We Want Root

When you buy an iPhone, do you actually get to own it? Apple is doing its darnedest to make changes impossibe that you might want to do but that they don’t approve of, even after you paid a lot of money for the device. Does not sound like ownership to me.

It wasn’t always that way. If an ancestor of mine bought a cow at the market, he could take that cow home, put it on pasture, or eat it! Or if he bought seed corn, he could plant it, or eat it, or sell it, or give it to the birds. No more.

I think what’s being called “Ownership” these days are actually three different things:

My term Example In tech terms
Traditional ownership A Ford Model T. I could take it apart, examine every part, mod it, do whatever. Lots of people did. A computer only running open-source software; you have the root password.
Black box ownership A DOS, Windows or OSX computer. Any car built in the last 20+ years. A computer running closed-source software, but you have the root password.
Pretend ownership A Nest thermostat, or iPhone. A modern car. A computer running closed-source software; someone else has the root password, but you do not. The real owner (i.e. the one with root) can access the product over the network, and you cannot prevent that.

For my own life, I’ve decided that I will examine future purchases against these three categories. I will stay away from the last category (“pretend ownership”) as much as possible. Unfortunately it’s not always possible. I think I can live with the second category (“black box”) in many cases, but obviously I prefer real ownership. (It’s sort of funny that most open-source licenses do not convey full ownership, but it sure feels like it. Certainly much more so than the other categories.)

Repeat after me: We Want Root.