FSF on iPhone 3G: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

The FSF blog has a scaremongering piece about the iPhone 3G giving 5 reasons why you should avoid the iPhone. Because it’s fun, let’s look at them and see why or not we agree. iPhone completely blocks free software. Developers must pay a tax to Apple, who becomes the sole authority over what can and … Continue reading “FSF on iPhone 3G: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.”

The FSF blog has a scaremongering piece about the iPhone 3G giving 5 reasons why you should avoid the iPhone. Because it’s fun, let’s look at them and see why or not we agree.

  1. iPhone completely blocks free software. Developers must pay a tax to Apple, who becomes the sole authority over what can and can’t be on everyone’s phones.

    • Okay, developers must pay $99 for their certificate so that the automatic updates and other infrastructure can be built. After this there’s no charges. How much does a signed certificate cost these days? And the infrastructure for automatic updates? Free? Not really. Now, it’s true that Apple’s review process is arse-about-face in terms of allowing developers to put in updates (the review should cover the initial app not updates. The certificate is there for a reason, guys) but I guess this is to prevent developers from sneaking in features that Apple doesn’t like – like VoIP over EDGE or anything using private frameworks. So, yes, it sucks. But not for the reasons given. It sucks because it exposes Apple as a profit-making company – which we all knew anyway and isn’t fixable. It sucks because it exposes a problem in their application review process – which is a process issue and is therefore fixable.
  2. iPhone endorses and supports Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology.
    • Let’s get this one out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with Digital Rights Management (DRM) any more than there’s anything wrong with software developers wanting to earn money. I don’t mind paying for quality software and if moving to completely Free software means I have to put up with the quality of software I’ve seen with most free projects, then I wholeheartedly support pay-for software. And calling it ‘Digital Restrictions Management’ is really kinda childish at this point.
  3. iPhone exposes your whereabouts and provides ways for others to track you without your knowledge.
    • Actually it asks you every time you try to use Location Services and also has a button to turn it off. Did you know that ALL cellphones and ALL GPS devices can be tracked remotely without your knowledge? Did you know that your car, your computer and even your own body can be tracked remotely without your knowledge by people using their eyes, ears and nose? Some of us aren’t paranoid schizophrenics – we want to use location services to provide a better experience for ourselves and others. Location is part of the metadata of our identity – we should be using it more not worrying about whether or not our rights are being eroded.
  4. iPhone won’t play patent- and DRM-free formats like Ogg Vorbis and Theora.
    • This is the price of convenience. I could spend a lot of time making this work on my Mac but, you know what, the gains simply are not worth the costs. I have DRM-free music and video on my Mac. I put this onto my iPhone. I’m not going to worry about whether it’s ‘Free’ or not as long as it suits my usage. Ogg is going nowhere. Find a fight you can win.
  5. iPhone is not the only option. There are better alternatives on the horizon that respect your freedom, don’t spy on you, play free media formats, and let you use free software — like the FreeRunner.
    • Woah, that’s a step far. The FreeRunner is ‘better’ only if you value the licensing terms of the software. It doesn’t help your freedom, it plays free media formats (but by extension will give you trouble with ‘standard’ music formats) and lets you use free software that was designed by an engineer with no respect for HCI conventions. Oh, and like the iPhone it will expose your location and allow others to track you because it’s a cellphone and all mobile phones do that.

In short, it’s another classic FUD piece from the FSF. Last time they were warning that the iPhone might be using free software, now they’re holding up a telephone that can just recently make calls and SMS messages and saying it’s better than the JesusPhone.

But of course, they’re not going to embrace Android as their saviour because it doesn’t use the GNU Public License even though it uses a free alternative. This is the problem with the FSF: they sound reasonable at first and then start to turn into crackpots before your very eyes. Remind you of a topical religion? Thetans? Sure. It’ll be midichlorians next.

0 thoughts on “FSF on iPhone 3G: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.”

  1. Oh it’s too bad Fake Steve Jobs is no longer doing his blog. He’d shred that *anal*ysis.

    As for DRM, that probably is the big reason why by-wire syncing takes much longer than it used to.

    DRM is something I don’t like on ebooks. I’m not about to put *anything* I’ve *paid* for on P2P. I’ll grab stuff from P2P from time to time to look at (no software; that invites XP malware!), if I’m desperate, but I’m interested in *buying* things — especially ebooks — so creators can pay their rent!

  2. I used to be a supporter of the FSF, but rants like this have driven me away. First, it was about how the BSD license (which puts little or no restrictions on the use of code) should be shunned in favor of the GPL (which forces the end software to be free), now this.

    As a developer of a BSD-licensed, free, open source iPhone application (Molecules), I can say that their assertions are complete crap. Not only did Apple not prevent me from releasing this program, I was actively encouraged to put it on the platform. The only stumbling block so far has been the SDK’s NDA which has prevented me from publicly releasing the source code. However, I expect that to be lifted soon, when the SDK is officially tagged as being out of beta.

    I ran Linux on my primary machine for years, but converted over to Mac OS a couple years ago because I found I could use the same open source tools as I had on Linux while being far more productive due to a coherent and well-thought-out user interface. Add on to that the best API I’ve ever worked with in Cocoa, and I’ve achieved more in my short time with Mac OS than I did in the entire stretch with Linux.

    Although I used to be one of those that opposed putting a price on software, I’ve changed my position after seeing the quality products indie Mac developers have been able to make with a little monetary incentive.

  3. It’s nothing to do with “is there a technical solution”. The fact is piracy will happen. But, as with software, you make it hard enough that for the average user (who is generally not a techie) it is easier and quicker to just pay for the content. Thus it works.

    If someone doesn’t want to pay for it, they won’t.

  4. It’s about allowing people to get at content. Dedicated pirates will always bypass it (and for that matter they won’t care about using GPLed code for commercial products without releasing source).

    FairPlay is about adding DRM to enable commerce without getting in the face of the end user. And compared to most software licensing, it’s very transparent.

    See, that’s the problem with FSF hackers. Only thin of themselves (don’t believe me? Check out the install instructions and UI for most random projects on SourceForge).

  5. Aidan: I agree completely. If people want to download stuff from P2P (and you don’t have to be a techie to do so) they will. But it only takes one person to crack the DRM or rip an analogue copy and post it on the net. People will pay for stuff if you set a price they think is reasonable and you make it easy for them. That’s why the iTunes store is such a success. DRM is a distraction.

    MJ: Yes, there’s a lot of badly-made free software out there. I still don’t see your point though.

  6. It’s simple Andrew. People might get behind Free Software if the claims were not so ridiculous. e.g. GIMP being a replacement for Photoshop, OpenOffice being a replacement for Office.

    For people who could use GIMP in stead of Photoshop, there’s a hundred other graphics editors which would do the job. For people who could survive with OpenOffice they could choose any of half a dozen office productivity suites. It’s the ‘edge cases’ that matter.

  7. You are misinterpreting “free”; free != “Free” when read on the FSF site.

    Secondly, DRM doesn’t and probably never will work perfectly. The user pays extra for a degraded experience while remaining the mammoth’s slave forevermore, unless he installs some hippy OS with a junk interface on his shiny new device. How better it might be if it were DRM-free to begin with.

    Don’t forget that DRM owes its popular existence to protect the interests of a single industry in particular; in return for little ends (i.e. every major DRM has been broken in my lifetime), it forces us to tolerate the degraded function and experience of what may otherwise be a technically excellent device (or big budget movie). I am by no means an FSF hippy, but hell, please do not make the mistake of condoning this particular technology.

    I understand that statistics probably tell a pro-DRM story for software developers: most people would rather pay $10 than expend the effort required to subvert licensing restrictions on a phone, but then, most people willing to pay £400 for a phone would probably also rather pay $10 than expend the effort required to search the Internet for a pirated binary.

    As an Apple user, I’m obviously lukewarm to Apple’s freedom/convenience philosophy, but using it as the sole basis for an argument against the FSF’s goals is fallacious. The capabilities technology enables change daily at a rate faster than any single vendor can adapt, therefore free movement of data and code is literally a must for the speedy progression of our species.

    While the FSF’s updated DRM moniker is a bit childish, it really is closer in truth to what its effects are for people in the real world. Following on from the previous paragraph, I’d like to suggest “Developmental Retardation Technology” as being even more fitting. 😛

  8. I’m not misinterpreting free or Free (FFS!). GPL != Free. It’s just a marketing buzzword. I’ll distinguish the GNU version as “FREE!”

    DRM doesn’t actually degrade the experience. It just allows some parties to come to the table. It permits commerce in a world where there can be perfect duplication of assets.

    You want to talk about a degraded experience? OpenMoko?

    Without some way to protect intellectual property (for a time) there is no way to foster innovation because people end up having to work hard for a living rather than invent new things. In this way, FREE! software retards innovation. Look at the current crop of FREE! software. It’s just imitation. The only people producing innovative software in free, Free or FREE! versions are people who are funded by other means – i.e. university researchers or lucky people in corporations. Where’s the exciting stuff? Not GPL by any means.

    The patent system worked well enough for hardware but yes, we’re in a transitional period now where the old economies are yet to discover something that worked as well as patents in the software/knowledge/process industries. Wearing a moo-moo and growing your beard long is not a way to change things.

    As the cost of creation drops to 0, so will the cost of purchase but we have to be cognizant that there’s a very real man-labour element that is missed in FREE! discussions. It’s been my theory that it takes 6 man months to make anything great – so who pays for those 6 months? Who pays the rent? Feeds the developer? Keeps him/her entertained and relaxed? Building a future on ‘free time’ hours stolen from geeks who don’t have a girlfriend (to take up that time) isn’t what I call a strategy.

    And that’s what this is about – building the future. People who don’t have to worry about where their next crust is coming from are much better contributors to society as a whole. (I’m not talking about the idle rich, but the productive many).

    This is why I’m focussed on working where I am starting in August. Helping people who make cool products get those products made. Whether that’s through finding an investor or mysterious government based funding. There’s smart people out there who can’t find the time to make something great because they’re too busy trying to eke out a living. That’s part of my intent for Co-Working Belfast (depending on the other stakeholders)

    The free movement of data/code is not retarded by DRM any more than it’s retarded by IP. DRM is for end user content. And, as I inferred, it’s a transitional strategy. Apple is a company I *like* because I understand their attitudes to DRM, trust, profit and the rest of that dirty world. They trust you not to pirate their OS. They add value to open source (and contribute heavily – something you don’t hear much about from the FSF). They avoid GPL software because of the connotations but do a lot of work on BSD-licensed software (but BSD is not in favour in the FSF despite being free and Free)

    As I said above, we’re in transition. Society is in transition. We’re moving towards a post-scarcity society where the cost of building anything will drop to zero. That’ll either destroy us or liberate us.

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