Attention Apple Customers: Do You Feel Shackled?

April 19th, 2010

I read a headline today, referring to iPad owners as people who are somehow “shackled” to Apple’s hardware/software ecosystem. It conveyed the image of slaves sitting in the bowels of an ancient ship, chained to their seats and forced to manage the oars used to propel the vessel.

Sometimes the stories I read about Apple and its corporate policies are so outlandish you wonder how they were approved by supposedly reasonable editors and publishers. The image they present is that Apple is engaged in an insidious scheme to control the personal computing and consumer electronics worlds by forcing you to use their products and accept the terms under which those products are sold.

Now in passing, aren’t PC makers under contract with Microsoft forced to pay a Windows license fee even for computers that don’t have Windows preloaded on them? Or did that requirement disappear in the days when Microsoft suffered that antitrust lawsuit? Can you demand that Nintendo allow you to hack the product to allow “unofficial” games to be loaded onto the device?

The point is that there are loads of gadgets sold that contain proprietary operating systems of one sort or another, which require you to use specific “compatible” apps or accessories. Tell me the next time you try to induce an unapproved third-party DVR to operate with a DirecTV or Dish Network satellite installation and let me know how it works out.

Apple doesn’t sell its gear by creating false illusions about what the products can or cannot do. You know, for example, that the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad all work strictly with the software available from the App Store. Yes, there are unofficial techniques to jailbreak these devices, but then you are on your own and you bear full responsibility if something goes wrong.

When it comes to Mac OS X, the user license specifically states that it’s only to be installed on an Apple branded personal computer. You buy the product with that knowledge, or not, if that’s what you prefer. In saying that, though, it’s also true that there’s an active online community that will guide you towards a successful installation on a regular PC. Apple has tolerated the practice, although they will strike out if you attempt to create a retail business out of selling so-called “Hackentoshes.”

Even Macworld magazine performed such an installation at one time. Apple didn’t come down on them in any discernible fashion. They weren’t confronted with the prospect of the loss of advertising revenue. Instead, readers realized that it’s possible to induce Mac OS X to operate after one of those unofficial installations, but there may be unexpected incompatibilities, particularly when Apple delivers a maintenance update. There’s no guarantee all Mac software will function as well as it does on a real Mac.

In the end, the practice is perfectly all right from the hobbyist standpoint. If you are a power user, comfortable with assembling and disassembling custom systems, have a good time. But if you expect the end result to function as your work computer, consider the cost in terms of the time you expend to make the box function reliably. If your time is worth anything at all, how much of the alleged savings you achieve from buying a cheap PC are wasted making it work properly with Mac OS X? Wouldn’t a real Mac be a better idea, particularly since Apple’s products have good reliability records? After a couple of years, when your old PC is worth nothing, you can still sell your used Mac and get a reasonable return from your investment.

But the real issue is this: You weren’t forced to buy an Apple product. You knew the score when you wrote that check or submitted your credit card number. However, the Mac is a pretty open platform insofar as being able to install Windows under Boot Camp or a virtual machine is concerned. With the latter, you can also install a number of different operating systems, in fact. That makes your Mac perhaps the most compatible computer on the planet.

When it comes to the iPhone and iPad, Apple has decided that you want something that’s simple to learn, simple to use, and doesn’t require lots of decisions to be made about how to customize the product to your tastes. A limited number of setup choices are available, but you also have a rich selection of apps, with the number expected to hit 200,000 in the very near future. The phrase “there’s an app for that,” is a cliché and a truism. There are very few useful apps that you can’t get on Apple’s mobile platform. Yes, there are software categories that Apple won’t touch, particularly in the realm of explicit material, but it’s not quite Disney World.

When it comes to computers, smartphones and tablet-based PCs, you have a choice. It doesn’t have to be Apple. You aren’t shackled to anything or anyone.

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12 Responses to “Attention Apple Customers: Do You Feel Shackled?”

  1. hmurchison says:

    I’m sooooo tired of reading about the “closed” nature if the app store. The whole problem with this premise is that there are plenty of place to look at where open platforms are the norm (Linux, Android) yet they don’t deliver on the polish and quality of Apple’s solutions.

    Geeks love open but the masses just want things to work.

  2. Andrew says:

    Absolutely! I’d add that many geeks also just want things to work. I’m something of a geek, have built computers and got my Windows 7 boot camp install “just right” for maximized game frame rates. I also have Windows 7 and Windows 2000 VMs, and one for Open Suse as well. I even administer my own Windows Small Business Server 2008 with 9 Mac clients authenticated to Active Directory and with MS Exchange email and calendar (I’m a business owner, and do all IT myself after-hours). I used run my own NT networking support business, and before that in another life I was a tech support trainer for one of Apple (outsourced).

    Geek creds and all, I too prefer things to just work, and like devices that require a minimum of configuration and fuss. I used a MacBook Air as my court machine for the last year or so, and now will “upgrade” to an iPad for that task. I could care less that I doesn’t multitask or make my coffee in the morning, it has instant-on, Exchange email and calendar and combines 10 hour battery with 1.5 lb weight and a UI that is limited, but oh so very fast.

    I know Apple designed this thing for use on the couch, but as a busy litigator, the thing seems designed especially for me. I’m sure many other professionals, students, hoomemakers and other folks will also feel that the iPad was designed “just for them”, and they likely will be right. Even a geek or two.

  3. dfs says:

    This idea that Apple is a monopoly in limiting OSX to Macs strikes me as “over the top“. And I don’t feel hurt as a customer. I realize that it is partially done for commercial reasons. But it is also done in part as an engineering decision, to protect my best interests by guaranteeing me a good computing experience. Microsoft sells Windows, an OS expected to run on God knows how many different brands of computer in a huge variety of specific lashups using God knows what peripherals, is in no position to offer its customers any similar guarantee. This is precisely why Apple can say “it just works.” So, yes, by opting for OSX I’m restricted to buying an Apple computer, and, yes, I suppose this does entail a loss of freedom of choice, but I’m getting something tangible and valuable in exchange, so I don’t think of myself as any kind of victim.

  4. Brian M says:

    You can install other OS on your Mac computer, and with devices like iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, while some apps may not be approved, it does have a web browser that will browse just fine to any content you may want.

  5. Andrew says:


    Any content you want, except Flash.

    • Louis Wheeler says:


      Some of us, Andrew, think that is a feature, not a bug.

      Steve Jobs is doing the world a public service, at some cost to Apple, of ridding us of Flash.

      • Andrew says:

        @Louis Wheeler,
        I agree with you that flash sucks, but the statement that you can browse to any content you want is still incorrect. I hate flash, but there are programs I want to watch on Hulu, for instance, that are sadly in flash format.

  6. Hoagus says:

    If the opposite of shackled is free, then I feel free. Free from the shackles of the Windows hegemony. A lot of the people I’ve tried to convince to dump their PC and get a Mac are shackled by their Windows-only software or corporate restrictions. I choose to use Macs because I’m free to do so.

  7. Attention Apple Customers: Do You Feel Shackled? — Think Geek Australia says:

    […] |  Print This Article […]

  8. Andrew says:

    I am so shackled that I just locked myself into yet another Mac. Oh the pain of confinement to that gorgeous 15″ 1680X1050 antiglare display on a 1″ thin laptop that weighs only 5.5 lbs and is faster than last year’s Mac Pro.

  9. Brian M says:

    Whoops, I did say “any content” , I meant to say any flash free content. Maybe its because I’m in canada with no Hulu, and similar services, but I just find that most content I want does not depend on flash (I use clicktoflash on my Mac to reduce memory usage, and speed up loading time)

  10. Andrew says:

    I love clicktoflash, especially since i use a MacBook Air (2GB 11″) as my primary Mac these days.

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