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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



surprise packages, benevolent dictatorships

I got two surprise packages today. One turned was a pile of Jazz disks and semi-ancient copies of Analog from my past, which my old flatmate Gavin was relaying back through time to me. The other was a completely mysterious consignment of dalek cookies from New York. Given that in today’s mail I’d also managed to be mentioned in Those Slightly Mispelled Anonymous Internet Threats, I had a moment of mild paranoia. Surely if you were going to poison someone, you wouldn’t actually go to the extent of cooking them in the shape of daleks? But then, maybe that’s exactly what they want you to think. Maybe the design was supposed to lull me into a false sense of fannish security…

I spotted the Free Software Foundation trying to gently explain to people why the iPhone wasn’t something you’d want to buy. I know the standard response to this which is — oh, but man, it’s lovely! The counter-response is often something like ACTUALLY I THINK YOU’LL FIND THAT YOU CAN DO JUST THE SAME WITH A NEO FREERUNNER WITH GNOME ON IT AND THEN SOME SORT OF USB 3G DONGLE SELLOTAPED TO IT.

My official line on inter-platform rivalry, inherited from the NTK position paper on the topic, is that all software sucks and all hardware sucks. After years of using all kinds of shonky equipment: proprietary, non-proprietary, simple, or hallucinogenically complex, my main rule (like Mark Pilgrim’s) is simply to maximise the amount of unique and valuable data i can extract when the platform inevitably turns into the steaming pile of inoperable blast furnace slag that is the fate of all operating systems. It’s one of the more practical reasons why I’ve ended up edging toward open source: in the end proprietary set-ups grows so keen to trap you, that I end up being cornered in the corner using Vim and mutt, and if that’s all I’m doing, I might as well go to the happy place where noone wil actively attempt to step between me and my bits when it all goes to hell.

That said, I do agree that MacOS and the iPhone, on a “ooh that’s nice” level, really do kick the living shit out of open source platforms at the moment. It’s not all fancy pyrotechnics and the Steve-Jobs-As-Hypnotoad. And, frankly, I am totally willing to entertain that Jobs-built kit will continue to win on that front.

It’s like if I was to concede that a benevolent dictatorship is a far more effective model for a political system than a liberal democracy. The problems you hit in that context is when the dictatorship slides from benevolence (or effectiveness), or you need a new dictator in a hurry. I love having Steve Jobs at Apple: I just can’t quite believe the odds that the next Steve Jobs will be at Apple too, and the one after that. I want to move my data seamlessly where the best ideas and implementation move.

2 Responses to “surprise packages, benevolent dictatorships”

  1. NickD Says:

    Please tell me that there really was a position paper by NTK, I’d like to have something to quote/produce when I get involved in any kind of OS discussion.

    URLs, electronic copies, or dodgy copies wrapped in Cyberman Cakes would be more than welcome….

  2. dannyobrien Says:

    I think I quoted the entirety of the position paper, just then. But you’ve given me an idea for another blog entry, thank GOD.


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.