Apple’s iPod vendor lock-in gets worse

Background

Apple has changed the way iPods work so that only Apple’s software can successfully manipulate the songs on an iPod. Until the new arrangement is reverse-engineered, Apple has locked in iPod users into their software, transforming a more useful general-purpose audio listening and file carrying device to something that chiefly obeys Apple’s wishes.

Lennart Poettering is a free software hacker, author of important software including Avahi (which helps computers connect to each other and discover services) and PulseAudio (which allows computers to play multiple sounds simultaneously, even sending audio over networks to be heard somewhere else). He is quite familiar with the relevant protocols Apple uses to allow iTunes to share files and send audio around the network. These aren’t the kinds of programs one uses directly but they’re quite necessary for any modern system.

Analysis

Poettering’s analysis of Apple’s latest move is quite apt. There’s more on this issue from Boing Boing and Hubert Figuiere, another free software hacker.

At one point, Poettering concludes to use a technically inferior protocol to do the job DAAP does because DAAP is not an open protocol and UPnP is an open protocol:

I believe that DAAP is the superior protocol in comparison to UPnP MediaServer. (Not really surprising, since I wrote most of Avahi, which is a free implementation of mDNS/DNS-SD (“Zeroconf”), the (open) Apple technology that is the basis for DAAP.) However, due to the closedness of DAAP I would recommend everyone to favour UPnP MediaServer over DAAP. It’s a pity.

Apple did the right thing with the mDNS/DNS-SD protocol (which allows computers to see what services they offer and help make it easier for ordinary users to connect computers together on a local network). Apple allows everyone to use mDNS/DNS-SD and encourage broad acceptance by publishing complete specs under a license that encourages implementation, allow an Apple employee to help with technical questions, and build valuable programs and devices which use the protocol.

But make no mistake, if Apple were a more popular consumer electronics company they would treat you no better than they could get away with. Best not to become dependent on them.

Update

A little over a day after this news broke, Apple’s latest exclusion scheme has been broken.

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