The Community from a users perspective

 

I've been attentively reading this debate about the death of the HPC and how user apathy may be responsible. The arguments are valid, and they're put forth by users and developers that I greatly admire.

So my two cents is not a rebuttal; I'm just more positive.

The problems we seem to face are these: there should be more software available for the HPC, and people should be buying more of the stuff already out there. Why aren't people buying more? It may be indifference and parsimony - legitimate factors, indeed - but there's a third factor: the completeness of the HPC.

Why do PPC and Palm have so many developers and so many buyers of third-party software? Because their OSs, for serious work, stink. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but if you look at the majority of the sales, or at least the expensive ones, these are for apps that should've come on the machine to begin with, printing, communication, and keyboard ability, apps that HPC users have enjoyed all along.

Take the Classic Zaurus, for example. Not the Linux-driven machine of today, but the mid-1990s KPDA that ran on the proprietary Synergy OS. Sharp decided not to release the SDK, so there were no more than a handful of third-party apps. No matter; people like me still use that machine today because it rocked right out of the box.

It still rocks: just a couple of years ago, a software wag came up with an add-on for Palm, an app that links contacts to appointment dates to documents. Pretty nifty? Yes, it is, and I've been using it on my Zaurus since 1996, which, in computer years, is the Stone Age. Just last week, my dinosaur Zaurus exchanged files with my Jornada 720, directly, with just a phone cable. They enjoyed each other's company without a problem.

So I would submit that HPC users buy apps, when they need to. TextMaker initially retailed for $70 USD, and I bet I was one of their first five customers. I even paid an extra $11 USD to have it on CD. People's eyebrows may have jumped at that price, but honestly, I would've paid twice the amount. It was an app I desperately needed. I bought two Orinoco Gold Cards; I needed them to make my Jornada even more effective; cost was secondary. I own the retail version of most of Henri's software, because I need it. I donate to uBook (the greatest document reader available) because David's program is a key part of my HPC makeup. I don't have space to list all the software I've purchased.

But this is software that other people, perhaps apathetic, perhaps miserly, may not require.

Given the completeness of the HPC, an argument may indeed be made that HPC users will pay for what they need, but what they need is not very much.

But if arguing about an HPC malaise, it's important that we don't sell ourselves short. We should not underestimate, not for one minute, the core of HPC users who endlessly contribute to forums, who respond to confused and plaintive e-mails about WiFi and file conversion and anything else that vexes the ordinary user.

Then, of course, there are the gods of HPC, the Henri Spagnolos, Chris Tilleys, the Clinton Fitchs, and the remarkable others who set up their sites solely to give advice and software succor to anybody who wanders by. Doug, owner of Shades720, exchanged with me no less than twenty e-mails, in two days, to make a peer-to-peer wireless connection between my J and laptop.

I've never met these people in person, and I probably never will, but I'm as grateful to them as I am to many of my own friends. And I imagine a lot of other users feel the same.

Look at Frank Garcia, a developer who instantly responds to any e-mail sent to him. He may have arrived at the HPC party just as it was getting on its coats at the door, but his Tweaks2K is one of the more amazing additions we have. I have no idea how much money he made with Tweaks2K, but I'm delighted that he took the time to put together that fine program.

So if folks like Frank and Henri are not garnering the accolades that they deserve, then why are they doing it? Because they're in love with their machine and don't mind spreading that affection, even to those who should be a lot more grateful than they are.

I recently wrote a piece for Chris about ad hoc connections and printing on the road. It took a while to put together, to test out my advice, and I'm as busy as anybody. Other than Chris's many thanks, I've gotten one response, pretty much negative. And I don't give a darn - I wrote that article because the connections intrigued me, and I was hoping that they might intrigue somebody else. But I wrote it mainly because the HPC had allowed me to pursue my interest.

I've stopped everything else I'm doing today to write this piece. I haven't even cleared it with Chris. He has no idea it's coming, and he may not have space for months to come. But I wrote it nonetheless, and if he doesn't publish it, that's okay. It doesn't make my piece any less true, and that's because the HPC itself is true.

As for this community, it may have its quirks, it may still believe that everything should be free, it may never buy a piece of software again, but within is a vital collection of users, no matter how oddly silent their response may be.

February 13, 2004

Jake Fisher
HPC:Factor Guest Writer

Contact Jake (via Chris Tilley) by e-mail or via Windows / MSN Messenger.
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