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Apple’s Snit Fit with RealNetworks

Apple, the “think different” company, has thrown a clot that RealPlayer 10.5 can be used to upload RealNetwork’s own music files to the Apple iPod. Apple is stunned… outraged… threatening to sue.

The iPod exacerbates two current problems in technology. The first is the half-life of Studley Caps, the random upcasing of internal letters, seen most often in conjunction with fused words. (RealNetworks doesn’t get a pass on this. Would I call myself KarenGSchneider? Pour another cup of PeetsFrenchRoast?)

More seriously, Apple’s iPod may be cute and kewl, as important as the Walkman in its day, but in developing proprietary hardware delivering a proprietary format, Apple is being not only mean but dumb.

Think about your VCR or CD player. For that matter, think about your Walkman. With a distribution vehicle such as the Internet available in the early 1980s, Sony could have conceivably found a way to distribute proprietary formats, as well, and arguably might have succeeded for a while. But what sold the Walkman was that it could play any cassette tape.

It’s amusing that Apple, the most pious hardware company in the world, would threaten lawsuits and scream “unfair.” Apple’s nemesis is a software manufacturer that has achieved global domination by muscling out the competition, a phenomenon that Apple has loudly but correctly deplored. Apple has now fallen far from its own tree.

Librarians should be particularly skeptical of Apple’s claims. Imagine a world where we had to buy proprietary online databases, each with their own interfaces. Wait–that is our world! Look at the cost in complexity, lack of cross-talk, and the need to build tools to bring together content that should never have been forced asunder in the first place. With respect to traditional books, as if we had to build separate buildings and hire different staff for each section of the Dewey system.

Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post captured my thoughts when he wrote, “if Apple really is that upset about RealNetworks ‘breaking into’ the iPod, it shouldn’t get mad — it should get even. It should update iTunes so it can play songs purchased from Real’s online store. Customers can then make their own choice of what program to use, and Apple and Real can compete like any other pair of music retailers.”

Strolling around my local park yesterday, enjoying the Dixie Chicks on my Treo, I was thinking pretty much the same. Apple, get your hardware out of the way and keep building and improving your online music library. I’ll let my fingers, and my dollars, do the walking.

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