Reminder of a Discussion

This post was migrated from my old blog

There has been a lot of musings in the wake of Apple's iPad announcement. The conversation below took place in 2006. It would be interesting to hear a rehashed version given the state of the industry today, but I thought I'd refresh my memory by rereading.

Mark Pilgrim announcement to switch away from OSX:

In many ways, the tale of my switch is more of the same old story. Mac OS X was “free enough” to keep me using something that was not in my long-term best interest. But as I stood in the Apple store last weekend and drooled over the beautiful, beautiful hardware, all I could think was how much work it would take to twiddle with the default settings, install third-party software, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so I could pretend I was in control of my own computer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye Apple isn’t beautiful anymore. I’ve worked around it or ignored it for a long time, but eventually the bough breaks.

John Gruber's response:

And the truth is I’m not entirely sure he’s making the right decision, even for himself. Forget all the niggling details he cites, and focus only on his central beef — that Apple is a company that does not “get” openness, and that this deficiency is going to hinder Pilgrim’s long-term access to the data he’s creating. But if that’s the case, and Pilgrim has been using Apple computers for 22 years, why hasn’t it happened already? Openness isn’t binary, a choice between totally open and totally closed, it’s a continuum. The question isn’t “Does Apple get it?”, but “Does Apple get it enough?” But from the perspective of someone immersed in the free software culture, where everything operates near the extreme edge of the open/closed continuum, it’s easy to see how things begin to look binary — not open/closed, but totally-open/not-totally-open.

And Mark's counter:

I’m not claiming that either Free Software or open formats are a silver bullet. There are many risk factors, and Free Software mitigates some of them some of the time. There are many layers — data on top of applications on top of operating systems on top of hardware — and open formats can reduce the friction between some of them some of the time. They’re both lubricants that help you to slide out one layer and replace it without the whole thing toppling down. Apple would prefer that I not replace any of their layers, and they have gone out of their way to increase the friction between them.

Which brings us back to John Gruber’s oranges. His counter-argument — that lock-in hasn’t been a problem for me yet, so why all the fuss now — could not be further from the truth. It’s been a constant problem for 22 years. Much of the data I’ve spent my life creating has been lost or seriously degraded through a series of proprietary formats and forced migrations. This is why I felt so betrayed, in particular, by Mail.app “upgrading” me away from mbox format. It took a lot of forethought on my part, not to mention actual time and effort, to convert all my disparate mail archives from all those different mail programs. I finally got everything into a single archive in an open, stable format… and just 3 short years later, Apple found a way to screw me one last time. It’ll be the last time they get the chance.