In Defence of Apple’s Walled garden

April 15, 2010

The “open-source” versus “closed-propriety” clash is not a new one.  On a personal level I’d certainly describe myself as an open-source advocate. I’m a zealous Mozilla convert and Firefox and Thunderbird is where 90% of my working day happens. Just about all the other software I use is open source too.  But its starting to get very trendy to bash Apple for it’s chosen modus operandi, and I think it is time to expose some mistruths:

  • Google = open-source : Apple = closed-source

    The big brawl in the techspace right now is the Google/Apple brawl. And Google’s PR boys have decided to promote themselves as the cool open-source dudes.  So a few of their recent ventures such as Chrome and Android are open source. But what about the 95% part of their business – the coveted Google Algorithm?? And the Adwords auction procedures (basically a big black hole)?  I would argue that that they are the top-guarded secrets in the world – walled gardens are nothing – this is a Walled vault.

  • Open-Source is Free.

    This is the biggest bullshit. Somebody has to pay for the lunch. And when you are using all of Facebook’s or Google’s cool services, you are not paying cash, you are paying by having adverts invade every aspect of your life. More worringly, you are paying by completely surrendering all privacy in every aspect of your life in order for better targeted adverts to hit you. At least upfront cash pricing is transparent – how much private data you have to give up for free services is deceptively obscure.

  • The Kiss Principle

    Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. One of Apple’s greatest successes is in the simplicity of the whole Apple experience. We don’t have time anymore to invest in 30 minute learning curves to learn new software/hardware/webware.  Apple’s very centralised structure enables one point of entry on the web, and one entity that you are dealing with. Open-source, unfortunately, tends to grow organically leading to huge fragmented behemoths. Just look at Google’s services – its no longer clear which “department” you are dealing with or where one service begins and another ends. If anything, Google seems to be moving away from the KISS principle as each year goes by. (The failure of Google Wave is an epic example)

  • Hardware doesn’t count.

    Doesn’t matter how awesome the latest operating system is, underneath it all you need good hardware. Apple is arguably the Rolls Royce in computer hardware. Anyone who has owned something as simple as an iPod will know that it works great, and just keeps working. That’s because Apple does their hardware in-house and can ensure top quality. Hardware quality is not something you can just opensource. (or outsource to HTC in the case of the Nexus One).

  • Open-Source is the only way to be innovative.

    Yes, I can see where this is coming from in theory. And certainly the power of the hive mind has taken services like twitter in directions that could never have been conceived by a single management department. But to accuse Apple of not being innovative is just plain idiotic. Whether its the iPod, iPhone or now iPad, Apple has blazed the pioneer trail, with everyone else playing catch-up for the last 5 years.

Thankfully, at the end of the day we don’t have to choose sides in the open versus closed idealogical war. We can play in walled gardens when we want. And we can play in public parks when we want too.

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