Open and Closed Platforms «

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I keep having to explain why I don’t own a smartphone. There’s one big reason, but let me quickly run some other things that matter before I get to it.

I don’t like the idea of having a distraction in my pocket at all times. I know I’m prone to procrastination, so I’d rather not have a spinning roulette wheel distracting me with potential fun new things. I also don’t like the idea of having a tracking device in my pocket at all times, especially not when they’re being actively abused.

But the biggest reason is that I don’t want to spend a lot of money to not own something. The smartphones are locked down, with limited controls and a gatekeeper approving any program you want to run. There’s little visibility into what the built-in apps do on the network or any ability to change them. (Heck, you can’t even set a screensaver on the Amazon Kindle.)

The common objection I hear is that it’s possible to jailbreak these devices to solve some of these problem, but why would I want to buy a jail in the first place? And then deal with poor support, broken upgrades, or other hassles because I have unauthorized access to something I paid money to not own?

It just frustrates me, on a lot of levels. I concede that building a walled garden can be a great business decision, but I don’t like feeling controlled, and I don’t like having a toy to play with in predetermined ways instead of a tool to create anything I want.

Now I’ve explained it several times in the last few weeks, I changed my mind about a different platform. The Ouya is a gaming console designed to be open and hackable. I hate the name and decided to pass because it has huge problems ahead of it marketing to customers, attracting developers, getting retail placement, etc. But I decided to buy one in this last two days of their Kickstarter campaign.

I know that maybe nothing will come of it. Actually, I think Ouya’s schedule is fairly unrealistic, and there’s a real chance I won’t receive a console at all. But I’d rather take a risk supporting something open than have the certainty of getting something closed.


  1. The situation isn’t nearly so dire with Android devices. As long as your device will run CyanogenMod, you can be confident of having a pure open source stack* on your phone’s application processor. The baseband processor firmware, sadly, is about as closed-source as you can get, but on modern devices, it takes care of cellular communications and very little else.

    * hardly anyone would be willing to run an Android device without the google apps bundle, which is not open source, but you can do all the basic phone stuff, and run whatever code you like, without it.

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