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Leading items and editorials

The Digital Speech Project got a boost this week when the Free Software Foundation announced its support[Digital Speech] for the effort. The purpose of the project is to attempt to bring some sanity to U.S. intellectual property laws; in particular, the project has targeted the DMCA and the (proposed) SSSCA. The FSF has joined in by hiring organizer Jonathan Watterson to work on digital speech issues.

The FSF is right to be concerned about the DMCA and SSSCA, of course. Consider this description of the SSSCA from a recent Wired article:

A version of the SSSCA obtained by Wired News prohibits creating, selling or distributing 'any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies.' The SSSCA also creates new federal felonies, punishable by five years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.

Any system built on free software will certainly qualify as an "interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies." It is going to be an interesting time if free software is made illegal. Any attempt to ban free software will be futile, of course, but that wouldn't stop the ruining of numerous lives in the process. It is better to avoid that situation altogether - and that requires action now.

(One bit of useful action for U.S. folk might be to respond to a call for views on "the application of copyright law to the digital environment" from a House subcommittee. The House is the most likely place to stop the SSSCA, so they should know what we think.)

Red Hat's year-end results. Red Hat has announced its financial results for the end of its fiscal year. Since Red Hat is one of the most prominent free software businesses, and since it has been making claims of profitability, its results are worth a close look. The details have to wait for the company's SEC filing, of course; for now, we have to content ourselves with the press release.

The company claims an "adjusted net income" of $1 million for the quarter, on revenue of $18.6 million.. "This represents the fourth consecutive quarter in which the company has delivered profitable or breakeven results." Once you un-adjust the figures, of course, the picture is a little different. When the accounts are run in accordance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles), that $1 million profit turns into a $28.9 million loss.

One can argue that much of that loss is an accounting artifact, since is made up of "goodwill" writeoffs and such. A bit over $2 million of that loss, however, is in the form of cash severance payments to the company's laid-off network consulting group. So, while Red Hat is hardly failing, its claims of sustained profitability only work with sustained funky accounting. They may yet get there for real, however.

This time around, Red Hat has decided that its mission is "delivering open source solutions to the Global 2000." So the press release hypes the company's new big-name customers (AOL, UBS, Morgan Stanley, Amazon, Cisco, Nortel, Dell, GE Medical, Dreamworks, Oracle, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and BP), and deemphasizes other areas of business.

It is, perhaps, most interesting to look at the performance one of those deemphasized business areas: embedded systems. With its acquisition of Cygnus, Red Hat should be positioned to do well in the embedded arena. So it is discouraging to examine the trend of Red Hat's embedded services revenues (in millions):

ServiceFeb 2001Nov 2001Feb 2002

In other words, Red Hat's total embedded revenue has dropped from $7 million to $2.4 million over the course of a year. That hurts.

It has been a hard time to run a business, and one could blame a reduction in revenues on the difficult economy. But Red Hat was able to increase its "enterprise" revenues slightly during the last quarter. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Red Hat's embedded business is slipping away. If this decay continues, a point could come where Red Hat's contribution to important related free software (i.e. gcc) is sharply reduced. Some people have been known to worry about Red Hat's dominant position with regard to gcc, but few would like to see it cut back in this way.

Followup: Hurd and proprietary software. Last week we speculated on whether Richard Stallman's comments on the upcoming Hurd release suggested that Hurd-based systems would not be allowed to run proprietary software. It turns out we speculated wrong. There will be no attempt to keep proprietary software off the Hurd kernel. We regret any confusion that our speculations may have caused.

That still leaves open, however, the question of what the comments did mean. There is, after all, no difficulty in building 100% free systems based on the Linux kernel, and a number of distributors do so. What will be different about a Hurd-based system? According to Mr. Stallman:

Many versions of the GNU system are available (typically they are GNU/Linux systems, using Linux as the kernel), but none of them follows our criteria for free software. Debian comes closest, but their criteria are different and they also distribute software they do not consider free.

We are working at clarifying things further, in an attempt to discover (and fairly represent) what the Free Software Foundation's objections are with regard to the existing, fully free distributions. Stay tuned...

Donations. The response to last week's request for donations for LWN met with a tremendous response; over $5,000 has been donated by our readers. This amount of money, of course, is not enough to keep an operation going for very long, but it could well prove to be the crucial bridge that keeps the lights on while we work on longer-term solutions. It is extremely gratifying that our readers are willing to help support us in that way. We can't thank you enough.

Our new LWN Supporters Page lists the LWN contributors who were willing to be thanked in public.

We have received a few complaints about the use of Paypal. We understand that not everybody likes or wants to work with Paypal, and we are working on alternatives. Paypal has the advantage of being quick and easy to set up, which is why we went to it first. Things like credit card processing will take longer.

Of course, it's still not too late to donate if you haven't done so already...

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: Too much Trust?; Flaws won't undermine Linux; reports & updates
  • Kernel: The fastest kernel compile; splitting the VM patches; exit functions.
  • Distributions: RTFM!; No source for Sorcerer; Netule, Network Module.
  • Development: Knoda database frontend, frequency domain audio tools, iptables-1.2.6, BioPerl 1.0, Bricolage 1.2.2, AxKit 1.5.1, Xfsamba 0.44, Python 2.2.1c1.
  • Commerce: Free Software Foundation Announces Support of the Affero General Public License; Announcement of the EGOVOS SELinux Distribution.
  • Letters: Thinking with your gonads; Hurd.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

March 21, 2002


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