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What is the Radix?

The age of the mobile.


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Does anyone go back that far?

Twenty-some years ago? When people saw Microsoft's world crumbling - at least the programmers and techies and power users?

When ILOVEYOU hit? And caused an estimated $5.5 billion dollars damage? When Microsoft, who got the blame for the disaster, calmly and cooly told people 'please don't open email attachments'?

When - even as today - webmail is limited by constraints inflicted by Microsoft 'technology'?

When spam started to take over the world? When, at several points in time, it was estimated that over 90% of all Internet traffic was spam?

When Code Red hit? Code Red, an attack on Microsoft's IIS web server OS, that probed the Internet looking for likely targets to further infect?

When the leaders of the highly lucrative Windows anti-virus industry met for a big bash in Canada to celebrate their good fortune with the Code Red disaster?

Windows: based on MS-DOS at the lowest level, even with Dave Cutler's 'NT'. So that executables can't be protected. So, yes, they can be infected?

When the Anna K worm hit? When an academic created an ILOVEYOU knockoff just to remind sluggish people that forgetting the dangers wasn't going to make them go away?

But of course most of that's been replaced today by the mobile. And possibly with counterparts, to some extent.

The Alternatives

The world looked for alternatives. Thomas Greene at The Register moved his whole family to SuSE. Mark Ward's colleagues at the BBC wrote about migrating to yet another Unix 'flavour'. Unix was essentially secure, Windows not at all. Unix, in any flavour, could be 'hardened'. Windows didn't have security even as an afterthought.

BSD architect Bill Joy was flabbergasted that Microsoft could put something so open and flaky on the Big Bad Web without a thought for security. People were waking up to the dangers.

Mudge produced a paper on how one made viruses, injected Intel shell code. Things weren't looking too rosy. L0pht Industries told the US Congress they could bring down the entire Internet in half an hour.

Back in 1996, Apple just about collapsed, Michael Dell famously advising what should be done with Cupertino stock.

Apple's in-house 'secure' 32-bit OS project is a failure. BeOS is entertained, then dropped - too costly, says interim CEO Amelio, who'd shut down all production until quality improved.



Steve Jobs has ears in the building. Redwood City approaches Steve's home town. By the end of the year, the 'merger' is a fact. Avie and Jon follow along - then famously quit Apple, several years later, on the same day. Nexties flood the campus. Maccies are miffed - and they're still writing PASCAL code that looks more like Common Business-Oriented Language.

Steve's new company NeXT created a brilliant albeit somewhat unorthodox approach to software development. Most importantly, NeXT uses an underbody of FreeBSD, an open-source offshoot of Bill Joy's original project.

And, in a deft switcheroo, Steve gets to replace Amelio by July of the following year, and becomes new interim CEO for a nominal $1.

Apple initially promises (hints) that cross-platform support will still be available for NeXTSTEP programmers. As it was important their software could run on Windows, where all the action and money were. This 'come on' is gradually 'disappeared' in the years leading up to the new millennium.

Simultaneously, Apple took the suddenly profitable NeXTSTEP and, after losing their major league NeXT clients who were sceptical of the merger, began dismantling the entire interface, to build it back up again - to make it more 'Mac-like'.

Books pointed out - with emphasis - that this new Apple system wasn't the old 'MacOS', but a new-fangled thing called 'Unix', despite the curious name given to its kernel. But nobody listened. On the one hand, the HI group wanted a smooth transition for legacy Mac users. On the other hand, voices in management expressed a lack of interest in the legacy users, applauding instead the 'switchers' coming over from Windows.

Microsoft really blew it, trying to find just one single solitary soul - just one, just one - who'd been on the Mac and then gone back to Windows. They couldn't find one, so they faked it.

Rob Malda and his friends at /. got gifted with Macs (as had Teh Linus) and proclaimed that Apple's OS was 'the missing piece of the puzzle'.

A seemingly soft-spoken dude from Virginia Tech traveled all the way to Cupertino to inspect Apple's universally praised server hardware, then flew back home and placed a monster order that immediately put Apple in the 'top ten' of all supercomputers in the world.

Times were good. And, with PowerPC instruction sets and not the easily utilised x86 instruction set, standard attacks simply didn't work on the Mac. The Mac was getting faster, was safe, secure, and had even been called a 'chick magnet'.

The development environment, with Project Builder and Interface Builder, was unequivocally brilliant, although buggy, prompting indies to ask Apple to please release the source code so the bugs could be fixed. But Apple never acquiesced.

Jaguar was the first 'real' release. The spinning beach ball was mostly gone. Things were still rudimentary and rather nice, acceptable. Changes weren't yet made merely for the sake of change. And Internet Explorer was still the default system web browser.

The Emigration

Despite self-inflicted market limitations, Apple's new OS still created a stir mostly noticed by, yes, techies and programmers and power users. The FBI openly recommended the new platform as 'secure out of the box'. Apple followed a few years later with their 'Mac vs PC' advert campaign with Justin Long. Online activity and general correspondence followed the trend seen back in the early days of the 'web revolution': the 'avant-garde' came first in both cases.

Things went up, things went down. Network admins liked Panther 10.3. Tiger 10.4 started to act a bit wobbly. It would later emerge that Apple had begun work on their mobile phone project.

The Dumbphone

The Dumbphone, more commonly called the Smartphone, is a brilliant technological achievement. Not only is it in itself absolute sheer brilliance, but the way Steve Jobs moved mountains to entirely transform the telco sector is the stuff of legend. Jobs needed to find a willing partner: a carrier that would let Apple, and not the carrier, determine the topology of the mobile device itself. The telcos were in control of all that - and people got what the telcos allowed. And, using 'perceptive pixel' technology, something they to this day will not utilise on their computer lineup, they eliminated the hardware keyboard, the traditional interface, and turned everything topsy-turvy, into a tailspin. Other OS and hardware providers caught up fast, but Apple kept a sizeable portion of the market, albeit without dominating.

But the new gadget, a true 'smartphone', turns out to have been a dumbphone in disguise. This is the device bungling computer users had always wanted. An ordinary personal computer OS, even an Apple OS, was still a bit too 'daunting' for them. Ordinary users - Internet communicators - needed only point their fingers and thumbs, make 'gestures', and, as Hank the Forest Ranger quipped prophetically years earlier:

'Someday soon, that hallmark of homo sapiens, the opposable thumb, will be regulated to the pressing of pixels on computing screens and the dropping of coins into slots.'

Now-classic photographs of students sitting in a museum beneath a famous painting, but not taking in the art around, only the screens of their mobile devices. Children were once taught that the family dinner was a necessary social event where books and other solitary distractions were not allowed. Today, all the minors in the household will bring their dumbphones to the table. Couples laying in bed at night, where normally they'd talk, and cuddle, and make love, and just plain love: today they're isolated and insulated from one another, playing with their iPhones instead. More and more voices are heard today, voices claiming that 'dumbphones' do indeed have a 'dumbing' effect on society, that people can't and don't read as before, and aren't even capable of reading like that anymore. Claims are heard now that these admittedly brilliant devices are turning their billion or more devotees into emotional and social idiots.

The entire atmosphere itself has changed. People aren't curious about technology anymore - they have all they need at their fingertips. They don't think about it. The computing device is, at long last, an appliance and no more. 'Computing' today is a passive experience. Dumphones give people exactly what they always wanted - yet something is wrong, very wrong.

No longer is there a quest to actually learn anything. Mobile apps aren't designed and created on the mobile devices themselves. The actual computers used to create these applications are used only to create the software - they're a tool rather than a door into a new and fascinating world. Software development has become drudgery, and technology per se has stagnated. Eveyone today knows Windows is shite, and we should be using something else on our desks and laps. Google already adopted a policy to not allow use of Microsoft Windows inside the company unless by specific dispensation. Germany strongly recommended avoiding Microsoft products. Several other nations follow suit. Some create their own alternative OSes.

But how often are computers - small desktop and laptop devices, not 'big iron' - actually used outside the workplace?

Somehow this all has to go forward. But how is not all that clear.

The Radix

So what is the Radix? That question wouldn't have needed to be asked twenty years ago. Today, no one will know, and even fewer will care.

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