basically tech

83 Ubuntu rejects Microsoft deal

Tuesday 19th June, 2007

Canonical, the corporate sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, has rejected an intellectual property deal with Microsoft because it refuses to reveal details of the patents that it claims are being violated in open source software. To quote Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical:

"A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for."

This makes previous signees Novell, Xandros and (more recently) Linspire appear to be a little hasty, and it must be said, somewhat lacking in courage and foresight.


82 A Patent Lie

Saturday 9th June, 2007

An interesting article from the New York Times which highlights some of the damage that patents are inflicting on the software industry. What's really interesting is how opinions have changed over the past 16 years:

Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.

(Emphasis added.)


81 Microsoft, Linux, and patent questions

Friday 8th June, 2007

Microsoft, after having struck a deal with Novell, have also been busy making Linux/patent-related deals with Samsung, Fuji Xerox, Xandros, and most recently LG Electronics.

The Novell deal has been in the news for months now, and has been commented on to death. I'm not quite sure what Xandros thinks it's going to gain from this. Perhaps some extra corporate business? Certainly, it's lost a lot of face in the Linux/FLOSS community. For a company with such a community-driven base product, can it afford to do that, long-term? Time will tell.

The other three, Samsung, Fuji Xerox, and LG Electronics, have rather more transparent motives. They were bullied. They spend lots of money on Microsoft products, and probably get huge discounts. If they agree to simply sign a bit paper which indemnifies them from being sued by Microsoft for something which Microsoft could never sue them for anyway, then the big discounts continue. Some Open Source enthusiasts might boycott their products, but it's small change compared to what they would lose.

A comment on the Computer Business Review Open Source Weblog seems to hit the nail on the head:

The suggestion is that Microsoft is not so much protecting its intellectual property as it is its business model. By creating a group of ‘patent-approved’ Linux vendors and discouraging enterprise adoption of alternatives via the threat of litigation the company would be able to stifle disruptive business models and innovation – all without ever proving any intellectual property infringement.

I think we can expect a lot more of these types of deals to appear.


80 A canned history of spam

Friday 1st June, 2007

There is a concise, but interesting history of spam on the NineMSN site. I guess its release has been timed to coincide with the news about the Italian ISP Tiscali being blacklisted as spammer-friendly.

Going back to the NineMSN article, I find it a little ironic that MSN is publishing an article based on a problem which in no small part is caused by the lax security of the software produced by it's parent company:

Like many other spammers, Robert Soloway sent out his bulk emails using so-called "zombie" computers: these are usually ordinary home computers that have been inadvertently infected with a virus that opens them up to spammers.

What authors always fail to stress in these articles is that the "ordinary home computers that have been inadvertently infected with a virus that opens them up to spammers" are invariably running Windows.


79 Linux OCR software review

Thursday 24th May, 2007

There is a very interesting and useful review of Optical Character Recognition software over at the website. The quality of the packages tested varies, and the author recognises the usefulness of software having command-line capabilities (for running batches of conversions, for instance). Along with accuracy, ease of use is also tested, with many usage and build examples demonstrated. Well worth a read if you are interested in using OCR software on Linux.


78 Sue me first, Microsoft

Sunday 20th May, 2007

The recent litigation threats made by Microsoft against users of Linux have so unimpressed some of them that they have set up a website inviting Microsoft to sue them first.


77 A day without Open Source

Friday 11th May, 2007

Link updated April 2015

This interesting article hypothesises a day without Open Source software. It raises some interesting points.

For starters, the Internet would “disappear” for the average user. Most Domain Name Servers (DNS) are run on open source software like BIND, which turns into the IP address of the appropriate server. The majority of basic Internet users would be literally lost in translation.

It's the readers' comments which raise some of the more interesting points. Imagine suddenly being without Firefox, Mac OSX (based on FreeBSD), Apache.

MSN couldn't handle load without open source.

Their sole load balancing solution is boxes from F5 Networks, all running embedded linux

Other readers mentioned that Windows would lose it's TCP/IP stack (based on FreeBSD), and that many cell phones, home routers, e-mail, and most NAS devices would stop working.


76 Arch Linux review

Tuesday 8th May, 2007

There's an interesting review of Arch Linux (my distro of choice :) ) on the website.

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.


75 Regular expressions

Friday 4th May, 2007

Link updated April 2015

Part nine of the IBM DeveloperWorks series Speaking UNIX focuses on regular expressions. This is a huge field, and as usual, there are some great tips here. Well worth a read.


74 One man writes Linux drivers for 235 USB webcams

Monday 30th April, 2007

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 :).

(Emphasis added.)

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)