Sorry, Bon Jovi, Steve Jobs Didn’t Found Napster [Editorial]



As we noted earlier, the weekend’s silliest headline came courtesy of hair product Jon Bon Jovi, who ranted to the Sunday Times of London that “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.”

This statement is astoundingly ignorant. The iTunes Music Store is easily the most popular record store in the history of the world, having sold more than 10 billion songs in its eight years of existence. One can decry the very notion of digital distribution. It’s impossible to argue with business that big.

Moreover, when iTMS hit the scene in April 2003, it was a godsend to record labels. After all, Apple didn’t invent digital distribution of music. They invented legitimate digital distribution. Napster had hit the scene a full four years previous, making it possible for college students across the country (myself included, briefly) to readily share reasonably high-quality music files with one another over the Internet in simple fashion. As soon as Shawn Fanning flipped the switch in 1999, the music business needed to change itself or disappear.

For years, it chose to disappear, waging costly legal battles with Napster and its near-relatives Audiogalaxy,, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, and LimeWire. Hilariously, the Recording Industry Association of America’s belief that they could sue file sharing out of existence did little but spur its growth and, more critically, its innovation. BitTorrent, the radically distributed and difficult-to-trace open file sharing protocol, hit in 2001, arguably a few years before it would have arrived had the record companies reached a deal to distribute music legally through Napster. Also, Metallica.

It was into this mix that Steve Jobs arrived. And with him, the record industry finally changed. A little. They finally signed on with a legitimate way to purchase music over the Internet, for just 99 cents a song. And it was revolutionary, driving unprecedented volumes and moving a lot of iPods in the process. But, like Bon Jovi, the record industry has a short memory, and immediately began demanding to sell songs for more money on iTunes, as well as demanding a higher percentage of revenue from each tune, even though, at 70:30, they were already doing better than a typical margin at a record store.

Anyway, they got what they wanted again, but still they rant and whine about devaluing music or killing the romance of the art form. Generally, they resent that the vast iTunes library has allowed indie bands to get more attention than they ever were when major labels controlled distribution. And those indie labels are doing great now (see what Merge Records has accomplished with Arcade Fire and Spoon), as are some of the independent record stores that thrive off of their albums.

Honestly, at the end of the day, the Web’s arrival in the early 1990s was a sign that all media would eventually be delivered differently than it previously had. It was obvious that early. But the entrenched media covered their eyes and their ears and hoped things could remain the same. And now that an inevitable reality of digital music, video, books, and periodicals have arrived, everyone wants to get mad at the one company that’s actually helped figure out how to make record labels some money in the last decade. Whether they like it or not.

In short, JonBon: “This Left Feels Right” killed music. Steve Jobs is the one who helped you profit from that murder.

The Sunday Times Magazine: LITD: Jon Bon Jovi, 48, rockstar (paywall)

Do Your Part: Haitian Education Program Needs Intel Macs



Luke Renner, the founder of Fireside International, reached out last week to let us know about a very worthy program he’s running that could use Macs to do a whole lot of good. His organization has started the Caribbean Institute for Media Technologies (CIMT), a center that aims to teach journalism and multimedia storytelling skills to people in Haiti, in order to help educate “Haiti’s next generation of journalists, filmmakers, authors, and spokespeople.”

Specifically, the school has just received a huge collection of Rosetta Stone language training software, which is fantastic, except for the fact that it only runs on Intel Macs, and the school only has older PPC machines. If the school can pull together 11 Intel Macs, new or old, they can launch the program in earnest and repurpose the PPC towers to an additional center they’re planning to build.

To learn more about CIMT and Fireside, see this post. To offer your support, e-mail the organization at or make a donation through the link on the right sidebar of their site.

Making a difference in Haiti is important to me, particularly since the catastrophic earthquake of last year. I also love seeing Macs help kids learn how to make a difference in the world. It’s a worthy cause. By all means, get on it.

App Store Subscription Plan Demolishes the Appeal of iOS



The broad application of Apple’s new App Store subscription guidelines to everything from magazines (sensible) to Kindle books (questionable) to Readability (delusional) to Tiny Grab and possibly DropBox (downright silly) could end up being the single-worst business decision the Cupertino Colossus has made in the last decade, for one very simple reason: it seeks to maximize App Store revenue at the expense of making iPhones and iPads the most attractive hardware platforms on the market. Getting 30% of Readability’s revenue cannot possibly justify the risk of making the iPad sell a few hundred thousand fewer units.

It’s Time for Apple to Kill Off the Hard Drive



Picture from EQueue

Friends, Romans, Applefans, I come to bury hard drives, not to praise them. The evil that poor technologies do live after them, and our good files are oft interred with their ashes. So let it be with hard drives.

Look at your MacBook Pro. It’s beautiful, no? Bright screen, thin body, buttonless trackpad, carefully engineered ports, MagSafe power port… it’s a master-work. Except for one thing. It carries a vestigial organ that all-too-often reveals itself to be the ruptured appendix of computing: a hard drive.

Yes, for all of our wonderful computing progress (spaghetti ports to USB; mobile dual-core processors, DDR3 DRAM, insanely fast GPUs), the lowly hard drive continues to exist based off of approximately the same technology it was back in the 1970s. Spinning magnetic platters with read/write heads, saving our entire digital lives in the process.

And while they have many wonderful qualities (massive storage capacity, more so than anything but TAPE; extremely low cost), they also have a fatal flaw, which is that they break and they break hard. Platters get warped, spindles get loose, heads get misaligned, and suddenly your computer stops working and you lose the project you’ve been slaving over for the last few months (see my wife’s recent calamity for evidence and a little solace in the iPhone).

How the Mac Got Started, in its Birth-Father’s Words



Image via Wikipedia

Fast Co.Design has a very interesting Apple history artifact posted up today: the birth of the Mac, as told by Jef Raskin, the late founder of the Mac project. Jef’s son Aza wrote the piece and provides scans of the original document if you’re into authenticity instead of legibility.

It’s worth noting before you dive in, which I highly recommend, that Raskin’s vision for the Mac was very different from what Apple actually produced once Steve Jobs took over the development team. Raskin wanted the most unified hardware and software imaginable. One screen, one keyboard, one processor, one memory configuration, no expansion slots, one box. Oh, and he wanted a printer built into the box.

He also wanted to get rid of all modality in a computer. So, for example, if you started typing, the word processor would open and capture what you were typing (rather than having Clippy note that you’re writing a letter). A lot of that stayed in, but Jobs made it much more powerful and, ultimately, diverse and fragmented a platform than Raskin ever envisioned (see the Canon Cat for that).

As Aza Raskin notes, his father’s philosophy is much closer to what’s going one with the iPhone and the iPad. After all, you can have any iPad you want, so long as it comes in brushed aluminum.

This item of controlling appearance is quite significant: for example it is impossible to write a program on the Apple II or III that will draw a high-resolution circle since the aspect ratio and linearity of the customer’s TV or monitor is unknown. You can probably promise a closed curve, but not much more. You cannot promise readable characters, either. Therefore, a predictable, documentable system must be entirely under Apple’s control. LISA is Apple’s first system to allow us to design in context, without depending on chance for the all-important visual aspects of the computer’s output.

Well said. And one of the few places Jef and Steve really saw eye-to-eye, in the long run.