Apple is a problem for the progressive Left.

Apple computer software is somewhat popular and widely known for being easy to use, easier to use than other equally unethical competition from other organizations including IBM, HP, an uncountable number of smaller software development houses, and Microsoft. When faced with paying the high price Apple computers and Apple software costs, some defend Apple’s ease of use.

But is that really the best argument the Left can offer? Consider this one instead:

Apple harms us when they:

Stump for software patents—Apple’s patent on font rendering, for example, stands in the way of free software hackers and all computer users who want to render their fonts in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Distribute proprietary software—MacOS X is a combination of free software (the underlying Darwin software) and proprietary software (Quartz, QuickTime, etc.). This leaves all of Apple’s customers unable to inspect, share, or modify the software they have copies of. Increasingly Apple is leveraging their power here to restrict what their iTunes customers can do with legally obtained audio tracks (visit Boing Boing for many Cory Doctorow stories on this; Doctorow is an avid MacOS user).

So why is this a problem for the progressive Left?

Because many Leftists purchase MacOS X machines and continue to upgrade them whenever Apple tells them they should.

The Left will, quite rightly, be the first to tell you about why you shouldn’t do business with Wal-Mart or Nike. Wal-Mart is losing lawsuit after lawsuit which point out how shabbily Wal-Mart treats their workers (forcing floor workers to punch out early and keep working afterwards, locking employees in the store, managerial sexism, etc.). Most Wal-Mart workers are paid so little they can’t afford the Wal-Mart health care plan. Nike goods are manufactured by underpaid workers in oppressive working conditions (see “The Corporation”, either the movie or the book on which the movie is based, for first-hand accounts and documentary evidence of this pulled from Nike’s trash).

The Left sees how the workers are treated and concludes that it’s not ethically justifiable to do business with these organizations.

But Apple’s software patents adversely affect all computer users; for example, nobody can legally distribute or use software that renders smooth fonts in an obvious way because that method is encumbered by Apple’s patents. Software to implement this idea is in FreeType, but by default it is not compiled when FreeType is used. For more information on how software patents are harmful and why it is important to work to eradicate them, listen to Richard Stallman’s speech or read the transcript of that speech on “The Danger of Software Patents”.

Proprietary software adversely affects the users by restricting what the user is allowed to learn about what their computer is doing with their data. Nobody can legally help their neighbors by sharing copies of Apple’s non-free software, nobody can legally inspect the software to see what it is really doing, nobody can fix the software if it breaks or improve the software to do something that they want done.

Are we supposed to only look narrowly at who is adversely affected here? If Apple’s workers are treated unethically, we can rally against their products but otherwise we must learn to swallow what they’re distributing? I don’t think that is ethically defensible.