Closed-ish

Newsflash: Steve Jobs wasn't anti-openess. He was and is anti-sucky products. Since Jobs resigned as CEO last week, and ended his second act at Apple, the usual linkbait articles have sprung up calling on the "new Apple" to embrace openness (or more accurately, openy-ess), and once again proven their dogged determination to misunderstand Steve Jobs, Apple, and the nature of successful consumer electronics products in general.

The thing is -- the world hates extremes. It hates them almost as much as consumers hate extremist products. Because consumers, like the world, understand them for what they ultimately are -- ploys, formed by agenda and molded from BS. They're bills of goods. Kit craft.

Apple observably has little time for that. They're too busy making great products. To them, "open" and "closed" were and are tools, and they tend to pick the right one for the right job in the right context.

Flex your flux capacitor (or turn on your TARDIS) and jump back a few years and you'll see Steve Jobs, barely at the beginning of his second act, talking about Apple's then-licensed Mac OS and the power of open ecosystems.

Flashback to 2007 and you'll hear him talk about the sweet a development solution that is HTML5 (then Web 2.0 + AJAX)

Likewise you need only to surf with Safari to see Apple's open approach to WebKit (which also powers Google's Chrome and Android browsers, HP Palm's webOS, and much of mobile. You need only look at the BSD UNIX underpinnings of OS X and iOS, and their continued developments to see a host of open projects and initiatives from the supposedly closed Apple, including Darwin, OpenCL, and more. You need only look... beyond the rhetoric.

Apple is no more completely closed than Google is completely open. (Seriously, pick up your Neo FreeRunner and search for http://www.opensource.apple.com/ sometime. Except you can't. Because Openmoko failed as hard as Closedmoko would have.)

Corporations aren't about black and white, they're about green. They closely guard what makes them money and open up what makes their competitors money. They try to dominate where they can and fragment where they can't. Apple keeps their shiny, high-margin boxes every bit as closed as Google keeps their billion dollar ad engine, and Apple keeps their IE-shattering WebKit every bit as open as Google keeps their Windows Mobile-busting Android (ironically, more so -- see Honeycomb.) Even Palm, with their proprietary webOS and BlackBerry with their new QNX-based OS "opened" up to developers in almost every way conceivable.

You need look no further than their reasons for being. Apple wants to make products that delight consumers, with highly commoditized apps and services, enough to own most of the profits in the known universe. Microsoft wants to have a PC running the latest Windows license on every desk, pocket, wall, and robot, that make billions off the backs of commoditized, barely sustainable hardware OEMs. Google wants to serve a lucrative ad to every eyeball, on every commodity box running every commoditized platform.

And each of those approaches comes with some benefits and some drawbacks. 3 star Michelin restaurants aren't diners or vice versa, and we can enjoy them both without either being more like the other. In point of fact we have to. Because nothing can be everything.

Apple no longer licenses their Mac OS to clone makers, and HTML 5 is no longer the primary development platform for iOS because those products sucked and those web apps just weren't good enough.

Sorry, but it's true. Apple tested them and chose them for extinction or demotion. Perhaps, like bellbottoms, they'll get another chance for dominance one day but not today and likely not tomorrow. Apple under Steve Jobs was, and Apple under Tim Cook is, way too smart for that and way too focused. And guess what? Not coincidentally, way too successful. So is Google, which is why, marketing aside, they're not really that open either. (What's the make command for Search again?)

It takes a carefully considered, carefully mixed formula to craft a great product. It takes knowing which elements benefit from open sourced, community driven innovation to make them powerful and robust, and which need a strong, guiding, singularly focused -- and yes, closed -- will to make them truly usable and enjoyable.

So sure, the usual suspects can write the usual manifestos about Apple being closed (and stir up the usual, reliable linkbacks). And why not? Their editors are obviously open to it no matter how much the product sucks.