Yesterday, Greg Laden posted a short response to my post about the recently discovered Apple patent application for an ad-supported operating system. Some of the comments that people left on Greg's post raise issues that I want to respond to. Since I'm lazy, and writing something up in the software I use for blog posts is easier and more convenient for me than leaving a lengthy comment on his blog, I'm responding here.
Given his singularly mindless knee-jerk defense of simplistic anti-file-sharing moralization back in the day, I can't say I'm surprised.
While I had almost forgotten about that post, I still agree with the basic point that I was making, and I think that there is a parallel between my views on file "sharing" and what should be done with operating systems.
Generally speaking, I think that the people who create any sort of work that could be considered intellectual property should have the right to decide if - and more importantly how - that work should be distributed to others. Give it away, sell it, rent it, trade it - they made it, so those decisions are theirs to make. I might not like what they decide, but I don't have the right to force them to do something differently. I had nothing to do with the effort that went into making whateverthehellitis, so I should have no say about whether they can sell it to me, or should be forced to give it to me.
Since that's the perspective I'm coming from, it really should be no surprise that I think that the choice of what should or should not be in any particular operating system belongs to whoever designs and writes the OS. If you don't like what's in someone's OS, use one that has features you do like. I certainly am having a hard time seeing where there's any sort of moral imperative that would either require or ban any feature from appearing in an OS.
That's probably one of the reasons I'm not in agreement with Greg's comment:
An OS is different from a web site or a web browser or software that runs on an OS in very important ways. An OS should be fairly neutral and in the background, it's functioning should be related only to its job as an OS ... it is there to run software. Users can then make choices about what software to run. They can chose the Eudora with Ad Support or without (remember the old days?). They can chose to put an ad blocker on their web browser. And so on. Building ads into an OS guarantees that the removal of those ads (with some kind of ad blocking software) is problematic. I mean, seriously, you don't build an OS in such a way that its functionality (as a thing without ads) requires fundamental tweeking at that level. And, you know damn well that the EULA will require that you don't mess with the ads.
As far as I can tell, Greg seems to be arguing that there's something special about operating systems that makes them different from all other kinds of software. He's apparently fine with ads on websites, and in web browsers, and as one possible way to pay for some or all of a software package's costs. It appears that he thinks that an OS is somehow different, and (more importantly), that it should be generally acknowledged to be different, and treated differently as a result. I can't see it, personally. I can't think of any good reason to think that an operating system should be treated differently from any other software package - or, for that matter, from any other product, period.
This is particularly true when users can - as they do now - chose which OS to run.