Every now and then, people ask me why I steer clear of iThings. Explaining my view over and over again is tedious, so I’ve decided to present my reasons in writing. When this topic comes up next time I just need to point people to this post, which will save a lot of time on both sides.
Open-source veteran Richard Stallman, founder of GNU and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has already contributed his share to the topic. I do agree with most of his arguments but I still want to tell the story from my point of view.
First of all, let me emphasize that it has not always been like that. As a matter of fact, I used to be an Apple fan myself, even though this was in the early 1980s. My first home computer was an Apple II clone and I badly wanted to own a real Apple II, I can tell you. Alas, it was too expensive for an eighth grader’s measly monthly allowance.
Even though my clone was not the real thing, I loved it, since it behaved exactly like the real thing. It came with many extension slots which allowed you to plug in various expansion cards. It ran all kinds of software, even though I was initially mostly interested in games. Later, I bought a Z80 extension card which gave me access to the world of serious software like CP/M, dBase II, WordStar, and most importantly: legendary Turbo Pascal.
The Apple II was cool because it was open, extensible, actually even hackable, both in terms of software and hardware. A friend of mine did some soldering on the motherboard and instead of the normal/reverse monochrome fonts, we suddenly had normal/high-intensity fonts. (I know it doesn’t sound like much these days but at the time this was definitely something to brag about.)
I’m also the proud owner of quite a few posters from Apple’s “Think different” campaign, the one showing Richard Feynman is my favorite, followed by Albert Einstein and Thomas A. Edison.
Then, shortly before the turn of the millennium, they took the rainbow colors out of the logo and shifted their focus from computers to lifestyle products for would-be hipsters. Still with a lot of emphasis on technology, but zero tolerance towards openness. It dawned on me that the true meaning of “Think different” was this:
- Design products that are radically different (not necessarily better) in every respect to what people are used to.
- Lure people into buying these products by promising them to be part of an elite.
- Once they got hooked to the radically different design, they will never leave their jail again and continue buying iThings for the rest of their lifes.
In 2004, I purchased a 4th generation iPod and I was convinced that I would never have to buy an MP3 player again. 20 GiB ought to be enough for everyone! But one sad day, right in the middle of a lengthy run through the woods, right in the middle of a suspense-packed audio book, it froze. The display was still on, but it wouldn’t play anymore. Since there was no hardware power button (just a sleek soft power button) and no removable battery, either, I couldn’t fix the problem on the spot, which was quite annoying. Back at home, I surfed the net and discovered that other iPad users had observed similar issues. The solution was to press a couple of buttons simultaneously and hold them for some seconds, which would trigger a reset.
Another thing that I didn’t like about my iPod was the fact that I was forced to use iTunes, a proprietary, bloated, closed-source GUI application that didn’t have any support for Linux. (Today, I simply use ‘cp -a’ to transfer my MP3s to my inexpensive Samsung player; the notion to launch a GUI application for such a trivial task is totally alien to me).
I ditched my iPod many years ago, but this experience has left a mark on me: to me, it is clear that Apple wants to lock users into their proprietary, almost totalitarian world, they take away their freedom to choose, you’re not even allowed to replace your battery because everything is glued together. As of today, nothing has changed and I doubt that it ever will.
This iPod was the last product I bought from Apple. I’m aware that many software developers have MacBooks these days, but that’s no option for me. With a MacBook, you get proprietary screws (if you get screws at all) and connectors, you cannot change the battery (it’s nice to have an extra backup battery when you are on the road), you don’t get a standard RJ45 jack (MacBook users seem to travel with an ultra-slim lightweight MacBook but have to carry lots of adapters) and, honestly, I think selling notebooks with glossy displays to professional users is a joke, albeit not a funny one. It might look like a wonderful piece of engineering to the average technology illiterate, but to me, the engineer, it’s rather an insult.
I loved the Apple II because it was an open system, the focus was on technology, not lifestyle, it was more Steve Wozniak than Steve Jobs. Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs was a genius, his marketing skills were outstanding and he has definitely triggered a change in mobile computing for the better. But this doesn’t mean that I have to buy version after version of their vanity products, let alone condone their unethical behavior.
Why unethical? Let’s start with freedom and free software in particular — free as in “free speech”, not “free beer”. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. There would be no Internet, no affordable mobile computing, not even Apple products as we know them without free software and contributions by the hacker culture. Even Linus Torvalds was and is totally dependent on the GNU tools created by Richard Stallman and the GNU community: Linus’ kernel is only a part of the whole and, by the way, the whole should thus not be called just Linux but GNU/Linux to give credit to the GNU community for their outstanding contribution.
Free software means that you have full control over your computing, that nobody can take it away from you and that you (or somebody you hire) is able to add missing features and fix bugs. Proprietary software, on the other hand, not only denies you this freedom — it also denies you the freedom to inspect the code (or have the code inspected) for backdoors. While free, open-source software doesn’t guarantee the absence of malicious code, all proprietary software falls into one of two categories: malware or potential malware.
On top of that, Apple rigorously controls what users can do and what they can’t. Their app store lets you only download what seems appropriate to them. An incomplete list of Apple’s censorship can be found here: apps, songs, books, newspaper articles that don’t fit Apple’s world view are banned from their store and are automatically removed from customer’s devices.
To sum it up: Apple builds products that don’t meet my technical standards, they subjugate their users by taking away freedom in multiple ways. Even worse, they foist their political opinions on them.
Snow White took the poisoned apple because she was a naive little girl (maybe she was hungry, too). Similarly, naive Apple fanboys spend their hard-earned bucks to buy one overpriced iThing after another, thus giving their money to a company that is renowned for paying almost no taxes and rigorously exploiting their suppliers. Buying any of their products would not only be bad for me as an individual but would also mean trampling on the wonderful achievements of the hacker culture as well. Moreover, I would do a disservice to a free digital society. That’s why I don’t use Apple products.