The Linux Standard Base project will provide a vendor-neutral
standard, backed by source code, upon which to build Linux
distributions, much as the Linux kernel project provides a single
kernel that is shared by all distributions....
The application of the standard will be that any program that runs
successfully on the reference platform can be expected to run on all
With these words, the Linux Standard Base project was launched in May of 1998.
This project set out to create a reference platform which would encourage
the porting of commercial application programs to the Linux system. By
eliminating the need to create a separate version of a program for every
supported distribution, the LSB, it was thought, would bring about a wealth
of Linux-based applications without impeding the free development of a
variety of Linux distributions.
Over the subsequent years, the LSB has limped along under a succession of
leaders. Various LSB standards addressing various parts of the system have
been created. Most of the major distributions have made the effort to
implement LSB compliance, so there is a vast number of deployed,
LSB-certified Linux systems out there. Only one little, nagging problem
has remained, however: no application vendors have stepped forward to
certify their products for Linux.
That situation changed quietly a couple of weeks ago, however, when the
Free Standards Group (the parent organization which is developing the LSB) announced the
first two certified LSB applications. These applications - RealPlayer and
MySQL - are no strangers to the Linux platform, so their certification is
unlikely to change life for many Linux users. RealPlayer already works on
the bulk of Linux distributions, and MySQL, being free software, is shipped
with most of them. But the fact that these vendors made the effort to
certify their products shows that the LSB effort - recently returned to
life under the leadership of Ian Murdock - might just go somewhere this
The real test, however, will be whether any new applications, previously
unsupported under Linux, hit the market with LSB certification. Thus far,
the LSB has failed to encourage any vendors - any at all - to support Linux
by porting to the LSB platform. The recent announcement has not changed
that fact - RealPlayer and MySQL were already available to Linux users in
an uncertified form.
Clearly, in 1998, the LSB was ahead of its time. The proprietary
application vendors, for the most part, were not even close to being ready
to support their products on Linux. There is not much that the LSB effort
could have done to change that fact. As Linux grows, however, vendors will
begin to believe that there might be a worthwhile market to be found there;
the LSB intends to be there when they come around. To that end, the Free
Standards Group has
set up a new developers network
with information for vendors writing applications for the LSB.
Many LWN readers have little interest in the creation of a vibrant market
for proprietary Linux applications. The available free software meets
their needs, and, where it doesn't, projects are underway to improve the
situation. For many, the installation of proprietary applications would
only compromise the years-long effort to create a free system. These
people care little about the progress of the LSB.
The fact remains, however, that there is a large variety of proprietary
software for which no free equivalent exists, not even in an early stage of
development. There is also a large body of potential users who will not
consider moving over to Linux until the applications they need are
available. If the LSB succeeds in encouraging ports of some of those
applications, it could encourage some of those users to make the jump to
free software. And that, in the end, should be a good thing.
Comments (11 posted)
People outside of the Gentoo Linux
project may be surprised to learn that the Gentoo developers are currently
electing a new management council. Unlike, say, Debian, Gentoo tends to do
a fair amount of its deliberations out of public view. There has recently
been a discussion, however, which has brought out some of the concerns that
Gentoo developers have. Here are some excerpts.
I started my fourth year as a Gentoo developer in June, and Gentoo's
changed a lot since I started back in 2003. We've become a drastically
more democratic organization. But the question remains - _Is this a good
When I think about where Gentoo was when we turned into a democracy
years ago, and where Gentoo is now, I don't see much of a difference on
the large scale. We lack any global vision for where Gentoo is going, we
can't agree on who our audience is, and everyone's just working on
pretty much whatever they feel like. [...]
I'm not the only one to suggest that a democracy isn't the most
productive way to run Gentoo. When people wanted to change in how Gentoo
was run, democracy was the only option considered, rather than simply
changing the leaders. There's an ongoing assumption that if problems
exist, it must be somewhere in the structure rather than in the people.
If I could go back in time a couple of years and prevent this democracy
from ever happening, I would. If I could fix these problems myself, I
would. But it requires buy-in from the entire Gentoo community if we're
to do anything about it.
-- Donnie Berkholz
In addition to the conclusion that too much freedom has entered the
life-blood that drives Gentoo it is also often the case that from the
stance of upper management there is not enough freedom given. Part of
what paralyzes the Council and devrel and any other historical body that
has tried to keep Gentoo healthy is that there is an understanding that
they can only act as a whole...as individuals none of them have power as
there is fear that a rogue person in a position to abuse their
responsibility will do so. It is my contention that with a body of
multiple individuals such as the Council that there would be the ability
to recognize and mitigate the damage done by such a rogue. I'd posit
that by voting someone onto the council you are saying that you trust
them enough to carry this duty on their shoulders. The Council itself
should not be just a technical body to validate the merits of GLERs
and/or emerging projects, it (or some other yet to be established group)
has to carry the solemn duty of carrying Gentoo into the future,
nurturing it as only a parent could....
All in all I suppose that is the platform that I am running on for this
years Council...take it for what you will but that is where I stand.
-- Daniel Ostrow
If there's a lack of
respect at the moment, it's not for devrel.
It's between individual developers, who either do not value each other
as people, or do not value each other as contributors.
A good way to sort that out is to get them together in the physical
world, and use group de-polarisation exercises to help folks
understand that their view of the world isn't the only view that is
valid. This is why I'm hoping to see Gentoo establish a regular
international dev conference. You'll find that the vast majority of
issues won't arise once folks actually know each other better - and
the personality clashes that are left are easier to see for what they
-- Stuart Herbert
Maybe its a cultural thing between some of us, or maybe its the
'pre-daniel' versus 'post-daniel' devs. I'm curious the demographics of
our active developers that were on prior to daniel's leaving compared to
those who joined after. To most of the recent active folks, they never
knew what it was like before. Hell, I just got on towards the tail end
of the daniel-era, so I don't have much validity in that realm myself!
But I do remember how it used to be and how well we did things and how
we usually respected each other in some fashion or another.
I'm afraid those days are in the past unless some kind of fork happens
where the folks who think we need a leader go their way and the folks
who prefer the leader-by-committee approach go their way. We all hate
forks, none of us have time for forks, but looking at the dividing line,
I don't see how we'll be able to compromise with out adding more
policies and BS.
-- Lance Albertson
It's very easy to claim that "there are too many flamewars", even if
that isn't actually true. It's hard to claim "Portage needs replacing,
the tree has huge QA issues, several archs are horribly unmaintained and
too many developers don't have a clue what they're doing" because a)
they're difficult problems to address, b) if you do say them, Condorcet
ensures that you won't get elected and c) you might be expected to fix
Most of these problems could be solved if we had a council that was far
less spineless, a council that's prepared to address the *real* issues
rather than doing nothing, a council that shows leadership and provides
direction where it's needed without screwing things up where it's not.
-- Ciaran McCreesh
I definitely agree here. What has made me decide to run for the council
is my wish to see things improve before we honestly do start
hemorrhaging developers. We have seen indications that it is coming,
but it hasn't started quite yet. A strong leadership is needed to give
us direction where needed, and also to leave people well enough alone
where it is not needed.
-- Chris Gianelloni
At the top level, the council, in its present form does not manage
Gentoo. It can't, it's pretty much disempowered as a management
organisation due to the rules for its agenda setting. Further, don't
see any any evidence of it setting targets and measuring progress or
even getting progress reports.
-- Roy Bamford
So, now straight to the point, we could elect a Core Team, including
people from each team. And those will be the responsible to take Gentoo
into new 'realms', with its 'risks' included. I am also scared about this
model .. it might not work, it actually might create the next armageddon
for many. But what if it does?, it might help solving this stagnation
state Gentoo is facing right now, and bring more new ideas into play.
-- Luis F. Araujo
There's no detail in what you want to do, only a vague unhappiness
with how things are, a desire to return to the "good old days" that
never were, backed up by arguments that are demonstrably and factually
incorrect or incomplete.
What is your plan? Where do you want to take Gentoo, where it isn't
already going? ...
_If_ you're looking at Ubuntu with envious eyes, my advice is that you
cross the floor and join them. There's no sense whatsoever in putting
Gentoo head-to-head with any of the other Linux distros, unless they
try to come after what we are good at.
-- Stuart Herbert
As an aside, this has long been the fundamental structural problem in
the open source movement. Within a given project, things generally find
a way to get done, but when a problem lies between two projects (be they
peers, one dependent on the other, whatever) then things often remain
This is actually the cutting edge area in the free software movement at
the moment - trying to find a common ground for not just projects but
constellations of projects and above them distros to collaborate.
-- Andrew Cowie
In this context, it can also be interesting to read Matthew Garrett's note
on his departure from the Debian Project:
There's a balance to be struck between organisational freedom and
organisational effectiveness. I'm not convinced that Debian has
that balance right as far as forming a working community goes. In
that respect, Ubuntu's an experiment - does a more rigid structure
and a greater willingness to enforce certain social standards
result in a more workable community?
The management of large-scale projects is hard - this has been known for
centuries (or longer). Free software projects bring in some interesting new factors,
however, as a result of their voluntary nature and distribution over a wide
range of languages and cultures. We are unlikely to find definitive
solutions to issues which have been around so long, but, perhaps, we'll
learn some interesting lessons in the attempt.
Comments (18 posted)
I'm sure you have heard about the intense outrage over Blackboard, Inc.'s
patent on a method of e-learning and about its initiating a patent
infringement lawsuit against Canadian-based competitor Desire2Learn in
the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in July. But
there is a part of the story you may not know.
Blackboard has already been called
"the SCO of the educational software market". Here's the
complaint [PDF], if you'd like to read it. Like most patent
infringement legal filings, it's dry as dust, but if you look at paragraph
10, you will see that Blackboard's litigation appears to target
Desire2Learn's entire product line:
Upon information and belief, in violation of 35 U.S.C. Section 271,
D2L uses, offers to sell, and sells within the United States, and/or
imports into the United States, products and services that infringe the
'138 patent, including, but not limited to all D2L products based on the
D2L learning system or platform, such as the D2L eLearning Technology
Suite, which includes the D2L Learning Environment, Learning Repository and
LiveRoom, and all services supporting these D2L products, such as hosting
services, training services, help desk support services, implementation and
customization professional services, and content services.
According to an open
letter by the CEO of Desire2Learn, John Baker, Blackboard didn't even
contact Desire2Learn prior to filing in July. Yet Blackboard is asking the
court to award it treble damages for "willful" infringement.
There's already a Boycott
Blackboard site, a No EDU
Patents site, with a History of
Internet-based learning page where you can contribute prior art, and
many in higher education are blogging
intensely -- studiously one might even say -- to
chronicle every detail of this patent story. There is also now a Wikipedia
page as mentioned
by Tim O'Reilly in mid August.
Indeed, it's mighty hard not to feel outrage, or at least keep your lip
from curling, when you read the patent,
or better yet a
plain English version of it. Here's a
diagram mocking what Blackboard "invented".
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), reportedly took a
look and issued guidance on the patent to all companies involved in
e-learning in the UK. This report, while noting that the patent
has no force in the UK, reveals that Blackboard has applied for four patents
at the European Patent Office (EPO). Here's a
list of other patents it has applied for in the US too, including one
ominously titled "Method and system for conducting online transactions."
Is there some kind of a contest going on to see who can get the most
obvious patent on planet earth? By the way, the US Supreme Court will be
case that speaks to the issue of what the standard should be for
obviousness. Better late than never, as they say. Michael Geist reports
that Blackboard "expects similar patents to be granted in nearly a dozen
countries around the world including Canada, Australia, and the European
Initial review by the EPO found the claims not to be
novel. Alfred Essa on "The NOSE: Information Technology in Higher
Education," prefers the word "trivial" to describe
the issued US patent:
By now I have read the Blackboard patent
carefully, including the notorious "44 claims". Despite what Blackboard has
said in public, the claims taken together describe a generic system for
e-learning and potentially covers every learning tool, present or
Once you strip the "44 Claims" from its stylistic dross one can immediately
see that Blackboard's "Idea", or innovation as they would claim, is
laughably trivial and obvious. The core ideas in the system part of the
claim originated with those individuals who developed the idea of network
computing and using the Internet for collaboration. If there is one
individual who deserves prior art for that Idea it's Tim Berners-Lee. But
Berners-Lee himself would claim that hundreds, if not thousands of people
worldwide, have contributed to developing and establishing the Idea of
network and collaborative computing.
The FOSS community is naturally very concerned that, after Blackboard
finishes suing Desire2Learn, it will come after Open Source e-learning
projects like Moodle. In response, the Sakai Foundation, which helps colleges and
universities run open source e-learning systems, has hired
the Software Freedom Law Center to advise these projects. I think they are
right to be worried despite assurances
from Matthew Small, Blackboard's general counsel, that the company has no
plans to challenge Open Source projects. For one thing, not having current
plans doesn't prevent Blackboard from changing its mind at any time if
this patent stands. Then there is the SCO comparison. It started me
The SCO Comparison Gets Me Looking for Waldo
Ever since SCO sued
over allegedly infringing code in Linux and we found Microsoft a shadowy
figure in the background, I have formed the habit of looking for a
Microsoft connection whenever I see a story about FOSS being
threatened. It's my personal "Where's Waldo" game.
I remember Bill Gates saying in
2003, shortly after SCO began its campaign, that Linux would be hounded by
IP legal troubles for 4 or 5 years. At the time, I took that as a
5-year plan. So when I heard about the Blackboard litigation, I went to
Google and just searched by the keywords "blackboard microsoft."
I found a number of articles from 2001, which is when Blackboard and
Microsoft first teamed up as partners. Yes, Blackboard and Microsoft. Here's
one from June of 2001 on the deal and its purpose, "Internet Strategies
for Education Markets: The Heller Report:"
Microsoft's .NET technologies (www.microsoft.com/net) will be more
common in higher education through a significant agreement with Blackboard,
Inc. (Washington, DC, www.blackboard.com). The co-marketing partnership
calls for Blackboard to develop the next version of its e learning platform
using the technologies, and for Microsoft to recognize Blackboard as its
preferred e-education partner.
The goal? In this article in The
Chronicle of Higher Education, dated November 23, 2001, an analyst from
Directions on Microsoft said the purpose of the deal was for Microsoft to
"own the educational-software market." Blackboard, according to Essa, now
has a 75% share of the e-learning market.
The article quotes from a Mark V. East, worldwide general manager for the
education-solutions group at Microsoft as saying, "Learning could take over
from e-commerce as the number-one use of the Internet." To be able to take
over a market, it probably helps if your product works better than your
competition, and that was the stated plan:
Despite its emphasis on Microsoft products, Blackboard will still write
versions for Unix and Linux, says Matthew S. Pittinsky, chairman of
Blackboard. All versions will have the same set of basic features, although
Blackboard for Microsoft will eventually have more features than Blackboard
for Unix or Linux, he says.
"It will be more feature-rich to run Blackboard out of the box on
Microsoft" than on other platforms, Mr. Pittinsky says. System
administrators will have more options for configuring the Microsoft version
of Blackboard than the non-Microsoft versions. End users will notice a
difference between systems run on Microsoft and those run on other
platforms, he says. It will be easier for users to incorporate documents
from any Microsoft applications in Blackboard's online courses. They will
have just one log-on for all Blackboard and Microsoft software through
Microsoft's Passport technology.
There are other articles
too, like this
one in the Daily Princetonian, where academics worried out loud about
Microsoft inducing Blackboard to create its software in such a way that
they would be forced to switch to Microsoft or give up Blackboard. They
were thinking way too simply. The goal, judging from the litigation against
Desire2Learn is not just market share; it's about money, honey. Patents are
all about money, and when you have a broad patent -- and this one is
nothing if not broad -- you can make all your competitors pay you licensing
fees or if they refuse, you can shut them down. Think RIM and the
Blackberry story. If there is any connection between patents and
innovation, it seems to be to snuff it out wherever it happens to pop up
in a competitor.
When you look into who has funded Blackboard, what do we discover?
Microsoft invested in Blackboard back in 2001, according to a BusinessWire
press release, "Oak
Hill Capital Leads Investors in $48 Million Financing of Blackboard
Inc." And then in February of 2005, Business
Week reported that Bill Gates himself had invested in Oak Hill Capital
Partners to the tune of $55 million in the past and was ponying up $70
million for a second fund, Oak Hill Capital II. Business Week says the
II fund was promising investors a 25% return. While it doesn't specify
that the personal investment went to Blackboard, the Microsoft investment
There's Waldo. Geist puts his finger on the central point, I think:
Shock quickly gave way to fear, since the community worried
that Blackboard would leverage the patent to force competitors into
expensive licensing agreements, thereby increasing costs and reducing
Moreover, educators have expressed concern that the patent will create
confusion within the academic community, leading some institutions to drop
better learning management systems alternatives due to the legal
Of course, some might say that's not a bug;
it's a feature.
Comments (14 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: The OLPC and BIOS upgrades; New vulnerabilities in alsaplayer, lesstif, mysql, wireshark, X.org, ...
- Kernel: An API for latency constraints; Workqueues and internal API conventions; Resource beancounters.
- Distributions: What's happening at Ubuntu: from X.org updates to upstart; new releases from Gentoo, Fedora Unity and Slackware; The Debian Project Leader on firmware and etch; new distributions gNewSense and Ichthux; custom distributions in the news
- Development: A comparison of Mail Transfer Agents - Part two,
new versions of Mayfly, LAT, eSpeak, GARNOME, gEDA/gaf, kicad, pcb,
SQL-Ledger, Cyphesis, Wine, Mirth, Wyneken, SBCL, PHP, PyTables, Ruby,
GNOME Games survey, Eclipse for medical apps.
- Press: 2006 Desktop Linux Survey results,
free desktop comparisons,
Ingres' Project Icebreaker, Sun releases OpenSSO, open source VIPs,
Do-It-Yourself Robots, drafting the GPLv3, successful Ruby projects,
Ubuntu and the iPod, Eclipse RCP, Nokia 770 review, FSF's GPL compliance
- Announcements: KDE e.V. Quarterly Report, OpenDocument Fellowship gets $40K in grants,
2X TerminalServer open-sourced, SPECviewperf v9 for Linux, Novel 3Q
preliminary results, Web 2.0 Collaboration Position Paper,
the APC Chris Nicol FOSS Prize, Free Software Directory D5000 Contest,
Guido's Python Sprint Report, Hack.lu 2006, T-DOSE in Eindhoven,