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Does open matter?


Much has been made of Steve Jobs' presence on the earnings call yesterday. In particular, there's a little nerd slapfight going on between Apple and Google around the "openness" of their platforms. As Steve said yesterday, "open doesn't always win." Andy Rubin, the father of Android at Google, later reportedly tweeted the code needed to compile Android, thus jabbing at Apple by illustrating that anyone could freely download and compile the Android OS. Yeah, and how many "average" people do you know that'll do that? Exactly none.

Here's the thing, we nerds like to think we're inheriting the earth now that everyone is playing video games and carrying too many gadgets and stuck at their computers all day. The fact is, however, that the average consumer doesn't give a moof's fanny about whether their phone or tablet or PC or monkey is running an "open" platform. What they want is to find a Twitter client without having to make a tech support call.

Earlier today I spoke to Download Squad blogger Erez Zukerman who has been playing around with an Acer Liquid E. He said in our chat room: "It's completely rooted, with a community-ROM installed, 2.2 Android which wasn't even released for Acer. Worked just fine with a Fido SIM in Canada (It's originally a Rogers device). Then I put in a T-mobile SIM in the UK, and it asked for a PIN. I put in the correct PIN (was a brand new SIM) but it wouldn't take it. I kept retrying because it said after a few retries it would request the PUK, which I also had. After a few retries, it _locked_ completely, and now no SIM works with it at all! Not even the Fido one which worked with it. I need to consult the nerds at Modaco to see what to do." My response? It reminded me of the time my great-grandfather regaled me with stories of re-vulcanizing the tires on his horseless carriage.

I'm not dismissing the notion of open-source platforms or software because the fact is that many awesome things have been created this way. The world owes a debt of gratitude to the people who toil away at code that makes our lives better even if there's no monetary reward for them or even if their code isn't "protected" by archaic patents. Open is a powerful force in technology and it should always remain so.

However, Steve's point was to the consumer marketplace and specifically to consumer electronics. Do you care if the code in your digital TV is open? How about your refrigerator? The chances are slim you'll ever service these items yourself, so what does it matter? In the open market, it really doesn't matter that much. Not to the consumer, anyway. Apple's strategy has nothing to do with fighting an ideological war -- it has everything to do with selling more units than the other guy and providing a best-of-breed experience to its customers. Everything else is ultimately a debate left for academics and pundits and proselytizers.

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