Tim O'Reilly State of the Internet Operating System

The consumers are restless

By Rick Jelliffe
May 4, 2010

I usually don't link to posts here at oreilly.com (which kindly hosts this blog), but Tim O'Reilly has a strong pair of articles out: The State of the Internet Operating System in two parts: Part 1 and Handicapping the Internet Platform Wars. I don't care much for Part 1, but Part 2 is very stimulating.

I think that Tim is right about the WWW allowing "small pieces loosely joined" despite the best laid plans of Big Data, Microsoft, Apple and other US global corporations. We are in a world where regulators seem to find it a reasonable defense that, when a high tech company is accused of monopoly or market domination, they can point to some alternative market where they are losers or absent or well-behaved. IBM is allowed to dominate mainframes as long as they don't dominate PCs, Microsoft is allowed to dominate desktop PCs as long as they don't dominate mobile devices, Apple is allowed to dominate mobile devices as long as they don't dominate search, Google is allowed to dominate search as long as they don't dominate applications. Or something like that.

It has helped participation in standards groups and consortia, as a kind of feint: don't look at our market domination here, see our standards participation there! But no-one particulates in standards efforts unless they feel they can influence the outcome. (I don't necessarily mean that in a short-term sense, by the way: the way to ensure no influence is to have no participation and no capability to participate.)

Alexander Falk linked this week to Steve Jobs' comments on Flash. I was more interested in the comments that Jobs was pushing an architecture where 1) Apple makes the platform, 2) Developers sell an application, 3) Consumers buy the app, and 4) Media companies make content available. On this, Tim quotes Jim Stogdill "the iPad isn't a computer, it's a distribution channel." (In this vision, I gather the WWW is relegated to being about search, navigation and addressing content for your apps.)

It strikes me that we are now seeing a great richness in business models based on different business models. But Google's and Apple's models are clearly about interposing themselves between each end of any transaction: in Google's case that when you look for some information you look for it through them and when you have your own information you organize it through them too: they control the entrance ways to the wormholes in cyberspace!; Apple's that when you buy some content or an app, Apple gets its cut and therefore they need control. It is like a decentralized Amazon.com.

On the Apple versus Adobe Flash issue, like new Googlebot Tim Bray, I have little sympathy for Adobe and less for Apple. For years Adobe had a policy for developers wanting to generate PostScript that the developer had to fill in a form with the plans and fax it for Adobe to OK if it fitted in with their direction. Boo bloody hoo, Adobe!

My comment: we should just rid of computers out of our private lives. Use the computer at work when you need it. Move closer to your work and family and friends and shops. If you find it convenient to look up the TV guide online, better to sell the TV too. If you find it useful to have long-distance friendships, delete the accounts and concentrate on short-distance friendships. Delete all social media accounts. Allocate four hours on the weekend to go to a library and catch up on things in a targeted fashion, if you need to. At work, it is different: we especially need to get facilities that prevent the need for business air travel.* I spent most of a year without a home internet connection in 2008 and I don't think that it made the slightest difference to my net happiness, though I think rugged urban individualism definitely helps calm my girly anxieties.

The thing that all these companies' strategies have in common is consumerism, with Apple being merely the most blatant. However, the consumers are restless!

* I personally would like a system where airport terminals were replaced by Avatar-style booths, where we could hire a robot at our virtual destination to go to conferences, shout interjections, button hole people in corridors, and perform suitable drunken dances.

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