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I normally have the same sentiment about RMS, but one of his responses here really ticked me off in the 'clarity of purpose' department: The bit about the microwaves (#23)

'Installing software' is a fairly abstract concept, especially given how liberally RMS likes to see the GPL used beyond normal software. To that end, I think that if he were truly logically pure, the same logic would apply to the iPhone. But, he would never agree that allowing something like an iPhone to be OK with free software (rightfully so), and so I think that should have demanded that every bit of that microwave be free. And everything else in his life.

Also, his comments on co-op food "Thus, food co-ops are not useful for me. I like them in principle." GPL-encumbered libraries are not useful for me. I like them in principle. Good day sir.

Your comparison of the microwave to the iPhone is just false. The point is that if the software is simple enough that it's pretty obviously bug-free, and you have no reasonable need to tinker with it, there's no reason you should need the source for the microcontroller. If the controller isn't working, the source is probably not going to help you. You just need a new microcontroller. On the flip side, there's no reasonable need to extend the microwave's software.

The iPhone, by contrast, has millions upon millions of reasons you might need/want to tinker with the software. Hence the demand for source. Seriously, RMS is not the one with a logic problem.

When I heard RMS speak a few years ago, he made the distinction between devices like microwaves, and general purpose computing devices. The latter you want to be running Free Software. But for the former it's not really an issue.

Unfortunately, the line between the two is blurry at best. For example, I'm not sure how well this jives with the case of the printer software which provided the catalyst for RMS starting the FS movement in the first place.

Very blurry indeed.

See for example, "Predictable Programs in Barcodes":


From the abstract: "...In particular, we consider programs for microwave ovens, which provide a basic open API for controlling cooking times..."

The authors were only able to _simulate_ a microwave oven, presumably because the software on real microwave ovens is closed. A reasonable argument could be made that the proprietary nature of microwave oven software has limited innovation in this market.

Think of it this way, the printer itself probably has some firmware in it. That firmware source code isn't as important as the printer driver, which is what allows you to use the printer from a general purpose computing device. Without the driver, the printer is useless.

Reasons why you want to tinker with the software? I can come up with plenty.

The point is not that the iPhone should be considered the same as a microwave, but that there is no hard line. If you are going to be a fundamentalist, like RMS, you need to carry it through to all things. There is no point where a microwave becomes definably different than an iPhone. Its a continuum.

This exact same argument could be used on the theoretical pacemaker in another question. But he believes the pacemaker should free software. His response there could have been tongue-in-cheek, but I can't quite tell.

Isn't he using these two situations to show how he can advocate a reasonable common ground for free software advocates, but he personally holds himself to a higher standard as he tries to be the beacon for Free Software, and secondarily, that to replace non-free software, sometimes you have to closely blackbox it:

"The only way I could justify this is if I began developing a free replacement for that very program. It is ok to use a nonfree program for the purpose of developing its free replacement." - RMS answering 22.

Who gets to decide if there is "no reasonable need"? Apple clearly believes (just like the microwave manufacturer) that there is "no reasonable need" to extend the iphones software.

The iPhone is pretty much marketed and sold as a multi-purpose computing device. There is a huge market for installing software on it, there is a development environment etc. People know this when they buy it. It is very obviously a computer-phone.

When you buy a microwave, you are buying it to heat food. You are not expecting to be able to browse the web on it or play games. If you are, then you need your head examined or to invent this new product (if you are right that it's a reasonable/desirable expectation, there should be a market for it). I think the distinction is actually very very clear, continuum or not.

Once the microwave starts allowing for remote control and twittering its status, the line does become more blurred ;)

So, iPod classic is OK but iPod touch is not? What about a TV? A TV that can play youtube viedos? A car? The kindle? The drobo? Are they all multi-purpose computing devices? The distinction is actually not as very very clear as you think.

Anywhere minor modifications to the firmware could cause serious injury, it makes sense to restrict access to the firmware, because the firmware is a very small part of a hardware system that has been well-tested for safety. This makes the car and the microwave off limits.

iPod classic, it's not going to hurt anyone if you screw with the firmware, you should be free to tinker to your heart's content. There are also enough obvious deficiencies (lack of support for a variety of codecs) which can be improved.

Same with a TV, the Kindle, the Drobo.

Clearly the success of the app store shows that there's a desire to extend the functionality of the phone. Apple just doesn't believe that there's a reasonable need to do it beyond a certain point or to do it without their permission.

However, no one is clamoring to write apps for a microwave. A microwave really just has one function and as long as it does that one thing then it doesn't really matter how the software works.

> A microwave really just has one function and as long as it does that one thing then it doesn't really matter how the software works.

To a hardware hacker that would be a false statement.

What if I want to change what the buttons do? On my microwave, you have to type in the power setting before the time, what if I always want to default to 100% power unless I hit a specific button first? What if I want to hook a smoke detector up to the microwave so it will automatically shut off if its burning something?

I can actually see the point of the microwave running software that you can't mess around with, it wouldn't be too hard to bypass the safety like that and someone might end up getting hurt. That said, there are plenty of other ways in which you can hurt someone using a microwave that do not involve the software, taping out the interlocks, rewiring the thing and using it as a blunt weapon are a few.

Tinkering with the software on your phone has much less potential to do so, for me it's simple if it has software in it and you bought it then you should be able to tinker with it.

The iPad is pushing us closer to computer-as-appliance. The distinction may not be so clear-cut in the future.

The real weird thing is that RMS is OK with microwaves but could not accept an implanted device that runs proprietary software unless he started developing a free replacement for it.

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