My Hammer is Better than your iPhone

Since the iPhone 4S came out, I've heard that Steve Jobs wanted to destroy it, that people are so much happier on their iPhones, even my friend Garry. But guess what? Though my primary computer is a MacBook Pro and I haven't been without an iPad since their launch, I really like my Android phone, yes Android phone, a Nexus S.

Now I know a smartphone is just about the most personal piece of technology you can buy: We carry them everywhere, play with them constantly (or until the battery runs out), and fuss over them assiduously. In that light, this post isn't an attempt to prove to you that Android is better than iOS, just a desire to share some of its qualities I appreciate.

1. Keyboard. Yes, I know Siri is amazing (or not), but most of the time you'll still be typing on that tiny keyboard. On iOS, that keyboard has barely evolved in four years and it blows. On Android you can actually replace the default keyboard. My favorite is Swype, it's fast, fluid, and feels natural. It almost achieves (dare I say it) Apple-level elegance. If Swype isn't your thing, SwiftKey X most certainly will be.

2. Home screen. Android allows you to do so much with your home screen than iOS. You can embed shortcuts to apps, documents, bookmarks, and even app-specific features. Widgets make your home screens even more useful by surfacing views into apps such as calendars, tickers, weather, etc. iOS5 makes up for this a little with the updated notifications but Android's options are way more powerful.

3. The buttons. Android has four buttons to iOS's one (which now has triple click functionality, talk about overload). The Home button is there as are Back, Menu, and Search. Back is the handiest IMO, esp. its ability to cross applications. Sharing something in one app? Go ahead, then hit Back and you're returned to your original flow.As an aside, one of my biggest beefs with Android apps is that they're not designed to take advantage of these buttons: Why include a magnifying glass on the screen when there's a search button available?

4. Long presses and sharing. Long presses, the ability to pull up a contextual menu by long pressing an object on the screen, sound trivial but used well they unclutter the UI and give users handy shortcuts to functions. Sharing, a feature almost all apps... share, lets you to send data (text, URLs, tweets, pictures, etc.) from one program to another. Natural and powerful.

Android is by no means perfect and the iPhone has a lot going for it (it is, after all, a cathedral), but hopefully this post redressed the balance a little, at least until someone with a hammer comes along!

Microsoft's Losing the Web Application War

Netcraft's surveys of internet web servers has been a staple of the net since 1995. Eons in internet time! In those early days I fondly remember regularly checking Netcraft for updates and discussing the merits of the various web servers with friends and colleagues.

I hadn't thought of Netcraft in years and when I suddenly remembered them the other day, I had to go check. How were the different web servers doing?

I wasn't surprised by the rapid growth of Apache but I was surprised by the dramatic fall and subsequent slow rise of Microsoft's web server.  According to Netcraft the drop in Jan-Jun 2009 was caused by a reduction in activity in Microsoft's Live Sites.

Looking at web server popularity in relative terms, the slow rise becomes a rapid decline in market share: from close to 40% to around 15% penetration in four years.

It's useful to remember that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. There could be many explanations for Microsoft IIS' relative decline. 

One is that Netcraft is measuring incorrectly. Netcraft has been at this for a long time, so I'm going to assume they know how accurately count servers. Part of the decline is due to the Live Spaces moving to Wordpress. Clearly Microsoft doesn't view blogging as strategic. Fair enough.

Another point to keep in mind is that Netcraft's survey is internet-focused. If they could survey intranets, I'm sure the number of IIS servers would be significantly higher.

Still, I can't help thinking that this is yet another front Microsoft is losing ground on. And the web server is just the tip of the iceberg. Internet sites aren't choosing Apache as much as they are choosing web application stacks that use it.

Continued loss of web application stack market share will have significant repercussions in terms revenues. Hard costs such as server and software licenses. Soft costs such as losing popularity among developers. This isn't enough of a reason to ditch Microsoft for established sites. It is a reason to think twice before going with the Microsoft stack for new projects.

It's a shame. Microsoft's web application stack has decent technology, and Microsoft has smart engineers. They are quite capable of innovating in this space. They're just not doing so.