One of the last big hits of the pre-PC gaming era was Ogre, which came out in 1977. Production costs were slashed as one player had one piece, the Ogre, and the other player had all the rest.
Apple played its own hand of Ogre at about that time. Its Apple II was the Ogre, a closed ecosystem. Its array of opponents supported the late Ed Roberts' S-100 bus.
The game ended in 1981 when IBM combined the marketing of Apple with the open architecture of the S-100 in the IBM PC. It was like mom calling us all inside to put on our suits and go back to school.
Flash forward 30 years and Apple is playing a second round. IBM is in its rear-view mirror, Apple now almost $40 billion ahead in market cap.
The other player in this case is Google, with its Android. They're the next generation.
As open source, the Android has all the advantages of Ed Roberts' bus, and more. Google is responsible for making the base technology competitive, and the other players can twist it into any shape they choose. Combine everyone's marketing budgets and the game is about equal.
ComScore has the Android at number four in the market, but as Dick Clark would say, with a bullet. Apple has a quarter of the market, and (believe it or not) President Obama and his Blackberry-wielding friends still hold a steady 40%.
But I must question whether the Blackberry really is a smart phone, in the way that the iPhone and Android are. It's about high-volume messaging, quick hits of data, and a keyboard. The iPhone re-defined the architecture, the Android followed, and with the iPad that architecture is now all grown-up.
Our own Matt Asay and the great Cory Doctorow insist the debate is about "hackability" -- the power of users to customize the device and make it their own.
I think they're both wrong. I think this is about the power of ecosystems.
It's the same argument we had in the Ogre days, back when I had hair. It's a battle between centralized power and decentralized competition.
There's not a snowball's chance in hellfire Apple's lawyers can stop the game -- Blackberry survived a worse patent nightmare.
This game is going to play out to the end. Mom's not calling you away to supper early this time, Mr. Jobs.
Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to get down my Bowie, Costello and Steely Dan LPs, fire up the old 8-track in my AMC Pacer, settle down and enjoy the show. The question that began the PC revolution is still out there, waiting to be answered. Will it be?