Jerry Pournelle Is Back in the House

BYTE -- Welcome back, BYTE! I'm Jerry Pournelle, long-time columnist for the original one.

Jerry Pournelle, Contributor

July 8, 2011

4 Min Read

BYTE -- Welcome back, BYTE! I'm Jerry Pournelle, long-time columnist for the original one. Wow, am I glad to be back in the now electronic pages of BYTE, special thanks to Gina (Smith), who hunted me down. She is a real fireball, I tell you.

Progress needs fireballs. BYTE is one. You know, BYTE was instrumental in the creation of the computer revolution. Its old BIX network was one of the first major experiments in connectivity, well before the Internet really existed. Now that's where BYTE lives.

So does much of publishing. Traditional publishing is trying to restructure as electronic book sales rise, and Amazon Kindle sales grow. The Kindle itself is important, but equally so are all the apps that allow Kindle books to be read on other systems.

The whole field is in flux. Some publishers will get in on it. Some who got in early haven't kept up. Some big name publishers will go under. So goes progress.

Joseph Shumpeter, the economist and political scientist, called it "creative destruction." It's a necessary component of progress and evolution.

There are still lots of printed books and I review a lot of them, as you'll see in future installments of this column. Printed books remain important, particularly in technical works, but that's changing, too. Even though I still buy printed books, I find lately that most of my purchases are eBooks.

I also find myself reading more classic works, including some I already have in my library, because it's easier to read them on a good eBook reader than to find a book I haven't seen in years among the thousands in my library.

I do most of my eBook reading on the iPad using the appropriate eBook app, but I use the iPad for more than reading books. My wife prefers the Amazon Kindle. I have friends who prefer still other reader platforms.

Meanwhile, I keep wishing for a real tablet--one that would function as the pocket computer we described in The Mote in God's Eye.

Larry Niven and I wrote that in 1974, well before there were any personal computers. Now I have something a lot like it in my iPhone. And prior to that we had the tablet PC.

The whole tablet field changes like dreams. All kinds of tablets are coming out.

Microsoft is notably missing.

Don't count Microsoft out. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the big tablet fan at Microsoft and now that he isn't running the company the tablet enthusiasts have less influence and access to resources, but they aren't gone. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can read the trends in publishing as well as you and I can.

Plenty of people have gone broke betting against Microsoft. And Microsoft has a long history of waiting for trends to develop before deciding to "embrace and extend" after someone else blazes a trail.

Microsoft historically likes to set standards for the rest of the industry. I remember how long it took Microsoft to get into the business of word processing. And look how well they've done with it. I'm writing this in Word, after all, and I was long a holdout before I finally converted to Word.

One trend is obvious: eBook readers and tablets in general are getting cheaper and cheaper. The trend line goes to near zero later this year. Clearly it won't get to zero, but there are already package deals offering a number of books and a subscription to various publications in a bundle with an eBook reader. Expect to see more such. The reader won't be free, but the cost will probably be buried in the package.

That's the biggest trend I'm thinking about just now, but then I've made my living in the writing business. There are lots of others. No one can keep up with all the trends, but sure can try.

Thanks for returning to Chaos Manor. And watch for me on the BYTEcast on TWiT, starting in just a few weeks. Glad to have BYTE back--and YOU back. Email me at [email protected].

Watch my next column for my Chaos Manor picks in hardware, software, gadgets, books, utilities, and more. Till then!

The best-known commentator in tech journalism history, Jerry Pournelle is back at BYTE as its Senior Technologist. He's reviving Chaos Manor. Author of more than a dozen tech books and many more in science fiction, Pournelle's many literary accolades include a Bronze Medal from the National Security Council, the Prometheus Award and the Heinlein Society Award. Watch for him on BYTEcast, coming soon to Leo Laporte's TWiT network. Email Jerry at [email protected].

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