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The Un-Internet and War On General Purpose Computers 266

Posted by timothy
from the insert-coin-to-continue dept.
theodp writes "Apple,' writes Dave Winer in The Un-Internet, 'is providing a bad example for younger, smaller companies like Twitter and Tumblr, who apparently want to control the 'user experience' of their platforms in much the same way as Apple does. They feel they have a better sense of quality than the randomness of a free market. So they've installed similar controls.' Still, Winer's seen this movie before and notes, 'Eventually we overcome their barriers, and another layer comes on. And the upstarts become the installed-base, and they make the same mistakes all over again. It's the Internet vs the Un-Internet. And the Internet, it seems, always prevails.' Thinking along the same lines, Cory Doctorow warns the stakes are only going to get higher, and issues a call-to-arms for The Coming War on General Purpose Computation."
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The Un-Internet and War On General Purpose Computers

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  • Free market? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @02:33PM (#38557678) Homepage
    In a true free market there would be more closed solutions too and the one most people want will win. I'm not sure why he's upset that most people are actually computer illiterate and want something that can be easily controlled rather than the ultimate swiss army knife of computers. Open computers won't go away and there is no need to get upset because most people don't care for that.
  • Re:Free market? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @02:46PM (#38557756)

    I'm not sure why he's upset that most people are actually computer illiterate

    Its like being upset that most people are "illiterate illiterate" or innumerate. How can we stay on top, without people to look down upon?

    Of all the conditions of humanity to champion, I don't think ignorance lacks for help, you can probably stand down.

  • Deal with it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by toriver (11308) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @02:47PM (#38557764)

    ... by competing. If you feel that closed platforms are wrong, provide open platforms.

    Complaining about other people that choose a different business model that you would have is just being a donkey. Put your moolah where your food-hole is and run your business model for real.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 01, 2012 @02:53PM (#38557794)

    Digital Millenium Copyright Act
    Security Systems Standards and Certification Act
    SOPA
    The locked bootloader
    "Approved" software

    All this will end your freedoms, what are you doing to fight it?

    I'm not happy with the way I see the industry going

    You do realise those great minds in congress, largely funded and heavily lobbied by the MAFIAA attempted to make it legally mandatory, for your computer to not be a computer, they tried to legally mandate approved security and digital restrictions management systems in ALL electronic systems, personal computers and devices designed for your use. This would make your PC closed like an apple iPad where only the DRM compliant software could legally run, locked bootloaders would be everywhere, and it would be a crime (DMCA) to circumvent it

    This would have made alot of problems for Linux too, thankfully the GPL v3 has *some* protections against DRM schemes that take away your freedoms

    The interests of big business and distributors like the RIAA/MPAA are not very well aligned with the interests of end users, and they are more than happy to ride roughshod over your end user freedoms in order to gain all the control over the market for themselves and the profits that follow

    I think we should be doing more to protect our freedoms

  • Re:Free market? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by n5vb (587569) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @03:11PM (#38557906)

    Its like being upset that most people are "illiterate illiterate" or innumerate. How can we stay on top, without people to look down upon?

    Of all the conditions of humanity to champion, I don't think ignorance lacks for help, you can probably stand down.

    I see it less from a personal-self perspective than as a factor in the overall evolution of the society. A significant enough majority of ignorance, illiteracy (tech or otherwise), innumeracy, etc. can by itself dominate mainstream culture in ways that at the very least throw sand in the gears, and the kind of culture that grows out of that always has the potential to at least be suspicious of people who have unsanctioned knowledge, and possibly much worse. I don't see an ignorant society as something I can differentiate myself from as an outlier, I consider it a sleeping monster that might someday wake up and line people like me up against the wall. It's happened before and I don't think for a moment that it can't happen again.

  • Re:Deal with it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @03:15PM (#38557940) Homepage Journal

    Or we could simply regulate openness. Worked pretty well with cell phone number portability, something the "market" would have never allowed on its own.

  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @03:34PM (#38558040)

    Oh here we go.

    Freedom to compute is for criminals. Right.

    --
    BMO

  • by unimacs (597299) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @03:49PM (#38558126)
    If it were strictly a matter of user preference back in the mid to late 80's, the Mac may indeed have been the one to dominate, but at work most people had little choice but to use the computer that was given to them. They typically chose to get the same computers for their home for reasons of compatibility, price, and availability of software.

    But lets look a little deeper. How did that end up working out for IBM? How many PCs has IBM sold lately? What new and exciting product have they come out with in the last couple of decades?

    Apple is still selling the Mac and still innovating. PCs are basically a commodity. When Apple did license the Mac OS, it nearly wiped them out. They didn't have other lines of business to fall back on like IBM did when the clone manufactures started eating their lunch on price.

    Besides, dominating the marketplace isn't the only definition of success. I'd also argue that there's plenty of room for both open and closed systems. I'd prefer to live in a world with both. While the general purpose PC may be fading somewhat in importance, I think that's just simply part of the natural progression of technology.

    The Internet may be the new general purpose PC. Lots of cloud based services include APIs that you can leverage. IOS is only one platform. Android is another. So is the Internet. I don't think the latter is threatened by the existence of IOS in any way. In fact, I'd argue that its existence has promoted the Internet as a platform.
  • by Y-Crate (540566) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:08PM (#38558282)

    Most end users are concerned with the user experience, and little else.

    This doesn't negate the legitimacy of the Free Software Movement. It doesn't mean that it shouldn't be championed and taken as far as it can. What it does mean is that the vast majority of people just want shit that works right out of the box. Free Software has yet to provide an experience many find superior to things like iOS, so iOS continues to gobble-up marketshare while people write articles about how awful it is that it's happening.

    What most users want is this: Open box. Turn on computer. Search for the app they want. Hit "Install". Use app. That's it. Get shit done, and do other shit when the desire strikes.

    People who don't understand this often adopt a condescending tone and claim iPhone / iPad users are just dumb sheep who buy into PR, etc. And that if users only opened their eyes and realized how they're being controlled...

    But that's not going to win any converts. People want to do shit with as few hassles as possible. Years of "Grrr. If you want X, Y or Z, code it yourself!" have reenforced ideology and alienated users, while companies like Apple have been making and releasing products. And that's really the difference in the end. Dogmatic essays and arguing over the minutiae of license revisions vs. shipping products that do things people want in a manner in which they find appealing. The latter always wins.

    Most end users don't give a damn about ideology, licenses or figureheads spouting the latest opinions on how things should or should not be.

    They want: "Here is a new device. This is what it does. If you like it, buy it. Come back in 12 months and we will have an updated version."

    They like that discovering and installing software is now about as easy as you could possibly hope to make it.

    They like that they can download an application once, delete it, and reinstall it for free whenever they want, as many times as they want, on all of their devices. Simultaneously.

    They like that their devices automatically backup their applications and user data while they're walking down the street.

    They like that they can go into a store, buy a new device, enter their email and password, and have all of their applications and settings just appear within moments.

    You can bemoan the licenses and lack of tinker-ability in each piece of hardware and software. You can talk about walled gardens and developer fees. Remind us how annoyingly arbitrary the application approval process is.

    And I will probably agree with you.

    But the fact remains, people want a user experience, not a license. Not an ideology or a movement.

    Firefox took Internet Explorer's market share because Internet Explorer sucked, and Firefox was great. And you could point-out why it was great in ways that someone who didn't know what a compiler or license was could say "Wow, this is great!" And most of all, even if you didn't tell them, even if they had never heard of Firefox or the GPL, you could see people start using it and not stop using it. Because it was better. At the end of the day, clicking "Firefox" instead of "Internet Explorer" made things happen faster, with fewer problems. People liked that.

    It was a triumph of free software. Lower case. The Free Software movement won a victory, but at the end of the day you have to write your code and release your applications and hardware with the assumption that no one will know, or care what the Big Ideas are behind the project. Anything you want to get across to the user must come out in the time spent interacting with a program. Kinda-sorta functional, pre-Beta / endless Beta software excused with a "But it's free and makes the world a better place because..." won't cut it.

    If you want to fight the likes of iOS and win, look at what's appealing about the experience and improve on it. Don't you dare tell people they don't want what they're currently enjoying. Offer them a better alternative. Cut the condescension and smug sense of supe

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:31PM (#38558432)

    I'm on the iPad and Slashdot is giving me this semi- mobile version. Half of the web these days hates mobile devices and I don't know why can't we always have desktop versions and only have mobile sites on request?

  • Re:Free market? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JayWilmont (1035066) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:32PM (#38558444)

    Most of america is also car-illiterate, financially-illiterate, woodworking-illiterate, sewing-illiterate, hunting-illiterate, gardening-illiterate and cooking-illiterate.

    I don't think we should ever celebrate ignorance, but there is a big difference between this and acknowledging that people only have so much time/energy/capacity to learn about how the world works and would rather spend their time living their lives.

    Basic gardening is also super-easy and is beneficial both financially and health-wise, but most people don't bother with it, the same way most people don't bother spending time understanding their computer.

    As we look at how to improve our society, I think concerns about cooking/food-illiteracy and financial-illiteracy are far more pressing than bemoaning that people don't bother to learn how to navigate a directory structure. It is better to discuss making "open" computing simple, easy and relevant rather than berating people for wanting to get on with their lives.

  • by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:38PM (#38558482)

    But lets look a little deeper. How did that end up working out for IBM? How many PCs has IBM sold lately?

    You say that as though it's a bad thing. That's how we want it to work: If you invent something once and thereafter decide you want to rest on your laurels forever, the market is supposed to eat your lunch. We want a market where companies have to continually innovate or they get kicked to the curb. This idea that inventing something once should give you an inalienable right to a permanent revenue stream is a disease.

    More than that, it's a disease that kills the host first. Companies want control, obviously. Customers and developers also want control. If a company like Apple decides they want to control everything, they get a larger slice of a smaller pie. That can work out well in the short term in some cases, but eventually someone comes around who provides a product which is of a similar quality but which allows users and other third parties to have more of that control, which causes more people to use it. The market share of the more free product increases faster than that of the less free product, because all else equal who wouldn't want more control for themselves and less for someone else? The walled garden is a false dichotomy because you can have optional curation without mandatory curation, and the first company to get the former right will eat the latter's lunch in exactly the same way and for the same reasons that the open web defeated AOL.

  • Re:Free market? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:41PM (#38558498) Homepage

    In a true free market there would be more closed solutions too and the one most people want will win

    In a true free market, Apple would not enjoy so many government enforced barriers to entry in the form of license agreements, patents, and copyright.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @04:59PM (#38558630) Homepage Journal

    What most users want is this: Open box. Turn on computer. Search for the app they want. Hit "Install". Use app. That's it. Get shit done, and do other shit when the desire strikes.

    Yeah, as long as the app they want exists.

    The Next Big Thing -- the next game-changer comparable to, say, HTTP and HTML -- won't come from Apple, or IBM, or Microsoft, or even Google. It will come from a university researcher who invents a tool to solve a specific problem and then realizes the tool has general applicablity, or from a programmer at a startup who can convince his boss to let him take a chance on something genuinely different from anything their competitors are doing, or from a teenager playing around in his parents' basement. And so will the Big Thing After That, and the Big Thing After That --

    -- if, that is, they have the tools to do it with. If they're not locked in to a world where general-purpose computers are no longer general-purpose enough to allow such things to happen. If they're not prohibited by law from releasing their work to the public because it doesn't have the Holy Seal Of Big Corporate Intellectual Property.

    The "I just want an app that does X" crowd make up the vast majority of computer users and probably always will, and that's fine. But they have to understand where those apps come from.

  • Re:Free market? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @05:46PM (#38558902) Homepage

    You make it out like Apple is the only one with patents, copyrights and licence agreements.

    I do not. I make it out like patents, copyrights, and license agreements are indicative of a market which is not free in the libertarian sense used in the OP.

    If that were the case you might have a point but they all play by the same rules.

    They all play by the same set of rules that favors the incumbent with the most lawyers and power to develop exclusive relationships. That is a market which is not free due to barriers to entry.

    I'm not even saying it is bad. I would not say such a thing, because I think some of the barriers from which Apple benefits can be healthy components of a non-free market economy.

    I'm just saying it is not rational to use the free market card to defend Apple. If we snapped our fingers and had a true free market today, Apple would become a much smaller company very quickly. If you ended copyright, Apple's iTunes Music Store revenue would be cut by more than 90%, for example. That alone might be more than they could adapt to before going out of business.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @05:49PM (#38558928) Homepage
    The IBM PC has effectively died. IBM doesn't make PCs. Windows based PCs are certainly still around and of course Windows still dominates because it has decades of software people are reliant on. That is why Linux and Macs struggle to take gain market share.

    But if Windows was the superior product then MS shouldn't be struggling in every other consumer market. Their phone OS is pretty much a failure, they're a non-starter on tablets, zune is dead and their "big" success is the 360 which was blown away by inferior hardware (the Wii) and is only a few million ahead of the PS3 despite the 1 year lead, the price advantage, the fact most every game can be bought on both systems, despite the PS3 hackings, etc.

    What I see is consumers use windows where they have to use it. Where they don't need to due to lack of legacy software they are going to either Android, Apple or anyone else.

    Part of that success they built up on the desktop didn't come from natural consumer choice. It had a lot of help from underhanded tactics from Microsoft. I think the fact the Mac and Linux survived that is a testament to how much better their products are.

    Non-technical people did not pick wintel machines because they were easier and better. They just happened to have the software people want which has nothing to do with the openness of the hardware which actually isn't any more open than a Mac. Linux is installable on Macs and has been for some time even with PPC variants.

    That is my point. Most consumers simply do not care about hacking software or hardware. Just as most consumers don't want to tear apart their cars or mod them and what is wrong with that? It won't stop geeks from having what they want. Linux can't go away if Apple gains a 90% market share. It didn't go away despite Windows' huge market share even with MS actively bullying OEMs into only installing windows. You let people pick what they want and if more people want something they perceive as being safer and easier rather than what you pick then how does that hurt you?
  • Re:Free market? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Andreas Mayer (1486091) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @06:40PM (#38559324) Homepage

    Apple's iTunes Music Store revenue would be cut by more than 90%, for example. That alone might be more than they could adapt to before going out of business.

    The rest of your comment I can agree with. But this? You have to be kidding. Apple wouldn't even blink if they lost the revenue from the iTunes Music Store today. On the contrary; if they were able to just give away all those songs, they would be *happy*. Because people could spend even more money on hardware, which is what Apple sells.

  • by decora (1710862) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @07:42PM (#38559716) Journal

    Intel x86 CPU
    single motherboard
    exchangable RAM modules
    cabled disk drives coming off motherboard
    standardized bus architecture for 3rd party manufacturers
    open design that allows easy cloning by anonymous hordes of skilled Asian laborers

    sorry, where is the 'dead' part?

  • Re:Free market? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Sunday January 01, 2012 @10:57PM (#38560708) Homepage Journal

    Most of america is also car-illiterate, financially-illiterate, woodworking-illiterate, sewing-illiterate, hunting-illiterate, gardening-illiterate and cooking-illiterate.

    And those people who refuse to learn anything about the world that they live in will always be a bane on the existence of those of us who do.

    I may not know the compression ratio of the engine in my truck, but I can change my own oil and flat tires.

    I walked out of a bank VP's office once over a .3% discrepancy in an interest rate. That wouldn't have had to happen if not for the dumb asses who go ahead and get loans without paying attention to the fine print.

    I can't build my own table and chairs, well not of professional level quality, but I can do basic repairs on the wooden items that I own.

    I can patch the holes in my clothes. I do it regularly. I still have and wear a pair of pants that I bought over 18 years ago.

    I can grow, kill and cook my own food. It's not unreasonable to think that other people should know how to do this, even if they don't do it regularly for themselves.

    I can't write my own operating system, but I understand how my computer works and I know how to make it do the things that I want it to do.

    There isn't enough time to become an expert at everything, but it's plain old laziness that keeps people from learning even the basics.

    LK

  • Re:Free market? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Monday January 02, 2012 @06:09AM (#38562248)

    The "free market" isn't a "one person one vote" thing. It's merely a term to describe a fantasy ideal where ownership is well-defined and absolute, i.e. ownership and owner of almost everything is somehow naturally obvious and the owner has sole say over the disposal of his property.

    That, and everyone is free to trade their things with everyone else as they see fit, everyone has perfect data on who's buying or selling what on what prices (and the sufficient computing power to make optimal use of all this data), there are no monopolies (that is, there are many non-cooperating buyers and sellers for everything), there are no barriers for entry, there are no external costs (that is, if your product pollutes, it's reflected in the original price when it enters the market), no one needs to buy or sell at "any price" (food, for example), ...

    In short, it's an abstract model of a world that has never existed, does not exist, and can never exist. Useful as an approximation when aided by the legal system, but that's all.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe

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