Ever know someone who got laid off or otherwise had an involuntary job change mid to late in their career and ended up feeling re-energized and renewed at their next job? Happened to my dad, thanks to Newt Gingrich becoming Speaker of the House, but that’s another story. It’s that time for New York Times tech reporter John Markoff, who appears to have been covering the industry for so long that he can’t see which way is up. For example, his piece today about mid-sized laptops is so lifeless and dreary you’d think he wrote it under duress. And, not surprisingly, he completely misses the real point: it’s the operating system, stupid.
I don’t think it’s a big mystery why mid-sized laptops running various versions of Microsoft Windows haven’t taken off. Microsoft Windows was designed for bigger screens and makes all kinds of assumptions about its interaction with the user that depend on that set up. The most groundbreaking aspect of the iPhone isn’t the size or the touch screen or anything but the operating system which does away with tiny icons, the need for a mouse, the file finder and many other stalwarts of desktop computing. And if you think about it, the Blackberry is also a device that succeeds because the designers spent a lot of time thinking about what features best served email-addicted office workers on the go.
Far too many small or “mid-sized” computers break down when you start trying to get work done on a tiny-size Windows desktop with micro-sized icons, the multi-menu sprouting start menu and so on. But there’s little discussion of operating systems or software at all in today’s Markoff piece.
Further evidence of Markoff’s irrelevance? As I sit writing this post at almost 3 p.m. on Sunday, the piece isn’t listed on Techmeme and a Google blog search turns up only five links, three of which are spam farms and the other two are just link lists with little discussion.
And the writing is weird and obtuse. Markoff proposes dubbing the mid-sized portable category the “iMoleskin.” What the heck? Sounds like a new form of skin cancer. And Markoff doesn’t even stick with it, suddenly switching back to Alan Kay’s smoother “dynabook” tag later in the piece. In two different places, we get Markoff explaining why he thought mid-sized computers would succeed. Isn’t one time more than enough? And we also get a passive-voiced, backwards criticism of the Kindle. I won’t repeat that debate here, but check out prior coverage on this blog. Time for a change at the Times!