Saturday, October 8, 2011

Spectrum from software/computing freedom to imprisonment

I had a heated conversation at GOSLING last evening about just how friendly to FLOSS or "good" that Google is compared to Apple.   I have personally disliked Apple and their products since the 1980's when I was first introduced to the Lisa and Mac, with the closest I ever came to Apple was having an Apple II clone in the mid 1980's.  This Apple II clone came with schematics in the manual, so a very different type of computer than the locked-down devices that people purchase from Apple today.

This conversation is one where different people will have different opinions.  I've seen a lot of Mac's at Linux events over the years, from the same people who scream at Microsoft for their business practises.   I think it would be interesting to others for me to publish my own concept of the spectrum, even knowing there will be (sometimes quite strong) disagreement.

A few select individuals and organisations, ordered from Freedom to imprisonment :

Richard Stallman

If any individual represents what I consider to be the ideal for protecting the rights of technology owners, it is Richard Stallman.   He believes that all software should come with the 4 freedoms.  According to Wikipedia, his only computer at the moment is a  Lemote Yeeloong netbook which he chose because it can run with 100% free software even at the BIOS level, stating "freedom is my priority. I've campaigned for freedom since 1983, and I am not going to surrender that freedom for the sake of a more convenient computer."

There are other people at and associated with the FSF, the Software Freedom Conservancy or other such organisations  which are more willing to surrender freedom for the sake of a more convenient computer.  In general these folks have stayed pretty close to their ideals, and for this I congratulate them!

Russell McOrmond

While I understand the importance of freedom, and the fight to protect the rights of technology owners and all the human rights that are impacted by digital technology, I have made a number of sacrifices and compromises.  I have purchased a Boxee Box, which I consider a lesser evil than the service I am getting from Rogers Cable -- and the impact of the lobbying of Rogers against our technology interests.  I have a Google Nexus 1 and an ASUS transformer, both that run Android which is based on FLOSS (including Copyleft), but where there are proprietary components.  I don't have a FLOSS BIOS in any of my computers (that I am aware of), and even have some pretty ugly application choices such as Adobe Flash and Skype on various computers.

Many of these choices relate to access to multimedia content than about the computer themselves.  I am not willing (and not being single, able :-) to just cut myself from mainstream culture and not access any content not made legally available to me in vendor-neutral and unlocked formats.  I am willing to do this for music and books, where I will only purchase or otherwise access unlocked content.  This choice is quite different for movies/television where there really are no options that aren't politically compromised in some way.

I have become a subscriber to Netflix as a lesser of the evils way to move away from BDU's such as Rogers Cable. Netflix is only available on "authorised" devices, so I have been investigating some of the "lest offensive" of the authorised options such as the Boxee Box and various options running a Google OS (Chrome, Android).

I have uncomfortable choices imposed on me by others.  I can compromise on software freedom, I can compromise on copyright (access more unlocked content, where it wasn't the copyright holder who made that available to me), or I can disengage from mainstream culture.  At least for the moment while I'm actively involved in copyright revision policy, I'm temporarily accepting the first option.


Google has its flaws, and makes some choices I am not comfortable with.  There are various justifications/excuses offered for each of these decisions, and while I may not like them I am still a "customer" partly because I seem them as a lesser of the mainstream evils.

Most Android devices have non-owner locks on them, with the same being true of Chromebooks.  Google doesn't disallow third-party applications not authorized from them from being installed, and there is a thriving third-party community maintaining things like CyanogenMod.   There are problems where Google delays the public release of non-copyleft components of the Android stack: something they aren't obligated to do, but which have raised the eyebrows of nearly every FLOSS supporter watching Google.

On the political front, Google lobbies hard for more sensible technology law (copyright, patent, etc).  They have expressed opposition to technical measures policy in the various countries who have passed it, or are considering passing such as Canada.   They may allow hardware manufacturers to place non-owner locks on devices running their operating system, and even sell anti-interoperability locked content from their marketplace, but they are not expressing support for legally protecting these locks under Copyright law.

Google is a major contributor to many publicly licensed (including copyleft) projects, and even helps fund students direct participation in projects as part of their Google Summer of Code program.  This is a global program which I wish were harnessed by our provincial education ministries (additional funding, better coordination with co-op programs, etc).


When we move down the imprisonment scale to Microsoft, we have passed that magic line where I'm willing to be a customer.   While I have various coasters (CDs/DVDs/Floppies) that came with computers I bought that have a Microsoft logo on them, I am not a customer or user of any of their software.   Well, at least not any software that they haven't released as FLOSS and are incorporated in FLOSS projects I happen to use where their contributions don't affect the overall project.

I have been observing Microsoft since the late 1980's, when Windows 2.x was what they offered.  They were already on the rise, being seen by many as being a "more open" alternative to Apple's MacOS as far as choices offered to hardware and software developers, as well as end users.

I have to admit that I didn't take Microsoft very seriously until Windows for Workgroups and NT back in 1992.  I was an Amiga user about to abandon that platform as I found it to be a little to freedom-restrictive.  I already felt Apple was the most restrictive platform that I figured had long-term viability, and I was looking into NetBSD (running on my Amiga 3000) and this new oddball thing called Linux that ran on cheaper hardware that existed in a more competitive hardware marketplace.

While I was wrong to largely dismiss Microsoft as not being serious, I believe I remained correct in seeing them as a far more open alternative when compared to Apple.  While Microsoft gained massive market share (I believe largely due to that comparative openness), they have abused that market share in more ways than I think appropriate to discuss here.  Because of their monopoly-scale market share size in the legacy desktop marketplace, the costs of their policy blunders are enormous.  They, however, were never really blindly trusted and to think of them as being a harmful corporation is a pretty mainstream viewpoint.

As an individual, I have disagreed with the political philosophy of Bill Gates.  His ideological blinders around thinking of knowledge as equivalent to tangible physical products has caused harm far beyond the information technology sector to global health.   I see the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation as being a tax-deductible lobbying arm for this ideology, working to block the use of live saving generic drugs or non-tangible-property based methods to fund the expansion of human knowledge.


The centralised control that Apple wishes to exert goes far beyond wanting to own and/or control the hardware and software marketplace.  What they do on the lobbying front is what has kept them as being the worst IT/software company in my mind.

More than any other individual corporate member of the Business Software Alliance or the International Intellectual Property Institute (IIPI), they have been lobbying against the otherwise legally protected rights of technology owners.   This is not to say that the non-software members of the IIPI that have been duped by the BSA members have no responsibility.  This is also not a suggestion that other BSA members like Adobe and Microsoft are somehow pawns of Apple, but that as bad as they are I still consider them to be lesser evils.

As an individual, the evil-genius of Steve Jobs somehow made imprisonment sexy and cool.  While there were always people on the fringes of their customer base that complained about the legality of things like jailbreaking/etc, Apple under Jobs had a loyal fan-base that fought any suggestion that they were actively engaged in this attack on a variety of otherwise legally protected rights and freedoms.  I know many people within and outside the FLOSS movement who will gripe about Microsoft, the BSA, and other such organisations, while typing away on their Mac or iOS devices.  They will even argue with you when you point out various anti-rights political activities carried out by Apple, or the fact that Steve Jobs (while at Next) was the first violator of the GNU General Public License.

It wasn't only dismantling the rights of computer owners where the evil-genius of Mr Jobs was applied.  What Apple was able to do to the recording industry was amazing, with the transfer of control of the music industry from major recording labels to Apple ongoing.  While some individuals in the recording industry recognise this threat to their very existance, not everyone in that sector does.  A foe of a political foe is not an ally, but I do have to feel sorry for recording industry executives and lobbiests who continue to fight for policies (such as TPMs in Copyright law) which in reality threaten their very existance.

It is likely that the anti-rights political and economic activism will continue post Steve Jobs.   I do wonder if Richard Stallman's hope will come true, which is that  "his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective."

No comments: