Wk11: Close To You – the open and closed debate, and do we care?

Open source, open platforms, closed ecosystems – seems these terms have been bandied about A LOT of late. They are very technical terms, and very important causes, with plenty of pros and cons on both sides.

But what about outside of the technical world?

For the music fan, the movie fan, the culturalist – where should we stand on the open vs closed debate? And should we even care?

I think we should.

But there are lots of arguments for and against either side. But maybe we can boil them down to some clear and simple headlines to keep in mind.

Open.

The idea of it is built upon one of the very foundations of the web – that all data is equal.

Open-source, open-standards, open-platforms – it all comes from that core idea. That we share information. That we remain transparent. (I’m going to refer to open-anything as “Open”).

Did you know that you can “View Source” on any website? It brings up the code for that website. Not that many people had code websites from scratch anymore, but I can see how anyone created any part of their website, and replicate that. And by doing that, learn a new skill.

A lot of great stuff has come from the world of “Open”. Firefox is probably the best example – built on a system that is completely open. The great thing is people can create more stuff that fits right into Firefox. I have an All Music Guide search bar, for instance.

This blog is created on WordPress, one of the best examples of “Open” when it works. WordPress is a “distributed company” – it’s employees all work remotely, around the planet. And they all develop for this blogging software separately (or in teams). The whole thing is open, they don’t need to worry about permission from the boss or others.

Here. Take it all. Go make something.

Closed.

Essentially, the idea that something (software, hardware), is protected, mostly as intellectual property. And you can’t screw around with it.

Even though the web is built a spirit of “Open”, computing has been ruled by “Closed”. Microsoft Office is the most famous. If you want to create an add-on for Office, you had to pay Microsoft to un “close” the door for you.

And it works. It protected the program’s integrity, and helped make it perhaps the most popular computer program in the world ever.

Similarly Apple, with it’s “closed” iTunes systems means that there is only one way to use it – Apple’s way. You don’t really own the program. You pay the company for the use of it.

But to understand it better, there is a very clear example of the spirit of “open” vs the spirit of “closed”. It’s MySpace vs Facebook.

Although not completely open-source, MySpace certainly came from the place of “Open”. You could, if you knew HTML coding, change your MySpace profile into almost anything. You could move stuff around, change all the colours and more.

Facebook, however, is very “closed”. Although they allow for some development, they a cordoned-off sandboxes in a larger, unchanging ground. You are just borrwing some space, really.

But the success and failures of both are at the heart of what “Open” and “Closed” means for us – non programming, no techie types.

“Open” is great for the technically savvy and inventive, but for a majority of us wh don’t know what we’re doing, looks shit. “Closed” traps us to conform with everyone else – but at 500 million users – maybe we’re ok with that?

The “Open” vs “Closed” fight has now gone to the tablet world. Google’s Android system is “Open”. Apple’s iPad is “Closed”. Android supporters, Apple haters and techies all attack the iPad’s “Closed” spirit. Over and over in announcements and press releases, the “Closed” point is beaten home.

But does anyone care?

Because Android has a big, huge, fineprint. Android is “Open”, and that means open to everyone. Including a simple Wallpaper App that was sending user’s personal data to somewhere in China. And it’s against the spirit of “Open” to stop it.

On the other hand, iPads and the iOS securoity measures is akin to censorship. Sure, Playboy can’t get on the store. But neither can iTunes competitors. Or clever programs that don’t fit Apple’s incredibly strict guidelines.

Yet, the iPad is the success. As is Facebook.

So who wins?

I think we have to all accept that there has to be both.

Further – that most people will go with “Closed”.

And early adopters and techies will go with “Open”.

There’s no use pumping out PR about how much better “Open” is, and how it is better for innovation and creativity. Most people don’t want innovation and creativity. They want robust and reliable. And they’ve voted that way time and time again. They voted to close.

As for “Open”, it is hugely important to keep it around. Not only as opposition – although there is a sense of “keeping the bastards honest”. But as a place for those who are more innovative, tech savvy and creative than the average bear to out those big ideas to use. Create it for the world, and the world will follow later.

I think it’s time to stop those silly articles about which is better – “Open” or “Closed”. It confuses people. And it distracts from what is truly better or worse about your product.

And in the end, there will always be a audience for both. And one far more than the other. Get over it. Case closed.

Android App sends data to China – http://www.cultofmac.com/android-app-sends-personal-data-to-china/52929

Recent discussion on Digital Planet about the “Closed” iPad. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00f32rt

Wk10: Let’s All Turn On – Loading time woes.

How long do we have to wait?

Some people say computers are a waste of time. And they really, really are.

In 2009, I had a job where my computer was very slow. But also, we were trying to be green (ta, Trish), so we did the right thing and we turned off our computers every night (including monitors). So one day I decided to time how long it took my computer to boot up.

It took 6 minutes.

But not just 6 minutes. It took 6 minutes for the desktop to appear. But with all sorts of autorun systems in the background, it took closer to 9 minutes before Outlook could launch, and I could start being productive.

We all knew our computers were slow, but what could we do about it. Most days there would be people in the kitchen, making coffees as they waited for their computers to start up. The usual thought about this was – well, if only we had new computers.

But would that really do the trick?

It is something I’ve been looking at with most computers I come across. And trying to measure beyond “boot-up” times, but when you can really become productive. And new computers are good mainly because they are empty. After a few weeks off adding your favourite programs they turn to shit – boot-up time wise.

Add to that the time it takes for programs to start. The worst ones are Microsoft office and Adobe programs. Sure they only tale 30 second to a minute, but they are used often in most offices. Are we losing around 5 minutes a day on these things?

(Don’t get me started on Flash websites. Why is your website so important that I have to wait?)

It all adds up. 15 minutes of watching things load a day means over an hour a week. Over 50 hours a year. Multiplied by the hundreds of millions of people who are in similar positions.

But this has always been the case. Computers have always taken ages to start up. Word and Photoshop have built-in launch logos. We are supposed to wait. This is the way it’s always been – but is it the way it always has to be?

If I stuck a modern processor chip into my computer 10 years ago and ran Photoshop 4, it would launch in an instant. If moore’s law is true, my computer is 32 times more powerful that it was 10 years ago.

How can we cut down or eliminate waiting times now?

As with most things in this column, it’s the place where human culture meets technology.

I don’t think (most) computer manufacturers and software writers care about making people wait.

And we as consumers accept it as an artificial given.

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

The idea of “instant on” has started to kick around in the last few years (and standard on the new Macbook air). But it’s more a novel feature than a productivity claim. We need to demand this feature of our hardware manufacturers. Software makers are not even on the map.

I can already hear people say “why can’t you just wait a few minutes?”. Firstly, fuck you. If you think this way you are an idiot. There are a hundred reasons.

Productivity leads to faster advances in our lives. Better ways of communicating. Faster overthrows of dictators! If we can do more faster, then maybe we wouldn’t be so taxing on the environment. But mostly – because we can. Because we have reached this point. Because we were smart enough to invent this, we should be using it.

It seems anti-progress, but if we simply took a break from adding new features for a second and let processors speeds catch up, we could achieve instant-on for almost everything in a year or two.

But instead, developers assume you have to wait about 1 minute or two, they might as well throw features in there until the wait times become unbearable.

How about working on “instant-on” as a feature? I personally would sacrifice new splashy stuff on Word like xhtml crap for a faster loading time.

It’s why I like the App world so much. It is streamlining many features of programs to their essential core. If we can bring that to laptops and desktops, we could cut down the wait. Sadly, in looks like loading screens have been built into many Apps as well.

Computers are doubling in power every two years (according to Moore’s Law). But we are using that speed to pack things on top of existing hardware and software. But we need to go back to the core.

It’s like spending money on a car for a new paint job and speakers but ignoring the engine.

We need to remember why computers were great in the first place. Because they could do things quickly. And there’s no use having a fast computer if it takes you ages to get into it.

I am sick of waiting. In the vast improvements that happen every day, it seems I have always wasted 15 minutes a day just waiting for things to load.

Let’s open up the hood and do something about it.