Open vs. Closed

Mobile Venture Beat has a piece where a group of VCs discuss open vs. closed, specifically related to mobile, where I’m currently employed.

I’ve also seen a number of discussions on Eric Raymond‘s blog, Armed and Dangerous, about his feelings on the Android vs. iPhone. Being the chief apologist for Open Source, Eric feels that ultimately, Android, built on an open source stack, will win over iPhone, with Apple’s tight control. His latest is here.

Be sure and read, at least scan, the comments in these posts, as sometimes they are more entertaining, and occasionally more insightful than the original article.

I spent a number of years using Linux as my primary desktop. I found it to be stable and reliable. But any time I had to add a new application or upgrade an application, I found myself in no man’s land. Sometimes it worked like clockwork. Other times, I found myself on an upgrade hell, trying to find all the packages necessary to make the new or upgraded application work. I got tired of spending the time making the machine work, instead of using it. For some people, that’s the fun, for me, it wasn’t.

By that time, Mac OS X had established itself as a viable contender, so I switched back, and haven’t looked back since. I do believe that Linux is usually the right answer on the server, however. On the desktop, I need something that I can count on.

So where am I going with all this? Well, I think that neither all open, nor all closed are the right answer. A business has to do what’s necessary to be profitable.

Turns out that at least by some measures, Apple is more open than Google. In fact, Google Chrome is based on WebKit, an Apple open source project.

And Google is more closed than people realize. Nobody knows what Google’s algorithm for pagerank is, let alone seen the code for it. Google’s two sources of income are search and advertising, which they hold very close to the vest.

Apple and Google both give away things that help drive business to their primary revenue sources. In Apple’s case, it’s their hardware. In Google’s case, it’s their search and advertising.

In the long run, there will continue to be both open and closed technologies. And that’s the way it should be.

Update: John Gruber has this post today on Daring Fireball. He discusses the Android vs. iPhone, and the all-out war that has broken out between Apple and Google. Both companies emphasize what they do best and what the other does poorly.

The other interesting thing here is the other actors in the smart phone market. Specifically, Microsoft, who seems to have lost completely in the mobile space.

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