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The Pendulum Swings, Again (jacquesmattheij.com)
284 points by hawke on Sept 24, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments



I know there's a lot of hype around the Raspberry Pi, but it's interesting that you would mention it as a key component of open systems when it's a perfect example of half-closed:

* The BCM2835, the microprocessor used on the board, is not available to be purchased by hobbyists

* The full data sheet for the BCM2835 is not available without signing an NDA with Broadcom (and presumably that only happens when you have a commercial application)

* A schematic is available, but not the PCB layout

* The GPU drivers are a binary blob

The Beagleboard and the Arduino are much better examples of open hardware.


Those are excellent points, when I get home later I'll update the article. That's a big oversight on my part, thank you.


The most interesting thing about these recent trends is human nature.

I remember back in year 2000/2001 how everybody was talking about freedom, open-source and the open nature of the Internet. I remember how the closed garden that Microsoft tried to create was frowned upon. Small companies that were picking the Internet as a delivery platform and using open-source/multi-platform technologies were on the forefront of innovation. Of course regular consumers and businesses never cared, but as Paul Graham once said, if you want to see the future trends in computing, you have to look at what hackers are using today.

Then OS X happened, this UNIX-compatible OS that was shiny and cool and all of your UNIX tools were compatible with it and you could run some pretty important proprietary software too, like MS Office or Photoshop. It was more productive for developers than Windows. Compared to Linux it was friendlier to all people. And suddenly Apple was hip again and it slowly captured the hearts of developers.

Then the iPhone happened and people didn't mind that it was a closed garden, because there has never been anything like it. Anything that Apple allowed on this new platform, it was taken as a gift, as it was their platform, so if they wanted to ban an app for "duplicating existing functionality" then openness be damned, it was their product after all. Then the stories about lone developers getting rich on the App Store happened, and people didn't mind being at the behest of Apple, as long as they could have some piece of that awesome pie.

Of course, countless of reasons were given by tech pundits, trying to rationalize the walled garden they've created - it is better for grandmas that have their PCs ridden with viruses, it is better for the protection of our children, it exposes computing to a wider mass (even though computing in this context means mostly consumption), it solves the problem of app marketing for individual developers without huge marketing budgets, etc... there's always some reason for why Apple was right to act the way it did. Even now that they've released a shitty GMaps replacement, some genuinely believe that they had no choice, when for a company like Apple there are always choices available.

Let's not forget for a moment the ultimate argument against this closed garden: if you don't like it, you are free to go somewhere else.

And now Apple started suing left and right, which in my opinion is what companies do when finding themselves in the innovator's dilemma, and is doing so while dropping the ball on new versions of its products. They are still successful and they might produce some more golden eggs in the future, but the innovation frenzy of the iPod era is over and they know it.

And yet people still cheer for them, even though as far as openness is concerned, Apple makes Microsoft look good. And it was only 12 years ago that people hated Microsoft with a passion for being an obstacle to innovation, even though Microsoft never banned any app from running on Windows or restricted its usage only to certain hardware (but surprise, since Apple has been doing it so successfully, Microsoft is going to start doing it with Windows 8 ... hurray for the renewed and totally not evil Microsoft).

I own an Android phone and an iPad. I love my iPad, but it was a gift and I secretly yearn for a Nexus tablet that has the same size + 3G. I also voted with my wallet against apps like Instagram, because I'm primarily an Android user and the aesthetic senses of developers like Marco don't really solve any my problems.

I also remember the day I got my Galaxy S, even though I owned an iPhone 3GS ... I got out of my way to buy one out of frustration because Apple was banning apps for blocking calls and SMS messages from specific phone numbers (but hey, look how it "just works"). And I predict similar frustration levels as use-cases for my iPad are unfolding. Already I'm pretty pissed off about my carrier having the ability to enable/disable the tethering option on my iPad.

If this is the future of computing, then I shudder to think of the consequences.


Wow. This captures my feelings almost to a "T".

I have an iPhone4 (replacing a 3GS), an iPad3 (replacing an original iPad), and a Macbook Air (replacing a MacBookPro15) and I'm starting to get very nervous about AAPL.

I'm concerned that they are loving towards locking down OS X in a similar fashion to iOS. I wasn't particularly fond of the walled-garden but it was such an improvement that I put up with it. No other products really matched the level of integration that I was craving. A faustian bargain, really.

My wife just got me a Nexus 7 tablet. I find myself really enjoying it. It's thin and light and very, very fast.

And more importantly, it's open. I run Linux on my home servers and I really enjoy Linux as an operating environment. It's just that as a "daily-driver" OS, it's just too rough around the edges to really be at the same level as something like OS X. Android is probably the first example of a truly user-friendly UI for Linux. (note: I know that Android isn't really Linux; I'm making a point about openness and fit/finish/integration)

Anyhow, I'm really conflicted about upgrading to the iPhone5. On one hand, my relationship with AAPL has been pretty good from a customer-relations standpoint. On the other hand, I'm frustrated by the design compromises that seem to be made largely for the convenience/profit of AAPL than their users.


I'm having similar concerns, and I think both your post and the parent post are indicative of a trend that, in hindsight, will have begun just around 2011/12.

And as someone who remembers (and was part of) the first phase of migration to Apple/OS X, around 2001/02, it seems to me that it had less momentum and was harder to envision than the migration from Apple that may be in its infancy now.

(Note: "migration from" doesn't imply losing market share, or even a lower growth rate. It rather means that a specific, tiny but crucial slice of mind share may have begun to erode.)


> indicative of a trend that, in hindsight, will have begun just around 2011/12

I think the very beginnings of it were earlier. The moment Apple jumped the shark was when they banned apps not originally written in C/ObjC from the app store. In that moment they made it virtually impossible to be a geek with any credibility and not be at least a little embarrassed to be an Apple fan. They reversed their decision but it was too late - geeks flooded into Android and the Android market increased its app count by about 400% in the ensuing months. Ever since then I've noticed that my geek friends who carry iPhones have been defensive about it - they say things to rationalize why they aren't carrying a real geek phone.


That was exactly the turning point for me too. I was uneasy about handing them so much control but was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt given their history and their roots in BSD.

But this decision showed they were willing to make heavy-handed and capricious decisions at users' and developers' expense and revealed the dark side of Apple's policy of total control of their platform.


After reading this comment I am really glad I am not some "geek". I am a programmer, developer, whatever, but I hope I will never turn into geek like one described here.


So you prefer to have some corporation dictating what tools you can use, even if other tools are equally or even more productive for your work? Even if this policy has as much to do with their business agenda as it does with any technical concerns?


I can understand that you like Apple products and will stick by them, but I don't understand the kind of disgust you express about being the kind of person that doesn't like Apple products.

Is it a product, or a tribe?


As a geek, believe me, the feeling is mutual.


Sorry, but your comment did nothing to convince the person above. In fact, you may have just turned a middle-of-the-roader into a lifelong enemy of your cause. I'm sorry if I'm beating up on you but this problem is huge in our circles.

Can we get off our snark and get people on our side instead? Comments should elevate others instead of showing off our sarcasm.


My comment wasn't sarcastic and I'm not interested in evangelizing.


I think the migration from Apple just hit my wife.

I've been an iPhone user since day 1, made some money on the app store, and my wife followed with the iPhone 3G, then my cast-off iPhone 4 when the 4S came out.

Now though, after I bought her a Nexus 7, she mentioned that she'd happily get an Android phone now. That's quite an indicator, and probably occurring all over the US. Google really hit it out of the park with the N7.


It's interesting how I am in the same exact boat as you and everyone up the thread to the original commenter as far being basically fed up with Apple's shit. I am also quite glad indeed that there are now alternatives for those of us who do care about the UX, and my favourite of them is Gnome 3.

It's received a lot of bad press, but I feel like the majority of it is by the more hardcore Linux users who are understandably not used to the carpet being yanked from underneath them. I am still amazed, after an entire summer of using it, about just how much Gnome 3 has re-thought in terms of its UI. The experience is not without bumps and is definitely buggy in places, but I feel like it's the first open-source shell which places user experience at the top of its priority list.

EDIT: there are rumours Ubuntu 12.10 will come in a vanilla Gnome 3 flavour, as opposed to Unity. A "pure" Gnome 3 Debian is all I personally ever need to stay happy, particularly on my Apple hardware that (for now?) supports loading non-OSX operating systems.


If someone out there made a decent laptop with upgradable components and a retina-quality display, I'd probably switch in a moment.


What do you mean by "upgradable components"? Apple aren't looking too good in this regard of late.


I believe that was the point -- Apple has "decent" and "Retina-quality display" covered, and that may be somewhat lacking (in the GP's opinion) elsewhere, while the lack of upgradability on the Apple side is an incentive to switch. Get all three requirements covered in a single machine, though...


Right. That was my point. I'm not happy with the path that Apple is taking here. The non-configurability/repairability of the newer laptops along with the ever-increasing closing of the platform gives me pause.

I was looking at the Lenovo Carbon X1 as a possible candidate to replace the Macbook Air I'm currently using but it's not all-the-way-there yet. At least, not for me.

I'm hoping that the other manufacturers catch up soon.


I really want to want to buy a X1 Carbon, but it seems they aren't selling one with an i7 and 8GB. It seems to be a "choose one" situation, which is incredibly annoying.


The X1 isn't all that upgradeable either. Fundamentally I don't think anyone has figured out how to make the Ultrabook form factor very friendly to user modification.


Android isn't really Linux

Huh? It's Linux. It's just not GNU/Linux.


Yeah. I think that's what I meant to say. I'm still a bit hazy on all the components of the Android platform but AFAIK, the Linux kernel is only the most basic part of the whole thing with the VM and associated parts a larger percentage of the whole package.


The "whole package" is called GNU/Linux, because only the kernel is Linux proper. You'll never hear rms calling for people to call Android GNU/Linux, because it uses different software for that part.


RMS definitely was right to insist on "GNU/Linux" for GNU systems, though: we have proof now that some people who can tell a kernel from an OS can't express themselves clearly when they do need to communicate that distinction.


Exactly. For years I did not see the point in "GNU/Linux" as a term. I understood why he wanted it called that, and sympathised with him, but I lacked a reason to actually care.

Now though the distraction is useful. I use GNU/Linux on my servers, desktops, and laptops, and I use Android/Linux on my phone. The terminology now makes conversation easier, instead of more cumbersome.


What has changed is that you have discovered a use for the term. RMS already had one.


Exactly. It is no longer just about ideology or giving proper credit anymore.


Maybe it would have made more sense to try and just call it "GNU", "Gunoo-slash-linucks" is just too big of a mouthful.


Then how would we refer to the Hurd?


OSX demonstrates the power of design. Apple is a fashion company. Freedom is all good, but not if it looks like shit, and pretty much everything but Apple (at least as of the mid-2000s) looked like shit.

I am pleased with the overall design philosophy direction that Unity and Gnome 3 have taken in abandoning the 90s clutterbuck desktop in favor of something cleaner and more fluid, but both are immature. But if they can pull it together, and can be combined with the "ultrabook" movement to make non-Apple laptops not look like shit, then we might have something.

Also, look into cheap Chinese tablets like the "a-pad." If these could be flashed to run an open platform, then we'd have something there too.

But the big problem remains design. OSS is very good at innovation and infrastructure, but is very, very, VERY poor at user experience.


>> OSS is very good at innovation and infrastructure, but is very, very, VERY poor at user experience.

I agree with you here. As a designer, I have helped out FLOSS projects with UX design and usability. However, the environment is such that if you would suggest UX could be improved, the response often is that devs feel insulted because you are dissing their code (which is not the case, but they don't see that).

On the other hand, taking a look at WordPress, they invested quite some time in user testing and improving UX by professionals, and that makes it one of the most usable web publishing platforms out there.

So, it would be too easy to say all FLOSS is bad at UX, but most developers don't even see it as an actual discipline, and hence do not see a problem.

Nicer devs, that's the key :)


As a designer, I'm sure you recognize that not all feedback from someone who calls himself a designer is going to have equal quality, and shouldn't automatically get a pass. Also, you surely must know that a lot of design and UX critique is highly subjective...

Since you are here, I think you probably also understand that sometimes a complete redesign amounts to a large quantity of boring work, and that an open source developer might have set other priorities for future improvement, or just not see that much return on the time investment relative to other things which remain to be done.

The word for someone who is really nice to you and changes the whole project at your whim is 'employee' or 'contractor.' If I devised and have worked on an OSS project for years and some guy comes out of the blue basically saying that I should reallocate months of free labor in order to make something to someone else's tastes, can you not see why that would be the sort of suggestion I would take with a big grain of salt?


When the iMacs first came out, they were being lauded for their style. Of course, now that style looks horribly dated.

But people were always praising Apple products as good design, good user experience, even on the stuff we think is old and busted now.

The reason the recent Apple stuff looks cool now is that it is still the recent Apple stuff. In 10 years, it will look dated because it is so stylized, while things which are styled in a way which is 'boring' will still just be boring 10 years from now.

This should be an indicator that making things not "look like shit" is at least as much a matter of sensing or directing the style of the time, as it is fulfilling some objective criterion for good looks.


That's not universal, though: Apple is literally unusable for me and others because of design decisions that you can't really fix, simply because Apple.

It's high-handed. It's dictating to the user, and it's a reason (not the only reason) Apple won't ever be the only player in any market it enters.


Agreed!

For some people Apple's conventions align with their tastes, or clash with their tastes. I think many more people have a meta-preference to have everything just decided and encapsulated for them (sometimes literally encapsulated: not 'having to worry about' battery replacement, for example). These people greatly outnumber the people with a meta-preference to have everything customizable, or open source, or whatever.

If our culture becomes more technically savvy, then I think there will be a higher value placed on systems which offer sane defaults and present few degrees of freedom up-front (like Apple) BUT do provide hatches for users to get more control (like Apple alternatives).


Or summarized: people will argue in favor of and cheer for whatever is trendy that day.

We should not fool ourselves, we live in a bubble - the outside world is mostly boring Windows XP business desktops, Android smartphones, and Nokia featurephones ;).


> And yet people still cheer for them, even though as far as openness is concerned, Apple makes Microsoft look good. And it was only 12 years ago that people hated Microsoft with a passion for being an obstacle to innovation,

The reason why people don't hate Apple the way that they hated Microsoft is for three reasons: (1) Apple actually makes a great product, unlike Microsoft at the time. (2) Apple innovates unlike Microsoft at the time. And (3) Apple is never going to have a monopoly, like Microsoft did.

If there's a monopoly to be had, the future is already written, and it belongs to Android.


Disagree.

MS was the incumbent 800 lb gorilla, and was proposing locking up identity and payment for the great new space of internet--blocking all new comers. Whereas Apple's actions were framed as underdog & come-from-behind. Today, MS is still characterized as a villan, but now with a bumbling "Home Alone" veneer.

Never mind that Apple, Google and FB have long overstepped MS's original passport plans with more even more ("friendly!") lock in, or that that FF & Chrome overturned consumer protections like ("hard to set!") P3P advertising policy headers so more info could flow back via adwords everywhere.

So if the future belongs to Android, remember that platform is first a giant magnet to collect and funnel info to GOOG, and secondly a phone.


How does that disagree with what I said?


you can't call android a monopoly. thats like saying server is monopolized by GNU/linux.


You make it sound as if there's any doubt that Google will continue to control Android for the foreseeable future. There is none.


What about Amazon's Kindle Fire?


Amazon is not going to wrest control of Android away from Google.


I think danmaz was trying to say that Android's monopoly does not mean anything because its ecosystem is so thoroughly fragmented. It does not seem to be getting any better either, when you have major content providers like Amazon forking it to distribute their own content.


An Android monopoly certainly means something. I guess time will tell whether what it turns out to mean is significantly less onerous than other monopolies.


A monopoly means only as much as the amount of control its owner has over it. In the case of Android, most of the power seems to be concentrated amongst the carriers, since they get to decide what versions of the OS will be available on the devices they sell and what UIs/crapware they will be bundled with. With the resulting fragmentation (which is massive), the effectiveness of the monopoly is significantly diminished.


So, in other words, Android will bring us all the downsides of a monopoly without many of its benefits?

Look, Windows was/is a strong monopoly, and yet it ceded most of the hardware decisions to manufacturers, who also add all sorts of bloatware to the OS and mess with the UI, provide their own more "friendly" skins, etc.

Plus ca change.


It's complicated. On the one hand, Google's lack of control over their monopoly is good for the consumer, because it means they cannot do all the awful shit that monopolies do, such as market manipulation and locking out new entrants. But it's bad for the consumer as well because one of the symptoms of lack of control is that the user experience is inconsistent. For example, having to root one's phone to end up with a decently usable device is awful for the average user.

We definitely live in interesting times. My professional opinion is that there's room for one or more players in the smartphone OS market. Windows 8 phone could be one, if it catches on. But seems the real demand is for a mobile operating system that has consistent, smooth user experience and a ton of content like iOS, and customizability and open-endedness like Android. Seems unlikely at this point, but with technology, you never know.


> even though computing in this context means mostly consumption

I never understand this argument, will watching iTunes U and reading Instapaper make me dumber because it's "consumption"? Are today's iPhone users not "producing" when posting pictures to Facebook just like we were, uploading pictures to GeoCities a decade ago?


Couldn't agree more with everything you stated.

I think we're prime for a change, and as the OP's article suggests, it's coming.

Hopefully it's a change for openness, freedom, and the empowered user. The pendulum will swing in our favor as long as we do something about it and not just "expect" Cupertino to release an iPhone 10 that will be the "greatest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone" (seriously?).

It's interesting to see how Apple is becoming very much like Microsoft recently. The closed (and getting more closed) ecosystem, with additions such as Gatekeeper on OS X ML and the Nazi-like regime in the iOS App Store. The lawsuits left and right, the lack of innovation. Quite frankly, I don't really remember Microsoft exhibiting such arrogance - something you see more from Oracle, but let's forget the Enterprise for a minute.

I think Apple's walled garden is getting taller and taller, but there's a bigger problem: consumerism just doesn't care. The people who waited days to get the new iPhone - they don't care. They just go forward, like a heard of sheep, whatever Apple says, they do. They applaud and are deeply caught up entranced in the "magic."

I don't think (hope) the future of computing lies with Apple, iOS, consumerism, the RIAA, shit bills introduced by gov't to limit the web, and etc. I think the INTERNET is still run by hackers, engineers, people who live and breathe code, we built this thing damn it and we're going to pass it on to our kids, beter, more open, more robust than ever before. The freedom of information, the ability to share and communicate, the ability to create better worlds through software, it's all there - the fact that Apple and Jobs added a golden veil of design doesn't mean it's lost - just skewed at the moment. It's business and dollars, and people like their closed iOS, gatekeeper, iPhone and "the New iPad."

I have tons of respect for a company like Google who try to stay open in the hostile, big-business consumerism-dominated technology sector. They encourage innovation, they want the Internet to grow as an ecosystem, open, fast and easily accessible for everyone.

Technology is about choices and while we're getting less and less from Cupertino with their Nazi-like regime (including dwindling innovation), there is a lot of positive innovation left and right. From Shenzhen alleys producing $35 A-Pads, to Linux boxes like the Rasberry Pi, to thousands of different Android devices - we are prime for change and a breakthrough from the sandbox.

We just have to work hard and do it.


Small point - however bad it may be, App Store policies cannot be 'Nazi-like,' unless the App Store has mounted a putsch, invented a pretext for invading the Sudetenland, begun an ethnic cleansing campaign, etc.


All good points. Another thing that amazes me is how Facebook has quietly reinvented the AOL keyword and Microsoft Passport. Many, many web sites essentially outsource their login and account creation to Facebook. And advertisers often mention their Facebook url instead of their web site.


Comparing Apple's walled garden to Microsoft's is comparing apples to pears. Not being able to open a .doc on another word processor is different from stopping grandma from opening funnycatpicsnotvirus.app

I like to see things from the benefit to the consumer. Microsoft stagnated the computing world for 10 years by failing to innovate. Apple is suing because (let's face it) competitors are jumping on their gravy train and not deviating from their successful designs.

Yes suing is douchy, but to me it's better than the FUD and EEE.


>I like to see things from the benefit to the consumer. Microsoft stagnated the computing world for 10 years by failing to innovate.

Microsoft accelerated computing by 30 years by making computer hardware a commodity in the 80s and bringing it to the masses.


Don't forget that when the IPhone happened Apple intended any "applications" to be web applications which is why they spent so much time on getting mobile Safari right. It was the developers who demanded local apps and settled for the closed garden.


Well, that's one view.

Another is that the SDK wasn't fit for public consumption in Summer 2007.

Nor would reasonable apps have worked all that well on 2007-series hardware.

But.. you have to start somewhere.


Great comment. "trying to rationalize..." I think that really says it all. Human nature indeed.

It's certainly not rational.


Those who lived through that period and paid attention are probably well aware of the ridiculous notion that information flows should be controlled in order to protect the children or whatever the fig-leaf of the day is. Ask the Iranian and the Chinese people how they like their firewalls.

Let’s make sure it ends up on the side of freedom and democracy, and not on the side of DRM and other forms of control and digital oppression.

If my observations are correct then such a swing is about to happen, and this time we had better get it right.

The author states the concern and the desirable outcome, but how do we, individually, make sure the pendulum swings in the correct direction?


The simplest way is through the use of your wallet. Buy "open". E.g.

- Need a new desktop? Buy one that doesn't lock down uefi by default, and runs linux compatible hardware

- New phone? Buy one with Firefox OS if you can wait that long, or at least go for one with a stock Android install

- New book? Buy one from independent publishers/authors who don't support DRM [1]

- New app? Don't use a commercial app store, get it direct from the publisher

- Music? you get the idea.

Voting with your wallet and putting money on the side of open helps keep commercial operators swinging in that direction. As far as government is concerned, I've no idea.

[1] Swift plug : http://leanpub.com for books, in particular http://leanpub.com/php ....

[edit] In response to the assorted "we're too small a minority" comments below, I would argue that historically with IT that isn't an issue. The internet & web were minority pursuits at one point, commercial walled gardens like AOL were much more common and popular, until the small minority of tech leaders (just like us) forged ahead anyway and showed with our feet how much better it can be. The people reading HN, while comparatively small in number compared to the general population, I think underestimate the power they (and others like them) have to influence the tech lives of their customers, users, friends and family. It doesn't always appear that common sense can beat big money when it comes to affecting the choices made by the general populous, but have some faith in your fellow humanity, these sways are usually only temporary.


Even if we do that, it's only 0.000001% of the people doing it. It doesn't even begin to scratch the big threats.

People are so easily bought by them that all our efforts seem so small.

I really think we're not gonna be able to change the swing back to freedom. 10 years from now, we're gonna be 100% controlled by them and, as the author said, the Life-as-a-Service era will start.


>>>New book? Buy one from independent publishers/authors who don't support DRM [1]

You must have forgotten the raging battle between Doctorow and the eBookstores. He and his publisher didn't want DRM, but the stores did. This is part of the point the writer is making about the pendulum swinging.


Indeed. Lets amend that to "publishers/authors/stores". Many authors and/or publishers are letting you buy direct from their own sites as well as at mainstream ebookstores, so there is often that choice. Again, see [1]


eBooks are my thing. The number of writers selling direct isn't even a rounding error. And if publishers were doing so well on their own, they'd have dropped all the other stores to increase their takes.


You're entirely right, but I think you're missing the point. This thread is about how to we change the current situation, i.e. how to effect which way the needle swings. There is enough of an acorn in the number of authors and publishers that do sell direct online (and stores that don't support DRM) that it is something we can build on by supporting them. The question asked is what can we do, not what has already been done.

[Edit] Also, to clarify, the number of authors selling direct (or via new style lean publishers) is more than a rounding error. The number of popular authors probably isn't. But WHO the popular authors are is not static, and my gut feeling is you will see that rapidly change if the needle swings the way we hope it does. And remember than, bestsellers aside, there is a very long tail in publishing (particularly e-publishing).


This being in the context of a binary choice, it shares a basic flaw of any 2-party democracy: if there are more customers voting the wrong way (i.e., "closed"), commercial operators have no incentive to go open.

If you know your opinion is not mainstream, why limit your choices of commercial goods this way?


Not sure if I'm following you. Are you saying we shouldn't vote because our only 1 vote is meaningless in the crowd?


Voting is not enough. When you're in the minority, you also need to be loud about it. The hard part is not to be annoying or low-status in the process.


No, because this is not just voting. It is voting + limiting our choices to things we support ethically. I may prefer the openness of the Android stores to the iOS App Store, but if the latter offers higher quality software for whatever I seek, there seems little point in giving it up merely to make a political point.


so basically, this points out the fact that a higher quality piece of software beats out openness. And therefore, you have the reason for which the mainstream chooses the closed garden instead of the open ecosystem.

The masses aren't stupid - they in fact chooses very carefully, according to parameters that are more wide ranging that the narrow viewpoint the tech community focuses on.


- When something about Apple (or another walled garden) sucks, generate publicity.


The kind of freedom we get from open systems is like insurance, you need to pay a bit now to get the benefit later. It is also like saying money, you keep spending to much now because you might need it later.

These rational behaviors can be and are taught, usually from your parents. Saying again and again to your friends and relatives that walled gardens and devices you don't own are bad and wrong, and that a shiny box or a sexy aesthetics are less important, will have some effect in the long term.

It is the same as teaching kids to not trust ads. The result is not guaranteed but you have to do it anyway.


It's an interesting view of history, but without providing your reasoning for why you think the pendulum is about to swing again I have to assume that it is not.


I agree. While I can follow the author's reasoning about the history of computing (particularly his assertion that computing was most democratic in the 1980s), he doesn't reveal the sources for his optimism, apart from stating:

If my observations are correct then such a swing is about to happen, and this time we had better get it right.

The interesting part, which is missing, would be a list of such observations.


The iPad being seen as a store for Apple. The Kindles being seen as a store for Amazon. The Nook being seen as a store for Barnes & Noble. Those are just three too damned obvious examples that are totally against the grain of the history of computing he -- and I -- lived through. That's part of the pendulum right there.

Also, writers and publishers and musicians not wanting DRM but the stores -- Apple, Amazon, et al -- insisting on it. Another pendulum swing. You wind up not even having total control over your own product.

Fake DRM takedowns to stifle competition (see the Vinted thing with Kickstarter).

The battle over whether GPS tracking does or doesn't require a court order.

All the evidence is out there and I'm surprised any of you need someone else to create such a list.

And, shit, I'm a writer and I now want to learn JavaScript because I think something like Open webOS (or the Mozilla OS) is the future we'll all be running towards for technological self-defense and freedom. The path we're currently on is a noose that can hang all of us.


But there is no DRM for music in Apple's store (it was dropped entirely in 2009), and Amazon sells DRM free music too.


I think that the ‘openmoko’ phone was an (too) early attempt at forcing a reversal. The raspberry pi may be a key component here (it shares a lot of its heritage with a large number of smartphones)...

If my observations are correct then such a swing is about to happen, and this time we had better get it right. Things that point in the direction of a swing are an increasing awareness of ordinary computer users with respect to their privacy and who actually owns all that data. The fragmenting of the smartphone and tablet markets will lead to some more openness and at some point all the bits and pieces to create true open hardware will fall into place. FPGAs, 3D printing and some more ingredients will make it possible to generate very capable hardware and versatile on a relatively small budget. A mobile platform consisting of a standard phone/3G/wifi module, an FPGA and a standard touch screen would be pretty formidable and is almost within reach.

The whole paragraph is a list of observations and reasoning.


Rather than assuming that it's not you could concede that since it has moved in the past, and it may move again.

But pragmatically, what to do about it? I don't think answers such as "don't buy" proprietary or closed source has any effect, since enough others do and will continue to do so. One option may be to (continue ?) to develop unrestrict[ed |ive] software that is more desirable than the closed equivalent. But as we know, that's not easy.


Not really. Consumer software is still a young enough industry that a couple of data points are not enough to draw definitive conclusions on. There are plenty of industries that began with a period of openness but eventually settles into an oligopoly due to cost, patents, and government regulation. Look how hard it is to DIY a laptop, and that's part of a relatively open system.

The government (by which I mean political interests) want to regulate the internet badly and are just waiting for the opportunity/event to occur that allows them to form enough of a consensus to do so. You can't put the genie back in the bottle completely, there will always be open computing and open protocols, but the idea that computers will always be a platform from which "a couple of kids in a garage" can launch a revolution; I think that is far from a sure thing.

> But pragmatically, what to do about it? I don't think answers such as "don't buy" proprietary or closed source has any effect, since enough others do and will continue to do so. One option may be to (continue ?) to develop unrestrict[ed |ive] software that is more desirable than the closed equivalent. But as we know, that's not easy.

What was it about the web that made it more desirable to Prodigy, AOL? I'd love to see accounts from insiders in the industry at the time that that disruption took place. It's easy to say in hindsight that the web was better but why did people at the time think it was better?


> What was it about the web that made it more desirable to Prodigy, AOL?

In my experience, the web offered connectivity. We built some very early web-based Order management tools, back when Amazon was taking phone orders. Then we realized that "Hey, with a browser & modem, employees can do their work at home!" This was pre-firewalls, and you had to know the IP.

If we can ensure that we retain connectivity between services we operate, we're in a good place.

The web didn't win because of content. Many people think web content is better than it actually is. What's 1000X better than Google? LexisNexis. Searching LN via a 14.4 modems returned better, more detailed and richer information much faster than 100Mbits and Google today, because the relevance was insane. And for the obscure niche information there was always NNTP.


You're right, I should have enumerated the reasons why I think that we may have one more chance in the near future, I will do so later.

And I agree that it is far from a sure thing. I wished it was.


I think the reason is that IT is no longer a component that has some limited purpose in various professional and personal aspects of life. IT is quickly becoming the platform for everything else. As such it is going to be regulated just as strictly as banks or utilities.


I think the article misses one of the fundamental reasons that mobile is a closed environment: fear. It seems we treat things we can put in our pocket as more personal and much different than the twilight zone we expect out of computers.

I am sure, at some point, a program uploaded the Outlook address book of some Fortune 500 sales manager to the internet without telling him/her. Any problem or security breach in the PC world is a 1-day story.

The same thing happens on a mobile platform (iPhone) and C-level executives are dragged in front of Congress. I gotta tell you, if its a choice between programmer's rights and being dragged in front of Congress because some startup didn't use proper hashing, I would, as a CEO, limit programmers. Pure, simple, and a smart decision for 99.9% of my customers. I will bet if Google has more executives "requested" at Congressional Hearings then side-loading will disappear.

The post-PC devices are going to be locked down in the name of security. There is no downside to executives. Some developers will put up with it because of the money just like they did in the pre-iPhone days of mobile deployment.

I hate this because I know if I'd been born 20 years later, I would not be a developer. High Schools are not teaching programming anymore and the computers I learned to program on (Atari 400, C64, TI 99/4A) have no modern replacements (sub $200 with development tools included / available cheap).

Someone wants to change all this? Then build a modern day Atari 800 / C64. Not OLPC, because you cannot just buy one of those. Something I can hook to the internet and an old TV (since now most families have bought the 2nd generation of HDMI devices). Something that lets me program it.


Then build a modern day Atari 800 / C64.

Isn't that what Raspberry Pi is? A very simple, understandable, eminently hackable computer?

That does make me wonder: if I could get 35-40 of them for my kids' high school, would they put them to use? Or would three be as valuable as 40, since only the kids who are like I was would care?


No, Raspberry Pi is a board. You don't hand people a motherboard and expect them to learn to program.


Ctrl-Shift-C in Chrome, or Ctrl-Shift-J in Firefox, will give you a programmable computing environment more powerful and expressive than a 20-year old Atari, Commodore, or Apple.


Which means I have to have a computer already which is not < $200. Also, I really doubt I can use Firefox or Chrome to hook up some photocells to the machine and take readings or use the photocells as a musical instrument.


> I think the article misses one of the fundamental reasons that mobile is a closed environment: fear. It seems we treat things we can put in our pocket as more personal and much different than the twilight zone we expect out of computers.

Mobile is closed because Apple is closed, were wildly successful when they entered the market, and everyone else followed suit. There success wasn't due to the closed nature, but as is always the case, it became the standard way of doing things.


Mobile is closed because the network providers are terrified of letting devices that they cannot control on their network.


There are more than one layer of closed, and you're right, that layer has always been closed, but from the software side it's a new phenomenon. Pocket PCs and Palms did not share the modern security model. Apple gave us that.


If the phone OS originated on a PDA, it wasn't locked on the phone version, but for all the other phones, it was a serious PITA to get software out there. Remember BREW and the costs to deploy / get approved (that was the easy one).

Apple didn't give up that. Apple followed the non-PDA path.


Apple has also repeatedly said that iOS upgrades have been delayed because of carrier review. Same for Google Nexus updates. We all know the disaster that has been 3rd party Android updates because of vendor and carrier review.


In addition to that, mobile is closed because hardware manufacturers, software companies and network providers all seem to agree that the combination of mandated personalization and permanent tracking is a potential gold mine.


Remember though that there are no carriers in the world that only permit phones as locked down as the iPhone.


After taking inflation into consideration you can buy yourself a cheap laptop for the equivalent of the $200, install a Linux distro on it and you have a workable dev environment.

You can even go on lowendbox.com and get yourself some cheap hosting to share your creations with the entire planet.


The most interesting fact for this swing is that it's not only software that is changing...

As noted in the article: if you wanted a computer in the old days, you put it together yourself. That changed and putting together a new computer yourself is unimaginable (I'm not speaking about assembly of components, but soldering the whole thing). Recently cheap(er) 3D printing, Arduino and the Raspberry Pi put hardware on the table again and I think very interesting times are coming. Think about it, even 2 or 3 years ago 'innovation' on the internet was synonym with software, now it's changing again to hard- and software.


Not at all. Hardware is becoming more and more obscure. 5 years ago many people could and did swap components in their PC. Now try doing that with a modern smartphone or laptop.

Don't confuse the chatterings online about RPi etc with any kind of general movement. The vast majority of computer users now use sealed hardware boxes, and that proportion is increasing.


Do we care? I'm personally much happier with open software and formats, but my Ubuntu laptop can easily read a .docx written by MS Office a Windows 8 machine. I can run many programs and games under WINE. And I can still tweak whatever I like. Meanwhile, people too busy, uninterested, and uneducated to want to change anything can use a simple, elegant, functional platform.

As long as our software is continually developed and is supported (which is why UEFI is so scary), I don't see why we should object to black box computers.


5 years ago many people could and did swap components in their PC. Now try doing that with a modern smartphone or laptop.

Do you think this is an entirely new development? Wouldn't the statement "5 years ago people could do X with computers, now they can't" in fact hold true for the last, say, 40 years in the history of computing?


But the argument here is about the specific property of black boxes.

Computers in the olden days tend not to be hermetically sealed black boxes.


Well, Rpi etc could lead the way. Not as they are of course, but that could improve.

One way I can think of is memristors, which could make FPGA-like hardware ubiquitous. This would push the software/hardware frontier so low that there would be effectively little magic left.


I see your point with the 3d printing revolution but imho the two most important sentences in the article are:

The line between ‘computer’, ‘program’ and ‘media’ blurred to the point where consumers were successfully confused about what it was they were actually buying.

... another where it is successfully co-opted by big money and governments in a concerted effort to give us all a subscription to online Life-As-A-Service where you will be beholden to some party for the ability to gain access to knowledge, information, the right to communicate and so on and where the act of programming will be as tightly regulated as the export of cryptography was.

So if you look at it closely: This swing is not only about hardware and software anymore. It is much more about data and the services that it enables. Think of facebook, google etc.


In fact the GPU on the rPi doesn't even have open source drivers or a public specification, you have to use the provided binary blob if you want all the goodies.


I think the comments on hacker news, in general, need to be a little more tolerant of ambiguity. Just because a statement is not immediately verifiable or is imprecise, it does not mean that it is without worth. The scientific method is a way of verifying our intuition, it is not in and of itself the one true route to all knowledge.


Before you worry about the pendulum of mobile app ecosystems, perhaps it's worth stepping back a few layers of abstraction, and look at the pendulum of the physical, human-human interface layer.

None of us own our own real property (property tax) - you don't even own your own car (required registration fees even for "planned nonoperation"). You (likely) don't create any of your own food, and are bound by law to carry and present ID.

So ... what ? We build our perfect little RMS style open computing world, while we are renters and debtors at the lower layers of our "societal stack".


Those who lived through that period and paid attention are probably well aware of the ridiculous notion that information flows should be controlled in order to protect the children or whatever the fig-leaf of the day is. Ask the Iranian and the Chinese people how they like their firewalls.

Well played, sir.


Whilst the article mentions how countries like China restrict access to communication networks we should be under no illusions that nearly all major communication networks are ultimately still under the control of central government wherever you live. For the pendulum to permanently swing in favour of "freedom and democracy" we need a genuinely open network. Without an open network open devices, operating systems, software, etc could easily be neutered, if albeit in a rather draconian fashion by hitting the "off" switch. This can seem unlikely in any "free" nation, however this was almost a reality last year during the London riots. As those in power openly lamented the use of Blackberry's BBM network by the rioters (and various other communication networks) it was clear that the government came very close to ordering the service shutdown and I have no doubt it would have been had things deteriorated any further. Perhaps the great next swing might be those attempting to create decentralized mesh networks? One can hope.


I agree 100%! This is the main point that the article misses.

Open hardware and open software are completely useless if the networks are not open. The open internet as we know it would never have happened unless it had been provided by thousands of tiny ISPs. The most worrying pendulum swing of all is the consolidation of all traffic into a few giants like Comcast per country.

Mesh networking is the next frontier for openness.


Silicon Valley Homebrew Mobile Phone Club [1] represent! Back in 2006 I started a similar project to TuxPhone that I dubbed OpenCell [2]. I'd been working with GSM modules for a while, and my motivation was "This WinMo phone I have sucks. I sure do hate carrying around a cell phone, MP3 player, and camera all the time - I know I could build one device that'd just do it all."

Unfortunately as a student I didn't have the funds to see this to the point of reality, and the iPhone was launched in January 2007, essentially making my effort look like a steaming pile of shit. That said, technology has come a long, long way since then. 3D printing, inexpensive reflow soldering equipment, and stacked DDR packages make this goal pretty attainable compared to when I launched my efforts. I'd love, love, love to see efforts like this revived.

  [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Valley_Homebrew_Mobile_Phone_Club
  [2]: http://web.archive.org/web/20080927003526/http://widgetry.org/dokuwiki/doku.php


Remember that there are two possible outcomes, one where the internet successfully manages to cause a swing to the edge of freedom, and another where it is successfully co-opted by big money and governments in a concerted effort to give us all a subscription to online Life-As-A-Service where you will be beholden to some party for the ability to gain access to knowledge, information, the right to communicate and so on and where the act of programming will be as tightly regulated as the export of cryptography was.

It seems so me that in the 1990s, the future that was widely (outside some truly dystopian sci-fi fringes of the net discourse) regarded as the worst-case scenario was the Internet becoming like radio -- i.e. another peer-to-peer medium turned into a broadcast medium. So it may be worth noting that while the best-case scenario hasn't changed much since then, the worst-case scenario has.


> you will be beholden to some party for [...] the right to communicate

This is the most poignant insight in the article. For some decades now, it has been accepted--with minimal opposition--that we are beholden to some party (the state) for the right to travel. Then it is not far-fetched to imagine that in some decades, the right to communicate may be popularly regarded as a mere "privilege" which is granted by the generosity of the state. We accept random searches at airports, centralized driver licensing, red light cameras, etc. The legislature already flirts with the digital equivalents of those concepts.


That is why the Founding Fathers were opposed to the idea of a Bill of Rights. Because they knew people would come to believe their rights were granted by the document, instead of merely being non-exhaustively listed in it.


well, sounds about right: Facebook is the radio station, and the users are participating in their call-in show.

And for some demographics, the internet isn't much more than Facebook and Wikipedia for their homework (as data source, not to contribute).


The relative ubiquity of the internet is an important consideration here. In previous swings of the pendulum, computing (and/or the internet) was concentrated among a much smaller base of users, many of whom had strongly vested interests in the side to which the pendulum was swinging.

These days, the internet is certainly ubiquitous, and "smart" mobile devices are basically ubiquitous, if not yet entirely so. And the vast majority of today's users don't seem to care about privacy, open vs. closed ecosystems, etc. The sheer volume of users who either don't know, or don't care, about these things shifts a LOT of power into the hands of the current power players in the status quo. Hackers and power users are still major forces for change, and always will be. And, in time, they may prevail by offering better solutions to the masses. But the weight of the masses is heavier than it ever has been.

I submit that the fulcrum on which the hackers will tilt the masses isn't security, privacy, or anything of that nature. It's openness, and by proxy, IP management. It's the free transmission (or lack thereof) of ideas, information, and content. It's the interoperability (or lack thereof) of all of these things between devices and systems, outside the restrictions or central control of one or two major parties.

But the force currently arrayed against the growth of openness is a powerful one. It's convenience. And convenience is, arguably, THE most powerful driver in human psychology. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, telecoms, and other players in the content space are making plays to become total-solution providers. And the appeal of a one-stop, total solution (the Walmart Effect, if you will) is quite powerful to the masses. To overcome this appeal, the next great disruption will need to equate openness with convenience. Open must = easy. More precisely, open must be more highly correlated with ease than walled gardens are correlated with ease.

An historical side note:

AOL's monopoly in the ISP game, which lasted for so many years, came about because AOL offered the easiest, most idiot-proof, and most convenient internet experience. It was a walled garden, but beyond the wall, the typical user just saw a massive, untamed jungle full of complex systems, wonky communities, and seemingly insurmountable technical difficulties. AOL fell when people figured out how to make the world outside the wall more ordered, more appealing, and more uniformly approachable. Open standards had a lot to do with this. So did the appearance of portals, which represented a less daunting half-step between the Great Untamed Wild and the AOL garden. And search engines continued this evolution, making the point of entry into most users' internet experience very centralized, orderly, and convenient without walling everything up. Search engines created the subconscious appearance of a walled garden without actually erecting walls.


"To overcome this appeal, the next great disruption will need to equate openness with convenience. Open must = easy. More precisely, open must be more highly correlated with ease than walled gardens are correlated with ease."

I agree with this, but I'm not sure how it'd happen.

Open source has been really good for things that are infrastructure, or common building blocks. However, it's not been so good for things at the top of the stack, like applications. Design by committee is no design at all.

If Apple's done anything right, it's brought design to the forefront of a lot of people's thought as a driving force for innovation (and to a lesser extent, Ruby, with its focus on programmer happiness, which is language design)

But even then, most open source software focuses on getting it to work first, and figures that someone else will come along to help later. The most usable projects are the ones that decide from the beginning to focus on usability.

In addition, some people probably feel, "Hey, I'm giving this away for free already, and you're complaining about usability? You go fix it."

And are there open source designs? Twitter bootstrap is the only one I'm aware of. Dribbble is the closest, but there, they're not sharing design, in the sense of "hey you can use this too", but in the sense of "I'll show off to 'inspire' you"


I agree, but I think it can be done. The early "outside AOL" internet was less well designed, more haphazard, etc. What eventually pulled people out of AOL and into the metaphorical wild was all the riches that could be found there, and found easily and painlessly (getting to that latter step was the key). Both literally, from a business-opportunity standpoint, and figuratively, from a consumer-enjoyment standpoint. There was more to gain outside the walls of the AOL garden, and so people were (eventually) willing to step outside the comfortable, reasonably well-designed walls and explore it. And they started exploring it when it became easy to find and easy to access.

Apple has done a phenomenal job creating a design-forward, UX-optimized, sparklingly walled garden. But I believe that a richness of content, easily accessed and easily used, can lure people outside.

Two things need to happen: 1) more entrepreneurs need to be convinced that the big rewards are outside the walls, and 2) the things they create will need to lure people out there. We may need a third factor, like the one Yahoo and eventually Google performed for the nascent WWW, which was to add the easy-access layer on top of it all.

Full disclosure: I used to work at Apple, I greatly admire them, and I bear no ill will toward them at all. But I am a big proponent of the open internet, and I believe that the arc of history will bend back toward it eventually.


During the entire period of time the author discusses, most of your critical information has been stored in proprietary, walled gardens: your health records, financial transactions, telephone communication records, etc.

If anything, it is getting worse. For example, if one has a cable "triple play" package: all of your web surfing, phone calls & SMS, and television viewing history is recorded and owned by one company.

The fact that the edge devices are "open" is moot.


The freedom we got was a by product or say side effect of computing pheonemenon rather that we actively sought it. I don't think people en masse would like the freedom right now. Most of the people will be happy with the service vs. privacy-freedom compromise we are getting today. I don't want to belabour the point of Google as service and Apple as service.


If tomorrow the government suggested to licence software businesses so that if a consumer had trouble with a program or a website the responsible party would get in trouble, 99% of the population would vote it up. So much about everyone wanting to keep stuff open.

For the most education means getting a place in the vertical, not being curious. So far as everyone else is limited, 99% won't have a problem with it. iProduct and facebook are the obvious examples.

How do we keep it our way? The only answer I'm having is: by becoming billionaires and putting the money to work for the "open" ignoring any other commercial incentives.


This may just be me picking on one small part of the entire post, but I have a serious technical problem with some of the author's claims, not least of which is his feelings that FPGAs will somehow revolutionize personal computing.

Anyone who has programmed with an FPGA will understand the sort of tasks they're best for; hand-optimizing particular algorithms and processes into parallel pipelines and execution units.

Running a general-purpose OS on a CPU built in software on top of an FPGA is just not feasible; the yeild of transistors to logic units is very low for FPGAs compared to conventional microprocessors; and there's matters of efficiency, layout, and cost-effectiveness to think of. There has been some success using an FPGA-type programmable gate array in combination with a standard CPU, but the CPU itself is usually a proprietary core made to coordinate and assist the FPGA. These sorts of FPGA co-processors are only ever used for very specialized aplications currently. They won't be replacing general-purpose dedicated CPUs anytime soon (if ever).

FPGAs are perfectly suitable for any special-purpose functions they've been programmed for: but I think in terms of desktop and mobile computing, having a farm of parallel execution units in the form of a modern GPU will also yield acceptable results for any parallel consumer applications without the need for as much investment as with dedicated reprogrammable FPGA hardware.

The other technical concern I have is mesh networks; we don't currently have the technology to create and maintain large-scale mesh networks, but even if we did, there is a point there the communication required just to maintain the network outpaces the node-to-node bandwidth, or even the global bandwidth available. You also have to deal with privacy concerns around data storage and transmission at nodes while it is en-route to a destination, and circle-of-trust issues, etc. These issues bring the pendulum in a full circle.

I agree that the pendulum does seem to be in a state of change at the moment, and all that is keeping it from swinging back (and probably giving it more overall momentum in the progress) is government and business interests.

I think the issues we face, and that we have always faced, are not so much technical as they are social and societal. By the time we solve the issues around the commons, ownership, and governance; the technical issues will seem trivial.


I fail to see a qualitative difference between "mobile", "laptop", "desktop" or "stovetop". Those are just form factors. They are all computers. We can put a computer inside almost anything nowadays. What matters to me besides what's on the motherboard are peripherals, drivers and access to networks.

Things got smaller. We all knew they would. But they should not become less functional. (Hello Apple.)


a similar thing using hardware had happened in the 80’s with so called ‘dongles’, typically for expensive programs such as CAD software

I can think of at least one software package which still uses physical dongles.




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