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We need some angry nerds.
December 4, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

"The PC is dead. Rising numbers of mobile, lightweight, cloud-centric devices [represent] an unprecedented shift of power from end users and software developers on the one hand, to operating system vendors on the other ... This is a little for the better, and much for the worse." - Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Professor (via battellemedia.com)

"…in 2008, Apple announced a software development kit for the iPhone. Third-party developers would be welcome to write software for the phone, in just the way they’d done for years with Windows and Mac OS. With one epic exception: users could install software on a phone only if it was offered through Apple’s iPhone App Store. Developers were to be accredited by Apple, and then each individual app was to be vetted, at first under standards that could be inferred only through what made it through and what didn’t. For example, apps that emulated or even improved on Apple’s own apps weren’t allowed.

The original sin behind the Microsoft case was made much worse. The issue wasn’t whether it would be possible to buy an iPhone without Apple’s Safari browser. It was that no other browser would be permitted…"


"If we allow ourselves to be lulled into satisfaction with walled gardens, we'll miss out on innovations to which the gardeners object, and we'll set ourselves up for censorship of code and content that was previously impossible. We need some angry nerds."
posted by jeffburdges (153 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
App Stores have otoh streamlined distribution of software like Souria Wa Bas, which helps keep Syrian protestors informed, and possibly contributed to Syria banning iPhones.

We've discussed previously though that even fringe governments are bridging this 'digital divide' by acquiring western surveillance technology, presumably extending as far as malicious software updates.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not in the office.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is not an inherent problem with app stores/system package managers, it's a problem with asshole vendors. Nobody is threatened by apt-get, after all. Aslong as you can get root and install from outside the app store it's fine.

It's when those things aren't true that people need to stop buying things, write to regulators and make life hell for vendors who don't respect their rights.
posted by jaduncan at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


So... he's arguing that we have nothing but walled gardens while simultaneously noting that really it's only the iPhone and iPad markets which are truly walled gardens?

I think he has a point, I'm just confused as to what it is.
posted by hippybear at 2:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


As this devolved into a long anti-Apple screed, I kept thinking "at what point is he going to explain the death of the PC?"
posted by briank at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


It has to be said, even though I love Android, the Nexus series is pretty much the only line of phones purchasable by real people at retail that does respect the freedoms of customers. If people purchase them it will be noticed.
posted by jaduncan at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dead? Again?
posted by LarryC at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't know what the other app-spheres are like, but it's incredibly easy to jailbreak an iPhone and get access to all kinds of non-approved programs... that I found I didn't use, except to install a skin and slow down my device.

Also, are the approved improved SMS and weather apps not... improvements of apple's SMS and weather apps?

My stated confusion on what the problem is functionally aside, serious question: Were people (or programmers) angry about Nintendo (or whoever was the first) requiring licensing to release NES games?
posted by cmoj at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I look at every iOS device as a shiny paving stone on the road to hell. they are not the only walled gardens, just the highest-walled ones. Hardly a month goes by without my trying to install some ap or other on my Motorola Atrix and find that AT&T has blocked that particular app.
posted by LarryC at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not for me, baby. Computin' it old school!
posted by Splunge at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2011


Damn, and we were so close to the year of Desktop Linux.
posted by theodolite at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2011 [48 favorites]


These arguments always forget that the era of install-anything was purely a designed aberration in computing, meant to cover a weird time (early 80s until mid 2000s) where a bunch of vendors of computer operating systems fought for as many markets as possible very quickly. They had no other choice but to let everyone in to grow as quickly as they could.

There are so many more computer devices than not that have always had "walled gardens" -- from the Atari 2600 to Nokia cell phones that transformed entire cultures to my dishwasher. The only way in on these devices and computers is to work with the manufacturer directly. We are simply catching back up to what was always the true power structure -- platform owners first, users second, developers last, if at all, and only those guys if they can make money.

As for people that care, like myself and this author -- there are always ways in. Either you hack it or you pay your $99 and do what you want.
posted by neustile at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, Android is less locked than the iSeries, and I don't think Google has ever forbidden competition with their own offerings.

But there's more malware on Android, too, so there's something to be said for an app curation service. But we need an app curation service that's for our benefit, instead of the vendor's.

I find it utterly offensive that you can spend $600+ on a piece of hardware and not own it. Anything for which you need mommy-may-I permission to use the way you wish is not a thing you own. You are, at best, renting it, although you still get all the downsides of ownership... high purchase cost, plus total responsibility if it breaks.

Of course, shortly we'll have the usual apologists in here, asserting that everything that Apple does is lovely and sacrosanct and not to be argued with.
posted by Malor at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


Damn, and we were so close to the year of Desktop Linux.

Roku
The Kindle line of eReaders
Tivo

Yeah. Those silly Linux geeks, Linux will never make it big. Normal consumers will never use Linux devices in their day-to-day lives.

Linux is hard!
posted by formless at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


Just a few more years and everybody will be "rpm -ivh"ing it on their Desktops.
And, of course, the next version of Android will truly be the iPad killer.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2011


the PC is dead, eh? Then what exactly are developers gonna use to write all this wonderful software for mobile devices and the servers they talk to?
posted by xbonesgt at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Either you hack it or you pay your $99 and do what you want.

Don't you find it offensive that you have to pay a hundred bucks per year for the privilege of programming something you bought and paid for?
posted by Malor at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Android might be more vulnerable than iOS, hippybear. Apple would obviously comply with a national security letter asking to patch your ssh client to steal your keys. Google might raise a silent legal stink about doing the same. I'd hope neither would help Syria though. There might however be route through telecoms if Syria wanted to modify Souria Wa Bas, for example.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2011


neustile: "As for people that care, like myself and this author -- there are always ways in."

I think the major concern is that your statement will only be true until it isn't.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:31 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The PC is dead.

Piffle.
posted by DU at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011


Not in the office.

Yeah, but an office PC can be just as walled from the user perspective.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]



The Kindle line of eReaders

If you have to "jailbreak" something to run what you want on it, does it count as not being a walled garden?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Listen, from 2007 to October 2011, Apple sold 250 million iOS devices.

From 2009 to September 2011, Microsoft sold 450 million Windows 7 licenses.

I don't think this is what "dead" looks like.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [25 favorites]


I guess I'm confused, jeffburdges. Did you want to discuss Syria and mobile applications and such, or did you want to discuss the article you posted in your FPP? Because I was trying to talk about the latter, not the former.
posted by hippybear at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another know it all lawyer telling technologists about the future. Just remember this is how we non-lawyers look when we prognosticate on the law.
posted by humanfont at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


cmoj, altering the hosts file to strip adverts will change your life (especially if you've got a fixed data allowance). Aside from that, you should bear in mind that in the US app store a lot of things are available that aren't in China. Do you really want a future where only a browser that has been officially allowed by the Chinese government has been allowed there?*

You may also wish to consider just what you think China Telecom's typical configuration of CarrierIQ-style spyware looks like. It could, as they say, happen here. SOPA isn't so far away from passing at some point.

The right to run the software you wish removes a great deal of these potential threats to your liberty.

* Insert SSH tunnelling software, security testing stuff, network reconfiguration etc as desired. Or, indeed, emulated platforms.
posted by jaduncan at 2:34 PM on December 4, 2011


"X is dead," when X is very much still around, is no more than hyperbolic trollbait and I'm tired of it. At best, one could claim that X is dying, or perhaps more sensibly, maybe just that X has passed its peak. In fact, the beginning of "X is dead" statements usually means that it has just becomes debatable that a phenomenon may have passed its peak. But no, we instead have to suffer the unjustified attention-grabbing claims of "X is dead!!!"

I can't wait until "X is dead" is dead.
posted by grouse at 2:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Don't you find it offensive that you have to pay a hundred bucks per year for the privilege of programming something you bought and paid for?

Offensive? God no. Apple (and everyone else with this business model) is a corporation that I can choose not to deal with if I want. My desk is currently littered with ARM-based devices that I can log onto directly, gumstix, beagbleboards, smartbooks, etc. I like to use my telephone because it responds quickly and does not get in my way. I would never conflate a personal device with my job. I also can't log onto and write code (easily) for dozens of other devices in my house.
posted by neustile at 2:35 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Damn, and we were so close to the year of Desktop Linux.

As formless points out, we may never have a year of Linux on the Desktop, especially with the ridiculous and braindead shit all the free software desktops are doing -- but it's already the year of Linux everywhere else. You probably can't spend a day in our technological world without using something that runs Linux, either directly or indirectly. You'd have to go on retreat to a cabin in Maine or something. And even there, it wouldn't shock me to find out that the electrical system is using Linux somewhere, so you might have to go totally off the grid to avoid it completely.

Not quite the success story we free software zealotsenthusiasts wanted, maybe, but that's still a hell of a big deal.
posted by Malor at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


there's more malware on Android, too, so there's something to be said for an app curation service. But we need an app curation service that's for our benefit, instead of the vendor's.

The best of both worlds is a curated app store that you aren't required to use as a sole source of software. Debian works on this model.
posted by jaduncan at 2:37 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


"...but it's incredibly easy to jailbreak an iPhone and get access to all kinds of non-approved programs..."

No, it's not "incredibly easy". The fact that you don't use jailbroken apps is why you think this is true.

In truth, if you want to jailbreak your device and it's running a couple of iOS updates behind, then just doing that is "incredibly easy". But maintaining a jailbroken iOS device over time, with Apple iOS updates and—most importantly—updated apps that require an iOS update, becomes more and more problematic. With Apple's time-limited countersigning of their updates against individual devices, it becomes either difficult or impossible to go back to an old version of iOS if you find that you need to do so. Each update to iOS, especially major ones, make your device perform worse, and this is partly by design as Apple expects its iOS hardware customers to buy entirely new devices after two or three years. This is a general problem, above and beyond the jailbreaking problem.

Not to mention that Apple will shortly alter iTunes—which is, by the way, the only means for updating iOS—so that jailbreaking will be theoretically nearly impossible and will, most likely, "merely" make it even more difficult.

My iOS device is the first piece of Apple hardware I've ever owned. And my experience is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: an enormous admiration for Apple's design expertise, both hardware and software, and an enormous frustration-to-the-point-of-hatred for Apple's walled garden, authoritarian approach. I love/hate my iOS device and would switch, in a heartbeat, to something that provided its elegance without its authoritarianism.

The author of this article is correct. He's a bit premature to be saying so and that's why everyone doesn't see the truth of it. But all hardware and software vendors have taken note of Apple's success with their App Store model and how it allows both increased control over the platform and, most importantly, an additional revenue stream. It is the direction that everyone is moving.

It's ironic that OS X is built on a UNIX foundation. At this point, there's deep irony for both the Mac and PC platforms with regard to the propietary-ness of one part of what each is versus the other part. They are inversions of each other, now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:39 PM on December 4, 2011 [21 favorites]


The people who write this crap don't use their PCs.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:40 PM on December 4, 2011


I also can't log onto and write code (easily) for dozens of other devices in my house.

Well, sure, but typically those devices are really cheap, and they don't have pre-existing development kits all ready to go. An iPhone is not a one-function appliance, it's a full powered computer, and I personally find it utterly offensive to spend $600 on a computer that I'm locked out of... that they dare to charge me $100 yearly rent to program my own fucking computer.

I mean, I could see charging for the dev tools, but charging for the ability to even run software? Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
posted by Malor at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2011


I personally find it utterly offensive to spend $600 on a computer that I'm locked out of

They have cost ~$200 for something like 3 years.
And you can jailbreak them for free. You can get the phone-less version on the same hardware for about that same cost without a telco contract, which you can also jailbreak, for free.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I personally find it utterly offensive to spend $600 on a computer that I'm locked out of... that they dare to charge me $100 yearly rent to program my own fucking computer.

I hope you don't own any game consoles
posted by neustile at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Syria was merely a low hanging fruit, hippybear. Does Android have a curated open source application source, like Debian, Mac Ports, etc.? If so, then fine I'll grant that Zittrain's security concerns don't apply so strongly to Android.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2011


I hope you don't own any game consoles

Sony broke mine in that respect. I seem to recall that people did indeed make that vendor's life hell.
posted by jaduncan at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Threeway Handshake: “Just a few more years and everybody will be "rpm -ivh"ing it on their Desktops.”

Ugh, please no. Ugly and pointless and silly.

apt-get install
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Does Android have a curated open source application source, like Debian, Mac Ports, etc.?

You'd be looking for FDroid.

"The FDroid Repository is an easily-installable catalogue of FOSS applications for the Android platform. The server contains the details of multiple versions of each application, and the Android client makes it easy to browse, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates.

Source code for the application is on Gitorious. You can install the current binary release from here or see the end of this page for a QR code."

It does GUI click to install, verifies that all apps have source availiable, lists licences and handles update notification and installs.

NB: Does not work on phones that do not allow the install of non-Market apps. Happily, this is not common.
posted by jaduncan at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


neustile: “I hope you don't own any game consoles”

Yes, owning game consoles is also a very bad idea.
posted by koeselitz at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I almost hate to say it, but there are some real advantages to all apps being vetted. The Carrier IQ debacle is an example of what can happen when no one takes responsibility for what might be installed on a mobile device. Also malware.

I believe in open source and I'm sometimes distrustful of Apple (and sometimes very annoyed with e.g. iTunes and not being able to sync with multiple computers) but for me they are not as bad as the really bad days of MS dominance: a company that somehow managed to stand in the way of, and even reverse progress for computer users for decades. Office software is still cripplingly bad as a result.
posted by iotic at 2:55 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


cmoj: “I don't know what the other app-spheres are like, but it's incredibly easy to jailbreak an iPhone and get access to all kinds of non-approved programs... that I found I didn't use, except to install a skin and slow down my device.”

Seriously, I have no idea who you are or why your skill set is so huge, but I can compile a Linux kernel, but I gave up trying to jailbreak my work iPhone a long, long time ago. Last I checked, the only way to do so was to back-grade to iOS 3, completely disabling most of the apps I already have. So please, if it's not too much trouble, either explain how this "easy" process goes, or at least link me to an explanation of it. Because it is not easy for me.

iotic: “I almost hate to say it, but there are some real advantages to all apps being vetted. The Carrier IQ debacle is an example of what can happen when no one takes responsibility for what might be installed on a mobile device.”

How is that an example? Apple was using Carrier IQ too up to a few weeks ago – still are on many devices.
posted by koeselitz at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ugh, please no. Ugly and pointless and silly.

And yet RHEL(L) still exists. We're forced to use it at work and I have thrown more than one mouse at a cubicle wall over nested RPM dependencies.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:01 PM on December 4, 2011


We can always build another thing.

(My favourite is another Internet.

1. Scan your local wi-fi spectrum.
2. Do you see another wi-fi device/hotspot/router to your own?
2a - No! Buy a $50 router and give it to a neighbour. Go to 2.
2b - Yes! Install mesh software on it and yours.
3. Congratulations! You have built another Internet.

Repeat as required.)
posted by Devonian at 3:01 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Carrier IQ debacle is an example of what can happen when no one takes responsibility for what might be installed on a mobile device.

This was not only vetted but specifically paid for by carriers and manufacturers. Little can save you from an unethical vendor who has root, denies it to you then uses their root account to spy.
posted by jaduncan at 3:03 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


As I understand it, there is a CarrierIQ binary in iOS devices but it doesn't seem to do anything when not in diagnostic mode.

My main point was that Apple are better than MS. Not just Apple, I think it's easy to forget that we went through a long period where personal computer technology was totally dominated by a corporation that got where it was not by being the best at what it did, but by aggressive business principles. Google, Apple and even Facebook and Amazon are successful because they offer the best versions of the goods and services they provide. That's actually quite refreshing.
posted by iotic at 3:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll believe the possibility that PC's are dead 15 years after dumb terminals die. I expect that do be some time between the sun eating the earth and the heat death of the universe.
posted by srboisvert at 3:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


We need some angry nerds

Steve Job was an angry nerd, so yeah, we could use more of that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:14 PM on December 4, 2011


Angry Nerds is a videogame where you attack the Corporate Pigs who are walling off your gardens.
posted by hippybear at 3:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [26 favorites]


They say jazz is dead too but you can still buy a saxophone.
posted by Lorin at 3:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


The best of both worlds is a curated app store that you aren't required to use as a sole source of software. Debian works on this model.

I was just about to point this out, except in the case of Mint (which also uses Synaptic).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2011


I am curious if we'll see lots of families (who could afford a family computer) go phone/tablet only in the near future. It's just so much easier -- no viruses, no backups, no accessories to keep track of, no worrying about the kids breaking things, no large one-time investment (for smartphones at least). Everyone has access to PCs at work and school anyway, so there's just no need to have one at home that will seldom get used. If you have a keyboard dock for your tablet, you can do your taxes or your kids can write a book report just as easily as on a laptop. There are some loose ends but I really think this is going to happen soon.
posted by miyabo at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


To go off on a tangent...

> Damn, and we were so close to the year of Desktop Linux.

I dunno if it'll ever come. But I think we've been in the world of Unix for quite some time. iOS, like OSX, is based on BSD. Android's based on Linux. Pretty much everything that's not a desktop box running Windows has a variant of Unix in it.*

I'm planning on getting a Raspberry Pi soon - I'm gonna add a wifi stick to it and use it to control LED mood lights in my living room. We are at the point where you can spend all of $35 to give something enough smarts to run a Unix variant and talk to the Internet. And host a web server to tell the Internet what's up with it. And run fucking Quake 3 while you're at it.

Yes, I think in the long run the era of the "desktop PC" is over. I can't replace everything I do on my Air with a tablet and/or a phone, but the tools are growing rapidly. I figure in five years or so I may well have ditched my trusty Wacom tablet talking to Illustrator for an iPad6 and some future vector drawing app. And the iPad has already largely taken over a lot of things - I'll browse the web on the couch with it, I plug it into my tiny little projector to watch videos on a wall-sized screen.

Our computers are vanishing into these new form factors. I can feel it happening just by observing my casual behavior. And you know what? I've been a geek since my parents got me a Sinclair ZX80. I've sunk a lot of my life into fooling with these things. And I like where this is going.

* okay, or a phone running Windows For Phones or whatever they're calling it this year but a quick google for "windows phone market share" will tell you how much of a contender that is
posted by egypturnash at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


So how do all those apps get written for these post-pc gadgets? Oh right, it's by someone using a laptop or desktop running Windows, OSX or Linux.
posted by octothorpe at 3:39 PM on December 4, 2011


There are concerns that kids raised by families using only phones and tablets with keyboard that live inside a walled garden might face a disadvantage, octothorpe, i.e. they never get the programming experience.

You've massively elevated my opinion of Android with that FDroid link, jaduncan, thanks.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:45 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me play devil's advocate for a minute, and claim that anything is better than the pre-App Store situation where you had to practically fellate a carrier to get your app distributed on their platform. Apple created the first plausible software marketplace, and that's opened the door for a lot of developers that would be working for Big Content Co. otherwise.

Also note that for $99/year you can register as an iOS developer, compile anything you want, and install it on your own devices and those of 100 friends.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


So how do all those apps get written for these post-pc gadgets? Oh right, it's by someone using a laptop or desktop running Windows, OSX or Linux.

No sane person is saying PCs (as developers use them) are going away. For "most people" (which is some analyst platonic ideal of course) they will not be necessary, and PCs (things with terminals, keyboards, development environments) will become tools for builders, hobbyists and experts. If your 80yo dad has Visual Studio installed on his Compaq Presario, god bless him and his life will not change.
posted by neustile at 3:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, "___ is dead" is usually trollbait. I think that the PC is going back to its roots as a production tool, and dedicated devices with simplified interfaces are taking back some of the education, information, and communication turf that the Web stole from print, toys, televisions, and phones to start with. And possibly even better because I remember seeing King Tut as a kid in Chicago and feeling mildly frustrated that the interpretative tape didn't match my movement through the exhibit or my experience of being completely awestruck by everything.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:01 PM on December 4, 2011


Submissive Apple fanboys are submissive.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also possible that many experts will use smartphones and tablets too, and they'll remotely access cloud-based virtual machines to do things that need a real computer. Right now it's too expensive and inconvenient, but when renting a virtual machine from the tablet you already have takes 10 seconds and costs 1 cent an hour, it will be hard to justify buying that PC.
posted by miyabo at 4:05 PM on December 4, 2011


I think the article makes a good point about PCs (and Macs) as general-use devices for Joe Sixpack level users.

Non-savvy users do a terrible job of choosing what applications are safe and unsafe. Combined with sophisticated social engineering and technological attacks, it's no wonder that so many PCs have malware on them.

Freedom and security have an inverse relationship. I bought my wife an IPad 2. She loves it. To her, it provides a safe environment where she can do the things that she wants to do without all of the maintenance that she hated. Software updates take care of themselves, there are no virus scans and there is never a message that says "iOS has restarted your iPad to install important security updates." It is slick and takes care of the drudgery automagically.

I've played with it a few times and I hate it. I'm probably biased from normal as a Linux user, but I can't stand the frustration I feel using a device for which I paid $600 over which I have no control. It seems even worse because I'm finally holding in my hands this working artifact from the flying-car filled future that I was promised.

I'm not sure how to provide my wife or Joe Sixpack with a safe and enjoyable device that doesn't take away at least some of their freedom. For myself, I don't plan on leaving a platform where I can use sudo apt-get install X or sudo tar -xvf X or the text editor/application development environment of my choice any time soon.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's also possible that many experts will use smartphones and tablets too, and they'll remotely access cloud-based virtual machines to do things that need a real computer.

I saw an article recently where a developer does just that.

That's not practical for many kinds of development, but it's very interesting.
posted by device55 at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2011


Yep, I do this too. I ssh in from my phone to my home machine, download code from Dropbox and run it. I find a bug, then edit the source on my phone, upload to Dropbox, rinse and repeat. It's clunky but it beats lugging a laptop to every dentist's appointment and oil change.
posted by newdaddy at 4:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, sure, but typically those devices are really cheap, and they don't have pre-existing development kits all ready to go. An iPhone is not a one-function appliance, it's a full powered computer, and I personally find it utterly offensive to spend $600 on a computer that I'm locked out of... that they dare to charge me $100 yearly rent to program my own fucking computer.

After Google (allegedly) stole Java and ripped off the iOS user experience it was really nice of them to give it away to further their plan to maintain and expand their domination of the Internet. How is it a moral outrage or even an incredible burden to have to pay a whole extra 100 dollars a year to have a good IDE, support forums and tutorials sample code?
posted by humanfont at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


"There are concerns that kids raised by families using only phones and tablets with keyboard that live inside a walled garden might face a disadvantage, octothorpe, i.e. they never get the programming experience."

There's part of the problem right there.

No, not the "computers are being dumbed down - waaah!" problem. I mean the Computer Nerd Problem - "Programming computers is important to me, so everybody else needs to be able to program!".

Bullshit. Most people aren't interested. If the interest is there, they'll find a way. If your response to that is "but computers are being locked down, and it's all Apples fault!" then I'll call bullshit on that too. Apple promised nothing more than being able to run an Apple OS and software on Apple hardware - and that software even currently includes quite comprehensive developer tools.

Microsoft, on the other hand… Who's been pushing things like Trusted Computing, the Secure Boot extensions to UEFI, etc, for the last 10 years or so? That's Microsoft trying to stop you from running anything other than approved OS's & software on 3rd party hardware; hardware that has no connection with them until you install their OS.

That's evil…

And, let's face it, iDevices and the like solve some of the major problems average end-users have always had with computers. You don't have to worry about viruses. You don't have to faff around configuring them. You don't have to hunt around for software. You don't have to follow arcane processes to install or uninstall that software. You just use the device for the purpose it was intended for.

And, just to show I do have some geek-cred: I bought my first computer back in the early 80's. I learned to program in BASIC, then went to Z80 assembler. I've programmed everything from personal computers to telephony TCPs & OMPs, and down to PLCs. I've had home computers running CP/M, DOS, OS/2, BeOS, Linux (from the pre-V1 days), various *BSDs, Macs from System 6 and beyond, and Windows from v1 and beyond. I currently use Macs, because they minimise the amount of pissfarting around to keep them organised, and (mostly) They Just Work.
posted by Pinback at 4:44 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


After Google (allegedly) stole Java and ripped off the iOS user experience

Whatever Google's sins, and however worrisome their growing power, it might help to remember that a lot of people in this discussion don't believe in the existence of the category of "theft" you are talking about here.
posted by brennen at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2011


That's evil…

I keep forgetting that we're only allowed to disapprove of one corporation at a time.
posted by brennen at 4:48 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


They say jazz is dead too but you can still buy a saxophone.
posted by Lorin


Freaking great line. Did you just come up with that? I need to borrow it.
posted by spitbull at 4:58 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think Google has ever forbidden competition with their own offerings.

Sure, they have. Google blocks vendors from using Android when there is competition with their services, such as from Skyhook, and then locks down source.

This stuff just doesn't get much publicity, and few on Metafilter will ever admit this stuff ever happens, because Google's marketing machine is very powerful — no matter what the facts are, Android is "open", even when it is closed.

Apple was using Carrier IQ too up to a few weeks ago – still are on many devices.

There's no evidence, so far, that CarrierIQ on iOS is keylogging like it is on Android. I'm surprised it isn't a bigger story, given how many people use Android, who should all right now be changing all their passwords for everything they've logged into from their phones, instead of griping about Apple charging for publishing software on their storefront.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:59 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I gotta say, the model that seems to be part of the next iteration of Windows seems to be on the right track. There's no reason why you can't have both a tablet and a "regular" computer in the same device, with the OS scaling to meet your needs.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google doesn't and can't block anyone from using Android. They can block you from using the other Google apps on your Android device if you don't agree to their conditions though. There are plenty of non-Google backed devices out there. The Kindle Fire is the obvious example. Amazon have massively benefited from using the free and open Android OS while not using any of Google's other apps and having no agreement with Google. If they wanted to stick Skyhook on it they could.

As for your second point, why can't people gripe about both? I can be critical of CarrierIQ, despite it not effecting me (or anyone in my country as far as I know) while still being critical of Apple. Amazing stuff.
posted by markr at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I stopped 'riding' in cars made of tinker-toys decades ago.

Cyberspace claustrophobia is not a pleasant sensation. Aside from the crappy audio, the choppy reception and the expense of cell 'phones'... and their omnipresent Watchers in The Night.
posted by Twang at 5:14 PM on December 4, 2011


It was really only sometime in the 90s or so that personal computers became a sorta requirement or default for anything, really. Before that, if you had a computer at home, you were probably pretty interested in computers and liked dicking around with them.

At this point, there's a whole lot of things you can't really do without one, whether it's paying for bills efficiently, renting videos, or applying for jobs. You need some way to get on the web. And a whole lot of people using computers to do that really wish they didn't have to.

Those people would be happy to relegate those computing tasks to devices. They probably don't care if those devices are limited in their function any more than they care that their microwave oven doesn't have a calculator.

So I don't see this as a big change, at least not in the long term. There's just a larger market for appliances and a smaller market for personal computers than maybe we thought. This is not a big deal. In fact, in some ways, maybe it's a good thing not just for those who don't have to fiddle around with computers anymore, but for those of us who like fiddling with computers and end up supporting our family and friends who don't want to.

I am in favor of seeing the computer market focus again on people who like ccomputers, and the appliance market focus on making things easier for those who don't.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Greetings from a long time reader, first time commenter. I became a registered user earlier today, and did a double take to see my own essay as a(n) FPP.

The piece is an update to my 2008 book on the Future of the Internet, available as a free read here and download here. There I used the brand-new iPhone as an example of a "tethered" technology, compared to its Apple bookend of the Apple II from 1977, the first PC available to a mass audience that didn't require a soldering iron for assembly. The SDK for the iPhone created interesting complications for the book's theory.

Anyway, I'm happy to think through any Qs. From the thread so far, I agree that "X is dead" is a crude bumper sticker, and it unfortunately focuses attention on things like how many PCs there are vs. other kinds of devices. What I mean to say isn't well captured by that or any other tweet-length phrase, except perhaps to highlight what a massive shift is going on as our technology moves from product (we own it) to service (a vendor serves as gatekeeper, soon for our PCs, too). "The spirit of the PC, i.e. open reconfigurability even by non-nerds, is receding."

Gatekeeping isn't a uniformly bad thing, but it raises competitive worries, it serves as a model of what is to come even for the PC form factor, and it opens the door to content control as well as code control. I confess I'm a little surprised that the prospect for content control, whether in the US or overseas, isn't more noted. It just seems strange to me that mainstream technology vendors are surprisingly eager to get into the content approval business, and that we'd see that as so ... normal. I remember the days of the Microsoft monopoly, and if MS had somehow contrived to determine what content you could load on the machine short of some form of jailbreaking, people would be freaking out.

Also, my focus in the essay and the book is in the mainstream technology environment. I credit that there will always be nerds who can do what they want, and who will obtain the platforms on which to do it. But truly transformative stuff happens when an open technology goes mainstream -- and I am very well that this is the exception, not the rule. It's an exception I'd love to be the rule, and for that to be maintained, genuine security problems need to be solved. What's important is for people to be able to double-click on any new functionality (or content) they like, without undue, easy interference from gatekeepers, either for the gatekeepers' own reasons or due to pressure from regulators.

Posted with trepidation and thanks for MeFi, both the posts and the commentary. Sometimes I think I'm a pretty funny guy, and then I read the threads here and realize I'm depressingly unclever. ...JZ
posted by zittrain at 5:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [29 favorites]


No, average users don't need to be able to program. But average users benefit from other average users being able to program, in big ways.

But--there's a big "but". With more and more stuff moving to the web, *that* starts to become the open development environment. I do still use a lot of regular applications, but there aren't many of them I can say that I wouldn't just as happily use a web app if it did the same thing.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:38 PM on December 4, 2011


"There's just a larger market for appliances and a smaller market for personal computers than maybe we thought. This is not a big deal. In fact, in some ways, maybe it's a good thing not just for those who don't have to fiddle around with computers anymore, but for those of us who like fiddling with computers and end up supporting our family and friends who don't want to."

I totally agree with this.

Like others here, I've been using mini- and micro- computers since the 70s, PCs since they first existed in modern form (nice to see someone else above who used CP/M) and I have a powerful and abiding interest in the general-purpose end-user microcomputer. But it's obviously been an awkward tool for most of the end-users for most of the things that's it's been used for. The only reason that it's been so successful is because...well, it's a combination of things. Mostly, that the technology (believe it or not) is still far from mature and it was only recently (about the last six years, or so, which is why things have been rapidly changing during this time) that Moore's Law has passed the point where at the consumer level very few people needed the computing power that the traditional PC provides and therefore much smaller, more consumer-friendly appliances are now powerful enough to take over these functions.

And that's going to continue. It should continue. It's a good thing. What we've badly needed is invidible, ubiquitous computing. I've been predicting it for twenty-five years and, honestly, I've been surprised that it's taken this long to reach it.

All that said, and while admitting that I have a strong emotional/historical bias here that very well may be adversely influencing my reasoning, I think that there will be a place for a general purpose computer, with a screen and keyboard and such, for a majority of consumers for a long time. However, it very well may be that the form of this will change from the familiar PC. I have a strong suspicion that there will finally be some sort of the long-predicted confluence of the television and the PC. Obviously, that didn't happen because your living room isn't your den and your TV isn't a monitor. And those two things will continue to be true. But the line will get blurrier. TVs are rapidly approaching the resolution necessary to be display devices suitable for what we use PCs to do, and that's never been true in the past. There will be some powerful market forces pushing towards a unified display-device market. And then we may find that our monitors and TVs are the same devices...but will differ in size and placement depending upon how they are most often used.

Given that, and given Moore's Law, there will also be some movement toward making the computational portion of what we now thing of as the PC be more modular and not necessarily sitting next to the display and input devices. Gigabit and faster networking and other fast data links, especially including wireless varieties, will allow the complete proximity decoupling of the processing unit and the displays and the input and output devices. So your living room monitor will be able to be a computer monitor...just like all the rest of them in the house. Your keyboard, or other input devices, will work anywhere. At that point, we will be basically be buying computing power to use within the context of our diverse home computing network which will be dominated by appliances. And, sure, many consumers will have no need of such a device. But, remember: Moore's Law.

One of two things will happen. Either the collective computing power of all your diverse computing devices in the home will be available as a clustered computing resource for the rare time you need it, or you'll have a separate computing module for that purpose. The former is utopian and sounds great, but it's unlikely, at least in the near future. Because of numerous factors. More likely is the second. And that can happen incrementally, just as consumer computing moving away from the PC has been happening incrementally. Anyway, I still see a lot of consumers needing, or at least wanting, more computing power than their appliances offer. But no matter how large this market is, it will be smaller than the current consumer market for PCs. Also, what is happening in the home will eventually happen in businesses. Don't think it won't.

Computing has not been consumer-friendly. A big part of the reason for that is because it's been the province of the nerd types of us who like arcana. It's really been pretty amazing how successful PCs have been given how absurdly difficult to use they've been, and how unreliable they've been.

All that said, all of us who are computer nerds have spent most of our lives thinking in terms of computing devices being general purpose computers that we can do with what we want. For us, the move toward consumer appliance computing and the associated increased control of the platform and how its used by the manufacturer/vendor, seems really alien and apocalyptic. But some of the above comments are spot-on: for most users, this ends up being a virtue, not a vice. And, really, it's about time.

But there will always be a computing box of some kind in my future. Always.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:42 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm increasingly working in a distributed, atomized mode, with a desktop machine used for editing and virtual studio work, a netbook for writing on the train and browsing on the toilet, a G2 iPod Touch semi-permanently docked with a SynthStation25 as a sort of mini musical workstation and a G4 iPod Touch floating in my rig as a looper, signal processor, and an iPhone for work and looking stuff up on the road. I've got an ancient Pismo for editing my (really?) ancient Nords, and a iBook G4 on my desk at work for doing all the stuff that my Windows PC makes into a miserable prospect.

I've got a honkin' big flash thumb drive, backed up to Dropbox, Google Docs, and my own server, loaded with my book manuscripts, my Reason files, my images, and my other work, as well as Mac and PC portable apps folders so I can have Gimp and other key apps available wherever I happen to find myself. OS doesn't matter like it used to, but I still find Windows clunky and difficult and am irritated that the PC clones of Writeroom don't work for shit and Bean only lives on Mac, so I'm stuck in Open Office if I want to be universally interoperable. More and more, it doesn't matter what machine I'm on—files are files, and I can work at my desk or out of the palm of my hand.

My desktop, a four year old Mac Mini (refurb) at 1.83ghz, is perfectly useful for Reason 6 the way I use it, so it'll probably be another few years before I upgrade. I've done some mods and upgrades to that supposed walled garden machine, and it's fresh as a little grey daisy. Not dead yet, but not so central and vital as it once was.

The line about being "lulled into satisfaction by walled gardens," though, just makes me laugh.

My iOS devices are supposedly "walled gardens." Never mind that those walled gardens give me music apps for performance and composition that work and the false open source loverlylands of Android devices don't (and often, ridiculously, thanks to lousy design in Android, can't). Am I meant to not use powerful tools because they violate some twitchy Doctorovian sacred oath of nerd purity? Hell, as a few of my tools, like Jasuto, have made it to Android, I've pondered adding another machine to my duffel of goodness, but what I've got works, so why spend more money?
posted by sonascope at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


If we allow ourselves to be lulled into satisfaction with walled gardens, we'll miss out on innovations to which the gardeners object...

Is it now some kind of civic duty for technology users to save capitalism from itself?
posted by AlsoMike at 5:50 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hey, zittrain, great to see you here! I think your article was well-written, thoughtful, and correct. As is obvious from my above comments.

I think part of what's happened in this thread is a biased response on the basis of the headline—which is also used as the first words of the post. Sad to say, I think it's likely a few commenters didn't even read the article. It's clear from the article that you are concerned with what's lost as the PC dies, and you're not at all being a cheerleader for, say, Macs. Which is what some people might have thought the article was about.

What I don't recall you focusing on in that article, though perhaps I've forgotten it somehow, is that a lot of what you're—and I'm—worried about is, at its roots, an IP issue. If there weren't an ever-expanding intellectual property regime, then computing devices would be more likely to remain de facto open, just as it's been possible to buy an after-market radio for your car. (Which, as a person in law, you're likely aware the aftermarket for auto parts was an important IP precedent in the US.) What's happened, however, is because of concerns about piracy of a specific kind of IP, the whole computing environment has been subject to more IP control regarding usage and modification than is the case elsewhere in technology. Or perhaps I'm mistaken...I don't think I am. But if I am, I'd like to hear your and other people's thoughts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:50 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's Microsoft trying to stop you from running anything other than approved OS's & software on 3rd party hardware; hardware that has no connection with them until you install their OS.

Well that isn't entirely true, they are requiring it in order to get "designed for Windows 8" certification. Manufacturers don't have to get the certification.

Secure boot would be a good thing, as there are MBR "bootkit" viruses.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:59 PM on December 4, 2011


Ubuntu tablet predictions are ranging between late 2012 and 2014. In principle, Canonical could even support Android applications, maybe offering their own variation on FDroid.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2011


Sonascope, if iOS didn't have anything worth using over the competition, there wouldn't be any point in lamenting its closed-ness. Nerds and non-nerds alike would give it the finger and that would be that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The spirit of the PC, i.e. open reconfigurability even by non-nerds, is receding."

We have more OS and device options for mobile than we have had for PC's (basically Mac or windows for the non-geeks). There are also a growing number gadgets that connect via bluetooth. The apps stores have seemingly infinite choices. I was at cvs today and they had a blood pressure cuff that plugs into an iPhone. My shoes talk to my phone while I run. In some garage right now the next Steve Jobs/Woz duo are hacking a Kinnect, a 3-printer or an ardiuno kit to build something so amazing in ten years it will have changed everything again.

Also speaking of gatekeepers and selectivity. Has Havard Law School changed its admissions and faculty hiring policies or can anyone just pop in to teach or take a course? Did the profession of law suddenly do away with the bar exam? Shall we also eliminate the CPA, the Strucutral Engineer and the Master Plumbers and Electricians? Just rip the wall open, red wire, blue wire and ground...who needs a gatekeeper.
posted by humanfont at 6:25 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: "Not in the office.

Yeah, but an office PC can be just as walled from the user perspective.
"

Not so much. That office PC is not YOUR PC to do with what you will. And there are always ways around what the wireless company tells you can only be done.

I have a Samsung Mythic (which I really regret getting, as it's not a smartphone so much as a somewhat bright phone) and I have apps installed on there that are not available via the AT&T app store, running with full access to phone features like orientation change and net access without prompting. All with a little research.

OTOH, what I can actually run on the phone is a vanishingly small number of apps.

Thus, the next Samiphone will be an Android phone carefully selected for compatibility with CyanogenMod.

My gear is MY GEAR, DAMN IT!
posted by Samizdata at 6:30 PM on December 4, 2011


I nominate "samizdata" as the new term for alternative smartphone firmware.
posted by miyabo at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, as per these cloud enthusiasts, they seem to forget there's not a lot of really awesome wireless bandwidth for cells, and it is tightly capped. So, barring a giant change in the hearts of the wireless giants, where they decide to build a decently provisioned wireless network and offer us all gratis unlimited wireless data, I shan't be holding my breath for my cloud enabled mobie.
posted by Samizdata at 6:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


miyabo: "I nominate "samizdata" as the new term for alternative smartphone firmware."

W00t w00t!

Seconded!
posted by Samizdata at 6:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Desktop at home office (Win 7). Netbook for out of home office but still at home (Win 7/Ubuntu). HTPC (Win 7) for television viewing (without cable). Acer Iconia 500 tablet (Android) for meetings and portability (with a physical keyboard). Nexus S (Android) for a phone. Kobo Touch eReader (Linux?) for reading. And of course Linux servers for web sites/applications.

With the exception of the desktop and the phone, the others are just for convenience. The desktop is tops in terms of importance for productivity (project management, web design/development, audio and video work). I don't see the death of the PC anytime soon. But of course with the literally millions and millions of people in this world, there are a huge variety of needs out there and just because I fit into a model with a few million, doesn't mean the other few million who don't fit that model are entirely irrelevant. I also find it strange to personalize computer hardware as if it has anything to do with your identity. That sent from my X device nonsense is really absurd.

As for walled garden, I went with an alternative to that walled garden that works excellently. My phone has no restrictions because I have a provider who doesn't fuck with it and gives me true unlimited (use it as a WiFi hotspot on numerous occasions). I can download a number of marketplaces as well as download and install applications directly from a number of sources.

The web and web based applications in particular make our choice of device and OS even more free than previously I'd say. Whatever appeals to us about an OS/Device is just fine if a lot of the applications we run are web based and this seems to be a strong trend that isn't going anywhere. The same is true of data, that can be read by a lot of different programs on different platforms.

Of course web applications aren't going to rival full featured video editing applications and certain games, but frameworks are helping to make decent ports. We work with people who use Windows, Linux, and OS X and don't have a problem working together or exchanging data.

I'm not to worried about those aspects of the industry, but the content consumption copyright patent trademark craziness is another matter. It's easier today then it was 5 years ago to ignore Microsoft, Apple, or Linux if you want to. Not completely easy of course, but easier.
posted by juiceCake at 6:54 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"After Google (allegedly) stole Java and ripped off the iOS user experience it was really nice of them to give it away to further their plan to maintain and expand their domination of the Internet. How is it a moral outrage or even an incredible burden to have to pay a whole extra 100 dollars a year to have a good IDE, support forums and tutorials sample code?"

*sighs* This isn't about Apple vs Google. It really isn't. If it was Google with no open code, and Apple building phones/tablets that respected freedom, I wouldn't be using Android right now. It's not about a horse race, it's about trying to help ensure that users are respected across the industry.
posted by jaduncan at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bullshit. Most people aren't interested. If the interest is there, they'll find a way. If your response to that is "but computers are being locked down, and it's all Apples fault!" then I'll call bullshit on that too. Apple promised nothing more than being able to run an Apple OS and software on Apple hardware - and that software even currently includes quite comprehensive developer tools.

Some of my earliest "programming" experiences centered on hacking the memory buffer of an IBM typewriter. Also a fair bit of hardware hacking on clocks and electromechanical toys. That did a bit more for me than what I encountered form C64 magazines, which involved hours of typing POKE statements that usually added up to a whole lot of nothing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2011


I too thought this article was going to be more about the factors that lead the author to believe the PC is dead rather than just a screed on Apple products. It is in a way - he's talking about the shift from products to services - and that shift has also been reflected in other fields indirectly and directly responsible for this such as the development of UIs and apps.

However, as I read this thread and FPP, possibly the 5 or 6th such similar one in the past half year alone on a variety of "its dead/its a zombie" in and around the broad topic of personal computing devices, what I realize is that its the landscape that is increasingly fragmented globally. So what we're getting is a modern hi tech version of the 6 blind men and the elephant.

Zittrain's view is that the concept of the bazaar vs cathedral is what is dying with the increasing control over the gateway into the walled garden of each device - its easy to dump on Apple because they have some of the most obvious and visible such controls via their app store regulations.

But what imho he may not see is that there is a limit, globally, to the number of people who are able to access Apple devices (cost and distribution) and the subsequent walled gardens of teh cloud.

Rather, instead of technology diffusing almost linearly outwards from its birthplaces in the Valley or other such locations, as used to happen, there's instead been a proliferation of devices, particularly from the cheaper cost centers of the world.

Thus rather than more or less one trending curve of tech diffusion and innovation as it used to be, it has fragmented into regions of the world and each, imho, will take its own curve for innovation.

This fragmentation alone may offer greater value to the aspects Zittrain wishes to see happen - nerds on devices experimenting away, but they may not be the nerds one imagined nor located in places one has seen.
posted by infini at 7:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


One element of the essay that left me a little unconvinced was the (IMO) cursory discussion about the web vs apps.

This may be the naïveté that comes with being a web developer, but I really see apps as being of secondary concern to web content. Over the coming years and decades, it seems like better web standards will allow virtually all functionality that we could want to be delivered via the browser.

So, philosophical questions aside, I'm wondering if this whole issue is really going to matter in the big picture. Frankly, I'm not all that interested in the few tasks that probably really require apps (high-performance graphics are the only thing that comes to mind.)

So an open question to all the people who are really concerned with the implications of app stores for freedom: why is it so important, so long as there is unfettered access to the web?
posted by graphnerd at 7:20 PM on December 4, 2011


so long as there is unfettered access to the web

Is this not under pressure at the moment as well?
posted by infini at 7:31 PM on December 4, 2011



So an open question to all the people who are really concerned with the implications of app stores for freedom: why is it so important, so long as there is unfettered access to the web?

Of course, controlling the only browser on the device is controlling what standards can be used on the web. See Internet Explorer, Active X, and the wept tears of a generation of web developers who were essentially in a dysfunctional and abusive relationship with the IE team.
posted by jaduncan at 7:39 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


So an open question to all the people who are really concerned with the implications of app stores for freedom: why is it so important, so long as there is unfettered access to the web?

Part of it, for me, is being able to see whether or not an app is keeping a record of how I use it and where I go on the web, and reporting this information to a third party.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find that wifi is becoming pretty easy to get to. I am suprised at how little of the unlimited bandwidth I'm actually using.
posted by humanfont at 8:00 PM on December 4, 2011


We might ensure unfettered access to the internet via projects like the EFF's Sovereign Keys Project, but no web app provides privacy, not from the apps owner.

You need local open source applications that handle cryptography locally before you achieve any measurable immunity to eavesdropping by corporations or governments.

You might not personally have any secrets worth keeping, but : (a) Activists do. And encrypting your own stuff both provides 'cover' for them and decreases the value of surveillance tools. (b) Institutional privacy protections can erode almost effortlessly. You might trust iCloud with your banking passwords today, but Apple might outsource infrequently accessed files tomorrow.

Btw, I botched a post about the App Store approved Covert Browser being closed source, while the open source Tor client requires jail breaking.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nice thinking, Zittrain, and brilliant you have jumped in here as well.
As this devolved into a long anti-Apple screed, I kept thinking "at what point is he going to explain the death of the PC?"
This was my takeaway as well. Yet, there's a very salient point that in discussing the death of the PC, it is difficult to do so without discussing Apple. For, what really seems to be contributing to the death of the PC is not Apple itself, it's Apple's product ecosystem. Which is part-and-parcel the same ecosystem you mention as worrisome because it's control over content.

I've never understood the anti-Apple sentiment about being a closed platform. Apple has predominantly been a gated community. There are rules about what colour you may paint your house, or whether or not satellite dishes may be visible from the street. And there is, in fact, a gate that separates the outside world from the community. And life inside is nice. The grass it tended to, the streets are safe, and the infrastructure is in good repair. Houses are priced a bit higher inside, as the residents are willing to pay more for a more managed experience.

And you can choose to live in the community or outside of it. Point being that anyone who buys an Apple product knows what they're getting. A heavily Apple-dictated experience. In the past, that meant less customisability of the OS, now it means a curated world of application programmes to choose from.

I have heard comments about brainwashing, but no Apple customer I've met has expected anything different. I'm quite happy to have a dictated experience at the moment -- it's a great experience thus far. If it were to change, there are other options.

Rather than looking at the limitations of Apple, perhaps it says something about the PC world at large. If we look at what Apple offers, we can see what the rest of the industry is lacking in.

Safety: Many consumers are paranoid about computer security, viruses, and the whole lot. The fact that there is a digital 'wild' where rogue software can leap into your browser and make a mess. That alone will drive people to Apple. Because they are risk-adverse.

Integration: The Mac product ecosystem shows how computing can be applied when one party controls the ecosystem. Thin, beautiful devices communicating seamlessly over standardised mediums. An online store offering the aforementioned safety aspect directly on the devices. Whilst there is a lack of options, there is also a lack of confusion or conflicting information.

Further, if we think about the PC, it's actually a phenomenally bad tool for the job of computing. When we play video games, we want easily-accessible experiences. In a phone, we want a narrow subsection of all the data available on the internet (maps, weather, directions, email, etc.). The tablet is a tremendous consumption device, however when we want to create, we will go back a desktop PCs.

However, as fewer are content creators than consumers, in the future, it will be very likely that most PC-like systems sold will be to content creators. The devices of consumption will continue to evolve to fit key niches in various lifestyles.

So I don't buy the thought that the PC is dead. Rather, the PC is shape-shifting or something like that, but not dying.

And finally, one big difference between Microsoft's situation and Apple's re: walled gardens, is that consumers typically owned PCs for five, and there was tremendous cost to switching in terms of the software, even in a natural break.

Recently, consumers go through phones much more quickly and more content is online versus on the local hardware. Thus, switching costs are much lower. So Apple has a much stronger requirement to stay innovative and relevant, than did Microsoft.

Overall, it's the death of "sit at the box and type on a keyboard" computing, and the rise of more ambient computing. If by chance, that is what you mean by the death of the PC, then I'm all for it.

And I look forward to the day when Apple has serious challenges from an integrated Android experience -- once the tricks of safety and integration in an open environment have been sorted.
posted by nickrussell at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


iotic writes "I almost hate to say it, but there are some real advantages to all apps being vetted. "

There are always advantages to tyranny, that is what makes it so appealing.

miyabo writes "I am curious if we'll see lots of families (who could afford a family computer) go phone/tablet only in the near future. It's just so much easier -- no viruses, no backups, no accessories to keep track of, no worrying about the kids breaking things, "

I don't think I'll ever get over the feeling that cloud resources aren't secure because I don't control them. It'll be awesome in a watching a train wreck sort of way if someone manages to corrupt an iOS update to subtly corrupt networked files. Way too many people are depending on iCloud without covering their ass with personal backups. This of course also happens in the regular PC world but there a disaster affects a limited subset of users at any one time. iCloud going down for a week or something would be an amazing thing to observe in the same way that blackberry outages are.
posted by Mitheral at 10:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


it raises competitive worries, it serves as a model of what is to come even for the PC form factor, and it opens the door to content control as well as code control. I confess I'm a little surprised that the prospect for content control, whether in the US or overseas, isn't more noted. It just seems strange to me that mainstream technology vendors are surprisingly eager to get into the content approval business, and that we'd see that as so ... normal. I remember the days of the Microsoft monopoly, and if MS had somehow contrived to determine what content you could load on the machine short of some form of jailbreaking, people would be freaking out.
they have all the content i need, why should i care. anyone who needs content i don't is probably some kind of weirdo and i don't want them on my computer box. it's a scary world and we need a way to keep undesirable elements out and avoid contamination.
Is it now some kind of civic duty for technology users to save capitalism from itself?
yes, absolutely
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:28 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the $25 PC, designed to as hackable as possible. It even has 3D acceleration.

The "Problem" is that the "computer" is just continuing it's downward trend in price. It's getting so cheap that the cost becomes lower then the 'media' you would 'consume' on one, so, why not just get rid of the separation? Sell "Media" that is the computer.

The problem, though is the 'pullback' from an era where you could write software for one platform, and, without any gatekeepers push that software out for everyone to use. People in the future may *only* own media consumption devices, ones that are controlled by corporations.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



Safety: Many consumers are paranoid about computer security, viruses, and the whole lot. The fact that there is a digital 'wild' where rogue software can leap into your browser and make a mess. That alone will drive people to Apple. Because they are risk-adverse.
This is a completely false security, however. There is malware out there for the mac. It was safe for a long time because it wasn't widely used. But the actual security has been weaker then on windows.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Kindle is a great example if you want to break the black-and-white thinking that's polluting the thread here, and many such discussions.

It's a Linux device AND it's locked down and very much a walled garden. You can jailbreak it to do what you want if you feel limited, but if not it's almost exactly an iPad/Pod/Phone for books: to use its full features you have to buy from the one and only market available: Amazon's Kindle store.

I have an iPad and a Kindle. I like both quite a lot, and don't feel robbed by the fact they use their own marketplaces. I felt held back by the Kindle's DRM, but so far the iPad's limitations have been okay with me. If I hit a wall that bothers me, I'll jailbreak that too.
posted by rokusan at 11:56 PM on December 4, 2011


The product-with-store-to-extend-it isn't limited to Apple and phones, not by a long shot.

As just another example, this is how videogames have worked for many years now. Every piece of software you buy for your Playstation 3 comes either directly from Sony or from a vendor approved and licensed by Sony on a game-by-game basis, just like Apple curates apps. If you want to install something other than that, you need to hack in and jailbreak it.

With minor differences, this is also how the XBox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS work. You buy a device, then you use it to buy more apps for that device. If you include the way cartridge licensing used to work, you can also include pretty much every other videogame console all the way back to the Atari 2600. The manufacturer always controlled the game (app) market.
posted by rokusan at 12:00 AM on December 5, 2011


Roku... The Kindle line of eReaders... Tivo

Yeah. Those silly Linux geeks, Linux will never make it big.


Heh. I have two Roku boxes (no relation!), a Kindle and a Tivo, and of course they're all Linux flavors, but the funniest one to me is my most recent TV (a Samsung LNT5265), which also runs Linux for... well, I don't know what for. Those color-adjusting menus, I suppose.

But while it's a fine argument for invasive Linux, you can't really use these as examples on this topic, though... see, I can't write or install my own apps on any of those devices without licenses from the manufacturers or some kind of jailbreaking. In fact, in all four cases, it's much more difficult hacking than would be needed for some Android phones or any iDevices.
posted by rokusan at 12:10 AM on December 5, 2011


The difference is that the Kindle and the game consoles and the embedded Linux devices are not intended, were not intended, and are not used as, general purpose computers. iOS devices are. (Lets also recall that for a while you could run Linux on your PS/2, with blessing from Sony. Even so, Sony nor the other console manufacturers have ever licensed anything more than an insignificant amount of non-gaming software, if even that much.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:12 AM on December 5, 2011


if not it's almost exactly an iPad/Pod/Phone for books

Except that you can run many book readers on an iPad, listen to music from any MP3/AAC music store, etc. The iPad is only a "walled garden" for people who don't use one, or when it isn't used to its full potential, given how many non-Apple-mediated options currently exist. The iPad doesn't lock anyone to Apple's music or book stores, and it never has.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:00 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


brennen: "I keep forgetting that we're only allowed to disapprove of one corporation at a time."

Well, if you want more, have a look at the list of corporations behind the Trusted Computing Group. I mentioned Microsoft only as the most visibly egregious example of a corporation wanting to shift hardware from "open" to "locked down" for their own advantage.

Apple hasn't been "open" in that respect for over 25 years, since the first Macs appeared. It's a bit late to be upset about them "closing" their ecosystem now, just because they produce stuff that everybody wants. And I'll reiterate that until recently they shipped every computer with a full set of developer tools capable of producing real native apps - and, having stopped shipping them with the last hardware iteration, they still provide new versions of those same tools for free in their app store.

On the other hand, all MS provides for free is crippled tools that force you to use their flavour-of-the-month library…

Admittedly, IOS is a slightly different proposition (more on that above and below) - but still, it's US$99/yr for a developer account which gives you the tools, the ability to test and install your own software on any IOS devices you've bought (up to a reasonable limit), and access to a storefront to sell your software.

Ivan Fyodorovich: "The difference is that the Kindle and the game consoles and the embedded Linux devices are not intended, were not intended, and are not used as, general purpose computers."

Exactly.

"iOS devices are."

Are they?

The iPod Touch is an MP3 player, PDA, casual gaming, and web browsing / content consumption platform. The iPhone is a phone, PDA, casual gaming, and web browsing / content consumption platform. The iPad is a PDA, casual gaming, web browsing / content consumption, and lightweight on-the-go document writing / editing platform.

The only people who see them as general purpose computers are computer nerds who are upset that it isn't "open" enough for them &/or "free, as in beer" to develop for.

Which is fair enough. For them, there's Android. But, for everybody else who doesn't care about that and just wants to use something that does what they do well, there's iDevices.

(I really don't like to be 'forced' into the role of a resident Apple apologist. God knows I think that, like much of the rest of the industry, they've got a lot to apologise for. But they're not forcing you to buy their stuff, they're not coming around to your house and stomping on your kittens, and they're certainly not forcing the rest of the industry to follow them. They're providing devices which, as it turns out, lots of people want - and the rest of the industry is falling over themselves to copy them.)
posted by Pinback at 1:02 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The iPod Touch is an MP3 player, PDA, casual gaming, and web browsing / content consumption platform. The iPhone is a phone, PDA, casual gaming, and web browsing / content consumption platform. The iPad is a PDA, casual gaming, web browsing / content consumption, and lightweight on-the-go document writing / editing platform."

You ought to take a look at what's available on the App Store. If you're being serious. These devices are used as general purpose computing platforms and there's thousands of apps of a huge range of diversity sold every day to prove it.

"The iPad doesn't lock anyone to Apple's music or book stores, and it never has."

Oh...well, then. I can read books purchased from other vendors and listen to music purchased from other vendors on my iOS devices. That's the platonic ideal of something that's not a walled garden. How could I have missed that? Thanks for the correction.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:10 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh...well, then. I can read books purchased from other vendors and listen to music purchased from other vendors on my iOS devices.

Or you could download freely available music directly from artists. Record your own music to open formats like mp3. You can also read free digital books which were placed in the public domain, or distributed under creative commons. Why bring vendors into it at all. Here is even a site where you can download music created by your fellow MeFites.

The difference is that the Kindle and the game consoles and the embedded Linux devices are not intended, were not intended, and are not used as, general purpose computers. iOS devices are.

Except for the Kindle Fire you mean. Many console makers attempted to cross over into mainstream computing capabilities with accessories like keyboards and printers. The concept just didn't take off.
posted by humanfont at 1:48 AM on December 5, 2011


I never quite get the notion that iOS devices are biased solely towards consumption, but I may just be a special case. Just now, because I was reading this and thinking about it, I went and got my iPod Touch (4th gen) off the charger to see what's currently installed on my Touch.

I've got three separate camera/video recorder apps, one of which does great time-lapse work, and iMovie for some basic editing.

I've got Jasuto Pro, Bebot, iMaschine, bleep!Synth, SynthPond, NanoStudio, Rebirth, Loopy, Kaossilator, and nanoloop active right now. With the Garageband and the others, I have more sonic options and more recording technology in my hand than the Beatles ever had for any of their albums. Plug in an iRig, or slot the thing into a SynthStation25 and there you go.

I've got a word processing app and the manuscript to my book and its follow-up, and if I plop a bluetooth keyboard down in front of the thing, I've got a squinty little pseudolaptop there on which to do a bit of writing. It's not optimal for that use, but it's not horrible, either.

The most creative thing 99.9% of all desktop machines will ever do is grunt out a badly-formatted Excel spreadsheet detailing department performance in the third quarter, or write an annual Christmas letter for the Smith family, corrected by Word into something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike grammar.

Almost all technology is geared towards consumption because almost all people are geared towards consumption, but it's not the fault of the technology as much as it is of the society, alas.
posted by sonascope at 3:43 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


However, as fewer are content creators than consumers, in the future, it will be very likely that most PC-like systems sold will be to content creators. The devices of consumption will continue to evolve to fit key niches in various lifestyles.

I think people underestimate the number of 'content creators'. A full, PC-style keyboard and screen with traditional OS and software are still more convenient for all the following activities:

Blogging
Homework
Creative writing
Letters/invoices/correspondence
Lengthy emails
Lengthy forum posts
Record keeping
Photo editing
Website/blog creation and maintenance
Working from home with office-compatible S/W
Accessing the full range of websites (not sure of the percentage of mobile-optimised websites but it can't be that high yet)
Copying and pasting
Calculations
More that I haven't thought of

I think we underestimate how much average, mainstream 'content creation' is now done exclusively on the PC. And when laptops can cost significantly less than a tablet, can be carried around from room to room under your arm, can come with 'instant on' and instant Wifi, can have up to 10 hours battery life and are quiet, cool, light and thin, why would you not want one at home?
posted by Summer at 3:55 AM on December 5, 2011


The little Assus net-book which I still own runs Linux. I am not really nerdy enough to use Linux well. I can't do the video work I was beginning to do on my last Windows lap-top. Both devices are just heavy enough that I never liked carrying them around. My life as a small pack animal is something I have had to put up with since I can't drive. The lovely thing about my iPod is I don't need to be as good at nerd stuff to enjoy the benefits. Yes I know viruses are out there for your iDevices, that said, I had an old iPhone, which died, I have an iPod Touch which I purchased new. I am not looking back. I can lie down to use my iPod. Given that I had pneumonia earlier in the year, I get tired. I can take my device places easily, it fits in a pocket, I more easily protect it from water (good small Tupperware container, small cloths for padding) and do a
lot with it that hard as I tried, I could not do in Linux. It's WAY less annoying than Windows. My neighbor has constant updating on his Windows, and I don't miss all that.
I think PCs are still useful, but I am not looking back.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:46 AM on December 5, 2011


Almost all technology is geared towards consumption because almost all people are geared towards consumption, but it's not the fault of the technology as much as it is of the society, alas.

I disagree.

If everything is subtly designed to enable you to consume passively rather than produce actively, you will default to the easiest option - water always finds its path. Why are some human societies consumers on a significantly different level than most others? You can't simply blame people - they are the 3rd or 4th generation who have been trained to become the ultimate consumption machine. Why is the iPad/iPod/iPhone business model only geared towards consumption at 99 cents a pop and all else you could possibly do with those devices mostly blocked from you.

Is that the mass majority as simply empty stomachs with gaping maws? Or is it that that is how the target audience is set up to be seen ?
posted by infini at 5:07 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is the iPad/iPod/iPhone business model only geared towards consumption at 99 cents a pop and all else you could possibly do with those devices mostly blocked from you.


I would disagree, given the astonishing number of apps designed specifically for creation available at 99 cents to fifty bucks out there. In the instance I'm most familiar with, musical instruments for iOS, there's very little that you could do with them that's blocked, and I give as my examples the astonishing Animoog, the historically significant Fairlight Pro, and the sublime Reactable. Creative technologies that once cost tens of thousands of dollars are now available to anyone with a $400 refurb iPad. That's amazing to me, and I don't see walls and limitations being a problem there.
posted by sonascope at 5:23 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the wall refers to Apple having to approve what's available in their store, not to the variety of applications available, which is indeed varied, just as it is on every other device.
posted by juiceCake at 6:13 AM on December 5, 2011


It also comes from history. The first PCs came with BASIC interpreters, and that got a hell of a lot of people (teenagers really) started programming to write their own software and share it with their friends. The Unix computers people had at school and work were great for writing quick little programs to do useful stuff. Those hobbies became careers for many of us.

Then Windows 95 came out and you had to pay hundreds of dollars for a proprietary IDE to learn how to program anything (Macs were no better at the time). For years, the hobbyist community dwindled because software was a black box that was expensive and difficult to modify. You couldn't just stumble across programming, you had to pay $300 to Microsoft or Borland or Metrowerks to even get started. And there were no scripting languages, so it took a tremendous amount of effort to get anything useful done.

Finally, around 2002-2004 things got a lot better. OS X came out, with its included IDE, and Microsoft released free hobbyist versions of its compilers. Java and JavaScript became real languages, Web development was newly accessible with PHP and cheap hosting providers, and good Linux distributions started coming out. We're in a golden age right now, with free compilers available for every platform, easy-to-use languages like Python and Processing, and a burgeoning hobbyist community developing awesome stuff every day. The people who start programming for fun are the ones who end up getting really into it and creating the really creative new apps.

So many of us former-computer-hobbyists are afraid that the families of tomorrow will be smartphone and tablet only. Sure, they're great for web browsing and educational apps and music apps and video apps... but there won't be that teenager sitting down at the computer, finding the compiler, and figuring out how to write "Hello world." If you have to pay an extra $1000 for a laptop in order to get started, and you have to use a difficult programming language like Objective-C or Java instead of Python or PHP, that's a huge barrier to entry that would have kept a lot of us out of the programming world forever. I think that's what we're afraid of when you hear phrases like "walled garden."
posted by miyabo at 6:53 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you have to pay an extra $1000 for a laptop in order to get started, and you have to use a difficult programming language like Objective-C or Java instead of Python or PHP, that's a huge barrier to entry that would have kept a lot of us out of the programming world forever.

True - although, the motivation of developing for such a new and interesting platform as the iPhone meant thousands of small-time developers (myself included) taught themselves enough Objective-C to create a truly vast number of apps in a very short space of time. Many of those developers are children. So perhaps it's not that much of a disincentive.
posted by iotic at 7:00 AM on December 5, 2011


So many of us former-computer-hobbyists are afraid that the families of tomorrow will be smartphone and tablet only. Sure, they're great for web browsing and educational apps and music apps and video apps... but there won't be that teenager sitting down at the computer, finding the compiler, and figuring out how to write "Hello world." If you have to pay an extra $1000 for a laptop in order to get started, and you have to use a difficult programming language like Objective-C or Java instead of Python or PHP, that's a huge barrier to entry that would have kept a lot of us out of the programming world forever. I think that's what we're afraid of when you hear phrases like "walled garden."

Why would PHP or Python all of the sudden go away? Obviously, smartphones (in their current form factor, at least) aren't ideal for writing scripts, but tablets certainly could be. Sure, you (probably) won't run a full LAMP stack off of your iPod, but being able to access FTP, as well as having a text editor/lighter weight IDE shouldn't be an issue at all.
posted by graphnerd at 7:17 AM on December 5, 2011


> These arguments always forget that the era of install-anything was purely a designed aberration

It's funny that 42 years is enough for something to become ancient history lost in the mists of time. IBM tried to lock down its mainframes and was sued for monopolizing the markets in peripherals and software and services. In their perfect, closed world, IBM-trained and IBM-contracted systems analysts and programmers would work on IBM computers connected only to IBM peripherals.
posted by morganw at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


So many of us former-computer-hobbyists are afraid that the families of tomorrow will be smartphone and tablet only. Sure, they're great for web browsing and educational apps and music apps and video apps... but there won't be that teenager sitting down at the computer, finding the compiler, and figuring out how to write "Hello world."

processing.js does this today on your iPad.

I think people underestimate the number of 'content creators'. A full, PC-style keyboard and screen with traditional OS and software are still more convenient for all the following activities:
[list of activities]


Everything you listed involves one type to input (keyboard). A problem which is easily remedied for a tablet by adding a bluetooth keyboard. Think about the content activities we couldn't do on the PC that we can now do with smartphones and tables such as recording live events, check in, credit card collection and ePayment, identity verification, augmented reality exercises.
posted by humanfont at 8:05 AM on December 5, 2011


Yeah, the dichotomy here is really restrictive. Tablets will be a replacement for desktops because of peripherals and scaling OSes. Want to use it at work for whatever it is you think you need a "real" computer? Plug it in to your base station and use it with full access. Want to watch Netflix curled up somewhere? Use it just as a tablet. But, I'm surprised at some of the shortsightedness here.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, nerds care. But, by and large, users don't.

Tightly controlling the UI and app ecosystem is precisely why the iPhone has been so successful. No matter what is driving the intention behind Apple's policies, the fact is that the user experience of using a device as a /phone/ has been strictly managed and actively protected.

No matter what a user /says/ they want, when it comes to pervasive UIs they want it to work without making them think, and tightly controlling, not just the UI, but the whole data presentation model, on a phone is key to that success.

I don't even have a mobile phone, never mind an SMRT phone, and I am slightly sympathetic to the angry nerd cause, given that I am an angry nerd from way back myself.

But design is as design does, and controlling the entire ecosystem is one very effective way of controlling the entire user experience. This has translated to a very successful business model.

If you can relax some of the more important corners in the Apple app dev EULA without impacting the user experience at all, then maybe you can win this fight. But as long as there is even the slightest chance of some weird and unlikely problem devolving back to some arbitrary app developed in a wild and free ecosystem, you are not going to get much support from the people funding the whole operation.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:15 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really think we're living in a golden age both for hobbyists and people who just want the function of a device without the mitigation of having to be in the guts of the machine. In 1981, our family computer was an Apple ][ plus that was sort of halfway appliancelike and yet had that wonderful big "hood" that let you into the guts of the machine. It was something you could work on, but it was $1200 then ($3600 when you adjust for inflation) and you really, really didn't want to be the one who broke it. It sort of mostly worked, back in the day when you bought software in ziplock bags with mimeograph instructions from the ham radio store, but you had to really have a handle on the basics of the thing to do advanced things with it.

These days, an iPad with a stand and a bluetooth keyboard would be as much computer as my mother would ever need, and it's $500 plus accessories. It's closed down in the sense that Apple runs a very, very tight ship, not because they're fascist assholes, but because running a tight ship means not running a leaky ship, and not having people see their machines constantly on the fritz because some yahoo writes leaky, sloppy, compromised code. They're useful devices for most or many people because they always work, and they always work in large part because someone's watching the gate.

At the same time, it's a wonderland out there for makers, hackers (the real ones, not what the media seem to regard as the breed), and experimenters. Thirty bucks will buy you an Arduino that's a number of times faster than my old Apple, and that's supported by a kaleidoscope of "shields" for any number of purposes, and prototyping shields for people who just want to go on their own. There are barebones machines in a zillion form factors, ready to run Linux or whatever else you can come up with. I don't see this side of the market shrinking anytime soon.

If you want the modern form factor and old school accessibility, you can always jailbreak. I've got a 3rd gen original ipod with Linux on it, so you can do that too.

The thing about those walled gardens is that there are little doors in and out of the garden that are not monitored by the thought police. Sometimes the lock takes a little bit of picking, and sometimes the door's just hanging open.

In Apple's case, I think that the garden may not be forever, just like DRM. In the beginning, DRM was how Apple was able to snap a lot of stupid, stupid record companies out of their Napster panics and get them to recognize their future revenue stream. People didn't like it, made a long, loud, ugly fuss about it, and now it's gone, more or less.

It'll be interesting to see where we end up, but I suspect it's bound to be different than what we expect.

P.S. My Apple ][ plus works fine, thirty years later, and will soon (I hope) get one of the next run of CFFA cards for one of those easily accessible slots. New openness meets old openness. It's quite a world out there.
posted by sonascope at 8:47 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find it utterly offensive that you can spend $600+ on a piece of hardware and not own it.

THIS.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2011


I find it utterly offensive that you can spend $600+ on a piece of hardware and not own it.

THIS.


How do you not own it?

My iPod is mine. I can open it. I can alter it. I can jailbreak it, write my own operating system for it, or write my own apps for that operating system, assuming I'm smart enough to do so. I just can't do it while using the software installed on it at the factory. Apple can't come to my house and take it, and they can only change things on it when I connect to their system. If I want their benefits, I follow their rules. If I want to be a lone man on an island, the hardware is mine. Nothing's stopping me from reverse-engineering my way in.

If I spend $20,000 on a car, can I remove the seatbelts, emissions control equipment, and airbags? Why not? Am I having to mommy-may-I just to own a vehicle?

Some constraints are the price of admission to a complex world.
posted by sonascope at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"If I spend $20,000 on a car, can I remove the seatbelts, emissions control equipment, and airbags? Why not? Am I having to mommy-may-I just to own a vehicle? "

Yes. That there's local laws preventing this is not the issue. The issue is whether the automobile manufacturer used legal (and other) means to prevent you from buying any replacement or additional equipment for your car from anyone else other than them (or through their outlet or authorized outlets). That in the US people other than the auto manufacturers have a legal right to manufacture auto parts for cars, and you have the right to buy them, is the result of an important legal case early in the history of automobiles. And this case had ramifications everywhere in industry and business. The DMCA was a profound deviation from this precedent.

Manufacturers did and do, of course, attempt to prevent aftermarket equipment sales by essentially obfuscating their mechanisms. They'll use non-standard designs to make things difficult.

That jailbreaking was only recently decided legal in a court of law is very important and, frankly, unexpected and unusual. Apple had tried to use legal means to prevent people from altering the working of hardware that they own. Now, Apple is doubling-down on the "make it as difficult as possible" route.

Anyway, I don't mean to be especially harsh about Apple. This way of thinking has become increasingly entrenched in the IT industry. That it's illegal to sell a means of modifying game consoles to play pirated games is similar. It's not that they are going after the piracy, it's that they're illegalizing the ability for owners of technology to alter that technology. That's not a good thing. And while the ostensible reason for much of this has been to protect IP, what it's inevitably become utilized for is to protect and enhance revenue by ensuring that the business entirely controls the market for software and accessories for this hardware.

I mean, look: Apple has A/V outputs on the USB/docking port of its iOS devices. But they've actually gone to the trouble of adding electronics on both the device and their A/V connector so that the iOS device will only enable A/V output to those connectors which use their bit of electronics to answer with "yes, I'm an Apple manufactured or licenses connector". So that Apple can sell you that connector for upwards of $35 when a regular connector would cost pennies to manufacture and can be bought for a dollar. Jailbreaking can get around this...but Apple wanted to keep jailbreaking (well, the selling and provision of jailbreaking tools) illegal. This is not in the best interests of the consumer. There was no real danger of a rash of complains from customers that their cheap connectors wasn't working propertly. It's a damn connector. It's not rocket-science to manufacture a connector. It's about money.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:49 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]



If I spend $20,000 on a car, can I remove the seatbelts, emissions control equipment, and airbags? Why not? Am I having to mommy-may-I just to own a vehicle?

Some constraints are the price of admission to a complex world.


That, sir, is a pile of shit. Those things are legislated by the government to protect other people.

The lockdown on iOS is not legislation, it is imposed by a corporation to protect that corporation's profits.

Calling those things equivalent is laughable. Do you have a fiscal interest in this somewhere?
posted by Malor at 12:34 PM on December 5, 2011


Well, I don't know about "pile of shit," but it's totally legal to remove the seatbelts, emissions control equipment, and airbags from your $20,000 car. There is not and should not be a law against that. There are laws against driving on public roads if you've removed some of those things (though it isn't against the law anywhere, I don't think, to remove your airbags and drive without them.) But that's largely a matter of public safety. How is a potentially injurious car accident analogous to anH IT problem? I don't think this parallel goes very far.
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Calling those things equivalent is laughable. Do you have a fiscal interest in this somewhere?

Can you not do this?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:53 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked the part where the noted author of the linked article showed up in the middle of yet another silly flamewar. Wait, no.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2011


Roku
The Kindle line of eReaders
Tivo

Yeah. Those silly Linux geeks, Linux will never make it big. Normal consumers will never use Linux devices in their day-to-day lives.

Linux is hard!


None of those devices you mentioned use the user interfaces commonly associated with Linux, such as GNOME or KDE.

For a lot of people, Linux IS hard.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:17 PM on December 5, 2011


Frankly, if I had a fiscal interest in this, I'd already have an iPad. Apple has been lamentably poor at rewarding what must occasionally seem like platform evangelism, alas.

My interest is as an end user and someone who wants to spend his time working, creating, and producing new work, rather than fucking around endlessly with wonderful open source systems that just don't work. I've tried on numerous occasions to venture into Linux, and sadly, it doesn't work. It'll install, it'll look great, and the trackpad won't work. Spend a month screaming and reading through the depths of linux forums where you need a translator just to have the vaguest idea of what they're talking about, and you can sort of get it working...and then that patch screws up the wifi. Research a machine that's supposed to be super Linux friendly, get set up, get it mostly right, try to use an audio workstation and...oh, now the audio drivers don't work, or the MIDI drivers don't work. Gave Linux my best on five machines in twenty flavors, but I'm a writer and musician who needs my tools to work. If it takes a walled garden, so be it.

I'm not a hardcore Apple person. I'm a gearhead. I know the guts of my motorcycle, scooter, and car intimately, and I would love to have open source, open boundary software and hardware work. I'm building a little house out in the woods, too, and I love that sense of being in control. That said, when I've got work to do, I want my tools to work. I pay a fortune for plumbing, mechanical, and carpentry tools because life's too short for Harbor Freight, and sadly, the real-world application of computers calls for a bit of the same approach.

Here's a specific example. When I'm doing composed music, as opposed to my improvised ambient work, I work almost exclusively in a lovely Swedish application called Reason. It's simple, yet enormously capable, combining virtual synthesis, sequencing, audio recording, and signal processing and is most definitely a walled garden. It's the subject of some scorn among more nuts-and-boltsy software musicians because it doesn't integrate a popular plug-in protocol called VST. Before I made the final leap to Reason, I used workstation software that supported VST, and it's a mixed bag. Neat stuff, but it's only as reliable as the skill of the programmers, the compatibility of the last update, and the vagaries of the system on which it's installed.

Reason, on the other hand, is fucking bulletproof. I've never had a crash using it, going all the way back to version 1.5 (they're on 6 now). Because it's an end-to-end product, with everything controlled by the small programming team that builds it, it can be hermetically sealed against the things that blow up software. For a performer, having my software work is essential, because I refuse to shuck and jive to prerecorded stuff, and I've had half a lifetime of having more conventional instruments freak out on stage and I'm too old to deal with the software equivalent of when my Prophet 5 started playing itself in a little Ornette Coleman blowout because the sweat pouring out of my hair in a live PA set leaked through the knob holes and circuit bent the damn thing onstage.

Reason is a walled garden and that's okay. I fire it up and it works. If I want to leave the walled garden, which I do when I'm working without the pressure of reliability, I've always got Pd, which is free, amazing, and a wild beast capable of glorious nuance and DC-biasing speaker-destroying chaos. I can leave the garden or stay, depending on my expectations. If I expect not to suddenly be standing in a theater in front of hundreds of people in sudden, absolute silence, I choose the garden.

My parallel with various equipment on a car is about this—I can remove anything I want from my car. It won't call the police, and as long as I'm ready to drive around, say, my own huge farm (if I had such a thing), I'm fine. I can't, however, remove the fuel injection system from my little roadster because it was designed into the engine. I can't remove the independent rear suspension and put in a live axle because the car was designed around what's there now. I can't take the battery out of the trunk and put it elsewhere because there's no room, and there's no room because engineers in Hiroshima put it there as part of balancing the car. I can change things around, but I can't put a Mercedes diesel engine under the hood. Cars are proprietary, partly for profit reasons and partly for practical ones. If we built cars from a communal lowest-common-denominator parts bin, the cost of meeting the most basic standards would be astronomical, or their character would disappear entirely. I can buy knockoff and pattern parts, at my own risk, of course.

With my iPods, I can buy cheap Chinese knockoffs of approved Apple cables and accessories that work just fine and cost pennies, and I sort of like the closed loop of irony there. Sadly, because corporations exist for one reason, and one reason alone—to make money—there's not much of an incentive to find a way to make less money unless doing so (as in Gilette's famous approach back in the day) will make more money. Apple makes great gear, and is run by people with good taste, but they're a publicly traded corporation, so they do what they do. As it happens, they are also able to make some spectacular tools in the process, and they're tools that are very, very reliable.

If Apple did the PC hardware trick of the eighties and nineties, putting out completely generic gear that was cheap, and showed it, why would you buy Apple? If you could just install any random thing on an iPad, and they crashed constantly as a result (look to what your parents/grandparents have inadvertently installed on their ancient browsers for examples), would they have the cachet they do? I know the popular mythology is that style conscious people buy Apple to look hip and modern, but I look like a fucking unmade bed and tape over logos because I really don't give a crap if I look cool—that boat's pretty much long since sailed. If Apple was as open and consequently unreliable as the cheaper competition, what would be the point?

Of course, Android's presumably pretty reliable and well put-together, but for me, you know what the problem is? Unlike the engineering teams at Apple, who can understand peripheral and minority uses for their products, the Android crew wrote an OS that can't do basic musical timing. Didn't consider such a thing, didn't think it was a worthwhile market, or just didn't care. No walls around that garden, but it's a garden where my work won't grow. My former brother-in-law constantly wants to show me how great his Samsung phone is, and it has a lovely big screen and is cheap and open and yet, for me, is just a phone and a browser. Where's the advantage? If a system doesn't suit your needs, all the openness in the world is meaningless.

The thing is, the second I bid adieu to the purple-haired gauge-pierced "genius" at the Apple Store and walked out with my iPod, it was as much mine as your open source things are yours. Apple doesn't owe me source code or easy access, and if I want it enough, as I did with the end of DRM, I'll write, support the organizations looking to change things, and cheat. In the meantime, I want my tools to work day in, day out, for a long time. I don't want to pay the price of instability for a philosophical triumph. The Umberto Eco thing about the cathedral and the marketplace holds—I can do business with either or both at my discretion, and I can lobby for change when I think it's appropriate. Why's that such a controversial thing?
posted by sonascope at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can't use Chinese knock-offs of approved Apple cables with your iPod Touch because there is no such thing. That's the whole point. You can only do so with it jailbroken and using resupported4 or the equivalent.

Also, Reason is available on the PC platform and it's not bulletproof there. I use it.

You're making a lot of assertions that aren't true and thus damaging your credibility.

You completely ignored my point about comparing IT hardware with automobiles, or you don't understand it. There is an established legal right for people to manufacture and sell aftermarket equipment for cars. They can't infringe patents, but they can sell things that are made to interoperate with or replace original equipment. But with IT hardware, there is a legal regime, built around intellectual property protections, that actually makes it a crime to do the equivalent with IT hardware in any case where it can be said, somehow, to allow copyright infringement. Hardware and software firms have used this as a means of keeping anyone else from legally modifying their hardware and software.

And it was under this regime that Apple argued that jailbreaking was illegal. With jailbreaking illegal, then everyone other than Apple is legally shut out of producing products for iOS devices without Apple's blessing and, more important, piece of the revenue stream.

Now, it's the case that jailbreaking was found to be legal and so if you go to the trouble of doing it, you, the jailbreak provider, and Cydia (and others) are not violating any laws in doing so. But the fact that Apple went this direction, and so many other vendors have gone this direction, proves that their primary interest is not in protecting the user experience, but in maximizing their revenue stream from their products by preventing anyone else from providing software, add-ons, and accessories without getting a cut of the revenue.

The legal status of resupported4 and, if anyone ever manufacturers them, reverse-engineered A/V connectors that work out-of-the-box with iOS devices, is more ambiguous because it can be argued that this would be utilized for IP infringement and thus under the umbrella of DMCA.

Please note that I agreed with your original comment and the general thrust of your argument that what most consumers want is an experience that simply works, and works well, and this has proven to require (it's necessary, but not sufficient, it's important to note) careful control of the entire computing environment by one party with a clear vision of its design and use. And insofar as that's the case, I don't really have a problem with walled-gardens in general.

What bothers me is that all successful businesses aspire to become monopolies. They will attempt this one way or another, whatever works. But they will always be very keen on using legislation to achieve this goal. Under the guise of protecting IP, the information technology giants have all leveraged this as a means to control their platforms such that they might manage to be monopolists within their particular context. And if any one company becomes big enough that it's supplying most of the IT products we use, or if all companies have managed to do this within their own mid-sized context, then the end-users will be faced with no means of exercising consumer choice. That IBM failed to prevent work-alike hardware and upgrades and the like was a huge boon for the PC industry and the consumers in general. It wasn't good for IBM. Apple briefly started to make that mistake, and Jobs put a stop to it immediately. Not because he cared for the end-user, but because he cared for Apple's long-term profitability.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can lobby for change when I think it's appropriate

it probably wont do you any good though and a lot of people will call you unreasonable

to quote voltaire: "balls"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2011


Tech monopolies don't seem to last long. Remember PS/2 and the MCA/ESIA expansion port war? A decade ago it was Palm Pilot. 3 years ago everyone had a Blackberry.
posted by humanfont at 5:06 PM on December 5, 2011


I'm confused what cables I'm not supposed to have. I've got knock-off sync cables, knock-off chargers, and a knock-off video cable that works at least as well as my authentic authorized one from Rocketfish (i.e. not very well, because video out on iPods is a problem). Maybe knock-off is not the right word, if I'm using it incorrectly, but I can buy a $40 Apple-blessed cable at Best Buy or a $5 one from Hong Kong on ebay, and both are functionally equivalent. You can tell me that there's no such thing, and I will have to hold up my cables and smirk, because I'm holding no such thing. I'm confused about what's supposed to be happening here. I don't get "this device is not supported" messages. I get the usual annoying overcontrolled video output (i.e. some apps, but not others).

If, say, I look up these cables on ebay, my source for my various non-premium-priced cables, I find hundreds of offers. Is the presumption that these are stolen, illegal, or whatever? If so, I'd argue that there's a de facto workaround to the legal requirement, if not an actual legal workaround.

I guess the problem with my car allusion is that I'm intending it to say that there's no enforceable legal sanction to stop me from tinkering with my iPod in the same way that there's no legal sanction to messing with my car unless I then try to use said machinery in its regular context afterward. There's no reason in the world why I couldn't, if I were smart enough, reverse engineer a cable for my own use, as long as it remained within my own private environment. The limitation is more practical than legal.

As to the other things that are supposed to be damaging my credibility, those will have to be pointed out, as I'm a bit too dense to suss out what exactly they are.

And yeah, Reason isn't bulletproof on PCs, but then I've never met a PC music application that was, so there's a bit of my platform bias showing. Like Android, Windows just wasn't built for such things until very, very late in the game. People make the best of it, but they're fighting an uphill battle. More power to those who can hack it, because PCs certainly are more affordable.

Wait, that's not true. The Nord editor runs perfectly on XP.
posted by sonascope at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2011


I'm talking about the video outputs—composite, s-video, and component. In all cases, after the v1 of the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple added a circuit that actually queries another circuit built into the cable before it enables video output. A recently as a year ago, when I looked, there were no imported reverse-engineered cables that fooled the device into thinking that it was an Apple-certified cable. To do this without buying one of Apple's video connectors, at least as recently as a year ago, you have to jailbreak your device and use an app that modifies the driver in the OS so that video output is enabled regardless.

Because this wasn't true when the first revisions of these devices shipped, there's a huge number of connectors out there which won't work with anything other than the v1 of these devices.

Now, it may be that someone got around to reverse engineering this and are manufacturing video output connectors cheaply and selling them cheaply. They can't be as cheap as the old cables were and any normal cable would be, because there's necessarily active circuitry built into them. And, you know, there's absolutely nothing preventing Apple from doing the same thing with, say, the headphone output and forcing consumers to buy their headphones from them. Excepting consumers would never stand for that. They've gotten away with it for the video output cables because it's a niche product that consumers have already been trained to expect to pay exorbitant prices for, anyway, because they buy $25 s-video cables from Best Buy and the like. But Apple could do this with headphones, and if they did, I doubt you'd be as sanguine about the situation. Sure, you would be able to find earbuds/headphones on eBay from China that are reverse engineered to do this. You'd have a harder time finding them in your local electronic store, however.

Which brings me to my other point, which you just seem to be determined to not get. You wrote that:
There's no reason in the world why I couldn't, if I were smart enough, reverse engineer a cable for my own use, as long as it remained within my own private environment. The limitation is more practical than legal.
...which isn't necessarily true. The whole scary point about the DMCA is that it specifically makes it illegal for anyone to "tamper" with anything that can be considered copy-protection hardware or software. That is "circumventing" it and it's illegal. Even for an end-user modifying a device or software she owns.

This was the justification for Apple claiming that jailbreaking was illegal. This is the justification that many hardware and software manufacturers are using to close off their products from anyone but themselves modifying them in any way.

From an EFF March 2010 report, Unintended Consequences: Twelve Years Under the DMCA:
In 2009, Apple threatened the free wiki hosting site BluWiki for hosting a discussion by hobbyists about reverse engineering iPods to interoperate with software other than Apple's own iTunes. Without a work-around, iPod and iPhone owners would be unable to use third-party software, such as Winamp or Songbird, to "sync" their media collections between computer and iPod or iPhone.5

The material on the public wiki was merely a discussion of the reverse engineering effort, along with some snippets of relevant code drawn from Apple software. There were no "circumvention tools," nor any indication that the hobbyists had succeeded in their interoperability efforts. Nevertheless, Apple's lawyers sent OdioWorks, the company behind BluWiki, a cease and desist letter threatening legal action under the DMCA.

Bluwiki ultimately sued Apple to defend the free speech interests of its users.6In response, Apple dropped its threat, and BluWiki reinstated the deleted pages.
Also:
In April 2005, the creator of Adobe's Photoshop software revealed that camera-maker Nikon had begun encrypting certain portions of the RAW image files generated by its professional-grade digital cameras. As a result, these files would not be compatible with Photoshop or other similar software unless the developers first took licenses from Nikon. In other words, by encrypting the image files on its cameras, Nikon was obtaining market leverage in the image editing software market.

Adobe cited the prospect of a DMCA claim as one reason why it was unwilling to reverse engineer the format to facilitate interoperability. Nikon and Adobe ultimately negotiated an agreement, an option that may not be practical for smaller software developers in the future.
And:
Lexmark, the second-largest laser printer maker in the U.S., has long tried to eliminate the secondary market in refilled laser toner cartridges. In January 2003, Lexmark employed the DMCA as a new weapon in its arsenal.

Lexmark had added authentication routines between its printers and cartridges explicitly to hinder aftermarket toner vendors. Static Control Components (SCC) reverse-engineered these measures and sold "Smartek" chips that enabled refilled cartridges to work in Lexmark printers. Lexmark then used the DMCA to obtain an injunction banning SCC from selling its chips to cartridge remanufacturers.

SCC ultimately succeeded in getting the injunction overturned on appeal, but only after 19 months of expensive litigation while its product was held off the market. The litigation sent a chilling message to those in the secondary market for Lexmark cartridges.
And another:
Sony has also invoked the DMCA against a hobbyist who developed custom "dance moves" for his Aibo robotic "pet" dog. Developing these new routines for the Sony Aibo required reverse engineering the encryption surrounding the software that manipulates the robot. The hobbyist revealed neither the decrypted Sony software nor the code he used to defeat the encryption, but he freely distributed his new custom programs. Sony claimed that the act of circumventing the encryption surrounding the software in the Aibo violated the DMCA and demanded that the hobbyist remove his programs from his website.
The EFF report contains dozens of such incidents, and Apple appears numerous times.

Reverse engineering Apple's authentication circuitry for the video-output cables for the iOS devices is exactly the sort of thing as above and, in fact, because doing so will allow the completely unhindered duplication of video content regardless of whether iOS recognizes it as copyrighted and not-to-be-duplicated, then this is actually the sort of thing that more definitively falls under the DMCA and in which the courts have usually agreed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:22 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your point is that the DMCA sucks, I'm completely with you. The DMCA sucks bigtime.

One more reason to support the EFF.
posted by sonascope at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In all cases, after the v1 of the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple added a circuit that actually queries another circuit built into the cable before it enables video output."

I guess we'll never know, but I wonder if this wasn't due to the studios and networks insisting on some form of copy protection / tithe to allow Apple to offer HD content on their iDevices. Because, prior to this, iDevices could only output 480/576i; now they can output 480/576p (gen2/3 Touch) and 720p (gen 4 Touch, iPad, iPhone 4) via component, and 1080i (iPad2, iPhone 4s) via HDMI.

Interestingly, if you don't have the official HDMI adaptor, the latter devices will downscale HD content to 480/576p via component - despite component being quite capable of handling 720p / 1080i. This is exactly what the studios and networks wanted for everything originally, and the current situation (in Aus & Eur; don't know about the US) of most Blu-Ray & broadcast content & devices allowing for up to 1080i via component is merely a temporary concession they agreed to to get the ball rolling on HD.
posted by Pinback at 8:41 PM on December 5, 2011


Yeah, HDMI is an example of pairing a much-needed big improvement on an interconnect standard with DRM protection to sweeten the poison medicine.

I've not actually looked closely at resupported4's documentation (such as it is, or is not). But I assume that this HDMI requirement for HD can also be circumvented in jailbroken devices. I sadly don't own an HDTV and haven't needed to be able to display HD. And I didn't and don't anticipate using my iOS device for this purpose much, anyway. So I only bought a composite cable, though I do use component connections between my DVD player and my (what was) high-end SDTV.

I'm sure that your theory is at least partly right. Which makes it more likely that reverse-engineering the cable and/or jailbreaking the device to enable the video output is legally dodgy, if not indisputably so.

I do think my larger point stands, though: that both hardware and software manufacturers are using whatever legal tools are available to lock up their platforms.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:41 PM on December 5, 2011


"In all cases, after the v1 of the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple added a circuit that actually queries another circuit built into the cable before it enables video output."

FWIW, they did this with other add-on gadgets for non-iOS iPods, too.

I use an FM transmitter to get my iPod's audio into my car stereo (which is only a radio), and when I got my iPod Classic, the FM transmitter I'd used with my previous generation iPod no longer worked. I thought the unit was burned out at first, but then I tried it with the old iPod again and it worked fine. I did some research and found they'd put these chips in place, so I went out and bought a new transmitter and it worked just great.

I like plenty of things about Apple, but that whole "has to be verified / certified by Apple by letting the manufacturer install proprietary chips for the 3rd party product to work" thing is kind of evil.
posted by hippybear at 10:13 PM on December 5, 2011


"FWIW, they did this with other add-on gadgets for non-iOS iPods, too. …and when I got my iPod Classic, the FM transmitter I'd used with my previous generation iPod no longer worked."

Actually, that's a different problem caused by a couple of fairly sensible design changes Apple made to later iPods to (a) reduce ground loop / noise issues when playing while charging, and (b) allow things like car adaptors to control the iPods from the standard radio controls, iPhones to play through car docks without sending message tones, handsfree kits to switch between the internal speaker & car stereo, & iDevices to automatically turn off when you park the car.

Basically, to reduce noise they separated the motherboard (pins 1 & 15), signal (pin 2), and USB (pin 16) grounds which were previously connected internally. At the same time they changed the signalling options through pins 11 & 21 to add more control options.

ISTR this was fairly well documented on the Apple site somewhere, though maybe in the developer section (I can't check right now).
posted by Pinback at 4:41 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and there's no complex chippery involved in those changes - it's all done by earthing pins through resistors.
posted by Pinback at 4:43 PM on December 6, 2011


Oh, and there's no complex chippery involved in those changes - it's all done by earthing pins through resistors.

All I know is, I read it was a proprietary "this is approved by Apple" chip intervention, and there's a little wide spot in the cable which wasn't there before which is usually evidence of an in-line chip of some sort or other.
posted by hippybear at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2011


> Reverse engineering... will allow the completely unhindered duplication of video content regardless of whether iOS recognizes it as copyrighted and not-to-be-duplicated, then this is actually the sort of thing that more definitively falls under the DMCA and in which the courts have usually agreed.

The analog video signals coming out of "properly" authenticated cables are just as easy to copy as cables made with hypothetical reverse-engineered authentication. The auth mechanism has nothing to do with content copy protection.

Macrovision is mandated (Title 17, 1201 (k) (1)) for VCRs, but not for TiVos, iPods & the like.

> That IBM failed to prevent work-alike hardware and upgrades and the like was a huge boon for the PC industry and the consumers in general. It wasn't good for IBM.

It's been argued that AT&T benefited from being broken up due to anti-trust litigation and IBM suffered by beating the litigation but feeling Justice looking over their shoulder for 30 years. Perhaps a hardware-only IBM would have been more competitive with Columbia & Compaq.

Would Microsoft be more competitive now if internet, desktop software and desktop OSs had been separated?
posted by morganw at 11:17 PM on December 6, 2011


> walled garden... never get the programming experience

You can program in a browser. IDEs and interpreters written in JavaScript will be the Commodore 64 of the 2010s.
posted by morganw at 11:22 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


> program in a browser
forgot this one
> no complex chippery
Google MFI341S2164 sheeple!
posted by morganw at 11:37 PM on December 6, 2011


"The analog video signals coming out of 'properly' authenticated cables are just as easy to copy as cables made with hypothetical reverse-engineered authentication. The auth mechanism has nothing to do with content copy protection."

Yes, I'm aware that the signal itself isn't somehow copy protected. But the authorization mechanism does/would have something to do with content copy protection if as I wrote the iOS device selectively enables that video output on the basis of whether the content is protected. Circumventing the authorization mechanism means, then, that the iOS device can't prevent the content from being copied via video out, which is what Pinback suggested might have been part of the motivation (at the behest of content providers) for this change.

I'm fully aware of what Macrovision is and where it's used.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:42 AM on December 7, 2011


And, anyway, whether or not Apple has iOS protecting content in this fashion is moot because they could argue that this is copy-protection functionality and is therefore subject to the DMCA. The EFF document shows many, many tortured rationales for being subject to DMCA and this would be far more justifiable than many of them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:46 AM on December 7, 2011


morganw: "> Reverse engineering... will allow the completely unhindered duplication of video content regardless of whether iOS recognizes it as copyrighted and not-to-be-duplicated, then this is actually the sort of thing that more definitively falls under the DMCA and in which the courts have usually agreed.

The analog video signals coming out of "properly" authenticated cables are just as easy to copy as cables made with hypothetical reverse-engineered authentication. The auth mechanism has nothing to do with content copy protection.

Macrovision is mandated (Title 17, 1201 (k) (1)) for VCRs, but not for TiVos, iPods & the like.

> That IBM failed to prevent work-alike hardware and upgrades and the like was a huge boon for the PC industry and the consumers in general. It wasn't good for IBM.

It's been argued that AT&T benefited from being broken up due to anti-trust litigation and IBM suffered by beating the litigation but feeling Justice looking over their shoulder for 30 years. Perhaps a hardware-only IBM would have been more competitive with Columbia & Compaq.

Would Microsoft be more competitive now if internet, desktop software and desktop OSs had been separated?
"

Well, it is also apparently supported by Archos, as I have tried using my 605's recording features previously as a short cut to encoding video, just to have it inform me it is unable to record said video as it is forbidden. Which sort of sucks as it is a nifty little piece of gear, if a little heavy and large, and the DVR station was far from cheap.
posted by Samizdata at 12:52 AM on December 8, 2011


> Well, it is also apparently supported by Archos
It's supported by some TiVos too, but it's not mandated. Some DVD recorders support CGMS-A, but I don't think that's required by law, though contracts with the DVD-Forum might require it.

> many tortured rationales for being subject to DMCA
Good point.

> if as I wrote the iOS device selectively enables that video output on the basis of whether the content is protected
Sorry- I missed that. Analog video out is disabled without an authenticated cable/dock for all content, even a movie you shot on the device if it has a camera and for slideshows of your own pictures.
posted by morganw at 11:01 AM on December 8, 2011


Myriad Alien Vue Brings Android Apps To Your TV Without The Extra Hardware

Basically, the Myriad Group wants cable providers pre-installing a stripped down Android, presumably hoping consumers won't buy products like TiVos, Apple TVs, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:42 PM on December 20, 2011


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