homebrew vs. jailbreak

In the comments to my previous post, Suzi asked a question that deserved a detailed answer, so I’m turning it into another blog post…

so, do you think the webOS way (developer mode) is better choice? 

I think that for webOS, it was the right choice, and I spent a lot of time arguing for it and supporting it internally. Is it always the right choice? I’m not sure I can make that blanket statement. With webOS we needed to create an app ecosystem; it wasn’t easy to build a financial case to get developers to write for a new and unproven platform, so we looked for ways to change the dynamics. One thing we did was subsidize development indirectly through the contests (which injected a couple of million dollars into the developer pool) and through bundling app dollars into phones. But we also felt that if we could encourage the hobbyist/individual programmer onto the platform with non-financial reasons and incentives, that would help us grow the platform faster than device sales alone, and that would help us grow the app ecosystem, which would encourage device sales. There’s a chicken and egg problem here, which every new platform needs to find solutions to. 

So we felt we could attract developers to the platform by making them welcome, as opposed to Apple’s model, which is one of, well, an indifferent hands-off approach that borders on arrogance. Well, sometimes Apple wanders over the border to arrogance. Other times, it simply treats developers as if they don’t exist, or are infinitely replaceable. There are reasons why they do this; there are reasons why I feel strongly they’ll regret this some day. It’s all about karma, and at some point Apple’s attitude towards developers will come home to roost. But right now, you can’t argue about their success. 

So we didn’t just tolerate homebrew, we encouraged and tried to embrace it as much as we could, to make developers feel welcome on the platform. That brought us some really good developers that otherwise wouldn’t have come to the platform, and they did some really nice apps, so I think it was the right, and a successful, set of decisions.

But building in developer mode, making it easy to side load apps onto the device, is not a panacea and it creates risks and challenges. A mobile device is a very resource limited device, and so a misbehaving app can do all sorts of things that can degrade or damage the device, and unless you understand what’s going on, it’s easy to blame the deviice for the problems (this is especially true of poor battery life, and webOS battery life was a challenge on the best days; it’s really the #1 reasons why I moved back to IOS full time when I left Palm/HP.)

The easier you make side loading apps around the “official” channels, the easier you make piracy, and the harder you make managing that problem. And even on webOS, this was a problem and I was talking to developers on a regular basis about pirated copies and ways to try to get the binaries offline — with limited success, given that easily 80% of the complaints brought to my attention included the name “megaupload” attached. 

You also create a channel for malware and scam ware, one that can be tough to plug. The things that enable a homebrew app to do things to access the private bus and restricted APIs also allows apps to access private data and do things that aren’t caught by whatever things your app review process might be doing, which I won’t explain further other than to say the app review process is about more than seeing if an app crashes during testing. 

And what should a vendor do about a side loaded app it had no review or control over? Do you pull the kill switch on it? What’s the vendor’s responsibility to protect a user from herself? This turns into a slippery slope very fast. What if someone wrote an Angry Birds clone and the Angry Birds people wanted it kill switched, even though it was never published in the catalog? Where do you draw these lines? Most users would expect the vendor to kill switch an app doing identify theft, even if it was homebrew loaded, but once you make a decision to step in there, it creates legal questions about an implied liability to step in on other legal issues — and would a court force a vendor to kill an infringing Angry Birds clone? Most users would probably be pissed, based on my experience, but my guess in a court might well enforce that requirement. Tech lawyers (and community managers, and app review geeks) get ulcers having meetings about stuff like this… 

What’s this mean for Apple? Should it take its jailbreak community and embrace homebrew the way we did? 

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Because the easier you make these side loading capabilities, the more likely people will do it. And the larger the group of users doing it, the larger the percentage of users who only see the fun, and don’t understand the responsibilities and side effects, of the choice they’re making. And those are the ones that when it blows up in their faces demand the vendor fix the problem and trash them online for a problem the user created for themselves — and I just don’t think Apple needs that set of headaches. By tolerating but not encouraging the jailbreak community, they limit how large it grows, and it tends to limit the size of the population to people who understand that if they do this, then don’t blame Apple when bad things happen. 

I’m not kidding when I say I used to recommend that turning on developer mode should have been done by a big red button that made it painfully clear that if you do this, here there be dragons and there’s no calvary coming to save you. 

That’s the flip side of the unwalled garden. You really CAN’T have it both ways: the walls protect you from the evil nasties that live in the forest. If you tear down the walls, you can’t complain when the owners of the walls don’t stop those evil nasties show up and kill your dog. and your family. and send off your personal info to Moldova. And yet, people still do this, and then blame the vendor when the nasties show up.

So I don’t blame Apple for not encouraging homebrew. There’s no market or business reason for them to. It’s a potential customer support and PR nightmare. The audience it’d likely serve is already jail breaking anyway.

So while I think we did the right thing for webOS, Apple is doing the appropriate thing for it, and for IOS. Which is probably not the answer the geeks want, but Apple doesn’t design and build their products for geeks, and haven’t for a long, long time.  Nor, given their success, do they need to. Which, of course, pisses off the geeks, who want to think they’re the center of the universe… 



Posted in Computers and Technology

No, iOS is not a prison

No, iOS is not a prison – Technovia:

I too wish that Apple would introduce an optional ability to install unapproved apps. Although, when you think about it, jailbreaking provides that ability right now, which means that the world isn’t all that far from Lee and Eckersley’s desired state.I also share the authors’ alarm over Microsoft’s decision to allow the distribution of Windows 8 Metro apps only through its own Windows Store. Microsoft would never, ever have made that move without the App Store’s example, so sure, let’s go ahead and blame Apple for it.

 This was something we talked about a lot back in webOS land. 

When it comes to consumer products — in other words, things built to be sold to your mother and your sister the hairdresser, not to you the geek — you have to stop thinking about how to make them usable for geeks. Not that you will, because geeks are like that, and geeks tend to think everyone OUGHT to be geeks. (This is one of Apple’s core advantages in the market. They get consumers and that they’re different from geeks, and aren’t afraid to tailor their products for consumers instead of geeks. But I digress….)

With a phone, you really have two options; you can create an infrastructure that protects a user from the malware and jerks out there (that’s your walled garden, your “only through the App Store” model), or you can let users install anything. And as soon as you do the latter, the hackers start playing the identity theft, steal-your-info game, and as soon as that hits the press (which it will), the vendor is put under immense pressure to fix it. And the way you can fix it is to build walls around your garden. Seriously. 

Here’s the other challenge: if you let “just anything” on the phone, it’s typically the PHONE’s fault when things start crashing, at least in the eyes of the consumer. And if the consumer decides the phone is unreliable or crappy, guess what happens? It goes back to the phone store and is replaced by a different model. And if enough phones get returned to the stores, the stores stop pushing your phone. And if enough stores stop pushing your phone, your friend the carrier stops returning your phone calls, and you suddenly realize their TV commercials now feature someone else’s phones. And then you’re screwed. 

So a practical reality is that geeks like open, but only a tiny percentage of a phone’s audience is geeks. Most of the market likes simple, but really, what they want is for it to work. And once you open it up to outside code (aka, third party apps), you lose a lot of control over just how reliable it’s going to be. So as the vendor, now you’re figuring out which set of compromises you have to make to allow for diverse app ecosystems — without that ecosystem creating situations that cause your platform to fail, either because the users return your phones, or because the carriers stop selling them, or because the developers stop writing for it (killing the ecosystem). 

If you can navigate that set of ulcer-creating compromises, THEN you can start worrying about how to also keep the geeks happy. Apple’s choice seems to be to tolerate (sort of) the jail breakers, as long as jail breaking isn’t TOO easy (meaning too many consumers start doing it and then screaming when bad things happen as if it’s Apple’s fault); with webOS, we went with homebrew and more openly embraced it. And yes, we did have have long talks about whether to enable homebrew with a big red flashing button that says “if you do this,  we can’t protect you from the big bad world any more”. 

The problem comes when people want both the openness of an unregulated ecosystem — and for the vendor to be responsible that nothing bad happens when they go unregulated. Apple forcing you to jailbreak IOS more or less limits jail breakers to people technically savvy enough to understand “on your own”, although nothing’s perfect or 100%. 

Stop and think about it. How do you have an open phone — and protect that phone from the kind of apps we’ve seen on Android; Google was a lot more open about it’s app market to start, and had to figure this out the hard way.

Consumers don’t think like geeks. Nor do they want to. They want it to work. They want it to do the things they want done. they don’t want to have to jump through hoops, and they aren’t really tolerant of a phone that doesn’t do that. They will replace the phone if it messes up too often, and you live or die with a carrier on your sales AND your return rates. When that return rate goes up, bad things happen. (or so I’ve heard).

So the question of limiting access to only vendor approved apps through a vendor approved app store is never really a question. A phone is a lot more limited environment than a desktop computer, with a lot of sensitive user data to protect. And users are a LOT less tolerant of their phone randomly crashing than they’ve been conditioned to be about their Windows XP system crashing… 

I thought we struck the right balance between the walled garden and giving users an open alternative in a way where they knew what the tradeoffs were. I definitely like the webOS approach of enabling homebrew more than the IOS model of  tolerating jail breaking; but no vendor has delivered a phone that is truly open and unmanaged that’s sold more than a token number of units, nor will they. That’s the nature of the mobile device. 

Think about it: if anyone thought that being unwalled was a competitive advantage against Apple, don’t you think someone would have gone up against them with that strategy by now? Yet everyone emulates Apple’s setup. There’s a reason for that: it works, and the alternatives don’t. 

They sound good, until the first time you find out that tip calculator you downloaded shipped off all your credit card info to Moldova, and the phone vendor and the carrier can’t do anything about it because the garden has no walls. People love to complain that the walls hinder their view of the landscape — until the Huns come over the hill and flash their swords as they move towards the village… 

But by bringing up the prison thing, the EFF’s authors aren’t making their case more compelling. Instead, they’ve giving readers a convenient opportunity to roll their eyes and reject their argument. 

When you take extreme, no-compromise positions and use extremist rhetoric like this, you do a disservice to your cause in a couple of ways. One is that as noted, you make it easy for people to write you off and write off your position (good points and all). the other is that you get minimized out of the discussion because you’re simply unpleasant to deal with. It’s the more moderate voices that tend to sway and move, not the zealots. think about it. As much as I’ll give credit to Stallman and company and the early editions of the GPL for bringing forward the open source movement, in the last decade, most of the real innovation and energy in the movement has been because of more moderate positions and voices (especially the people driving the BSD license, or instance). 



Posted in Computers and Technology

And now we’re down to two

And now we’re down to two: New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings. 

Which just goes to show nobody this year should be betting based on my picks. I thought the Kings would prevail in a tough fight. In fact? the Kings were clearly a dominant team, and the Coyotes never really had a chance. And I was convinced the Rangers were a lock, and in fact, while it was a really close, tight series, the more I watched the Devils, the more I saw a team building confidence and believing. Even if the Rangers had gotten game six to go their way, I don’t think the Rangers would have won game seven. The Devils deserved it. 

Still, I was 1-1 in the conference finals, which makes me 6-8 this year in calling series. All things considered, that’s not too bad. I don’t think many pundits picked the Devils and Kings in the finals, and the few who did are having entertaining talks with their bookies. 

I can admit to a couple of things: I’m really looking forward to this Cup Final, and I’m ready for hockey to end for a while. I’ve really enjoyed the playoff hockey, but I won’t mind not having hockey around for a few weeks. Still, a few more games won’t suck. 

In this round? I think there are reasons to pick both teams; I love the Kings youthful enthusiasm and Jonathan Quick in goal. I respect the Devils’ veteran poise and work ethic, and Brodeur has impressed me (more than I expected to. I do believe he’s at that point where he needs to place fewer regular season games to play well in the playoffs.)

I do think I’m going to pick the Kings here. They have more reset, and I’ll take rest over rust in this situation. I think they’re better suited to handle the travel, being from the West and knowing how to pace themselves. And I think Quick can AT LEAST duel Brodeur to a draw, and if he can, then I think that bodes well for the Kings.

And I have a soft spot in my heart for Lombardi and Sutter. I’d really like to see them win this. 

So let’s say… Kings in six. 

Good luck to LA starting Wednesday. (and bonus points if they put the series down faster…)

Posted in Sports - Hockey