Between Freedom and Coolness

I love my Mac. It’s slick. I’m almost in line to buy an iPhone (here in Italy it almost makes sense).

Still I admit that Apple, as a company, is probably one of the most evil there is.

This post from Coding Horror sums up some of it: People give up control over their devices, trading it in for a good user experience.

But even if people will flock on the side of coolness instead of freedom: Locking down your customers’ devices is an unacceptable practice and ought to be outlawed.

Update: It seems they can even remotely kill applications from your device. In the, it’s much preferable to have a solution like Nokia/Symbian that is based on technical criteria. It also asks for confirmations of sensitive operations. Apple goes the path of “give us full control, we take care” – after you go through their “review” you can do things like accessing the address book without the user ever noticing.

This problem is hardly limited to Apple, but the new iPhone sets a new trend. Although it’s finally “open” to 3rd party software, you can only install it through Apple’s App Store. Which is convenient for developers and users – except that each application has to be “approved” by Apple.

Read again: Your ability to run a certain program is subject to the approval of Jobs’ company.

And there is a first victim: NetShare, a great little software that lets you use your iPhone as a modem. It got on and off the App Store for a while, currently it seems to be down. It seems that it didn’t even violate any of the outrageous terms of Apple’s “agreements” – they just provided a basic functionality that is built into most “normal” smartphones in the first place.

Rumor has it that this is because AT&T got pissed – they don’t allow people to use their iPhone plans for tethering. Which would basically mean that Apple randomly fucked over their customers and cheated an independent vendor out of their investment. Just so. It’d make perfect sense to them, and they’ll probably get away with it.

And Apple aren’t the only ones doing it. There is a Wii game console on my shelf. Nintendo went to a lot of trouble to make sure it only runs games that they approved; they even charge developers to be able to use that platform.

The common point about all these “solutions” is that their are driven solely by business interests and have nothing to do with customer needs. They protect business plans.

So when the Free Software Foundation gives you five reasons to avoid the iPhone, they are surprisingly right.

Their alternative will, unsurprisingly, fail: Yes, I could get a Neo FreeRunner – a cool little toy that gives me all the freedom I want, even looks cool, and probably only requires an hour of yak shaving in order to place a call. This is the problem of open-source “alternatives”: They give freedom, but only to those that are able to grasp the system and are willing to go through all the pain.

The sad thing, however, is that people seem to take this state of affairs as a given fact – even if they are aware of it. They don’t challenge the very idea that companies have the right to do evil to protect their business plans.

I think that this behaviour should be simply outlawed, just as other harmful practices. The European Union actually did some good steps in that direction – interoperability is protected by law, and they even made Microsoft publish lots of their specs as a result.

And as much as I appreciate “hacker” efforts to open those devices I’d rather see the concept itself torn to pieces. The companies should be forced to grant their customers full access to the devices that they paid for in the first place.

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