Discussions about Mac vs. PC, or HTML5 vs. Flash, might be getting old, but Apple are currently shaping the future of the IT-world and that is becoming more than an issue about personal taste and choices.
My view is that Apple’s products as well as the technologies they license should be avoided by anyone remotely concerned with issues like net neutrality, open standards and freedom of information. In this article I will try to explain why I think that is the case.
There is no company that is as dedicated as Apple when it comes to DRM, patent abuse, and hardware lock-in. But at the same time both OSX and iPhone OS, as well as Safari, are based on open source technology. And they are very much involved in WHATWG, defining the HTML5 standard.
Is Jobs a schizophrenic, or is there a way working with open source and open standards that could serve to make the web more proprietary and do away with net neutrality?
I will try to explain how I think those conflicting sides of Apple actually makes sense, but first a little bit about my relation to Apple trough the years to try to give a bit of context:
Me and Apple
I have been doing music production since the 80′s, and mainly used C-Lab Notator on Atari. In the early 90′s C-Lab became EMagic. They rewrote Notator, called it Logic, and made Mac as well as Windows versions. ProTools was released around the same time, which meant the mass-introduction of computers in pro studios, and ProTools was Mac only.
When the first native DAW applications started to appear, Apple was clearly superior to Windows. Both Logic and Cubase where very unstable in Windows and the timing was awful. So for a few years I used Macs and worked for some time with a gear shop in London with configuring them for studios. Many little things did annoy me about the OS. Windows and TOS sure had their flaws, but even if some of them were very severe they were not annoying me as much. For example the fact that windows had severe timing issues was obviously a really big issue, but it didn’t make me annoyed and instead I felt disappointed that they could not get it together. If someone behaves in a way which inconveniences me because they are disabled or sick I will not get annoyed with them, but if someone does it just from a bad attitude and lack of respect I do get annoyed. Apple would give you the feeling that you are expected to be dumb and/or clumsy enough not to be able to handle two mouse buttons or do things which makes no sense, like dragging a mounted unit to trash to eject it.
In the end of the 90′s Windows systems became a lot better at handing audio, and decent audio interfaces and DSP platforms started coming with Windows drivers. And the selection of audio apps and plugins was growing larger than for Macs. Basically, when it comes to an OS to run a DAW on, within a short period of time Windows went from almost unusable to superior. I was using a Windows machine at home and a Mac in a studio, and I was really surprised when I noticed the performance differences beteen Mac and PC. Despite the fact that Apple marketed their machines as being almost criminally fast supercomputers, a machine costing many times more than a decent PC would only handle a fraction of the plugins.
I figured Macs were severly overpriced and underperforming, and I completely abandoned Apple used Logic for Windows. Also my hardware of choice, Scope, primarily targeted the Windows market. By now I started developing a bit scepticism towards Mac zealots who constantly kept justifying the cost of a Mac with the supposedly superior performance, since it was pretty obvious that that was a myth.
2002 Apple decided to buy Emagic (developers of Logic) and in the press release they announced the discontinuation of the Windows version. Emagic had just been working hard on ensuring that they where able to deliver Mac and Windows versions at the same time with the same features, so they had excellent cross-platform support. But Apple did not care about the increasing number of Logic users on Windows (around 35% at the time), and instantly scrapped the work Emagic put in to ensuring that their excellent software was available on the platforms that was profitable to develop for. It was clearly not a move that was meant to take over a great software venture and try to monetize as much as possible from it. It was obvious that the idea was to try to force producers into buying their hardware. It was a move that was good for Apple Inc, but bad for producers.
I’m not that fond of being blackmailed and really felt I had to vote with my wallet and avoid Apple products from then on. Some people figured they did not like to loose the time and money invested into Logic and bought Macs, but I decided not to make the switch and discovered Ableton instead.
It was that behaviour from Apple that made it very clear to me that they had very little regard for users and view them simply as pawns in their struggle to gain market share. And it made it clear what a bad idea it is for consumers with a platform where you tie the software to the hardware.
Return of Jobs
Let’s wind back to 97, when Jobs returns to save Apple. Jobs brought the foundation to OSX over from Next, and it appears somewhat odd that Apple choose to base OSX on open source code. After all Apple was going to lock the OS down to their hardware using DRM. The most obvious reason for using open source, despite Apple being about as closed as possible as a company, would be saving costs. Give a little bit back of the work you put in, but be able to get a lot of great code for free.
Another factor in choosing open source is that even if you do not contribute much and mostly take, a lot of people will view your software as the more morally correct software to use. But the fact That Apple is using open source does not make them into valuable contributors. If OSX actually was open source I would give points to Apple for openness, but it’s not. I cannot see how taking an open source product and making it into a DRM-protected proprietary product, for which the main purpose is to lock people into proprietary hardware, would be morally better than making a proprietary product to start with.
Apple was not doing well at the time for a number of reasons, and especially one reason was extra troubling. The platform depended on applications to survive, but with a small market share it was hard to get developers. And the ones developing for the platform usually developed Windows versions as well, meaning very little incentive for people to pay the extra for a Mac. Also Apple preferred to keep any upcoming changes to the OS secret for as long as possible, which made it hard for 3rd party software developers to keep up with the many frequent and major changes.
So Apple started to acquire software like Shake and Logic to discontinue the Windows versions as well as launching their own applications. It’s the one part of their ecosystem they cannot control, so the idea is to bring as much as possible in-house.
Already when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, the focus was on the Internet and the browser was considered very important to have control over. MS went trough great effort to push IE because the web would become the new platform that could make the OS irrelevant.
Trying to get a large enough market share with a browser to have any control over the web would be very difficult, But developing an open source rending engine had a much better chance of having a significant market share and one could still maintain a decent level of control over the technology. And you can exercise control over a work group setting standards, at least if you can keep the number of participants down and have one of your employees as an editor. You make people belive that you care about open software and standards, but only use open source when you can profit from it, and work with standards only to be able to ensure that you have control over the technology. And then you make customers belive that any measures you take to ensure your control is made for their own benefit. Lie to them about software that could limit your control over “your” platform, and tell them it’s of substandard quality. Make them believe that not giving them the option is good for them, since they are incapable of making the choice themselves.
Apple and the future of the web
Since W3C is so large and moved too slow, WHATWG was born 2004, founded by Apple, Mozilla and Opera, with Dave Hyatt from Apple as an editor. The canvas makes it’s way into the HTML5 standard, despite the fact that it’s Apples proprietary technology. And when it comes to video Apple are pushing for h.264, being one of the licensors of the technology. Safari does not support open codecs like Ogg Theora, and by not allowing access to the API for hardware accelleration they can ensure that anyone trying to use competing technologies will suffer from poor performance.
They try to use the popularity of the iPhone/iPad as well as having disinformation meetings with publishers to force websites, developers and users to adopt HTML5.
Imagine for a second that MS would have been the one starting WHATWG with Mozilla and Opera, as well as being the one licensing the <canvas> and the codec most commonly used to display <video>. And to ensure that their proprietary codec becomes widespread they would use the market share of IE as leverage by not supporting alternative open codecs. I think that would generate a lot more than a couple of blog posts on the matter. But Apple is doing it right now with HTML5 and h.264, and still it seems like a majority is cheering them on telling themself Apple is doing it to promote open standards.
People are in arms about “net neutrality” if an ISP wants to control their network in any way, but Apple gets away with controlling what programs people can use, what languages they can develop in, what parts of the human body one can view, what gestures you can implement, that you don’t ridicule public persons, that you don’t compete with their own applications and that you don’t use a frame around pictures with a ratio that any companies might object to. As they express it in their legal terms, anything that “in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable”.
Apple is clearly trying to take as much control over the Internet as possible, and with the iPhone actually to a certain extant replacing the internet with their own tightly controlled store. They don’t work with standards and open source to cooperate with competitors and make hardware and software interoperable.
Why did Apple not donate the canvas technology instead of licensing it?
Why are they trying to strongarm people to desert Flash if it’s about openness? Is the vision of a web without proprietary technology (which Flash isn’t) really about enforcing a single standard with no competition allowed?
And are we really sure already that open standards are the best way to drive web technology forward and ensure that it serves humanity as best it can? Looking at W3C I’m not so sure about that. Both considering the extremly slow progress and the failure to ensure that the standards are enforced. Regardless, the alternatives should be explored as well.
I think looking at WHATWG and HTML5 as saviours of the open web is missing an important part of the picture. Just because a standard is defined by a work group does not mean it’s not steered by interests of domination, control and profit. And just because a markup is an open standard doesn’t mean that the technology used to render the content is.
And while I think open source and open standards results in great progress in some areas, to completely rid the web of any technology that is not open source or developed by a committee is a bad idea. Not only should there be some competing technologies, but also competing business models and ways to organize development. The vision of one standard to rule the web is in my eyes not very appealing, and what might appear as calls for freedom can sometimes turn out to be calls for tyranny.
Apple is evil
I’m sure most evil people would agree with that “don’t be evil” is a “bullshit” mantra. Not being evil would include openness, cooperation and respecting your customers, clearly not the kind of paths Steve would like to follow.
And Adobe are making a lot of effort cooperating with a lot of different hardware and software manufacturers and ensuring backwards compatibility for the Flash Player. Java and Silverlight also runs slower on the Mac, and I guess that according to Apple it is because Sun and MS are lazy as well?
Steve always wants to have the cake and eat it. He wants 3rd party developers with successful products to flock to his platform. And they should be loyal and swiftly comply with the many changes they make to the OS without regard for backwards compatibility, while he works on replacing their products with his own software.
Cooperating with competitors is a very common practice today, and has been so for quite some time. The IT industry requires some interoperability and standards and that you license technology rather than holding on to it to try to gain market share. Otherwise it hinders development and makes the technology difficult and expensive for the customers. So while you might increase market share, you’ll end up with a smaller market. MS understood this, and it’s a big reason for their success. They have been supporting Apple several times, not only by providing software but also by supporting Apple financially when Jobs returned in 97.
In the announcement at MacWorld Boston (worth watching if you have’t seen it), Jobs seems like he at least is trying to understand the principle of cooperating with competitors, but has a hard time trying to sell the idea to the crowd.
But now when Apple are the ones with the financial resources and some areas with large market share, it seems like cooperation is a thing of the past. To avoid that they are looking to control the complete chain, from actually manufacturing chips, to manufacturing the hardware, OS and software. And they have their own hardware and software stores. All we need now is Apple as an ISP where they decide if it’s your interests to access for example adobe.com or google.com.
You have to either be a mindless Jobs drone or completely incapable of using a device to think that it’s to your benefit when Steve is limiting what you can use your device for. For example he says about Java: “Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.” I agree that Java is a stagnated technology which today has very few areas where it’s still a good choice, and usually I cringe a bit when I encounter a Java application. But would I rather have a device where I can install and run Java applications or one where I’m prohibited to do that?
There are a couple of Java apps that I think are the best at what they do, despite being buggy and having bad UI’s. For example I use RapidEvolution for analysing key and BPM of music because I find it to be the best software for the task. If I really want to run that app on my iPad, I will not be able to, because Steve thinks it’s not worth building in Java? Obviously I think what matters on my machine is if I think it’s worth running the program, not what Steve thinks is worth developing in right now.
So why is what Apple is doing morally objective, or evil?
If you for example are in the business of delivering a means to access information and media, that is what you are expected to do. If you start selecting or slanting information due to hidden agendas, then that is evil. A newspaper should try to be objective and an ISP should give you access to the full Internet. A paper that writes propaganda or advertisement disguised as factual articles is evil, just as an ISP that regulates access or speed to certain websites to increase their profit or hinder competitors.
You can have a successful business while respecting your customers needs and interests, and if you instead device plans for how to dupe and force customers into loyalty you are evil.
If you care about an open and free Internet, you should stand against Apple and HTML5 with the canvas and h.264.
What to do?
I have up until recently been pro HTML5. It’s about time HTML is equipped with a video tag and a drawing API, and I don’t see that as a threat to me as a flash developer at all. I don’t code the kind of basic video players that can be achieved with HTML5 since there are already thousands of them available. I don’t make banners and basic animations.
Last couple of years I have mostly been working with audio apps, and I doubt that we’ll see sound synthesis and processing in HTML6, and it’s certainly not going to happen with HTML5.
I think it could be nice if Flash did not have to serve all the advertisement animations, which unfairly gives Flash as a technology a bad rep. I also think that it gives flash developers more credibility if HTML5 takes over more basic tasks. And even if HTML would become more capable than Flash, it’s no big deal to go from AS to JS, and any decent flash developer will already have a pretty decent knowledge about HTML and JS.
But in the light of Apples involvement with HTML5 I think it should not become a standard in it’s current form. WHATWG and W3C should pressure Apple to donate the canvas technology, and ensure that Safari for both OSX and iPhone supports open codecs like Ogg Theora.
Apple has to show that they are interested at all in both being open and supporting standards if they should play an important part in developing “open standards”.
If they don’t, WHATWG should be disbanded or reformed, and canvas should be removed from the HTML5 specification.
Voting with your wallet might not be enough. The majority does not understand what Apple are about and what kind of changes to information technology their practices can mean. If you understand and care you have to let them know.
A tactic that has worked for Apple is to have so called “evange-lists” where fanboys get sent links to discussions where they should try to drown any criticism of Apple. That certainly worked quite well for them and while it sometimes can seem like it’s impossible to keep up with the Cupertino spam bots, but people has to be made aware of the situation, otherwise they will just buy their spam.
Join the I’m with Adobe facebook group, and try to correct the misinformation that is being spread when the topic is brought up.
Do you want standards, interoperability and low prices?
Or do you want high prices with hardware and software that is proprietary and uses DRM to control what you can install or view?