FSF: The iPhone Will Betray You

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-06-29 Print this article Print

Both the proprietary iPhone and the Free Software Foundation's GNU GPL Version 3 will be released on June 29.

The Free Software Foundation and its supporters describe the iPhone as a product crippled with proprietary software and digital restrictions. In a cruel twist of fate, both the iPhone and the Free Software Foundations final version of the GNU GPL (General Public License), Version 3, will be released on June 29.
But in techie philosophical terms, the two debuts could not be further apart. The iPhone is Apples proprietary new combination music player, phone, e-mail and Web surfing device, which starts at around $500 for the hardware alone. Eager consumers are already standing in line outside stores to be among the first to get one.
For its part, GPLv3 is the first upgrade in 16 years to the current license, GPLv2, which governs more free and open-source software than any other license. Also, the iPhones release follows months of secrecy about its look, features, technologies and price, while GPLv3 is a result of some 18 months of public outreach and comment—at least thats the way the FSF sees it. Read more here about how a last-minute Exchange update fixed potential iPhone e-mail issues. Peter Brown, the executive director of the Boston-based FSF, is also anticipating that the iPhone will include some free software licensed under the GPL. "On June 29, Steve Jobs and Apple will release a product crippled with proprietary software and digital restrictions: crippled, because a device that isnt under the control of its owner works against the interests of its owner," he said. "We know that Apple has built its operating system, OS X, and its Web browser, Safari, using GPL-covered work. It will be interesting to see to what extent the iPhone uses GPLd software," he said. Version 3 of the GPL fights the most recent attempts to take the freedom out of free software, and attacks "Tivoization"—devices that are built with free software but use technical measures to prevent users from making modifications to the software—which could prove to be a problem for Apple and the iPhone, he said. This is not the first time that the FSF and its supporters have targeted Apple. Last October, members of DefectiveByDesign.org, a campaign by the FSF, descended on flagship Apple stores in New York and London to protest the companys embrace of DRM (digital rights management) technology. Click here to read more about why the FSF targeted Apple stores for anti-DRM protests. Asked what possible open-source software might be used in the iPhone, FSF spokesperson Josh Gay told eWEEK that the FSF did not yet know what software was being used on the phone, but he added that if it were true that Apple could upgrade the software on the phone, but users could not, distributing software licensed under the GPLv3 on the iPhone would be a violation of that license. "But, even if the iPhone never violates the GPL, we fear that users may be hyped into buying yet another device that they have no control over—one laden with treacherous computing schemes that add malicious features, like digital rights management," he said. The drafting of GPLv3 has not been without its own challenges and controversies; in fact, while Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, said he thinks the final draft is better than the earlier ones, he said he has "yet to see any actual reasons for licensing under the GPLv3." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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