Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Netbooks, Microsoft and Apple

(Taking a break from comic book blogging)

Netbooks are currently the hottest part of the PC market. These are loosely defined as an low-cost, low-power, ultra-light PC with a screen no larger than 10 inches and with a long battery life. Both Microsoft and Apple have made some disparaging remarks about this market segment. Microsoft expects it to vanish when the new line of thin-screen PCs are introduced. Apple refuses to discuss making inexpensive hardware but there are rumors that their new tablet computer will be aimed at this market. I don't think that either company understands the market.

Let's be honest - netbooks are lousy PCs. They are under-powered for games and they have tiny screens. So why are they popular? Because they are so portable. Their small screens may be harder to read but they also reduce the size and weight enormously. They are underpowered because the high-powered chips suck up battery power. A more powerful CPU means more batteries and more weight or shorter battery life which means adding in the weight and size of a power brick. They are also cheap which is important because they are a second PC for most people.

I have a netbook. I got it for traveling. It is great at that. I can stick it in my carry-on. I don't need a separate PC bag which is bigger and heavier than my carry-on. The 10-inch screen is big enough for web browsing and email which is what I take it for in the first place. An IPhone-sized screen is just too small for serious web browsing.

The new, thin laptop PCs that Microsoft is pushing will be more expensive and they will not be as portable. No matter how thin you make it, laptop with a a full-sized screen is still bigger than a 10-inch one. Battery life will be a problem again, also.

Then there is cost. Microsoft is almost giving away Windows XP on netbooks. They want to sell Windows 7 for a lot more. That will add to the price. So will the new technology. These will not be priced to be second PCs.

It's hard to figure out what Apple's market will be. Rumors say that their tablet will be a larger IPhone. Without AT&T subsidies it will be a lot more expensive. Will people want something that expensive with no keyboard that is too big to put in a pocket? How many people use an IPhone as their primary computing device?

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Anti-Hero Villains

Continuing my last post...

Marvel has a long history of noble villains who crossed over but still maintained most of their original characteristics. Hawkeye may have joined the Avengers but he remained a smart-mouth rebel.

Joining the Avengers seems to assure that someone will eventually reform, even if that wasn't why he joined in the first place. Both Wonder Man and the Swordsman joined the Avengers with the intention of betraying them. Both had a change of heart, reformed, died and were resurrected. With Wonder Man the process was fairly straightforward. He was given his powers by Baron Zemo with the caution that they would kill him within a week without further treatment. After betraying the Avengers, he repented and freed them but died without the treatment. As it turned out, he actually went into a state of suspended animation while his body rebuilt itself. He joined the Avengers for several years and even got his own strip before dying and being reanimated again.

Swordsman stayed a villain for several years until he reformed with the urging of his girlfriend, Mantis. He eventually died. When Mantis became the Celestial Madonna, swordsman's body was reanimated by an intelligent plant so that its marriage with Mantis could be consummated although this body eventually crumbled to dust.

The Fantastic Four introduced several characters who started as enemies but eventually became allies. Many of these were never really villains but ended up on the opposing side. Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is at the top of this list. He was anti-human back when he was first introduced in the 1939. Eventually he was persuaded to limit his fight to the Nazis. He later mellowed. When he was brought back in FF #3 he found that his ancestral city of Atlantis was deserted. Blaming human nuclear testing, he declared war on the human race starting with the USA and New York City. When the FF stopped him, he transferred his rage to them personally. Despite this, he was infatuated with Sue Storm (prior to her engagement to Reed). Magneto tried to recruit Namor but he ended up refusing to join either side.

Even after the Sub-Mariner got his own strip in Tales to Astonish his role was ambiguous. As Prince of Atlantis he sometimes came in conflict with humans. Later his book took on environmental overtones causing more conflict.

I'm trying to confine myself to characters from the 1960s but I have to include Thanos in this discussion. He started as the ultimate villain - powerful, crafty, and literally in love with Death. In his first appearances in Iron Man and Captain Marvel he was evil personified.

Things got more confusing when he appeared in Adam Warlock. Adam was fighting a rogue version of himself called the Magus and Thanos came to his aid. Why? Somehow Magus became the champion of life. He was also a ruthless tyrant. As death's champion, Thanos wanted Magus eliminated. Despite his motivations, Thanos was a valuable ally. He reverted to type in his next appearance - a pair of annuals wrapping up the plotlines from Warlock's canceled comic. Thanos had built a machine capable of destroying the stars, hoping that it would win Death's affections. Along the way Warlock died but returned long enough to kill Thanos.

Thanos returned again several years later and collected the Infinity Gems in order to gain ultimate power. Warlock also returned and defeated Thanos. In the aftermath Warlock divided the gems between six guardians including himself and Thanos. From that point on, Thanos tended to side with the heroes although it was often in self-defense. He even gained ultimate power but detected a flaw in the Universe which required his self-sacrifice to fix (surprisingly, he survived). He even got his own comic book for a short time.