Speaker Benjamin Mako Hill
Time 2010-01-20 09:15
Conference LCA2010

Why your software works against you and why software freedom offers hope of a better future.


You can’t really have mass collaboration with yourself. Most free software projects only have one person making commits.

Antifeatures. Users don’t like being exploited. antifeatures not possible in the long term in free software. Antifeatures are everywhere in proprietary software.

Examples of antifeatures:

  • Extracting money from users.
    • Require payment not to list phone number in phone book. It costs more money to print. Then not to print. Vendor receive $1 to send contacts to advertisers or $1 from user not to send their details, vendor receives $1 either way.
    • Download software you wont and it comes with unwanted software. Pay for software without the spyware.
    • Extra money is spent on infrastructure designed to extract the extra money, not on the features the user wants.
  • Market segmentation.
    • If people say on aircraft with the price they paid for the ticket above their heads, there would be riots.
    • Microsoft Windows NT workstation 4.0 vs Microsoft Windows NT server 4.0. Sever package allows unlimited TCP/IP connections, workstation package allows 10 TCP/IP connections maximum. The only difference was a single bit in the registry. If on boot this bit was in the wrong state, then Windows would restrict functionality. Free upgrades by changing this registry key.
    • 6 different versions of Microsoft Vista: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, Ultimate.
    • Microsoft Vista Starter: only run three applications at the same time. A version of Windows so bad, that anybody would pay to upgrade.
    • Canon G7 camera. G6 has raw support, G7 lost the ability for raw format, that was a high end feature. Raw is not a format, it is just the sensor data straight from the sensors of the camera. Solution? Make camera write the data before it compresses it to jpeg format.
  • Securing monopolies.
    • Panasonic released firmware update to camera that prevents camera from working if battery was a third party battery.
    • Printer manufacturers have implemented code that downgrades printer quality if third party cartridge used, etc.
    • XBox turned from normal computer into a computer that can only run restricted set of games. Not Linux.
    • TiVo - build system and lock it down so changes can’t be made, but is written around free software.
  • “Protecting copyrights”.
    • SimCity. Made impossible to photocopy manual from colours used. Copy protection involved embedding in game authentication system that asked user question that required manual.
    • Dongle. Everyone hates them. Cost of dongle is significant.
    • The computer is the best copying machine. The reality is there has been a huge effort placed into making computers less ideal copying machines. DVDs. Free software ignores flag that says the first track is unskipable.
    • DRM
  • Phones:
    • Mobile phones are generally locked. There is now a sim unlocker. Locked phones, everyone hates it. Nobody wants a locked phone. People generally accept it.
    • Android phone can also be locked to carrier.
    • OpenMoko didn’t do a lot of things, that is great.

Need to talk about these as antifeatures.

DRM-FREE - advertising what their product doesn’t do, as a feature. Sometimes you pay more for the software that doesn’t have the antifeatures, this means the vendor wins either way.

What vendors provide isn’t what the users want.


If somebody murders a child, and the worst thing that happens is they infringe on a trademark, isn’t that wrong? What is the point of having extra laws when there already are laws that cover these cases?