Why Stores?

Regarding this article, via Daring Fireball:

It seems to me that the reason Apple made stores in the first place was that they had something to prove, and the best way to make their point was to show rather than to tell.

Back in the day there were a whole lot of people who were at least considering the possibility of switching to a Mac. But they had questions: would a Mac be able to connect to the Internet? Could I surf the web on one? Could I print to my printer on one? Essentially, can I do on a Mac what I can on Windows?

I believe Apple Stores initially sprung up to answer these questions. They don't actually exist to show the disparities between the Mac platform and Windows, rather the similarities, and, surely, the advantages of using a Mac to do the same things Windows does. There's nothing particularly exclusive about the Apple Store, in fact it's very inclusive. You go there to see and touch and experience this thing you've only ever heard about, this mystery that is a Mac.

For a lot of people the Mac is still a new concept. It's no surprise the Microsoft Store is less wondrous: everyone's already seen Windows.

It's Really Not About Freedom

There seems to be no end in sight to the anti-freedom arguments being leveled against Apple. I see new ones every day. And I maintain that the problem with the majority of these arguments is that they misdirect or conflate the wrong things.

A recent example comes from Mr. Dave Winer (via Daring Fireball). Winer, writing about a possible upcoming Apple TV that would purportedly rely completely on wireless network connectivity and Apple's media network for content, opines the lack of ports on the device. He plays the freedom card:

I've said it before and it's worth saying again. Apple is building the Disney computer network. All the streets are clean, and the entertainment too. There's no porn here, and as long as there are no ports it'll stay that way. But computers are meant to be more than DisneyLand, they are meant to solve societal problems and help our species evolve. That means we must have freedom. And freedom and control are exact opposites. So I'd rather have wire-cluttered desktops and TV stations, than have Apple decide what I can and can't watch.

Not long ago I pointed out that most arguments against Apple's rejection of Flash on their mobile platform were about freedom on the web — which should certainly be free — rather than the real issue, which is Apple's development platform — whose freedom is completely up to Apple. I find people lumping these two arguments together, when in fact they are largely unique:

Adobe makes it out like they just want people to be able to watch YouTube videos. But believe me, that too is a red herring. Adobe wants people to use Flash to write iPhone OS-native applications. Adobe wants control over Apple’s mobile platform.

I also pointed out another common conflation being made in many of the arguments floating around the web, and that is that Apple's mobile devices are computers, a point of view with which I take some issue, and which I think is really beginning to cause a great deal of confusion in the tech sector:

Until the iPhone there was never an expectation that phones should either run Flash or be open. A phone is not a personal computer. It’s a phone. All smartphones are just phones. They play by a whole different set of rules. And that set of rules is much longer and stricter than that of a personal computer.

The way I see it — and I think many of my peers would agree — the iPad and iPhone are not computers in the traditional sense of the word. From where I sit, a computer is a highly complex but highly capable device that can be used in extremely complex endeavors of creativity. It is immensely flexible in its configuration and abilities, and it can be charmed into performing near miraculous feats.

The iPad and the iPhone, on the other hand, are much simpler devices with much more limited capabilities and intended uses. They are largely used for either the most basic of productivity — the checking of email, the writing of lists or the creation of fairly simple documents — or for the consumption of media — books, movies, music. You can call them extremely capable iPods or extremely limited computers, I suppose, but they're not computers in the sense that I think of computers.

From a systems perspective, I think of the difference between iPads and MacBooks as akin to the difference between servers and server appliances. Server appliances are those inexpensive boxes you can buy for your home network that are mainly meant to be used for basic file sharing. The appliances are connected to and configured, in a limited fashion, via a web browser. For anyone who just needs a simple file server, they're quick and easy for the layperson to set up and they do their job perfectly adequately. But you can't log directly onto them, there is no access to the filesystem and they only do a handful of things. (Sound familiar?) They're not exactly true "servers" in the full sense of the word.

A true server is capable of and intended to be used for much more than simple file sharing. Typically you can log directly onto such a machine and configure it to perform a variety of complex and sophisticated tasks at very low levels, from file sharing to web and mail hosting to DNS. A true server, compared to its appliance counterpart, is vastly more complex and vastly more capable. And, of course, it's infinitely "free."

We live in a world in which these things coexist: We have server appliances for cases in which simplicity and ease-of-use are paramount; and we have full servers for cases in which we need ultimate power and flexibility. This is a very, very good thing.

Returning to Mr. Winer's argument with this idea in mind, I feel his conclusion is completely misguided. Winer is arguing for the freedom of computers, but he's not talking about a traditional, full-featured computer. He's talking about a device whose only purpose is for watching movies and TV. To say that the Apple TV should allow whatever content we want to put on it because all computers should be "free" is to erroneously conflate computers with the Apple TV, as well as with all other such products. They're simply not the same.

Perhaps what we need is a term for these devices that distinguishes them from one another. I like calling them "managed devices." On the one hand we have personal computers, completely unmanaged systems like my MacBook Pro, that allow for whatever sort of mucking about one might like to do. On the other hand we have this other class of much more limited devices, "managed devices" like the iPad, the iPhone and the Apple TV, which, though they are indeed computerized, are much more limited in their capabilities and intended scope. Because, frankly, treating these two sorts of devices like they're the same is leading to a lot of confusion and arguments that just don't make sense.

There's another side of Winer's argument that I take issue with, and that's the idea that it's somehow bad that Apple wants to keep pornography off its entertainment platform. The comparison drawn by Winer is with Disney. But the fact is that every single media outlet in the world controls what will and will not be hosted on its channels. Winer's argument strikes me as bizarre. No one complains that ABC, NBC or CBS don't show porn. No one complains that YouTube, Netflix or Blockbuster don't offer porn. Indeed, no one seems to mind that Disney itself is porn-free. Because that's what they do. They offer a clean, wholesome environment. If you want porn, don't go to DisneyLand. It's really that simple. Yes, I agree that the Internet should be free and open. But Apple's media network is not the Internet, nor are their devices.

These false equations — equating Apple's entertainment division with their computer division, their managed devices with their unmanaged ones, their mobile platform with the Internet — are wrongheaded. And they're only exacerbated (sometimes intentionally, I'd wager) by ad campaigns like Adobe's and propaganda pieces John Sullivan's, creating a self-fulfilling echo chamber that leads us to twisted, inappropriate conclusions like Mr. Winer's.

For what it's worth, I believe that Apple will continue to make personal computers — unmanaged devices that offer all the complexities and freedoms that folks like Dave Winer, John Sullivan and, yes, myself desire — for as long as there's a market for such devices, which I think will be for quite some time. Their lack of Flash support on their mobile platform does not preclude that. Nor does their lack of ports on their purported TV watching device. Nor does their management of their App Store. I also believe they'll continue to offer managed devices, like the iPod, iPad, iPhone and Apple TV, over which they will maintain considerable control, because there is and will surely continue to be a demand for such products.

To claim that these things are in any way the death of computing freedom is patently absurd sensationalism. It completely misses the point of everything that's happening with Apple and technology in general, and only serves to lower the level of discourse on the matter.

Thoughts on Apple vs. Adobe

The whole Apple vs. Adobe thing is fascinating to me. The fact that Steve Jobs has now personally and publicly written on the matter highlights what a big deal it is. And now the Free Software Foundation has responded with a missive on open software.

For my part I largely agree with Jobs' take and feel that the FSF response pretty much misses the mark. Jobs is essentially saying, "We want our platform to be the best, and in order for that to happen we need to exercise a certain amount of control." Though he cites certain examples of open software contributions made by Apple, Jobs never claims that Apple products are open or free. He merely cautions us not to believe the freedom hype: Flash is certainly not free either. And, in his opinion, it's bad for Apple's mobile platform. That means it's bad for Apple, but it also means, in theory, that it's bad for the consumer. As a fan of Apple products, I tend to agree.

The Free Software Foundation's John Sullivan, on the other hand, is using the occasion of Jobs' open letter to go on a lengthy diatribe about free software. This is, again, beside the point, from Apple's point of view. They're not a free software company, and they don't claim to be. What's funny, though, is the fact that Sullivan illustrates Jobs' point when he cites examples of free software:

"Fortunately, the way out of the Adobe vs. Apple cage match is straightforward, and exists already: free software operating systems like GNU/Linux with free software Web browsers, supporting free media formats like Ogg Theora."

Compare that with Sullivan's list of commercial software:

"...Final Cut Studio, Google Chrome, Mac OS X..."

There you have it, folks. Right there. It's crappy versus great. The free software Sullivan lists in his own defense of free software pales in comparison to some of the exceptional commercial software he lists. I have not found a flavor of Linux I'd ever prefer to Mac OS X, and there simply is no comparable free video editor to Final Cut Pro. It would seem that if we want our freedom we'll have to suffer for it indefinitely if we're to follow Sullivan's advice.

But again, this is all beside the point. To reiterate: Apple wants to build the best platform in the world, and Flash is contrary to that goal.

So there are a few things I keep coming back to, and they have to do with how all this is being argued. The first: every time someone clarifies Apple's position on Flash someone else counters with a completely irrelevant argument. It's usually this open vs. closed argument, which, upon any level of scrutiny, including and beyond that above, simply falls apart. But I have yet to hear a coherent argument for Flash on the iPhone OS. Maybe there isn't one. The best, most thorough coverage I've found on the matter has been, not surprisingly, Daring Fireball. Gruber's thinking on the matter, of which there is plenty, is complete and accurate and cuts through most of the crap.

The second is that there seems to be a lot of confusion over how Flash can and would be used on the iPhone OS. Adobe makes it out like they just want people to be able to watch YouTube videos. But believe me, that too is a red herring. Adobe wants people to use Flash to write iPhone OS-native applications. Adobe wants control over Apple's mobile platform. Make no mistake, this is not a battle for the web, it's a battle for the OS, the platform. But every time Adobe proponents are backed into the corner, they play the web card, which is total bullshit.

My last source of confusion (on this matter, at least) is that people are going after Apple on this at all. Until the iPhone there was never an expectation that phones should either run Flash or be open. A phone is not a personal computer. It's a phone. All smartphones are just phones. They play by a whole different set of rules. And that set of rules is much longer and stricter than that of a personal computer. No one ever complained that Nokia's phones weren't open. Or Motorola's. Or Samsung's. Why now is it completely offensive that Apple's phones should be? Moreover, there are no phones in existence today that can display Flash content because of all the reasons cited by Jobs in his letter. Google's phones don't. Neither do Palm's. So why is everyone going after Apple? It's just crazy.

When I think about it real hard, there are only two reasons I can come up with for this backlash: 1) Flash proponents know it's the end. People with a great deal of emotional stake in Flash are pissed because they realize that if Apple's hugely successful mobile platform doesn't include Flash, it will mean the death of Flash. If you're a Flash developer, that might be a little scary; and 2) People like to use one issue to talk about another issue (see above).

Until someone is able to defend Adobe cogently and sensibly on this matter I will continue to agree with Apple and Jobs. But let's be very clear about one thing: this is not about open vs. free at all, and any argument that takes that tack is completely beside the point. No, this is about nothing less than control of Apple's mobile platform. And I'd rather let Apple run it than Adobe.


Just a note to say that my MacBook Pro arrived yesterday (Sep 9). I've not had a chance to play much with it beyond transferring my data, but I'll be sure to report on it as soon as I can.

Also, today (Sep 10) my Snow Leopard Box Set — which I pre-ordered from Amazon on Aug 20 — finally arrived.

The MacBook Pro was a built-to-order system shipped from the plant in China and came in one week.

The pre-ordered software, counting from its release date, took twice as long to arrive.

You do the math. Me, I'm gonna go play with my new machine.

See ya!

Sticking it to Sprint

Apparently, Sprint's not doing so well. Apparently they're having customer retention problems. That means that people would rather go to the hassle of changing phone service providers than continue giving their money to Sprint. While it wasn't my number one reason for switching, I can say from personal experience that Sprint's horrendous customer service was the thing that pushed me over the edge into iPhone-land and the loving arms of AT&T. AT&T might not be perfect, and I can understand why a lot of people are unhappy with them, but they still kick Sprint's ass when it comes to customer service.

I will never go back to Sprint; they have lost me forever as a customer. But if they want to hold onto the ones they have, one thing they might try, for starters, is not treating them like shit.

Just a thought.