Opened with the video of speakers learning Ka Mate. There is no god.

Yesterday’s prize went to about the 6th or 7th person. People are obviously learning.

Now to Mako Hill’s speech. Intro sez: he’s stuck between Media Lab and management school. He works on numerous free software projects including Debian, Ubuntu,, and, which lets you report violations of the copyright on Happy Birthday, such as everyone singing Rusty happy birthday.

Apparently last of these generates copious hate mail, not least from people who get neither satire or sarcasm.

Examine the percieved dichotomy between the pragmatic and political tracks of free software, and dicuss antifeatures, which is one way he’s worked up to discuss the practical benefits of free software, referencing the problems of non-free software.

The Debate


In corner we have the FSF and allies. Mako prefers to think less in terms of software and more in terms of autonomy; Mako’s example is wanting to send a message to his partner gloating about the good weather on Tuesday relative to Boston’s snowbound streets.

There are constraints - character limits for twitter, SMS,, call limits to voice, PXT is a picture. Those constraints dictate what and how can be sent; the technology limits the nature of what Mako can say. The question of who controls that technology is the question of who gets to dictate how we communicate and mediate our communications. This is a key question.

It’s important to control our technology, because it’s important to control our life; that’s Mako’s focus on the software freedom argument.

Open Source

Invented to explicitly distance themselves from the free folks. Mako has yet to chase any business person off by saying “free”, contra esr’s claims.

The focus is on the practical benefits from an open development methodology; security, reliability, etc.

The FSF response is to get upset about not discussing freedom; Mako says this is mostly a false dichotomy. Freedom itself imparts real benefits aside from any methodological questions.

Free software in the mid-90s was not, in fact, a better and more featureful experience than proprietary Unixes or Windows. It was pretty awful by comparison. “Open Source” isn’t magic, and it’s harder than slapping code online and letting the patches roll in.

Look at SourceForce - the median number of contribters is 1 person. 95% are or fewer. Median number of commits are 0. The benefits are not automatic. You can’t have mass collaboration with yourself (cue masturbation jokes).

There are still pragmatic benefits, though, that have everything to do with freedom.


The world of proprietary software. Software is full of features they hate; people will pay to have them removed. Intentionally added, negative functionality.

Free software, on the other hand, gives you control over your own stack. Antifeatures are about being exploited; free software is a defence against antifeatures, and, Mako argues, is actually an inherint advantage. He believes that people prefer not to be exploited, but I’m kind of unconvinced at the moment - think GMail and Google’s eyeball/behaviour-selling stack.

Extracting Money from Users

  • Paying to have your name removed from a phone list.
  • Paying for protection.

The phone company sells your number to third parties, but will extort money from you to avoid being spammed by said third parties.

Gator/Claria spyware as an example; stealth installed, intercept banner ads, monitor clickstream, etc. It shipped with P2P software, DiVX.

(Aside: It shipped with software that let you steal stuff, and then you’re outraged - outraged! - that it installed spyware)

DiVX would sell you a paid version with no spyware. Sony have sold you “FreshStart” where they’ll charge you $50 to remove all the trialware on their Windows boxes. Sony eventually relented.

Market Segnmentation

“Price discrimination” is the other term. The idea is that you’ll optimise the revenue by artifically recharging on ability to pay, not on product delivered.

Mako loves the example of NT 4 workstation and NT 4 AS. Workstation artifically limited you down to 10 concurrent connections - the actual binaries were identical, the behavioural differences were registry entries, leading to it crippling itself. There was a team of engineers whose job it was to cripple software. But that was 1996. Things are better right now, right?

  • Vista Starter
  • Vista Home Basic
  • Vista Home Premium
  • Vista Business
  • Vista Enterprise
  • Vista Ultimate

You have an engineering team here artifically limiting the memory these OS variants can access, complete with coding, testing, etc. Starter is the worst only a few gig of memory, a limit of 3 programs running at once, and all sorts of silly limits.

Limiting you to 3 GUI problems is actually a non-trivial engineering and testing task; it’s producing a version that’s so bad you’ll pay to upgrade to avoid the articfical limit. Bait-n-switch.

On to the Canon G7, and the loss of RAW mode from the G1-G6. It was an upgrade in some regards, but they crippled the RAW to try and force people up to DSLR. RAW isn’t a format - it’s the raw data, so you always have a RAW copy. There’s no good reason to cripple it except market segmentation.

And then the hackers arrived! Third party upgrades to the firmware; CHDK RAW would allow you to flash the capability back in.

Mako suggests in the world of proprietary software antifeatures are actually irresistable, whereas in free software they’re impossible.

A third example: Panasonic GH1 cameras. A firmware upgrade now cripples the GH1 if you upgrade it and it finds a third-party batteries. This is an egrarious example, but it’s a broader problem; printers will cripple themselves to reduce quality if you have a third-party cartridge; embedded systems may degrade power-saving mode if they find a a third-party battery.


TI is very proud of their $1.20 battery authentication technique. A substantial proportion of the cost of your mobile phone battery may be a chip that’s only there to take away your ability to use third-party batteries.

It only works, Mako asserts, because we’re divided and helpless as a result.

These sorts of examples are key to loss-leader models. Printers that are near-free, but don’t try to buy third-party ink. The X-Box was a standard PC, with a huge engineering effort to lock it down so you couldn’t use it how you wanted. Tivo is an even more interesting example, because it’s based on free software that has been then locked down.

Mako shows us the Sim City unlock codes from the old-school manual. He’s unaware of the classic Elite example with the lens-on-bitmap.

We hate dongles, yet there’s an industry of dongle manufacturers. An example of underwater mapping software whos dongle wasn’t corrosion-resistent, so the software was down waiting on dongle!

Our computers are perfect copying machines, but we’ve spent huge effort in making them bad.

Mako mentions the unskippable copyright track on DVDs. Never mind that, how about the unskippable ad tracks on kids DVDs!

But There Is Hope!

When we have free software there is no ability to have antifeatures—or if they do, free software makes it trivial to work around them.

Mako thinks the kee battlegounds will be: mobile phones, networks, and digital rights management.

Rounding Up

Mobile phones: are the most widely available computers in the world, but they are the things that act least like computers, yet we’re OK with that. We all hate locked phones, but we expect and mostly accept this. How many people have root? Crypto systems to control installation of software on phones is an antifeature.

Cites the Android as an example of the best free software phone (I’d disagree: think N900), noting the difference between the white (ordinary) and black (developer) phones. The dev phone gives you control, but it’s $250 more expensive.

Antifeatures mean we carry around computers with microphones and cameras controlled by companies we have no reason to trust.

Network services: Github pricing. It’s a menu of anti-features. Five projects vs ten projects. How are a few extra DB extries are a few bucks a month. It’s free software, but you still don’t have control; in fact, we’re paying for a system built to cripple our access to it.

Compare to Gitorious, which is less featureful, but is completely antifeature free.

(Of course, without your billing system antifeature, you may have some challenges hiring your engineers to run your reliable system.)

DRM - the mother of all antifeatures. EFF guesstimates 10,000 people working on DRM globally. Cites a DRM-free music service, or the segmentation of DRM and DRM free versions of music on iTunes as examples of people going out of their way to avoid DRM, even at the expense of a DRM tax.


  • Can we have a hippocratic oath against antifeatures. Mako notes it could get you out of a job, but he thinks it’s a great utopian vision.
  • Question notes that cheap cellphones can be a function of antifeatures—the lockdown is a tradeoff. How do those tradeoffs that support business models? Mako notes that antifeatures are about things you don’t want, and allows that some people want “perverse things.” Mako notes some things might be impossible in an ideal world. Mako is conflicted on the example of anti-cheating systems, for example, as tradeoffs between freedom and playing games without cheating. This is a hard question, and mako acknowleges, but he kind of fudges by saying “I’m sure we can solve it.”
  • How do we fight stuff? Lucid explanations for non-technical people are one possibility; advocacy. Our own code avoiding antipatterns. Laugh and don’t take it to seriously to stay sane “Not a great answer but that’s all I’ve got today.”
  • If there are no restrictions, how do manufacturers promise support? How do we get the best of both worlds, allowing manufacturers to offer guarantees that stuff will Just Work. Mako offered the example that trademark law being cited as a prtoection for infant food - he notes that if your infant formula kills children, that’s not the worst thing you’ve done. Mako is an advocate that consumer protection is important, but doesn’t think this is part of it. Kind of punted that question.