Jobs and Ellison on Downsides of 'Open' Software

Ann All

We already know about the mutual admiration society between Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs. In a letter to The New York Times, Ellison blasted HP's board of directors for firing Mark Hurd, calling it "the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago."

 

Now the mercurial technology titans are drawing a line in the sand (and not coincidentally trashing their rivals), saying users want the kind of integrated and elegant experience that is only possible with ecosystems like Oracle's and Apple's, in which hardware and software are closely connected and vendors maintain tight control of their software.

 

IT Business Edge contributor Loraine Lawson wrote about Ellison's company a couple weeks ago, wondering whether Oracle was forward-thinking or stuck in the '80s. According to Ellison, the benefits of Oracle's approach include better testing, quicker identification of bugs, stronger security, easier integration and simpler maintenance with less patching, tuning and monitoring. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It's essentially the same spiel offered by Steve Jobs and Apple fanboys (and fangirls) everywhere in discussing Apple products.

 

Check out some of the choice words Jobs has for Google, which espouses a far different approach, in a published on transcript of an Apple's earnings callSeeking Alpha. Jobs characterizes Google's Android operating system as "fragmented" rather than open. (Let the arguments commence. But first can we all agree that "open" is becoming one of those buzzwords that is being rendered virtually meaningless from overuse?) Apple's approach, in contrast, is "integrated" rather than "closed," Jobs said.

 

Is this just a case of a company assigning positive-sounding words to its products to win users? I don't think so. I think Jobs means it, and Ellison too, which is what makes the two of them such compelling spokesmen for their companies. Jobs said:

The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago. Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor to test against.

Apple's integrated model means "the user isn't forced to be the systems integrator." Jobs said:

When selling to users who want their devices to just work, we believe integrated will trump fragmented every time. And we also think our developers can be more innovative if they can target a singular platform rather than a hundred variants. They can put their time into innovative new features rather than testing on hundreds of different handsets.

Hardware (and software) that "just works" is as appealing to CIOs as it is to consumers buying smartphones. But there's another side to the "integrated" approach. As Loraine pointed out in her post, locking in with a single vendor can result in price increases and a loss of control, especially during negotiations. (Apple isn't flexible on price, or much of anything else, when selling its products. It's not clear if that will change as it sells more iPhones, iPads and other gear to enterprises.)

 

Tethering hardware to software and imposing strong controls over developers also means less experimentation and thus, perhaps, less innovation. One developer's "crap" is another's killer app.



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