The business cost of making non-free hip.

Apple recently announced that they are redesigning and redeploying the mainboard for their latest notebook computer, the MacBook Pro. It’s worth putting this in some context so you can see how sad the situation really is for Apple users here.

Apple’s hardware is a collection of cherry-picked parts. Apple decides what hardware they want to “support” (since their OS is non-free, calling this real support is simply not true) and they determine when this “support” ends (according to Apple Newton users, Apple isn’t interested in sharing information about their hardware, even for machines that aren’t being sold anymore). The MacBook Pro revisions happen without much publicity. This particular mainboard was recently at revision D and is now up to revision F according to a post on

So when Apple says If your 15-inch MacBook Pro emits a high-pitched buzzing sound, please contact AppleCare for service, one wonders how things came to be this way.

Apple hardware is among the most expensive personal computers one can buy. In the Sunday newspaper electronics fliers I noticed that for around US$500 one can get a Toshiba notebook that is reasonably quick and pre-loaded with a lot of proprietary software. Two friends of mine each bought one of these and they report that their machines work well. I was considering buying one and returning the Microsoft Windows OS license for a refund. This Toshiba isn’t as fast as any MacBook Pro but I doubt most people will notice that because the Toshiba is fast enough and around a quarter of the price of the least-expensive MacBook Pro I can see on Apple’s website ($1,999).

So, if you’re going to throw away your software freedom and deal with a company that doesn’t care about portable software (Apple isn’t interested in MacOS X running on garden-variety Intel-based PCs because then they’d have to come up with drivers for all of the odd hardware people put in their machines), would you rather pay $500 or roughly 4X that price?

If you’re not interested in throwing away your software freedom, why pay the premium for software you’ll never run on a machine built by people who apparently aren’t so careful about what hardware is going to be on your lap?

Astute readers will recall the Eben Moglen talk where he discussed Apple making non-freedom hip. He spoke at the 2006 FSF Annual Member meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was fortunate enough to be at that talk and I remember how he stole the show. Prof. Moglen gave this talk well in advance of Apple’s notebook computers prying apart their cases, blowing up, and generally failing in mysterious ways. But Moglen did recall how Apple treated European iPod users with disdain when their iPod battery failed or wore out and needed replacement. He said it was the US’ stronger consumer laws that allowed American users to keep Apple in check.