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Is Android Open?

Steve Jobs raised the question last week “Is Android Open?”. What was particularly funny was that he was using the word “open” in a sense that most people don’t use or hear these days. That’s why it was so funny to see Andy Rubin’s response, because they were talking about fundamentally different things. What a lot of people have forgotten is that the word “open” was seriously redefined in 1998 by the people who coined “open source.”

Before open source “open” meant compatibility. “Open computing” was a selling point of the workstation market that said “if you compile your [usually C] code on a DEC workstation, you can send it to your friend who uses a Sun workstation, it will work. Fantastic! Buy our hardware!” Modern Macintosh computers are the descendants, not of Mac OS 9, but of NeXT computers, which were Steve Jobs’ workstation computers.

I have a hard time believing that Steve Jobs is really dumb enough to not understand that the conventional use of “open” has changed. I think he’s deliberately sowing confusion. He can say “Apple is all about open” and be totally correct in his own usage of the term, but he also gains a slight moral legitimacy in the eyes of people who have heard that “open software” is “good.” This is another reason I don’t like using the term “open source.” It confuses people. And it gives completely immoral people like Steve Jobs a certain amount of moral leeway. This is America, and he has a right to be completely immoral to make a profit, but you shouldn’t help him.

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