Letters

Readers sound off.

Letters

Love Clippy Humor

I appreciated Nicholas Petreley's /var/opinion article in the October 2007 issue titled “More Power to Linux”. The humor regarding “clippy” made me laugh. I also appreciate how you constructively showed where Linux advances could be made in the media sector. You identified some present possibilities for users and acknowledged development should continue, while you were not brash or critical of developers' efforts.


Valden

Doc Not Spun

To Doc Searls: As a longtime reader of Linux Journal, I certainly would like to congratulate you for the very many fine articles and interesting comments you have made over the years. Therefore, I am very sorry to write my first letter to you about something that is relatively unimportant, but it has really annoyed me. You wrote (or re-published under your own name), a small, shameless piece of advertorial for a gadget called a Chumby (September 2007, UpFront section). Okay, that's fine, that's what media does; equally, my appreciation would be heightened immeasurably if Giselle Bundchen was photographed wearing a Tux T-shirt, and the photo were published with your commentary (or any commentary really) in Linux Journal. But what annoyed me about the Chumby is that it is not even available! Why are you telling us about some gadget that, so far, is still on some assembly line in a Chinese province? Oh, and your advertorial missed the bit about Chinese manufacture—wouldn't fit with the PR I suppose! Shame on you for falling for the spin!


Fred

Doc Searls replies: Thanks for writing. In UpFront, where the Chumby piece ran, we like to post about interesting stuff that may not (or may not yet) warrant full-length coverage in the main body of the magazine. UpFront is where we put “light news” and regular features (They Said It, LJ Index), where we get to have a bit of fun with one thing or another. Having fun was hard to resist with Chumby, which (as I recall) I found on my own—not through the company's PR system. I don't know anybody at Chumby and have not spoken to anybody there. Perhaps I should have, but that's a different matter. The point I want to make here is that I was not “spun” by the Chumby people or its propaganda apparatus. And, far as I know, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

It's important to note that we have a lead time of three months or more. This means we sometimes cover stuff that isn't out yet, or is due to be out before the magazine appears in mailboxes and newsstands. In cases like those, we qualify what we say. In this case, here's what we said: “If all goes according to plan, Chumbys should be on the market by now. Prototypes and development versions have been circulating for about a year, and a sizeable development community has grown around it. Given how much it's grown and changed in the public womb, there's no telling how it'll evolve out in meet space.”

For those interested in Chumby, this puts a spotlight on the stage of time. If Chumby fails to show up and perform in that spotlight, that's not a good thing for the company. There's an old saying: “Nothing will kill a bad product better than good advertising.” I don't think the Chumby piece I wrote was an “advertorial”, but even if it was, the piece will embarrass Chumby if the company fails to deliver.

And has it yet? I just checked the Chumby Web site, and the company already has its “first 50” in the field. It also promises to start filling orders in September, which is also the cover date for the issue of Linux Journal in which the Chumby piece appeared. Rather than acting like a large manufacturer that promises long and delivers short, the Chumby folks seem to be doing an earnest job of bringing a product to market. And they also seem to be far more disclosing about what they're doing along the way than any traditional consumer electronics supplier that comes to mind.

But you are helping remind me that one does take chances when writing three months out about an undelivered product—or when waxing positive about something that may not turn out that way.

A few years ago, I enthusiastically covered a fun Linux hardware hack called Kerbango, which was to be the first Web radio. I thought it had problems: a proprietary and centrally controlled station database and limitation to the RealPlayer codec, to name two items. As a Linux Journal editor and a radio lover, I very much wanted Kerbango to succeed. But the company sold out to 3Com, which killed it. Yet, did we have egg on our faces? I'm not sure we did.

On your point about Chinese manufacture, I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying all Chinese manufacture is bad? Would you have us exclude or disclaim Chinese manufacture wherever it might be involved? I don't know, so if you could clarify that point I'd appreciate it.

I also thank you for your kind words about my other writing. I do value feedback of every sort.

Re: Chuck Adams' Letter, October 2007

There are several issues I would like to raise.

Number one: I quote from his letter, “I still wonder if people fully realize just how much compute power they have at their fingertips.” Not only do they not realize, they do not care. My DVR contains more compute power than the first five computer systems I bought combined. Do I spend time concerning myself with that? Not hardly. My microwave oven has more compute power than the first computer system I ever bought. Can you guess how much time I spend thinking about that? For that matter, how much time do you spend thinking about the fact that most PLCs on a manufacturing floor have more compute power than IBM mainframes from the '60s?

Number two: I quote again, “We are trying to get all of human knowledge at the fingertips of every man, woman, and child on the planet. We are about to get there.” This reeks of Socialist “nirvana” thought. We will never reach that goal until there are no longer any Communist, Socialist or any other forms of government where “the society takes precedence over the individual” exist in this world. In other words, until you stand up and fight for freedom of the individual over the government, this will never happen.

Number three: I quote again, “Get a thought to go where no thought has gone before.” Get a grip. Fight against government control of people and the rest will follow.


Jeffrey Goddard

A Victory Lap for the Raven X60?

I enjoyed the idea of showcasing the Ultimate Linux Boxes [September 2007], but when I read the the laptop part of the article, I was left wanting to know who were the other contenders that the Raven X60 is running its victory lap against? There was mention of Dell disappointment, but none of the other Linux laptop contenders were named. Did the Raven run against itself, sort of like in local politics when there is often only one candidate running? I think the review would have been more convincing if it actually went head to head with the competitors.

Also, assuming the Raven X60 is the best, there wasn't a real compelling reason why consumers should purchase from EmperorLinux instead of getting an IBM ThinkPad X60 loaded with Redmond software and then just installing Fedora or Ubuntu themselves.


Chris

James Gray replies: Thanks for your feedback, Chris. The way this competition worked is that we asked every vendor selling preloaded Linux laptops to send their best laptop selling for $3,000 or less. Several companies took us up on our offer. The EmperorLinux Raven X60 was easily the best machine out of those tested. Although I did not test every single laptop available from every vendor, I searched around quite thoroughly to be sure I didn't miss anything that looked, at least on paper, to offer the Raven a very serious challenge. Given the excellent work that EmperorLinux does to enable Linux functionality on this machine, especially related to the tablet, in the end I felt confident granting the title of Ultimate Linux Laptop to the Raven X60. I know I would be hard-pressed to get all of that functionality going if I installed the Linux OS myself.

On TiVos

Regarding Nicholas Petreley's “The Ultimate Linux PVR” [September 2007], I am glad you like your TiVo, but do not confuse your satisfaction with TiVo as a product with GPLv3 issues. As a product, it is not relevant what OS a TiVo runs. And, your happiness with the TiVo has little or nothing to do with what OS it happens to run.

The issues the GPLv3 raises with TiVo have nothing to do with whether the TiVo is a good product, but whether TiVo's use of Linux was consistent with the principle of Free Software. TiVo may well be an excellent product, but it violates the spirit and principles of the GPLv2 if somehow it might conform to it by the letter of the law.

There is nothing wrong with TiVo's approach to PVR. If TiVo had developed its own OS, used BSD as a base as Apple did or bought an OS from any of a number of other sources, it would do everything it does now. In fact TiVo probably could have been developed without an OS at all. But TiVo did not do any of those things, it picked Linux. When companies base their business model on the use of Linux and other open-source software, we applaud them. We also expect them to play by the rules and principles of open-source software.

There will not be some major Linux fork over TiVo. Most of the debate over the GPLv3 is overblown. It is unlikely that Linux will convert to a GPLv3 license. But the Linux kernel already has parts under different licenses, and it is equally unlikely that Linux will remain permanently GPLv3-free. Further, Linus needs to figure out whether the principles of the GPL actually mean something, or whether Linux is just another BSD variant of sorts—only more popular.

The principles of FOSS and the GPL (all versions) have always been that completely free and unrestricted software—even if that means lower quality, less functionality or less popular acceptance—is better than unfree, partially free or even mostly free software. There is even a fairly credible argument that without completely free and unrestricted software, all partially or mostly free software will eventually become proprietary. TiVo just represents one way in which that can happen.


David

Keep an Open Mind

I read Nicholas Petreley's /var/opinion “The Ultimate Linux PVR” [September 2007] with some interest. It was not what I was expecting to see. Like you, I've had a love/hate relationship with MythTV over the last two years or more, which centered around the problems relating to HD content. However, you may have left your readers with an overly pessimistic view of the HD landscape.

First, using a DVB tuner card, it is possible to capture either OTA HD content, assuming you are in a good area for local reception, or to receive unscrambled QAM signals from your cable provider. I don't understand why you were unable to get some OTA HD channels using the cards you mention. I will agree that does not give you any of the premium content that cable service is providing.

Second, we have the FCC to blame for the current situation as much as the cable services and the content providers. See the TV Technology article, www.tvtechnology.com/pages/s.0082/t.6899.html for some background. Briefly, cable providers were not required to support CableCARD technology until July 2007. If you read the article, what it really says is that they were not permitted to distribute STBs where the security is integrated after July 2007. CableCARD is not more widely available and supported because integrated security was allowed. Indeed, some of the MSOs have been given additional waivers even though they've had a long, long time to prepare for it!

Finally, ATI has just announced the first CableCARD/USB tuner; see ati.amd.com/products/tvwonderdigital/index.html. I can only assume there will be more devices from other companies. Hopefully, one or more will provide Linux drivers so that it can be incorporated into software like MythTV. It won't happen overnight and, unfortunately, ATI's other USB tuners are not currently supported. I agree, for the individual who just wants a PVR, it's probably easier, and cheaper, to pay TiVo than it ever will be to put together a MythTV box. The solution has some limits, however. For one thing, unless you hack your TiVo, there's no way to get your content out of the box (except to view it onscreen). I like to be able to archive my content. Second, for a box designed to record HD, the limit of 20 hours seems pitifully small. Large disks are cheap these days, but the eSata connection on your TiVo is (according to the Web site) not supported (yet).

Please keep an open mind on Linux PVRs. We need to see more articles on this multimedia convergence. Projects like MythTV and MPD need the interest generated by LJ articles. Keep up the good work.


Frank Pirz

Non-Ultimate Keyboard

I love your hardware reviews, but I have to object to the Microsoft keyboard attached to this year's Ultimate Linux Box [September 2007]. It's not the brand name or the absurd price. But, calling that particular keyboard “ergonomic” helps obscure what truly ergonomic keyboards were. The MSFT “Natural Touch” is a hard stop, and hard stops cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

The original IBM PC keyboard was supposed to feel like an IBM Selectric. Selectrics were slow but very familiar, and people were already complaining about repetitive stress injuries from using them. But Boca Raton thought a familiar keyboard “feel” would help the PC get accepted. When the clone market took off, that exaggerated key clack evolved into a hard stop, leading to a carpal tunnel syndrome epidemic. Clones that weren't “100% compatible” didn't sell, so the Taiwanese manufacturers dared not make a keyboard that was “different”, and they still don't.

It's a real shame, because by 1983 there were keyboards on OEM character terminals with very nice soft key-travel stops. I'd pay at least a hundred bucks for a PC-compatible version of the keyboard from my little Convergent Technologies 286 thin-client workstation, and twice that if it had a hinge in the middle like the Goldtouch I'm using now. Alas, the Goldtouch has a hard stop too. Apple's keyboards aren't much better.

Convergent's key travel was half that of the Selectric/IBM-PC's and landed with a definite tactile feedback that's hard to describe. You knew you'd struck the key, but softly. You could type hard and fast all day on that thing and not feel it in the back of your hands, and it was nearly silent. I've traded e-mails with the ergonomics “experts” at Goldtouch and ALPS, and they don't know what I'm talking about—yet another worthwhile technology swept aside by a monopoly player.


Cameron Spitzer

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