Sunday, April 18, 2010

What does "Don't be Evil" mean?

Something I see oft repeated lately in Mac circles is that Google's "Don't be evil" motto is just hollow and meaningless. In actuality, it has a much deeper meaning than you might think. Paul Buchheit, the originator of the phrase, describes it to EconTalk as follows (rough transcript):
Buchheit credited with the phrase "Don't be evil." True? Any other significance? Yes, true. Company meeting in early 2001, trying to decide on company values. Typically bland, forgettable company values. Took on a life of its own. Has a lot of value: gives everyone in the company license to question the decisions. Important process; often attitude is that it's not your job to worry about that, it's your job to shut up and do what you are told. Can quit, but better to question than quit. Everyone had permission, created a more thoughtful organization.
 You can listen to the entire fascinating podcast here.

And here is what Steve Jobs thinks of the mantra. In a closed meeting with Apple employees after introducing the iPad in January, he called it bullshit. Of course he'd think it was bullshit! For example, isn't there a single person in that company who thinks the war on Flash is a bad idea? Yet we hear no audible dissent from the entire company, or even, surprisingly, from Apple-centered publications! Is there not a single person in that company who sees the utterly destructive folly of disallowing MIT's educational Scratch app? Apple delisted it because it lets essentially anyone (like your kids) create an iPhone app.

Even my Apple Store contact, when I needled him about Flash not being on iPad, told me, "Brad, we believe that Flash offers a sub-par experience, consumes too much battery, and is too crash prone for our customers." So I asked him whether customers should be able to decide that for themselves and he said, "Brad, that is what we believe." I can't wait to ask him why Apple doesn't want to inspire kids to program on their devices anymore!

I decided to switch to Nexus One because I didn't want to be a walking billboard for Apple anymore. But I'm speaking out against Apple because (oh, irony) their leader is a cancer on the industry.

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