So Apple is ticked off at Real’s reverse-engineering to let people buy music from Real and play it on an iPod. Apple has threatened DMCA sanctions and all but promised to deliberately break it in the next software update.

Excuse me? In general I like Apple, but their insistence on locking the iPod to iTunes and iTunes alone is short-sighted. When people hacked up a way to use an iPod on Windows, they first licensed the software, then wrote iTunes for Windows. iPod sales have tripled to the point where they may soon outsell Macintoshes. This could never have happened if Apple had kept the iPod Mac-specific.

I’m reminded of the many times Microsoft has altered its file-sharing protocol to break compatibility with Samba, the package that allows Linux, BSD, and now Mac OS X to connect to Windows networks.

The classic analogy is getting a car that can only run on certain roads. So someone’s found a way to let the iPod drive some different roads. But Apple still sells as many iPods. They might even sell more (as when it gained Windows compatibility). Why the accusations of hacking, why the legal threats, and why the determination to keep the iPod locked to their own roads?

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