[Translations: Arabic, ...]
When DVD Jon was arrested after breaking the CSS encryption algorithm, he was charged with “unauthorized computer trespassing.” That led his lawyers to ask the obvious question, “On whose computer did he trespass?” The prosecutor’s answer: “his own.”
If that doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, you can stop reading now.
When I was growing up, “trespassing” was something you could only do to other people’s computers. But let’s set that aside and come back to it.
My father was a college professor for much of his adult life. One year, he took a sabbatical to write a book. He had saved up enough money to buy a computer and a newfangled thing called a word processing program. And he wrote, and he edited, and he wrote some more. It was so obviously better than working on a typewriter that he never questioned that it was money well spent.
As it happens, this computer came with the BASIC programming language pre-installed. You didn’t even need to boot a disk operating system. You could turn on the computer and press Ctrl-Reset and you’d get a prompt. And at this prompt, you could type in an entire program, and then type RUN, and it would motherfucking run.
I was 10. That was 27 years ago, but I still remember what it felt like when I realized that you — that I — could get this computer to do anything by typing the right words in the right order and telling it to RUN and it would motherfucking run.
That computer was an Apple ][e.
By age 12, I was writing BASIC programs so complex that the computer was running out of memory to hold them. By age 13, I was writing programs in Pascal. By age 14, I was writing programs in assembly language. By age 17, I was competing in the Programming event in the National Science Olympiad (and winning). By age 22, I was employed as a computer programmer.
Today I am a programmer, a technical writer, and a hacker in the Hackers and Painters sense of the word. But you don’t become a hacker by programming; you become a hacker by tinkering. It’s the tinkering that provides that sense of wonder. You have to jump out of the system, tear down the safety gates, peel away the layers of abstraction that the computer provides for the vast majority of people who don’t want to know how it all works. It’s about using the Copy ][+ sector editor to learn how the disk operating system boots, then modifying it so the computer makes a sound every time it reads a sector from the disk. Or displaying a graphical splash screen on startup before it lists the disk catalog and takes you to that BASIC prompt. Or copying a myriad of wondrous commands from the Beagle Bros. Peeks & Pokes Chart and trying to figure out what the fuck I had just done. Just for the hell of it. Because it was fun. Because it scared my parents. Because I absolutely had to know how it all worked.
Later, there was an Apple IIgs. And later still, a Mac IIci. MacsBug. ResEdit. Norton Disk Editor. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.
Apple made the machines that made me who I am. I became who I am by tinkering.
This post’s title is stolen from Alex Payne’s “On the iPad,” which I shall now quote at great length.
The iPad is an attractive, thoughtfully designed, deeply cynical thing. It is a digital consumption machine. As Tim Bray and Peter Kirn have pointed out, it’s a device that does little to enable creativity...
The tragedy of the iPad is that it truly seems to offer a better model of computing for many people — perhaps the majority of people. Gone are the confusing concepts and metaphors of the last thirty years of computing. Gone is the ability to endlessly tweak and twiddle towards no particular gain. The iPad is simple, straightforward, maintenance-free...
The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today. I’d never have had the ability to run whatever stupid, potentially harmful, hugely educational programs I could download or write. I wouldn’t have been able to fire up ResEdit and edit out the Mac startup sound so I could tinker on the computer at all hours without waking my parents.
Now, I am aware that you will be able to develop your own programs for the iPad, the same way you can develop for the iPhone today. Anyone can develop! All you need is a Mac, XCode, an iPhone “simulator,” and $99 for an auto-expiring developer certificate. The “developer certificate” is really a cryptographic key that (temporarily) allows you (slightly) elevated access to... your own computer. And that’s fine — or at least workable — for the developers of today, because they already know that they’re developers. But the developers of tomorrow don’t know it yet. And without the freedom to tinker, some of them never will.
(As a side note, I was wrong and Fredrik was right, and Chrome OS devices will have a switch for developers to run their own local code. I don’t know the specifics of what it will look like, whether it will be a hardware button or switch or whatever. But it will be there, an officially supported mode for the developers of today and, more importantly, the developers of tomorrow.)
And I know, I know, I know you can “jailbreak” your iPhone, (re)gain root access, and run anything that can motherfucking run. And I have no doubt that someone will figure out how to “jailbreak” the iPad, too. But I don’t want to live in a world where you have to break into your own computer before you can start tinkering. And I certainly don’t want to live in a world where tinkering with your own computer is illegal. (DVD Jon was acquitted, by the way. The prosecutor appealed, and he was acquitted again. But who needs the law when you have public key cryptography on your side?)
Once upon a time, Apple made the machines that made me who I am. I became who I am by tinkering. Now it seems they’re doing everything in their power to stop my kids from finding that sense of wonder. Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world. With every software update, the previous generation of “jailbreaks” stop working, and people have to find new ways to break into their own computers. There won’t ever be a MacsBug for the iPad. There won’t be a ResEdit, or a Copy ][+ sector editor, or an iPad Peeks & Pokes Chart. And that’s a real loss. Maybe not to you, but to somebody who doesn’t even know it yet.
Recently, someone did the unthinkable: they published their own version of Dive Into Python and got it listed on Amazon.com. This apparently caused a small firestorm within Apress, the exact details of which I am not privy to, but which (I am told) became a somewhat larger firestorm after the Apress executives realized they had no legal recourse, and asked my opinion on the matter. You see, the book is published under the GNU Free Documentation License, which explicitly gives anyone and everyone the right to publish it themselves. (I was about to write "gives third parties the right," until I realized that there are no third parties because there are no second parties. That's kind of the point.)
This didn't use to matter, because publishing on paper used to require a serious up-front investment in, well, paper. "Freedom of the press" was reserved for those with an actual press, and distribution costs were decidedly non-trivial. Publishing a book commercially just wasn't practical for anyone but, well, a book publisher. That's no longer the case. Copies can be purchased online, printed on demand, and drop-shipped to the customer -- up-front investment be damned. And that's for printed books; e-books are even easier.
Software had this problem first, by virtue of its non-corporeality. How many people are selling Free Software on eBay? We deride these sellers as "scammers," but in truth the only time they run afoul of the law is when they attempt to rebrand your software without acknowledgement, or when they fail to abide by some other intentionally inside-out clause of the license that you chose in the first place (e.g. selling GPL'd binaries without offering source code).
Still, there's a qualitative difference between letting people download your own work from your own site, and watching other people try to profit from it. But it is precisely this difference that strikes at the heart of the Free Software/Free Culture ethos. Part of choosing a Free license for your own work is accepting that people may use it in ways you disapprove of. There are no "field of use" restrictions, and there are no "commercial use" restrictions either. In fact, those are two of the fundamental tenets of the "Free" in Free Software. If "others profiting from my work" is something you seek to avoid, then Free Software is not for you. Opt for a Creative Commons "Non-Commercial" license, or a "personal use only" freeware license, or a traditional End User License Agreement. Free Software doesn't have "end users." That's kind of the point.
The aforementioned Apress executive told me that he did not understand why I would be willing to work with a publisher but then be happy about their competition. This is what I told him:
I enjoy working with publishers because it makes me a better writer. But I don't write for money; I write for love (or passion, or whatever you want to call it). I choose open content licenses because this is the way I want the world to work, and the only way to change the world is to change yourself first.
I don't know where that leaves you as a business. But you've made a good amount of money on the original "Dive Into Python," despite the fact that it's been available for free online for 8 years. A German translation of Dive Into Python 3 is being published this quarter by Springer/Germany [a division of Apress' parent company] almost simultaneously with the English edition -- much sooner-to-market than it would have been under a closed development process. (And an Italian translation was just released yesterday. You should snap that one up too before someone else does!) So maybe the problems you perceive are really opportunities in disguise.
So I am grateful for this anonymous soul who woke up one day and said to herself, "You know what I should do today? I should try to sell copies of that Free book that Pilgrim wrote." Grateful, because it afforded me the opportunity to remind myself why I chose a Free license in the first place. My Zen teacher once told me that, when people try to do you harm, you should thank them for giving you the opportunity to forgive them. In this case it's even simpler, because there's nothing to forgive, just explain. She's redistributing the work that I explicitly made redistributable. She's kind of the point.
My parents gave up on Linux and bought a Mac Mini. We bought an AppleTV for the kids and filled it with their favorite DVDs. I stood in line for three hours to buy my wife an iPhone 3G for her birthday. And nobody gives a shit about freedom 0.
It's been about 18 months since Slashdot linked to Tim O'Reilly for linking to Jason Kottke for linking to Cory Doctorow for linking to me for switching from Mac to Linux. (Best comment: "this is just another A-list blogger circle-jerk." As if that was my fault!)
At the time, Jason said, "If I were Apple, I'd be worried about this. Two lifelong Mac fans are switching away from Macs to PCs running Ubuntu Linux: first it was Mark Pilgrim and now Cory Doctorow. Nerds are a small demographic, but they can also be the canary in the coal mine with stuff like this."
18 months later, Apple has sold 4 million crippled phones, billions of crippled songs, and people are predicting that Mac sales are up 40% year over year. And I wouldn't bet against their new movie rental venture either (although this chart is amusing).
So after 18 months, I think we can safely say that no, Cory and I were not "canaries in the coal mine." There are not hordes of fed-up consumers rejecting Apple's vision of cryptographic lock-in. There are not mass graves where people ceremoniously dump their crippled, non-general-purpose computing devices. Outside of Planet Debian and my own personal echo chamber, nobody gives a shit about Freedom 0.
You knew this, of course, but I just wanted to let you know that I knew, too.
(with apologies to Harper's)
There is an episode of "Sex and the City" where Charlotte befriends a group of "power lesbians" who seem to run everything in her little corner of the art world. The lesbians are friendly and chummy and accommodating, up to a point -- the point at which they finally confront Charlotte about her sexuality:
Charlotte: I do so much enjoy the company of all these women. Everyone's so smart and funny. I've been spending way too much time and attention on men. It feels like such a safe, warm environment. While sexually I feel that I am straight, there's a very powerful part of me that connects to the female spirit.
Patty: Sweetheart, that's all very nice, but if you're not going to eat pussy, you're not a dyke.
Sex and the City s02e06, The Cheating Curve
So anyway, congratulations to Six Apart for finally joining the open community of freedom-loving pussy eaters. There may be those who are quick to judge or quick to question whether this move is a day late and a dollar short, or indeed 1,307 days late and 535 dollars short. I assure you I am not one of those people.