Do people really want open systems?

Aug. 12, 2009

I was listening to a great technology podcast from Leo Laporte this morning on my way into the office and one of the discussions was about how people clamor for open systems, and yet when you look at what they buy, it's often closed systems.

The discussion focused on the Apple iPod and iTunes sytem, which is a closed system if there ever was one. To use the device, which is really little more than a hard-drive for storing music, videos and other data, you have to use the company's proprietary software. If you used iTunes, you were buying music with digital rights management (DRM) which meant you couldn't use the music off your iTunes/iPod type system. Forget about taking that music you bought on iTunes and putting it on another device like the Microsoft Zune or an iRiver mp3 player (though this has changed somewhat recently with Apple backing away from DRM). Likewise, if you want to add an application to your iPhone or iTouch, you could only use ones approved by Apple that were available through the App store.

The point that Laporte's podcast panel made was that people adopted it because the whole Apple music/iPod/iPhone system worked so seamlessly and well, that people were willing to overlook the fact that they were buying into a proprietary system.

Right now, in our industry, we have a lot of people making efforts to free the industry from "closed" systems and we're seeing that through standards development. But what I really want to know is whether the buyers are going to choose something becuase it's open or because it works really well (not that these have to be mutually exclusive concepts, of course). I suppose one of the arguments for something being truly open is that you're more likely to see it be supported in the future (even if the vendor goes out of business five years after you install your video system or access system). But the other argument is that if you buy a closed system that works really, really well, and it's from big enough of a manufacturer, you know they'll be around to support it anyway, so you're covered there.

I'm not sure the full answer, but I do know that I, like so many buyers, went with the iPod/iTunes system because it works so wonderfully. Time will tell whether our industry will take that same proprietary approach or whether we'll go for truly open systems. I'd love to hear your comments on this idea, whether you're a product manufacturer, installer/integrator, or an end-user/consumer of security systems. Jump into the comments below and tell us what you think.

-Geoff Kohl, editor,

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