The Price of "Open"

There is a war among geeks and the tech press over "open." The Google Android system is "open" while the Apple iOS ecosystem is "closed." Underlying the conversation is the assumption that "open" is good and "closed" is bad, but is that really the case? This week during the Black Hat security conference, mobile security firm Lookout delivered their analysis of an Android wallpaper app that takes your data was downloaded by millions. Unfortunately, it sends personal information to a user in China and no one knows why.

Given that I have been a standards proponent since the early '80s and a staunch support of open source systems (OSS) since before the term was coined, I understand the value of open standards and open source. However, most people primarily care first about getting stuff done or enjoying their entertainment, not how open the systems are. If this wasn't the case, Microsoft Windows would not be the dominant desktop worldwide.

Furthermore, people prefer that their systems work, that they not introduce threats, and that they don't get in the way.

I have come to realize that there are environments that are especially well-suited to the vast majority of people, and they are those that are fully-integrated systems that are open enough to interact with current and emerging standards in the marketplace. They are not those that allow the user too much freedom, require too much technical skill, or demand more attention be given to the tools than to getting stuff done.

Those are the strengths and weaknesses today, and those are also the reasons why Apple is still on the rise, Google is in second-place, and Microsoft is huffing, puffing, and sweating trying to keep up.

Follow-up: After review, Google has decided that the app is actually OK. There was quite a bit published about this in the technology press, but the points made in this article still hold: There are big differences between open and closed, and you'll need to make your own choices about what the best value is given your experience and expertise and what you want to apply to the environment.