A little more than a decade ago, when the modern WWW-net was being born, I was trying to figure out how to get myself “connected” to this newfound promise land through Prodigy or America Online. Being from a fairly rural area, it almost seemed like a situation that, without long distance fees and horrible service, I would see by the turn of the century.
But unknown to me at the time, we had an area communications and holdings company that had started birthing various venture capital investments into the beasts that became MindSpring (merged with EarthLink and became second largest ISP in America), Powertel (merged with Voicestream and became T-Mobile USA), HeadHunter.net (purchased by CareerBuilder to become the largest job search website), InterCall (the largest conferencing provider in the world), and quite a few more well-known businesses in the United States and worldwide.
Well, needless to say, given the cow pastures I ride by on my morning commute to work, I’ve always been in a fairly lucky situation when it comes to the evolving world of telecommunications, so my days of jumping into the online world, head first, happened at a fairly expedited rate.
One day, fairly early on, I remember doing a search on Altavista, then king of search engines, for some help using an application I was working with. Low and behold, after a few pages of browsing, I ended up finding what I’ve always referred to as part of the “darkside” of the Internet – software piracy. Now, at my rebellious age at that point (15 or 16 years old), I just thought the idea of being able to get a $1,000 application for free, albeit a few hours of downloading at a whopping rate of 14.4 kbps, was extremely cool, as well as something none of my other friends knew how to do.
Heck, if my father did it for me with my Atari 2600, why couldn’t I do it for applications or games I wanted to play with on my personal computer? Of course, in the infinite wisdom obtained in the years to follow, I understand that this practice, while tempting, is detrimental to the software development community and industry as well as morally, ethically, and, in most places, legally wrong.
With the announcement of iPhone and all the media hype and fanboy lovefests that have come with it, one striking inconsistency has stood out, for me, moreso than the beautiful vector graphics and gorgeous design of the device – the lack – nay, the refusal – of third party applications. This particular stance by forward-thinking Apple suggests that people don’t want choices when it comes to desired functionalities, or it simply states that we simply don’t use our mobile communications devices for much more than mobile communications and a few other basic functions, such as portable entertainment
You can purchase a theme to enhance the visual delights of your handheld for five dollars. You can purchase a means of editing documents “on the go” for a few hundred dollars. You can purchase a specialized monitoring solution for your BES for a few thousand dollars. And all of this for a device and solution that most would currently consider a novelty and convenience. Honestly, I have a hard time appreciating where my money is being spent when I’m willing to pay $40 for a unified mobile instant messaging application for my BlackBerry just so I can enjoy the ability of chatting with friends or colleagues while away from my PC.
From my roots of learning the ins and outs of the software piracy industry, from my early days of direct downloads from the web to my elite status gained while rising atop the tight-lipped sub-culture of the ISO and 0day release scenes, I learned a valuable lesson about economics – free is good. And if not free, then cheap is the next best thing. Maybe we can all learn something from this consumerist logic.