Regular visitors to this forum will recall that I favor the Macintosh in the practice of the binary arts; and that I have little enthusiasm for the anti-creativity that is the Cult of Microsoft. What's a little disturbing in this dynamic of the digital is that Emperor Gates has directed a wealth of philanthropic activity toward the education of American children and the improvement of schools. As admirable as that may appear on its surface, the problem is in the noise and the labels that come with this storm of charity: every program, every charitable campaign, comes with the Gates name or the Microsoft logo attached. You can consider this axiomatic to human social life in general, that any generosity done with a business card or a brand name is suspect. Fame, as the ancient Chinese proverb reminds us, is to the wise person as fattening is to the pig—it opens the door to death. Bad enough to have fame or greatness thrust upon you; but to aggrandize oneself in the act of doing good for others simply ruins the gift.
Anyway, the last thing we need in education today is more of the corporate information model. If only "IT" meant "insight technology" rather than "information technology," we might be getting somewhere. But no doubt Mr. Gates, irked by the profuse sales of those pesky ipods—even to the point where they have been appearing among his own employees on the campus at Redmond—is looking to make inroads on his competitor's traditional market share dominance of the school computer room. Thus, his appearance among the students of our land as a saint bleeding green is enough to make a thinking person pause and wonder.
Meanwhile, Apple's success isn't alone among Uncle Bill's recent pet peeves. The fortunes of Google have risen faster than the national debt, though with far more salubrious results. Google is the leading innovator and creator of the PC universe. While Microsoft continues to sew band-aids for its hideously flawed and bleeding operating systems, Google simply creates new and cool stuff that people can use, enjoy, and even profit from. They have created an outstanding photo-management software, called Picasa, that is virtually on a par with Apple's marvelous product iPhoto; they have raised the bar on the freedom and overall usability of mail programs, with Gmail (still in beta—if you'd like to try it, I have lots of invitations to hand out—everyone who joins gets 50); and their Desktop Search application has accomplished for the PC what Apple did with its Spotlight feature in Tiger, the new version of OS X.
And, of course, Google still rules the roost in Search-ville, where their perpetual pushing of the envelope leaves competitors like yahoo and Microsoft wondering what just blew past them (and what happened to their executives). My favorites are Google Scholar, which I use for research, and Google Earth, which I, like most folks, use for just fun. The picture above, by the way, is the one "unplottable" point on the Google Earth (there's another Harry Potter term for you)—Dick Cheney's house at Observatory Place in Washington. Even the White House is not as visually encrypted as Paranoid Dick's crib.
As most of you also know, Google has plenty of other stuff for PC users (much of which is also Mac-compatible as well): there is Blogger, Translate, Froogle, Groups, and the fascinating contents of Google Labs (you can review the entire inventory of Google innovation here).
It seems as if every time I walk into the office at work, there's some new Google-game going on. The latest is this: open the browser of your choice and type the word "failure" into a Google Search box, and see what appears as result #1.