How the iPhone is killing the 'Net

Oxford professor argues in new book that shift from PCs to appliances, appalling cybersecurity will slow innovation

Zittrain doesn't predict that PCs will become extinct any time soon. But he worries that PCs are being locked down and prohibited from running open source code that has driven much of the Internet's new functionality.

"If the security problems worsen and fear spreads, rank-and-file users will not be far behind in preferring some form of lockdown -- and regulators will speed the process along,'' Zittrain says. What we will lose in this transition is "a world where mainstream technology can be influenced, even revolutionized, out of left field.''

Zittrain's book traces the history of the general-purpose PC and how it surpassed mainframe terminals and niche devices such as word processors. The strength of the PC, he says, is that it was designed to run third-party software instead of only software written by the manufacturer.

"The more outside developers there were writing new code, the more valuable a computer would become to more people,'' he wrote.

Zittrain records the same phenomenon with networks, as the open Internet surpassed proprietary networks like the telephone system, AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. For example, it took the break-up of the AT&T monopoly for third parties to create new devices such as answering machines, fax machines and dial-up modems. The Internet, on the other hand, had an open design and a philosophy of sharing and trust that fostered development from outsiders.

Zittrain argues that today's era of generative PCs combined with a generative Internet is coming to an end. By generative, he means systems that can be leveraged to many tasks, are adaptable to a range of uses, easy to master, accessible to many and allow for changes to be easily transferred.

"The status quo is drawing to a close, confronting us -- policymakers, entrepreneurs, technology providers and, most importantly, Internet and PC users -- with choices we can no longer ignore,'' he writes.

What's driving the change in status quo? The appalling state of cybersecurity. In Chapter 3 of his book, Zittrain compiles a succinct history of worms, malware, botnets and other threats that have exploded on the Internet during the last decade. Zittrain argues that one of two things will happen in the future: either a watershed security moment such as a digital Pearl Harbor; or death by a thousand small security breaches. Either scenario will bring an end to the generative PC/Internet combo and will harken an era of controlled appliances.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?