"asshats"

Adobe’s John Dowdell explains why the Motorola Xoom won’t ship with Flash

I don’t know Motorola’s schedule myself, but it’s usually better to wait for actual news than to get all excited about a partner’s little snippet.

The important thing is that humanity is now on the verge of universal connectivity through personal displays. The trend is for common high-performance among them — with hardware, OS, engines, distribution, and business models all evolving simultaneously to attain this. Hot “Brand X vs Brand Y’ debating may bring in click-revenue from early adopters, but is less important in the long run than how we’ll end up using these new communication abilities. That’s the real priority for attention now.

If I am understanding Dowdell’s point here, I believe what he means is:

I am as high as a kite.

Translating Adobe’s “Thoughts on Open Markets”

The genius of the Internet is its almost infinite openness to innovation. New hardware. New software. New applications. New ideas. They all get their chance.

If only you morons had adopted SVG.

As the founders of Adobe, we believe open markets are in the best interest of developers, content owners, and consumers. Freedom of choice on the web has unleashed an explosion of content and transformed how we work, learn, communicate, and, ultimately, express ourselves.

Flash is installed on around 98% of desktop and laptop computers in the world, and when we bought Macromedia it was a completely closed system. Go ahead and choose that instead of SVG, will you?

If the web fragments into closed systems, if companies put content and applications behind walls, some indeed may thrive—but their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force.

Although we hasten to point out that the many ways Adobe supports DRM across our product line—encrypted Flash video, encrypted PDFs, and for that matter all our software registration—is all about encouraging creativity and innovation.

We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs. No company—no matter how big or how creative—should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web.

Sure, there are vendor-neutral ways to deliver this right now that don’t require our technology. But we don’t get paid for those. Sure, we could make a design program that does most of what Flash does using Javascript. But let’s be honest—given how long it’s taking us to deliver an actual working version of Flash on any mobile device, we’ll all have our goddamn flying cars before that happens. So it’s in our best interest to keep you all pissed off at Apple.

When markets are open, anyone with a great idea has a chance to drive innovation and find new customers. Adobe’s business philosophy is based on a premise that, in an open market, the best products will win in the end—and the best way to compete is to create the best technology and innovate faster than your competitors.

When you think “innovation,” you think Adobe. And Flash. Right? But we complained to the FTC just in case.

That, certainly, was what we learned as we launched PostScript® and PDF, two early and powerful software solutions that work across platforms. We openly published the specifications for both, thus inviting both use and competition. In the early days, PostScript attracted 72 clone makers, but we held onto our market leadership by out-innovating the pack. More recently, we’ve done the same thing with Adobe® Flash® technology. We publish the specifications for Flash—meaning anyone can make their own Flash player. Yet, Adobe Flash technology remains the market leader because of the constant creativity and technical innovation of our employees.

See, we learned from PostScript® that it’s really easy to Out-Innovate® The Pack® when you’re the only contributor to your Openly-Published® Specification® and can ensure that you update all of your products before the spec itself is updated! You’ll notice we’re not talking about making Flash an ISO standard the way we did PDF. Of course, even then we left in a loophole: the ISO standard for PDF is equivalent to PDF 1.7, but it has “extensibility features” which we can go on to use to still “innovate.” We gave the creative employee who came up with that technical innovation a nice bonus, you betcha.

We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web—the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.

We would like to strongly encourage you all to keep confusing the Apple app store and the web, and to see it as a great contradiction between keeping the former locked down tighter than a chastity belt and advocating the latter be based on vendor-neutral standards. The more you believe that, to paraphrase the great Kris Kristofferson, “freedom’s just another word for Adobe being able to put Flash everywhere there’s money,” the more we love you.

In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the World Wide Web? And we believe the answer is: nobody—and everybody, but certainly not a single company.

Although if you don’t mind, we’d like to keep as much control of it as possible.

CSI: Cupertino

There are some stories you feel obligated to say something about, even though you don’t have much to bring to the conversation. So it is with the lost iPhone prototype story.

The facts are these:

  • The phone was lost or stolen at a bar in Redwood City.
  • Gizmodo talked to the person who “ended up with the iPhone,” who was the one who discovered the phone belonged to Apple engineer Gray Powell: he referred to having seen Powell’s Facebook page on the phone before it was (apparently) remotely bricked.
  • Pictures of the phone showed up on Engadget before Gizmodo broke the news that they had the phone.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes stories recently, but it strikes me that there’s a few things to be deduced.

  • Anyone who loses something at a bar will call upon the bar to see if they found it. If you find something at a bar and you are honest, you will almost certainly give it to a worker at the bar, knowing the person who lost it will undoubtedly call again. But this didn’t happen.
  • The finder by his own admission learned the original owner’s name. He knew who owned the phone, yet his effort to return it consisted of describing it to Apple’s customer support line, not calling up the front desk and saying, “Gray Powell, please.”
  • Together these do not form an image of someone who made a good faith effort to return the phone to its proper owner. It makes no sense to call Apple’s customer support line in order to return the phone to its owner.
  • However, it does make sense to call Apple’s customer support line if you are interested in confirming whether the object in your possession is something Apple currently has for sale.
  • Next, the pictures Engadget published. We can safely assume those pictures were not provided by Gizmodo, which leaves the “finder” as the photographer.
  • Plausible conclusion: the finder supplied photographs of the phone to both Engadget and Gizmodo to gauge their interest in purchasing the phone.

That last point is corroborated by none other than Nick Denton of Gawker Media himself when speaking to Andy Ihnatko yesterday. Denton claims that they didn’t know the phone had been lost by Powell until Monday afternoon, but Gizmodo had already published the article stating that the “finder” knew Powell’s name. Either Denton is lying, or Gizmodo didn’t ask very many questions of their source until after the story broke.

I’ve seen people get upset at pundits describing this as theft. But it seems painfully obvious that the finder had some idea what it was when he found it, made no serious effort to return it to its proper owner, and after inquiring with Apple, sold it to the highest bidder. You have to keep coming back to the act of the sale: bluntly, the value of the phone depended on it being a prototype that any reasonable person would know belonged to Apple and that they would want back.

The question is how much culpability Gizmodo has in this. Sure, they apparently returned the phone to Apple when they confirmed what it was—well, after publishing all their exclusives—so their defense against accusation of buying stolen property is, in effect, that they didn’t know it was stolen when they bought it. All well and good, but the only reason to pay $5K for the thing was the chance that it was what the finder represented it to be. Apparently in Nick Denton’s world, the following is perfectly plausible:

A: Hey buddy, wanna buy this cocaine?

B: Sure, but how do I know it’s cocaine and not talc powder?

A: You don’t. Take it or leave it.

B: Okay, I’ll take it.

Police: Dude, you just bought cocaine! That’s illegal!

B: Hey, I didn’t know it was cocaine until I got it! No harm, no foul.

What actually drive me to write about this, though, is Gizmodo’s pious epigraph to this whole affair, “It’s Not About the iPhone,” when they write,

It’s always just been Apple. And now that we’ve garnered a peek inside, the once secret society of magicians, assassins and melancholy artists looks like any another tech company.

Apple will continue to do business—great business—following the leak of their most prized commodity, the next iPhone. But as Steve Jobs prepares for his next magic show, we’ll never forget seeing the strings. An unparalleled era of surprises has come to an end.

We’ve just lost one of our few self-indulgences of wonder. Christmas morning will never, ever be the same.

You know, this may be the most hypocritical horseshit I’ve seen in two decades of tech punditry. It’s written as if this is something that just happened, as if an Oz-like curtain had happened to blow open for an instant, revealing a tired old man inside, and Gizmodo is out in front mourning the terrible loss of wonder to us all.

First: get over yourselves. We’re talking about the next model of an existing smartphone here, not an anti-gravity sled laden with cures for cancer. “Secret society of magicians?” Now One Infinite Loop is Hogwart’s, and tomorrow you’ll describe them like the SS. If anyone ever believed Apple wasn’t just “another tech company,” it’s because people like you write breathlessly histrionic fanboy-vs.-hater bait like this all the time.

Second: you’re the guys who pulled the curtain back. Don’t insult our intelligence by pretending that you care about Apple’s desire to keep what they’re working on secret, that you’re oh so sad that we have more proof that Apple is staffed by fallible humans. Jesus Christ. You mate the journalistic ethics of William Hearst with the intellectual rigor of Parade. Just bask in the glory of your ten million new page hits and shut up.

Dan Dilger and the Case of the Exploding Head

I know I often bag on people who write stupid anti-Apple things; in part that’s because Apple brings out a lot of stupid. But far be it from me to pretend that stupid only happens on the anti-Apple side.

Submitted for your consideration: Daniel Eran Dilger, proprietor of the aptly-named Roughly Drafted. (He uses all three names to distinguish himself from all those other Daniel Dilgers out there.) I passed through a few stages in my reading at RD after discovering it:

  • Long, well-written and well-researched articles! Cool!
  • Hmm. Maybe just long and well-researched.
  • Just down to “long,” aren’t we?
  • This diagram looks like an explosion at the flow chart factory.
  • Wait, what orifice did he pull that out of?
  • My brain is crawling out my ear to get away

For a typical RD piece, peruse his frenzied rhapsody “iPad, the Destroyer: 19 Things It Will Kill,” which include DVDs, Microsoft Office, DVRs, and “idle moments.” Anything Office does that iWork doesn’t is clearly unnecessary; we no longer have time to ourselves because our shiny glass overlords demand otherwise; we watch video exclusively on 9.7″ screens. (Dan’s next Superbowl party will be killer.) Oh, and netbooks, which he asserts “already killed off the desktop PC,” because… uh… you can replace… ∗headexplode∗

Dilger has now taken on Mac pundit John Gruber, host of Daring Fireball, because Gruber is a big meaniepants. To wit, on April 8th Gruber quoted an AppleInsider article by “Prince McLean,” a pseudonym Dilger writes under:

Those familiar with the design of iPhone 4.0 said that the user interface will resemble Apple’s desktop Exposé feature, in that a key combination…will trigger an Exposé-like interface that brings up a series of icons representing the currently running apps, allowing users to quickly select the one they want to switch to directly. When a selection is made, the iPhone OS zooms out of the Exposé task manager and transitions to that app.

As the iPhone OS 4.0 task switcher is not very much like Exposé, Gruber mocked them for that:

Where by “familiar with the design,” they meant “making shit up,” unless by “Exposé-like,” they meant “not at all like Exposé.”

This makes Dilger a sad and angry blogger. He’s upset that Gruber “purposefully omitted” the part that said, “the new mechanism currently presents just each app’s icon. This renders the feature more similar to the basic Command+Tab app switcher than Exposé itself as a desktop feature.” Dilger feels that explanation is correct “because the final implementation is indeed very much like the Mac OS X app switcher.”

Sorry, but phrases like “Exposé-like” set up an expectation that it will look like—I trust this is not too bold a claim—Exposé. A fair reading of what AppleInsider wrote is that double-clicking the iPhone home button would use the same visual effect with application icons that the desktop version uses with windows. It’s nothing like that at all. And it’s not very much like Command-Tab, either.

Yet Dilger not only denies this is a valid point, he claims Gruber’s deliberately lying:

Gruber knows that Apple’s original user interface design for iPhone 4.0 multitasking was originally more like Exposé than the task switcher design the company ultimately unveiled. So when we reported that sources had described the new system as similar to an element on Mac OS X, and specifically that it would resemble Apple’s Exposé feature, he knew that was accurate, if outdated, information from a source familiar with Apple’s plans.

Gruber was not only wrong in saying we made the information up ourselves, but he knew he was wrong and he knew he was not accurately nor honestly presenting what AI had actually reported.

But Gruber didn’t say that AI necessarily made the information up themselves; he snarked that “Those familiar with the design” should be read as “those making shit up”—i.e., the informant was full of shit. Dilger’s response is that the informant was describing an earlier state correctly, so it’s not fair to call it wrong. But for those of us who are not unstuck in the space-time continuum, it doesn’t work that way. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was at one point Hetch Hetchy Valley, but you’re still giving out bullshit information if you tell someone about how lovely it is to hike these days.

You’d figure that Gruber would have had to do a serious hatchet job to get Dilger that frothed up, but in fact, the “Where by…” sentence is the entirety of what Gruber wrote. In Dilgerworld, that one snarky sentence is tantamount to “completely fraudulent journalism hypocritically masquerading as insightful critique.”

Gruber also wrote about Mobile Multitasking on April 14th and quoted Dilger again:

Other platforms have enabled multitasking by simply allowing any number of other apps to run. This results in a mess for users because it’s up to them to manage which apps are running out of control or needlessly chewing up resources in the background. Android and Windows Mobile are both notorious for needing TasKiller or some other sort of manual process manager to keep battery life and performance in check.

And Gruber went on to write, “Dilger is flat-out wrong about Android.” This also made Dilger sad and angry. First, because while Gruber wrote, “I believe [Dilger] is right about Windows Mobile,” he didn’t think it mattered going forward as Windows Mobile is, you know, kind of dead. But Gruber also wrote, “Dilger is flat-out wrong about Android,” and Dilger gets the vapors again:

Since all I said about Android in this context was that it was “notorious for needing TasKiller,” I can only assume that’s what he thought was in error.

Except that’s not all he said. Dilger described what “other platforms” did, explained why that was bad (“needlessly chewing up resources in the background”), and named two operating systems that needed a “manual process manager” to handle the problem he just described. The logical reading of the sentence is that Android does in fact allow any number of other apps to run. If that isn’t the conclusion Dilger meant for a reader to draw, then why did he write it that way?

And the really amazing thing here is that Gruber spent only three sentences referring to Dilger in the article. Dilger spends hundreds of words defending his original sentence about Android needing a task killer and lambasting Gruber for saying that it doesn’t. Never mind Gruber’s linking to an Android kernel engineer describing how it actually works. (Something one can’t help but notice about Dilger’s writing is that he tends to link almost exclusively to his own past articles, very rarely offering any reference backing up what he’s saying.)

So let’s review.

  • Writing articles for different sites under different names and linking them for mutual support, the very definition of sock-puppeting: assuredly the highest ground possible when judging the ethics of others.
  • Getting snarky about reports presented as news, containing falsifiable information, that indeed turn out to be false: completely fraudulent and hypocritical!
  • Accusing someone in public of dishonest reporting without offering a shred of evidence to back it up beyond your own long-winded pontification: good, honest and upstanding work.

∗headexplode∗

The Man Who Mistook His Ass for a Hat

You know, I don’t ask to get into pissing matches with folks who are undeniably intelligent even if they’re sometimes prone to passionate hysteria—or less charitably, self-serving FUD.

And I’m sure that John Dowdell of Adobe is intelligent, kind to small children and quite possibly ruggedly handsome to boot. But how incredibly disconnected from the very things you are typing do you have to be to rant about “Apple attack squads” who you feel have been insulting and slanderous at the same time you write,

The culture of Apple is flawed. They are secretive and authoritarian, and attract (among others) angry little submissives who then act out on others.

I don’t ask to be an Apple apologist, either, but it pisses me off no end that you can’t actually say anything positive about Apple products without running into what we’ll call “Dowdellism.”

Yes, it’s true, Apple does have the most passionate group of users of just about any technology company. That doesn’t mean we have unqualified love for everything Apple does, from products to policies. It doesn’t mean that they don’t piss us off pretty routinely. It does mean that even with their flaws, we think they’re often doing some really good shit.

So why do we come across as angry and exasperated, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: if you go onto just about any tech board and any article about Apple, the “Apple fanboys” are outnumbered ten to one by the Dowdellites. Apple users have put up with a quarter-century of chowderheads telling them that nobody who really knows anything about computers would use those toys. You can’t use those for business! You can’t use those for programming! You can’t use those for games! Why, they can’t run WordPerfect! They can’t run VisualStudio! They can’t run AutoCAD! They—what’s that, Mr. Dowdell?—right, iPads can’t run Flash! Watch those goalposts move.

And some Apple users respond to this emotionally and nastily. Is that inappropriate? Sure. But when they respond with facts, they very often get dismissed with extremely insulting language. Douchebag hipsters, technically illiterate idiots, irrational fanboys. I admit that angry little submissives was a new one on me, but it’s a beautiful expression of a core tenet of Dowdellism: if you admit you like an Apple product, you are by definition irrational.

I would like to call out one other bit from “jd/adobe” in the Dowdellism Manifesto, though, right at the end:

My thanks to Dan, Jan, and all those many others who “speak truth to power” and are personally attacked as a result. The mob’s power, while sharp, is small and weak, and shall not stand. Truth will out.

The phrase speak truth to power is from the Quakers; it’s the title of a pamphlet published at the height of the Cold War, as this resolutely pacifist sect struggled with “the paradox that men who long for freedom are willing to accept so easily the doctrines of political totalitarianism” and the troubling question of whether their desire to be non-political in World War II led them, if not to complicity with the Nazis, to moral failure through inaction.

In the years since, it’s come to be used—with varying degrees of applicability—to refer to those who risk reputation, fortune and even life to stand against oppressive authority. Karen Silkwood. Daniel Ellsberg. Steven Biko.

And, now: John Dowdell, bravely defending a major multinational corporation from the unbearable totalitarian force of nasty Apple fanboys.

Yeah. You go, girl.

Screw Loose

I kind of like Cory Doctorow—he’s a good writer, and even when I don’t agree with him he’s usually thoughtful. In his recent missive, “Why I Won’t Buy an iPad and Think You Shouldn’t Either,” though, he’s not. Because he’s a good writer, he looks like he’s being thoughtful—but he’s victim to the same fallacy afflicting a number of otherwise bright hacker types: the computing experience on the iPad is managed and controlled by a third party (in this case, Apple), and if it becomes the norm it means the death of amateur tinkering, non-corporate innovation, owning your own content, and generally all things bright and beautiful.

Okay, Dr. D. We’ve already demonstrated that apps != internet, so you’re not going to make that argument, right? Of course you are. But you’re going to go much, much farther. All right: bring it on.

Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They’re apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.

I mean, look at that Marvel app (just look at it). I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them.

Whoa there. What “made” comics for you is the ability to “share” them by swapping them with your friends and being able to buy them used? Really? I’m pretty sure that what made comics for you were artists and writers, Cory. I’m not intending to be a pedantic cuss by drawing that line: what makes products great is their innovation, their creativity, other ineffable qualities. Not the applicability of the first-sale doctrine.

Sharing is great, and so is being able to buy used paperbacks—but you know what? If we’re moving into the bright new future of electronic distribution for everything, everything is going to change. If paperbacks go away, so does the concept of “used paperback,” and the same is true for comic books. Yes, a future of “rights-restricted” media is radically different than what we’ve grown up with, but the future that Doctorow clearly prefers, one of digital media that allows everyone to make perfect copies at no cost with no restriction, is just as radically different. The consumer in me prefers that future, too, but the writer in me—who, unlike Doctorow, does not expect to be paid handsomely for jetting around the world rhapsodizing about free content—is not so enthusiastic. And what ends up being the norm a decade from now may well be be none of the above.

Doctorow also—both here and throughout his article—downplays the notion that “incumbents” can produce innovative and creative work at all. “Open platforms and experimental amateurs would eventually beat out the spendy, slick pros,” he writes. But by the time Apple made the Mac, they were a big spendy company. The seminal work in GUI and mouse-based computing came from Xerox, an even bigger, spendier company. Innovative things often come from small teams—but frequently they’re small teams at places like Bell Labs.

Then there’s the device itself: clearly there’s a lot of thoughtfulness and smarts that went into the design. But there’s also a palpable contempt for the owner. I believe—really believe—in the stirring words of the Maker Manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Screws not glue.

I, for one, am certainly stirred. Slogan me again, baby!

The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better. But with the iPad, it seems like Apple’s model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of “that’s too complicated for my mom” (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn’t too complicated for their poor old mothers).

I’ve poked at reviews by Walt Mossberg, Ed Baig, Andy Ihnatko, David Pogue, Bob LeVitus, and some lady with the weird name of Xeni Jardin, and none of them talk about the iPad as being a dumbed-down computer for their poor old mothers. Apple’s model customer is “anyone who will give us $599–$829 for an iPad”; all the insulting is being done by Doctorow.

The way you improve your iPad isn’t to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

There are many ways that I’ve made my laptop “better,” and darned if a whole lot of them don’t involve using applications that I like. There are things that you can do to “customize” a full-fledged computer that you won’t be able to do with an iPad: there won’t be AppleScript or Automator, no shell scripting (no shell, period). Doctorow and others treat this as a critical design flaw, but is it? You can take the kids to school in both a heavy duty pickup truck and a subcompact, but you can’t haul around nearly as much crap in the subcompact. Yet I’m fairly sure that companies that make subcompacts don’t secretly hold their own customers in contempt.

And let’s look at the iStore.

Only if you stop putting “i” in front of everything to make a point, unless the point you’re honestly trying to make is “I am a smug self-satisfied fop.”

Having gotten into business with the two industries that most believe that you shouldn’t be able to modify your hardware, load your own software on it, write software for it, override instructions given to it by the mothership (the entertainment industry and the phone companies), Apple has defined its business around these principles. It uses DRM to control what can run on your devices, which means that Apple’s customers can’t take their “iContent”

STOP IT

with them to competing devices, and Apple developers can’t sell on their own terms.

Again, we’re subtly conflating “content” and “applications.” Apple sells DRM-protected content on the terms of the content providers. Apple has already proven, with iTunes Plus, that they’re willing to get rid of DRM even when one could make the business case that they shouldn’t. If they stopped selling TV shows and movies with DRM, it would make you happy, sure—but they’d stop selling TV shows and movies, period. If you buy media with DRM, you can’t take it with you to competing devices unless those devices support the same DRM. Singling out Apple for this is nonsensical.

There’s a false implication here that’s becoming increasingly common: that iTunes and associated devices only work with media from the iTunes store. If you don’t want music and movies and books with DRM, don’t buy them. There’s a whole lot of DRM-free media out there, and damned if it doesn’t all go onto iPods, iPhones and iPads just fine!

If we’re talking about applications, then yes, we all know that iPhone OS devices are limited to what Apple allows to be sold. But two points. First, just because you can’t program on the iPad doesn’t mean you can’t program for the iPad. You know who’s creating a lot of those “iApps” you’re dissing? That’s right. Tinkerers. Little software companies. One man shops. Even guys giving cool stuff away for free. Apple can prevent these things from coming to market, and that’s problematic—but they have a business interest in not exercising that power too capriciously, and whatever criticisms may be made of Apple, “poor business sense” is not among them. Second, you can’t take applications on any platform to a competing device. It’s a really insidious form of DRM known as binary compatibility.

As an adult, I want to be able to choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don’t want my universe of apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform. And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.

Nice para-Godwin there, dude. Again, do you publish your material in unprotected ePub form? PDF? HTML? Then you can bypass Apple entirely. Also, you can use CD Baby or Smashwords as a conduit to get your stuff into iTunes/iBooks; a friend of mine who hardly qualifies as an Apple fangirl may well have a self-published novel available in iBooks when it launches tomorrow. Apple doesn’t “dictate” what’s acceptable for Doctorow to sell, and saying that it’s exercising that kind of control over what he can create is sophistry, pure and simple.

If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.

Nor is any game console. Assuming, of course, you have only one device that someone can give you cool stuff for. I’m sure that describes the vast majority of BoingBoing readers. (And assuming that the “cool idea” never makes it into the App Store, because, as we all know, Apple hates cool.)

If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.

Uh-huh. I think the first book I’m going to download on the iPad is Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I don’t really want to read it—I just want it on an iPad for the sake of irony. If only I could get Cory to autograph it.

Tim Bray in the Garden of Good and Evil

Tim Bray is not just a pontificating technonerd with a blog (like, say, me), but a luminary in the technonerd field, having been the chief architect behind XML. Fortunately, there are good things he’s done, too, like writing Dive into Python and the forthcoming… wait, that’s Mark Pilgrim, isn’t it? Dammit. Well, I’m sure Bray’s done something that at least partially makes up for XML.

Anyway, Bray’s latest revelation is that he’s left the smoldering remains of Sun Microsystems and joined Google, where everything is open and non-evil and very specifically Not Like Apple. The money quote:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

OooOOOoooOOOooo. Scary.

Philosophically (and developers are nothing if not philosophical), there are serious problems with Apple’s policies toward iPhone applications. If Apple doesn’t accept your app—or pulls it after the fact—you’re screwed. You can go to Cydia’s store for jailbroken iPhones. Right, sure you can. And as the annoying spoilsports at the EFF noted, technically Apple’s iPhone developer license terms prohibit you from distributing programs anywhere but the App Store, which probably means everything available through Cydia—even if it’s free, even if it’s open source—is violating that contract. This is pretty nuts. So Bray’s right. Right?

Not so fast. Did you see what Bray did there? He talked about “the mobile Internet” and then about “the people who create the apps.” He’s equating “applications Apple approves for sale” with “the Internet.”

Bray writes:

The big thing about the Web isn’t the technology, it’s that it’s the first-ever platform without a vendor. From that follows almost everything that matters, and it matters a lot now. Apple apparently thinks you can have the benefits of the Internet while at the same time controlling what programs can be run and what parts of the stack can be accessed and what developers can say to each other.

I think they’re wrong and see this job as a chance to help prove it.

Well, good for you! Except you did it again. Apple thinks you can have the benefits of the Internet while at the same time controlling what programs can be run because iPhone applications are not the Internet. Bray starts with a valid point and transmogrifies it into high grade bullshit.

I don’t know about the planet that Bray lives on, but here on Earth Prime, Safari on the iPhone can browse to any site on the internet. You can (gasp) bookmark it, copy page contents, send it to Instapaper or Delicious, and do all of those High Freedom Internet Things. Apple is not blocking you, the user, from going to any freaky 4Chan variant you want.

But wait, there’s more! See, the iPhone turns out to be pretty good at running HTML5-based applications. Have you seen Ibis Reader? This thing installs from the web, sure, but it installs. You don’t need to be online to use it read your books. It’s pretty kick-ass, and HTML5 lets you do that. (Ibis Reader also works on Android, because Android, like the iPhone, uses what’s unquestionably the best engine for HTML5 apps out there: Apple’s Webkit.) There’s also Google Voice. For the iPhone. As an HTML5 app. I’m told it works fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. The point is that you can, in fact, do damn cool stuff entirely outside of Apple’s “walled garden” and you can do it because the web is the first-ever platform without a vendor. My God, if only Bray knew that! Oh, wait.

Now, maybe Bray thinks that Apple might cripple Mobile Safari to prevent it from being able to run HTML5 web apps, but Apple’s been one of the biggest backers of HTML5 so far, and on the desktop Safari’s probably tied with the Webkit-based Google Chrome for HTML5 support. Does Bray think that Apple might cripple Mobile Safari so it can’t browse to “dangerous” or “controversial” sites like 4Chan or, I don’t know, Google, or tbray.org? Of course not, because he’s not stupid.

So does he want to imply that Apple might do that? There’s been a whole lot of that in the air recently around Apple products—you know, commentary that never quite says that buying an iPhone, iPad or even Mac means that the only music, videos, documents and pornographic JPEGs you can put on it must be approved personally by Steve Jobs, but that really strongly implies that’s the case. As much as I’ve always reflexively loathed the "FUD" acronym, if it quacks like an SCO lawyer and all that. As I said, Bray’s not stupid. When he refuses to distinguish between the iPhone App Store and the Internet, he knows what he’s doing.

But, hey—that’s about the way that Google approaches “don’t be evil.” So he should fit right in.

Of MacMacs and Asshats

One of the main motivations I have in (re)starting this blog, I confess, is that there’s simply so much asshattery on the web about technology that the Angry Mac Bastards really can’t cover it all.

Now, understand that despite their name, the AMBs don’t rant exclusively about things relating to Apple. It’s just that Apple attracts a lot of asshattery. Some of the asshats are Mac fans (“MacMacs,” as John Welch dubs them). Assuredly, there are many, many MacMacs out there, and probably only a third at most are Daniel Erin Dilger.

But in my experience they are vastly outnumbered by the anti-Mac crowd. This has been going on for a quarter-century now, of course. Macs are “toys,” no real computer user would ever want one, they’re just overpriced status symbols, blah blah blah. At this point this sort of thing is barely worth responding to: even if it gets under your skin, it’s just so uninformed it amounts to trolling. Yeah, you’re tempted to go down the list of rebuttals. Yes, we can read and write all those stupid “office” document types. Yes, we can play your crappy pirated DivX movies and open RAR archives. No, we can’t usually play the latest games, but that multimillion marketing campaign that has you drooling over God of Heavy Bioshock 2000 was put together entirely on Macs, from the print ad comps to the web site development to animating and editing the TV commercial, so have a cup of shut the fuck up already. You can respond for hours and the response will boil down to, “Yeah, but you kiss Steve Job’s ass hurr hurr hurr.”

(There are more intelligent anti-Mac arguments, to be sure, but even the ones who come across as principled and eloquent frequently get a little suspect: partly because they often end up doing the same stupid snipes, and partly because they often end up being only half informed, like the common myth that the Mac just “stole” everything from Xerox.)

However, over the last three years, something new has happened: the iPhone.

The iPhone and its related gadgets, including the forthcoming iPad, are new for Apple. They represent a new kind of platform, one that’s got a similar variety of applications as a general purpose computer but that’s treated by Apple like a game console: they vet applications and control distribution. This is also new for Apple in that it’s wildly successful. It may not be the number one smartphone, but it’s right up there. Like it or not, it’s reset the bar. Within a year of the iPhone’s release, most of the smartphones on the market started looking like… iPhones. Big colorful screens, touch-driven interfaces, swipe to scroll, web browsers that could by and large actually browse the web the way a desktop browser did rather than the way Lynx did (Adobe’s kvetching about Flash support notwithstanding).

So this is all sunshine and roses, right? No, because of that phrase like a game console. Apple locks down the iPhone and this really pisses people off. Some of that’s perfectly valid; the “App Store” is, to borrow a phrase, a bag of hurt. Apps can and are rejected for capriciously stupid reasons, and since it’s the only real game in town, this is not the same as being kicked out of Walmart. It’s the equivalent of being kicked out of every place that doesn’t deal in gray market merchandise.

Of course, this can be really overstated: for all its warts, the App Store works for 99.9% of the developers (and that’s probably a low estimate). Most developers don’t have particularly bad experiences to report and very few fail to ever get their apps onto the store. The dirty secret They Don’t Want You To Know is that by and large, the App Store is wildly successful.

"They," you ask? Who’s "They?" Why, the people who’ve found, in the iPhone, a whole set of brand new reasons to hate Apple. It’s been a godsend to them.

Which brings me to Tim Bray. But not until the next post.