Even John thinks it’s wrong

John Gruber has become something of an Apple apologist over the last couple of years. His blog used to be pretty interesting, but it kind of morphed over the period of a year into a series of rants about basically how anyone who didn’t like Apple was deluded in one way or another.

A lot of us don’t like Apple’s approach under Steve Jobs. The products are uber shiny, but it’s just the same trap Gates cooked up for us 15 years ago, with a similar pitch. Back then Windows looked pretty good too, remember. It wasn’t brushed aluminium, but it had a whole 16 colours!

The deal is one that short sighted companies supplying almost anything will try and offer – lock-in. Lock-in is a well known issue in the IT industry, and in my day job it’s something we have to address with our customers in every pitch.

Lock-in describes a situation where a customer loses the ability to change supplier, because the supplier has a proprietary hold on them somehow. In my business the risk is generally that we deliver something nobody else can easily understand, but in other businesses it can be introduced in all sorts of ways.

I honestly believe lock-in is bad for both parties to a contract eventually. It is clearly bad for a customer to give up their control over their own property, and for a supplier it encourages lazy, inwardly-directed thinking that ultimately makes their products suck. c.f. Microsoft.

Apple are being creative in their approach to lock-in. Buy an iPod, and you can only really use it with iTunes. Install iTunes, and lo here’s a music store with DRMed music that you will never be able to move to another manufacturers player. Clunk, click, you’re locked-in. You shell out 500 quid on records from the Apple music store, and for the rest of your life you have no choice of music player – pick another supplier and you lose your entire music library.

That’s pretty much par for the course for a lot of companies these days – many of them feel that’s fair business tactics. Apple have gone further with the iPhone though. It’s not just your music that’s locked down, but any applications you can run. If you are happy with Apple becoming your own personal Sky Daddy then that’s fine. But the odd one of us weirdos thinks that maybe at some point in the far distant future we might actually want to be able to control our own property. Just in case, you know?

Apple have almost immediately shown their true colours with their control over the iPhone Appstore with their decision to remove a piece of software because it competes with their own products. And yes, even John thinks it’s wrong. Which shows just how bad it really is.

The nerve Apple have here is far beyond Microsoft’s wildest dreams. For all their unfair business practices and shoddy code, Microsoft have maintained a neutral platform on the whole. Sure they hid some APIs and agressively bought and then killed competitors, but Windows is a thriving ecosystem with real software on it. Just imagine if Microsoft plain denied WordPerfect because they’d decided to release MSWord. Dear me.

So please, dear reader, remember that whilst a benevolent dictatorship might seem very efficient it can turn sour very, very quickly. And if you really want to keep control over your own life, choose Free Software.

1 Response to “Even John thinks it’s wrong”

  1. 1 Ian Jindal

    Hi Doug – interesting piece. I agree with the sentiments about anti-competitive behaviour, but I think that there’s an angle here that’s being missed. Before getting my iPhone I had a Treo650 (or “Threo” as I called it, since I needed 3 in three months as a result of its utter, arrant crapness and refusal to function as a phone!). I didn’t jailbreak my iPhone for the simple reason that “it just worked”. Unlike any gadget since the Palm Vx in 2001 (I think) it was simple, reliable and enjoyable to use. I could say goodbye to the endless fiddling, frigging, configuring and messing around.

    The Mac is currently on a high, and the confidence around Job’s certain touch means that consumers are more accepting and that Apple acts in a more high-handed fashion than is palatable.

    I just wanted to echo to you something you taught me about the value of a simple, reliable, “working” system – rather than a fiddled-with, time-intensive, high-maintenance “eco-system” of unhappiness.

    I’m happy to trade obeisance to the Wu of Mac for the time saved in things ‘just working’ for me. I also enjoy some of the positive aspects of the Mac’s more open approaches (eg vcards, microformat and other standards-compliance, based upon the Unix underpinnings). This won’t always be the case though (and I can remember the dark days of the mid-90s when the Mac OS sucked immensely).

    DRM makes no sense to me as a consumer and – since I rip my music – iTunes becomes just a carrier but not all consumers feel that way. They’re either trading convenience for openness, or just blind to implications. The Appstore is more problematic though.

    The Mac OS has a history of “appropriating” the best of the independently-designed utilities – improving the standard offering and stuffing the independent developers along the way. Microsith at least used to buy them before stuffing them ;) It’d no surprise therefore to see that the Appstore behaves in a similar way.

    The fundamental error is to imagine even for a second that Apple has a mission to be “lovely”. It’s a commercial business run by brand-savvy folk who understand the power of a franchise and the enhanced profits to be gained from the lock-in. It’s naive to see Apple as ‘all good’ and effect horror at their commercial behaviour. Rather, there’s an ongoing commercial trade-off that each user makes: follow the path of least resistance unless and until ploughing one’s own furrow is either easier, more important or both.

    All our gods have feet of clay and even the fanboys can’t believe that all that emanates from Cupertino is good. If only it were so.

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