Technologizer

Babson Professor: Apple’s Crazy, Bing-like Attempt to Force People Everywhere to Act like American Teenagers Will Fail

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Marty Anderson is a senior lecturer at Babson College, the noted business school in Wellesley, Mass. He’s a self-professed Apple fan. But he’s not impressed by Mountain Lion, the OS X upgrade that hit the Mac App Store yesterday.

Actually, it’s not just that he isn’t impressed. He says Apple is using mandatory upgrades to force frivolous social networking on users in a way that shows its lack of understanding of the global market and the needs of entrepreneurs. It’s doing things that no company in its right mind would do, is repeating Microsoft and AOL’s mistakes from the 1990s and seems to think that it’s AT&T. And while Mountain Lion won’t drive the company out of business — whew! – it could hurt Apple terribly.

Basically, he thinks that iCloud and Facebook integration are dreadful, self-destructive ideas. (I don’t think I’m misrepresenting his stance here.)

Anderson’s whole blog post is worth a read. But here are selected, um, highlights:

Apple today proudly announces that if you buy their Mountain Lion OS, it will connect you to many unprotected sites, beyond your control, without your even knowing that you are so connected.

You log in, and you are linked to iCloud, three social-networking sites, calendars that float through space to datebooks of others, many file-sharing sites and photo sharing that takes some effort to control.

We Have Seen This Failing Strategy Before

Watch this space. Apple is emulating Microsoft’s integration of Internet Explorer and the Windows operating system of the 1990s. This kind of monopoly, barrier-to-entry thinking is precisely what slowed Microsoft’s growth rate, killed Bing with a $6 billion write-off, and is taking Nokia out at the knees in a global mobile OS market they dominated for years.

[snip]

If you track Apple’s migration from a clean, bombproof operating system, to the 3-platform (PC, Mobile, TV) serpent it is now pushing through mandatory upgrades, you will see a textbook case of increasing complexity and of management moving toward dangerous attempts to control closed networks in an open network world.

This is exactly what killed AOL in the late 1990s. Apple will survive, but at what cost?

[snip]

Apple penetrated the global Microsoft and cellular monopolies with personal devices that were much easier for users to control than those from Microsoft and Nokia. Apple has been on its way to being a preferred provider for the entrepreneurial companies in the developing world, who now dominate growth in the global economy.

But today they are telling the world that business users from all cultures will have to behave like American teenagers if they want to use Apple products.

[snip]

American teens don’t seem to mind revealing all on Facebook. Most of the commercial world feels otherwise.

I have to sign non-disclosure agreements for my work, like many people. I am not allowed to have “live” apps (we used to call them TSRs) on my PCs used with confidential company information. When I go behind a company firewall, I need to make sure my PC is not searching for my cousin’s dog on Facebook.

Why would anyone in their right mind build this kind of public access into the core operating system in a multicultural world?

Even if you accept the notion that Facebook is the province of wacky American teens and won’t help Apple sell products to serious-minded people elsewhere, I’m not sure what Anderson is talking about. He’s certainly correct that making iCloud work well isn’t a cakewalk for Apple, and that some businesses won’t be excited about Facebook and other social networking being baked into OS X. (They might even prefer that these features weren’t there.) It’s also always reasonable to consider the implications of your data being stored on somebody else’s servers.

But he hides these reasonable points in a thousand agitated words that don’t have much to do with Mountain Lion’s real features or the strategy Apple is actually pursuing.

Anderson doesn’t mention whether he’s actually used Mountain Lion. (If he downloaded and installed it yesterday, he didn’t get the Facebook stuff — that will arrive as an update in the fall.) If he has, he seems to have been working with a different version than I’ve tried.

In the Mountain Lion I’ve been using, none of the cloud and social-networking features are mandatory. iCloud only works if you choose to create an account and associate it with your Mac and other Apple devices. Facebook only gets integrated into the operating system if you proactively add your account in the system preferences. Same thing with Twitter. Even a mundane feature like iCloud’s Photo Stream only works after you turn it on.

Let’s review the first paragraph of Anderson’s post:

Apple today proudly announces that if you buy their Mountain Lion OS, it will connect you to many unprotected sites, beyond your control, without your even knowing that you are so connected.

This simply isn’t true.

And the “mandatory upgrades” he mentions? Apple isn’t forcing anyone to give up Lion. When the Facebook update comes along, you can refuse to install it too. You can choose not to update your iPhone. There’s nothing mandatory about any of the things that displease Anderson.

As for his charge that Apple is engaging in overreaching, monopolistic behavior akin to Microsoft in the bad old days? Well, I guess you could make the case that it should have opened up the OS’s plumbing to Dropbox, SugarSync and other companies rather than building iCloud. (He doesn’t, however, make that case.)

But Apple clearly isn’t trying to use its success in operating systems to lay claim to social networking. Instead, it’s doing the opposite. In the post-Ping era, it seems content to collaborate with Facebook, Twitter and others that already know how to do social networking and already have millions of users. It’s opening up doors in its walled garden in a way that’s a departure from past Apple strategy.

Anderson says he’s speaking on behalf of the concerns of billions of people around the planet, but I get the sense that he, too, would prefer the stand-alone, non-social-networked operating systems that he argues Apple should be building. Parts of his post have a distinct you-kids-stay-off-my-operating-system vibe. (At one point, he makes reference to Terminate and Stay Resident programs — a DOS-era concept I last thought about circa 1993.)

I suspect he won’t like Windows 8 any more than Mountain Lion: it uses SkyDrive much like Mountain Lion uses iCloud, has new social-networking features and generally commits the same sins as Mountain Lion. Neither of the major operating-system companies is buying into Anderson’s contention that operating systems shouldn’t get too mixed up with cloud services and social networking.

That doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to his opinion. Nobody’s required to like the direction that software is going. Some perfectly intelligent people won’t.

But we won’t have to wonder forever whether Anderson is correct that Mountain Lion is a piece of hubristic, misguided folly. All we have to do is wait and see. If he’s on to something, it should be obvious a year from now — if not sooner — that Apple has made an epic mistake. Right?