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Posts from the ‘Apple’ Category

Build a Resilient Modern Home Storage & Backup Solution

I’ll admit it, but my home network tends to push the edges of what consumer technology wants to support.  Two months ago, I had one of those terrible technology events that forces you to rethink your entire network: my Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ failed in a disasterous way, causing me to lose my entire iTunes Library.

As a result, I embarked on a process to rethink my storage and backup solutions for my household, which in this modern age of iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs, and countless media devices has become fairly complex.  Since the solution that I settled on required quite a bit of research, experimenting and simplification, I’m hoping some readers will find it interesting.

Call it: “Adam’s Home Storage Solution, Fall 2011 Edition”.

Overview: Network Design Diagram

You can see above the relevant elements of my home network topology.  It’s anchored to the internet via AT&T UVerse, which provides a 24Mbps down, 5Mbps up service over VDSL.  The router for my home network is plugged into an 8-port Gigabit switch, which is effectively the backbone for the entire house.  As part of the process of revisiting my network, I discovered that historically I had used a mish-mash of old Ethernet cables, some Cat 5, some Cat 5e, and it was affecting some connections.  A quick trip to Fry’s ensured that, for just a few dollars, I had Cat 6 cables for all Gigabit devices.  (This turned out to be important, particularly for connections to my iMac, wireless base station, and NAS box).

Basic Storage Topology

While my network supports a wide variety of clients, the backbone of my solutions is very Apple-centric.  As a result, my solution is optimized for the following decisions:

  • My media store is based on iTunes
  • My primary server is an iMac running Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
  • My on premise backup solution is Time Machine

I was able to simplify my storage needs for the network as follows:

  • The iMac uses the built-in 256 GB Solid State drive for the system & applications
  • The iMac uses the built-in 2 TB standard drive for local storage of most media (downloads, documents, pictures)
  • The iMac uses a 4 TB Seagate GoFlex External USB 3.0 drive for the iTunes library
  • The iMac and all other Macs in the house use Time Machine to backup to the Synology DS1511+, which has 8.3 TB usable space.

The Synology DS1511+ has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, which allows for particularly good performance when multiple machines are trying to read / write to it at the same time.  Configuring the box to support Time Machine for multiple clients is not obvious, but I’ll write up a separate blog post on that issue.

Overall, the performance of this solution is excellent.  iTunes performance from the Seagate is excellent, both for the primary machine as well as for remote devices utilizing Home Sharing to access media (like the AppleTVs).  We are able to run video off this solution to all 3 AppleTV devices simultaneously with no issues.  Copying a 250MB file to the Synology box takes approximately 2 seconds, and it offers no measurable delay in terms of Time Machine incremental backups, viewing, and restoration.  The entire initial backup of 4.05 TB via Time Machine to the Synology box took approximately 26 hours.

Backup Solutions

Let’s not forget that the impetus for this entire redesign was the tragic and unnecessary demise of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+, causing massive data loss.  Without belaboring the point, I hope that no one who reads this will ever make the mistake of buying a Netgear ReadyNAS.

That being said, it did lead me to significantly reconsider a multi-tier solution for document protection.

I would have loved to go purely with a cloud-based solution, but the performance is just not there yet for multi-terabyte systems.  Not only does it take an inordinate amount of time to upload terabytes to the cloud, but in the case of data loss, recovering the data would be equally slow.  Uploading 400+ GB to the cloud took me approximately 40 days… 4 TB would have taken over a year!

As a result, I factored my content into what I absolutely could not live without.  I settled on my 450 GB of photos and home movies that would be devastating if lost.  For $90, I subscribed to Crashplan Pro, which offers unlimited storage and came highly recommended by everyone.

As a result, for this crucial data, I have 3 levels of protection:

  • Primary storage
  • Secondary backup via Time Machine to Synology RAID can tolerate up to 2 disk failures simultaneously
  • Tertiary off site backup to CrashPlan

For the rest of my data, I have a fairly robust solution, but I’m considering storing 4 TB drive offsite somewhere periodically to add that “tertiary” level of security / safety.

Final Thoughts

The above solution may seem like overkill to some.  OK, probably to most.  However, you can simplify the solution above based on your needs.  For example, if you have only 200 GB of data to protect, maybe CrashPlan is the right “set and forget” solution for your network.  Maybe the 4 TB Seagate drive is sufficient for your Time Machine needs.

For those of you interested in the Synology box, I plan to write up a follow-on post on how to configure the Synology DS1511+ for Time Machine on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

Final Solution: Quicken 2007 & Mac OS X Lion

In July I wrote a blog post about a proposed solution for running Quicken 2007 with Mac OS X Lion (10.7).

Unfortunately, that solution didn’t actually work for me.  A few weeks ago, I made the leap to Lion, and experimented with a number of different solutions on how to successfully run Quicken 2007.  I finally come up with one that works incredibly well for me, so I thought I’d share it here for the small number of people out there who can’t imagine life without Quicken for Mac.  (BTW If you read the comments on that first blog post, you’ll see I’m not alone.)

Failure: Snow Leopard on VMware Fusion 4.0

There are quite a few blog posts and discussion boards on the web that explain how to hack VMware Fusion to run Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.  Unfortunately, I found that none of them were stable over time.

While you can hack some of the configuration files within the virtual image package to “trick” the machine into loading Mac OS X 10.6, it ends up resetting almost every time you quit the virtual machine.  I was hoping that VMware Fusion 4.0 would remove this limitation, since Apple now allows virtualization of Mac OS X 10.7, but apparently they are still enforcing the ban on virtualizing Snow Leopard.  (Personally, I believe VMware should have made this check easy to disable, so that expert users could “take the licensing risk” while not offending Apple.  But I digress.)

You can virtualize Snow Leopard Server, but if you try to buy a used copy on eBay, it’s still almost $200.00.  Added to the $75.00 for VMware Fusion, and all of a sudden you have a very expensive solution.  Worse, VM performance is surprisingly bad for a Mac running on top of a Mac.  In the end, I gave up on this path.

Enter the Headless Mac Mini

For the longest time, you couldn’t actually run a Mac as a headless server.  By headless, I mean without a display.  It used to be that if you tried to boot a Mac without a display plugged in, it would stop in the middle of the boot process.

I’m happy to report that you can, in fact, now run a Mac Mini headless.

Here is what I did:

  • I commandeered a 2007-era Mac Mini from my grandmother. (It’s not a bad as it sounds – I upgraded her to a new iMac in the process.)
  • I did a clean install of Mac OS Snow Leopard 10.6, and then applied all updates to get to a clean 10.6.8
  • I installed Quicken 2007, and applied the R2 & R3 updates
  • I configured the machine to support file sharing and screen sharing, turned off the 802.11 network, turned off bluetooth, and to wake from sleep from Ethernet.  I also configured it to auto-reboot if there is a power outage or crash.
  • I then plugged it in to just power & gigabit ethernet, hiding it cleverly under my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station.  It’s exactly the same size, so it now just looks like I have a fatter base station.

I call the machine “Quicken Mac”, and it lives on my network.  Anytime I want to run Quicken 2007, I just use screen sharing from Lion to connect to “Quicken-Mac.local”, and I’m up and running.   Once connected on screen sharing, I configured the display preferences of the mac to 1650×1080, giving me a large window to run Quicken.

I keep my actual Quicken file on my Mac OS X Lion machine, so it’s backed up with Time Machine, etc.  Quicken Mac just mounts my document folder directly so it can access the file.

Quicken: End Game

This solution may seem like quite a bit of effort, but the truth is after the initial setup, everything has worked without a hitch.  I’m hoping that once Intuit upgrades Quicken Essentials for the Mac to handle investments properly, I’ll be able to sell the Mac Mini on eBay, making it effectively a low cost solution.

For the time being, this solution works.  Mac OS X 10.7 Lion & Quicken 2007.  It can be done.

 

Steve Jobs, BMW & eBay

There have been so many articles posted on Steve Jobs in the past week, I really thought I wasn’t going to add one here on my blog.

However, yesterday, John Lilly wrote a great piece on Steve Jobs yesterday, and I realized I might have a story worth telling after all.  I find myself fortunate, in retrospect, to have joined Apple in 1996 as an intern, and then full time in 1997 just weeks before Steve Jobs took the helm as interim CEO.

A Tale of Two Meetings

As an outgoing intern of the Advanced Technology Group, I actually did attend the meeting that John describes in his blog post.  However, as a full time engineer on WebObjects, I also had the opportunity to attend a different all hands that Steve Jobs called for the entire Rhapsody team (the codename of the project that became Mac OS X).

If you haven’t read John’s post, it’s definitely worth reading in tandem with this one.  He does a great job capturing the insights from the ATG meeting.  Instead, let me add to the story with my recollection of the Rhapsody meeting that happened the same week.

(Note: It has been over fourteen years since the meeting, so don’t take this as a literal play-by-play.  I have no notes, so all quotes are from memory.  But this is how I remember it.)

The “Michael Dell” Meeting

The mood of the Rhapsody team meeting was energetic, but mixed.  More than any other group at Apple, the Rhapsody team required a combination of talent from both long time Apple engineers and newly merged NeXT engineers.  There was a palpable sense of excitement in the room, as particularly the NeXT team had a huge amount of respect for the “incoming administration”.  At the same time, there was an element of discontent around suddenly finding themselves part of a large company, and even some skepticism that Apple was salvageable.

Steve got on stage at the front of the room in Infinite Loop 4, and put a huge, larger than life picture of Michael Dell on the wall.  He repeated the news fodder that Michael Dell had been asked recently what he would do if he was running Apple Computer.  (At the time, Dell was the ultimate success story in the PC industry.)  Dell said that he would liquidate the company and return the cash to shareholders.

A few gasps, a few jeers and some general murmuring in the audience.  But I don’t think they expected what he said next.

And you know what? He’s right.

The world doesn’t need another Dell or HP.  It doesn’t need another manufacturer of plain, beige, boring PCs.  If that’s all we’re going to do, then we should really pack up now.

But we’re lucky, because Apple has a purpose.  Unlike anyone in the industry, people want us to make products that they love.  In fact, more than love.  Our job is to make products that people lust for.  That’s what Apple is meant to be.

What’s BMW’s market share of the auto market?  Does anyone know?  Well, it’s less than 2%, but no one cares.  Why?  Because either you drive a BMW or you stare at the new one driving by.  If we do our job, we’ll make products that people lust after, and no one will care about our market share.

Apple is a start-up.  Granted, it’s a startup with $6B in revenue, but that can and will go in an instant.  If you are here for a cushy 9-to-5 job, then that’s OK, but you should go.  We’re going to make sure everyone has stock options, and that they are oriented towards the long term.  If you need a big salary and bonus, then that’s OK, but you should go.  This isn’t going to be that place.  There are plenty of companies like that in the Valley.  This is going to be hard work, possibly the hardest you’ve ever done.  But if we do it right, it’s going to be worth it.

He then clicked through to a giant bullseye overlayed on Michael Dell’s face.

I don’t care what Michael Dell thinks.  If we do our job, he’ll be wrong.  Let’s prove him wrong.

All I can remember is thinking: “Wow. Now that’s how you regroup, refocus and set a company in motion.”  I had seen speeches by Gil Amelio in 1996, and there was nothing comparable.  Please remember, at this point in time it wasn’t at all obvious that Steve or Apple would actually succeed. But I felt like I’d witnessed a little piece of history.

Fast Forward: eBay 2006

That meeting left a huge impression on me that extended well beyond Apple.  Steve’s actions and words at Apple in 1997 represented the absolute best in leadership for a turnaround situation.

It wasn’t until 2006, however, that I found myself at another large technology company looking to rediscover itself.  In the summer of 2006, I was one of a relatively small number of product leaders to tour a draft of a new initiative at eBay called “eBay 3.0″.  Led by the marketing team, a small, strong team had done a lot of research on what made eBay different, and what people wanted from the eBay brand.  The answer was that eBay was fun, full of serendipity, emotion, thrill.  The competition of auctions, the surprise at discovering something you didn’t know existed.  This reduced into a strong pitch for eBay as “colorful commerce”.

I was excited about the research and the work, because it echoed some of the things I remembered about Steve & Apple, and the simple vision he had for a company that made products that people lusted for.  But I also remember voicing a strong concern to several members of the team.  I told them about Steve’s speech to the Rhapsody team, and asked: “Does eBay want BMW market share, or Toyota market share?”  At the time, eBay was more than 20% of all e-commerce, and all plans oriented towards growing that market share.

Unfortunately, eBay tried to do both with the same product.

It’s not typical for a large, successful public company to basically say market share doesn’t matter, and to drive a company purely around a simple focus and vision.  When things are the toughest, unfortunately, that’s when leadership and vision matter the most.

Final Thoughts

Who would have imagined that Apple would have the largest market capitalization in the world?  Who would have thought that in the year 2011 that Apple – not Microsoft, not Dell, not Sony – would be defining the market for so many digital devices and services?

Most importantly, who would have thought that a leadership mandate that eschewed market share would achieve such dramatic gains?

Apple so easily could have gone the way of SGI, the way of Sun.  Instead, it literally shapes the future of the industry.  All because in 1997 Steve was able to offer a simple and compelling reason for Apple to exist.  A purpose.  And it’s a purpose that managed to aggregate some of the most talented people in the world to do some of their best work.  Again and again.

So I will add here a simple thank you to Steve Jobs for that meeting, and for changing the way that I think about every company’s purpose – their reason to exist.  Rest in Peace, Steve.

Bug in iPhoto 11 with iCal Import for Calendars

This is one of those simple blog posts where I write about a frustrating problem, and how I worked around it.

The Culprit

iPhoto 11 and it’s Calendar feature.

The Issue

When you try to import iCal dates into a Calendar, it frustratingly deletes events if they “collide” on the same date.

Example

Let’s say you have two iCal calendars, one for your family birthdays and events, and one for your friends birthdays and events.  Let’s also say that your brother is born on April 11th, and your friend is born on April 11th.

When you import both iCal calendars into iPhoto, only one of the birthday events will show up.  This does not happen if both birthdays are in the same calendar – only if they are in two different calendars.

What’s worse is that this also affects the native support for holidays.  So any friends or family born on July 4th are definitely out of luck.

Solution / Workaround

It’s not perfect, but here is my solution:

  1. Uncheck the holidays checkbox on the calendar import.  This gets you one “clean” calendar import that won’t hit the bug.
  2. Go to iCal and export each of the calendars that you want to add to your iPhoto calendar.
  3. In iCal, create a new calendar called “2012 iPhoto Calendar” or something like that.
  4. In iCal, import each of the calendars you exported, in the order you want them to appear.  Add them to the new “2012 iPhoto Calendar” calendar.
  5. Once you are done, quit iPhoto.  It only detects iCal changes at launch.
  6. Launch iPhoto
  7. Import the new iCal calendar “2012 iPhoto Calendar”.  All your dates will appear, in the order you combined them.

Hope this helps someone out there.  For my rather elaborate family calendar efforts (which involve five separate family calendars of birthdays, anniversaries, and key dates), this was an essential fix.

Proposed Solution: Quicken 2007 & Mac OS X Lion

Right away, you should know something about me.  I am a die-hard Quicken user.  I’ve been using Quicken on the Mac since 1994, which happens to be the point in time where I decided that controlling my personal finances was fundamentally important.  In fact, one of my most popular blog posts is about how to hack in and fix a rather arcane (but common) issue with Quicken 2007.

So it pains me to write this blog post, because the situation with Quicken for the Mac has become extremely dire.  Intuit has really backed themselves into a corner, and not surprisingly, Apple has no interest in bailing them out.  However, since I love the Mac, and I love Quicken, I’m desperately looking for a way out of this problem.

Problem: Mac OS X Lion (10.7) is imminent

Yesterday, I got this email from Intuit:

It links to this blog post on the Intuit site.  The options are not pretty:

  1. You can switch to Quicken Essentials for Mac.  It’s a great new application written from the ground up.  In their words, “this option is ideal if you do not track investment transactions and history, use online bill pay or rely on specific reports that might not be present in Quicken Essentials for Mac.” Um, sorry, who in their right mind doesn’t want to track “investment transactions”?  Turns out, at tax time, knowing the details of what you bought, at what price, and when are kind of important.  At least, the IRS thinks so.  And they can put you in jail and take everything you own.  So I’m going with them on this one.  No dice.
  2. You can switch to Mint.  I love Mint, and I’ve been using it for years.  But once again, “This option is ideal if maintaining your transaction history is not important to you.”  Yeesh.  For me, Mint is something I use in addition to Quicken.  Unfortunately, Mint is basically blind to anything it can’t integrate with online.  Which includes my 401k, for example.
  3. You can switch to Quicken for Windows.  Seriously? 1999 called and they want their advice back.  Switch to Windows?  Intuit would get a better response here if they just sent Mac users a picture of a huge middle finger.  By the way, to add insult to injury:  “You can easily convert your Quicken Mac data with the exception of Investment transaction history. You will need to either re-download your investment transactions or manually enter them.”

This is an epic disaster.  I’m not sure how many people are actually affected.  But the Trojan War involved tens of thousands of troops, so I’m going with Homer’s definition of “Epic”.

What’s the Problem?

There are really three issues at play here:

  1. Strike 1. Around 2000, Intuit made the mistake of abandoning the Mac.  Hey, they thought it was the prudent thing to do then.  After all, Apple was dying.  (The bar talk between Adobe & Intuit on this mistake must be really fun a few drinks into the evening.)  Whoops.  This led Intuit to massively under-invest in their Mac codebase, yielding a monstrosity that apparently no one in their right mind wants to touch.  From everything I hear, Quicken 2007 for the Mac might as well be written in Fortran and require punch cards to compile.  Untouchable.  Untouchable, unfortunately, means unfixable.
  2. Strike 2. Sometime in the past few years, someone decided that Quicken Essentials for the Mac didn’t need to track investment transactions properly.  I’ve spent more than a decade in software product management, so I have compassion for how hard that decision must have been.  But in the end, it was a very expensive decision, and even if it was necessary, it should have mandated a fast follow with that capability.  It’s a bizarre miss given that tracking investment transactions is a basic tax requirement.  (See note on the IRS above)
  3. Strike 3Apple announces the move from PowerPC chips to Intel chips in June 2005.  Yes, that’s *six* years ago.  Fast forward to June 2011, and Apple announces that their latest operating system, Mac OS X Lion, will not support the backwards compatibility software to allow PowerPC applications to run on Intel Macs.

Uh oh.

This is Intuit’s Fault.

With all due respect to my good friends at Intuit, this problem is really Intuit’s fault.  Intuit had six years to make this migration, and to be honest, Apple is rarely the type of company to support long transitions like this.  You are talking about the company that killed floppy drives almost immediately in favor of USB in 2000, with no warning.  They dropped support for Mac OS Classic in just a few years.  It’s not like Apple was going back to PowerPC.

If you examine the three strikes, you see that Intuit made a couple of tactical & strategic mistakes here.  But in the end, they called several plays wrong, and now they are vulnerable.

Intuit would argue that Apple could still ship Rosetta on Mac OS X Lion.  Or maybe they could license Rosetta to Intuit to bundle with Quicken 2007.

Apple’s not going to do it.  They want to simplify the operating system (brutally).  They want to push software developers to new code, new user experience, and best-in-class applications.  They do not want to create zombie applications that necessitate bug-for-bug fixes over the long term.  Microsoft did too much of this with Windows over the past two decades, and it definitely held them back at an operating system level.

A Proposed Solution: VMware to the rescue

I believe there is a possible solution.  Apple has announced that Mac OS X Lion will include a change to the terms of service to allow for virtualization.  If this is true, this reflects a fundamental shift in Apple’s attitude toward this technology.

The answer:

  • Custom “headless” install of Mac OS X 10.6.8, stripped to just support the launch of Quicken 2007.
  • Quicken 2007 R4 installed / configured to run at launch
  • Distribution as VMware image

OK, this solution isn’t perfect, but it is plausible.  Many system utilities are distributed with stripped, headless versions of Mac OS X.  In fact, Apple’s install disks for Mac OS X have been built this way.  A VMware image allows Intuit to configure & test a standard release package, and ensure it works.  They can distribute new images as necessary.

The cost of VMware Fusion for the Mac is non trivial, but actually roughly the same price as a new version of Quicken.  I’m guessing that Intuit & VMware might be able to work out a deal here, especially since Intuit would be promoting VMware to a large number of Mac users, and even subsidizing it’s adoption.

Will Apple Allow It?

This is always the $64,000 question, but theoretically, this feels like really not much of a give on Apple’s part.  They are changing the virtualization terms for Mac OS X Lion, so why not change them for Snow Leopard to0.

Can We Fix It? 

I’m a daily VMware Fusion user, which is how I use both Windows & Mac operating systems on my MacBook Pro.  If Intuit can’t work this out, I just might try to hack this solution myself.

In the end, I’m a loyal Intuit customer.  I buy TurboTax every year, and I use Quicken every week.  So I’m hoping we can all find a path here.

Feel free to comment if you have ideas.

 

 

Home Network Wireless Topology: Fixed

I think I’ve finally found a wireless network topology that works at my house.   It took a bit more equipment than I think should have been necessary, but in the end, it was a small price to pay for having my increasing array of network-dependent devices running smoothly.

Since my guess is that there are a few other suckers like me out there trying to get this to work, I’ll share my final solution.

Problem

Until recently, my home network was plagued by the following issues:

  • AppleTV in the living room would fail to stream, seamingly due to lost connections
  • Tivo HD in living room would periodically complain of being unable to connect to network
  • Nintendo Wii was shockingly slow connecting to network
  • Tivo HD in bedroom would be unable to play video from other room
  • AppleTV in bedroom would periodically fail to stream

Now, it’s not like the above happened all the time.  I never had a problem with an iPhone / iPad / Windows laptop / MacBook connecting to the network.  It was largely restricted to my video devices.  Unfortunately, it was infrequent enough that I could believe everything was configured correctly, but often enough that deep down, I felt like there were Gremlins in the building.

The Solution

The culprit turned out to be a circa-2008 Airport Extreme that I was using to drive my 802.11N network from the office.  It turns out, the older Airport Extreme can handle either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz frequencies, but not both simultaneously.  Since the iPhone / iPod uses 2.4Ghz, for compatibility you are effectively stuck at 2.4Ghz.   In addition, my office is literally at one corner of my house from the bedroom.  Not ideal, spatially, for the hub of my network.  The living room is more centrally located.

I began to suspect that the number of wireless devices that I owned had crossed some threshold, and the amount of interference and cross-talk was leading to unpredictable behavior.

As a solution, I purchased a newer Airport Extreme base station, with dual-band support.   However, instead of replacing the old base station, I added it to the living room as a network extension of the existing wireless network.  In order to do this, you need to do the following:

  • Open up the “Airport Utility” in the  “Utilities” folder in “Applications” (on Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard)
  • Click the “Manual Setup” button in the bottom left, to configure the base station
  • Select “Extend a wireless network” under the “Wireless” tab

It’s a little tricky, but there is no option to extend a network under the default set-up flow.

This provided three benefits:

  • All the devices in the living room are now connected via Ethernet to the Airport Extreme base station.  Significantly less chatter on the network.
  • The newer devices in the house are now seamlessly connecting via 5Ghz when they can to the Living Room base station
  • The bedroom devices are selecting the living room base station instead of the office due to signal strength.

Basically, there is a fairly constant 2.4GHz wireless “pipe” between the Living Room base station and the Office base station, and devices through the house are auto-selecting to the best connection.  The living room is aggregating the traffic over it’s ethernet switch and wireless endpoints, and then piping to my office network when necessary.

In the office, my iMac (which is my iTunes server) is connected via a Gigabit Switch to the Airport base station, the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, and the AT&T Uverse Router.

I’m assuming that the bridging implementation between the two Airport Extreme base stations is extremely efficient – more efficient than having a large number of device independently competing for access to the base station in the Office.

I’ve already noticed now that the new AppleTV 2 devices are extremely happy with this setup, and I get 720P HD streaming in both the living room and the bedroom from the iMac with only a few seconds of buffering.  Hopefully, this should prove a durable and performant topology for 2011.

Steve Jobs is The Mule. Is There a Second Foundation?

This blog post could have been titled “We don’t live in the universe of maximum probability“, but that didn’t sound quite as exciting.

This weekend, I was having a friendly debate with a close friend about the state of the open web, when the now typical issue rose up: Apple, it’s support of native applications, and the resulting impact on the web.  I immediately thought about the fact that, in the 1990s, we would have never have dreamed of the technology landscape of 2010 — a landscape where Apple was the dominant force in mobile computing.  A world where we would see a massive resurgence and interest in client applications (yes, that’s what those pretty iPhone and Android apps are).  A world where Apple was the most valuable technology company in the world.

Then it hit me.  The parallel to one of the best science fiction stories of all time.  In fact, it’s the story that led to the name of this blog.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Asimov’s Foundation is based on the future history of the Galaxy, when a lone scientist, Hari Seldon, invents a new science called “Psychohistory“, that allows him to predict the future.  This science allows him to project that the Galactic Empire will crumble and bring about 30,000 years of dark ages.  Instead, he develops a plan to create a “Foundation” to preserve knowledge, and reduce the period of regression to a mere 1000 years.  Unfortunately, his plan is disrupted by an unpredicted complication.

Check out this synopsis from wikipedia, and see if it sounds familiar:

The Mule is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series.[1] One of the greatest conquerors the galaxy has ever seen, he is a mentalic who has the ability to reach into the minds of others and “adjust” their emotions, individually or en masse, using this capability to forcibly enlist them to his cause. Individuals who have their emotions adjusted behave otherwise normally, with their logic, memories and personality intact; even if they are aware of the manipulation, they are unable to desire to resist it. This gives the Mule the capacity to disrupt Seldon’s plan by invalidating Seldon’s assumption that no single individual could have a measurable effect on galactic socio-historical trends on their own, due to the plan relying on the predictability of action of very large numbers of people.

Tell me that doesn’t sound like Steve Jobs.  You can read the full article here.

Just replace:

  • “Steve Jobs” for “The Mule”
  • “Apple” for “The Union of Worlds”
  • “The Open Web” for “Seldon’s Plan”

And I think you have a fair approximation of what’s happened in the last five years.

One of the hottest debates in mobile right now is whether to focus on the mobile web or native applications.  Ironically, Apple is the one who started this debate, since they were the first company to launch a phone with a truly modern web browser (Mobile Safari), and then proceeded to launch a simple, accessible native application platform on top of it.

In all seriousness, the reason that the native applications on the iPhone (and iPod / iPad) are such a viable threat is due to the fact that they are working.  When I say working, I mean that any company who takes their mobile web property, and then deploys a native iPhone application, tends to see a significant boost in their engagement metrics.  Apple has solved a distribution and engagement problem for mobile applications at an unprecedented scale, and it shows in the numbers.  Metrics usually speak louder than philosophy when making tactical decisions, which is why you see the incredible investment and interest in native applications for iOS devices.

In the story, the Mule is defeated by the Second Foundation, and rendered harmless and without ambition.  He dies without a successor, hence the name “The Mule”.

I think the question we should all be asking at this point is, “Is there a Second Foundation?

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