Open Sesame

Companies have a choice when they decide to open up their network/product or keep it closed.

For a long time many companies were giving us the false choice, namely:

“Do you want an open system that may be prone to bugs, security risks, lack of incentives or a closed system that is polished and works reliably.”

We heard that false choice again and agin. Mainframes vs PC, walled garden vs open web, carriers and set top box manufacturers.

That is what Apple first asked when they shipped the first version of the iphone. Their answer at the time was basically “We are keeping this phone closed and that is for your own good”.

With the arrival of the Apple App Store it’s now clear that open beats closed. All day long.

And that is true when it comes to networks, consumer electronics, and web services.

I was reading Techdirt earlier today and this quote from Prof Felton at Princeton struck a chord with me:

Generally, the closer a system is to being open, the more practical autonomy end users will have to control it, and the more easily unauthorized third-party apps can be built for it. An almost-open system must necessarily be built by starting with an open technical infrastructure and then trying to lock it down; but given the limits of real-world lockdown technologies, this means that customers will be able to jailbreak the system.

In short, nature abhors a functionality vacuum. Design your system to remove functionality, and users will find a way to restore that functionality. Like Apple, appliance vendors are better off leading this parade than trying to stop it.

That’s one reason that I’ve put my money where my mouth is….