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.