In Britain, summer is known as the “silly season,” because even though politicians are on vacation, the press still needs to sell papers and the broadcast media still need viewers. So they run frivolous, silly stories with blaring headlines for the entire summer.
Here we are, it’s the first of August, and that story from early June about Mark Pilgrim switching to Linux just won’t go away. I say it is the silly season: we have no better stories.
Now, having said that, this is the best story we have, and it’s spawned a variety of interesting discussions. I think you deserve to know about, for instance, the debate over whether Apple should relicense its software as open source. The participants are serious, and it’s interesting material.
But my usual disclaimer for this kind of material applies. On some level it reads like the seemingly endless debates over Al Gore’s earth-tone wardrobe during the 2000 campaign—it’s interesting, but doesn’t have a chance of changing anything.
So. Tim O’Reilly and John Gruber start with the big question: is Mark Pilgrim the canary in the coal mine for OS X? As O’Reilly notes, Jason Kottke discovered that Cory Doctorow has given up his Mac, and it’s entirely plausible that Paul Bausch might also. But O’Reilly’s interpretation is that this has to do with Linux, that Ubuntu is reaching the point that it may surpass Red Hat as the premier distribution. He doesn’t make any strong suggestions about Apple either way, but his commenters seem to believe that the usual barriers to using Linux—configuration, compiling applications, etc.—are keeping more people from switching the way they once switched to Macs. (I can say that was my experience, as a switcher from Linux to OS X.)
John Gruber notes that this shouldn’t worry Apple much, because the idea with currency right now, that Apple is selling more computers than it used to, apparently isn’t true. He looks at the numbers from 1996–2000 and from 2004–2006, and finds that they’re selling about the same number of computers. Apparently, by the numbers Apple isn’t really growing its market share significantly, OS X notwithstanding. (Then again, maybe not: Ars Technica reports that Apple is now ranked second in consumer preferences for likely computer buyers.) He says, “Switching is afoot—but it hasn’t yet reached the tipping point where it goes mainstream.” He seems to believe that, rather than being canaries in the coal mine, Pilgrim and Doctorow are just the prime candidates for reverse switching, the kind of geeks who care really passionately about their computers but who are not indicative of the computer market as a whole.
A different but related topic is the question of whether open-sourcing Apple’s bundled applications could fix some of the things that people like Mark Pilgrim have complained about. I mentioned in July that Tim Bray wondered why Apple’s applications couldn’t be improved upon; Gruber rebutted (and somehow, I missed it) with an interesting business-based argument. He says, essentially, that while Apple could do that, they won’t: Apple uses the software to help sell more copies of OS X. (Bill Bumgarner notes, too, that it’s surprisingly complicated to open-source traditionally closed software.)
Bray isn’t so sure, and writes:
If there were an enhanced guerrilla version of, for example, Mail.app, that did message-selection correctly and had a next-unread button, both these fixes being provided by a community member, some things would happen. First, I’d use it. Second, the vast majority of Mac users wouldn’t. Third, when the Leopard release of Mail.app, presumably with new goodies, came out, it would be back-ported to Tiger. Fourth, I and most of the other people using the variant Mail.app would upgrade to Leopard anyhow.
Justin Blanton adds that it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the very same users who want to hack the official software to upgrade to the latest and greatest version, so they can hack that. They’re enthusiasts, remember. But Gruber isn’t sold, mostly on the grounds that even if not very many users end up downloading these “guerrilla” versions of Apple software, by the numbers, it’s still a large enough number of users to cause problems for Apple.
Now, having said all that, Rich Siegel at Glorified Typist makes a compelling argument that Pilgrim is making the fundamental error of confusing OS X with the applications that run on it. In other words, he’s making the same mistake that so many anti-Mac partisans have before. To Siegel’s mind, if you’re going to use open-source software in Linux, most of it is available for OS X—why not stick with what works?
I think I’ve indicated before that I’m agnostic on the question, but that I doubt open-source software can replicate what makes OS X great. Maybe Pilgrim is right, and we’re betting on the wrong horse. But I think Siegel’s on to something. Just a hunch.
And Angela Merkel Photographed Topless
- You know, information about Leopard is due out in August, at the Worldwide Developers Conference, a week after this column publishes. But it’s been quiet so far on the buzz. Wonder what might make it in? Engadget had a nice Leopard rumor round-up in early July, which makes for interesting reading. I’m skeptical, but take a look. In the same vein, the G5 tower replacement (probably the “Mac Pro”) should be announced then, too, and Ars Technica has a nice look at what Intel chips could go in it.
- Julio Ojeda-Zapata points some of his more, uh, misguided readers in the general direction of still more information on how to run Windows on a Mac. I have long refused to do such a thing, personally, but I’m willing to stipulate that it might be useful for someone. If it is for you, go ahead and take a look.
- The iPod Hi-Fi is a reasonably slick little device, but it’s also outrageously expensive. An intrepid techie decided to turn his original Macintosh—yes, that’s right—into an extra-cool and much less expensive rendition. That iconic design can live on now!
- Vint Cerf, one of the Founding Fathers of the Internet, gave an interview to John Battelle about Net Neutrality (yes, I’m still on that). He underscores, in the interview, just what’s at stake here: “[Why would one] base a business on this 20th century model, when you could be thinking the way the people in the U.K., in New Zealand, in The Netherlands and places like Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore are thinking[?] What they’re saying is let’s open this broadband pipe up.” By implication, Cerf says, we are not. We are moving backwards. Write your senators and representatives, to demand that they respect your right to your bandwidth.