‘Fair use, Xbox hacking, and how far will Linux users go to get a cheap PC?’

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Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, in ZDNet’s Hardware 2.0 blog, asks whether it is ‘ethical’ for users to install GNU/Linux on an Xbox, or in general, to use hardware they have bought in whatever way they wish.

“First, is it ethical to hack an Xbox or any other bit of commercial hardware? I’m not just talking about Microsoft hardware here… I’m thinking about the smaller fish that might have a good idea, but can’t make it viable to get it out of the door because their business model could be undermined by people circumventing any security they put in place.”

Other people’s failed business models should not be the concern of customers. If they’re buying the hardware, it’s up to them to do what they want with it. If customers want to do something with the hardware that the manufacturer has not anticipated, why not work with them?

“Put a free operating system into the ecosystem and it’s only a matter of time before users start looking for free (or nearly free) hardware to run it on. Problem is, it’s much easier to make a virtual product that’s free than it is to come up with free hardware.
While we’re on the subject of free operating systems (or free anything for that matter), it’s important to bear in mind that someone, somewhere, has paid for it, maybe not with money, but with their time or effort. There’s no such thing as a totally free lunch – someone, somewhere, always picks up the tab.”

This is especially naïve. It’s free as in speech, not necessarily free as in beer.
He then goes on to talk about how he “fears” that Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 Laptop may become popular in the west where it “is going to be attractive to a whole host of hackers and modders and could be used as the basis for countless projects.”
How is this bad? The more widely the system is adopted, and the more user knowedge and expertise that is generated and disseminated, the greater the network benefits for all involved, from kids in Cambodian vilages to kids in Cambridge, MA.
Indeed, a truly global, low-priced hardware system with a huge user base and huge knowledge base, modifying, improving and repurposing the hardware, including millions of users in developing countries right from the start, is surely something extremely desirable: truly the democracy of innovation.
The comments on the post contain some great analogies to help set the record straight.