I was reading a PCWorld article today about an Oxford professor Jonathan Zittrain who has written a new book called The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It . He has taken the position that closed Internet appliances like the iPhone are stifling innovation.
Quote: “Zittrain argues that today’s Internet appliances such as the iPhone and Xbox hamper innovation. That’s because these locked-down devices prohibit the kind of tinkering by end users that made PCs and the Internet such a force of economic, political and artistic change.”
I find this interesting from a couple perspectives.
First, Carolyn Duffy Marsan, the PCWorld journalist who wrote the review, doesn’t speak once about open source. Living inside the Open Source bubble, I am amazed at times when somebody in the technology industry writes a story about the evils of closed technology without immediately praising the virtues of open source software. After all, the very core principal behind open source is to revolt against closed source software that prevents the very innovation that Zittrain fears we will lose. For shame Ms. Marsan! Keep preaching Matt Asay!
Secondly, it’s interesting to see that Zittrain’s concern is so similar to the concern that Richard Stallman expressed when he sponsored the recent update to the GPL open source license, GPLv3, and specifically drafted license language against the closed Tivo appliance. His concern, which he calls “tivoization” was that closed Linux-based appliances like the Tivo DVR both stifled innovation and flew in the face of the intent of open source licenses.
What I am happy to see is that others besides us pocket-protector open source enthusiasts are seeing that the true power of technology and the Internet is in the freedom to innovate. One of my favorite quotes is:
“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat”
I’m personally not completely convinced that the iPhone, Xboc and Tivo are going to put the brakes on innovation, but I applaud Mr Zittrain and anybody else who points out the virtues of innovation and strive to protect it.