April 2010

4 Apr 2010 [link to here]
under the hood

The locked-down nature of the iPad has gotten more people talking about the value of being able to modify one's environment. A few people have made a comparison to cars. Joel Johnson wrote in Gizmodo:

I agree with so much of what we all seem to think about culture, about copyright, and freedoms to tinker. But I don't want to use shitty computers with shitty operating systems, just like I don't want to drive cars that come with their own schematics. Instead I want to drive beautifully engineered machines that scream with precision fury. And if they break, I want to take them to a shop and have them fixed.

I've been using a similar car analogy to explain the difference between open and propriety software, and I agree with Joel right up until the end, where he gets it completely wrong.

When your propriety luxury software breaks, or you want to change it a bit, you can't bring it to your local garage and pay someone to work on it, you have to go to the manufacturer. They might release a free update, or maybe buying next year's model will solve your problem. Often you're just out of luck. You can pay someone to help you use your software, but if needs to be changed, no one can help you without the source code and the license to use it.

You may not have the skills or inclination to tinker with your car or your software, but if it's an open system, you can pay someone else to do it.

The reality of the proprietary vs free trade-off is more complex than that, but let's at least understand which car we can take to the shop.