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LinuxPlanet: Editor's Note: Where Doesn't Tux Want to Go Today -- Linux in the Service of the Monopoly-Minded

Oct 19, 2000, 16:11 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Hall)

"AOL, as we are all aware, wants very badly to merge with Time Warner. At issue with regulators, though, is the tiny question of the bandwidth the merged titan would command and who gets access to it. The prospective partners are, of course, happy to share their pipe with anybody but set-top device providers. Why? Because the wisdom rampant in the computing world has it that the PC is on the slow path to obsolescence via special-purpose devices. The Internet made the PC market, so, the thinking goes, the Internet will unmake it when connectivity becomes the province of convenient, easy-to-use, no-maintenance appliances."

"In other words, AOL and Time Warner are investing in their future by attempting to deny access to the bandwidth ISPs will need to make their operations viable once they make the (anticipated) jump from servicing PC users to servicing appliance users. And Linux plays, in its own way, a prominent part in their plans: it's giving them the cheap, embedded OS they need to crank out the boxes to meet the demand to be generated when the great set-top migration begins. Considering the schizophrenic relationship the Linux community enjoys with AOL thanks to its healthy population of Internet veterans who look back on September of 1993 with sorrow, this can probably be filed under 'one of life's small ironies.'"

"It's also a reminder of why the embedded space matters, even if to the average desktop Linux user it seems like an area of computing that won't touch them meaningfully. After all, the OS a sealed box is running doesn't seem to matter much. The inability of Microsoft, for instance, to earn much market share with WinCE or PocketPC, is taken as an indication by many that users don't expect their handheld's OS to be in lockstep with their desktop's as long as they can synch their calendars and address books."

"AOL's move, though, represents the use of Linux in an anti-competitive pre-emptive strike. If Microsoft attempted this, we'd be shaking the rafters with our protests even if our immediate interests as Linux users weren't directly affected, because the core values of the community include a sense of fairness and concern for maximizing the freedom of end users to choose the best solution. Most of us accept that Linux (and Free Software in general) can and will be used to make a buck. How many of us accept that it can be used in a run on monopolizing the public's experience of the Internet?"

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