Open Ballot: should geeks boycott closed systems?


Sure, the iPhone is shiny, the Xbox 360 has some good games and the Tivo is very useful, but should Free Software geeks resist from buying them because they're all closed platforms, or is it more important to use what works regardless of how it is licensed?

That's the Open Ballot we'll be recording for our next podcast, so if you'd like to contribute your views to the discussion all you have to do is post your answers below. Remember: use a username other than "Anonymous Penguin" otherwise we'll ignore you, and please try to explain your reasoning at least a little!

Addendum: Is a system "open" just because it has an SDK, or does the whole thing need to be open? Is the ability to run apps on an iPhone using Apple's SDK good enough, or is there no point being able to run some code on a non-free base system?

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Your comments

Yes, unless they are hacked.

Yes, unless they are hacked. It's not as much as a boycott as a natural avoidance; if you can't run any of your own code on it, what's the point? The Wii and the iPhone have both been hacked, and I'm sure the new iPhone will be bought by many just because it's impossible for it not to be hacked, what with all the people working on it. Tivo I have no idea, I'm pretty sure that's an American thing.

Aside from my desktop and my notebook, I personally have a Wii (hacked), a palm (never used but can naturally run user code), and an HTC Touch Diamond (again, can naturally run user code, and there is an effort to port Android so soon I will be free from the shackles that is Windows Mobile).

I assume by "open system" and "closed system" you mean ones that can and can't run user-generated code (respectively). If you mean the licence, then I disagree. Some companies do have to make money and don't see open-source economically viable (though many have proved them wrong, since when did big companies listen or care to people?).

Open the gates

Technologies like iPhone and XBox are great. They can restrict users from extending the capabilities as much as possible. But there are always those (hackers) who will figure out a way to go around the locks. Allowing users (geeks or otherwise) to extend the capabilities of a product/platform without locking it down will primarily help the organization spread the reach of its product/platform.

Making platforms/products proprietary limits the type of innovation and advancement that users (geeks or otherwise) can bring.

I strongly agree that geeks should boycott such closed systems who refrain from opening the gates to innovation.

Freedom and openess

The Free(dom) Technologies Are Possible!

I choose freedom software for privacy reasons. I consider a software with source code that can be verified, with a open group of programmer that read that, with free license to remain free of jail with friendly redistribution... only free software can guarantee me a quiet life.

But I admit that I should use some non free software to interface my hardware: Garmin GPS, Nokia Phone, ...

I wait the time that Garmin and Nokia will produce free software for free system.

Will be in their interests?

Practical Reasons

In my opinion if the platform is open or not is not the point, but there are practical reasons why I would choose the open platform. For example, I love my iPod touch (closed system) but I can't sync it with my linux machine - with hacking, too.
So I would prefer if Apple had an public api, but this is obviously not in Apple's interests.

Oh yes please missus!

Sure, an open platform would indeed be most excellent as Anonymous Penguin lists above (sync, something which I have also worked on for a different platform). While both Microsoft and Apple do provide an SDKs for their platforms, so much more would be possible in an open environment to the point where, say, I could use my Logitech force feedback wheel with Forza 2 instead of MS dodging the license and then wanting me to fork out for their own wheel!

(not bitter)

We can't even if we want to!

It has become my instinct to avoid closed-source things (in any form) and to go for open-source things. However Open-source licenses don't provide a good economy, how is anyone going to make money? I don't want to have a normal boring job because no one can make any money from making software. OK there is stuff like red-hat that is open source but you still have to pay for the support, but they don't rely on that for their main source of income do they?

So what I am trying to say is that people have to make closed source stuff because otherwise they won't make any money in the capitalist world that we live in.
But by all means try to use as much open source stuff as possible!!!!!

oh and why it it "should *geeks* ....."

Maybe the tile should say should *we*, being the people who use open source stuff, boycott closed systems. Why does it have to be geeks only? We need everybody to boycott them or else nobody will take any notice!!!!

Another thought... God, I'm on fire today... ;)

I suppose another way to think of it is with my car I guess. I've bought for it and paid for it but I can pretty much do whatever I like to it, open the bonnet and tweak this, remove that, keep all the spare parts that should go... somewhere and ultimately make it go faster?

Is that a valid comparison?

I realise I can open my Xbox 360 (sorry, I don't have one of those Apple things!) and, well, do stuff with it but not without major guess work or some shady goings on with software... and then it isn't fit for its original purpose of shooting you in the face (online, natch)!


Use the correct system/application for the situation. If someone wants to keep their stuff closed its their right.


Choice. All comes down to choice. No-one is forced to buy an X-Box, or an iPhone. Most Users don't give a stuff if something is open or not, all they care about is that things work. It would seem that some of those chaps over at that Linux magazine, Linux format, might agree, as I'm sure one of the staff there develops for the XBox??

Where ever possible!

In order to maintain the viability of the open source movement, there must be a solid user base, hence the reliance on communities that include both the user and the developer.

If we want to ensure that our revolution can survive into the future, we must be willing to support it in anyway we can. For those of us not adept at development, for those handcuffed by other obligations, and for those without the financial means to donate, there must be some kind of return offered to the people who devote so much of themselves to make our open source systems possible, and boycotting closed source where ever there is an open source alternative available is the best way to contribute to the longevity and viability of the movement.

No- Encourage openness, but use what's practical

I'm definitely in favor of open source systems over closed systems, partially because my inner geek likes the idea of open source, and partially because it often produces a better experience for more advanced uses. It's also good where data longevity is concerned (e.g., my music collection or documents).

I am not intrinsically opposed to closed (i.e., not intentionally or even conveniently left open to the intentions will of owners) systems like the iPhone or Xbox 360. I would love to see all software and devices use an open and community-centered development model so that they could rapidly improve and better fit people's needs (i.e., not waiting two years for cut-and-paste). I'm not a stickler about it, though, and don't think it's good for the community to go to towards that extreme.


I'm an open source lover. I think open systems can lead to more transparency in communication and this is what we need in future. But now I think boycotting the closed systems is a very fundamentalist and ideological act! It is not realistic at all.

First off, we should define open systems. Facebook, Twitter and Gmail are not open systems either! So geeks should not use them? The Internet we use is government controlled! We don't have an entire open Internet!

I believe XBox and iPod are not our major problems today! Corporations must get more sensitive about open standards and open systems. Like environment and green stuff, it must become part of their culture.

But I suggest when there is a GOOD open alternative for a closed system use the open one! But in real world these alternative don't always exist.


I plan on going into software development, more specifically (hopefully) video game development. I am deeply in love with Linux, yet if I want to make money doing the things I love (creating video games) so that I can continue to make them, and as such I'll need to make a profit. The only way to do that is closed source (realistically).

That said, I love open source, and I love closed source. Like some above have said, it's your choice whether you use what you use or not.

Also, I have plans for software that I would hope to be able to sell in the future, and the only way to do that is to close source it.

Just A Little Interfacing, Please!

I would choose an open system over closed any day of the week. Simply put, there are just more possibilities and creative ideas that follow with open systems.

However, closed systems are needed for the wider consumer entertainment market. The Halo and Metal Gear Solid games would still be in planning if "the powers that be" didn't make it "their way."

But let's just make them all that too much to ask? Jeez!

Short answer no

If we didn’t buy closed source systems we wouldn’t have any computers to run the free software to begin whit… The thing about the closed systems, are that they compete whit each other not just price but also functionality and usability. So in the end it isn’t one of the many points of a system that makes a product survive. It is the system as a hole, in short survival of the fittest as Darwin put it, not any one system that is good at one thing but a system that is adequate in many so it can adapt to the reality of the market (what the consumer wants). Just look at the VHS and the Betamax. The Betamax was the “better” system but was expensive, in contrast the VHS was worse but cheaper and the consumer didn’t want anything better and expensive at the time. This is a simplification but this is the philosophy that the geeks in the open source community have to adapt. Make something that works for most people…

Hmm I think I have lost my trail of thought but any way. To the “Addendum” question, a system is not just open because it got an SDK. Especially the IPhone were Apple can just go in and remove software remotely that they don’t think you should have on your IPhone… Google Android on the other hand is much better, that I could call an open system to a degree.

I could talk more about this but not so much in writing, sins English isn’t my first language. If I could have this discussion whit you in spoken English I would have much more to say but for now let me just say that you are doing a great job and in response to the last podcast I might be able to help you whit some “free” graphics. I am a game designer foremost but I got some experience whit art or I might be able to get a hold of a real artist for you.

Open up the options

Quite often we all have to use a gadget that runs on some closed source OS or application on it. Same with software applications; there are some excellent applications that are not open source that do not have an equivalent open source option.

The test I apply with any gadget or software lately, is, if it's not open source, can I produce output with it that is compliant with open standards. Can I use my phone as a modem on my Linux desktop, or is the phone forcing me to use Windows on my desktop.

Another example would be, if you were to use a closed source word processor, does it allow you to produce documents in odf format?

Commercial applications are good even if they're closed source, but they should be able to apply open standards.

Freedom to customise it to our needs

It is impractical to think of open hardware / software for such specific devices. Too much hard work and effort goes into the product to make it usable for a normal user, who just wants it to work. These companies need not necessarily release the innards of their hard work which can be used by competitors. But, they can make their system customizable by providing a clean hardware & software interface to make it user customizable. In-fact this kind of customization must be made mandatory and be passed on as a law. This solution would safe guard the interest of the companies and satisfy the geek users like us. I think this kind of openness would infact foster a healthy competition among different vendors. As much as I like iPhone & iPod touch, I kinda HATE the heavy secrecy that comes with all its products. At the least they should make the SDK and the hardware interface to it openly available for other developers. There must be a law that clearly delineates what we own and what we don't own, when we buy a device.

Its a personal choice

I am reluctant to use closed systems for two reasons. One is that I greatly value that sense of ownership: even if I don't try to customize the device, I prefer to be able to do so if I eventually see a need. If the vendor respects that, I tend to think much more highly of them than of a vendor that chooses the apparently simpler but controlling option of closed source. Closed-source vendors have many good reasons for choosing closed (although IP protection is among the weaker of them), but the wall between us is always there.

The other is trust. Advertising always makes grandiose claims, but I would prefer to acquire my own understanding of how the device works than rely on unverifiable assertions. And if independent people can verify those claims, and fix problems, then everyone benefits.



Definately Not (to both questions)

I think that if a viable open-source system is available then it should be preferred but otherwise it should be at the persons own discretion. If they feel strongly enough about the matter to boycott all closed systems then fine otherwise they should be allowed to do what they want.

Personally I have an iPod (forward hate mail to mike.saunders@...) because I wanted an MP3 player with a large capacity (120Gb) and it was the cheapest option for me as I have a company discount scheme. But then I stuck it out and waited for the HTC Magic because I wanted an open-source phone (okay maybe thats debatable but still). Also if I boycotted all closed source systems then would really screw me up at work as I have to use Windows and MS Studio.

And no, a closed source system which offers an SDK is not open source in any sense, if it were then some of MS's apps could be considered open source and that is just plain wrong, actually I feel a little dirty for even typing that.

Its not that easy

I do not own a mobile and have been waiting for several years for an open one that can be used to make and receive calls. The only open one that I am aware of is the Neo Freerunner. The company that makes it says it is not really suitable for use as a phone. It is also stopping making them. If I really need one I have to choose from what is available.

My job is looking after Oracle software. I would prefer to work with open software, but would that pay my morgage? I do not have as many skills in that area, so I would have to start from the bottom again. Is there an open source database that can cope with thousands of users at once, and supports things like transactions and read consistency?

But maybe I am just prolonging the hold that these large companies have by putting up with this stuff. The thing is, I do not have the skill or the time to develop this stuff. Nor do I have the sales skills to persuade someone to pay me for it.

If you want to pay me to do any of this stuff, I would be happy to give it a go though.

Only where a decent replacement exists

As per the title, the first rule should always be to use the software that suits your needs. If open source doesn't suit your needs it'll be a headache in the future until/if it becomes good enough.

Is Windows Open?

If "Is a system 'open' just because it has an SDK" holds true, doesn't this mean that Windows is open too?

Turn the question on its head ?

Rather than boycott the closed system, maybe we should just choose to spend our cash on the open system equivalent instead ? If their isn't an open version of something, maybe its up to us to create one !

Screw fix

Yes. I have always looked for devices held together with screws, rather than the seamless glued together type of device. If it has screws holding it together it can probably be opened fixed or modified and reassembled.

That said I did manage to replace a battery in an iPod Mini recently and give it another lease of life.

And the equivalent of screws in software is either the GPL or a crack.

Ideally yes

However, practicality means this just isn't viable.

Do you know anyone with an OpenMoko freerunner phone?


The support of open vs closed systems allows for more inter-operability between our home PCs and our mobile devices, the transfer of content between systems without the need to convert everything through a corporate-designed SDK and allows the user to get most out of the product they bought.

Looking at the price ranges (excluding tax) for the closed source hardware over a period of twenty years, one can conclude that they have only risen up and up the more freedom these corporations got into setting their own price, while the hardware and software found to make up the product isn't worth half the money you're paying for it.

It's only natural that when purchasing a product, you get to have full use of that product and should not be limited in your usage of it. Apple's iPhone having had the whole phone provider debacle upon launch in the US is one of the problems with closed products, and personally I would've loved to see Sony keep their backwards compatible PS3's in store a bit longer than they did.

Remember: We're BUYING a product in most cases, assuming total control of it as the new owner. This should come with full rights to modify it as far as the hardware and software available to us allows. Things would be different with things we lease. Most MMO's, while you purchase the CD in store, are leased games rather than bought games, and adapting their server code is largely impossible or at least improbable. Being able to recode the viewer in order to meet your demands should be a nice step to see in the future, however, similarily to how Linden Labs made their Second Life viewer code relatively open source.

Only Where Practical

In markets where no open-source systems exist, and the geek has no resources/ability to create one, the geek should not boycott closed-source systems.

In markets where an open-source system exists but is inferior to a closed-source system, the geek should attempt to improve the open-source system. If improvements cannot be made or the system is impractical, no, the geek should not boycott closed-source systems.

In markets where an open-source system exists and is comparable or better than a closed-source system, the geek should make attempts to use the open-source system whenever possible and avoid the closed-source one. Geek should also encourage others to do the same, espousing the functional and practical merits of the open-source system (and not assuming that others care about the open/closed source debate).

In short, use what fits the situation/market best, but attempt to use open-source wherever possible.

Open source vs homebrew hacking.

Firstly, thank you for printing my letter and picture, managed to pick up a copy in Oz and was surprised to see my face staring back!
Secondly, I'd hate to see geeks ignoring closed sourced systems, many are far more capable once a motivated individual has reverse engineered the device and unlocked it's true potential, the original Xbox and the XBMC project springs to mind.
Open source devices often don't have the budget to provide what closed source devices can at far cheaper prices and hacking them wide open is half the fun!
I often research my purchase decisions and having the ability to run Linux or homebrew code through supported or unsupported channels will generally sway me.
Having said that, I am really looking forward to the Open Pandora console and would love to see a review in your magazine!
Craig S. Blackie (Perth Aus. )

No - Agreed with Others

I'm sorry, but if I had to use 100% open source products all the time, I'd have no entertainment, my work would go very slowly, and the only happiness I'd be able to take from the experience was that I was 100% open source. I use Linux daily, though it is no longer my main OS (sadly), but if I couldn't use my nonfree codecs/games/programs I would never have any fun or get anything done. It's just not practical, nor do I believe strongly enough that OSS is the right way to go to worry about it.


in fact, if our goal is to convince more people to embrace open source options then we fastidiously need to go with the best tool for the job, whether open or closed source.

I use Linux because I don't like Windows, but when I talk to non-geeks I never mention open source, I talk about how Linux is *just better*. I hacked my Wii because I'm a nerd who likes doing stuff like that, but when I talk to my friends about it I only mention the cool stuff I can do with my Wii that they can't with theirs.

Normal people aren't going to embrace open-source on philosophical grounds, so the more they see geeks using the best tool for the job, the more they'll be inclined to believe us when we tell them what's best.

Use what is good software/SDK does not equal open

Should geeks boycott closed systems?

-- As a self-professed geek, I use a multitude of gadgets, gismos, and operating systems. Microsoft Windows XP is great for gaming, but is annoying in so many other ways. Mac OSX is good for multimedia and general work, but games can be disappointing (I am still waiting for the day when you can upgrade a notebook's video card by itself.). Linux is great for daily desktop use, multimedia, gaming (it IS improving weekly), and server use.

--Don't boycott something based upon open/closed status. Some really good software has been freeware/shareware but completely closed. This provides useful software for a need, while providing ideas for F/OSS developers to either create or modify software to fit the openness some desire. For example, I _love_ Editpad Lite. It meets my needs much better than Notepad, GEdit, Kate, or TextEdit. However, it is for MS systems only (will run on Wine).

Is a system "open" just because it has an SDK, or does the whole thing need to be open?

--An open system is open source code. An SDK may provide an interface, but you cannot see the code behind the scenes. SDKs are good if you want developers to use your toolkit, or in Apple's case, require it for publishing. However, it is not an open system. Linux is an open system. The core code is all freely available and modifiable. Don't like the kernel feature set? Make your own. Fork the kernel to your own liking. Or, better yet, submit a patch that adds what you are looking for. Embedded systems engineers using Linux kernels can optimize the kernel for their system specifically. If functionality needs improvement, addition, or rewriting for their needs, they can do exactly that. Try that with Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded or Apple iPhone OS.

Ask a sensible question.

Where do you draw the line? I'd consider my toilet to be a 'closed system', but sure as hell don't plan to boycott that!

For their own sanity they should.

I bought an Archos 605 a while back. I *thought* when I bought it I was supporting Open software (Archos has a Linux kernel, and they even distribute the GPL'ed source). Unfortunately the whole system is locked down tighter than a really tight thing, and recently appears to be virtually impossible to open up (in software terms). You can't even swap out the hard drive for a replacement as the mainboard is tied to the serial number of the HDD.

Although the actual machine is lovely, I'd love to be able to customise it (add OGG support, just have the cover showing when playing a track etc). Not being able to is frustrating and guarantees that I won't buy another one. At least Ipods have Rockbox...

Love, Light and Peace, Crispibits


One of the main reasons I Switched to Linux and Open-Source, is because I don't want other companies telling me what to do on my computer. Example, All my servers at work where getting hardware updates. Every time I installed new hardware i had to Call Microsoft to activate the software i payed for and have been using for some time. With Linux I get freedom I can do anything i want with MY network.


Freedom of choice works both ways. If a company wants to offer closed software or applications it is their choice to do so, and it is my choice to use them or not. And as long as these offerings do not restrict me in what I want with it I don't really mind. After all, it's my choice. But if a company is trying to tell me what to do, or even worse, forcing me into something I don't want, or plainly denying me the features assuming I don't need them, then I use other tools and applications that do what I want. Again, my choice.

Hell NO!

Of course not. Whose brain child was this?

By all means

This is what openness means to me, but I warn you, it's a bit radical point of view:
* No boundaries to criticism
This already implies open access to anything (ideas, drafts, implementations, discussions, meetings), no copyright and no pecuniary restrictions.
* No boundaries to the possibility of contribution in any kind, may it be by the end-user or another organization.
I think you'd still want to have a kind of regulating organ for that, though I think this should be the main system developers themselves as they then can evaluate and discuss the ideas and concerns of the contributors (or future contributors). It's important here that those contributor's suggestions do reach the actual developers so that it may bring or lead to new points of view which weren't thought of before. And, provided that there is a high demand of a certain feature or something alike, there shouldn't be a way of avoiding putting this on the roadmap.

These are the (main) points I could only think of for now.
I cannot yet think of a way solving the need of money (maybe an unconditional basic income would do), but it's late and I gotta sleep. Good night.

PS Would be a plus, if you supported basic formatting in the comment section. (If you already do, don't hesitate informing about that) Anyway, this is a great site, thanks for providing this for free.
PPS Excuse my (bad) English.

I aqm supposed to get an old

I aqm supposed to get an old xbox360 for free, I just can not turn it down. Buy a new one? no way.

Up to you...

The freedom/non-freedom choice is not black and white. Like most things, it's a spectrum.

There's a cost/benefit analysis going on in most people's heads, and for us freedom-loving geeks include freedom in that analysis. Some give it a lot of weight (Stallman aprings inexorably to mind). Most give it much less. Some even rate it negatively. (It's free? Must be crap then.)

Should I buy an iPod Touch or a Samsung YP-U4? The Samsung has smaller memory, but supports Ogg Vorbis. The cost to me of having less memory is small - I don't have a huge music collection - but it's all in Vorbis format because I value freedom that much, at least. Advantage: Samsung, by one sale.

On the other hand, should I boycott podcasts only available in MP3 format? For me, no way. I get a lot of information this way.

Should I allow use of closed-source software in the medical equipment saving my wife's life? Hmmm. Let me see... Oh, go on then. (Hello, dear - just joking!)

So, no hard and fast answers. Make your own decision.

Yes and No

I boycott devices that make it overly difficult or impossible to use on my GNU/Linux Operating System. I believe there is room for both Open and Closed Source software and devices; however I will choose Open Source if it is equivalent to a Closed Source counterpart. That said, those closed source softwares and devices that put forth effort to make themselves available to Linux should be rewarded with patronage. It is a idealistic pipe dream to believe that companies who's ends are to make a profit are all going to switch to open source, its possible, but not probable. So those of us wanting more devices, more games, more multimedia, more, more, more, we must make it enticing for companies to develop for our platform, and nothing says please like a fist full of cash.

Boycott? What Boycott?

I don't deliberately avoid products. I think the way forward is to make positive choices about your buying. For instance, I bought an Acer AO100 because it had the OS support I wanted at a good price. But I bought a Blackberry because it was the best push email phone/pim and phone for me at the time.

Why boycott when there are so many positive choices out there?

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