January 17, 2007

Open is only mostly better…

Posted in computers at 10:46 pm by Mike Milinkovich

In the last 24 hours I’ve read two very interesting blogs/threads that were seemingly similar, but which for me resulted in quite different conclusions.

The first was related to Apple shipping the iPhone as a completely closed system, and the myriad of pundits who predicted its doom as a result. They’re wrong.

The second was related to Microsoft and its need to be more open, even going so far as suggesting that .NET and Windows both be open sourced. They’re right.

So why do I see those scenarios so differently? The difference is the market they’re after. The iPhone is the quintessential consumer device. And frankly, consumers don’t care if the software is open source, or Java, or whatever. They just care if it works. They care about the experience, including how cool it is perceived as being. The iPhone has those attributes in spades.

In the case of Microsoft — particularly with .NET — the target market is developers. And developers care deeply about architecture, openness, extensibility, pace of innovation, and the like. And the best way to provide developers with many of those attributes is via open source. If Microsoft loses the hearts and minds of developers they will lose first marketshare and then profitability.

The obvious counter-argument to this, of course, is centred on the question of whether innovation on the iPhone will lag if it remains a closed device. In general, I do believe that open systems spur more innovation than closed systems. However, there are particular cases where a small, focused, brilliant team can execute more effectively than an ecosystem. I believe that the iPhone is such a case. Furthermore, the track record of open source communities developing compelling end-user software is limited. To date, open source’s successes have been primarily by developers for developers.

Time will tell if I’m out to lunch or not 🙂

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