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Depite my great and brand new phone and its wonderous open-sorcery, I still don’t hate Apple.

I mean, I assume my new phone is great, as I write this it still hasn’t arrived.

I said, at the end of that article, that the choice of whether I wanted to waste my battery life is mine, the choice of what I install on my computer is mine. This is because I am a geek, and it matters to me.

I actually believe that there is not a right to tinker. In fact, having worked Desktop Support for a while in both professional and power-user contexts, I am firmly of the opinion that the right to tinker by someone who “knows better” than the guy who set up the system is, sometimes, to be nuked. From orbit. Twice.

In fact, the concept of giving a barely-computer-literate a machine that will work one way, can do the things it should do and also let them change the wallpaper, is a Very Good Idea, because it would minimise the amount of time I, or someone like me, spent on the phone or in a dusty back-office attempting to work out how to revirginise the PC in front of me.

(My favourite, ever, was a machine with a Windows 2000 install where they had infected it with a couple of buckets of spyware, and then ran out of diskspace as the porn-bot-net it was running filled up the hard drive. They had then seen the “Compress Drive” option when looking for ways of gaining space back. As a result, you had a PC running out of memory, where all its swap files needed to be decompressed in memory before access. It ran like almsot frozen blackstrap molasses)

One of the favourite metaphors surrounding the closedness of the iPhone & iPad ecosystems (For those of you playing at home, the iPad and iPhone can only get software via the “App Store”, which required apple vet every piece of software available. The vetting process is currently inconsistant, which is bad, but there is no other way to install stuff, which people see as worse) is that of the car engine, and how this turns the computer industry from the old days where you could see where all the bits went, into the modern car industry where everything is hermatically sealled under a plastic case. The complaint is that the barrier to tinker with your stuff is now higher.

I can accept some of this. I have been tinkering with computers for longer than I can remember. one of my earliest memories is crawling along the carpet to behind the sofa, and pressing the magic button on the white thing that made the numbers go to zero. This – I found out many years later – was the tape counter on a Commadore 64. My first computer was this same C64, where the entire interface *was* a Basic input shell. Shift Run-Stop, Press Play on Tape. I can see how people would say that this meant more people would become computer programmers when they grew up, but I think we’ve already passed that. With PCs up until Windows 95 and the Rise of the Mac, you *had* to learn the basic concepts of computer command lines to use them, be it the ability to type “cd gamesDoom” “doom2” or the inner workings of the config.sys file on the boot disk you created for when you wanted to play Theme Park.

The rise of GUIs pushed a lot of the people who would have become programmers, I think, to having their first experience of source code to be HTML. It just shifts a bit, and if it means that people do not have to understand how a computer works in order to use it, that’s possibly even better. To continue the car simile for a bit, it’s not as if the rise of BMW-type sealled engine blocks entirely removed the people who know how your car works. I’m pretty sure that the people with the mental tendancy to tinker with code aren’t going to be put off forever because their phone or their video player doesn’t compile things for them, as they’ll gravitate to the ones that do, and if it means that I can know my non-existant Uncle Martin has bought an iPad and I won’t be spending the 27th December scrubbing spyware from it, so much to the better.

2 comments
  1. I don’t have an issue with giving dire warnings to people venturing outside the box. I don’t have a problem with people who tinker receiving less support (although please let’s not go the route of “tinkering with the software voids your warrenty”, unless there’s really stupid stuff done)… but there’s no need for manufacturers to actively work against those who want to tinker, and I have a big issue with, in the US, tinkering actually being illegal (as soon as somebody calls it a circumvention of a copy protection mechanism).

    I like the way that Palm has done this. When you take a Pre out of the box, it will only install stuff from the Palm App Catalog. If you want to tinker, it is very easy to enable “developer mode”, which then allows you to have root access to the device. The option to do this is non-obvious (you have to type in the Konami code :-)), so nobody can do it just by exploring the menus. Palm have never officially condoned such tinkering, but they have also never deliberately caused problems for it, and Palm executives have said in interviews that they love to use particular non-official apps.

    What also helps is that they’ve designed things so that it is practically impossible to brick the device – unless you have physically broken something (e.g. by overclocking), it’s always possible to zap it back to a factory state.

  2. IHNJ, IJLTS, “I agree with Ni^H^HAq”

    I probably fall into the “inclined to tinker” category, but it’s not as if Apple have violated some fundamental human right by supplying me with a phone I can’t tinker with much. I bought an iPhone with my eyes open, knowing what I was getting — a phone that Just Works, in a way my previous Symbian phones Just… well… Didn’t.

    If I want to tinker, well, that’s why every other computing device in my life runs some form of Linux. My mobile phone, like my VCR[1] isn’t something I have a desire to hack on, and so it’s an area where I’m happy to buy a sealed appliance and just enjoy using it.

    [1] OK, so I don’t own a VCR, nor even a TV, but if I did have a modern-VCR-equivalent I’d want a sealed appliance, preferably one as shiny as my iPhone.

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