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Is Apple More Evil Than Microsoft?

We're not exactly huge Microsoft boosters around here. Most of us in the Switched offices are devoted Mac users, and there's at least one professed Linux nerd in house. We regularly joke that it takes just as long in 2009 to open Microsoft Word as it did back in 1992. Operating system preferences aside, we can't help but feel as though Microsoft is getting a raw deal. The Redmond-based company is regularly painted as the enemy of... well, just about everything. Yet, while the European Union is forcing Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows, no one seems to be keeping an eye on 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA. Here are a few ways we think Apple is evil, and getting away with it.

Apple is less open than Microsoft

Microsoft is derided for its closed, proprietary software (often rightly so), but people seem quite alright with the idea that you have to buy a Mac (which outside of the pretty box is no different than a Dell) in order to use the OS X operating system. Its tightly integrated apps, like Safari, Mail, iTunes, QuickTime, iCal, and Time Machine, don't seem to ruffle nearly as many feathers as their Microsoft counterparts. For instance, Microsoft being forced to dump Internet Explorer (IE) isn't the first time the European Union (EU) has clipped the company's wings -- in 2003 the conglomerate of governments forced Microsoft to release a version of XP without Windows Media Player.

If that isn't evidence enough, consider that it wasn't until this April that Apple finally started offering DRM-free music through iTunes that could be played on non-iPod devices (something Microsoft had already offered for over a year through its Zune Marketplace). It's not just software, either -- Apple's MacBook Pros and MacBook Air have batteries that can't be replaced by the user. So forget carrying a spare battery as backup.

When it comes to openness, the iPhone is even worse. Apple lords over the mobile environment with an iron fist and seems to be making up the rules as it goes along. Take, for example, last week's rejection of Google Voice. After giving the thumbs down to Google's application, the company rifled through the App Store and unceremoniously booted several previously approved third-party Google Voice options. Of course, many point the finger at AT&T for this crime against consumer choice, but Apple -- the company that was previously able to bend the RIAA to its will -- caved like a flan in the cupboard to the maligned carrier's demands. It isn't even opening up to the developers (largely responsible for the popularity of the iPhone) by offering an explanation as to why the programs they've spent time and effort on are being denied the chance to be sold in the App Store.

Apple copies other companies, just like Microsoft
Everyone likes to complain that Microsoft doesn't innovate; it just copies the successes of others. But Apple is just as guilty of stealing what works from competitors. Take a look at Dashboard, which puts widgets on your Mac desktop. Dashboard copied not just the functionality, but much of the look of Konfabulator, a widget program that debuted for the Mac in 2003, two years before Dashboard debuted. Or take Spaces, which brings virtual desktops to OS X: it's a feature that has been available on most Linux distributions since the early '90s and was included on Amiga systems way back in 1985.

Apple doesn't stop at copying features, however. Mac OS X is Unix, a freely available operating system first released back in 1969, wrapped in a pretty package, and Safari is heavily based on Konqueror, a Web browser for Linux. There is nothing wrong with incorporating open source elements like these in your products, but developers on these projects have been very vocal in complaining about Apple's failure to contribute its fair share to the open source community.

Apple is a bunch of jerks
What about the jailbreak crowd? According to a recent complaint filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, jailbeaking is a danger to national security. Apple claims that jailbroken phones could shield terrorists and crash cell phone towers, spurious claims at best and at worst reckless fear mongering.

Then there is the cult-like air of secrecy, and a Scientology-like penchant for destroying all those who might penetrate. Apple sued Nicholas Ciarelli, publisher of popular Mac blog ThinkSecret, and successfully shut down the Apple rumor site, known for breaking stories such as the release of Leopard, iWork, and the MacMini.

Oh, and let's not forget about Apple's attempt to force everyone who installed iTunes to download Safari. Apple tried to sneak the browser onto your system the same way other shady apps try to slip in Yahoo! Toolbar and the like.

Apple only cares about the money
These childish complaints, however, affect only those of us who can afford to drop $299 on a 32-gigabyte iPhone or $1,799 on a MacBook Pro. Though not for entirely noble reasons, Microsoft at least attempts to engage the third world and developing nations by offering Windows at steep discounts and participating in programs like One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and Intel's Classmate PC project. The projects may be flawed but Apple offers no similar discounts and is involved in no comparable programs for getting computers into the hands of the world's poorest. Apple is perfectly happy to have its products manufactured by migrant laborers in Shangai, but targets all sales in China at its small upper and middle classes.

Is Apple more evil than Microsoft?
It's hard to say if Apple is definitively more evil than Microsoft, but what we can tell you is that it's just as guilty of many of the same bad business practices. Despite sizable gains in market share in the PC world and a group of utterly dominating portable media players, Apple has managed to maintain its perception as an underdog, allowing it to get away with things that Microsoft wouldn't.

Then there is the "cool" factor. Windows and Office have become synonymous with stuffy corporate environments and cubicles, while Apple has forged an identity as the favorite of creative types and hipsters -- often the very types of people who staff the editorial departments of the publications that turn a blind eye to Apple's crimes.

We've previously discussed how the media gives Apple a free pass -- but the more important question is, what is it up to while everyone is distracted by railing against Microsoft?

Tags: apple, business, microsoft, top



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