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A new Red Hat/Oracle distribution was announced this week. The two companies plan to put together an enhanced version of Red Hat's distribution aimed at high availability and e-commerce applications. Their shopping list contains a number of recurring themes: large memory, large files, raw I/O, etc. Much of this work has been underway for some time - quite a bit of it under Red Hat's sponsorship.

Interestingly, the release also mentions the integration of Motif 2.1. Integrating Motif is a step backward for Red Hat in a couple of ways. A distribution containing Motif is no longer the 100% free distribution that Red Hat has been bragging about for the last couple of years. Bringing in Motif also calls into question Red Hat's committment to GNOME, which was supposed to be the Linux desktop package.

The more concerned members of the community will probably interpret this announcement as Red Hat corrupting its (formerly all-free) distribution to meet the needs of expectant stockholders. Others will say that Red Hat is just trying to make available a version of the distribution which can run Motif-based applications for those who need it. In either case, it may well prove popular with large companies, which care little about such issues.

Microsoft is a monopoly, or so claims the findings of fact released by the US District Court. Reactions to the findings have been mixed, though few were much surprised by them. Shares in publicly-traded Linux firms went through the roof (then subsided somewhat thereafter). But what impact will the ruling really have on Linux?

One aspect of that question is easily answered: there will be no direct legal impact for quite some time. Assuming that the court goes on to find Microsoft guilty of antitrust violations, and assuming that penalties are then assessed, it will still be years before anything happens. There are two levels of appellate courts to go through (though the first can apparently be shorted out in some cases), and both the US Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are expected to be more favorable to Microsoft. Even if they are not, the process will take years.

What if Microsoft is broken up into a set of "Baby Bills"? An applications-only Microsoft fragment - if it is truly independent - could be expected to aggressively port its applications to Linux. Many would applaud the availability of Office under Linux. But there is also the risk of Microsoft dominating commercial Linux applications in the same way it dominates Macintosh applications. Microsoft may eventually start porting to Linux anyway, but a breakup would likely accelerate things.

Does Linux need federal help to achieve world domination? According to the findings of fact, the answer is "yes." Linux is discussed in section 50, under "Fringe operating systems," and is not given much hope. A couple of quotes illustrate the view taken:

The experience of the Linux operating system, a version of which runs on Intel-compatible PCs, similarly fails to refute the existence of an applications barrier to entry.... By itself, Linux's open-source development model shows no signs of liberating that operating system from the cycle of consumer preferences and developer incentives that, when fueled by Windows' enormous reservoir of applications, prevents non-Microsoft operating systems from competing....

Fortunately for Microsoft, however, there are only so many developers in the world willing to devote their talents to writing, testing, and debugging software pro bono publico.... It is unlikely ... that a sufficient number of open-source developers will commit to developing and continually updating the large variety of applications that an operating system would need to attract in order to present a significant number of users with a viable alternative to Windows. In practice, then, the open-source model of applications development may increase the base of applications that run on non-Microsoft PC operating systems, but it cannot dissolve the barrier that prevents such operating systems from challenging Windows.

LWN respectfully begs to differ. The growth curve of Linux shows that competition is indeed possible. The pace of development on desktop-oriented software - KDE and GNOME, for example - brings Linux ever closer to Windows in both ease of use and availability of applications.

Also, importantly, the characterization of open source developers as "pro bono" volunteers is increasingly inaccurate. Volunteers remain the backbone of much open source development, but, increasingly, free software developers are finding themselves being well paid by companies that see a solid business benefit in free software. Open source has more developers than Microsoft - and this has been true for years.

Free software is an inherently superior product. It has long since reached the critical mass needed to assure its continued growth and success. That critical mass was achieved not via governmental action, but through the dedication and persistence of people like Richard Stallman, and through the efforts of thousands of free software developers worldwide.

Microsoft has spent years building the rope with which it is hanging itself. Linux does not need the federal courts to assure its success; that success is coming about as a result of the system's merits and the tremendous quality of the work put in by so many great developers. A breakup of Microsoft would only taint free software's victory; in any case, by the time any such action makes it through the courts it will likely be moot.

Announcing the LWN book reviews page. LWN inaugurates its new book reviews page this week. Over time, this page will develop into a comprehensive guide to the large (and increasing) pile of books available on Linux and Open Source topics. Our first review is for a book that is literally hot off the presses: Python Essential Reference by David M. Beazley.

How to help somebody use a computer is a document written by the prolific Phil Agre, master of the Red Rock Eater News Service. In How to help somebody use a computer, Mr. Agre gives some commonsense advice on enabling people to get past and solve their own problems. As more and more people come into the Linux community, it's worthwhile for all of us to think about how we can best welcome them and get them going. Recommended reading.

The windowing patent. Last week's feature article on the "windowing" patent generated a great deal of feedback. Many readers wrote in to point out other examples of prior art - far too many to list here. From a different angle, James Heald wrote in to claim that the kernel code does not violate the windowing patent at all.

The issue of whether the kernel code violates the patent is moot, since the code predates the patent filing. The important point is that software patents are a growing problem; someday somebody in the free software world is going to get badly bitten.

A Palm Pilot friendly version of LWN is occasionally requested by our readers. For those of you trying to read us on tiny screens, we recommend having a look at Sitescooper. This package is all set up to snarf a copy of LWN and reformat it properly. (You can read about Sitescooper in NTK as well, even if they do call us "girlish" and "lavender-smelling"...).

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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November 11, 1999


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