I’ve talked about the whole Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement before and how it reminded me a lot of social circles in high school. Now, a few months later, it appears that this movement has gained a lot of steam and is now in the phase of “If you aren’t dealing with it, you need to be” phase for enterprise and corporate IT departments. I also know that it must be gaining more acceptance when my mom started asking me about that whole “Bring Your Own Computer to Work Day” stuff. To give you an idea of where my mom falls on the tech adoption curve:
Yeah, it’s going to be popular if my mom has heard of it. It also hit home last week when the new guy came into the office for his first day of work toting a MacBook and wondering what information he needed to setup in Mail to connect to Exchange. Being a rather small company, the presence of a MacBook sent hushed whispers through the office along with anguished cries of fear at such a shiny thing. We shackled him with a ThinkPad and took care of the immediate issue, but it did get my brain pondering something about BYOD and what represents it.
When I talk to people about BYOD and how I must now start supporting new devices and rewriting applications to support various platforms, the response I get is overwhelming in its unity: Will this work on my Mac/iPad/iPhone? I hardly ever get asked about Ubuntu or Fedora or Froyo or Blackberry. No one ever worries about using Ice Cream Sandwich to access the corporate Citrix farm, and not just because it isn’t out yet. I find that far and away the largest number of people driving the idea of platform-agnostic service and application access tend to be fans of the Cupertino Fruit Company. In fact, I am almost to the point where I’m going to start referring to it as BYOAD (Bring Your Own Apple Device). Why is the representation so skewed?
At first I thought it might be a technical thing. Linux users, after all, tend to be a little more technical than Mac users. Linux folks aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with file permissions or kernel recompiles. They also seem to understand that while it would be nice to have certain things, other ideas are so difficult or impossible that it’s not worth trying. Such as Exchange access in Evolution Mail. Access to an Exchange server would make a Linux mail client an instant killer app. The need to incorporate non-free code, however, is very much at odds with the “free as in freedom” mantra of many Linux stalwarts. So we accept that we can’t access Exchange from anything other than a virtualized or emulated Outlook client and we move on. Fix what you can, accept and work around what you can’t. In a way, I tend to believe that kind of tinkering mentality filters down to many of the Android users out there. Cyanogenmod is a perfect example of this, as is the ability with which users can root their devices to install things like VPN clients. Android and Linux users like to see all the gory details of their systems.
I was lucky enough to attend a panel at the Oklahoma City Innotech conference that dealt with the new realities behind BYOD. The panel fielded a lot of questions about software to ease transitions and security matters. I did ask a question about Apple vs. Android/BlackBerry/Linux BYOD adoption and the panel said more or less that OS X/iOS access comprised up to 85% of their requests in many cases. However, Eric Hileman was on the panel and said something that gave me pause in my thinking. He told me that in his view, it wasn’t so much the device that was driving the BYOD movement as it was the culture behind each device. As soon as he said it, I realized that I had been going down that road already and just hadn’t made it to the turn yet.
I had unconsciously put the Linux/Android users into a culture of tinkerers. Curious engineers and kernel hackers that want to know how something works. Nothing is magical for them. They know every module loaded in their system and can modprobe for drivers like second nature. Apple fans, on the other hand, are more artistic from what I’ve seen. They don’t necessarily like to get under the hood of their aluminium marvels any more than they have to (if they even can). To them, magic is important. Applications should install with effort and just work. Systems should never crash and kernels are pieces of popcorn, not parts of the operating system. Their mantra is “It just works”.
Note that I didn’t say anything about intelligence levels. Many of the smartest people I know use Macs daily. I’ve also known some pretty inept Linux users that ran the OS simply because it couldn’t get as screwed up as Windows. Intelligence is a non issue. It comes down to cultures. Mac people want the same access they’d have if they were running a PC. After all, the hardware is all the same now with Intel chips instead of PowerPC. Why should I get access to all my apps? Apple is free to create interfaces into non-free software like Microsoft Office since they don’t have the “free as in freedom” battle cry to stand next to as much as the Debian fans out there. For the Mac users, it doesn’t matter how something gets done. It just needs to happen. Software that doesn’t work isn’t looked at as a curiosity to be dissected and fixed. Instead, it is discarded and other options are explored.
Thanks to Steve’s Cupertino Fruit Company, we have a revolution on our hands that is enabling people to concentrate more on creating content and less on having all the right tools on the right OS to get started. Many of my peers have settled on using MacBooks so they can have a machine that never breaks and “just works”. It’s kind of funny to think even just 3 or 4 years ago how impossible the idea of having OS-agnostic applications was. Now I can go out and buy pretty much whatever I want and be assured that 85% of my applications will run on it. As long as I’ve dabbled with Linux I’ve never felt that was a possibility. To me, it seems that the artists and designers with an eye to form needed to cry out over the engineers and tinkerers that hold function in higher esteem. We may yet one day get to the point where OS is an afterthought, but it’s going to take a lot more people bringing their own fruit to work.