On the Still-Undefeated Tyranny of Apple.

I believe that Apple manufactures and sells junk and crapware.

If you, my dear reader, have even a rudimentary awareness of what is possible with regards to personal computing - or even of what was possible two decades ago - the above should seem obvious to you.

Hopefully the idiots who accused me of kissing an icon of His Majesty Steve Jobs every morning have stopped reading by now.

Apple's junk and crapware are wildly popular, because they are designed by people - sometimes, actual people, the kind with taste.

Apple-imitators (the rest of today's computer industry!) on the other hand, manufacture and sell shoddy imitations of Apple's junk and crapware.

Imitation-Apple products are designed by committees, the idiotic corporate hive minds familiar to nearly everyone.  The iPad has been on the market for less than a year, and the "competition" is still selling pieces of shit which are a misery to use, and cost more! (Sometimes even demanding subscription contracts!)   The charlatans peddling these abominations even claim that there is a product category called "tablets."  In reality, there is not:  there is only the iPad, a lonely island in a bubbling sea of shoddy imitation crap (which cannot even be correctly described as cheap crap, because it is not cheap - at least not in the sense of asking less money for a comparable experience.)

By employing minds rather than idiot-hives, Apple has achieved massive success.  Not only the financial kind visible to bean-counters, but cultural success.  That is to say, civilization-level success. And this may turn out to be a civilization-level disaster.

Do you know why your car's controls are laid out the way they are?  Or why they consist of pedals and a steering wheel?  There are many possible ways to build a car's user interface.  And yet the one we now use achieved a dominance so total that almost no one ever re-visits the design decision, even as a thought experiment.  This is cultural success.

Cultural success is when generations of dullards feel compelled to mindlessly copy your ideas, long after your name is forgotten.  Not necessarily good ideas, mind you - just better ideas than any person who lacks the idea-having neural circuitry could ever come up with.  And the dullards won't necessarily have any conscious awareness of the fact that they are copying ideas.  They will believe that they are merely doing things "the way they are done."

At some point, Mr. Jobs will die.  Apple will descend into its white dwarf phase, becoming an IBM or a General Electric.  But Apple's notions of how to build a computer will live on - they will simply detach from their origin and drift about, and people with no special interest in history will regard them as "obvious" and having "always been."  It is precisely at this point - when Apple starts sinking into oblivion - that the tyranny of Jobs will become truly invincible.

Apple's abysmally, disastrously worst ideas will be mindlessly copied along with their best.  To some extent this is already happening.  And if current trends continue, there will come a time when nothing resembling a programmable personal computer will be within the financial (or perhaps even legal!) reach of ordinary people.

The user-programmer dichotomy will be permanently cemented in place - even now, most computer owners don't think of the expensive space heater on their desks as something programmable.  But in the future it won't even occur to a curious child that the behavior of his, let's say, schoolpad can be altered in ways unforeseen by its makers - the essence of the creative act we call programming.  We will be stuck with computers - machines which, within certain limits, are capable of literally anything - which have been deliberately - artfully! - crippled into being far less meaningfully-modifiable than our cars and houses.

We will be stuck with Nintendo-style signed-code ecosystems, because the non-signed-code "free" world couldn't be bothered with genuine computer security.

We will be stuck with just one - in reality, not especially good - notion of how to build a graphical computer interface, because the non-Apple world wouldn't lift a finger to create a credible alternative.  Apple's GUI concepts will be taught to novice designers as the only "correct way," in much the same way that UNIX is fraudulently taught as the final word on kernel design.

We will be stuck with just one way to build a computer-that-is-not-a-computer, and will forget that alternatives are possible.  We will fool ourselves into thinking that a junkyard of shoddy imitations, each broken in a slightly different set of ways, constitutes a free choice of alternatives.

Or we might start using real computers, designed by real people again.   Real people who don't work at Apple.  But first, such things will have to be built.

This entry was written by Stanislav , posted on Friday March 04 2011 , filed under Hot Air, NonLoper, SoftwareSucks . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

10 Responses to “On the Still-Undefeated Tyranny of Apple.”

  • Thiago Silva says:

    This is a beautifully written, sad content post -- and i share the frustration of current affairs.

    Allow me to take Dijkstra out of context and quote an excerpt:
    "[...] as long as computing science is not allowed to save the computer industry, we had better see to it that the computer industry does not kill computing science".

  • Dennis Cyril says:

    Stanislav, where is your progress so far in the creation of your own operating system? I have been a reader of your blog since before you sealed your google code repository.

    • Stanislav says:

      Dear Dennis Cyril,

      I've been doing a from-scratch system design, currently prototyping on a Xilinx Virtex-4 FPGA. If you're curious why, check out the posts in the Hardware category. The short version: x86 hardware is an enemy to anyone trying to write a sane OS.

      I might write an emulator for the PC, for demo purposes, when the time comes.


  • Regarding your analysis of the present I think you're right. With the proviso only that Apple's products aren't designed by people (plural) but by a person (singular) with the name of Steve Jobs who ruthlessly stamps in ink CRAP over any proposal he doesn't like. And he doesn't like anything that won't attract the next sale.

    Regarding your analysis of the future, you're partially right. It is a bleak future you describe would happen if I did not exist. As is, well when I was a young adolescent I figured out that an automobile's UI ought to have a single stick moving in a banana shape around the driver.

    The spin differential between the wheels reduces the span of speed possible so the edges of the banana are thinner than the center. So you push the stick forward to go forward, pull back to go back, push left to rotate the car left, push right to rotate it right.

    And of course the auto's got independent left and right wheels so it can turn in-place like a tank. As happens if you push the stick left or right in a curve without pushing it up or down at all.

    Well anyways, since you brought up the idea, I assume you've got an auto UI design yourself. How does yours differ from mine?

    • Stanislav says:

      Dear RK,

      > So you push the stick forward to go forward, pull back to go back, push left to rotate the car left, push right to rotate it right.

      If I remember correctly, certain tanks actually have this UI.

      Personally, I'd prefer two levers, as Soviet tanks have, for ergonomic reasons.


      • Will says:

        Single stick is extremely bad design. You'd have to be strapped to the chair very tightly, like a jet plane pilot - more, your arm (and elbow) needs to be put in firm restrains - or else just by G forces which any driver experiences you'd lean on that stick, and it would get pushed when you didn't intend to do so. That's why the steering wheel is such a good design choice - you lean on it when the car is stopping, you grip it when the car is turning, and that doesn't interfere with your ability to steer it. Joystick is sh8t, in cars - until anti-gravity inertia dampers are invented. I.e. forever. Or actually, until cars start driving themselves, which is just around the corner now.

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