Since I’m about to become a Mac owner, and since I seem to be far from immune to Apple’s reality-distortion field, I suppose I should spend a bit of time reminding myself why Apple is, in fact, a bad company.

First, why I like Apple:

  • Nostalgia. My first computer was an Apple ][+; I got years and years of fun for that thing. Hard to imagine using the same computer for so long; I think we got it when I was about to enter sixth grade, and I used it through high school. I was very excited to get a Mac SE/30 when I went off to college.
  • They’re the underdog. They’re doing well these days, but Microsoft they aren’t.
  • They make products that are good in important ways.

(I could make a similar list of reasons why I like Nintendo, but that’s another blog post.) Also, they’re cool in a way that does have an effect in the circles I travel in.

Okay, those are reasons why Apple is good. So why is Apple bad?

  • It’s not at all clear to me that they’re on the right side on the content wars. It’s good that they released an MP3 player that has forced everybody to deal with the fact that digital media is here to stay. But they iPod and iTunes are verging towards a monopoly, and I don’t see Apple as being a particularly responsible steward. iTunes is a closed system, they don’t let content vendors sell unencrypted content, and their encryption standard isn’t open. (Hmm: is it clear to me that they’re on the wrong side in the content wars? From the iPod and iTunes point of view, yes. But they sell software to make it easy to create content, which is very much a good thing.)
  • They were one of the first bad guys in the software IP battles – remember the FSF Apple boycott over their UI patent? I wish I could say that those days were past, but I have no reason to believe that Apple wouldn’t happily do the same thing in the future; I really hope that this story will prove to be overblown, but I can’t say I’m confident of that.
  • Speaking of the FSF, Apple is a big free software user these days, but I don’t see them giving back to the community as much as they should. Apparently they’re making less and less of their Darwin code available; they do admittedly make significant GCC contributions, but their GDB contributions are pretty sporadic. Not the fault of the Apple people working on GDB – they’re just too few people with too much work to do, and the up-until-recently dysfunctional behavior of the GDB community didn’t help matters. But I do think the company should put more money towards giving back to the free software community.
  • Once my data is in the clutches of their software and hardware, they’re quite resistant to letting me have access to it in anything other than a tightly controlled fashion. The most obvious example here is not letting me use my iPod to transfer music – why can’t I transfer my music collection from my old laptop to my new one by just putting it on the iPod and plugging it into the new computer? But they’re doing this in much more petty fashions, too; for example, as this article points out, if you subscribe to a podcast with iTunes, and want to use the address of the RSS feed somewhere else, you can’t just cut-and-paste it!

Don’t get me wrong – I’d still rather support Apple than Microsoft. But I can’t honestly say that I think that Apple wouldn’t happily abuse monopoly power in the same way that Microsoft does; their underdog status means that they’re less like to have monopoly power to abuse, but that’s hardly praise. I still like looking at their stuff, and I imagine that I will like using the MacBook. But, at the same time, I really should figure out how to manage my iPod with free software…

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