What people want from computers and tablets

I just testified the most horrible thing. A guy was lecturing about some open source library, teaching lots of people how to use it. He told us that one of the good aspects of that library is that because you can make a C program that uses it, you can therefore sell your program compiled to people, win money with the close-source business model exploring the traditional “compiler barrier” that impedes users to look and modify your code.

It is just sad to me to see someone openly declare their taste for perpetrating this little crime against humanity. The worse part is that we were in an academic setting, where in principle you would think people are more inclined towards being cooperative with others in general. Also, we were talking precisely of an open source library. Well, good thing the people behind that library don’t think like he does, enabling us to work with it without silly and greedy restrictions.

All that happened the day after the release of Apple’s iPad. This release brought up the whole subject of Apple’s successful business model, with its App Store full of apparently satisfied developers and customers.

Many die-hard GNU/Linux developers like myself, and fans of mobile platforms like the Debian-based Maemo are fierce critics of the iPhone platform, and immediately started to remind all defects they perceive in the platform. But It’s hard to understand sometimes exactly what different users and developers want. The arguments frequently move on just to the naive notion that “people should just be like me”.

Free developers want FLOSS stuff, and ability, permission and easiness to do stuff like dual-booting a machine, recompiling the kernel or whatever.

Digital slaves want DRM, they want ability to obfuscate their source (main reason they end up using compiled languages), they also want guarantees, and they want a platform that bows to their caprices, that is designed to give their programs the full resources of the system for example. So, multitasking is not seen with good eyes, because a digital-slavery-developer is not usually willing to share anything with other programs, because that might compromise the perceived performance of their own software.

And the user?… Truth is most users at first want just the same stuff the digital-slavery guys are offering. They want quick and cute stuff that appear to be solving some problem that they have, or appear to have by being running that software. It takes a fairly advanced, power user to start feeling the rough edges of digital slavery, to start suffering from lock-in tactics, from source code obfuscation, et cetera.

So there you have it, the formula that led to the development of the iPhone and now the iPad how they are… The iPad being just a kindlerized iPhone. I believe Apple got that right: leave the iPhone with its low resolution for the sake of compactness and processing speed, and make a wider version just to make it more comfortable to use in your home or other homy spaces, allowing you to read stuff and watch movies.

Power users and FLOSS developers, should stop being too optimistic about what people want when they user computers. These developers there know they are producing closed-source stuff, and they like it. And their users also know everything they should. You just can’t teach pigs how to sing. You waste your time and also piss off the pig.

And that all is just one of the consequences of a larger thing: people don’t want to grow up. What we see when we look to this closed-source world is a lot of immature attitudes. That permeated the Apple fandom and other closed source lairs. There is some immaturity in the FLOSS world too, let me reckon that. But it is in the core of what make things that way on the dark side. But that is a subject for another blog…

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