November 15, 2018

A parting of the ways (5/7)

In a 12 April 1988 PC Magazine article, "OS/2: A New Beginning for PC Applications," Charles Petzold restated what had become by then the party line amongst the personal computer prognosticators: "Microsoft expects OS/2 to establish the foundations of PC operating systems for the next decade."

Robert Hummel begged to differ. Only a few pages later in his PC Tutor column, he made one of the most spot-on predictions to grace the magazine.

Years from now, when programmers sit around and wax nostalgic, someone is sure to ask, "Remember OS/2?" Everyone will chuckle. Despite the hype and fanfare, I believe OS/2 is going to be short-lived. Rather than getting an improved DOS, we've gotten a new, completely incompatible operating system.

Or as reader Patrick Anderson stated in the 11 October 1988 Letters section,

All the gushing over OS/2 is amazing. It shows how far out of touch the gurus in Redmond and the magazine editors in New York are with real PC users.

But along with Robert Hummel, Ray Duncan was keeping in touch. He'd previously predicted that it'd take ten years for "OS/2's successors to eclipse MS-DOS." But in two October 1990 issues, and then in the 15 January 1991 issue, he drastically collapsed that time frame. Writing in his 16 October 1990 Power Programming column, Duncan observed that

Somewhere along the tortuous path from the original implementation of OS/2, thing went badly awry. A system designed to provide users and programmers with a painless migration path from DOS was transformed into a system designed to sell hardware and compete with Unix.

Two weeks later, Duncan counted up an installed based of 45 million DOS users, and short of an outright catastrophe, predicted 100 million DOS users by 1995. Microsoft, he advised,

should reconcile itself to the marketplace's resistance to the size and complexity of OS/2, and commit itself wholeheartedly to making DOS everything that it can be—regardless of the impact this might have on Microsoft's Joint Development Agreement with IBM or on OS/2 sales.

In fact, he was handing out advice that had already been taken. Microsoft had indeed fully committed itself to "integrating Windows into DOS," and would soon abandon OS/2 in favor of the massive installed base of DOS and Windows applications.

The momentous event—the dissolution of the Joint Development Agreement between IBM and Microsoft—happened that year. As with the hiring of David Cutler in 1988 to design Windows NT, it took a while for the news to leak out, and then everyone was so committed to the established storyline that it took even more time for the news to sink in.

In the meantime, DOS powerhouses like WordPerfect and Lotus invested heavily in OS/2. They were caught flatfooted when Windows took off like a rocket and never recovered. IBM acquired Lotus and it slowly faded away. In the worst deal of the decade, Novell bought WordPerfect and then sold it a few years later to Corel for pennies on the dollar.

Rumors of the "great divorce" between IBM and Microsoft had circulated the previously year, finally prompting coordinated press releases from the two companies in September 1990. The statements "reaffirmed their relationship" and extended the licensing arrangements for DOS, Windows, and OS/2.

"Semantic content: zero" was how Ray Duncan summed up the substance of these press releases. Authoring two separate articles in the 15 January 1991 issue, he again cut to the heart of the matter:

Although IBM and Microsoft agreed to cross-license everything, they committed themselves to nothing in the way of marketing the cross-licensed products. I suspect that Microsoft took a hard look at the startling success of Windows 3.0, compared it with the dismal penetration of the desktop market by OS/2 after three years (less than 2 percent by the most optimistic estimates), and decided to cut its losses.

Two weeks later, John Dvorak observed that "there has been much chitchat about a falling-out between IBM and Microsoft with denials all around, and more and more evidence indicates that the two are going in opposite directions." But then in the 30 April 1991 issue, Dvorak hedged his bets once again to pooh-pooh a report from January of that year.

The biggest fiasco in the industry was the obituary written in Wall Street Journal recently when OS/2 was pronounced dead. Microsoft was supposedly going to drop the product and concentrate on Windows. After all the facts were straightened out it seemed that nothing changed except there was even more talk of a portable OS/2.

Well, the Wall Street Journal got it exactly right. Microsoft handed OS/2 development back to IBM and concentrated its efforts on Windows and the Win32 API. This guaranteed that compliant programs written for DOS-based Windows would also run on NT, thus staving off the drought of applications that had plagued OS/2 from the start.

With that (mostly) "painless migration path from DOS" now in place, the fate of OS/2 was sealed. Five years later, in the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds, Steve Ballmer recalled the moment when everything went sideways.

We were in a major negotiation in early 1990, right before the Windows launch. We wanted to have IBM on stage with us to launch Windows 3.0 but they wouldn't do the kind of deal that would allow us to profit. It would allow them essentially to take over Windows from us, and we walked away from the deal.

After a decade of tumultuous growth, the weirdest marriage in American corporate history was over. And yet the true believers still couldn't believe that digital Mom and Dad were really getting divorced.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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November 08, 2018

Bakuman (the future)

Another way to watch Bakuman is as a historical document. It is decidedly old school. Pen and ink. Fax machines and copiers. Fat reams of paper stuffed into manila envelopes. It is also the end of an era.

The editors in Bakuman do pay a lot of attention to their spreadsheets. Akito writes on a laptop. But then everything gets printed out on paper. And faxed. Final proofs are hand-delivered.

In one of the more poignant scenes in the series, Moritaka is walking home from a school reunion where everybody was talking up their holiday plans. He glances at his calloused, ink-stained hands and realizes that, aside from gall bladder surgery, he's never taken a day off.

"No regrets," he tells Akito, and Akito agrees. When they got married, he and Kaya barely managed to squeeze in a honeymoon.

That could be changing. There is plenty of talk about the aging of Japan's population. Over the past quarter century, circulation at the major manga magazines dropped by two-thirds as the baby boom echo aged out of the target demographic and into middle age.

But at the same time, manga and anime have gone international and gone online, with Crunchyroll and Netflix leading the way. Justin Sevakis points out that "there has never been more money flowing from international fans to anime productions in the history of the art form."

Even light novels are getting in on the act in a big way, something I would not have predicted just a decade ago.

At Yen Press, a joint venture between Kadokawa and the New York-based Hachette Book Group, Kurt Hassler launched light novel imprint Yen On in 2014, introducing Reki Kawahara's Sword Art Online with the modest goal of publishing 12 books annually. That figure doubled the following year, and now Hassler says that Yen On will release 110 light novels through the rest of this year, representing growth of nearly 1000 percent in four years.

How popular culture is being created is also changing. As depicted in Shirobako, out of sheer necessity, technology has transformed the animation industry. 3DCG animation is only a small part of the revolution.

Even if an artist works initially on paper, everything gets scanned and imported into the animation software where the cleanup, coloring, and actual animation takes place. "Dailies" are generated and tweaked on the fly.

This process allows animation studios (in Japan and Hollywood) to subcontract with companies in South Korea, China, and Vietnam. Work product can be uploaded to and downloaded from the cloud in real time.

When it comes to creating backgrounds, directors like Makoto Shinkai have become masters of Photoshop (Garden of Words may be his most staggeringly gorgeous). This approach is disparaged by purists of the hand-drawn school. I don't care as long as it works.

The first time I saw the opening credit roll for Inari Kon Kon in HD, I was gobsmacked. Sure, it's a Photoshop, but it's breathtakingly beautiful.

When it comes to manga, the silly Eromanga Sensei offers a serious look at the future. Masamune naturally writes on a laptop. Sagiri (the artist) works entirely in the digital domain, using a Cintiq 13HD Wacom tablet (according to people who pay close attention to such things).

When she's finished with an illustration, she simply shoots an email off to her editor with a multi-layer PDF attached.

To be sure, a computer won't be drawing Moritaka's manga for him anytime soon. But the cost and time savings could prove considerable.

To start with, the ink is gone, along with the most physically onerous and time-consuming chores, such as whiting out mistakes (using, yes, Wite-Out) and often redrawing whole pages, manually layering in background textures, and sizing screentone overlays with an Exacto knife.

I grew up in at the end of the typewriter era, when "high-tech" was an IBM Selectric. But after using a primitive word processor on my brother's Apple IIe, there was no going back.

There are productivity gains to be made on both the production and publishing sides. The iconoclastic Shuho Sato adopted the increasingly popular "hybrid" model, his "traditional" publisher dealing with the paper product while he maintains a platform for distributing manga electronically.

We are quickly approaching the day when all commercial art is digital from start to finish. Using platforms like Amazon KDP, you can publish digitally and on paper (print-on-demand) for "free." And then with a push of a button, your book will appear in every Amazon store in the world.

"Free," however, doesn't factor in the costs in time and resources incurred by the writer, which can range from very little to a whole lot. Formatting a professional-looking ebook is a much more straightforward process than formatting a professional-looking print-ready manuscript.

And the eternal challenge still remains of reaching the reader. So perhaps the future of publishers will not be to physically publish but to publicize.

Related posts

Bakuman (the context)
Bakuman (the review)
Bakuman (the anime)
Manga economics
The teen manga artist
The manga development cycle

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November 01, 2018

Bakuman (the review)

Bakuman was created by two best-selling mangaka, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. So it is only natural that the protagonists of their manga about writing manga should also be a writer/illustrator team.

We first meet Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi in the ninth grade. Observing Moritaka's talents as an artist, Akito approaches him and proposes they team up to create manga.

Akito doesn't pluck this idea out of thin air. Nobuhiro Mashiro, Moritaka's uncle, was a mangaka with one published series and an anime adaptation to his credit. Then he literally worked himself to death trying to write another. "I'm not a mangaka," he often said with a wry grin. "I'm a gambler."

Moritaka's parents aren't eager for him to follow in his uncle's footsteps. Akito is also taking a leap. He is the school's top academic performer. Top academic performers aspire to attend Tokyo University, not become mangaka (this class conflict later gets its own story arc).

Helping Moritaka make up his mind is Miho Azuki, the girl he longs for from afar (or from across the classroom or from the adjacent desk).

With a helpful push from Akito, she reveals to Moritaka that she wants to become a voice actor. Moritaka promises to write a manga that will get made into an anime and Miho will star in it. Goofy, yes, but hardly out of sync with the mindset of a couple of ninth graders.

Taking place at arm's length, though, their romance is not terribly consequential in story terms. Rather like Gilbert in Anne of the Island, Miho remains mostly off-screen as Moritaka's muse.

A more emotionally compelling narrative follows the blossoming friendship between Akito and Kaya Miyoshi, Miho's classmate. They squabble like Anne and Gilbert from the first two Green Gables books. The blue-collar Kaya doesn't aspire to a whole lot, other than being with Akito.

But Kaya's down-to-earth nature keeps Akito and Moritaka and the studio on an even keel. Her relationship with Akito matures in a positive direction. It gives the series much of its heart and warmth. The series could have used more Kaya. And Miho needn't have been quite so absent.

The story does start with a few cheats. Moritaka's grandfather lends Moritaka the use of Nobuhiro's studio. Hisashi Sasaki, the managing editor at Shonen Jack, worked with Nobuhiro. So he knows Moritaka, though doesn't do him any favors, other than giving him a fair shot.

A fair shot at Shonen Jack, née Shonen Jump. From the start, Moritaka and Akito aim for the top.

Shonen Jump is the best-selling manga magazine in Japan. At its height during the mid-1980s, it sold a staggering 6.5 million copies a week. Though demographic changes have cut deeply into those numbers, Shonen Jump still boasts a weekly circulation of two million.

In the anime adaptation, the magazine is called Shonen Jack and the publisher is called Yueisha instead of Shueisha. The posters of One Piece and Naruto decorating the lobby walls make it clear what publication they're referring to.

Shonen Jump has a sister publication called Next, where up and coming manga artists can test out their talent. So does Shonen Jack.

One of Moritaka and Akito's submissions ends up on the desk of Akira Hattori. The junior editors at the magazine sort through the submissions to find mangaka with promise. The careers of the editors depend on how well they can develop a mangaka's career and sustain a successful series.

After asking for revisions, Hattori enters the manuscript in an upcoming contest at Next. These contests are another way of recruiting and judging new talent. Moritaka and Akito do well and are invited to submit a one-shot to the prestigious Tezuka Award at the main magazine.

They don't make the final cut but Hattori is sufficiently impressed to ask for more submissions.

In a highly iterative process that any old-school freelance writer is familiar with, they revise and resubmit, revise and resubmit until they get an acceptance. This process takes months, even years. So the the series often makes big jumps in the timeline from episode to episode.

Once they have established their bona fides as artist and writer, they are invited to submit a one-shot that could be serialized. Essentially a pilot episode.

Everything published in Shonen Jack gets rated. A steady stream of reader surveys are compiled twice weekly into spreadsheets. If a one-shot with serialization prospects delivers good ratings, the editor petitions his senior editor to present it at a serialization meeting.

But every new series means an existing one must be canceled. As the managing editor likes to say, "If you write a good manga, you will get published. But not necessarily by us."

While working on their projects and waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down, mangaka often free-lance as assistants. The pressures of turning out two-dozen finished pages every week is such that, once serialized, a mangaka depends on assistants to do the inking and background work.

Eiji Niizuma is a boy genius, the same age as Moritaka and Akito. The managing editor personally recruited him to write for Shonen Jack. When we first meet Niizuma, he is a bundle of ticks and idiosyncrasies, a sort of artistic Sheldon Cooper after a dozen shots of espresso.

But he proves to be a great asset, both as a rival and a friend, with a keen eye for what works and what doesn't (though he's not very good at explaining why). During his short stint as Niizuma's assistant, Moritaka meets several of the other key players in the series (his competition).

First is Shinta Fukuda. Cocky and brash, a rebel in search of a cause, he appoints himself the leader of the new recruits. He aspires to write gritty urban dramas.

In his mid-thirties, Takuro Nakai is the oldest in their circle. He is the most technically proficient artist but hasn't ever been serialized. As each year passes, the odds grow longer and he grows more desperate, a desperation that has produced several self-destructive behavioral quirks.

He eventually teams up with Ko Aoki, who comes to Shonen Jack from the shojo manga side. (The real Shueisha publishes over a dozen manga magazines in all genres.) They get the green light for a series. The question is whether Nakai can hold his personal life together in the meantime.

Although working in utterly unlike genres, Fukuda and Aoki exemplify an important point that Bakuman makes about popular art. In dramas about "artists," the market-driven demands of the audience and the imposition of editorial constraints are typically cast as the bad guys.

In Bakuman they are the unavoidable—and not necessarily unwelcome—reality.

The immense popularity of Shonen Jump pulls in readers of all ages. But the shonen (少年) in Shonen Jump means "boy," the target audience being between ten and fifteen years old. "Fan service" is fine but no nudity. Action is emphasized but the violence can't get gory.

Fukuda could easily write for a seinen magazine, aimed at older teens and college students.

Takao Saito, for example, has been writing Golgo 13 for fifty years. A gritty series about a professional hitman, Golgo 13 runs in Big Comic, a seinen manga magazine. A circulation of 300,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But it is one-sixth that of Young Jump.

Aoki could easily write for one of Yueisha's shojo (少女) magazines. But the most popular shojo manga also have circulations in the mid-six figures. Getting published in Shonen Jump means reaching the biggest audience possible. It also means hewing to the magazine's editorial guidelines.

So her fantasy series must have more vivid action sequences and her romance series must have more fan service. In one of the funnier arcs, Fukuda takes it upon himself to tutor Aoki about how to appeal to the prurient interests of twelve-year-old boys (without outraging their parents).

These compromises are a constant. Action-oriented "battle manga" are the most popular. A mid-list "gag manga" has the most reliable staying power. But Akito turns out to excel at a Rod Serling approach, writing stories with a surreal or paranormal edge that are layered with social commentary.

At first, Hattori suggests that being "the best of the rest" isn't a bad place to end up. Except Moritaka and Akito want to compete at the top with Eiji Niizuma (everything's a competition in a shonen series). In the process, they give every genre a shot, frequently fail, and start over.

But this is a melodrama and not a documentary. They do finally find the success they are looking for. And their editors are there every step of the way. I can't think of another drama series about the arts that gives the lowly editors so big a role and makes them the good guys to boot.

And gives them so many smart things to say about what makes a story successful.

The original Bakuman was published in 176 chapters over four years. The anime ran for 75 episodes in three seasons on NHK Educational television. The art and animation can't match that of a dozen-episode cour from Kyoto Animation. But this is a series where the ideas matter more.

With so much material to generate, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata often fall back on a problem-of-the-week approach to creating drama. While predictable, this is actually a great advantage of the series.

As a result, we get a crash course in every kind of manga, every issue, conflict, and editorial decision that arises in the manga publishing business. The constant search for new ideas, the stress of weekly ratings, the business decisions that go into making a manga into an anime.

And, yes, all those dysfunctional mangaka.

For example, Kazuya Hiramaru, who abruptly quits his job as a salaryman to write a surreal Dilbert-like gag manga about an otter in a business suit. Only to discover, to his horror, that he's abandoned one rat race to join another where the rats have to run even faster.

"At least when I was a salaryman I had weekends off!" he complains to his editor. But poor Hiramaru is cursed to be a talented and popular—if lazy and unmotivated—mangaka. So his Svengalian editor will stop at nothing to trick, coerce, and manipulate him into making his deadlines.

Hiramaru isn't exaggerating too much. As Shuho Sato documents in Manga Poverty, simply breaking even can take a mangaka years. Those assistants get paid out of the mangaka's page-rates. So turning a profit depends on how fast the mangaka can run his production line.

Sure, there will always be writers who produce best-sellers right out of the box and rake in millions. And I certainly enjoy following the adventures of the Richard Castles and Temperance Brennans, who somehow find the time to solve murder mysteries in between writing yet another best-seller.

But back in the real world, commercially successful art requires more work, discipline, single-minded determination, and, yes, creativity than most of us are capable of. Along with a large dose of luck. Which makes me all the more appreciative of those who can pull it off.

Related posts

Bakuman (the context)
Bakuman (the future)
Bakuman (the anime)
Manga economics
The teen manga artist
Manga circulation in Japan
The manga development cycle

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October 25, 2018

Bakuman (the context)

You write what you know.

So writers write books about writing. And about writers. So Stephen King wrote Misery and The Shining and Bag of Bones. And On Writing. And so Hollywood makes movies about making Hollywood movies. And so we get Singing in the Rain and La La Land.

Television dramas love writers. And so we have Richard Castle and Robin Masters (whom we never see) and Temperance Brennan, and, of course, John Watson. Along with all the frustrated writers who show up alive and dead on the the Law & Order franchise.

These tropes hold in Japan too, though with a few necessary tweaks. Publishing contracts are so standardized that the job of the literary agent only exists in a very narrow niche. A writer deals with the publisher through an editor, so that is where the conflicts will arise.

Such as the combative relationship between Shigure Sohma and his editor in Fruits Basket.

And unlike the North American market, manga, anime, and (especially of late) light novels are far more dominant players in the popular culture. So we can expect that there will be manga about writing manga and anime about making anime. Along with light novels about writers writing light novels.

The light novel, to clarify, is essentially a young adult novella that

incorporates elements from anime, manga, video games, fan art and fan fiction. It is character and dialogue-driven, replete with provocative illustrations and heavily reliant upon the viral energy of the Internet, where many of the stories get their start.

In the writing-about-writing category, the light novel recently got a moment in the sun with Eromanga Sensei. It is not a serious series, sort of as if Fast Times at Ridgemont High had been written by nerdy writers about nerdy writers who write bestsellers in high school.

High school student Masamune Izumi writes light novels of an—ahem—provocative nature. His kid sister, who goes by the nom de plume of "Eromanga Sensei," is the illustrator. Masamune is brainstorming a new series when the reigning teenage queen of the light novel moves in next door.

Realism is hardly the intent. Still, it makes several pertinent points about the mechanics of the trade. We see the cubicles used by editors to conference with their writers (no agents, remember) and observe how contests are run to recruit new talent and test established talent against the competition.

The light novel as a cultural trend-setter is a fairly recent phenomenon so we should see more stories like this in the future.

Anime has been ascendant for longer and so has been talking about itself for longer. The parody anime that parodies other anime is a thriving genre. Anime about making anime include Animation Runner Kuromi (about the frenetic life of a producer) and Girlish Number (about voice actors).

And then there's Shirobako, which sets the bar so high it exists in a category of its own. Over two cours, Shirobako closely documents the production of two anime series, while throwing in so many inside jokes about the major players in the business that you'll need a reference manual.

Manga reaches even further back. Rather like minor league baseball, an entire industry has built up around the amateur manga artist. Comic Party and Genshiken, for example, focus on the doujinshi market and the goal of selling at Comiket, the largest fan convention in the world.

Manga about manga professionals tend to emphasize the chaotic and financially unstable process of running a manga publication, as in Mangirl, or the comically weird juxtaposition of the mangaka's personality and the genre he specializes in.

The best illustration of the latter may be Yasuko and Kenji. After their parents are killed in an accident, Kenji, the hard-core leader of a biker gang, quits to take care of his kid sister Yasuko. To make ends meet, he and a couple of his associates draw a fluffy girl's romance manga.

American manga and anime fans are probably more familiar with Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. From all outward appearances, Umetaro Nozaki is a straight-laced high school student. Unbeknownst to all but a select few of his classmates, he writes a romance manga under a girl's pen name.

As the story begins, Umetaro Nozaki is already an established mangaka with an popular series. The focus is on the ongoing production of the manga and his developing relationship with Chiyo, who approached him at school hoping for a date but ended up getting drafted as one of his assistants.

Highly recommended. But if you want to learn about the manga writing and publishing business from the ground up, from start to finish, the one series that rises to the level of Shirobako in its attention to detail is Bakuman. More about this groundbreaking series next week.

Related links

Bakuman (the review)
Bakuman (the future)
Bakuman (the anime)
Eromanga Sensei
Girlish Number
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

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October 18, 2018

The problem child (4/7)

It there was a single piece of technology that marked where things started to go wrong between IBM and Microsoft, the final straw that convinced Bill Gates, "It's not you, it's—no, it is you," it was DOS 4.0. DOS 4.0 was released by IBM in 1988. Microsoft walked away from the relationship two years later.

DOS 4.0 was at first greeted with great acclaim. Paul Somerson stated in the 27 September 1988 PC Magazine, "DOS 4.0 answers just about every major complaint about prior versions." But the glow faded fast. DOS 4.0 was soon causing more problems than it solved.

Asked John Dvorak in his 15 November 1988 Inside Track column,

Can't IBM do anything right? [DOS 4] is their baby, and it has so many bugs that we're told that we can expect to see 4.1 sooner than expected. I'd wait for 4.3 the way they are going.

In the 17 January 1989 issue, Ray Duncan rose to the defense of the OS, arguing that it was a victim of inflated expectations.

When IBM's DOS 4 first appeared, analysts and pundits hailed it as a major evolutionary step. A few weeks later, the same analysts and pundits came to their senses and there was a severe backlash. DOS 4 was subjected to a torrent of abuse for a handful of bugs no worse than those that accompanied the release of DOS 2 or 3.

But a little over a year later, Duncan took another opportunity to analyze the role of DOS 4.0 in what he saw now as the systematic undoing of IBM. In his 16 October 1990 Power Programming column, he succinctly summarized the beginning of the IBM's declining influence in the personal computer arena.

DOS 4 will probably merit a footnote in the history books as one of personal computing's major operating-system fiascos. The changes that appeared in PC-DOS 4 were entirely implemented by IBM, leaving Microsoft in the uncomfortable position of having to reverse-engineer the system in order to come up with a "generic" MS-DOS 4 that could be licensed to other OEMs. Users stayed away from DOS 4 in droves. As I am writing this, DOS 3.3 is still outselling DOS 4 by a significant margin.

As a result, Duncan reported later in the same issue,

By 1990, Microsoft had awakened from its preoccupation with OS/2, realized that DOS was still a cash cow, wrested control of DOS's development back from Boca Raton, and deployed famous software guru Gordon Letwin to recoup the damage done to DOS's reputation by DOS 4.

Microsoft and IBM parted ways that year. Once there was no longer any need to pretend they liked each other in public, the gloves came off. PC Magazine editor-in-chief Bill Machrone reported in the 28 May 1991 issue that Microsoft's message at the System Strategy Seminar earlier that year was hard to miss:

Forget DOS. Forget OS/2. Forget LAN Manager. Forget NetWare. Forget Unix. But don't forget Windows. That's what Microsoft will ask you to do in the coming months and years.

The pieces puzzled over by the prognosticators for years now fell into place.

The next OS/2 from Microsoft will bear little resemblance to the versions we've seen to date. OS/2 3.0 will feature a "New Technology" (NT) kernel, full Windows support, portability, distributed processing, and POSIX support. The development team is headed by Dave Cutler, the guy formerly responsible for VMS at DEC.

OS/2 optimist William Zachmann heard the same message—"Forget about OS/2 2.0 and stick with Windows"—and fretted that "this Windows-centric outlook has led many to assert—incorrectly—that OS/2 is dead."

Well, those "many" were asserting correctly. As far as the PC consumer was concerned, OS/2 was dead. The death certificate was delivered a year later (though the undead OS/2 would wander the Earth for another decade).

A month later, John Dvorak observed in his 11 June 1991 Inside Track column that the feud between IBM and Microsoft "over the direction of the industry, over Microsoft's emphasis of Windows, and over DOS 4"

finally erupted in a Forbes article where the two companies clearly stated that they were in disagreement about direction. Gates said that he and Microsoft were largely responsible for the success of the IBM PC and today's hot computer market. He made it clear that IBM's contribution to the leadership was a mirage.

In his 15 October 1991 column, Dvorak pointed to the "infamous Bill Gates memo" first leaked by the San Jose Mercury News. "The memo criticizes IBM for providing Microsoft with lousy code and intimates that Microsoft is better off without IBM."

IBM had hamstrung the DOS operating system long before DOS 4. In an truly ironic juxtaposition, the same 28 April 1992 issue that previewed Windows 3.1 in a cover story (and mentioned OS/2 2.0 in a much smaller font) also ran a letter from one Tim Paterson of Redmond, Washington.

Titled "IBM was the problem, not MS-DOS," Paterson objected to the "common misconception" that the designers of MS-DOS had "divided the first megabyte of memory into 640K RAM for the operating system and application and 384K reserved for hardware," creating the long-derided "barrier" that restricted memory access in MS-DOS to 640K RAM.

And who was this Tim Paterson to make such a claim?

As the sole designer of MS-DOS, Version 1.0, I did no such thing. The first computer that ran DOS could have a full megabyte of memory of DOS and applications. The system ROM occupied only the last 2K of the address space, but even that could be switched out after boot-up.

When Microsoft purchased DOS from Seattle Computer Products, Tim Paterson came along as part of the deal.

Those of us who lived with the 64K address space of the 8080/Z80 had learned our lesson. IBM, unfortunately, did not. They alone decided to build memory-mapped hardware right into the middle of our precious address space. I am mystified why anyone would consider this poor hardware design to be an aspect of DOS. DOS uses as much contiguous memory as can be made available.

Four years later, in the documentary Triumph of the Nerds, Steve Ballmer ruefully admitted that

Windows today is probably four years behind, three years behind where it would have been had we not danced with IBM for so long. Because the amount of split energy, split works, split IQ in the company cost our end customer real innovation in our product line.

Microsoft's successor to DOS 4.0 was a case in point. First reviewed in the July 1991 issue, PC Magazine would give DOS 5.0 a Product of the Year award.

Between 1990 and 1995, Windows 3.0 was followed by DOS 5.0, Windows 3.1, DOS 6.0, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows NT, and Windows 95. Microsoft was on a roll. IBM became an afterthought as a supplier of PC operating systems.

Though IBM did engineer some of the best laptops ever, before selling its entire PC division to Lenovo.

Paul Allen (1953-2018)
Co-founder of Microsoft
Requiescat in pace

Related posts

The future that wasn't
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (5/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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October 11, 2018

Power in small packages

One proxy for Moore's Law these days is how small a package an HD video decoder can fit into. 4K media streaming devices from Amazon, Google, and Roku are not much bigger than an older USB flash drive. Boggles the mind.

The Roku Express (maxes out at a mere 1080p) isn't quite that small, about half the size of a proverbial pack of playing cards. But I am equally wowed by the power supply it comes with. It's one of those now ubiquitous 5V/2A wall units commonly used as cell phone chargers.

The DC output must be electrically isolated, else iPhone and Android users would be electrocuting themselves right and left. This normally requires a bulky transformer. Instead, the 120 VAC is rectified and an oscillator chip kicks the current frequency from 60 Hz to 100 KHz.

At those frequencies, the flyback transformer can be smaller than a dime.

With a high-voltage MOSFET driving the primary coil, the result is a switching power supply that draws almost no power on standby (the Roku doesn't have a physical switch or even a shut-down sequence) and is the size of my thumb.

The image above is the reference design for a switching 5V/2A power supply with variable 85-265 VAC input from Texas Instruments. The circuit diagram is posted on the TI website.

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October 04, 2018


There are times when a creative work so perfectly captures a genre or type that it henceforth defines its essence. As both a plot and character trope, nothing exemplifies tsundere better than Toradora and the character of Taiga Aisaka.

A tsundere is most often a girl who, as an initial response to a new situation or circumstance, reacts in a cold and hostile manner, often violently so (tsun-tsun). This behavior presents a sharp contrast with her moe outward appearance.

The guy who survives this onslaught of first (and second and third and twentieth) impressions will eventually discover her vulnerable and affectionate side (dere-dere).

The key word here is survive.

As with all well-worn types, tsundere can quickly wear out its welcome and fall into cliche and stereotype, especially when the guy functions as little more than a doormat. The quality of the conflict depends on the quality of the opposing forces. In Toradora they are formidable.

A "tiger" faces off against a "dragon."

In addition to the native Japanese terms, tigers and dragons can be referred to using "loan words" or English cognates. So tora (虎) is Japanese for "tiger." So is a taigaa. The dragon imported from European fantasy is a doragon. A Chinese dragon is a ryuu (竜 or 龍).

Toradora combines the two, meaning "tiger and dragon," which also refers to the two main characters, Taiga Aisaka and Ryuuji Takasu.

The actual kanji for Taiga's name (大河) mean "big river." As everybody likes to point out, it's not a common name for a girl. So given her personality and diminutive size, Taiga has been nicknamed "Palm-Top Tiger."

Imagine a Tasmanian Devil personified as a cute teenager (rather than the Looney Tunes cartoon). In fact, Taiga so dominates the narrative with her explosive antics that is is easy to overlook the fact that the three other main female characters are world-class tsundere as well.

Minori Kushieda is a tomboy and captain of the softball team. Sumire Kano, the student class president, hilariously governs like a Marine Corps drill instructor. Though nobody appears all that intimidated by her, and vice-president Yusaku Kitamura is always one step behind her to smooth the waters.

Ami Kawashima is a teen fashion model taking a hiatus while she deals with a
stalker. She soon learns to handle her problems the Taiga way.

The male-female ratio notwithstanding, it is not a harem series. As with Tomoya and Nagisa in Clannad (another harem-but-not-really series), the chemistry between the main characters is such that the only question is when and how they will end up together, not if.

Toradora begins with Taiga admiring Yusaku Kitamura from afar, and Ryuuji pining for Minori Kushieda. While too many complications spring from wrongheaded presumptions and poor communication, considering the introverted nature of Japanese society, it did not strain belief for me.

Actually, the first scene of Toradora has Ryuuji trying to dispel the wrongheaded assumptions most people make about him.

In this respect, it's not hard to see Toradora as a upside-down version of Clannad. At the beginning of Clannad, Tomoya and Satoshi have dedicated themselves to being the school's juvenile delinquents. And then one day Tomoya encounters the quiet and gentle Nagisa.

On the other hand, to his constant irritation, everybody outside his close circle of friends believes Ryuuji is a juvenile delinquent. His mother works in a hostess club. His father was a yakuza who (he's been told) got killed in a gang hit. People who don't know Ryuuji are scared to death of him.

Except that Ryuuji grew up being the only responsible person in the house. He'd rather shop for dinner than pick a fight. As in Clannad, he runs into a girl who is his psychological opposite. After much melodrama, they manage to grasp what the other needs and smooth out the rough parts.

Another similarity between the two series is that, although romances, they ultimately avoid idealizing teenage infatuation.

In the concluding dramatic arc, Toradora races toward a Romeo & Juliet conclusion (without anybody dying). But the lesson Taiga and Ryuuji arrive at independently is that when you and everyone you know has that many issues, you should deal with them first. Love will not conquer all.

Rest assured that a happy ending is in the offing, though you'll have to stick through the closing credits of the last episode for the delightful pay-off.

Toradora is a light novel series by Yuyuko Takemiya and has been adapted to manga and anime. The anime is available on Crunchyroll and Tubi.

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September 27, 2018

The drama of the single dad

The "single dad" is a melodrama and sitcom character that defines its own genre. Plenty of single moms inhabit television as well. But a single mom is expected to already grasp the basics of child rearing, and that pushes the conflict in a different direction.

By contrast, regardless of his competence in every other aspect of his life, the single dad is presumed to have a built-in learning curve. Hence the "dumb dad" premise. This plot device has seen an upsurge on Japanese television, in live-action dramas, manga, and anime.

 • Sweetness & Lightning tackles three genres at once: the single dad, the teacher-student romance, and the cooking show.

Recently widowed high school teacher Kohei Inuzuka never learned to cook, so he and Tsumugi, his spirited five-year-old daughter, eat takeout almost every meal. Until Kotori Iida, one of his students, hands him a flyer for her family's restaurant.

Kotori's (divorced) celebrity chef mom no longer has the time to run it, but Kotori wants a reason to keep the lights on. Realizing that his daughter hasn't eaten a decent home-cooked meal in ages, Kohei takes Kotori up on the offer.

The problem is, Kotori doesn't know how to cook either. But with her mother's recipes, the help of Kotori's classmate (whose family runs the local vegetable stand) and Kohei's college friend (a cook), they tackle a new recipe every week.

The relationship between Kohei and Kotori is handled so subtly that it can be read as romantic or platonic or something in-between. These dinners quickly become the highlight of the week for all three.

The anime is available on Crunchyroll. The English-language manga is published by Kodansha Comics.

 • Yotsuba&! [sic] is a manga series by Kiyohiko Azuma, now in its twelfth year. Mr. Koiwai adopted Yotsuba abroad (the details are scant). The stories focus around her daily adventures in Japan. Think of Yotsuba as a kindred spirit of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

An English translation of the manga is available from Yen Press.

 • Marumo's Rules is a 2011 Fuji TV series. Mamoru Takagi adopts the twin children of his best friend when he suddenly dies of cancer. The plot description in Wikipedia sums up the whole genre:

Together with the help of his landlord and the landlord's daughter, Mamoru [nicknamed "Marumo"] manages to take care of the twins. They face many challenges, with Marumo struggling to balance his time between his work and parental responsibilities.

A cute narrative device is that when Marumo discusses his problems with the family dog, the dog talks back.

(No English versions available.)

 • Hinamatsuri is based on the manga series by Masao Otake.

One day, Hina drops into the condo of yakuza Yoshifumi Nitta through an interdimensional portal. Some sort of bio-engineered child assassin with telekinetic powers, Hina doesn't know what what she's doing there. She assumes she's on a mission and Nitta is her handler.

This mistaken assumption comes in handy when Nitta has her literally defenestrate an entire rival gang in one fell swoop. But after that, Nitta is stuck with her. So he tells people that Hina is his long-lost daughter, and before long they have assumed their respective roles.

As a brand-new dad, Nitta finds himself with the responsibility of turning this tiny version of Robert Patrick from Terminator 2 into a functioning member of society.

The anime is available on Crunchyroll. The English-language manga is published by One Peace Books.

 • My Girl is a manga series by Sahara Mizu, made into a TV Asahi series in 2009 starring Masaki Aiba of the mega-boy band Arashi. (As far as I can tell, the members of Arashi are much better actors than they are singers, and they're not terrible singers either.)

Attending the funeral of his ex-girlfriend (who'd been living abroad), Masamune Kazama discovers that not only did she have a child, but she had his child, who now really is his child. What follows is a how-to/day-in-the-life melodrama that defines the next series too.

(No English versions available.)

 • Bunny Drop is a manga series by Yumi Unita, an anime series by Production I.G, and a 2011 feature film.

Daikichi's grandfather had a child with his live-in maid. Daikichi only finds this out at his grandfather's funeral. "If the old man was still alive," he grumbles, "I'd give him a high five." He points out to his mother, "That'd make her your sister." She retorts, "And your aunt."

Nobody wants to take responsibility for Rin, the five-year-old girl. Finally (if only out of disgust with the rest of them) Daikichi takes her home. He soon decides to make the arrangement permanent.

Bunny Drop is a sweet, unadorned drama that avoids most of the stereotypical melodramatic devices. Like My Girl, it succeeds by making a virtue of ordinariness and by featuring protagonists who are believably decent human beings striving to do the right thing.

However clueless Daikichi may be at first, he doesn't stay dumb, and grows quite insightful into the strange, topsy-turvy life Rin has led, while cheerfully saying goodbye to his "me-time" and his climb up the corporate ladder.

The anime (based on the first three volumes of the manga; English translation available from Yen Press) is drawn in a pencil-on-watercolor style that gives it a subdued picture book quality. I found it quite pleasant and entirely appropriate to the subject matter.

The anime is available on Crunchyroll.

The Japanese government actually has a "Minister of State for Measures for the Declining Birthrate." If government agencies were ever that creative, I could imagine them commissioning television series like these to encourage young men to take up the reins of fatherhood.

Unfortunately, regardless of the good intentions in the regard, it doesn't seem to be working (in Japan and every other country with the same problem).

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September 20, 2018

Frenemies (3/7)

As the 1990s began, big changes in the computer business were just over the horizon.

Intel was rolling out the 80486 microprocessor. With over a million transistors on board and clock speeds that would climb to 100 MHz, the 486 made the Graphical User Interface truly usable. Featuring that GUI front and center would be Windows 3.0 and OS/2 2.0.

Conventional wisdom had already concluded that Microsoft took three tries to get the software right. That meant Windows 3.0 was going to be a Big Deal, and Microsoft treated it as such, with multi-page advertising spreads in the major tech publications.

Nevertheless, the personal computing world was not ready to to cast Windows and OS/2 as competing products. Almost two years before, in the 14 March 1988 issue of PC Magazine, Gus Venditto reported on a "recent policy statement" by Bill Gates that "outlined a timeline in which 15 percent of new PCs are running OS/2 in 1989, growing to 50 percent by 1991."

In his 12 April 1988 cover story, "What OS/2 Will Mean to Users," Charles Petzold concluded that "Everybody currently using DOS on an 80286 or 80386-based machine will eventually consider upgrading to OS/2."

Everybody knew what IBM and Microsoft intended to do.

Over a year later, Petzold still predicted that "IBM and Microsoft intend OS/2 to be the dominant PC operating system of the 1990s—and they seem ready to fix any problem that could inhibit this goal." In the 27 February 1990 issue William F. Zachmann  stated that "OS/2 is clearly the intended heir to DOS as far as IBM and Microsoft are concerned."

Despite the overwhelming success of Windows 3.0, Zachmann doubled down on this prediction in the 25 September 1990 issue: "Windows 3.0 will light the way to OS/2, not eclipse it. And that's really what Microsoft always wanted."

By 1990, what Microsoft really wanted was to get out of its software development relationship with IBM, and had been hedging its bets for the past two years. It hired David Cutler—designer of the revered VMS operating system—away from Digital Equipment in order to create Windows NT. In the first issue of 1990, John Dvorak reported in PC Magazine that

Everyone is talking about Microsoft Windows 3.0, but not all of the talk is pleasant. It seems that Microsoft's sudden re-emphasis on Windows may result in more grousing by developers who have put their hopes into OS/2. Windows 3.0 now looks like the hot ticket to the future. I'm told that Microsoft employees have gone back to Windows en masse.

Although Gates increasingly had every reason to question IBM's competence in the retail arena, the source of the widening rift was the diverging corporate philosophies of the two companies. Keep in mind Microsoft's mission statement: "A computer on every desk and in every home all running Microsoft software."

Microsoft got started selling software for the 8-bit Altair. Microsoft made a CP/M card for the Apple II and is still a major software developer for the Macintosh. "A computer on every desk" manifestly did not mean "An IBM computer on every desk." Microsoft had much bigger aims than that.

Every computer on every desk in the universe, if possible.

IBM's lurch toward proprietary solutions, starting with the Micro Channel bus, was tossing sand into the gears of this goal. OS/2 cheerleader William Zachmann plainly admitted that Micro Channel was "IBM's standard. And nobody else's. From the very beginning, IBM intended Micro Channel to eliminate competition from vendors of compatible systems."

In the same 12 April 1988 issue that Charles Petzold declared "the OS/2 decade has begun," a more pessimistic Robert Hummel keenly perceived the same existential threat to the Microsoft and the huge base of existing DOS software that Bill Gates must have.

If you use IBM software, OS/2 may not live up to the capabilities you want unless you buy your computers from IBM. And now you see the real reason for OS/2.

Six months later, in his 31 January 1989 column, Charles Petzold mused that "The conspiracy-minded among us have suggested that OS/2 Extended Edition is the first step in making OS/2 an IBM proprietary operating system."

Gates was not about to get hemmed in by IBM's possessive hold on the platform and its parochial approach to software development. Despite the huge industry it had created, IBM demonstrated no interest or ability in driving the business forward at the retail level and maximizing the consumer base.

Simply consider that a personal computer user who resolved to plunk down 340 dollars for OS/2 Standard Edition 1.1 still had to figure out how to buy it. The OS/2 ads that appeared in PC Magazine directed the reader to "your local authorized IBM dealer." Whoever that was.

By contrast, Microsoft made sure that Windows 3.0 came bundled with most new computers. And if you wanted to buy a copy, simply flip though the pages of PC Magazine to an ad from, say, mail-order powerhouse PC Connection, pull out your credit card, and it was yours for 99 bucks.

Even William Zachmann had to admit that "IBM was never really aggressive on pricing. IBM was never aggressive when it came to innovation either." No surprise that Microsoft should resolve to reassert control over the personal computer operating system.

As it had since its founding, IBM envisioned itself as a highly profitable purveyor of proprietary computing systems. In other words, what Apple would become two decades hence. Not a bad corporate goal to have—for IBM. But Bill Gates wasn't about to sacrifice a 90-plus percent market share in order to bolster IBM's our-way-or-the-highway strategy.

Not when Microsoft was busily building an interstate of its own. In the 25 April 1989 issue of PC Magazine, John Dvorak mused that

If IBM had not become preoccupied with its Micro Channel patents and closed architecture, I think it would have sold twice as many PS/2s. More important to IBM, Big Blue would be in the driver's seat, controlling the destiny of the market. Now it's just a target for bypass.

The time had come for Microsoft to take the bypass and lead the personal computing world in a direction of its own devising.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The future that wasn't (5/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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September 13, 2018

The streaming chronicles (4/4)

In which I have nice things to say about Tubi.

Tubi is available on-line and via streaming services such as Roku. It's an ad-supported channel with a straightforward interface and a decent selection of anime and Japanese movies.

The catalog doesn't say whether an anime title is subbed or dubbed. If the voice actors in the cast list are Japanese, then it's subtitled. In some cases, closed captioning has to be enabled to get the subtitles.

For once, the ad audio is quieter than the main programming. And Tubi deserves a round of applause for its ad engine. The ad transitions are smooth and not at all annoying (though the ads can get repetitive).

If Tubi has the title and you don't have an ad-free subscription at Crunchyroll, I'd recommend Tubi.

Once in a blue moon, the closed captioning stops displaying. Tapping auto-rewind (the 10 second skip-back) always fixes it. I have no complaints about the image quality. Tubi never buffers that I can tell.

Tubi is free. It works. It's got a ton of content besides anime. It's an app well worth installing.

I've also installed the NASA TV Roku app. The content is the same as its cable/satellite channel, with additional libraries of archived material. I currently use the TuneIn app to get J1 Radio.

Related posts

The streaming chronicles (1)
The streaming chronicles (2)
The streaming chronicles (3)
Anime's streaming solution

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September 06, 2018

New old titles at CR

The Crunchyroll streaming library already exceeds a staggering twelve-hundred titles (adding up to tens of thousands of episodes) and over a hundred live-action series. They recently scooped up the licenses for a bunch of full-length movies and glittering golden oldies.

Sherlock Hound features some of Hayao Miyazaki's earliest work. As you might surmise from the title, in this version, Sherlock Holmes is a dog. And so is everybody else. Lots of fun. I reviewed the series here.

In Magic Users Club (watch the OVA first), we learn that sitting on a broom (sans a pillow) hurts your butt, and the best way to deal with an alien spacecraft is to turn it into a giant cherry tree. (The first scene of the OVA has no sound because there is no sound in space.)

Patema Inverted and King of Thorn explore the unreliability of human perspective. I reviewed the former here.

Patema Inverted literally asks which way is up. King of Thorn wonders if really you know what time it is. Both require mighty suspensions of disbelief to get past the premises. But there's tons of material for anybody who enjoys musing about philosophical what-ifs.

In terms of narrative structure, King of Thorn reminded me of the "No Reason" episode of House.

Crunchyroll doesn't yet have the 3DCG Appleseed movies but it does have the 3DCG Vexille, a pastiche of every post-apocalyptic, mecha, and military anime series ever made. Watch it as a work of social commentary rather than for its dubious cinematic merits. I reviewed it here.

Voices of a Distant Star is Makoto Shinkai's brilliant debut film (and the best version of Ender's Game that isn't Ender's Game). I reviewed it here. I didn't much care for 5 Centimeters per Second, but it is the most beautiful teen soap opera ever made.

Welcome to the Space Show takes a gang of kids from rural Japan on an Art Deco roller coaster ride through a fractious galactic empire ruled by a reality TV show host. As the title suggests, it's a dazzling and hilarious trek through the stars.

Night on the Galactic Railroad is based on the fantasy novel by Kenji Miyazawa, an agronomist and social activist who died in 1933 at the age of thirty-seven. Little known for his poetry and fiction in his lifetime, he is now considered one of Japan's great literary figures.

Night on the Galactic Railroad inspired Leiji Matsumoto's anime classic Galaxy Express 999. This morally complex work of science fiction won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1978 and the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1981.

Video links

5 Centimeters per Second
King of Thorn
Galaxy Express 999 (Tubi)
Magic User's Club
Magic User's Club OVA (YouTube)
Night on the Galactic Railroad
Patema Inverted
Sherlock Hound (YouTube)
Voices of a Distant Star
Welcome to the Space Show

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August 30, 2018

The tortoise and the hare (2/7)

The challenge for journalists covering science and industry is to capture the state of a rapidly changing environment without forgetting they are taking pictures of moving objects. Reducing technology to snapshots in time masks the movement going on behind the scenes. Compared to the jack-rabbiting hare, the tortoise isn't moving at all.

This was certainly true of software and hardware in the late 1980s. Gordon Moore devised his famous law in 1965. As with a standard exponential growth curve, the rate of change was barely perceptible at first. But by the 1990s, it was taking off like a rocket. The technology was evolving so fast that the real world appeared utterly unreal.

In his 12 June 1990 Inside Track column, John Dvorak reported that a

two million transistor 586 will show up in 1992, and the 4-6 million 686 in 1996. By the year 2000, the expected technology breakthroughs will allow the company 100 million transistor on the 786. It will crank out 2 billion instructions per second [2,000 MIPS] at a clock speed of 250 MHz! Sheesh. The company confirms these assertions.

Such predictions were gobsmacking unbelievable at the time. But the intel Dvorak got from Intel was spot-on. Released in 1999, The Pentium 3 had 9,500,000 transistors on board, a clock speed of 450 MHz, and cranked out 2,054 MIPS. The Pentium 4 topped 100,000,000 transistors in 2004. Multi-core CPUs today contain billions.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Once a slow-moving technology begins to pick up speed, the acceleration can catch bystanders by surprise. Just as when a much heralded technology begins to slow, it can quickly get stuck in the mud.

The most surprising things about the origins of the personal computer is that a lumbering entity like IBM brought the PC to market in so nimble a fashion. So quickly, in fact, that neither IBM nor Microsoft had time to develop its own operating system. Microsoft instead purchased the progenitor of MS-DOS from Seattle Computer Products.

Come the 1990s, a decade on, a new operating system was needed, a 32-bit OS for the 32-bit microprocessors that already dominated the market, that extended the memory address space from 1 MB to 4 GB. And it should come with a graphical user interface (GUI). OS/2 ticked off all the boxes. Obviously history was simply going to repeat itself.

Except that IBM viewed the accidental standard it had created as exactly that: an accident. A mistake, one it was not eager to repeat. Still, everybody expected another turn on a dime, a reboot of the personal computer industry once again engineered by the hit Hope and Crosby duo of Microsoft and IBM.

Everybody but Microsoft, it turned out.

Windows had been in development since 1985, two years prior to the release of OS/2 1.0. At first, it was little more than a 16-bit shell that compared poorly with the Macintosh GUI. But like the stubborn tortoise, Microsoft plodded along, releasing versions that first took advantage of the hybrid 16/32-bit 286 and then the fully 32-bit 386.

As Steve Ballmer recounted in Triumph of the Nerds, "I was the development manager for Windows 1.0 and we kept slogging and slogging to get things right for [Windows 3.0 in] 1990."

Microsoft was slogging in the right direction. The 15 March 1988 issue of PC Magazine inaugurated the "Pipeline" column that included a bestseller list focusing on business software and operating systems. The first list began as follows:

1. Lotus 1-2-3 (DOS)
2. WordPerfect 4.2 (DOS)
3. Microsoft Windows 2.03

That third entry remains a surprise today. Flying well below the radar, Windows had already established a sizable market presence. When Windows 3.0 debuted in May 1990, Microsoft finally had the consumer operating system it'd been looking for and a good idea of how fast that critter could run. It was time to press the pedal to the metal.

Consider a 30 April 1991 column in which Jim Seymour ranted about Microsoft changing the default keyboard shortcuts in Word 5.5 (DOS) to match those of the Windows interface. A change he points to is that ALT-F-O now launched the File Open dialog box. With the benefit of hindsight, ALT-F-O is an amazing example of forward thinking.

A quarter century later, ALT-F-O retains the same function in practically all Windows applications. In 1991, Microsoft committed itself to a future based on Windows. And followed through.

But back in the 27 December 1988 issue, columnist Ray Duncan wasn't

ready to join either the "DOS is Dead" or the "DOS Forever" school of thought. I think it quite likely that OS/2's successors will eventually eclipse MS-DOS, but I suspect this will take a lot longer than anybody now imagines—perhaps ten years or more.

Actually, it'd only take four more years for Windows 3.x to bury OS/2, selling forty times more copies than OS/2 had thus far in its entire existence.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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August 23, 2018

The streaming chronicles (3/4)

In which I upgrade my cable modem and router.

So I got an Arris Surfboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. Xfinity has bugged me about it for years. I'd procrastinated because a faster Internet connection wouldn't speed up the Pentium M processor in my ancient ThinkPad laptop and its poky b/g Wi-Fi.

Getting into streaming was sufficient motivation to upgrade my home network. Streaming at a good data rate looks great. Not to mention that the way Xfinity stairsteps the "default" service level, I was paying for bandwidth my router and cable modem couldn't deliver.

Yeah, that's dumb. But whatever can be put off until tomorrow I will put off until tomorrow. The old stuff still works. It's always best to upgrade while the old stuff still works. Well, tomorrow has arrived!

The new router is a TP-Link TL-WR841N. It's gotten decent reviews for a very affordable class of wireless router. Common objections, like it only having 10/100 Ethernet and not supporting 802.11ac, are mostly irrelevant to my current setup. And did I mention that it's affordable? Twenty bucks!

I averaged a dozen or so samples with Fast and the Speedtest app for each hardware setup. Though the ThinkPad reports a 54 Mbps connection, neither it nor the Belkin could handle that data rate. Download speeds increased 20-30 percent with the TP-Link. The DOCSIS 3.0 router made little difference.

The Fire 7, on the other hand, has dual-band b/g/n. The specs for the DOCSIS 2.0 SB5101 claim a maximum transfer rate of 30 Mbps. The 802.11n protocol on the TP-Link and Fire 7 appear to be delivering every bit of it. Now I'm tempted to experiment with an 802.11n USB Wi-Fi adapter for the ThinkPad.

I'm paying for a maximum 70 Mbps down. The fine print doesn't guarantee it and I'd have to string an Ethernet cable to set a baseline. Using 802.11n, the DOCSIS 2.0 modem gave me half that. The DOCSIS 3.0 router delivers two-thirds. Considering the ageing infrastructure in this part of town, not bad.

BelkinTP-LinkDOCSIS 3
ThinkPad  (g)8.3  (g)11.2  (g)11.3 
Fire 7  (g)11.1  (n)33.2  (n)43.2 

DOCSIS 2.0 upload speeds averaged 5.1 Mbps with both the Belkin and TP-Link. DOCSIS 3.0 kicked it up to 6.2 Mbps, even on the ThinkPad. That extra 20 percent is handy when backing up data to the cloud.

The Roku Express supports 802.11b/g/n but not dual-band. Getting precise numbers is tricky because of the adaptive bit-rate streaming. According to the playback screen (HOME x5, RW, RW, RW, FF, FF), using the TP-Link with the DOCSIS 2.0 modem increased throughput from 1-5 Mbps to 10-15 Mbps.

The DOCSIS 3.0 modem upped network throughput to 15-40 Mbps at the high end. I'm assuming this screen reports the bandwidth provided by a given CDN stream and not the connection with the router, which shouldn't otherwise change. Though this could be a product of the glitches I discussed previously.

So far, the upgrade has done what I wanted it to do—eliminate buffering. Granted, it only ever happened with Crunchyroll, probably because Crunchyroll is migrating its CDN to AWS CloudFront. Occasional bouts of buffering since are more likely due to normal WAN hiccups than to LAN flakiness.

Oh, the Roku logging functions are still definitely flaky. The Network > About screen randomly reports signal strength as anything from "Poor" to "Excellent." The "secret" Wi-Fi screen (HOME x5, Up, Down, Up, Down, Up) still lists the signal strength as -80 dBm. Effectively zero. But it works fine.

Related posts

The streaming chronicles (1)
The streaming chronicles (2)
The streaming chronicles (4)
Anime's streaming solution

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