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November 2008 Archives

A Tale of Two Forks

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While I was writing last Friday's editor's note, "Linux Should Copy Amiga", I kept thinking what a different story it would have been if Amiga had been released under a Free Software license. I'm sure I'm not the only one with that thought. Then I ran across osCommerce is Dead: Long Live the NEW osCommerce Project. While the circumstances are different, this is also a story of a software project in trouble. But it has a different ending, because osCommerce is licensed under the GPL.

YouTube is Big Fun And Useful

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Of all of the so-called "innovations" of high tech, I think YouTube deserves to be in the Top 10. Some folks, like the MAFIAA, see it only as a den of thieves, stealing the bread from their children's mouths. But to me it's a fantastic showcase for anyone with minimal tools-- a computer, a camera, a bit of editing software-- to create and share. Naturally the MAFIAA and their ilk can't stand the idea of not profiting from other people's work, but I think it's great stuff. I love the mis-heard lyric music videos, like Crazy Indian Video... Buffalaxed! and Have You Ever Seen Lorraine?. How else could you do something like that-- with puppets? Video tape? Super 8 movies? It's the modern version of "hey gang, let's put on a show!"

Last week I talked a bit about the bipolar world of printing on Linux: the best of times, the worst of times; the easiest and the hardest; the most reliable and the most annoying. I raised a number of questions such as why do print jobs disappear without a trace, then reappear days later? Printing multiple copies, if you had hit the print button in frustration multiple times. Is this printer really online and working? Does it have enough toner and paper? If there is a problem, why won't it tell me in a reasonable way? Why isn't there an obvious, easy button for "cancel the print job plz, kthx"?

Chickens Pecking Red Hat

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We'll return to examining the state of Linux printing next week. Today I want to wonder aloud why all these big tough tech companies have Red Hat in their cross-hairs? Oracle, Microsoft, and now Novell all seemed determined to crush Red Hat like a bug. And yet Red Hat, despite being the largest and most successful pure Free/Open Source company, is tiny by comparison. Revenues for their last fiscal year, which ended in February, were about $523 million, with a net of $76 million. Which is a lot by my standards, but compared to the other three is small. Oracle and Microsoft are both multi-billion dollar companies, and Novell came close to cracking the billion-dollar mark in their 2007 fiscal year.

So one might suppose that a big company looking to grow bigger would seek out new, potentially bigger markets, rather than poaching from smaller markets. But that is not the case here-- what's so special about Red Hat that these titans of industry have irresistible urges to squash it out of existence?

I've long been a fan of CUPS, which has been the standard printing subsystem on Linux for several years now. It networks printers automatically on Linux, and combined with Samba it does the same for Windows clients. But my affections are wearing thin; after all these years CUPS still does not provide a user- or admin-friendly interface or useful notifications, and setting up automatic driver downloads for Windows clients is still a black art. The printer interfaces in Gnome and KDE are useless duplications of effort that don't offer much that is really helpful, and the KDE printer manager has long been notoriously buggy, though it has improved a lot over time. We miss out on a lot of CUPS' useful functionality, such as printing over the Internet and connecting Windows clients without Samba, because the interface and documentation skip over the gnarly bits of how to actually set these up.

Part of the problem with Linux printing is the usual printer vendor hostility to non-Windows users. Even when there are good vendor-supported Linux drivers, they are often not feature-equivalent to their Windows cousins, and they act as though CUPS doesn't exist at all. But there are some exceptions to this, most notably Hewlett-Packard printers. So, in search of hope, I had a good conversation with Hewlett Packard's General Manager of Core Technology, Sam Greenblatt.