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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Arnold Kling asks if he’s overstating the importance of his most recent essay at TechCentralStation.

Reading it, I immediately thought that the file server he describes sounds like a hardware version of XML. It sets a standard file system which any number of devices can decide to use. Like XML, it accepts all comers.

I think that the phenomenon he’s describing has been present in UNIX for decades: small pieces of software that do one thing and one thing only. The power of UNIX comes from this modularity: these small applications can be combined to do amazing things. What’s interesting to me is Apple’s embracing of UNIX and the underlying philosophy it brings with it. They’re doing it in software and they’re doing it in hardware. They get it and they’re only going to get increasingly more important as other people start to get it as well.

Kling attributes this “getting it” to decentralization, the centrifuge that is ripping the computer apart and making it more ubiquitous. Interestingly, Apple disagrees and believes that the PC is going to be more important. They say that it will act as the digital hub for your digital life.

What he does get right is that this isn’t happening in a controlled, top-down manner. Sure, Apple is suggesting usages of its products but it’s keeping an open enough architecture to enable people to do whatever they want. The iPod was designed for music, but it’s really just a portable hard drive and could be used for practically anything. Similarly, their iApps use XML as the standard data storage mechanism, thereby exposing their data to the world and any other apps residing on the user’s hard drive. Innovative applications have sprung up to use Mac OS X that I doubt anyone at Apple ever suspected.

So, Mr. Kling, I respectfully say that you did not overstate your case. In fact, I think it could have even been stated more strongly. Maybe I’ll do that one of these days when I have some time.