I have been an Apple fan for many years. Most recently using a lovely MacBook Air (M1), a beautiful blue iPhone 12, and an iPad Air. But no more. This post was written on my Dell 3080 micro desktop running Linux Mint. My new Android Pixel 6 is lying by its side.
I’ve stripped all communications software, contacts, and photographs from my iPad, and use it only for media playback and browsing. The MacBook and the iPhone are gone. Making this move was a difficult decision because the finely crafted Apple stuff worked really well and worked really well together, automatically. That’s not always the case in the Linux or cross-platform worlds. It took days to get calendar syncing working between Apple (family members), Android, and Linux devices, and to do that I ultimately had to move all my calendars to a third party cross-platform system, Cozi, which works very well.
There is a lot more “grit” in my new setup and a lot less “honey”. But, in the IT world grit can be good. By that I mean that there are defined open interoperability standards governing exchanges between functional apps. Those standards increase our security and privacy. We get addicted to information technology “honey”, you know. We forget about what we are giving up to get the smooth, sweet interoperability that comes with broad closed systems like Apple’s. Or Google’s. Or Microsoft’s. Tight integration through webs of almost impenetrable code can create security and privacy problems. It can hide things. It is complicated and exclusionary. Interoperability should come through open standards.
So what happened to make me go to all this trouble and expense? Not just the grit vs honey thing. My concerns began to rise with Jeffrey Paul’s November 2020 blog article, “Your Computer Isn’t Yours” (1). Apple’s honey pot was starting to overflow. It was becoming clear that my Mac really wasn’t my Mac anymore. It was increasingly just a hardware device connected to Apple’s iThing universe. I was losing control as to what software ran on it.
Then, in 2021, Apple announced decision to install a CSAM (child sexual abuse material) scanner on Apple devices (2, 3, 4, 5). Now, there is no CSAM on any device I own, so this was not a practical concern for me, and I didn’t care much what they did in THEIR iCloud because I could always (and did) encrypt important stuff (not CSAM) with my own tools before I put it there. But, philosophically, I cared a lot what they did to MY computers. A line had been crossed.
I also cared about the practical safety and even the lives of Apple device users who live under repressive regimes like those in Russia, Belarus, Syria, Iran, China, and even Texas (with its new take on Red Guard-like vigilantes) or Florida (with the Governor’s proposed new private volunteer army) (5). That’s the hot-flowing-blood-real problem. What happens when one of these governments says to Tim Cook, “You already look for CSAM, it should not be difficult to find who is saying bad things about our glorious leader. Here is a new law requiring you to do that.” Well, we already know the answer to that question because, for all practical purposes (China’s requirement for government controlled local servers), it has happened (6).
What might nation-state hackers do with Apple’s new “backdoor” code? We don’t know, but Apple is on a steep slippery slope and I choose to let them take the slide by themselves. I’ll not help them make a big mistake, and I’ll accept the pain required find new ways to get things done even if they are not quite so pretty. I’ll gain standards grit while I’m at it. Grit that can protect me from lazy information systems practices and the security and privacy weaknesses that come come with them.
So, the iPhone had to go. I chose my new Pixel 6 Pro phone because Android is more open to scrutiny than IOS. I don’t know that there is no “big brother” scanning going on on this device, but I find no evidence to suggest that there is. Certainly not an open admission. I chose to use Linux Mint Cinnamon on a Dell Optiplex 3080 micro-desktop that replaced my MacBook Air M1 (8) because Linux is as open as presently possible, and Linux Mint Cinnamon is about as refined as Linux comes (a lot like Windows XP). My existing ARM Pinebook Pro laptop (9) fills in for the Air when I have to be on the move. I use Manjaro/KDE Linux on the Pinebook.
There are thousands of eyes pouring over Linux Mint and Manjaro code every day. I have virtually total control of data management with a high degree of trust under these operating systems. It’s taken me a week to make the switch, mostly time required for moving and cleaning up data, and while there is more to do, I think I’m fairly well settled in. Linux Mint has come a long way since I last saw it. It found my Brother printer/scanner all by itself, just like Windows, and both functions work perfectly out of the box. Signal serves as my cross-platform messenger. Thunderbird does the mail. LibreOffice is all I need for writing, spreadsheets, presntations, and the like.
Today, even though I may have to shift gears manually sometimes, I have really good control of MY machines. Not the other way around. iPrivacy.
- https://www.dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/optiplex-3080-micro-desktop/spd/optiplex-3080-micro (Very good Linux box)
- https://www.pine64.org/pinebook-pro/ (Very light duty machine, but works)