Corporate DNA and competitive advantage

Apple seems to be making more aggressive moves against those who wish to customize its products. A firmware update slated for release soon will break, possibly permanently, iPhones that have been "unlocked.

Apple seems to be making more aggressive moves against those who wish to customize its products. A firmware update slated for release soon will break, possibly permanently, iPhones that have been "unlocked." Combined with take-down notices sent to a site dedicated to iPod hacking, Apple seems to be drawing a line in the sand against those who would customize systems without Apple's approval.

Now, to be fair, Apple isn't the only company that aims to prevent end users from customizing their hardware. Microsoft works hard to prevent XBOX from being modified. Further, Apple iPhone is a promised exclusive to AT&T (something the SIM unlocking works around, though Apple doesn't offer the option of legal SIM-unlocked iPhones, much less customization), and both the iPhone and the iPod are supposed to be DRM-safe consumer endpoints for digital media. I'm sure media companies have played some part in encouraging Apple to clamp down on those who might alter the software in those nice looking digital lockboxes.

On the other hand, Apple is not known as a company who takes a "devil may care" attitude to third party development. If Linux and open source is a bazaar, and Microsoft is a mall with a lot of independent stores, then Apple is the big store in a one-store town that has a few third-party shops contained inside it which are tightly controlled from the center.

Apple's instincts are not developer-oriented, because that's not the kind of company Apple is. That's understandable, as Apple is a hardware company first and foremost, but it is a different corporate orientation entirely to Microsoft, who is a software and platforms company in its core.

I have always liked Microsoft's developer orientation. Granted, I'm a developer so have a certain bias in that regard, but I'm also an economist (sort of...at least, that's what my degree was in), and I view the large software ecosystem unified around a common software layer as the the result of a developer orientation that led directly to Microsoft's current dominance in the computing space. In other words, a developer orientation is a proven market winner.

I want Microsoft to continue that developer orientation in everything they do, including XBOX. Media delivery devices, like cable television set-top boxes, will always be more closed than desktop computers (fans of Linux-based media centers might beg to differ, but so long as media companies insist on some form of DRM, I don't see an alternative). That doesn't mean that every Microsoft product shouldn't have healthy bundles of developer hooks...even the ones targeted at media delivery. Sandbox the code if you must, but create extensibility options that enable third parties to develop extensions that boost the popularity of your products.

Apple may come around to that realization at some point, as they continue to turn their growing hardware web into a software ecosystem (Mac OS X is being used in Mac computers, iPhones and iPods these days). Microsoft should never have to be convinced of the merits of that approach, however. It should be our approach from day one.

On that note, I wonder how open a resurrected Newton will be?

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