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Doctorow on the War on General Purpose Computing 360

Posted by timothy
from the worth-reading-all-the-way-through dept.
Cory Doctorow has posted the content of his talk delivered at Google this month on what he calls the coming civil war over general purpose computing. He neatly crystallizes the problem with certain types of (widely called-for) regulation of devices and the software they run — and they all run software. The ability to stop a general purpose computer from doing nearly anything (running code without permission from the mothership, or requiring an authorities-only engine kill switch, or preventing a car from speeding away), he says boils down to a demand: "Make me a general-purpose computer that runs all programs except for one program that freaks me out." "But there's a problem. We don't know how to make a computer that can run all the programs we can compile except for whichever one pisses off a regulator, or disrupts a business model, or abets a criminal. The closest approximation we have for such a device is a computer with spyware on it— a computer that, if you do the wrong thing, can intercede and say, 'I can't let you do that, Dave.'"
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Doctorow on the War on General Purpose Computing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 26, 2012 @01:47PM (#41130349)

    Just extend RFC 3514 to add an "Evil Bit" to all executables. If that bit is set, the program won't run.

    Problem Solved.

    • An alternate possibility might be a variant of spyware. It would run like a virus detector, except that the programs it prohibits come from a different list, than the lists of malware programs provided by anti-virus vendors.
      • by mikael (484)

        There are really only two choices of either a whitelist or a blacklist. The tricky part is that you must also include kernel objects, dynamic loaded libraries as well as executables.

        For Linux, a whitelist could be updated as modules are installed.

        Android actually restricts execution of user installed files to one or two directories.

  • Oh shit! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 26, 2012 @01:52PM (#41130383)

    I'm a woman who uses a PC and a Christian.

    So, I now have to deal with a war on PCs, a Republican War on Women, and then there's the War on Christianity.

    What is a girl to do!?

    • Re:Oh shit! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:23PM (#41130599)

      I'm a woman who uses a PC and a Christian.

      I figure I know what you do with the PC. What's the Christian for?

      • by Type44Q (1233630)

        I'm a woman who uses a PC and a Christian.

        I figure I know what you do with the PC. What's the Christian for?

        To help her with her grammar (I know, right?!).

        • by Shavano (2541114)

          I'm a woman who uses a PC and a Christian.

          I figure I know what you do with the PC. What's the Christian for?

          To help her with her grammar (I know, right?!).

          Then she doesn't seem to have been able to find him in time to check her posting. It might be that the War on Christianity has been more successful than we thought; she better check to see if he's OK.

          Maybe he's a funny Christian. I found her post humorous.

      • Re:Oh shit! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @03:56PM (#41131223)
        Christians have been used as lion food since the heyday of the Roman Empire.
        • Christians have been used as lion food since the heyday of the Roman Empire.

          Wouldn't that have made it the "Humanday for Lions", rather than hayday for Romans?

    • Re:Oh shit! (Score:5, Funny)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:27PM (#41130641)
      You can stop using the Christian. Stopping being a woman is difficult and PCs are too much useful to get rid of, but at least you'll get rid of a third of your problems.
    • by OneAhead (1495535)
      The mods who have sense of humor seem to be out of town today.
  • all in all (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @01:54PM (#41130393) Homepage Journal

    The article in full is a very interesting argument for why we will all regret our eagerness to embrace the "walled garden".

    Has everyone forgotten the days when your computer actually belonged to you? The days before computing was more than just shopping?

    Do you own your PS3 or your Xbox 360?

    How did we reach a point where we will so willingly turn over our individual agency to Apple, Microsoft, Sony? Or AT&T and Comcast? Who here believes that those companies can be trusted to look out for our best interests?

    • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:04PM (#41130459) Journal

      How did we reach a point where we will so willingly turn over our individual agency to Apple, Microsoft, Sony? Or AT&T and Comcast?

      First the earth cooled... It was all downhill from there.

      • Re:all in all (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:29PM (#41130665)
        Because the majority of people are not nerds. They don't know a single command of any programming language, and barely understand the idea of a heirachial filesystem. When the computer doesn't do what they expect, they have no idea how to fix it. They are willing to give up control in return for simplicity - something that, in the words of Apple's marketing department, 'just works.' They are happy to let the manufacturer of their phone and network operator run all the technical stuff because they have no idea what HSPDA, 3G, GSM, TDM and GPRS mean and they don't want to have to know. They just want to be able to make phone calls and use a few simple apps. We've gone past the time when technology was inherently cool, and entered the time when it is just a tool - and the non-nerd wishes to use the tool to achieve an end, not learn how the tool works.
        • Re:all in all (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Microlith (54737) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @04:20PM (#41131365)

          Yup. Exploiting the ignorance of others is the best way to take power for oneself. Just look at the modern US political process. Exact same thing, and just as much if not a bigger disaster.

          • Re:all in all (Score:4, Insightful)

            by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @05:08PM (#41131677)

            It's not pure ignorance though. I'm perfectly happy to run a walled garden 99% of the time. I'm happy to sacrifice freedom for security. Why? Because sometimes sacrificing one freedom provides you more freedom somewhere else.

            Let's say for instance that you give up the freedom to drive whatever speed you want wherever you want. That's a freedom we've sacrificed--we have police who enforce rules. It's now a walled garden. But in exchange for that loss of freedom I now am far less likely to crash, I'm less likely to get hit by a car, if someone does hit me my insurance is affordable and can restore my car to a new state and I'm more likely to drive since safety is greater.

            My goal is to simply get from point A to B safely and as quickly as reasonable. Ultimately the structure and rules increase traffic volume and speed so that the commons don't slow to a crawl from frequent crashes and poor right of way.

            Similarly if I just want my applications to work then a lightly walled garden that ensures spyware isn't running in the background actually reduces the odds that my privacy will be compromised. Sure it might also provide a backdoor to the government if they get a warrant but that unlikely scenario is far less dangerous in my opinion to identity fraud resulting in huge financial loss and credit damage. The government can read my email I really don't care. Knock themselves out--they'll be bored to death. Not sure why they would want to. But I would be exceedingly worried if someone got my bank account info.

            • Re:all in all (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Linsaran (728833) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @06:08PM (#41132051) Homepage
              Your argument is slightly flawed, roads are a public resource, you can only fit so many cars on any given road, and if those cars don't behave in a way which is predictable to other drivers then travel time would be erratic, and the danger of crashes is increased. Further without rules and an enforcement process if someone felt like being an asshole, they could simply park their 18 wheeler across the street and stop anyone from going anywhere. We have traffic laws because the road is a public place and without agreeing on some common rules they would be unusable. You are not giving up your freedom to speed, you are agreeing that if you want to use public roads you won't speed on them. If you however had a private road you could drive your car anyway you like on it, at any speed and any amount of recklessness.

              If I was using a public computer with agreed upon rules about how the machine would be used to ensure the safety and security of others I would have no problem operating within a walled garden, it's not my hardware, and if I want to use it the owner is perfectly justified at setting rules on how it is to be used. However if it's MY hardware, why does some other company have the right to decide what I can and can't do with my hardware. Now if I was either too lazy or unskilled to properly secure my hardware I have the right to allow some other company to do it for me by creating a 'walled garden' as it were, but I should always have the right to say screw you I want to run this program anyways, acknowledging the risks involved. If I want to let someone else handle the responsibility of securing my device that's fine, but I shouldn't HAVE to let someone else handle that responsibility.

              This would largely be the same as the owner of a private road hiring a private security company to police their road and make sure that drivers on it obey whatever rules you institute, but you always have the right to fire that security company.

              Instead what we have is a situation where I can buy a private road (piece of computing hardware), and the company I buy it from says, "ok you can only use your road (computer) to do these certain things we have already decided are allowable, otherwise we'll stop you from doing it"

              Screw that, if I want to drive around like a mad man (expose my personal information to potential identity thieves), flip my car (have my banking info exposed to a Nigerian prince), and leave be hind some flaming wreckage (have all my money stolen) on my own private road (personal computing hardware) I should be allowed to.

        • by rmdyer (267137) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @04:21PM (#41131377)

          People should at least know a couple of things. Some companies make computer hardware, and some companies make computer software. Software is something that works on computer hardware. It "can" be the case that the same companies who make the the hardware could also make the software, but this is NOT implied. In the past, we've had the pleasure that we could get our software from anyone because the PC design philosophy was "open".

          The standard car analogy may suffice here. Some companies make cars. Some companies make gas. We don't buy "Ford" or "Chevrolet" gas do we? But the analogy gets deeper than this. The gas is seen as the OS in this analogy. We figure that if we put in a single type of gas, example "Ford" gas, we can still travel where we want. But the problem is that the "Ford" gas will only work on certain highways that the car maker will allow us to go down. Going forward in the computer industry, this exactly what is going on. If you use Apple computers and devices for example, you can only view the world through Apple's lens.

    • Re:all in all (Score:5, Insightful)

      by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:10PM (#41130501) Homepage

      Has everyone forgotten the days when your computer actually belonged to you?

      To make a counterpoint: We need a certain level of restrictions so that the computer actually does what I want instead of does what the application wants. Current OSs offer very little in the way of actually restricting applications. If you execute an application from a third party, it can do quite literally what it wants. Even Open Source doesn't help much as you have no time to audit it all. At best it might not have root rights, but that still doesn't stop it from searching through your personal photo collection, your credit card info, your mail and all that stuff. In contrast you have Apples AppStore, it's a walled garden with all it's problems, but it also comes with a sandbox. If you execute an App from the AppStore it can't do anything to your system, as it's stuck in it's little box. It can't get your photos, credit card info or anything like that unless you explicitly allow it. The AppStore thus shift control away from the application and back to the user where it belongs.

      • And the walled garden is fine for certain models. But when I consider what I've been doing lately, joining queries from heterogeneous data sources, there is no way this can work in a walled garden, where the limits are not so much on the questions I can ask but rather on the kind of data I can bring in to inform the question.

        And for every walled garden we see, we see others bringing in virtualization services to try to capture the server and database markets, which are inherently general purpose in nature.

        T

        • Re:all in all (Score:5, Informative)

          by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Sunday August 26, 2012 @03:30PM (#41131085)

          It's a bit funny that you use Raspberry Pi as an example. After all, it has code to prevent certain parts of its firmware from running unless unlocked by a license key. You cannot even boot the thing without loading proprietary firmware doing who-knows-what.

          (Disclaimer, I own one)

      • Re:all in all (Score:5, Informative)

        by next_ghost (1868792) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:28PM (#41130651)

        Current OSs offer very little in the way of actually restricting applications. If you execute an application from a third party, it can do quite literally what it wants. Even Open Source doesn't help much as you have no time to audit it all. At best it might not have root rights, but that still doesn't stop it from searching through your personal photo collection, your credit card info, your mail and all that stuff.

        Ever heard of AppArmor [wikipedia.org]? It comes with a nice little tool which lets you interactively decide which files and directories will the software be allowed to access.

      • Re:all in all (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nerdfest (867930) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:28PM (#41130655)

        A walled garden does not preclude allowing the ability to turn it off. Apple (and soon, Microsoft) is not limiting you to the walled garden out of the goodness of their hart. It is pure greed. They could quite easily add an 'opt out' and let people install outside software at their own risk.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Not the goodness of their hart, but for dough, a deer, a female deer.

        • by chrismcb (983081)

          It is pure greed.

          Yes, but not in the way you are thinking. Apple and Microsoft are tired of paying for customer support to help people fix broken software. Apple and Microsoft are tired of hearing about people complain about how stuff doesn't work. The walled garden, where they can help control what software runs, helps alleviate the problem. People in general just want stuff that works.

          • by Microlith (54737)

            That does not negate his more valid point, that if you could turn it off there would be little fuss. They don't because the walled garden bolsters their bottom line and gives them more power over both users and developers.

        • by DrYak (748999) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @07:39PM (#41132511) Homepage

          A walled garden does not preclude allowing the ability to turn it off. {...} They could quite easily add an 'opt out' and let people install outside software at their own risk.

          As an example of a non obligatory garden: the webOS system from Palm/HP/Gram, on Pre smartphones and the like.

          Out of the box your Pre/TouchPad is the classical walled garden example:
          It has a application manager, which lets you download or buy applications from a official repository of doctored applications.

          But if you want to use your device in creative new way, you need just to type 1 command to switch the phone into developer mode. This command is well documented in the developer documentation. (The only draw back is that the first version was a little bit long to type, because it was a joke on the komani code. later versions introduced shorter alternatives). And then you can do pretty much anything you want with your smartphone/tablet. including installing any software of your liking. Or even installing an application manager which can also use homebrew and opensource repositories. (= Preware). And once you've finished sideloading external software, just switch back into regular mode and continue using your new homebrew apps or the new app manager.
          There are no need for hacking, for exploits, for stolen keys, etc.

          Using this is at the owners' own risk. But if you corrupted your smartphone/tablet by installing too much weird shit, there's the webOS doctor which is designed by Palm/HP/Gram, to revert back your hardware to factory default. (Though you lose anything you did which was not backed up on the cloud. You lose your homebrew applications. But not the personal assistant data).

          And a non-locked android smartphone works in the same way, letting the user do side-loading or replace the firmware altogether.

          BUT

          Apple and Microsoft decided they didn't wanted to do it that way. They are trying to do as much as possible to prevent going out of the walled garden.
          Apple refused to let users do anything else than get applications from the Apple AppStore and at some point even tried to sue against circumvention.
          Microsoft is at the center of a controversy due to their abusive requirement regarding the ARM version of Win8 and the Secure UEFI booting.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        At best it might not have root rights, but that still doesn't stop it from searching through your personal photo collection, your credit card info, your mail and all that stuff. In contrast you have Apples AppStore, it's a walled garden with all it's problems, but it also comes with a sandbox. If you execute an App from the AppStore it can't do anything to your system, as it's stuck in it's little box. It can't get your photos, credit card info or anything like that unless you explicitly allow it.

        I'm not s

    • Re:all in all (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:13PM (#41130523) Homepage
      The Raspberry Pi has made me realize that computers have just gotten too cheap and ubiquitous for us to ever get to a situation where we can't easily and cheaply a general purpose computer. Sure maybe our phones tablets and even desktops will be severely locked down to the point where only approved software can be run. But that doesn't mean we wont have access to general purpose computers. For 90% of my tasks I don't need to have a general purpose computer and if it offered me the ability to not worry about viruses, malware, or even needing to manually update software, then I would use that computer and have a second general purpose computer for the remaining tasks.
      • Re:all in all (Score:5, Interesting)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @03:02PM (#41130917) Homepage Journal

        the Raspberry Pi has made me realize that computers have just gotten too cheap and ubiquitous for us to ever get to a situation where we can't easily and cheaply a general purpose computer.

        Will you feel the same when the most powerful Intel processors lock out your choice of OS?

        I suppose if you don't mind using underpowered hardware, and being very limited in your choices of peripherals and software, then you're OK, but that's not the way things have been. Until now, those of us who want a general purpose machine with which to do things (instead of to buy things) have been able to choose among the most powerful personal computing hardware.

        No, the Raspberry Pi is not my idea of a general purpose computer. It's great to use in limited applications, but not as an all-around workhorse.

    • by dpilot (134227)

      Makes you wonder when the first publicly visible lethal abuse of the walled garden concept will happen, who will do it, what it will be, and what will be the logic in the case, and how the garden owners will weasel out of it. Makes you wonder even more about the non-visible case(s).

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Walled gardens, meh, everyone of the died given time eg Prodigy, Compuserver, Atari. As soon as customers forget, just like toxic weeds they re-appear and attempt to take over the garden again. Every time they do they end up failing as certain people become more aware of them. Basically those walled gardens become an anti-competitive corporate applied tax sucking up all the profits forcing all those outside to continually strive to break the monopoly which they inevitably do. The harder corporate asshate l

    • by sgt_doom (655561)
      Has everyone forgotten the days when your computer actually belonged to you?

      Sorry, chum, but most Zombie Americans have forgotten even the value or importance of knowing who owns anything: nobody knows who owns the major banks, oil companies, telecoms, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

      The reason FYI (just in case you are interested?) is that viewing certain shows from a young age (such as Peter G. Peterson's Sesame Street) induces the same brainwave pattern as apathy and obeisance to authority, as does years
  • Let's see, where have we heard all of this before, on Slashdot, pointed out by average commenters? Oh yeah:

    When TPM was introduced in 2006.

    When Apple started doing code signing in 2008 on OS X.

    Oh, and I forgot driver and application signing in Windows. When did that start?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:09PM (#41130495)

      Cory Doctorow has been writing about this stuff for years, and is a huge influencer on slashbot comments. Lame critique, dude.

    • by lightknight (213164) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @03:24PM (#41131053) Homepage

      And perhaps you would like to argue that things are getting better instead?

      Processors have bumped up against Murphy's Law. Multiple cores only go so far.

      Windows 8 is scaring a large number of IT implementers.

      Apple is {comment redacted}.

      Google has become the US Government's willing bitch; the search results it returns are pure trash.

      A fair number of judges, everywhere, lacking any understanding about how technology or freedom of speech works, have opted for a (holds at arm's length, with a gloved hand) social policy that undermines both, with their horrible rulings on 'deep linking / linking to copyrighted works.'

      For some odd reason, we need a cyber-army now. Haven't had one for the past two decades when technology was actually evolving, but now that the power is flowing away from tech, we suddenly need one. I could have sworn that all the IT out there was the cyber-army, seeing as they know how to secure devices better than most wanna-be security experts, but then, company policy has been a brake on that for years.

  • Are we willing to give up more control to "Authorities" and who exactly should these authorities be. Should those with authority be able to execute such a kill switch without notice or should users/citizens have notice? Thinking into the future, if i decided to go to a soft drink vending machine that is "smart" and i choose to purchase a sugar laden drink but my bmi is over a certain number should these authorities dispense a diet soft drink instead. I don't believe we are quite in a big brother society
    • Where would the money be in a machine like that? How about a machine that takes a photo of you from a distance, runs it against a customer database, and reforms it's e-paper front to advertise whichever brand of soft drink you have been determined most likely to buy, and using whichever style of advertising has previously proven most effective on you personally? It'll even record the time and location in your file, for use in marketing other things.
  • Gosh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @01:58PM (#41130425)

    Its almost as though freedom requires responsibility or something.

    • Re:Gosh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:54PM (#41130855)
      Too bad "responsibility" has come to mean things like, "buying things from corporations," "obeying pointless and destructive laws," and "not helping dissidents in China."
      • Re:Gosh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by russotto (537200) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @11:04PM (#41133593) Journal

        Right. "Freedom requires responsibility" is a meme authoritarians came up with the undermine freedom; you'd think it would be obvious, as "responsibility" always ends up meaning "do what we say", but a lot of people are taken in.

        You have the freedom to speak, and the responsibility not to speak against the government (or not to say something which might upset The Children, or teach them something not correct). You have freedom of religion, and the responsibility to make it the right religion. You have the right to keep and bear arms, and the responsibility to limit this to single-shot muzzle loaders kept at an approved range. You have the right to deny soldiers the use of your home, but wouldn't it be irresponsible and unpatriotic to do so? You have the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure; but your responsibility to prevent terrorism requires you to assume the position.

    • Indeed. We need a time machine, to send people with these dark tendencies back to the wonderful days of Stalin's reign. A decade of his rule, and I am certain that freedom will acquire a new ineffable quality that makes it positively attractive when compared to the other options.

      Which reminds me, new rule: He who does not understand the subject material does not get to make policy, in whole or in part.

      I hate the idea of having to resort to technocracy to keep the various fields from collapsing under the wei

    • It also requires eternal vigilance. Basking in the glow of one's freedom means that someone's (or some other "entity" acting on behalf of someone) going to try to snatch the freedom while you're not looking.

      I like Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller), and I respect his positions and agree with most of what he says, but recently I watched a youtube interview with him and he said something that seemed uncharacteristic and almost naive. He said that he believes that people are generally good. He hasn't personall

      • by ibwolf (126465)

        I like Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller), and I respect his positions and agree with most of what he says, but recently I watched a youtube interview with him and he said something that seemed uncharacteristic and almost naive. He said that he believes that people are generally good. He hasn't personally met very many evil people, you know, the inherently evil people. But I have to disagree. The current political climate and the wholesale slavery that is being attempted by major corporations with the force of law and lack of alternatives is not something inherently good people come up with. Evil is as evil does. The fruits of evil are abundantly clear and all around us.

        No, he is right. Most people are, basically, "good". And by "good" I mean they mean well. There is this saying about the road to hell...

        Also, most people are greedy. Especially those in positions of power. The greed tends to cloud their judgments. Its not that they become maniacal, cartoon-ish, villains who cackle with glee at the thought of doing their evil deeds. The greed simply causes them to find justifications for why what is good for them is ultimately good for society. It doesn't matter if those jus

    • by Telvin_3d (855514)

      If freedom requires that everyone be an expert programmer who can (and has the time to) audit every piece of code they run then we need a more useful definition for digital 'freedom' as well as 'responsibility'.

      I am not expected to be a professional mechanic in order to drive a car, and no one sane would suggest I should need to be. Rather, cars are manufactured in such a way that they are expected to be inherently reliable to operate.

      • by Microlith (54737)

        I am not expected to be a professional mechanic in order to drive a car, and no one sane would suggest I should need to be. Rather, cars are manufactured in such a way that they are expected to be inherently reliable to operate.

        But should you want to, you can maintain your own car. Efforts in the auto industry to make that impossible have been defeated legally, many times. Cars still fail, I am not forced to go to the dealership for maintenance, spare parts, or fuel.

        I want the same liberties, at minimum, wi

  • how long be for a Rosa Parks or concentration camp like thing comes up.

    Banning apps based on connect is pushing 1st amendment issues.

    Also there maybe anti trust issues as well now I don't think dell and say MS will be able to get away with selling systems that can't boot Linux or some other OS lets say apple open mac os x for more hardware and MS comes in and try to lock that out.

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:09PM (#41130497)
      Quite possibly they won't. But the case will drag through the courts for a decade, and eventually Microsoft would face a fine of a few hundred million dollars. I'm sure they'd be willing to pay that much, if doing so allowed them to destroy linux on the desktop almost entirely. We've been through this before with their bundling decisions: A seemingly endless legal battle, and while Microsoft eventually lost the benefits they gained from their anticompetative actions arguably outweighed even the record-setting fine.
      • Let's not go overboard here. Microsoft is far from being saintly, but at the end of the day, Microsoft is largely indifferent to the existence of desktop Linux.

        Microsoft views desktop Linux kind of like the tiny black ants you see walking behind the toilet after a week of thunderstorms. You could go get the ant spray and wipe them out, but then the second floor will smell like ant spray for the rest of the day, and it would mean having to go downstairs, hunt for the ant spray, go back upstairs, and use it.

        M

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:06PM (#41130479) Journal

    11 of 9 comments loaded

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:14PM (#41130537)

    Here is car/microwave analogy.. and forgive my crassness.

    A) Stupid or indifferent people want a computer (car) that just works and they don't have to/nor want to fuck with the innards. They want the computer to be microwave simple. 1) Put food in microwave. 2) Press the "30 sec" button repeatedly until they get the cook time to time they want.* That is it. (Or for the car: key, ignition, go. It came from the factory with everything needed and how it came from the factory is how it will stay)

    B) Slashdot "power users" car analogy is that of the muscle cars of the 1960s in the united states. They want to redo the suspension, the transmission. the engine, the carb(s), the differential, get it from the factory with aluminum instead of steel for the body, and have no federal E.P.A. emissions regulations.. straight pipes off the headers. They will get their hands greasy and it will not bother them.

    Economically, Apple and Microsoft and all the other players know there is greater market of people for A than B.

    Now, I do like the idea of a walled garden to protect the idiots from themselves without telling them "No" outright. (Just don't run as admin/root and you're 90% there, but most ISV can't or won't write code that works as non-root) I just don't want the walled garden applied to me. I don't need their excuse of "give me your freedom so I can keep you safe". I know how to fix my own car.

    * About the 30 seconds and microwave. for some it seems "time cook" + "5" + "0" +"0" + "start" is too complex.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Yeah. Sometimes you just want a phone that "just works".

      When I bought an Apple smart phone, what I actually got was something that I had to hack before it operated like my previous Nokia feature phones. I had to jailbreak it and write a shell script and mess around with an sqlite database.

      A phone that "just works" is a pleasant enough idea assuming that the relevant hardware vendor does their slieght of hand well enough.

      Anything that is supposed to "run programs" is by definition NOT an appliance. So any an

    • by fa2k (881632)

      The analogy isn't perfect. It's not just that I want a computer with great performance. In the end, a car only exists for transportation (and to some: entertainment or shelter), and a microwave only heats food. A computer is like a TV to some, a telephone to some, a newspaper to some and many other things. A walled garden is fine for all these people. The problem is that a computer is a toolbox to some, with thousands of uses, facilitating all the other uses and inventing new ones.

  • I don't buy GM (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:20PM (#41130579) Homepage
    The OnStar system is one of many deal breakers that would prevent me from buying a GM product; that along with a zillion horror stories. Seeing that many people feel the same way all this does is open up an easy way for competitors to compete. They just won't put that feature in. Their advertising becomes easy, "Look we didn't screw up your purchase."

    The only companies that will put these sort of features in are usually defending some other business model. So Apple will put in measures to defend iTunes. Google will put in measures to defend their store, and it looks like Microsoft is thinking about measures to defend either their OS or their store.

    But does anyone really think that the server manufacturers are going to make servers that make it hard to install Linux? Also Microsoft is becoming weaker and weaker. They certainly have some weight to throw around but even if they bully a few desktop manufacturers into forcing some protection onto their systems no doubt they will just release a "server only" motherboard that doesn't have any protection and is a complete copy of the desktop except something like the BIOS will boot up and say "Server BIOS". Not to mention that other MB manufacturers will just tell MS to go pound sand.

    Also does anyone think that say the Raspberry Pi will give a hoot as to what MS has to say?

    The real war on General purpose computing is the trend people using smart phones and tablets. These devices do almost everything the average user needs. It is the more power user types who need what is becoming the specialty hardware of a desktop that they can control. As a programmer I need to be able to install the OpenCV libraries and whatnot but my mother wants the fewest clicks to get to her mail.

    Also keep in mind that the seemingly locked down iPhone has done as well as it has due to the fact that it is far less locked down than the phones that proceeded it including the blackberry. Often you would buy a phone from Telus or Sprint only to find that they had crippled some features such as custom ring tones so as to sell you ring tones. When Apple introduced the iPhone they didn't let the Telcos crap up their phones. Can you imagine what the Telcos would have done to the iPhones if they could. All kinds of custom backgrounds, remove the app store and replace it with one of their own, make it so you can't upload your own music, can't surf via WiFi. Again these companies would have crippled the iPhone to protect their other business model.

    Again as a programmer if Apple were to lock down the next version of the OS, I would not upgrade and then begin exploring other options. As it stands my next phone will almost certainly be something like an Openmoko.

    PS The business model that GM seems to be defending is the fact that the government is their primary lifeline. They know who is buttering their bread and it certainly isn't the consumer.
    • by whoever57 (658626)

      They certainly have some weight to throw around but even if they bully a few desktop manufacturers into forcing some protection onto their systems no doubt they will just release a "server only" motherboard that doesn't have any protection and is a complete copy of the desktop except something like the BIOS will boot up and say "Server BIOS".

      ... and cost twice as much.

  • by hamster_nz (656572) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:22PM (#41130593)

    The author has obviously never tried to get an unsigned device driver running under Windows 7.

    Having to switch the OS into "test mode" and jumping through other hoops is a real pain.

    • Re:Already there... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lightknight (213164) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:48PM (#41130805) Homepage

      Freedom, security, stability. Choose two.

      Most people have chosen security and stability. I prefer freedom and stability. If the machine is unwilling or cannot run the programs I create, I have no use for it (save it were an AI, but that's an entirely different situation); were I a carpenter, and my tools unsuited for carpentry, what use would they be to me?

      • by BlueStrat (756137)

        were I a carpenter, and my tools unsuited for carpentry, what use would they be to me?

        [sarc]
        But...but...we must prevent racists from using those tools to make wooden crosses to burn on peoples' lawns!

        Only racists want carpentry tools that aren't designed/controlled by authority to prevent such bigotry and racism!
        [/sarc]

        Strat

      • Re:Already there... (Score:5, Informative)

        by rrohbeck (944847) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @04:53PM (#41131583)

        Freedom, security, stability. Choose two.

        I have all three with Debian stable or CentOS.

  • Overblown (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:27PM (#41130643) Journal

    I can still go to Newegg.com and order a bunch of commodity parts and assemble a general purpose computer, install a completely FLOSS operating system and all the software I want on it. I can load it up with quad GPUs for password cracking, terabytes of storage for all my pirated media and warez, run TOR and Truecrypt, and all sorts of other "evil" features. If there's a war on general purpose computing it's clear which side is winning.

    As it stands now, an individual has never had more access to computing power, bandwidth, and data than they do now. Yes, there are locked down boxes you can buy if you're not interested in all that, but individual components are still being sold. There's a thriving market for computer hardware that isn't going to disappear any time soon, and neither will the free software made to run on such hardware. As little as $35 (or whatever the Raspberry Pi costs) gets you a "general purpose computer", albeit a very simple and underpowered one.

    Walled gardens can peacefully co-exist without threatening general purpose computing.

    And as we've seen from every iOS device, even walled gardens don't keep people locked in if they are determined to leave. If you make compelling hardware people will always find ways to use it how they wish. I can easily take root control over my iPhone if I wanted to. Same is true for Android devices.

    • Re:Overblown (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:52PM (#41130837)

      I can still go to Newegg.com and order a bunch of commodity parts and assemble a general purpose computer

      Until every motherboard comes with a locked-down BIOS that only supports Microsoft/Verisign approached bootloader signing keys. Unless you are building your computer from discrete logic, this argument does not fly. We also have to worry about possible bans on general purpose computers connecting to the Internet (see e.g. ITU proposals for "next generation" networks, past proposals in the US congress, etc), or de facto bans i.e. ISPs/banks/utilities/etc. requiring a locked-down computer (and not everyone can afford two computers). This is not as simple as, "I can build one for myself!"

      Walled gardens can peacefully co-exist without threatening general purpose computing.

      Thus explaining the prevalence of not-locked-down cable and satellite TV receivers, DVD players, and video game consoles.

      as we've seen from every iOS device, even walled gardens don't keep people locked in if they are determined to leave

      Which is a nonsense argument for most users, and is simple silly -- you are suggesting that it is reasonable for people to have to attack their own computers just to run the software (or in a dystopian nightmare, compose the documents) they want to run.

      If you make compelling hardware people will always find ways to use it how they wish

      Yet someone who publishes a book on hacking cable modems is arrested. Do you really think the police would hesitate to arrest someone who is teaching people how to unlock their laptop's bootloader?

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        As long as we have discrete logic, old computers and silicon like FPGA, ( and someday leaked 'DoD' approved development machines when its impossible to get hardware ), the true hardcore will always have something to play with.

        But eventually i agree, when 99.9% of the world are in their walled gardens, and the risk factor of getting caught is too high even for most of the hardcore, "we" lost.

        But that said, for 90% of the world, its what they wanted, and will be happy.

    • The original manufacturers of software (operating systems and such) are experiencing some duress which is damaging to the field in general. In short, the Intelligence organs of the State are doing some terrible damage to the technology sector, and we cannot fathom why they have been told to f*ck off.

      If the people are hell-bent on being happy as enslaved individuals, being told when and where to think, I prefer to stand on my own. To this degree, I am not alone.

      I just find it very odd that the State is so in

  • Who really cares? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sasayaki (1096761)

    I've got karma to burn, so here goes.

    As I get older I want to tinker with my machines less and I want them to just work more. That means that my home setup has gone from a half dozen servers all running a variety of Windows and Linux/BSD operating systems to one simple desktop with ESXi. All the VMs are backed up automatically, they're upgraded automatically (to stable versions -- I don't care about bleeding edge anymore), and they basically don't need to be touched for months and months and months. It mean

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @03:15PM (#41130987)

      I just want things to work.

      Me too -- when I instruct my computer to play a movie, copy a file, or print 1000 pamphlets criticizing the government, I want it to do what I tell it to do.

      I don't want to spend hours trying to get Wine to run World of Warcraft better

      So complain to Blizzard -- what does that have to do with running a free operating system? Blizzard ships malware with WoW; why are you not pointing the finger at them for failing to deliver an easy to use, malware-free product?

      I use an iPhone because its working is binary

      No, whether or not any particular program works is binary, and that decision is up to Apple. Do you consider a product that will run an email program but will not run a political cartoon program to be working or broken?

      Who really care if you can't telnet to your phone?

      That's a red herring and you know it. Hardly anyone is trying to telnet to their phone, but large numbers of people have been told that their program cannot run on iOS for one arbitrary reason or another -- it performs bytecode translation, it might offend Republicans, it might offend Democrats, it might enable jailbreaking, etc. Your iPhone only does what you want as long as Apple approves, and Apple's approval process is not about stopping you from telnetting to your phone (though I must wonder why they would even care), it is about making sure you keep paying them and the politicians stay happy.

      After all, if you work for your machines, who owns who?

      Funny how my laptop running ScientificLinux does everything I ask it to do without first checking with CERN...

    • by fyi101 (2715891)

      I just want things to work.

      Why are "Things just working" and "General Purpose Computing" in opposition? You see, that's just the thing. After a certain point of adding and adding restrictions, things will just "not work". I mean, you said it yourself regarding iPhones:

      ...its working is binary; either it works perfectly, more or less easily, or it doesn't work at all...

      I can understand how this "seems" to be a nice thing (maybe if iPhones where 20 bucks a unit, and you could buy them from a vending machine along with a sandwich)

      After all, if you work for your machines, who owns who?

      You imply that the choice is "(in Soviet Russia) you work for machine" xor "machine works for you", when it

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @02:37PM (#41130721) Homepage

    Except in this case it's "They told me not to let you do that, Dave."

  • The Death of the PC has been predicted many times. I can believe that the modern surge of high-powered phones and tablets will displace laptops, but general purpose computing workstations? Engineers and scientists need lots of computrons in close communication with local high-speed storage and graphics hardware, so consequently there will always be a stream of low-to-mid-range server technology feeding into general purpose computing workstations, and so there will always be something for hobbyists. I suspe
  • Torchwood (Score:4, Interesting)

    by devent (1627873) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @04:33PM (#41131451) Homepage

    Do you know Torchwood? The very first episode was that the policewoman find Torchwood and gets in the headquarter. After she gets out Jack drugs her with an amnesia-pill and she runs home and write everything about Torchwood in her PC before she fells asleep and forgets everything. Before she almost felt asleep, Torchwood control her PC, the PC goes blank and everything she wrote is gone.

    Free operating systems are a thread to every government, because such controls are impossible on a system that can be modified by the user. If you think it's scri-fiction: the TPM [wikipedia.org] chips are around since at least 2006.

    TPM is for "Trusted Platform Module". Of course the "Trusted" part is that a third party can trust your PC that you didn't change it in any undesired way.

  • by Paracelcus (151056) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @05:26PM (#41131791) Journal

    And the pen of today is the PC, the evil empire fears the computer more than they fear guns, bombs or riots! "They" can crush any armed resistance like swatting a fly, "they" can subvert, obfuscate, terrorize, propagandize, manipulate the uninformed population with a constant stream of artfully crafted disinformation! Creating "Dire emergencies", "deadly boogimen", one "crisis" after another, thereby keeping the unsophisticated, sufficiently frightened and therefor easily controllable! The PC and the Internet allows the average person the ability to do an "end run" around all the lies, fabrication and propaganda being spewed by the government/corporate controlled media.

    Without open source software and a free and public Internet, REAL, open, barefaced, undisguised, tyranny would already be here.

  • Special purpose computing is a maintenance intensive task and a management nightmare on any large scale.

    It can be done. It's called "ROM" code. The computer device should ONLY run code from the address space reserved for ROM chips. Forget about the convenience of loading programs into RAM for execution. It leads to compromises.

    Updates, patches and the latest awesomeness will just have to wait. And when [security] bugs are found, you just have to turn the thing off until someone can come along with a new ROM.

    People don't want PITA systems like these. They are expensive, slow to deploy and all sorts of things like this. Before anyone says "CD/DVD ROM" please don't. Just don't.

    Cheap and convenient invariably creates holes in security. It's just the way things are.

  • First of all read http://www.ranum.com/security/computer_security/editorials/dumb/ [ranum.com] item #2. You cannot "enumerate evil". Similarly big brother will find that they can't come up with an all-inclusive blacklist of "evil apps". There will *ALWAYS* be something they haven't thought of.email

    Instead, it's much more effective to whitelist "harmless apps". So you'll end up with...

    * an email applet
    * a spreadsheet applet
    * a chat applet
    * etc, etc, etc

    Either that, or the "general purpose applet" will be Facebook... bleagh.

  • by MrMickS (568778) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:57AM (#41134755) Homepage Journal

    If the end comes, which I don't believe just that general purpose computers will go back to being a more specialist/expensive tool, then we, the technologists, will only have ourselves to blame.

    The reason this is happening is because we have just cared about the other tech users. We've poured scorn on people that click on the wrong link and download a virus. We've tutted at those people that don't know what a file-system is, or why one is better than others. We've laughed when we've heard that someone is still running Windows ME. In short we've cared about ourselves, and our needs, rather than the needs of everyone.

    If we had tried to make things simpler and harder to break, but still retained the flexibility, we could probably have done it but it was cooler to rewrite a device driver, or develop a new filesystem/GUI. We didn't, and this is the result.

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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