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Swaine Manor: Oh Noes! Apple is Turning into the Borg!

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Editorial

Swaine Manor: Oh Noes! Apple is Turning into the Borg!

...Or IBM. Or Google. Or Something. Anyway, It's Time to Panic.

by Michael Swaine

Blame It on Rio

I blame the Brazilians.

I was shrugging off all this "Apple is turning into Microsoft" hysteria until I got the call from Guilherme de Camargo Barros of Galiliu Magazine and was forced to really think about the question. Guilherme wanted to interview me about Apple and Steve Jobs, and several of his questions were of the "has Apple become Microsoft?" variety, triggered by the report that Apple had passed Microsoft in market valuation.

If "passed" is the word I'm seeking. Do you "pass" another car when you're heading north and you see it zip by in the southbound lane? But I digress.

Being confronted with the question in an interview forced me to take it more seriously than I had been. Well, is Apple turning into Microsoft, or IBM, for that matter, or some other relic of the past? Given some of Apple's recent actions, it was a fair question.

Only the more I thought about it, the more sure I was that it was really several questions. If Apple was in fact undergoing some ghastly transformation into a hideous monster out of the Technozoic, I realized that there were several candidate monsters.

The Microsoft Meme

Apple turning into Microsoft? I kinda get it. Remember "I'd love to offer my app on the Mac but the Windows market is twenty times bigger and the incremental income wouldn't justify the cost of porting"? Now put WebOS in place of the Mac and iPhone/iPad in place of Windows. OK.

There must be some validity to the idea; it's a topic (http://bit.ly/dzca3G) on Apple's own support discussion board.

The premise seems to be that Apple's growth and its recent behavior in tromping on users and developers, as well as its de facto monopoly in some new market segments, are evidence that Apple is turning into Microsoft. But other conclusions could be drawn from the same evidence.

Take the legal harassment stuff. That could be evidence that Steve Jobs is turning into Darl McBride. (Darl who, you ask? CEO of SCO, claimed ownership of Unix, built a business model on suing everybody. At least that's how I remember it. I could be wrong. Don't sue me, Darl). The de facto monopoly thing? Evidence that Apple is turning into Google. The whole police state kicking-down-doors thing? Apple is turning into Big Brother. Why wasn't 1984 like 1984? So 2010 could be.

Other Monsters

I think you could make a stronger argument that Apple is turning into Sony. It's hardly an original idea. Starting with dropping "Computer" from its name, Apple has been pretty open about its movement into a post-PC era of scads of different yet-to-be-invented consumer devices, and Steve Jobs has always admired Sony.

Or maybe Apple really is turning into Google. John Battelle says they're developing a search engine for apps. Why stop there? The iPhone OS is proof that Apple understands something that Microsoft never has: most users don't bother to put their documents in nested folders, they just dump them in one folder or on the desktop and search for what they want. Google understands that search is a key operating system function; maybe Apple does, too.

I'm unconvinced. I had dealings with Apple and Steve Jobs back in the 1980s, and I don't remember this benign company that is implied by these laments over Apple turning into something different. If I were forced to say what it is that Apple is turning into, I'd have to say it's turning into Apple. A bigger, stronger, more Apple-like Apple. It's acting pretty much like it's always acted: arrogant, controlling, and bold. Only now, it has more power.

And here's one consequence of Apple's embrace of post-PC products that I'm not seeing mentioned in all these articles: you can no longer turn your Apple products into aquariums and hamster cages. Now that's a shame.


Michael Swaine is the former editor-in-chief of Dr. Dobb's Journal (http://www.ddj.com) and current editor of PragPub (http:// www.pragprog.com/magazine), the electronic magazine for pragmatic programmers. You can reach him at mike@swaine.com.

 
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