The article The REAL Reason the Linux Community Didnâ€™t Come Up With the iPhone starts off with an interesting premise.
Lately, there seems to an explosion of interest in Open Source.
Sure. As much as there has been an explosion in interest in the last decade.
The article is really a rebuttal of a piece about how Open Source rarely innovates. The argument wobbles between support for “wisdom of crowds” to holding up Android and OpenMoko as sterling examples of how the Linux crowd could have come up with the iPhone.
I think, sadly, the author missed the point.
Open Source rarely innovates. I say rarely because the few Open Source projects that have shown some real innovation are usually the itch of one or two smart guys.
I’ve always considered laziness to be a very important quality in someone. The desire to get things done with the minimum amount of work is central to my own work ethic. I want results and I will work for them but I have a hard time starting any piece of work where I cannot see the value in it. (Sending emailed reports is one area that is pointless when there are web tools which generate them. Go click a bloody button)
Some of the best IT guys I know are excessively lazy. They’ll work solidly for 3 days to create a script that will shave five minutes off their work day or remove some piece of work that is boring or otherwise undesirable.
The developers behind most of the Open Source apps out there are similarly lazy. They work hard until the functionality is good enough and focus on areas like stability and when they have achieved their goal, the momentum decreases. Areas of development, like user interface, often are left alone because these guys are hardcore techies. Editing text files is easy. Why should there be a nice GUI? They’ve created apps like vi or emacs to simplify an aspect of their life – it’s not meant to be taken as a life philosophy.
Read the comments. Count how many Linux-philes deride the Mac because of eye-candy without realising that eye-candy in many cases is responsible for the usability of functionality.
What the author misses is that while Linux and Mac OS X share a distant ancestry in that they’re both based on crufty old UNIX designs from 20 years ago, Mac OS X has innovated in ways that are not reliant on the underpinnings of the operating system. Through frameworks they’ve made some great functionality available to developers who want to concentrate on the business logic. Their frameworks inspire people to create new and fabulous.
This is why Android, despite being touted as an answer to iPhone, looks like ass. Might also be important to note that while it is now Open Source, it wasn’t OS during development and there remain a lot of questions about how it will be presented. It’s not shipping for another year on any handsets (if indeed it gains traction) so it’s ultimately vapourware.
Similarly, the innovation apparent in OpenMoko seems to be routed in the rounded edges and the fact it comes in two colours. There’s certainly zero innovation in the current design and based on the fact it can’t make calls or send SMS messages currently (in the GUI) it’s going to be a long while. A developer picking up OpenMoko will be saddled with hardware that barely works. His time and energy is going to be based entirely on working with others to overcome the current shortcomings and get the device to the state it needs to be to compete with the most run of the mill mobile phones. Trotting it out as an example of how the Open Source innovated is very poor show. You can Photoshop/GIMP all the screenshots you want. It currently doesn’t do any of that. (if I draw a picture of a manned rocketship on the surface of Mars, is it the same as actually building it? No, didn’t think so).
The virtue of the iPhone is not in the fact it has a phone or an internet communications device but that people actually find it easier to use. They think it looks lovely, they want to paw it and stroke it. You don’t think “looks” or “eye candy” are important?
Why has the white/orange model of OpenMoko sold out?
The whole article is so inconsistent that it actually makes me cross, gives me irritation.
However, the corporate for profit model is simply NOT how Open Source works or wants to work. In fact, innovation is not usually a profitable undertaking. Consumers fear change. What they love is incremental improvements and businesses like releasing new versions of the same thing – it helps drive sales. The only ones who are free to innovate are those with nothing to lose – like the Open Source world, for example.
Innovation is not usually a profitable undertaking?
If Innovation is, as the author describes, the very lifeblood of Open Source, then where the hell is the innovation in Open Source? The author is quick to correlate “borrowed” or bought technology with Open Source.
It’s one thing to point at Mac OS X and claim the GUI was invented at PARC and Engelbart invented the mouse – but the innovation present in the original system in the first Macintosh was so far ahead of what Xerox were offering and what Microsoft would eventually deliver that it beggared belief. The reason – a couple of really really REALLY smart guys at Apple who had a vision. The PARC design couldn’t overlap windows but the Mac developers didn’t know that. So their version had overlapping windows. What the author misses is that Apple paid Xerox for access to their lab. There was no Open Source involved, these were both companies investing in innovative research.
I’m not a critic of Open Source; quite the opposite. Open Source is incredibly important in establishing the fundamentals of a system. The guys in Infurious are very motivated to feed back patches into the frameworks they are using in order to build apps. We use Linux, we use BSD, we use MySQL, we use Apache, we use gcc – Open Source is at our core.
I am a critic of revisionism however. Trying to paint IBM as a proponent of Open Source 50 years ago is silly, as is claiming that Xerox PARC was the result of open source philosophy.
It’s a silly article.