[tech] Talking about closed computing ecosytems

To state the bleedingly obvious, one of the great divides in contemporary consumer computing and telephony technology is the question of open versus closed. Speaking loosely, this is true both at the licensing level (Linux vs most of the world) and at the operational level (Linux and Windows vs Mac). There are equivalent tugs of war in the cell phone world.

In a recent comment thread on my woes with the Pioneer Place Apple Store, [info]a_cubed said:

WRT Apple, well this is what you get for buying into a closed ecosystem. You’re at their mercy. As much as possible I use ecosystems that are as open as possible. It’s getting harder because there are costs to openness that I could go on about at length, but really it’s a case of short term versus long term benefit. You may get short term benefit from engaging in a closed ecosystem, but in the long run they’ll screw you when you have no alternative. THis is why monopolies are usually technically illegal, though these days it can be politically impossible to truly deal with a monopoly (compare the MS cases and Standard Oil cases).

My response was:

I’m well aware of the closed ecosystem issues, both as a philosophical problem and as more focused business problem. But I’m also well aware of my own time/value equations.

I’ve been a Mac user since 1985 and a Windows user since 1997, with several stints in Linux as well, and I can tell you that the total amount of time I’ve spent on software and hardware hassles (install, configuration, updates, bugs at whatever level, weird incompatibilities, etc.) in over a quarter century of being a Mac user is less than I spend on any given year using either Windows or Linux.

Despite having a deep technical background and being fairly capable when not in the throes of chemo brain, I don’t fundamentally enjoy troubleshooting and configuration, and it’s a zero value (or worse) use of my time compared to other activities like writing or hanging out with my loved ones.

A better than 1:25 ratio of my time expended on unnecessary issues that don’t advance my productivity one iota is a pretty compelling argument to me personally for holding my nose and coping with the walled garden.

I realize that the whole Mac vs PC discussion is profoundly polarized, Things which are as obvious as “this way is down” to one faction seem outright delusional to the other. For my part, the value of my time trumps the other arguments. “How can you put up with such absolute third party control of your environment” balances against “How can you put up with spending so much of your time chasing device drivers and running down incompatibilities”.

For my part, the value of a smooth, uninterrupted and well-designed computing experience trumps all the pain Windows and Linux have put me through over the years. For others, the equation is different.

Where do you fall on this?

13 thoughts on “[tech] Talking about closed computing ecosytems

  1. Thomas E says:

    Having used all three operating systems, plus other ones, I think that different approaches are best for different projects and people.

    Or, in other words, use each operating system for what it is good for.

    When I was developing server side applications, linux all the way.

    If I want to spend the least time messing about, Macs.

    If I want a wide software ecosystem, windows.

  2. Cora says:

    I’ve been a PC user since the beginning (1987 in my case) and I’ve never even considered switching to Apple. All my files and my hardware are for Windows and converting would be a nightmare. I still use the old Lotus SmartSuite (miles better than Office) for some applications and I could never get those files to run on Apple. Plus, all of my desktops back to the mid 1990s have been self-assembled and if something fails, I take it out and replace it, while keeping the data on my harddrive. I can’t do that with Apple, because I can’t take their darned machines apart. I have considered Linux, but it’s a bit too open source for me.

    But even if I should ever want a smartphone, mobile MP3 player or tablet (I don’t have either, just an ancient mobile phone), I wouldn’t buy an iWhatever. IMO they’re over-priced and in no way better than e.g. Samsung’s products. Plus, the famous Apple design sense just doesn’t appeal to me at all and I hate touchscreens. In fact, it annoys me that the new Windows looks like Apple’s stuff, because I don’t like that look at all.

    I understand why someone would prefer Apple in areas like graphic design or in cases like yours, where you’ve used Apple products for a long time. But the cult that has sprung up around Apple products annoys me. It’s an electronic product, not a religion.

  3. I’ve long detested Apple for a variety of reasons, and absolutely will not use any of their products. That said, your point about the value of your time is well taken. However, we’ve decided that as writers who work out of our home, it makes more sense to outsource our IT maintenance to a local expert. That’s probably more expensive in the long run than switching to Apple (certainly more expensive that starting out with Apple), but I’m willing to pay that cost to avoid the cultic garden.

    1. Cora says:

      That’s actually another pro for Windows for me. Like Dave, I have a go-to IT guy for any hard- or software trouble I can’t resolve myself. I’ve known this guy for a long time, he’s fast and good and his prices are decent.

      But if I switched to an Apple product, I’d have to go to the bloody Apple store with its freakily cheery employees every time I have a service issue. The only Apple store in my city is in a mall on the other side of town. And if Jay’s recent troubles are any indication, they aren’t too flexible. Meanwhile, my regular IT guy comes by at my place, when I have an issue, or gives me remote support.

  4. Michael says:

    I’m a Linux admin for a living. Use Windows 7 on my main computer at home because my wife refuses to deal with Linux desktop. Windows 7 is pretty stable. Have had 1 issue in over a year, and that was cleared up with a file system check.
    Linux, once I get it set up, is completely stable for me as long as I don’t change hardware. Then it takes a couple of days of futzing to work out the hardware issues.
    I will say, I have more troubles with my iPod on an ongoing basis than my computers – but my iPod is going on 9 years old and there is a planned obsolescence in those devices.

  5. Michael says:

    Oh, and my smartphones have always been droids because iPhones started out unavailable on my local network. I have a Droid Bionic now. I’ll probably be upgrading to which ever base Motorala Droid has the slide out keyboard when it comes time to upgrade my current phone because I dearly miss my slide out keyboard.

  6. Michael says:

    Oh, and last thought…if I get a tablet, I will primarily be getting it as a computer substitute for my wife. She is on the generally unwilling to learn new things side of the technology fence, so I will probably buy her a 10″ iPad and be done with it. If I were getting it for ME, I would be getting the Google Nexus tablet, but I don’t need a table, as I have a computer, and will be acquiring another laptop to replace my now dead laptop (power supply burned out the mother board…it was 9 years old anyway, so it was time to replace). And I don’t like reading books on tablets as I find it stresses my eyes.

  7. Rachel says:

    I am a dual user. I purchased an iPod Touch a couple of years ago because I wanted an app that was only available for iOS. I like iOS; what I don’t like is iTunes. When I want to put new music or video files on my Android phone, I copy and paste. Done. When I want to put a CD or DVD I’ve ripped on my iPod, I have to spend half an hour struggling to get it into iTunes, then fighting to get my iPod to recognize my iTunes password so I can move the files from iTunes to my device.

    If Apple would lose this insistence on having needlessly overcomplicated intermediary software between the files and the device, I would be fine with Apple. I just can’t buy into this adversarial Microsoft vs Apple mindset. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. Determining that one is “better” than another is like saying my favorite color is better than your favorite color.

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