TiPb Retorts! 5 Reasons the Free Software Foundation's 5 Reasons Not to Use an iPhone 3G Are Silly

Allow the iPhone Blog to Retort!

Surprise, surprise, the Free Software Foundation doesn't want you to use an iPhone 3G. Less surprisingly, they don't want to provide anything more than hyper-sensational, factually challenged reasons why you shouldn't buy it:

Phone completely blocks free software. iPhone endorses and supports Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology. iPhone exposes your whereabouts and provides ways for others to track you without your knowledge. iPhone won't play patent- and DRM-free formats like Ogg Vorbis and Theora. iPhone is not the only option.

Sigh. Why is it those who demand freedom the most are usually the same ones who respect freedom of choice the least?

They go on to call Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, a snake-oil salesman who uses good design to pied-piper the dull mundane consumers into buying his shiny little toy, thus abandoning themselves drone-like to his evil, conspiratorial prison. Patronizing? Hypocritical? Black and white just one option too many for the FSF?

DaringFireball gives it a sentence. Allow me to give it a retort! (After the break)

Equally simple analogy:

I have the ability to cook, yet sometimes I choose to buy myself dinner. Sadly, restaurants completely block free eating. Customers must PAY for the food, and the chef is sole authority as to what can or can't be offered on the menu. Restaurants endorse and support federal, state/provincial, and local health and safety codes. Restaurants are public and allow you to be seen and observed eating. Restaurants won't use free, non-proprietary recipes and insist on keeping their secret sauces and 11 herbs and spices to themselves. Restaurants are not the only option. "Stallman's All You Can Eat Organic Buffet" will be opening, gratis, any day now... (Or, again, you can learn to cook yourself!)

One of the gentlemen I work with, Anthony, has rocked his laptop out with Linux in a way that's every bit as drool-worthy as OS X, but I don't have the midichlorians for that depth of geekery, b'okay? He spent a long (loooong) time hacking away at it to get it like that. I opened my shiny Apple box and pressed the power button. I made a choice. We both did. The same choice truly free (as in speech or beer) people are empowered to make. The same as growing my own food or eating at a restaurant.

And as for the App Store? The iPhone doesn't block free software. You can make any software you want. Apple can likewise refuse to distribute any software they want. Free goes both ways, right? Or should Apple be forced to push your pr0n virus? Developers don't pay a tax. They buy a distribution service based on a percentage of revenue such that when revenue is nill, the distribution fee is likewise nill. (30% of 0 is 0, in case FSF calculators can't yet handle arithmetic). And the sole authority over what can and can't be on my iPhone? That'd be me. (I can even banish the built-in Apps to screen 9...)

Do I really have to metaphor-strain the sous-chef not getting all the customer's money because a percentage goes to to pay rent, utilities, infrastructure, suppliers, etc. And that customers can easily leave part or all of their food on the plate if its not to their liking?

Lest we forget, Apple is a for-profit company and the iPhone is a consumer device. People in general not only want but need to get paid for their work. Not everyone can rely on patronage or millions in Google search revenue (which is really just another, sometimes less up-front, method of accepting payment for work).

As to Steve Jobs being the mustache-twirling villain, better to think of him more as self-absorbed artist. He wants to paint his picture of the perfect gadget, and he absolutely cringes at the idea of someone else coming along and doodling on it afterwards. See, it's not really a computer or a phone to him, its his creation (and the creation of his apprentices). Sure, he'll compromise to get the work done (DRM) and to get it out (App Store), but its not just a little beige box crunching math to him. It's an object d'art.

Still, Free and Open Source Software is important to the industry. For every singular concept piece, there must be thousands if not millions of utilitarian derivatives. Hey, even Apple contributes toward WebKit, Darwin, CUPS, SproutCore, CalDAV, CardDAV, and a host of other FOSS projects. (Yup, patronage). That importance is probably why I'm so disappointed in the FSF. It's a serious topic for serious people, not an agenda or petty stick to be batted about in the name of media attention (which I'm sadly giving).

But bottom-line, there's only one reason to avoid the iPhone 3G: If you choose something else.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

TiPb Retorts! 5 Reasons the Free Software Foundation's 5 Reasons Not to Use an iPhone 3G Are Silly


The FSF is giving the iPhone a review. Nothing wrong with that. Gazillions of electronic toys are reviewed every day of the week.
The FSF is simply saying that they think the iPhone is a locked up piece of crap. I agree. I'll buy an Open Moko when they hit the store shelves.
You want to blow your money on Apple's latest iCrap...go ahead. Nobody's stopping you...not even Stallman and the FSF.

I'm giving the FSF a review. Nothing wrong with that.
I'm simply saying I think their review is a manipulative piece of FUD.
You want to blow your time and energy on the latest anything... be it Apple, Ubantu, BSD, or... even Microsoft... go head. Nobody should stop you, least of all people like Stallman and the FSF who have gone so far through the looking glass they've become the very thing they originally opposed - a restrictive ideology.
(And no, its a kid-friendly comment section. Again, the principle of opportunity cost means we always must sacrifice one thing for another -- in this case your ability to use crude and -- frankly -- lazy words for their ability to maintain their childlike sense of wonder just a few moments longer.)

I think you just don't understand what FSF is trying to tell you. In analogy, what if you bought a car, and the hood was locked shut, and only the dealer had the key? That would be a pretty big pain in the neck, especially if you wanted to tweak it to perform better in some way, or if you wanted to change the oil without paying the dealer $250. The iPhone is like that.
You have the freedom to lock yourself in that sort of strait jacket, but FSF will do everything it can to convince you that is a bad way to treat yourself. Good for them!
A lot of folks have seen the light about this. Even the biggest companies. For example, Symbian has announced that they are going to put all of their software under a very liberal Open Source license. They are joined in this by Nokia, Sony, NTT Docomo, and a number of cellular carriers.
I'll get an OpenMoko, and have control.

I think Apple's "closed-shop" model is a bit annoying, but completely understandable. As much as I hate to admit it, Apple is revolutionizing the mobile market and I totally get the importance of complete control of the platform.
Does anyone know if it is true that software developers have to pay a fee to Apple - even if the softare they provide is free to the end-user? If it's true (which I doubt) that would be a bit off...

Because I disagree I must not understand?
Again, silly. And your analogy is false. This hood isn't locked shut, it's just tricky to open and has a proviso that says if you do open it, it will no longer be serviceable by the dealer, and if you then bring it to the dealer anyway, you're responsible if something you did -- or something the dealer does after what you did -- causes problems.
If we're adults, and we take responsibility for our own actions, how's that a problem? It lets non-mechanics (like me, I don't touch my car's maintenance) get all the service they want straight from the dealer, and it lets (presumably) power-tinkerers sneak in and do pretty much whatever they'd like with the core system (at their own risk, 'natch).
Sounds to me, again, like the FSF already has a lot of people locked up in an ideological straight jacket that's far worse for them. Apple's just a product, zealotry is a mindset.
Some companies, like Symbian, have seen a business model, leveraging open source developer communities and anticipated market share gains. That's great. Other companies have other business models. As a consumer, I value my freedom to choose which one suits me better in each circumstance, and value the diversity in approaches for creating a robust enough set of conditions that its unlikely for them all to fail, all at once.
And why would you get an OpenMoko? Wouldn't it be better to run down to RadioShack and roll your own from scratch?

Rene, nice work. As you so aptly put it, choice is the issue here. Rather than berate Apple and those who choose the iPhone, it is better to understand WHY millions have chosen the iPhone -- because it provides a platform that works very well, is easy to use, and requires no tweaking (nor allows it, but that's the trade-off). For most consumers, it's a phone of choice. For many power-users, it's also a phone of choice. Choice. Bottom line, just let people choose what they want. As far as I'm concerned, the Free Software Foundation lost credibility when it became apparent they were merely pimping another phone ;)

@Brett: Anyone can get the SDK for free by registering. I'm not certain, but I believe educational institutions can distribute via the Ad Hoc method to up to 100 people/students gratis. For regular devs, $99 gets you distribution via the App Store for any number of Apps you create, free or for-pay.
(Ironically Some developers have complained that $99 isn't high enough, as too many people could afford it and flood the store with too many low-quality apps.)

"And why would you get an OpenMoko? Wouldn’t it be better to run down to RadioShack and roll your own from scratch?"
LOL! Oh man, Rene... that's rich.

I agree with the FSF. I bought an IPhone 3G as so many others have. And it IS locked up. You can only sell software on the App store under Apples crazy restrictions (ala TomTom being restricted by some legaleze).
And I believe that many Apple lovers feel the same way. That is why with every release of the IPhone or upgrade, there is a need to Jailbreak (gee, with a name like that, it isn't TOO restrictive, huh???) and unlock these phones.
Let's get real, the FSF has a point.

I have a Openmoko Neo 1973. Nice hardware. Excellent screen. But the software does not even have proper power management, the phone will not stay up for longer than 2-3h, even without using it.
I have a iPhone, which I use as my primary phone. I'll get me a iPhone 3G, once available again. And I'll continue to monitor how the Openmoko software evolves. Its evolving, but not fast enough. Its like Linux 1990.

I think you are confusing free software (free as in free beer) with free sofware (free as in freedom). The FSF is concerned with the latter type of freedom, in particular with the GPL license for software, while they are not against charging money for software.
Personally, I agree with FSF in their complaints, but I have an iPhone anyway because it is so shiny and nice :)

MZL, nope, no confusing here (even use that in the article!). The FSF, however, is increasingly confusing them -- my free, informed ability to use whatever software best suits my situation.
And GPL isn't free, its a different set of restrictions. Maybe noble ones at their core, but still restrictions.

I was referring to your analogy: "Sadly, restaurants completely block free eating. Customers must PAY for the food..." from which I gathered that you made the error in distinction.
What I believe FSF is talking about is that the conditions for the AppStore is incompatible the distribution of GPL-licensed programs (or other similar copyleft licenses). This means that from the point of view of FSF, no free programs are allowed on iPhones.
Regardless of what ones own views of free vs. open source, I do see the point of both sides. Apple wants to control the platform, possible in their view for the benefit of the consumer. FSF wants open platforms, also in their view for the benefit of the customer. The possibility to choose another platform is not really that interesting for the discussion, since the iPhone hardware is really much nicer that other possible platforms hardware as is the base OS and applications.

@MZL, fair point, I tried to have it both ways, also pointing out the other freedom is restricted by the restaurant's chef. Going to an Italian restaurant and ranting that you aren't free to have Chinese food there makes the kind of sense that doesn't.
I like the GPL a bunch, and we all benefit from it, but I'll again point out that any license is by its very nature counter-freedom. They're just countering a different sort of freedom (and we can argue its an important license, but that still makes it a license).
I agree with you about the interest and niceness of the iPhone, and point out Apple achieves that kind of hardware, software, and services blend by being -- for good or for ill -- the way they are.

"One of the gentlemen I work with, Anthony, has rocked his laptop out with Linux in a way that’s every bit as drool-worthy as OS X, but I don’t have the midichlorians for that depth of geekery, b’okay?"
This "Anthony" chap sounds like he's a really cool cat.

Look. The bottom line is that the iPhone does ot fit into a traditional phone category. As I heard it put, it is the first phone built by a computer maker, and as such, works like one. You have a "desk top" where you make your selection, and off you go. Gone are the menu's of old. We now have a direct path to what we want. The complaints are nothing more that what MS had to endure about not opening up Windows to any Tom, Dick or Harry that wanted a peek under the covers. Apple HAS to keep the control as is. It is their baby. And, it is only the SECOND phone they have produced. For all the finger pointers out there, go look at the second gen of your beloved Blackberry. It took a while for that to catch on too. And, that phone has very little in common with todays models. I think most of this type of garbage comes from a very anti-Apple / Steve Jobs faction out there. Nothing would be good enough to impress them. Apple understands that, and is happy to improve on this great product for the rest of us.

I would rather go out to eat dinner and have the chef cook me up something amazing right away, rather then me spending tons of time getting it the way i want it cooking it myself.
The whole point of a Mobile device is for it to just the way we are productive in a mobile environment.
I've had a blackberrry, a Treo, tons of other devices.
And i've found myself spending to much time "tweaking" or getting the phone the way i wanted it, just so i could use it.
the iPhone comes this way right out of the box.
Hats off to the linux guy for doing that with his Box. That's awesome i love hearing stuff like that. but honestly i don't feel like spending alot of time on my phone? why? well... that's why i got a mobile smartphone. So i would not have to spend time on it. So i could do things quickly, and easily. Be more productive on the go. (we forget about this so easily)

Great retort, really. The FSF piece was less review than it was opinion, and it's been pretty well summed up here, that if you don't like it, don't friggin' buy it!
But there are a lot of us that DO like it. The FACT is, the numbers speak for themselves.

I'm always into discussions on anything organic, so this read made me feel at home.
I'll bookmark the site and subscribe to the feed!

Me and colleague were discussing this the other day. Many thanks for the evidence that I had been correct and today I can have some fun with them about it!