Watching the "debate" over the President's attempt to fix what is clearly a crippled health care system and what appears to be a plan that might actually make it worse, it seems that the focus is on one side outmaneuvering the other. I find this particularly annoying because it looks like, whoever wins, anyone not working for the U.S. Congress (which has a fantastic health care program) loses.
This seems to happen in tech a great deal. Open source and topics surrounding Apple are where I seem to fall in the middle, and I am often amazed at how fanatical the supporters for these ideas can be. Open source has moderated a lot over the last few years and the blow up at Black Hat, which is still buzzing around my community, suggests that Apple may be hurt -- as Microsoft was for similar reasons a decade ago -- for trying to cover up and not address its rather troubling security exposures.
My latest dustup is with Blu-Ray.
This week, I wrote a piece on Blu-Ray. A while back, I'd been accused of being in Toshiba's pocket for not supporting the format. This is a typical personal attack. Because you can't prove a negative, it is very difficult to disprove, even though I've never worked with the Toshiba division that did the competing HD-DVD disk format and only recall actually meeting with them once. Analysts take positions, and the position I took after seeing how much Blu-Ray cost and what it would likely do (and later did) to the PS3, Sony's gaming console, was that either HD-DVD would win, or Sony would buy the format.
At the time, I actually thought it was too late for HD-DVD as well because downloads had started. Well, fast forward to this week. Toshiba signed up to do Blu-Ray and I thought it was worthwhile to do an update. The reasoning was purely to point out that Toshiba changing sides had nothing to do with my opinion and to address this corruption claim.
Blu-Ray, based on a review of Sony's financials, is currently helping kill the company after helping to collapse the Sony gaming division, getting the head of that division fired, and turning what was an iPod-like money engine for Sony into a black hole of debt. Sony is demonstrating that it can lose tons of money trying to buy a market, but companies are measured on profitability, not on whether they were right on a disc format.
I have since spent over $1,200 on Blu-Ray gear myself, which I rarely use. The column was based on my realization that, were I to do it over again, I would have put this money toward something else. At least for me, the costs of this format exceed the benefits. I also pointed out that this may not be true for everyone.
The response from those who disagree could have simply been, "we disagree and for us Blu-Ray is a good deal and here is why." Instead, it was personal attacks (one guy actually called me a "geezer," a term I think actually predates me), and claims that I was in the pocket of hard drive makers or Microsoft. For the life of me, I was having a hard time figuring out why either would truly care.
The problem, of course, is that the very real problems weren't discussed in the comments. I have very little doubt that in Sony, and the Blu-Ray association, when the technology fails, folks will point a lot of fingers but few will accept that the reason wasn't some third party, it was themselves. There are three reasons: The technology remains too expensive; it doesn't adequately embrace what it was trying to displace; and the DRM implementation made the products too difficult to use for most of the potential market that has not yet bought into it. If those were fixed, Blu-Ray, I believe, could be successful. But I don't believe they will be fixed.
Particularly after the financial problems we seem to now be digging out of slowly I'm not a big fan of companies or organizations that cover things up and attack critics. Did you see the coverage of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme? There had been a massive effort by a critic to get regulatory oversight onto his company and it was shouted down. Millions lost money as a result. What I'm suggesting is that if you see a company, technology, or investment that seems to be surrounded by a protective layer of fans who aggressively go after critics and try to eliminate criticism, you may want to avoid it. There are undoubtedly reasons not to use the technology that are being covered up, making an informed decision impossible.
I'm a big believer in informed decisions, which is why I'm not buying any more Blu-Ray stuff right now.