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Free Software/Open Source

Published by marco on

The problem with the free software/open source (hereafter referred to as FS/OS) is, as with most other movements, its fanatics. And, as with other movements, it’s not the belligerent—who are relatively easy to disregard—but the self-righteous—who constantly demand attention with arguments that are almost convincing—that really put you off. Case in point: the recent announcement that Apple will be carrying EMI’s entire music catalog with digital rights management (DRM) at double the sound quality on the iTunes Music Store (ITMS).

Cory Doctorow is a standard-bearer for the cause of FS/OS; geeks around the world look up to him and hang on his every word. He pulled no punches when Steve Jobs recently claimed that Apple would be only too happy to sell DRM-free songs on ITMS:

“I doubt Jobs’ sincerity. I suspect he likes DRM because it creates an anti-competitive lock-in to Apple.”

Though an obnoxious opinion, it was, at the point that he made it, hardly an unjustifiable one. There’s a reason that Steve Jobs is well-known for being a marketing genius and less well-known for being an all-around nice guy. So, Doctorow’s initial reaction—in print, no less—is that Jobs is trying to gather goodwill by claiming that other companies are imposing DRM on Apple, which would be only too happy to better serve their customers with open music instead. That Apple still only sold DRM music was wholly due to the big, bad music companies, who are hamstringing Apple as well as all of their customers. Doctorow and FS/OS were buying none of it, saying instead that Apple was just garnering goodwill by offering to do something that the music labels would never do anyway.

Things stood right there until today, when EMI—a large recording company with hundreds of artists in their stable, including the Rolling Stones, Robbie Williams, Pink Floyd and The Beatles—announced that their whole catalog will be available on ITMS without DRM and at twice the sound quality of other offerings for a mere $.30 more per song. Album prices will stay the same and all previous purchases are available for upgrade. In other words, this is the exact kind of deal that FS/OS has been demanding[1] for the last five years. Except for the whole “paying for music” part of it, of course.

This is really good news and we should all hope that EMI cleans up so other labels will follow suit, consigning DRM to the dustbin of history. Here’s where the pettiness of the FS/OS movement rears its ugly head, though. Instead of just flat out commending Apple and EMI for a step in the right direction, Doctorow let the following turd drop onto his blog:

“I could not be happier right now. I really hope Apple decides to make a web-based version of the iTunes store so that I can buy iTunes tracks in future using Ubuntu Linux”

Did you see it? Did you catch it? That’s called a backhanded compliment. It’s so petulant and sniping, saying “Way to go, Apple, I guess … but I’m still going to be a whiny bitch because you’re not supporting a platform that is not only in direct competition with yours, but is also used by almost 3 dozen people on the planet.”

I’m sure Doctorow would respond that he’s lowered his goals from a full-fledged Unix client, for which an internet petition gathered literally hundreds of signatures, of which at least 50 might even have been real. He’s only implying that Apple should move their whole ITMS to the web instead of embedding it into their mind-share improving iTunes application. Then he’s implying that Apple is shirking its duties until ITMS runs on his browser of choice on his operating system of choice. What a dick.

Will FS/OS ever be happy? Perhaps, but only once Apple has proved that it’s not profiting in any way from the services that it provides … by going out of business.

[1] And a lot of other people, for that matter. Though Apple sells a tremendous amount of music through ITMS, there are still a lot of people reluctant to buy a lot of DRM music. The next few months will show just how many of those there are.


#1 − Ryan Block of Engadget Joins the Fray


The appropriately titled, Waaaaaah! by Macalope, takes a columnist at Engadget to town for making a hypothesis, assuming it to be true without a shred of proof, then whining about conclusions drawn from it. When Block asks, “So why not make 99-cent 128-bit AAC tracks DRM free as well?”, the Macalope responds:

“Why not give Ryan Block a pony?! Because he’d only bitch that he wanted a bigger, shinier pony.”