Through much of the late 90s and early 00s, I remember having the same conversation over and over again about Apple and Microsoft. I had it with my friends, I had it with my colleagues, and I had it with anyone else who was interested in computers. It went something like this:
Other person: “When are you going to give up already and start using a PC? The war is over. Apple lost.”
Me: “They still make the best stuff and I want to support the company that makes the best stuff; not a company that uses their monopoly to sell products.”
Other person: “Don’t you think Apple would do the same thing if they were in charge?”
Me: “Yes. They’d probably be even more ruthless, but at least they’d make great products.”
From there, the conversation would tail off in another direction but I always remember thinking wishfully to myself that if Apple ever did rule the world again, what a fantastic problem
it would be. Instead of having our future dictated to us by a company who didn’t even care enough to fix a broken web browser for over five years, we’d have our future dictated to us by a company who produced the most wonderful products in the world. The dream seemed so far-fetched, however, that it was easy to miss the potential for nightmare in it.
Apple will probably finish this year a larger company than Microsoft, from a market capitalization perspective. That would mean the world values the sum of future cashflows into Apple more than any company in the United States besides Exxon-Mobil. God forbid the terrible BP oil disaster gets worse and has cascading effects on other oil companies, we could see Apple at #1.
So in a sense, we’ve now admitted – as investors at least – that Apple owns our wallets, many years into the future. This actually feels good right now, though, in a way. Not only am I using a great operating system, but lots of other people are too. Not only do I have a phone that keeps me connected, but I really enjoy using it too. Not only can I craft richly designed web experiences for geeks with good browsers but a good majority of people can finally view them too.
Most things are great so far. The reward we’ve reaped as a society for shoving greenbacks into Apple’s bank account for the last decade is that we have much better stuff now. It’s the exact opposite effect we got from making Microsoft big.
Those who are following the situation, however, have noticed a few things change recently, the most obvious being a move towards an incredibly closed operating system in iPhones and iPads. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before most of Apple’s products run on a similar OS. There are many definitions of “closed” vs. “open” but here is mine:
A closed system is one where a single organization has absolute control of everything that goes into it and everything that comes out of it.
Adobe ignores fire, gets burned
Steve Jobs wrote in his mostly reasonable letter condemning Flash that it was Adobe whose stuff was closed and Apple was the one using open technologies, but Adobe’s CEO – despite saying very little of substance – was right about one thing: this is a smokescreen. In order to use the Flash format, all I need to do is either buy a single copy of it (if the IDE is useful to me), or use any number of other, free compilers out there. In other words, Adobe never even needs to know about me and never needs to approve what I’m doing or selling.