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Why VHS Was Better 419

Posted by michael
from the network-effects dept.
otis wildflower writes "An article in the UK's Guardian describes why, in the end, VHS is better than Betamax. While this may not be terribly useful knowledge on its own, the author then makes a pretty convincing case that viewing something's success or failure purely on technical merit is not an entirely accurate way of looking at things. For better or for worse, success of new products and technologies is determined by a broad range of factors that make up "the whole product", quality being only one, and possibly a minor one at that. Kind of explains what happened to the Atari Lynx and Jaguar, dunnit?"
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Why VHS Was Better

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  • by Space Coyote (413320) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:12AM (#5161142) Homepage
    This guy basically takes way too long to explain that BetaMax had was by far the better product, but then simply states that, despite all of its advantages, VHS is still better because it's more popular.

    And he minimizes the difference in image quality between the two formats, wihch is a mistake. BetaMax's image quality was, and is, much better, both initially and especially after multiple passes.

    To quote a fellow Farker on this guy: I think I'll go out and purchase a cheap but popular car.
    • Not at all... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jayson (2343) <jnordwick&gmail,com> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:20AM (#5161163) Homepage
      He argues that Betamax was actually more popular when it began, and they had a "defacto monopoly from tape incompatabilities." The author says that the reason Betamax lost the market was that it didn't do what the consumer wanted, to be able to record an entire movie unattended due to their one hour tape versus the VHS two hour tape. He has some other arguments, such as the Betamax was originally higher priced (and was cheaper, but only after losing market too much market share to matter).

      His point wasn't that you can look at a single factor (e.g., popularity), but you have to weight products more holistically.
      • Re:Not at all... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by orthogonal (588627) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:04AM (#5161255) Journal
        The author says that the reason Betamax lost the market was that it didn't do what the consumer wanted, to be able to record an entire movie unattended due to their one hour tape versus the VHS two hour tape. He has some other arguments, such as the Betamax was originally higher priced....

        Hmmm. Makes me think of MP3s versus CDs. I listen to all of my music on MP3, despite having a (Sony, ironically enough!) 50 CD "jukebox".

        Why do I sacrifice quality by listening to MP3s rather than CDs?
        • Convenience: I can easily set up arbitrarily long, arbitrarily ordered MP3 playlists, and without the time it takes for the "jukebox" to physically chnage CDs.
        • Greater selection at cheaper prices. While I do not and will not download MP3s to which I don't have a license, I can and do subscribe to emusic.com. This gives me an excellent selection of medium quality (128 kbps) MP3s, far more than I could afford as CDs -- and far more than I'd be tempted to "try out", buying CDs I might later find out didn't justify a $10-$20 price tag.
        • Portability: Carrying around a portable CD player generally resulted in my listening to a single CD, over and over, as carrying additional CDs was inconvenient (see reason #1, above) and resulted in losing numerous Cds. carrying around my Archos MP3 player gives my my entire music collection (currently about 14 GBs in MP3 format) in my pocket.
        • Quality: I can't easily hear the difference in quality between a CD and an MP3, even when the MP3 is piped through the (now empty) "jukebox"'s speakers. To the extent that I can hear the difference, I prefer to indulge my eclectic musical taste in quantity rather than fewer selections in quality. Your mileage will undoutedly vary.
        Quality's important, don't misunderstand me. But let me chicken out by closing with a few choice cliches: Often the best is the enemy of the good, and enough (quality, ironically, not quantity) is as good as a feast, and more than enough is as bad as a surfeit.
    • by melonman (608440) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:29AM (#5161187) Journal

      but then simply states that, despite all of its advantages, VHS is still better because it's more popular.

      There whas a bit more to his argument than that:

      VHS offered a bigger choice of hardware at lower cost, the tapes were cheaper and more easily available, there were a lot more movies to rent, and so on.

      Those sound like three quite important arguments to me, unless money is no object, you like buying hardware from a de facto monopoly, hunting for media is your idea of fun and you don't actually want to watch movies, just admire the spec.

      A bit further on, he points out another specific flaw in Sony's market research:

      Sony got one simple decision wrong. It chose to make smaller, neater tapes that lasted for an hour, whereas the VHS manufacturers used basically the same technology with a bulkier tape that lasted two hours.

      Now I don't know a lot about the details, but would it have been that hard for Sony to provide essentially the same technology with a larger box and a longer tape? As the article continues:

      Their spouses/children/grandparents and everybody else would quickly have told them the truth. "We're going out tonight and I want to record a movie. That Betamax tape is useless: it isn't long enough. Get rid of it."

      And that's the basis problem with the general population who decide which products succeed by their purchasing decisions: they see technology as a means to an end, not as something to admire for its intrinsic cleverness.

      • But none of those are technological reasons. It had shitty marketing, bad support, but based purely on tech merit, it was better. No one claimed it was better on any field other than technically. Basically,
        Betamax:VHS::OS/2:Windows
        • by melonman (608440) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:28AM (#5161295) Journal

          But none of those are technological reasons.

          I would have thought that the storage capacity was quite an important technological criterion for a storage medium. If the technology is for home recording, and the tape it too short to record what a lot of people what to record, ie full-length films, isn't that a bit of a drawback? I have to say that I'd rather see all of a film at less than perfect quality than all but the last 20 minutes of a film at wonderful quality.

      • "And that's the basis problem with the general population who decide which products succeed by their purchasing decisions: they see technology as a means to an end, not as something to admire for its intrinsic cleverness."

        Well, I suppose that's a problem, except that technology - no matter how intrinsically clever - is useless as an 'end'. Technology is a means to an end; your mom does not care how beautiful the DeCSS algorithm is when written in three lines of Perl. That is not a bad thing. I don't care, either. Does it WORK? Quickly? Do what I want? that's much more important. Idolizing the intrinsic technological beauty of things while discounting their actual use is a grave mistake. Look a supermodels; they're 'hot' and have great tits or whatever, but do they do anything? NO.
        • "...except that technology - no matter how intrinsically clever - is useless as an 'end'"
          A meaning of "technology" beased upon its Greek roots might be "the meaning of the making of things". "Techne" itself can be a creative work, and "creative work" is anything made by man--including both art and functional items. Note that the tools of creation are also themselves creations. "Techne" can also be the art or craft of creation--a meaning very close to our "technology".

          My point is twofold. First, that tools are as fully "techne" as the things they produce. (It is arguable that they are moreso by virtue of their inherent abstracted rationalism.) Second, that "techne" includes both art and non-art.

          So why can't technology also be art? It can. And when it is, it is closest to being "an end unto itself". Whether they realize this or not, it is from this perspective that many enthusiasts of various technologies understand these technologies.

    • Did you read it? I don't recall an explanation of BetaMax's supposed superiority. In fact, the statement that it wasn't better is at the top off the piece.

      He says BetaMax's supposed edge was discernible only in the lab, not by people watching a tape, and that Sony's decision to package it in one-hour lengths made it unusable for movies.
    • by nehril (115874) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:39AM (#5161201)
      I think the image quality differences are a big deal only to a very small segment. The difference between VHS's "good" and BetaMax's "great" is lost on most people. good is good enough. people will opt for lossy "compression" for the sake of more content (witness the MP3 format's success.) consider that even with vhs most people will record at whatever level gives them the longest record time, sacrificing quality.

      Ask the average tivo owner what quality level they select for their seinfeld reruns. VHS won because it gave people more of less, in a way. Just like McDonalds makes money hand over fist serving "food" that would make a french chef gag. :)

      • While it's tempting to argue that "Good is the enemy of the best", it should be apparent that a successful product will, by definition, do what it's buyers want it to do. Capabilities or attributes that aren't wanted won't help sales. In fact, adding on capabilities that people don't won't or can't discern (like high-falutin' specs) will drive the price up.
  • by Interfacer (560564) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:16AM (#5161151)
    a lot of people are confused about this phrase, thinking of 'fit' as being technical superior.

    in fact the term fit does have nothing to do with that, but should be interpreted as 'fitted for a certain purpose'

    for example one of the reasons that windows version whatever is so popular with computer iliterate persons is that it takes you by the hand to do a lot of things, which can be a pain for power users, but not for newbies. in that sense windows is most 'fitted' for that situation, just as linux is for power users, server systems, or as BSD on powerful stable systems with 1000's of connections at a time.

    other examples are software programming where C++ can be the best solution for developing algorithms, and VB for simple DB connected user interfaces.

    the 'fittest' solution survives in the place where it is used at its best. C is not 'better' than VB. it is fit for other purposes than VB.

    you can only talk about 'better' when two things are designed for the exact same purpose.

    Interfacer.
    • by MasonMcD (104041) <[masonmcd] [at] [mac.com]> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:52AM (#5161228) Homepage
      And Darwin's concept was done a great injustice by bandying about the phrase "survival of the fittest," when it should have been merely, "survival of the fit."

      If you find a niche, it doesn't matter that there are successful predators out there that eat you, you merely must reproduce, faster than they can, and faster than they can eat.

      In the case of the mac (which is what we're really talking about here, huh? VHS vs. Betamax! Pshaw! THoS EaR COdE WeRdZ!), Apple just has to watch Dell, HP, Compaq (oops!) et al figure out who's the Alpha Male of the dinosaur VARs, and let them gobble each other up. See http://www.mammals.org.
    • other examples are software programming where C++ can be the best solution for developing algorithms, and VB for simple DB connected user interfaces

      You don't know a lot of languages, do you?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:20AM (#5161164)
    When they were released, betamax had only 1 hour tapes.. VHS had two hour tapes...

    You could record a film onto VHS... which you couldn't do with beta unless you were sitting in front of it to change the tapes halfway through.
    • And maybe this should be a warning to those companies that want to accommodate DRM into their products: you will marginalize your widget. I'm sure Jack Valenti preferred beta to VHS.
      • And maybe this should be a warning to those companies that want to accommodate DRM into their products: you will marginalize your widget. I'm sure Jack Valenti preferred beta to VHS.

        Jack Valenti hated them both. (cf: "Boston Strangler" comment.) If he had his way, the only place we could see movies now would be in the theaters, and it would be illegal to descrbe what we'd seen to other people. The only ones allowed to openly describe scenes from movies would be licenced reviewers (who paid an annual licencing fee, a fraction of which went to the MPAA becasue of the excessive use of their intellectual property).

    • You are correct that the biggest factor helping VHS was the fact it could record longer than Beta.

      Right from the start, VHS had a time recording advantage over Beta--the T-120 tape could record 120 minutes in SP mode, 240 minutes in LP mode, and 360 minutes in EP/SLP mode. At 360 minutes per tape you could easily record six 60-minute episodes of your favorite TV series or a full sporting event complete with overtime!

      Beta's visual quality advantage also vanished when Super VHS arrived in the late 1980's--I've seen S-VHS recordings done at SP mode and the picture quality is outstanding; the only better widely-available home consumer videocasette formats today are the MiniDV/MicroDV digital camcorder formats that have a resolution of just over 500 lines, almost as good as a professional studio TV camera.

      I believe that another huge factor was that because VHS was invented by JVC (a Matsushita Electric subsidiary by 1977), it had the backing of the gigantic Matsushita Electric corporation. That meant companies around knew the VHS format could survive using Matsushita's huge worldwide marketing muscle with the Panasonic brand name.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2003 @11:39AM (#5161755)
      REWIND and FAST FORWARD were practically impossibly lagging tasks and that is why betamax died.

      Ask experts : Betamax audio head was TOO FAR APART from video head for efficient tape path!

      It was a mini form of UMAT 3/4 inch crap and unsuited for VIDEO CAMERAS and unsuited for user wanting to hit REWIND + STOP + PLAY + FAST FORWARD + STOP +PLAY.

      Why? Because the excessive disatnce between the linear audio head (used in prerecorded movies and part of standard) and the distance from the helical scanning head was WAY too far apart comapared to logical and efficient and non-retarded VHS. (Each ff or RW required tape path to be placed back into cassette for high speed motion, and threading took AGES in betamax crap).

      Nobody seems to remember this or know this.

      I and maybe a handful of other engineers seem to remember how painful it was to fast forward and rewind on ANY betamax deck.

      They all sucked.

      Them VHS got an exotic M-Format ultra hirez by running tape at 4x speed for pro highend cameras and then the betamax tape had no advantage. VHS at quad speed was unbeatable even if it only held 30 minutes.

      Eventually S-VHS came out, allowing 120 minutes at qualities exceeding betamax.

      But nobody remembers that Betamax sucked for fast forward and rewind and was unsuited for good hand held cameras all because of its asinine huge distance between audio head and helical hed.

      I bet, without even reading the article, that the author overlooked the truth and these facts.

      read and learn.
    • VHS had two hour tapes...

      Which, as far as I'm concerned. made VHS technically better.
  • good article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by riaa (635920) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:22AM (#5161168)
    if i remember correctly, greedy sony refused to license the technology to anyone else, wanting all the profit for themselves. instead they got nothing.
    also didnt know beta could not record a whole movie (never owned 8 trach either). what were they thinking? they must have known tv shows were 1/2 and 1 hours long, and that movies were longer. im sure they were not afraid of copyright violations, as they took the movie industry to court for 'consumer' rights an won. dont think they are so generous now that they own a record label.
    these days sony is a grimy, sleazy company with very little to offer besides hype. i cant think of one product they have that someone else doesnt make better.
    • Re:good article (Score:3, Informative)

      by jo_ham (604554)
      They didn't exactly get nothing - their groundwork with betamax enabled them to develop their professional video systems.

      I think Sony have done rather well out of U-matic, Betacam and DigiBeta.

      No longer are these machines changing hands for five figure sums - well, exceptthe most expensive DigiBeta deck, the DVW-A500, which is £24,995, excluding VAT (at 17.5%).

      Sure, Sony sells consumer products, but the margins are so much lower - something I'm all to aware of since I'm buying A Sony DSR-11 DVCAM deck for our Media 100i non linear edit suite. This is the cheapest of all the DVCAM decks, and it retails for £1495 excluding VAT.
  • This will continue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by indigogorge.net (535856) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:24AM (#5161172)
    As long as some companies try to make everyone buy proprietary products, this will happen. VHS was not better than BetaMax. Sony simply did not want to share. Hence, VHS was more widely accepted because everyone could buy a VHS player, and not a very pricy BetaMax player. If you looked at minidisk 12 years ago, when CDs where starting to come out, they offered the same capacity, and so many more features. But in the End, it was cheaper for people to buy CDs, instead of buying proprietary expensive Sony only players and products. Same thing with sony memorystick. Make it an open source product, and just collect license fees, or what have you. Then everyone will use it if it is a good thing. I'm sure there are a lot more companies like this, but I just picked on Sony because it is their original product.
    • From the article:
      Other elements of the oft-repeated Betamax story are also wrong. For example, while Sony was certainly slow to bring in other manufacturers, it had tried to license it to rivals such as JVC before VHS was even launched.
      Doesn't sound like not wanting to share to me (depending upon the terms they wanted of course) - they weren't averse to sharing the CDA format either that they developed with Philips.

      I agree about memorystick, it seems superfluous when SD is around, but Mini-disc isn't quite comparable to CD as it's lossy, like MP3. Sony used to make some nice kit, these days I'm not too impressed.

    • by gidds (56397)
      MD is not a good example. The MD format is licensed; Sharp, for example, make some very good MD kit, and there are many makes of blank MDs.

      One of the reasons MD hasn't caught on in the USA is that it was hastily pitched against DCC, and while everyone was waiting to see which would win, CDR and MP3 players sneaked in and stole some of the market. DCC has just about died a death, while MD is actually quite popular here in Europe and especially in Japan. Not so much for buying prerecorded music, but MD hifis, car units, and MD blanks are available everywhere, and many folks use them. They're ideal for carrying music about, for cars, for recording concerts, &c.

      MD also wins over CD-audio in some areas: smaller, more robust (no need for cases), stores text info/titles, editable (merge/split/move/delete tracks), 161-minute mono mode, much more skip-resistant...

      And to answer other comments; while the quality of early MD compressors was lousy, recent compressors (ATRAC 5) have a sound that's effectively indistinguishable from CD. (I believe the raw bitrate is about 280kpbs, and that ATRAC 5 compression beats MP3 bit-for-bit by quite a lot.)

      It's still an argument against proprietary formats, of course; if Sony had opened up the format more, especially w.r.t. data MDs (which were made deliberately incompatible and hugely expensive), then it might have become more popular much more quickly...

  • by rufusdufus (450462) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:25AM (#5161173)
    The value of a product is not defined by its creators. It is defined by its market. Meaning its users and customers.

    Linux is doomed to be a niche player until this fact is more widely accepted. It doesn't matter what geeks think about the product if the end user is not satisfied, overjoyed even.

    As it is today, woe to any newbie who wants to jump on the linux bandwagon; all they get is name calling and static when they have real problems. The overall experience can be very unpleasant.
    • by reallocate (142797) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:48AM (#5161223)
      True, true. I'd add that most geeks also seem to expect computer users to progress from a newbie state (Windows) to a "power user" state" Linux. In other words, they expect the customer to change rather than the product.

      What they seem to fail to understand is that many, if not most computer users, aren't that interested in computers, no more than they have an abiding interest in how television works. Its "what" it enables them to do, not how it does it, that counts.
      • by Paul Neubauer (86753) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @10:10AM (#5161393)
        And if any proof of that attitude is needed, just look at that nasty responses jwz got for speaking out for usability...

        There was an earlier media format that one company came up with, and wanted adopted so badly that they pretty much gave away the licensing for it. It worked. And the 33-1/3 LP caught on quite well.
        • The JWZ piece was on target, and the reaction here predictable.

          A pair of insupportable assertions runs through many posts attacking anyone who suggests that the reason for Linux's limited popular success rests with Linux, not with people who don't use it.

          The first assertion: I figured out how to use this thing the hard way, so everyone else should as well.

          The second assertion: People don't use Linux because they're either too lazy to figure it out or too stupid. Either way, I'm better than they are because I use Linux.

          In truth, there's much about Linux that's a waste of time: multiple installation routines; conflicting packaging "standards"; hazardous library seas; etc. Even for professionals, learning about these things is just annoying. Someone with a commitment to the open source philosophy behind Linux may be accept these annoyances. The rest of the world will just avoid Linux.
      • There, you've summed up why Linux will do one of two things:

        It will remain a cool and highly useful geek tool.

        or it will be killed by the people kludgeing it up to make it a happy-shiney newbie desktop.


        Every time I hear someone saying [insert suggestion to cripple Linux down and make it less like Unix] I wince.

      • A little test (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dachshund (300733) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @11:01AM (#5161568)
        In other words, they expect the customer to change rather than the product.

        Try the following. Grab a computer and install a version of RedHat linux from 1999. Now install the latest version. You'll notice a phenomenal difference between the two products.

        The more recent version will have a simple, pretty graphical installer that recognizes just about any hardware and self-configures. It'll have a nice desktop interface that's clearly modeled after Windows/Macintosh. It'll have an office suite designed to be comfortable for someone who's used to MS Office. Almost all of the day-to-day configuration issues (think editing text files) from the 1999 version will have been moved into simple-to-use control panels accessable from the desktop.

        Sure, the current version isn't perfect, and it may not be enough to convince most users to switch. But to claim that Linux "expects the customer to change rather than the product" is to set up a strawman that has little to do with reality.

      • Frankly that attitude, that users aren't interested in computers, is quite dangerous. Let's look at cars as an analogy, and note the parallels. It's quite surprising how many there are.

        Cars are a powerful, universal technology. A huge percentage of the US wants/needs cars. But you can't just go out to the store, buy a car, and drive away with it. You must have a drivers license, a certificate of at least minimum skill in operating the car on a road where other people are also driving and your mistakes can have adverse impacts on others. No skill, no car. Then there are mechanics, who not only can operate the car but know what goes on under the hood. These people are in the strongest position, since they control the technology.

        Now think about networked computers. Powerful, universal technology, just like cars, and now essential to the way our society operates. But you don't need a license of minimum competency to purchase a computer and put it on the network. Anyone can, whether or not they know a CDROM from a coaster. The problem is, the analogy holds. People operating computers on the network without minimum ability are a hazard, because their computers can and often do become the tools of people interested in causing trouble. Granted that can happen to people at lots of skill levels, just like accidents happen to good drivers. But the greater the general skill level, the fewer accidents on the highway. Likewise, the more intelligent/educated the community on the network, the stronger the network will be.

        Linux nerds are like mechanics - they know the guts and control the technology. But so many people on the net know absolutely nothing about what they are doing, and they represent a danger to the general network community. The solution is education, as usual. Since no basic training for using a computer on a network is mandated, I think the expectation for users to progress to a "power user state" is a reflection of the educated computer users' reactions to what happens when ignorance and technology collide on the net. The infastructure is not robust enough to operate without some active help from its users. Just as cars can't go from a to b safely without a reasonably educated driver. Yes, the car might make it, and the ignorant user might be fine on the net. But the odds against it are much higher, and multiplied by thousands those conditions spell trouble.
    • > It doesn't matter what geeks think about the product if the end user is not satisfied, overjoyed even.

      Do you think Windows users are satisfied and overjoyed with Windows? Not in my experience. Still it's the most popular (i.e. "best") platform today. Individual users didn't choose Windows, the decision was made by big organizations for historical reasons.

  • Quick summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Espen (96293) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:25AM (#5161175)
    VHS was better because it became more popular.

    Next week we will be arguing that the best music ever composed is that which has sold the most, and that the best movie is the one which has been the highest grossing.

    In summary, the best approach to creating the best new and exciting products is to recycle old ones in new packaging and market the hell out of them.
    • Re:Quick summary (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TommyAquinas (231046)
      Like, say, Lindows (tm)?

      "fast follower" is a highly effective marketing strategy. In the context of the article, 'best' implies market acceptance, not quality.

      RB
    • Re: Quick summary (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Sighm (94030)
      But why was VHS supposed to be better?


      The reason why VHS has won from BetaMAX was simply because of one thing: pr0n! The pr0n industry embraced the VHS technology because the tapes were fairly cheap. Because lots of pr0n was available on VHS, people bought a VHS recorder!


      Simple network effects at play here: do NOT underestimate the power of pr0n, really!


      -- JaWi

  • by AndrewHowe (60826) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:26AM (#5161178)
    ... So we had a V2000 system. Actually it was a Grundig machine. But anyway, V2000 was better than VHS/Betamax technically. It soon became pretty hard to find prerecorded tapes for it, though.
    • My family had one of those. 4 hour tapes, double sided, displayed the current position in hours and minutes.

      Pretty sweet. Shame they never caught on.
    • My grandad had a V2000 machine. It's still sitting next to the TV in his living room along with all the original tapes he bought at the time. Obviously, he hasn't been able to find many places that sell new blank tapes.

      The biggest benefit was being able to record three hours per side on a tape that was the same size (or nearly) as a VHS tape.
    • I had a V2000 recorder and loved it. Brilliant quality and the tapes could be flipped over and recorded on the other side like audio cassettes. IIRC you got 2x4 hours on one tape. Also, the players were quite easy to operate by non-techies.

      The refusal of Philips to allow the release of pr0n on V2000 may have contributed to its demise, but I think it was more due to the idiotic Philips marketing department. Philips V2000 entered the consumer market quite late and was still priced at "early adopter" prices when VHS and Betamax prices were already coming down. Why? Because Philips, in all their wisdom, decided that consumers weren't interested in recording video. Why would anyone want to record TV shows? Instead, they aimed their marketing primarily at companies and schools and such, and priced the units accordingly.
  • by Jayson (2343) <jnordwick&gmail,com> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:27AM (#5161179) Homepage
    He says that geeks don't understand about the total package and that technical ability isn't the only thing. He's right in that is what geeks say. However, geeks do realize this, but they just don't know it.

    From an example taken from The Other Site [kuro5hin.org] in the last day: programming languages. People will willingly use broken languages, not as superior, because they interface to more things, can be applied to more general purpose situations (even when they shouldn't be), or have bigger libraries. You only need to look to Perl and C.

    Perl is an attrocious language judging on purely technical merits, however CPAN and all the sugar it has are what give people reason to use it. You will often hear the C or Perl apologist say, "it does what I need good enough" or "I get work done in it." This is almost the same decision calculous that the author is expousing: people chose VHS because it did what they needed (recording a two hour movie unattended) and it did it well enough (they couldn't tell the difference in image quality).
    • mySQL doesn't even have subselects, but it's open source & cheaper so we'll use it instead of Oracle. Granted the difference in price between Oracle & mySQL is div0 greater than the price difference between Beta & VHS, but some of the same logic applies.
    • You will often hear the C or Perl apologist say, "it does what I need good enough" or "I get work done in it."
      I would think that would please Larry Wall- his object seems to have been to create a usable tool, not a CS project.
      Perl seems to be a wonderful example of reality - rather than trying for technically superiority it aims for utility. I'm no great perl hacker, I just dabble occasionally to get something done and it suits that purpose very well.
    • "You will often hear the C or Perl apologist say, 'it does what I need good enough' or 'I get work done in it.'"
      Yes, but even in this context there's a vocal minority of programmers that loudly advocate a language (and denigrate others) based upon its intrinsic technical merit.

      I think that this fact that you point out--that programmers (who form a subset of the tech geeks that are picky about what they consider superior technology) also display this pragmatic evaluation of a technology (in this example, computer languages) as opposed to the techno-esthete oriented appraisal--and my point that a further subset of them do the opposite, together indicate what's really going on. And that is whether or not one has the luxury of chosing the aesthetic point of view over the pragmatic. For most people, most of the time, technology is a means to an end, not an end itself. It doesn't matter if it's ugly on its own terms (and its own terms would be its technical "beauty"), if in most other ways it's superior. However, if the tool's use is sufficiently restricted as to make most of those other factors irrelevant, then the tool's beauty becomes quite important to those so inclined to appreciate it. Often in technology, a tool's beauty is directly associated with it being engineered to do one particular restricted thing very well. So for those using such a tool in this restricted fashion (what it was deeply designed to do, not what it merely can do), form and function merge into technical perfection. The problem here is that the people that fall in love with their tools in this situation tend to forget that outside that narrow context, its value is diminished.

      For me, these two viewpoints are not opposed. Given what I just wrote, it is probably clear that "best" to me is dependent upon whatever set of criteria that I think are relevant to a specific evaluation. To continue your example, in the realm of scripted languages I find both Perl and Ruby to be "beautiful". Perl because it seems beautiful to me in Wall's relentless pragmatism; and Ruby for its clean abstraction. In general, I'd use Perl because in the land of pragmatism, Perl is king (even if it's one-eyed and four-armed). But, given the right project, I'd prefer Ruby.

  • by ageOfWWIV (641164) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:32AM (#5161195)
    A great deal of this article spends its time talking about the "whole product" and applying it to everything from software to cars.

    He says when consumers buy a technologically inferior product, they are really buying the ability to chooseand buying product support/longevity

    Really? I thought the success of competing standards has always been based on two things: clout and marketing, not technical specifications. Your average consumer will choose brand X not because they've carefully weighed the benefits of it over brand Y but because they saw a really funny ad on superbowl sunday about it. Don't overestimate the average joe since what he will always buy into, is the hype.
    ___
    • This is oversimplification to the extreme. What really matters is wether you think the product will succeed or not. As opposed to chocolate or candy bars, it really, really matters what technology "everybody else" chooses.

      People generally look at themselves as superior to most of their peers. And it might just be that average Joe is saying EXACTLY what you are saying, but because he thought VHS would succeed and Betamax would not (possibly because of other peoples stupidity), he chose VHS.

      This is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one of the things that tip the scale is good marketing.
  • by locarecords.com (601843) <davidNO@SPAMlocarecords.com> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:41AM (#5161208) Homepage Journal
    I think this is an important point when creating technical projects - it is not just the technical specifications that sell a product (well for non-slashdot readers anyway ;-)


    I don't know if anyone has come across the writer Bruno Latour but he argues convincingly that we need a more complex understanding of the way technology projects are started, run and completed in order to understand why certain technical decisions are made. Afterall there can be cost constraints, efficiency constraints, material constraints, management constraints, organisational constraints (ie we don't do it like that here) and so on and on.


    The phrase heterogeneous engineering is a great term that refers to the way technical people have to engineer not just, say, the software, but also the managers, other people, organisational lethagy and so on just to get the thing out of the drawing room (let alone the door).


    I remember working for a very prestigious and large media company who could not see the value of the Internet whatso ever. No matter how much I banged on about it. In the end I left as it was clear the managers and company were still living in the land of VAX/VMS... Shit they were *still* worrying about X25!


    But it is interesting how we as engineers have to have the social skills as well as technical skills in order to move a project forward... and that can be much harder than the technical!

  • by SlashdotLemming (640272) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:50AM (#5161225)
    Why Iron was better than Bronze
  • The whole significance of "Betamax vs. VHS" and why it's remembered is because it shows that a technically superior product won't always be the most popular. Without this point there is no significance of the events, all the author does is restate what's been said a thousand times. This is a terrible article.
  • Random VHS fact! (Score:5, Informative)

    by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:00AM (#5161239) Homepage
    Ever wonder what VHS stands for?
    It stands for Vertical Helix Scan

    now you know and knowing is half the battle...
    • by CharlieO (572028) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:09PM (#5164509)
      There is a remarkable phenmenom with technical acronyms.

      Thier meaning shifts over time. Mainly this is because the technology they describe becomes successful and the meaning of the orginal expansion is no longer valid. However the acronym is firmly rooted almost like a brand name, so usually the expansion is changed.

      For instance VHS did originally expand to Vertical Helical Scan - which is a description of the way that the enigineering team solved how keep the tape speed over the head high without having to have the tape itself spooling at hig speed and therefor needing a huge amount of it.

      Later as it became popular and mass market the expansion changed to Video Home System as this was more understandable for the consumer.

      Video Home System (a less daunting rendering of the original acronym, which stood for Vertical Helical Scan)
      Reference : Baird to MPEG A History Of Video [transdiffusion.org]

      Look at the GSM [gsmworld.com] mobile phone standard. Orignially this stood for Group Spécial Mobile [handytel.com] - a special interest of the CEPT set up to develop one digital standard, based on the existing ISDN standard,for mobile phones in Europe to replace the mess of competing analogue ones.

      Nowadays, given the massive success of the standard the expansion is Global System for Mobile communications [handytel.com].

      DECT [www.dect.ch] originally stood for Digital European Cordless Terminal [handytel.com]. For the non Europeans its a standard for short range digital handset to base station communication for cordless phones. Being a standard you can now buy extra handsets from whoever you want, and things like wireless modems. As its success took off and it began to be used outside of Europe then the expansion changed to Digital Enhanced Cordless Terminal [handytel.com]

      As mentioned elsewher in this thread DVD originally stood for Digital Video Disc but as it became apparent that a high capacity replacement for CD could have many uses it was renamed to Digital Versatile Disc with the convention that the specific use is tagged afterwards, hence DVD-Video, DVD-RAM, DVD-ROM, DVD-Audio The moral of the story is be careful what you state an acronym stands for - a whole load of them in daily use have stood for a number of things in thier history!!

      Oh, and yes I do currently work in the telecoms side of it, how did you guess??
  • by kmellis (442405) <kmellis@io.com> on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:00AM (#5161240) Homepage
    "...the author then makes a pretty convincing case that viewing something's success or failure purely on technical merit is not an entirely accurate way of looking at things."
    This just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. I mean, to the larger portion of the educated population, this is so obvious as to be not even worth mentioning.

    To a portion of the population--strongly represented here in Slashdot and probably among whom there's an elevated rate of Asperger's Syndrome--this must surely seem heretical.

    I recall a time a few years ago when a fellow software "engineer" tried to express to me his irritation that multinational executives still flew around all over the world to have face-to-face meetings when teleconferencing VR rigs would be cheaper. I said, well, maybe it's the big, ugly, uncomfortable headgear that puts those executives off of such a cool technology. Among other things. "It just doesn't make sense", he replied.

    No, I guess it doesn't make sense to people like that. Every time a clearly superior technology doesn't succeed in the market place, it must be the result of insidious forces acting in conspiracy to thwart the will of the smart and rational people. They say. "Linux is clearly the superior operating system. When will people wake up and realize that?" When, indeed? Maybe when it is?

    • This just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. I mean, to the larger portion of the educated population, this is so obvious as to be not even worth mentioning.

      Of course, it's obvious. I don't see any posts on this channel to suggest otherwise. Pretty much all the posters are saying "well DUH, everybody knew this about 20 years ago". Certainly nobody has warranted your own sarcastic abuse of their practicality.

      To a portion of the population-strongly represented here in Slashdot and probably among whom there's an elevated rate of Asperger's Syndrome-this must surely seem heretical.

      I don't think the majority "portion" of the Slashdot population is anything like the strawman you have presented. I believe most people are more practical than that. I honestly believe the majority "portion" of the Slashdot population recognises there are Linux shortcomings and they are working to resolve them.

      No, I guess it doesn't make sense to people like that. Every time a clearly superior technology doesn't succeed in the market place, it must be the result of insidious forces acting in conspiracy to thwart the will of the smart and rational people.

      The best engineers are always the most practical people. Engineers don't ever design things based purely on technical merit. They are holistic designers who consider appearance, maintenance, decommissioning, and all associated costs. That's what distinguishes an engineer from a prima donna coding monkey or a glorified fitter and turner.

      Of course, it could be the case that you're just trolling. Otherwise why would you throw in words like "conspiracy" and "insidious forces". If that's the case, why can't you get a life?

      • No, I wasn't trolling. I was being excessively acerbic, but what the hell.

        I agree that engineers are practical. But they also tend to have relatively narrow fields-of-view. That's a good thing, it's an asset in their occupation.

        A difficulty, though, I think, is that in their drive to whittle down a problem set to something well-defined (and solvable) they can easily (and often) abstract themselves far away from the real-world problem(s) their product will eventually be expected to solve. Also, in the context of advocating and criticizing, they also evaluate technology from the same narrow perspective. Why? Because that perspective is both where they are most comfortable and where they have the most expertise.

        Now, I think that this sort of tunnel-vision is highly variable, both across the population of technical types and within individuals. There are outliers that either rarely display this attribute or rarely fail to display it. Most of us are in the middle. But there is a correlation, I think, between the most narrowly focused and the most vocal advocates or critics; and it was at they I was most aiming my ire.

        • Your clarification is far more reasonable. However I would like to comment on this:

          There are outliers that either rarely display this attribute or rarely fail to display it. Most of us are in the middle. But there is a correlation, I think, between the most narrowly focused and the most vocal advocates or critics

          Those people who shout the loudest often have the least to say. Ignore them.

  • by AftanGustur (7715) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:14AM (#5161269) Homepage


    For better or for worse, success of new products and technologies is determined by a broad range of factors that make up "the whole product", quality being only one, and possibly a minor one at that.

    A very important point is that "quality" of a product is not defined by the producer but by the consommator.

    This also means that what one consumer is ready to pay 100 euros for, another won't buy it for more than 80, and others not at all (latest edition of Italian-Spanish dictionary f.ex.)

    What happened with Beta/VHS was that the VHS specs were made available to various constructors who competed between themselves to produce cheaper units.

    Cheaper price was simply "higher quality" factor to consumers that beeing able to record on both sides of the casette. (and other features).

    It is therefore just silly to say that "Quality" is a minor factor in a product's success. (Unless some monopoly company had f.ex. made deals to pre-install a VHS unit in all televisions manufactured)

  • by forty_two (147348) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:16AM (#5161271)
    Let's take a simple example: digital audio tape (Dat). Get someone to compare Dat with a humble C90 compact cassette and they will find Dat to be technologically superior, especially for recording music. However, if you consider "the whole product", Dat is vastly inferior for most people most of the time. This is why people still buy millions of cassettes, while Dat has virtually disappeared from consumer use.

    Er...I thought the RIAA effectively taxed DAT out of the reach of consumers? Dat is only inferior because it's so damn expensive.
    • DAT wasn't all that expensive. Consumer versions of it (and other digital tape and disc formats of the time) were all hobbled by SCMS. This is a lot of what prompted the *AA to lobby for mandatory copy protection; given a choice, the marketplace shunned it.
      • DAT wasn't all that expensive?! Look at where most of the analog cassette players are... walkmans, car radios, portable players, answering machines, etc. Those machines are generally about 200 bucks tops, and most of them are under $100 or even under $50. I've never seen a DAT deck that was under $500 list. Yeah, DAT has better audiophile sound, but most people don't care. Analog cassettes are perfectly listenable and most stereo systems won't get anything extra out of DAT. So hardly anyone was willing to pay for DAT.
        • I didn't really have in mind something you'd throw into your dashboard. The DAT Walkman models are really nice for taking out and recording new material, as opposed to copying or playing back prerecorded stuff. Really nice stuff for indy musicians who can't exactly afford the heavy duty toys. (Bootleggers love 'em too, more power to them.) PC-based recording is almost catching up, but the machines are still way too bulky and fragile for taking out to shows. Fair enough, they're sold as computers, not recorders!

          Traditional compact cassettes lose big time once you start worrying about mixing and dubbing later, unless you want to buy something a lot more expensive, bigger and with less recording time than that little DAT thingy.

          The big drawback as mentioned earlier is that you tend to be stuck with analog output if you want flexibility, but it's a lot less hassle than trying to compensate on the fly.

  • about VHS and BetaMax in this day and age which I think the author missed, is that there doesn't seem to be any discussion of DRM surrounding these technologies, being essentially analog formats. For myself, VHS is the way to go, simply because it's cheap and available everywhere, with few or no restrictions for personal use. And yes, I remember when *both* of them were invented; this was at about the same time that Xerox copiers began to show up in public. You should have heard the content creators screaming about piracy.
  • by primus_sucks (565583) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:35AM (#5161311)
    VHS tapes don't get scratched and skip like DVD's. You can fast forward through copyright notices at will.
  • V2000 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grundie (220908) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @09:40AM (#5161325)
    To hell with Betamax and VHS. Philips V2000 format was better than the both of them. It had double sided tapes, supeior picture quality, embedded timecode and really long tapes. It was years ahead of both Betamax and VHS. I'm surprised the author of the article didn't llok in to V2000 as it was quite popular in Britain for a while, before losing the marketing battle.

    As to the comparisons between VHS and Beta, I think the author makes a big blunder about VHS's success. I recall a TV interview with Alan Sugar, the founder of Amstrad which is a UK stack em high, sell em cheap electronics manufacturer. In the interview he said that his decision to make VHS machines in the early 80's was down to the fact that JVC offered him much more attractive licensing terms to use VHS as opposed to Sony who wanted twice as much for the Betamax system. Although market forces may have had an effect, surely VHS's success was more to do with the bigger profit margins it made for the manufacturers? Thus causing VHS to be promoted more at the expense of Betamax.
  • Argh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 5lash (589953)
    Too many technically superior standards aren't popular. Ogg Vs Mp3, Jabber Vs MSN/AIM. Not nearly enough people use IRC. Anyone care to list more?...
  • Not correct (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nordicfrost (118437)
    Indeed, the main thing that didn't fit was the idea was that Betamax was "technically superior". Standing in a shop at the time, there was absolutely no visible difference in picture quality, and some reviews had found that VHS's quality was superior.

    This is simply not correct. At work, we have several VCRs for professional use, and the Betacam SP rox in picture quality, sound quality and durability in comparison with SVHS. There is a VERY good reason for the Betas use in professional enviroments since long ago, and the superiority in all-over quality is one of them. If you can't see any difference in picture, you're either colour blind for severely seeing impaired. Or maybe two and a half glances at the screen in a videostore 15 years ago isn't enough.

    As for the one hour tapes, this is flat out wrong. Sony did introduce longer running tapes, when the tape technology got better. But in contrary to its competitor, the tapes maintained the Beta quality and seldom broke down as the VHS E120+ tapes have a tendency to do. Especially the E240, don't store any valuable memories on them!
  • another cool use... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by inode_buddha (576844) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @10:05AM (#5161377) Journal
    for VHS and BetaMax technologies: data backups. I don't have links at hand, but is's similar to using a modem to pipe your backup onto tape. It's fairly easy for the electronically clueful to figure out; the main question is to get your analog output (from the modem) "into band" for the video inputs of the VCR (so you can use *all* of the helical-scanned tracks...) or else you lose a bunch of the formats' native capacity. On the basis of price alone, I imagine it's fairly competitive with CD-R and DVD.
    • Similarly, VCRs have been used for digital audio recording before the emergence of DAT. You couldn't use audio cassettes for that because of their limited bandwidth.
  • The article is just a newspaper rehash of what should be well-known to Slashdot readers, but perhaps isn't since I didn't see mention of it before I hit "Reply."

    Section 2.1 of Richard Gabriel's Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big [dreamsongs.com] is called "Worse is Better." Those with shorter attention spans may enjoy his later presentation Models of Software Acceptance: How Winners Win [dreamsongs.com], which explicitly mentions VHS vs. Beta.

    P.S. Beta was much better than VHS at keeping vertical lines straight, especially over multiple generations.

  • Right. I was envisioning a primitive WebTV with an Atari 2600 and a cartridge with an phone jack, Linux, and a Lynx browser, and someone writing email with an old joystick.
  • by Delusion- (153011) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @10:13AM (#5161404) Homepage
    ...the marketplace should never be open to formats which are almost direct replacements for previous formats.

    In 1973, when the Compact Disc was introduced, the "infrastructure of capabilities, services, and support" for analog audio cassettes - prerecorded and otherwise - was vastly superior to that of the audio cassette. The CD prevailed despite the fact that there was no ability to record - analog cassette recorders are now most often encountered as unused legacy devices on multi-function audio hardware.

    This "whole product" theory is an unenlightening justification for the emerging popularity of specific standards - it's the best product because it's the one most people buy? While there's truth to this, this fact is often less interesting than examining WHY this is the case.

    If the technical standards of Betamax were superior to VHS - and they were - it's more useful to examine why these did not produce the dominant product than it is just to hand-wave the issue by saying that the best product is that which everyone else ended up buying. Any discussion of VHS versus BetaMax that doesn't discuss the fact that Sony wouldn't license its format to adult video studios misses another important aspect of why formats emerge and gain dominance over existing formats - the 'killer ap'.

    The fact that he dismisses DAT audio with his "whole product" argument does not strengthen it in the least. The DAT cassette was a product the market was eager and ready for, and the more passive segment of the consumer base would have eventually caught up with the geeks, audiophiles, and techs. The RIAA crippled the format before it reached the consumer by disabling digital-to-digital copying, which given the dominance of the audio cassette DESPITE noted technical deficiencies (fragility, sound quality on normal-bias cassettes, less convenience for liner notes than vinyl), would have been an easy sell to a consumer base used to direct copying. Score one for the RIAA.

    Enter MP3s. I've argued that the MP3 format is the just revenge of the marketplace against the deliberate crippling of DAT audio by the RIAA. The MP3 format became popular for technical reasons and became ubiquitous because the "whole product" was exactly what the marketplace had wanted and needed ever since the pre-recorded music industry moved to a read-only CD format - a high fidelity means of audio dubbing free from the limitations and physical fragility of analog cassettes. Had the RIAA had computer audio formats on its radar before it became a consumer reality, have no doubt that it, too, would have been a great idea that never made it to the broader marketplace.

    The argument isn't, and never has been that BetaMax was the "better" format or that it was more suitable for the marketplace - the argument is that, based on wholly technical anaysis, it delivered a better performance than VHS. The VHS standard won out because RCA didn't keep their product a proprietary standard subject to its licensing regieme, because of porn as the 'killer ap' among early VHS adopters, because it was a cheaper product to adopt for end-users as well as studios (related to the license issue), and because as more manufacturers developed for what was effectively an open standard, they developed features to get their products noticed which in many cases became standards - multiple recording speeds, for instance. There's no reason why, if the BetaMax standard were open, a savvy competetor in the market could have developed multiple recording speeds. Sony felt it had a say in this matter, RCA didn't.

    While the "whole product" isn't a completely invalid method of analyzing competing formats, it is as narrow a look at a larger issue as solely focusing on the technical specs, and is particularly poorly-suited toward determining why a particular format bucks the trend of the status quo and gains market dominance.

    If "whole product" were the whole story, we'd probably have never gotten to VHS or BetaMax, and Laser Disc and DVD would have been relegated to a curious historical diversion like the Ford Edsel, 3D cinema, or - more to the point - the DIVX DVD format... ...and the BBS versus MiniTEL.
  • In a fight you pick strong and ugly over elegant and beautiful. If you put a super model in a boxing ring against Mike Tyson she is not going to do very well.

    Another example of strong and ugly vs elegant and beautiful in a marketing fight: Windows 95 vs OS/2 Warp. OS/2 was a far superior operating system to Windows 95 but it lost the marketing fight.

    The proof of Beta's technical superiority is that most of the professional broadcast which is done with 1/2 inch tape is done with Beta format cartridges. There was a real attempt to use VHS in professional equipment but it was just too crappy a basic design to be successful.

    Amateur video doesn't generally require the quality which is possible with the basic Beta design. In the amateur world the length of recording is more important than the quality.

    Because of the Yin and Yang nature of reality the one place that the above is not true is the one place that you would least expect: elegant and beautiful fighting systems win over strong and ugly systems. High tech fighting equipment wins out over larger quantities of low tech. The elegance of a gps guided bomb makes it more effective against a given target than the ugly technique of throwing a bunch of unguided gravity bombs toward that same target.

    Engineers pick the elegant and beautiful ways of doing things because we want things to work better; managers pick the strong and ugly ways of doing things because they are clueless twits who only understand strong and ugly.

    Management understands that the general buying public are also mostly clueless twits who see the world like they do. Once things turn from the beauty contest of spec sheets into the ugly world of a marketing fight the management view is the marketable view; most people have no clue what it takes to make something work properly and pick the ugly tech as the way they would do things.

    Microsoft is the master of the strong and ugly product. Access is a prime example of that. Access is the shotgun of the database world. Access gives you enough general purpose features that often one of them will hit the target you are aiming at. The 'sniper rifle' approach would be to aim a custom program directly at your application target; that requires more time and expense and skill than blasting away in the general direction with Access.

    By the way, coming up with reasons why you did something - after the fact - is rationalizing. That is what this article is: a rationalization.
  • by neongenesis (549334) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @10:28AM (#5161456)
    The basic premise of the article, that overall survival depends on more than technical merit is accurate. However, the author omits one important factor that is also seen in the internet of today.

    P0rn!

    Sony was hesitant to license, or make available, the format to major porn makers. VHS was chosen. The main initial market for those $1500 players and $100 tapes was that normal horney people could finally see adult content in the privacy of their own home. Go check out some of those 1979-1980 Penthouse magazines on eBay and look in the back at the first tape advertisements. All VHS!

    Those recording the history of the internet are hesitant to document the importance of adult content e.g. to developing secure credit card mechanisms. This was critical to the rise of the internet we know today.

    If one is to learn from history, the history must be available in a complete form.

  • For better or for worse, success of new products and technologies is determined by a broad range of factors that make up "the whole product", quality being only one, and possibly a minor one at that.
    Also, actual girls have been discovered to be more complicated than jpeg files...
  • by Theovon (109752) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @11:57AM (#5161869)
    Isn't it interesting how "everygeek" will believe something is good or bad or whatever for like forever, until one day, some other card-carrying geek has a new insight, and then everyone suddenly changes their opinion. So now, a good 80% of Slashdot readers are suddenly going to erase the Betamax/VHS debate from their minds because they're been enlightened now to the fact that VHS won, and that's cool because it was, in fact, superior. They've also added the concept of "whole product" to their set of memes.

    On the one hand, this is great, because smart people grow and learn. But on the other hand, it's very amusing, because people don't figure these things out on their own (not like I did) and are only swayed when some other insightful geek gives them a new perspective. And that insightful geek got it from marketing suits and was just smart enough (more so than the rest of us) to not ignore what the suits were saying.

    Maybe we should look at this on the meta level. Geeks seem to go on crusades over every little technological inferiority/superiority. Maybe they should learn from their new-found enlightenment that perhaps many of their other beliefs also are based on near-sighted analysis. There's a bigger picture, and we need to consider that!

    Taking this a step further: Many 'geek ideals' are wonderful, but they also have to be marketed. Consider what has made things like Windows and VHS succeed in the market and apply that to marketing things like Free Software. Some people do that, but things like this article may help people to see another approach.

    Why can't I shake the feeling that my last paragraph just became near-sighted again?
  • by webster (22696) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @12:42PM (#5162120)
    This is a columnist I'll never have to read again. He's full of himself and full of shit.

    I have a large library of movies recorded onto Beta tapes. Entire movies. The idea that people bought VHS because they could record movies on them is patently ridiculous. He, himself notes that movies were first released on Beta - the format he then claims is too small to hold a movie.

    Everyone I knew who bought a VHS rather than a Beta machine, back when VHS was winning the marketing war, did so because you could program the VHS machine to record all your favorite programs for a week or two. At least, someone could, presumably. None of the folks I knew who chose VHS for that feature ever, ever used it. Most could never even figure out how to set the clock.

    VHS won that war because of better marketing. They came up with a feature with marginal utility (longer tape length) and convinced a whole lot of people that it was essential.
  • This is bullshit. (Score:3, Informative)

    by nordicfrost (118437) on Sunday January 26, 2003 @08:49PM (#5164430)
    I was going to keep my big mouth shut about this subject but I can't anymore. This article is crap. Beta has always, ALWAYS, been ahead of VHS in quality and features take a look here [palsite.com] for a description of some of the Beta features that dwarfs VHS. And have a look at the tape times [palsite.com] as well. Although the longest tapes weren't available at first, they became available. The video rental place the author of the article visited, presumably did not rent out films with 1/3 of the movie left out...

    The demise of Beta was crappy marketing and high prices. Period.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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