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This blogger originally started to use Linux because of frustration with Windows on a technical level, and became more enthusiastic after seeing how many large technology companies, rather than welcoming competition, strive to obtain monopolies within a particular sphere.  Nothing novel is being argued here – the case is often made for Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other companies, and this post just seeks to explore the place of Garageband in this issue, and consider possible solutions.  This article focuses on the place of one piece of software in a fairly small field, but it could be argued that this particular example would have equivalents in many other areas.  The monopolising instincts of Apple work by striving to create the impression that there is no alternative to its products in certain sectors such as music and graphic arts, and backing this up through sharp practises like discontinuing Logic for Windows, forcing thousands of user to purchase Apple computers.

My own professional world is that of music therapy, and one of the discussions which is currently taking place in that field is the need to expand electronic technologies within several client groups, such as children with emotional difficulties, adults with physical limitations and adults with neurological conditions, to name just three.  Technology here means above all the iPad.  I can lamely say to my colleagues “other tablets are also available”, but this is to no avail, given the relative poverty of music apps on Android, and particularly the lack of an equivalent app to Garageband.  In the drive to adopt technology in this field, Garageband is mentioned again and again.  A search for “best music apps” is most likely to show up apps to play other people’s music, not create ones own.  True, there is some interesting software available, but iOS has vastly more riches.

So what is the consequence of this?  Within the relatively small field of music therapy, it means that for anyone wishing to purchase equipment to work musically with people with special needs, Apple seems to be the only choice, with all the attendant disadvantages in terms of software freedom and a host of other issues.  Other professionals and clients will then see technology solely in terms of Apple, and this is what they in turn will buy.  The lack of software only serves to justify the monopoly, and the monopoly makes it all the less likely that other software will be developed.  All of economic history tells us that once the monopoly is fully entrenched, choice and innovation declines, and everyone, other than Apple shareholders, be the poorer for it.  The only guarantee of continued technological innovation is the knowledge amongst companies that other companies are snapping at their heels.

Another of the monopolising companies which has long troubled those who worry about such things is Google.  But could it be that we need to encourage one giant to chasten another one?  The ideal as I see it would be to have an open source, cross-platform equivalent of Garageband in order that people were not forced to make hardware choices based on software considerations (this is Apple’s strategy in a nutshell).  But to create a product as good as Garageband takes time, effort, and a lot of money, and there is no evidence that this will happen in the free software community, despite many great achievements from Firefox to Libreoffice (both of which have received some serious funding over the years).  The free software available at present, such as the brilliant but confusing LMMS, simply isn’t usable in the context I am discussing.  It is much more of a realistic prospect to try to persuade Google of the importance of a Garageband substitute for the long-term viability of the Android platform.  In the past Google has put considerable resources into a whole range of software development.  If it happened in this instance it would benefit many outside of Apple.  Google would add more prestige to the Android platform, manufacturers would have more leverage in selling Android products, end-users would have greater choice, and free software developers could work at alternatives without the urgency which an emerging monopoly creates.  Even users of Garageband itself would benefit, as will be understood by anyone who remembers how much Internet Explorer improved once Firefox started winning market share.  So come on Google, get to work!

(image is from Wikipedia)

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