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Oblomovka

Currently:

brother against brother

Oh, but I hate it when the Internets fight! The argument rending my family — and you are all family, to me — it seems so unnecessary. Right now, it is broadly missummarised as: a) you hate my iPad because you’re old geeks who can’t get hep and want all my family to struggle with the command line, and b) you love your iPad because you HATE FREEDOM and are TOO DUMB to OPERATE a PROPER MANUAL LOOM and are Steve Job’s LITTLE CONSUMERIST POODLE THE SIZE OF WILLIAM GIBSON’S BABY HIPPO.

Here’s how to end this pain. Imagine an iPad. It’s the same iPad, built by Jobs and Ives and the rest of Apple in absolute secrecy, beholden to no-one, built on proprietary MacOS and unicorns and last Xerox Silmaril’s gleaming. It has the same Apple App store, same SDK, same no filing system, same no multitasking, same whatever. Only buried deep in the Settings, buried under “Battery Percentage”, “Factory Reset”, there’s an option that says “Allow Third-Party Applications”. Its default is not to allow that. But you can flip it to say “yes”.

That’s it.

Apple doesn’t have to put that option in. But if they did, I think most of us who are discomfited by the iPad would feel a lot less weirded out. And I guess the question is: are those who are angered by the negative iPad response think that one concession would instantly sink it, in terms of usability and being “the future of technology”, and so on? After all, both Cory Doctorow and John Gruber want Hypercard. Right now, Hypercard would violate Apple’s ban on interpreted content on the iPhone OS. What would happen if Apple changed its policy just a little, to allow us to have one fewer gatekeepers again? Would that be okay? Could we all learn to love one another again?

26 Responses to “brother against brother”

  1. Ian Betteridge Says:

    “Right now, Hypercard would violate Apple’s ban on interpreted content on the iPhone OS.”

    You know, I think you’re wrong on this one – at least if, as both John and myself have suggested, it output HTML/JavaScript and used the built-in WebKit renderer to run it.

  2. Danny O'Brien Says:

    Man, what a hack that would be. But then, so was multifinder…

  3. Marcus Bointon Says:

    You want HyperCard-in-JavaScript that runs existing stacks and works on iPhone and iPad? How about http://tilestack.com/ ?

  4. Simon Bach Says:

    Can someone please explain to me what the difference between the current apps on the AppStore and these “3rd-party apps” you keep talking about?
    Thank you in advance :D

  5. john Says:

    The key is, how do you allow uncleared applications, but keep them from doing damage?

    I want an OS that allows no kernel extensions and no drivers. The sandbox from hell. One where it’s very hard to pass data from one application to another. This latter point is pretty important. As soon as you can create a binary file in one application and open it in another, you’ve set yourself up for all manner of exploits.

  6. jon Says:

    ‘how do you allow uncleared applications, but keep them from doing damage?’

    You don’t *need* to be able to do this. It would be nice to have, but from a
    speed-and-difficulty-of-implementation POV it’s a *hard* problem, whereas
    adding a setting to disable the existing app signing/source management
    restrictiveness is pretty trivial. Cupertino could work around any possible
    ‘I broked my iPods by installing random pr0nwarez off the interTubes’ problems thusly:

    Beneath this notional ‘Allow Third-Party Applications’ switch is a
    blurb saying something like “Not recommended. If you flip this switch, all the
    Magic may fall out of your iPad. Use only if you know what you’re doing. Srsly. No
    software support will be offered by the Apple Geniuses if you have flipped this
    switch, kthxbai”

    People can then choose to take their own risks, if they feel that they
    understand what those risks are. Because of Apple’s policy on third-party
    apps, the only option these risk-taking users currently have no option other
    than jailbreaking to do this, and thus potentially totally destroying their devices every
    time the OS is upgraded.

  7. Bill Says:

    I opened a tilestack.com account to check it out but found it was a proprietary platform with TOS I didn’t care for. I declined.

  8. Matt Petty Says:

    App Store is 2nd Party?

  9. James Says:

    John and Jon-

    The solutions to these problems from a technical standpoint is a non-issue; the secure operating system community has known how to do it for many many years. See for example http://www.capros.org/ or just consider the current effective separation of different users within a standard modern OS. The issue is that creating a reasonably secure yet open device just does not fit with Apple’s business model / corporate culture.

  10. Salim Fadhley Says:

    “all the Magic may fall out of your iPad” :-)

    A slight extension to this idea:

    If toggled to off then the existing 3rd party apps would be disabled from running. The device would not execute any 3rd party apps. Any currently running 3rd party apps would be terminated.

    If you managed to make your ipad unstable by installing alpha-grade trashware from the boing-boing cross-platform app-store you could revert your device back to pristine Jobsian state in an instant.

    Sal

  11. Danny O'Brien Says:

    @Simon Bach

    An example would be an app that I’d written myself (I guess that would be better described as a “first party” app), or an app that Apple wouldn’t allow in their store — for instance, a native code Hypercard application we were discussing, or Google Latitude, or a program that used the private APIs that iBook uses.

  12. Jon Says:

    @James

    I know that it’s just as easy to do
    sandboxing right – my ease/difficulty
    assertion was based on modifying the
    iPhone os as it exists currently. Given
    that reverse-engineered jailbreaking
    software exists which adds this exact
    feature by patching the binaries, I’d
    hazard a guess that modifying the
    source to do the same isn’t difficult.
    Depending on how deeply the ‘App Store Is
    The One True Software Repo’ assumption
    is embedded into the iPhone OS, the
    difficulty of adding secure execution for
    code from arbitrary sources might vary
    from trivial to impossible.

  13. Salim Fadhley Says:

    @Jon

    If you can do it with a jailbreak (possibly voiding a warranty) then Apple ought to be able to do it, but without trashing the warranties of those who wish to experiment with their devices.

    Having never attempted iPhone/Pad development – suppose I were to use Apple’s SDK to code up my own experimental app. What’s to stop me running that on my own device? Surely this is possible (or else how would developers test their own apps?)

    I think the issue is that the only way for average users to get apps onto their device is via Apple’s own store. I’m guessing that there must be some kind of process that prevents a developer from posting his experimental app on a web-site in order to get feedback from beta-testers. Can somebody explain how it works?

    Sal

  14. Barry McConnell Says:

    It’s all about quality control. They are trying to produce a device that has none of the taint of viruses/crashing/slowdown/unreliability/security that plagues all desktop/laptop platforms today.

    If over time, this becomes the ONLY device on the market with a stellar reputation of ALWAYS working, then I think the majority of “average” consumers will flock to it: not to mention private & gov’t institutions that want rock-solid slimmed-down web/app portals. And that can only be good — more commission $$ on app store sales means more Apple employees to vet new apps, faster turnaround, better quality approved apps, etc. (Maybe the app store becomes its own company, or network of accredited companies?)

    If enough people “jailbreak” it, or they open it up to wildcard apps, and word gets around that it has the same inherent security/stability issues as every other device on the market, the pristine image they are looking for will be tarnished.

    It’s a benevolent dictatorship. While not for everybody; done right, it’s actually a fine place to live and – more importantly – be productive.

    Barry.

  15. Danny O'Brien Says:

    @Sal –

    As I understand it, you have to pay $99 for a developer key, and then you have to get the unique ID of every machine you’d like the software to run on, hand those details over to Apple, and they’ll give you a provisioning profile that you can compile into the app that will let it run on those devices. I don’t know if there’s a limit to how many devices you can enable for one app, but it’s certainly not designed to allow public betas. Here’s what you do.

  16. PXLated Says:

    Even though there might be a disclaimer, I can see some geek telling/showing a normal friend/relative some app and it creating havoc at some point and the normal user still hitting the Genius Bar or Apple support for help. Even if the Genius checks the setting and says sorry, it’s still one more person tying up a Genius time slot.

    It would be nice for some of us but I think it would still be a nightmare for Apple.

  17. pandemik Says:

    I am absolutely desperate for a minimal hackable tablet because lord knows I have a million and one uses for ultra portable computing. iPad is extremely focused, deleberately limited in funcationality and truely locked down, you really can’t use it for any more than a media consumption device. It is a big iPod touch that is usable for eBooks and surfing. The beauty of the iPad is it’s restrictions are it’s own worst enemy. Just like the iPhone, the real game-changing stuff is what happens in the competing products.

    You see, I love my Android phone, and buried away in the menu is the magical “Allow Third Party Apps” option. Not that that option matters, it’s Linux, so naturally I have a aftermarket ROM build of Android on it, even greater freedom. It’s why I want my kids to have a hackable linux phone when they are old enough. They might learn something.

    I have a career now, because my Dad one day bought home a PC, which I could hack, code on and tinker with to my hearts content without restriction. I feel sorry for any young kids given iStuff, because there are so many barriers to *learning*.

  18. Steko Says:

    “And I guess the question is: are those who are angered by the negative iPad response think that one concession would instantly sink it, in terms of usability and being “the future of technology”, and so on?”

    The question is more like:

    What would Apple gain in exchange for the massive security and performance issues and possibly legal liability as hordes of users click yes so they can go to download that 110% authentic Tiger Woods sex tape app (which is totally not going to steal their passwords, credit card and banking information)?
    Even if it was worth it (doubtful imho), would Apple REALLY gain the approval of the Cory Doctorows of the world?

    And I think the answer to that question is a resounding “no”. The freetards will just find something else to focus their complaints on. Look at Cory’s “review” — there are several other major objections he has (no screws, DRM, etc.).

    It’s tempting to think there’s some simple compromise Apple can make and then everyone will hold hands and sing public domain folk songs but appeasement just doesn’t work on people who are crusading to fundamentally remake the world {forgive me for nibbling on the edge of the Godwin zone there}.

  19. Rich Seymour Says:

    Hey, cool to be seeing new infoz on this blog… kinda drifted from checking it after the NTK days…

    At any rate, I find the hypercard argument strange… Although now there are plenty of free hypercard readers, at the time when I was interested in it, it was a) Mac only and b) $50. I really wanted to look at “Hyperbola: A Digital Companion to Gravity’s Rainbow” in 1997 or 1998 and I couldn’t… now there are free emulators and the Pynchon hypercard stack is offline. How sad.

    So… a dozen years from now, I think it will be more interesting for other devices to run Apple iPad/iPhone apps than for iPad/iPhone to run 3rd party apps. Although they are all cool and hacky, it’s like comparing homebrew game console games to studio developed game console games. Since there isn’t a way to develop for the iPhone/iPad outside of coding on a Mac, I don’t see how people can complain about the buy-in, the iron fist control, etc… etc… Sure it makes it essentially a video game console. It just does a bit more.

    But like I said, it’s more interesting for me to think of multitouch Linux machines running iPad emulators than iPads running software that Apple doesn’t approve of.

  20. Salim Fadhley Says:

    @Danny, I read through the procedure. It’s very complicated and makes public beta-testing virtually impossible. Apple’s systems need to get involved with almost every aspect of the process. It’s almost as if they wanted to make the normal model of open-source software distribution as difficult as possible on their platform.

    We could compare this with Android’s approach which is that you can publish almost anything in any state of readiness to the app-store. If you want to simply deploy an app to a device you can do so via a standard USB cable and the ADB (Android Debugging Bridge) application which is a standard component of their free SDK.

    @Barry McConnell – I think the quality control issue is a red-herring. Modern operating systems have been able to sandbox apps for a long time. That’s why it’s hard to write an application which can crash Linux or Windows given basic user-privs. I think it’s far more to do with maintaining a monopoly. What if somebody else opened a rival app-store which sold stuff cheaper? The obvious way to do QC is to go with Danny’s suggestion – simply allow users to toggle the availability of 3rd party apps.

  21. Danny O'Brien Says:

    @Steko

    Well, Cory himself pretty much agreed that allowing this toggle would answer the primary objection by linking to this piece. I do believe that if you don’t understand that this is the primary objection, you’re misunderstanding the nature of the criticism. And Apple doesn’t have liability in the MacOS world, why would they in the world of (the) iPad?

    And I understand the joke behind freetard, but it clouds the issue. I’m about as “freetard” as you get, having worked at the EFF, typed this comment on my ohhh-aren’t-you-clever GNU/Linux laptop, and having totally married RMS. I swear, when Andrew Orlowski re-purposed that term from fake Steve Jobs, he was thinking about me and all my dirty hippy friends.

    But it’s a straw man. I’m telling you, if Apple allowed third party apps, me and Cory and a bunch of other people would go “that’s totally awesome” and greet them back like the prodigal. People say all of this griping about the iPad is out of jealousy that it’s so awesome, and there’s a point to that. This whole thing wouldn’t be such a worrying development if the iPad wasn’t so *lovely*. I might well buy one. I might well buy one *for my kid*. But the locking down of the platform is a really bad bad step, and I fear where it may lead.

    If you want to know where this is coming from, don’t think so much of some desperate attempt by us all to force you to have crunchy granola linux on some soviet-gray bricktop. Read Digital Imprimatur, which I think is a prescient description of the many of the real concerns.

  22. Brian Sniffen Says:

    If you put the switch in configuration, who can flip it? The user, certainly, which means the owner… but who else? Can his kid flip it? When I borrow my buddy’s iPad, can I flip it? Can other software flip it? This is obviously the first target for any future iPad/iPhone worm.

    If that switch is in software, especially in documented or experimentable software, it will be of necessity accessible from buggy software. Then it will be flipped by someone other than the owner.

    This proposes centralizing a jailbreak feature in configuration, without necessarily locking it down any further. I’d buy it anyway! But this is I think the issue Apple faces, and it’s not a one-sided argument.

  23. Ed Felten Says:

    How about an “Allow Third Party App Stores” option?

  24. joseph harnish Says:

    this is a good solution. I think that most people would be happy to have a locked computer that does what they want it to dependably. I would probably not flip the switch, but would like to know that I had the option. If people start believing that the only way to have a secure system is to have it completely locked down, all computers would be locked down. Apple could decide that photoshop competes with aperture and not allow its sale. I realize that this is an extreme example but this would be a way for apple to gain some cred but still have their system closed to protect the 90 percent of users who want the protection.

  25. Saltation Says:

    Hypercard!

    From the hypercard About box:

    “A day of acquaintance,
    And then the longer span of custom.
    But first –
    The hour of astonishment.”

  26. Andrew Ducker Says:

    What amazes me is that so many Apple users I’ve talked to seem to think that the iPhone was the first phone you could install apps on, and that nobody has ever allowed people to install apps directly onto their phone however they like.

    Which means they don’t think it’s possible without Bad Things Happening, despite it having happened all the damn time in my experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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