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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
  Apple is in the hardware business

I admit, I don’t fully understand where Jeff is coming from when he says “When you buy a new Mac, you're buying a giant hardware dongle that allows you to run OS X software.”

Apple is not in the operating system business. Apple is in the hardware business. Steve Jobs famously said that Apple views itself as a software company. And indeed, they do a great job of writing software. But nevertheless, they are in the hardware business: that’s where they get the overwhelming majority of their revenues.

Put in that light, the licensing restrictions on the operating systems that come pre-installed on their hardware are exactly the same as the licensing restrictions on the operating systems that come pre-installed in Windows PCs from manufacturers like Dell and Sony.

It is appropriate to lambaste Apple for selling their product—hardware—with a non-free OS pre-installed. However, they offer the exact same Freedom Zero as the PCs you can buy from Dell.

Arguing that we ought to be able to install OS X on a white box PC is analogous to arguing that we ought to be able to purchase a Sony Vaio, then take the OEM copy of Windows off the laptop and install it on a white box laptop. Or that we ought to be able to purchase an upgrade copy of Windows and install it on a white box PC. I say upgrade copy, because the standalone copies of OS X for sale are licensed for upgrades only, not for new machines.

People who think of the argument as being Apple vs. Microsoft think of the two companies as being in the OS business. But Apple is not in the OS business, and hasn’t been in that business since Jobs returned and quickly killed the OEM Macintosh market. Think of an iPod touch. Would anybody argue that when you buy an iPod you are buying a copy of OS X with a dongle that happens to play music attached to it? Seriously? is anybody complaining that they can’t transfer their copy of OS X from an iPod touch to whatever lame music player Microsoft is peddling this week?

Revolution in the Valley tells the incredible story of the creation of the Macintosh—from the perspectives of the people who were actually there. It’s packed with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and little-known secrets. Much of the material is available on line for free.

A dongle exists to prevent you from using a piece of software twice without paying for it twice. Apple is hardly even trying to prevent you from using OS X twice without paying for it twice. I can demonstrate this for you: I have a copy of Leopard. There is no copy protection on it. It does not phone home. Why is that? Ah! It is because it is only supposed to run on Apple hardware. Exactly. If Apple lose a few sales of Leopard to Macintosh owners that illegally copy Leopard, that is too bad but it is no big deal to them. Of course, if you hack it to run on non-Apple hardware, you are going to wind up on a first-name basis with Apple’s lawyers. That’s because—are you tired of hearing me say this?—they are in the hardware business, not the operating system business.

In that light, it is appropriate to lambaste them for selling their product—hardware—with a non-free OS pre-installed. However, they offer the exact same Freedom Zero as the PCs you can buy from Dell. You can modify them without incurring Apple’s wrath. You can install another operating system on them, even Windows. It’s true that their hardware is bundled with non-free software, and that’s too bad. But the product they sell—hardware—is free of encumbrances. If you want to compare and contrast them, compare them to another hardware company Dell: In addition to selling hardware with non-free operating systems, Dell also sells hardware with Linux pre-installed.

I could end this with a cheap shot about Microsoft only selling non-free products, but I won’t. I can’t. The point here is that comparing Apple to Microsoft is almost completely meaningless in this context, because Apple is a company in the hardware business that happens develop and bundle an insanely great—but non-free—OS with their hardware.

Comments on “Apple is in the hardware business:
I think Jeff was trying to make the same point you are, that Apple makes appliances rather than computers, devices which have limited purposes - deliberately limited purposes, and don't care about "Freedom Zero", referring to Jeff's title.

I agree he used a bit of a weird way of saying it, but the point about the hardware limiting your freedom with the software, not by license, but by design, is still in roughly the same area.

I for one have several times wandered around towards possibly buying Apple general computing hardware (as opposed to an iPod or something), but every time I start to drift that way, Apple does something really stupid like suing somebody, or having crummy closed-world servicing concepts, or enforced ratcheting using paid-for OS upgrades on a fairly short schedule, or tying their stuff too exclusively to their business models that don't match my needs (I'm thinking of video iPod here, and how iTunes doesn't support e.g. ripping of DVDs or conversion of existing videos to put video on it).
I agree with your point. Jobs put Apple back on track by being very clear about what the business was, and conversely, was not.

I often agree with Jeff's viewpoints, but this time he missed the target :)

paid-for OS upgrades on a fairly short schedule

I must admit this is the first time that Apple's ability to actually ship software on a schedule has been held up as a negative!

Is there a problem with passing on an OS upgrade? AFAIK, older versions of OS X work just fine. Are you really saying you'd rather wait six years?

iTunes doesn't support e.g. ripping of DVDs or conversion of existing videos to put video on it

This mystifies me. Maybe we have a misunderstanding. iTunes does not rip DVDs, true. I do not speak for Apple, but my educated guess is that it does not rip DVDs because Apple executives would go to jail under the DMCA laws if it did.

I speculate that if those laws changed iTunes would rip DVDs the very next day. Apple stands to gain HUGE if iTunes could rip DVDs for playback on iPods the way it rips CDs. But the salient difference is the DMCA, IMO.

Now, as for conversion of existing video, I have good news for you: Quicktime Pro does this exact thing. Open a video file and save as... and you have an option to save in iPod format. Drag the resulting file into your iTunes library and you can watch it on your iPod.

Also, if you live in a jurisdiction where ripping DVDs you legally own is not illegal, you can use Handbrake to do the exact thing you want. There is a nice present for iPod format, and it even captures the chapter stops. I just finished watching the entire Prisoner series on my iPod touch, thanks to Handbrake.

Of course, I am in Canada where we still allow fair use (for now).
Ah I hate to prove you wrong but since OSX was ported to Intel you don't have to buy Mac Hardware any longer.


Stealing a copy of OS X by violating the terms and conditions does not count, sorry. Yes, I know it is possible, just like it is possible to buy one copy of Leopard and upgrade all of your computers instead of buying a family pack.

The simple fact is, Apple does not endorse running OS X on other computers, and that was the basis of the polemic against them.
Another thing I disagreed with about Jeff's article, is the way he equates Apple's OS-hardware bundling with the restricted computing environment of game consoles.

At least a Mac user can install Handbrake to rip DVDs, LAME to encode MP3s, or install Ubuntu or another OS over their OSX installation. Try doing that on an (un-modded) game console. Even with a modchip, homebrew ports can be quite limited.

I disagree with many of Apple's decisions, but at least they have not tried draconian measures like requiring signed code to access their hardware. Hopefully, they're too smart to try that...
at least they have not tried draconian measures like requiring signed code to access their hardware. Hopefully, they're too smart to try that...

Although people have been jailbreaking iPhones and iPods, I think that Apple looks upon them as completely closed devices that just happen to run OS X.

Which is unpleasant, but really to be expected from a hardware company.
I think this post misses the important point, which is that Apple not allowing Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware is painful for a lot of people. Here you've attempted to justify that by making a distinction between hardware companies and software companies, but the justification isn't necessary. Nobody's arguing that Apple is legally obligated to allow OS X to run on non-Apple hardware. But it's still a pain in the ass that they don't, so they're going to take some shit for it.
The point of the article is pretty much what it says on the tin: "Why doesn't anyone give a crap about Freedom Zero?"

In other words, I'm thinking there aren't too many people who buy Macs and run Linux on them. And there's a reason for that, the same reason people buy Xbox 360s and Wiis and Playstation 3s..

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