Apple Thinks Different Part 2

By Jason Griffey |

Hello dear readers! I’m trying a bit of an experiment this month, brought about by the reflections in my recent post over on my blog about writing and ownership. I started writing a post about Apple and the way they seem to be trying to change the basic metaphors of computing that we’ve become accustomed to over the last 30 years. That start turned into something over 1500 words, which is a bit more than I thought would fit comfortably into a single blog post. So I decided to split the post between my blog and Techsource. You can head over to my personal blog, Pattern Recognition, to read the first half, which is more technical and theoretical, and then below is the second half, which is more directly about libraries.

I’m aware of the somewhat arbitrary nature of the split, but thought this was worth experimenting with as a model: very technical or theoretical discussion on my blog, more direct library-talk here on Techsource. I hope you excuse this bit of meta-commentary here, and enjoy the article. Thanks.

What do the changes in Apple’s new OS (OSX Lion), iCloud, and iOS5 mean for libraries, and why did I say earlier that I think this might “introduce a ton of problems for IT administrators”? Because like its iOS devices, Apple means for iCloud and Lion to be tied to an individual, and assumes that a computer is used by a single person. In looking at the way they’ve set up Lion, iCloud, and iOS5, I’m not at all clear how shared systems (aka, public use computers) might be able to benefit from the advances that Apple is putting in front of users.

 Some of the advances in Lion, like document versioning, could be useful in a public setting. Versioning saves every update/change to a given document, and allows for rolling back to a previous state...useful for those instances where someone accidently erases a paragraph they decided they now need. But many public setups use Deepfreeze or other software to restore to a known state after logout/reboot, and wipe any existing new files. This means that public users won’t benefit from the auto-saving nature of Lion. It’s also unclear how authentication will work with iCloud, other than use of it will require an iTunes account...something else that we can’t expect our public users to have. It will be interesting to see exactly how iCloud works in Lion, as the update to turn on iCloud support isn’t due for another few weeks. But I can’t imagine a situation where it is actually useful for public access systems.

I’ve spent some time in recent presentations talking about how personal electronics are designed to be personal, and not institutional. A lot of issues we have with managing things like Kindles, iPads, Nooks, and such, are that they just aren’t designed to be dealt with on an institutional basis. The expectation is that they have an owner (singular), and that all the files and interactions on the devices are those of that person. Things get complicated quickly when you need to have these devices managed by more than one person, or checked out to patrons. As a user, I love the direction that Apple is taking it’s computers...but as a librarian, and as an IT manager, I am not looking forward to computers going down the same road of single-user-expected that personal electronics have.