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A wealth of technical conferences awaits Linux developers and technical users. Among the upcoming events, we have:
One occasionally hears complaints that the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo (ah, yes, August 12 to 15, San Francisco), has wiped out the more community and developer oriented events. Certainly some of the traditional gatherings (Linux Expo, ALS) are hurting or dead. But a look at the above list shows that the technical Linux conference is alive and well.
This is more than a good thing. Glitzy trade shows have their value, but the Linux and free software communities have a strong need for events that bring together developers and users. No amount of email and IRC can take the place of in-person gatherings, discussions, and beer. Technical conferences make high-bandwidth communications possible, and, crucially, they help to knit a worldwide band of developers and users into a community.
So the continued health of international technical events is a good thing; let us hope it stays that way. Many of these events are heavily dependent on corporate and/or governmental sponsorship for their continued existence - development conferences are not able to bring in vast amounts of money through fancy exhibit floors and "visionary" keynotes from corporate marketing VP's. So far, many of the companies that work in the free software realm have understood that development conferences are an important part of the ecology that they depend on. With luck, this trend will continue.
Lindows, source, and preview releases. This story has come around more than once: a company builds a product using GPL-licensed software. As part of the development process, preliminary versions of the product are distributed to beta testers - without source. The company claims that the source release requirements do not apply to beta versions, and that all will be made well when the official release happens.
The company in the news this time around is Lindows.com, which is working toward the release of its "LindowsOS" distribution. For $99, it is possible to join the "Lindows Insiders" and get preview versions of LindowsOS now; the company, of course, wishes to get feedback from its "Insiders" on how to improve the product. All this makes sense so far - though many folks, doubtless, will balk at paying $99 for the privilege of helping a company find its bugs.
But, it was noticed that the LindowsOS preview release did not come with source. That is where people started to get upset. If a company hands some software to a person who has paid $99 to get it, it seems clear that the company is "distributing" the software. And the GPL is clear that, when you distribute GPL-licensed software, you must also make the source available.
Lindows's failure to make source available caused concern at the Free Software Foundation and elsewhere. Bruce Perens sent an open letter to Lindows CEO Michael Robertson asking him to live up to the GPL. This request was not an attempt to create difficulties for Lindows, contrary to the opinion seemingly held by some. It was, instead, an attempt by copyright holders to uphold the terms under which they released their code.
The simple fact is that labelling a release "beta" or "preview" does not somehow magically suspend the terms of the GPL. If you use code which is licensed under the GPL, you agree to those terms and are expected to live up to them. The GPL has no provision allowing the withholding of source for certain kinds of releases; if you are distributing the software, you are distributing it.
We exchanged some email with Mr. Robertson, and it would appear that this particular situation has been resolved:
I did have a chance to have a friendly chat with Bradley Kuhn and Eben Moglen of FSF. I told them that if they had concerns, we would do our best to address them. We changed our NDA after their input and put up the source code - even for this early, unstable version.
This appears to be one of many situations where calm discussions are far superior to any amount of flaming. Lindows, after all, is not out to rip off the free software community. The company is, instead, trying to build a product that, with luck, will greatly increase the adoption of Linux in the marketplace. It is in Lindows's interest to maintain good relations with the developer community, and the company knows it. Lindows has met its obligations for now; we're looking forward to see how well they do.
The EFF Pioneer Award winners. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has announced the winners of this year's Pioneer Awards. They are:
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April 18, 2002