A closed system can be a portal to openness through the network. This is a fundamental change in where the opportunities for software application development will be located in the future.
In the era of the desktop computer, an executable program needed to reside on the local computer hard drive and take advantage of the tools offered by the operating system. Access to APIs and documentation defined how open a system was. Ability to alter, or improve the system, to better support an application was a further sign of openness.
This same paradigm has been used to think about the coming age of the teleputer. Pundits and hackers cry out for access that is analogous to the desktop OS development environment. They don’t seriously attend to the possibility of a radical shift away from the hard drive to the cloud. This idea is a riff off of Steve Gillmor’s recent post.
A Short Interlude:
Upgrading software and maintaining compatibility through multiple versions on a desktop computer is one of the top usability problems of the desktop environment. The installed executable application model creates infinite complexity at the point of least understanding and ability to cope. Think about what happens when you move that complexity back into the cloud and give responsibility for managing it to the application developers. A “computer” becomes simple for the user, and as complex as the business model and developers of the application can support.
Tim O’Reilly, in his NY Times Op Ed piece, asks Verizon to open their platform in the same way that the computer is open— either on the desktop or the server. Although he coined the term “Web 2.0” for his conference, he doesn’t seem to really understand the implications. The new path to openness is laid down by Steve Gillmor when he writes about the “hard drive” vs. “the cache.” With HTML/Ajax, Flash and Silverlight, small runtimes can be present anywhere and everywhere. The future of application development is against these small runtimes in the browser and single purpose network connected applications that make use of a subset of browser capability.
It’s an avenue to much greater user acceptance and uptake; and it removes an element of complexity from the local machine. This is how you dramatically reduce the hours of work required to maintain a computer / handheld device. Those who demand access to your computer and teleputer so they can load it up with the code they’ve written are not necessarily doing you a favor. They are probably just setting you up for a future moment when your phone will crash beyond your ability to repair it.
Resist the forces of complexity that wear the guise of “openness.” Closed systems can support both simplicity and openness via the network. Open systems support potential complexity at the device level and openness via the network. Open systems like Linux will enable closed system CloudBooks that will achieve simplicity, reliability and openness through the network.