Free Software Foundation - WTF are you thinking?!?

I've been a big fan of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Public License. Heck, I've even released a few pieces of my own software under the GPL. The GNU Public License ensures that any piece of software released under it must be able to be modified and released by anyone as long as they agree to release their modifications under the same license. It's a brilliant way to increase community involvement and ensure no one is left out or moves the balance of sharing to any extreme. I'm usually in favor of many of The Free Software Foundation's positions, even if I'm not always 100% in agreement with their statements or tactics. The latest round of iPhone rhetoric, though, makes me wonder what the fuck they're thinking, and wonder if the FSF is doing more harm than good for their stated goals and purposes.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been a tireless opponent of any hardware or software that locks down or prevents users from modifying the software, or installing software without restriction on that hardware. The latest piece of hardware that has the ire of the FSF is the iPhone. One reason the iPhone is being targeted now is because of the App Store, a repository of software that users can browse and install software on their iPhone. One reason the FSF is against the iPhone in general and the App Store in particuar is because the iPhone is locked down to the point where no-one can legitimately install software on their iPhone without first getting Apple's permission to list it in the App Store. On the one hand, I agree with Apple's position that installing software without having it vetted for the iPhone could lead to a bad user experience in the long run (just ask anyone who owned a Palm device how many times they had to clear out the device to get it working again because of a botched application or Hackmaster hack), but I can also see the FSF's position that the iPhone shuld be open to any software. After all, would you buy a computer if someone else told you you could only run a certain "blessed" subset of programs on it? The FSF has a point here.

One other issue the FSF has with the iPhone is the Digital Rights Management (DRM) that Apple enforces on songs downloaded via iTunes. The issue is that the content (music/videos/etc) is encumbered with some extra requirements to no longer be able to work if the rights-holder deems that you have exceeded your authority with the content. The issue is made more clear by Microsoft and Yahoo threatening to turn off their license servers for content that is DRM-encumbered. What that means is when the server goes off, your DRM-encumbered content no longer plays, period. This leaves your purchases held hostage to the rights-holder being able to still supply you with the rights to use that content. DRM is completely silly, and more companies are opting to do away with it in the interest of consumer satisfaction. Again, the FSF is right on target.

The FSF released a statement that people shouldn't purchase iPhones, preferring instead for them to purchase the OpenMoko Freerunner phone. I believe the FreeRunner is a hell of an idea - it's a completely open phone standard, with a completely open software stack built on top of it - but to say it's comparable to the iPhone is like saying a transistor radio is comparable to a THX-certified theater soundsystem; it just doesn't stack up. The OpenMoko phone feels like a mish-mash of standards cobbled together into a semi-coherent phone, while the iPhone feels cleaner, acts consistently, and works better. Again, I want the OpenMoko to succeed, but it's not ready to go up against the iPhone and be taken seriously by consumers. Sorry.

Saying that the FreeRunner is a better phone for developers is quite alright, and I encourage the FSF to get out the message that developers of GPLed software should look to the FreeRunner instead of the iPhone. That is the message that the FSF should be sending out. Instead, we get the latest idiotic campaign; a page taken directly from more radical and sinister organizations.

On July 24th, Defective By Design (a campaign by the FSF against DRM) launched the "Ask Apple about the iPhone" campaign. In short, the campaign asks volunteers to book a timeslot with a member of Apple's technical support (the "Genius Bar"), and barrage them with questions about why the iPhone isn't more "open". The tech support person (aka "Genius") is then rated on their answers, and given a score by the volunteer. The volunteer than scampers away to the front of the store to distribute paraphanalia about how the iPhone is a crippled device.

It reads like something out of a PETA playbook for attacking Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Again, I think the FSF is well within their rights to convince developers that they should concentrate on more open devices like the OpenMoko, and I think we should inform people that they should look for more open alternatives when purchasing consumer devices and content, but tying up a tech support professional to ask them questions that are already foregone conclusions to the person asking the questions is simply assinine and serves to alienate the FSF more from those they so desperately want to educate. I'm not sure what sort of "dashboard confessional" they're expecting at the Genius Bar (perhaps someone will see the light, leap from their Apple Tee-Shirt and don the robes of the FSF. Who knows?), but more than likely it will do nothing but steel the resolve of Apple to ignore these loudmouths and ignore them. If the goal is to foster communication, this campaign is designed instead to shut-out those who might listen. If the goal is to educate those who don't know about the FSF, the GPL, and the freedoms they provide, then the lessons learned will be to ignore those know-it-all hotheads from the FSF.

I think someone needs to give Richard Stallman and the FSF the clue-phone, because it seems their OpenMoko phones aren't receiving the call for choosing their battles more wisely.


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