Something for the Weekend, Sir? "Fans, players and parents unite against England's 'rip-off' £90 World Cup kit" screamed the Mirror this week. "They think it’s all over... priced."
Even after several thousand years of civilisation and organised commerce, it seems humans still don’t understand basic economics. Demand, not cost of manufacture, determines the price of goods in a free market. If you feel the need to waste more than two seconds of your life seriously deciding whether to pay £90 for a footballer’s t-shirt that cost 5p to make in Bangladesh, then the retail pricing is justified.
You think that’s unreasonable? Surely not. What are you, some kind of communist?
Besides, the detail is a little different from the shouty headlines. £90 buys you a "player’s shirt", a genuine sports garment virtually identical to the type that Steven Gerrard will wear up until England exits the tournament in the Quarter Finals. A "replica shirt" – that is, one that looks a bit like Stevie’s but is specifically designed to be worn by eight-year-olds and morbidly obese men sitting in front of a TV – costs about half as much.
There is only one winner in this debacle. Adhering to the Ryanair school of marketing, Nike knows that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The rag trader has no fear of Stan Collymore – punching above his weight for once – describing England’s World Cup kit as “a joke”.
Besides, the real scandal isn’t how much these t-shirts cost, but the way in which the Football Association has them redesigned every nine months in order to force the young and the fat to keep buying new replicas.
As El Reg readers are painfully aware, there are few things more infuriating than being locked into an upgrade cycle that you can’t afford, don’t want and almost certainly don’t need. It’s like they’re being forced on us by over-aggressive software pimps called UPGRAYEDD.
I am of course thinking of Windows XP, which was killed off by Microsoft this week after giving the world a fleeting notice period of er... five years. Unlike England World Cup replica t-shirts, whose useful life is barely longer than that of a house fly, Windows XP enjoyed a longevity that reflects how bloody good it was.
Windows 1 was awful. Windows 2 was a irrelevant. Windows 3 was embarrassing. Windows 3.1 was great – and it kept going for years. Windows 95 was unusable, 98 a bit better, and NT was nifty but hideous. I still remember the day I tested my first Windows 2000 workstation, because it was effing brilliant. And when XP popped up a couple of years later, it was the bog’s dollocks and remained so for a decade.
But by then, the rot of unnecessary upgrade cycles had taken grip of the software industry. This was partly to feed the American lust for consumerism but more importantly to claw back lost money from increasingly unfashionable maintenance contracts. Back in the 80s, big companies such as Oracle could charge customers a fortune simply to send out bug fixes, but this gravy train had dried up by the end of the millennium.
Instead, energetic software startups undercut the monolithic corporates by offering free fixes via regular downloadable updates. Enterprise customers still had cash to splash but increasingly powerful SMEs began expecting their software updates at no cost. The only way for a developer to make a living in this commercial climate is to concoct feature upgrades that can be sold for up-front cash to the unwise and the unwary.
Upgrade cycles are stupid. This is because, more often than not, the upgrades themselves are stupid. Was Windows Vista better than XP? For that matter, was Windows 7 better than XP? Don’t even get me started on Windows 8. And even putting aside all that recent internal Microsoft pillocking about, can you really convince yourself that Windows 8.1 is better than XP?
Is it more compact? Is it faster? Is it easier to use? Like arse it is.
It was bad enough when Adobe needlessly locked itself into an 18-month upgrade cycle just before the turn of the century, when it exacerbated the process by kludging half its product line into a suite. The result was a gigantic development massacre every year and a half that would leave bodies everywhere and raze nations to the ground, each upgrade roll-out being accompanied by the wailing of women and tearful snuffling of bedraggled orphans.
Since Adobe’s introduction of Creative Cloud, the upgrade cycle is constant. This sounds good in a kind of social media / web 3.0 / engagement politics / nonsensical bullshit nobcheese manner of thinking but is nothing short of insanity. Adobe CC updates itself over and over again. And again. By the time you’d downloaded the latest update, it has already issued two more.
And what do all these updates do? They fix bugs and make ‘stability improvements’. Well, heck, why not try coding this shit more slowly and more carefully in the first place?
I am painfully aware that such a foolish statement as the one above clearly characterises me as an ignoramus who doesn’t understand how the IT industry works. I have in fact known this already for many years, ever since I attended a press launch for Adaptec 16bit SCSI cards in 1990-something. During the demonstration, we were informed that 32bit versions were currently in development and that plans were already being drawn up for 64bit cards.
When the floor was opened up for questions, I raised my hand and asked why Adaptec bothered with the 16bit and 32bit cards at all if 64bit cards were on the way. In fact, I argued, why not ditch the whole lot and go straight for 128bit immediately without all this shillyshallying?
I was rewarded with a round of cold stares. Fellow journalists shook their heads and gave me sympathetic “what a sad moron” winces. A number of burly men in black suits and sunglasses then dragged me out of the room and had me summarily executed.
This week’s Something for the Weekend, Sir? is a milestone marking two years of this column at The Register.
Plans are afoot to re-issue my past columns in book form so that you can read them all over again but this time have to pay money for the privilege. I like money.
In the meantime, I will be switching to a more intense update cycle, writing the Friday column really badly (no, I mean worse than usual) and then issuing hourly spelling corrections straight to your work and home email accounts, mobile phone and next of kin until the following Friday’s upgrade, which will be published here whether you want it or not and in the sober knowledge that you certainly don’t need it.
Who says I don’t understand how the IT industry works? ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He has spent the last of his cash on his Hoxton dream and will now be pestering editors to re-employ his services. Expect to read his more corporate-friendly writings in a newspaper or on a website near you soon. He will not be appearing in The Voice.