iPhone and ODR – Open Sourcing, Open Standards

Colin Rule, in an email to me about my previous post, said:

The iPhone is pretty, I agree. But they’re going closed with it – everything has to be bought through Apple. That’s one of the reasons why I hesitate so in becoming an Apple Acolyte.

People always say, “why do you like Microsoft so much?” and the answer is, I don’t… I like open. I like Ubuntu. I like unlocked phones. I like SL open sourcing their code.

I’ll never have an iPhone. Jobs gets credit for being first, but I’ll stick with the imitators. I don’t need an ipod – I got a 1gb flash based LCD player off of eBay for $40 and it works great for me.

I concur, and have been a vocal advocate of open standards on this blog, especially in the development of humanitarian information & knowledge sharing systems and future ODR systems.

Accordingly, I believe that securing open standards for ODR information exchange is vital, noting several attempts that have been made in the past. In agreeing with Colin, I recalled a conversation involving an observation by Mitch Kapor on his blog 2 years ago (in a post that explores whether Groove should have gone open source):

Going the open source route ought to be considered but it is not always really viable given the resources at hand.

I wonder whether the same can be said of initiatives such as Apple’s iPhone. See for instance this video (one of many now on YouTube) on its capacities:

Like Colin, a lot has already been said by other commentators on the closed nature of Apple’s iPhone in particular. Nicholas Carr’s missive is particularly interesting in this light for taking a different stance:

Jobs, in fact, couldn’t possibly be more out of touch with today’s Web 2.0 ethos, which is all about grand platforms, open systems, egalitarianism, and the erasing of the boundary between producer and consumer. Like the iPod, the iPhone is a little fortress ruled over by King Steve. It’s as self-contained as a hammer. It’s a happening staged for an elite of one. The rest of us are free to gain admission by purchasing a ticket for $500, but we’re required to remain in our seats at all times while the show is in progress. User-generated content? Hah! We’re not even allowed to change the damn battery. In Jobs’s world, users are users, creators are creators, and never the twain shall meet.

Which is, of course, why the iPhone, like the iPod, is such an exquisite device. Steve Jobs is not interested in amateur productions.

{Amateur – From the Latin “amator:” lover, devoted friend, devotee, enthusiastic pursuer of an objective.}

I’m an unashamed amateur of ODR and ICT4Peace, doing what I do mostly for the love of doing it, and the pleasure of seeing others benefit from and develop further the ideas I propagate. Pity if according to Carr, Jobs does not see amateurs, and their potential to innovate and augment their products and services, in the same light.

As Colin notes, the polish of Ubuntu, from a system when I first started to use it that needed a high level of technical knowledge to use and install, to now an OS that is as capable as Windows XP for a wide variety of tasks of an average home and small business user, is testimony to the power of the open source movement (amongst a myriad of other examples) to create compelling software & services.

Carr misses the point – the iPhone will be, for mainstream ODR at least, a dismal failure if the “ticket” costs $500 and the users have to make do with the “inspired genius” of Jobs, who arguable, does not even know what ODR is about. For me, ODR in the future is more about the amorphous nature of users and creators of content – how those who avail themselves of ODR solutions do so in a manner that through their interactions, strengthen the ODR systems as well.

Open Source vs. Open Standards?
To digress slightly, while the argument can be made that Open Source can yield software that is equally capable, I wonder whether Colin is conflating open source and open standards.

Put another way, I do not believe that open standards necessarily need open source software. Proprietary software, that does not lock in users into proprietary information storage standards, can offer the same flexibility to end-users as Open Source software using these same standards. In this light, it may be the case that established software companies such as Apple Inc., and indeed Microsoft, in (cautiously) embracing open standards through initiatives such as Codeplex, may help the growth of FOSS by strengthening interoperability and ease of information exchange – between their high end OS’s and programmes, and cheaper or free (but no less capable) FOSS counterparts.

Depending on whether you are a FOSS or Apple / Microsoft fan, the world of software and services is very often painted as a clear choice between FOSS or proprietary code. Both have their fervent and vocal supporters. I’ve however always been interested in what I call hybridity – an eco-system of PC, mobile, hardware, software, FOSS and proprietary code results in ODR systems that are satisficing, and most certainly based on open standards (supported by technologies such as the tremendously powerful but as yet embryonic SSE).

Why iPhone?
Well, why not?

iPhone to me, at least in its GUI, is far more user friendly than many of the mobile UI’s I’ve used on Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung devices. Accordingly, its potential to be used as a device to access web based ODR services, given its tremendously attractive built in web browser, large screen, high capacity storage, multimedia capabilities and robust feature set, is better than similar “smartphone” devices on the market today.

Ask me again in June, when other manufacturers may have similar devices on the market, and I may change my opinion.

But despite its closed nature, I believe that the iPhone’s technology (and not necessarily the device itself) shows us how far mobile platforms have come, and how in fact, they will replace the PC as the computing device of choice for millions of users worldwide.

As for the debate between Open Source and Open Standards, it isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

Open Standards = Open Source? No.
Open Standards = Better ODR systems? Definitely.

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