Bad Apple Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010-04-10 20:29:34-04:00 No comments

I'm a PC guy. I've always been a PC guy, and I suspect until they stop making little beige boxes of one kind or another, I always will be.

I'm not an Apple guy. It's not because I dislike the Mac; whenever I've used any of Apple's systems, I've always been very impressed with them. The Mac is just not a country I choose to live in — because of the taste of the water, and the fact that the cars drive on the other side of the road, so to speak. It's just not home to me.

And maybe it's also not home to me because of things like this.

By now you have surely heard about the new iPhone 4.0 SDK language that appears to make creating applications in any non-Apple-approved languages a violation of terms. ... This has nothing to do whatsoever with bringing the Flash player to Apple’s devices. That is a separate discussion entirely. What they are saying is that they won’t allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them.

I can understand Apple wanting control over what people experience when they use one of Apple's devices. That's the big attraction of the Mac and the iPhone and the iPad: it's a walled garden where things behave in highly consistent ways. But this is becoming less and less about a walled garden and more and more about just flexing one's muscles.

If they're not doing that, and the EULA is just badly worded, fine. But if it is as bad as it looks, then there's a part of me that's completely not surprised.

Windows users know all too well that Microsoft can be, has been, and will be draconian in its own ways. To wit: Product Activation. Back when Windows XP was still under development, I was an editor with the now-defunct Windows Magazine, and joined them on a tour of Microsoft's campus to have some face-to-face discussions with the Microsoft engineers. We came down especially hard on them for Product Activation, and their answer was something along these lines: "It's either this or a hardware key, and from what we've seen people really don't want to use a hardware key." To that end, they turned the whole computer into its own hardware key — which, on the face of it, is a pretty clever solution.

For most of XP's existence, PA was a mess. I hated it on principle, and I hated it in execution. I hadn't screwed up any of my systems because of it, but I knew a few people who had. I expected Microsoft to decide they had made a mistake, and dump it. After Vista came out, though, it wasn't dumped — rather, it was was rewritten, made a good deal more reliable and drastically less obtrusive. With Windows 7, PA is just about a non-issue: about the only time PA squawks at you is if you've swapped the motherboard, and I've had zero issues on machines where I did quite a few hardware changes.

I still don't like PA. I probably never will. But at this point, its threshold of annoyance, both in theory and practice, is low enough that I'm not compelled to junk my entire workflow and go somewhere else because of that. Microsoft listened and decided it was better to relax PA's restrictions a little. I'm not happy it took as long as it did, but I'm grateful it happened at all. (I'm currently typing this on a Windows 7 machine, and have since upgraded all the machines I use for daily production work to that OS. No activation issues at all.)

Now. At around the time we were having the XP tour, colleagues of mine were also trying to get Apple to do something similar for us re: OS X. Apple's response was dead silence. We would get to see OS X when it came out, just like everyone else. They have, as far as I know, never once allowed the kind of access and across-the-dining-room-table discussion that Microsoft did: everything is handed down as holy writ from Saint Jobs's pulpit, and leaks from inside the company are smothered faster than a cook dousing a kitchen fire with baking soda.


I don't want to get into protracted circular arguments about Mac being better than Windows or Linux being better than all of them; I've been there, and those discussions do nothing but wear down people's teeth as they grind them against each other. If you were planning to post a comment to that effect, save your fingers: I've heard them all twice. People use what they want to use. My friend Mike uses a Mac; other guys I know use Linux of various sorts; I'm using Windows. I make no claims that Windows is the better OS for anyone reading this, just that it fits my needs fine.


The only point I'm trying to make is that Apple has a pretty consistent history of being a one-way street in many respects. Microsoft has its own version of that, sure (e.g., the Zune) — but never in the sense that they explicitly forbade you from running an app generated specifically for one of their biggest platforms because it's the product of a particular vendor's compiler. When you have created the biggest desktop platform in the world, it's kind of in your best interest to make it run everyone's apps. One might pick nits saying that they're only refusing to carry such apps in the app store, but since there is no other practical way to use said apps, the point is moot: an app not in Apple's store is by any other name not available for the iPhone, period. Apple spent a lot of time and effort making sure of that.

On the Mac desktop it's a lot better, but there are still plenty of signs of the overall closed-ended approach. Apple's version of PA, such as it is, is to make it nearly impossible to run OS X on anything but Apple's hardware. And the reason Apple doesn't sell an uncrippled copy of OS X for use on generic hardware (under, say, the provision that you expect absolutely no technical support from Apple whatsoever) is because they're not in that business. They make complete products, with the closed-endedness being part of the plan — and they have a strong captive market for such things.

They can, in their mind, afford to tick off people like me, since Just Plain Folks With Blogs are collectively a lot less powerful than the Apple marketing machine. I don't know if they can afford to tick off all of Adobe.

No, I don't expect Adobe to pull support for the Mac; they'd shoot off several of their toes and possibly a kneecap in the bargain if they did that. I do expect many more inch-by-inch turf wars like this in the future, though.

I also expect that most of Apple's target market is not going to be sufficiently inclined to care, and that nothing sort of Apple going belly-up would make them care. Not like I expect that to happen, though.

Tags: Apple computers technology