Apple more proprietary than Microsoft, survey finds

Who is the new closed overlord? Apple, if a recent survey is to be believed.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

In the interest of finding an alternative to the Microsoft overlord, we may be rushing headlong into a new, even more proprietary overlord. Its name?


According to a recent poll that The Register ran with its readers, 55 percent crown Apple as the King of Closed, while only 21 percent awarded that dubious distinction to Microsoft. Twenty-four percent think they're equally bad.

While I'm a big Apple fan, and like using it as the foundation for a wide range of open-source software that I happily run on my Mac, I can sympathize with the sentiments of The Register's developer audience:

The most frequently cited reason for regarding Apple as closed was the end-to-end proprietary nature of its offerings, which tie hardware to software to services and in a way that is thought to restrict choice and interoperability. Whether it's OS X being wedded to the Mac, the iPod being dependent on the iTunes service, or iPhone software distribution being controlled via the Apple Store, there is a strong perception that openness is not always the biggest priority for Apple.

For developers in particular, this end-to-end proprietary approach appears to be a big turn-off, which is interesting given that one of the most frequently cited strengths of the Mac, for example, is the Unix foundation that underpins OS X, which is generally considered to be an indicator of openness and compliance with standards....In terms of specifics, references were made to lack of transparency with regard to proprietary API specifications, and being secretive about known faults, vulnerabilities, and so on - behaviour that Microsoft simply could not get away with nowadays without drawing fire from its customers or the regulator.

So, even as Microsoft seeks to find ways to open up, Apple is content to close off, figuring that its consumer crowd simply wants something that works, regardless of the consequences to ultimate computing freedom. This is, in fact, precisely how Microsoft started down its now well-worn path to closing off customer choice: tie products together to make them work well together, and often to the exclusion of third-party alternatives.

Will Apple become the next Microsoft? Time will tell. But its recent action toward open-source Songbird, which poses a threat (albeit a weak one) to iTunes, is no credit to an organization that bills itself as the cool alternative to stodgy Microsoft. Cool? Maybe. Alternative? Well, that would mean that it would have to be different.