Is power shifting to the OS vendors?

Frank Zimper, via one of my Circles on Google Plus, drew my attention to a thoughtful article in MIT’s Technology Review (TR). I used to read TR regularly, in a paper copy, but time allocation defeated me. I ought to get back to it because it ranges not just across a whole range of the novel techology spectrum but to comment about what’s going on.

So here’s an article by Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard (no, TR doesn’t restrict itself to MIT authors!) discussing the development of the platform vendors’ stranglehold on applications and, therefore, on content delivery. The piece is called The Personal Computer is Dead but that’s not actually what it’s about.

Zittrain takes for granted the shift from the desktop-like devices of the past thirty-odd years to mobile, highly personal smartphones and tablets. What he’s concerned to point out is that the enterprises who define the functionality of these devices, via the OS – Apple, Google, now Amazon, and still Microsoft – also lock down, with varying strictness, the means by which software can be loaded.

And with software goes content, which these days is often in the cloud and can only be accessed through the authorised App. Change platform and you may lose your content (not just your software). Zittrain suggests that this restrictive practice puts Microsoft’s tactics with IE (remember the anti-trust case?) in the shade. Yet it’s crept in under the radar, perhaps because we see these devices as “appliances”. They’ve become ubiquitous computing and content devices, as it were, by stealth.

As well as these socio-legal issues, the article does capture quite neatly the changing models for development and delivery of both software and content; for its more or less draconian review and authorisation by the platform vendors (and the reasons for this); and for payment, including the impost imposed by the app stores which have become, in some cases, the only route to market.

Well worth a read. Thankyou, Frank!

• The Personal Computer is Dead, Jonathan Zittrain, MIT Technology Review, 30 Nov 2011
Frank Zimper via Google Plus


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