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August 12, 2009

Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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June 17, 2009

Jonathan Zittrain’s commencement address to the Shady Side Academy

The text is here.

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June 11, 2009

Jonathan Zittrain’s advice to graduates

Jonathan Zittrain’s high school commencement address is hilarious and sagacious. It’s a classic.

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January 24, 2008

Facebook apps and control

Jonathan Zittrain, of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Berkman Center (this is sort of like Al Gore winning both the Oscar and the Peace Prize in the same year), points out that apps written on top of social networking sites (or other such Web service providers) are subject to different regimes of control than general-purpose computer apps. Very interesting. If these walled gardens become the Web’s new infrastructure, Jonathan’s right that there will be big changes in authority, liability, and control — and the norms, techniques and policies we use to enforce them.

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