Whence Ocelot?

By Mike / On / In Technology

Out of nowhere, Apple announces OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion, and I must say, right off the bat, that I am disappointed.

No, the feature list is fine. It’s the name that disappoints me. I get that there’s a new pattern with iPhone 3G giving way to iPhone 3GS, and Leopard giving way to Snow Leopard. But Mountain Lion?

Right off the bat, there’s a problem with that name, as “Mountain Lion” (10.8), “Panther” (10.3), and “Puma” (10.1) all refer to the same cat: the common cougar, Puma concolor. It’s bad enough that 3 of the now 9 “big cats” are the same cat, but cougars are not even big cats!

Oh, they’re large, certainly, but the distinction is not actually made based on size, but on laryngeal physiology. The big cats, all members of genus Panthera, roar*. Small cats meow. Mountain Lions are actually the largest of the small cats—a group that notably also includes the oddball Cheetah (10.0).

Of course, if you actually research this, you will find that definition is far from universal. Many people just go by size. It turns out cat taxonomy is a surprisingly messy field. In fact, that whole Linnean classification system you learned in school has been turned on its ear by molecular genetics. But I digress.

I might as well just admit that, back in 10.5 days, I called “Ocelot” as the name for 10.8. That’s a long time to let a bowl of Claim Chowder sit before having to sup on one’s predictions.

*Snow Leopards being the exception. They are large cats and have the physiology to roar, but are apparently too polite to actually do so.

Money Money Making

By Mike / On / In Technology

Maybe it’s the winter chill, or the end of the fiscal year, but it seems like I’m being asked this question a lot: “I’m working on a great app, but it’s going to be a while before it ships, and my savings are running perilously low. What should I do?” As opposed to deeper existential questions like whether to trade in startup life for spending weekends with your kids, this one is easy: do contract work.

You will be in good company. Many is the famous artist who has to work outside their preferred medium to make it through tight times. Many is the painter who has to paint houses to buy art supplies. Many is the actor who has to wear a chicken suit between acting gigs. Many is the novelist who has to write books to buy alcohol.

Don’t try to work on your app part time. Finish your contract, then get back to your baby. With careful budgeting and a simplified life, you can work for someone else for a few weeks to enable working for yourself for a few months. Make no mistake: this is about compromise. You’re not necessarily doing something you love. You have to have patience that the time you are buying will make up for it.

Don’t limit yourself to the popular platforms. You probably want to spend all your time on iOS or Android, but so does everyone else, and competition for contracts is as fierce as on any app store. On the other hand, new platforms like Microsoft Windows Phone are wide open. Don’t discount “old” platforms, either. You might find them boring, but the money spends the same.

The perception of BlackBerry in particular is a potential goldmine. Their market share numbers are in decline, but in real numbers they still have 70 million subscribers, with some 36 million users in EMEA. They’re active in some lucrative markets, like government and enterprise, and surprising to me, are seen in some markets (like the Netherlands!) as the young person’s alternative to the stodgy executive’s iPhone.

Their users have money, their bosses have money, and RIM itself still has a little bit of money, which it’s willing to spend on you. Providers of sparkly platforms have little incentive to treat their developers as well as providers of platforms like BlackBerry.

Look at the upcoming BlackBerry DevCon Europe. Yes, it’s not the most beautiful site in the world, but look past that at the actual numbers. Not only is it a cheap conference at €350 (€250 early bird, although that ends tomorrow), but look at the other stuff on that page.

You get free hardware, which might not be too exciting for a hardcore gearhead like yourself, but don’t think of it that way. Think of it this way: if I’m going to a BlackBerry conference it’s because I want to make money making BlackBerry apps. The hardware ensures I can, which looks suspiciously like someone actually stopped to think of my expectations.

I’m impressed that they have tools inline to help potential attendees plan budgets and convince their bosses of the value of their attendance. That really says something about understanding the experience of someone trying to get to this show. I am even more impressed that they offer a €90 guest pass so you can bring a date to the receptions and parties.

This is RIM ahead of the curve. I am convinced that enabling people to bring their partners to tech conferences is key to increasing diversity in our field. It not only reduces the testosterone and nerdiness levels in the atmosphere, it reduces the potential for the kind of sexist misbehavior that marred last year’s conference season.

A good friend of mine once said something like, RIM is in trouble, but RIM is not stupid. When they come to Appsterdam and tell me they’re betting on App Makers, I realize that he’s right.

“Ask and ye shall receive” bonus: RIM is offering Appsterdammers 50% off admission to BlackBerry DevCon Europe with the promo code DSTET0.

Level Up

By Mike / On / In Technology

If you’re ready to bring your startup to the next level, there has never been a better time to come to Amsterdam. It’s the prelude to a New Golden Age, as dark clouds abroad bring entrepreneurial showers, followed inexorably by incubators and accelerators popping up like mushrooms after the rain.

These are programs that package all the things you need to level up in business, like connections to experienced mentors, opportunities to secure funding, and access to a variety of assets. Being in Amsterdam means building your business in a thriving, well connected city with a skilled and diverse labor pool surrounded by world-class universities.

If your startup involves apps, its a no-brainer. The Appsterdam community is a tangible support benefit for you and your family, as well as your employees and their families. We help you find the people you need, help you make friends, and help you find your way in the city. As curators of the ecosystem, we also help people who help App Makers.

We met the organizers of the Rockstart accelerator at last year’s Startup Weekend Amsterdam, which they also organized. Rockstart is a new accelerator born right here in Amsterdam that offers 6 months of office space and a road-trip to Silicon Valley.

We’ve also gotten to know the founders of the Amsterdam branch of Startup Bootcamp. These guys are a pan-European accelerator (and a Techstars Network Partner) that is also running in Dublin, Copenhagen, and Madrid. In Amsterdam, they are also offering 6 months of housing, 6 months office space in the new Vodafone HQ, and access to the new Vodafone Innovation Lab.

Both teams typify the passion for startups and desire to give back that are required to build something like an accelerator. They seem like good people, our kind of folk. As such, the Appsterdam Foundation will be involved with both programs, as part of our ongoing commitment to training the next generation of App Makers.

Both accelerators are accepting applications now for inaugural programs in the spring. The city will be beautiful then, a spectacle of bicycles, boats, and street cafes, as locals, tourists, and tulips soak up the long day sun. Find inspiration in our museums, find relaxation in our parks, and find yourself in our Amsterdam, the city at the intersection of creativity and commerce.

Focus on Extortion

By Mike / On / In Technology

If we’re going to be successful in defending our industry from extortionists, we need to focus on extortion. If we spend our energy bickering with each other over our personal agendas, we will fail.

Apple is not a patent troll. Neither is Microsoft. Neither is PixFusion. Patent trolls, by definition, produce nothing but lawsuits. Using the legalized monopoly power of a patent against competitors is how the system is designed to work. Whether that system should exist at all is a separate issue. Whether this company or that company is being a dick is a separate issue.

We are going after one type of behavior: obtaining patents for the sole purpose of extracting licensing fees. That this is a burden to all technologists is something we should all be able to agree on, and is therefore something that we should all be able to work together to change.

If we start equating Apple to Intellectual Ventures, or if we try to eliminate software patents entirely, we are going to find ourselves up against the platform vendors, and we are going to lose. Save those battles for another day.


By Mike / On / In Technology

In my last post I suggested that one opportunity presented by the American Patent War would be for Europe to develop a new app platform that would be out of reach of Silicon Valley’s technology tax.

That got me thinking about what my dream platform would look like. I imagine something that belongs to the community, built and controlled by App Makers themselves. Something that combines the best of existing platforms, but learns from their mistakes, and improves upon them.

Obviously we want the platform to be open, but we also see value in Apple’s strict controls on quality. I think the solution to this is to allow developers to sell directly to users, while also creating an App Shop with strict quality controls to make it easy for users to find the best apps.

Indeed, I think the most powerful tool a platform provider has is its seal of approval. Right now that comes in the form of being featured on the App Store, App Marketplace, or what have you. But that could also just be a seal.

On the hardware side we pretty much just want the iPad. Apple could provide that hardware. The EU could require them to allow third-party operating systems on their hardware. Monkies could fly out of my butt.

As much as I hate to say something like this, Apple doesn’t actually make iPads, as Samsung has demonstrated. We either commission a really nice piece of hardware, or we just make the thing hardware agnostic, using strict specifications to stay out of fractured hell.

I’m sure a lot of people will fixate on the hardware. I’m not trying to start a flame war here, but I don’t think hardware is the biggest issue. Look at the success of the Game Boy over the superior Game Gear, Lynx, and others. The platform that wins is the platform that has the apps.

How do we program the thing? Ideally we don’t choose one language, but make it easy to expand to any language, perhaps by compiling to a common meta-language, such as C. That way the nerds don’t have to fight over their favorites.

That would also make the Europad the ideal platform for exploring new programming paradigms, like graphical programming for kids—what Smalltalk and Cocoa could have been.

Tell me about your dream platform.