H4cked off: We don't need no IT control...

By Graeme Burton
30 Oct 2012 View Comments
Available on the App Store

Is there any industry in the world that is more megalomaniacal in its desire to control its customers than the IT industry?

At the same time that the media, for example, is undergoing the painful (but inevitable) process of disintermediation – enabling people to publish their own opinions, for example, instead of hoping that The Times will publish your letter – the IT industry remains intent on using all of its power to continue exerting control over its customers.

Further reading

In the corporate world, the costs of vendor lock-in have been well known from the mainframe era all the way through to the modern age. But the internet and the standardisation it brings was supposed to free us all from that.

Instead, IT giants seem intent on continuing the cycle of lock-in and control that has been the industry's hallmark from its very beginnings.

Take the Amazon Kindle, for example. Or the Apple iPad or the Microsoft Surface, for that matter.

The key to these products from the vendors' point of view is the "app store", the proprietary shop where they control what goes in, and take a chunky cut on everything that goes out – typically at least 30 per cent, but that will undoubtedly increase over time.

And buyers can't shop around. There's only one app store that iPhone or Windows Phone owners can call into, and the books that appear for the Kindle in many cases are exclusive to Amazon. 

It is something of a one-sided bargain. The producers of the content, whether a book publisher or an app developer, take all the risks, while the app store owner makes easy money from doing comparatively little.

Furthermore, on Apple and Microsoft Windows RT devices, it makes developing bespoke applications for internal corporate use, or for use through a company's supply chain a pain: they have to seek permission to get their apps on limited distribution in to the official app store and hope that the store owner does not change their mind.

And they reserve the right to reject any apps tendered that they don't want in their store. All the power is in their hands and, indeed, there have been plenty of rumours of app store controllers sitting on apps tendered to them that might conflict with their own products and plans.

At this stage, though, that remains a rumour rather than a solid complaint lodged with the US Federal Trade Commission...

Once upon a time, the "endpoint" was going to be the standards-based browser, with applications being written to be executed within the browser environment, on any device. One day, when the HTML 5 crowd get their act together, that might even come true.

Now, though, new silos are being built and consumers are happily sleeping walking into them, with their shiny Apple iPhones and Microsoft Surface tablets tucked under their arms. Will we ever learn?

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