When I re-launched this blog, I’d been
kicking around some ideas for things I wanted to write. A month has
passed, and I haven’t quite managed to turn any of these into
something I want to share. They’ve also started to converge on a
single idea, though. Let’s start there.
The sense of “experience” that I
want to convey is quality. In technology, a good experience is
when a product (be it hardware, software, or service) augments or
extends your own capabilities in a way that seems natural, or even
enjoyable. I think this is the same sense of the word when used by
“User Experience” (UX) professionals. In less words, it’s the
thing Apple is good at.
The exact “Freedom” I mean is
harder to pin down, but the Free Software movement’s “Freedom 0”
is pretty close: the freedom to use something without restriction to
how or why.
These two things haven’t always been
opposed, and they often aren’t. Increasingly, though, Freedom is
being abandoned for experience.
Here’s a concrete example: An iPhone can only run software purchased
through Apple’s App Store. This is just the way it is. There has
never been “freedom 0” on the iPhone, and this
turns out to be a win for experience: an iPhone customer doesn’t have to think about where
apps come from, or worry about installing viruses or malware. For
most people the downsides of this approach are mostly theoretical
(say, if you wanted to run or write an
app that tracks drone strikes), and not worth thinking about.
On Apple’s other computing platform (the Mac), you can basically do what you want. You can
purchase and/or download apps from any source, and generally use the computer how you wish.
Except, in the latest version of Mac OS (Mountain
Lion), there are features (mostly related to iCloud) only
accessible to apps purchased through the app store. What Microsoft
has done with Windows 8 is a shade more severe: the newly re-designed
Windows interface (what
used to be called “Metro”) is only available to App Store
That’s the basic shape of the trend: locked-down mobile platforms have proven so good
for experience (and lucrative for the platform owners) that freedom 0
is considered an acceptable casualty.
How big a problem is this?
I’m not sure. For one thing, what about other “freedoms”? Locked-down platforms are
less susceptible to viruses and other scumware. As a customer, not
having to worry about that kind of stuff is a kind of freedom; just
like central app stores “free” you from having to worry about
where you get software.
So, I’m not
prepared to make a moral or ethical judgment on this trend, but I
know I prefer to use tools without built-in restrictions. I
don’t think people who choose otherwise are dupes, dummies, or
“sheeple”– but the free options need to be preserved.