FSF launches a denial-of-service attack on Apple's Genius Bars

The Free Software Foundation is making itself irrelevant...again, this time by fighting against Genius Bars everywhere.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

At OSCON this year, MySQL's Brian Aker made this bold statement:

Microsoft is irrelevant....We're more worried about Apple.

Perhaps he was taking a cue from MySQL's Zack Urlocker, who has been buying Macs for family members, but I understand the sentiment. Microsoft still dominates the desktop, but the momentum is Apple's.

Perhaps this is why the Free Software Foundation, which wants to protect everyone's freedom (except, oddly, on the web), has gone on another Quixotic campaign to save the world from Apple's DRM (Digital Rights Management) by clogging its Genius Bars with freedom-loving developers asking questions about freedom and then logging Apple's non-free responses.

Here's how it works:

You can use Apple's helpful online booking system (no registration required) to reserve time slots at the Genius Bar. There are currently 217 Apple stores in seven countries, giving us plenty of slots to book. We want as many people as possible to book slots this Friday and Saturday. Why not book more than one? Having lots of slots booked will get Apple's attention and ensure that the Geniuses have done their homework.

The questions?

  1. Why do all developers have to submit their applications to Apple before they can be loaded onto an iPhone?
  2. Why does iTunes still contain so much DRM-laden music?
  3. The iPhone 3G has GPS support. How can users be sure that the GPS cannot be used to track their position, without their permission?
  4. In 'Thoughts on Music', Steve Jobs said, "it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in 'open' licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC".
  5. Why can the iPhone 3G only be activated by Apple and AT&T?

The answer to just about every one of these questions is, "Because this is the only way to get the entertainment industry to agree to allow its content to be distributed as openly as it has with Apple, and because Apple wants to make sure it makes money." You don't have to visit a "genius" to get the answer. Nor do you have to block real customers with real questions from getting support at the Genius Bar to get answers.

As to the third question, no one cares where you go. Get over it.

The fourth question? It's not a question. At least put a question mark at the end to pretend.

Now here's a question for the Free Software Foundation: If you care so much about freedom, why have you completely overlooked the Internet? Have you heard of it? It's this big thing (Google has indexed a trillion web pages) that increasingly dominates our lives, yet you have been content to sit on the sidelines and maintain a foolish position that the only software freedom that matters is the software that sits on your PC.

I'd argue that the inverse is true. The software on my desktop arguably matters the least, in terms of freedom, compared to the server and cloud. And you, the inveterate freedom fighter, have completely fallen down the job of fighting for web freedom.

Instead of soiling your feet in Apple's shrines to proprietary software and hardware (aka "Apple Store"), why don't you instead demand that the web services we use remain open? Why not fight for open data guarantees? Why not, in other words, do something that affects more than my ability to listen to Radiohead on the Zune, and instead affects my ability to take years of email stored in Gmail and move it elsewhere, offline or online?

There are far better battles to fight. Stop wasting your time.