[Remind-Fans] The Apple Stance [warning: long]

Paul M Foster paulf at quillandmouse.com
Mon May 17 22:54:28 EDT 2010

On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 10:22:30PM -0400, David F. Skoll wrote:

> Hi,
> I'd like to explain my anti-Apple stance.  This will be long(-winded),
> so feel free to skip it. :)
> As a kid, I was always a tinkerer.  By about 12, I was fooling around
> with electronic kits, home-made gunpowder, etc.  (Believe it or not, in
> those days, the local drugstore delivered potassium nitrate AKA
> saltpeter directly to our apartment, no questions asked!)
> When I was about 14 years old, I bought a book on BASIC.  I didn't have
> a computer, but I read the book and started writing programs anyway.
> I wrote them with pencil and paper, and "ran" them in my head.

OMG! I thought I was the only one who ever did that! I'm a little older,
but my first experience was also with BASIC on a time-shared mainframe,
connected to a teletype in my school via an acoustic modem (personal
computers hadn't been invented yet). I liked the experience so much that
over the years until I got my own computer, I learned and wrote programs
in Fortran, APL, and a variety of other languages. I wrote them and ran
them in my head; they'd never see the light of day on a real computer.

> The next year was my first year of high school.  I finally got
> access to a computer (a Commodore PET).  Its dialect of BASIC was a bit
> different from what I'd learned, but I adapted my programs and typed
> them in.  Of course, they failed miserably. :)
> But I was hooked.  I could see that this computer thing was amazing, that
> it could take my abstract thoughts and make them concrete.
> Over the years, I did an undergraduate and Masters degree in
> electrical engineering, but software was always my first love.  After
> graduation, I worked at a couple of places as a software developer
> before striking out on my own by founding Roaring Penguin Software Inc.
> in 1999.
> A few years before that, in 1994, I had discovered Linux.  I was
> completely amazed when I saw the famous "X" cursor running on *my*
> (ex-)DOS PC.  Discovering Linux brought forth the same rush of feeling
> I had when I was 15 and first got my BASIC program to run on that PET.
> It was once again the sense of limitless possibilities.

I was working at a Microsoft-based development house in 1996 when I
found something called "Linux On A Disk (LOAD)". I had some minor
experience with Xenix a few years before and thought that was kinda
cool, if a little primitive. With LOAD, I could swap out my hard drive
and have a Linux environment. After a week or so, I was hooked. I've had
Linux as my main desktop ever since. And I write code, even when I'm not
getting paid for it.

> I don't have anything in particular against non-free software.  My
> company makes its money, in fact, by selling non-free software.  (We
> supply source and you're allowed to modify it; you just can't
> redistribute it or a derived product.)  But I do have strong feelings
> against proprietary companies that try to limit what you can do with
> your hardware, or that try to hide the innards of their systems from
> tinkerers.  To do so is a tragedy; it deprives us of future hackers.
> Some say that Apple fills a niche by providing products that "just
> work" or are "simple to use."  Well, my parents and kids find that
> their Linux machines "just work" and are "simple to use".  (They'd
> never been exposed to Windows or the Mac, so I guess the first
> computer system you learn becomes the yardstick by which you measure
> simplicity.)

You're absolutely right. This "just works" thing is a myth that Apple
has successfully peddled since the beginning. And I've seen ample
evidence that it's not true. Whatever you first learn on is generally
what's easiest for you. Period.

> But should they choose to, they can delve into the innards of the
> system.  I'll never forget the day I found my middle daughter using
> the "View Source" feature of Firefox to get past an online game's
> quiz.  That's thinking like a hacker.  And when she got her
> electronics kit, I could see the spark in her eyes.  Sure, the
> circuits are far beyond her understanding.  (I barely even remember
> how they work and I studied the stuff.)  When I explained that
> capacitors were like water tanks and resistors were like thin pipes,
> she sort-of got it.  But when she tinkered with the circuit by
> changing capacitor or resistor values, she *really* got it.  It was
> obvious that a bigger capacitor held more water (well, charge) and
> took longer to charge up, so the circuit worked slower.  And higher
> resistors were like thinner pipes, so the water (charge) took longer
> to drain.
> This kind of learning involving deep, gut understanding is simply
> impossible without tinkering.
> In my various jobs, I've interviewed about 24 software developers.
> Without exception, the ones who were "tinkerers" as kids, who enjoyed
> writing software just for fun and who thought like hackers were far
> superior to those who just studied computer science because they
> thought they'd get well-paying jobs.
> Apple directly opposes and threatens the hacker culture.
> (Well... Apple is a big company, and big companies are always
> multi-faceted, so I'm sure there are many open-source and
> hacker-friendly people in Apple.  I'm referring here to the direction
> in which Steve Jobs is taking the company.)
> Apple seeks to create a walled garden of locked-down gadgets,
> Apple-approved applications and even Apple-approved development
> methodologies.  It seeks to exclude contentious or "obscene" content,
> and it can terminate your right to sell applications on its platforms
> at its pleasure.
> If I came to computers as a 14-year-old given an iPhone or iPad
> instead of a PET, I probably would have played with the thing for a
> few months and moved on.  I'd never have experienced the beauty and
> creativity of crafting a piece of software.  And that would have been
> tragic for me.
> For the sake of the next generation, we have to tell the world that
> Steve Jobs' vision of computing is a sterile, stifling, ultimately
> poisonous vision.  And if that means putting "puerile" code in ./configure
> scripts, then I proudly wear the label "puerile".

What's funny is that Apple started out as the computer "for the rest of

I recently ventured into the Apple world by buying a Mac Pro for my wife
(she does graphics, and has always worked on Windows until Vista just
about made us barf). Having no direct experience with Macs, I bought a
couple of "hacking" type books for the Mac and tried to set up the Mac
to work on our network, etc. etc. I was appalled at what Apple has done
to the underlying O/S (Mach/BSD). They've made it *very* difficult for
anyone with experience in the *nix area to work with the system. The Mac
purchase is an expensive decision I will always regret. We could have
waited for Windows 7 and gotten a better O/S than Vista, done the same
kind of work, and for a whole lot less stress and money. Leopard, for
all its glitz, is, in my opinion, a very broken system.


Paul M. Foster

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