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Doctorow: the Coming War On General-Purpose Computing

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the fought-with-dollar-bills dept.

DRM 439

GuerillaRadio writes "Cory Doctorow's keynote at 28C3 was about the upcoming war on general-purpose computing driven by increasingly futile regulation to appease big content. 'The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.'" If you don't have time for the entire 55-minute video, a transcript is available that you can probably finish more quickly.

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Raspberry Pi (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543108)

Devices like the Raspberry Pi prove him wrong. If anything the backlash has already started: geeks are reclaiming their devices and building the systems that they want.

The music industry realised they were on to a losing battle five years ago. The movie industry will realise the same, soon. In fact, I give it less than five years before Google are producing their own content and streaming it world-wide, without restrictions.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543222)

Did you even go through the speech?

Re:Raspberry Pi (5, Funny)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543530)

You must be new here.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543702)

Why not? There is a good consumer demand for this sort of thing. I know people who are *way* less technical than I am building media servers and torrenting huge libraries.

You eventually get to 'good enough' with your library. You realize you have more material than you can watch/listen/use in 5 years continuous use. You had no qualms about copying it in the first place. Someone you trust says 'can I have a copy?' Sure... They fold in their not insignificant stash. And the blob now is 10 years worth of material.

There is a demand for this. These sorts of people *will figure it out*. Either with the companies involvement or not. It will eventually be someone bright spark who figures out there is money to be made off these people...

Re:Raspberry Pi (2)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543252)

Only in the short term. In the long term devices such as this, and the tools needed to work with them will be strictly controlled and only licensed individuals will get access ( most likely defense contractors. Hobbyists don't need to apply ).

Code submission, auditing and other real-time monitoring will just be the beginning.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543394)

I hope you're right. The processors in even a total homebrew have to come from somewhere and I can see the content providers requiring DRM being built right into the CPU. (As I write that, I can't imagine that MPAA folks could even understand the issue, but anyway.)

I agree with what you said about content being created elsewhere. A series I watch regularly started life as webisodes, and I believe Netflix is already creating original content. And that has *got* to scare the living crap out of Hollywood. If you can make a popular series in Lubbock with equipment from Best Buy and released on Netflix, what the heck do we need Hollywood for?

Re:Raspberry Pi (5, Insightful)

voidptr (609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543904)

Most processors sold today (by individual units shipped) aren't used in a general purpose computer or even an appliance that would be considered one. They're used in embedded applications, but it's the same processor (or very closely related) to the ones that are used for general purposes.

Most of those embedded users are squeezing every dime they can out of component costs, and those companies put together are far bigger than big content is. Nobody, including the chip fabs themselves, would stand for adding features to anything that looks like a CPU that would get in the way and drive up prices for the majority of their consumers. The latest x86-64 is used fairly heavily by embedded systems these days, plus the millions of them churning away in data centers around the globe on general purpose servers running every flavor of OS ever ported to it, making billions for their owners.

Does anyone really think Intel would stand by and watch 75% of their market get either obliterated overnight or priced out the market, that Amazon would let AWS become illegal, that any congressman on the planet wouldn't have hundreds of constituents explaining how they built businesses around writing software?

Re:Raspberry Pi (5, Interesting)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543422)

It's not the computer they're trying to control, it's the communications. And they are most definitely winning right now. It amazes me that a tiny minority can run the world so completely.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543486)

It doesn't amaze me because a tiny minority does control most of the resources of the world and they pull the strings whenever they feel like.

Re:Raspberry Pi (5, Insightful)

pmontra (738736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543426)

Devices like the Raspberry Pi prove him wrong.

As long as they are legal. That was the point of the speech.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Insightful)

voidptr (609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543776)

As long as they are legal. That was the point of the speech.

Which is a law nobody's remotely proposing, nor one that would fly.

There's about a dozen mainstream CPUs on the market today that can be integrated into a workable computer by practically anybody with a Newark catalog and a overnight board fab in their bookmarks, which the Raspberry Pi guys are proving. The reason there's so many is precisely because they are used everywhere; there's thousands of companies now that integrate them into their own appliances and more starting every day. Prohibiting the sale of general purpose CPUs or imposing mandatory content control features in anything that smells like a processor would bring the economy to a halt overnight.

You think Intel would be stupid enough to not lobby every dime they had against such a bill? The alternative would be the death of the company.

Re:Raspberry Pi (5, Insightful)

Nick Ives (317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543804)

Doctorow is making the argument that stuff like that is being proposed and fought for in the current copyright war. Desire for it may spread to other developed sectors of the economy.

If it's Intel v everyone else and they do it on an international basis as part of a treaty, it could happen. The argument being made is that we should be aware of and prepared for this kind of thing because if other sectors of the economy start to get as annoyed by general purpose computers as the *AA have then there would be a serious fight.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543434)

Right, because "geeks" are the whole market, right? Are you daft? "General purpose computing" applies to everyone, and only a very small subset of everyone is interested in devices like the Raspberry Pi.

Re:Raspberry Pi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543522)

As long as there are geeks, we're fine. Do your family ever ask you for advice? Then they're fine too. Let's not kid ourselves: geeks drive technology.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543710)

No they don't. Geeks create technology, but they wouldn't go much of anywhere if there weren't masses of consumers to buy that technology. We might be able to make do, but not everyone knows someone geeky for tech support. If they did, crap like the Geek Squad wouldn't exist. Most people are clueless about computers and don't know anyone savvy enough to make a difference.

Re:Raspberry Pi (2)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543740)

A lot of what made the PC a general purpose computer wasn't innate geek-dom. There were many people in the 60's, 70's, and beyond who were not particularly into learning to code or grok hardware, but wanted to make music, draw pictures, or publish something. They learned about hardware and software because they had those goals, rather than the geek goal of learning tech for its own sake. Computers such as the C-64, with its SID chip were aimed at the lay-person who had a new idea about using the machine for a general task, a task neither tech focused nor business oriented users cared that much about. Apple developed font management and a wide selection of fonts themselves because of what were thought of as hobbyist or non-business users in the same way. At that point, Microsoft was assuring businesses eight fonts would be plenty, counting italic versions. A lot of powerful people though we would go to huge, monolithic computers that did what businesses and governments wanted and that would be it. Breaking out of that model wasn't done the first time all by geeks, unless a bunch of rock musicians who wanted smaller synthesizers and funkier sounds were geeks, or a bunch of psychedelic poster designing hippies were geeks, or a bunch of political minority publishers were geeks. If it has to happen again, it will need the same sort of mix. It will need non-geeks who don't want to be forced into buying Photoshop at some exorbitant markup and running it on their Microsoft only box with regular BSA audits while they are just trying to make pretty pictures. Non-geeks who only want to write something the government doesn't like, but are drawn in to learning about open source by their worrying about distinctive digital watermarking in the Industrial Complex Approved software they are told is the only alternative.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543784)

unless a bunch of rock musicians who wanted smaller synthesizers and funkier sounds were geeks, or a bunch of psychedelic poster designing hippies were geeks, or a bunch of political minority publishers were geeks

Les Solomon, Steve Wozniak, Stewart Brand and most of the rest of the Homebrew Computer Club weren't geeks?

Re:Raspberry Pi (2)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543738)

The Raspberry Pi represents a vanishingly small proportion of the population. A Raspberry Pi platform probably can't even real-time decode some of the higher-end video files, and definitely won't be invited to the Netflix party and other platforms with DRM requirements that can't be bothered to provide for an open platform with nearly no users. In terms of content consumption, it won't make a blip and the only exciting bit about it really is the price. Orders of magnitude more people are going away from open PC to closed tablet/phone ecosystems, and MS is trying to make nearly all the 'open PC' population as locked down as those tablet/phone platforms with 'secure boot'. On the consumer side, not many voices meaningfully stand for opennes. Fortunately, most of the internet *server* infrastructure would crumble without it and already pretty deep pockets are fighting SOPA as an example.

With the music industry, Apple *forced* their hands. I generally don't like Apple, but that specific move I have to give them credit for. The amount of data constituting a music file was so trivial people naturally tried to fling it about and noticed how DRM fouled it up to the point it hindered Apple's business practices. With movie data, the trend is toward streaming, which is of great concern to me as the everyday consumer accepts the relatively poorer quality and higher network burden and never notices the DRM restrictions. I will say the music industry when *forced* mostly realized they could use business practices to fight copyright infringment more effectively than they could ever legistlate. I hope the movie industry will wise up too, but I'm not optimistic. People doing copyright infringement have a *much* easier time of getting superior functionality than those trying to play by the rules in video world, but with music you can now do everything trivially with legal purchases that you could do with illicit downloads.

Re:Raspberry Pi (3, Interesting)

Vanders (110092) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543798)

With the music industry, Apple *forced* their hands

Google will force the hands of TV and movie companies in a similar manner. I'd bet on it.

Failure on our part. (4, Informative)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543114)

If we can't make the argument for general purpose computing then we get what we deserve.

Most users never wanted freedom, they wanted to get work done or enjoy themselves. Unfortunately you don't need freedom for that. This is why the loss of basic and HyperCard doesn't matter.

Re:Failure on our part. (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543152)

Failure on whom?
Consumers consume, producers produce, advertisers advertise, internet internets.
They seem to be oblivious to the fact that people physically stealing things still occurs. How will this be any different?

Re:Failure on our part. (4, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543154)

I've brought this up before. Users do want freedom, they just don't realize it until they've completely lost it and then have a use for it.

Re:Failure on our part. (5, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543290)

That's because most users care about personal freedom -- where they're the only person that matters. Insular thinking is way too common and is way too corrosive. However, it does go a little bit beyond that. Metronets almost don't exist except in a few more enlightened places, because people were conned into thinking of it as a tax. They would be paying for someone else's Internet access. Well, no. What they'd be paying for is the freedom to choose your Internet access. Most places, the ISP is nothing more than a shell company that "provides" access to a single actual Internet provider - your "choice" is what illusion you want. It's not a real choice, which means that if the real provider decides to implement a specific restriction then ALL your "choices" implement that specific restriction.

In short, Joe Public is easily tricked into giving up real freedoms because real freedom means someone else gets that freedom too and Joe Public would go through hell or high water before contributing to someone else's freedom. Real freedom is never individualistic, it's binary. It's there or it isn't. By deceiving people into thinking that they're gaining by inhibiting the freedom of "others", freedom becomes impossible. There is no gain in loss. Ever.

Re:Failure on our part. (3, Insightful)

SalsaDoom (14830) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543348)

Now, this is making sense. Because its true.

People often ask me about my anti-Apple attitude (or anything really restrictive) and when I explain to them that they've bought something that don't actually really posses complete control over it they are usually understanding. I don't press my opinion in a "the world is ending soon because of..." sort of way. I explain the truth, that there is a trend for that type of activity and I'd like to see it reversed.

In my experience, most people imagine that they "own" something when they purchase it. When they understand that they don't own their iPad in the same way they own their car or their house, they do understand why thats a bad thing *even if they lack of the technical knowledge to take advantage of it*. I don't think most people are quite so stupid as people often assume here. Its just that technology isn't something they think about on a regular basis, accountants probably think many people are stupid because they have bad accounting practices in their lives.

People don't want to spend hundreds of dollars to rent a thing. When you explain how all of this ties into planned obsolescence and other market strategies they can become quite offended at the idea. Owning a device you are free to operate fully means you can replace it on your own terms, not artificial ones (say, from lack of software updates).

So yes, the poster above is correct. Users absolutely do want freedom, they just don't immediately put together the reasons why they do.

Re:Failure on our part. (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543830)

Users do want freedom, they just don't realize it until they've completely lost it and then have a use for it.

The thing users want is practical freedom, the freedom that lets them get their work done, let them get access to their data, let them have fun and consume what they want.

The problem with Free Software is that it generally only gives the user theoretical freedom. Having access to the source and a general computing device sounds all nice in theory, but when you want to get work done, it's hardly ever of any use. Fixing the software is too complicated and hiring somebody would be to expensive. Thus the user not only doesn't get his work done, he also has freedom that has no benefit for him.

If Free Software wants to matter for end users it needs to start focusing on actually producing working solutions for user problems, not just random bits and pieces that the user has to plug together himself.

Re:Failure on our part. (1, Insightful)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543174)

I think that too often, people confuse freedom with configurability when it comes to software. You can have freedom without driving away users with making them suffer the paradox of choice [wikipedia.org] , and at the same time, much of lack of configurability in popular devices today isn't really a lack of a freedom, at least it's not seen that way to mainstream users. Techies often just label it a lack of freedom because they can't do absolutely everything they want.

Re:Failure on our part. (3, Insightful)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543520)

I'm not sure if the best answer to the paradox of choice is to remove choice and configurability. For example, newegg offers a ton of deals for buying certain combinations of hardware, and when there are 231 possible deals for your CPU, it's not feasible to try and sort through that. The answer wouldn't be to stop those deals, but rather, to make it easier to process all that information.

One might have argued at one point that there are too many websites on the internet, but the solution to that wasn't to reduce the number of websites, but to create good search engines that let us make sense of it all.

Re:Failure on our part. (4, Interesting)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543608)

I'm not sure if the best answer to the paradox of choice is to remove choice and configurability. For example, newegg offers a ton of deals for buying certain combinations of hardware, and when there are 231 possible deals for your CPU, it's not feasible to try and sort through that. The answer wouldn't be to stop those deals, but rather, to make it easier to process all that information.

People don't want to process the information for 231 possible CPU deals. The easiest way to deal with that kind of information is to not process it all, removing configurability and therefore the psychological fear of a missed opportunity. It's been shown in several studies that too many choices hinders the decision-making process and leads to decreased happiness, which was the subject of the book I linked by psychologist Barry Schwartz.

One might have argued at one point that there are too many websites on the internet, but the solution to that wasn't to reduce the number of websites, but to create good search engines that let us make sense of it all.

It goes without saying that the sites on the first page of the search results get the vast majority of hits. Nobody wants to sift through the 10,000,000+ hits a Google search gives you. It's an impressive number but ultimately meaningless in terms of how most people use a search engine.

Re:Failure on our part. (3, Insightful)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543774)

It's been shown in several studies that too many choices hinders the decision-making process and leads to decreased happiness, which was the subject of the book I linked by psychologist Barry Schwartz.

I'm familiar with his theory, which is essentially that when we have too much information to process, we get unhappy, mostly because we fear we aren't making the best choice, or the cost of making a decision is greater than the benefits the choices convey. There are two ways to deal with the problem of too much information to process: less information or better processing. I advocate the latter whenever feasible.

It goes without saying that the sites on the first page of the search results get the vast majority of hits. Nobody wants to sift through the 10,000,000+ hits a Google search gives you. It's an impressive number but ultimately meaningless in terms of how most people use a search engine.

You missed my point. There is an ever increasing amount of information, but Google helps you process the information you need. That's why the existance of 10,000,000 sites on a particular subject doesn't cause us anxiety. Google doesn't make those sites inaccessible, and if you decide are searching for something much more specific, a site that may have been a million pages deep will be the first result. Google's role is in the organization of that information.

Re:Failure on our part. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543628)

One might have argued at one point that there are too many websites on the internet, but the solution to that wasn't to reduce the number of websites, but to create good search engines that let us make sense of it all.

Search engines filter results and present the most relevant first, effectively reducing the number of websites. Their whole purpose is to reduce the stress of choice.

Re:Failure on our part. (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543580)

That's really not true. A program isn't going to ever be able to do everything and few people would want it to anyway. However the lack of freedom that people like me worry about is the ability to replace the program with something else if need be.

Apple has a long standing policy to not let apps do certain things such as duplicate functionality or do anything that Apple doesn't approve of. In cases like that it's not just that the program doesn't support it, it's that no programs support it because an authoritarian hardware company says no. That used to be understandable when functionality generally required hardware to back it, but those days are long gone.

Re:Failure on our part. (2)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543674)

Apple doesn't want unnecessary duplication of system functionality because that creates redundancy and confusion in the experience of using the device; for instance, it prevents developers from mimicking the operating system and potentially tricking the user. It should be noted that such prohibitions are very rare, and there are a number of apps that compete with built-in applications, such as third-party web browsers.

Re:Failure on our part. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543746)

No, the reason they don't want it is because Apple is run by control freak assholes that want to tell people how to use their device. There's something very wrong that people buy into that bullshit. It's theoretically my device and they won't let me install whatever functionality I want?

If they're so confident about their appstore, then tricking the user shouldn't be a problem. These are apps that Apple vets before allowing in the appstore.

Re:Failure on our part. (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543238)

Depends on what you're arguing. If you mean that consumers prefer to buy walled-garden devices like iPads versus programmable computers, I agree that's something we have to fix ourselves, through outreach, PR, making better programming environments, whatever. But another angle is the government passing laws that make it increasingly difficult to offer unrestricted general-purpose computers. That I think is much more clearly a civil-liberties issue than just an issue of consumer preference.

Re:Failure on our part. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543412)

If you mean that consumers prefer to buy walled-garden devices like iPads versus programmable computers, I agree that's something we have to fix ourselves, through outreach, PR, making better programming environments, whatever.

Hear, hear! I've said this before, and it deserves repeating: everyone hates a walled garden. Most users just don't know it yet. Eventually they will discover a killer app that they must be able to run on their device of choice - and then discover that since they went the iPhad route, they are completely denied the chance to use it.

We just have to hope that the majority of phone/tablet users discover this simple fact before it becomes too late. Because they will discover it, eventually. It's only a matter of time.

Re:Failure on our part. (3, Informative)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543758)

Eventually they will discover a killer app that they must be able to run on their device of choice - and then discover that since they went the iPhad route, they are completely denied the chance to use it.

Already happened with tethering and copy/paste. iPhone users stuck through the hard times through three phone upgrades before they almost got what they wanted.

Re:Failure on our part. (4, Informative)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543496)

You can make a great argument, but it's never going to be as good as the bribes that Congress gets from big content.
The bribes are perfectly legal under Citizens United.
But your modification of an appliance that you "own" may be a felony.

Re:Failure on our part. (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543676)

If we can't make the argument for general purpose computing then we get what we deserve.

Most users never wanted freedom, they wanted to get work done or enjoy themselves. Unfortunately you don't need freedom for that. This is why the loss of basic and HyperCard doesn't matter.

You want proof. I humbly present to you : The Internet*

*As the sum of all human communications and computational power connected to it. Needs no further elaboration. General purpose computing has made our technological, economic, scientific and cultural civilization what it is now.

Re:Failure on our part. (5, Interesting)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543688)

"General purpose computing" is just a synonym for power, in the same way as violence, money, and land are.

When you had land, you could do whatever you wanted on your land, even if it was criminal. When you had money, you could get whatever goods or services money could buy, even if it was criminal. When you had violence, you could take others' land and money, even if it is criminal (it isn't always; Police, in principle, "claim" land and money using violence, but not criminally). Naturally, government came in to regulate all three.

When you have general purpose computing, you can have whatever the peripherals of your computer allow you to have, even if it's criminal. Such peripherals include, but are not limited to, recording devices and displays, CNC machines (fab), and telecom (the internet, VOIP, etc).

The funny thing about computing though, is that it is not consumed in the process the way money and land are. Those have to be invested, because you really can't build a factory on a plot today, and then change it to apartments for a few hours to meet demand. You can't have your paycheck pay for food today, and then have the same money pay for rent tomorrow.

So now users have this virtual land that isn't dedicated to a single purpose and can change at the drop of a hat from producing (or consuming) kitten videos to committing virtual crimes to emailing your mom and back again. It defies the concept of specialization of labor. It defies the concept of investment, because once you pay the overhead and produce something for that virtual land (software), everyone can use it without investing in it themselves.

In other words, it defies the models of money and land. It is its own kind of beast, and computing is our window into that world. What computers we use are our "avatars," to use a tired term, and GP computing is the only avatar that isn't artificially hindered. But an avatar that is unhindered is (for the purposes of law enforcement) no different from allowing all citizens access to weaponry, without even background checks. Maybe it will take care of itself, maybe it won't; the arguments could go on forever.

I would say that the argument for GP computing is more akin to the right to bear arms than the right to free speech. It's individually empowering, to the point of threatening other people. Either you respect that people will someday need it, or you get in the path of that train. Maybe you can derail it with your corpse, maybe not, I don't know, but there are a LOT of people who won't sit idly by as you take their (metaphorical) guns away.

Alarmism (4, Insightful)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543120)

I read the transcript, and by the time he started saying things like this:

So today we have marketing departments who say things like "we don't need computers, we need... appliances. Make me a computer that doesn't run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it doesn't run programs that I haven't authorized that might undermine our profits". And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea -- just a program that does one specialized task -- after all, we can put an electric motor in a blender, and we can install a motor in a dishwasher, and we don't worry if it's still possible to run a dishwashing program in a blender. But that's not what we do when we turn a computer into an appliance. We're not making a computer that runs only the "appliance" app; we're making a computer that can run every program, but which uses some combination of rootkits, spyware, and code-signing to prevent the user from knowing which processes are running, from installing her own software, and from terminating processes that she doesn't want. In other words, an appliance is not a stripped-down computer -- it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.

I'm immediately reminded of countless Slashdot posts decrying the rise of appliance computing and lamenting the industry's move away from "general-purpose computing." That phrase is actually a euphemism for "nerd playground made by nerds for nerds," because that is what is actually being missed. Nerds feel power when they invest time and master a system, but non-nerds have neither the time nor desire to make computing a hobby. To them, computers are simply a means to get a job done, and that's the extent of their interest.

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take. But more importantly, it signifies a perspective that's out of touch with mainstream people; i.e., non-techies. Non-techies aren't interested in installing custom software or knowing what processes are running or uncovering their technological secrets. Those are things only techies care about.

Doctorow conflates this lament for nerd power with a lot of talk about copyright, DRM, and that all-important buzzword, "freedom." Not only does it make techies feel powerful to have mastery over the system, but it makes them feel important if they believe that their hobby is not just a lone expenditure of free time but the actions of a freedom fighter. However, I believe this is a confusion of issues. Appliance computing and DRM are necessarily not intertwined (look at the DRM-free iTunes Music Store), and appliance computing is just a derogatory (among nerds, anyway) term for an accessible product that most people can use. That such accessibility often necessitates the removal of configurability is simply unfortunate and incidental.

Stick-shift automobiles are generally more efficient gas-wise because you are able to directly control the gears used to move the vehicle, but most people today drive automatics. They don't want to mess with things, or tweak things, or dissect things. The car is a tool, and that is also true of computers.

Doctorow ends the talk with this:

We have been fighting the mini-boss, and that means that great challenges are yet to come, but like all good level designers, fate has sent us a soft target to train ourselves on -- we have a chance, a real chance, and if we support open and free systems, and the organizations that fight for them -- EFF, Bits of Freedom [?], Edrie [?], [?], Nets Politique [?], La Quadrature du Net, and all the others, who are thankfully, too numerous to name here -- we may yet win the battle, and secure the ammunition we'll need for the war.

Disregarding the pandering videogame terminology for a moment, this is a perfect example of the freedom-fighting perspective that appeals to techies and convinces them that they are soldiers in a "war". RMS has made a career out of this, and while his insistence on open technologies does contribute to progress in the long term, it's that step over the line into delusion that makes me cringe. There's no war. We're not soldiers. We're not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and we're not "level designers." We're just nerds who like to tinker, and that is a niche demographic in this business. The free market has discovered that the best way to make a seamless experience is to close parts of it down so the user doesn't screw it up (and any of you who have done tech support already understand how painfully easy it is for non-techies to do just that).

Probably, posting this will get me modded down, but I just wanted to comment on the bitterness toward appliance computing that has sprung up in online tech communities since the popularization of mobile devices like the iPad. There's this self-absorbed attitude that I just can't wrap my head around, a petulant voice that screams "Don't tell me what to do!" like a child throwing a tantrum. It's so out of touch with where the industry has headed in the last 10 years that it risks marginalizing its believers, turning them into crotchety, narrow-minded, unpleasant people.

PC gaming went from desktops to consoles, and now everything else is moving from desktops to mobile devices. It's where the industry is now, because seamless experiences win out in the long term. It's what users want. Now, as for DRM and the other points that Doctorow brought up, he frets over the computing restrictions of his future hearing aid, and I just can't take that as a serious argument. The whole talk reeks of alarmism, as the very restrictions he rants about have all been circumvented already, and several major players have abandoned such restrictions entirely, such as the aforementioned iTunes Music Store, which dropped its DRM (something Apple doesn't get enough credit for, honestly--I can't imagine what Steve Jobs said to the labels to get them to play along).

Re:Alarmism (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543242)

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take. But more importantly, it signifies a perspective that's out of touch with mainstream people; i.e., non-techies.

it doesn't make him wrong about that point, though. he is, in fact, entirely correct. It's a problem that we the techies should be going out of our way to apprise the less nerdly of so that they can make intelligent decisions.

There's no war. We're not soldiers. We're not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and we're not "level designers."

You can frame it any way you want. I like the video game metaphors, because I played a lot of video games growing up. And it's frankly true that if we stop buying general purpose computers over specific-purpose ones, we'll stop getting them, and we'll take gigantic steps backwards as a result. All these disparate devices that sit around idle most of the time are a terrible waste in a way that a computer with good power saving isn't.

Rational decisions are relative to wants (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543354)

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take. But more importantly, it signifies a perspective that's out of touch with mainstream people; i.e., non-techies.

it doesn't make him wrong about that point, though. he is, in fact, entirely correct.

Not really. Appliances usually won't have the RAM, GPU, storage, etc that a general purpose will have. Furthermore the "spyware" characterization is erroneous. Locked down and digitally signed perhaps, but that is something different than spyware.

It's a problem that we the techies should be going out of our way to apprise the less nerdly of so that they can make intelligent decisions.

You are proving the GP's point. The less nerdy are making rational intelligent decisions. Locked down helps avoid malware and other maintenance issues. They just want to turn it on and read email and browse the web, they don't want to be a weekend system administrator. What is rational and intelligent for we techies is not necessarily so for the less nerdy, its all relative based upon what we want out of our devices. Until we techies realize this we are not likely to convince the less nerdy of anything.

Re:Rational decisions are relative to wants (5, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543410)

Not really. Appliances usually won't have the RAM, GPU, storage, etc that a general purpose will have.

Way back in the way back, I had a computer upon which I had a development system and a web browser. It had a 16 MHz SPARC processor and 24 MB of RAM, a luxury back then. When the average cellphone of today is more powerful than the most powerful computers of then, this argument is beyond ridiculous.

Furthermore the "spyware" characterization is erroneous.

No, it really is not. Most network-connected devices will, at minimum, connect for update checks. Any television appliance that depends on remote servers for information is by definition tattling on you.

The less nerdy are making rational intelligent decisions. Locked down helps avoid malware and other maintenance issues.

[citation needed]

Re:Rational decisions are relative to wants (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543470)

Not really. Appliances usually won't have the RAM, GPU, storage, etc that a general purpose will have.

Way back in the way back, I had a computer upon which I had a development system and a web browser. It had a 16 MHz SPARC processor and 24 MB of RAM, a luxury back then. When the average cellphone of today is more powerful than the most powerful computers of then, this argument is beyond ridiculous.

As I said in my other post at a higher level, http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2598068&cid=38543276 [slashdot.org] :

"Unless of course the definition of general purpose is bringing up a terminal app."

Furthermore the "spyware" characterization is erroneous.

No, it really is not. Most network-connected devices will, at minimum, connect for update checks. Any television appliance that depends on remote servers for information is by definition tattling on you.

Well then by your definition my Linux system contains spyware since it also checks for updates.

Re:Rational decisions are relative to wants (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543584)

The iPad has enough power to run Windows XP no problem (although it's not on the right architecture to do so).

Re:Rational decisions are relative to wants (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543606)

The iPad has enough power to run Windows XP no problem (although it's not on the right architecture to do so).

The iPad is not an appliance. It is a general purpose handheld computer. To avoid redundancy this is elaborated upon in a different comment in this thread: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2598068&cid=38543572 [slashdot.org] .

Re:Rational decisions are relative to wants (2, Informative)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543744)

Way back in the way back, I had a computer upon which I had a development system and a web browser. It had a 16 MHz SPARC processor and 24 MB of RAM, a luxury back then. When the average cellphone of today is more powerful than the most powerful computers of then, this argument is beyond ridiculous.

The difference is, you could write your own software to run on that SPARC, you weren't at the mercy of whatever was in the 'SPARC App Store'. You weren't made to jump through many many burning hoops to get the toolchain to build new SPARC apps. You could distribute those new apps any way you wanted, you weren't dependent on the 'guardians of the gate' at the 'SPARC App Store'. You could get a wild hair up your ass, sit down, code and compile your new app however you wanted it.

Try that with your iphone.

Back in the Stone Age, you busted your ass off for a couple weeks to get your card stack made and compiled. Then you went to the machine operators, the 'High Priests' of computing and prayed for some time on the mainframe to run your stack. And if you were lucky, they'd run it sometime in the following three weeks. The charge was up to $100/minute for processor time, and that was in real money, equivilent to about $1000/minute today. If you were a college kid running your program on college mainframe, they'd charge it to your department. If you didn't have a class or belong to a department that needed computer support, you had ZERO access to the mainframe.

And now Big Media wants to turn the clock back to 1960 as far as computing goes. Are we having fun yet?

Re:Alarmism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543618)

I recognize no war. I'm not a soldier. I'm not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and I'm not a "level designer."

So sit down and shut up. Some are sick ofthe bleeting from the sheeple. There is a job to be done, we are not you.

Re:Alarmism (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543262)

Hey bonch, balls deep, huh?

Re:Alarmism (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543396)

I'm quite surprised they didn't have to bury them together.

Re:Alarmism (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543264)

That was a long piece of flamebait, so you'll excuse me if I only take part of it.

There's this self-absorbed attitude that I just can't wrap my head around, a petulant voice that screams "Don't tell me what to do!" like a child throwing a tantrum.

"Don't tell me what to do!" is one thing from a child to a parent, another from a slave to his master, a third from a man to his government, and yet a fourth from a purchaser of a product to its seller. Unless you feel all purchasers are children, the demand is not necessarily children.

The whole talk reeks of alarmism, as the very restrictions he rants about have all been circumvented already, and several major players have abandoned such restrictions entirely, such as the aforementioned iTunes Music Store, which dropped its DRM (something Apple doesn't get enough credit for, honestly--I can't imagine what Steve Jobs said to the labels to get them to play along).

Alarmism? Yes, they've been circumvented. Illegally in many cases. Which is only resulting in the other side tightening the screws more. And do you think those restrictions could have been circumvented if the most open computer anyone could get was an iPad?

Claiming this is alarmist with SOPA still on the table is sticking your head in the sand.

Re:Alarmism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543504)

How on earth was even a fragment of what he said in any sense flamebait. That was the most lucid and well-reasoned counterargument to the Doctorow position I've seen yet. I don't define "flamebait" as "somebody saying something I don't agree with".

Re:Alarmism (0)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543276)

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take.

And easily disproven. Appliance computers will usually not have the RAM, GPU, permanent storage, etc that a general purpose computer will have. Unless of course the definition of general purpose is bringing up a terminal app.

Re:Alarmism (1)

LittleLui (1792210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543428)

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take.

And easily disproven. Appliance computers will usually not have the RAM, GPU, permanent storage, etc that a general purpose computer will have. Unless of course the definition of general purpose is bringing up a terminal app.

My *Kindle* has 64 times the RAM and 40000 times the mass storage capacity of my first general purpose computer. Not to mention a faster CPU and a way better operating system. Yes, it's not as awesome as a current rig, but it's definitely general-purpose.

iOS/Android smartphones/tablets are not appliances (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543572)

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take.

And easily disproven. Appliance computers will usually not have the RAM, GPU, permanent storage, etc that a general purpose computer will have. Unless of course the definition of general purpose is bringing up a terminal app.

My *Kindle* has 64 times the RAM and 40000 times the mass storage capacity of my first general purpose computer. Not to mention a faster CPU and a way better operating system. Yes, it's not as awesome as a current rig, but it's definitely general-purpose.

iOS/Android smartphones/tablets are not appliances. They are general purpose handheld computers designed to handle everything from email to office productivity apps to video games. Appliances would be something like Apple TV, a device that downloads movies from the net, downloads videos from your phone, downloads photos from your phone or camera and displays them all on your TV. A general purpose computer could do all of this. The hardware in the Apple TV probably resembles a general purpose computer in many respects, but designers will probably leave off various unneeded things to reduce costs.

Re:iOS/Android smartphones/tablets are not applian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543802)

General-purpose CPU - check
Ability to load, execute and replace arbitrary programs in storage - check
RAM, permanent storage, lots of I/O devices - check

Nope, still full fledged computer. First and second parts especially divide them from appliances - those usually have either specialised ASIC or Harvard architecture CPUs with program stored in on-chip flash.

Re:Alarmism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543646)

You may be technically correct, but excuse me while I don't build my cloud platform on 10,000 Kindles.

General Purpose computers will ALWAYS exist.

Re:Alarmism (5, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543304)

I'm inclined to agree with him rather more, because I recently had to root my tablet. During the last routine system update, mysterious new crap appeared: Something called Layar. It was impossible to uninstall without rooting, and the marketplace page for it is just page after page of people giving it one-star reviews and complaining that it was installed without their consent. I think it's some type of augmented-reality program.

I spent a lot of money on that tablet so I can read books in the bath and watch FiM on the train. I don't need the problems of it updating itsself to install new junk I don't want.

Re:Alarmism (4, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543398)

I disagree. What people don't want is unnecessary complication. Give a person a Swiss army knife and there'll be functions they'll never use but it will still be useful to them. They simply won't use the stuff that doesn't apply.

Give someone an appliance, however, and you have a product that does one thing badly. It can't do that one thing well because nobody has the same one thing that they want to do. Nobody uses all the functions of a DVD player, but equally nobody uses exactly the same set of functions on a DVD player either.

Toasters are no longer simple mechanical devices for a reason. If an "appliance" concept really worked, all you'd need is a 555 timer chip and a variable resistor. There hasn't been a toaster that simple in almost 2 decades! Why? Because even the simplest task the human mind can possibly imagine, the most uniform and consistent task a human can imagine, still has too much variability and uncertainty in it.

The "appliance" market in domestic products is DEAD. We don't have single-purpose kiosks that look one thing up, we don't use PDAs, I don't even remember the last time I saw a shop selling single-function clockwork alarm clocks. I think it was some time in the early 70s. Appliances are a failure. People WANT general purpose tools, not over-specialized ones, because you can make the tool work the way YOU work, you don't have to work the way the tool does.

Half the reason older generations despised the evolution of appliances is precisely because it didn't adapt, they had to. Why should they? People are the masters of tools, the tools exist to serve people, it is never the other way around. The move in computing from general-purpose to excessively specialized is to go down a path that is well-trodden and one history has marked as a failure EVERY time.

Re:Alarmism (3, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543506)

I'm immediately reminded of countless Slashdot posts decrying the rise of appliance computing and lamenting the industry's move away from "general-purpose computing." That phrase is actually a euphemism for "nerd playground made by nerds for nerds," because that is what is actually being missed. Nerds feel power when they invest time and master a system, but non-nerds have neither the time nor desire to make computing a hobby. To them, computers are simply a means to get a job done, and that's the extent of their interest.

There's no conflict between a general purpose device and an easy to use one. I don't see how lack of DRM and user restrictions would suddenly mean anything different for the interface. All it means for most users is the ability to install unofficial applications. For the rest, the UI can be exactly the same.

Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take.

And an entirely correct one. If you're not the owner of your hardware, then somebody else is. And if they can make money by collecting all the data they can on you, why wouldn't they?

Stick-shift automobiles are generally more efficient gas-wise because you are able to directly control the gears used to move the vehicle, but most people today drive automatics. They don't want to mess with things, or tweak things, or dissect things. The car is a tool, and that is also true of computers.

Yes, a computer is a tool. A tool should do what it's told. A car should drive wherever I want, a hammer should hammer whatever I want, and a computer should execute whatever code I want. The tool is my slave and I'm its master, and that's the only relationship I'm willing to accept.

Disregarding the pandering videogame terminology for a moment, this is a perfect example of the freedom-fighting perspective that appeals to techies and convinces them that they are soldiers in a "war". RMS has made a career out of this, and while his insistence on open technologies does contribute to progress in the long term, it's that step over the line into delusion that makes me cringe. There's no war. We're not soldiers. We're not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and we're not "level designers." We're just nerds who like to tinker, and that is a niche demographic in this business. The free market has discovered that the best way to make a seamless experience is to close parts of it down so the user doesn't screw it up (and any of you who have done tech support already understand how painfully easy it is for non-techies to do just that).

Bunch of nonsense. The reality is whatever we make it be. If we decide to make a war where there wasn't one before, then there will be a war. The "free market" isn't some sort of deity, it's simply the consequence of the actions of people.

Besides, there's nothing approaching a free market in the modern economy. The cost of entry into say, the cell phone market is enormous, and all the existing players are busy making turf grabs to make sure nobody new moves in.

Probably, posting this will get me modded down, but I just wanted to comment on the bitterness toward appliance computing that has sprung up in online tech communities since the popularization of mobile devices like the iPad. There's this self-absorbed attitude that I just can't wrap my head around, a petulant voice that screams "Don't tell me what to do!" like a child throwing a tantrum. It's so out of touch with where the industry has headed in the last 10 years that it risks marginalizing its believers, turning them into crotchety, narrow-minded, unpleasant people.

You know, I don't get your position either. I used to hear that America was the Land Of The Free, where I imagine a sentiment like "Don't tell me what to do" would be quite welcome.

Again, we create our reality. Yes, that position is of course self absorbed. And no, I don't care that you don't like it, because that's the direction where I want things to go, so it's the direction where I will be pushing things. Neither of us are entirely passive actors at the mery of the world, we can and do shape it, even if usually in tiny increments.

PC gaming went from desktops to consoles, and now everything else is moving from desktops to mobile devices. It's where the industry is now, because seamless experiences win out in the long term. It's what users want.

That's not universal. I for instance mostly stopped buying games due to this. I do not care for consoles or gaming on mobile devices for the most part.

Now, as for DRM and the other points that Doctorow brought up, he frets over the computing restrictions of his future hearing aid, and I just can't take that as a serious argument. The whole talk reeks of alarmism, as the very restrictions he rants about have all been circumvented already, and several major players have abandoned such restrictions entirely, such as the aforementioned iTunes Music Store, which dropped its DRM (something Apple doesn't get enough credit for, honestly--I can't imagine what Steve Jobs said to the labels to get them to play along).

Er, and how do you think that lack of DRM happened? Because the industry suddenly decided to get rid of DRM out of the goodness of their heart?

No, because DRM failed miserably once and again, and again, screwing over quite a few people that were stupid enough to buy into it. And as a result it acquired a bad reputation. People made it clear that they don't like music with DRM, and go figure, the industry complied.

So all that needs to happen is for people to make clear they don't want DRM in hardware, and the industry will have to comply, because otherwise they'll lose a lot of money. So I'll keep pushing in that direction.

Re:Alarmism (2)

Bitmanhome (254112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543570)

I used have similar principles, right up to a month ago when I got my Evo 3D. It opened my eyes -- I was amazed at the raw power of the thing, but more amazed at just how dead easy it is to use. Android (and, I assume, iOS) have finally figured out how to make computing not just useful, but easy for regular users. I still don't know if walled gardens in general are the best solution, but we've taken a big step in the right direction.

That's not to say Doctorow and Stallman are absurd; on the contrary they've been very helpful pointing out the goalposts on this particular field. We know what fully-open looks like (Gnu) and what fully-closed looks like (cell phones) and we now know we want to be firmly in the middle.

As for Jobs vs. the labels, I suspect Jobs just said "remove DRM or we stop selling your music." By that time, iTunes was big enough (and CD sales small enough) that it was a meaningful threat.

Re:Alarmism (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543876)

Probably, posting this will get me modded down, but

It would if I modded, because I hate people who post crap like this. Your message is your message. If it's interesting or informative or insightful or even funny, you'll get modded up. Talk about pandering - you're pandering to the "oh noes, the truth always gets modded down" crowd. Stop talking about modding in your post. This is a discussion about an article, not about the modding system. Go post that crap on your page, where people who enjoy whining can read it. Look, you've derailed the discussion, cause now I'm annoyed and I'm blathering on about your pandering.

To get us back on topic, if we had single purpose computers in the past, we'd never have the diversity of products and applications we have now, because each one would have been closed and milked until it was not profitable anymore. Open systems drive innovation. Great, some people don't want general purpose computers. Great. Wonderful for them. They would destroy the infrastructure that makes innovation possible. To hell with them. The rest of us want to move the state of the art forward. We shouldn't let them drag the rest of us into their horrible constrained world.

Re:Alarmism (2)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543912)

You seem to be assuming that user-friendly NECESSITATES techie-hostile; it does not. Compare Archos's Android media players with an iPod touch or iPad. They have nearly identical interfaces as far as the casual user is concerned (there's not a HUGE difference between Android and iOS as far as user-friendliness goes) But the big difference in terms of freedom is that the Archos devices don't have any hardware or software intended to provent you from using them as you wish. In fact, if you go to the Archos website, they'll give you instructions for installing Angstrom Linux on your device. Now I'm certainly not saying every company needs to go to that extreme, but there's no reason they need to actively try to prevent techies from using their devices as they see fit.

Walled Gardens (4, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543136)

He mentions U-EFI bootloaders, but gives Apple a pass on their walled garden. I think that's one of the big factors making a lot of this sort of control more acceptable. And before you bring it up, yes, I realize that the OS X still lets you install any software you want. I'm specifically referring to iOS here. I think it's rise is the knee in the downward curve of general purpose computing.

How walled is "walled"? (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543214)

If I can write a program and install it on my (unjailbroken) iOS device, is it really walled?

Sure, it might be unnecessarily difficult but that never stopped a true nerd.

Re:How walled is "walled"? (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543326)

I suppose that is true in most ways. You need to pay extra for the ability, as does anyone you want to give the software too, and you need to buy a Mac, correct? The XBox model is similar I think. I would still consider both a walled garden, and therefore a curated general purpose environment. You can consider U-EFI the same way. If you install a software development environment you can run anything you want, as long as it's under their OS. There are varying degrees of openness. I do think this is the start of a downward slide though.

Re:How walled is "walled"? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543338)

Yes, it is... because no, you can't. Well, it is possible with the SDK and a huge amount of trouble, but even that is just something Apple generously permits you to do. Probably in violation of the licence agreement, too. It isn't something any user could do with ease.

Re:How walled is "walled"? (3, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543360)

"Walled" is when you have to pay a substantial developer license to be able to do what you just described. Which you do. That's at least a knee-high stone fence right there. By contrast, free software development on Windows and OS X is possible once you already have the OS.

Re:How walled is "walled"? (1, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543634)

$99 for the SDK is "substantial"? Really?

I mean, at the point where you're paying $200 for a phone, plus ~$80/month in service, laying down a Benny for the iPhone SDK doesn't seem that bad.

The student edition of Visual Studio is about the same price.

Re:Walled Gardens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543386)

the downward curve of general purpose computing.

I think the downward curve of general purpose computing is similar to congressional budget cuts. It's just not rising as fast as it used to. MS has sold 450 million copies of Windows 7 (there are over 1 billion Windows computers altogether). General purpose computers are nearing saturation. Appliance computers are more 'disposable'/faster upgrade cycle.

I can't see this happening... (1)

Wierdy1024 (902573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543138)

While there is a small hacker subculture, and while they ever innovate and add features people want, the public (or at least some of them) will flock to the more open devices.

It isn't exactly something we can write laws about, because enforcement is hard, and it isn't something that is going to become law in every single country...

Re:I can't see this happening... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543464)

We can legislate -some-. Since over-specialization inherently makes an inferior product, lemon laws will sometimes apply. In at least some cases, the product will simply not be fit for the purpose for which it was sold because purpose is inherently flexible whereas excessive specialization is inherently incapable of flexibility.

Software cannot be made completely "reliable", but then neither can any mechanical device. The system is quite capable of understanding what is reasonable vs. what is unreasonable, so the limitations of software correctness should be immaterial.

The best legislation, then, would be to require computational devices and software to be subject to lemon laws. Where lemon laws are themselves too cookie-cutter to comprehend flexibility then they themselves are not fit for purpose and should be replaced under the very same principle.

Impose "fit for purpose" and only the general-purpose can survive.

General purpose computing already won (4, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543144)

Standard PC hardware is used absolutely everywhere now days, even places it really has no business being; ATMs, voting machines, automatic train control systems, etc.

I'm sure Cory is trying to argue against locked-down devices -- the same argument he's been making for years -- but now he's repackaged the argument in a way that simply isn't true.

Re:General purpose computing already won (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543508)

Prick. You don't buy voting machines to use as a home PC. That's his fucking point twatface.

Re:General purpose computing already won (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543898)

Standard PC hardware is used absolutely everywhere now days, even places it really has no business being; ATMs, voting machines, automatic train control systems, etc.

And why not? The issue in cases where there are problems generally isn't the hardware acting up in some unpredictable fashion, but the software being badly designed. That issue becomes only worse if you try to find experienced people that can deal with fringe hardware - in reality you never get the dream staff you'd wish for. But in absolute terms you'll probably get a much better result when you've got the ability to place a high bid for talent on a sector with much of it available...

By the way, in case you don't want to accept the "software is the problem" argument, I hope you can see the same will be true for hardware designers and hardware manufacturers that can tailor-made hardware for you- results really probably won't be better than what you get from ARM, AMD or Intel, at least not with such non-trivial requirements.

Whatever (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543146)

Bkah blah blah blah

it's already here (-1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543158)

-At&t and the gov. Wiretapping us citizens.
-Corporate interests overrule constitutilnal rights
-corruption at every level of government
-systematic and direct attacks on basic civil rights
-unchecked law enforcement
-censorship of the media

Id say itr has already started.

Home-brew Graphene ICs (1)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543194)

What these guys aren't counting on is the obsolescence of multibillion dollar CPU fabs. The advent of graphene as the substrate material threatens to turn the whole game on its head with resilient communities routing around the damage with flexible manufacturing and mesh networks. Disintermediate or die.

Re:Home-brew Graphene ICs (2)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543728)

Death to SHE [sdsu.edu] !

Re:Home-brew Graphene ICs (1)

pepty (1976012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543780)

Even if someone does solve the energy leakage/inefficiency of graphene transistors, how do mesh networks escape the tragedy of the commons? I.e., broadband connections would still be too expensive to give away for free, and the spectra available to host them are limited.

Not a surprise. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543272)

The worlds governance, both state and business eve where such distinctions are meaningful systems are largely corrupt and stupid and like Dodos or the Easter Islanders unable to adapt. Trying to eliminate the tools that can start to force them to change or replace their systems entirely or baring that co-opt them for their own survival is the only step they could take.

We need "rational" solutions but with a species that largely solves things through "who you know" rather than "what we know" getting there is hard. We need to, probably for species continuance or to avert civilizational collapse but I am not we'll get it.

Never going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543278)

No computing appliance can be all things to all people and nobody is going to buy 6 different appliance to do the job of a single general purpose computer.

Choices... (3, Insightful)

Bander (2001) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543320)

The popular success of iOS and other closed systems doesn't mean there aren't choices out there. I have an easily-unlocked and rooted Android phone, and I love it. Would my wife appreciate the command-line access and Python scripting facilities? Probably not -- she didn't even want a feature phone -- even an iPhone would be overkill for her use cases.

HTC just announced that going forward, all their phones will have unlocked bootloaders. Not everything is going closed.

Re:Choices... (1)

iroll (717924) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543666)

I bought a phone (Nexus S) that came unlocked and doesn't need to be rooted. I purchase service for this phone from T-Mobile, without a contract.

The thing that annoys me the most is how remarkably underwhelming the "community response" is for that kind of combination. The choice most slashdotters rave about wanting is available, and yet they piss around with jailbreaks and complaints about walled gardens. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate doing nerdy things just-for-the-sake-of-it, but I also think there's a point where you have to vote with your dollars.

Buying a used android phone on Craigslist and rooting it is cool and probably gives you what you most of what you want, but it doesn't make it any more likely that what you want will be widely available in the future.

No shit, Sherlock. (1, Insightful)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543332)

What a douche, Doctorow is. Since the first TPM chips came out, there have been attempts to take away our control of our computers. Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, written over five years ago, had one old character who managed to keep a computer that wasn't completely rooted at the processor level. The war started awhile ago. Cory is just so myopic, he only saw the skirmishes.

Better a walled garden than a steel octagon (5, Insightful)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543366)

I think Mr. Doctorow errs in assuming two things: 1) that there's an intrinsic value in the total openness of programmable electronic devices, and 2) that the new "walled garden" approach adopted by Apple, Microsoft et al. is somehow being done to benefit the estate of Jack Valenti (thank God the Supreme Court couldn't extend his lifetime).

Before you mod me into oblivion, hear me out.

Most people do not give a good goddamn about having control over the code execution path. In fact they don't want control because they can get confused into letting viruses and other malware execute. They want their devices to make life easier, whether that means keeping track of information or playing games to pass the time or some other convenience, and given a two-dimensional optimization choice over the convenience/freedom axis they'll pick convenience every time. And they're not wrong or stupid or evil to do so. They just don't agree with your set of principles.

And thank God for that, because I for one would not want to witness the consequences of a Melissa or Slammer-type worm infecting every Android or iOS device in the United States. We would just stop.

There will always be vigorous and enthusiastic communities centered around truly general purpose devices. You need only look to the many devices other posters here have mentioned, such as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and dozens of other hackables. Hell, through Amazon you can rent time on an infinite mountain of general-purpose computing if you're interested.

Let's face it -- hackers, by which I mean the folks who want to push devices to do things they were neither designed nor intended to do, are a teensy minority in the world of users.

Re:Better a walled garden than a steel octagon (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543544)

Ever tried transferring your home ripped CDs from one iPod another linked to a different machine? Say a mac pro and an mbp which you both own. Tough shit, can't do it. Now fuck off, moron.

Re:Better a walled garden than a steel octagon (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543792)

Hackers tend to be industry professionals, or become industry professionals, the very people who make these gadgets.

The extreme end result of too much trusted computing is that too few people would understand how all this stuff works, and there would be too few engineers to make this stuff. One could imagine the worst case scenario of a technological civilization where nobody understands the technology created generations back anymore and it all seems to work like magic and pop out of magic automated factories. Until one day it just stops and nobody knows how to fix it. Cory doesn't do too good-er job of communicating this, but we need hack-able gadgets so people can have the next generation of engineers and developers that make everything work.

Attack learning at this end and it has economic consequences.

How is this new? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543370)

Satellite providers have been fighting against smart card readers and their hackers for years. It has been a full blown war for a couple of decades now. Content providers will always choose a locked down system over an open system. And no wonder given the fucking shitheads who steal and think everything should be free.

I have said it a dozen times (2, Insightful)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543462)

"They" (Big Content) want to turn the computer into the Television, where they control every aspect of what you do, see and hear.

The thing is it wouldn't be much of a war because all people have to do is stop consuming their content and they go away, but people just can't seem to do that, one other thing, why is every challenge in America labeled a "War" the war on piracy, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, etc.

Re:I have said it a dozen times (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543510)

with more and more people leaving cable tv behind, and sometimes TV in general behind more are doing it than you think.

Re:I have said it a dozen times (1)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543800)

That's a nice thought.

Remotely controlled devices are the near future (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543480)

Guess who the controlling does.

bjd

Gotta love Cory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543492)

He just breaks it down in a way that makes me want to send ANOTHER email to my representatives about SOPA.

Hopefully everyone who reads this feels the same and takes a moment to contact their representatives to make sure that this puppy stays dead.

Down with ZOMBIE mpaa legislation!

The third great war (4, Interesting)

Sara Chan (138144) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543538)

The first half of the twentieth century was dominated by the war against fascism. The second half of the twentieth century was dominated by the war against communism. We are now engaged in a third great war: where governments try to gain total monitoring capabilities—where everything everyone does and says is monitored.

The goal will be to have everything tracked and recorded. The technology will certainly exist, and governments will certainly try to deploy it. And most people will acquiesce. Because the governments are doing it "to protect the children", or "to stop terrorism". Or maybe it will be done just for convenience (e.g. portions of the Internet now require a Google account—and having a Google account now requires giving Google your phone number). Just remember, "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear".

This war will last decades, like the first two. The outcome is anyone's guess.

Fuck you Apple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543574)

And your plans to neuter computers.

It's fine (2)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543720)

HTC just opened up their phones. There's tonnes of cheap tablets that are open. Thing is, even big guys like IBM want to keep things open. Look at HTML5. They're all too scared of Microsoft to risk a complete lock down.

Only if you use computers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38543726)

Personally speaking, I use computers pretty much as a time-waster (browsing the web, chatting on a few forums), none of it is necessary or essential to me.

My internet "personal-details-footprint" is pretty much non-existent. I certainly don't need any of it. In fact when I get away for a few days - down to the coast where I have no computer - I feel so relaxed. I can spend my time doing far more productive things - like kicking back and reading, going fishing, sitting on my bum and doing nothing!

I know many, many people who are in the same boat. Computers are an appliance, in the same way as a microwave, or vacuum-cleaner. The fact that they're networked is of little or no consequence.

Many of these alarmists are so inward-looking that they can watch their own breakfast digesting. Unless they have a conspiracy to fret over they have no life.

Here's an idea - switch your PC off and go out into the real world.

Walled gardens... (3, Interesting)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 2 years ago | (#38543892)

... do not mean malware free computing, it means corporate sponsored malware the user is unaware of and can't get rid of. You people are dense who think walled gardens are going to be a panacea. The good thing about open systems at least is that they are analyzed by lots and lots of eyeballs. Closed systems will let nefarious organizations do whatever they want without your say or your knowledge.

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