My first reaction when I started reading The Kids Are All Right on Daring Fireball was: Well, I had to disagree with a John Gruber essay eventually, might as well be this one. There was no developer program fee when I started building Mac apps! You could write whatever you wanted and share it with friends.
But then I thought more about the $99 hurdle. What was I doing as a teenager and would the procedures Apple has in place now have stopped me? (For context, I'm 34.)
I started programming for the Mac with THINK Pascal, a beautiful little development environment. Then I moved to C with Dave Mark's book, which came with a C compiler on a floppy inside the back cover. Eventually I saved up and bought Symantec C++. Even at an educational discount these were expensive compared to the free Xcode of today.
At that point I'm pretty heavily invested in the Mac, but the killer was the documentation. I'm sure I spent hundreds of dollars on Inside Macintosh books. Our senior year in high school, my friends and I would meet at a restaurant before class for coffee and breakfast. I remember I'd get there early and sit in the booth with one of my oversized volumes of Inside Mac, taking in too much caffeine for my own good while I devoured every page, even the advanced topics that were still over my head.
I lived and breathed this stuff pretty heavily for a few years. To imagine letting a $99 iPhone dev fee and some locked-down APIs prevent me from building apps is laughable. Great computers inspire people to build new software. That's how it was when I got my first Mac, and I'm sure it's that way for the new generation of young iPhone and iPad tinkerers.
One day I hope the App Store will be more open. But it is what it is. I'll point out where I think Apple can improve, and then I'll build and ship anyway. It makes no sense to sit around and complain on my blog about the good old days while some kid half my age is taking his or her idea all the way to the top of the App Store and owning the platform of the future.