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This week's LWN is a little earlier and lighter than usual due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. We'll be back at the regular time next week.
On legal DVD players for Linux. This week CNN ran an article (from IDG) entitled "Legal Linux DVD player on the horizon". We got some grief from our readers for passing through that headline unchallenged. At the time we were just pointing out the article for those who might like to see it. But, in fact, it contains a number of interesting assumptions that should be looked at.
The first, of course, is that of "legality." The LinDVD player from Intervideo mentioned in the article is certainly a legal good; it also happens to be licensed to decrypt DVDs. The problematic claim is that it is the first legal DVD player for Linux. The illegality of DeCSS (and players built using it) has not really been established even in the U.S., much less in the rest of the world. Assuming that the courts will eventually see reason, calling DeCSS illegal is, at best, a misunderstanding of the situation.
The article also suggests that, had LinDVD been available earlier, DeCSS might never have been developed. That could only be true if LinDVD were released as free software, which is certainly not the case. It is not sufficient to have a proprietary DVD player available; such a player lacks the freedom component. Why should Linux users accept a player that, in all likelihood, enforces the region code system, does not allow excerpting of films onto disk, and so on? Free software is about freedom from restrictions on what we can do with our own computers.
It is also hard to imagine a Linux DVD player that would not get reverse engineered in detail in a very short period of time. A little time spent with gdb would extract most of the secrets there were to find. The availability of a proprietary Linux DVD player may have, indeed, hastened the development of DeCSS, rather than hindered it.
The lesson from all this is that the free software community still has some educating to do. As long as the trade press can put out articles like this one without a second thought, we have not gotten our point across widely enough. Of course, examining one last statement from the article shows that things are even worse than that:
Though Intervideo is "trying to be the good guys" when it comes to copyright protection, [Intervideo VP Joe Monastiero] said that DeCSS was probably an inevitable development because of the "Unabomber types" who exist at the fringe of the computer world.
Mr. Monastiero, who would like to sell proprietary software to the Linux community, has chosen to do so by comparing Linux hackers to a technophobic nutcase who pursued his agenda by mailing letter bombs to college professors. That is, one might say, a little discourteous. But the fact that he could get a quote like that printed unchallenged in a major news outlet shows that much of the world still has not figured out what free software means. But there will come a time when the true fringe will belong to proprietary software vendors who express public contempt for their users.
LWN Comdex coverage. LWN folks Forrest Cook and Rebecca Sobol attended the Linux Business Expo and have written up their experience in detail. Check out the report for an interview with Caldera Systems CEO Ransom Love, a meeting with the iRobot, a look at the Linux-powered plotter made out of Lego blocks, and more.
Corel may be leaving the Linux business. Much press has resulted from Corel CEO Derek Burney's offhand comment that Corel may sell its Linux operation to some other company. In fact, very little is known about what Corel might really do, and a number of other alternatives are apparently under consideration. We will have to wait to see what Corel ends up really doing.
Nonetheless, it's interesting to look at this situation. Corel's move into Linux was widely considered to be a good thing for the company and for Linux both. Corel would get to ride the growing Linux wave and would have a new weapon in its continual fight with Microsoft. The Linux world would get a well-known corporate name, development support, and a distribution that would put Linux on the corporate desktop.
So what went wrong? Corel, certainly, was over-optimistic in its projections of how quickly users would adopt desktop Linux. What Corel was offering was not what many customers wanted. Yet another easy installer is a nice thing, but there are plenty of those. Selling desktop systems required providing a set of solid, well-integrated applications. Corel had hoped to fill that role with its proprietary programs, but they increasingly look like too little, too late.
Corel also set its hopes on software sales, which is an increasingly hard revenue model in the Linux world. Almost every other company operating in the Linux arena is looking for revenue sources that do not involve straight sales of software. Corel may be the real proof that the era of software as a product is coming to an end.
Linux will find its way onto the mainstream desktop, and sooner than a lot of people expect. But it is looking like Corel will not be the agent that brings it there.
Celeste Amanda Torvalds was born Monday evening - congratulations to Linus and Tove!
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November 23, 2000