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Editor's note: Invisible Locked-Up Linux and Crippled Linux

Oct 03, 2009, 00:03 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Last year Ken Starks asked a penetrating and simple question at the Second Annual Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit. It was a panel discussion with an open mike for audience questions, so Ken took the opportunity to ask this panel of industry heavyweights and supposed Linux supporters:
"My customers can turn on their cable television and in 30 minutes watch five Microsoft Windows commercials. When are IBM and HP going to put the same things on? When are my customers going to be able to see about Linux? Television and radio legitimize the product."

The answers: First, a feeble dodge about how users of Motorola set-top boxes were already using Linux. But as Ken pointed out, the Linux part was not visible and users of these boxes have no idea what's inside. Then two more panel members chimed in:

"Your question really ought to be aimed at the folks who make money specifically because it's Linux...."

"You won't see IBM advertising any operating system on television...you may see us offer solutions, services, and products...Linux is a component to build other things."

Since then the advancement of Invisible Locked-Up Linux has accelerated. All kinds of phones and mobile devices, consumer electronics, and networking gear are using "Linux Inside". But they're keeping it a big secret, or they try to exploit "Linux" for marketing purposes on non-hackable devices. They're targeting Windows users and not supporting Linux clients. They might as well be closed and proprietary.

The Palm Pre is a great example of a vendor that enjoys the benefits of Linux and FOSS, but doesn't quite grasp the spirit. Joey Hess discovered that the Pre's Linux-based WebOS is a sneaky little tattletale that sends a torrent of personal data-- your location via GPS, what applications you use and for how long, dmesg and syslog dumps, and other data, all on your bandwidth-- back to the mother ship. Palm's response was sadly predictable, the usual "We're doing it for your own good! Really, we are!" Plus this little gem, as discovered by Jared Newman at PCWorld:

"The terms also note that Palm can disclose "any information" to law enforcement authorities."

Way to take a stand, Palm, I feel so happy knowing that if I become your customer I can enjoy the additional benefit of being sold down the river without a warrant and without my knowledge.

Linux For Windows

My other current fave is Linux-based devices that do not support Linux clients. No sync, no management from a Linux machines-- and we're supposed to be happy with this and praise them for their Linux creds? As if.

Linux as a Brand Name is Pure Gold

There is some serious insanity around this whole "We dare not speak its name!" meme. Come on folks, I get criticized for seeing Microsoft thugs lurking behind every bush and rock, but what else explains this sort of silliness? Linux has all kinds of selling points that do matter to users of consumer electronics:
  • Stable and secure-able
  • Lower cost and gadzillions more potential features
  • Hackable, for those who want to hack

I grew up in the era of Heathkits, Radio Shack kits, Legos, Erector sets, Edmund Scientifics, and Shopsmiths. You younguns don't believe me, but we could make things, and fix things, and change things, and we were not assaulted by Ninja Attack Eye Pee Lawyers. Now vendors want everything to be a black box encased in layers of NO NO NO DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH! and hackers scare them. They do not realize it is a mistake to not court early adopters and hackers, because we are the folks who create buzz and enthusiasm, and in classic FOSS tradition find bugs and make improvements.

Netbooks + Linux = Unbeatable Value

Netbooks are perfect examples of the suits not getting Linux. With any ordinary Linux distribution you can turn a netbook into a fully-featured mini-notebook that can do anything its big siblings can do, within its hardware limitations. So you can't make movies for Pixar on a netbook, oh well, but you can do almost everything else. Put something like Ubuntu Netbook Remix on a netbook, which is modified for the smaller screen, and you have unbeatable value. Low cost, unbeatable portability, support for every kind of networking, productivity apps, sound and video production, Web surfing, financial apps, games, and on and on-- selling points galore. For vendors that get it, that is, and don't ship some weird defective crippled Linux, and have no idea how to market it anyway. Is it really that hard to understand?

Power to the People

Locking up Linux inside black boxes goes against its reason for existing in the first place. I wonder if all those people who call Richard Stallman an outmoded relic and lunatic still think he's wack for writing GPL3? This is why I keep talking about not leaving Linux and FOSS in the hands of big business, and bugging ordinary individual users to become contributors, and to keep the non-corporate Linux community thriving. We should have intersecting interests with our friends the big globalcorps-- we want to buy cool devices to use, and they want to sell them to us. But somehow that simple equation has become terribly distorted and we no longer have intersecting interests, but have to watch our backs every minute because we can't trust them to not pull some sneaky exploitive dodge.

I don't know how we arrived at this weird state of affairs, but at least we have Linux and FOSS on our side, and for that I am very thankful.

*edit*
There are vendors who get it, and next week I'll talk about some of them.