At OpenNMS we get to work from home a couple of days a week, but I’m really glad that most of us get together in office as well. Not because it makes us work any better or harder, but because the side conversations can be a lot of fun.
The Pre connects to the computer via USB and identifies itself as a Palm Pre. However, in “media sync” mode, the mass storage device changes its identity to reflect an iPod. This allows one to sync their Pre with iTunes as if it was an iPod.
The debate was over the question: is Palm breaking the law?
I don’t know enough about USB to know exactly how Palm is achieving this, but if they are returning a string that says “Apple iPod” that would be a trademark violation. However, if they are returning just a number, say “1291” then it gets a little murkier. Some might claim it is the same (since 1291 represents an iPod Touch) but I don’t. In one case it is an obvious abuse of trademark, but in the other it is more of a compatibility hack.
I expect in the next week we’ll see the official responses from Apple and Palm (with the Pre’s release this week and WWDC next week). It should be interesting.
What does this have to do with open source and freedom? A lot, actually. While the digital age makes it a lot easier to copy and move information, it also allows vendors to control a lot more, too. Think about Apple’s DRM in iTunes. One reason I buy all my music from Amazon is that I have a number of non-iPod devices and I want to make sure I can play the music I purchase on them as well. Even when DRM went away at the iTunes Store I still buy from Amazon.
It reminds me of the time (back in 1993) when Garth Brooks wanted to make it illegal to resell CDs, since people were taking them home and recording them. Can you imagine a car company saying “you can buy this sedan but you can never sell it”? It doesn’t make sense.
For example, if I buy an iPod, a Linksys Router or a PS3 and I want to hack the hell out of it, I should be able to do so. Now, I don’t expect the vendor to support me should I screw up the device, but they shouldn’t be able to prevent me from using something I own, pretty much anyway I want. There are certain notable exceptions – I shouldn’t be able to buy a DVD, copy it and sell the copies – but that is a copyright issue and not a property rights issue.
This case will be important since proprietary software and hardware vendors have a vested interest in keeping open source out of their playground. Sometimes the only way to get something I have purchased to work with free software is to come up with a hack, and outlawing such hacks would be unfortunate.
The Palm Pre/iTunes case is a bit different, since it is hardware hacking software (and proprietary hardware and software at that) instead of the other way around. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Apple may be magnanimous and comfortable with its monopoly and ignore it, but more than likely it will take steps to block the “media sync”. In either case Palm wins: it gets to sync with the most popular management program out there or it can claim Apple thinks that the Pre threatens the iPhone. Either will draw even more attention to the Pre.
UPDATE 1: Aaron points out on Twitter a Sega v. Accolade case that might have precedence.
UPDATE 2: Looks like it is 1993 all over again, with game manufacturers wanting a cut of used video games sales. Sheesh.