As I was showing a Friend my new Droid 4, and I was telling him about how Motorola and Verizon saw fit to strip the SIP capability out of Gingerbread for their own gain, he made a comment that made a lot of sense.
“Your ISP dictates what Firmware you can run on your computer, Right?”
Thanks Rich! You’ve given me enough fuel for another blog entry. 😀
So, let’s play that comment out.
Imagine that you currently have no computer, and no Internet access. You’re in the market for a computer, and a connection to the Internet. Somehow you already have this gameplan in your head of exactly how you’d like this to play out. You go to a PC manufacturer, and order yourself a shiney new laptop. To your spec. It’s all manner of advanced, Terabytes of storage, gigs of memory, 16 cores, a backlit keyboard, and a glowing logo on the lid. It comes with Windows 7. You didn’t want Windows 7, but it came with the deal, and you _couldn’t_ reject it (yea, thats another injustice worthy of bloggery). So the moment you get it home, you format it, and install linux. Gentoo! Because you’re l33t. You wait 2 days for emerge system to finish and in the end, you’ve got yourself the machine of your dreams. It’s to your spec, running the OS you wanted, and on top of that, it’s all built from source running on your brandy new laptop. Ignore the fact that doing all of this without an internet connection is difficult, just go with it.
Now it’s time to get on the Internet. So you call up your local ISP and sign up for service. They have you agree to their Terms of Service, and before completing your registration they ask you whether you’re running Windows, or Mac. You snidely tell them you’re not a sheep, and you’re running Gentoo. They tell you that you’re not allowed to use their services because you’re not running an OS that they’ve approved.
Wait, what? My computer’s not good enough for your network?
No no, it’s not that, it’s for the protection of our other customers, You’re likely a hacker if you’re running Gentoo (Remember, gentoo’s just an example here).
But you dont know me, I might be a hacker (in the true sense, not the negative connotation the term has taken lately), but I’m not malicious.
Be that as it may you may run things on your computer that we havent approved.
Well, what If i promise to be good?
So imagine if that actually happened to you when you signed up for your internet service. You’d be outright pissed! If you wanted to take the example a little further, say a month down the road you had some sort of hardware failure in that nice laptop. And you called up the manufacturer and they blame Gentoo, and refuse to support you.
If either of these scenarios were to occur today, no one would just accept it, admit they were wrong, and give up. Hell, you’d probably get a lawyer and try to sue. You might even have a case.
But this is _exactly_ what you get when you buy a cell phone. Especially a smart phone. I can’t really speak for Blackberries and iPhones, but your Android devices, they’re linux systems. Whether you knew that going in or not, you’ve got a full-on linux system stuffed into a device that fits in the palm of your hand (or two hands in the case of the Galaxy Nexus 😉 ). It’s stripped down, and modified, but at its core is the Linux kernel. Google took the vanilla kernel.org kernel and built Android. Its similar enough that the NSA has actually been able to port SELinux to it. Android is released as open source, you can go download the full source and build it yourself. Many projects, such as CyanogenMOD pull that source, and build it for many different devices and release it. That part’s legal, but try to install it on your device! I currently own three android devices. My old HTC Droid Incredible, an ASUS eeePad Transformer, and now my Motorola Droid 4.
These devices are locked down, to the point where certain legislation actually suggests that it be ILLEGAL for you to gain root access.
So this is ridiculous right? The PC industry figured something out early on. When someone buys a computer, they like to make it theirs. So their software and hardware support are separate. If i buy a Dell, and take it home, and install Fedora on it, and then call Dell up and ask them to tell me how to configure my Sound card, they’ll likely laugh at me, or at least politely tell me that they don’t support Fedora. So I’m on my own there, but if i called them and told them that my DVD-Rom just spit gears at me (clearly hardware failure) they’d warranty the DVD-Rom and likely not care about what OS i was running when it happened.
So, Why cant Motorola do the same thing with their hardware/software support? If i run a stock Droid 4, and call them with some funky behaviour, they troubleshoot with me. If i call them and i’m running Cyanogen, I’m on my own. But if the slider on my slide-out keyboard falls apart through normal use, they replace it. No, instead they lock the phone down, and make sure that IF i try to root it, i’ll have to jump through a number of hoops, and risk bricking my phone. Then when i call up for help, they laugh at me, and tell me to pay the $500 for a new device because I voided my device warranty.
So why doesn’t this fly? Because. Verizon (or any carrier for that matter) wants control over what you have on your phone. Because if you get a Droid, and then start using a free SIP provider for calls, suddently they cant charge you for Minutes, instead it’s data. Now new acocunts get a 2gb data plan (for the same $30 I pay anyway) and they get charged per gb after that. Some of us old time verizon customers though, are on an unlimited data plan. So we could spend 20 hours a day on a SIP call and not get charged minutes. That, oh curious reader, is the _real_ reason these devices are locked down. It’s not t protect the rest of us from malicious users, it’s so your carrier can continue to make money, hand over fist.
So this brings up another question though. Why the heck are android TABLETS not granted root? I mean, its a tablet! It’s not a phone, it lives solely on Wireless, so it’s more like a laptop than a phone. Why dont the builders of these things give us root? I cant figure that one out. Imagine if they used a support model similar to what I described above, separate hardware and software support. If i run it as they designed it, i get full support. If i root it and install some 3rd party rom, give me hardware support only. Even car manufacturers figured this one out! If i buy a Jeep at a dealer, i get a bumper to bumper warranty. If i lift it, it voids only part of my warranty. If the motor were to go , they’d still replace it under warranty, but if they determine that the failure was caused by my suspension lift, they wont cover it. This just makes sense.