Apple is just as proprietary as Microsoft

People love to complain about how Microsoft is too proprietary, and rightfully so. Linux/FreeBSD users can make that claim freely but when Apple users make it I cringe. Microsoft has done some “bad” things with API’s and interoperability and is a worse offender than Apple, however, Apple is by no means a saint of openness and isn’t shy about locking users in to their equally proprietary products and services. Here are just a couple of examples that come to mind:

1. I can run Windows on just about any PC hardware whereas I can only run OSX on Apple hardware and they intentionally make it so that I can’t run it on a regular PC without hacking the OS. Is this evil? Not necessarily, they are a business after all. Does it make their OS proprietary? Absolutely!
2. Not only do you have to buy their hardware to run OS X, you also have to pay for OS upgrades just like Microsoft.
3. My MacBook Pro has something called an ExpressCard/34 slot (which as I’ve learned is the latest PCMCIA standard). Regardless it is about as useful to me (with all of my older PCMCIA cards) as an old toenail clipping. That’s more of an aside gripe though and doesn’t make them proprietary so moving on…
4. While people have emulated the .Mac service to make it work with their own servers, Apple tries to lock users in with their .Mac subscription services.
5. iTunes music store and iPod lock-in: if you want to use the iTunes music store and then listen to the music on the go there’s only one MP3 player you can use.

If Apple is really going to stand above Microsoft then in my opinion they need to allow you to run OS X on any PC hardware and have people choose to run it on Apple hardware because it’s the best, not because they have to. They would also need to allow other vendors to hook their MP3 players in with the iTunes music store instead of their current monopolistic approach.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Apple hardware, software, and related products, they are some of the best on the market. However, I’m under no illusion that just like Microsoft, they are in business to make money, and they too resort to Redmond like lock-in tactics. So before you put an Apple sticker on your bumper, ask yourself if it’s really Apple the company that you so adore and want to express your support of, or if it’s just that it’s cool and cutting edge again to be a Mac user?

Now a Linux, FreeBSD, or OpenBSD bumper sticker is something I can get behind, but an Apple or Microsoft bumber sticker? No thanks!

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19 Responses to Apple is just as proprietary as Microsoft

  1. Ben W. says:

    FYI, Expresscard is the successor to PCMCIA, a.k.a. Cardbus. See here:

    “The major benefit of ExpressCard technology over the previous PCMCIA CardBus PC card is the major increase in bandwidth, as the ExpressCard has a maximum throughput of 500 MB/s two-way communications versus CardBus’s 132 MB/s.”

    also according to Wikipedia: HP, Lenovo and Dell all ship Expresscard machines.

    This may not be much help to you now, but when all the new cool stuff is on expresscard, you comp will be able to handle it.

  2. Dale says:

    What a weak blog article. Your claim and examples simply inform us you know little about open standards, and even less about Apple and the majority of people that use their products.

    While Apple isn’t an open-source movement, they are much more open about standards than Microsoft. They use open standards, support open standards, and release products complying with open standards – without subverting them to their monopolistic purpose.

    1) Windows, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, Linux all have to be hacked to work on different hardware. None of them are hardware agnostic. And yes, Apple protect their investment in Mac OS X. Why wouldn’t they? As you note, they’re a business, and not an open-source movement or a charity. You also forgot to mention that unlike MS, Apple have long open-sourced their OS kernel and some technologies.

    2) Apple don’t make computers for geeks in the open-source movement who download and compile their OS. They’re a business who like making computers for other people. In any case, even Linux companies sell their OS! Go to any retail store to buy a copy of Linux!

    3) Someone else has already told you what ExpressCard is. You should also note that PCMCIA cards have been called CardBus and PC Cards ever since version 2 of the PCMCIA standard was released. ExpressCard is the latest version of the PCMCIA standard.

    4) These people aren’t hacking .Mac. They’re trying to create a clone on their own hardware. Get the facts right. And .Mac is an optional service that Apple charge for. Why shouldn’t they add features to it for paid subscribers? Isn’t that what they paid money for? And other users are still able to use 99% of every product that Apple link to .Mac.

    5) The iTunes and iPod lockin works well. It’s a basic consumer need that people want stuff that works well and has a reasonable price. Nothing’s stopping MS or the open-source movement from meeting this consumer need. But the best both groups can do is either release stuff that works poorly, or bleat idealistic proganda that ignores real people’s needs.

    People don’t put an Apple sticker on a bumper because they adore Apple or because they think they’re cool. They do it because they love Apple products, products that get stuff done and get out of their way. Neither MS or open-source software does that.

    Putting a Linux, FreeBSD, or OpenBSD bumper sticker on your car is just another way of saying you like mucking around with hardware and software. Most of us don’t want to do this as a hobby or profession. We just want to do cool things with our hardware and software.

  3. Todd Huss says:

    Dale, thanks for the comment, you make some good points, and thanks for the clarification that Expresscard is PCMCIA!

    1. Apple isn’t protecting their investment in OSX by only allowing it to run on Apple hardware, they are locking you into their hardware and software so that if you want to run OSX you have to buy a complete machine from them. It’s purely a business decision and makes their software proprietary (which is what I’m arguing, not that making money this way is necessary evil).

    4. Sorry if my use of the word “hack” was confusing. While they’re not hacking into the .Mac service, they are reverse engineering the .Mac service to create their own local working copy by using DNS to point to their own machine and then writing emulation scripts to respond as does.

    5. I have to call BS that the “iTunes music store and iPod lockin works well”. From an iTunes music store perspective having it work with most MP3 players on the market would be best for their business and best for consumers. But from the Apple perspective, requiring that users who want to use the iTunes music store and then listen to it on the go be required to buy an iPod is intentional vendor lock-in.

  4. Moctod says:

    Perhaps you could send your iTunes ‘lock-in’ complaints to the correct governing body. That would be the RIAA. Apple wanted to sell you music, the RIAA said ‘not without DRM, you won’t’. Hence, FairPlay. People bitchin’ and moanin’ about FairPlay are equivalent to the folks that complain to the store owner about bottle deposits.

    As far as open standards go, I’ll have to side with ‘Dale’ on this. Apple has several open-standards compliant technologies — CalDAV, Darwin, Webkit, X11, Bonjouor, are a few.

    Also, if Apple offered their OS on generic PCs, how many minutes before MS offered their OS for FREE? And why would you want the driver issues of having to support infinite PC setups? Sure OSX runs on a dozen different rigs, but it runs bloody fantastic, doesn’t it?

    Everything is a trade off? EVERYTHING. But, that’s okay if you’re prepared to choose what you can or can’t live with.

  5. Todd Huss says:

    The iTunes Music Store/iPod lock-in issue is not about DRM. The issue is that Apple does not provide hooks or an API or even a licensing arrangement to allow other vendors to make their devices compatible with the iTunes music store and iTunes, DRM or no DRM.

    I think your argument that selling OSX to run on any PC hardware would cause Microsoft to give away Windows is unfounded, it’s simply too large of a revenue generator for Microsoft to give it away. I agree that the driver issues with supporting a lot of hardware are significant but there’s no doubt in my mind that the ONLY reason Apple is not selling OSX to run on other hardware is because they want to lock you in for a bigger purchase.

    I understand why they do those things, I just think it puts them on a similar playing field with Microsoft that many die hard Apple users conveniently overlook when they go slamming Microsoft for being closed and proprietary.

  6. George Brown says:

    Try making WMA or WMV digital rights work with anything but windows.At least Itunes works on windows.

  7. nerradv says:

    What is funny about this is just how much this type of hardware/software relationship in the short term, helped MS and now in the long term is also killing it.

    From the good to the crappy hardware, MS has to take all of them into account. Over time this legacy commitment and the same with business has left MS in a real dilemma with Vista and their OS designs of the future.

    Apple on the other hand, lost business and marketshare to this hardware/software relationship, but now it is what is allowing Apple to have a new, lean OS that is ready for the future and much easier to update, add to than the MS product. And you are starting to see its benefits. Leopard will show that over Vista quite easily.

    Shame you are just a trumpet of 5 year old thinking. It is quite clear that MS would give anything right now to be able to be in Apples shoes. The iPod is only one example. MS keeps watching crap MP3 players hit the market and now will jump in with Zune. The MP3 player makers conversely had to wait for MS to do something with the software side to catch up to Apple.

    Nope. Apples way is not perfect and angers some, but it is a good way for seamless total solutions.

  8. Brichpmr says:

    Unlike Microsoft, Apple is a hardware company that spends millions to design, develop and market hardware that integrates seamlessly with its own operating system. Apple does not gain by allowing users to run OSX on non-Apple hardware. Apple developed the iTunes store to augment and support the sale of iPods….once again, Apple is a hardware company. In both instances, Apple wants users to purchase Apple hardware…that’s where most of their revenue comes from. In fact, Apple is fairly unique in being the only computer maker that also makes the OS. That’s both their differentiator and their advantage.

  9. Moctod says:

    So, in your opinion — MS giving away software is unfounded.

    Uh yeah, we seem to have forgotten IE. I read an interview years back (sorry, no URL) where Bill Gates bragged how IE cost $1Billion to produce, yet they gave it away. The cost of crippling Netscape was worth it to them.

    They’ve lost money on EVERY XBox/XBox360 they’ve ever sold — in an effort to recoup in games sales. Plus, the cost of trying to punish Sony for getting into online gaming, is apparently worth it to them.

    On average, MS makes more net profit per PC than Apple does per Mac (PC). Maybe MS Office is the key software — more so than WinXP. If it weren’t then Office:Mac wouldn’t be an IMPORTANT revenue stream for MS, would it?

    Perhaps your piece should have been titled ‘Apple is sometimes as proprietary as Microsoft’. I imagine only the MacZealots would have taken issue with you. 😉

    Otherwise. I fail to see how they are ‘JUST AS proprietary as Microsoft’. You’ve carefully avoided addressing the examples of Apple’s openness, only to keep hammering at something that Apple is not likely allowed to control. Do you have any proof that Apple is withholding iTunes APIs willfully? Occam’s Razor would suggest that they have their hands tied.

    FWIW, isn’t there an internet meme suggesting that Steve Ballmer feels that OSS — specifically Linux — is tantamount to communism?

    Finally, please don’t equate a shrewd business to a twice convicted, illegal, monopolistic bully, and then expect EVERYONE to view your argument with any crediblity.

  10. DeFacto says:


    It was easy for Microsoft to create a stable and captive licensee market from the start. A series of very particular events put MS in a position where they could sell a software solution to harware makers to make them “IBM compatible”.

    IBM was a big name and MS used it to create demand for their DOS (which they didn’t even write themselves but bought at a ridiculous price without telling the author they were going to work with IBM).

    At this point, MS had a captive market, with an increasing demand to be compatible with “Internaltional Business Machines”.

    Their empire was built around compatibility with the original DOS which relied on the IBM name for credibility.

    It was easy for Microsoft to create a licensee market for portable digital audio players around 2000. All these gadgets have to be connected to a computer, that runs an OS… Who dominates the OS market?

    The audio player makers couldn’t help but say yes when MS asked them if they wanted to be sure to be able to connect their player to Windows… their DRM plans was probably used as an argument to tell them that they’d need the official MS-blessed way to connect.

    The first iPod only played MP3, AIFF and WAV. Then Apple chose AAC (audio part of MPEG-4) as the logical successor to MP3, and this format is as open as MP3, as it’s not tied to the interest of the monopolist OS maker.

    So Apple is pushing AAC against WMA, isn’t that a good thing? AAC can be played on Mac, Windows and Linux without any hack.

    Every other player maker could license AAC, including MS, why don’t they?

    The FairPlay DRM you say?

    Well since Apple is pushing the open standard AAC, they can’t use Microsoft’s DRM, and anyway they don’t want MS to take control of the DRM market. So they had to create their own DRM.

    DRMs are proprietary by nature, Apple couldn’t get around this if they wanted to fight MS on the mainstream music market.

    What if Apple tried to license FairPlay in 2002? They would have been laugh at by MP3 player makers, as they would see no interest of using something other than WMA, and they didn’t want to upset MS. That the iPod would have been such a success wasn’t clear either, so essentialy a FairPlay license held no value at that time, Apple would have had a hard time trying to license it by then.

    As the iPod and iTMS gained market share the value of FairPlay grew, and it still grows.

    If Apple licenses too soon, they won’t get enough support and the whole thing will fail and everyone will fall back to WMA, and they’ll have ruined their only chance of doing such a move.

    Despite Apple having 75% of the market (in the US), many still think that MS will prevail… This goes to show that MS has some additional weight in the balance.

    Apple needs a very high market share against MS, and has to show that it can sustain this share to be taken seriously by companies that could want to jump in the FairPlay bandwagon.

    Currently, while some few companies bitch about the lack of FairPlay licenses, I don’t think many are really serious about wanting a license. What most really want is a way to get iPod users to migrate toward their players, essentially using Fairplay/AAC as a transitional, legacy support format, while still moving forward to impose WMA as the standard.

    If all other players could play both FairPlay/AAC and WMA DRM, well WMA would be declared the winner, because it’s the Windows default, The iPod would be the only one not supporting both formats and would be pressured to add WMA support. FairPlay/AAC would then become legacy and be dropped as quickly as possible…

    Having the dominant OS maker control 90% of the audio DRM market would be 10x worse than having Apple in the same position. And the key difference is not which company is more evil, but the simple fact that MS controls the OS market, and Apple doesn’t.

    You can’t separate and compare the OS and digital music market like two independant things, the digital music market is a subset of the OS market. MS can use it’s dominant position to impose audio formats and easily create a license market.

    If MS decided to seriously adopt AAC instead of WMA as the Windows audio standard and then ask Apple to give control of the FairPlay DRM to the guys that hold the AAC format so they can license to everyone, Apple would be ready to negociate a nice deal with them because it would be fair…

  11. bob says:

    You might be able to make the case that PC hardware isn’t proprietary, because there are standards to which it is built that provide for interoperability.

    However I don’t think you can claim that the Microsoft OS products are “non proprietary” just because they run on lots of machines. In fact, the Microsoft OS is less open than the Apple OS – the Apple OS kernel is open source and the developer tools are free.

    Interestingly, the companies providing the proprietary products are the ones making the profits. The Wintel structure rewards Microsoft in a world where there is hardware interchangeability, but not OS interchangeability – and puts the hardware companies in a race to the bottom on margins (Dell being the most recent example of where this leads, trying to win on volume but suffering on margins).

    Now, considering that the Intel-based Apple systems can run basically any PC OS – in part due to adoption of those same hardware standards the rest of the PC clone companies use – how do you classify an Apple computer ? It can run anything now.

    I can see your frustration that OS X is not available as widely as the Microsoft OS – it is tied to a hardware purchase – but that’s one of the reasons Apple has been able to ship a more steady flow of updates to the OS, by virtue of supporting known hardware configs. That’s their choice, you don’t have to like it, you have lots of hardware choices to run XP or UNIX on.

  12. Daniel Eran says:

    Many people don’t seem to know what proprietary means.

    Here’s a clear explaination, from RoughlyDrafted Magazine:

    Of course, on the subject of Microsoft vs Apple, Apple has chosen to use a number of open industry standards in key parts of the OS: PDF, OpenGL, AAC audio and H.264 video. Even .Mac is based on WebDAV – an open standard Microsoft invented!

    Microsoft has chosen to invent its own standards: its own proprietary PDF, “Metro;” its own proprietary OpenGL, DirectX; its own proprietary AAC, WMA, and its own proprietary video codecs.

    Why? Because Microsoft wants to destroy your choices and interoperability and own markets and lock up technologies. But at least they run on lots of old BIOS-based PCs. Sheesh.

  13. freekyboymac says:

    wow- you are really clueless.

    mac control both hw and sw so it controls the experience. do you not understand windowz is a HAL hardware abstraction layer- whilst mac is INTEGRATED. OS X runs so well, because they only have to test it on 12 models of computer- not 4,000 ASUS MLBs, with 63 chip makers for usb, pci, agp, etc. why you think windows has so many errors? ms not smart programmers? that silly- they plenty smart…too many hw configs to test / run on. EVERYTHING BETA ALWAYS! ALWAYS BETA!

    good luck to you sir finding your way out the door in the am, if this misrepresentation of facts is to be construed as your mental accomplishment today.

    if you run os x on crap hardware it will be almost as crappy as windows.

    is the rain on the plane now sparky?

  14. Lokkison says:

    Look up Vertical Markets!

  15. bozzo says:

    “Apple has chosen to use a number of open industry standards in key parts of the OS”

    They don’t do it by choice, Apple could not impose his own proprietary PDF or his own proprietary OpenGL anyway.

  16. Bob says:

    Regarding not doing it by choice, isn’t that the whole point?

    Knowing *why* Microsoft is able to unilaterally force new standards onto the computing industry, doesn’t make it any better.

  17. Ross Pruden says:

    It continues to astonish me how rude strangers can be on the net when they disagree with you… It’s one thing to be passionate about a topic, but what of these knuckledraggers who voice their passion with such disrespectful rebuke? At least Moctod makes good points and is civil about it all. Dale, while he makes some interesting points, comes off as a dumbass who eats with his mouth open. Ouch, I’m sorry—was that offensive, Dale? Next time you might consider being more polite; I’m just holding up a mirror. Excuse the bluntness, but get some manners!

    As for this discussion, it reminds me of the scene from The Animal with Rob Schnieder where the rowdy crowd is ready to lynch the guilty party… until they find out the guilty party is the black guy. Suddenly, no one wants to be seen hanging the minority black guy. Sure, it’s okay to hang the white guy, the most popular guy, the one who can take the hit because he “has it coming to him”… but not the underdog martyr. With 5-7% (or whatever it is) market share, Apple is the underdog and it’s just “not on” to kick a guy when he’s already down. Of course, if you do that, all the MacZealots are going to start foaming at the mouth. 🙂

    Just so’s you all know, I’m a MacZealot myself, so I’m allowed to call it for what it is. Even I can see that Apple is a little proprietary… they aren’t quite as bad as Microsoft, but they they can’t make money if they give away the farm, either.

    I recall seeing an ad years ago when shopping for a laptop. Apple’s marketing spin was, “Apple has 13 laptops… and Apple makes them all.” Instead of yielding to cloning for a larger market share, Apple chose to keep everything in house and specialize—both hardware and software. The plus is that their hardware and software integrates seamlessly. The minus is that being proprietary is their part and parcel. If you’re a programmer and want to customize every part of your machine, Microsoft has been the Goliath for many years, but when little David comes along, is it a surprise to any MacZealot that such a seamless OS environment requires a higher percentage of proprietary thinking?

    Toddy, your biggest misconception is that people who put Apple bumper stickers on their cars are driven to do so because Apple’s proprietary hardware and software is just plain cool. The best on the market, according to us MacZealots! 😀

    We missed you yesterday, by the way. Tracie’s pregnant!

  18. jbelkin says:

    I also think you give too much weight to the word- propriety and give it a blanket weight as if an iron gate 100-feet high is the same as one that is 2-feet high.

    Yes, Apple “property” has a fence but it’s a two-foot fence designed to keep it nice if you’re ON THE INSIDE of that fence.

    That is the main difference. Without rehashing a lot of stuff – just take a look at itunes. First, it’s FREE and it’s constantly upgraded AND even in areas where Apple can just say – sorry, buy a mac – they have gone out to create a solution so you can load and sync photos from third party software such as ELEMENTS or MS’s Windows … not only that, it’s thanks to Apple’s entry into online music that digital music is the ONLY digital format we can LEGALLY convert to a DRM free format! Where was MS on this issue the 6 years prior with their WMA stores? after Apple’s entry, they changed also. Itunes plays and converts up to 7 formats INCLUDING DRM free WMA. It even has THREE lossless formats and again, thanks to Apple, no hacking is required to load ANY and EVERY song from a competiting online store (it also works in reverse, any itunes song can be converted to a CD and then re-imported). It’s EVEN less of a restriction than movie theaters or Disneyland (no outside food). Or that itunes the software allows you to turn off the store – you think anyone else would let you do that?

    I’m not claiming Apple is all rainbows and cotton candy nor are they perfect but the fences they generally build are to keep those on the inside happy – not to keep people out or to lock you in.

    Like .mac, yes, there are 10 websites that can replicate 90% of .mac but why go to 10 websites when one might serve your purpose? And one consistent interface? It’s an add-on that is great for many people. Basically two clicks in iphoto publishes your photos to a website. Visitors do not have to log in or sign up. Photos do not get resized nor are they deleted after a year and the design templates are all classy. For many people, it’s great. You even get a easy to see url and a chance to send an email telling family & friends the photos are up … yes, therea re literally 100 sites to post photos and while places like FLICKR offer savvy users more options, if you do not pay for an advanced option, you cannot upload batches (unless you are savvy and use the third party uploader) so, which is really easier to use?

  19. Daniel Eran says:

    You’ve fallen for one of the classic blunders!

    Here’s what proprietary actually means:

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