Libreboot and the Leah Rowe follies

Hopefully, this story has developed enough that it’s safe to write about now.

Not too long ago I was on IRC (Freenode #fsf) and someone pasted this URL linking to the Libreboot mailing list (all typos are as in the original, very slight snippage made for brevity):


The Free Software Foundation recently fired a transgendered employee of the FSF, just for being trans, because some transphobic cissexist people wrote negativly about her. The FSF fired her because they thougdt she, rather than the assholes bullying her, was causing the FSF potential damage. As a result, she was fired from the FSF.

As a trans person myself, I find this disgusting.

I’m declaring here and now to the whole world that Libreboot is no longer part of the GNU project. I do not believe that the FSF or the GNU project deserve to exist.


Long live the LGBT community, and long live the free software movement. Meanwhile, FSF and GNU can both go fuck themselves.

Leah Rowe

Libreboot developer

Later that day, John Sullivan of the Free Software Foundation responded with this statement (quoted below in part):

This morning, an open email circulated in which the author said that the Free Software Foundation ended a relationship with one of our employees for discriminatory reasons.

Although it is our usual policy not to comment publicly on internal personnel matters for privacy reasons, we felt it necessary to state unequivocally that the allegations made in that email are untrue.

It is part of our job to celebrate and improve the diversity of the free software world. We have strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to help provide a safe and supportive working environment. […]

(Not quoted or linked above was a reply from Dr. Richard M. Stallman himself also denying Ms. Rowe’s accusations. You know stuff just got real when RMS has to take time out of whatever he usually does to respond.)

In the days since, no further details have come forth. Of the two, I am personally much more inclined to believe the FSF. Especially in light of the fact that Ms. Rowe claims to speak for the “libreboot community”, when in fact it is more likely she’s really only speaking for herself, per this post by Darnien Zammit on

Given the recent kerfuffle, and in spite of my vested interest in wanting to continue being paid to continue this important work [on the Libreboot project], I find it necessary to spell out a couple of facts I find important about the libreboot project and the libreboot community:

1) I have recently noticed that Leah Rowe is the only person who has git commit access to the website,, and also the only person who has git commit access to the codebase, which has only become a problem recently.

2) The codebase is a deblobbed coreboot repository, with patches from libreboot contributors (but committed by Leah), and a bunch of install scripts for ease of use.

3) We (the contributors) are not consulted about any of the views expressed on the website when they are hastily published by Leah.

So, whenever you read “We believe….” or “We say that…” on the lists and websites, Leah has ultimate control of the libreboot project currently. It is clear that this person has been misusing control of the project to spew out irrelevant personal opinions on behalf of the “libreboot community”, a singleton group of people consisting of … yes you guessed it, Leah Rowe.

I find it quite distasteful that someone like Ms. Rowe would take it upon herself to speak on behalf of the community which uses Libreboot. I doubt that the vast majority of the users approve of her profanity-filled exit from the GNU project. Honestly, not only does this look bad on Libreboot’s users, incidents like this add up to look bad on free software users in general.

It’s not really the use of profanity I mind as much as deciding to dissociate with a larger umbrella project like GNU over something like this. Especially given that it’s impossible to verify due to the fact names weren’t named, and the overwhelming majority of free software users are going to give the FSF the benefit of the doubt. Even if there is a rogue manager at the FSF, I’d rather, we as a community, give the FSF a chance to rectify the situation than have it splattered all over the net the way Ms. Rowe did.

I hope that someone forks Libreboot so the users who don’t want to be associated with Ms. Rowe in any form may choose otherwise. This is absurd and nobody who uses a free software project like Libreboot should have to put up with it.

Giving proper credit: the GNU Project’s ongoing battle

While hardly a fresh topic, I’ve never really blogged about this, and it came up in a recent discussion on IRC.

In particular, a user identified as “MTecknology” pointed me to his blog entry on the topic, which seems to take a stance opposing the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in their bid to seek proper credit for nearly three decades of work on free software. (Note: “free software” here and elsewhere in the post refers to freedom, not price, specifically the four freedoms definition used by the FSF.)

I’d like to respond to and rebut these points as best I can. For space and time reasons I am not going to respond to every point made in the original post. An omission of any points in MTecknology’s original post should not be interpreted as an acquiescense to its validity.

Before I get to that, however, I’d like to point something out that not a lot of people know. Richard Stallman and the free software movement began in 1984. They had been going for years before the major BSD-derived Unixes we know today (OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, DragonFly BSD) gained any serious traction, and well over a decade before the “open source” movement splintered off from it. Without the free software movement, the “open source” movement would have had nothing to splinter off from.

I don’t directly support the open source movement at all, only the free software movement. I use free software almost exclusively. The exceptions I make are very few and far between, most notably for firmware and font software.

Anyway, on with the rebuttal. Single-level blockquotes are MTecknology, double-level are from the FSF as quoted by MTecknology, mostly if not entirely from the GNU/Linux FAQ and the Linux and GNU page. I’ve left all the text intact, as it was in MTecknology’s blog entry, so any spelling/grammar/punctuation mistakes in the quotes are his. I have also my best to verify quotes attributed to the FSF actually came from the FSF.

I ventured onto the website wanting to read what their licenses actually were. In the process I decided that I should figure out what GNU actually is. Aside from discovering that the FSF seems to be just a source of income for GNU, I was quite disturbed.

Note this alongside a statement MTecknology made on IRC, which, by the way,
is one of the most egregious things I’ve ever read in an IRC client window:

2011-05-08T19:32:17 <MTecknology> I guess in my head though, FSF is a microsoft type corp trying to sit over top of the free software movement
2011-05-08T19:32:29 <MTecknology> key word 'try;

The FSF is a 501(c)3 non-profit (essentially, a charity) which shepherds the development of software under the free software movement, specifically and most prominently the GNU operating system. This by itself makes any comparison with Microsoft, a multi-billion-dollar for-profit corporation, patently egregious and completely devoid of any reason or sanity.

Developers of software released under free software licenses tend to actually care about their users. Microsoft, in particular, wants to charge $30 just to file a bug report (at least as of the last time I checked). There have been instances where Microsoft has refused to even acknowledge obvious bugs in their products, much less deliver a timely fix.

But that is not the deepest way to consider the question. The GNU
Project was not, is not, a project to develop specific software
packages. It was not a project to develop a C compiler, although
we did that. It was not a project to develop a text editor,
although we developed one. The GNU Project set out to develop a
complete free Unix-like system: GNU.

Well, you have yet to produce this complete system. So to this point
all you have contributed to the FOSS community IS in fact just a set
of software packages. Don’t get me wrong, these are great pieces of
software, but the point still stands.

The GNU operating system is nearly complete, here in 2011. The only component of the GNU operating system that has not been completely developed is the kernel, the GNU Hurd. Like it or not, most systems incorrectly labeled “Linux” are in fact GNU variants, booting Linux, the kernel. Porting software to Linux, the kernel, does not change the fact that it’s still software from the GNU Project and part of the GNU operating system.

I considered writing a list of GNU software that one would need to remove to get a true “Linux operating system” and the commands to do so. I’m not sure I’ll ever publish the list, even if I write one, as removing all the software on the list would reduce most GNU variants to a completely unusable state, and at minimum I’d get flames from people blindly following my instructions (“you broke my system, you %$^*@#!!”). Suffice it to say that almost every useful program on a GNU variant booting the kernel, Linux, is linked against the GNU C library, at minimum. Removing just the GNU C library will render a system running any GNU variant unusable almost immediately.

(Ironically, were I to publish such a list or set of instructions, the rm command itself, which would be deleting most of the components which came from GNU, is part of GNU coreutils, and the rm binary and the GNU C library would have to be the last two things removed from the system.)

Many people have made major contributions to the free software in the system, and they all deserve credit for their software. […] We made a list of the programs needed to make a complete free system, and we systematically found, wrote, or found people to write everything on the list. We wrote essential but unexciting (1) components because you can’t have a system without them. […]

By the early 90s we had put together the whole system aside from the kernel. We had also started a kernel, the GNU Hurd, which runs on top of Mach. Developing this kernel has been a lot harder than we expected; the GNU Hurd started working reliably in 2001, but it is a long way from being ready for people to use in general.


(1) These unexciting but essential components include the GNU assembler, GAS and the linker, GLD, both are now part of the GNU Binutils package, GNU tar, and more.

I don’t think the GNU project is the sole reason everything became an integrated system. Your work sure helped immensely, but you aren’t the glue that sticks everything together. We have an integrated system because countless developers and other contributers got together to build a complete system. You wrote “essential but unexciting” software applications and the world appreciates it. You have yet to develop your own kernel and rely on Linux.


GNU Hurd is a work in progress. Due to reasons I’m not entirely sure of, the development has taken quite a long time. (If you do want reasons why we don’t have GNU Hurd 1.0 yet, consider asking the developers. Maybe one of them will comment on this post.)

Just because GNU Hurd, the kernel of a complete GNU system, is not completed, does not disqualify the remainder of GNU from being an integrated system.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait for the Hurd, because of Linux. Once Torvalds wrote Linux, it fit into the last major gap in the GNU system. People could then combine Linux with the GNU system to make a complete free system: a Linux-based version of the GNU system; the GNU/Linux system, for short.

Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps Linux was developed knowing GNU was working on other software. Perhaps they kept compatibility in mind. It seems more that Linux was built in a way that would allow GNU to “fit into” the Linux based OS. This little argument goes both ways and is ineffective either way.

Linus Torvalds himself has said that Linux, the kernel, is useless without an operating system such as GNU to boot into. (This is from the README file of a very early release of Linux, the kernel, back before actual dsitributions of GNU/Linux were common.)

I went through and easily ripped all GNU apps out from various operating system. So, what should I call it now? I can’t call it “GNU/Linux” because GNU isn’t part of the system at all. I also can’t call it “Linux” by your whole rant. What can I call it then? The fact of the matter is that either way Linux is still the core and the system should be called “Linux” either way.

If one removes from a GNU variant (whether GNU/Linux or something else) all components that came from GNU, and one either has a non-functional system in short order, or one forgot to remove something like the GNU C library (which is also GNU software).

To answer the question, though, it depends on what exactly the replacement software is. If, say, the GNU libc is still there, to me, there’s still a case for calling it a GNU/Linux distribution.

Wouldn’t it be better for the community if you did not divide people
with this request?

When we ask people to say “GNU/Linux”, we are not dividing people. We are asking them to give the GNU Project credit for the GNU operating system. This does not criticize anyone or push anyone away.

However, there are people who do not like our saying this. Sometimes those people push us away in response. On occasion they are so rude that one wonders if they are intentionally trying to intimidate us into silence. It doesn’t silence us, but it does tend to divide the community, so we hope you can convince them to stop. […]

The hell you’re not dividing people! […] these two groups [“supporters of the free software movement” (and) “the open source movement”] are commonly just grouped into the “FOSS community.” Those that call their systems Linux tend to not even see this line you refer to; when they do they tend to ignore it completely. They do however still see the very clear line between (GNU, GNU/Linux) vs. (Linux).

Those who call the entirety of the system “Linux” often simply do not realize the contribution of GNU to the system they are running. And so, you get people saying “I don’t want the GNU people meddling with our software, I’m a Linux user, damnit” without realizing just how ridiculous such a statement really is.

If Linus Torvalds wanted to have a full operating system to be called Linux, he should not have stopped at writing just a kernel. As it stands today, Linux is a kernel. There are a few programs that were written specifically for Linux kernel administration, such as the module utilities modprobe/insmod/rmmod/lsmod/etc (which, while not part of GNU, still depend on the GNU libc). None of these programs in concert with each other form anything close to a complete operating system without adding software from GNU.

You’re acting as if the whole world is out against you. In my view, it seems you’re really just out against the world. Maybe you should start fighting the world and listen to it. There’s obviously something you’re doin wrong. You go so far as to blame any divisions in the community on those who don’t share your view.

I don’t think the GNU project is against anyone. They simply want proper credit for what they made. Calling the entire system “Linux” gives a disproportionate amount of credit to Linus Torvalds, and leaves people with the mistaken idea that Linus wrote a lot of programs he in fact had nothing to do with.

The comparison I use most often is that I don’t “run Linux” any more than you “drive a DieHard battery” to work. Calling the entire system “Linux” can also be considered paramount to speaking of a painting by who framed it, in such as fashion as to mislead the listener into thinking the framer and painter are one and the same. Would you be happy if you spent 5 years making a painting only to get no credit for it?

I usually, but not always, refer to “GNU/Linux.” However, on occasion, I simply refer to my system as a GNU variant, particularly in cases where the actual kernel I’m running is not particularly relevant. There are GNU variants which boot the kernel from FreeBSD, and it should be possible in theory to boot GNU varians from other kernels as well (specially the other *BSD kernels).

Many other projects contributed to the system as it is today; it includes TeX, X11, Apache, Perl, and many more programs. Don’t your arguments imply we have to give them credit too? (But that would lead to a name so long it is absurd.)

What we say is that you ought to give the system’s principal developer a share of the credit. The principal developer is the GNU Project, and the system is basically GNU.

If you feel even more strongly about giving credit where it is due, you might feel that some secondary contributors also deserve credit in the system’s name. […]

Since a long name such as GNU/X11/Apache/Linux/TeX/Perl/Python/FreeCiv becomes absurd, at some point you will have to set a threshold and omit the names of the many other secondary contributions. There is no one obvious right place to set the threshold, […]

But one name that cannot result from concerns of fairness and giving credit, not for any possible threshold level, is “Linux”. It can’t be fair to give all the credit to one secondary contribution (Linux) while omitting the principal contribution (GNU).

I drew a line and it stands as my threshold. I happened to fraw that line at “Linux.” Nothing more, nothing less. I honestly don’t care where the credit is due. The system runs on Linux and that’s what it should be called. I have no interest in giving credit to individual contributors. I give that credit instead to the FOSS community which is where it belongs.

(The emphasis was added by me.)

So, MTecknology shows his true colors: a complete disregard of fairness, and complete apathy for proper credit for who wrote the software he uses. To some, proper attribution is priceless; a lack of attribution is something that can never be adequately compensated for with any amount of money if it is due and not given. Atari learned this lesson in the early 1980s when several of their top video game designers left for Activision, in part over this issue (though the pathetic salary Atari was paying them in comparison to the money Atari made from their efforts certainly didn’t help); it’s not always about the money or only about the money.

I do agree that at some point, a longer name becomes unwieldy. However, the developers of Apache, Perl, Python, FreeCiv, etc. usually do not suffer from the same problem that the GNU Project is dealing with here. You’ll hear people refer to “Apache on Debian GNU/Linux 6.0” or “Perl 5.9.1 on FreeBSD 8” etc. These other software packages simply don’t have the same problem.

Why not just say “Linux is the GNU kernel” and release some existing version of GNU/Linux under the name “GNU”?

It might have been a good idea to adopt Linux as the GNU kernel back in 1992. If we had realized, then, how long it would take to get the GNU Hurd to work, we might have done that. (Alas, that is hindsight.)

If we were to take an existing version of GNU/Linux and relabel it as “GNU”, that would be somewhat like making a version of the GNU system and labeling it “Linux”. That wasn’t right, and we don’t want to act like that.

You have yet to make Hurd a widely released product. You’re perhaps not capable? Linus built the first kernel himself. He clearly stated what it was capable of and that he didn’t expect it to go furhter. His code was then in a position to be lifted up by a community that made it what it is today. Why is it that you can’t get your kernel working? I would assume because you’re either too busy whining, you’re too busy tearing at Linux to make it fit your needs, or because you’re not capable of doing it in the first place.

GNU Hurd is working; it’s not “done” in the sense that it’s not production quality yet, but it is working and there are install releases for a GNU/Hurd system.

The early releases of Linux, the kernel, weren’t exactly that great either. I applaud the GNU Hurd development team for wanting to get it right, for not rushing a half-completed project out there as GNU Hurd 1.0 and saying “here’s our kernel.” Linux, the kernel, has come a long way since even its 1.0 release.

By the way, if the FSF really was like Microsoft, GNU Hurd 1.0 would have been released years ago, bugs and all. That GNU Hurd is still sitting at 0.4 actually speaks volumes for the honesty and trustworthiness of the GNU Project, and the Hurd development team.

The popularity has nothing to do with calling it “Linux.” The reason we use “Linux” is because all the above FUD reassures us that you’re on a whining power trip.

Wanting proper credit for one’s contributions is a power trip? Really? I don’t think asking for proper attribution qualifies as a power trip, especially in this particular case, when the lack of attribution translates to a potential misattribution to someone else, as it does in the case of the GNU operating system and Linux, the kernel.

A digital wrong?

A recent post by Geoff Livingston to his blog touched off a firestorm of controversy recently. Photographers take the stance that regardless of where the photo is posted, the photographer retains absolute copyright, even to the point of–somewhat tastelessly–insisting on the use of a watermarked photo for such uses as a  profile (as blogged by Mr. Livingston). The heading of what is legally permissible does not include everything under the heading of what is in good taste.

However, the real story here is how Mr. Livingston uses the loaded and confusing terms such as “digital rights” and “intellectual property” in clear ignorance of the viewpoint those terms assume. Indeed, the FSF has warned about such terms for some time. Despite the prevalence of the misleading, confusing, and biased term “intellectual property” the intelligent reader should note that copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not property rights and are not treated this way at all in the actual laws that set aside government-created exclusivity over artistic works, inventions, or logos and names used in trade. Copyrights and patents are time-limited, and are privileges which only exist because of the governments enacting laws which impose the restrictions on others.

I’m going to try to explain how nonsensical it really is to lump copyright, patent, trademark, and whatever else under one umbrella term. Imagine, for a moment, the confusion that would result over lumping laws governing motor vehicles, railroads, airplanes, and nautical vessels under “transportation law.” In particular, a yellow signal light means something completely different to a train than a motor vehicle, and the concept of right-of-way is completely different for watercraft (boats) than for land-based motor vehicles (for boats, right-of-way is actually the responsibility to maintain course and speed). These differences, and many more that don’t immediately come to my mind, are not unlike the differences between copyright, patent, and trademark law (and whatever else comes under the umbrella of “intellectual property” as even the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is surprisingly vague).

While Mr. Livingston refers freely to social wrongs in his post, I believe it to be an equal social wrong to feed the ever-growing misconception that copyrights are property rights by use of terminology clearly intended to help promote confusion between the two. Indeed, I have to wonder if the widespread term “intellectual property” itself led Moshe Zusman, the photographer with whom Mr. Livingston had the original dispute, to greedily assert copyright as if it were a property right.

Engadget editor shows us the “restrictions” in Digital Restrictions Management

I know, two stories from the same source. But this one hit one of my hot buttons a bit too hard to just skip.

Paul Miller, senior associate editor for Engadget recently posted about a nasty surprise that his Apple iPad had waiting for him. Instead of quoting the entire story I’ll do my best to summarize in bullet-point format:

  • Paul gets stuck in an airport with his iPad and buys a movie for $15 to pass the time (since his laptop battery is dead, the iPad was his only choice).
  • The download only gets 2/3 of the way completed before Paul has to board his flight.
  • Luckily his flight has in-flight WiFi. Unluckily for him, the port iTunes needs to access to download the movie is blocked (I have no idea how iTunes works so I’m just using the same terminology Paul did).
  • Paul finishes downloading the movie at home, and decides the iPad’s small screen is too small to truly enjoy the film. So Paul connects his iPad to his TV.

And… bam! The “Restrictions” part of Digital Restrictions Management kick in, and the iPad throws up “Cannot Play Movie / The connected display is not authorized to play protected movies.” Not surprisingly, Paul’s next move is to fire up a BitTorrent client and download an unrestricted copy of the same movie, which I would assume works fine.

The unfortunate part of Paul’s post is that he has bought into the misleading and loaded usage of terms such as “steal” and “theft” for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, that’s a much bigger problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, or probably even this year. But that’s another rant for another day. That, and the fact he gets bitten by DRM on a device built entirely around DRM, that is a brick until it’s connected once to a copy of iTunes on Windows or MacOS, is an unfortunate non-surprise to the readers of this blog. (Oh, yes, you read that right! The iPad will not work without being hooked to a computer with iTunes at least once! More on that in a future entry, maybe.)

The reality is that the MPAA is overdue to “get it” like the RIAA did. The RIAA finally figured out that it made more sense to sell unprotected music files via Amazon and even iTunes than it did to keep using digital locks to try to keep the honest people honest. It’s a step in the right direction, of course those are still MP3 and most record companies still aren’t embracing WAV/FLAC downloads (which I could understand being a little more expensive per track, but which I would actually buy).

But the MPAA has held onto “lock it down with more DRM” like a stubborn mule. Why, I don’t know. Movie producers and studios are finally grasping the concept of digital cinema, but a good many productions still originate on 35mm film. The new age is the digital age, an age of non-scarcity, where we can have as many copies as we want. DRM is a failure. Shame on you, MPAA; it’s time to let your obsession with DRM go.

Looking beyond the numbers: the worm in the Apple

This is a long overdue post about Apple and what exactly they mean for the future of computing freedom. I’ve touched on several of Apple’s dubious stances on computing freedom in the past, but this recent Fast Company article has provided new inspiration (and to be fair, it is not the only such article of its type).

Most telling is this particular quote from the article (around the third page):

For Apple, the ideas of closed and free aren’t in conflict. “We’re just doing what we can to try and make [and preserve] the user experience we envision,” [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs emailed Gawker blogger Ryan Tate, who had baited the CEO in the wake of Apple’s decision to ban Flash from the iPhone and iPad. “You can disagree with us, but our motives are pure.” The App Store, Jobs wrote Tate, offers “freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom.”

Let’s look at this closely, particularly the Steve Jobs quote, “We’re just doing what we can to try and make [and preserve] the user experience we envision.” Taken on its face it doesn’t seem evil. However, rephrasing and reading between the lines gives us something more like “We’re just trying to keep total control over what we (Apple) give the user, because we know what’s best for the user.” In other words, buy Apple’s gear, forget your freedom, because Apple hates it.

The next quote, “You can disagree with us, but our motives are pure” is pure ego food. And the evidence is within the next quote, “[The App Store offers] freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom.” This abuse of the word “freedom” is something I object to vehemently, as it is a use of the word to mean what is in fact the exact opposite. “Freedom from programs that trash your battery” means “Apple will not let you run this program on your iPhone or iPad if Apple in its sole judgement feels the battery use is excessive.” “Freedom from porn” means “Apple does not care whether or not you want to view porn on your iPhone, Apple is going to step in like a big nanny and say you can’t have it there.” “Freedom from programs that steal your private data” means “Apple will never let you look at the source code for an iPhone or iPad app and will make it well-nigh impossible to release an app under the GPL or a free software license. Trust us, we’re Apple, we’re bigger than Microsoft now, and that means we’re smarter than you, even if you have an IQ high enough to get into Mensa.”

Mr. Jobs has no idea what true freedom is. Freedom means the user, not Apple, is in charge. Specifically, quoting from the FSF’s free software definition:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Apple’s DRM on the iPhone and iPad squashes freedoms 2 and 3. Lack of access to source code means Apple’s customers don’t have freedom 1 either. Apple can step in and erase programs off your iPhone or iPad, so technically its customers don’t necessarily always have freedom 0, either. Indeed, Cory Doctorow sums it up nicely in this quote:

“If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.”

But this is not the only evil of Apple. From further in the Fast Company article:

It’s not just Jobs’s consistent aversion to complexity that prompts him to say no. Apple thrives on high profit margins, and having the willpower to say no keeps production costs down. Eliminating features also helps build buzz. “The great thing about omitting a feature that people want is that then they start clamoring for it,” says [Glenn] Reid, the former Apple engineer. “When you give it to them in the next version, they’re even happier somehow.” Apple has pulled off this trick time and again, most recently with the iPhone OS 4. It includes multitasking, a feature that customers began asking for in 2007, intensifying their pleas after Palm debuted multitasking in its WebOS last year.

To be fair about it, this is similar to what other companies have done for years. It’s bad business to knowingly withhold functionality today, then release it years later under the guise of making it look “updated.” Indeed, this is why I’m glad we have companies like Palm around. Competition is a good thing, and despite the near ubiquity of the iPhone, it’s good to know choices still exist, otherwise Apple may well try to get away with evolution of phone features on its terms, not those of its customers.

Another tactic that definitely tests the boundaries, even if it isn’t outright over-the-top:

One example: Apple buys up all the bus-stop ad space near the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Francisco venue where it has held its recent events. It then switches its posters while Jobs is speaking. So this past January 27, when I walked into Apple’s iPad debut, the street ads depicted something old; when I left, there’s the iPad everywhere you look.

Do I have a thing against aggressive marketing? No, not at all. But there comes a point where aggressive crosses the line. This smacks of something Apple can do because of their sheer size, especially in their hometown. It also makes me wonder, with this kind of brute-force aggressiveness in marketing, how much of the retail price of an iPhone, iPad, or iMac goes to marketing and advertising expenses. Or in other words, if Apple cut back marketing and advertising to a more reasonable level, how much would the price of their products drop?

Moving on:

Apple disregards the entire concept of backward compatibility, which is both a blessing and a curse for rivals such as Microsoft. Over its history, Apple has adopted new operating systems and underlying chip architectures several times — decisions that rendered its installed base instantly obsolete. Jobs killed the floppy disk in the iMac, and he claimed that optical drives were on their way out with the MacBook Air. Now, with the company’s embrace of touch screens, Apple seems to be gunning for the mouse, a technology that it helped bring into wide use in the 1980s. Does this relentless eye toward the future always work? No. Jobs killed the arrow keys on the first Mac; Apple was forced to add them back in a later version, and it has kept them in all its Macs ever since.

While the 1.44 megabyte 3.5″ floppy disk has been doomed for years, with 2.88 megabyte floppies never really catching on, and even technologies like the 20 megabyte “floptical” or LS-120 failing to gain traction, it smacks of Apple playing nanny to decide to arbitrarily kill technologies. I don’t know what Apple was thinking when it got rid of arrow keys. (My original Atari did not have separate arrow keys, the cursor movements were on punctuation keys where one had to hold down Control to access cursor movement. Today, the arrow keys are a feature I could not live without on my PC.)

With regard to touch screens: while Apple may be in love with them, they are not for everyone. I can’t imagine playing a first-person shooter game with a touch screen, for example; the mouse has been firmly entrenched as a part of gaming ever since the original Quake in 1996, and almost a decade and a half later, it’s hard to imagine an FPS without it.

There are many parts of the original article I did not comment on in an attempt to keep this somewhat short. And this is far from the only article of its type. I am not distracted from the truth by Apple’s scant few contributions to free software projects; I am disturbed, not reassured, by the fact CUPS was taken over by Apple almost three years ago. I am grateful for the decision by Michael Sweet to license CUPS under the GNU GPL, a decision which protects user freedoms and, quite likely, annoys Apple to no end.

Apple is a liability, not an asset, to the future of computing and technology, even more so than Microsoft now. I’m not sure how to right the ship; all I know is it’s sinking further with every new Apple device (particularly iPhone and iPad) sold.