Linux in the news
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See also: last week's Back page page.
SSC has put up a new GIMP site at thegimp.com. It contains parts of Michael Hammel's book, tutorials, etc.
And once you get good at the GIMP, you can try to put together something for themes.org...
Section Editor: Jon Corbet
March 18, 1999
Letters to the editor should be sent to email@example.com. Preference will be given to letters which are short, to the point, and well written. If you want your email address "anti-spammed" in some way please be sure to let us know. We do not have a policy against anonymous letters, but we will be reluctant to include them.
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 11:56:40 -0500 (EST) From: Conrad Sanderson <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: clearer definitions of "free software" It's about time we should, as a community, have clearer definitions of what free software is. We know what it is, but there is a lot of confusion to the outsiders and newcomers, as well as the millions of clue-less article writers, who for some strange reason use the term "shareware", or only get the "free beer" aspect. I propose we start using the clearer French (?) versions of free (no wonder it's the preferred diplomatic language) : Libre = "liberated" -> free to modify source code Gratis = "free beer" --- Conrad Sanderson - Microelectronic Signal Processing Laboratory Griffith University, Queensland, Australia http://hive.me.gu.edu.au/~cam/
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:14:55 +1000 From: geishan <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Free software. I'm an small independent software developer. The company consists of me. That's all just me. My work provides for my family. I create proprietary software. I am therefore the enemy in some peoples eyes. I like Linux. I like the open source. Hell I'll proberly even contribute to Linux. But to have all software free?? That sucks. The whole problem is one of levels. and degree. At the bottom layer is the OS, the kernel, then libraries and shells that make use of it, then tools that in turn use the libraries. Now at this level there is a really thick black line. Because above this are applications. I'll contribute below the line, after all I, and my applications, can benefit from this by improving stability and so on. Above the line is my eating and beer money. My livelihood. Opening this up will stop the beer, and food. In short. The free and proprietary models are NOT exclusive, they complement each other. The free/open source just occupies a level below the not free. human nature: nothing for nothing - something for something. I can gain via contributions to open source at the low level and lose at the high level. Food for thought Sean Hennessy Australia
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999 22:58:36 -0500 From: "Jay R. Ashworth" <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Who's hand is on the tiller? In this weeks' LWN, you point to two Larry McVoy pieces from the kernel mailing list on the topic of what should be done about architectural debates concerning the Linux kernel, and whether or not such things should merely be left to Linus, or also debated in public. The consensus appears to be both, and this ought not to be much of a surprise to anyone who follows that list. However, there's a subtle point that I think is being missed here. Probably _the_ fundamental reason that Linux has lasted as long as it has, works as well as it does, is as popular as it is... and is in only release 2.2 after _ten years_ is because there is _one_ hand on the tiller: Linus'. Yeah, he gets lots of help from hundreds of people, and I'm not remotely trying to downplay their contributions -- especially since I'm not one of them. But in the end, the person who decides what does _not_ go in the kernel (as Larry does note) is Linus. No one else. Fred Brooks, author of the seminal work in programming project management, _The_Mythical_Man_Month_ (which you really should read if you haven't already) makes this point very clearly in his book: any given system, if it is expected to work well and survive for a long time, can tolerate one, or _maybe_ two, hands actively exercising control over it's architecture. No more. One is best, for a job one can do -- and apparently this is such a job. :-) Of course, things will get interesting when Linus decides to retire. I can't see any way to avoid a fork at that point, but then, I don't follow the kernel list. Perhaps the architect apparent is already apparent and I simply don't realize it. In any event, while it's not necessarily a pleasant thing to think about, The Linux Community<tm> would do well to give some consideration to the thing that kills most family business by it's lack: succession planning. (Read: "Hey, Linus! You figure out who gets the reins, yet?" Architecture isn't easy. If it was, architects wouldn't get paid so much. Cheers, -- jr 'will stir up firestorms for food' a Jay R. Ashworth Designer Ashworth & Associates
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 17:50:12 -0500 (EST) From: "Ben 'The Con Man' Kahn" <email@example.com> To: Craig Goodrich <firstname.lastname@example.org>, John Kodis <email@example.com>, Subject: Who can you sue? The latest attack on Linux is the "Who do you sue?" question. Taking the question at face value misses the point. I don't believe that the people asking this question actually imagine that they can sue other software companies. They are asking a different question. They want to know who is responsible -- who they can lean on when things go wrong. You see, large corporations like to have a process they can reliably follow when things go wrong. When they buy software from a large company, they know who they can lean on -- that large software company. They don't really believe that they can effectively sue this software company, but they like to know they can put pressure on the company to fix the problem. (By refusing to buy their products in the future, causing bad publicity, etc.) Because of this, businesses would rather deal with other businesses. The system, for the most part, works. And looked at from this perspective, free software (err... Open Source(tm), sorry!) is scary. It isn't always clear who can be blamed. Of course, Open Source(tm) software works in a different way. Because the code is available, blame isn't an issue. Instead of focusing on who to blame, you get to concentrate on who can fix it. And the answer to that question is: anyone can fix it! Once companies grasp this concept, Open Source becomes far more accepted. I've seen it happen. -Ben ------------------------------------ |\ _,,,--,,_ ,) ---------- Benjamin Kahn /,`.-'`' -, ;-;;' (212) 924 - 2220 |,4- ) )-,_ ) /\ firstname.lastname@example.org --------------- '---''(_/--' (_/-' --------------- Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
From: "F.Baube(tm)" <email@example.com> Subject: RMS 2020 To: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 14:42:52 +0200 (EET) At this point in time, when licensing models are in a state of flux, the role of RM Stallman is absolutely essential. Right now, the Internet is transitioning from being merely huge to being stupefyingly all-pervasive, and this creates ever more pressure for the commercialisation of software. But contemporaneous with this, licensing models are being devised and settled upon that will live on into the future. An absolutist is required to press home the point that no quarter can be yielded on the fundamental issue of citizen access to essential tools. The programmers of ten and twenty years in the future must continue to have basic GPL tools available, lest the craft of programming be relegated to those who can pony up the price, whatever that future price might be. Society's cashless and cash-shy must not be denied tools. Let RMS remind the community of this. I speak from experience. I upgraded my skills during a bout of unemployment using GNU/Linux. (And also the Java SDK, but that's a whole 'nother dispute ... :-) Best regards, Fred Baube Helsinki -- F.Baube(tm) * "The record labels are middlemen. G'town U. MSFS '88 * In the age of the Net, middlemen email@example.com * are roadkill. Let's kick out the jams ..." +358 (40) 737 6934 * -- music attorney Ashwood Kavanna #include <std_disclaimer.h>
Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 12:16:06 +0100 (MET) From: David Kastrup <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Subject: Commercial support of Linux In the last few years, corporateinterest in Linux is all the rage. I want to point out a few things in connection with that. Linux is constituted of free software. Only what has been released as free software (redistributable with source) can find its way into every distribution and become a part of Linux. The rest can stay an optional add-on at most. If a corporation loses interest, this add-on will no longer be available for newer kernel/library/processor. It is not a value added to Linux, as it can be taken away again. It is lustre, not substance. Of course, lustre can be important too, and sometimes needed, but it's the bones that count. Some people think that proprietary software is good enough. If this stance would have been prevalent always, there would be no Linux. There would be no GNU software, either. This software is available precisely because some people cared about free software, and it will stay available beceuase of that. Since no good free software gets lost or buried, the free software pool can only improve. This is what has made Linux great mainly from the work of private contributors. Now companies start getting involved with Linux because it is a good platform, and on the rise. They don't care about freedom of software per se, they are trying to ride the waves. What is in it for them? Money. What is in it for us? Depends on what the company does. We have several forms of involvements. One is the offer of proprietary software under Linux, like the Oracle database. This buys Linux nothing except more employment and a bit of advertising. It adds nothing to the value of Linux, it makes use of the value of Linux. It can be used for pointing out that Linux is a viable platform for proprietary software too, but that's about it. We have companies like Creative that start developing drivers for their hardware without wanting to release them in the source. They are strictly adding value to their products, not to Linux. You can use such stuff only at their whim on platforms they choose to support, on products they choose to support. Once they think their interest insupporting a certain board is over, you might no longer be able to get it working with newer systems. Limited lifetime. Then we have contributors like Compaq/Digital/Sun, IBM, SGI and Intel that support or do porting and development work on basic free Linux code for hardware they are producing. The results of that efforts are available freely, thus they add to Linux (and potentially other free systems) permanently. If they chose to discontinue their support of certain hardware, whoever wants to can take this up. The fate of this software is not at the absolute whim of the contributing companies anymore. This is a true and permanent contribution and thus is of an entirely different quality, even though it is primarily intended for pushing certain hardware. This still makes excellent business sense. And then we have contributors like SGI with the contribution of its GLX code, IBM with contributions in Apache development, RedHat with the contribution of GNOME development. This is code that can be made to benefit *every* Linux system even from competitors. It is code that advances the state of art of Linux for everyone. It helps everyone, establishing the contributor as a technology spearhead instead of merely a small claims technology dealer. It is contributions like that that *really* advance Linux significantly and permanently. Since a widely accepted standard operating system freely available is very desirable for companies, this again makes business sense, but it makes long-term business sense and benefits even those that do not play by the rules. Involvements like that are of the highest quality and value for the advance of Linux. I find it pretty sad that corporate involvement with Linux gets all-hailed currently without much differentiation. All people, please take care to pinpoint always which class a Linux involvement of business is in when reporting about it. The true contributors deserve your respect, your acknowledgments, your public support and your praise in proportion to their contribution. If we indiscriminately applaud everyone regardless of their true accomplishments, we discourage real contributions, real investments, real dedication. So please grade the amount of enthusiasm you show for various achievements. We currently have enough to start getting a bit less indiscriminate. David Kastrup Phone: +49-234-700-5570 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: +49-234-709-4209 Institut für Neuroinformatik, Universitätsstr. 150, 44780 Bochum, Germany
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 1999 21:41:15 +0800 From: Tom Atkinson <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: What Linux needs next It seems that the world is crying out for an escape from Microsoft but Bill Gates knows that he will continue to dominate the desktop while Linux/Unix configuration can be done only by the highly skilled. It is generally agreed that for Linux to make inroads "on the desktop", it needs a unified and consistent configuration/administration system, which can be accessed via either a graphical or text-based frontend. If ALL the system and application configuration could be done through this system, then Linux would be as "useable" as Windows95 for 100% of the world's computer users. At present, only about 5% of users would consider Linux to be as useable as Win95. By "useable", I am talking about the ease with which the user can configure, or reconfigure, the way applications work, be they "system" apps such as CRON, or "user" apps such as KBIFF. With useability equal to Win95, ports (fully supported ones at that) of commercial software such as Photoshop become a considerably more worthwhile business proposition. If the configuration system I am proposing is the missing ingredient to desktop success, then why hasn't it been done? As you are probably aware, there have been a number of attempts at "configuration/administration suites" for Unix and Linux over the years. Most of the proprietary unixes have their own, graphical administration tools. Works in progress for Linux are COAS and Linuxconf, plus, I presume, a tool for each of the distributions. (A RedHat distribution I once used had a tool called "Glint"). None of these attempts have been terribly successful, which is not surprising, given that they keep making the same mistake, over and over! In Linux Journal issue 58, Olaf Kirch, talking about COAS, ruefully admits that "updating and maintaining configuration software for Sendmail is almost a full time job for a programmer". Clearly, the wrong approach is being followed here. COAS and the others are a step in the right direction but are doomed to failure because they simply are not "doing it right". As each of the current crop of suites dies through lack of adoption, sadly, others will spring up, in their place, repeating the same mistake. Forgive my pessimism, but this has been the pattern over the last several years. Remember the "dotfile generator"? THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO DO IT RIGHT AND THAT IS TO DO AWAY WITH THE HUNDREDS OF "FLAT" ASCII FILES THAT ARE CURRENTLY BEING USED. You make big problems for yourself when you create an admin system which operates on the ASCII config files. The programming required, in order to support each different config file, is significant. This is because the programming needs to be very "defensive", so as to allow sysadmins to continue to use vi on the file. The programming work required, considering the number of different applications you wish to support, is simply too large. This is the simple reason why ALL attempts in this area have thus far been failures. In place of the hundreds of existing config files needs to be one database that holds all of the configuration info. (Or should the system consist of system-wide, and per-user databases?). DO IT RIGHT OR DON'T DO IT AT ALL. This means that all the applications have to be modified but this is the only realistic way! It may seem like hard work at first glance, but just think of how much work has already gone into those failed admin tool attempts. Think also of how the internet and the open source ideal make the job much more possible today than 5-10 years ago. Hopefully, it should only be necessary to get the major application authors onside (Sendmail, Samba, Apache, etc), then the ball would be rolling. Ironically, life would actually be a little easier for these authors, because less code would be required in their application to read and write config data. I do not wish to get into the technicalities of the database layout and interface - that is a task for those more expert at this subject than I. If the major apps went to such a system, it would also cause a force for further unification of all unixes, because they would have to adopt the system too. Eventually, this dream of all unixes would be realised - the graphical, bulletproof, configuration suite that configures ALL software, not just /etc/passwd and /etc/fstab. A distribution of Linux that is as useable to the "mums and dads" as Windows 95 would suddenly be possible. Tom Atkinson (tom AT tyco.net.au)