Some of the FSF's points have merit, but some are outright deceptive - for example that the iPhone exposes your whereabouts without your knowledge. It doesn't; in fact it always pops up with a confirmation before accessing the "location services", whether GPS or cell-tower triangulation. And you can turn it off through a global setting.
The biggest joke is the alternative. Freedom to modify and tinker and extend means little when the basis is barely useable. People will often tradeoff one freedom for another freedom. A more usable device arguably is just another form of freedom -- from hassle, annoyance, and wasted time.
Open source makes economic sense in many contexts, but I think they're at least 10 years away from even denting the mainstream in this market. Which is why, BTW, I think the FSF is targeting the iPhone. The iPhone represents a refutation to the idea that open, free, collaboration will necessarily lead to better products, and that proprietary software makers cannot compete.
The OpenMoko counter-argument is "give it time, in the long run, it will win". And look, in a way, I hope so. Using the iPhone is a great case of following Keynes' adage, in the long run, we are all dead., where we optimize for short term gratification at the expense of our future. By using the iPhone, we're supporting and contributing something that doesn't build something open for our collective future, but instead leases our future over to Apple. On the other hand, the iPhone does represent something that is important to our future -- the triumph of entrepreneurship over bureaucrats and technocrats. More on that in a moment.
I'll note that the economic angle isn't usually the FSF's preferred line of argument. It's more the OSI's tactic, though the FSF has certainly referenced it. On the other hand, the FSF argues for free software from an ethical stance. Without getting into the muck, my opinion basically is that the sort of freedom the FSF advocates is not, IMO, political freedom, and thus I don't consider it sacred. Whether one chooses to be imprisoned by license is an economic tradeoff, not capitulation to evil. I believe the author should have the option to retain certain limited rights, for a limited time, over its users. I believe in entrepreneurship and the Schumpeterian model of the economy. Profits should go to the innovators for a limited time, as profit is the source of tomorrow's jobs and developments.
The iPhone represents a triumph of entrepreneurship -- the Cathedral over the Bazaar. The user experience loosens the telecom bureaucrat's insistence on device control, or the technocrat's desire for infinite options. The rules of bazaar development are flipped: Scratch the user's itch, not the developer's. Release "when it's ready", not early. Users are not co-developers, and developers aren't even co-developers, they're cordoned off into their controlled area for the sake of the user experience.
But wait, several complications to this picture:
- Open source is not incompatible with entrepreneurship. The Mozilla Foundation demonstrates this regularly with Firefox. OTOH, the market dynamics of browsers imply that there's not a lot of money to be made through direct distribution. Moz is funded largely by complementary product placement: redirecting searches to Google.
- The iPhone OS X already uses plenty of open source: its web browser is open source, as is much of its operating system layer (including both BSD and GPLv2 code). They're both complex, mature areas of computing, where it's (again) hard to declare some kind of "secret sauce" that needs protection. So it is a great place for open source collaboration.
- Apple is exceptional in its ability to successfully deliver great software and build a thriving community with a cathedral model. Most aren't. Though, looking through Freshmeat, I'm not sure the ability to build solid software with a thriving community is intrinsic to either model. It's just hard to do.
One perspective is that the architecture of a project likely has more to do with its success, quoting Roy Fielding:
In spite of the hype and hysteria surrounding open source software development, there is very little that can be said of open source in general. Open source projects range in scope from the miniscule, such as the thousands of non-maintained code dumps left behind at the end of class projects, dissertations, and failed commercial ventures, to the truly international, with thousands of developers collaborating, directly or indirectly, on a common platform. One characteristic that is shared by the largest and most successful open source projects, however, is a software architecture designed to promote anarchic collaboration through extensions while at the same time preserving centralized control over the interfaces.
Which may bode well for Apple's approach to applications.
- Apple also has found a "secret sauce" that free software rarely measures up to: usability and aesthetics. "Taste" is a hard thing to replicate, especially when it's delivered as a tight coupling between software and hardware.