Tinkering in the Sideshow

Last week, Alex Payne and Mark Pilgrim both made some heartfelt arguments explaining why they think the fact that Apple's vision of the computing future as a relatively closed appliance is depressing. I agree, and I want to explain exactly why, now that I think I've figured it out.

Each post got plenty of responses. Dissenters have a wide variety of reasons for why it's no big deal, ranging from "tomorrows tinkerers will just play with different technology, like bio-mecha" (fascinating!), to a lot of people saying, essentially, "Just don't buy the appliance if you want a computer" (obvious!).

Others have made a solid point that the iPad is the next big computing paradigm. Steven Frank calls it a "New World" device. I can't help but agree, and of course powerful devices that empower instead of confuse the user are a good thing. Replacing most of the world's overcomplicated, fussy laptops with focused and reliable devices is a good thing.

Of course, general purpose, hackable computers are not really going away, not soon. Even if everyone uses an iPad for personal stuff and a Chrome OS netbook to access private cloud services for business work, there will still be a need for workstations, and I hope the people building complete personal systems out of Free Software don't give up.

However, in a response to comments on his post, Mark Pilgrim made a gloomy prediction: "People haven’t figured it out yet, but Mac OS X is on its last legs. By 2015, Apple will make appliances and developer add-ons. Not general purpose computing devices."

If you ask me, this is the real problem.

The problem is that hackable computers that I want to use could very well be fading out. Maybe Mark's overstating things, but I would not be surprised to see the Mac, and OS X, as a relatively low priority for Apple in the near future. Design and development effort and creativity will naturally go increasingly toward the more profitable platform - the one making computing finally pleasant for the normal person.

I'm worried that this will happen for third-party developers too. I'm not the only one. Back in 2002, Brent Simmons described developing user code for the Mac as "the show". Is there any doubt that Apple's mobile OS is "the show" now?

Where does that leave the rest of us who still have to or want to use a more powerful platform?


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