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 says society will pay a steep price for securing the 'Net.

"If the PC ceases to be at the center of the information technology ecosystem, the most restrictive aspects of information appliances will come to the fore,'' he predicts.

Zittrain makes a compelling argument for the benefits of the generative PC/Internet combination. He says generative systems foster innovation -- particularly disruptive innovation -- while nongenerative systems such as appliances provide ease of use and security.

Zittrain says tinkerers have created most of the 'Net's key innovations -- free Web-based e-mail, hosting services, instant messaging, social networking and search engines -- which were created by individuals or groups of hobbyists rather than leading IT manufacturers. The same trend is happening with content, as Internet users democratize the creation of political commentary, music and movies that were previously controlled by the publishing, recording and movie industries.

"Generativity at the technical layer can lead to new forms of expression for other layers to which nonprogrammers contribute -- culture, political, social, economic and literary,'' he writes. All of which is at risk if there's a significant lockdown of the Internet's technical infrastructure, he says.

Manufacturer control

Besides loss of generativity, tethered appliances are a threat because they can be controlled remotely by manufacturers. The iPhone, for example, seeks out and erases user modifications. Zittrain finds it ominous that appliance manufacturers can change these products after end users have bought and installed them. He says this feature of appliances creates an increased threat of intervention by regulators.

"The most obvious evolution of the computer and network -- toward tethered appliancization -- is on balance a bad one,'' he writes. "It invites regulatory intervention that disrupts a wise equilibrium that depends upon regulators acting with a light touch, as they traditionally have done within liberal societies.''

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


PCW Evaluation Team

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.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?