I know you've probably read about this elsewhere, but—forgive me—I've just got to weigh in on these ridiculous new Microsoft policies. I mean, Redmond's really gone off the rails this time.

Can you believe that I can only install an application to my Windows 7 laptop if I buy it from Microsoft's website, ensuring that small operators can't give away free apps directly from their websites and that Microsoft always gets 30 percent of all sales? Further, isn't it crazy that "Steve"—Ballmer, that is—actually censors which applications are and aren't acceptable for Windows users, as if we were all children and as if all cultures had the same set of values of what is and isn't acceptable? What's even more irritating is their single-vendor policy. I know that most of you have heard of this but for those who've somehow missed this, Microsoft will now only sell Windows on HP equipment (although, there's talk that they'll sell it on Dell hardware soon). And good gracious, but what is with this nonsense about how I can't use Windows Mobile phones to "tether," to act as high-speed wireless modems for my laptop? What kind of crazy is that?

Oh, gosh, I am so sorry, I goofed up there. I meant Apple, not Microsoft—I just can't seem to keep those West Coast tech firms straight in my mind. Seriously, though, the power of great marketing never fails to amaze me. Can you imagine Microsoft getting away with any of the things that I just cited? I surely can't, and never cease to wonder how Apple's chief gets away with them. I can only assume that Steve Jobs is in possession of some pretty embarrassing pictures of the upper management of the US Department of Justice. (Now that I say it, it occurs to me that I've always wondered how Apple got away with double-crossing the Beatles; maybe I've just figured it out.)

Nevertheless, when Cupertino's technomages set their minds to it, they can turn out some amazing stuff. I'm not a big music fan and so the iPod never did much for me, but I sure love my iPhone for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it's easier to get an iPhone to sync with Outlook than it is to do the same thing with a Windows Mobile phone. (I once had to put the LocalService account into the local Administrators group in order to get the phone to talk to 64-bit Windows.) For another, I learned a long time ago that how good or bad an operating system is isn't as important a question when choosing a computer as, "Which one has the most applications available?" (Which is one reason that the PalmOS guys have, sadly, been self-destructing for years.) And Apple has done a great job in squeezing a usable, attractive interface onto a small screen.

But for everything that I love about the phone, there's a corresponding irritant. I can't fathom why they'd design a phone that doesn't give me the freedom to buy and use additional or better batteries—when I buy a new phone, the first accessory that I usually buy is the longer-life battery. Ditto the no-tether policy: yeah, I know, blame it on AT&T, but Apple was and is complicit, as they knew what AT&T intended when they cut the deal with them, and in continuing to enforce the no-tether policy through the iPhone OS. (And please don't tell me about how Verizon will soon be offering iPhones; if they end up turning off as many features on the iPhone as they did on Motorola's excellent Razr phone, then I think AT&T may unfortunately remain the iPhone source of choice. But, again, we'll see.)

The thing that really gets me, however, is this MobileMe scam. The phone is small, and its "vibrate" mode is sort of subtle, so most iPhone users who are out at some bar or restaurant either annoy the people around them with some loud ringtone, or set the phone to vibrate and leave it on the table. (You leave an iPhone on the table because you can very easily see an incoming call because the bright iPhone screen comes to life when announcing an incoming call.) As a result, it's quite easy to leave your phone behind in a restaurant—I can name at least three friends it's happened to—and, oddly enough, no one ever turns an iPhone in to a lost-and-found department. As a result, that moment's inattention inevitably leads to a trip to the Apple store and $500 for a new phone. Ah, but if you'd paid Apple $99/year for MobileMe, then you could track down the miscreant and with hope get your phone back.

What puzzles me about the whole lost iPhone thing is this: Why didn't Apple build a "brick the phone remotely" feature into the iPhone? Shouldn't I be able to walk into an AT&T store, produce a government-issued ID card with my picture on it, and ask them to kill the phone? Then, the next time the dirtbag who stole my phone turns it on, the phone gets a "hello!" message from AT&T that leads it to wipe its NVRAM, encrypt its OS, or the like, producing a useless phone. Better yet, why not keep track of the equipment ID numbers (EINs) of stolen phones, and simply forever block those phones from every cellular system?

Ah well. Perhaps one day we'll have big computers that run networks that could track that stuff. Until then, maybe I should just get a Jitterbug. Those phones seem to always get returned when lost, y'know?