Open Source, Freedom 0, and Mac OS X

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on this blog post from Coding Horror: Why Doesn’t Anyone Give a Crap About Freedom Zero?

Atwood argues that:

when you buy a new Mac, you’re buying a giant hardware dongle that allows you to run OS X software.

and that:

When the dongle– or, if you prefer, the “Apple Mac”– is present, OS X and Apple software runs. It’s a remarkably pretty, well-designed machine, to be sure. But let’s not kid ourselves: it’s also one hell of a dongle.

I’m a Free Software Foundation member, and a big supporter of Free and Open Source Software. But I’m also a Mac user. More accurately, I use – at various points and for various projects – Windows XP, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux – typically Ubuntu. But I recently switched back to Mac OS as my primary environment, on a new MacBook Pro.

So is it that I don’t care about Freedom Zero?

Not at all. I think Freedom Zero is important – in fact, using Mac OS and VMWare Fusion lets me run all three operating systems named above on the same machine, and that’s part of what attracts me to it. I refuse to buy songs from the iTunes store because they contain and encourage DRM (and hide the urls for podcasts to make it difficult to switch podcatchers), and run Rockbox on my iPod.

But Atwood’s right, that in switching to a MacBook Pro I’m supporting (indirectly, since it is really an Optaros laptop I get to use) proprietary development models, paying Apple Inc. for software I don’t get source code to, can’t run on my other machines, and can’t (legally) modify even for my own use.

But the combination of Apple’s user experience smarts and a BSD core, which lets me run X11 apps from the GNU/Linux world, is seductively attractive, and I can run the GIMP and NeoOffice (based on Open Office) and Firefox and Miro, and do PHP/MySQL development.

It’s a weird kind of lock in – I can bring virtually anything in (running many open source apps and frameworks in OS X directly, or worst case running them in virtualization) but there are some things I can’t take out (the proprietary Apple bits, other third party software).

Any piece of software I might write (yeah, like I’ve got time these days to create a software application) or contribute to (that may be possible) can retain Freedom Zero – I wouldn’t necessarily want to create or contribute something that only other Mac OS X users could run.

So, to get to the point, does the increasing popularity (at least perceived – look around at the crowd next time you’re at a *camp or an open source conference) of the Mac as a hardware platform reflect a general lack of concern over Freedom Zero, even among groups of developers who are otherwise insistent about freedom in the FSF sense?

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