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Doctorow: the Coming War On General-Purpose Computing 439

Posted by Soulskill
from the fought-with-dollar-bills dept.
GuerillaRadio writes "Cory Doctorow's keynote at 28C3 was about the upcoming war on general-purpose computing driven by increasingly futile regulation to appease big content. 'The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.'" If you don't have time for the entire 55-minute video, a transcript is available that you can probably finish more quickly.
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Doctorow: the Coming War On General-Purpose Computing

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  • Raspberry Pi (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:29PM (#38543108)
    Devices like the Raspberry Pi prove him wrong. If anything the backlash has already started: geeks are reclaiming their devices and building the systems that they want.

    The music industry realised they were on to a losing battle five years ago. The movie industry will realise the same, soon. In fact, I give it less than five years before Google are producing their own content and streaming it world-wide, without restrictions.
  • Alarmism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:31PM (#38543120)

    I read the transcript, and by the time he started saying things like this:

    So today we have marketing departments who say things like "we don't need computers, we need... appliances. Make me a computer that doesn't run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it doesn't run programs that I haven't authorized that might undermine our profits". And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea -- just a program that does one specialized task -- after all, we can put an electric motor in a blender, and we can install a motor in a dishwasher, and we don't worry if it's still possible to run a dishwashing program in a blender. But that's not what we do when we turn a computer into an appliance. We're not making a computer that runs only the "appliance" app; we're making a computer that can run every program, but which uses some combination of rootkits, spyware, and code-signing to prevent the user from knowing which processes are running, from installing her own software, and from terminating processes that she doesn't want. In other words, an appliance is not a stripped-down computer -- it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.

    I'm immediately reminded of countless Slashdot posts decrying the rise of appliance computing and lamenting the industry's move away from "general-purpose computing." That phrase is actually a euphemism for "nerd playground made by nerds for nerds," because that is what is actually being missed. Nerds feel power when they invest time and master a system, but non-nerds have neither the time nor desire to make computing a hobby. To them, computers are simply a means to get a job done, and that's the extent of their interest.

    Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take. But more importantly, it signifies a perspective that's out of touch with mainstream people; i.e., non-techies. Non-techies aren't interested in installing custom software or knowing what processes are running or uncovering their technological secrets. Those are things only techies care about.

    Doctorow conflates this lament for nerd power with a lot of talk about copyright, DRM, and that all-important buzzword, "freedom." Not only does it make techies feel powerful to have mastery over the system, but it makes them feel important if they believe that their hobby is not just a lone expenditure of free time but the actions of a freedom fighter. However, I believe this is a confusion of issues. Appliance computing and DRM are necessarily not intertwined (look at the DRM-free iTunes Music Store), and appliance computing is just a derogatory (among nerds, anyway) term for an accessible product that most people can use. That such accessibility often necessitates the removal of configurability is simply unfortunate and incidental.

    Stick-shift automobiles are generally more efficient gas-wise because you are able to directly control the gears used to move the vehicle, but most people today drive automatics. They don't want to mess with things, or tweak things, or dissect things. The car is a tool, and that is also true of computers.

    Doctorow ends the talk with this:

    We have been fighting the mini-boss, and that means that great challenges are yet to come, but like all good level designers, fate has sent us a soft target to train ourselves on -- we have a chance, a real chance, and if we support open and free systems, and the organizations that fight for them -- EFF, Bits of Freedom [?], Edrie [?], [?], Nets Politique [?], La Quadrature du Net, and all the others, who are thankfully, too numerous to name here -- we may yet win the battle, and secure the ammunition we'll need for the war.

    Disregarding the pandering videogame terminology for a moment, this is a perfe

  • Walled Gardens (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:32PM (#38543136)
    He mentions U-EFI bootloaders, but gives Apple a pass on their walled garden. I think that's one of the big factors making a lot of this sort of control more acceptable. And before you bring it up, yes, I realize that the OS X still lets you install any software you want. I'm specifically referring to iOS here. I think it's rise is the knee in the downward curve of general purpose computing.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:33PM (#38543144) Homepage

    Standard PC hardware is used absolutely everywhere now days, even places it really has no business being; ATMs, voting machines, automatic train control systems, etc.

    I'm sure Cory is trying to argue against locked-down devices -- the same argument he's been making for years -- but now he's repackaged the argument in a way that simply isn't true.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:34PM (#38543154)
    I've brought this up before. Users do want freedom, they just don't realize it until they've completely lost it and then have a use for it.
  • by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:36PM (#38543174)

    I think that too often, people confuse freedom with configurability when it comes to software. You can have freedom without driving away users with making them suffer the paradox of choice [wikipedia.org], and at the same time, much of lack of configurability in popular devices today isn't really a lack of a freedom, at least it's not seen that way to mainstream users. Techies often just label it a lack of freedom because they can't do absolutely everything they want.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot&hackish,org> on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:44PM (#38543238)

    Depends on what you're arguing. If you mean that consumers prefer to buy walled-garden devices like iPads versus programmable computers, I agree that's something we have to fix ourselves, through outreach, PR, making better programming environments, whatever. But another angle is the government passing laws that make it increasingly difficult to offer unrestricted general-purpose computers. That I think is much more clearly a civil-liberties issue than just an issue of consumer preference.

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:44PM (#38543242) Homepage Journal

    Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take. But more importantly, it signifies a perspective that's out of touch with mainstream people; i.e., non-techies.

    it doesn't make him wrong about that point, though. he is, in fact, entirely correct. It's a problem that we the techies should be going out of our way to apprise the less nerdly of so that they can make intelligent decisions.

    There's no war. We're not soldiers. We're not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and we're not "level designers."

    You can frame it any way you want. I like the video game metaphors, because I played a lot of video games growing up. And it's frankly true that if we stop buying general purpose computers over specific-purpose ones, we'll stop getting them, and we'll take gigantic steps backwards as a result. All these disparate devices that sit around idle most of the time are a terrible waste in a way that a computer with good power saving isn't.

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:46PM (#38543264) Journal

    That was a long piece of flamebait, so you'll excuse me if I only take part of it.

    There's this self-absorbed attitude that I just can't wrap my head around, a petulant voice that screams "Don't tell me what to do!" like a child throwing a tantrum.

    "Don't tell me what to do!" is one thing from a child to a parent, another from a slave to his master, a third from a man to his government, and yet a fourth from a purchaser of a product to its seller. Unless you feel all purchasers are children, the demand is not necessarily children.

    The whole talk reeks of alarmism, as the very restrictions he rants about have all been circumvented already, and several major players have abandoned such restrictions entirely, such as the aforementioned iTunes Music Store, which dropped its DRM (something Apple doesn't get enough credit for, honestly--I can't imagine what Steve Jobs said to the labels to get them to play along).

    Alarmism? Yes, they've been circumvented. Illegally in many cases. Which is only resulting in the other side tightening the screws more. And do you think those restrictions could have been circumvented if the most open computer anyone could get was an iPad?

    Claiming this is alarmist with SOPA still on the table is sticking your head in the sand.

  • Choices... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bander (2001) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:51PM (#38543320) Homepage

    The popular success of iOS and other closed systems doesn't mean there aren't choices out there. I have an easily-unlocked and rooted Android phone, and I love it. Would my wife appreciate the command-line access and Python scripting facilities? Probably not -- she didn't even want a feature phone -- even an iPhone would be overkill for her use cases.

    HTC just announced that going forward, all their phones will have unlocked bootloaders. Not everything is going closed.

  • No shit, Sherlock. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by TheMiddleRoad (1153113) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:52PM (#38543332)

    What a douche, Doctorow is. Since the first TPM chips came out, there have been attempts to take away our control of our computers. Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, written over five years ago, had one old character who managed to keep a computer that wasn't completely rooted at the processor level. The war started awhile ago. Cory is just so myopic, he only saw the skirmishes.

  • by SalsaDoom (14830) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:54PM (#38543348) Journal

    Now, this is making sense. Because its true.

    People often ask me about my anti-Apple attitude (or anything really restrictive) and when I explain to them that they've bought something that don't actually really posses complete control over it they are usually understanding. I don't press my opinion in a "the world is ending soon because of..." sort of way. I explain the truth, that there is a trend for that type of activity and I'd like to see it reversed.

    In my experience, most people imagine that they "own" something when they purchase it. When they understand that they don't own their iPad in the same way they own their car or their house, they do understand why thats a bad thing *even if they lack of the technical knowledge to take advantage of it*. I don't think most people are quite so stupid as people often assume here. Its just that technology isn't something they think about on a regular basis, accountants probably think many people are stupid because they have bad accounting practices in their lives.

    People don't want to spend hundreds of dollars to rent a thing. When you explain how all of this ties into planned obsolescence and other market strategies they can become quite offended at the idea. Owning a device you are free to operate fully means you can replace it on your own terms, not artificial ones (say, from lack of software updates).

    So yes, the poster above is correct. Users absolutely do want freedom, they just don't immediately put together the reasons why they do.

  • by schmidt349 (690948) on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:56PM (#38543366)

    I think Mr. Doctorow errs in assuming two things: 1) that there's an intrinsic value in the total openness of programmable electronic devices, and 2) that the new "walled garden" approach adopted by Apple, Microsoft et al. is somehow being done to benefit the estate of Jack Valenti (thank God the Supreme Court couldn't extend his lifetime).

    Before you mod me into oblivion, hear me out.

    Most people do not give a good goddamn about having control over the code execution path. In fact they don't want control because they can get confused into letting viruses and other malware execute. They want their devices to make life easier, whether that means keeping track of information or playing games to pass the time or some other convenience, and given a two-dimensional optimization choice over the convenience/freedom axis they'll pick convenience every time. And they're not wrong or stupid or evil to do so. They just don't agree with your set of principles.

    And thank God for that, because I for one would not want to witness the consequences of a Melissa or Slammer-type worm infecting every Android or iOS device in the United States. We would just stop.

    There will always be vigorous and enthusiastic communities centered around truly general purpose devices. You need only look to the many devices other posters here have mentioned, such as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and dozens of other hackables. Hell, through Amazon you can rent time on an infinite mountain of general-purpose computing if you're interested.

    Let's face it -- hackers, by which I mean the folks who want to push devices to do things they were neither designed nor intended to do, are a teensy minority in the world of users.

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday December 30, 2011 @06:59PM (#38543398) Homepage Journal

    I disagree. What people don't want is unnecessary complication. Give a person a Swiss army knife and there'll be functions they'll never use but it will still be useful to them. They simply won't use the stuff that doesn't apply.

    Give someone an appliance, however, and you have a product that does one thing badly. It can't do that one thing well because nobody has the same one thing that they want to do. Nobody uses all the functions of a DVD player, but equally nobody uses exactly the same set of functions on a DVD player either.

    Toasters are no longer simple mechanical devices for a reason. If an "appliance" concept really worked, all you'd need is a 555 timer chip and a variable resistor. There hasn't been a toaster that simple in almost 2 decades! Why? Because even the simplest task the human mind can possibly imagine, the most uniform and consistent task a human can imagine, still has too much variability and uncertainty in it.

    The "appliance" market in domestic products is DEAD. We don't have single-purpose kiosks that look one thing up, we don't use PDAs, I don't even remember the last time I saw a shop selling single-function clockwork alarm clocks. I think it was some time in the early 70s. Appliances are a failure. People WANT general purpose tools, not over-specialized ones, because you can make the tool work the way YOU work, you don't have to work the way the tool does.

    Half the reason older generations despised the evolution of appliances is precisely because it didn't adapt, they had to. Why should they? People are the masters of tools, the tools exist to serve people, it is never the other way around. The move in computing from general-purpose to excessively specialized is to go down a path that is well-trodden and one history has marked as a failure EVERY time.

  • Not really. Appliances usually won't have the RAM, GPU, storage, etc that a general purpose will have.

    Way back in the way back, I had a computer upon which I had a development system and a web browser. It had a 16 MHz SPARC processor and 24 MB of RAM, a luxury back then. When the average cellphone of today is more powerful than the most powerful computers of then, this argument is beyond ridiculous.

    Furthermore the "spyware" characterization is erroneous.

    No, it really is not. Most network-connected devices will, at minimum, connect for update checks. Any television appliance that depends on remote servers for information is by definition tattling on you.

    The less nerdy are making rational intelligent decisions. Locked down helps avoid malware and other maintenance issues.

    [citation needed]

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pmontra (738736) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:03PM (#38543426) Homepage

    Devices like the Raspberry Pi prove him wrong.

    As long as they are legal. That was the point of the speech.

  • by koan (80826) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:07PM (#38543462)

    "They" (Big Content) want to turn the computer into the Television, where they control every aspect of what you do, see and hear.

    The thing is it wouldn't be much of a war because all people have to do is stop consuming their content and they go away, but people just can't seem to do that, one other thing, why is every challenge in America labeled a "War" the war on piracy, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, etc.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:09PM (#38543486)
    It doesn't amaze me because a tiny minority does control most of the resources of the world and they pull the strings whenever they feel like.
  • Re:Alarmism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vadim_t (324782) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:11PM (#38543506) Homepage

    I'm immediately reminded of countless Slashdot posts decrying the rise of appliance computing and lamenting the industry's move away from "general-purpose computing." That phrase is actually a euphemism for "nerd playground made by nerds for nerds," because that is what is actually being missed. Nerds feel power when they invest time and master a system, but non-nerds have neither the time nor desire to make computing a hobby. To them, computers are simply a means to get a job done, and that's the extent of their interest.

    There's no conflict between a general purpose device and an easy to use one. I don't see how lack of DRM and user restrictions would suddenly mean anything different for the interface. All it means for most users is the ability to install unofficial applications. For the rest, the UI can be exactly the same.

    Doctorow argues that an appliance computer isn't a specialized computing device but a general-purpose computer running "spyware." This is a highly politicized perspective to take.

    And an entirely correct one. If you're not the owner of your hardware, then somebody else is. And if they can make money by collecting all the data they can on you, why wouldn't they?

    Stick-shift automobiles are generally more efficient gas-wise because you are able to directly control the gears used to move the vehicle, but most people today drive automatics. They don't want to mess with things, or tweak things, or dissect things. The car is a tool, and that is also true of computers.

    Yes, a computer is a tool. A tool should do what it's told. A car should drive wherever I want, a hammer should hammer whatever I want, and a computer should execute whatever code I want. The tool is my slave and I'm its master, and that's the only relationship I'm willing to accept.

    Disregarding the pandering videogame terminology for a moment, this is a perfect example of the freedom-fighting perspective that appeals to techies and convinces them that they are soldiers in a "war". RMS has made a career out of this, and while his insistence on open technologies does contribute to progress in the long term, it's that step over the line into delusion that makes me cringe. There's no war. We're not soldiers. We're not fighting a "mini-boss" in a video game, and we're not "level designers." We're just nerds who like to tinker, and that is a niche demographic in this business. The free market has discovered that the best way to make a seamless experience is to close parts of it down so the user doesn't screw it up (and any of you who have done tech support already understand how painfully easy it is for non-techies to do just that).

    Bunch of nonsense. The reality is whatever we make it be. If we decide to make a war where there wasn't one before, then there will be a war. The "free market" isn't some sort of deity, it's simply the consequence of the actions of people.

    Besides, there's nothing approaching a free market in the modern economy. The cost of entry into say, the cell phone market is enormous, and all the existing players are busy making turf grabs to make sure nobody new moves in.

    Probably, posting this will get me modded down, but I just wanted to comment on the bitterness toward appliance computing that has sprung up in online tech communities since the popularization of mobile devices like the iPad. There's this self-absorbed attitude that I just can't wrap my head around, a petulant voice that screams "Don't tell me what to do!" like a child throwing a tantrum. It's so out of touch with where the industry has headed in the last 10 years that it risks marginalizing its believers, turning them into crotchety, narrow-minded, unpleasant people.

    You know, I don't get your position either. I used to hear that America was the Land Of The Free, where I imagine a sentiment like "Don't tell me what to

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:13PM (#38543520)
    I'm not sure if the best answer to the paradox of choice is to remove choice and configurability. For example, newegg offers a ton of deals for buying certain combinations of hardware, and when there are 231 possible deals for your CPU, it's not feasible to try and sort through that. The answer wouldn't be to stop those deals, but rather, to make it easier to process all that information.

    One might have argued at one point that there are too many websites on the internet, but the solution to that wasn't to reduce the number of websites, but to create good search engines that let us make sense of it all.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:30PM (#38543634) Homepage

    $99 for the SDK is "substantial"? Really?

    I mean, at the point where you're paying $200 for a phone, plus ~$80/month in service, laying down a Benny for the iPhone SDK doesn't seem that bad.

    The student edition of Visual Studio is about the same price.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:46PM (#38543774)

    It's been shown in several studies that too many choices hinders the decision-making process and leads to decreased happiness, which was the subject of the book I linked by psychologist Barry Schwartz.

    I'm familiar with his theory, which is essentially that when we have too much information to process, we get unhappy, mostly because we fear we aren't making the best choice, or the cost of making a decision is greater than the benefits the choices convey. There are two ways to deal with the problem of too much information to process: less information or better processing. I advocate the latter whenever feasible.

    It goes without saying that the sites on the first page of the search results get the vast majority of hits. Nobody wants to sift through the 10,000,000+ hits a Google search gives you. It's an impressive number but ultimately meaningless in terms of how most people use a search engine.

    You missed my point. There is an ever increasing amount of information, but Google helps you process the information you need. That's why the existance of 10,000,000 sites on a particular subject doesn't cause us anxiety. Google doesn't make those sites inaccessible, and if you decide are searching for something much more specific, a site that may have been a million pages deep will be the first result. Google's role is in the organization of that information.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by voidptr (609) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:47PM (#38543776) Homepage Journal

    As long as they are legal. That was the point of the speech.

    Which is a law nobody's remotely proposing, nor one that would fly.

    There's about a dozen mainstream CPUs on the market today that can be integrated into a workable computer by practically anybody with a Newark catalog and a overnight board fab in their bookmarks, which the Raspberry Pi guys are proving. The reason there's so many is precisely because they are used everywhere; there's thousands of companies now that integrate them into their own appliances and more starting every day. Prohibiting the sale of general purpose CPUs or imposing mandatory content control features in anything that smells like a processor would bring the economy to a halt overnight.

    You think Intel would be stupid enough to not lobby every dime they had against such a bill? The alternative would be the death of the company.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nick Ives (317) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:53PM (#38543804)

    Doctorow is making the argument that stuff like that is being proposed and fought for in the current copyright war. Desire for it may spread to other developed sectors of the economy.

    If it's Intel v everyone else and they do it on an international basis as part of a treaty, it could happen. The argument being made is that we should be aware of and prepared for this kind of thing because if other sectors of the economy start to get as annoyed by general purpose computers as the *AA have then there would be a serious fight.

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:59PM (#38543876)

    Probably, posting this will get me modded down, but

    It would if I modded, because I hate people who post crap like this. Your message is your message. If it's interesting or informative or insightful or even funny, you'll get modded up. Talk about pandering - you're pandering to the "oh noes, the truth always gets modded down" crowd. Stop talking about modding in your post. This is a discussion about an article, not about the modding system. Go post that crap on your page, where people who enjoy whining can read it. Look, you've derailed the discussion, cause now I'm annoyed and I'm blathering on about your pandering.

    To get us back on topic, if we had single purpose computers in the past, we'd never have the diversity of products and applications we have now, because each one would have been closed and milked until it was not profitable anymore. Open systems drive innovation. Great, some people don't want general purpose computers. Great. Wonderful for them. They would destroy the infrastructure that makes innovation possible. To hell with them. The rest of us want to move the state of the art forward. We shouldn't let them drag the rest of us into their horrible constrained world.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by voidptr (609) on Friday December 30, 2011 @08:00PM (#38543904) Homepage Journal

    Most processors sold today (by individual units shipped) aren't used in a general purpose computer or even an appliance that would be considered one. They're used in embedded applications, but it's the same processor (or very closely related) to the ones that are used for general purposes.

    Most of those embedded users are squeezing every dime they can out of component costs, and those companies put together are far bigger than big content is. Nobody, including the chip fabs themselves, would stand for adding features to anything that looks like a CPU that would get in the way and drive up prices for the majority of their consumers. The latest x86-64 is used fairly heavily by embedded systems these days, plus the millions of them churning away in data centers around the globe on general purpose servers running every flavor of OS ever ported to it, making billions for their owners.

    Does anyone really think Intel would stand by and watch 75% of their market get either obliterated overnight or priced out the market, that Amazon would let AWS become illegal, that any congressman on the planet wouldn't have hundreds of constituents explaining how they built businesses around writing software?

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Friday December 30, 2011 @08:35PM (#38544240)

    "Don't tell me what to do!" is one thing from a child to a parent, another from a slave to his master, a third from a man to his government, and yet a fourth from a purchaser of a product to its seller. Unless you feel all purchasers are children, the demand is not necessarily children.

    Don't fricken buy it then.

    "Don't tell me what to do!" from a purchaser to a seller is exactly the purchaser being a child. The purchaser has 100% control of a transaction before it occurs. Don't buy it. Negotiate "Don't tell me what to do!" as part of the purchase contract. Or live with the terms of the purchases you make, like an adult.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday December 30, 2011 @08:42PM (#38544318)

    I had mod points, and I was planning on use them all on this discussion, but as no one said what I wish to say, I'll spend them elsewhere. Here it goes.

    You claim that the Raspberry Pi proves Doctorow wrong. Well, tablet computers prove him right. And smartphones, too. These are the two personal computer forms which dominate today's market, and will continue to dominate in the future. The market for laptops is shrinking while the market for tablets has increased 42%, according to some estimates [dnaindia.com] Apple is becoming the world's dominant computer platform [computerworld.com], with the dominant product being a closed, locked-down, walled garden of a personal computer.

    And what about your home router? It's also a general purpose computer, which has been locked down hard to force you to not fiddle with it. The same applies to NAS and even some external HDs.

    If that isn't enough, take a look at every chinese trinket toy which is sold on ebay. I'm referring to stuff such as MP3 players, media players, tablets, video game consoles and all of the sort. You can't fiddle with their software, you can't tweak their OS, you can only use them until it gets bricked. I personally have purchased a cheap, 20 dollar MP3 player with a neat color display which, at the time, put my cellphone to shame, and the damned thing could only be used to display song names and play tetris. And it was a full blown computer, which had a SD card reader.

    My media player is also a general purpose computer, which has been castrated by my cable provider. My TV is also a general purpose computer, complete with HDMI input plugs, SD card reader and USB plug. It runs linux, too. But I can't do shit with it. It's from Sony, which also sells other personal computers, such as the Playstation line, playstation portable and playstation vita. And you can't do shit with them, either.

    This is what Doctorow is warning about. And you said he has been proven wrong? How?

    So no, Raspberry Pi does not prove him wrong. No matter how cool it is or how open it has been designed, it is a very specific product for a very specific market. There is a risk it will be put in the same category as a multitester, oscilloscopes and pulse generators: technical tools which only the technically literate are interested in using. That is, true general purpose computers are being relegated to something that only the fools at the local modern incantation of the homebrew computer club are even interested with, and this is very dangerous.

    This artificial limitation already plagues the software development world, where compilers are seen as scary stuff which only technical people care to have. I've seen police reports where they claimed that the target of the raid was somehow a hacker and a pirate because he had linux on his computer, as a dual boot. People already accept these absurd views on computers. They perceive locked down computers as something which is desirable and here to stay, and the hardware vendors are already taking advantage of that ignorance and lack of insight.

    The path to a computing world where all computers are tight-down walled gardens is already set, and if we don't acknowledge it and do something prevent this disaster to happen then it will happen. And it will happen in the near future.

  • by rastoboy29 (807168) on Friday December 30, 2011 @08:46PM (#38544362) Homepage
    Just because we are a small group, doesn't mean we are wrong.
  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsborg (111459) on Friday December 30, 2011 @08:47PM (#38544372) Homepage

    It's not the computer they're trying to control, it's the communications. And they are most definitely winning right now.
    It amazes me that a tiny minority can run the world so completely.

    The tiny minority (the 0.1%) gets the next 20% to follow them by the fiction called the "stock market". This (easily game-able and impossible to adequately regulate) market allows those with the most to decide the winners (with insider knowledge) while constantly funneling money towards them [1]. While they fleece and rape the rest of the world and get the lion's share of the plunder, the next 20% have an opportunity to ride the wagon for a bit and get a bit more wealthy. Only when that next-to-top 20% wake up and coordinate with lower 79.9% will anything fundamental change. And thus you will see that kind of activity being made "illegal" under false-pretenses to "curb piracy" [2] or "hunt terrorists" [3].

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front_running [wikipedia.org]
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act [wikipedia.org]
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USA_PATRIOT_Act [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @09:45PM (#38544822)

    It's not just legislation, but also closed door trade agreements. Look at the way currency detection algorithms were inserted into color scanner, copier, and printer technology. Regardless of what we think about currency counterfeiters, that's a very clear example of how technology can become limited as per Doctorow's warning.

    While all the hacker-ethic people keep looking for the next Gutenberg press to democratize information and technology, those in power are of course going to be concerned with controlling it, to protect their power hierarchies.

    Personally, I have mixed feelings. Should we ever obtain an unfettered, consumer-controlled production capacity, we may all be buried in a pile of bread and circuses...

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crutchy (1949900) on Friday December 30, 2011 @09:45PM (#38544824)
    they both serve the same purpose (capitalism & communism)... help the rich get richer
  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday December 30, 2011 @10:08PM (#38544972)

    No, I'm quite sure Core2 CPUs are not being used in many embedded applications. That space is dominated by ARM chips, and there's no general-purpose PCs made with ARM CPUs.

    You have completely missed the point. The only reason a computer with an ARM chip isn't a general-purpose computer is because it has been locked down to the point it becomes a single-purpose computer. These little ARM processors are still general-purpose processors, quite capable of performing general-purpose computations and run any software we throw at it. They may not do it as fast as Intel's newest offering, but they are still quite capable of being used as personal computers. I've used general-purpose computers which packed a 33MHz 386 chip, and I did all sorts of stuff with them. Computers such as the ZX Spectrum and commodore 64 were a lot slower than these ARM chips, and they were general-purpose, too. If those systems were general-purpose computers, how come a 300MHz Arm system with 128MB of RAM isn't?

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Friday December 30, 2011 @10:52PM (#38545230)

    I hope you're right. The processors in even a total homebrew have to come from somewhere and I can see the content providers requiring DRM being built right into the CPU.

    They have teetered around getting Intel to do it, but it's a hard sell because that gives AMD an advantage, and, these days, you can do video media on ARM and any number of other architectures. Intel won't be giving up their market easily, and that's exactly what would happen if they became the MPAA's patsy before all their competition did.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrandTeddyBearOfDoom (1483117) <gtbod.chalisque@com> on Friday December 30, 2011 @11:24PM (#38545398) Homepage

    I doubt China or Russia would follow suit, and this kind of stupidity is just what will give them the lead in computer tech.

  • Re:Alarmism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:07AM (#38545928)

    And if no suitable product exists due to economic conditions? "Just make your own?" What, is there no such thing as economic coercion? Does everyone have infinite resources?
    I don't think so. Grow up and take a more nuanced view of how markets and human psychology actually work.

  • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf.yahoo@com> on Saturday December 31, 2011 @12:13PM (#38548494)
    I consider ripping fair use for DVDs I've purchased (and these days if you're not desperate to buy a movie the first two years after it came out, you can probably find the DVD for $5 or less). It may not stand up in court, but I figure it has a better chance than torrenting. It's also harder for the MPAA to track.

The Universe is populated by stable things. -- Richard Dawkins

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