Why Open Systems Rock and Suck in Equal Measure

As a testament to the recent rapid change in the lexicon, I’m going to state that I have pwned my iPhone, and just assume that readers will both know what pwned means, and how to pronounce it. I will however offer the small tip that it is not pronounced “porn”, as my 12 year old cousin believed when he announced that he would “porn me” in a game of CoD 4.

I noted a comment on Twitter soon after the announcement of the latest pwnage tool, along the lines of “we don’t really need this now that we have the App Store“. This comment shows the complete lack of understanding on Open Systems. The App Store is the absolute antithesis of Open. There are many, many ways in which the App Store is restricted, with just one of those being the fact that developers can’t directly update broken software without first having it queued and vetted by what appear to be a small group of drunken three-toed sloths. Gather ’round folks, and witness the frustration in real time!

The App Store is but a wee germ in the wider story of the closed, proprietary iPhone. You see with a closed system, even experts in the system have no way to fix any issues they come across. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present my very own exhibit A.

Without the benefits of pwnage, I would have had no way to fix that ugly mail bug. The common workaround is to completely reset your iPhone to factory settings, losing all your contacts, SMS, photos, etc.. If I have forked over a fair chunk of readies in order to quite literally own a piece of hardware, why do I then have to then go to some shady hackers (in the pejorative, front-page sense of the word) to get access to my hardware?

Apple and “The Labels” will tell you it’s to protect their Intellectual Property. Apple will also tell you that the App Store is the only way to keep rogue applications from installing themselves onto the iPhone, running amok, and eventually climbing out of the iPhone and strangling your cat to death.

The dirtly little secret? Several thousand original iPhones (including mine) have been unlocked and running these crazed guerilla applications for months. Not a single kitten has been harmed. I would go so far as saying that the quality of those free, open applications have been considerably higher than some of the $1.19 schlock from the App Store that will force my iPhone to reboot if I hold my tongue wrong.

There is of course a catch 22 in my entire argument: open systems SUCK. The “Open” equivalent to the iPhone is the highly anticipated OpenMoko phone. A phone that comes with full source code and schematics. A phone the open fanboys have been salivating about. A phone with an interface quite charitably described as a train wreck.


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