Steve Job’s keynote at WWDC this year inspired some and was disappointing to others — but, as usual, it was interesting & entertaining. I’ve always liked Apple’s products, and spend an embarrassing amount of my own money on them. So I’m interested in what he’s got to say.
Every so often though, as inspired as he is, he says something that betrays at best a blurry view of the real world, at worst an explicit intent to bring more of the world under directed control from Cupertino, and that happened Monday.
The big news, of course, is that Apple’s releasing Safari on Windows — and although it’s been a rough first few days for them (and will get rougher), more choices are generally good for users, and so I’m hopeful that they can work to produce a product of quality on Windows eventually. I’m quite fond of Firefox, of course, and am very happy that people everywhere in the world continue to adopt our browser in increasing numbers.
Here’s a screen capture from the keynote of what Steve thinks the world looks like today (discussion starts at about 1:06 into the preso):
We could quibble with the numbers, but close enough. It doesn’t give much credit to the large & growing number of other quality browsers that are on the scene today, and certainly doesn’t give any sophisticated understanding of the situation outside the United States, where things vary more. Close enough, though.
But here’s the graph that betrays the way that Steve, and by extension Apple, so often looks at the world:
He said this: “Well we dream big. We would love for Safari’s marketshare to grow substantially. That’s what we’d love.” Aw, shucks.
Fantastic! Dream big! Imagine a world of…wait for it…access to the web controlled by 2 companies — and why not just go with the 2 dominant operating system vendors in the world.
But make no mistake: this wasn’t a careless presentation, or an accidental omission of all the other browsers out there, or even a crummy marketing trick. Lots of words describe Steve & his Stevenotes, but “careless” and “accidental” do not. This is, essentially, the way they’re thinking about the problem, and shows the users they want to pick up.
There are a couple of problems, of course. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be.
First, it isn’t really how the world is. The meteoric rise of Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Linux and Firefox, among many other examples, shows that today’s connected world is no longer constrained by the monopolies and duopolies and cartels of yesterday’s distribution — of the publishers, studios, and OS vendors. Hundreds of millions of users, in every language around the world are now making new choices. That Apple doesn’t feel this, even within the familiar reality-distortion-field confines of Moscone Center, illustrates much of the problem.
Second, it isn’t how the world should be. Even if we could somehow put that movement back in the bottle — that a world of just Starbucks & Peets, just Wal-mart & Target, just Ford & GM — that a world of tight control from a few companies is good, it’s the wrong thing to do. It destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember (or heard about) when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.
So here’s my point, to be clear: another browser being available to more people is good. I’m glad that Safari will be another option for users. (Watch for the Linux port Real Soon Now.) We’ve never ever at Mozilla said that we care about Firefox market share at the expense of our more important goal: to keep the web open and a public resource. The web belongs to people, not companies.
This world view that Steve gave a glimpse into betrays their thinking: it’s out-of-date, corporate-controlled, duopoly-oriented, not-the-web thinking. And it’s not good for the web. Which is sort of moot, I think, because I don’t think this 2 party world will really come to be.
Steve asserted Monday that Safari on Windows will overturn history, attract 100M new users, and revert the world to a 2 browser state. That remains to be seen, of course.
But don’t bet on it.