Defective by Design is Defective

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 28, 2010

Once again the Defective by Design have sprung into action to denounce another product from Apple, and once again nobody really cares.

Defective by Design is a marketing campaign sponsored by the Free Software Foundation. While the FSF does plenty of good work, DBD is increasingly out of touch with the majority of users. Contrast the tone of the Defective by Design campaign with Stan Schroeder over at Mashable, who nails Apple's goals with the iPad:

Apple didn’t omit a camera or multitasking by accident. An engineer didn’t come up to Steve Jobs on Tuesday saying, "I don’t know how to tell you this, Steve, but we’ve forgotten about the camera. No, please, not the head! Ouch!" They've omitted all these things on purpose, and this purpose tells you more about Apple’s plans than the things they did put in... The way I see it, the iPad is not about creating; it’s all about consuming content.

And that's it exactly. Apple has omitted features and locked the device down. But guess what? People like to consume content, and they're going to flock to a device that lets them do so easily. Despite all the "Tivoization" complaints from the FSF, people aren't flocking away from Tivos. Despite complaints of DRM in the Amazon Kindle, people haven't rejected it in droves for DRM — but they very well may switch to the iPad because it's better than the Kindle for what people want.

It isn't that the folks at the Free Software Foundation are wrong that DRM is bad for users, it's that they are taking an entirely negative and counter-productive approach to the problem. Their approach to "marketing" may resonate with some in the FLOSS community, but their efforts are not at all likely to win hearts and minds of users who don't get out of bed in the morning singing the Free Software Song.

While Defective By Design highlights legitimate problems with the iPad (and other products) where are the alternatives? Stop telling people what they shouldn't buy, and make it easier for them to get hands on some kit that lets them do what they want to do with free software. In other words, stop groaning about Apple and deliver a DRM device of your own, already.

Non-profits like the FSF have two problems. The first is achieving the mission that they have set out for themselves. The second problem is a continual need to fund the organization in order to work on the mission. Why not try to solve both problems, Mozilla-style, by trying to find a workable business model that supports the goals of the mission and bring in a few bucks to sustain the effort long-term?

Imagine for a moment that organizations like FSF actually offered products and services that users could pay for to support the organization and provide equivalent alternatives to the non-free software, services, and hardware that they warn users about?

The Defective by Design petition is futile and at best a losing attempt to get a bit of press coverage to tell the DBD story. In particular, the "demand" for Apple to "remove all DRM from its devices" is not likely to carry much weight inside Apple.

You know what does? Money. When Apple saw alternative MP3 services offering non-DRM music and threatening its sales, it reacted and started offering DRM-free music. When Apple sees consumers choosing an alternative device because it is DRM-free then, and only then, is the company going to take moves to remove DRM from the iPad or any other products in its line. The FSF and DBD folks can protest all they want, but they're not likely to move consumer sentiment very far, and they're certainly not going to give Steve Jobs a guilty conscience about DRM.

But if the bright folks at the Free Software Foundation put their heads together with some of the other minds in the industry who care about open content and free software, they might just figure a way to deliver something that ensures user freedom directly. I'm much more heartened by the folks at Yorba who saw a gap in the Linux desktop and moved to solve it by creating a non-profit to sponsor projects to develop applications rather than carping to users that they shouldn't use the Apple alternatives.