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[tech|apple] Talking about closed computing ecosytems - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-10-27 09:30
Subject: [tech|apple] Talking about closed computing ecosytems
Security: Public
Tags:apple, personal, tech
To state the bleedingly obvious, one of the great divides in contemporary consumer computing and telephony technology is the question of open versus closed. Speaking loosely, this is true both at the licensing level (Linux vs most of the world) and at the operational level (Linux and Windows vs Mac). There are equivalent tugs of war in the cell phone world.

In a recent comment thread on my woes with the Pioneer Place Apple Store, [info]a_cubed said:
WRT Apple, well this is what you get for buying into a closed ecosystem. You're at their mercy. As much as possible I use ecosystems that are as open as possible. It's getting harder because there are costs to openness that I could go on about at length, but really it's a case of short term versus long term benefit. You may get short term benefit from engaging in a closed ecosystem, but in the long run they'll screw you when you have no alternative. THis is why monopolies are usually technically illegal, though these days it can be politically impossible to truly deal with a monopoly (compare the MS cases and Standard Oil cases).


My response was:
I'm well aware of the closed ecosystem issues, both as a philosophical problem and as more focused business problem. But I'm also well aware of my own time/value equations.

I've been a Mac user since 1985 and a Windows user since 1997, with several stints in Linux as well, and I can tell you that the total amount of time I've spent on software and hardware hassles (install, configuration, updates, bugs at whatever level, weird incompatibilities, etc.) in over a quarter century of being a Mac user is less than I spend on any given year using either Windows or Linux.

Despite having a deep technical background and being fairly capable when not in the throes of chemo brain, I don't fundamentally enjoy troubleshooting and configuration, and it's a zero value (or worse) use of my time compared to other activities like writing or hanging out with my loved ones.

A better than 1:25 ratio of my time expended on unnecessary issues that don't advance my productivity one iota is a pretty compelling argument to me personally for holding my nose and coping with the walled garden.


I realize that the whole Mac vs PC discussion is profoundly polarized, Things which are as obvious as "this way is down" to one faction seem outright delusional to the other. For my part, the value of my time trumps the other arguments. "How can you put up with such absolute third party control of your environment" balances against "How can you put up with spending so much of your time chasing device drivers and running down incompatibilities".

For my part, the value of a smooth, uninterrupted and well-designed computing experience trumps all the pain Windows and Linux have put me through over the years. For others, the equation is different.

Where do you fall on this?
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desperance: luke
User: desperance
Date: 2012-10-27 17:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:luke
I'm as far as I can get from you, Jay - on the other side of the wall and backing off. I've never owned a piece of Apple kit. Before I'd ever heard the issues of open and closed systems articulated, I was aware that my PC-user friends kept their own machines running by getting down and dirty under the hood, while my Apple friends called - and paid for - an Apple engineer. The money question would have decided for me anyway, as I couldn't afford either the initial or the maintenance costs of the Apple regimen - but I never thought that was any fun anyway. I wanted to play around under the hood and get software-grease under my fingernails. I loved being a power-user in DOS. And then I hated Windows, because it took that away and made an idiot of me again; and then one morning I was grumbling about that and Geoff Ryman said "You should look at Linux, then," and yay. Happy me. I adore the principle of open source, and I don't mind spending the time it sometimes takes to get a new system set up.

Having said which, my wife is an Apple cultist, and is currently threatening to pass on her first-generation iPad to me when she replaces it. I think she is thinking of this as a wedge, thin end of...
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2012-10-27 17:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I worked on a Mac in college, back when Macs were... well, not what they are today. Then I switched to PCs when I graduated, because that's what the business world used, and Mac was behind the curve when it came to word- and number-crunching programs.

I liked PCs. I understood them, I could set them up the way I liked, there was no muss no fuss.

I switched back to Mac about 2 years ago, because I was spending too much time and money with systems that needed repair and/or replacement too often - and too much of that repair time was outsourced. It wasn't a question of know-how, it was a question of how I wanted to spend my time.

When my PC had trouble, I had hassle and lost time with repairs. When my Mac has trouble, I spend 90 minutes with the local Apple store, and it's either fixed or I have a loaner, no problem.

My computer is a work tool. It needs to be there when I need it, doing what I need it to do. That's how Apple got my money.


(I still have an Android-based phone and tablet, tho.)
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User: nicosian
Date: 2012-10-27 17:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm comfortable on both mac and PC, and my SO is an IT guy doing things that I don't even hazard a guess as to what he does.

We're going ALL mac here. I can see the perks to PC/Windows for those who like to get into the guts of the thing, but I don't have that skillset, nor am I inclined to get it any time soon.

What I do have is a long trail of dead windows products as their systems just seem to persistently degrade and die and cease to run, and the more "upgrades" we install, the worse the bleeding. i'm tired of that. I want user friendly, fast, stable, and simple.

And I was a latecomer to mac, but it does what I want, when I want, how I want. I'm tired of massive retraining sessions. I seem to get roped into these things with alarming frequency. I think there's a flaw when apparently one needs to be incessantly RE-trained on what should be fundamental use.(its a boom industry here, mashing people through windows retraining, i swear,we've fetishized it)

We haven't any real cost to maintaining our mac environment, no massive equipment failures, SO's mac desktop sprawl is older than my netbook( the last windows thing and it knows its days are numbered).

The initial cost is high, but well spent. My ipod touch is still going after 4 years, my iphone is 2 yrs and still rocking. My netbook is maybe 3 and it should have been retired a year and a half ago.


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russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2012-10-27 17:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
Apples always seemed an obviously overpriced monopoly to me. I value my time, but I also value my money. I was also turned off by the "hipster vibe" (for lack of a better description) their marketing seems to go for, and the alleged aesthetic coolness/elegance etc left me cold. (And early hype about how they were far more "intuitive" and easy to use than other computers was false in my experience. Maybe my brain works differently.) And the bizarre insistence on a one-button mouse. :)

I used Windows by habit for a while (having gotten into it at workplaces) and then finally got fed up with it and switched to Linux a few years ago. Haven't looked back since. As desperance wrote, I am interested in knowing how it works under the hood, so in principle I don't mind spending a bit more time sometimes. And in a Kantian imperative kind of way, I prefer to live in a world where people's computers/software are not closed source owned by expensive sleazy monopolies, but in a world of open source and people contributing to projects so that everyone benefits, so I am being the change I want to see. :)

FWIW Anna recently got a new computer. She's not at all into computer tweaking and often depends on me for help or advice (same as when we used Windows). She intentionally bought her new computer without Windows and we installed Ubuntu (which she'd used before also and liked) and she is happy with it, only occasionally needing minor help.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-10-27 18:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No real disagreement with your points, but one comment on the question of overpricing. I've seen very few Windows or Linux machines with anything like Apple's build quality even on their bottom of line stuff.

Whether that build quality is worth the price bump is a highly valid question, but they're not just marking up the same old shit for more money - it's a different view of hardware value.
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martyn44
User: martyn44
Date: 2012-10-27 18:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I started using personal computers before the PC and before Apple existed. It cost us a LOT of money and worked just fine until Moore's Law took effect and the potential replacement could do so much more for so much less. So I did my research and concluded that - for me, in the UK - Apple was better spelled 'Rip Off', substituting £ for $ and claiming extra transport costs justified this (on machines manufactured in the Republic of Ireland - which I could see from where I lived at the time [on a very clear day]) So I went PC and Msdos and MS Word. Still there. I have had very few problems and they were all of my own making (apart from one ISP that shall be known for ever as BT)
I've flirted with Open Source - I use it on my netbook. Perfectly satisfactory for my very limited use of it. But then, I treat - and want to treat - my computer the way I treat my I car. I want it to work when I switch it on and I will be content as long as it works as I want it to work. I don't want to get my hands dirty. I have enough of a qualification in software design and creation to leave it to people who have an aptitude for it.
As far as everyone in this household is concerned, it will remain an Apple free zone for the foreseeable future.
If your preference is otherwise, good for you. Whatever works.
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2012-10-27 18:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The older I get the more I want a smooth experience, dammit. Awareness of mortality tells me I'd rather spend time on my art than on working around someone else's bugs.

I'm also uneasily aware that there is a good reason for wanting a closed ecosystem: if it's done right, it keeps parasites under control. Our computing infrastructure is incredibly rickety, as early platforms that should have been taken out back and shot have spread like kudzu and provided all sorts of sleazeballs with opportunities to extract value at other peoples' expense. Right now we've got internet penetration to 1-2 billion people. But over the next 20 years that's going to increase towards 7-8 billion! And all our current malware problems are potentially going to get even worse.

I've done a shitload of under-the-hood tinkering. Hell, I have a CS degree and a background in the industry. There's a time and a place for it. I don't want to have to think about network security on my ebook reader when I'm kicking back and reading a novel; I don't want to have to worry about keyloggers snooping my credit card details when I'm trying to order a take-away curry. There is a cost to all this stuff, and it is non-zero.

Having said that, there are some flashpoints that could sour me on Apple in a split second if they were foolish enough to go that way. In which case? Boot Camp and Ubuntu are always a migration option ...
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-10-27 18:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The older I get the more I want a smooth experience, dammit. Awareness of mortality tells me I'd rather spend time on my art than on working around someone else's bugs.

That's pretty much precisely where I stand.
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blue_23
User: blue_23
Date: 2012-10-27 18:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can't fix my car. I can change the oil, but doing the spark plugs are something I'd be nervous about and bring to a mechanic. That tends towards Apple. But for a problem with turn signal bulbs that kept burning out, the manual and a youtube video let em start replacing the sub-$3 part in 10 minutes rather than dropping off at the mechanic for a day or two and paying much more. So I appreciate having someone to take care of it, but still like being able to do some myself.

On the other hand, I've always built my of computers. Back in my day, the religious war was Commodore vs. Atari; "IBM compatibles" were for schools. I just recently picked up some memory sticks for an old system that was a hand me down to my kids, but I'm not going to install them. Instead I'll talk my under 10y.o. girls into doing it from soup to nuts. Because this I can pass down to them. That it's not just okay to open and tinker, but encouraged. Funny, I made my aging mother do the same thing. And now she can. "No user serviceable parts inside" isn't something to be honored.

Apple makes some great products. And Microsoft, well, is a bit hit and miss. I appreciate something that "just works" for some things, and for others I want to be able to reach down into the guts and touch it. I wish that they weren't so often either-or, but I understand why.

My primary system at home? Windows, mostly because it's got all the software I want on it. Mac's got a lot of what I want as well, and when I can buy a competitive Mac for $400 I'd be glad to try it. Linux doesn't have all the software I want, and I use it more for some special purpose rigs, like a LAMP server for MediaWiki for some shared hobbies.
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When life gives you lemmings...: Tron
User: danjite
Date: 2012-10-27 19:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Tron
I switched to Ubuntu about four years ago and now spend even less time tweaking and fiddling than I did when I was using Apple- the current stuff just works.

As far as hardware goes, I shop around, find what I like and buy it- usually saving about 30% on the hardware and a metric fucktonne on the hassle (and frequently cost) of software reinstallations that, in Apple land, frequently required expensive upgrades and always required finding all the bloody software keys.

Given the option, never going back. Due to the lockdown on the new ARM chips that Microsoft required and what it implies for the future, I hope we still have the option of open source in the future.

This is a bigger issue as the open source ecosystem is what much of the developing world runs on. The luxury of expensive software licenses and vendor lock-in are for entitled first-worlders. Apple is not the platform of choice in Zambia, nor Microsoft in India- much as they try.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-10-27 19:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are also one of the few people I know who migrated away from Apple and is happy about out. The number of people I know who migrated *to* Apple and are happy about it is at least 10:1 higher than the reverse, ancedotally speaking. Note that I don't confuse this with data.

(Oddly, I note this same effect with Subaru cars. I can only think of one person I ever knew who hated their Subaru and couldn't wait to get away from both the vehicle and the marque.)

Point noted about the First World aspects of this problem. However, personally being a First Worlder with a First World lifestyle, those are the aspects which impact me personally.
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Andrew Trembley
User: bovil
Date: 2012-10-27 19:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For my part, the value of a smooth, uninterrupted and well-designed computing experience trumps all the pain Windows and Linux have put me through over the years.

I just don't get this.

My Macs (except the FrankenMac IIx with a 68040 daughterboard back in the early 90's) have run smoothly without major problems. Even my PowerComputing Mac clone.

My Windows machines (except the e-Machines Celeron bastard that never performed well and the Dell 5100c that had bad cooling design) have run smoothly without major problems. I load lots of weird crap on them, particularly on work machines for testing and evaluation. I do install new OS images every 2-3 years just to refresh them, and I usually plan for a memory upgrade and a hard disk upgrade at about year 4 to squeeze a bit more life out of them.

My Linux machines? I mostly dick around with Linux. I run it in case I get support calls on Linux. I run it to extend the life of old home and work machines. But (except for the wifi-death on the Dell laptop that requires a reboot if the machine is up and running for more than a few days), once the install is done, they pretty much run smoothly.

So when people say things don't run smoothly, I have to wonder if they just chose a bad vendor. Or maybe an otherwise good vendor is inconsistent between models (Sony). Or maybe an otherwise good vendor is inconsistent between product lines (Dell) Or maybe a good vendor is having quality control issues (Apple). Or maybe a cruft-laden install of the OS (Ubuntu, most Android and some OEM Windows).

Because, where I can, I start with plain vanilla hardware, not too hot, maybe a step or two below top-of-the-line, and a plain vanilla OS install. And it rarely matters whether it's Windows, Mac, Linux or anything else, it just runs smoothly.
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-10-27 19:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm squarely with you on this one, for similar reasons.
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history_monk
User: history_monk
Date: 2012-10-27 19:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I deal with Windows, Mac and Linux as a software developer, making the same big mathematical modeller work on them (and some other platforms). I find Mac the most reliably annoying of these, for two main reasons.

The first is that the Mac desktop GUI does not play well with my collection of vision defects. I have, effectively, only eye and have never had two. The world is 2D to me and providing cuing via fake 3D effects - often very subtly and cunningly done - is just confusing and annoying. I also find "entertainment" effects, like bouncing icons, annoying because they disrupt my concentration. Trying to make an OS entertaining is a bad idea for a man who doesn't watch TV because it's really hard to follow. Lastly on vision, I have both a poor focusing range and poor acuity. So I need to sit very close to the screen, much closer than the diagonal: my eyes are about 6" from it, for preference. Different reading glasses could move my focus point further away, but I'd need to use monstrous fonts, and the cunning little icons in subtle grey shades that Xcode uses so much would be mere smudges. So I'm close to the screen, but still expected to notice things changing far away from my point of attention.

I much prefer to use a Mac as a generic UNIX machine, via a terminal window on a custom display that I can read easily. But there are things a developer needs that can't be done that way.

The second is that Apple do so many things within the OS in strange ways. They are often not bad ways, but they are very different, and the documentation is often limited, or directed only towards one way of working. So finding out how to do things is often surprisingly hard.

Edited at 2012-10-27 07:28 pm (UTC)
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joycemocha
User: joycemocha
Date: 2012-10-27 19:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I converted to Mac from PC after Vista struck, and I've never regretted it. My six-year-old MacBookPro is still going strong with minimal care, my iMac desktop has caused me much fewer problems than its PC brethren over the years. I can fiddlefutz under the hood of a PC (or used to be able to) but I now just get frustrated with PCs, especially the ones at work. I work with Dell machines and I just can't fathom how folks think they are so wonderful. Toshiba, maybe, but the Toshiba laptop I have for union work is so lightweight and the Windows 7 system makes me crazy.

And after a Linux-based word processor borked a RTF file from WordPerfect (back when I was still a total PC girl), I've not been overly fond of Linux, either. Performance and durability counts in my mind, and in comparison it seems that Linux/Windows software requires much more maintenance than their Mac counterparts.
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Andrew Trembley
User: bovil
Date: 2012-10-27 19:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I love my Dells, but I stick with the "business" lines. That means Latitude laptops and Dimension desktops. They're bog-standard.

Every time I (or someone I know) has strayed from that formula, they've ended up with something lemon-worthy. Strange hardware, odd custom drivers, basically insupportable crap.

Of course, these days for home I go for black-box machines built from commodity parts. Anything goes wrong (and it doesn't) it's easy to fix, and the fix is likely an upgrade too.
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Keffy
User: kehrli
Date: 2012-10-27 23:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Macs are too expensive and I hated the OS when I had to use them. I'm already sad that I'm going to have to give up on my windows phone after my 2 years is up because nobody will make apps for it. (I got it for the Zune functionality).

Maybe I just have disgusting amounts of luck with PCs or something, but I've been running a win7 netbook for about 2 years with minimal problems, and my 6 year old laptop is still going strong. I can't imagine spending $1000-$2000+ on a new system that isn't going to work with anything that I currently own. If something dies horribly and I have to get another replacement, it's probably going to come from the $300-$500 range.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-10-27 23:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You know, it's funny, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've had my Windows machines have any problem whatsoever in nineteen years of owning a home computer. I've used Apple machines (admittedly the last time I touched one was in 1992? I think -- at a workplace), but I guess I'm just incredibly lucky (she says, knocking wood). I sure hope I didn't just jinx myself by writing this...
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Max Kaehn: Hack
User: slothman
Date: 2012-10-28 06:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Hack
I find closed ecosystems sufficiently worrisome that it’s worth it to me to take the extra effort and time to work with open systems. It helps that I have a day job as a software engineer to keep my skills sharp, but there’s still an unavoidable time investment (e.g.: ripping MP3s from CDs). I’m happy that my parents stick with the Apple ecosystem because they so rarely need tech support from me. And from my experience working with Windows internals, I try to avoid the operating system whenever possible.
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