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The coming civil war over general purpose computing (boingboing.net)
279 points by Create on Aug 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

When I read articles like this my fears always move straight to a future where it has become harder to program for play.

I appreciate that this concern is somewhat superficial compared with some of the issues raised in this article, but I feel profoundly grateful to be able to tinker with computers in my spare time.

I feel this more deeply than the fear that my music collection might not survive a computer upgrade or that the government might be watching my internet habits.

I think that we, as programmers, enjoy a luxury that is almost unreproducible in any other field. My wife is a structural biologist, and as much as she loves what she does you can't crystallize proteins in our living room.

I truly hope that however this unfolds that my son will be able to hack on something, freely and happily (if he so desires) in the future.

I think your fear is totally justified. Programming for play is many people's first step towards a deeper understanding of the machines that run so much of the world these days, and that's important.

Programming for play should be the least of your worries when there's a risk of having to ask for permission to do anything some corporation doesn't want you to do on your device.

Or just being prevented from doing it period.

This is one of the reasons I'm such a fan of Apple, despite all the misguided gruff they get here.

Apple always ships free (or near free) development tools with their systems. In the Apple II days it was built in to the ROMS. Nowadays on the Mac AppStore you can download Xcode, for free. (though at one point I think it was $5 for some reason.)

You can develop any mac apps you want, and run them to your hearts content, and you can develop iOS Apps and run them in the simulator (to distribute these apps via apple's store, you only need a $99 membership, which is pretty affordable, compared to the past when it cost $500-$5,000 for such suites of software.)

Its never been easier to be a hacker! And that isn't going to change anytime soon, at least on Apple systems.

(All the apple bashing on HN is from the google distortion field, it isn't reality.)

Hell, you can even develop iOS apps without using any apple tools and distribute them on the web to anyone, for free, and without any regulation by apple. You just have to use javascript and web technologies, but the full iOS UI is available, including things like touch tracking, gyroscope, GPS, etc.

People are so adamant that the iPhone is locked down that many people don't even know this, but it has been in iOS since day one-- in fact it was how Apple wanted everyone to develop apps originally (outside apple's control!) but people kept demanding native apps so apple created the appstore, and the curation of that is a consequence of not wanting malware. (Hard to write javascript malware.)

To even be able to sign your application to run on OS X, you need to pay 99 dollars. And agree to Apple's terms.

You have to agree to pages of Apple's terms if you want to let anyone to run your thing on iOS.

"You only need a $99 membership, which is pretty affordable, compared to the past when it cost $500-$5,000 for such suites of software." - where do you get these numbers? You can put your software for free on sourceforge (AFAIK); also, Debian's software repositories work almost like App Store, but FOR FREE. If you are more commercial, you can use any of other solutions which do not cost "$50-$5,000", you just made that up.

YOU are the one doing distortion field, as I read your comments on Hacker News. Compare how simple is to download source codes and SDKs to Google Android, how simple is to hack the application and run it on your device, how simple is to put it on the market - and how convoluted is it with Apple. You actually can't download the source code to most of iOS.

Personal note: if commenters like you will be more frequent on Hacker News, I will stop reading the comments alltogether.

To even be able to sign your application to run on OS X, you need to pay 99 dollars. And agree to Apple's terms.

This is pure FUD. You only need to sign apps if you are planning on distributing them as pre-compiled binaries, and even then the end user can deactivate gatekeeper in case you haven't signed your app.

If you are writing apps for yourself, you can just compile normally, and deactivate Gatekeeper on your system. This holds equally if you wish to distribute your app to friends and family (telling them to deactivate Gatekeeper...). If you want to distribute to strangers, you may have a tougher time convincing them to deactivate their security to run your app though.

Of course, even if the above wasn't true, this would still be a strawman. The vast majority of people capable of programming well enough to want to distribute their software are more than capable of putting together the 99 bucks needed to get a developer certificate.

where do you get these numbers? You must be too young to remember actually having to buy Turbo C / Visual Studio / Metrowerks, but the parent post is absolutely correct - historically professional-grade developer tools have been quite expensive. It is only relatively recently that we have had the luxury of these tools being available for free.

YOU are the one doing distortion field Seriously? And this advances the debate how?

> This is pure FUD. You only need to sign apps if you are planning on distributing them as pre-compiled binaries, and even then the end user can deactivate gatekeeper in case you haven't signed your app.

Even then, the end user will have to do an extra step, and (I guess) face a Dread Warning against Infectious Diseases.

I say the hassle is big enough to repel nearly any user.

Take a look at how much compilers for various Unices cost a decade ago, and how much embedded development tools cost today. GCC was popular before Linux/*BSD/etc, and for a reason. Yes, free Free tools are widely available today, but $100 for a development environment is historically quite cheap.

You just have to use javascript and web technologies, but the full iOS UI is available, including things like touch tracking, gyroscope, GPS, etc.

You've obviously never developed iOS apps. You do not have access to any of the native Apple UIs through Javascript. No UIViewController, no Core Data, no iCloud, etc etc, just like every other HTML5 platform. You have some mediated access to the device but this is nothing like a real native app.

And every other platform vendor also ships free development tools.

In fairness, you do get a LOT of exposure to the device with JavaScript & HTML5 on iOS: Touch (including Multi-touch sensing), Accelerometer, Gyro, GPS, Compass, Messages, Contacts, Local Storage (SQL or Key/Value), Airplay opt-in, etc..


So, you can get pretty close to a native experience - Ft.com is an example of this. But yes, a native app adds more (iCloud, 3D graphics, Networking, Files, etc.)

It's not $99 to distribute apps. It's $99 for putting software you wrote on any device, including the one you purchased and own. Yes, it may be still less than the cost of dev tools for other archaic platforms but please don't spin this as Apple doing a favor to the community.

The iOs toolchain is business friendly (in that it's great for developers using it to make a living) but its absolutely not hacker friendly or tinkerer friendly in any reasonable way.

This is not true. If you think it is, please provide a link to the Apple dev documentation that proves it.

I'm not an OSX developer myself but plenty of my friends and colleagues have written "scratch the itch" Mac apps for themselves without paying $99.

I'm referring to iOS. Not OSX.

There's no such thing as "near free". Free is a boolean variable, either it is free or it is not free.

Apple does not distribute any free tools to develop and run software for their systems, period. If you want to be a free hacker, it's Linux or Windows, currently. And as another person responded to you, you cannot use the UI elements via javascript and all. Get some docs, seriously.

Actually, Apple does distribute free tools to develop and run software it's in the distribution of the software that you need a license and only if you want to share it with people running Mountain Lion who don't understand how to open something unsigned.

https://developer.apple.com/xcode/ 'Download Xcode 4 for free.'

Xcode is a free download. The Apple development documentation is available for free on their website. You need to register in both cases but it is a free registration.

In addition, Macs ship with a certified compliant Unix interface, and a wide variety of developer tools such as a powerful CLI shell (only recently added on Windows), compilers, vim, etc.

And unlike Windows, Apple donates quite a lot of their code to open source, including the kernel of their OS. Does Windows do that? I don't think so.


Windows hacker? Finding information about system internels is more often then not an easter egg hunt on google.

Say what you will about Windows (and I will even join you), but Microsoft can put out some alarmingly competent docs. I say "can" and not "always do", because where they are lacking, I agree it can be frustrating. That said, in one such scenario the solution for me was to get in touch with a PM at MS and say:

"You designed [system #42]. I'm trying to accomplish [nifty goal] that is an obvious extension of what you suggest that [system #42] should be used for. You said some examples are included with the most recent Windows SDK. After downloading it, I found no such example and the problem seems a little intractable. What gives?"

The response contained an attachment of the overlooked/unincluded examples, and some clarifications about the system I was working with and even explained that some of what I was doing was explicitly NOT possible, for very good reasons (for the record, an earlier version of Windows Search).

I say this as a desktop Linux user, where at times my only recourse for "Why won't [application x] properly fullscreen?" is to go and do just what you suggest: an easter egg hunt on google. Furthermore, the end-all-be-all solution is the same as it is with our Windows example: get in touch with someone at the project and ask for clarification. The difference lies in that with one case, it's someone's job to provide clarification for the system they designed. In the other case, the possibilities are too varied to speculate on (e.g. unmaintained project, antisocial developer).

What you are talking about sounds more like windows developer than windows hacker. Still, almost all of my programming experience has been based on greping source trees in place of documentation. When I do get good documentation (it does happen) I don't know what to do with it and still look at the source.

What really sets open source apart for me in terms of hacking is that I can change the way any component operates, instead of having to jerryrig what would be a simple change using external APIs.

What about the fact that you can't share programs that you write on an iPad? Apple doesn't allow code downloads inside of apps. I would hardly call Apple an open platform anymore.

You keep repeating this stuff about JavaScript having access to the "full iOS UI" but that's completely false. The only way JavaScript developers will be able to write first class mobile applications is if Mozilla's efforts succeed; Apple isn't helping at all.

Surely this argument implies you should be a larger fan of linuxes and BSDs? (And of things like Mozilla's mobile platform.)

Assuming you are correct about non app-store distribution, you still have the problem that few users will ever find those other distribution systems when the app-store is so close and convenient. This can be contrasted with most Linux package distribution systems. From the end users perspective, they work the same way as the app-store (except that most don't have a payment mechanism, and they handle dependencies). However, in addition to the officially supported repository, it is a simple checkbox, in a readily accessible menu, to enable the community supported repositories.

If these repositories are not 'free' enough for you, they make it easy to add 3rd party repositories. This would be the same as Apple letting you integrate non-Apple app-stores seamlessly into the app-store app. Admittedly, at this point we are back in the realm of more advanced users, however the distributions make adding 3rd party repositories as easy as I can imagine (you just need to put the URL in the user-friendly menu). And, once you add another repository, you need to go out of your way to where which repository you are installing from. Assuming Apple does not change their app aceptence policies, and don't have a less strict repository that can be checkbox-enabled, it does not seem difficult to believe that 1 or 2 3rd party stores would gain widespread use. It is even more believable when you look at how common jailbraking is. Now replace the concerns about warranties, bricking, hacking with comfort by how well supported it is.

  (All the apple bashing on HN is from the google distortion field, it isn't reality.)

The world isn't divided into Apple users and Google users. I'm sure I'm not the only person who avoids both, and there's plenty out there who love both.

It's very odd seeing these Apple apologist comments from someone who generally posts spot-on libertarian comments. I'll agree that the present-day behavior of Apple has had few explicit negatives compared to the positives from the curation and the general slickness/ease of use of their products. But pragmatism does not extrapolate into long-term behavior or philosophical justification.

(ps I would think the Google distortion field would complement the Apple one. Both companies are based on centralized control of computing, they just use different technologies to achieve this)

I just watched the whole thing. I liked how Cory Doctorow acknowledged that some of these problems he didn't know the answers to but he seemed satisfied just to get the conversation started.

Near the beginning he flashed a picture of an iPad as an example of a device that records everything you do and there is nothing you can do about it. I had never thought of that; instead I had viewed the iPad as a nice little device that probably would never be hacked, but in a sense it is already hacked as far as my privacy goes.

I happen to like Apple products, running OS X on my Air and just Linux (Ubuntu) on my MBP. From a freedom and privacy perspective I would really like to a bit more fully control my devices by running Linux but I find I can get some types of work done just a little faster using OS X rather than Linux. DRM is not a problem for me on Linux because my Samsung Galaxy S III can play Netflix as can the Nexus table.

I went so far as signing up as an Apple developer early this year to get an early version of Mountain Lion and bought an iPad, but listening to Doctorow and other people who think more deeply about personal rights and freedoms than I do, I am more often thinking of paying the small Linux productivity tax.

BTW, if Apple continues to rule digital markets, it would be ironic if Microsoft saw a business opportunity to make Windows devices respect personal freedoms.

Microsoft seems to be doing exactly the opposite--they are making their devices more locked down in what appears to be an attempt to emulate Apple.

The restrictions on WinRT make this entirely clear and unequivocal--Microsoft is asserting complete control over the device you purchased. You can't install a different OS and you can't install any software outside of the App Store.

If anything, they're threatening to be even worse than Apple by conflating the somewhat free Windows on x86 with the entirely locked-down Windows on ARM.

While I agree this sucks, and I'm personally not interested in Windows devices myself anyways, I'm not sure how you draw the conclusion that this is worse than Apple with iOS... It's exactly the same no?

MS is the old tyrant (continuing it's tyrannical ways). Apple is the new tyrant. If either of them are better than the other, it's pretty much irrelevant since they are both so far beyond what I would describe as acceptable behaviour.

>> -they are making their devices more locked down in what appears to be an attempt to emulate Apple

Providing you can build the walls high enough and the garden large enough, there is nothing as profitable as a walled garden.

All companies that could get away with it would do it.

  > You can't install a different OS 
This only applies on ARM chips. Intel is going to be entering this space soon with x86 chips, IIRC. We'll see how Microsoft responds to that.

Depending on what you do, the 'productivity tax' is often temporary. It can take a while to find out what tools you like best and get them set up just how you like them.

I'd be interested to see some hard proof that an iPad "records everything you do."

I think Cory was making a theoretical point that unless you can open the thing up all the way to the firmware, you can't know "for sure" what it is doing. (An argument than Stallman has made for decades BTW).

That is very different from saying, conclusively, that an iPad is recording everything.

After reading this, I'm reminded of a famous Ben Franklin quote, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

DRM and walled gardens are often said to reduce malware and provide safer computing, but at what cost? As technologists, we can change this and have a say. I'm concerned though that it may already be too late.

As I understand it, Franklin was talking about policies of appeasement.

He was not, after all, a stone-cold anarchist- yet folks insist on interpreting that quote as if he was.

Appeasement is what we'd all be doing if we allow locking down the BIOS. It isn't to solve the malware problem; it isn't to make computing "safe"; its to put OUR computers in the ownership of a few large corporations.

These same corps have long used bureaucracy, paperwork, a maze of rules, large costs to shield their business model from real competition, and that's how they'll do this. Getting the privilege to have access to our own property will be obstructed by all these barriers. Barriers which are minor for a large corp, but insurmountable by private citizens or open-source programmers.

To be suspicious of those who have long shown a disregard for the greater good isn't promoting anarchy; its plain good sense.

Rainbows End: "No User-Serviceable Parts Within". Technology is depicted as black boxes all the way down. Cars shut down when driven outside of sanctioned roads. LARP content unavailable unless you have the rights.

Reflections on Trusting Trust: "You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself." The proposal is that Trusted Computing is supposed to defeat this truism. I have my doubts.

I hope that we will be able to do irreparable damage to Trusted Computing and make it untenable. This large jail will be broken out of like all the others.

We already live in a world where the rich can buy new legs and survive HIV better than the poor. The poor are already shamefully misused by social, legal, and economic systems stacked against them. Adding computers just adds a more explicit level of control.

The solutions to the new problems are the same as the solutions to the old problems: enfranchise the poor, make government responsive to them, give them the tools for mobility and independence. The hackers will continue opening the technological ways. As a kind of Gotterdammerung last resort, the printable gun, the darknet, PGP keys.

And that means that the problems are more scary because of future shock and culture shock than anything else. They're Hollywood nightmares about the future, but the future turns out to be, good and evil, the same old thing.

Some day, Owning a computer that cannot be bricked by govt or "Intellectual Property Owners" at their whim will regulated like the brewing of alcohol. You will have to pay through your nose to run even lame apps. Maybe even your government can get a cut so that it can go chasing weapons of mass destruction using the money extorted from the gullible masses.

The issue I have with arguments from folks such as Cory is that they presume too much in favour of openness. Many prefer to be regulated rather than have to make decisions on every little detail, that's arguably the whole Apple appeal in a nutshell vs. Linux, and why it's so productive. (Distros like Ubuntu arguably do this too at a much smaller scale.)

Cory is effectively advocating "technology survivalism", where no company will be your trusted for keeping your computers "safe" and "not lying to you". I think it's rather utopian. As far as I can tell, web-of-trust approaches only work in the software world, the hardware manufacturer ultimately has to be trusted to some level, either de facto by consumer belief or de jure by regulation.

Ultimately, his whole premise about "owner freedom" vs "user freedom" may be fatally flawed. It assumes a) Apple wants to control both owners and users to do what they want, and b) owners must be able to control what happens on devices, and this is a necessary precondition to user freedom. I would argue a) Apple just wants to help users with a better experience and b) it's unlikely owners will ever be technically savvy enough to control things, they will always want to delegate things to some degree -- even technical people do this, looking at the number of devs that use Apple laptops.

Cory also oversimplifies the ownership problem. No device owner actually "owns" the software they install, they license it - even with open source. Apple arguably has been the a great force for "user freedom", by constraining what "owners" (i.e. software developers) can and can't do on Apple devices, thus enabling freedoms to the users themselves -- freedom from malware, bad user experiences such as poor battery life, etc. They enable the end user to work around restrictions on content available on the native device by providing a completely open and high quality web browser to get at anything they want in a sandboxed environment. But they also allow the device owner to restrict user actions in the "open web" with (e.g.) parental controls.

Apple's restrictions have little to do with controlling device owners -- they're about improving the user experience.

Clearly the device owners trust Apple today, but Apple could fairly easily move to a TPM-based "certainty" approach where owners get to pick their App Store, if that's what consumers eventually want, and they lose sales over it. But, for now, the market doesn't seem to be arguing in favour of this kind of nuanced approach.

edit: typos

> Apple's restrictions have little to do with controlling device owners

I would think you were making a joke if not for the earnest tone of your post. But, come on, that is a ridiculous statement to make.

We had free as in freedom, free as in beer, and then Steve Jobs came up with free as in "freedom from porn". You appear to buy into that doublespeak redefinition of freedom without irony.

The Soviet Union made a similar to give people freedom -- from class distinction, religious persecution, etc., and it used the same logic. (And was just as true.)

Apple's restrictions are all about controlling device owners to make Apple more money. (Otherwise they would be "suggestions".)

You may not install apps that don't pay Apple 30% of their revenues. You may not install apps that compete with Apple's favored apps. You may not even keep functionality you've already bought from Apple's store and been using, if Apple realizes after the fact that it conflicts with their lucrative hardware licensing deals (Airfoil Speakers).

I'm not saying there aren't user-experience benefits to be had from a locked-down experience; there are, and Apple obviously knows it.

I'm saying freedom doesn't what you think it means, and I don't think even Frank Luntz could make it mean that.

"The Soviet Union made a similar"

Oh come on, one is a market proposition and the other is a forced choice at the barrel of a gun. Is the "no shirt no shoes no service" sign at the store down the street the second coming of Stalin too?

Ha ha, OK I admit that analogy was too heavy-handed for the context. It didn't feel so as I wrote it, maybe because I had already walked it back from 'Arbeit macht frei', which was the first thing to come to mind.

The point I wanted to make was that it feels kinda creepy when people start believe the propaganda (of a government, corporation, cult, or whatever it may be) that calls it "freedom", when it's actually the other thing.

You're right that it's certainly not freedom that Apple is selling.

The correct counterargument to Doctorow et al has to take the freedom issue head on, it looks like this:

When people move from the country to a small town they are forced to give up some freedoms. When the small town turns into a large town even more. A large city, even more.

I can't crank the stereo to 11 and play it at all hours every night on my block of dense apartment buildings. I also can't keep a pet rhino, walk around outside naked or throw my tv out the window onto the sidewalk 14 floors down. I could list these all day and there are some legitimate things I should be free to do but I can't, that's a slightly harmful byproduct we accept for convenience.

Regulation is an easy scapegoat but every 'wild west' town with no rules either got a serious government willing to make those trade offs or it died out. That's universal not just in the US.

One of the well known promises of technology is to shrink the world and connect everyone to everyone. In short we'll all be much closer cyberneighbors then today and there will be large sacrifices to privacy and other freedoms just like people who moved or found themselves in cities had to make.

Another well known byproduct of technology has been the amount of potential damage a small group of people can do (Aum cult, McVeigh, Unabomber, Amerithrax). This again will act as a multiplier on the trade offs we will be forced to make as we move from the ability to 3d print guns to bomb materials to nuclear and biologic molecules.

The deeply interconnected world of tomorrow will need people to wear virtual pants. QED.

You make some good points, but I think it's important to make a distinction between the management of behavior by fiat and the management of behavior by response to improper actions. The examples you give for restricted behaviors are clearly valid, but they don't imply that I should not be allowed to own a stereo or TV on the chance that I might crank it to 11 or throw it out the window. I think that the issue at stake here is more closely related to the opposite case, where we would be disallowed from owning those things for fear of future misbehavior.

In my opinion, there is a profound difference between limiting a person's behavior by eliminating their ability to decide versus limiting it by responding to transgressions. The logic of limiting ability to decide ends with a gilded cage, which is something I'd prefer to avoid.

So will we be able to have sex without the entire 3D full-sensory experience recording immediately being uploaded to 2050 Youtube?

> Apple's restrictions are all about controlling device owners to make Apple more money. (Otherwise they would be "suggestions".)

It's worth pointing out that Apple allows free (beer and speech) apps in the iOS App Store, and in fact most of the apps are free (as in beer). They are not making any money on those--to the contrary, they are an expense that Apple incurs.

Now, it's true that to get a free app into the App Store, a developer must pay their $99 to get their app signed. But--that still does not make Apple any money from device owners.

Code signing is a well understood security for verifying the integrity of end-user software; this is a plausible explanation for the app distribution lockdown of iOS, especially since that is Apple's own explanation.

And of course the App Store on the Mac (and code signing in general) remains optional.

You seem to be under the impression that phones once were free & loose, and then Apple locked them down. Phones never were free - carriers controlled what went on them, and what features were used. Apple opened devices up to a level never before seen - no more carrier crap pre-loaded, and a serious push to improve data pipes and 3G availability throughout North America. Not to mention an app marketplace NOT controlled by the carriers, and an web browsing experience that doesn't require you to be snooped on by WAP gateways.

Do you not still see the (baseless) grief Apple gets from carriers about how their phones are "data hogs"? Or how the media breathlessly claims the retina display is going to clog up all of our bandwidth from higher resolution video and pictures?

Phones were always locked down heavily, Apple blew up that up to a large extent, but not completely, of course, as they are in business.... But today's variety of walled gardens are mostly untouchable by the carriers.

> Apple's restrictions are all about controlling device owners to make Apple more money. (Otherwise they would be "suggestions".)

No, the restrictions are all about curating an experience. Suggestions require choice. Most people don't want to make choices on how their phones work, they want to be handed experience with most decisions made for them, and for popular variations to be tweakable. "Opinionated software".

> You may not install apps that don't pay Apple 30% of their revenues.

Well, yes, they are capitalists, shame on them.

> You may not install apps that compete with Apple's favored apps.

That sucked, I agree, but that's changing. Chrome is out for iOS. Alternative Email clients are out. Apple generally is known for good customer service according to most customer satisfaction surveys, and presuming these people are semi-rational beings, that usually implies Apple actually listens to them (eventually).

> I'm saying freedom doesn't what you think it means, and I don't think even Frank Luntz could make it mean that.

You seem to be confusing political freedom with freedom to violate others' property.

Firstly, you do realize that you have political freedom -- people are completely free to jailbreak their phones, no police will come after you. If you violate your carrier's T&Cs they can fire you as a customer, but that's due to years of historically poor regulation of telecom in the USA.

Secondly, none of the software you use, that you haven't written, is owned by you. All owners of that software have a restriction on your behaviour with that software, including free or open source software. You have never been completely free when you use software. Thus, degree of openness is just a feature. Apple is trying to find a balance that people care about. Naturally developers & technical folks don't like losing the freedom to tinker, while most people couldn't care less. Apple needs to maintain a developer community that tinkers, though. So it's a balancing act.

There are ways to offer predefined paths for those people that don't care about choice without taking away choice from everyone. Apple has completely failed at providing this because they're hungry for control and want to impose their will upon their customers. Ideally all people that use computers.

>Firstly, you do realize that you have political freedom -- people are completely free to jailbreak their phones, no police will come after you

Apple wanted to make jailbreaking illegal and were stopped by the USG. They wanted police to come after you, but apparently you don't remember that part.

> Secondly, none of the software you use, that you haven't written, is owned by you

There's a huge difference between not owning software and still controlling it because it's your machine and not owning software and being out of luck because Apple can remote-delete it.

> There are ways to offer predefined paths for those people that don't care about choice without taking away choice from everyone. Apple has completely failed at providing this because they're hungry for control and want to impose their will upon their customers. Ideally all people that use computers.

And their customers are thanking them for it. Apple's control is primarily about improving the overall experience of the user, and secondarily about extracting as much revenue as they can from the platform they created. Seems like a good tradeoff to iOS users (for now).

I completely agree there should be competitive alternatives to Apple's approach. My point is that openness is a feature, and the market should decide the level of openness that matters. So far the market seems to support the theory that a general purpose computing model like the PC world does not suit the mobile device world.

> There's a huge difference between not owning software and still controlling it because it's your machine and not owning software and being out of luck because Apple can remote-delete it.

And if they abuse that trust, they'll lose customers.

You're working from the assumption that openness (and by extension freedom, privacy) are features, but they're more than that.

They are essential human needs and the market can not be relied upon to provide them, they must be enforced. Convenience is very alluring and freedom is very difficult. Most people will choose convenience, that I already know - what is extremely important is that there is always a Free option available and that corporations like Apple are mercilessly criticized whenever they fail to uphold the ideals of openness.

You can relax and think the market will look out for your rights and you'll wake up with your hands tied behind your back parasubvert. These "tradeoffs" always seem nice until you're trapped.

You are absolutely right that is my assumption. I do not believe software openness is an ideal or moral position. It's an economic feature, through and through, in my opinion. I am a big supporter of open source for the economic benefits, but I do not subscribe to the FSF philosophy of freedom.

> All owners of that software have a restriction on your behaviour with that software, including free or open source software.

Quoting the GNU GPL (v2, since it's less legalese-esque):

> The act of running the Program is not restricted

But the act of copying, distributing, or modifying said software is restricted. Much more so than, say, the Apache license. Those are behaviours too.

The GPL controls you "in your own interests", or to quote them:

> To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.

The point is that you don't own the software you run, the owner has a claim on your freedom. In GPL's case it's for what they feel is the greater good (more free software, and limited free-loading).

Well, so does a law that prevents you from selling your labor as a slave, but I don't think you would see that as bad.

For the fact of 'owning' the software... well, as long as you don't redistribute it, who cares. And if you do restribute it, why should you take away from your users the same freedom that was given to you? (by making your software proprietary or by limiting the use they can make)

What does slavery have to do with this? There's ample discussions over the past 10 years over why many people disagree with the approach the GPL takes as being too restrictive and freedom-restricting, and not actually in the spirit of "open". I don't have to even argue that, it's been done before ad nauseum. Of course many support the GPL and it's approach. The point on GPL is that "freedom is a feature", it's all in the eye of the beholder of what's more important - free to use & redistribute, or free to use but only redistribute under certain circumstances. The choice has massive implications for people using that software - I've seen many a review of weeding all GPLv3 or AGPL dependencies out of a product for this very reason.

The original point is that Cory seems to think that protecting user's freedoms first requires securing device owner's freedoms, though the two come into conflict regularly, and he doesn't have clear answers of how to resolve that. I'm suggesting that he's not looking at ownership broadly enough.

Fair enough, as you say it's in the eye of the beholder.

What I'd like is a precise use of terms. Saying (as most do) that GPL is restrictive is imprecise. As you better put it, GPL is restrictive on redistribution.

As for ownership, I'd like you to expand on what you think about it. As you say Cory didn't look broadly enough, so I'd like to read further opinions about it.

Good point, it strikes me that with the changing landscape perhaps Eric Raymond and others who claim "open source" has won and we no longer need "free software" may want to rethink that.

"Phones were always locked down heavily ?"

Ah, you must not have lived through the PDA-phones age. That's a good 5-10 years even before the iPhone came out.

Those were still basically locked down on the phone/baseband part, with a PDA glued on. They weren't anywhere near as closely coupled as today's smartphones.

I think we were talking about applications when we say "locked down"...

The applications didn't have API access to anything "phonelike" about the phone; it was just a PDA glued onto a phone. You could write your own PDA apps, but nothing really interesting.

Most of the applications were far more advanced that what you find on the iPhone and Android (at least until recently after pouring years of development into iOs and Android) - there's no way you can disqualify the PDA apps as being "not really interesting", and you had access to phone functions through the development environment. Of course, there was no accelerator, no multi-touch screen, no GPS, so a number of functions were missing but the software part was advanced and very capable. That was when the iPod was big as a brick and could not run any application, for your information.

What platform or apps are you talking about? I remember WinCE (Compaq Ipaq) which I hacked to run Linux, but I only ever had the PDA form of those, and it was essentially a small laptop (ipaq + cradle + 4GB HDD on CF card + metricom ricochet modem), and the Handspring (PalmOS) things. Nothing on PalmOS was particularly advanced. WinCE did have a lot of desktop-app-ports, but I didn't know anyone actually used them.

I used applications on WinCE - I had a Toshiba PDA. I cannot remember all the application names, but SPB was one of the key developpers for the platforms and their organizer/calendar/scheduler apps (Spb Calendar if I remember correctly) was much better than what you could find on iOS or Android until recently. There were also applications that could open and edit actual word documents and excel sheets (forgot the name) which worked pretty well for tweaking existing files.

The main drawback was the lack of a good browser - these were the days before firefox/chromium so there were no real alternatives out there.

But I had Skype running to call people YEARS before any smartphone could do it. Smartphones were just catching up to what the original PDAs were capable of doing, basically.

An iPad is not a phone. An iPod Touch is not a phone. Even on phones, many, maybe most, aspects of the lockdown have nothing to do with carriers' interests. Apple has decided it likes being like a carrier; its relation to users has changed from computer company to jealous boyfriend.

(I'm not getting involved beyond your first paragraph.)

There is a spectrum of openness when it comes to computing devices. At one end you have computers that are very open, with all of the problems that come with that, and at the other extreme you have fixed-function devices such as printers. In between, you have things like game consoles, smartphones, and other mobile devices.

iDevices are more closed than computers, sure, but they are much more open than say a Nintendo DS, whose SDK costs an order of magnitude more than iOS devlopment. This is as it should be, as iDevices are more flexible than a games console.

Viewed as a continuum of openness, Apple's products seem to me to be exactly where you would expect them to be. You could argue that they should be alittle more open, some even argue that they should be more closed, but overall their success in the market would seem to bear out the theory that they are roughly in the right spot.

This claim (that there's a big niche for curated computing with one central curator) would sway me a little if it weren't for all the patent litigation. And the really strong network effects in OS adoption.

Where I'd expect them to be: no correlation a priori between whether a computer has a multitouch interface and whether its own owner can choose what software to run.

"Phones never were free - carriers controlled what went on them" This is only relevant for USA, not the rest of the world. All around the globe you could walk into a store, buy any phone you wanted, buy a carrier's SIM and insert into that. So the Apple model is a kind of dropback.

I really don't see how Apple's approach is any better than good defaults with hidden configuration. Nobody is arguing that you should have to configure and manage everything yourself--just that such an option should exist and be relatively accessible. If you don't want to do it, just ignore that option; if you do, it's right there and reachable.

Your argument seems to be similar to something along the lines of "porn is bad, porn filters are good therefore we should ban all porn from the internet". The best solution is to allow you to block it--maybe even by default--but also allow you not to block it.

"I really don't see how Apple's approach is any better than good defaults with hidden configuration. "

Because nothing is really hidden? Because a decent percentage of users would download pirated apps and sideload trojans?

Thanks to jailbreaking this is rampant in the iOS world as well. Here in SE Asia I have yet to see a non-jailbroken iPhone.

Apple's restrictions have little to do with controlling device owners -- they're about improving the user experience.

But Android has shown that it's possible to have a curated, restricted experience for the typical user without totally shutting out more advanced users or users with different priorities. That extra little bit of control that Apple insists on just happens to give them a tremendous amount of extra power. It's hard to imagine that this is a coincidence.


How is it improving my experience when they ban apps that turn the device into a wifi hotspot?

Oh right, they prefer money to letting users have the freedom to choose such a thing.

Has nothing to do with Apple's money. The carrier's money, sure. And things like trust, battery life, etc. But that's everywhere.

Some really scary thought processes in these replies...

Apple put functionality in their phones that blocks an EXISTING Wi-Fi hotspot feature for their customers at the will of the carriers. The carriers that I have already paid to get internet access. In my case I had a 5yr old feature phone that I could use to connect to the internet (wired) while the iPhone would not allow that because the carrier (EU, not US) completely disabled the option, not even allowing it for a fee. I fail to see how that was helpful to me.

Thankfully that's not everywhere, that's only in Apple-verse and Windows Phone-verse. My phone is capable of creating a wifi hotspot without requiring permission from anyone. And while it's very thoughtful of you, let me worry about battery life.

> Apple put functionality in their phones that blocks an EXISTING Wi-Fi hotspot feature for their customers at the will of the carriers.

Where was it pre-existing? Tethering != WiFi Hotspot.

Furthermore, carriers can change their minds. They did because the iPhone is taking up too much of their bandwidth due to its popularity.

If your phone is capable of creating a WiFi hotspot without requiring the carrier's permission AND they require you to have specific plans for activating such a feature, then you're basically violating their Terms of Service.

If your carrier allows you to run a WiFi hotspot on any plan, then you're on a great carrier and should continue to do business with them.

AT&T has the majority of iPhones in the USA, and they're not a great carrier. Thus Apple is going to bend an a few matters, because angry customers getting cut off is not in their interests (and AT&T is quite notorious for doing this - I was suspended once for using a Jailbreak WiFi hotspot in 2008, for example.)

So actively enforcing a way for the carrier to exploit for further income doesn't bring preferenciality when being picked up by said carrier as a middle stage profit model enabler ?

Should we all show this good will towards all brands and just call all lock downs the greatest neutral thing ever because they are clearly just the bios chips makers fault ? Who wins with stuff like that. It's not like those sorts of actions and their ramifications bring advantage to anyone else down the line...

I think you're reading more into my statement than was there.

The carriers in the USA, and their behaviours, are reality. They enforce restrictions. Therefore, phones are restricted. If you root your phone, and use features your carrier don't want used, they can fire you as a customer. Apple enabling features or apps that get you fired won't win them any fans other than hardcore technical folks that want to live on the edge.

The way to change that is... either a) market competition, which is extremely difficult due to capital needs owing to the sheer size of the USA, or b) regulation, as in Europe.

In reality, whenever a brand enforces to not allow software that can use the hardware in perfectly normal expedients, it isn't just "protecting" customers from being "fired". It is simply enabling abusive carrier behaviour and that is a negative when you consider its data pseudo-segmentation those charging practices are built upon.

"Apple enabling features or apps that get you fired won't win them any fans other than hardcore technical folks that want to live on the edge." <- that looks lifted from a 90's hacker movie. You have this passive aggressive streak that cuts your reasoning off just when you would be able to identify a brand/carrier plot to squeeze customers income while the tech could be used without over charging for pseudo differentiated services. But whatever rocks your boat, if you like thinking of it like a big-brand protecting you from the big bad carrier, go ahead. Let a brand that allows for this sort of thing have a free pass, it's your call.

"The issue I have with arguments from folks such as Cory is that they presume too much in favour of openness. Many prefer to be regulated rather than have to make decisions on every little detail, that's arguably the whole Apple appeal in a nutshell vs. Linux, and why it's so productive."

I think that's a false dilemma. I agree that's the current state of things, but I don't think openness requires the burden of pervasive required configuration. I think this is more about a cultural failing among developers in the OS world. It is slowly changing.

I wish you were right. It would be the best of all worlds.

So why don't they build in an escape hatch?

It would be simple enough to have a very annoying warning when the user turned off the lockdown.

I think over time they have been building many escape hatches. If enough users want it, they'll build one big one. So far, though, I don't think there's a lot of evidence that users really care, other than technical folks.

Carrier restrictions, on the other hand, will always be there to some degree, unless Apple decides to buy a US or Global carrier, and upend the market. That will suck in some ways (more concentration of power) but not in others (they'd change practices in favour of a better user experience, to move people to them).

This misses the mark, as I've said before. Privacy is the #1 problem; just as computers and the internet make it trivially easy to copy other people's IP (agree with the existence of IP or not, it's a fact of the modern marketplace), it also makes it easy for other people to monitor you, whether those others are governments, corporate proxies for governments, corporate proxies for private interests, or private actors. Hyperbolic anxiety attacks over lockdown? GMAFB - the modern world is a hacker's nirvana compared to the functional rigidity that was the norm during the home computer revolution of the 1980s. Back then, electronic devices were much more expensive than today, so that while non-digital things like VCRs were far easier to explore with a soldering iron, they were also engineered to within an inch of their lives and were not easy to repurpose to other tasks.

The whole kerfuffle about 'general-purpose computing' is a foolish distraction. It's like citing the existence of ready-made wood furniture as evidence of a war on general-purpose carpentry. General-purpose computing is easier than ever because it's accessible at a wider range of scales than ever before, from geek-friendly microcontroller kits to distributed clustering architectures. The issue is privacy, and the fact is that the US doesn't have a well-defined legal standard for it, nor any authority dedicated to its preservation.

On the up side, while this is going to lead to a good deal of conflict I have hope that most of that is going to take place within markets and via legislatures.

I've always viewed privacy and user freedom as 2 sides of the same coin. The lack of privacy on the internet is not because of the nature of the internet, it is because when you go to a website, you send unnesasary information that you are not aware of, and the current model is that the website owns your data.


Once Apple loses and Android (or "open platforms", whatever that means) win the general purpose computing war, and every technology illiterate device owner is telling their phone, computer, tablet boot loaders what software sources they trust (Ubuntu, ACLU, EFF, and Wikileaks, natch), we still have a problem.

Computers are everywhere, from vending machines to subway turnstiles, to pacemakers, and that users are going to be easily oppressed by owners' restrictions. Thus we need user-overrides to be able to overcome this oppression. This is all about the effectiveness of decentralized decision making and thus was supported by both Hayek and Marx for opposite reasons. Thus libertarians shouldn't whine about property rights violations. In fact they should support it, because it's just a natural extension of why the "general purpose computing war" was won in favour of openness, it was all about regulation (by Apple, or the Government) vs. owner's property rights to run what they want on their computers. And property rights will win (we presume).

(Insert lots of debatable philosophical asides, historical allegories, and modern anecdotes to justify this thesis.)

In summary, defeating the forces of regulation (:hint: Apple :hint:) is what I call the "war" on general purpose computers, and this war is all about defending owner's rights to run what they want on their computers. And though I don't explicitly say it will be won by the forces of openness, it's completely obvious that the world will determine that regulating computers is the wrong way to solve problems and we'll all be happily using trusted bootloaders that only run owners' approved code (not what Apple, or the government, wants us to run).

The following war after THAT one is won, will be a "civil war" for users rights... and that I can't solve. "Agreeing to disagree on this one isn't good enough. We need to start thinking now about the principles we'll apply when the day comes. If we don't start now, it'll be too late."

[end synopsis]

I can't quite respond to this yet... words fail me.

edit: Rewording on tl;dr

I read it this morning and have had a thought:

He talks about determining the


user of a computer.

He also says that a Boeing 747 and a Car are both examples of computers.

So, the thought I had was, when you have 1000 passengers in a automated train, it would be impossible to determine the


user of the train.

It may also not be wise to allow


user of the train to control the software.


Therefore, there will be no civil war and users will be doomed to not have control over devices they are using.

The "debate" is akin to asking "What happens when slave owners finally wrest control of their slaves from the government? When someone is being served by a slave, that slave, is really, acting for their owner's interest. The slave could be eavesdropping on conversations, poisoning food on behalf of the owner, not acting to the user's interests to the exclusion of everyone else's."

What about computers that are not controlled by any entity, period. ?

I'm not saying that computers ARE slaves, just that the current debate resembles one ABOUT slaves. I'm not talking about "Strong A.I." either, just software that can provide a service and earn enough money to pay for the CPU time they use.[1]



[1] This is probably the wrong answer, but just a thought.

Problem is not depriving users of control, problem is transfer owner's control to third party.

So (in your example) it's not about giving train control to passengers, it's about train being controlled by transport company who bought it, not by manufacturer or some other third party.

At around 51:30, there is an off-topic question from the audience, which leads to an great answer:

Q: What can you say about making a living writing things. Will you advise it?

A: If you want to make a living writing things I would advise you to stop trying, because that is a bit like saying “I want to make a living buying lottery tickets”. Sounds like a If you don’t have a plan B for earning a living, you have the wrong career. Writing is a very very high-risk entrepreneurial venture that almost everyone who tries it fails at. Some people have succeeded using CC and some fraction without using CC, but they are rounding errors against all the people who try to earn a living with writing.

Ouch! As a founder of a textbook startup it makes me wonder on this Monday morning. I guess he is talking specifically about writing fiction. Textbooks must be OK, Right?

Likely an important talk, however I think it is googled-down too much compared to the original talk at the 28C3 [1]. ( Android as model of a free OS is just a tribute to the organizers methinks.) In the 28C3 talk Cory developed the argument against DRM ( and locked down computers) more carefully.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUEvRyemKSg

"Android as model of a free OS is just a tribute to the organizers methinks."

Yeah, I'm sure the fact that you can download the source code to it, make any changes you want, and redistribute that source code or that you can install any app you want on an Android handset whether it's in the blessed market or not has nothing to do with it being open. Nothing at all.

He lost my interest halfway through when talking about TPM and failing to examine Remote Attestation. Yes, owners having control of the platform verification keys is quite important. But even in that world, if the TPM has a user-inaccessible signing key, the battle is set to be lost. If the sheer majority of the consumer market trusts a handful of OSs, banks et al will start requiring use of those "trusted" OSs to access online services. We're then right back in the same situation with no control over the computer in front of you.

I think in the sheer majority of situations (excepting eg ATMs), fail-dead tamper resistance is a terrible goal. Ultimately, you either have to trust the physical security of the hardware in front of you or a third party service - there is no middle ground. Evil maid attacks are local, targeted, and user-mitigable through physical security and tamper-evidence. The requirements of trusted third parties are centrally developed, systematic, and mandatory.

Sadly, I believe a lock down of computers is inevitable. Look at what happens when there is a security incident or some perceived violation of privacy. Lots of press and a visit by your company's C-level executives to Capital Hill so lawmakers can put on a circus. If you believe Android will continue to be more open than iOS, then I would just say a couple of more visits to DC will cure that.

I wonder how many fortune 500 address books kept in Outlook of their salespeople were uploaded by an Windows app? Put the machine in your pocket and the cries for safety and privacy win. These Post-PC devices are amazing tools except for the people who make them sing and dance.

I really would love a open hardware platform just for programmers.

Have you ever thought about having to fight for your rights to install Linux? Not 'call your congressman' fight, but actual take to the streets, civil war, fight, for that right?

That site design gave me an aneurysm.

I was put off at first but discovered that by using Page Down it was more slide show-ish (and I'll admit kind of cool) and less headache inducing.

In the future, if a developer wants to write and distribute software without having to ask permission from 10 different platform manufacturers, he will have to stick with web apps.

TLDR please?


DRM doesn't work and is bad

regulation doesn't work and is bad

the gubmint's jackbooted thugs will force cochlear implants on you to make you patriotic

because the market won't demand free as in stallman computing I've decided to frame it as a human rights issue

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