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The Great Tech War of 2012
October 18, 2011 5:53 AM   Subscribe

The Great Tech War of 2012: Apple v. Google v. Amazon v. Facebook
posted by OmieWise (98 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Wait wait, stop fighting! I dropped my monocle!"

*Everyone stops slapping each other, holds top hat firmly on head to search Persian rug*
posted by Legomancer at 6:07 AM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's pretty mind-blowing to me that Microsoft isn't on that list. Not because they should be, but because they really shouldn't. It's hard to believe how completely they've abdicated not just their market dominance, but their relevance at all.
posted by mhoye at 6:11 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


To be fair, Microsoft still makes a really terrible OS that a lot of people use.
posted by DU at 6:16 AM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


two advertising syndicates, a metastasized dot.com ipo scam, and a luxury gadget brand duke it out... this tv show sucks.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:16 AM on October 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


To be fair, Microsoft still makes a really terrible OS that a lot of people use.

That used to be true about phones, too.
posted by mhoye at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2011


"Apple is growing like a weed, .."
posted by Flusty at 6:21 AM on October 18, 2011


The four American companies that have come to define 21st-century information technology and entertainment are on the verge of war.

It's not war, it's called competition and it is what there is too little of. Competition is a good thing in a free market economy. It is what makes "free" markets work. (See Wall Street for what happens when you have a lack of competition and collusion between "competitors".)

It's hard to believe how completely they've abdicated not just their market dominance, but their relevance at all.

Not abdication, defeat. The competition ate their lunch and they haven't been able to make a new sandwich. Microsoft are still able to live off white bread, but without anything between the slices they can't go on forever.
posted by three blind mice at 6:23 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's pretty mind-blowing to me that Microsoft isn't on that list. Not because they should be, but because they really shouldn't. It's hard to believe how completely they've abdicated not just their market dominance, but their relevance at all.

I'm not a Microsoft fanboy by any stretch of the imagination here, but removing Microsoft from an examination of potential "innovators" of the next decade is a sign of sloppy analysis, given that for whatever you like or dislike about the company, it still makes one of the three most popular home entertainment systems on the planet that focuses primarily on a market that is now more profitable than Hollywood.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:28 AM on October 18, 2011 [27 favorites]


Inasmuch as 3 of those 4 offer cloud storage services, it may be relevant to note that Box.net is now - for a limited time - offering 50 GB of lifetime free space for people who sign up through an iOS device.

Suddenly iCloud's 5 GB seems rather parsimonious.
posted by Trurl at 6:35 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, and so I find myself rooting for Windows 8 and a tablet experience that isn't crippled (in comparison to my desktop) and a platform that won't be (quite so) eager to sell my information to advertisers.

Huh.
posted by oddman at 6:57 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Microsoft is still as dominant in the desktop OS and Office markets as ever but they can't seem to figure out how to translate that into new markets. Ten years ago they were all set to leverage their monopoly and dominate music, phones and the online world and they managed to fuck all of that up. They had almost a decade of lead time on phones but managed to make such a terrible mobile OS that they never fixed until last year that Apple and Google blew past them easily in the last few years. Likewise, they've been a sad failure in the online world, they've sunk billions into Bing and Hotmail and such and have nothing to show for it. Remember when everyone was terrified that Media Player would dominate the music world? Now even the office and OS stuff is starting to get chipped away in the (alleged) post-PC era.
posted by octothorpe at 7:00 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Microsoft is definitely still in this. They have the technical know-how and the money to keep throwing pancakes at the ceiling for a decade, and one of those pancakes might stick, if they can only figure out how to make something people actually want.

We're going to see a huge fight between Apple and Amazon for content distribution. Neither of them have social network platforms, so it seems likely that one will partner with Facebook, and that will be costly but decisive.

Alliances will be formed between the underdogs, which Google has already done quite successfully in the mobile arena by offering Android as an open platform. Amazon and Microsoft will compete for cloud hosting services. If Google gets into that business, they could dominate, but they haven't shown much interest in renting out virtual machines.

Meanwhile, everyone will continue to use weaponized patents in a war of attrition. This is the equivalent of trying to smother your competitor with a pillow while he sleeps, and it guarantees that no startup can challenge the biggies.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:19 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've wondered for a while if the not-so-secret-sauce Apple, Google and Amazon are making use of (let's forget the "metastasized dot.com ipo scam") is *nix?

Maybe the reason Microsoft can't lead, iterate or develop fast enough is because their software development team is using MS tools/code? I'm not a developer or coder, but I get the impression there's a feedback loop where the others are taking advantage of the strengths of their dev platforms and in-turn, their platforms are informing how they perform?

The 'eat-your-own-dogfood' strategy writ large in actual results?
posted by panaceanot at 7:20 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not to derail, but I'd put good money on Microsoft, either indirectly or through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is doing more than all the "Big Four" combined to make technology accessible to the masses around the world rather than "innovative" to people with significant disposable income. In the long run, that will hopefully become a much bigger deal. I'd rather have more and better connections between everyone than new doodads to remind me about my first-world problems.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:26 AM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


facebook also depends heavily on unix (well, linux). see e.g., this article or this linux kernel module released by facebook.
posted by jepler at 7:26 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems mostly a matter of defining "Tech" as media content delivery. And TBH the big content delivery battle really is Apple Vs. Amazon, those others are just in there to pad the list.

To be fair, Microsoft still makes a really terrible OS that a lot of people use.

Thankfully Vista was never that popular and they've released Win 7 since then.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Facebook, Apple and Amazon offer mostly entertainment vehicles, if they all went away tomorrow the internet would be less convenient for many but would change very little. Now if Google went away tomorrow we'd be back to the hunter/gatherer days on the internet.
posted by any major dude at 7:47 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is only one reason these four companies are fighting so viciously, namely they foresee an opportunity to monopolize some markets. I'd term it anti-compedditive competition.

As mentioned, the most invidious story here is patent warfare, which prevents the real innovation by startups. I'd primarily blame the patent trolls who made the big boys lawyer up myself.

Apple has clearly been the worst about starting patent fights however, presumably due to Steve Jobs ego. I donno if Jobs death will let Apple relent or grant it's legal department free reign.

Microsoft has not gotten deeply involved because their rigid and toxic corporate culture prevents them from pursuing revolutionary ideas. Yet, Microsoft has profited from the fighting by patent trolling the smaller players following Google.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:57 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think analysts tend to overestimate Facebook's relevance. They seem to have forgotten how quickly a social network can crumble once an obviously superior alternative presents itself.

Apple, Google and Amazon all have products or services that at least some people love. Facebook is merely tolerated by its users, and I don't see why they couldn't at least potentially go the way of Friendster, Myspace, et al.
posted by jcreigh at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Maybe the reason Microsoft can't lead, iterate or develop fast enough is because their software development team is using MS tools/code?

Microsoft makes bar none the best development tools in the world. They are light years ahead of anyone else's and even so, nobody cares. Their problem is, and continues to be, a problem at the leadership level. Ballmer and Ozzie have really killed that company's ability to do new things in favor of protracted rear-guard actions protecting the old ones.
posted by mhoye at 8:04 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


Maybe the reason Microsoft can't lead, iterate or develop fast enough is because their software development team is using MS tools/code?

Yeah, no, not really. I'm a *nix developer, and I personally prefer the toolset I'm used to, but Microsoft has a very well-deserved reputation for building great developer tools. Windows has its issues as a platform, but so do the Mac and Linux, and there really aren't meaningful technological barriers to rapid development of awesome stuff for Windows.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:07 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Apple, Google and Amazon all have products or services that at least some people love. Facebook is merely tolerated by its users, and I don't see why they couldn't at least potentially go the way of Friendster, Myspace, et al.

OTOH, Facebook pays attention to the technical details of its platform, and has had a fairly elegant and extensible model (the Graph API) backing its product for a few years. It has moved rapidly into turning its product into merely the public face for a piece of infrastructure, and encouraging others to adopt this infrastructure. (With some success; witness all the Facebook login/create account buttons on entirely unrelated sites.) This should give it some staying power.

Friendster had no infrastructure to speak of, or even any APIs, and MySpace was, technically speaking, an abortion.
posted by acb at 8:10 AM on October 18, 2011


Yeah, no, not really. I'm a *nix developer, and I personally prefer the toolset I'm used to, but Microsoft has a very well-deserved reputation for building great developer tools. Windows has its issues as a platform, but so do the Mac and Linux, and there really aren't meaningful technological barriers to rapid development of awesome stuff for Windows.

The last time I looked at Windows APIs (many years ago, granted), they were a hideous mess, with thousands of API calls, and layers of overgrown complexity. Have they done anything to prune this back to something more manageable?
posted by acb at 8:12 AM on October 18, 2011


After the war, 2014.
posted by chavenet at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there may be some misunderstanding about the battle for digital distribution of media and entertainment. The value of media itself is declining rapidly and I don't think any of these companies are primarily concerned with selling media. Apple uses it to sell very profitable hardware, Google and Facebook use it to sell advertising and Amazon uses it to get people to buy more physical products via Amazon Prime. So, there is a race to control digital distribution, especially because traditional media companies are weak, but I don't think any of these players are assuming that there will be big revenues from selling media (although they're surely happy to get some revenue from it).
posted by snofoam at 8:29 AM on October 18, 2011


Maybe the reason Microsoft can't lead, iterate or develop fast enough is because their software development team is using MS tools/code? I'm not a developer or coder, but I get the impression there's a feedback loop where the others are taking advantage of the strengths of their dev platforms and in-turn, their platforms are informing how they perform?

Not tools. MS' platform cycles have actually become bewilderingly quick; from my vantage point, the preferred premiere web UI experience keeps changing every six months. That's quarter-of-a-project in vendor world.

People are confused about MS of the old days and MS today. The MS of 90's was very focussed on which "wars" it wanted to win. MS at least as of 2004 hasnt been that agile beast; it's a 400-pound gorilla that strikes at everything while it moves along towards its dinner. This has some advantages; it can, and will, play in just about every market, even to the point of "re-booting" its existing products (Silverlight => Win 8 Metro, WinMo => WP7 etc).

The disadvantages aren't immediately obvious, but for those inside the Microsoft bubble (and there is one; one of the largest corporate bubbles out there now, creating islands everywhere from Redmond WA to Gachibowli India), it's super crystal-clear: what was once a very lean organization now has oodles and oodles of politics, factions etc. The only way to get things done, or move features into product releases, is to find a patron-saint of sorts and rise with him/ her. This is a problem, in that teams often work at cross-purposes with each other, to the point of cannibalizing individual products.

All said and done, it seems to be changing: not to go into a deep technical (controversial) discussion, but let me just summarize by saying that the feature-offerings on Win 8 seem to indicate a certain amount of truce between the warring factions. So from MS' perspective, there's still hope. On the downside though, they have a longer term problem: MS is no longer as attractive an option for the brightest as it once was. Apple, Google, Facebook still are, but they will also face problems soon: the biggest attraction now are all these High Frequency Trading firms, where kids fresh from college get paid $400k for playing with algos on production servers. A crude generalization, but that's how I'm seeing things.
posted by the cydonian at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Microsoft's only major loss of territory that I'm aware of has been in the browser wars, where Firefox has pretty much cleaned their clock in every conceivable way short of forcing them to bundle it with Windows. And they matched that with a massive gain in consumer hardware and gaming, i.e. the XBox and XBox 360. The main loss has been the threat of Microsoft - there's no longer this looming idea that they can crush any computer-related market they care to step into. The failures of their mobile platforms have seen to that. They're still a power, but they're also a known quantity.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:32 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Microsoft makes bar none the best development tools in the world.

If you need to click on it, it is barely a development tool for children and definitely not "the best".
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on October 18, 2011


I have no idea what you are talking about.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on October 18, 2011


Now if Google went away tomorrow we'd be back to the hunter/gatherer days on the internet.

Fortunately I'm still pretty adept at stalking the elusive Gopher.
posted by quin at 8:37 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you need to click on it, it is barely a development tool for children and definitely not "the best".

You could not be more wrong about that. Their RAD tools are flat-out amazing, builds-all-the-scaffolding-and-lets-you-get-the-job-done-in-10%-of-the-time amazing. Project-wide point-and-click refactoring is 100% awesome. I encourage you to take a real, terminal-snobbery-free look at this if you think Emacs and GDB or even Eclipse or xCode are the best tools around, because if you need to develop for any Windows platform and you're still using them, you're hamstringing yourself very, very badly.
posted by mhoye at 8:53 AM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


As someone pointed out in another thread, arguing about these tech battles is at least as fun as arguing about sports teams, and has the added avantage that you are also talking/thinking about something that has some real world consequence (other than arbitrarily assigned emotional investment).
posted by memebake at 9:11 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So my take on why this list omits Microsoft is that Microsoft has become an enterprise-focussed company.

Amazon, Facebook, Google & Apple all make consumer products.

But the old guard - Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Dell, HP - they're still around and while they're no longer growing like crazy, they're still behemoths. But they're all beholden to corporate IT departments. This is a huge market and in many ways a much easier market to deal with.

But as others have noted, this completely ignores the Xbox division which is more-or-less profitable (it's not a cash cow like Office, nor is it a massive loser like Bing) and is arguably one of the biggest disruptors of the entertainment industry in the last 20 years.

But even with Xbox, MSFT tends to get lumped in with Oracle and Dell as opposed to the newbies.
posted by GuyZero at 9:14 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the winner is ...

TumblrReddit.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:34 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


if you need to develop for any Windows platform and you're still using them

I think the point of the discussion is that fewer and fewer need to develop for the Windows platform specifically. I've been asked to wade into Windows backend web application development, and it's like wading into wet cement compared to the *nix alternatives.
posted by bendybendy at 9:46 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


...if you need to develop for any Windows platform and you're still using them, you're hamstringing yourself very, very badly.

Agreed.
posted by DU at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2011


Google seems the best positioned of the 4 companies, because of Search, Android, YouTube, and platform independence, but this whole article is pretty much a major industry jerkoff. Where is the real analysis here?

My bet is on Someone Else, fwiw.

Everyone reading this article is a customer of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google, and most probably count on all four.

Honestly, I have used Apples in the past (as a student) and my wife has some Apple products, but I have never owned an Apple product or been an Apple customer (re: itunes or tv or whatever), and I bet that's true for a fair amount of people.

Google and then Facebook must have the biggest market reach, followed by Amazon, then Apple. Anyone know the numbers for unique users of each?

One industry stands directly between the Fab Four and global domination.

Not if we get universal free wi-fi.

I don't think any of these players are assuming that there will be big revenues from selling media

If you define "media" as visual advertising, then yeah they are. We will see ... ;)

arguing about these tech battles is at least as fun as arguing about sports teams

dubious. yes, if you're arguing about something stupid like hall of fame or "best of all time." but otherwise dubious.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2011


Apple is the only one that can make more money than all the rest while having a minority of market share, so it seems a lot less vulnerable to me. If Google, Facebook or Amazon lost the top spot in their respective niches, they would be out of the game.
posted by snofoam at 10:02 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"their rigid and toxic corporate culture prevents them from pursuing revolutionary ideas."

Kinect would seem to indicate otherwise.
posted by oddman at 10:04 AM on October 18, 2011


Anyone know the numbers for unique users of each?

As a rough estimate, there were 200 million Apple IDs tied to credit cards as of March, 2011. Although that surly undercounts by some amount (the iTunes store isn't available in every country, and that's the main reason to have an Apple ID), that's a decent lower bound on the number of unique, regular users of Apple products. Over 300 million iPods have been sold as well as over 200 million iOS devices, but I'm not sure what the total is there since I'm sure those numbers double count iPod Touches. I'm sure there are at least some users of Apple computers that don't own iPods or an iOS device, and some devices are no doubt shared. If I had to guess I'd say there are perhaps 250-350 million users of at least one Apple product.

Facebook claims to have 800 million active users (i.e. logged in within the past 30 days).

Amazon claims to have 144 million active users. But Amazon's reach is limited by the fact that its services are not really available worldwide. The Kindle is expanding that reach (no need for warehouses and a distribution system), but I imagine it's still hampered by rights clearances.

It's hard to define how many users Google has, since it offers a lot of different products. There are over 260 million GMail users. A year ago Google had about a billion internet search users per week. Google+ has some tens of millions of users, but that number is fluctuating a lot. In terms of people who see Google ads, that's well over a billion.
posted by jedicus at 10:13 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why does everything have to be a zero-sum game? Things aren't actually zero-sum games, but boy howdy do we like to pretend they are.
posted by aramaic at 10:44 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think analysts tend to overestimate Facebook's relevance.

Agreed. And this one brings up the idea that some kind of search based around Facebook likes will replace Google search, which I tend to see as the hallmark of pundits who are reaching to paint Facebook as something beyond a social network.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:45 AM on October 18, 2011


facebook is a tech company?
posted by 3mendo at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2011


facebook is a tech company?

What's interesting about these 4 is that unlike their predecessors, they are considered tech companies, but aside from Apple, they don't sell technology.

Amazon is a plain ol' retailer who happens to also have a huge tech infrastructure which they now sublet to others.

Google is a media company that sells ads.

Facebook is... well, they also sort of sell ads, but honestly unlike the other three, they have a lot of users but they just don't make that much money. It's questionable whether they're even profitable (though they probably could be easily). But they have serious datacentre infrastructure that's at least equal to Apple's and close in sophistication to Google's and Amazon's (though probably not in total size).

Even Apple is becoming a retailer, selling music and apps in the same retailer position as Amazon.

But yes, the new wave of tech companies aren't tech companies.
posted by GuyZero at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2011


I really have no idea what Facebook is doing on that list. They've got a popular website, and, um, the single sign in stuff? That's about it really.
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2011


Apple, Google, Facebook still are, but they will also face problems soon: the biggest attraction now are all these High Frequency Trading firms, where kids fresh from college get paid $400k for playing with algos on production servers. A crude generalization, but that's how I'm seeing things.

I think you overestimate the degree to which the best and brightest care about money. Those HFT places have to pay a lot because that's the only way to get skilled programmers to put up with them. The mainstream tech world pays very little attention to them; anyone who moves to New York or wherever is basically isolating themselves from the industry at large.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2011


I really have no idea what Facebook is doing on that list.

Facebook put a huge focus on technology that let them avoid the meltdowns that killed every other preceding social networking site, e.g. SixDegrees, Friendster, MySpace.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on October 18, 2011


"huge focus"
posted by DU at 11:39 AM on October 18, 2011


I wish I knew if I was being mocked for my diction or my underlying point.
posted by GuyZero at 11:58 AM on October 18, 2011


I give Apple and Amazon money in exchange for useful stuff. Google and Facebook give me useful stuff in exchange for my privacy and my eyeballs. I know it's not quite that simple, but right there Google and Facebook start to creep me out.

Google is redeemed a bit by the fact that they make it possible to leave. Apple, Amazon and Google all provide me with stuff I can do without. It'd hurt, but I could replace my Amazon Prime and Google accounts and sell my iWhatevers and not lose anything particularly vital. A bunch of apps and some functionality, sure, but not artifacts of my life.

Facebook's only value to the world, is that they have locked up everyone's lives in a box. No one seems to give a rat's ass that they're literally putting their entire world into that fucking system. Birth announcements and memorials. Baby pictures and family photos. Videos of loved ones who have died. Stuff they probably haven't backed up anywhere. Incredibly ephemeral stuff that seems trivial piece by piece but adds up to a complete portrait of lives. If you've used it for a decade, how will you ever leave the system? Facebook doesn't let you get it data out once it's in there.

If I were properly evil, I'd buy Facebook, let it continue gathering that info for another 10 years, then lock it down and start charging ransom. $10/mo at first, but ratcheting up slowly every year. When people don't pay up, an automated system will generate something really gut wrenching to bring them back...bits and pieces of conversations with their dead moms and photos of them holding their newborn kids. I'll offer financing for those who need it.
posted by pjaust at 12:16 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's your diction. ;)

I really have no idea what Facebook is doing on that list.

Yeah, where's Yahoo?! (Or Excite!)

Facebook ad revenue to surpass Google's in 2011
posted by mrgrimm at 12:18 PM on October 18, 2011


That article is talking only about display ad revenue. Google still generates more cash in a quarter than Facebook takes in in top-line revenue in a year.
posted by GuyZero at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2011


pjaust: Right to access personal information is part of an EU directive that's been implemented by all the member states. I suspect that the morning after you did this, you'd be sued by roughly everyone in Europe, and have to have a long and serious conversation with your lawyer and CFO about liability, and shutting down all operations in Europe and any nation with a decent set of data protection laws.

I'd further give it a month before you managed to get data access laws passed in the US. Seriously the outrage would make occupy wall street look like a goddamn school bake-sale.

I suppose this is the real genius of Facebook. They're evil, but they've always kept the evil at a lower level than the convenience they provide people. Takes some restraint to do that.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:06 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I knew if I was being mocked for my diction or my underlying point.

It's a comment from DU. The direction and content of the mocking may always remain a mystery, but the fact that it contains mocking is a given.
posted by OmieWise at 1:08 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the snark had something to do with huge versus focus, focus being narrow.
posted by snofoam at 1:11 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"One industry stands directly between the Fab Four and global domination."

"mrgrimm: Not if we get universal free wi-fi."

perhaps I'm misunderstanding you there, but I'm [also] wondering where the ISPs come into this. without them, the 'Big 4' are worthless entities of an unreachable galaxy.

from my UK-centric and possibly ignorant position, I wonder why the facilitators of all our ones and zeroes heading back and forth to the "Celebrity Big 4 Cloud" are not making so much news nowadays, or equally leveraging their positions. I guess the plumbing's become invisible now, but we'd be fucked without it.
posted by alan2001 at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2011


I'm [also] wondering where the ISPs come into this

Nationalize 'em!
posted by mrgrimm at 1:49 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google don't recognize any borders; they feel no qualms about marching beyond the walls of tech into retailing, advertising, publishing, movies, TV, communications, and even finance.

Of these four, only Amazon and Apple are significant competitors who innovate in technology. Google and Facebook don't do as much of this, at least successfully, and probably should not be in that article.

Amazon quietly built an infrastructure from the ground up, one that can deliver music, TV shows, movies and books on its hardware and software, and unlike IBM they were able to make computation into a broadly available utility. Their developers are pushing major improvements in efficient and scalable web services that they can sell to third-parties like Target, LL Bean and other retailers. By making these long-term gambles on innovative technology, they can charge a percentage on transactions that they don't even have to handle through their own real-world or digital distribution channels. With their hardware, they can better figure out what people want and sell to those markets. With their own software, they don't have to cede control to third-parties.

Apple built a novel hardware and software platform that invented a new and better class of mobile computing and made listening to music, watching media and reading easy. Their profit margins are the highest in the business, in no small part because they own their retail chain and have the courage to place long-term bets on sourcing components that most of us will use 4-8 years down the road (from something made by Apple, or eventually through a derivative product). Their desktop/portable market share and margins continue to rise, up past 12% from 6% a few years ago, despite lowering their prices and fighting through a weak global economy. Taking into account all iOS users, their share of touch mobile devices is larger than the nearest competitor, and they have hundreds of millions of users who are repeat customers in buying third-party apps and services. They are proof that hardware makers who innovate can move the most units, and make serious cash in the bargain.

Google has a great search engine, but beyond that things don't look that great from the standpoint of technological innovation. The terminology for and design of Google File System are unsurprisingly similar to that of Amazon's S3. Many of its offerings (YouTube, Maps, Picasa, Android) were purchased, not created or at least significantly rebuilt in-house, and according to an independent source, Oracle may have a good case against Google for copying Java. They also copy from Apple, both outright and through its hardware subsidiaries and partners (Samsung is the most notable offender, getting caught repeatedly copying Apple for its mobile products, from product design to screenshots, icons and app widget design). Google+ is largely derivative of Facebook, with some cosmetic policy changes to distinguish the two social networks. Google TV has been unable to get off the ground, despite having a lot of pieces on hand to plug together and a brand that people recognize. They innovate in advertising and make money hand over fist delivering eyeballs to their real customers, but their technology is almost entirely derivative to that end, and, with few notable exceptions, nowhere near as successful with those derivative products. The reality is that people keep using Netflix, Hulu, PayPal, Flickr, iOS, Facebook, etc. to the exclusion of Google's offerings. In a "tech war", Google has already fallen far behind and has only been able to go so far riding on the coattails of others.

A few things that keep Facebook from irrelevance by an upstart are that it was smart enough to make Facebook authentication a part of thousands of partnering websites, that it makes its site compelling for returning users, and that it locks down everything put into it. Like Amazon with its third-party resales, Facebook has so many fingers in so many pies that both customers and users would have a hard time disconnecting. To their credit, they don't seem to have much of a habit of ripping off other companies, and they have been pushing efficient, open hardware development.

Sadly, Microsoft has become a has-been in modern computing. Its only significant success in the last ten years is Xbox360, which was a pyrrhic victory that cost them billions of dollars. Digital delivery exists on the Xbox360, but wasn't leveraged to the extent that it could have. They continue to have a tough time convincing enterprise to upgrade from XP to 7, and while the Windows cash cow keeps chugging along, at some point companies and users are going to migrate as other options (iOS and Android) become easier to integrate. At some point, throwing talent at supporting MS-DOS applications only delivers so much return. MSFT may have the cash to throw at other projects (Windows 8, Metro, etc.) but at some point the shareholders will want to see the company create some value, instead of chase after competitors years after new markets are established. If only they could scrap the past and put their best people on starting over fresh.

Personally, I hope that Apple and Amazon have a spirited, friendly competition. The real "tech war", as such, is probably going to be between those two companies, anyway. Both have the engineers, leadership and vision to drive each other to improve each others technologies and to create new works. From a technologist's viewpoint, seeing them pitch their best stuff year after year has become pretty exciting, and it is much preferable to watching them get ripped off by copycats who don't quite understand what it is that they are copying.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Maybe the reason Microsoft can't lead, iterate or develop fast enough is because their software development team is using MS tools/code?

As others have said, definitely not. I _wish_ I could use Microsoft tools (Visual Studio, etc) in my current job. But those tools really only work for Windows related development. The Unix world has your choice of great editors (emacs, vim) but no good IDEs or related tools (Eclipse is widely regarded as terrible, at least here at Google, and it's probably the best option).

Microsoft still has the best selling laptop/desktop OS/computers, but that market is shrinking.
It has XBox, which is doing great, but beyond that it's going to keep struggling. They need a new success, whether in phones/tablets/appliances, cloud computing, whatever.

Not going to get in to the Google v Amazon v Apple v Facebook war because I have too much personal investment in that.

(Although I will note that Google does a ton of in-house tech development that is rarely seen by the outside world, like in datacenters and internal infrastructure. It's pretty cool, but there's an ongoing question as to how much that will affect others since we don't tend to release it or make it available to non-Google products. It's a huge source of competitive advantage, which I imagine is a large part of the reluctance, not that I make such decisions).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:31 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


The terminology for and design of Google File System are unsurprisingly similar to that of Amazon's S3.

Which makes sense since the first public GFS paper was published in 2003 while S3 was released to the public in 2006.
posted by GuyZero at 4:04 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good catch. I meant to write Google Storage for Developers or Google Cloud Storage, not Google File Storage or Google File System. Thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2011


Ok. But I'm not sure why you think two competing commodity products should use different terminology to describe the exact same thing?
posted by GuyZero at 5:53 PM on October 18, 2011


If you're familiar with AWS S3, its design and interface particulars are unique enough that they are probably not something that would be described as "common" (or a "commodity") in the way you suggest.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:10 PM on October 18, 2011


This [Enterprise] is a huge market and in many ways a much easier market to deal with.

Big understatement, and one of the the underlying flaws of articles with starry-eyed consumer focus like this. It's not just huge, it's way, way more profitable. IBM, for example sold off Thinkpads - even though they were making money - because the profit margin was terrible compared to enterprise, and this holds true for almost all the consumer space - excepting software, sometimes.
posted by smoke at 6:19 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're familiar with AWS S3, its design and interface particulars are unique enough that they are probably not something that would be described as "common" (or a "commodity") in the way you suggest.

I don't see how it's any different from something like SQL.

Google is most decidedly not the first mover in the PaaS or IaaS market. For a transactional, commidity product - storage - why would you create an artificial switching cost by adopting a radically different API and terminology?

Unless you feel that there should only be one cloud storage vendor or that there should be a terribly high switching costs between cloud storage systems this seems to be the reasonable thing to do.

How would it be in developer's/end-user's interests for Google Storage for Developers to be different from S3?
posted by GuyZero at 6:31 PM on October 18, 2011


Unless you feel that there should only be one cloud storage vendor

I don't see how you could possibly get that from what I said, but I don't really feel like arguing about your misinterpretation. My example was pretty clear, typo aside.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:42 PM on October 18, 2011


XQUZYPHYR: "It's pretty mind-blowing to me that Microsoft isn't on that list. Not because they should be, but because they really shouldn't. It's hard to believe how completely they've abdicated not just their market dominance, but their relevance at all.

I'm not a Microsoft fanboy by any stretch of the imagination here, but removing Microsoft from an examination of potential "innovators" of the next decade is a sign of sloppy analysis, given that for whatever you like or dislike about the company, it still makes one of the three most popular home entertainment systems on the planet that focuses primarily on a market that is now more profitable than Hollywood.
"

That's one of the things I keep noticing about the X-box. I never would have bought it -- I won it by accident at a conference Expo (along with a Zune that I cheerfully and swiftly sold on ebay). I'm not much of a gamer and don't buy many games but man is that thing nice. Companies change what they are all the time -- Apple once was strictly a computer company, now that's really a smaller fraction of what they are. IBM hardly sells a single computer anymore.

Only problem is, Microsoft is too big to be just a gaming company, but most of their other offerings just aren't that spectacular. They have an edge on desktop software but that's not really a primo market anymore. They've been putting a lot of effort and work into their server offerings but it's hard to compete when your competitor is open source software -- basically, you have your large businesses who will stick with paid software for legal reasons, but nearly everyone else will just throw MySQL, Apache, and PHP (or any other web application) on the box and call it a day. They've always seemed a couple of years behind when it comes to the Internet.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:17 PM on October 18, 2011


zombieflanders: "Not to derail, but I'd put good money on Microsoft, either indirectly or through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is doing more than all the "Big Four" combined to make technology accessible to the masses around the world rather than "innovative" to people with significant disposable income. In the long run, that will hopefully become a much bigger deal. I'd rather have more and better connections between everyone than new doodads to remind me about my first-world problems."

Just had to jump in on this. First of all, right now without question the most widely use technology, particularly on the "other side" of the digital divide, is mobile phones. And overwhelmingly, that's not Windows technology. After mobile phones, today accessible technology in other countries is web platforms. That's Facebook and Google. Beyond that, outside of the "developed" world I would estimate that a vast majority of machines are operating on pirated versions of Windows. So while they are certainly influenced by Bill Gates in that fashion, Microsoft and the Foundation don't enter into it.

In fact, one thing I actually really like about the Foundation is that they're really not tech-focused at all. For sure they're using tech in what they do, but only as a means, not an ends. Which, I have to say, I think is awesome. If I remember correctly, they do things like focus on really un-hip diseases like malaria, which kills many people but doesn't have the star power of AIDS or cancer. I used to be #1 Mac fanboy, all the way back to the mid 90s when Macs seemed, frankly, doomed. Bill as borg leader seemed totally legit. I have huge, huge respect for the path that Bill Gates has taken since with his Foundation. He seriously could have started some bullshit organization that gave away free Windows licenses to inner city schoolchildren and written off the market value or something as a tax break, but he totally didn't. At this point, he has literally saved people's lives.

But no, Microsoft hasn't done much of anything to connect the masses unless you are going to count the many varied pirated versions of Windows running in pretty much every dusty Internet cafe in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:32 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon Google has a great search engine, but beyond that things don't look that great from the standpoint of technological innovation.

Huh. Gmail, Google Documents, Google Maps, Android, AdWords, significant participation in the research community, massive infrastructure engineering (GFS, BigTable, etc).

Don't judge them just by Google+.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:24 PM on October 18, 2011


If you need to click on it, it is barely a development tool for children and definitely not "the best"

This is a retarded neckbeard statement if there ever was one.
posted by colinshark at 8:40 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Facebook is a killer app for advertisers. No company has the same ability to target an advertising audience.

The only ads I find myself clicking, EVER, are on facebook. They are ridiculously well targeted.

They compete directly with Google for advertising dollars.
posted by colinshark at 8:45 PM on October 18, 2011


t I don't really feel like arguing about your misinterpretation. My example was pretty clear, typo aside.

Believe it or not, I am actually interested in what you think and am not merely trying to win points here.

Let me simplify then: what's wrong with Google copying Amazon's S3 model? Surely this is what developers want - competing services that are sufficiently similar so they can easily switch between them if one has a better price or level of service. Wouldn't the ideal be for Google - or anyone - to simply copy S3's API exactly?
posted by GuyZero at 9:01 PM on October 18, 2011


Yeah, no, not really. I'm a *nix developer, and I personally prefer the toolset I'm used to, but Microsoft has a very well-deserved reputation for building great developer tools. Windows has its issues as a platform, but so do the Mac and Linux, and there really aren't meaningful technological barriers to rapid development of awesome stuff for Windows.

I disagree. Visual Studio is indeed excellent, but the rest of the platform is in the stone age. Server administration and deployment is a pain. There's no package management. Remote administration requires a GUI. What source control do .NET developers use? Are people still using VSS, or is everyone on Mercurial now?

In two commands, I can provision a virtual machine running a test production environment on my laptop. With two different commands, I can provision a machine from a cloud provider and deploy my project there. I think the CLI has massive productivity advantages when it comes to administering machines over using a GUI. PowerShell was late to the party and, correct me if I'm wrong, but it hasn't caught up yet. Having a good IDE is important, but there's much more than that when it comes to making a good development environment.

Also, I think we're starting to really see the returns on open source kick in. In the late 90s, you could pay to get an MCSE or you could download Red Hat and play around. I was in high school and I did the latter. At every stage of my career, in college or in the workforce, I've noticed the Linux-trained around me have been much more productive than those who stuck purely to a Microsoft platform.

It's because we stand on the shoulders of giants. The toolchain that I use on a daily basis has been under continuous development for over 30 years. My text editor is almost as old as I am. No company has remained relevant in technology for that long - only an open platform could have survived and improved this much. It's not as approachable or polished as some of the commercial stuff out there, but it's far more productive and there's a large, well trained group of people out there who know how to use it.

The *nix ecosystem is built around networked collaboration and improvement. The Microsoft stack is built around a company designing something and selling it to you. I think we're reaching the point where the former is the much better platform to build a business on.
posted by heathkit at 9:17 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are over 260 million GMail users.

And, based on my experience as a forum moderator, about 200 million of those are spam accounts.
/hyperbole. But, you get the idea.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:57 AM on October 19, 2011


The last time I looked at Windows APIs (many years ago, granted), they were a hideous mess, with thousands of API calls, and layers of overgrown complexity. Have they done anything to prune this back to something more manageable?

There's actually some interesting goings on in the Windows programming world right now.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on October 19, 2011


Let me simplify then: what's wrong with Google copying Amazon's S3 model?

Technological innovators create new things or improve upon existing technology in a substantial way. They don't copy outright.

If Google's Google Storage for Developers or Google Cloud Storage (apologies to MikeKD and anyone else who was offended by the typo) is copying Amazon S3 without bringing new or improved technology to the table, then they are not innovating.

The idea about who is a technological innovator and why technological innovation is important goes to the thesis of the original FC article, which is presumably what this post is or should be about.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:19 AM on October 20, 2011


So... Apple shouldn't be on the list?

:-)
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on October 20, 2011


The idea about who is a technological innovator and why technological innovation is important

What it doesn't cover is what innovation is and to some extent it repeats a rather simplistic viewpoint that innovation is novelty, that is, inventing something "new". There are numerous models of innovation that all go into much greater depth whether it's customer-centric vs product vs operational innovation or longer lists subdividing innovation into 10 or more sub-types.

Is the A4 processor innovative? I mean, it does exactly the same thing as a 90's era Pentium. Process innovation is often overlooked but it is, in many ways, a much bigger deal than product innovation. Operation innovation is what enables most disruptive innovations. The difference between the 8086 and the A5 is purely process innovation - which is a long, painful, expensive process.


If Google's Google Storage for Developers or Google Cloud Storage (apologies to MikeKD and anyone else who was offended by the typo) is copying Amazon S3 without bringing new or improved technology to the table, then they are not innovating.

But even if the API is identical, why does that preclude bringing something new to the table? What if GSD is 1/10th the price? With if it has 1/10th the downtime? What if it has transfer speeds that are 10x S3? None of this relates to the API or the language used in marketing or documentation.

Like I said before, for a storage product the last thing you want honestly is innovation in interfaces. The desktop storage industry's transition from IDE to SATA took years. Ultimately it was necessary, but they milked IDE/PATA for as long as they could. And no one adopted SATA until it was a ratified standard.

I don't know anything of the particulars of S3 vs GSD but to dismiss Google's product solely on the basis that its interface is derivative is facile.
posted by GuyZero at 8:18 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It speaks to how screwed up the California legislature is that the state has a monopoly on these amazing revolutionary tech companies, yet it still can't get out of debt.
posted by savvysearch at 2:39 AM on October 21, 2011


Jobs Wanted To Destroy Android

'Isaacson wrote that Jobs was livid in January 2010 when HTC introduced an Android phone that boasted many of the popular features of the iPhone. Apple sued, and Jobs told Isaacson in an expletive-laced rant that Google's actions amounted to "grand theft." ... "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

In a subsequent meeting with Schmidt at a Palo Alto, Calif., cafe, Jobs told Schmidt that he wasn't interested in settling the lawsuit, the book says. "I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." The meeting, Isaacson wrote, resolved nothing.


Just fyi, Android, Inc. was founded in 2003 and acquired by Google in 2005 Apple began development of the iPhone in 2005 and released it's the first iPhone in 2007.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:25 AM on October 21, 2011


Just fyi, Android, Inc. was founded in 2003 and acquired by Google in 2005 Apple began development of the iPhone in 2005 and released it's the first iPhone in 2007

Heh. Don't leave out the part where Android switches over from a featurephone interface to a touch interface in 2008, a year after the first iPhone is released.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:04 PM on October 21, 2011


So... after whichever company produced the first touchscreen phone no other companies should have produced touchscreen phones?
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on October 21, 2011


I won't dispute that Jobs brought the touchscreen to the Western market in style. Touch screens had only been an Asian market thing previously. I simply clarified that Steve Jobs ego started this patent war that's inhibiting innovation, destroying billions in market valuations, etc. Idea should not be viewed as property, period.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:34 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I won't dispute that Jobs brought the touchscreen to the Western market in style.

True of false, I'm not sure what this has to do with Android blatantly copying the iPhone interface, by releasing something very much like iOS, one year after the first iOS device is released.

As to the whole patent war thing, my guess is that Steve Jobs didn't want his legacy project (and what a legacy, let's face it) to fall victim to another Microsoft-copypasta-fest. Especially being victimized by people who have so far shown the same lack of design and taste as Microsoft. I can't guess his mind, but I doubt I could see him wanting to go through that a second time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:42 PM on October 21, 2011


Android blatantly copying the iPhone interface

What specifically did they "copy" that was unique to Apple?
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on October 21, 2011


An interface straddles the boundaries between art and utility similarly enough to fashion that they should not be subject to intellectual property.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:32 PM on October 21, 2011


An interface straddles the boundaries between art and utility similarly enough to fashion

Interesting idea. But software development would seem to need a bit more in terms of resources, time and effort to produce something, than fashion. Source code is somewhat less ephemeral and equally somewhat more involved than a seasonal trend in knee-high lace colors. I don't think they are quite the same thing, once you look at it deeper than the surface.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:47 PM on October 21, 2011


Yes, software requires programmers to produce stable code, but clothing probably requires greater resources per unit, assuming significant distributions. Interface design and fashion aren't nearly so dependent upon resources, of course. In fact, fashion's seasonal trends make copyright much more applicable because they make the resulting clothing more artistic and less 'utilitarian'.

As my link noted, they've found an entirely different legal precedent preventing fashion eligibility for copyright in Europe, namely that such utilitarian copyrights must be extremely specific. Again this destroys any copyright like claims the iPhone might make Android. I suppose that Samsung has apparently skirted those design copyright rules too closely for the German courts, but they'll fix that easily enough.

In reality, we're witnessing a patent war over patents that clearly violate the spirit of the patent process, like screen rotation and pinch zoom.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:12 PM on October 21, 2011


Samsung overtakes Apple as biggest smartphone seller.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2011


The Patent War: Is it killing innovation?

Also, La Quadrature du Net has released some videos on ACTA and trying to prevent the European Parliament from affirming it.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:38 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why the Mac App Sandbox makes me sad.

In spite of myself, this makes me start to worry that Apple might stop making trucks someday.

I suppose not having the "entitlements" isn't worse than making a web application (which can't, without something like Flash or Java do any of ) but then again, it takes the platform itself closer to a realm where it's arguably not better than the web either. And really, it makes it less of a platform.
posted by weston at 8:54 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is the app store needed for anything besides installing Xcode? Does X11 need it?

In fact, wasn't the app store only just introduced this summer with Mac OS X Lino, meaning no 'real' applications use it yet, right? Isn't it better for everyone if real application never get sucked into Apple's crappy app store?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2011


The problem is that given the ridiculous amounts of cash the iOS app store generates for Apple, it's unlikely that they'll just leave the Mac app store there to wither on the vine. Best case scenario, they incentivize people to use the app store somehow. Worst case, they take that decorative wall around their home-computing garden and put iOS-style razor wire on it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:46 PM on November 3, 2011


A small Spanish Android tablet maker Nuevas Tecnologías y Energías Catalá has won a design right case brought against it by Apple.. and they are counter suing Apple for damages.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:43 AM on November 4, 2011


Re. "process" versus product innovation, & the question of whether it matters that you "copy" someone else's API, two thoughts:
  1. APIs these days are abstractions. They don't have much necessary correspondence to the underlying architecture. So copying someone's API is both less and more than it looks like, and "under-the-process" innovations or strategic design decisions are also both less and more.
  2. "Innovation" is rapidly becoming a meaningless word; I'm seeing it increasingly being used to describe things that aren't innovation at all, but are merely good, strategic business decisions. E.g., AWS and S3 are innovative architectures; Google's technical architecture is also very innovative. Where they differ is in a totally non-innovative but extremely consequential business decision on Amazon's part to design their APIs for consistency from the start. That and only that enabled them to achieve success via their innovative architecture and bold (and arguably innovative) strategic goal.
posted by lodurr at 4:47 AM on November 5, 2011


Best case scenario, they incentivize people to use the app store somehow. Worst case, they take that decorative wall around their home-computing garden and put iOS-style razor wire on it.

These don't strike me as different scenarios.

If you're a Snow Leopord or Tiger user, you know that there's already increasingly strong incentivization to use the app store (which is essentially a different front end onto the iTunes architecture). In the name of safety and other holy verities, it's going to become increasingly difficult to install software on Macs without recourse to the app store. (It will still be possible as long as there's a Darwin core.)

Apple going forward will be moving on autopilot to a great extent. They're following Steve's last direction as to course, and I'm sure they'd like to think they've also internalized some of his heuristics for response to change. But in a company like Apple that's just lost its cult-of-personality leader (and I can't think of a major company in recent history that was more defined internally by the cult of personality around its leader), unless they either totally remake themselves or replace the leader with someone equally strong, they founder. (Viz: Microsoft in the wake of Bill Gates, Ford in the wake of Henry Ford, Kodak in the wake of George Eastman, etc.)

I believe that what apple will internalize on this particular strategic front is Jobs's unwillingness to compromise. Like any fiat leader, his backtracks could seem inscrutable, but he did make them and since his publicly stated reasons were more often than not nonexistant (he tended to simply ignore past strategy rather than explain why he was changing it, which is bad if you want people to carry on after you), the Apple leadership just saw them as Steve's Genius.

I.e., they'll push this very hard and their efforts will lose subtlety, probably quite rapidly.

This won't matter much negatively to their financial success over a 2-5 year time frame. They're set up to make great strides and may even make more money without Steve than they would have with him. That's not necessarily a good thing, because there will be less of a pretty face on their efforts and the "brand love" will get more commodified -- chinks will begin to show in the iArmor. The Halo will begin to tarnish.
posted by lodurr at 5:00 AM on November 5, 2011


(BTW, if you think Eastman's a bad example, you should live in Rochester for a few years. His ghost casts a very long shadow. And I'm thinking of Ford as an example of a company that suffered and then responded appropriately. Of the big 3, they're definitely the most quick-witted.)
posted by lodurr at 5:04 AM on November 5, 2011


Agreed lodurr. Apple has made using their products without a credit card incredibly difficult. In particular, poor people here literally cannot use an iOS device, forget dropping em' into poor countries, or using bank cards. Valve's Steam is trivial to use without a credit card.

Apple could wakeup in ten years with a profitable but stagnant niche market in North America while Android, Ubuntu, and pirated Windows own the only growth market that matters, the billions living in emerging economies.

I'm extremely pleased that Canonical has clearly set their sights upon Ubuntu competing with both Mac OS X and iOS, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:29 AM on November 5, 2011


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