Wherein I ridicule silly people

The article The REAL Reason the Linux Community Didn’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 … Continue reading “Wherein I ridicule silly people”

The article The REAL Reason the Linux Community Didn’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.

0 thoughts on “Wherein I ridicule silly people”

  1. I am the author of that piece and I’d argue that you missed MY point. There are way too many errors here for me to waste my time addressing them all. However, I’ll point out a couple.

    First, I wasn’t suggesting that OpenMoko or Android are examples of what could have been the iPhone. I also wasn’t suggesting that Open Source is a hot house of innovation. Rather, I was disputing the claims in the Discover article that Open Source was significantly poorer at innovation than the proprietary model. If you read my article a bit more closely you’ll see that what I was arguing is that BOTH Open Source and the Proprietary model haven’t been overly innovative and that of the innovation that has occurred Open Source has played as much as part as anything else.

    I was also pointing out what I considered a flaw in Lanier’s argument about the iPhone being some sort of amazing innovation. On the contrary, the iPhone is just a newer version of the very common PDA. Adding a touch screen is nice but not an innovation – touch screens already existed. There is very little in the way of new technology in the iPhone – just new ways to package older technology. I brought up Open Moko and Android only to show that similar projects exist in the Open Source world – not that they are currently ready to compete. In fact, neither has even been released yet. You can only buy a development kit.

    The point about Xerox and the GIU is interesting. Xerox had no interest in doing anything with it. They didn’t fail to make it amazing. They didn’t want to and passed it off to others. The fact that Apple did more with it isn’t the point. The point is they didn’t come up with the idea in the first place. They didn’t innovate – they expanded.

    It’s funny that you mention eye candy and equate it to usability. Linux has its share of eye candy (multiple desktops and rotating cubes that both OSX and windows are borrowing from) but most users will claim that while it’s fun they usually turn most of it off. Of course, these are Linux users so they tend to focus on doing work and not playing.

    Finally, I never said IBM was a proponent of OSS 50 years ago. Only that their model 50 years ago was similar to the OSS model of today. In other words, software from its inception was Open Source-like and only later was closed and turned into a profit model.

    What is silly is that you would spend time to argue about something you clearly didn’t understand (or read). Oh, and for the record, you claim whatever you want but without any sources it’s worthless.

  2. Honestly, the Open Source man he speak with forked tongue.

    You directly compared iPhone to OpenMoko and Android as examples of why the iPhone was not unique (innovative). Great. Two non-functioning non-shipping devices which will undoubtedly change their direction now iPhone is out. Go on, point out to me how either of these projects make iPhone non-unique.

    If you spent the time comparing iPhone to even other high end smartphones you could see that the innovation is not that it’s a touch screen phone. That’s a pretty dense and ignorant assumption. The innovation in iPhone is how it interacts with the user. While OpenMoko tantalises us with Photoshopped screenshots and Android with it’s complete lack of hardware and limited Java VM, iPhone is shipping here and now and getting ready for the shakeup in February.

    The point again about Xerox and the GUI belies your ignorance of the state of play. Apple’s engineers built something from the ground up which was better than a demo they were shown. There was no source sharing. By your statements we are led to believe that everything since the Difference Engine is “expanding” and not “innovating”. This brings home the central point: you’ve yet to point out a single instance of Open Source innovation which is kinda the crux of your argument.

    If IBM weren’t a proponent of Open Source then why mention them? Ah, because you were trying to insinuate that even the mighty BM thought it was a good idea. It was bollox, mate.

    If we want all software to be Linux-quality, then Open Source is the way. Thankfully we don’t all want that.

    You REALLY need to re-examine your thoughts about usability and eye candy. Linux themes and distros are FILLED with eye candy. We see 3D desktops, flipping windows, drop shadows and just like on Windows, it’s nothing but eye candy. It makes for a great demo but there’s a reason why most people turn it off and move back to a less flashy window manager and theme. Because the eye candy is no use.

    Compare this to Mac OS X. The so-called eye candy has utility. Shock horror! The drop shadows increase as you move away from the desktop giving an impression of real depth. The fades and blinks draw the eye. Fades show you things are happening, blinks are to get your attention. I’m not a proponent of useless eye candy but why does software have to look like ass just to prove it’s “functional”? I’ve written about this before.

    So, go on, show me one example of Open Source innovation and I’ll show you two examples of proprietary innovation. Deal?

  3. What is silly? Ridiculing others? Are you a Mac Fanboy? Come on you can admit it, cant you? I bet you have the Mac Milestones tattoed in micro print on the finger you use for your one button mouse. Honestly I can say the arguments presented here about the mac’s innovation are legend in the minds of their authors. Mac users are followers. Because you use a mac you think you are innovative or artistic yourself – I mean god, look at this blog – great mod here – you really used the power of the mac to enhance the standard wordpress theme. You have a lot to learn about ridiculing. And your writing style doesn’t even come close to the Monty Python-ish title you abused, crashed and burned, it is pathetic, you know you really should be ashamed, but I am sure you are just another effete arrogant mac bastard, ill equipped for common society will retort that your fantastic pointed little heads were not patted by large breasted women as children and why cant folks take your position seriously-yawn

  4. I’m incredibly wounded, I’ve been called out by a Hotmail user!

    I see that the standards of English grammar and punctuatio haven’t reached the isles of rcn.com! When you learn a language properly, come and have a whine. I can read but not really grasp the stream of consciousness you emptied.

    But you must feel better for it. Good boy!

  5. Why abide by standards when you leach the conversation. Surely, your great understanding can comprehend a disdain for marketing ploy. Your words are so precious they can only be linked to from a distance? You think you are that original in your thinking. At least I am aware of where I am – Yup, In Chicago.

  6. Where’s the marketing ploy that you’re describing? Again, I’m a little slow on the uptake here but first you describe me as an effete arrogant Mac bastard and now you’re being vague as to what your actual point is? I’m just not seeing the point you’re making?

    Ohhh, I get it. You’ve nothing to say really because you
    a) didn’t understand the message
    b) hide ignorance under attacking me, the effete arrogant Mac bastard?

    Did someone kick your teddy bear today?

    Aw, snookums…

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