Apple: A Bigger Open Source Enemy Than Microsoft?Apple: A Bigger Open Source Enemy Than Microsoft?
Even before Linux was created, Microsoft has been scorned by members of the free-software community. Its products are decried as defective by design, and its sometimes questionable business practices as an obstacle to technological innovation. That's old news. What amazes me is Apple's track record for openness is even worse than Microsoft's.
October 20, 2008
Even before Linux was created, Microsoft has been scorned by members of the free-software community. Its products are decried as defective by design, and its sometimes questionable business practices as an obstacle to technological innovation. That’s old news. What amazes me is Apple’s track record for openness is even worse than Microsoft’s.
Apple, while its products may be prettier and more intuitive than Microsoft’s (or so I’m told; I’ve never really used a Mac, iPod or iPhone myself), is in some respects worse than Redmond when it comes to respecting the fundamentals of software freedom.
For example, the Free Software Foundation published an essay last summer containing a number of criticisms of the iPhone. Many of the iPhone policies—like the requirement that all applications be installed from Apple’s central repository, allowing Apple to monopolize iPhone software in an unprecedented way—far surpass anything that Microsoft has ever done to lock in users.
Apple’s record on desktop computers, where it seeks via legal and technical restrictions to monopolize hardware as well as software, is not much better, and its history of DRM endorsement on iTunes is equally troubling. In this light, it’s hard to see Apple as the valiant underdog in the fight against Microsoft that it portrays itself as.
This dissimulation is all the more flippant due to the fact that OS X, the operating system that saved Apple from going under a decade ago, is based on an open-source Unix kernel that Steve Jobs ungratefully borrowed from U.C. Berkeley in the ’80s.
Safari’s HTML engine, moreover, is derived from the codebase of Konqueror, KDE’s native web browser. Although free software has been integral to Apple’s success, its policies remain diametrically opposed to the principles of openness and transparency that produce such software.
Why the Blind Eye?
Nonetheless, criticism of Apple seems almost taboo in the Ubuntu (and larger Linux/free-software) community, banned from the discourse among all but the most radical adepts of Saint IGNUcius.
I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps Steve Jobs has left so many Ubuntu geeks starry-eyed with his sleek interfaces and shiny cases that comparing him with Bill Gates is unimaginable. Maybe we’re scared of the inevitable backlash from Mac fanboys, many of whom are also part-time Linux users. Or perhaps software freedom and its abuses just don’t matter to many members of the Ubuntu community, although I find that hard to believe.
This is not a call to arms against Apple. In fact, I think that the free-software community’s time and resources are much better spent improving Linux and Ubuntu than criticizing the business practices and software of their competitors.
But I remain perplexed by the mentality that Apple, by virtue of being a perceived underdog (at least on the desktop market), is somehow on ‘our side’ despite being no different than Microsoft in most regards. Maybe I’m just too much of a freetard (to borrow the eloquent language of Fake Steve Jobs), but I find this reality hard to deny.
It’s also worth observing that, as the computing industry continues to move towards high-powered mobile devices, in which Apple is heavily invested, a more direct confrontation between Linux and the Mac world seems inevitable. The days of ignorantly blissful coexistence may be numbered.
WorksWithU Contributing Blogger Christopher Tozzi is a PhD student at a major U.S. university. Tozzi has extensive hands-on experience with Ubuntu Server Edition and Ubuntu Desktop Edition.
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