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09.30.09

Freedom and the Fallacy of Market Share

Posted in Apple, DRM, Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft at 2:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Headline on F/OSS

Summary: Discussion about a misunderstanding of the real goals, especially in light of the latest news

FREE SOFTWARE is a different game from most. Its purpose is to cater for those in need of a free (libre) operating system that they truly control, unlike Android for example. A victory is defined in those market-agnostic terms, not in terms of how many people use a variant that makes considerable concessions.

It is understandable that various people who work for commercial companies see the success of F/OSS as measured in terms like “money” or “market share”; there is a fundamental difference here due to indoctrinators of a “takers” mentality and the likes of them. Free software is about sharing (giving) and thus it may clash with profit through scarcity; Free software thrives in abundant, independent markets. That is how revenue gets generated and savings made through autonomy.

The biggest threat to Freedom (the “F” in F/OSS) is arguably not proprietary software but people who lose sight of what’s achievable. To make so many compromises is to end up with another Mac OS X, to kiss freedom goodbye, and to wonder what the heck F/OSS [sic] was trying to achieve in the first place.

Richard Stallman has just published a short new essay to remind people of the many problems with Mac OS X.

In 2005, Apple made users install version 4.7 of iTunes in order to continue using the iTunes music store. This “upgrade” was billed by Apple as fixing a “security hole.” What the update actually did was change the iTunes system of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to make PyMusique stop working. PyMusique was free software that allowed GNU/Linux users to access the iTunes store. (See http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-03/22/content_2728356.htm and http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/22/apple_blocks_pymusique/.)

Apple similarly imposed other incompatible iTunes changes later in 2005, and in 2006: users could not play music purchased using newer versions of iTunes in older versions of iTunes. So users had to update iTunes on all of their computers that they wanted to play their own music on, not just on the computer that they used to actually purchase the DRM-afflicted music. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FairPlay.)

In 2008, Apple snuck a new DRM malfeature into Quicktime in an update advertised as adding a feature for renting movies. This malfeature stopped users from playing video files they themselves had made. (See http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/26/quicktime_drm_cripples_adobe_programs/.)

If Mac OS X does not have a backdoor to forcibly install changes, that does not make it ethical. It has other malicious features, such as Digital Restrictions Management (see http://defectivebydesign.org/apple).

Some reporters concentrate on a retraction from Stallman, but that is not the point of the essay/blog post, which was followed by an update to Stallman’s article on Microsoft [via Bruno Miguel]. From Heise:

He also criticises the proprietary nature of Mac OS X. Stallman refers to various updates of iTunes and QuickTime, where security updates were used to close holes that allowed the DRM system to be overridden or where a bug was introduced in the process of updating the software to support new DRM functions. He ends saying “I don’t withdraw my condemnation of Mac OS. But I do withdraw the claim it has a known backdoor”. Stallman does not say in his message what prompted this withdrawal.

Wired Magazine has this new article which continues to show Apple’s misuse of power and control of people’s expression:

Developer: Apple Denied Health Care App for Political Reasons

Apple rejected a free iPhone application that advocated a single-payer health system, calling the application “politically charged,” according to the app’s developer.

This application may indeed be “political”, but what’s wrong with that? Is technology now limiting people’s freedom of expression rather than facilitating it? Is technology truly respectful when it is hindering instead of advancing and empowering? As in tiered Web, DRM, and kill switches?

“This philosophy did not prevent GNU from attaining commercial acceptance.”Michael Gratton, for instance prefers to ignore more political issues, whereas others realise that ignoring these issues is not an option. Problems will not go away if they are ignored; au contraire — things would typically exacerbate lacking vigilance.

Is GNU politically charged? Well, it has always been the case. The GNU philosophy is intrinsically political in that sense that it is rather libertarian. This philosophy did not prevent GNU from attaining commercial acceptance. When it comes to market share, traditional analysts can often be ignored. The Gartner Group, for example, counts only preinstalls, knowing damn well that these figures will not be representative of the real share of GNU/Linux on a worldwide basis. The numbers are also based on a sample from just a few large vendors like HP and IBM. It is prone to considerable error in judgment, and possibly by design. That in its own right is a political and ethical issue that should not be ignored.

“Forty percent of servers run Windows, 60 percent run Linux…”

Steve Ballmer (September 2008)

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3 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    September 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Gravatar

    “To make so many compromises is to end up with another Mac OS X”
    Well, note that Mac OS X has most of the GUI being completely proprietary software. Anyone remember Darwin? That was Mac OS X with the proprietary GUI completely stripped. I remember GNU-Darwin, which was a distro of Darwin that do not rely on the proprietary GUI.

  2. Yuhong Bao said,

    September 30, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Gravatar

    Another classic example is the X Window System, which was not copyleft, thus most Unix vendors bundling them made it proprietary. Why? You guessed it, popularity

    David Gerard Reply:

    What’s happening with X now is that the proprietary vendors are going back to the Xorg mainline, e.g. Sun (Alan Coopersmith from Sun is one of the main X devs, OpenSolaris uses Xorg rather than Xsun) and Apple (X11.app is a polished snapshot of Xquartz, which is finally compiling cleanly from Xorg)!

    In that case, Xorg got people onside by being the place to be, the place where the development was happening, rather than by being copyleft.

    That said, copyleft may well have accelerated the process.

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