May 8: Arch Linux review
I wouldn't call Arch "smooth and cuddly", but it is a good distro for those wishing to learn about Linux. It has a philosophy of trying to keep things simple, which suits my mentality! Minimal configuration is performed, it's up to you to set up the system the way you want it to be; it doesn't come with all the bells and whistles thrown in automatically. This does tend to make a secure system.
Arch is not for beginners, but if you're feeling jaded by your existing distro and want a bit more control from the start, give Arch a try on a spare machine. Have an internet connection available so you can refer to the forums and Wiki if it's your first time using Arch. The community is helpful.
I came across this eye-opening article on the Inquirer website. The author relates how he had problems with a cheap USB webcam he bought. Memory leaks with the provided driver meant he had to reboot Win2K on a daily basis. When he started to look for some other OS which might support them, he relates:
I found out last week that there are now Linux drivers for hundreds of those cheap "Made in China" webcams with strange brand names and a Vimicro chipset inside. The surprise was more shocking when I realized that drivers for 235 webcams -at the time of this writing- are the work of a single unknown hero who works from his home in France, does so with no corporate sponsorship, and what's even more outrageous, very few people know about the existence of those drivers and about the person behind them.
The author sought out and managed to interview the man responsible for these Linux drivers. Parts of the interview are quite telling, and show the difference between the motives which drive the communities and individuals who create open source software, and the companies which produce proprietary software. The interviewer in the excerpt below is FC. MX are the initials of Michel Xhaard, the "webcam driver" man.
FC: How do you feel knowing that there are a few really big corporations with million dollar budgets all peddling Linux, and you do all this critical work of helping Linux gain webcams support -by the hundreds!-, yet not a single one of those big firms has decided to formally sponsor your work?
MX: my work is not "Linux Kernel centred" my goal is to provided video input support for Linux users, and I am not sure that these big companies are interested in the end user .
He's being sarcastic. Of course these companies are not interested in the end user. Look at how Vista tramples on your freedom and rights. It's the job of listed companies to keep shareholders, not customers, happy. Of course they'll try and do both, but if they have to choose, then the shareholders will be chosen over the customers every time.
I've heard some folk say that Linux or Free/Libre/Open Source software (FLOSS) "needs big business". That's claptrap. If anything, "big business" needs Linux/FLOSS. When big businesses go down (and they always do), Linux and FLOSS will still be around, maintained by the efforts of people like Michel Xhaard.
(Edited 4 May 2007: title changed: 352 -> 235)
A very interesting transcript of a speech, including the accompanying slide-show, given by Linux kernel hacker Greg Kroah-Hartman on some of the Myths, Lies, and Truths about the Linux kernel
Some fascinating information is presented here.
Linux supports more devices "out of the box", than any other operating system ever has.
There are also a few very interesting paragraphs on the Linux USB code. (Greg Kroah-Hartman specialises on the kernel's USB subsystems, amongst others.) Here is a severely cut-down excerpt:
Linux now has the fastest USB bus speeds when you test out all of the different operating systems. We max out the hardware as fast as it can go, and you can do this from simple userspace programs, no fancy kernel driver work is needed.
Now Windows has also rewritten their USB stack at least 3 times ... each time they did a rework, and added new functions and fixed up older ones, they had to keep the old api functions around, as they have taken the stance that they can not break backward compatibility due to their stable API viewpoint. ... now the Windows core has all 3 sets of API functions in it, as they can't delete things. That means they maintain the old functions, and have to keep them in memory all the time, and it takes up engineering time to handle all of this extra complexity. That's their business decision to do this, and that's fine, but with Linux, we didn't make that decision, and it helps us remain a lot smaller, more stable, and more secure.
All of this, plus arguments against the "stable API" approach, plus more! Well worth a read.
The title is rhetorical of course; not a chance. It does seem that Microsoft have suckered many people in the industry into believing that they are being friendly towards the Open Source movement.
Microsoft is crafting a multifaceted plan to approach open source from a number of different levels: Linux as an operating system competitor; interoperability with Linux in mixed environments; partnering with open source ISVs; development of Shared Source Licensing; contributions to and support for community development sites.
Ooh, "interoperability with Linux in mixed environments". Jeremy Allison has something to say about Microsoft's attitude to interoperability, from his experiences at the San Francisco 2005 Linuxworld conference:
Microsoft even joined in the fun by turning up as "Darth Vader" and a couple of "Star Wars" stormtroopers... It all gathered a lot of positive press for Microsoft of course, which is why they did it. "Look what good sports they are" everyone said, and of course they were, showing how much things have changed with Microsoft at a Linux show, talking about interoperability
Wow, maybe they are changing ... oh, hold on, there's more:
The week before the LinuxWorld San Francisco conference that Microsoft attended with such a flourish was the much quieter CIFS (Common Internet File System) conference, also in the Bay Area in Santa Clara. You remember CIFS don't you ? It's the file system that all Microsoft clients use to communicate with the Microsoft servers. The conference was started by Microsoft and was attended by all the server vendors who have to make their software actually interoperate with Microsoft clients. It's one of the largest events in the calendar for the Samba Team as we all get together with peer engineers from all CIFS vendor companies to make sure our software actually interoperates and works well together. Except for one major server vendor of course. The biggest one in fact. They didn't even bother to turn up, or send any engineers to work on interoperability. Can you guess who that was ? Maybe they were too busy getting ready for their presentations on "Interoperability" at LinuxWorld to actually do any work on interoperability.
So, what's it all about, all this courting of Open Source? Let back to our first article again, right near the top:
"It does seem to me that Microsoft is trying," says Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. "Bill Hilf seems to be trying to figure out how to get the advantages of the open source development methodology. And there's no question that one of the lessons of Vista development is that companies have to evolve their process of engineering. Microsoft needs to look at their processes and borrow best practices from anywhere they can get them."
Trust Microsoft? Not me.
A third US state, California, has joined Minnesota and Texas in requiring that an open, XML-based format be mandatory for state agencies. And why not? Who wants to have to upgrade those expensive proprietary formats every two or three years?
The new bill ... does not name ODF specifically but has stipulated that by 2008 agencies must be equipped to store and exchange documents in an open, XML-based format. Although the name of Microsoft's Office Open XML suggests that it would match the requirement, it is in fact a proprietary format that would fail the open standards test.
Feb 26: Microsoft threatens Linux again
Microsoft and its legal team has decades of experience with IP infringement, it can spot it a cube away, possibly farther. It knows all the ins and outs of IP infringement law, and has spent billions because of it.
When it come to Linux, it should be pretty cut and dried. Either it does or does not infringe on Microsoft patents. If it does, Microsoft can and should sue those who are guilty, the law is plain, simple and clear. It has the resources and personnel to shut down its biggest competitor almost overnight if the threats are true.
So, why isn't it? Basically because there is no IP infringement in Linux. It tried with SCO as a proxy and failed miserably so now it is resorting to veiled threats.
These threats are all part of a plan by Microsoft to make it uncomfortable for high-profile users of Linux. I have written about this before. You can expect more threats. Eventually, people will get jaded by them, but for a time they'll make people think twice.
Following on a from an earlier entry, where the BBC announced that its new on-demand services would be limited to Microsoft Windows, it now seems that the BBC Trust, after consultation with the UK media regulator Ofcom, now require the BBC Executive to adopt a platform-agnostic approach.
"As proposed, the TV catch-up service on the internet relies on Microsoft technology for the digital rights management (DRM) framework. The Trust will require the BBC Executive to adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a reasonable timeframe. This requires the BBC to develop an alternative DRM framework to enable users of other technology, for example, Apple and Linux, to access the on-demand services."
Well, that was a quick change of heart.
Feb 12: Walmart in bed with Microsoft
Walmart's new video download service is deliberately blocking all browsers except Internet Explorer. You know, the insecure browser.
Earlier reports indicated it might be due to sloppy coding, but no, it's deliberate.
... I have had people come up to me and essentially off the record admit that they had been threatened by Microsoft and had got patent cross license and had essentially taken out a license for Microsoft patents on the free software that they were using, which they then cannot redistribute. I think that would be the restriction. I would have to look quite carefully. So, essentially that’s not allowed. But they’re not telling anyone about it. They’re completely doing it off the record.
Then, the really interesting bit:
The problem with the Novell deal is -- Novell gave Microsoft what Microsoft dearly wanted, which is a public admission that they think that Linux violates the Microsoft patent. So, that’s the difference between this and the sort of off-the-record quiet deals. This one is public. This one is Novell admitting, "yes, we think that Linux violates Microsoft patents." Now, of course, Novell has come out and said, "no, that’s not what we said at all. We don’t think that." To which, of course, Microsoft publicly humiliated them and said, "oh, yes, that’s really what you were saying." It’s kind of funny. They couldn’t even wait until the press conference was over to start threatening users with a Linux system.
I wonder how this is going to pan out ...
Feb 9: Word Processor Review
The review itself is quite interesting. We all use word processors at some time or another. But it was these two quotes which caught my eye:
OpenOffice.org is the first office suite (and word processor) to use the new OASIS OpenDocument Format, the future-proof ISO certified international standard for office documents (ISO/IEC 26300:2006).
As of 2006, ODF is the ISO certified international standard for office documents, not OXML, nor .doc. For any other vendor, it's easier to write a conversion filter for ODF than will ever be for OXML, among other reasons for the sheer sake of supporting Microsoft's backward compatibility with its previous proprietary formats over the past 18 years. Corel has announced it will support both ODF and OXML in the next WordPerfect version.
OXML (Open XML) is Microsoft's answer to ODF (OpenDocument Format), although the name is somewhat misleading in that it's not really open. When concerns were raised about this, Microsoft provided a covenant not to sue, an offer which was generally rejected. Underhand stuff; try and sneak it in, then promise "not to sue", a promise which turns out to be worthless anyway.
This article from Silicon.com, and another from the BBC give accounts of how the European Commission has published a report (PDF format) saying that in "almost all cases" switching from proprietary to open source software could offer considerable savings to organisations with little effect on their business.
Just a few of the more interesting links related to these sordid claims. It's something that Ballmer has claimed before, but that was back in the heyday of the SCO debacle which is now nearly over. It's typical FUD, possibly the actions of a desperate man? Who knows how these people think, except others like them.
The Samba team has issued a statement asking Novell to reconsider its recent deal with Microsoft.
If historical precedence is anything to go by, Microsoft tends to strike deals which either buys them some time to regroup, or hinder their "partners". Novell has been here before. They should know better.
Nov 10: The war is over and Linux won?
According to this ZDNet Blog entry, an IBM-sponsored study claims that 83% of companies expect to support new workloads on Linux next year, against 23% for Windows.
I would never rule Microsoft out any race it wishes to take part in, until the race is truly over. One particular comment to this blog entry raises the interesting assertion:
Microsoft has obtained the expertise and assistance of SuSE in creating the migration tools that will ease the Linux to Windows transition. The path was already marked out.
Linux to Windows will soon be far easier than Unix to Windows has ever been. And companies can't wait for their chance to leap into the future.
I must admit, I find it hard to trust Novell's recent actions. I'm not the only one.