By Harry McCracken | Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm
Free software advocate and GNU creator Richard Stallman has blogged that he’s glad Steve Jobs is gone. That’s, um, gauche. But it’s not why I bring up his post. He also calls Jobs “the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom.”
Apple products? Jails. Cool ones. Apple fans? Jailbirds. Foolish ones. Got that?
Eric S. Raymond, also a free software advocate, has also written about Jobs’ passing. He’s more dignified about it, but the gist is similar. He says:
What’s really troubling is that Jobs made the walled garden seem cool. He created a huge following that is not merely resigned to having their choices limited, but willing to praise the prison bars because they have pretty window treatments.
Same metaphor. Apple=prison. Apple users=prisoners.
I’d never tell Stallman and Raymond that they’re obligated to like Steve Jobs, Apple, or Apple products. Many people don’t. Many of us who do like Apple’s stuff have serious issues with some things about it. If you find the locked-down nature of the iPhone untenable, fine. Don’t use it. Complain about it. Try to get other people not to use it.
Neither would I tell them that there’s anything wrong with open software. I use open products every day. Actually, I’m grateful to Stallman and Raymond for the role they’ve played as champions of free software. They’ve both helped to make the world a better place.
Boy, I do have a problem with the notion that Apple users are dopes who are being deprived–willingly or unwillingly–of their freedoms.
I get the idea. As Raymond mentions in his post, the original Mac was intended not to be opened up by users. The iPhone and iPad are meant to be used only with software approved by Apple and distributed through its App Store. Customizability and hackability have never been principal design goals of Apple products..even though plenty of people figured out how to open up their original Macs, and plenty of people figure out how to install unauthorized software on iOS devices.
The thing is, none of this limits my choice as a user of technology products. I don’t have to use Apple products. They are a choice. As is Linux. As is Windows. As is anything else you care to use.
But wait: It’s not just about gadgets. The stakes are much higher than that. Raymond is worried that Apple products are a gateway drug that leads to Apple customers’ defenses to lower their defenses to those who would rob us of our liberties in general, or something like that. He says: “[W]e cannot expect people to love tyranny in small things like smartphones without becoming less resistant to tyranny in larger matters.”
Tyranny? Nope, sorry. People who use Apple products considered their options, and chose Apple. If they regret their decision, they can dump it at any time. If you call Apple tyrannical, you’re using a definition of the word so loose as to strip it of any real meaning whatsoever. Something along the lines of:
Tyr-an-ny (noun) ˈtir-ə-nē
Displeasing to Eric S. Raymond
Maybe the popularity of Apple products is somehow stifling the creation and distribution of more open ones, thereby leading to a scenario in which Stallman and Raymond and everyone who dislikes Apple products have no choice but to use them? That would be terrible. But it doesn’t seem to be happening: The majority of people I know don’t own any Apple products, and seem to get along fine. They get to choose the products they want; so do I. And the open software community is thriving.
If you think people who use Apple products are prisoners, you’re essentially accusing them of being too stupid to make their own decisions. At least Stallman explicitly calls them fools! Raymond, with his pretty-window-treatment metaphor, apparently thinks Apple users are style-obsessed fetishists, too dim to make the right purchasing decisions. Which, oddly enough, is the same stance that Microsoft has been known to take.
(Raymond also resorts to using the always-handy line of attack against Apple fans by calling them cultists, which is a weird thing to do when you’re the one who’s so insistent that the other guy should adopt your beliefs.)
Me, I choose to use Apple products. Some of the time. When I’m not using other products, some of which might be more to Stallman and Raymond’s liking. I’m familiar with the pros and cons of my various options. I understand my needs. I think I’m as good a position as anyone to know what products will serve me well, or at least a better one than Stallman and Raymond.
Disagree with my stance if you will–as long as you understand that by doing so, you’re calling me a dummy. (Maybe I’m an idiot when I use Apple products, and a brainiac when I use ones that are more purely open…)
To repeat myself: You don’t have to work very hard to find things about Steve Jobs to dislike. You aren’t obligated to give the company he co-founded any money. You can even root against it, and take pleasure in its failures. But all Jobs ever did was make products that people were free to choose or ignore. Stallman and Raymond, however, seem to be confident that they understand what’s good for Apple customers better than Apple customers do. They’d be happier if the choices offered by Apple didn’t exist: Both say they hope that Jobs’ passing might hasten the end of the Apple we currently know.
Freedom, apparently, is just another word for agreeing with Richard M. Stallman and Eric S. Raymond.
Explain to me again what’s so damn liberating about that?