Reading through some news recently and I found this article by TUAW proclaiming that “OSX and iOS are not jails”. Now, this is indeed on The Unofficial Apple Weblog we’re talking about here so a bit of fanboyism is certainly to be expected -and I’m a fan too after all-, but this one really got under my skin. The author not only completely misunderstands the concept, but goes well out of his way to use logical fallacy to attempt to justify himself.
I understand the whole “I was in the navy, the closest thing to Jail that you can get” concept. Yes, you were in a situation with highly restricted freedom, and couldn’t leave. You volunteered for that though, knowing what it meant. I’m afraid I just don’t see any good parallels. Pure sensationalism.
The car analogy though, that one has some meat on it! I don’t buy the argument that the fact that the Toyota is better because you don’t know how to do anything to it, and the Impala was worse because you could tinker. Sure, you may like the Toyota, but how are you going to feel when there’s only one mechanic in town who has the special tools required to work on it, and he charges 10 times more per hour than anyone else? That’s the inevitable conclusion of the world you’re claiming you’d prefer to live in. Did you think it through that far?
This is also where the entire argument of “I just want it to work” falls flat on it’s face. Looking at this and saying “clearly the act of making cars more difficult to work on improves them” is an ignorant oversimplification of the issue, yet that’s exactly what people are willing to do in the software world. It’s easy to imagine that complexity equals simplicity, but rarely is that truly the case. The UNIX philosophy shows us that a bunch of small components that do one thing well working together can create incredibly powerful systems. It may be true that it takes a genius to understand the simplicity of UNIX, but I find that more likely caused by the fact that the focus was never placed on increasing understanding for average users. That’s another rant however.
Is it really that hard to imagine a situation where your car was made out of simple components that were easily manufactured and user-replaceable? No doubt designing such systems is far more complex, but it’s certainly not impossible. Computer systems or cars, “I just want it to work” is not the opposite of “I want to be able to tweak it on my own”, they aren’t separate points on a spectrum, please stop pretending that they’re mutually exclusive.
There is one idea put forth that I do sort of? agree with though: Living in a modern society means trading some of your freedoms in for the conveniences and protections of the society. Yes, you pay your taxes in exchange for a police force that presumably keeps your neighborhood from becoming a war zone. So it goes with the “jail”. You’re paying your tax to Apple in order to get protection from things that inconvenience you, like malware, viruses, and poor battery life. And to some users this is going to be worth it. My grandmother (Sorry Oma!) is the perfect user for an iPad, and she certainly is greatly benefited by the protections offered. While it’s true that she will never personally miss the freedoms sacrificed, she also won’t benefit from any potential gains made by the larger community.
I fundamentally don’t believe that these protections are exclusive to the walled garden, for the same reason that I don’t believe that a Orwellian government is the only way to prevent crime. In fact, the idea that a computer system can be “curated” and yet still fully open isn’t even difficult to imagine, it already exists! Look at the Debian/Ubuntu model. The operating system and core packages are curated and confirmed to be good. You’re certainly welcome to go off the beaten path and do whatever you like from there, but you can easily and happily stick to what’s recommend if you’re not the adventurous sort. This is exactly opposite of Apple’s approach. “Thou shalt not, unless we tell you to” is the jail you’re living in, and for no particularly good reason other than that they want you to.
I don’t mind saying “If you don’t like it, just leave”. That’s fair. Let’s try to be intellectually honest about what the bigger picture is though. I would draw a parallel to saying “If you want to be safe then you’ll have to get naked at the airport”. It’s simply not true when you consider the full picture, and while you the user are certainly free to take the train/bus rather than the plane, is that really the world you want to be living in?