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Have Walled Gardens Killed the Personal Computer? 848

theodp writes "Harvard Law School Prof Jonathan Zittrain explains in The Personal Computer is Dead why you should be afraid — very afraid — of the snowballing replicability of the App Store Model. 'If we allow ourselves to be lulled into satisfaction with walled gardens,' warns Zittrain, 'we'll miss out on innovations to which the gardeners object, and we'll set ourselves up for censorship of code and content that was previously impossible. We need some angry nerds.' Searchblog's John Battelle, who's also solidly in the tear-down-this-walled-garden camp, adds: 'I'm not a nerd, quite, but I'm sure angry.'"
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Have Walled Gardens Killed the Personal Computer?

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  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:39AM (#38257070)

    I haven't RTFA, but the instant question is: So what?

    As long as a device solves a problem to the user, that's what the device should restrain itself to do.. General use PCs have proven to become virus/worms/problem infested in the hands of "normal" users..

    There will always be general use pc's for those who are willing and have to skills to handle them responsibly..

    I for one welcome this new era when tech support nightmares get reduced to a minimum..

  • Well duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:41AM (#38257074)

    This is why we have free software and open source software.

    So that we're not bound by the whims of some business model.

  • Re:Frameworks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by InsightIn140Bytes ( 2522112 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:43AM (#38257082)
    You're still free to use any other framework or do your own. Hell, if we make that argument then Linux would be walled garden too. But in both cases you are still free to do what you want, if you want. In true walled garden (like iOS) you are not.
  • by ThinkingThinker ( 2015202 ) * on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:44AM (#38257086)
    With Apple, you get a walled garden where Apple controls what apps are allowed. The apps are high quality but developer control is lost. With Android, it's the "wild wild west" where anything you want to create can get sold. And it shows. I see the new apps each day for Android and most of it is pure trash. Honestly, how many bikini apps need to get released each day? The upshot here is that anyone can create anything and sell it for Android. There is always a tradeoff.
  • by tiffany352 ( 2485630 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:44AM (#38257088)
    I prefer repositories. You can't really be walled in, because you can just add some other repo in and have all those packages too. It's not like it's so hard to navigate either, it's just that most package manager frontends remain very technical, maybe excepting the ubuntu software centre(?).
  • by TheTruthIs ( 2499862 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:45AM (#38257096)
    It always finds a way.
  • Simple solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DanTheManMS ( 1039636 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:52AM (#38257130)
    Simple solution: don't buy Apple.

    (I honestly don't even know if I'm trolling with this statement or not anymore)
  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:55AM (#38257144)

    The PC is not dead its just that common end users are driving up the shut-up-and-take-my-money model. the PC will end up being left to the geeks again which is probably the same small percentage of people (compared to the entire pc market space right now) it was back in the late 80s. the only reason common end users bought pcs was to get on the internet. they have other ways to do that now without having to learn anything. internet access has acheived the easiness of the VCR and thats what most people want who are not geeks.

  • by Rising Ape ( 1620461 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:56AM (#38257150)

    Market power can be just as limiting as government power. If nobody's making anything else because the walled gardeners have sewn up the market, what are you going to do?

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by impaledsunset ( 1337701 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:57AM (#38257170)

    Getting out of the cave a few times a week to hunt is enough to sustain myself. My cave and my stone weapons solve a problem to me, so why care about anything else? If ain't broken, don't fix it.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:58AM (#38257176)

    > General use PCs have proven to become virus/worms/problem infested in the hands of "normal" users..

    This. Normal users have lived with the crapware infested mess that is "general PCs" for years, and they HATE IT. They want something better, and walled gardens are that thing. That's why the PC is on the road to becoming a niche platform. PC sales are *declining* in the US, Canada, and Western Europe.

    More and more my friends, mostly younger people 18-25, aren't bothering to replace their PCs when they die. They find that a combination of an iPad, iPhone, and a PS3 meets all their needs much better than the "jack of all trades, master of none" PC did. The iPhone is always with them, so they are always connected. The iPad is with them in classes and at home, sometimes elsewhere. The PS3 for gaming of course, to avoid the annoying mess that is PC gaming.

    The post-PC world is coming, and it's because people WANT it. Because PCs are too complex for most people to want to deal with, and a range of consumer-friendly devices meets their needs better. That's where the market is being driven, and for good reason.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:58AM (#38257180)

    There will always be general use pc's for those who are willing and have to skills to handle them responsibly..

    Sorry, but this is Slashdot, where we have to see the world in absolutes. Despite antitrust and consumer protection laws, soon *every* device will be made by [Apple|Google|Microsoft] and the entire world will be subject to that company's terrible machinations. Everyone who purchases one of those companies' products is immanentizing this monoculture eschaton, thus we are justified in hating these people for their part in curtailing our future personal freedoms.

    Also, all restaurants will be Taco Bell.

  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:58AM (#38257182)

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary ease of use, deserve neither liberty nor ease of use.

  • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @11:59AM (#38257184)
    Apple could have done this with the Mac store, and didn't. They could have allowed non-app store installs like Android, and didn't. The only reason not to do repositories or allow non-walled garden applications is greed. Sounds like Windows 8 is going the walled garden route as well, and this is the problem. It becomes more acceptable, and has to get pretty crippled compared to the competition (AOL) before the general public starts to care.
  • Re:Well duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:01PM (#38257208)

    Free and open source does not mean that the author has to offer the software on the platform of your choice. In the case of open source it does mean that you can take and redistribute the software yourself.

    If the TOS of the platform (for instance Apple's) get in the way, that is the fault of the platform.

    In short, if you want free software, avoid un-free platforms ;-)

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:06PM (#38257246)
    It's okay give it a few years and your walled gardens will be infested as well.
  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drx ( 123393 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:06PM (#38257254) Homepage

    And today people think that you're a hacker if you look at Google's second search result page.
    This shouldn't have happened.

  • by Zigurd ( 3528 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:07PM (#38257258) Homepage

    Think about the phrase "personal computer."

    How many people do you know who really need a completely general-purpose computer that they own and control personally?

    How many "PCs" are actually nodes in a centrally controlled system, and not "personal" at all?

    Because of the economics of making "PCs," we have the illusion that hundreds of millions of people buy and use "personal computers" each year. In reality, a minority, possibly a small minority, of those people actually take advantage of anything those "PCs" do that would require personal control over a general-purpose computer.

    This is the reason mobile devices that are not quite "personal computers" are rightly popular. They serve the actual need. Hopefully, it will be possible to use mobile devices as if they were personal computers, so that the potential of personal computers can be applied to a networked, mobile world.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:16PM (#38257322)
    All of this will happen again.

    In the 1980s and early 1990s, online services were walled gardens. There were of course minor exceptions - BBSes who all exchanged information with each other via FidoNet. But the big names were CompuServe, GEnie, MSN, and (what would eventually become the 900 lb gorilla) America Online. They had their day, until the Internet tore down those walls. Today, all those services are pretty much gone. MSN is no longer a subscription service. AOL is still hanging on, mostly due to monthly service revenue from old people who don't know that they can get their Internet without having to pay AOL.

    I think what happens is that when a new type of service/product is created, the initial creators and early copycats end up with most of the market share. Then they try setting up walls to protect their gardens and preserve their market share. Eventually an open alternative comes along which works better and/or is as easy to use, and the walls fall. Arguably, something similar happened in the 1970s/1980s with computer operating systems. Each computer maker had their own OS with its own ecosphere and apps. Eventually, MS-DOS ended up winning the market not because it was the best, but because it (and the PC platform it ran on) was open.

    I suppose it's possible that, eventually, some company could "get it right" and preserve their walled garden in perpetuity. I'd argue Facebook is much closer to this than Apple.* But based on history, the safe bet is against any company managing to pull this off. Eventually something bigger and better comes along which consigns the original giant to a niche, if not irrelevance. *(Google is open enough that they allow you to extract the data stored in their services - their walls rather porous.)

    The one market where I haven't seen this happening is gaming consoles. But I think that's because the nature of game compatibility/hardware and the refresh cycle forces the entire industry to "reboot" every few years. First it was Atari, then Nintendo, then Sony, and currently it's split between Nintendo (Wii) and Microsoft (Xbox). The amount of time between these reboots is short enough that an open platform can't develop. But the reboots also mean that each company has to start over from scratch every few years to maintain dominance.
  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:19PM (#38257344) Homepage Journal

    The PS3 for gaming of course, to avoid the annoying mess that is PC gaming.

    Let me know when the Humble Bundles come to the PS3.

  • Re:So what? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:25PM (#38257388)

    ... because that's what Joe Fratboy wants to play. Humble bundles.

    Get real. Outside a tiny niche audience, this doesn't matter one bit. People want Angry Birds, which runs on their iPhone. They want Farmville, which runs in a browser on their tablet. Their other gaming needs are met by the PS3.

    But as for Humble Bundles driving hardware purchases? Get real. They aren't a factor. AT ALL. Probably not one person in a thousand has even heard of the thing. Don't confuse a few slashdot nerds with the real world.

  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:28PM (#38257420) Journal

    I don't care if they de-list them or not, as long as I can filter them.

    Why can't I filter them??

  • Re:So what? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:29PM (#38257430)

    You have not considered that Walled Garden is just another fancy name for DRM, have you?
    With that in mind, you might want to read the article again and you may reach a different conclusion.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:30PM (#38257436)

    I have no idea why you got modded up so high but the points you make are sure as hell ridiculous. Theres so many uses for PCs, can you do photoshop on an iPhone, No? wonder why.. Can you code on an iPhone? No? wonder why.. The PC isn't going anywhere buddy, these people predicted the death of the TV because people watch moves on their phones, simply NOT true, and retarded at the same time.

  • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:32PM (#38257450) Homepage Journal

    To use a car analogy, most people would prefer a car which they got in and travelled from A to B, without having to know anything about oil levels, brake pads, shock absorbers or what a cam shaft is for. Petrolheads would say "But you can have so much fun by tinkering with the engine!", to which the majority of car drivers would reply "But I don't care about any of that, I just want to get to my destination. Give me a zero-maintenance car please."

    No, to use a car analogy, they don't want to have to deal with things like learning traffic rules and regulations or having to use signals or a brake.
    And they don't want to go from A to B, they want to go from A to "I don't care, but entertain me!".

    They want a car with a chauffeur and all their friends in it, and where they don't decide the next stop. I.e. a tour bus.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheLongshot ( 919014 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:35PM (#38257482)

    Funny that to replace one device, you need to have three.

    There are a couple of reasons why I don't think PCs are going away: keyboards and fact that the vast majority of web sites are not optimized for touch screen. Fact is, typing in anything on any of these devices is a pain in the ass. I hate using touchscreen keyboards and I've hated the trend of going away from built in keyboards. Yes, there are bluetooth keyboards, but it isn't always practical to carry those around with you.

    As for web sites, while most are usable, most are also designed to be used with a full PC, not a hacked down browser of many of these machines.

  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fahrvergnuugen ( 700293 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:36PM (#38257490) Homepage
    Not if the gardener does his job
  • Re:Frameworks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr. Mikey ( 17567 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:40PM (#38257534)

    The key difference is that a framework is a tool, whereas an App Store contains, or, more to the point, doesn't contain specific content.

    If I use jQuery, that doesn't restrict what other code I write, or what other applications I use.

  • Re:Frameworks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:45PM (#38257582)

    The argument that "you can always use Y if you're not satisfied with X" is a fallacy in the world of computers. The laws of market, especially in a market with high initial and near zero variable cost, contradict it. Allow me to elaborate.

    The main reason why hardware has become (comparably) cheap in the last few years is the fact that the development cost, which are pretty much the whole cost of any kind of hardware (let's be blunt here, it ain't the epoxy for the board and the silicon for the chip), could be spread out over more units. Do you think CPUs could be sold at less than ten times the price if the market for computers was as big as it was three decades ago? It's even better visible in software, it's by no means ten or hundred times as much of an investment to produce specialized business software compared to some games, the market is just considerably smaller.

    Saying now that if I'm not happy with X I could always use Y doesn't work out for exactly this reason. If everyone else switches over to X, forcing the maker of Y to either fold or increase the price for Y, I will be forced to use it as well or not use anything altogether. I will not have the option to continue using Y. Because I alone do not allow the development of Y to continue.

  • by ScuzzMonkey ( 208981 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:55PM (#38257684) Homepage

    Zittrain's been peddling this load of manure argument for a long time now, and as far as I am concerned he has been consistently disproven time after time. It's not that what he points out is not a factor, so much that he ignores the rest of the story, which is that the "generative spirit" continually finds ways to break down the walls, create alternatives, and generally keep innovating despite (and at times, because of) the controls the gardeners put in place.

    He equally ignores the fact that the vast majority of users of open technologies never did, or ever would have, engaged in any truly generative behavior. And there's nothing wrong with that. What was a problem was that the price of keeping things open was often inhibiting the normal, consumptive uses of that larger group.

    What we have now is by no means the perfect system but it's considerably more balanced than it was before, and there's no evidence whatsoever of the epic collapse of innovation Zittrain has been forecasting for years.

  • Re:So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:08PM (#38257796)

    Don't come crying back to mommy when you get what you ask for:

    1. People choose apliances and devices with walled gardens, over the freedom and frustration of the PC
    2. PCs lose marketshare
    3. PCs become niche commodity
    4. Have fun paying out of the nose if you want to purchase/build/use something more flexible than the average toaster.
    5. Of course, if you want cheap, take a look at this new idiot box! With a grand total of three buttons: On, OFF and Do What I Want!

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by morari ( 1080535 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:42PM (#38258106) Journal

    Fact is, most people don't need a keyboard 98% of the time, because they aren't entering information, they are consuming it.

    Isn't that the problem? These corporation want to turn the internet into just another passive experience, like television or radio. All of the iTards out there are happy to go along with it, because as "creative" as they think they are, they're really just consumers with a credit line. Walled gardens stifle innovation by removing the power to creative from the hands of the individual and placing it solely in the palms of a select few groups. That's bad for everyone, whether they're willing to acknowledge it or not.

  • Re:a few arguments (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:43PM (#38258120)

    DONT BUY IT. If you're having such a monumental issue with walled gardens, stop buying stuff from them. But oohhhh shiny steam app... must buy... and all those achievements... ohhh... must have... and those hats... groovy... and the whole fucking world needs to see my status update. But facebook sucks ! That's right. It sucks and still you want to have it. For free.

    Don't worry. Eventually it will be "Don't buy it, and do without modern technology."

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @02:11PM (#38258368) Homepage Journal

    Except that the walled garden DOESN'T reduce tech support nightmares.

    What flavor of kool-aid have you been drining?

    I'm certain that at least 95% of the techs out there among us would agree, all the people around us that require tech support - family, friends, coworkers, friends of family, friends of friends, we see it all. Face reality, some people need walled gardens. My mom needs a walled garden. She'll click on a link that looks like something I might have sent her, she's done it already. Education only helps so much. If you're the IT support for a company and someone offers you a walled garden you can put your users into, where they lose zero productivity and at the same time cut your support headaches in half, you can benefit from the walled garden. You'd be negligent to not at least explore the option.

    Walled gardens are like your local police. In "your perfect world", the police aren't necessary. Everyone has a gun and knows how to use it and can defend and take care of themselves. But that doesn't work in the real world. And you can't just say the best solution is to make sure everyone has a gun and training on using it. That's just not practical. In a community of people with widely varying levels of expertise you need a central defense system of some sort to protect those that can't protect themselves.

    Now it's certain, walled gardens provide companies with a lot of leverage and control. You certainly wouldn't want your local police department in the pocket of any company. It's ripe for abuse, and companies always take advantage of it to some degree. Companies have three main reasons to create walled gardens. The first two are your favorite straw men: for lock-in and to lower competition. The third is the creation of a safe, reliable, "it just works" environment to provide their customers with a better experience that they will value above the other available offerings. But that's the price you as the customer are paying for the huge benefits you are receiving for being within the safety of the walled garden. If you don't like that, you're free to step outside and polish up your gun and fend for yourself. You can move out to some ranch in arizona and do whatever you like, with a lot more freedom.

    I have no grounds to argue against your right to step out on your own and take on the world or to force you to live within the walls. And for that same reason you have no business trying to drag us out of our garden. The polls have been open for quite awhile now, and the public has voted with their wallets and bought scads of ipads, ipods, iphones, etc. And you will be unable to find more than 5% of them that don't like the walled garden they've chosen to live in. You are in the super-minority here. I can see why you're unhappy with it, but lets face it, how you want to live your life isn't the same as how most of the rest of us do. You either want the rest of the world to voluntarily change how they do things and make their lives more complicated and less pleasant as a result, or you want to tell others how they're supposed to live their lives. And I'm very thankful you can't do either.

    The walled garden I've chosen to live in has walls that aren't so tall as to prevent me from climbing out from time to time when I want to, and yet they keep out 99.9% of the riff-raff. And I'm quite happy with it like it is. And so are most of the rest of us in here. Enjoy your stay outside the wall, and I'm not saying it's impossible for you to enjoy it, but where you've chosen to live is not the optimal place for the grand majority of us. For sure there are a few of us inside here that don't like the wall, but they're still here - because they value some of the benefits of being in the garden more than they dislike the wall. Leave us and the garden alone - don't ruin it for everyone.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by speederaser ( 473477 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @02:18PM (#38258454)

    And today people think that you're a hacker if you look at Google's second search result page.

    And how did we ever lose track of the fact that it's ALWAYS been that way? To the vast majority of people out there even Linux is a walled garden because they don't have a clue how to modify it and they don't want a clue, they don't have time for it.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @02:21PM (#38258474)

    If walled gardens completely take over then all entertainment software / content will be developed by a small cliche of companies and you will have to accept what ever they decide to produce.

    The reality contradicts your theory. There are 121,000 companies and individuals with apps published on the iPhone App Store.

  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @03:09PM (#38258814)

    ..that I lived in the golden age of computer freedom, and future generations will only read about it in history books.

    Walled gardens, virtual machines, signed code, app stores etc may be useful, but little by little, are removing our freedom to actually control the machine.

    I fear that in the future, you will need a license to write code under constant government scrutiny. Kinda like making explosives.

    But then, maybe I'm just a curmudgeon...

  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @04:00PM (#38259248)

    Hell, most people can't even use all the functions of their TV's remote control. Funny thing the other day was when a friend of mine couldn't find his remote control to turn on the game. I went over and pushed the button on the TV and changed the channel and he kinda looked at me like I had just conjured up a demon or something. Most people think that when you flip the light switch and the light comes on it's magic.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anthony Mouse ( 1927662 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @04:10PM (#38259330)

    It isn't about every user being able to write software. That is never going to happen. What it's about is the ability of the millions of independent developers to give users software the gatekeepers don't approve. If there are billions of people with Windows 7 or Snow Leopard or Ubuntu, I can write a piece of software and sell it or give it away to those users and there isn't anything Microsoft, Apple or Canonical can do to stop me.

    If those users have to jailbreak their computers before they can install my software, and they don't know how to do that, I'm now beholden to the troll under the bridge into the walled garden. No apps that compete with iTunes. No apps that "ridicule public figures." No apps that help dissidents unless Apple is willing to give up China.

    Pardon my French, but fuck that shit.

  • Re:Frameworks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @07:14PM (#38260818) Homepage

    Your envy clouds your judgement. It's not a walled garden and the PC is dead. It's that the driver of PC growth today is the Mac with OS X whose child, iOS is owning the next generation of personal consumption. Building the cheapest disposable PC and/or Workstation only favors Microsoft whose OEM license is paid whether HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc., sell $1000, $2000, $3,000, $4K+ systems.

    No one but Apple controls the entire end-to-end solution. Not Microsoft, not anyone else. OS X sales continues to steadily expand and iOS steadily expands times ten. When Microsoft starts to dip down to 80% of the Desktop market it'll be due to Apple's OS X and it's child, iOS. It won't be due to FreeBSD, Linux, or any other UNIX flavored OS using cheap clone hardware.

    You want a third big box OS for consumers to desire you'll have to control the end-to-end solution, not just the Server Market.

    Nothing is guaranteed and desire to evolve into new paradigms is up to any start-up or large conglomerate to seize. If not, they'll become the next IBM who is completely out of the Consumer space.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb