lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Paradox of Choice

In his most recent article, John Gruber once again discusses the difference in philosophy between the iPhone and Android. He talks about how Apple doesn’t include features without a compelling reason for them to exist. By way of example, he talks about the front-facing camera on the iPhone 4. Although Android devices have had this feature for a while, Android doesn’t provide a standard, non-trivial way to use it.

He quotes David Pogue’s experiences trying to get video-calling to work. Pogue says

To make video calling work, you have to install an app yourself: either Fring or Qik. But we never did get Fring to work, and Qik requires people you call to press a Talk button when they want to speak. The whole thing is confusing and, to use the technical term, iffy.

Ignoring the ‘iffy’ implementation, something that made me sigh was the “multiple apps” aspect. Essentially, Android users must choose between Fring and Qik for their video chats. Fring and Qik are also incompatible with each other, so if you’re using an Android phone and you want to video-call another Android user, you must first agree on which of these two appsAssuming there are, in fact, only two to choose from you are going to use. It’s not simply a matter of picking up your phone and video-calling the other person. You must first phone or text with them and say “Hey, let’s Fring!“if you’re okay with enverbening a proper noun before actually firing up the app (and hoping it actually works). Can you imagine if voice-calls worked the same way, that you both needed to be running the same app to make normal phone calls to one another?

This reminded me of a recent article by Cory Doctorow in which he summarised his experiences with the latest version of Ubuntu. He talks about how he needed to edit some sound.

When I need to do something new – edit audio, say – I go to the software center and look at what apps exist for that purpose, select some highly rated ones, download them, try them, keep the one I like (all the software is free, so this is easy).

While Cory lists this as a positive, this is precisely why I stopped using Linux on the desktop. Rather than focusing on making one particular app for a particular function and making it great, it seems as if every developer in the Linux/Open Source community has their own idea about how best to reinvent the wheel. And so, rather than having a standard piece of software for audio editing that comes as standard on each installation – as OSX gives us Garageband – it’s left up to the user to find out which one suits them best. Ubuntu currently gives 66 results for ‘apt-cache search audio edit’, each one a software package that scratches a different itch. And while there’s a certain pleasure in taking the time to install and evaluate each one of these 66 pieces of softwareWhich makes me think of JWZ’s terrifically curmudgeonly line, “Linux is only free if your time has no value”, I would say that few of us have that luxury, and we’d rather just edit the audio and be done. After all, the editing is the important thing, not the software you use.

I would much rather a well-curated walled garden instead, thankyouverymuch.