[LWN Logo]

 Main page
 Linux in the news
 Back page
All in one big page

See also: last week's Back page page.

Linux links of the week

Dan Kegel has put together an SSL Acceleration page which contains everything he could find on how to make secure socket layer-enabled web sites perform better. Dan's looking for input from anybody who has additions or corrections for the page.

The GNU/Linux Audio Mechanics (or GLAME) project has set itself the task of producing a top-quality sound editor for Linux systems.

Section Editor: Jon Corbet

April 20, 2000



Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@lwn.net. Preference will be given to letters which are short, to the point, and well written. If you want your email address "anti-spammed" in some way please be sure to let us know. We do not have a policy against anonymous letters, but we will be reluctant to include them.
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 01:17:39 -0400
From: <esr@golux.thyrsus.com>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: John Gibson's letter on the DOJ vs. MS

John Gibson claims "There would be no competitive economic environment
without the regulation of law specifically crafted to promote and
sustain it!"  He is deeply in error.  Economic competition is not a
fragile hothouse flower requiring the constant protection of
governments, but a robust and ubiquitous phenomenon that flourishes
whenever human beings need to solve scarcity problems and are not
forcibly prevented from trading with each other to do it.

There are any number of counterexamples to the silly claim that
government-made law is essential to economic competition.  Customary
law maintained by the self-interest of economic actors is quite
sufficient (the economist David Friedman has written extensively on
this topic).  For especially pure cases, interested readers should
investigate the history of dumb-show trading on the coasts of Africa,
or of the Nevada silver-mining camps in the 1840s.

He is even more fundamentally confused when he writes:

>Or does anyone think we'd be better off without the regulation
>implied by First Amendment protection?

What "First Amendment protection" does is not regulate speech but
rather *prevent* regulation of speech.  Despite himself, however,
Mr. Gibson has chosen a useful parallel.  Just as the quality and
vigor of public speech is improved when government is forbidden from
regulating it, the quality of economic competition is improved when
governments refrain from attempting to improve on it.
		<a href="http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr">Eric S. Raymond</a>

Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.
	-- Mohandas Gandhi
From: "Wolf N. Paul" <wnp@crossnet.at>
Subject: Andy Tanenbaum & Minix
To: letters@lwn.net
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 09:59:53 +0200 (CEST)


I would like to correct the impression given by your item about the
license change for MINIX. 

When MINIX was first released it was part of a book published by Prentice-Hall,
and like the text of the book was covered by P-H's copyright. 
Andy Tanenbaum went to great lengths to get P-H to agree to personal copying,
etc; and in his note announcing the change to the BSD license says that
now, with Linux, Free Software  and Open Source being well-known bywords,
it took two years to get P-H to agree to this change.

While I deplore Andy's initial attitude towards Linux and its creator, 
I also deplore the implication that he is somehow to be blamed for the fact 
that MINIX simply predated the Open Source movement and was therefore 
published under a different license.


Wolf Paul
Crossnet.AT Technical Manager
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 11:20:48 -0700 (PDT)
From: Christopher Laprise <cprise@yahoo.com>
Subject: WordPerfect "review"
To: lwn@lwn.net

I was surprised by this review, which read like so much flamebait.

I've used WP Office on Corel and Red Hat Linux, and it works well (not
having crashed even once). I find it very usable on a Cyrix PR200, although
Wine has a tendancy to scan (and time-out on) every empty CD-ROM drive in
the system; With CDs inserted, the apps start up in reasonable time.

If WordPerfect doesn't work with his/her pet flavor of Linux, too bad.
Linux distros are missing *SO* many services that mature apps rely on, and
Corel is not going to sit around waiting for a standards group to set
things straight.  Corel is adding necessary functionality to Linux as they
go (witness their involment in extending Linux printer support), but they
can't write code to retrofit every distro.

Most Linux distros are hideous, sprawling, inconsistent masses.  And every
major player who lumps in a new technology thinks they have bettered Linux.
But thank goodness they're wrong; Linux consists of the kernel and nothing
more until standards for various levels of functionality are set.  These
emperors are wearing no clothes.  When people try to intimidate users with
the implication they're running "crippled" Linux unless they have at least
4 or 5 scripting languages installed, at least I know better.

Think of all the people who lumped their pet tools into Linux distros just
to support their quick-and-dirty, user-unfriendly contributions.  Why
should Corel be lambasted for making their own additions and making their
own apps dependant on them?  Those OS additions are available to the
community just like the other pet technolgies (which are often less usable

IMO, the opinions offered in the LWN article are entirely incredible.  The
reviewer was not honest enough to describe the distro in use (Corel only
supports a finite number, you know) or the modifications it contains, *or*
to admit they were working from a particular brand of Linux
conventional-wisdom.  He/she also didn't acknowledge X-Windows'
shortcomings as a source of GUI problems (lack of support for modal windows
and dialogs, for instance).  This is why the LinuxWorld review, in
contrast, was much more fair and ultimately more positive toward WP Office.
They stated the distros and mods being used, and gave Corel credit for
extending Linux up to the task of serving a mature application.

To: lwn@lwn.net
Subject: [Correction] linux-msdos review just wrong....
From: ebiederm+eric@ccr.net (Eric W. Biederman)
Date: 15 Apr 2000 11:36:29 -0500

This thursday you publish a link to a review of the
linux-msdos@vger.rugters.edu mailing list.  This appears to be
a cascade of lack of knowledge.  This is the mailing list
for discussing running msdos on linux.  In particular dosemu.

The review appears to have been wholly gennerated from the title,
without any thought.  If you are going to link to flames about 
a public mailing list could they at least be correct flames???

From: Dub_Dublin@tivoli.com
To: letters@lwn.net
Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000 13:03:52 -0500
Subject: Re: de Icaza Speaking Ad?

I gotten several challenges to my assertion about patents as a desirable thing
(mostly asking for examples of small inventors that actually did profit from
patents) so here's my quick response, FWIW:

Anyone saying patents don't do immense public good, and provide worthwhile,
needed, and *effective* protection of small inventors against large corporations
is simply ignorant of the history of even quite recent technology.  Many
inventors started small, but because of patent protection were indeed able to
profit greatly from their inventions.

>From the "gararge-shop" POV, well, just off the top of my head, there are the
examples everyone is familiar with: Bill Hewlett and David Packard (HP,
instruments), Steves Jobs and Wozniak (Apple, home computer), and outside the
computer industry, folks like Edwin Land (Polaroid, polarized materials and
instant camera), Chester Carlson (Xerox, xerography), Henry Ford (Ford,
affordable automobiles), Thomas Edison (GE, light bulb, motion pictures,
phonograph...), and Alexander Graham Bell (AT&T, telephone), all of whom
profited greatly from their patented works.  (One could argue for the inclusion
of Jeff Bezos in that list, although around here, that's a bit like whacking a
hornet's nest with a stick...)

But the classic twentieth century example of patents providing exactly the kind
of protection I'm talking about is probably that of Philo T. Farnsworth, whom
you may never have heard of, although you likely use his invention (electronic
television) every day.  Farnsworth was the prototypical individualist inventor
who persevered against all odds and eventually defeated David Sarnoff and
Vladimir Zworykin of the immensly powerful RCA.  RCA was truly the Microsoft of
its day in terms of control of the market and underlying technologies through
acquisition - often under severe economic and other pressure.  RCA had a policy
of never paying royalties for any technology - a policy they managed to uphold
until they met Philo Farnsworth, who just wouldn't give up.

Farnsworth fought virtually alone against  all of RCA's power for seven years
before the final court rulings that his patents had clear validity and
precedence over Zworykin's, forcing a tearful RCA lawyer to sign a royalty
payment agreement to Farnsworth.  (Farnsworth publicly displayed television
*five years* before Sarnoff unveiled RCA's infringing version to the world
amidst great fanfare at the 1939 World's Fair, leading many to believe Sarnoff
and RCA were the inventors of television - sound like anyone today?)

Farnsworth's experience is, if anything, a case study for the need to
*strengthen* patents and either streamline patent appeals or extend the length
of patents when thier commercial utility is impacted by unsuccessful challenges.
(World War II intervened, and the government outlawed television for the
duration of the war (the technology was needed for radar, night vision and other
inventions Farnsworth then worked on), and so Farnsworth's patents expired
before he could profit from them.

Do you still think patents are a bad idea?  I'd argue experience shows that
patents should be strengthened and perhaps that the duration of Farnsworth's
patent should have been extended, due to RCA's clear abuse of the patent system
and the courts.  (I also think the government should have been upright enough to
grant extensions in the name of fair play to all inventors whose inventions were
commandeered for the war effort, but that's another issue entirely.)

History clearly shows that often patents are all that stands between real
progress and innovation and the acquisition by force so typical of a Sarnoff or
Gates.  Strong patent law is the *only* effective defense against large
companies stealing technology from small inventors.  (What RCA tried to do could
be accurately portrayed as theft.)  I'm amazed more people don't get this, but
they tend to avoid history, and fail to recognize that our American forefathers
were wiser than we are in pretty much every way.

Although it's not perfect, there are very good reasons the patent system is the
way it is, and we meddle with it at our peril.  It would be nice to see a
balanced discussion of this issue rather than the knee-jerk reactions that are
more common in the open source/free software community.


P.S.:  I recommend spending some time browsing through some of the links below
to see how many of the great inventors of recent history were independent - the
protection provided by the patent system allowed them to develop and in many
cases profit handsomely from their inventions.  You might be surprised at the
diversity and "ordinariness" of many of these inventors of important
breakthroughs - they're not such an elite group as you might imagine (the list
is somewhat US-centric - our culture celebrates invention, and so links for US
inventors are much easier to find):

National Inventor's Hall of Fame:   http://www.invent.org/book/index.html
MIT's Invention Dimension Archive:   http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/archive.html
Good Internet Public Library list of links to Inventor information:

Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 15:49:55 -0400
From: Derek Glidden <dglidden@illusionary.com>
To: letters@lwn.net, sales@xig.com
Subject: What is XiG's problem?

I noticed in the April 13 edition of LWN a note about Xi Graphics
releasing accelerated, OpenGL-compliant drivers for 3DFX Voodoo3 cards
and was intrigued, being an owner of such a card.  However, after just
skimming over the press release and their website, I had run across such
appealing quotes as:

"Xi Graphics Engineering Manager Jon Trulson said that all Linux
distributions have freeware graphics software because it's free, not
because it's good."  (Yeah, like all that other crappy, free software
that comes with your Linux distro.)

"In fact, if you have Mesa installed on your system, it should be
removed when you install an LGD. Mesa is a freeware "knockoff" of
libGL..." and mentions Mesa may cause conflicts with XiG's GL libraries
and that without removing it,  "things go to hell in a handbasket, and
our code get [sic] a bad rap!"  (Mesa is a "knockoff" of OpenGL the way
XFree86 is a "knockoff" of X11R6 and Linux is a "knockoff" of UNIX I

"Then one notices that the system runs, and runs, and runs.  Those
annoying crashes and lockups you experience with the freeware drivers
are gone."  (I'm not familiar with those...)

"On the other hand, some users seemingly will put up with about
anything, so long as the software is free. We see our fair share of
these folk, and needless to say, they are not our target customer." 
(They're really winning me over now with their honesty.)

Then I recalled seeing a story on Slashdot at one time: "XiG Ad Campaign
Slamming Xfree?" (http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/10/14/1420204)
that covered a full-page ad run by XiG with the statement:  

"If you're still using that 'free' X server that came with your Linux
distribution, well, hazardous conditions lie ahead"  (one wonders why
they felt the need to put "free" in quotes.  I can think of few licenses
more "free" than the X11 license under which XFree86 is distributed) 

and follows up with the completely false claim that:

"When the X server 'falls over' - crashes - the entire operating system
goes down."

So XiG's advertising strategy appears to be one of slamming their free
counterparts whenever the opportunity arises with claims of bad
performance and instability.  (Strangely, I don't notice them attacking
Precision Insight or MetroLink, although I probablyl just overlooked
it.)  In light of this, I find some of the other quotes on their Voodoo3
driver page even more interesting:

"Please be advised that the LGDs are not yet up to the performance level
that can be obtained on other systems ... Direct Graphics Hardware
Access is not yet implemented, and some speed optimizations are yet to
be done."  (You mean to bring them up to the level of functionality and
performance of the freeware drivers?)

"... we expect frequent updates for bug fixing and to increase
performance, which is much slower than we like. The updates will be
available free to owners, since their Key can be used to unlock the
newest (faster, less buggy) demo version of the LGD."  (Bugs?  Increase

One has to wonder what the marketing department is thinking at XiG to
believe that this kind of smear advertising is going to win over the
loyalty of the "demanding Linux user" they mention so frequently on
their site.  Yeah, we demand performance and stability, and we like
"free" but we also demand a bit of common sense and fair play.  This
kind of attitude is NOT going to score XiG brownie points with the
average Linux user, much less the "demanding Linux user."  Oh, but maybe
we aren't their target customer...

A couple of quotes from the DRI mailing list (you know, that freeware
graphics driver project) make the point just as well:

"Mesa and XFree86 have pretty good reputations in the Linux community. I
think Xi's only hurting themselves by printing such nonsense."

"We've certainly put off buying their $300 product primarily because of
their poor attitude."


With Microsoft products, failure is not           Derek Glidden
an option - it's a standard component.      http://3dlinux.org/
Choose your life.  Choose your            http://www.tbcpc.org/
future.  Choose Linux.              http://www.illusionary.com/


Eklektix, Inc. Linux powered! Copyright © 2000 Eklektix, Inc., all rights reserved
Linux ® is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds