Teresa Ovalle

Welcome to Me

Keep It Open, Please

on April 20, 2014

Many years ago when there was a choice of Sony and a number of other brands to choose from for my electronic needs, I rarely chose Sony because of their proprietary issues. The only chargers and accessories that worked with Sony were other Sony products. This annoyed me so much that to this day, I do not buy Sony products.

Years later, Apple has done a very similar thing. Most, if not all, Apple products require Apple accessories. I must have an Apple charger to charge any Apple product. It seems that most people do not mind the proprietary issues with Apple. I use a few Apple products myself, but I do have a preference for other non-Apple items, as well, and I enjoy the fact that those other products use universal accessories to keep them running.

Apple was not always a proprietary company, however. Originally, the Apple II computer would allow the user to run software from just about anyone, anywhere. It was a clean slate. (Zittrain, pg. 2) With the advancement of third party software, the Apple II was a hot commodity.

A few years later, Apple introduced the iPhone. Zittrain states that, “It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box.” (pg. 2) The one noted difference, however, was that Apple would not allow third party software for its new iPhone. Apple wanted to keep its application building in-house to ensure the applications worked prior to them being pushed to the user. (Zittrain, pg. 2)

This practice made many people angry. So much so, that “…hackers vied to “jailbreak” the iPhone, running new apps on it despite Apple’s desire to keep it closed.” (Zittrain, pg. 2) About a year later, Apple relented and launched its App Store. (Zittrain, pg. 2)

The App Store allowed third party developers to build applications for Apple, but the new applications had to be approved by Apple before launching to Apple customers. Apple had the right to refuse an application for any reason. (Zittrain, pg. 3)

This situation brings to light the issue of open and closed systems. I understand the desire for Apple to want to control its software – to ensure everything if functional prior to reaching the customer – but a closed system does not necessarily allow for system growth, nor does it seem to allow for user wants.

Zittrain states that, “…the world wide web started as, and remains, an app. Its first versions were written by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist who was unaffiliated with any software or hardware vendor.” (pg. 3) Imagine if the internet had been a closed system. It’s very possible that we would not have had the software advancements over the past several years that we have experienced.

Interestingly, the Android Market, Apple’s App Store counterpart, allows its users to “go off-roading, installing any code they like.” (Zittrain, pg. 4) Which brings me to my next point.

In 2007, Google announced the Android Developer Challenge (ADC) in order to create competition for the most innovative Android-based applications. The prize was $7 million. (Liao, pg. 1) This was an interesting idea because traditionally, an open source software (OSS) community shares the source code freely to anyone for viewing, modifying and distributing under open source definition compliant license (opensource.org). (Liao, pg. 2)

This was not a typical (OSS) community. It was a competition worth $7 million. It was a hybrid OSS in that the end product would be proprietary to Android, but the competitors were working in an OSS-type of atmosphere.

One factor that challenged the competitors with the hybrid OSS format was the feeling that they should hold back their ideas from others. (Liao, pg 7) This idea is counterproductive to the self-revealing OSS process. Perhaps not everyone had a great idea, but the fact that idea sharing may have been limited could have stalled the process.

A second factor that challenged the competitors was the idea that there could be changes in decision-making right, property rights and proprietary modifications. (Liao, pg. 8) All of which could stunt motivation, the ability to contribute and give feedback and earn reciprocity.” (Liao, pg. 8)

Although many lessons were learned from the hybrid OSS competition, the collaboration was successful. Continuing to have open source-type opportunities for developers allows for access to otherwise controlled software and the helps to prevent the loss of collaborative creativity. Zittrain sums it nicely with, “We should focus on preserving our freedoms, even as the devices we acquire become more attractive and easier to use.” (pg. 4)

I agree. I will never be a software developer, but I do appreciate the idea of collaboration of open source software for the betterment of my tomorrow.

Zittrain, J. L. (2008). Tethered appliances, software as as service, and perfect enforcement. In The future of the Internet and how to stop it (pp. 101–126). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Liao, T. (Forthcoming.). Open source challenges: The role of the android developers challenge in shaping the development community. New Media & Society.