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The Unified Embedded Platform Specification. Embedded Linux has been much in the news, due to the semi-annual Embedded Systems Conference. One of the more interesting items has been the announcement from the Embedded Linux Consortium on the creation of the "Unified Embedded Platform Specification."
This specification seeks to create a set of standard interfaces for embedded Linux systems. It will be heavily based on existing standards, including POSIX, the Single Unix Specification, and the Linux Standard Base. The plan is to have the specification ready for public release in "a few months," with a test suite and certification program available within a year. The announcement talks of outsourcing the test suite development to either the Free Standards Group or The Open Group. Future additions will even include a graphical user interface specification.
The purpose, of course, is to better position embedded Linux to compete against the other contenders in the field: Windows CE, VxWorks, and even PalmOS. The embedded Linux industry senses victory: using Linux in embedded systems just makes too much sense to ignore. Source availability, good small-system performance, and no royalties make a compelling combination; even in the current economic climate, the embedded Linux firms are seeing a lot of interest. The Unified Embedded Linux Specification is intended to help ensure that Linux will dominate the embedded marketplace.
And there may be a real need for this specification. There are many contenders in this market (CoolLogic, Lineo, LynuxWorks, Montavista, Red Hat, REDSonic, TimeSys, Transmeta, Transvirtual, and many others), each of which is trying to distinguish its products from the others. In many cases, their strategies include the incorporation of proprietary software products. Embedded Linux products could easily diverge from each other to the point that they truly are different systems, and that is unlikely to be good for the market as a whole. If the specification is successful, this fragmentation may be avoided, and domination of the (embedded) world will be that much easier.
The end of free beer? Libranet Linux surprised a number of people a couple of weeks ago with its new download policy. Those wanting an ISO image of Libranet 1.8.2 can download it for free as always. If, however, you want version 1.9.0, you'll have to pay $15 first. Free downloads for this (Debian-based) distribution are now a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, there has been some grumbling about the fact that there is no installable SuSE 7.1 ISO image available. SuSE has chosen not to release the CD image, and the licensing of its YAST tool makes it difficult for others to do so. Note that the distribution is available on the net, and FTP installs are possible - but you can't make a CD.
What is going on here is reasonably obvious. Bandwidth can be expensive; as more people get broadband connections that make it possible to think about downloading CD images, the bandwidth required to provide those images skyrockets. Distributors also can't help but feel that CD image downloads will, to some extent, result in reduced sales. And distributors, in the end, need to make money, somehow.
Thus, we are starting to see some attempts at controlling ISO image downloads. An immediate question that comes to mind, of course, is whether users will accept having to pay for ISO image downloads. So we asked Libranet's Jon Danzig how things were going:
During the time we were on Slashdot we had the paying download going non stop. It's slowed down a bit now, but this is in my opinion caused by the lack of ongoing publicity rather than any negative reactions. People really like the idea that they can get the latest ISO [image] within a few hours rather than having to wait for the CD. The $15 price doesn't seem to cause anyone a problem.
In the short term, at least, it appears that payment for downloads might just fly.
Another question we have seen raised is whether this sort of charge is allowed by the GPL. That one is easy: the GPL does not require that anybody distribute software for free. There will be no licensing problem with a charge for downloading. If, however, a company attempts to restrict further redistribution of the downloaded software, that would be a different story.
If free downloads do get harder to come by, we will essentially be going back to the past. Five years ago, there was little interest in downloading an entire distribution - few people had that kind of patience. People who wanted Linux bought a CD, either from the distributor or from a retailer selling cheaper copies. It may turn out that the free download was a late 1990's anomaly, and not the way it works in the long run.
SourceXchange shuts down. In the battle for corporate funding of open source software, many models have been created. One of the first, and most obvious, was the matching of qualified developers with companies who had specific needs. At least two projects were started in 1999 to address this market: CoSource and SourceXchange. While the fate of CoSource is currently unknown, SourceXchange, which was originally started as a joint project between technical book publisher O'Reilly and Hewlett-Packard, has finally decided to call it a day.
In a story first seen on C|Net's News.com, Collab.net's CTO and Co-Founder Brian Behlendorf talked about the demise of SourceXchange. "While a unique idea, and one that we feel really adhered more closely to the open-source ideal than any other work-for-hire site ever did, it simply did not achieve the volume of business necessary to maintain the site and evolve the offering to meet the needs of sponsors and developers".
Behlendorf, whose Collab.net company was the parent of SourceXchange, noted in an email message that the site had been quiet for some time. "After an initial spurt of interest, and a couple of successfully completed projects, we found that the overhead of being the broker and having to manually assist developers and sponsors had a higher cost than what we were getting in return."
Behlendorf also said that he felt most companies were becoming comfortable using in-house developers for open source projects and that the market for outsourcing development just never materialized. "I thought by and large the sponsors and developers had an honest interest in seeing this model work, as did we," said the project's CTO, "and I was happy with the code that was produced through the service. We just didn't get critical mass, even to support a small business such as ours."
While SourceXchange is set to wrap things up, it's main competitor seems to be in a bit of limbo. CoSource, formed by a company called Veriteam, which later became VistaSource when bought by Applix who in turn recently sold it to Parallax, has posted no news on their Web site since October 2000 even though project requests and status updates are still being posted through the first week of April 2001. Unfortunately, the fate of this venture has not been mentioned in corporate responses to the demise of Applix's desktop products after the sale of VistaSource to Parallax.
The folks at CollabNet are not closing their doors completely, however, and will now be working full-time on their collaborative development platform known as SourceCast. Behlendorf also stated that the code for managing development projects under SourceXchange will be made available to interested parties, though as this time Collab.net doesn't currently have it packaged in a distributable format. Interested parties should contact Brian Behlendorf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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April 12, 2001