Apple, Microsoft, and openness

Apple, Microsoft, and openness

Summary: If you allow yourself to look at big corporations through the filter of conventional wisdom, all sorts of distortions emerge. Case in point: A couple of premier Web 2.0 sites this week praised Yahoo and Apple for "getting" what Google and Microsoft don't. But a closer look at the example they used shows that it's just business as usual.


If you allow yourself to look at big corporations through the filter of conventional wisdom, all sorts of strange distortions emerge.

Case in point: Tim O'Reilly approvingly quotes this snippet from a post by Michael Arrington about Apple's new .mac webmail service:

What users want is a rich internet interface for email. What they don’t want is four different interfaces for four different email accounts. What Yahoo and Apple get, and what Google and Microsoft don’t, is that to “own” the user you have to allow them to access competitor’s services as well as your own. Google has the best pure free email service on the Internet. But they don’t have the best interface. Yahoo does. And now Apple is combining the power of Yahoo’s open approach to email with the ability to sync their service to a desktop client. [emphasis in original]

To which I say, "Huh?"

Since when does Apple "allow [users] to access competitor's services as well as [their] own?" Does any version of iTunes allow a customer to purchase music from Real's Rhapsody service, or for that matter from Yahoo Music? (No.) Does Apple allow users of other software and portable devices to purchase music from its stores? (No.) Why can't you transfer Yahoo Music Unlimited purchases to your iPod? (Because Apple doesn't allow access to its own services by any competitors. It doesn't license its FairPlay DRM to anyone else, either.)

Is this wrong? Depends on your point of view, I guess. If I were an officer or shareholder of Apple, I would fiercely protect the monopoly I've created in the music business and would only open it up if forced to do so. Just as Microsoft does with its Windows monopoly. If I believed that openness was the Holy Grail of computing, I'd have a hard time with either company.

The partnership between Apple and Yahoo in their webmail clients is just that: a partnership. It's frankly not all that different from the deal that Microsoft and Yahoo have worked out to allow their instant messaging clients to interoperate with one another. Does that deal mean that Microsoft is suddenly committed to openness? Of course not, any more than this Apple-Yahoo deal implies a new spirit of openness in Cupertino.

A commitment to openness isn't compatible with the business model of any large publicly traded corporation, regardless of how cool its industrial designs may be. Opening up selective parts of your business is just smart business. Knowing when to keep them closed is also just smart business. If you want to convince me that Apple is suddenly becoming more open, let me know when they allow OS X to run on hardware they didn't build. Or even in virtual machines, the way every other modern OS does.

Topic: Apple

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  • In the case of mail...

    ...I use Apple's "Mail" program to access all of my various e-mail accounts, including GMail. That's one thing that Google got right that Hotmail and Yahoo haven't, at least as far as my usage goes. I can configure my GMail account as a POP account and access it from whatever program I want. You have to pay extra to do this with Hotmail, not sure about Yahoo.
    tic swayback
    • Eh, not really

      If you read the comments on Arrington's post, he makes it clear he's talking about the web interface, not POP clients.

      You have to pay extra to access a Yahoo account via POP. Gmail allows POP access through any account. Hotmail doesn't support POP access at all although you can use an email client such as Outlook or Windows Live Mail Desktop that supports HTTP, or you can use any of several free third-party utilities to link the HTTP mail to your POP client.

      But those are pretty much side issues.
      Ed Bott
      • It is another example of open-ness though

        Google, for free, lets you use any e-mail client you choose. I think this is comparable to asking the iTunes store to let you play your songs on any player. It's a point where Google does indeed have things right, and the others, due to their lack of openness, are left behind.
        tic swayback
        • Yes, I agree

          But I think this kind of proves my point. It's in Google's business interests to have this sort of openness. And as the last of the major players to have e-mail, they were better able to do it. You'll note that it took them a very long time to make their address book able to export addresses. A lot of people complained about that.

          In general, I would agree with you that of the four companies mentioned in Arrington's article, Google is probably the most consistent at using open standards and making their products interoperate well. The exact opposite of Arrington's point.
          Ed Bott
      • Not true

        <i>You have to pay extra to access a Yahoo account via POP.</i>

        Not true, I use multiple yahoo mail accounts which I collect using POP and have never paid Yahoo a penny. I do let them email me one advertising email a week for the privelege.
        • Maybe you have a special account

          My mail account won't allow POP access unless I upgrade to a Yahoo Mail Plus account for $20 a year. And all the information I read at Yahoo says that's the way it is for current subscribers.

          Don't know why yours is different, but I can't get that offer, nor can new subscribers.
          Ed Bott
    • There are various tools (Daemons/scripts) that gather Web based mail.....

      For free for any platform to use with any or your favorite mail program.

      I let my Hotmail accounts laps last year, and they were my oldest accounts pre-MS 95~96.
      Anyway there was a daemon Hot~somthing? which allowed me to get my all my hotmail accounts in my favorite mail reader Kmail. (ther was another for yahoo)

      I keep my business & casual mail separated now and leave web mail on the web...
      But there are many such tools which do this if one has the need or interest... Like MrPostman & others
    • FreePOPS

      Works with all popular OSes and works with most web based e-mails (click the modules link for a full list).

      I don't like it when they give you a lack of choice either, but when a small, low-overhead daemon like this gives me that choice right back I don't lose too much sleep over it.
      Michael Kelly
      • Thank you!

        Thanks, I'll check this out. The Mrs. still on occasion uses an old hotmail account, so this could be helpful.
        tic swayback
  • Accessing accounts

    Programs exist to allow simultaneous access to all email accounts, Pop3 and web. I use ePrompter.

    Also, the Yahoo and Hotmail interfaces are not that much different. The author quoted seems to be making much of a distinction without a difference here as well.

    If he wanted to complain about any company, I think he should have chosen AOL and IM.
    But maybe complaining about AOL is too easy, fish in the barrel these days.

    You're right about the importance of proprietary information to a public company. But communications software is valued for communicating. It's an advantage, a feature for it to be able to connect with other software. The product can be distinguished on some other basis, I think.
    Anton Philidor
  • Mail gets stretched to music? i don't think so

    The premise of this article is a little false.

    First, has the iTunes Music Store made back the money they had
    to invest in it? Probably but it is not nearly as mature a market
    as email, which, goes back to before Windows 95 if I remember
    correctly and has always been free.

    iTunes Music Store is a profit center for Apple. Email is
    not. .Mac is and it has many products.

    The entire Apple operating system is open source. Safari started
    life as an open source product but had to go private.

    I think people should stop comparing MS and Apple. They don't
    compete on software because OS X isn't useable on hardware
    sold by other vendors.

    Compare Apple to Dell, HP, Compaq or Acer and all you will find
    the others have to offer is a price differential. But they all run

    Computer-computer comparison is apples to apples. Computer
    to Software comparison is apples to oranges. As is comparing
    mail to music selling and listening.

    Just a reminder, you don't have to buy music from the iTunes
    Music Store to listen to it on your iPod. But you do have to
    either download the music illegally without any DRM or load it
    from a CD. That includes music burned to a CD from
    • This should be fun...

      "The entire Apple operating system is open source."

      Get yourself a good seat, folks. I'm expecting some fireworks.
      Ed Bott
  • Can't buy from other stores?

    The magnatunes I've bought say otherwise.
    • Huh?

      Does Apple allow Magnatune to access its store through iTunes? Does Apple allow any other software or device maker to access ITMS?

      Of course you can download music from Magnatune or eMusic or anywhere else that sells non-DRMed tracks and transfer them to your iPod. You can do the same with any music device. But that's not the same as Apple opening up its services so customers can access services of competitors.
      Ed Bott
      • All I care about

        ss whether or not it's playable on my iPod. Other integration is irrelevant to me. Dragging from a download directory into my library doesn't bother me.

        What I'd like to know, what do the companies that licensed PlayForSure are feeling now that they're locked out of Zune.

        Companies have a choice
        a) Sell un-DRM'ed, portable music
        b) Sell DRM'ed, and if it's licensed instead of home grown, hope like hell the provider doesn't decide it doesn't like you anymore.

        You are at the whim of the DRM provider, and open DRM is impossible (to be pedantic, so is real DRM for that matter); not a very tenable position.
      • Store no, iTunes yes

        ---Does Apple allow Magnatune to access its store through iTunes?---

        Apple does allow you to import your Magnatune purchases to iTunes. And, many of the artists selling music through Magnatune can also be found for sale in the iTunes store.

        ---Does Apple allow any other software or device maker to access ITMS?---

        A few directly, mainly Motorola phones. Others indirectly through cd burns.

        ---But that's not the same as Apple opening up its services so customers can access services of competitors.---

        I'm not sure I agree with what you're proposing here. Should the local Dell store be forced to allow Apple reps into the store to sell Apple computers? Should the local Jiffy-Lube have to allow Sears Auto Center to sell services through their stores as well? Should Microsoft have to let Linux users have access to their devices (Zune is Windows only, for example, as are all the PFS stores)? Is it okay to build a business around your own products and exclude those of your competitors?
        tic swayback
        • I'm not proposing anything

          The whole critique of this column is about a columnist for a leading Web 2.0 site who praised Apple for "allowng users to access competitor?s services" through Apple software.

          They did no such thing. I think I made it pretty darn clear what my thoughts are in the column.

          Again, this isn't about Apple, it's about Web 2.0 cheerleading that reinforces corporate stereotypes when the reality is exactly the opposite.
          Ed Bott
          • Thanks

            Sorry, I was finding things a bit confusing. I do think there is great benefit for the user in being able to access multiple services through one mechanism. But at the same time, I understand why a company wouldn't want to promote a competitor's business over their own. Maybe the only place we can expect things like this is from third parties (maybe something like Trillian as an example).
            tic swayback
        • Don't know if I agree with that

          "Should the local Dell store be forced to allow Apple reps into the store to sell Apple computers?"

          I don't think that's a correct analogy. It's more like should DELL refuse to sell to me because I own a IPOD and took it into thier store.

          I-Tunes is software that links to an online store. I'm assuming I got that right but feel free to correct me. So that store is kind of saying leave your non-Apple music at the door before entering. Hmm where do you hear that? Theatres maybe? They don't allow you to bring any food or drink in and if you don't like Coke and want Pepsi instead it's tough cookies. So if it's fair for theatres to do why isn't it fair for Apple to do?
  • What does iTunes have to do with accessing email from a web client?

    How does an article about web-based email clients turn into a rant about iTunes? As far as I can tell the entire basis for the rant is an out of context quote. The quote was about web-based email, not music, not OSes, not platforms of any type.

    I also did not see any reference in the quoted article about an email client partnership between Yahoo and Apple. All I see are comparisons between the two.

    As to the discussions about accessing POP email, the article referred to using Yahoo and .Mac to access outside POP accounts, not using an outside client to access Yahoo or .Mac email. I can, for example, use Yahoo to access my RoadRunner account. I cannot do that using Gmail. The article states that I would be able to do that using .Mac, but I have to defer to someone who actually pays for it.