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End User

Weird warranties: In March of this year, Linux.com and others reported that a Compaq rep had told a woman that the problem she was having with her notebook’s keys sticking and being unresponsive was not covered by the one-year warranty because she had replaced the Windows operating system with a version of Linux. A similar story, this time about a laptop purchased at PC World, appeared in early September; a broken hinge and dead screen pixels were the problem.

In both cases, the inconvenienced consumers eventually received satisfaction. They had been initially misinformed, and PC World and HP (Compaq’s parent company) have clarified their warranties: Hardware defects will be covered by warranty regardless of the OS installed on the computer.

On Linux: Many computer users are still unaware that they have an alternative to Windows or Mac OS X. Linux is an open-source operating system that comes in many different flavors, most of which are freely available for download. One of these flavors — called “distributions” or “distros” — is called Ubuntu, and it is becoming increasingly popular for its uncomplicated installation and configuration. Ubuntu comes with free software, including alternatives to Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, called OpenOffice and Firefox, respectively, both of which are also available for Windows and Mac. In Ubuntu, many users (even non-geeks) have found shelter from the security problems and malware that plague Windows.

le iPHONE: Far more malicious than the misguided Linux advice above is Apple’s September 24 press release about the iPhone software update that they were to release on September 27. “Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty.”

Well, excuse the hell out of me, but I have made my iPhone all the more useful and convenient and entertaining by installing a slew of third-party applications which are now readily and freely downloadable. Now standing in long lines with my 7-year-old daughter is easy and fun with games like blackjack and a Yatzhee-like thing, and neither requires use of the battery-draining internet connection. The latest iPhone update, were I to install it, would delete all of those great programs.

Ironic and disheartening is the lameness of the features added by the update. Like the new iPod touch, the iPhone can now purchase music from the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. And double-tapping the space bar “intelligently” types a period where appropriate. Yippee-doodle-do. Where’s my freakin’ copy-paste?

Slashdot posted on September 25 a story that Apple’s prohibition may break the law: “The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act states that Apple cannot void a warranty for a product with third-party enhancements or modifications to their product.” My own comparison of the iPhone warranty against the Mac warranty finds the same phrase: “This warranty does not apply … to a product or part that has been modified to alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple.” Nothing else in the iPhone document seems to support Apple’s latest claim.

Now, the iPhone is clearly classifiable as a computer, albeit a very light one. It runs a version of OS X much like the Mac’s. Who would buy a Mac if Apple restricted it against software developed by people other than Apple? It’s like a grocery store making it illegal to take one of their frozen cheese pizzas home and put onions on it. Or Honda saying I can’t drive my Accord to Arkansas.

The iPhone update also re-locks the units that have been unlocked to work with carriers other than AT&T. That one we saw coming, and it makes sense for Apple to keep their corporate bedfellow happy for the foreseeable future. Disabling independently created software that makes your expensive, powerful device more functional, however, makes no bloody sense at all.

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at themacwhisperer.blogspot.com.


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