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Jul 21

Feeling much different about Apple these days; Time to take the blue pill?

Apple, Tech Add comments


My family has Macbooks solely. iPhones abound. We are an Apple family. I look around at work, at conferences, at the coffee shop…. and I see the same. Macs may be a small % of computers purchased, but they are an important percentage.

I jumped from Windows with glee. Finally, I can be productive with my computer. Things just work. Unix is under the hood so I can tweak away. I enjoy my computer. All important stuff and well worth paying for the BMW of laptops.

My fanboyism is waning though. My feelings are becoming more complex. The white/black of Apple/Microsoft has finally gotten the nuance of grey/grey. Whatever you say about BillG/Microsoft can you truly say that Jobs/Apple would have done any better in the “monopolistic” stakes?

It seems that with Apple doing well quarter over quarter we may get to see… via the iPhone. I am incredibly torn here. I love the iPhone, and it has changed the world of mobile. It feels like every year at JavaOne, someone would shout “mobile is here!” yet J2ME never brought it. No one did to the same extent as the iPhone.

Corporations are not intrinsically evil. Their goal is to create share holder value. There are various paths to this goal, and that is where it gets delicate… but I don’t think of corporates as evil. Making money is a good thing. Watching the ebb and flow of the business models on the Web and in software itself…. I am always looking out for where the business models are. Many long for the “good old days” of software. The simple days where you create something of value, and people pay money for that value directly to you. We went through shareware and freemium and ads. Others shout from the side line claiming that people will still pay for value! So, although I think keeping the core infrastructure of the Web open is vital (hence working at Mozilla!) I don’t think that everything should be open source and free.

I am getting a little worried about the mobile Web and the future of services and platforms. I think that users should be free to run their applications where they wish, and should control their data.

With the iPhone the platform is incredibly locked down. You basically have to use their tools, and built applications using a Mac. Then you get to send your application up to the Apple gods (reviewers) and if you are lucky, an end user can run your code. Unfortunately this process is cryptic and poorly implemented right now.

Apple can make a case that this process helps “keep us safe” (make sure apps do no evil) and “makes sure the store isn’t swamped by crap” (however there are a ton of crap apps!). I think that we should trust users and they should be able to install whatever they bloody want too. Apple should have a system that propagates known malware. A way for users to crowd-source issues just like Semantec is working on. As a developer I really have to wonder when I know that I could spend a lot of time on an application that a random Apple chap could block and thus wouldn’t see the light of day. No thanks!

Time to take a pill?

I am starting to feel ready to take the blue pill. To take it perhaps a little far, Apple has enslaved me by giving me yummy food (great hardware and software). It tastes so good, that I eat it and say “thank you sir, can I have another!”

I am picking on Apple a little here because it relates most closely to me, and the iPhone is exploding. I see how they are tying the block anyone out from iTunes and lock me in to their world. The world that Steve wants for us. Sorry Steve, but I am getting close to jumping from your utopia to create a better one, even if it doesn’t smell so nice.

The future has other fish to fry. As we think forward to a world without single devices, but instead with everything being a connected embeddable systems… maybe right in your clothes. In this world the battle will be for data and services. Who owns your data. Are the business models transparent? I have a funny feeling that we will have to constantly fight for this. Corporations don’t care, but people should, and some do.

I have always had this in the back of my mind with Apple. I didn’t jump all the way in. I kept my music apart from iTunes AAC lock and structure even though it was against convenience.

One side of my brain wants to continue. Take the red pill and enjoy a productive happy life. The rest of my mind is contemplating taking the blue pill. Maybe it will be ready with an advanced open web platform on the phone, one on the desktop, and eventually….. everywhere.

Is anyone else having these thoughts?

24 Responses to “Feeling much different about Apple these days; Time to take the blue pill?”

  1. kellegous Says:

    Yes. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It stopped me from upgrading my iPhone and I’m putting Apple hardware purchases on hold for now. And like you, I’m thinking more about how we can get something that is both enjoyable and open. The interesting question to me right now is how to create something that has the same coherency as Apple’s product lines, but all based on open standards. I want open software and standards, but I still want things to just work.

  2. James Ward Says:

    Reminds me of the “Freedom is not free” quote. Mac’s and iPhone’s are great because they are convenient. But you have to give up some of your freedom. It’s always hard to figure out just how far to take ideals. I was wondering recently how the computing world would be different if MS controlled which apps could have been installed on DOS and Windows 3.1.

    As you pointed out, it’s important to not turn this into a moral debate. Apple is not evil. MS is not evil. Adobe and Flash are not evil. Open Source is not our savior. It’s all just software – many times backed by people trying to make money.

    Software is an infant. It will evolve. Checks and balances will continue to emerge that keep vendors honest. Neither side will fully satisfy us. We can only be content when we accept the realities of both the red and blue pills and hold the tension between them.

    So I guess I’m taking the purple pill.


  3. @hmart Says:

    I’m a developer from South America and I’ve found expensive to create an iPhone app because i have to buy a Mac an iPhone with expensive data plan in my country. Simply you cannot develop for iPhone if don’t have a Mac.
    Rather i found the Android platform more viable I can develop in Windows or Ubuntu, buy an unlocked DevPhone for $400 and still using my Dell notebook.
    The Android source code is open, and the Android Market y less restricted than iPhone Appstore.
    I hope for more Android devices worldwide.
    However I think one of these days we will considering taking the Google blue/red pill. As we did with Mictosoft and now Apple.

  4. jeremy Says:

    So I’ve bought apple products over the last few years and have wondered off and on about their single point of control – whether it be content or restrictions to how their hardware/software is used.

    I’ve generally taken their paranoia with a grain of salt – usually the downsides are outweighed by the usability and out-of-the-box upsides…

    I think it’s just always been that way with Apple – and less so in recent years – with less proprietary hardware in their systems and more open software, like Safari’s standards compliance.

    I don’t like how they will often block things for random/strange reasons and I don’t like how little they listen to developers – like in the case of the app store approval. However, it seems like they are always tempered by the greater market. Competition seems to bring them around in the more important areas.

    That’s why I like having Google *and* Microsoft *and* Yahoo and others for search. That’s why I like that there are great competing smart phones.

    I don’t think they’ve changed at all – perhaps if anything, for the better recently.

    As for me right now, I have an iPhone and my work computer runs linux – Ubuntu 9.04.

  5. Basu Says:

    I think you got your pills mixed up. But I think you make a valid point. No one should say what software I get to use except me, even if that means I install some “unsafe” stuff. I’m smart and I can fix things if it breaks. I don’t need or want anyone else making my decisions for me.

  6. Uri Sarid Says:

    Though I’m definitely (back) on the Apple side and taking others with me, I’m staying pill-free for now. The iPhone is developing Windows-like symptoms and AT&T was such a poor choice that I’m fishing for alternatives… and *always* avoid DRM. I really like the idea of crowdsourcing the safety and quality testing: if there’s a way to harness that collective wisdom effectively, and dynamically (apps turn red if folks start finding them problematic), that’s a very attractive proposition indeed. Perhaps a jailbroken iPhone with auto-crowdsourced quality control implemented at the (jailbroken-)platform level would be the best choice for now?

  7. Eevee Says:

    I grew tired of Apple’s shenanigans not long after the iPhone came out. Between their iTunes/iPod lockin, their iPhone babysitting, and repeated headaches and lawsuits for anyone trying to use Apple products in a way not officially sanctioned by Apple, I decided I could find better places to spend my money.

  8. CAFxX Says:

    > lock me in to their world

    I am a 100% Apple-free person for this very reason. Beside, I manage to be pretty productive with other systems.

  9. Tristan Nitot Says:

    Dion, it’s great to see you having these thoughts. I have been thinking along these lines for several years. I have left Windows XP 5 years ago because the EULA for SP2 was just unacceptable (because of DRMs). I switched to Ubuntu 4.10. Painful but interesting. Then a PowerBook G4 when my laptop died. I like convenience and simplicity, but I do value my freedom a lot. I do have an iPhone, but I bought it in the US and it’s jailbroken. I sometimes buy song on ITMS, but get rid of the DRM they used to have back then. I also buy MP3s from Amazon.

    You write “I don’t think that everything should be open source and free.” I tend to disagree slightly. I do think that everything should be open source over time, but not necessarily free. Open Source and free as in beer are 2 different things. The reason why I prefer Open Source / Free (as in speech) Software is wonderfully explained by Larry Lessig. See Atul’s back of business cards for more details: .

    For the rest, I’m pretty much in line with you. Apple and Microsoft are basically the same companies, except that Apple has good designers and Microsoft has good market share. Another difference is that Apple goes integrated and high end while Microsoft is less integrated (they don’t design and sell hardware, for example) and focuses on the mass market. Apple does use some open source (but less and less) while Microsoft is slower at doing it for now.

    The question is what can I use if I leave Apple as a user? I have recently bought a netbook on which I’ve tried to run Linux. Not a great experience, to say the least (I hate you, HP!). So I’m still on the Mac. For now. Waiting to switch back to some OS that will enable me to stay productive AND free.

  10. Chris Says:

    I used Apple Macs during college time (like 1990, design students did this even back then :) but did not know anything else (Win 3.1 ;). Changed to Windows just for affordability reasons later and followed the Apple fanboy/girl trend of the last years from the “outside”. People seem to value things just black and white at first (e.g. when iTunes or iPhone came out) but even when Apple started these the general problems were there. Just nobody seemed to care. With a more realistic and less religious view things finally look more grey (or colorful which does not have this notion of boringness :).

    I think corporations just need a bit competition. MS finally got a bit with Apple and Linux uptake which forced them to become a bit “better”. Quasi Monopolies like Apple’s iTunes, iPhone or Adobe’s Flash or Publishing Suite just brings the worst out in them. And yes, I think if Apple have been as successful as MS it would be a scrary IT world… (for this reason they actually never got this successful I guess).

  11. dave Says:

    Supporting Ogg Theora video and Vorbis audio would be a good start for those not quite ready to leave the comfort of Mac OS X for pastures new. I’m not impressed with Apple’s all too convenient arguments against these.

    Well actually they have no arguments against Vorbis, they just keep their mouth shut and don’t implement it, yet are happy to go on about “quality” and “hardware support” when they feel they have a case against Theora. It all seems a bit political (in the sense that they make the arguments when it benefits them, not out of any conviction).

    I’m still fuming that they didn’t implement FLAC lossless audio, apparently because their lawyers were worried about patents. So instead they implemented the exact same techniques (plus a few more) in their own ALAC (good name, just replace Free with Apple!) codec.

    These are presumably the same lawyers warning against the “unsure patent
    landscape” of Theora yet they’re too stupid to know that independent implementation not only provides no protection against patent suits but (assuming they can find proof that Apple actually ever claimed the techniques in FLAC were patented) would expose them to triple damages.

  12. Paul Barry Says:

    I agree with you 100%. The difference between Microsoft and Apple is that Microsoft is an evil corporation that produces crappy software and Apple is an evil corporation that produces fantastic software.

  13. Kevin Whinnery Says:

    It’s true, Apple really does have mobile devs by the throat. iPhone is an incredibly compelling platform, but it makes building a business around the App Store distribution mechanism risky at best. Their insistence that they’re monitoring the store to improve the user experience is great, but Darth Vader only wanted to monitor the galaxy as well.

  14. voracity Says:

    You’re not asking for guidance; you’re posting your decision.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’ve chosen well.

  15. sil Says:

    I agree with you entirely. Would love to hear your thoughts on Ubuntu as a JS developers’ platform, too. It works for me, natch :-)

  16. Marc Grabanski Says:

    We start to question things once checks and balances are no longer in place due to one company or entity having too much power. The same is in government which is why the US was setup as a Republic of checks and balances.

    I’m all for diversity in a free market. Once a company starts intentionally locking competitors out from doing business with them like Apple did with iTunes, you know there is a problem surfacing in the free market. This blocking out of competitors is only a temporary.

    Apple is flexing their strong muscles in this time, but watch this ruffle feathers of companies who will use it as fuel to rise up as strong competition. That’s capitalism, baby.

  17. Brent Ashley Says:

    I use Ubuntu 9.04 on my primary machine. I have other machines running XP Pro and OSX 10.5 when I need them. I have an iPhone 3GS too.

    The Ubuntu machine satisfies almost every need I have. I run an XP Pro vm under VirtualBox if I need IE or whatever, but generally I do my windows stuff via RDP.

    I’d be interested to know how you came to write this post without including Linux as a serious contender. It has all the Unixy goodness of a Mac, Ubuntu is as close to consumer quality as Linux has yet become and the gap continues to close.

    While using Linux as your primary OS still requires some knowledge and effort, it’s now less like the difference between owning a car and a motorcycle and more like the difference between automatic and standard transmission. The extra knowledge and effort required is not too onerous and makes for a far better driver.

    Both of my daughters use Linux (the consumer versions that came with their Asus EeePC and Acer Aspire One machines). My older daughter is also learning to drive, and I’m insisting she learns to use a manual transmission. She now has bragging rights against boys her age on two fronts.

  18. kirk Says:

    Very interesting post. I too have been putting hardware purchases on hold trying to answer the red pill blue pill question. Reliability wise, the hardware is ok, the software is ok. Usability wise there is no question that Apple has the secret sauce.

    My biggest issue is that I am a Java developer specialized with performance. I live on understanding how the latest releases are working. Right now the new biggest change is the G1 but sadly I don’t expect to see if running on a mac any time soon. This is seemingly forcing me off of the platform.

  19. @F1LT3R Says:

    Never liked Macs specifically for the reasons you mentioned… I always felt Macs were for kids, students and graphic designers (*!=1337) . Yes, they are nice machines, but never forget: we went to the moon on 0×86 processors and won wars in flying machines with no ‘ejection’ system. :P

    A Mac is just a sexy version of Linux wearing a chastity belt.

  20. Charles Miller Says:

    I use Apple products because they are IMHO the best tools for the job at hand. Once they stop being the best tools, I’ll happily switch to something else, but even in the face of all Apple’s flaws the competition still has a long way to go.

    If Android’s open marketplace creates a better product than my iPhone, I’ll buy an Android phone. If the year of Linux on the desktop finally arrives, I’ll give it another go. Switching just because what Apple is doing today might lead to some other product being better in the future is just silly. I’ll wait for the future to happen first.

  21. Thomas A. Valletta Says:

    At WWDC 2008 I realized that Apple would be far worse stewards of a Microsoft-ish monopoly if ever given the chance. At that point I gave up my mac-book pro. The competition and innovation they bring is healthy, but for now I will support their competition. As far as phones go, that was difficult until a month ago. I have been pushing the same opinion that you just shared on my friends and co-workers for about a year now.

    Careful: your opinions sound politically conservative. :)

  22. Robert O'Callahan Says:

    I’ve never doubted that Apple would be as bad or worse than Microsoft, if they had the chance. A less popular prediction: Google would be too, perhaps after the founders quit.

    It is right to focus on Microsoft while they dominate; you fight the bully, not the pretender. (And let’s not forget that they do still dominate.) But we will never, ever be able to rest.

    BTW I think we’re very lucky that the Webkit team is an island of relative goodness. But it’ll be interesting to see how they hold out.

  23. Gordon P. Hemsley Says:

    I’ve had trouble reading this entire article, despite multiple attempts, because my brain shuts off after any mention of the iPhone. I have steadily lost interest in it since it was released, and I never did get myself one. I, too, am at the point where it makes no difference to me whether you buy Windows 7 or Snow Leopard. Apple may “better” products, but they’re also much more restrictive. I didn’t realize it until my MacBook Pro had a number of issues recently—you can’t just open it up yourself and fix whatever the problem is. You have to go to the Apple Store and have them ship your computer off for days or weeks at a time. I miss the freedom of being able to customize every part of the computer. The computer I used before I bought myself an iMac in 2005 was one that I had completely assembled myself. And there is indeed an “Apple tax”, if you ask me.

    So, bottom line, Microsoft and Apple are both not making me very happy right now.

  24. type in the word 'ajax' Says:

    I’ve been trying MacOS X on my awesome PC that I had completely assembled, yet still I am not very happy right now. This proprietary system has its pros and cons. I agree with Aqua’s extremely tuned look ‘n feel. All primary applications are controlled the same way. The GUI is probably #1 reason to stick with Mac, however the dark side is I’ve been missing something crucial. The source codes! How can I satisfy my curiosity without them? This OS tries to fool me how unbelievably high-level and good-looking it is only to distract my attention from what’s happening in the inside. That’s when I get the everlasting empty feeling if I sit on my chair and stare into the MacOS GUI.

    I can’t trust to the OS which deliberately puts me in jail, gives me the handcuffs and acts like everything is OK. It’s not a user who controls MacOS. It’s MacOS which controls a user.

    Although I have no source codes, I realize MacOS does not defend my security with PaX, GrSecurity, SELinux or any comparable technology, nor does it have hardened toolchain. I won’t transfer any valuable data on my MacOS’ hard drive. I won’t use it for e-banking. Paying via a credit card through Safari feels like shouting numbers through the fix telephone line, while emailing them to the bank, and hoping nobody hears it.

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