Changes to copyright law over the years have (in the U.S. and,
increasingly, elsewhere) brought the growth of the public domain to a
complete halt. In the U.S., no works have entered the public domain since
1930, with the tiny exception of those put there explicitly by their
creators. The extension of copyright terms, with the approval of the
Supreme Court, means that the public domain will remain frozen
But the public domain is the ultimate source of almost everything found in
new creative works. Whether the subject is fiction, film, or free
software, our culture depends on a common pool of ideas. The starvation of
the public domain can only serve to dry up that pool. But attempts to cut
back on absolute copyright protection via the court system have not been
successful. The word from the courts is that this is a matter which must
be decided by Congress.
Enter the Eldred Act (or
"Public Domain Enhancement Act").
This act would not reduce the period of copyright protection available to
anyone. What it would do is require that, after 50 years, copyrights be
renewed through the payment of a (very) small fee. Renewal would be
required every five years thereafter. The renewal burden would be
negligible for anybody who is making any sort of commercial use of
copyrighted material. Mickey Mouse would be preserved for generations of
Disney stockholders yet unborn.
But the fact is that very little copyrighted material is still being
commercially exploited after 50 years. Under current law, all those works
remain protected, and almost all of them simply vanish from sight. The
Eldred Act would release it all into the public domain, where it can become
a common resource.
The proposed law makes a great deal of sense; why maintain copyright
protection on works that the copyright holder cannot be bothered to renew?
Yet the bill is apparently already being opposed by lobbyist activity in
Washington. As part of an effort to show that the lobbyists do not speak
for a lot of people, the bill's promoters (including
Lawrence Lessig) have set up an online
petition where people can show their support. Signing it is a small
act, but one which might help restore a more rational direction to
Comments (6 posted)
[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
With the release of Ximian Desktop 2 right around the corner, I decided
to ring up my contact with Ximian to see if I could get a test-drive. By
the end of the day Monday I had XD2 installed on my Toshiba laptop
running SuSE 8.2.
Before I start talking about the features and such that come with XD2,
it's important to note Ximian's target audience. Ximian is not
targeting the home user, nor are they targeting long-time Linux users.
The Ximian desktop is primarily aimed at corporate desktops.
There are a limited number of
configuration options, and they're aimed at the needs of desktop workers
migrating from Windows. That doesn't mean it's unsuitable for Linux
gurus or for the average home user, but I'd say it's less suitable than
some other desktop configurations for those users.
The Ximian folks gave me a Red Carpet Express account to test out XD2,
so I used the Ximian Red Carpet download installer and went for the full
install. The entire install, including the download time, took a little
more than an hour over a broadband connection. The public servers might
be a little slower, and I'm sure they'll be swamped next Monday for the
official release. I wouldn't advise trying to do a download install over
dial-up at any time unless you're a very patient person.
As usual, the Ximian Desktop looks fantastic. I realize this is a
subjective thing, but I find XD2 to be one of the best-looking desktops
on the market -- and that includes the Aqua desktop from Apple. It's not
an overly-slick kind of look, that would probably turn off the corporate
buyers that Ximian is trying to reach. It's just a nice, clean look that
is pleasant to use without being distracting. If aesthetics alone were
the deciding factor for corporate desktops, Microsoft would be in deep
trouble. Then again, they'd never have gotten where they were in the
first place if aesthetics were a big factor.
Speaking of Microsoft, Ximian takes a cue from the folks in Redmond with
some desktop icons like "My Computer," "Trash" and a home folder that
are all designed to be permanent fixtures. They can be removed, but it
isn't as simple as right-clicking on the icon and hitting "Move to
Trash." For the corporate desktop, this is a feature -- for the average
Linux user, this is annoying. The "My Computer" folder contains the same
kind of stuff you'd find on a Windows machine, a printer icon, settings
icon, and so on. It's not an exact replica of the Windows setup, but
it's probably close enough to be intuitive if you've been using Windows
all your computing life.
I found that it's easy to browse to a Samba share using Nautilus, which
is a good thing for companies who want to move some users from Windows
to Linux. I'm guessing it would have been able to "see" a regular
Windows box with file-sharing turned on as well.
XD2 also comes with a brand-new version of Evolution. Unfortunately,
Evolution 1.4 is mostly a maintenance release -- there are no new
features to speak of, just bug fixes, better integration with GNOME 2
and so on. While I don't want to minimize the importance of bug fixing
and so forth, I was hoping for some new features for Evolution. Other
than the splash screen, I didn't notice any difference between Evolution
1.4 and 1.2.
The folks at Ximian have done a nice job of sprucing up OpenOffice.org.
They've added a whole new set of icons to the toolbars and so on, which
isn't a big deal in terms of functionality, but it will probably do more
to create a good first impression for former (or soon-to-be former)
Microsoft Office users. They've also tweaked OOo to save files in
Microsoft Office formats by default, rather than the standard OOo
formats. This includes getting rid of the dialog box that warns that you
might lose data by saving in other formats. Again, this is a feature that
will be a big plus for users
moving from Windows to Ximian, but possibly annoying for the average Linux
Ximian has also included "Windows metric compatible fonts" in XD2.
Basically, this means that the fonts included are supposed to better
mimic the default fonts you get with Windows -- making Web browsing and
such more like the Windows experience. I don't really worry too much
about Web pages looking different, but the XD2 fonts mean that MS Office
documents look much more like they're supposed to when you open them in
OpenOffice.org and that's a very good thing. Presumably, it will also
mean that documents created in OpenOffice.org will look right when
opened in Microsoft Office.
Speaking of Web pages. Ximian defaults to Galeon as its Web browser,
rather than Mozilla. Since I usually use Mozilla, I wasn't sure I'd like
the switch, but I really didn't notice much difference. One nice thing
is that Ximian pre-installs the regular suspects when it comes to
plugins, so you'd have Java, Flash and the rest from the beginning
rather than having to download them separately. This is in the
Professional edition of XD2 -- so if you're doing the free download,
you're still going to have to go hunting for some of the plugins, Adobe
Acrobat Reader, and you won't get the Agfa fonts.
Though I think XD2 is a great desktop, there are some areas for
improvement. For example, one of the first things I do when I do a fresh
install is to set the resident window manager or desktop environment to
move windows transparently. I couldn't find a way to do this using any
of the apps in XD2's Personal Settings panel. I'm also puzzled because
Ximian installs a "Format a Floppy" icon by default under the "System
Tools" menu -- despite the fact that the machine has no floppy drive.
Overall, though, I think that Ximian has delivered a great desktop for
their target audience. Whether corporations take it up or not is another
story, but here's hoping.
Comments (10 posted)
The "New Internet Computer" (NIC) was another one of Larry Ellison's Big Ideas: a
low-price, hassle-free Linux-based computer which limited itself to
Internet activity. It was essentially a browser with a bit of accompanying
hardware. There was no hard disk; Linux would boot off a CDROM and what
little data needed to be stored went into flash memory. At $200, it seemed
like a cheap and easy way to get Linux onto desktops - and counter tops -
where it had previously failed to go. LWN covered
the NIC release back in July,
So much for that idea; three years later, as reported by ZDNet,
the New Internet Computer Company is shutting down. Sales have been
scarce, and the company was unable to come up with another round of
financing. When you have a company that is not making money, there are
really only a couple of choices: find an excuse to sue IBM, or shut down
gracefully. NIC chose the latter path.
The Linux-based thin client (or "Internet appliance") product once looked
like a good idea. Many people just want to play around on the net, and
don't want to hassle with computers, software installations, drive
failures, viruses, etc. Why not provide them with a simple box which
handles this basic task and doesn't ask for any care and feeding?
The answer would seem to be that, when people want a computer, they want a
real, general purpose computer. For the price of a NIC, it is
possible to find real systems which can be customized, enhanced with
additional software, and generally made more useful. People naturally shy
away from a system which appears to offer reduced functionality or to be,
in some way, crippled. This is, perhaps, especially true when people are
looking at Linux systems, which ordinarily offer a greater degree of
control than proprietary alternatives.
There may yet come a time when everything one might want is available as a
web service, and users want little more than a display with a browser and a
"buy" button. But, for now, it appears that the general purpose computer
has not yet completed its run.
Comments (12 posted)
Things have been relatively quiet on the SCO front this week. The world is
waiting for SCO to put up some evidence, and SCO management has not come up
with any new ways to upset the Linux community. Still, a few things
are worth mentioning.
SCO held a conference call on May 30 to explain its position.
Executive summary: they claim to own the Unix copyrights, but it doesn't
matter because the IBM suit is based on contracts. For more information
see LWN's quick writeup or the complete transcript posted by Karsten
LWN has decided not to request access to SCO's evidence under their
non-disclosure agreement (which has been posted by the Linux
Journal). Our ability to write about important topics, along with our
continued ability to contribute to projects like the kernel, is more
important than early access to SCO's exhibits. Besides, SCO's oft-repeated
statements about the useful value of contracts as a vehicle for
lawsuits suggests that they might be a good company to not sign
LinuxTag's complaint against SCO in Germany, mentioned briefly here last
week, has had some success: rather than put up its proof as demanded, SCO
chose to shut down its German web site. The links to its "letter to Linux
users" have also been removed from the SCOsource web page. It is a
temporary situation, but, for now, SCO has chosen silence over backing up
News.com has tracked
down a copy of the 1995 contract between SCO and Novell - the one which
transferred (or didn't) Unix to SCO. Reading the contract seemingly does
not make the situation any clearer; the contract looks like a muddy mess.
Resolving who really owns the Unix copyrights looks like a job for the
Finally, for some amusement, see Modern SCO
Executive, an extreme exercise in fair use by Moen, Self, Gilbert, and
Comments (4 posted)
It's been a while since we've run one of these update articles, which is
generally a good thing. We'd rather be talking about what is going on in
the Linux community than ourselves. But every now and then somebody asks
for an update, so here goes...
The subscription count remains, more or less, level. We went through the
expiration of all the six-month subscriptions that people took out back at
the beginning in reasonably good form, which is a good thing. But the rate
of growth at this point is very low. We've begun to increase traffic with
some careful, targetted advertising (mostly on Google for the moment) with
some results. More needs to be done, however. The subscription level is
still not at the level it needs to reach for LWN to be a long-term
Advertising on the LWN site has been a little higher through the last few
months. We would like to encourage everybody to remember the LWN text ad
system, however. It is an effective and inexpensive way to get your message out
to the Linux community and support LWN at the same time.
It is worth noting that it has now been one year since LWN switched over to
the new site code and format. There were a lot of complaints at the time,
but our readers appear to have gotten used to the new way of doing things.
The new code has significantly reduced the effort it takes to put LWN
together every week, has enabled the formation of a strong (and
opinionated) community of commenters, and, of course, has let us set up the
whole subscription system. We believe it was worth it, even if there are
still a lot of rough edges in need of smoothing.
Thanks, as always, for supporting LWN.
Comments (19 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Algorithmic complexity attacks; new vulnerabilities in ghostscript, gPS, kon2, tomcat, uw-imapd.
- Kernel: Suspending IDE systems; provenance of kernel source.
- Distributions: Roundup of Educational Linux Distributions
- Development: Haystack: the universal information client, first Erlang Newsletter,
New versions of Alsa, MICO, the Firebird database, flp5, AFPL Ghostscript,
Moodle, Plone, Zope, ZWiki, Tkeca, Mozilla, Lynx, Gnome Games,
Gimp-Print, Gaim, Vim, GHC, PHP, Python.
- Press: Another batch of SCO articles,
Inidan president advocates open-source, Cfengine review, Ximian Desktop 2.
- Announcements: SCO teleconference, DoD Open Source Policy Statement, Linuxwochen 2003,
GCC Developers' Summit proceedings, Lisp NYC.
- Letters: A pleasant Supreme Court Decision; Download.com and Linux; Ideahamster