Ubuntu's "Dapper Drake" release - more prosaically known as "6.06 LTS" - is
due on June 1, and may well be available by the time you read this
article. A distribution release is not a particularly rare occurrence in
the Linux community, but there are a couple of things about Dapper which
are just a little bit unusual and worthy of note.
The "LTS" in this release's name stands for "long term support"; this
distribution comes with a promise of security updates for five years
(on server systems) or three years (on desktop systems). Exactly how that
distinction will be made is not entirely clear; one assumes that, for
example, graphical mail clients will go unsupported in June, 2009, while
mail transfer agents will continue to get updates into 2011. That is the
longest credible support promise ever made for a free distribution, and it
may change the commercial landscape in interesting ways.
There are many situations where the deployment of a Linux system makes a
great deal of sense. In many of those, one wishes to start with reasonably
current software, but to not have to worry much about upgrades for a long
time thereafter. Web servers, print servers, database servers, kiosks,
point of sale systems, and more all fall into this category. Once the
system works, any sort of software change offers downtime and the risk of
problems, but little in the way of advantages - except, of course, for
security fixes. Anybody planning such a deployment must consider how the
system will be supported and kept secure through its operating life. In
recent years, the available choices have fallen into these categories:
- An entirely free distribution (Fedora, Debian, OpenSUSE, etc.) can be
used. The price is right, and the quality of the software tends to be
high. The support window for these distributions tends to be short,
and, for some of them, unpredictable. Keeping a Fedora Core system
secure can involve upgrades twice a year - not an appealing option for
a system which is supposed to be stable and "just work."
- The "Enterprise" offerings from Red Hat and Novell come with long
support promises; there are, undoubtedly, still plenty of systems
running 2.4.9 kernels on RHEL 2 with uninterrupted support.
These services can be expensive, however. For many customers, a
support subscription is easily justified and worth every penny.
But others will find that cost hard to swallow.
Some try to get the best of both worlds through enterprise clone
distributions like CentOS. By all
accounts, the CentOS team has done a top-quality job with its
distribution, but anybody contemplating a long-term deployment will
have to be convinced of the project's long-term future and be able to
overcome qualms (if any) about free-riding on the enterprise
- Security support can be managed in-house. This approach requires a
significant investment of time by a skilled administrator or
developer, however, and is thus far from being free.
Ubuntu's five-year guarantee provides another choice: install Dapper, and
obtain updates until 2011 with no costs at all. The existence of the
Ubuntu Foundation, with its $10 million nest egg, helps to make that
five-year promise credible, and Ubuntu's record with security updates has
been, so far, quite good. So it would not be surprising to see significant
uptake on Ubuntu's promise. Whether those new Ubuntu users will come at
the cost of the enterprise distributions, or whether they are mostly people
getting away from the (relative) upgrade treadmill of the free
distributions, remains to be seen.
That leads to the other interesting aspect of this release: the increasing
friendliness between Ubuntu/Canonical and Sun Microsystems. The two have
that the Dapper release will include a version for Sun's new Niagara SPARC
architecture, and Sun executives are issuing quotes on how important a
distribution Ubuntu is. Clearly something is going on here.
Sun's troubles in recent years have been well documented; to a great
extent, Sun's customers have been steadily turning into customers of the
enterprise distributions. To Sun, Ubuntu may well look like an
opportunity to poke holes in the revenue streams of its main competitors.
Ubuntu, in turn, may see Sun's support (and the Niagara port) as a way to
gain a foothold in the server market. If Sun's new servers find customers,
Ubuntu will be the obvious distribution for any of those customers who wish
to run Linux.
How all of this plays out will be interesting to watch. Ubuntu's past
releases have certainly been popular; if Dapper holds together well enough
(and the initial signs are good), it may be the best-received Ubuntu
release yet. If so, Ubuntu may well change the shape of the Linux
(For those who are interested in what's actually in the 6.06 LTS release,
the "testing Dapper"
page has a lot of information and screenshots).
Comments (21 posted)
Forgent Networks is a company which would easily qualify as a patent troll
for many observers. This small company picked up a data compression patent
in 1997, and has been busily using that patent to shake down corporations
ever since. Since this patent is said to cover the JPEG image format,
there is a wide list of possible victims to choose from. Those victims
have dropped more that $100 million into Forgent's bank account, and
Forgent currently has litigation outstanding with some 30 companies.
The Public Patent Foundation chose this patent as one which was vulnerable
to a challenge. The Foundation's work bore fruit on May 25, when the
US Patent Office issued a
ruling on the Forgent patent [PDF]. The resulting press release from the
Public Patent Foundation was triumphant:
"The Patent Office has agreed with our conclusion that it would
have never granted Forgent Networks' '672 patent had it been aware
of the prior art that we uncovered and submitted to them," said Dan
Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director.
It is worth noting that Forgent had a
different spin on the ruling:
...the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued its first
office action, a non-final action, confirming a majority of the
claims in United States Patent 4,698,672. The action upholds 27 of
the 46 claims of Forgent's patent. Forgent will vigorously defend
the remaining claims that were not initially upheld in this first
Anybody wondering if the world is now safe for JPEG users will clearly need
to look beyond the press releases and dig into the patent and the USPTO
ruling directly. The short story is that, while the independent claims of
Patent 4,698,672 have been invalidated, many of the more-specific
dependent claims remain standing. Consider, for example, claim 1:
A method for processing digital signals, where the digital signals
have first values, second values and other values, to reduce the
amount of data utilized to represent the digital signals and to
form statistically coded signals such that the more frequently
occurring values of digital signals are represented by shorter code
lengths and the less frequently occurring values of digital signals
are represented by longer code lengths, comprising,
- forming first runlength code values representing the number of
consecutive first values of said digital signals followed by said
- forming second runlength code values representing the number
of consecutive first values of said digital signals followed by one
of said other values.
What the Public Patent Foundation asserted is that this claim - covering a
fairly basic run-length encoding scheme - had already been claimed by
another patent: #4,541,012
by Andrew Tescher. The Patent Office agreed, and ruled that claim 1
The story does not stop there, however. There are a number of dependent
claims which make claim 1 more specific; these include:
2. The method of claim 1 further including the step of amplitude
encoding said other values.
3. The method of claim 1 further including the step of encoding
said first and second runlength code values with a sign value.
4. The method of claim 1 wherein said first values have amplitude
zero, said second values have absolute amplitude one, and said
other values have absolute amplitudes greater than one whereby
said first and second runlength codes values are formed
representing the number of consecutive zeros.
5. The method of claim 1 wherein said first values have the highest
frequency of occurrence in said digital signals, wherein said
second values have the next highest frequency of occurrence in
said digital signals, and wherein said other values have the
lowest frequency of occurrence in said digital signals.
Claim 3 (adding a sign value) was also rejected, but claims 2, 4, and 5
were upheld by the Patent Office. The same pattern persists through the
remaining claims: the independent claims were rejected, but the
more-specific versions were allowed. That is why Forgent proclaims that
the majority of its claims had been upheld.
So, to a great extent, the Forgent patent survives, having lost only the
most general of its claims. We asked Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent
Foundation whether this ruling was enough to remove the threat against JPEG
users; his response was:
It likely won't be enough to put an absolute end, but this is a
significant blow to the solitary patent that are using against the
JPEG standard. To the extent we've shown their armor to be made
more of tin or paper, than steel or iron, we've provided the public
the benefit of a more transparent view of the legitimacy of their
Whether the remaining claims in the patent are applicable to the JPEG
standard is a matter for the courts to determine - and, given the
thirty-some outstanding cases, the courts will certainly have the
opportunity to do so.
There is one interesting additional factor which, thanks to the Public
Patent Foundation's work, may just come into play here. Forgent's patent
was originally filed from a company called Compression Labs, Inc. It turns
out that the Tescher patent, which provided the prior art used against
Forgent's patent, was also developed at Compression Labs. In other words,
when Compression Labs filed for the patent now being wielded by Forgent, it
must have known about the existence of the prior art, since it had
patented that prior art itself. But Compression Labs did not disclose that
prior art to the Patent Office. Failure to disclose known prior art is a
violation of the Patent Office rules. It seems likely that defendants in
Forgent's litigation will find a way to let their respective courts know
that the patent at issue was obtained in bad faith.
Comments (4 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: SQL injection attacks on PostgreSQL; Another long list of new vulnerabilities.
- Kernel: A summary of 2.6.17 API changes; Notifiers, 2.6.17 style; The lock validator.
- Distributions: Live CDs Part I: Why Do We Care?, Musix 0.40, Turbolinux announces FUJI Desktop,Ubuntu 6.06 LTS-rc, Debian 'etch' update, OpenSUSE build service, Dapper on
SPARC, 1st Edubuntu newsletter, Gentoo Development Guide, Debian Etch review.
- Development: Polypaudio, a networked sound server,
new versions of JACK, Apache SpamAssassin, MailStripper, Sussen, PythonCAD,
PyX, gSpiceUI, SQL-Ledger, Balazar Brother, Lintouch, Wine, SciPy, LinuxBIOS,
GCC, gURLChecker, SBCL, AFPL Ghostscript, Python Quick Ref Card.
- Press: Mozilla Foundation looked at, StarOffice macro virus, coverage of FreedomHEC,
JavaOne, KDE Multimedia and Python Sprint, Picasa for Linux, Novell and NCR,
Japan's Secure VM, JPEG patent smashed, Shuttleworth interview, booting with
Runit, KDE summer of code projects.
- Announcements: FUEL embedded DBMS, Win4Lin 3.0, online journalists
get source protection, OLPC hardware and developer program, SafeDesk Bounty Program, Zend/PHP conf cfp, OSDC Australia CFP, Collaborative Tech Conf,
PSF summer of code projects.