What is good technology? — Part II

Some big technology news came out over the past few weeks. First, the gadget-fest known as the Consumer Electronics Show. Second, Apple’s iBook announcements. And finally, the collapse of Congressional support for SOPA after the Internet’s show of force on Wednesday. What do all these tell us about good technology?

Good technology is useful technology. It makes it easier to do the things you want to do. With the right technology, you can accomplish some tremendous things.

For example, out of the blizzard of product announcements that came out of CES, only one caught my attention: Vizio’s new notebooks. Why those out of all the look-alike “Ultrabooks” that were shown at the show?

First off, we already own a couple Vizio HDTVs. They’re good quality, reliable, and affordable. I can be assured that if I buy one of their notebooks, it is going to work well and be a great value for the money. They’re also shipping it with a “clean” version of Windows 7. (That’s fine with me because I’m unsure about Windows 8.) It won’t have a lot of trial programs and bloatware that I’ll need to waste time deleting before I can use the notebook. I’ve been debating whether to replace my aging Dell laptop with a Mac or another Windows laptop. If Vizio offers the features I need at the right price, I would go with it. It would certain save me a lot of money, including the cost of replacing my Windows software with Mac versions.

Speaking of Apple, I’m impressed by their new textbook initiative. A coworker showed me some of the sample textbooks on his iPad, and they are beautiful. Gorgeous page layouts, excellent integration of video and interactive elements, and great notetaking features. Their authoring tool looks great too. Authors can combine interactive elements easily in a way I haven’t seen done with any other program. The downside is that you’re locked into Apple for publishing books with that tool. (I can’t complain too much about the iBookstore, though, because Doria came out on it this afternoon.)

Another criticism of Apple’s textbook program is that it would be too expensive for school districts to supply every student with iPads and online textbooks. Here in California, with districts closing schools and laying off teachers, such an expense is hard to justify. But I remember when school districts were reeling from Proposition 13, they still dug through pockets and seat cushions to buy Apple II computers for their classrooms. If America is going to be competitive economically with other countries, we need to give our students the best educational tools. Politicians also need to realize that investing in education for all children is the best way to ensure America’s continued economic prosperity.

The freedom to create is also a key engine of economic prosperity. This is why I’m glad that Congress got the message from Google, Wikipedia, and millions of Internet users that SOPA and PIPA are bad legislation. Certainly, the Feds were able to shut down Megupload without limiting people’s freedom of expression.

As a writer, I certainly want to be paid for my work. But in my nearly 30 years in the computer industry, I’ve never seen a form of copy protection or any digital rights security that has worked. They’re more of a inconvenience, and often a deterrent, for legitimate customers while doing nothing to prevent piracy. What I have seen are legislators use the guise of “fighting piracy” to try to control content. It’s not much of a stretch from “We should ban X because it may contain unlicensed material” to “We should ban X because it may contain material that I don’t approve of.”

So, here’s to all those Web sites and Internet users that spoke out on Wednesday. This is proof that good technology isn’t just useful, it can even save technology.