Jobs, Ballmer, And The Page-Brin-Schmidt Trinity Battle For Your Eternal Soul

Apple is an arrogant, closed, monopolistic dictatorship. The Cult of Apple, according to Fox News and a pair of professors from Texas A&M, carries all the hallmarks of a more traditional religion. It's got the creation story. It's got the messianic leader who rose from the (professional) dead. And it's got evil archenemies: Google and Microsoft.  

Most important, though, it's got followers -- millions and millions of followers -- who see only perfection in its products, whose dreams take place against stark white backdrops and are subtitled in Helvetica.

My family were early Appleites. (Applish?) Back in 1981, my mom wrote her first book on our Apple IIe, using a powerhouse of a word processor called PFS Write. The computer had only one 5¼" floppy drive, which was needed to run the software, so every time she went to save her file she was prompted to remove the program disk, insert a data disk, save the file, remove the data disk, reinsert the program disk, and proceed writing. The maximum file size was 11 pages.



In those halcyon days, Apple looked certain to ride a smooth road to PC domination. The company had successfully brought graphical computing to the heathens, after all. But then the devils from Redmond appeared on the scene. Their GUI interface wasn't as stylish as Apple's -- in fact, it felt kind of tacked-on -- but they battled a closed model with an open one. Where Apple operating systems would only work with Apple hardware, Windows worked with everything, effectively recruiting every non-Apple computer manufacturer to its valiant cause.

Apple retreated to a cave on a mountaintop to lick its wounds, and, for a time, Microsoft enjoyed its own halcyon days. But then the landscape shifted again, with a pair of Stanford upstarts and a cool new product. They had no idea how they would make money, but that didn't matter -- with enough popularity and a bit of luck, they stumbled upon a business model that turned them into a mighty beast indeed. When it came to search, Microsoft's software empire was no match for Google's insurrectionary forces.

Meanwhile, Apple was biding its time, slowly collecting Horcruxes and regaining strength. Successes like iPods and Macbooks attracted more and more followers, until the time was right for the iPhone: One Product To Rule Them All.

Although Microsoft had long forgotten the power of collaboration, Google had learned from the Microsoft mythology, and chose to battle the closed iPhone with the open-source Android. And, notwithstanding the impregnable reverence with which iPhone owners regard their devices, the battle is far from over. Just yesterday, The Nielsen Company announced that Android phones outsold Apple phones for the first time ever.

Like all good stories, the question of which side is good and which is evil depends on, well, which side you're on. Talk to open-source fanatics (and, no, "fanatics" is not too strong a word) and they'll tell you that the ultimate evil is Microsoft. Try to extol the virtues of anything open source to Apple fanatics and they'll turn away and murmur to their phones, "We loves the precious, doesn't we? Yessss...."

And of course the truth is a somewhat murkier shade of gray. By increasing competition in the industry, Windows made PCs affordable to the masses and accelerated the digital age. Without an unreasonable obsession with design perfection, the iPhone wouldn't be nearly as delightful to use. Android may be open source, but Google's algorithm is anything but -- and, while open source can foster innovation, competition, and unfettered creativity, it can also produce some pretty dodgy apps.

So to whom do you swear your allegiance? Let me know in the comments or on @kcolbin.

9 comments about "Jobs, Ballmer, And The Page-Brin-Schmidt Trinity Battle For Your Eternal Soul".
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  1. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, August 3, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.

    History repeats itself....

    having just watched Pirates of Silicon Valley from Netflix

    but now its Apple and Google that are on the major inflection point of monetizing mobile

    while Microsoft is still figuring out what to do

    and we'll be watching 5 years out, a new film "Pirates of the Mobile Valley"

    and we'll see how Verizon and AT&T stack up against IBM's role w PC eons ago.

    One thing for sure- do not count Verizon out of this mix.

  2. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., August 3, 2010 at 12:09 p.m.

    LMAO hilarious!!!

    @Leonard Zachary "one thing for sure - do not count Verizon out of this mix."

    Although Verizon definitely is a behemoth telecom - I wouldn't group them into the mix. If you had to separate the telecoms from the fray, you'd ally AT&T with Apple and Verizon, T-mobile, and Sprint with Google. What we are really talking about here is how developers want to distribute and control the end usability of the mobile web. So who gives you access, isn't as important as how you want to consume it.

  3. Tyler Alterman from CooperKatz, August 3, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.

    As a typography geek, I feel it is my duty to suggest that the dreams of the millions and millions of Apple followers are more likely subtitled in Myriad Pro, and perhaps *footnoted* in Helvetica Neue.

  4. Lauren Sorensen from Page One Rankings, August 3, 2010 at 1:30 p.m.

    All hail the Mighty Evo! Google's got my vote. Open source rocks, especially when you apply it to turn-by-turn GPS. Google's going to rock the world of not only Apple, but Garmin, too! One stone, two giants heading for a fall - only Google could pull this off.

  5. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., August 3, 2010 at 1:39 p.m.

    Very funny.

    I note that Fox News and the Texas A&M boys are fine with mocking the Jobs cult for its messianic tropes -- I wonder why they don't close the (millimeter-wide) cognitive gap and grasp that this makes Christianity -- equally derivative of boffo-box-office tropes from Roman and Egyptian cults -- equally nudge-worthy.

  6. Gary Senser, August 3, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    Nice post Kaila. I've looked seriously at Android phones, including the Droid X. But, not one comes even close to the iPhone for me. The UI/UX makes using the iPhone a pleasure. It makes everyday a little bit better... and thanks to several apps I use for business... a lot more productive!

  7. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 3, 2010 at 2:37 p.m.

    Thanks so much for these comments! @Tyler, I literally LOLed (LedOL?) at yours :D @Gary, you've seen the iPhone vs HTC Evo YouTube vid, right?

  8. Jeffrey Clayton from Autodesk, August 3, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

    @Tyler Alterman: Demonstrating the true meaning of brand stewardship.

    @Kaila Colbin: This FOXed up news item is still funny the second time, but the real story is, Apple gets a fat premium for having a product ecosystem that works much better for... almost everybody. You can't build a giant consumer electronics success on zealotry alone. There just aren't enough zealots for that.

  9. David Carlick from Carlick, August 6, 2010 at 1:48 a.m.

    A wonderful race. It goes on and on.

    'Closed' can mean 'control' which can mean (and does, with Apple) the ability to deliver fabulous design where the hardware and software are tightly integrated.

    'Open' can mean 'mass production of interchangeable parts' which can mean (and does, with PCs) low prices and an experience that is designed by multiple committees.

    Open systems will always outsell closed ones, with their price and mass advantages.. Closed systems, in the hands of the right designers, though, will always deliver the cutting edge design experience.

    Personally, I think the race is healthy for all of us, and for the industry.

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