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.
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.
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.”