I shouldn’t have found Gruber’s comment to be such a revelation. Last year, I wrote about Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond’s comments upon the death of Steve Jobs; both of these leading lights of open-source software compared Apple customers to jailbirds. I figured out then that they have a problem with technology users whose priorities are different than theirs. And really, since the prison metaphor is so manifestly silly, what the people who make it are doing is objecting to the choice that Apple’s customers make. The idea that other people take pleasure in something they dislike upsets them.Here’s the sad part: Lee and Eckersley make some really good points. I too wish that Apple would introduce an optional ability to install unapproved apps. Although, when you think about it, jailbreaking provides that ability right now, which means that the world isn’t all that far from Lee and Eckersley’s desired state.I also share the authors’ alarm over Microsoft’s decision to allow the distribution of Windows 8 Metro apps only through its own Windows Store. Microsoft would never, ever have made that move without the App Store’s example, so sure, let’s go ahead and blame Apple for it.But by bringing up the prison thing, the EFF’s authors aren’t making their case more compelling. Instead, they’ve giving readers a convenient opportunity to roll their eyes and reject their argument. Especially readers who happily use Apple devices, and who bristle at people suggesting that they’re patsies for doing so.
My deputy-nemesis Danny O’Brien on the iPad, openness, and hacking stuff:
“It’s easy to see the iPad as the final tragedy in a long history of openness and tinkerability in general purpose computing. But the truth is, the cyclical fight against locked-in systems has been the recurring theme of computing since the mainframes. Our open systems are as wonderful as they are because they had to set themselves up against the shiny proprietary wonders of a previous age. The iPad isn’t a threat; it’s an inspiration. They’re always trying to steal the revolution; we always have to steal it back.”
This is the point that lots of people miss. Yes, the iPad (and iPhone) is a pretty closed system as it goes. Yes, it’s not open. But perhaps without the “shiny proprietary wonders” there wouldn’t be much inspiration for open systems to improve for real people.
The challenge for those in favour of open systems shouldn’t be what Apple is doing: It should be doing better than Apple.