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Apple's Trend Away From Tinkering 965

Posted by Soulskill
from the hey-what's-this-do dept.
theodp writes "Having cut his programming teeth on an Apple ][e as a ten-year-old, Mark Pilgrim laments that Apple now seems to be doing everything in their power to stop his kids from finding the sense of wonder he did: 'Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world. With every software update, the previous generation of "jailbreaks" stop working, and people have to find new ways to break into their own computers. There won't ever be a MacsBug for the iPad. There won't be a ResEdit, or a Copy ][+ sector editor, or an iPad Peeks & Pokes Chart. And that's a real loss. Maybe not to you, but to somebody who doesn't even know it yet.'"
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Apple's Trend Away From Tinkering

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  • by dskoll (99328) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:24PM (#30971888)

    My kids use Linux. But sadly, even under Linux, there's no dead-easy kid-friendly way for them to learn programming the way I learned BASIC on my TRS-80 CoCo. I've introduced my one daughter to Tcl, but even that has advanced concepts compared to 1980s-era BASIC.

    I've also ordered a 130-in-one electronics kit for my daughter because I remember how much fun I had with mine. Alas, Radio Shack no longer sells them... they've given up on tinkerers and hackers too.

  • by alen (225700) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:27PM (#30971934)

    Reading the forums alot of the apple fans don't seem to like it. They can't figure out what to use it for or they don't like the restrictions. A lot of tablets are coming out this year that are more open.

    Tens of millions of people play farmville or watch hulu and you can't do any of that on the ipad. You can only buy more content from apple. I'm wondering if apple did any market research before they crippled it.

  • by DrogMan (708650) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:32PM (#30971992) Homepage
    I too cut my programming teeth on an Apple ][

    I have a copy of the original "red book" with hand-written notes on shape tables, etc. I also had a plethora of other sources of information - the Wozpack, Disk Doctor, early copies of call-apple and coutless others which were hard to come-by in the UK at the time.

    Kids of today, get off my lawn, etc.

    So what we have now are "appliances" and lawyers.

    And as they say; If you can't open it, you don't own it.

  • The appliance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:37PM (#30972072) Journal

    I don't really see the iPad as a "personal computer", but an appliance, a bit like a washing machine or a microwave oven (although that may be pushing it because the iPad does a bit more than "just wash clothes" or just "toast" or whatever). But it's clearly pitched as a consumer appliance, rather than a general purpose computer.

    And no, I won't be getting one.

  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:38PM (#30972090)
    The APPLE ][ was much more a tinkerers machine than the PET or the TRS 80. Having 7 slots for expansion cards was a lot in those days - a cool apple was one with an after market perspex lid so you could see the cool expansion cards. No ofense this is not a insightfull comment just lame
  • Bring back basic (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:42PM (#30972130)

    I like the spirit of this conversation. Apple would be doing the next generation a great service to allows us to amateurs to develop in a scripting language right on the iPad.

  • by BanachSpaceCadet (1464109) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:52PM (#30972268)
    ResEdit was always my argument in Mac vs. PC arguments! (This was back in the good old System 7 days.) My PC friends could bring up right-clicking, software availability, etc., etc. all day. Then I would show them some of the stuff I'd done with ResEdit (e.g., remake Oregon Trail into a parody version of itself), and I would win the argument hands down. (OK, maybe you could do the same stuff on a PC, but none of us knew how.) These days, I'm a Linux guy, but it's sad to me that Macs are getting more locked up all the time. I guess someone has to satisfy the demands of the just-do-it-for-me consumers, but I'm sad that it turned out to be Apple.
  • by Tony (765) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:55PM (#30972300) Journal

    The Apple ][ came with manuals that had the ROM listings. The ][+ (at least) had a mini-assembler built right in (Sweet-16, baby!). It had full schematics right there in the box. The default "shell" was a BASIC interpreter, fer cryin' out loud!

    The Apple ][ was most definitely a tinkerer's machine.

    There's a huge difference between the Apple ][ and pretty much any mainstream computer available today. The Apple ][ (and to a certain extent, the Commodore 64) was simple. Almost everything you did was related to the hardware. If you wanted to do anything but launch programs, you pretty much had to learn something about the computer, and how computers operate in general. Anyone nostalgic for those days is nuts.

    Don't get me wrong. I really loved the Apple ][. (This was before the ][+ or ][e, you puppies.) I believe I am a much stronger computer geek because of it. I'd wager those who learned computing on the Apple ][ make up a good percentage of the alpha geeks today.

    Computers today are far cooler than they were back then. Part of the reason is, they no longer resemble "computers" so much as they are now communications devices, or information handling devices. The downside is that kids starting out these days aren't learning about the true fundamentals of how computers work. Also, they're shielded from even the ability to tinker with them.

    That's not as much of a loss as you might suppose. It's not like it'd be the old Apple ][ experience anyway.

  • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:03PM (#30972376)

    I find that people with even basic programming skills tend to have better general problem solving capacity. As a child, learning to program develops your mind in ways that the wrote memorization that teach in schools simply can't (In Kentucky, they actually teach kids to memorize words rather than teaching them how to sound them out, which is absurd).

    I can say with absolutely certainty that I would not be as capable of a problem solver as I am today if I hadn't been fortunate enough to be introduced to BASIC at the age of 6.

  • In their defense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Simonetta (207550) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:05PM (#30972390)

    In their defense, personal computer programming is much more complicated than it was in 1982. The machines and the hardware is several orders of magnitude faster and denser than it was then. The basics do change.

        Don't forget that the primary reason for the existence of Apple Inc is to facilitate the orderly and systematic transfer of money from the bank accounts of bored yuppies to the account of Steven Jobs. The toys and the technology is a means to an end. Home computers started in the 1970s as toys for hackers, became business office tools in the 1980s, design and educational tools in the 1990s, and home-entertainment/communications centers in the 2000s. (..and destroying the previous industry giants in each field in the process)

      People wishing to provide for their kids the experiences that they had programming 8-bit home computers should get into Aurdino and other small-scale microcontroller-based systems. The chips are cheap. The programmers are low-cost. The assemblers and compilers are free and open-sourced. Sensors are cheap, as are LCD-character displays. Graphics LCD modules are getting cheaper, but are a long way from being cheap. Gigabyte storage of data is dirt-cheap as SD cards, but they can have a difficult learning curve. In this field, projects are often shared. Tinkering and development is encouraged. Questions, even beginning questions, get answered.

      When PCs and Macs get locked down in place, the microcontroller communities sprout up like mushrooms. This is the place for tinkerers. But, please, don't let the people at Microsoft and Apple know!

  • I wonder (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drgould (24404) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:05PM (#30972394)

    Every generation seems to have its own style of tinkering.

    Broadly speaking, fifty years ago it was ham radio, thirty years ago it was microcomputers like the Apple, Commodore and Atari, today I think it's microcontrollers like the PIC, AVR or especially the Arduino. (Yeah, I know, there's a lot of hobbies and tinkering I glossed over like chemistry, cars, etc, etc. I sure someone will make a list of everything I missed.)

    But my point is, today most tinkering seems to be centered around using microcontrollers in various applications. I think the Arduino has accelerated the trend because of its ease of use. In addition, RF modules like the XBee have made it almost ridiculously easy to create distributed networks of microcomputers for whatever application you can think of.

    Because of the proliferation of powerful microcontrollers and RF modules, my predication is that 30 years from now people look back at this as the time hobbiest robotics really took off. (Yeah, I know, people have been doing hobbiest robots for years, I just think that the combination of cheap, powerful computers, microcontrollers, motor controllers, RF modules and GPS modules will accelerate the trend.)

  • Change in Culture (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rivalz (1431453) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:09PM (#30972434)
    Now it seems more focus is on disabling DRM, finding vulnerabilities, and exploits. It used to be about extending functionality or modifying devices. Get with the times Apple is just presenting a bigger challange.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:15PM (#30972480) Homepage

    'Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world. With every software update, the previous generation of "jailbreaks" stop working...

    I can't see any reason for Apple to do things any other way. In some ways they're victims of their own success, just like Dell, HP, Microsoft and many other big companies. They've become so absorbed with their own chic they've lost sight of who helped get to where they are today. The artsy types have taken over from the tinkerers.

    It's too bad their sense of style trumped everything else, because that used to be a nice bonus with Apple products, the "and they look cool" factor. Now style and marketing have edged out other factors. They're so absorbed protecting their market rice bowls they stopped caring about expanding it.

    Tinkerers will always have a home with Linux.

  • by kangsterizer (1698322) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:31PM (#30972656)

    yep, people fail to see his influence is for a lot what computing is today (and only the good parts of computing, actually)
    as usual, real heros are the ones you hear the less about

  • Give me a break. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by diesel66 (254283) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:35PM (#30972692)

    I recently caught one colleague crying that the iPad is merely a digital consumption device. He pays more than $120 per month for cable TV. The irony.

  • by Swift2001 (874553) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:52PM (#30972898)

    Every jailbreak relies on finding a way to to crash the phone and insert code. This is a bug in the system, which has to be fixed to protect legions of other users, some of whom do their banking on their iPhone -- and remember, Bruce Schneier warned people not to do their banking on Windows, because it's too easy to "insert code" on a Windows computer. The banking apps on an iPhone are inherently more secure than anything on the web, or anything accessed through IE. A jailbreak so you can put on a cool program that Apple didn't pass can also put trojans there, too. Apple isn't being unduly mean to jailbreakers. If they really want to get good at it, they can figure out what to do next. Leave the debuggers to other platforms.

    And that's all that Apple's "doing" to jailbreakers. Lots of people who want to do that are still doing that. No lawsuits that I know of.

  • by theurge14 (820596) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:56PM (#30972942)

    No, Jobs recognizes the tinkerers and knows how to collect them into a cohesive group and set them on a path. Woz gets the glory while Ives and his team still go mostly unrecognized.

  • Re:It's true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:09PM (#30973072) Journal

    Because Apple built itself, originally, with a contrarian approach that specifically included openness and revolt against locked-down boxes.

    No, they didn't. There weren't any locked-down boxes when Apple built itself. Apple got into the locked-down box thing with the original Macintosh.

  • Re:It's true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:20PM (#30973174) Journal

    usually Apple gets interfaces near perfect

    I disagree, and the usability bugs I currently have open on Apple's bug tracking system agree with me. Apple interfaces are moderately good. Pretty much everyone else's interfaces are just plain terrible. People don't buy Apple products because they're good, they buy them because they're a lot less bad than the competition.

  • by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:38PM (#30973358) Homepage
    And Dreamspark lets you download the full Visual Studio suite, Expression suite, XNA and Windows Server 2008 for free provided you can give them a registered student address (IE what your university gives you).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:57PM (#30973592)

    Woz would have accomplished nothing without Jobs. Look at Steve vs. Woz since they parted ways.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:21PM (#30973850)

    A professor (a Mac head unsurprisingly) wanted to teach a class on iPhone application development. Well of course that needs to run on Macs and we don't have any Mac labs since some of our software is Windows only and we need to purchase budget computers. I don't know what he planned to do about that, maybe buy some Macs for teaching out of his research funds. However the bigger problem, the show stopper problem, was Apple. We needed to get the SDK licenses. They sent over this ginormous contract for us to sigh. That of course had to go to the lawyers, who modified it and sent it back. Apple said "No. No modification are permitted, you sign it as it is now or you can't have it." Well, we have no authority to sign, only the lawyers can do that. They weren't going to sign it as is. So, we had to say screw that.

    Now the class is being taught on Android app development. This has proved to be dramatically less problematic. The SDK runs fine on our Windows systems. It would also run on Linux or Mac systems, if needed so if we want to put it on our shell systems as well as our lab system we could. Getting the SDK was not problematic either. No contract to sign, I just downloaded it from Google's site and installed it.

    Does this all matter? I dunno, all I can say is there's a class of students being taught how to develop for the Android phones, rather than the iPhone precisely because of the locked down environment. The requirement to use Mac hardware, but in particular the requirement to sign a massive contract vastly in Apple's favour killed any chance that it might be taught. We simply cannot do that.

  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:54PM (#30974256)

    In my book, lack of flash is a feature, not a bug. To each their own.

  • by chrysalis (50680) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:59PM (#30974852) Homepage

    How come nobody realizes that ChromeOS isn't any different?

    For the sake of security, I highly doubt that resources editors and hex editors (in order to patch executable files) would run on ChromeOS.

    It's a tradeoff worth making.

    Joe Hewitt's post about the iPad is worth a read: http://joehewitt.com/post/ipad/ [joehewitt.com]

  • Exaggerate much? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aristotle-dude (626586) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @08:04PM (#30975460)
    Enough with the hyperbole. Go onto any mac, navigate to /Applications/Utilities. Open up terminal and hack to your heart's content. You have access to shell scripts, ruby, python, perl and PHP. I sometimes have geektool running accessing a local PHP script that scrapes local weather information and icons for display on my desktop. All of the standard unix and GNU tools are at your disposal. Settings for the system are stored in XML .plist files. The Mac OS X will never be locked down like the iPhone OS.

    I have no problem with things running on the iPhone in a sandbox as it accesses the public cellular networks. Anyone caught breaking the cellular network by installing unstable software on a jailbroken deserves to have their ass kicked to the point that they are in a hospital eating through a straw for several months. Jailbreak your non-cellular Wifi devices all you want but when you jailbreak a cellphone, you are putting lives at risk.

    Devices like the iPhone and iPad are supposed to be networked appliances, not general purpose computers.

    PS. Here are a few links for you since you seem to be clueless as to how to use google.

    http://www.opensource.apple.com/ [apple.com]

    http://www.apple.com/opensource/ [apple.com]

    All I did was type in the following keywords into google: " Apple Open Source". I know, that is so non-obvious *sarcasm*.

  • by mangu (126918) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:15PM (#30976136)

    It's just an OS. It's not a religion

    Sadly, by denying the common people access to the inner system, Apple is becoming exactly like that "religion" we all love to hate...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:47PM (#30976380)

    You can argue all you like that it is the fault of our lawyers, doesn't matter, there is nothing we can do to change that. The fact of the matter is that because of their attitude, the class is now being taught on Google Android, rather than iPhone. Also no matter how reasonable you may think Apple's license to be, that doesn't change the fact that they wanted a special signed contract when Google was ok with just a download.

    For what it's worth, I'm an Apple //e-aged guy. And I did get that sense of wonder when - starting on a PC without so much as a compiler on it - I had "Hello, World" running on a Droid within an hour, most of which was spent waiting to download and install Eclipse.

    I felt no buzz at all when it ran in the emulator, but it felt great to feel that buzz again when it ran on the phone.

  • by lennier (44736) on Monday February 01, 2010 @12:58AM (#30977490) Homepage

    "All I've wanted a tablet for is surfing the web, reading books, and things like that."

    And your Web experience includes no Flash applets, ever?

    Heck, Flash runs on my Linux box just fine.

    Mad props to Steve for finally creating a Mac which does less than Linux does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 01, 2010 @04:47AM (#30978552)

    I'd wager those who learned computing on the Apple ][ make up a good percentage of the alpha geeks today.

    Not outside America - I never even saw an Apple in the flesh until I was 18 (and I'm in my late 30's now). At least in the UK, Apple had virtually no influence until the 90's, and didn't really go mainstream until the iMac's went on sale.

  • by ChunderDownunder (709234) on Monday February 01, 2010 @05:00AM (#30978626)

    The sadly amusing thing about the "1984" commercial is how much the setting resembles a Steve Jobs presentation.

    Ever wonder why there's no camera in the iPad? It wasn't ready yet [appleinsider.com]. That's right, it's a mobile Telescreen [wikipedia.org].

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