23 June 2010

The computer for the rest of them

MacWorld has an article about the sense of disappointment and betrayal many of the old “Mac faithful” feel at Apple these days. I think it’s a bit brief and could use some expanding on.

The Apple II was an open machine. Open architecture, anyone could program it.

Steve Jobs wanted the Mac to be a closed appliance, but the hardware was quickly opened up as well as the software. The Mac really started to catch on once development environments like HyperCard allowed everyone to develop their own software, for free, and distribute it to anyone they liked. I literally bought a Mac so I could have HyperCard.

The Mac OS was built on open standards. Everything was documented, from the QuickTime file format to the windowing APIs. Anyone could get the documentation, with no legalese to agree to. Anyone could develop software and sell it for as little or as much as they wanted, anywhere they wanted, and they could give away the source code if they wanted.

Steve Jobs killed all that with the iPhone and iPad. For many of us it has seemed like a betrayal. During the dark days of the 90s, when the Mac almost died, it was the shareware and freeware programmers that stuck with the platform and kept it alive while companies like Adobe killed most of their products and told people to switch to Windows. Now it’s the small developers that Apple is screwing with fees, legalese and arbitrary app store bannings. If you’re a big corporation, the rules don’t apply, and you can have all the nudity and overlapping functionality you like.

It all makes the “1984” and “Think Different” ad campaigns look like a sick joke.

Even as recently as the iPod, there was openness. You could put content on from any place you liked. Now the only place to get apps for your iPhone is the app store. Imagine how well the iPod would have succeeded if the only place to get music for it had been the iTunes store.

The hardware has lost its way too. I love good design, but form has to follow function, not the other way around. Steve Jobs is apparently obsessed with making everything thin, even if it means laptops where you can’t change the battery and the CPU overheats if you push it too hard encoding DVDs. Even if it means phones made of glass and metal that shatter on impact after a 1m drop.

So after 20 years of buying only Apple computer hardware, I have an Android phone, which I love. Once my MacBook Pro dies, I’ll probably build a hackintosh, because I don’t want a laptop where I can’t change the battery.

Sure, Apple doesn’t owe me anything. I’m sure they’ll survive selling to stockholm syndrome fanboys and people who have to have the thinnest shiniest gadget. But still, it feels like I’ve lost a friend. I miss the excitement of wondering what would be announced at the next Apple event; now I know it’ll just be more locked down iOS crap I have no interest in.

As for the argument that if Apple hadn’t become closed and proprietary in order to survive, I’d be running Windows 7… well, if OS X goes down the same route as iOS, I’ll be running Linux anyway. You don’t save something by destroying it, and the open and creative hacker culture was what made the Mac interesting. Maybe it was an illusion, but it’s hard to accept that Apple really is as bad as the PC fanboys always claimed.

© mathew 2017