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Toasted Computing

Imagine this: You have, for years, been the proud owner of a Proctor-Silex toaster. The toaster only worked with Proctor-Silex approved bread products, but these were available in all the flavors you liked, so it wasn't a big deal.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, your Proctor-Silex toaster dies. You still have plenty of the bread left for it, but the toaster won't work. Worse, the bread won't work with another brand of toaster either, so to use up the bread you have, you have to buy another Proctor-Silex toaster, or repair the one you have (which requires special parts that are almost as expensive as the toaster was).

To make matters worse, your friend shows you his Toastmaster toaster, and introduces you to a new flavor of bread unique to the Toastmaster. You love the new flavor, and so does your wife, but eating more of it would require you to purchase a Toastmaster toaster of your own. You'd do it, but you know as soon as you get the Toastmaster home, you'll have a craving for the Proctor-Silex bread. To enjoy both flavors, you need to own both toasters. Your only alternative is to pick one or the other, or stop eating toast altogether.

With the obvious exception of the toaster manufacturers, who in their right mind could possibly think this is a good idea? Wouldn't you be pretty pissed off if you found yourself in this predicament?

I have found myself in this predicament. And I am pretty pissed off.

In 2002, on a whim, I bought an Xbox to have something to do over a long Christmas holiday. They were on sale, and included 2 games, and I had the money, so I treated myself. I kinda dug the racing game (Sega GT 2002), which was the one I expected to love, but the other included game (Jet Set Radio Future) has become one of my all-time favorite ways to kill time. I have also discovered a fondness for the SSX snowboarding games, especially SSX3, which I bought when it was still new and therefore $49.

These two games, and half a dozen more, are sitting idle on our DVD shelf, because my Xbox's hard drive has crashed.

The Xbox is made from pretty standard computer parts: a 3.5" hard drive, a DVD drive, and a Celeron processor. You could build one yourself from parts, except for one thing: they designed it specifically so you can't. That "standard" 8-gig hard drive, otherwise upgradeable to 20 gigs for $40, is "locked" to the motherboard and must be replaced with another Xbox-specific hard drive and matching motherboard, for no other reason than that Microsoft wants you to do it that way. There are aftermarket "mod chips" that allow you to jump through some hoops and do a ritual dance and install a different hard drive, but they're pricey, too. Oh, and I'd still have to replace the DVD drive that was slowly burning out.

And no other device except a first-generation Xbox can do anything at all with those games I have already bought and paid for. This pisses me off.

Not to mention the fact that there is another old Xbox game, Psychonauts, that I always wanted to try, though I hear there's now a downloadable PC version of that one if I really want to check it out.

And now, we've been introduced to the wonders of Guitar Hero II (thanks a lot, Danny), which is a total blast, but exclusive to the PlayStation 2. SSX3 and a couple of my other games were made for the PS2, but my Xbox discs won't work in it. I'd have to re-buy games I already own to play them on the PS2. So if we want Guitar Hero (and I think we both really want Guitar Hero), we need a PS2, but if I ever want to play Jet Set again (and I do), I need to replace my Xbox.

In my utopian future, software and hardware would be more like bread and toasters. Toast whatever you want, in whatever brand of toaster you prefer. This is how the open-source software movement sees things: The hardware is just the box. The software should be able to work in any box, provided the box is of a "standard" size and shape. Buy the hardware you need, and run the software you have on it.

Oddly, it may actually happen someday. Steve Jobs has now gone on record supporting music downloads unencumbered by DRM software, and says Apple would have been doing it that way all along if the record companies had allowed it. And with Apple now going to Intel processors, and with renewed interest in virtualization, the "boxes" are becoming more and more alike every day. I have three different computers running three different operating systems that all use the same version of Firefox. It can be done.

Ten years from now, if the industry stops being greedy and starts designing things this way, you could buy a game disc with ten different logos on its back cover showing which devices it supports, plop it in any one of those devices, and have it work. There is nothing stopping it now except corporate greed and short-sightedness. And even the greed backfires on them: I probably would have bought more games over the years, if I didn't have to have a specific console to play them in. I saw several Dreamcast, PS2 and Gamecube games that looked like fun.

So there it is, guys: Sell me ONE toaster, and let me do with it what I want, and I guarantee you I'll buy more bread to put in it. Make me buy several toasters to get different flavors, and I might just quit eating toast altogether. I can live without toast.



what he said.


From Ken....Until then, there is ebay.

You can get a used xbox or PS2 console for 50-60 bucks if you snipe it (let me know if you're not familliar with sniping). You can also get guitar hero 1 or 2 with two guitars for 50-70 bucks.
Word. I'm so with you on this one!