The beauty of the internet is such that every opinion has become worthless; this goes doubly so for those with publish buttons on (relatively, we’re humble) major websites. For every opinion, there’s a matching counter-opinion, and that’s great. Yesterday, we linked to an article by Mark Pilgrim about tinkerers and the iPad, and of course, someone was bound to disagree with that one.
In a piece on Gizmodo called “iPad Snivelers: Put Up or Shut Up“, author Joel Johnson rather colourfully disagrees with Mark Pilgrim. “You learned to love technology by tinkering? That’s great!” Johnson writes, “Please explain to me how a closed ecosystem like Apple’s will impede a curious child’s ability to explore in the least way. It’s not 1980. It doesn’t cost a month’s salary to buy a computer. And as long as it takes code to make programs, there will still be plenty of ‘real’ computers around.”
He’s obviously right that there currently are plenty of computers around. I think the fear we’re seeing here is that this model, where you do not own the software on your computer, where you do not even own the computer you just bought, is the model that will become dominant. The quote in Pilgrim’s article about DVD Jon really says it all. Which computer did he break into? His own.
Will that model become dominant? No one knows for sure, but it sure seems like Apple is busy going down that route. I rarely make predictions (since most predictions on the web are pulled out of behinds, and mine would be no different), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mac OS X going the way of the iPhone OS. It’s in Apple’s mindset, its DNA.
During the creation of the original Macintosh, Andy Hertzfeld implemented a pattern editor in the control panel which allowed you to change the pattern displayed on the background of the Macintosh’ desktop. This was met with great resistance from other people in the Mac team.
Bill Atkinson complained to me that it was a mistake to allow users to specify their own desktop patterns, because it was harder to make a nice one than it looked, and led directly to ugly desktops. But I thought that users should be free to do as they pleased, since it was their desktop, and it was easy to revert to one of the built-in patterns. Bill cared most about MacPaint, and didn’t want a potentially ugly desktop pattern marring his creation. So he made MacPaint allocate a window that was the size of the screen when it started up, and filled it with the standard 50% gray pattern, making his own desktop covering up the real one, thus protecting the poor users from their rash esthetic blunders, at least within the friendly confines of MacPaint.
This is the mindset that is currently quite prevalent in Apple. You can see it in the iPhone, and you can see it already in the iPad. Apple believes that users cannot be trusted, and treats them accordingly. Don’t assume that just because the Mac is “open” now, that it will remain so; only a few years ago, we couldn’t even imagine the closed and restrictive way Apple manages the iPhone – yet today, we all accept it as normal, as the defining ingredient.
That‘s what many people are afraid of, and I think it’s a very reasonable fear.
“Consider a path that will truly inspire the coming generations of tinkerers and engineers,” Johnson finishes his article, “Working your ass off to make a product that competes with Apple on every count that matters – design, ease-of-use, a simple marketplace, customer satisfaction; you know, everything – and does it with the open-source licenses and values you claim to believe in.”
I think it’s most certainly possible. I’m still trying really, really hard to get my hands on a Pre (maybe the Pre Plus if a GSM version arrives), but when I do, we’ll see if openness and freedom are really impairing for a user experience. The current available set of reviews for the webOS seem to suggest otherwise.