The Mob is Not Helping

Sigh, the whole “iPhone SDK still under NDA” problem has gone from annoyance to clusterfsck with the participation of the online mob.

It wasn’t encouraging to see that the first followup to PragDave’s blog was a bit of F/OSS trollery:

Sounds like poetic justice if you ask me. This is what you get with a locked-down platform.

That theme is repeated in the discussion to the Slashdot story, Inside Apple’s iPhone SDK Gag Order (see also the InfoWorld blog it’s based on) replete with lazy cynicism and nefarious skullduggery! about crazy dictator Steve Jobs, Apple’s “monopoly” and how they’re no different than Microsoft, and how the iPhone is junk anyways and how anyone with any sense will use a totally open platform. To top it off, there’s now an obscenely named site to collect bile and rancor related to the continued NDA status of the iPhone SDK.

Having written almost 100 pages of an iPhone book, all of which is for naught as long as the NDA is in place, I would like to make a request of the mob:

Would you all please shut the hell up?

First off, let’s apply Adamson’s Efficacy Rule: all actions should be purposeful and reasonably expected to produce the desired results, with forseeable side-effects not being worse than leaving the original goal unmet. Does anyone seriously think a bunch of geeks talking shit about Steve Jobs in a Slashdot forum is going to change Apple’s mind right now? Can anyone point to the last time the company was successfully petitioned for a redress of grievances? If you really think that Apple doesn’t care what you think — and you’re right, they don’t — then why are you bothering to express yourselves this way?

Secondly, what realistically is the alternative? The F/OSS trolls would have us believe that non-proprietary mobile software stacks are just as good as the iPhone, but this is laugh-out-loud ridiculous. In more than a decade, one thing that the open source movement has demonstrably proven, is that while it’s great at writing software that interfaces with other software (servers, libraries, etc.), it is absolutely incapable of developing end-user applications that anyone in their right mind would want to use. I’m not talking about the “eye candy” cliche that’s thrown at Apple as an insult; I’m talking about the fact that last time I used GNOME as my day-by-day desktop, I found 30 ways to change the theme and not one to set the clock. There’s never going to be a decent open-source software stack for a phone because nobody who cares about writing software for use by humans and is talented at it is going to contribute to such an effort. F/OSS has been a complete failure on the desktop, and it will be a complete failure on the small device, for exactly the same reasons.

Granted, I think that insisting on an NDA on software that is no longer designated as beta, and has been downloaded by over a quarter-million developers is foolish. They can’t realistically enforce such a thing — some of the best information I’ve found, like a crucial tip on using custom table cells created in Interface Builder, is hosted on Apple’s own forums — and it only serves to hurt the overall quality of iPhone apps when developers can’t share experience, tips, wisdom, and lessons learned. And it’s because of that utter untenability that this situation will change, and soon. At least from what’s publicly known about the platform, there’s little point to continuing the NDA at this point. In time, I think they’ll work through whatever problems they have and set things loose.

In the meantime, asserting that evil Steve Jobs will “demand that people conform to his world view, and demand that the people working for him force their customers to conform to his world view” is just goddamned stupid. And won’t make my life any easier anytime soon.

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