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Talking Up Apple

Growing up with my younger brother, we used to engage in a dangerous game of sorts that we called DefCon 1. The goal of the game was to annoy your sibling as much as possible, without having him actually haul off and hit you. Granted, the contest was far less dangerous than some of our favorite pastimes, which included Yard Dart dodging and toboggan rides in the woods. But my brother is a large man, and if I screwed up I was likely to be sporting a few bruises.

So when I called out Apple for its control-freaky nature in Tuesday's column, I figured I might have crossed the line and earned a punch in the arm. After all, the Apple community is notorious for nothing, if not its passion. Surprisingly, I received some nuanced replies.

Bill responded by noting that there's "a fine line between protecting your infrastructure and investment and surreptitiously guiding or vetting the experiences and options of your customers." As Bill noted in his response, Microsoft and plenty of other companies have stomped all over that line. While he defended Apple products, he agreed that efforts to over-control the platform can be damaging:

"Your caution is appropriate, I believe. It is mitigated for me by the positive experiences I have had with Apple products. For the most part, they simply support what I want to do more transparently."

Others were less understanding.

"To criticize Apple for the built-in kill switch is hypocritical by an industry that Microsoft created with its activation and WGA [Windows Geniune Advantage]," wrote Mark from California. "Yes, they [Apple] are control freaks regarding their IP and their platform, but so is Microsoft with its products and even more so."

Mark has a valid point. Microsoft drew sharp criticism from us for a failure that caused its WGA validation service to malfunction last year, threatening the reliable operation of enterprise software. And I've long been critical of restrictive digital rights management (DRM) and license-enforcement systems, if only because those systems inevitably place enormous burdens on law-abiding customers.

So while I'm more than willing to paint both Microsoft and Apple with the same broad brush, when it comes to issues relating to IP and platform control, I still contend that Microsoft's more federated approach provides more elbow room for developers and users alike to ply their own way -- as flawed as that way may seem to iPod, iPhone and Mac owners.

"If I had to register every piece of software I developed with Apple, for my own use on my equipment, I would be royally PO'd," wrote Matt from Yakima, Wash. "I honestly don't see the draw for an Apple developer. I can make any app I want for a Pocket PC or Windows workstation and never have to worry that Microsoft will ban my program from running."

That sound you hear may be me losing another round of DefCon 1. E-mail me at with your thoughts.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/21/2008 at 1:15 PM

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