Steve Jobs: Probably Not Big Brother.


Last week, as part of its "Back to the Mac" presentation, Apple announced that it would be opening an "App Store" for the next iteration of OS X, Lion. Like the iPhone and iPad App Stores, this one would give users the choice of quickly installing programs from a central, Apple-controlled database. The catch, for iOS users, is that they can only install applications from within the App Store. Neither the iPhone nor the iPad supports "outside" apps, which can only be accessed through "jailbreaking," or opening up the device to non-certified programs. By contrast, the Mac App Store is designed to be a compliment to the traditional method of downloading applications from the Internet or installing them from an optical drive.

Someone should tell this last fact to Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan, who is too busy emoting about Steve Jobs' impending tyranny to see that he's wrong:

More than 25 years ago, a commercial warned us about the future of computers. Closed. Censored. Dark. A "garden of pure ideology." How strange that that's exactly what the future of Apple's computers looks like today: the Mac App Store. [...]

It is frighteningly easy to picture a Mac where all your apps have to be approved by Apple; all your music, movies and TV shows are streamed from iTunes; all your books come from iBooks. This will be totally fine for some people. But as the rest of us become increasingly comfortable molding our computing experience to our own needs, this strict environment starts to seem claustrophobic—even technologically totalitarian. It's still startling to think, even after the last few years of the App Store on the iPhone, that this is coming from the same company that made the 1984 ad over 25 years ago.

If Gizmodo were a political blog, I would expect to be led to an extended discussion of Hayek, where Buchanan would explain how the Mac App Store is the first step on the road to electronic serfdom. Indeed, he goes somewhat in that direction, when he concedes that users aren't locked into the Mac App Store but insists on a slippery slope. Users will like it too much, developers will find it too convenient, and the App Store will eventually become the only way to find programs for your Mac. Here's how he puts it:

Apple is slowly starting to grip the rest of the Mac more tightly to pursue its vision of the future of computing, which is more iOS than OS X. More 1984 than 2010.

Meh. Buchanan's nightmare scenario doesn't actually follow from anything he describes; it's just as likely that Apple keep the App Store as additional resource, while never restricting installation and use through other methods. In this world, Apple would follow a variation on its current strategy for iOS, where developers are strongly encouraged to go through the App Store but are free to distribute anything they'd like using the Web and Apple's platform for Web apps. On the Mac, the only difference would be that this non-App Store approach would include native apps as well as Web apps.

Of course, there isn't any proof for that latter assertion. But Buchanan is laboring under the same constraint, and in my view, precedent and continuity are better guides than alarmism and scaremongering.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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