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Category Archive: technology

Visualizing the Sourceforge Download Data

Author Amy Vernon wrote an interesting piece showing the change in download volume by platform over time at Sourceforge. Sourceforge is in an envious position from a data perspective. Few sites have as high a download volume for such a wide variety of projects. I thought it would be fun to put together some additional visualizations of the data. I started with some Excel charts, but user warpdude over at Hacker News turned me on to the idea of using the Google Visualization API. Just a couple of quick changes to the source of his example, and we have a set of interesting graphs showing the same time-series data.

Update: Rich Bowen provided an insight via Twitter that much of the “other” data is from update services and non-browser requests. Hello, curl. We’re looking at you!

Update 2: Have a look in the comments for an update from Rich Bowen further addressing the concerns regarding ‘other’.

Graph preview image

Bash one-liner: Copy current working directory to clipboard in OS X

I frequently find myself in need of copying the path to my current working directory. Under OS X, you can pipe the output of any command to the clipboard using the pbcopy and pbpaste (see man pbcopy). Easy enough with pwd | pbcopy, but you end up with a newline. No problem, tr to the rescue.

pwd | tr -d '\n' | pbcopy
^[1]  ^[2]   ^[3]  ^[4]
  1. pwd prints the working directory; pwd outputs a newline, which isn’t very handy if you need to paste this elsewhere, and especially unhelpful in a shell
  2. tr is short for translate characters (think find/replace); normally it takes two arguments, but passing the -d flag deletes the string passed as an argument from the stdin
  3. \n is the escape sequence for newlines; the character we want to get rid of
  4. pbcopy is the OS X bash clipboard tool; see also: xclip or xsel for X-Windows environments

Use man <command> for more details about any of the above.

I’ve added the following as a bash alias so I can call this one quickly:

alias cpwd="pwd | tr -d '\n' | pbcopy"

Easy!

Backup: The same rules apply

It appears that Backify, a popular remote backup service offering a free plan, has cancelled all free accounts. Backify was a reseller of LiveDrive, the company that actually owns the infrastructure and software. Ivo Flipse broke the news on his Google+ page early this morning. If it sounds too good to be true… There’s no such thing as a free lunch… Ok, ok, I’ll stop. This is, undoubtedly, a jarring experience for the many users of Backify’s service. The lesson learned is that even in today’s world of offloaded complexity brought to you by software as a service, the same rules apply. Caveat emptor, and all that jazz.

This is a good time to take a step back and look at your backup strategy. I’ve read plenty of write-ups on backup strategies that involve copious amounts of drive shuffling and user maintenance, but the truth is that most of us don’t take the time for these tasks. After all, we all have plenty of other housekeeping duties like taking out the trash and cleaning the litter box. You do love cats, right? Where do you think all these cat pictures come from? Swapping out backup drives isn’t something I want to do, so I’m pretty sure you don’t want to either. Here’s my “no touch” backup strategy.

A good backup strategy meets the following criteria:

  • Creates multiple copies of your data – what if one fails?
  • Keeps these copies in separate geographical locations – what if you have a fire or flood?
  • Works without your involvement – I’ll be the first to admin, I’m lazy.
  • Runs quickly and frequently – what good is a backup if you lose everything you’re working on?

Before we go any further, let me address the question I get most frequently: Do I need a backup? I won’t answer it directly. I’ll let the over 42 million Google results speak for themselves.

Let’s talk about costs for a moment. The Backify situation underscores an excellent point. Things are often worth exactly what you pay for them. When thinking about your backup strategy, ask yourself this question: “If someone took my computer from me today, how much would I pay to get it back?” If your answer is “Nothing, I’d just go buy another one.” Stop reading here and go enjoy your carefree, zero-attachment life. No cynicism implied. Seriously, go back to what you were doing, and drink a cold one for those of us trudging away at our daily tasks. If you’re like me, your heart rate increased a little while asking that question. I’d pay large sums of money to get my computer back. If someone said, “I’ll give it back for $250,” I’d be elated. A good backup strategy is worth paying for.

This leads me to unveil the two paid services I use, as well as the one free one:

But Brad, the two paid services above only cost $150/year? You said $250! The extra $100 is because you’ll need to purchase a backup hard drive for use with TimeMachine, or Windows backup, err whatever. I recommend an external in the 2.5″ size (the smaller of the two available), because they don’t require an external power supply. You’ll need one that is at least as large as your computer’s hard drive. Larger is better, as TimeMachine will store multiple versions of your files if it finds the space. This is handy when you realize you accidentally deleted three crucial paragraphs from your proposal during editing. TimeMachine will let you recover a previous version.

Here’s how these services tie in to the “good backup strategy” I outlined above:

Create multiple copies

TimeMachine, Backblaze, and Dropbox all create separate copies of the files.

Keeps these copies in separate geographical locations

TimeMachine backs up to the external disk on your desk. Backblaze backs up to their data center. Dropbox backs up to their data center, and in my case, to the other iMac sitting in my office, so it’s both local and remote.

Works without your involvement

Outside of archiving to the Documents folder when my Dropbox folder gets full, the backup process is hands-off. I use DaisyDisk for Mac and WinDirStat for Windows to identify large folders.

Runs quickly and frequently

Because I leave the external drive plugged in all the time, and TimeMachine only copies new and changed files, it runs very quickly. Backblaze has to upload files, so if I create a large file, it can take a while to update. It is recommended that you exclude extremely large files from your Backblaze backup, but you do this at your own risk. Dropbox, because it can sync over my network, backs up very quickly to the iMac on Angel’s desk in my office. It also uploads quickly thanks to my Comcast connection’s fast 3 mbps upload.

The really great part about this backup strategy is that it’s dead simple to set up. Each of these applications has a very simple installer that only takes a few steps to get running. When you couple that with the four points of solid backup strategy, I’m not sure I can do much better without a lot more effort.

So what’s your backup strategy? See any ways I could improve my plan? Tell me about it.

When Apple IDs attack

This blog post was originally going to chronicle the saga of my attempts to recover my primary email address as my Apple ID (ok, so it still kinda does), but this morning, I finally received a definitive answer as to why I cannot use my primary email address – the one I’ve been using for the last 11 years – as any email associated with my Apple ID or iCloud. This sounds like my problem, but it’s not just me. Unfortunately for most, they don’t have a blog or any place to talk about this other than the Apple discussion forums, where many will assume the complainers just don’t know what they’re doing. Well I do know what I’m doing, and gosh-darnit I’m going to tell you about it.

This isn’t going to be short. Unfortunately, Apple IDs are complex, and my adventure had lots of twists and turns. I’ve tried to simplify it, but it’s still pretty long and boring. Skip ahead to the “tl;dr start here” if you want to cut to the chase.

First, some housekeeping. Rather than put my email out here for all the spammers to pick up, let’s just say that my primary email is: [email protected]

I’ve been using [email protected] as my Apple ID for as long as I can remember. The email [email protected] pre-dates my switch to a Mac as my primary computer some time back in 2003. This means that all my music was purchased under [email protected], as well as all the apps I bought when I bought the very first iPhone… On launch day, I might add.

I’m also a MobileMe user. When I signed up for MobileMe, Apple requested an “alternate email” where I could be reached in case I was unable to access my MobileMe account. No problem! I have an email address, and I know how to use it. I provided [email protected] as my alternate email. This was at least two years ago; I’ve renewed MobileMe twice. MobileMe accepted this email – my primary Apple ID email – without so much as a hiccup.

Fast-forward a couple of years to when iOS 5 came out. I waited a day or two for the iOS 5 dust to settle and upgraded my phone on Friday, October 14th. The upgrade went smoothly up until the point where I downloaded the Find My Friends app, and my MobileMe email popped up in the authentication box. You see, Apple assumes that because you have a MobileMe address, that you’ll want to use this email as your primary email for everything Apple. This includes your Apple ID that is used to purchase items from iTunes, iBooks, Newsstand, etc. That’s a big assumption.

Any time I purchase something with a specific Apple ID, I’m married to that Apple ID for the life of the product; be it music, apps, or any other product sold through Apple. Any time in the future, you’ll need to provide the specific Apple ID and password used to purchase the item in order to “Authorize” your device to play back or read media. Your Apple ID is relevant to your Mac and iOS devices too! When you want support, you have to provide an Apple ID. My point is that your Apple ID is not an insignificant part of your relationship with Apple.

With the introduction of iCloud, your Apple ID takes on a new role. Truthfully, this started back with Game Center. With Game Center, you search for other users by email. The same principle is applied to iCloud. There’s a good write-up over at TiPb on how iMessage works. Basically, your iCloud email is important if you own devices that aren’t an iPhone, and I do. I own an iPad, which I am (well, was) really looking forward to using iMessage on.

tl;dr start here – This is still longer than you’ll enjoy. Sorry.

So what’s the problem, Brad!? Cut to the chase already!

After I installed iOS 5, Apple automagically used my MobileMe email for iCloud. This is not what I want. I want to use my email. When I tried to change the iCloud login to [email protected] on my phone, I received some cryptic message along the lines of “Verification required”. Ok, off to the Google machine for some answers! My searching revealed that I need to verify my Apple ID email.

Wow, that’s strange. I’ve been using this Apple ID for years. How is it possible that I haven’t verified? So I log in at the Apple ID website and attempt to verify my email, but this is where things really begin to go off the rails. I’m not going to go in to the gory details, because you’re already half-comatose, but suffice it to say the Apple ID website did not perform as expected. Button-links didn’t work, data wasn’t saved properly, and at one point, I thought I was permanently locked out of my Apple ID.

After phone and email support sessions spanning ten days and over 15 emails back and forth, iTunes support arrived at this conclusion:

If you provide an email address as an alternate email for a MobileMe account, that email cannot be used as an Apple ID primary email address or alternate.

Yes, we know you’ve actually been using this as your Apple ID for years, but that’s irrelevant. You can’t verify for iCloud with that email, and you can’t change your MobileMe alternate email now because we’re shuttering the product. Sorry bub, you’re out of luck.

So in the process of troubleshooting, the Apple representatives had me change my primary Apple ID email to [email protected], instead of [email protected] I cannot change it back. No one at Apple can change it back. Their suggestion? To submit feedback to MobileMe.

As of today, if you look for me on iCloud or Game Center with the email you have in your address book for me, [email protected], you won’t find me. You have to use [email protected] My Apple ID is the only service on the web where I cannot use my primary email address that has been my home for the last 11 years.

In the words of the internet: Apple, I am disappoint.

An introduction to Rack

If you write much Ruby, you’ve definitely encountered Rack. For users of frameworks like Rails and Sinatra, Rack can easily be relegated to the world of “plumbing” down there with the web and app servers; something to be configured and ignored. But that would be a mistake. This intro to Rack provides the most straightforward explanation of Rack I’ve seen. Every concept from the bottom up is discussed with clear code examples. If you write web applications using Ruby, you owe it to yourself to brush up on your Rack knowledge.

From RubyLearning.com and Satish Talim: A Quick Introduction to Rack

Stop thinking iPad killer

Amazon announced their new tablet product today, the Kindle Fire. In my last post, I outlined how I thought Amazon was going to “pull an Apple“. Today, I’m feeling even more confident in that assertion, but not in the way I thought I would. Initially I thought that the Kindle Fire would be a direct strike at the iPad. I don’t get that feeling from the product Amazon launched today.

Apple has more media savvy than many of their hardware competitors like Samsung and HTC. Neither of these competitors have meaningful media marketplaces in consumers’ hands. Apple has the iTMS, iBooks, and App Store, which cumulatively offer consumers access to a wide variety of content. Interestingly, some media bleeds over to and from places you wouldn’t expect it. For example, I get my magazine subscriptions through Zinio, which is downloaded through the App Store, and in turn, my content is downloaded in-app. I expected magazines to be available through iBooks, and speculation on the internet makes it seem that others do too. To further complicate matters, some magazines are available as an “app” in the App Store.

If I knew nothing about Apple’s distribution channels, that discovery would require a not-insignificant amount of exploration. Yet thus far, Apple has actually lead the pack in terms of application quality and discoverability. I attribute much of the iPad’s success to its simplicity and the draw of its many apps.

Step back and look at Amazon’s offering. Simplicity is taken to the next level. All content comes from Amazon and is logically categorized. Movies, TV shows, magazines, books; they’re all right where you’d expect them. There’s no interstitial abstraction of a store, with the exception of apps. Even there, the naming is about as straight forward as you can get. Content is front and center on the Kindle Fire.

So how exactly is this different than the “Apple” maneuver I thought they were going to pull. When you compare the Kindle Fire to the iPad… Well, you can’t. The Kindle Fire isn’t an iPad. It doesn’t try to be. With the iPad, you’re aware of the platform you’re using. There are elements that make you aware that you’re using an Apple iOS device. All iOS devices come with a suite of apps for general productivity. Compared to the Kindle Fire, the iPad is a generalist device. The Kindle Fire is laser focused on consumers that want a device to access content. Amazon has commoditized the platform. They don’t call this device an Android tablet, because they don’t want people thinking about the OS. They want them focused on the 18 million (HELLO!) pieces of content they have access to.

Some of you are screaming at your computer right now, because when the iPad initially launched, geeks everywhere cried out in desperation over the fact that it wasn’t able to run desktop applications like Photoshop and their favorite code editor. The Kindle Fire takes this focus one step further, and you can expect every geek who is just now adjusting to the iPad to scream about what’s lacking in the Kindle Fire. The iPad has taught us that sometimes it’s a worthwhile exercise to ignore the “experts” and see what the consumer has to say.

I don’t know if the Kindle Fire will match the iPad in sales numbers. I don’t even know that it will work well. The hardware could be a let down, resulting in a laggy, uncomfortable user experience. What I do know is that Amazon just pulled an Apple. Rather than go after an existing market, they just created their own.

Amazon is about to pull an Apple

So, MG Siegler says an Amazon tablet is coming, and that he’s used it. Meanwhile, HackerNews is caught up in a lengthy discussion as to whether tablets are consumption devices, and whether or not that’s good for society… or something. Elsewhere in the discussion, the tablet is being doomed to failure because Amazon chose to fork Android, risking app compatibility with the plethora of high-quality applications available on the wonderfully organized and widely praised Android Marketplace. Pardon my condescending sarcasm.

Way to miss the point, folks.

I feel like history is repeating itself. I have a feeling that Amazon is about to pull an Apple here, and one of the only communities of people I know who are supposed to be dedicated to looking forward are stuck on a backward-facing philosophical discussion of consumption versus creation. That ship has sailed! Others are failing to see that creating “yet another Android tablet” isn’t the way to distinguish yourself in the market.

Amazon is a unique company. Have a look at the existing players in the tablet market:

Apple

  • At their core, a computing device company
  • Has content distribution relationships (iTunes content partners) for music, movies, and books
  • Powerful infrastructure support (data centers, iCloud)
  • Makes money on the hardware sale, as well as the sale of content

Google

  • A search company
  • Builds a tablet OS, but doesn’t actually sell a tablet
  • Wants customers to spend a lot of time in Google web properties
  • Wants to expand in to media (Google Music) and shopping search to sell more ads

Samsung

  • A consumer electronics company
  • Makes a wide variety of devices, including several tablets
  • Doesn’t have their own tablet OS (relies on Android)

Amazon

  • World’s largest online retailer
  • Has 137 million active customers [1]
  • Has quality content distribution relations for music, movies, books, clothing, electronics, lawn mowers… anything else you can think of
  • Knows how to build a successful hardware platform (Kindle)
  • Highest rated in customer satisfaction [2]

Amazon is unique in their online retail scope and experience with hardware products. Only Apple can come compare, and the focuses are flipped. Apple’s primary focus is hardware, with a strong media distribution backing. Amazon’s primary focus is online retailing, with a strong hardware product. Arguably, their converse efforts are disproportionate. That is to say, I don’t think the Kindle is as strong a corollary to Amazon’s retail business as Apple’s iTunes Store (apps, music, and movies) is to their hardware. Still I don’t think Amazon’s diverse strengths can be easily dismissed. They’re in a better position than both Google and Samsung to challenge the iPad as the dominant product in the tablet space.

If I were on Amazon’s tablet team, I’d try to make the device the center of the mass market consumer’s consumption lifestyle. People clearly love to shop Amazon, so make it easy for them. An Amazon tablet could fulfill the dreams of 1970s futurists who believed that housewives would purchase household products from a screen in their kitchens and living rooms. Amazon is in a unique position to provide a customer experience that spans everything from digital music to purchasing a new lawn chair on a single device through software that is smart and intuitive. This could be the device that actually makes people want to do these things. If they deliver on that, they’ll be in the game.

Footnotes

  1. Google cached page: Inside Amazon
  2. Amazon replaces Netflix at the top of a customer satisfaction survey

Simple wrapper for Ruby scripts running in an RVM environment

Ruby is a fantastic programming language, but I’ve not been all that happy with the community’s viewpoint of the execution environment. Ruby is fast moving, so you often encounter scripts or applications that require specific versions of Ruby. This problem isn’t unique to Ruby, but the solutions the Ruby community offers are.

Typically, versioned interpreters are installed using a convention that works something like this. If Ruby 1.9 and Ruby 1.8 were installed concurrently, the interpreters would be installed using /usr/bin/ruby19 and /usr/bin/ruby18. Scripts that require Ruby would have their shebang altered appropriately. You’d also typically symlink /usr/bin/ruby to your preferred (default) Ruby install.

Ruby eschews this convention. Ruby interpreters that come with many Linux packages use this convention, but most Rubyists will advise you to avoid OS packages because of other issues. As a system administrator, the entire scenario borders on horrifying. I get why Rubyists feel the way they do, but to people on the “other side”, it’s terrifying. Hearing “just install from source” keeps sysadmins up at night.

Enter RVM. Ruby enVironment Manager is a tool for installing and managing Ruby interpreters and RubyGems (Ruby’scripts library package manager). At it’s core, RVM is a collection of bash scripts, written by author Wayne Seguin. It’s an excellent tool, and while it gets some public criticism over methodologies like overriding common shell commands like cd, I’m generally happy with it. I’m one of a growing group of sysadmins who cross over in to the programming side of things, so the power and flexibility of having multiple Ruby interpreters and multiple RubyGems gemsets is has a lot of value to me.

RVM works by altering the execution environment. I won’t go in to details about how to use RVM, but you should be able to glean enough from this simple statement to get some idea of what’s going on:

$ rvm use [email protected]

This tells RVM to “use” (load) the environment for Ruby version 1.9.2, patch level 290, and use the “sprinkle” gemset. A gemset is just a collection of gems that you give a name. This appears to work like magic, but it’s really quite simple. RVM changes a set of environment variables that are relevant to the execution of Ruby and RubyGems. Basically, a bunch of load and execution paths. That’s all.

So where’s this all headed? The beauty of RVM is that it encapsulates Ruby execution environments. The primary drawback of RVM is that it encapsulates Ruby execution environments. How’s that? Take the ruby executable path for example:

/Users/myser/.rvm/rubies/ruby-1.9.2-p290/bin/ruby

Not exactly as friendly as /usr/local/bin/ruby. Fortunately, that’s a solved problem. We have /usr/bin/env to work around that problem. The catch is, env works by searching the current environment. As we know, RVM dynamically loads an environment that works for each Ruby. What happens if RVM is never executed, and why would that be the case?

One example is cron. When you run a cron task, a very minimal environment is loaded. This means that RVM isn’t loaded. The standard solution to this is to source the rvm script prior to execution, but this means including the source line in every cron task, which A) requires that you remember it, and B) adds a lot of visual clutter to the crontab. When you’re reviewing a list of cron tasks looking for something specific, all these source lines make a real mess.

Additionally, if you write shell scripts in Ruby, you may need some scripts to run in Ruby 1.8, while others work in Ruby 1.9. In an interactive session, Ruby shell scripts are executed in the currently loaded environment, so you may not get what you expect. I’d prefer a self contained script that loads an expected interpreter and environment explicitly.

Wayne provides some example code for loading the RVM environment on the scripting page, but stops short of a working script example. I’ve taken the very, very small leap to a working script wrapper. The benefit of this wrapper is that it is portable to any environment where RVM is available at a user or system-wide level. You will, however, have to ensure that the appropriate Ruby and gemset are available. The script looks like this:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# Load RVM into a shell session *as a function*
if [[ -s "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" ]] ; then
  # First try to load from a user install
  source "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm"
elif [[ -s "/usr/local/rvm/scripts/rvm" ]] ; then
  # Then try to load from a root install
  source "/usr/local/rvm/scripts/rvm"
else
  printf "ERROR: An RVM installation was not found.\n"
fi

# Configure ruby and gemset
rvm [email protected]_name &gt;/dev/null

ruby <<-rb
  puts "Hello!"
rb

I’m a jack of all trades, so I’m sure that there are different ideas and methods that may be better than this. I’d love to hear about them! Trackbacks are open on this page, so please comment and let me know what you think.

Dear Comcast: Why are you not crushing Netflix?

First off, no, I will not call you Xfinity. Sorry, but that name is just silly. I won’t use it. But I digress (already).

Why are you not killing Netflix? And by “killing”, I do not mean, “Whining to Congress that Netflix is not regulated and threatens to commoditize your industry.” I mean, why are you not killing them in the market with the absolutely staggering number of advantages you have?

Comcast, you are poised to go vertical in a way that few companies can. Netflix couldn’t dream of going vertical like this.

  • You have a relationship with a huge base of existing customers. You’re one of the few media companies with a subscriber base close to Netflix (who just passed you, btw).
  • You have a large last-mile network based on good technology. Sure, it’s not entirely fiber, but it’s a lot better than what most of the RBOCs are sitting on; and Netflix has zero.
  • With NBC, you have established relationships with all the major content providers. Not just relationships, but leverage!
  • You own the distribution channel from content library, transport, and the end-user hardware. Pst, this is a go to market pathway that others only dream of having.

The problem I have with your service is that the “experience” sucks. Your cable box is a slow, buggy pile of crap. Browsing content on my cable box is only marginally better than the craptastic PPV movie systems in a cheap hotel. The new Xfinity apps for my iOS devices are a huge step up in terms of usability, but I’m not convinced that using my iOS device as a gigantic remote for my television is where I want to be. I don’t want to use the 10” display in my lap when I have a 50” display hanging on the wall. Not to mention, I already have four other remotes. Despite appearances, I’m not really interested in collecting these things.

This is what the Xfinity Mobile experience is like:

  • Pick up my iPad and browse for “On Demand” content
  • Initiate playback from my iPad
  • Switch to the Comcast remote to play/pause, ffwd/rwnd
  • Experience huge lag in response to my control inputs from any of these devices

I’ve measured it, and it can take up to three full seconds for my cable box to respond to inputs from the remote. Three seconds is an eternity in this context. When you compare it to the Netflix app running on my PS3, it’s just flat out embarrassing. Not to mention, with Netflix, I don’t have to keep my iPad around. I can just use the PS3 remote to browse, select, play, and ffwd/rwnd content. And it’s responsive. Have you ever tried to rewind an On Demand movie ten seconds to see something you missed? All too often, the DVR gets stuck on rewind and I’m left sitting there watching the entire movie in reverse… again. Miserable!

Netflix is kicking your ass because using their service is a pleasure. Have you used it? You should! I’ve got really bad news. If I were able to get network programming through Netflix or an Apple TV, you’d be my brand new commodity bandwidth provider. That’s where you’re headed if you don’t shape up.

If you’re sitting in your executive office right now, looking at a feature list and scratching you’re head, you are doing it wrong. I’ll take a product with 3 features that work exceptionally well over 10 features that work like crap any day of the week. Guess what, so will the rest of us. Apple seems to have figured this out, and they’re not exactly struggling to eek out a profit. See also: Apple FY2011 Q2 profits of $5.99 billion.

Comcast, you have only yourselves to blame for this situation. You’re sitting on all the right pieces, and no individual component is a huge weakness. Dedicate yourself to a product that has great content, that’s delivered over a great network, and is accessible on competent hardware with an outstanding interface. Your Xfinity mobile apps are a good start, but pawning the hardware platform off on Apple isn’t the smart choice (for a number of reasons; hint, they’re gunning for your seat at the table). I don’t need another player in my living room. Despite our storied past, I’m willing to put it all behind us. I want you and me, alone, in my living room. Only you can make it happen.

Your pal,
Brad

Apple: Commies!

Wired is running a piece on a bit of drama surrounding the release of iCloud that probably hasn’t appeared on the consumer radar. I don’t expect that it ever will, and for good reason. This is like a janitor feud at the YMCA (sorry janitors). No one cares. The accusation is that the new WiFi sync feature available as part of iCloud is a feature that was “ripped off” from a jailbreak app developer who sells a WiFi sync product in Cydia, the jailbreak web store. Holy cow, I don’t even understand what I just wrote.

Right now, you’re scratching your head wondering if “jailbreak” is some sort of game. Jailbreaking is something you do to your iPhone so you can, among other things, load software that isn’t available (or allowed) in the Apple App Store. You also may not know, and probably don’t care, that Apple takes 30% of every app sale that is sold through the App Store, kind of like Best Buy makes a margin on every product they sell. Some developers are opposed to this kind of thing, so they set out to build their own methods of distributing and installing software. Ironically, this is all coordinated through an “app store” called Cydia, which also takes a cut from developers and has rules for inclusion.

Still awake?

I know this is enough to put any normal person to sleep, but this is all new stuff for app developers. Under the old PC/Mac model developers were responsible for marketing your own software, and providing a means to download, install, and update it. Apple’s vision for iOS (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, etc) is that the software available on their platform should conform to a certain standard and should deliver a uniform user experience. Along those lines, there should be a single, simple mechanism for loading software. This mechanism is the App Store. You use it every time you download a hot new game for $0.99.

Alright, alright, alright, so where’s the drama I promised? Well, there’s an app developer that, long ago, set out to build a piece of software that would allow you to sync your music to your iOS device over WiFi instead of a cable. Yeah, pretty cool idea. I’m sure Apple didn’t really want that as a feature, right? Hrm.

I haven’t used the app in question, so I can’t speak to it’s speed or quality, but when Apple doesn’t deliver a feature, there’s usually a reason for it. Amongst software developers, Apple is known for a development philosophy that spends as much time thinking about what shouldn’t go in to a piece of software, as what should. Apple rejected this WiFi sync app when it was originally submitted to the Apple App Store. This was Apple’s way of saying, “You shouldn’t develop that app.” Probably because they were developing one of their own, but had very specific ideas about how it should work.

For what it’s worth, Apple’s version of “WiFi sync” works a lot differently than the one available for jailbroken devices. Apple’s sync works in conjunction with their free iCloud service, which requires several data centers. Oh, and they cost around $500 million a piece to build. I’m no construction expert, but I’m guessing you don’t drop $500 million data centers over a weekend.

The developer didn’t listen when Apple told him no. He continued to develop the app and started selling it on the unsanctioned Cydia app store, which requires the jailbreaking procedure I mentioned earlier. Bully for him. I hope he made a few bucks. There were certainly enough people who wanted that feature, and wanted it right away, but this whole mess of being surprised when Apple implements WiFi sync is just ridiculous. Apple hasn’t taken any action to shut down the Cydia app store. The jailbreak community is thriving, and outside of locking the device down as best they can, Apple hasn’t taken any direct action to stop it.

The only open question for me was the logo, which Apple also allegedly ripped off from his app. I was a little put out at first, but then I opened my eyes and saw something that should be blindingly obvious to any sighted individual. A good comparison is pictured in the Wired article. Go have a look at it, then check this out.

This is my menu bar. It appears in the upper-right of every computer running OS X, just like the clock and task bar in the lower-right corner of every Windows PC. The two icons that I labeled are relevant here.

Now here’s my menu bar with some hot Photoshop action.

OMG those lazy asses at Apple just mashed up two existing icons rather than creating something new. How dare they!? Oh, wait, they obviously ripped it off from that Cydia-WiFi-Sync-App-guy. Forgot about that.

This whole post was inspired by my reaction to a post over at Hacker News:

But why did they ban them then? Just so they don’t have competition when they do launch it? think Apple’s thought process is a bit like a communist’s. Why allow 3rd parties to build something when we can build it ourselves?

Yes, Apple are communists. Despite the fact that they are A) not a government, and B) no one has ever bought an iPod as a result of coercion. Unless of course you count whining children…

Wait, maybe kids are commies!