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The lame blame game

Another silly pundit says Apple needs to open up.

The Macalope
Born of the earth, forged in fire, the Macalope was branded "nonstandard" and "proprietary" by the IT world and considered a freak of nature. Part man, part Mac, and part antelope, the Macalope set forth on a quest to save his beloved platform. Long-eclipsed by his more prodigious cousin, the jackalope (they breed like rabbits, you know), the Macalope's time has come. Apple news and rumormonger extraordinaire, the Macalope provides a uniquely polymorphic approach. Disclosure.
The Macalope
5 min read

Writing for the BBC, Bill Thompson asks the question "Time for Apple to face the music?" (tip o' the antlers to Dominic Bassett.)

Forgive yourselves if you think you've heard this one before. You have.

The recent launch of the new range of iPods, including the video Nano and the iPod Touch, has shown just how far Apple is willing to go to make life difficult for its users in order to shore up its dominant position in the market for music players and downloads.

Do tell, Bill.


No! Wait! Don't! That was rhetorical!

...if you had gone to the trouble of making your own ringtones for your iPhone...


... using snatches of song from your library then you will find they are all gone the next time you sync with the latest iTunes. Apple now sells ringtones to its US customers for $0.99 and it would rather you paid up than made them yourself.

Hmm, let's see, this incredibly annoying system that's an offense to the customer's intelligence can either by the product of:

  1. The company that specializes in beautiful hardware and software that are renowned for their ease of use.
  2. The recording industry which, if it had its druthers, would charge you every time you hummed a song to yourself or thought about music, musicians, musical instruments, or band camp and the many amusing things you can do with flutes.

Bill seems to think it's A rather than B. It's possible, it's just not very likely. Still, as annoying and offensive as the iPhone ringtones system is, it's worth noting that it's still better than anyone else's system.

Second, it seems that the new generation of iPods will not output video through cables or docks that aren't Apple authorised and have a specific "authentication" chip. Apple charges a hefty cut for joining its approved suppliers programme, and this is a way to ensure that vendors sign up.

Yeah, OK, this one stinks and it's Apple's doing. No argument from the brown and furry one there.

But the nastiest little change is to the iTunes library itself. iTunes keeps your songs organised using a database, and over the years a number of free and open source music players have been developed that can read and write this database format.

This is important as Apple doesn't support Linux...

You have a really loose definition of "important".

... so any Linux user who can't resist the lure of an iPod...

Those damned seductive iPods! Luring unsuspecting neck-bearded 40-year-olds out of their parents' basements with promises of unbridled digital audio delight!

Lest we forget, Bill, you're talking about people who are going to connect an iPod to Linux. Blaming the iPod is pretty much blaming the victim in this context.

... needs a non-Apple library manager, but it also gives Mac and Windows users a bit of flexibility.

And the five people who take advantage of that flexibility are really happy.

Programmes like gtkpod, Rhythmbox and Banshee are easy to use and don't try to sell you songs all the time...

Uh-huh. Using an application you compile yourself is sooo much easier than going to the "View" menu and selecting "Hide MiniStore".

Thompson makes a big fuss about the "cat and mouse" game that requires developers to reverse engineer roadblocks Apple creates to prevent using anything but iTunes to manage songs on an iPod. Oddly, however, his big complaint about the iTunes database checksum was actually solved three days before his piece was posted, making this particular complaint seem rather silly. It also makes the Macalope wonder why the checksum was added in the first place if it was so easy to crack. Again, who's asking for these "features" that keep iTunes closed? Is it Apple management? If so, they should be asking their programmers why their algorithms are so easy to crack.

Or was it the backward elements of the recording industry? Remember, these are people who think every MP3 on your iPod is stolen.

The Macalope doesn't know for sure, but when you look at the history of the iPod and the iTunes Store, to Apple it's never been about selling songs or movies. It's been about selling iPods. It's the recording industry that's demanded that only five computers can be used with one store account, that you can only burn a playlist seven times, and all the other major restrictions.

If Apple was serious about building a music industry around downloads and digital devices then it would open up its devices and interfaces to allow greater innovation and greater competition.

You know, the Macalope knows a lot of faeries who inhabit the magical realm of imagination under the toadstool down by the babbling brook in the Great Green Wood, and even they aren't so unworldly about commerce to expect a company to actively help other companies compete against it.

But, wait! What's this? Well, whaddaya know?! It is possible to compete against Apple! You just, you know, have to create something that doesn't suck.

I wrote a presentation this morning using Microsoft's PowerPoint, but displayed it using Apple's Keynote. Apple can sell Keynote because it took PowerPoint apart and figured out how the files work.

Had Apple been unable to do so, or found that every time it figured out what was happening Microsoft changed the format, it would have complained loudly.

Hey, Bill, Cory Doctorow called. He wants his shtick back.

This analogy was bogus when Doctorow used it and it's bogus now. Microsoft controls the PowerPoint file format and can change it any time it wants. The reason it doesn't is because it doesn't want to create an interoperability nightmare for its Office customers. It's certainly not because Apple would be mad because Keynote can't import the new file format all of a sudden. Good grief.

It's bad enough that Doctorow and Thompson insist on blaming Apple for something that probably isn't its fault. Couldn't they go to the effort to put together a rational argument? Is that asking too much?

Again, that's rhetorical.