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Flipping a coin

July 31, 2007 Leave a comment

Although they are rare, there are days when two significantly major stories vie for my attention and I have to try to determine which to talk about. In this case, both demand immediate attention, at which time the question becomes, “Which do I talk about first?”

So I have this quarter, I flip it, and it comes up . . .

Crackers do a number on California’s e-voting machine: Here’s the story from TGDaily.com: In summary, a study commissioned by the California Secretary of State has found that several electronic voting machines have serious security vulnerabilities.

The study pitted two cracker teams, better known as “red teams” against voting machines manufactured by Diebold, Hart and Sequoia. The hackers found several security problems and were able to change firmware, access the election database and even open up the machines without detection.

The teams were from UC Davis (Go Aggies!) and UC Santa Barbara (Go Gauchos!). “The red teams demonstrated that the security mechanisms provided for all systems analyzed were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the election results,” said Robert Abbott, one of the red team leaders.

And why? Here’s one reason: Abbott’s team was able to access election data directly by exploiting vulnerabilities in the Diebold machine’s Windows operating system – an operating system that all three e-voting machines use. They were also able to bypass locks and other physical security with “ordinary objects”.

Matt Bishop of UC Davis complains that his teams didn’t have enough time to fully document all the security vulnerabilities because they study started in mid-June and ended July 20. Bowen had said that the deadline could not be extended because the counties need at least six months to examine the findings. Bishop added that Abbott’s team was close to finding several other problems, but simply ran out of time.

So . . . this speaks volumes about the elections of 2000 and 2004, if anyone is willing to listen. And nothing is really riding on the proper functioning of the voting technology except for democratic principles that are the cornerstone of the republic, if not the fate of the republic itself.

And what came up “tails,” you ask?

The Disconnect That Could Fail Thousands: I’ve never met helios, a long time GNU/Linux advocate named Ken (and unlike Sting or Cher, he has a last name, but I don’t know what it is) whose Blog of Helios is one of the most — if not the most — prolific and informative blog on all matters Penguin. In this recent blog item, helios confronts GNU/Linux’s sacred-cow-du-jour — Ubuntu — and asks why they can’t fix a disk mounting problem that appears (at least to yours truly, a newbie with portfolio) to be easily repaired. Instead of getting a “Hmmm, maybe you’re right . . . ” apparently some in the *buntu Nation have set their sights on him and are branding him an “enemy of the people.” Wrong, folks — helios should be commended for having the cojones to say, “Um, sorry, but it appears to me that the emperor’s wearing no clothes,” and it’s the duty of those who support the emperor to clothe him, rather than just “see” the finery the other yes-men and yes-women see.

This problem that helios brings up with Kubuntu doesn’t seem to be a glaring one. But in comparison, helios outlines a request to fix something he made to Clement Lefevbre of Linux Mint that was fixed relatively quickly. With Ubuntu’s resources — vast by most distros’ standards — why can’t this be addressed and fixed (especially when Ubuntu is now the “face” of GNU/Linux that most of the people see when trying it for the first time)?

Go helios and, as he likes to say, All-righty Then.

[FSF Associate Member]

(Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eliminate DRM!

But wait, there’s more . . .

July 29, 2007 1 comment

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

After writing my last entry, I went to bed thinking that I had forgotten to mention someone. And as I have been reminded in many of the posts in the last entry, I did — possibly the biggest FUD-meister of them all.

Rob Enderle.

So here’s his nomination:

Rob Enderle: As one of the Four Horsemen of the FUD-pocalypse, Rob Enderle seems to have never missed an opportunity to malign GNU/Linux in the years that he’s been a self-proclaimed “one of the most recognized commentators on tech” heading The Enderle Group (which I am told, but can’t confirm, may only consists of Mr. and Mrs. Enderle). As of late, his efforts to provide “a unique perspective on personal technology products and trends” (the Enderle Group’s raison d’etre, although it’s a mystery why “. . . while spoon-feeding the public Microsoft’s propaganda because we’re Redmond’s lap dog” is not part of that, truth-in-advertising laws being what they are . . . ) have given us such gems as “Open Source if Losing its Momentum” (after talking with non-FOSS software executives, and you would expect them to say, “Oh absolutely — FOSS is completely kicking our ass,” right Rob?), and (paraphrasing) “monopolies make the best business sense” — yeah, for fascist dictatorships, Rob. And never mind that Rob thinks you’re a communist and a terrorist for being a GNU/Linux user.

[In fairness, there is one other nomination that was received in an LXer.com forum thanks to a poster named dinotrac, and that would be . . . .]

Larry Cafiero: This print journalist whose career spans three decades over two continents saw the FOSS light last year, and has taken up evangelizing for software choice and against software and hardware hegemony, whether it’s Redmond’s or Cupertino’s. He plans to publish Open Source and Free Software Reporter, a bimonthly print magazine, in January while currently maintaining Open Source Reporter and this blog. While characteristically avoiding the chore of rearranging his living room so three iMacs (with different distros) aren’t taking up space on a coffee table, he came up with The Elmers — an award for those spreading disinformation and misinformation about FOSS. However, this newby GNU/Linux evangelist had the unmitigated audacity, in the eyes of one LXer.com forum denizen, to “imply” that .Net won’t run on GNU/Linux. In his defense, he would like to take that back, but ask “why anyone would . . .?,” hoping that answer is forthcoming.

[However, how ethical would it be to win an award that I proposed? Not very, so I cannot accept dinotrac’s nomination, but not without thanks and a tip of the hat to the one making this nomination.]

Further nominations will still be accepted . . .

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eliminate DRM!

The envelope, please . . .

July 24, 2007 16 comments

The overtime that some computer publications and industry pundits have been clocking to propagate FUD around GNU/Linux has grown geometrically over the last several weeks.

While this disinformation deserves our eternal vigilance, our constant attention and our continuing “correction,” its purveyors also deserve recognition — outing, if you will — with a dubious award of their own.

With this in mind, below are the initial nominees for The Elmers, named after the patriarch of the FUD family. [Yes, I know Warner Bros. spelled it with two d’s, but for the sake of argument . . . ]

The nominees for the 2007 Elmers are:

Steve Ballmer: As the Joe McCarthy of our time, Darth Ballmer tries to force everyone to think and act alike in the digital realm, in the image and likeness of the Microsoft way. Arguably, calling Ballmer a digital Taliban is not too far afield. CNN.com nailed it when it posted an article that said that the current battle between the forces of FOSS good and dark side of monopoly evil “pits Microsoft and its dogged CEO, Steve Ballmer, against the ‘free world’ – people who believe software is pure knowledge.” [And for some shameless self promotion, we have some shirts that are guaranteed to be the toast of LinuxWorld next month: “Sue me first, Steve” T-shirts.]

Brad Smith: If Steve Ballmer plays the architect of digital McCarthyism, then Brad Smith is his Roy Cohn. Just as McCarthy and Cohn supposedly had a list of 205 names of State Department employees “that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party” — a list that never materialized — Ballmer and Smith say that the GNU/Linux operating system violates 235 Microsoft patents — patents that are never named. Am I the only one that sees a pattern here?

Kevin Carmony: The Lindows — sorry, Linspire — CEO has been giving the GNU/Linux blogging world a lot of fodder with his revisionist zeitgeist: Sell out your distro for 30 pieces of silver just to get four items — True Type Fonts, Windows Media Player, DVD Playback and patent (ahem) “coverage” — and then have the audacity to think that people would actually believe you when you say that Microsoft’s assistance could make a better distro. Right, Kevin, and look at that flock of pigs settling on those branches. If Orwell were alive today writing “2084,” he might include “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Microsoft improves GNU/Linux.”

Alexander Wolfe: Poor Alexander Wolfe — a “Chips, Vista and Advanced Techology” blogger (whatever that means) for Information Week. Wolfe bemoans the fact that he, and everyone else, are enslaved by the freedom to choose what to run on your computer, from more than 300 active distros in the GNU/Linux galaxy. This guy probably avoids Baskin-Robbins because — jeez! — 31 whole flavors of ice cream to choose from? Way too many. And then he drags out the tired “distro-as-religion” argument that went out with Y2K. [Wolfe thinks having over 300 distros from which to pick and choose is a “forking mess,” but maybe Wolfe is just a “forking wanker.”]

Savio Rodrigues: Info World’s Savio Rodrigues throws up (and I do mean “throw up”) the “what if” of Microsoft buying Red Hat. “Just imagine a Microsoft that could offer customers a choice of Windows/.NET, Linux/JEE or, and here’s the magic, BOTH, The fact is most customers have heterogeneous environments, and those that don’t today, will likely in the future.” Now, let’s break that down for a second: Why would Red Hat want to lower itself to join Microsoft when it is already a player in the corporate IT world? How about a Red Hat that offers Windows/.NET instead of the other way around (although “why would they want to?” is a bigger question)? How stoned is Savio, and who’s his dealer? As a caveat, he says in a postscript: “PS: I truly doubt this deal will ever happen, but it’s interesting to think about the possibilities.” Yeah, and it’s interesting to think about the possibilities of my winning the Olympic gold medal in the 100 right before bearing triplets at the finish line; a possibility that’s still not quite as ridiculous as the one Rodrigues raises.

No doubt there are others out there who deserve a nomination. Feel free to add to the list.

[Additional nominations can be found here.]

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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A lesson in dealing with the devil

July 24, 2007 Leave a comment

Lindows — I’m sorry, it’s Linspire — sold its soul recently to have Microsoft help them “build a better Linux” (waiting for laughter to die down). Here’s a list of what they got:

True Type fonts.

Windows Media 10 Player.

DVD Playback.

Patent (ahem) “coverage,” which many people might consider extorted “protection” money, but I digress.

That’s it.

This deal is worse than the Novell deal, says Pamela Jones at Groklaw, and outlines Linspire’s soul-selling-for-mere-pittance, line by line (almost), here. Being the journalist and legal eagle that she is (although she warns that you should consult a real attorney if the agreement affects you in real time), Jones goes to great lengths to show what a dog this deal is and displays, just as she has been tireless in the SCO case, just why it sucks to be Linspire these days.

At the end of her lengthy tome, she makes the following poignant observation which, going forward, should be at the forefront of the GNU/Linux discussion: “For myself, I think it’s time to think really seriously about who should be allowed to use the name Linux, before the trademark loses all its traditional meaning.”

Indeed.

Also, I can’t help wondering how long it will take the people at Linspire to grab pitchforks and torches and race through the streets of Lindowsland looking for Kevin Carmony in order to give him a good tar-and-feathering.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots

July 22, 2007 Leave a comment

[With apologies to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler, who often starts his sports columns this way]

Someone who gets it: As those of you readers outside my immediate family who read my last posting, I roasted Information Week’s Alexander Wolfe for bemoaning the tragic (in his eyes) plethora of distro choices in the GNU/Linux universe. Along comes Linux Today Managing Editor Brian Proffitt with a column that spells out Wolfe’s folly in detail. So now I’m in the enviable position of toasting Brian for the column — salud! — and thanks.

Europe gets it, too: Business Week reports that a high court adviser in the EU has decided that ISPs are not required to reveal information to authorities when users are suspected of music piracy. Hopefully, this will spell doom — in large, italicized capital letters — for the efforts by IFPI, the global RIAA, to litigate against European P2P users. Now if we can only get justices that enlightened on this side of the Atlantic . . . . Get the details here.

Nice doggie: Despite the brouhaha a couple of weeks ago in Distrowatch over Puppy, it bears mentioning that Puppy Linux has released version 2.17, and this latest one comes with CUPS, according to Puppy top dog Barry Kauler. This version will run on older machines — that’s a good thing for those of us who are not on the cutting edge of the latest technology (choosing to spend our money on things like rent, feeding the family other of life’s so-called priorities) — and it immediately goes on my list of distros to try. “More on the story,” as we say at Open Source and Free Software Reporter, from Linux.com here.

[I have just the machine for it: An old Dell Optiplex GXa desktop that the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my employer, gave to me rather than dumping it. Currently it’s running Mepis AntiX, after a short stint with Linux Mint 3.0 Xfce — both GREAT — but I think I’ll throw this Puppy a stick. More on this in a later blog posting.]

Rearranging the deck chairs: My absence from this blog for a few days (tops) comes courtesy of rearranging my living room to accommodate much of the hardware that I’ve accumulated/garnered/been entrusted with, etc. I have the solution of putting three machines each in two corners of the living room and must now do the remodeling. All of which is to say that visitors will no longer have two iMacs and a monitor staring them in the face when they sit down on the couch.

Last, and certainly not least . . . the Italian Open Source Web site One Open Source runs a very interesting Q-and-A interview with Linus Torvalds in which Linus — who’s supposed to be rabidly anti-GPLv3 (to hear some tell it) — just says that GPLv2 is better when asked about the new license. It’s a good read, and I would suggest leaving here and going to the interview here.

[FSF Associate Member]

(Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right . . . (stuck in the middle with GNU)

July 21, 2007 Leave a comment

The groundswell of FUD lately arguably can be a cause for concern in GNU/Linux circles. Interestingly, one of the tell-tale signs whether that Web-based story you’re reading has all the hallmarks of propaganda, at the least, and more than likely is outright FUD, at the worst, is whether the site is sponsored by your friendly neighborhood Redmond death star.

So while clowns like Kevin Carmony keeps blogging about how he’s “improving” Linux with the help of Microsoft (waiting for the laughter to die down), more FUD makes its way to the ethereal Internet thanks to a new joker by the name of Alexander Wolfe.

Wolfe, whose “Wolfe’s Den” appears as the “Chips, Vista and Advanced Technology” blog on the Information Week Web site (did you notice the word Vista in there?), wrote in the latest installment on his blog that — horrors! — there are too many Linux distros to choose from.

He makes the self-serving pithy observation that, since there are so many distros, that “Linux is a forking mess.” As if we should only have one or two choices in computing, rather than the 300 choices of GNU/Linux distros (and those are the active ones) offer.

That’s because freedom — whether in computing or in the rest of everyday life — is about choice, and it’s unfortunate that Wolfe doesn’t get it. But then, most corporate lackeys beholden to the party line of their corporate masters don’t; or if they do, they wallow in hypocrisy while ignoring the truth.

Wolfe also operates under the false assumption that all GNU/Linux distros are all competing against one another for the attention of the average user. Wrong again, Alex: Needless to say the distros that are business oriented — your Red Hats and Novells — are going head to head to slice up the corporate IT pie. But distros like Puppy and Slackintosh competing for IT departments’ attention? Sorry, chump, even the greenest of GNU/Linux newbies realizes that this isn’t true. Pity you don’t — or refuse to — get it, Alex.

Also, the argument of distro-as-religion (Wolfe quotes an outdated story on Distrowatch.com) gets beaten to a pulp. That may have been the case at one time, but Alex seems to have missed the trend toward “distro polygamy” that permeates the current GNU/Linux zeitgeist. To wit: This blog is being written on a iMac running Xubuntu 7.04; next to it is a PowerMac G3 running Yellow Dog 3.0; across the room are two Dell Optiplex GXa machines — one running Linux Mint 3.0 Xfce and the other awaiting its install of Mepis AntiX (thank you, anticapitalista). So some may be beholden to one distro; many of us aren’t.

When you read something about how too many distros is a bad thing, especially when it’s written by a Vista columnist, you can be sure that propaganda is at the forefront. Please read it accordingly.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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A world apart

July 14, 2007 5 comments

In Mac circles — or more specifically, in those Mac circles where GNU/Linux is spoken — there are references to the types of machines with PowerPC processors being “Old World” and “New World.”

Generally, “Old World” revolves around those PowerPC Macs which come in two colors: beige and black (with the exception of the PowerBook G3 Lombard with the Bronze keyboard and the FireWire connections — I think this one belongs in the next category). Thank heavens for BootX and quik, which allow those of us (and yes, I still own Old World hardware) to boot GNU/Linux.

The “New World” Mac — whether it’s just a voyage over the PowerPC line of demarcation or whether it’s a brave, new one — “comes in colors everywhere,” as the iMac ad with the Rolling Stones song attested to so many years ago. From the iMac on, these color-laden machines have the distinct GNU/Linux advantage of working with most distros through the miracle of yaboot.

It begs the question: If the original PowerPC machines up to the iMac are “Old World,” and those that have come after are “New World,” what do we call the Macs that now come with Intel processors?

I think I have the answer.

Call them “Other World” Macs, of course.

The term “Other World” Macs covers a lot of bases. To those of us who remember the dopey clean-room technician disco dancing promo from Intel — and Apple’s ad setting them aflame — it harkens back to a bittersweet time when Apple aficionados were both circling the wagons while thumping their chests to take on all comers (God, how I miss the Power Computing reps clad in khakis at ’90s-era Macworlds, or being a proud MacMarine back during that time . . . but I digress. But those of us who go back that far understand that today’s Intel Macs are Porsches with Chevy engines).

To those who caught the wave after Apple rebounded at the end of the ’90s and through the first half of this decade, you’ll notice that the new Apple zeitgeist — both the trend away from computers to “appliances” as well as the trend toward being “all encompassing” — consists of making your hardware seem obsolete so you, well, buy another Mac, regardless of whether the technology on your desk (or on your lap) really is obsolete. To wit: There will come a day — soon, I understand (and as soon as 10.5, I’m told, but I can’t confirm that) — when the latest version of OS X will not work on your PowerPC-based Macs. So then what do you do with your perfectly good hardware running an OS that Apple implies is outdated?

So that MacBook and that MacPro share a name with what you’re using, if you’re using a PowerPC Mac, but with the exception of high quality hardware, little else is the same between the Intel Macintoshes and the ones that come before it.

And when you can’t use the latest 10-point-whatever on your machine, the solution is to switch to GNU/Linux.

[Note: I’ve ranted enough in the past about the technical superiority of Mac hardware, and I’ll gladly spare you the stump speech. But Mac hardware does last forever and those distros which turn their backs on the PowerPC platform — hello, Ubuntu? — are making a big mistake because these machines are going to be around for a long, long time.]

The new Macs are, well, different than those released earlier in this decade — better, arguably, but different nonetheless, and hence they deserve another informal designation. Unless someone comes up with something more official, I’d stick with “Other World” for its other-worldly nature.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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