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Linux Links of the Week

The gnulinux.com visitor screenshots page showcases the most interesting desktops that have been submitted by readers. If you're interested in better decorating your desktop, this page can be a good place to look for ideas.

If, instead, the Linux-powered watch is of interest, wander on over to wearcomp.org to see more work that is being done with wearable computing.

Section Editor: Jon Corbet

August 10, 2000



This week in history

Two years ago (August 13, 1998 LWN): Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond, Ian Murdock, and Tim Sailor announced the formation of the Open Source Initiative. The OSI's job was to be to police the use of the "Open Source" trademark and to promote open source in general. Since then Mr. Perens has left in anger, the trademark application was denied, and the OSI seems to be mostly dormant (the "what's new page" on the OSI web site was last updated in July, 1999).

The formation of the OSI was greeted with a great deal of criticism and anger, and there are certainly many who do not lament its fall from prominence. But the OSI did play a useful role in advocating open source, and in keeping early adopters of the term honest. An article in Upside this week explained it well:

But to a large extent the new visibility of open source is due to a clever marketing strategy on the part of Torvalds and his compadres--and a new willingness to talk the language of the corporation. These days, open source advocates talk less about freedom than about reliability--pointing out that when source code is opened up to the masses, the masses tend to locate and eliminate bugs very quickly.

The OSI was the embodiment of that marketing strategy.

Bruce Perens also left, angrily, the Linux Standard Base project, which he had been heading, this week.

Richard Stallman called for free documentation to accompany free software.

Please spread the word about this issue. We continue to lose manuals to proprietary publishing. If we spread the word that proprietary manuals are not sufficient, perhaps the next person who wants to help GNU by writing documentation will realize, before it is too late, that he must above all make it free.

Since then, the amount of free documentation available has expanded greatly - even if it still is not enough. Publishers no longer panic at the idea of making manual content free. Progress has been made.

The development kernel release was 2.1.115; Linus announced a hard code freeze with this release. This freeze proved less than firm, however, and the 2.2 stable release turned out to be more than five months away. The stable kernel release, meanwhile, remained at 2.0.36.

One year ago (August 12, 1999 LWN): the second LinuxWorld Conference and Expo was held this week; see LWN's coverage of the event if you are curious.

But the big news, of course, was the successful completion of Red Hat's initial public offering of stock. The actual event caused yet another round of trouble for those participating in the community offering, since a last-minute raise in the IPO price required a reconfirmation of interest. Many of the participants, who were at the conference, had a hard time doing that, though just about everybody got in before it was done.

The stock shot up to a (split-adjusted) price of $26, which seemed amazingly high at the time. The real significance of the IPO was to mark Linux as a truly interesting business phenomenon. A year later, with the Linux stock frenzy behind us, Linux remains more vital and interesting than ever.

Andover.Net announced the acquisition of FreshMeat this week.

The development kernel was 2.3.13; the long-awaited 2.2.11 stable kernel release also came out this week.

Red Flag Linux, a high-profile Chinese distribution, was announced this week. The newly-renamed Lineo announced its Embedix distribution.



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: Fri, 04 Aug 2000 12:10:36 +0200
From: David Balazic <david.balazic@uni-mb.si>
Subject: Napster, DeCSS and copyright
To: lwn@lwn.net

On lwn.net front page on August 3, 2000 you wrote :

> One thing that's worth adding to this discussion: remember that the free
> software world, too, is dependent on copyrights. Licenses like the GPL
> depend on copyright law. The free software world has a lot to contribute
> to the discussion on just how far copyright protections should apply, but
> if we promote the ignoring of copyright altogether, we are polluting our
> own well.

Specially "if we promote the ignoring of copyright altogether".

I don't think anybody ( except some unimportant kids ) is promoting the
ignorance of copyright law. In the DVD case , watching a DVD you purchased
is not and can not be held for a copyright infringement. And that is the
main purpose of DeCSS.

Napster : Here is no copyright infringement either ( at least Napster
claims so ).  Downloading a song for your home use is legal ( as per Audio
Home Recording Act ).  All tough I must admit that I find it hard to label
the act(*) of distributing a song to millions of napster users as "home

* - I mean the act of a napster user marking a song on his HD as

Just my 0.02$

David Balazic
From: "Aaron J. Seigo" <aseigo@mountlinux.com>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: Elliot Lee's Response to my letter to the editor on July 28
Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2000 14:03:39 -0600


LWN posted one of Elliot Lee's responses to my letter to the editor regarding
Miguel de Icaza's "Unix Sucks" rant that was covered on the front page of LWN.
Elliot and I went back and forth quite a bit on this one via email, and I'd like
to have the opportunity to make the result of our conversation available.

I wrote:
> I point to Icaza's own project Gnome as an example that he is (to
> quoth him) "smoking crack" when spouting these arguments. Gnome sets
> policy, and in the right place, too: on the application level.

Elliot responded:
> That is incorrect - all desktop-generic policy is set in gnome-libs and
> the other Gnome libraries, not in the applications themselves. gnome-libs
> and related pieces would generally be accepted as part of the operating
> environment, rather than part of the application.

After much running around the mulberry bush, we discovered (surprise!) that
Elliot (and apparently Miguel) and myself (and apparently many others) have
different definitions of the words "application" and "system".

To Elliot, the "system" is everything below the actual final app. This
includes the kernel, system libs, windowing subsystem, window manager, desktop
libraries shared by apps, etc. 

To me, in Linux an application is anything that isn't a system library
or  in the kernel. Everything else is an application.

Therefore, when I said that Gnome sets policy on the application level I meant
that by apps being compiled against the gnome libs which are optional in Linux,
that counts as occuring on the "application level". 

To Elliot, however, its virtually the same as linking to a system library: it's
all part of the "operating environment".

This may seem like a semantic issue, but I think it shows deeper differences in
viewpoint. The MOMENT someone views their software contribution to our Open
Source world as "being part of the system", they are creating a potential break
point between themselves and the rest of the community who doesn't use their
software. It is to say: "Hey, we're aren't just an application layer built
on this framework (Linux) and therefore optional (however useful and important),
we are part of a new foundational system."

Remember, this isn't Gnome/Linux. In fact, all it takes is a quick CTRL-ALT-F#
while running Gnome (or any X session), or a quck edit of an Xclients script to
make this absolutely clear. But by approaching it with the attitude that Gnome
is part of the Operating Environment , it can quickly become the way people
(especially those new to Linux) view it and therefore start using it, treating
it, and developing for it.

Instead we should be striving to reinforce the idea of choice and option.
We should be clear that things such as Gnome are applications only and
completely optional; that they are not part of the Linux "Operating
Environment" and that Linux does not suck just because it doesn't have such a
system as part of its default environment. 

I think that Unix desktop environments are a terrific idea and important to
the adoption of Linux on the desktop. However, the consequences of failing to
communicate clearly that these are _optional_ environments seperate from the
underlying system are potential fragmentation and a perceived loss of choice and
options on the part of the user.

Aaron J. Seigo
Date: Thu, 03 Aug 2000 10:57:55 +0200
From: Bernd Paysan <bpaysan@mikron.de>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: Ballmer: Linux = communism

I know that this Ballmer thing from hell spits and throws dirt whenever
it can. But in this case, I really don't understand. Isn't he saying
that the thing people like about communism is that "it's free"? The only
thing I'm quite sure about communism (the real existing socialism) is
that it was all but free. Is he using newspeek or what ("freedom is

Free software, if at all, is "communistic", because:

* no alienation of workers (people write software because it scratches
  an itch, not because their boss demanded it)
* no exploitation by greedy capitalists, voluntary work instead

The main problem I see here is that the *real* communism (or socialism)
was all but that. Workers were alienated, because some stupid
functionaries directed them, and their work wasn't volutnary. In real
communism, you also had to fear that the people with power wanted to
know where you want to go today, and kept a detailed record of your
actions, if you were suspicious (or even if you weren't, just to find
out if you are suspicious). That is, Microsoft clearly matches real
communism much more than free software ;-).

Bernd Paysan
"If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself"

From: Jeff Buck <JeffB@umci.com>
To: "'letters@lwn.net'" <letters@lwn.net>
Subject: Fearing the word
Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2000 13:01:40 -0700 

The "communist" label does come out every now and 
then to describe linux and the free software community, 
and most of the time it's pretty clearly FUD, but there
is something that almost always gets overlooked by the
free software community. The fact is, that in many ways
they are right. We are in a way a communist community.
Now don't misunderstand me here, I don't mean to say
that we're like the old Soviet republic, or any of the
other "communist" governments that ruled (or currently
rule) their countries.  In fact, we're a much better
example of communism than any real government ever has
been.  The original ideas behind communism were really
aimed at creating a sort of a utopian society, where
everyone works for the common good.  They use their
talents for the common good, and in turn the reap the
benefits of everyone else using their talents for the
common good.  We've also taken the best of a democratic
society and thrown that into our virtual community
melting pot, and the combination seems to work quite
well.  The next time someone accuses the free software
community of being communist, we might do well to simply
point out that they're right, but that we're also
democratic and libertarian as well.

It seems pretty ironic that it took a pure democracy
(absolutely everyone votes, either with code, or with
their (virtual) feet), to make a communist society that

-Jeff Buck (jeffb@umci.com)

Date: Fri, 04 Aug 2000 00:36:41 -0500
From: beasley <beasley@hiwaay.net>
To: lwn@lwn.net
Subject: Linux, Open Source, and Communism

Sir / Madam

Regarding Mr. Ballmer's recent comments [Open Source = Communism],

LWN wrote: 

 "In any case, one wouldn't think that a communist phenomenon
  would be so thick with libertarians and venture capitalists.
  Free software is a capitalist phenomenon: free agents are
  contributing to a public good because it is in their own
  selfish interest to do so. Use of words like "communist"
  show either a lack of understanding of free software
  or a great fear of it - or both."

I believe you're entirely correct here.

As a Libertarian Linux user, acting very much in my own
selfish interests, I'd like to submit these interesting

The "Linux FAQ"

The "Open Source FAQ"

The "Museum of Communism FAQ"

Oh, and here's another minor difference:

According to Professor R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii:

 "Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment we
  have ever seen. It failed utterly and in doing so it killed over
  100,000,000 men, women, and children, not to mention the near
  30,000,000 of its subjects that died in its often aggressive
  wars and the rebellions it provoked."


The total loss of life attributed to "Open Source"
and "Linux" is unknown, but is most probably very much less.

Michael Beasley
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2000 12:09:39 +1000
From: Rev Simon Rumble <simon@rumble.net>
To: lwn@lwn.net
Subject: Communist?

The communist label for free software is always a laughable one.  When
Americans say "communist" they invariably mean Soviet Socialist, ie
USSR.  The USSR was in fact a centrally planned totalitarian regime
using communist imagery in its propaganda.

That means that "the State knows what is best for you and you'll do what
the State deems you should do" was the way it operated.  This has more
in common with the centrally planned (Cathedral) Microsoft telling
users that they WILL have a browser embedded in the operating system 
than with free software.  To claim free software is communist is to
reveal a distinct lack of understanding of political terminology,
although that is very common in post-McCarthy America.

Free software has more in common, although most free software geeks
don't realise it, with anarcho-syndicalists.  Anarcho-syndicalists
believe in absolute freedom with coorperation between individuals when
it helps all the individuals (ie a syndicate).  This means that
anarcho-syndicalists may even elect or inherit a leader, but anyone in
the syndicate is free to leave at any point they want -- kind of like
Linux kernel development with Linus controlling it.

It's curious how apolitical most free software geeks are, even though
using free software over non-free software is an intensely political
act.  Anarchists talk about freedom being the natural state of man,
which would ring true when you see free software geeks without a
conscious political bone in their bodies becoming intensely political
and unconsciously gravitating towards anarchical structures.

I'm sure in future years the free software movement will be studied by
political researchers everywhere.

Rev Simon Rumble        It seemed the world was divided into good
simon@rumble.net        and bad people.  The good ones slept better
http://www.rumble.net   ... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the
                        waking hours much more.
                        -- Woody Allen, "Side Effects"
Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2000 20:24:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Donald J. Barry" <don@astro.cornell.edu>
To: lwn@lwn.net
Cc: don@isc4.tn.cornell.edu
Subject: Editorial on the 3 August 2000 Linux Weekly News

Dear Jonathan and Elizabeth,

I must take issue with your claim that "Free software is a capitalist 
phenomenon: free agents are contributing ... because it is in their
own selfish interest to do so."

Not everyone in the free software game (and out of it) is a capitalist, 
you know, and not all of us despise either the term or the philosophy 
of communism.

I'm a dedicated marxist and I tend to go, when possible, by the philosophy
of the greatest good for the greatest number.  Remember us when you deliver 
your all-encompassing evasions from the accusations of the proprietary crazies.


Don Barry, Ph.D.
Cornell Astronomy


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