Cool Random Tech Stuff

Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast

Thoughts On Openness

Recently I have read more about what open means in the technology world. In the last week, HTC has said they will no longer lock down the bootloader. This probably means nothing to a vast majority of users, but to power users and those who tweak their experience it can mean a lot.

There are theories in this world that seem to be a perfect system on paper but the real world application proves to not be perfect. Government systems such as communism and democracy can both be ideal solutions on paper but might not work in real life. The reason things like this happen is mainly because no one can think of every variance or fork in the road possible.

This applies to the tech industry and openness of products. The idea of an open product or software is that everyone can contribute and not be controlled by a closed door corporation. Also, loopholes and flaws in the code can be analyzed by anyone, which gives a power in numbers approach to fixing problems.

In reality things don’t work that perfectly. Corporations like to lock software down for many reasons: user experience, security, revenue protection, and various other reasons.

A company selling a handset typically provides a level of customer support for problems, thus locking down unauthorized changes reduces that monetary cost of support.

Carrier revenues are also protected by locking down the software. Certain features of phones are billed based on system settings that are locked down so that you are properly paying for usage. With unlocking software it may be possible to circumvent said lock downs. Also, carriers and phone manufacturers make deals to pre-load software on phones. Yes, someone is making a lot of money to have Bing as the default search engine instead of Google on an Android phone. A lot of times these software additions are locked down so you can’t uninstall them without voiding a warranty.

Finally, the thought of more security through locking down a system or having open source to fix a problem.
Open source does provide a way for the good people to fix problems, but it provides the source to the criminals too. No software is perfect, thus it is a race to see who will find the flaw first. The other school of thought is to not release source code. This does not mean a system is more secure. Microsoft Windows has a closed source approach but has security flaws, as does Apple Mac OSX.

With the argument over mobile platforms being open and closed, there is no clear answer on what is better. Engineers and business leaders make decisions on what they think is best for their purposes and so should consumers. Apple locking down the iPhone and Appstore while pushing for an open HTML5 standard, and Google claiming to be open while working with carriers to lock down the software; keep in mind that there are not black and white sides to “open.”

Any solution, tech or otherwise, is not perfect but the solution used must be a compromise for all involved. Corporations are in business to make money and consumers want some freedom in their products that they spend the money on.

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