Apple's Animal Farm

Posted by Jon Fortt

I'm sorry, Microsoft. On behalf of Silicon Valley, I’m sorry.

We cursed you, mocked you, labeled you the Evil Empire. Your crime: trying to control the technology world. Sure, we had reason to be upset. During the dawning of the PC era, the Windows operating system made you the most powerful company in tech, and it went to your head.

Your detractors say you intimidated PC makers, crushed Netscape, and tried to turn the web into an extension of the Windows platform. As it turns out, local darling Apple (AAPL) probably would have done the same thing.

Just look at how Apple is behaving today with a fraction of the power you had.

Apple's iTunes has an estimated 87% market share in music downloads, a beachhead it is using to expand its influence in much the same way you used Windows to expand yours. What has Apple done with its dominance? It has refused to let other media players sync with iTunes. It has tried to strong-arm Hollywood into selling content on terms mostly favorable to Cupertino. It has tightly controlled the iPhone ecosystem, insisting that its own iTunes app store serve as the only way to broadly distribute software.

And now, in the Google Voice episode (more on that here), we see Apple blocking perfectly good software that competes with its ideas. When you tried this sort of thing, Microsoft, we called you a bully and went to the feds. Now that Apple’s doing it, we’re calling it … well, we’re not sure what to call it.

The most disturbing thing about the Google Voice (GOOG) dustup is Apple’s Orwellian claim that it didn’t reject the app. Apple did. Google submitted it and waited several weeks before Apple said it wouldn't be adding it to the app store. In the wake of the rejection, Google is working on a web-based version of the app that won't work as smoothly. Yes, Apple can always change its mind and accept the app, but that won't change the initial nixing. Note to Apple: Time Machine is an awesome feature in Mac OS X, but you can't use it to rewrite actual history.

So again, Microsoft (MSFT), I’m sorry we gave you such a hard time. Your sins weren’t unique after all. Yes, you pushed some people around. You trampled some ideas. Now, though, we can see the truth: We’ve been living the Silicon Valley version of Animal Farm all along. Like Napoleon the pig in the classic story, Apple promised us beautiful technology that would set us free to express and innovate.

Apple’s technology is gorgeous all right. But as Apple gets more power, a funny thing is happening on the farm. Innovation and expression on Apple’s iPhone platform are beginning to suffer, even as Apple insists that its restrictions are for our own good. And as we gaze out at the titans of the tech landscape, it’s getting difficult to tell which are the humans and which are the pigs.


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