Why you should give up Apple products and try these

Most computers we use, be it phones, notebooks or desktops are proprietary. That means the people/companies who developed them have…
Give up proprietary computers

Why you should give up Apple products and try these instead

Most computers we use, be it phones, notebooks or desktops are proprietary. That means the people/companies who developed them have released only the product in the market for users to use and operate but are hesitant in giving out the specifications, datasheets and design documentation. They say that it is confidential and intellectual property of the company/individual. Building a computer is not rocket science. Every individual can build one for their personal use. All it takes is some enthusiasm and willingness to explore beyond the obvious.

So, if one were to buy a computer from Apple (say a MacBook Air) then, one has to use what Apple provides. There are few or no alternatives to spare components, firmware or software. It is usually termed as a ‘jail’ wherein one is forced to follow the rules formulated by Apple developers. Tweaking or breaking any code be it hardware or software can potentially void the warranty and if one chooses to be magnanimous and shares it on internet then, one is bound to face legal action (depending on how much impact it creates). One has no idea what components were rigged on to the motherboard. If they fail (most often they do) then, the only option is to replace the complete motherboard with every component on it. Guess what? The cost of doing this can fetch you a new computer with similar config! The business model here (I’m guessing) is to build computers that could last for say a couple of years (or three years maximum, remember they sell you an extended warranty which burns a hole in the pocket!). Then, components fail and users are forced to buy new one. A classic example of promoting ‘use and throw’. No reuse or repair. If users had access to the specifications, BIOS firmware code, design of an Apple computer then, it would have been a much easier process to repair and reuse. Users would realize that the design of the components are not adhering to any de-facto or de-jure standards. All the glitter on the external vanishes when the Mac fails to power on and suddenly one realizes that Apple had sold them an illusion and not a computer.

So, now the question is if we are not going to buy a computer from Apple or any other proprietary vendor (there are a lot of them but I won’t name them as it is an exercise in vanity) then, whom are we going to buy one from? Are we going to build ourselves one through elaborate research, procurement and assembly? Or choose a vendor who follows open processes and design which are available for study and inspection freely. There are few such groups or companies which do this with a motive to liberate the computing for humanity. They allow the user to control every component and firmware code in the hardware to operating system kernel and applications. Basically, you know in totality what your computer does and just does what you want it to and nothing less or more. A few of them such as Libreboot, System76 and Purism build servers, desktops, notebooks and even smartphones which are open and more freedom respecting. If one were looking for an alternative to the ‘i’ products then perhaps they should consider the above ones, before getting swayed by the massive advertising (such as — you either have an iPhone or you don’t!) and peer pressure.

Librem smartphone by Purism. Photo courtesy — fossbytes.com
System76 desktops with wood finishing. Photo courtesy — linuxgizmos.com

Most processors (by Intel and AMD) come with Management Engines which are potential back doors to your computers. All it takes is to trigger a remote command from someone sitting at Intel or AMD to shut off your computer or inject malware into your system at a much more deeper level (much before you could boot an operating system or technically speaking — much before the BIOS could start). Libreboot and others make sure that the computers they sell are free from such hardware back doors. They also use free and open source operating system, BIOS (called Core boot and its fork the Libreboot) and applications in them. This allows anyone to inspect, validate, change and share the machine completely (both hardware and software).

Libreboot X200S tablet/notebook. Photo courtesy — libreboot.org

One might argue with a different analogy here. Let’s take the example of your favorite dish served at a restaurant. The chef and the restaurant management might say that the recipe is their trade secret and intellectual property. Giving it out means that there would be lesser foodies at there restaurant. Other restaurants might use it to bring up more competition. One chef or restaurant owner may also try to sue a person in court for having replicated the dish on their own. Well all of these are churlish, myopic and quick-on-the-buck strategies for hubris engulfed narcissists. What they are missing here is when they share the recipe, they are also sharing knowledge (Remember — Sharing is caring). To use that recipe to have the exact same taste and aroma is more of an art mastered by someone over years of practice. The recipe isn’t the only raison d’etre for a restaurant. Or its success or failure. It involves a lot of other factors such as pricing, service, hours of operation, delivery etc. Now, coming back to computer manufacturers, there are a lot of factors which affect their existence in market as well, much similar to a restaurant. In fact, one of the positives in making programs and hardware open is this that they are bound to attract more enthusiasts, developers and hobbyists who can contribute and promote these computers. Every user of the computer would now know how it actually works, repair them at their own convenience, add and remove hardware and software components and in essence use it “just the way they like”. These computers would no longer be termed as ‘jails’ but instead ‘gateways’ for vibrant possibilities.