Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apple - devil or saviour?

I'm engaged in a great big argument at the moment.

It sparked up at news that a developer of the video playing software VLC asked for the application to be removed from the Apple App Store after he realised that the terms for the app store didn't adhere to the GPL.

So an explanation is needed here. I'll try not to get too technical here. Basically, the GPL stands for the General Public License. It's a license for software which attempts to protect certain freedoms:
  1. To use the software for what ever purpose.
  2. To study and change the program for what ever purpose.
  3. To share the program with anyone and everyone.
  4. To share any modified versions of the program with anyone and everyone.
So the latest version of this license has all sorts of things preventing the use of "Digital Rights Management" also referred to as DRM or "Digital Restrictions Management" by some people.

So to get things into the Apple App Store, you must agree to allow Apple to put DRM, should they so wish, on what ever application you've put into their store.

This has all sorts of implications. If GPL applications can not be in the Apple App Store, then a lot of Apple devices can not run the software. Things like the iPhone and iPad.

The question then becomes one of motives. Why do Apple try to enforce DRM?

I'm very much on the "Apple is bad" side of the fence. While I applaud Apple for creating products which users can be reasonably assured will work well, I find myself finding myself horribly frustrated with the idea that Apple dictate what I can and can not do on a device. If I can't get it from the Apple Store, I can't install it.

Okay, so I could do what's called "jail breaking". Essentially hacking the devices so that I have a bit more freedom. This would void my warranty. Apple define it as being illegal and this has gone to court. Although Apple may not have won the cases, the fact that they get you to agree to those sorts of terms speaks volumes.

I'm loathe to buy a device that I am not allowed to do what I see fit on. So back to motives. Is Apple simply trying to save me from myself? Are we unable to take responsibility for our own devices? And if I were to decide that the freedom is really important to me and choose to do what Apple consider to be illegal and jailbreak the device, am I running a huge risk by voiding my warranty?

There are all sorts of excuses out there.

Apple provide a stable platform. But this doesn't have to be at the expense of freedom. For example, Apple could provide me a means of another way to install software of my choosing which I would thereby take personal responsibility for the software I install.

Apple users aren't stupid and so wouldn't chose to use a platform that they didn't see some advantage to. This still sounds a bit like "All the cool kids are doing it" to me.

Apple believe themselves to be looking after their users interests and while I might not agree with their methods, there are advantages. Except that this feels a bit like the whole Play Station 3 thing. Play Station 3, when it first came out, was touting itself as "not just a gaming console". It was also a media centre and a computing platform. Except that Sony removed it's ability to load up Linux meaning that the platform only runs what Sony deem is appropriate. Why do these things? Because it's commercially advantageous.

As you can probably tell, I find it really hard to give the arguments any credence. They just sound like people believing a bunch of marketing rubbish to me.

I guess the reason I'm writing this post is I want people to come up with well thought out reasonable arguments as to why anyone should chose a device that doesn't respect your freedom.

"It works" is probably about the best I've heard and that one probably does have some validity given that sometimes you just want something that works and not everyone is a geek.

For example, iMovie is unmatched by anything else I've seen. It just works. It's intuitive. But the choice needs to be countered with "what are you losing?".


  1. Ok i tend to agree with you here. If i cant do what i want to do with something ive bought (and it was probably worth a bit) then what use is it? Specially if its only useful for that one thing. I paid for it. Its mine. I want to put other stuff on it, I will. Besides, to some degree, PC's are cheap..NOT apple ones. But a general PC is.

    Granted, Apple wont crash like windows based machines do. Which makes it investment wise, a better deal.

    If they dont want users to put all and sundry on it, they shouldnt sell it.

    I dont have a ipod. Cause the drag and drop thing wont work till you have at least activated it on a windows machine. Its not easy to upgrade the ipod apps, unless you use the ipod program thing. My iphone clone has an old copy of bookshelf on it. i cant upgrade it cause the program needed to upgrade it, wont work with my iphone clone. so now im looking for another one with a working book reader on it. (and yes, i know Nevyn has an aversion to reading digital copies, but its handy when you move countries to at least have a copy of your favourite book that wont count in the weight in your suitcase)

    iMovies may just work. but will it work on pirated copies of movies? (if you have any). Can it watch anything despite the country zone code?

  2. Apple do have a moral right to produce software that will not work with pirated movies.

    The movie industry is a much longer conversation (though what I can't understand is why technology is being used to take value away rather than add value like any other industry in the world).

    The more interesting issue is where they're taking away your rights to do something perfectly legal - install software of your choosing.

    As for Apple OS X being more stable than Windows - the question is less about that. Windows 7, I am told, is quite stable. It's less about technical shortcomings these days.

    For me, it's about being able to do what I need to do.

    That means I will work with systems that allow me to change and modify source if I so need to fit them to my needs and will avoid those that I feel take away that freedom from me (if something goes wrong with Windows, I am completely at MS's behest - whether they feel the problem is big enough to actually fix it or not).

    Let's not get into a debate on whether Apple should or shouldn't do what they see as something moral and keep it more about, "What are Apple taking away from you?".

  3. "What are Apple taking away from you?".

    The right to do what i want with something ive paid alot for. As you said, to put whatever program you want on it and customise it anyway you want to. If im never going to use a particular program, i want the right to take it off and add something i will use frequently.

    Apple has been more stable than windows UPTO now. But did it need to take so many versions of windows before it became more stable??