Open Source

Does innovation matter?

Do we really care who invented what feature first?

COMMENTARY—Do we really care who invented what feature in software first?

At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference a new version of OS X was announced, code-named Tiger. Being a geek, I was quick to check out some of the new features and found some interesting additions, including a -dashboard" to access mini apps on the desktop space, RSS integration, and new search functionality.

And even though I'm not a regular Mac user some of the new features look rather enticing. It may well just prompt me one day to use a Mac for day-to-day desktop operations.

I couldn't help notice some of the humorous but elitist claims from Apple's marketing at the event. The conference had banners up announcing the new OS with slogans such as "Introducing Longhorn." "Redmond, start your photocopiers" and "This should keep Redmond busy." All of which are an obvious jibe at Microsoft's upcoming release of Windows, code-named Longhorn.

While the marketing gaff looks quite funny at first glance, a sneak peek into Apple's past and future tells quite a different story. Wasn't it Apple, who took the idea of a GUI from Xerox? Quite ironic when you consider their above comments about photocopiers. Not only that, the new dashboard feature in Tiger is claimed by Konfabulator creators to be a rip off of their product.

To be honest I don't care who is copying whom. Maybe it's time to stop whinging about Apple being the great innovators, and focus about what is good in Mac OS X — ease of use and solid engineering, something Apple has certainly proved to the market it can deliver. What may entice more users is offering computers at a reasonable price, as opposed to jacking up the cost just to make the Mac look like the latest fashion accessory.

Apple should also be more worried about the immediate, larger threat to their OS business— Linux. The Sun Java developer conference was held around the same time as Apple's conference and Dan Farber from ZDNet asked Java creator, James Gosling when he would switch from Mac to Linux. His response was interesting:

-As soon as some hardware pc manufacturer makes a physical laptop that I can run Linux on that is as nice as the physical hardware that Apple builds. Most of the people that build laptops out there they compete on price. Apple try to be reasonable but they're really nuts on quality and quality engineering."

In the next 1-2 years Microsoft and Apple will both point the finger at each other regarding features and innovation in their next generation operating systems. But it will be Linux that they should both be keeping their eyes on, as the IT community gets behind more open and flexible standards in the backlash against lock-in from software licenses and hardware.

So does it really matter that Apple or Microsoft or anyone else was the first to innovate a feature in software? It hasn't seemed to stop vendors in the past from taking the "best-of-breed" approach, so why should we care now?

Furthermore, isn't taking the best ideas in the world of software making the world of IT a better place? Drop me a line at brendon.chase@builderau.com.au with your thoughts.

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