is really a special experience. I also use my iPad at work as a note-taking device, as well as for e-mail, calendars and project management. It’s the perfect work companion. It’s also a fantastic device for my train rides on the metro and for going to coffee shops. The Cr-48 may eventually become my go-to writing device. I can take it anywhere I want, unlike my Mac Mini, and it’s great to type on (I love the keyboard), unlike my iPad (the typing is fine for notes, but not for longer content). I like to sit on my balcony with my iPad, but I missed having a laptop to do work on when it’s a nice day. Now I can do writing work on it with the Cr-48. I also think this will be a great device for when I have guests. When my family members visit, they eventually want to check their e-mail, adjust their fantasy lineups and surf the Web. Chrome OS is perfect that. You can leave the laptop in your guests room, and they can quickly sign in as a guest, do whatever and then their session will be destroyed upon log out.

So who would you recommend this for when it launches this summer? — My Dad (my Mom has a Macbook Pro that she uses for work) and anyone looking for a cheap writing and researching device. If a Chrome OS netbook comes out in the $300-400 range, it would probably be a better product than a comparably priced Windows laptop. I’ve seen far too many people buy cheap Windows laptops, only to have to replace them fairly quickly because they become so slow and unusable. Chrome OS doesn’t have those issues, and even a $300 Chrome OS laptop should be usable for years to come.

Patents are like teenagers with guns

Christopher Montgomery, founder of the Xiph.org Foundation, on why software patents suck and need reform:

“Patents are like every teenager carrying a hand gun,” he told me.  Sooner or later, one of those guns could go off.

Don’t get too excited about Google open sourcing the VP8 video codec. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have patent issues. Many believe it is impossible to develop a modern codec without violating previous patents.

How I’m going to test the iPad and how you can help

By now, you’ve probably read glowing review after glowing review of the iPad by tech columnists, but I want to share my experiences with you when I get my iPad.

I will not have received an iPad for free, nor will I be testing it out as my job for  a news outlet or tech blog. Rather I paid for my iPad, and I want to see how it can help me in my life and with my work.

Can I stop carrying my laptop every day? Was this worth how much it costs? How is it as a work tool? How is it at home after working at a computer all day long? Is it light enough that just about every time I leave the house I’ll want to bring it with me, just in case?

With that in mind, I’m devising a way to test the iPad and would appreciate your help.

Here are some things you need to know about me and my life

  • I live in Maryland and work in Virginia. I do not own a car. You can guess how I spend a lot of my time. I’m often on trains, where I do work on my laptop.
  • I spend a lot of time walking around, often with a Macbook. It’s heavy and it doesn’t startup that quickly (at least not quickly enough that I would consider using it without thinking about it first).
  • My favorite past time is wasting time on the Internet. I often sit on my couch with my laptop or in a recliner.
  • I work on the Web for a living. Specifically I spend a lot of time on social networks and on my company’s custom social network for conservationists, RarePlanet.Org.
  • I receive a lot of e-mail.
  • I like to go to coffee shops and just hang out around town.
  • I like to blog in my spare time. I also blog for work, sometimes while riding on a train.
  • I do a lot of reading, particularly of Web sites. I also read books and magazines.
  • Netflix streaming, Hulu and TED more than make up for my lack of cable.

Why did I preorder an iPad?

I preorded the iPad before any reviews came out because I was not enjoying my current situation. My laptop weighs 5.2 pounds. The charger isn’s particularly light either. My Mifi is pretty light but with its charger and cable to hook it up to my laptop in case its battery dies, it starts to add to my already heavy pack. Then I bring a liter of water with me for my commute in an aluminum bottle. I also pack my lunch and usually have at least one book and one magazine with me.

I could replace all of that, except for the food and water, with the 1.6 pound 3G iPad. Instead of using a backpack, I could go back to using a messenger bag. And while my Macbook is fine for use on the larger Marc commuter train, it is too unwieldy to use on the metro.

And after lugging my laptop to and from work, I almost never want to take it to coffee shops or anywhere else. It is basically either used at home or on the way to work.

What do you want to know about the iPad?

  • Is it a better day-to-day experience than my laptop? Can I do real work with it on my way to and from work?
  • Can I unwind with it on my train ride home from work?
  • How is reading books and other long form content on it? I’m skeptical about reading a book on an LCD screen.
  • Is this a better pleasure device than a laptop or desktop? While I do enjoy reading Web sites and watching video with my laptop and desktop, neither is a great pleasure device. There is still a bit of a work feel to them.
  • And, of course, was it worth how much money I spent on it?

How will I go about figuring this out?

I’m going to test the core components of the device and see how I like them separately. How is watching video on it? How about reading? How about sufring the video?

My rubric so far (and I want your help)

  • Web sites — I frequent a lot of blogs and news Web sites (and I live in Google Reader). How is this experience? Is it a more immersive experience than sitting at a desk with a computer? How is it without Flash support? I’m going to try nytimes.com, bbcnews.com, nationalgeographic.com, economist.com, guardian.co.uk and maybe a few others. Those are my favorite news sites. I’ll also try blogs like TechCrunch and TreeHugger. Is the iPad better or worse for my favorite sites?
  • Video — I’m going to download UP in HD. It’s one of my favorite movies ever, and I have seen it in theaters in 3D, on DVD and on Blu Ray. I know what it can look like. How is the experience on the iPad?
  • Video games — I do play video games from time to time, and I do own a Nintendo DS. I haven’t really touched the DC since I purchased my iPhone about two years ago. I would imagine that the iPad is an even better portable gaming device than a smartphone. I want to test this hypothesis out. I don’t have any specific games in mind yet. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
  • Book — I don’t read books as much as I read news, but I still read a bit. And I am quite skeptical about reading on an LCD screen for extended periods of time. And I know you can’t really read an LCD in direct sunlight. I believe I am going to read Food Rules as my first E-Book on the device. It’s a shorter, lighter book. If I can get through that, I’ll select a bigger, denser book. But if 112 pages of lighter reading is a chore, I’ll have a good gauge on the iPad’s capabilities as an E-Reader.
  • iPad specific apps — I have no interest in putting the paces on iPhone apps on the iPad. I want to know how native apps behave. Are they materially better than iPhone apps? I’m eagerly awaiting OmniOutliner and OmniFocus for the iPad. Both are strong productivity apps. If they work well that will be big.
  • On the go — I spend a lot of my life outside of my house. How is it at the coffee shop? On the train? In a park? In a car?
  • At home — I have a desktop and a laptop at home. Will this make me want to use them less or will I want to put my iPad away when I am at home?
  • Will I want to cancel my newspaper and magazine subscriptions — I hate the clutter of newspapers and magazines, but like the experience (at least on weekends). Can the iPad inspire me to go print-free?
  • Can I sell an existing computer — Will the iPad allow me to get rid of my laptop? Or is this another device in my life?

What else would you like to see?

I want to put the iPad through every day use. Let me know what you’d like me to test, and I can let you know how that works.

Judging by the early reviews, I think I’m going to really like the iPad. But liking something and something being worth your money and time are two different things. Was this a wise purchase? Will I be able to leave my laptop at home? Will I be able to sell my laptop?

These are the real questions that need to be answered.

Paying for news has to be easy on consumers

Does the Star Tribune’s new Access Vikings Premium sound easy to you?

But in addition to the info, registrants have to accept the site’s e-mailed FYI Newsletter and FYI Offers. The offers can be customized, it looks like, but choosing from various categories. [By this point I would be pulling back.] Then they can pick from nearly two dozen e-mails; thoughtfully, three have been pre-checked—AM and PM Updates, Deals+Steals/Thrifty advice—meaning registrants have to uncheck them if they don’t the daily updates. Others range from zoned news to the Pet Central Newsletter. When I dug a little deeper, I found that I could delete the FYI Newsletter and FYI Offers but only from my member profile after registering.

That’s a requirement even if you sign up for a free account just to comment on content. Who comes up with these ideas? Staci Kramer at PaidContent puts it well:

Why does any of this matter? Day in, day out, we’re writing here about the ways news outlets are trying to get users to pay for content and registration is key in nearly every one. If it isn’t global, easy or transparent, the content had better be really good and the price better be right because the pool of people willing to complete the process—let along enter payment info—will get smaller and smaller along the way.

One of my biggest concerns with news paywalls is that I don’t trust news organizations — particularly newspapers — to make the process seamless and easy enough for consumers. It’s not enough to try to charge for something. We have to make the experience enjoyable.

Look at how bad most news Web sites are. Heck, look at how little thought most have put into their former cash cow classified advertising when it comes to the Web. What exactly have most news organizations done on the Web to inspire confidence that they could pull off a paywal?

I have grave, grave concerns that news organizations will spend too much time thinking about charging for news and content and not enough time thinking about how to make the user experience good.

Thoughts on why micropayments are a dangerous delusion

Mathew Ingram has a post over at The Nieman Journalism Lab asking if micropayments are the holy grail or a dangerous delusion? I think the answer is obvious.

Micropayments will not work for news. Why not?

  • I don’t believe there is a market — News is one of those things that I think macropayments make a lot more sense for. There are certain news outlets that I value a lot more than others. I suspect I’m not alone. The issue isn’t that people aren’t willing to pay for news-related products, but rather the issue is that it will be tough to get people to pay for a product that has been free for years. How about we try creating new products that have never been free? My guess is that we’ll have much better luck selling people on these. Instead of trying to sell micropayments of throw-away stories, why don’t we try to create macropayment products that add value to our ad-supported content?
  • Transaction costs — Yes, Apple makes money off of micro transactions on the iTunes store and does sell songs for $0.69-1.29. First, there is a huge difference between selling a song for 99 cents and selling an article for 3 cents. And that’s assuming that an individual article is worth 3 cents (many articles I’d say have zero value, while others are worth a bit more than 3 cents). But beyond that there is something journalists have to realize; Apple wasn’t making money off of 99 cent transactions. Credit card fees can easily be 25 cents a transaction. Add in giving labels more than half, bandwidth, etc and that doesn’t leave profit. That’s why Apple begun bundling transactions and billing people less often. If I bill you weekly, I’m much more likely to make a profit than if I bill you daily. Also, Apple’s iTunes store sells more lucrative content than individual songs: movies, applications and even complete albums (in fact, Apple and music labels would much rather you buy full albums). Beyond that, Apple makes monster margins off of the iPod and iPhone. Apple doesn’t need to make money off of the iTunes Store, but if it does, well that’s just gravy. Without a physical device like an iPod to carry profits, how exactly are micropayments going to work for news organizations?
  • It can’t be piecemeal — Let’s assume that micropayements are A) going to happen and that B) people would be receptive to them. Even if I were down with micropayments, I wouldn’t be down with a different micropayment system for each news site. If I can’t have one account that follows me around the Web, it’s no dice. There is no way in hell that I am going to register and put my credit card info in at every single news site that I visit. I’d only agree to this if a trusted third party (perhaps Google) created a system that kept me logged in while I was surfing the Web. When I came to a piece of content that I wanted to purchase, I could easily do so. No fuss, one bill.
  • It would have to be effortless — The beauty of the iPhone is how effortless it makes it to buy applications and songs. If the buying process were a big ordeal that required me to type in my address, credit card info, etc, I’d almost never use my iPhone to purchase content. But I do. Why? Because it’s effortless. The same thing with Amazon.com’s 1-click buying. It’s just a great shopping experience. Which begs the question: When have news organizations ever had great consumer experiences? Have you seen there online classifieds lately? It’s embarrassing.
  • In sum — I think micropayments are a bad idea because A) consumers don’t want them, B) they present serious technological hurdles and C) I don’t trust news organizations to roll out effortless systems.

Bringing engagement to an old, one-way medium

This is a cross post from BeatBlogging.Org. I thought the post may be more relevant here:

I want to share with you a project I’ve been working on, and why I think it illustrates how engagement and interaction are coming to all old medium platforms.

Since earlier this year I have been helping best-selling thriller author Joseph Finder with his social media strategy for his new book Vanished and the book’s main character, Nick HellerHeller is on Twitter and Facebook (Facebook is an experiment that we just launched this week, while we have been using Twitter for months). But he’s not just tweeting lines from the book or providing a Twitter novelization, but rather Heller’s Twitter account is a complimentary experience to the book that is centered around engagement.

I believe that within a generation it will be expected that characters like Heller will interact with users. The days of one-way experiences are coming to an end. Think of the generation after mine that has grown up with both the Internet and social networks. Do you really think they content with the same products that my grand parents loved? Doubtful.

We really wanted to create an experience for people:

  • We interact on social media — If you tweet something worthwhile at Heller, he’ll tweet back at you, in character. Want to know some back story about him? Just ask. Want to ask questions about the case he is working on right now? Just ask. Heller responds to DMs and @replies. He also retweets interesting tweets. There was no point in putting Heller on Twitter if we were going to treat Twitter like it was a book.
  • Blurring the lines between reality and fiction — We wanted to create a social media experience that made people believe that Heller was a real person, even if they already knew he was a character (and that the stories of corruption that he discusses could be real). First, Heller is always in character, but he acts like a character in the real world, not a character in a distant novel. Heller might be tweeting about a current investigation that he is working on about an AIG-style firm that involves some misplaced funds and possible corruption. Heller will then tweet links to real news stories about companies that did the same thing. Or if Heller is talking about looking over CCTV footage to find out what happened to someone, he’ll then tweet about how many CCTVs there are in DC, American, the world, etc.
  • Additional content – Heller has additional fictional narratives that aren’t in the book that he tweets and talks about. We decided early on that we had to offer additional fictional content on Twitter. We always try to tie these side narratives to either current events or events in the past. This way we can link to news stories and provide facts and figures that help us blur the lines between reality and fiction.
  • Creating a great experience even if you’re not a fan — You don’t have to be a fan of Joseph Finder, Nick Heller or Vanished to get value out of Heller’s Twitter feed (or know of any of those). We link to and discuss interesting stories involving politics, political corruption, espionage, corporate espionage, information technology and general stupidity. If you just want awesome links and witty takes on the news and world, Heller is an account worth following.
  • Photos, why not? – We have a treasure trove of research photos for this book that we’ll be incorporating into the Twitter feed. Vanished takes place mostly in DC and the surrounding suburbs. All the events in the book either take place at real DC locations or are modeled after real locations. In addition, we’ve used smartphone pics and TwitPic for side narratives too. It’s all about creating an immersive experience.
  • It’s an experiment – We would be the first to admit that sticking a fictional character on Twitter is an experiment, and it may not be a success (although it is low risk). The book isn’t out yet, so it’s hard to determine the success (Nick Heller will be appearing in a four book series over the next four years). Our goal is to provide a complimentary product that serves fans of the book, while also keeping interest up in between books.
  • Social media is here to stay — I don’t know if Twitter and Facebook or any of the other current social networks will be around in 10 years, but I do know that the idea that media should be social is here to stay. People like interactivity and smart journalists, musicians, movie stars, book authors, characters in books and movies, etc will grok that.
  • If Heller can do it, so can journalists — Journalism and social media go together so well. If people on Twitter are enjoying Heller on Twitter, I certainly think people will enjoy journalists on Twitter. Our research at BeatBlogging.Org indicates that journalists can get a lot of value out of social media. The best advice is to go where your audience is, and people are flocking to social media.

Here are some sample tweets of Nick’s that show the range of what he tweets about:

A response to a question about Heller’s life:

I’m a private spy, @Battleborne. No kids or wife. Not sure if I’ll ever settle down. Too busy with work, investigating firms, politicians…

Book based

Got a phone call from my Nephew Gabe. My brother is missing. His wife is in the hospital with a concussion.

Political corruption

Non-shocker of the day: Louisiana ex-congressman William Jefferson convicted of bribery in freezer cash case:http://bit.ly/creOQ

Helping out servicemembers (Heller is ex-military, so he’ll tweet military-related tweets and links for people)

Crafty? @OpGratitude needs #handmade scarves for holiday care packages–sent with LOVE to deployed #military#knit#crochet #fleece #SOT

ATM news (Heller requently tweets about the lack of safety at ATMs)

Apparenty arming an ATM with pepper spray is a really bad idea: http://bit.ly/bhB58

The WTF?

High Fructose Corn Syrup, just like sugar, with an extra bit of Mercury thrown in for extra goodness: http://bit.ly/J1Sah

I encourage you to follow Nick Heller on Twitter (@NickHeller) and give me feedback. I’d love to hear what you think.

The limits of cloud-based services

My Internet connection has been anything but “Comcastic” the last few days. I’ve been treated to frequent outages, slowness and, in general, a horrible experience. (Maybe Comcastic means craptastic?) Yesterday was even worse when my power went out for three hours while I was trying to work.

Both of these issues point to two inherent limitations with cloud-based services (software and storage that reside on the Internet, not on your hard drive). I use Gmail for e-mail, Google Docs for writing documents, DropBox for backing up my files, etc.

Well, when your Internet is not working and your power is out, cloud-based services don’t work. I was unable to write anything yesterday because I couldn’t access Google Docs. (While I could write in offline mode, I needed the Internet to get to my notes and files that I needed for my work. I also have a nasty habit of keeping some notes in my e-mail.) And while I could check my e-mail on my iPhone, I was unable to do any heavy duty e-mail writing, especially e-mails that contained attachments.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cloud storage and cloud applications. It allows me to work from any computer with a modern Web browser and an Internet connection. If one of my computers breaks, I can simply switch to another and continue working. My fortunes aren’t tied to a single machine.

But when the Internet is wonky or the power is out, local storage starts to look really good. I’ll have to work on a better solution that allows me to work better when I’m not online.

Thoughts on AP’s quest to crack down on Internet sharing

The AP is planning on encasing its content in a DRM-like “wrapper” to ensure that their content and headlines aren’t used without their consent — and without payment.

Being paid for your work sounds like a good idea. But the AP is going further than ever before with its copyright claims over its content, and blatantly ignoring Fair Use:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.” The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

The AP either has never heard of the Fair Use Doctrine or openly opposes it. I’m betting on the latter. Now, it’s important to note that Fair Use is a defense, not a right and it doesn’t explicitly spell out anything about word counts, headlines, links, etc.

But from the people I have talked to, headlines and links fall under current definitions of Fair Use. The question then is this: Is the AP gearing up for a court battle? If they implement this policy they will find themselves in court by at least the EFF and probably many more.

Some more thoughts:

  1. I hope the AP didn’t spend too much time or money developing this DRM-like “wrapper” — Hackers will quickly break whatever copy protection AP devises, and I’m not sure how many member newspapers will join in anyway. Beyond that, I’m not convinced this wrapper will survive legal challenges. This could have been a giant waste of time and money.
  2. This wrapper better not harm user experience – DRM always works like this: It never stops people who really want to steal or break the law, but it almost always hinders law abiding, paying customers. Will this extra layer of code eat up CPU cycles and RAM, bring computers to a halt and not even work on some machines? My guess is that this negatively impacts law abiding users. User experiences matter.
  3. People may simply stop using AP content — If AP content is to become inherently un-Web friendly (unsharable, which is how the Web works), wouldn’t it stand to reason that people will simply use other content instead? I like sharing links. If the AP wants to stop me from doing that — and by extension, sending traffic their way — I’ll read and link to other content. There is nothing the AP does that is that unique that I can’t live without the AP.
  4. Not everyone at the AP thinks this is a good strategy — From what I can gather from people I know at the AP, not everyone is on board with this strategy of fighting how the Web works. The AP feels like a disjointed company. Some clearly don’t get the Web and dislike it, while others at the company are developing kick-ass Web and mobile apps. The AP has one of the premiere news apps on the iPhone, and yet other people at the AP dislike the Web. I can only imagine the division decisions like these are creating.
  5. Maybe the AP wants a court challenge — Fair Use remains a murky concept on the Internet, and a lot has changed with the fortunes of traditional news publishers. Even though I don’t think a court challenge would go the AP’s way, if they received a more favorable view of Fair Use handed down by the courts, it might be a game changer.