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RMS on Jobs; Raspberry Pi

 

October 23 2011

RMS on Jobs

RMS — the founder of the GNU Free software movement — has little love for Steve Jobs. In the wake of Jobs’ tragic death, RMS said that “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone”.

One of the reasons RMS has such animosity with Jobs is because of Apple’s “Look and Feel” lawsuits from the 1980s and early 1990s that tried to argue that a GUI was copyrighted by Apple; this litigation slowed down innovation in the tech industry. Yes, those lawsuits were a step in the wrong direction, but:

  • Steve Jobs was not a part of Apple at the time — he was working on the NExT cube and with Pixar while Apple was pursuing those lawsuits.
  • Apple has, under Steve Jobs, made a number of contributions to open source. Jobs, unlike RMS, brought UNIX — indeed, UNIX built with GNU software — to the desktop. Apple also gave us Webkit and has made a lot of contributions to GCC under Jobs’ tenure
  • The lawsuits are from two decades ago.
  • Apple paid a very high price for pursuing an ultimately vain attempt to get a monopoly on GUIs via litigation: Once Windows 95 came out, Apple nearly died until Jobs returned to the reins to make Apple profitable again.
RMS completely misses the point when he complains about Apple taking away freedom. The market has spoken, and people would rather have something that works and is easy to use than have something with a “freedom” that only matters if you’re a programmer or other hardcore geek, but has an inconsistent, obtuse, and hard-to-use interface.

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is an interesting idea: Making a usable computer that costs only $35. Right now, the project is vaporware; while the computer is supposed to be available next month, it still can not be purchased.

This looks like the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project over all again. OLPC promised us a usable small laptop for $100 at a time when a small subnotebook would set you back $1000 or more. In the end, it gave us a $200 laptop, but only available if purchased in bulk for the education market in developing countries.

OLPC, however, inspired the netbook revolution of the late 2000s — the best technological development of the first decade in the 2000s — and I hope the Raspberry Pi inspires a similar revolution in low-cost computers. It’s possible today to make a computer more powerful than the desktop computers of the mid-1990s running Windows 95 that propelled the dot-com revolution for $35 — the hard part is finding software that will run on such a computer that people will actually want to use.

C|Net site design

I recently commented on C|Net being very bold by using, for their body text, a font without delta hinting. They got enough complaints from people that the font looks "gray" that they have replaced the slab-serif font they were using with Arial. Personally, I think they would have been better off using a slab-serif web font with delta hinting, such as Monotype's Rockwell Light, but that might have been too expensive — it would cost C|Net well over $1,000 per month to get a site license from fonts.com.

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