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Linuxy Declarations of Independence

Well, the Fourth of July is just a few days away, and all good citizens of the nation we call America must naturally be thinking of the birth of this great land. Not content to be just great, our founding fathers wanted independence as well, and that value is still held dear today.

Indeed, one might argue that there are few areas of society today in which that’s more true than the open source community. After all, what is Linux if not a technology that enables independence — from Microsoft or any other proprietary technological world?

Little wonder, then, that the Linux blogs seemed to be dominated last week by ruminations over the freedoms Linux brings — and the cases where proprietary domination still reigns.

Call for Open Drivers

On One Click Linux, for example, blogger Mark Szorady noted Microsoft’s recent decision to extend Windows XP support — a testament, no doubt, to its Vista woes — along with the plethora of software fixes for Windows out there on the Internet.

“If you want to get rid of these kinds of problems, the solution is quite simple,” Szorady wrote. “Get Linux.”

On Slashdot and LXer, meanwhile, lengthy conversations were being had about the statement released by the Linux kernel development community last week urging hardware vendors to release open source drivers.

Closed source drivers “negate the openness, stability, flexibility and maintainability of the Linux development model and shut their users off from the expertise of the Linux community,” the 100-plus developers wrote. “Vendors that provide closed source kernel modules force their customers to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors.”

‘It’s About Time!’

That statement was followed by one from the Linux Foundation itself, and generated plenty of debate in the blogosphere.

“It’s about time!” wrote swears on LXer. “If I understand this correctly, my printer and scanner will work like the factory intended and I can actually use Linux without having to put up with the inferior third-party drivers like Cups & Sane.

“Not that I’m not grateful; it’s like bumping around in the dark and somebody hands you a flashlight,” swears added. “This would be like turning on the light switch and being able to actually use Gimp!”

On the other hand: “Does begging really work?” asked at_slashdot. “I mean asking people doesn’t usually solve anything, you need to either show them a carrot and/or a stick… not sure if Linux has enough of either (yet).”

Gaming Copy Protection

Back on Slashdot, there was also a heated discussion of a report in Phoronix about Internet-based copy protection reportedly being planned for use in Linux Game Publishing’s upcoming commercial game port.

“Once again, companies fail to see the forest for the trees,” wrote Sancho. “Cracked versions of their games *will* get on the market. Once they do, not only are people downloading and installing them despite the intrusive copy protection, they’re also driving otherwise legitimate customers to do the same.”

Then there was the discussion of how to enforce the GPL, generating nearly 500 comments on Slashdot by Friday.

GPL Violations

“Sometimes companies with hotshot lawyers deliberately put their head in the sand regarding the GPL,” charged Anonymous Coward. “They want to use the code but don’t want to make their changes public for ‘intellectual property’ reasons, even if it’s something as trivial as a few patches to fix some bugs in Linux or some existing drivers.

“They will ‘educate’ staff as to why they can do what they do with GPL software ‘legally’,” Anonymous Coward went on. “The hotshot lawyer has it all figured out, and engineers don’t really need to know the details. The excuse is that they ‘buy their Linux’ from a 3rd party so that means that all the conditions of the GPL are not relevant for some lawyerish reason. Oh, and the GPL is ‘contentious’ about what you actually have to do regarding distributing source.”

Bottom line: It’s all about freedom and independence, folks, and those are issues close to Linux geeks’ hearts.

‘A Pipe Dream’

“For the foreseeable future, independence from Microsoft is a pipe dream,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “It’s too entrenched in our PC culture, but cracks are forming.”

Google’s online office applications, for example, threaten Microsoft’s hold on the office suite, yagu noted, while “Linux threatens Microsoft’s lock on the OS.”

Microsoft has “made too many missteps, created too many enemies and burned all and any goodwill they may have ever had to help them in their new crisis of lordship,” yagu added.

Hope on the Horizon

Indeed, the recent release of Wine 1.0 “reminded me how close the world is to being free of the *need* to run a Microsoft operating system just to maintain stasis,” Slashdot editor Timothy Lord told LinuxInsider. “People who have a handful of niggling gotta-use-Windows applications they’re dependent on for doing their business (or simply accustomed to as users) are going to be ever less tied to the OS, and freer therefore to choose their OS based on criteria beyond resignation.”

Related to this, the global standards clash between OOXML and ODF “makes it clear that one thing we could declare independence of, right now, is proprietary and obfuscated Microsoft-centric word-processing document standards,” Lord added. “It’s insane to accept that the default packaging for written documents should be one dominated by a single company and foisted on the world.”

Longing for Freedom

On drivers, “while it may be hard to justify spending time and money to provide drivers to the open source community, not providing drivers probably does more damage to a company’s reputation than it’s worth,” yagu asserted.

“I would very much love to be free of binary-only drivers,” Gerhard Mack, Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider.

“Not long ago, I had a system with a motherboard that only worked with the latest drivers and a video card whose binary only drivers only worked with an older kernel,” Mack explained. “I can’t imagine why hardware makers think this situation is more valuable to them than simply releasing the specs so that better drivers that integrate with the rest of the system can be written.”

Copyrights and Wrongs

Looking at the bigger picture, proprietary software is not evil, but coercive monopolies are, Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider. “Copyright, no matter what side of the license fence you’re on, is coercive monopoly enforcement.

“The GPL, like the Microsoft EULA, makes the assumption ‘I own this thing and since I own it, I can dictate how it is used,'” Dean explained. “As a user who understands I have choices, both the GPL and the EULA are both equally flawed. This isn’t to say that some ‘other’ license is better — all licenses are predicated upon copyright.”

Consumers make it clear they *want* restrictive products when they buy them, Dean added. With copy protection or any other restriction, the operating rule has to be “don’t like it, don’t buy it,” he said.

“I’ve long since come to the general rule that if a product comes with copy-protection, I don’t buy it, I don’t use it,” yagu agreed. “Copy protection tells the consumer, ‘I don’t trust you, and I assume you’ll rip me off.'”

One Last Idea …

Finally, one technological restriction that people seldom really think about is the monitor, Dean noted. “I’d love to break away from that.”

With embedded devices like iPods becoming essentially ubiquitous, Tivo in nearly every home and DVD players with near 100 percent saturation, “it’s not hard to see that that specialized devices are making more and more noise,” Dean explained. “The problem with the portable device paradigm, though, is the notion that the device must also be the viewer. While video on iPods can certainly kill some time, it’s not going to replace your TV anytime soon because it’s too darn small.”

With computers, meanwhile, “how we handle visual data has remained unchanged for the entire modern computing era,” he added. “Despite the fact that simple things like the mouse are both ‘new’ and have received multiple updates, we’re still staring at a glowing flat screen.”

What say you, readers? Sounds like it’s time to declare independence on another front … Happy Fourth!

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