The Technology Jihad

There is a religious war being raged at this very moment in our homes, and in our pockets. It is a little quieter than your average war – for the most part, no-one is losing limbs to IEDs – but it is a war none-the-less.

These crusades are being fought between two main factions:

  • Those that wish to control the technology in your lives – “The Empire”, and the 800lb Gorilla in that camp is Apple.
  • Those that want technology to be free to create in new and innovative ways, without a single overlord ruling everything – “The Rebel Alliance”. The Rebels are supported by companies like Google, and by a group of loosely organized technical wizards (Jedi).

The Empire has jammed people into the box-car of conformity using slick user interfaces and the promise that you will be safer if you use their products.  As part of this they make sure that you can’t “harm yourself” by taking away features that they deem unsuitable for you (e.g. Flash video), and giving you just enough functionality that you won’t feel overwhelmed.  In a nutshell, they offer a sanitized computing experience for the masses.

This sanitation of experience is something that we seem to have adopted universally as a society.  Blogs such as Free Range Kids, show us just how much we dumb down things for our children’s protection, so perhaps we have no-one to blame but ourselves if we end up being controlled and manipulated.

But it was not always so.  Once upon a time people thought for themselves, and Apple fought on the side of good.  But Apple became corrupted by the money that is made by locking people in, and have since been consumed by the dark side.  Now they attempt to drive conformity to the Apple way wherever possible – Very interesting considering that Apple once used the slogan “Think different” and had a famous ad campaign using Orwell’s 1984 to represent the need to break the mold.  This was back in the days when the Apple still had color in its logo.

The safe, and easy-to-use, Apple products become the “Golden Handcuff” that locks you in. Once they have you, their marketing machine uses the power of the Dark Side to make sure you spend the maximum amount of money on your initial purchase, and yet still feel compelled to upgrade when the next version hits the shelves.  For example, where is the USB port on the iPad (still not there in version 2)?  And why can I tether my iPhone to my Netbook, but not to an iPad?  Obviously they want you to buy the more expensive 3G model and sign up for another monthly data plan – because recurring revenue is really where it’s at. The Force can have a powerful effect on the weak minded.

The Rebels, in contrast, are trying to create a world where you are free to use technology as you see fit. These Jedi use their amazing ability to manipulate technology (The Force) to create incredible software and then they give it away for free! But, along with great power, comes great responsibility.  Creating such an open system allows a vast array of software to be produced, but without a standard look and feel.  As a result these products often provide state-of-the-art capabilities, but are too confusing for novices to use.

The Rebel Alliance has pushed Linux as an alternative to Windows, and Android (based on Linux) as an alternative to the iPhone.  These are technically sound solutions, and the open nature of these ensures that there are plenty of apps available, many of which are free.  Unfortunately they can’t seem to get their act together and work as a team. The most successful Linux desktop (Ubuntu) is gaining ground with end-users by providing an easy to use, user interface.  But the hard-core Linux folks claim it is only for beginners (it is not) and seem to want to stick with ‘the old ways’ of using Linux just for servers.

This fragmentation of the user interface is making it difficult for Linux to gain widespread adoption. It also makes support difficult because the only way to make sure that a solution works in all instances is to go beneath the GUI – and that can mean support answers sometimes involve manually typing in commands like sudo mv /var/lib/dpkg/info/libopenal1.* /tmp”– seriously, can you imagine your mother doing that?

At the moment Linux is viable as a home computer platform only as long as you have someone slightly geeky who will take your calls. I have been slowly converting people in my neighborhood to Linux – not because I wanted to, but because they have problems with their computers and never seem to have their original OS disks.  Buying Windows is expensive so I usually leave them with a machine happily running Ubuntu, Firefox and Open Office.  So far I have converted about half a dozen people, all without complaint – but there is only so much I can do in my role as part of The Resistance!

The Rebel Alliance have had better luck penetrating the mobile phone market, and Android phones now outsell the iPhone. This makes sense in a market that has not yet created a standard look and feel.  And perhaps, The Rebels can use this platform to open a chink in the armor of the desktop space, and make some real inroads in the future.

I believe in the open source movement – I really do.  I feel as though they have justice on their side, and I use so much open source software now that the thought of actually buying software sends a shiver down my spine.

But the Rebel Alliance are vastly outnumbered by the hoards of Luddites who just want their devices to work and, in the process, are happy to fork over money for software that they could easily have gotten for free if they had known better.

The war is on, and the future is uncertain.  But, to paraphrase Ben Franklin “Those who give up Freedom for Security, deserve neither.”

Choose wisely, and may The Force be with you.

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8 Comments

Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition

8 responses to “The Technology Jihad

  1. I knew this was coming!!! Well put!!!

  2. Great job – although my ‘Geek-o-meter’ is twitching big time! 🙂
    Love the Star Wars analogy!!!

  3. Craig Maciolek

    Strong in the ways of the geek are you. I like to compare hardcore linux users feelings towards Ubuntu to how folk fans felt towards Bob Dylan when he went electric. Having started ten years ago with Red Hat 9 myself, Ubuntu is a dream… especially now that I have a System76 machine. (Four months so far without typing one single line of code!!)

    Have fun,
    Craig

  4. PC (not Mac)

    There are many sides to the Apple issue. While USB and multi tasking would be handy on the IPAD, the product should be judged on the features delivered. If Jobs thinks the device does not need them, fine, let the market judge him. Clive Sinclair thought the C5 was the future of private transportation, the market judged him.
    I have programmed Macs from 68000 assembler in the easier to program for and Apple will always look better. Steve Jobs has one thing right, Flash is garbage. You don’t need gimmicks to deliver a stunning page design. It is a resource hog and I hate having to download plugins. I hate having to wait for a screen to give me control of the “shut this effing intro off” button. I hate every programmer and designer who moves that button to a different part of a screen, so that they can keep their masterpiece open for a few extra seconds while I search round the screen. It is a design tool for lazy people and can be summed up as “Just because it can move, doesn’t mean it has to”
    Linux is too complicated for the home user and too structurally lose for the corporate environment. RedHAT carved out a niche providing 3rd party vendor support and It took IBM to give Linux any credibility at the Enterprise level.
    Google as the rebel alliance is a bit far fetched. Google sees one thing and one thing only, Ad Revenue. If they control the devices, the control the market. Oracle are suing Google for infringement of Java patents in Android. This fight could make Netscape/IE look like kindergarteners in a sand box. Both sides have deep pockets and can buy a lot of lawyers.
    When Sun took out patents on Java, the OpenSource community was in uproar. They said this would lead to a repeat of the SCO lawsuits. Sun claimed it was only a defensive corporate measure as they had been burnt by the IBM RISC suit. They said they would maintain Java as Open Source and for the most part they kept their word. But Oracle bought them and they seem to be taking a different view.
    Outside of GNU, nothing is open source. When a company says something is free, I always wonder what their angle is. In US company law, doing the right thing for the most part goes against shareholder value.

    • In fairness, I didn’t say Google was the Rebel Alliance, just that they are supporting them.

      Flash may be crap, but it is widely used crap. Easy answer (as I have said before) make it available but have it turned off by default – if people push the button to turn it on then warn then that it’s crap, but allow them to do it anyway.

      No USB – Seriously? That is a major defect. You can, of course, but a USB thingy but….oh…it only works if have have purchased extra software, and then only with that software and nothing else.

      But, you are right, the market will dictate. I remember when the IBM PC came out – it was woefully underpowered and overpriced compared with micros of the day and I predicted it would fail horribly. Who would pay all that money for THAT!? Ummm…might have missed on that one just slightly. 🙂

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