Free is too expensive (Economist)
Posted Apr 7, 2012 11:26 UTC (Sat) by khim
In reply to: Free is too expensive (Economist)
Parent article: Free is too expensive (Economist)
That's a real problem, but the fundamental cause of it is that the majority of users don't see why locked-down hardware is a bad thing for them
Of course not! It's good for them! This is what they want!
Let's forget about FOSS for the minute and think about consumer devices. Radio, TV, phones (mobile and not mobile).
Once upon time all these decides were combined from parts which were easy to replace and it was easy to tinker with them. Some even included principal schemes in documentation! Today they usually have undetachable connectros (components are soldered on using surface-mount technology instead of sockets) and in general are non-serviceable (usually you need specialized tool to even open the cover). Why is that? Well, these are cheaper. They are more robust, they rarely need fixes and if one of them will break it's usually simpler to replace it rather then to fix it.
Some people need/want to tinker with electronics - and we have specialized shops and devices for them. But these devices usually sell some of the same parts (sometimes differently packaged)! If you'll try to create separate ecosystem "just for tinkerers" you'll quickly find out that it's not sustainable - there are just not enough of them!
They actually should care, for reasons such as avoiding lock-in, having a larger base of developers, having the possibility that the developers may fork the software in case of a bad mantainer, … but these reasons aren't readily apparent to someone who doesn't know anything about software development.
You asking users to give up concrete advantages for nebulous freedoms (which they don't want and don't need). It just does not work.
You seem to be suggesting that attracting users who don't care about being able to develop the software they use to Linux will help ensure the future availability of open hardware, but I don't believe it — I think it would more likely lead to a locked-down hardware platform that runs Linux
Sorry, but this is the only choice. Most of hardware in the future will be locked - simply because users don't case. This battle is already lost: smartphones outsell PCs already - and you can not replace OS on most of them (even if the bootloader is not locked you often don't have an image to use with it). Now we are at the next battle: make sure there are some unlocked hardware which can be used if you want to tinker with it. If most devices are locked yet use FOSS-friendly components then there will be some unlocked (or unlockable) devices for tinkerers. If devices are build around proprietary standards then there will be no FOSS-friendly devices at all.
Maybe this even already exists, in the form of locked-down Android devices.
Android is good example. Before Android most phones were tightly-locked and it was basically impossible to run your own OS on mobile devices. Openmoko tried to solve this problem in the fashion you suggest, but failed miserably - and it was obvious it'll fail from the onset. Android gave us CyanogenMod and plethora of the devices you can use it with. Sure, you may argue that some imaginary world where all devices are free will be better, but this is not in the cards.
Today Linux desktop survives on coattails of server market (where "freedom to tinker" is still important and will be important for foreseeable future), but it looks like Microsoft is finally wising up to the problem. If Microsoft will split standards for the desktop (fully locked up with some concessions to the enterprise - see how Apple does this with iOS) and server then this will be the end of desktop Linux (and Intel will be very happy indeed because people will finally stop using cheap desktop components for servers).
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