A lot has been written, spoken and debated about the current, um, “motives” that the death star in Redmond has aimed at the FOSS community, and a lot of speculation has arisen as to which distro could be the next Judas, selling out FOSS for well over 30 pieces of silver.
[Note: The religious reference above does not imply that I think the next FOSS domino to fall will be Christian Ubuntu. On the contrary -- if I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on Mandriva. No doubt that Darth Ballmer and the rest of the corporate leeches oozing their way out of that campus off the 405 east of Seattle would love to get a FOSS foothold in Europe, either real or imagined. So my guess is that the hook is baited and they're hoping to reel in Mandriva -- but don't do it, folks!]
What’s lacking from the discussion, however, at any significant length is “why?”
Speculation runs amok, ranging from a boundless greed and loathing in the corporate culture at Microsoft (from the top down) to scaring FOSS developers and users into submission by the threat of a legal sword of Damocles hanging collectively over their heads. But this is all theory and speculation — great fodder for discussion, but nothing concrete.
[Bear in mind, incidentally, that of this writing -- as if someone is holding his or her breath -- Microsoft has yet to release the 235 alleged patent violations. As I wrote in an earlier blog, Sen. Joe McCarthy did the same thing in the 1950s, with a list of Communists in the State Department, none of which was ever named. ]
So without any firm evidence — just a hunch based on what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness” — my guess is that Microsoft’s “because” in this whole FOSS harrassment “why” is based on a legal end run that they might try in the courts to reel in FOSS.
Noting the continuous failure of SCO’s case against IBM/Novell/Whomever (a case that was over long ago, but SCO hasn’t realized it yet), Microsoft’s legal tack could be away from suing other companies and convince a court that the distros they’ve lined up and paid for handsomely translate into an admission, in the court’s eyes, that GNU/Linux arguably does violate Microsoft’s alleged patents, and the more agreements with GNU/Linux entities they collect serves to bolster their case. As noted on one blog, a writer wrote, “See, your Honor? These Linux companies knew they were using our patents! Why, they even signed an agreement with us saying so!”
The statement above, of course, is nonsense. But the courts and legislatures are filled with nonsensical arguments and nonsensical bills that have found their way into rulings and into law. The clear and present danger here is that, the climate of the courts being what it is, there is a remote possibility that Microsoft’s strategy — if this is indeed what they’re trying to do — could have, what they call in legal circles, some merit.
Whew. For the what-to-do-on-your-day-off file, try choosing a distro to go on an indigo iMac, which is what occupied my Tuesday (between trying to figure out why my network fizzled between Macs — something on which I am still working).
Here are the players: indigo iMac, 128MB RAM, 7GB hard drive, and the 6.10 versions of Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Kubuntu; Gentoo 2006; Debian 3.1r5 (all 14 disks burned — sheesh); Slackintosh 11; OpenSUSE; Mandriva 2005 Limited Edition; and Fedora Core 4; some coffee; daughter Mirano’s observations (likes Mandriva’s Tux with the stars in his eyes) and the new cat perched in my lap after pulling him off the keyboard.
The winner and new GNU/Linux operating system on this machine: Xubuntu 6.10. More on that in a minute.
Debian disappoints: I don’t know why — and I’ll be the first to admit that it could be yours truly performing the ritual PEBKAC drill — but every time I try to install any version of Debian on any of my machines, it doesn’t work. I’m crushed because I first tried GNU/Linux using Debian installed on a friend’s machine and liked it. As a sentimental favorite, it’s one I’d really like to use. Yesterday, same thing: Downloads but can’t boot, and now I have 14 disks here . . . .
Slackintosh, Gentoo and Fedora all gave me the option of the command line from which to continue and my futile efforts to go past that point proved fruitless. Again, the problem very likely comes from operator error, but a little guidance would be nice.
OpenSUSE provided one of the world’s greatest mysteries. How can an installer just abruptly stop three or four times in exactly the same spot? Neat trick. Next . . . .
The *buntus, lucky for me, were fairly idiot friendly. But Ubuntu 6.10 had a screen issue (as in an unresolvable black screen problem) that I couldn’t get fixed. Kubuntu was adequate, but the more I use various distros, the more I find myself gravitating toward Gnome rather than KDE for the desktop. Don’t get me wrong: In many ways, KDE is tres cool, but I find some of the features a little bit much for my computing use. But as the auto ads say, your mileage may vary. Xubuntu 6.10 provides a fairly clean and light desktop and it doesn’t appear that the learning curve will be all that great (which is why I avoided Kubuntu).
So there you have it. As soon as I can get an Intel box (which is soon), I will probably try again, this time with additional distros that provide fully free software (free as in freedom, not price). These include gNewSense, BLAG, Ututo, and a fourth one that Richard Stallman mentioned in his speech in Berkeley that I can’t remember off the top of my head.