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Do we need a mobile-computing bill of rights?

The EFF calls Apple's mobile devices "beautiful crystal prisons" because they have a wide range of restrictions. Its call is to let people tinker.

There are some things she just won't help you with.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has ripped Apple and told it to open its platforms for those folks that just have to tinker. The Apple jab, which started with Steve Wozniak, will draw headlines, but the EFF also pitched a mobile computing bill of rights.

Calling for giving people the liberty to tinker with their mobile possessions, the EFF called Apple's iOS devices, whose usage terms come with a wide array of restrictions, "beautiful crystal prisons."

Hell will freeze over before Apple dumps its usage rules. After all, it's pretty clear from the sales figures that Apple's restrictions aren't exactly a deal breaker. For good measure, the EFF takes on Microsoft for its embedded operating systems. The EFF noted:

In many ways, the Windows ecosystem has been more open than iOS' since it began. People have always been able to install whatever software they want in Windows, and whatever operating systems they want on their PCs. It's common for tinkerers to dual-boot their PCs with GNU/Linux and other operating systems, and some users choose to completely remove Windows.

However, this is going to change, at least for Microsoft's mobile and embedded OSes. Microsoft recently announced that in order to be Windows 8 hardware-certified, personal computers must implement the "secure boot" option in the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware interface specification, which is a modern replacement for the traditional PC BIOS.

The punch line from the EFF is a mobile bill of rights. The idea is interesting, even though the ultimate market of tinkerers may be limited. The EFF proposes that users should be able to:

  1. Install arbitrary apps on the device. Kill the proprietary app stores already.
  2. Access the phone OS at the admin level. People should be able to run anything they want and tinker with the OS.
  3. Install an OS completely. Yes, the EFF says you should be able to run any Android you want on your phone and install Linux on the iPhone. Android on an iPhone? Why not?
  4. Hardware and software warranties should be separated. Again, the EFF calls out Apple for punishing those who have jailbroken iPhones.

The EFF has some valid points, but don't expect a groundswell of support -- especially from hardware and software vendors, or from wireless carriers. Perhaps a march is needed, though. Tinkerers unite!

This story as first published as "Do we need a smartphone bill of rights for iOS?" on ZDNet's Between the Lines.