Why Doesn't Anyone Give a Crap About Freedom Zero?

I have a Mac and I do things with it that Apple “allows” me to: use a web browser, e-mail, LaTeX, Perl, Python, RSS reader, listen to music, watch movies. All this with a good UI, no viruses, and with a minimal of hassle. How is there a conflict with what my needs and wants are and what I’m “allowed” to do? I purchased my Mac because it filled my needs.

I do not own an iPod nor an iPhone because neither do what I want. I have not purchased anything from the iTunes Store because I prefer CDs and DVDs.

I admin Linux and Solaris machines at work, and we use them because they do what we need. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be using the software in the first place to do the things we do.

While some people do care freedom zero, if software or devices that provides said freedom can’t handle the job at hand in an efficient way, what’s the point of using it?

There may be open platform mobile phones, but the UI sucks: my mother cannot easy check voicemail. The iPhone’s UI doesn’t suck, and once the device stabilizes it a bit I’ll probably buy her own and flip the SIM card, because she’ll finally have a phone that is easy to use.

Software and devices are tools. If the tools don’t do the job at hand then providing freedom zero is a moot point. If I can find a tool that gives me freedom zero, great, I’ll use it. If not, then other tools will be used.

As far as non-nerds are concerned, they do have Freedom Zero, the freedom to run the program for any purpose.

I can use Safari on my Mac to browse porn sites, terrorist sites, religious sites, business sites, or environmental conservation sites. I can use Pages to create flyers or newsletters for environmental conservation, business, you get the idea.

The notion that somehow Apple (or Microsoft) are restricting your freedom by not giving you the source code strikes the vast majority of people as ridiculous, and I don’t blame them at all.

I disagree. I run OS X, but I use open source applications for anything important to avoid tying myself to the platform and because they are free as in beer. Thus I get as much OS X pleasantness as I want, but I am not tied to it in any way. On the other hand, if I choose to go to windows, there is less open source to choose from, so it is fair less capable of allowing me this freedom. So I see windows is being the less free platform.

As a development platform, both platforms appear to be about the same, tying developers to the particular APIs and architecture of each. However, if you are able to use open source APIs, OS X is the winner again.

A while ago a friend of mine came up with the term “flogging the gnu”: the insistence on using Free Software (GPL definition) despite there being superior, albeit non-free alternatives and making do without software when there is no free alternative available; some examples: using Gimp rather than Photoshop, only because Photoshop is not Free Software; not using a particular file-format because the codec is distributed in binary-only format.


Why, exactly, should I give a crap about freedom zero?

Freedom zero advocates have done an exceedingly poor marketing job, selling the drill instead of the hole.

Nobody cares, because nobody realizes why they should care. Closed-systems salesmen, in sharp contrast, can explain their benefits clearly and convincingly.

It’s pretty trivial to understand why open source can’t come up with the iPhone - physical things cost money.

Open source can innovate, and has. It can copy, and boy does it. So can a proprietary shop. But software is free. I already have a computer and I have my spare time, I can write mountains of code. I can’t get a prototype tiny touchscreen without spending hundreds of dollars or having a promise that I can back it up with sales. And that’s hard to do as a hacker on my off-hours. It’s very easy to do if you are BigCo.

Note that the only software that truly allows for Freedom 0 is Free Software, and the most complete expression of that freedom in wide usage is the GNU GPL, the only license that protects Freedom 0 by specifically requiring you pass it on to anyone you supply the software to.

We give up our freedoms all the time. I give up my freedom of speech when posting on your blog, knowing you have the power and right to censor what I say. This is fine by me, and if it wasn’t I’d just go rant on my own blog where my freedom to say what I want isn’t compromised by your whim.

I give up my Freedom 0 when I buy DRM’d songs from the iTunes store, so I make sure that any song I would miss if the store vanished tomorrow, I buy unencumbered. I factor the DRM into the value proposition of buying each song.

I gave up my Freedom 0 when, after six years of Linux as my primary desktop, I switched completely to the Mac. I also know that by following some pretty basic principles of keeping any important data in a neutral format, I can move elsewhere if the cost of my loss of freedom ever gets high enough to impact me negatively. Certainly the move would be annoying, but it’s still a lot less annoying on the whole than Linux was on a daily basis.

Most importantly, my choice to give up Freedom 0 does not impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment of that freedom. Everybody gets to choose the level of freedom they are (un)comfortable with, and the world gets the benefit of widely available free software AND the innovation that, for now, seems mostly confined to commercial development.

On the main point, I hate to say it, but computing will always move towards the appliance model. What’s a web app, after all? For most things, people consider Firefox/IE/Safari the appliance.

I bet I don’t have to tell Jeff that the web is just 3270 terminals with a prettier interface.

The Mac is closed compared to open source, but is it really any more closed than Windows? Could you elaborate on why you “find Apple’s brand of hardware lock-in particularly egregious”.

Console simplicity is one small piece of why consumers buy them. There are lots of simple consoles that have failed. The main reason consumers buy consoles is because they want to play the games that are only available on consoles.

Why do publishers produce games for these closed platforms? In large part, because they are closed.

It’s much easier to develop and test on 1-3 platforms than it is on an infinite variety of hardware and software. Also, piracy is much more difficult in the console world. Not to mention that the controls are standardized. It’s generally not a good idea to make a game best suited for joysticks on the PC.

Microsoft is sort of addressing that last bit, by basically setting a closed standard, the Xbox 360 controller which “Games for Windows” labeled games are now required to support.

Here’s something I have wondered about in terms of consistent philosophies:

I think as programmers, we get tied up into the concept of looking for consistency and elegance, for elements to be simplified and rarefied. Freedom seems to be a fairly noble concept to want - and we see how it could be applied consistently across all of the elements of computing (which, to some degree, both represents and is a large portion of our life). However, the flaw to get caught up in here is that freedom as in beer doesn’t really extend that well beyond this really important thing.

We don’t really get to pick what governments rule us (which unfortunately is still true in a democracy for the most part). We don’t fret over growing and taking care of our own farms and foods. These systems work, for better and worse, outside of our domain. It seems, then, for us to be kneejerk insistent on freedom, because we have already comprised it in so many other areas.

Certainly, I don’t mean to say that because we have dropped it in those other areas, that it is any less of a worthwhile pursuit. However, I just want to point out that human behavior is a bit more clear when looked at from more than one angle.

Because nobody cares about running programs.

Client software is dead. Didn’t you post about that already?

I wonder if automobile engineers rant about free combustible engines – the freedom to burn gas, for any purpose.

Then perhaps the success is due in part because the majority of users have no interest in installing 3rd party software. Heck, this even holds true on the desktop; most computer users install MS office and that’s it (and maybe also iTunes if they’re on Windows). Anything beyond that is usually something designed to plug omissions in the operating system itself or that’s been installed by a passing computer geek, not user passion or interest (anti-malware, winrar, registry cleaner, Acrobat reader, Firefox, etc).

By the way, is my iTunes bugged ? Because it allows me to simply drag and drop my downloaded mp3s, movies, tv shows, audiobooks and music videos on it. No iStore or DRM needed. I didn’t crack it or hack it either.

Your argument doesn’t make sense. A Mac is not a dongle, it is a computer. You can run any software you want on it, including Windows and Linux. You can develop and run your own software on OS X. This is not like a video game console at all. The platform is “closed” only in the sense that the operating system Apple ships only runs on their hardware, in limited configurations. If you want to run Mac software, you have to buy an Apple machine.

Vendor lock-in is hardly a new phenomenon. The solution is to adopt open formats and multi-platform software. Open source is even better, assuming you can maintain the software yourself.

Also, you don’t need proprietary hardware to implement software restrictions. Software that restricts users and the file formats that support such things are the problem, and they can be implemented on any platform. You shouldn’t use them, and most people can already see why they are a very bad idea.

In short, most people who use Macs have not surrendered the right to use their computer as they see fit. If Apple were ever to demand that, you have a perfectly good computer that can run other software. The Mac is a general purpose hardware and software platform. People like it because the basic things work.

The whole issue is a matter of how widely someone defines their problem domain.

Most people’s problem domain isn’t sufficiently wide enough to include the reasons that you prefer free software. Mostly, people want a solution that works immediately, has good support, and requires no effort on their part.

Free software groups rarely offer a solution that fits this problem domain, because it would involve too much investment of time and perhaps capital on their part, and they’re not getting paid for it (hence the “free” part).

People that sell proprietary hardware/software exist entirely to fill the solution domain to this problem domain. Their entire existence is based on giving these people exactly what they want.

What I don’t understand is why this concept is so difficult for most people. People do NOT want freedom. Take a look at what tends to happen to democratic societies (and what is happening to ours). The greatest percentage of any sufficiently large society will ALWAYS be willing to give up freedom in exchange for the ability to concentrate on whatever it is that is important to them specifically.

As it currently stands, using completely free software generally in some way makes their life more difficult (whether it’s a lack of support, it’s more difficult to setup, it’s not engineered to as high of a quality standard, whatever). So, why would they do it? Why would you possibly force yourself to do something that makes life more difficult simply because the software is “free”?

I know there are several illegal versions of os x running on standard pc’s either through vmware or natively. This shows it probably now can run on any hardware and why not since its based on unix/linux. So apple are just holding it back to make cash on hardware sales.

This is from my point of view a short term approach. If they opened up the os legally to all hardware lots of people would switch.

There are some great features in os x. To me the OS seems a lot cleaner old mac apps are emulated so it is esentially an addition to the base OS for backwards compatability, you don’t have the windows situation of massive bloat to support stuff from 20 years ago through main code. Uninstalling programs is logical in the user interface and actually removes all components no windows registry entries left in and empty program folders. Expose the great task switcher. Near 100% reliability. Great media integration and im sure much more I have forgotten to mention. Im not saying everything is perfect or even better than windows but there certainly is good stuff. One thing I can’t get used to is the one button mouse.

All they need is a geek user base to develop all those neet apps we are so used to in windows and possibly get .net framework working probably through mono. At this point it will be a serious competitior.

Now I just worry about apple ending up in court just like microsoft for anti-trust or becoming a monopoly especially with the ipod. Lets face it the ipod + itunes thing is already being picked up by the French government how much longer before everyone else picks up on it.

Quality elegance win out over an ugly, infuriating, and unstable OS.

What the heck is this “Mac is locked down” mantra? I can run whatever I want on a Mac. I can use third party devices, no one is beholden to Apple to sign their driver.

It’s the reverse that you’re griping about: You can’t make a Mac out of whatever random motherboard you’ve got lying around. Apple doesn’t pretend to be in the game of supporting every random combination of half-working cruft you bought on discount. Nor should they IMHO. This is half of why Vista is bloated, slow, and late.

But once you are running OS X, you can do whatever you want with it. You can run far more open source software, far more easily on OS X (than Windows). And you run into a lot less DRM lockdown than Microsoft is trying to push on the market.

If you want to complain about people taking away your rights to use your machine as you see fit, look at what Microsoft is up to.

You’re right about Open Source being an open horizon, and closed source a series of temporary products, but I just think you’re a little narrowly focused in your bashing. Apple is certainly no worse than Microsoft, and I would argue, a lot better (Safari is based on an open source toolkit, the kernel level is open, ships with apache, gcc, etc, etc.)