back to article Open barbarians poised to storm Apple's gate

Open source has a tendency to cannibalize and commoditize – and not just surrounding proprietary projects. As described by researcher Dirk Riehle, open source involves a process of continuous innovation and commoditization as communities form to wring inefficiencies from software markets. Interestingly, this same phenomenon …


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  1. mafoo


    "but [android] comes with something ultimately even more appealing to developers: deep API access and an open app-approval process among them.

    And so it is kicking Apple's shins in the smartphone market, and almost certainly will do the same in tablets. Despite all its flaws. Because it's more open for developers."

    Erm, no. Its doing so well because its cheap, cheap, cheap. Cheap OS (until nokia gets is lawers greased yup) and cheap handsets that ultimately lead to cheaper minimum monthly contracts for free phone.

    And you basically contradicted yourself by saying "a huge number of apps" as an advantage iOS has over android.

    1. vic 4

      Erm, no

      >> deep API access and an open app-approval process among them"

      >Erm, no. Its doing so well because its cheap, cheap, cheap.

      There have been a number of times (3 to be exact) where I've had to tell a client that you just can't do that on iOS and/or the app store (including that for the OSX). Unfortunately (or not maybe) they have refused to compromise on a feature they hold important that we've implemented it on android.

  2. Rupert Stubbs

    A totally unbiased viewpoint!

    Hmm... We get the same story from the Strobe folk every time - Open Source will win! And what is it that Strobe do...?

    Surely the reality is that just because something is Open Source, it doesn't mean that it's "better". Linux isn't better than Win7 or OS X for most people. Android hasn't been successful because it's Open Source - it's because Google has put billions of dollars behind its development - and then given it away...

  3. Anonymous Coward

    End users don't care about openness... least not until it stops them from doing something they want to do. If there's a killer app that everyone wants that's available on Android but is not possible on iPhone due to Apple's stance, then it will matter. Until that day this argument is irrevelant to about 98% of the iPhone AND Android userbase.

    Developers may care about openness, but there's too much money to be made from the millions of iOS devices for all but the most ideological to ignore Apple as a mobile development target.

  4. Jim_aka_Jim


    First prize for pointing out the obvious.

    Noticing the number of sentences with 5 words or less and being appalled by the number of commas within the article had more of my attention than the content.

    I feel ashamed I felt the need to comment that.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    i don't agree with you sir when you say that developers are a force that can change things on this level. developers suck when it comes to providing user experience excellence, in part because they're too skilled in what they do. most of them don't understand why a mac is a better experience than a custom built pc with super good performance. why is it that a porsche is more attractive than a nissan gt-r, although the later has better performance *is better? developers are like that. slightly unadjusted in the society, they always have something against it. to be successful one has to be a consumer first and then a developer.

    If one has a good idea and motivation, one doesn't have to be a developer to start implementing it.

    writing at the register you sir are supposed to be more impartial. in an article like this you should also write some of the advantages of the platform you despise.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      "writing at the register you sir are supposed to be more impartial."

      You're new here, aren't you?

  6. SAP Bod

    Open source wins every time?

    Yeah, and Linux is really WHIPPING Windows in the desktop market eh ......

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Fanbois central

    The article already has 6 votes, mostly down votes - Fanbois really don't like Apple being talked down do they.

    Get with the program Fanbois - Apple is at the top of the roller coaster, from here on in it's going to be a scary ride...

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Android's kicking iOS's shins

      ...because that's as high as it can reach.

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    Seeding Apple with HTML5.

    "....Apple isn't worried by an HTML5 threat...."

    Ah, the Elephant in the room. I suspect that is the only reason that this works. At the moment.

    I also suspect that if it does prove to be a threat to their cosy walled garden and their app store rakeoff, such applications will unceremoniously given the boot. This to be probably accompanied by weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and a curt "sod off" email sent from Stevie's iPhone.

    I'd like to be surprised and see a new, open Apple embracing such things and living with the revenue leakage as a worthwhile tradeoff for being a respected player, but as it's still warmish in Satan's fireplace I doubt I will be...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Decline of the GPL

    I've noticed this, too. Maybe it's because when people understand free software better they don't need the legal compulsion provided by the GPL. Perhaps the GPL, even when it's not applied, is still an important factor as it remains in the background as an alternative, or even as a threat: if you take our permissively licensed software proprietary, then we'll (have to) GPL it.

    1. sisk


      Personally I've always found the GPL to be more of a pain in the neck to work with than any other OSS license I've ever come across. It's by far the most restrictive OS license in existance. That's why I don't use it unless I have to. That's even more true if it's latest iteration. I would imagine that's a big part of it's decline.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Android is only taking the lead for one reason

    There's one thing everyone seems to be missing.

    Yes, Android is taking the world relatively by storm. But iOS only runs on Apple gear, webOS on HP gear, RIM's got its own...

    Android is the only option for handset makers that isn't tied to a given platform - and where the smartphone market is growing as more people join the smartphone era, they will go for the cheap option whose development is mostly someone else's problem.

    It may be a growing option but only because it's the only third-party-developed smartphone OS that any manufacturer can slap on their gear, so they do, so it grows. The openness angle is one reason developers choose to use it, but I don't think it's the main reason.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quite right

    Totally agree. Open projects always beat their closed opponents, its inevitable. Jusk look at Linux on the desktop.

    Oh, wait...

    1. vic 4

      Just look at Linux on the desktop.

      I'm not going to make any claims which is better. But there is nothing wrong with linux on the desktop. My wife who never used anything but some ancient dos program at work for 10+ years has no problems with it, my 2 year old daughter can use it (thanks Qimo). I also own a mac and the user experience in terms of flashy effects etc is just as flashy if you like that sort of thing.

      1. sisk

        Linux on the desktop

        I still think that the reason Windows dominates on the desktop has more to do with the fact that prebuilt PCs come with Windows and the fact that the best known software is Windows only than quality. As far as user experience Linux can be as good or better than OSX. Windows isn't even a contender. Linux has the quality but lacks the availability. It has the apps but they're not the right apps (I can do anything in Gimp that you can do in Photoshop but Photoshop has better marketing). So long as those two facts remain it will never be the year of the Linux desktop.

  12. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    "wring inefficiencies"

    I guess this is grammatically correct but surely you don't want to get even more inefficiencies from software development?

    Openness is all well and good but this isn't necessarily a black and white, winner takes all situation. Apple still has a reasonable value proposition for both consumers and developers, as does Microsoft on the desktop. Google's success may well be less due to the openness of Android than the absence of licence fees plus the determination to put in the hardware support required.

    1. chr0m4t1c
      Thumb Up


      I don't think it's entirely co-incidental that the earliest player in the Android market (HTC) was a company without their own OS who had been making no-name WinMo handsets for networks to sell as "own-brand" and were looking to start making a name for themselves in the market.

      I guess we'll never know what would have happened if MS had managed to produce WM7 three years ago; would HTC have bothered and if they hadn't? Would anyone else?

      Don't forget Sony, Samsung, et al had their own mobile OS already.

  13. vagabondo


    This is Matt Asay recommending a report that recommends a report by Matt Asay.

    It will be interesting to see where this recent barrage against Free licences is coming from. It started at the time Oracle/IBM moved OpenOffice away from GPL/proprietary dual licensing to the non-Free Apache licence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It will be interesting to see where this recent barrage against Free licences is coming from"

      I noticed that as well.

      Also, a fauxpen source advocate (Matt Asay) says GPL is in decline. Shocking!

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Appealing to developers

    Does not equal appealing to end users.

    There's a reason why neither last year, nor this, nor next will be the year of linux on the desktop.

    1. frank 3

      linux on the desktop?

      *cough* Android is linux on the palmtop and it's kinda mainstream wouldn't you say?

  15. SuccessCase

    There you go again Matt

    The truth is there is much more of a balance between commercial and open source. Your using the one way street metaphor that has been consistently missaplied for years. You've conveniently forgotten it can equally be said it was iOS and mobile in general that kicked the shins of Open Source, totally turning around the misguided perception in the Open Source community the whole world would inevitably turn Ubuntu (I love Ubuntu BTW, but also realistic about adoption), while the Open Source world stayed fixated with PC's the commercial world nimbly revolutionized where computing was at. Even sticking with PC's wind back five years and the Open Source community were still talking about the inevitable demise of commercial software. But today last I checked, most people still think Gimp is a some form of sexual perversion and Adobe still charges a small fortune for Photoshop.

    These are the factors you are not taking into account when pushing with the one-way street metaphore (despite all the evidence to the contrary). Bear in mind I'm not arguing the supremacy of commercial over open here, but that there remains a balance. The "one way street" metaphor you push is simply wrong:

    1) OS Contributors contribute to solve their use cases. They are by nature technical, so don't produce consumer focussed solutions

    2) Google who you cite as evidence for the enevitability of the trend ARE NOT OPEN SOURCE. They are a closed centralized database. They are footing the bill for android on the back of a resolutely closed commercial operation and that is the reason it has a reasonable consumer focused UI. Ie it isn't the Open Source dynamic you allude that supports the production of Android. It hhas a dependency on a closed tech business. Indeed Google are now realizing there is so much money in what they have done, and getting so desperate for diversified revenue streams, they are rapidly backpedaling and making it as near as dammit closed to bump up licensing revenue (the levels of which are direct function of how closed they can make it). Some of the more blinkered worker bees pierced by cupids arrow don't want to see the truth of this, but true it is.

    3) Even where there is what is much closer to a pure wiki based Open Source community dynamic; Ubuntu; we find it has a good UI because it has been bankrolled by a billionaire space tourist, (other open source Linux solutions of course also have very good UI's - but they are naturally for *for the tech users they serve and who put time into their development* not the far larger general market).

    4) Much commercial software is being delivered joined to cloud solutions. The cloud doesn't run for free. Google take advertising (the cost is hidden from the end user but that should ring alarm bells for this who value freedom and privacy "here eat lot's of cake for free at my table, party all you like, there 's no cost" he says while rubbing his hands together.) Open source will make slow progress in the cloud due to the need for commercial business to foot the infrastructure bill.

    I think you are right about there being a never ending trend to subsume established software designs but this is what makes the "one way street" metaphor so beguiling. It ignores how the OS ecosystem either has large dependencies on commercial sponsorship or remains focussed on a technical clique. It definitely works best with back end systems and in that area does have the most impact in terms of providing an alternative to commercial software. It remains in balance because the world is always moving on.

    1. jai


      This should have been the article. It's far more unbiased and informative.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        "This should have been the article. It's far more unbiased and informative."

        *** ATTENTION: iFanboi circle-jerk in-progress! ***

        1. SuccessCase

          At least...

          ... I have an app for my circle-jerk and it builds to a great smooth experience. Even if you have one it will, blow with a jarring jolt and give you a nasty virus.

        2. jai

          @Stike Vomit

          really? because it seemed to me the commenter above was pro-ubuntu, making him a penguin-botherer, not an iFanboi.

          obviously, i defer to your greater familiarity with such things, but by it's very name, i'd assumed a circle jerk involved more than one person doing the same thing, no?

          but then again, i forgot, you apple bashers don't ever read anything before you troll do you?

  16. lxt04
    Thumb Down


    "And so it is kicking Apple's shins in the smartphone market, and almost certainly will do the same in tablets. Despite all its flaws. Because it's more open for developers."

    Similar arguments were trotted out for MP3 players. The iPod was going to be crushed by the open players that supported Vogg. What the people making these arguments didn't understand was that people **do not care** about openness. The average joe doesn't care - he doesn't even know that Apple's market requires approval whereas Android's doesn't.

    "While Apple's closed platform approach may win over developers in the short term, over the long haul openness wins. Every time"

    I'd love to see the evidence for this. It sounds suspiciously like the 'this is the year of the Linux desktop' predictions that used to come around time and time again. Openness is nice. But it doesn't always win - look at the games market. An open PC gaming market which anyone can release on which is *dwarfed* by the proprietary console market. Want your game on the shelves? Time to pony up some cash.

  17. MS Rocks

    What a load of balls

    The vast majority of people who buy Android phones do so because they are cheap and ‘look a bit like iphones’.

    They could not give the faintest toss about the ‘openness of the platform’

    There a few nerds who buy Android for technical reasons (generally dodgy looking emo types with long hair, dubious personal hygiene and those long leather overcoats like they wore on the matrix). But these people are in the minority.

    Unfortunately, although it is a horrible operating system, there are quite a lot of Android devices out there at the moment. This is because handset manufacturers & telcos make a lot of money selling them to gullible idiots who cannot afford a decent smartphone.

    Oh well.

    1. turnip handler

      I think you're on the wrong forum...

      "There a few nerds who buy Android for technical reasons (generally dodgy looking emo types with long hair, dubious personal hygiene and those long leather overcoats like they wore on the matrix). But these people are in the minority."

      Whilst I don't have long hair or an overcoat I did buy Android for technical reasons and I'm pretty sure there are a lot of non-dodgy looking types who did the same.

      1. Sigfried

        Cost IS the reason

        I run an IT shop, and the company decided to go with these new fangled smart phone thingies. So we started with a number of iPhones. Users loved them, worked without problems, connected to corporate email, great. Then the bill arrived, and the very next day all the iPhones went back (using the excuse that the reception was shite, which it wasn't), and a load of Android phones were substituted. Three months later, we're still having random problems with connectivity, the batteries are already being replaced, and at best the users *tolerate* them.

        BUT, they were just under half the price, and my (and my offsider's) time wasted on making them work means nothing to management (and apparently neither does user satisfaction or reliability), and that's precisely why we use Android and not Apple. Price. Short sighted, sure, but that's management.

        Now Android may come to be as good as iOS, and to be as reliable, but it's onto a winner on price for as big as the Apple "fanboi" network is, the "cheaper is better" group is bigger.

  18. AnonymousDareDevil

    1 single good point in the whole article

    As usual, Matt Asay writes great forum fodder.

    One interesting point, however, is the possible emergence of web apps, like the FT one or the FB project.

    If the mobile market continues to be as fragmented as it has been so far, with Android, IOS, WebOS, Win. Phone 7, RIM's whatever then that could be a cheaper and simpler solution than developping apps for all these platforms, while at the same time escaping the appstore police.

  19. DJBillybob

    Windows 95 anyone?

    i don't normally post on here because I'm not the worlds best debater and I'm aware you can probably drive a truck through the below but i need to get this off my chest

    Rant starts

    I'm reiterating the same point here, but it really gets on my tits when i here people say android is the biggest because its the best.

    what a bunch of crap

    the only reason it has any market share is because sony, Motorola, Samsung and every other tin pot phone manufacturer that targets teenagers went "thank god, a half decent phone OS, because ours is shite"

    its like windows 95 for the mobile world, a massive separation between the software maker and the hardware maker that nothing works properly and the "openness" means malware. and as someone else has pointed out, my people don't give a rats!

    i don't know many app developers but the ones i do hate android because they have to code around multiple hardware configs.

    Rant over

  20. Paul Richards

    Facebook iPhone developer Joe Hewitt;

    is extremely positively about the iPad’s closed system. To his mind it’s a major asset:

    “The one thing that makes an iPhone/iPad app “closed” is that it lives in a sandbox, which means it can’t just read and write willy-nilly to the file system, access hardware, or interfere with other apps. In my mind, this is one of the best features of the OS. It makes native apps more like web apps, which are similarly sandboxed, and therefore much more secure. On Macs and PCs, you have to re-install the OS every couple years or so just to undo the damage done by apps, but iPhone OS is completely immune to this.”

    I agree with Hewitt, the iPad is a clever cloud computer, and we will likely be able to run almost any software, but it’ll be on a server and not on the iPad.

    No matter what anyone says, it is the future. Get with the program.

  21. Alan Denman

    A bankrupt statement.

    Don't you love just those who aspire to bankruptcy?

    It don't come cheap.

  22. Pliny
    Thumb Down

    No news day for the Reg editor I guess?

    “Projects that don't choose a permissive license are at a Darwinian disadvantage…” – true but just like in real Darwinian evolution there are many factors contributing to success in a given environment and open vs. shut is just one. That is why “closed” Windows never lost to “open” Linux and is why Android is merely “kicking Apple's shins”, to use your own words.

    I’m quite disappointed this got past the Register editorial review – if I want to read something like this I’ll search the forums, not frequent a publication that I presumed up to now had journalistic standards.

  23. Jonathan 6

    Android kicking iOS?

    Our visitor stats (we get millions a month) say otherwise. More people might have Android phones but it sure as hell does not translate into more users of the web and, ergo, HTML5. As others have pointed out, shipments of cheap but utterly crap Android phones (and tablets) doesn't make Android a de facto attractive platform.

    "But, just like in open-source communities, while Apple's closed platform approach may win over developers in the short term, over the long haul openness wins. Every time."

    That is such a patently and verifiably false statement I can't believe you even wrote it. Openoffice, Jabber, GIMP, Linux, etc. are all glowing examples of the rampant mediocrity of much open software. Sure there are counter examples such as the many that underpin the internet, but Open most definitely does not always win in the long haul.

  24. dogged

    The "winner" is not determined by developers

    It's determined by sales.

    If your product is open sourced, you have to sell something else. This means your FOSS product is always going to be a secondary concern and will never achieve the level of investment of polish as your actual selling product.

    For example - Google sell ads. Their ad platform is closed. It's also highly polished, closed-source and benefits from vast investment. Android is not their revenue product so it's open, buggy and liable to security hazards. It is "good enough" to act as a platform for selling ads because that's all it needs to be.

    I despise Apple (bunch of thieves) and while I regard MS as the devil I know, they're still the devil. However, in both cases their product is likely to "win" over Android as it is their sales product and thus will always cater to the consumer rather than the developer.

  25. Syntax Error

    Matt Loves


  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Abort / Retry / Fail

    Maybe its late in the day, maybe I'm being a bit thick but am I the only one that found that article gibberish?

    1. James 26

      No surprise there ...

      most of Matt Asay's stuff is.

  27. Jim 59

    Android market?

    The suckage of Android market is huge. I recently aquired an Android tablet, and was genuinly taken aback by how patchy and amateur the Market is. Many of the apps remind me of "type-ins" from the early 1980s. Google really need some quality control and quick.

    Not tried Apple.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'd agree with some of the analysis of the strengths of open source development, particularly that liberal (BSD/Apache) style licenced projects are winning out over GPL ones.

    But a large reason for that is precisely because the likes of IBM, Apple, and Google, are investing heavily in their success. I don't see how you can leap from that to :

    "Ultimately, all single-vendor innovation will be commoditized through a community-owned project."

    Because that is an utterly unproven theory. Even a project like Firefox is 'vendor' driven (although the vendor in that case is an independent foundation). WebKit is dominated by Google and Apple. Ditto the HTML5 standards process (WHATWG vs the stalled W3C community). There's similar issues with the JCP.

    I'm not saying community ownership is impossible or always doomed to failure, but I don't see any evidence that it is a natural next stage in the evolution of software.

    Equally, I'd disagree with the idea that 'openess' is more attractive to developers - otherwise, how do we explain the hundreds of thousands of developers working on top of proprietary systems from Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, etc. Except that of course, they can't be 'real developers' if they don't agree with the cause.

    For what it's worth, I do believe Android will become the world's dominant device OS - but only because of Google are driving it. If Google pulled out, the mobile vendors would likely make the same mess they did with Symbian.

    (Which is another good point - at the point the iPhone arrived, we'd had a good decade of Symbian and J2ME - both mobile vendor driven community efforts. By the theory, they should have been well ahead of a proprietary latecomer)

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