News from the Rookery

by David Penn
April 14

Vocalizations! "Unfortunately, these interfaces come with a common problem in the high tech world. Quoting Dr. McCoy as he returned to the Enterprise in Star Trek I: 'I know engineers; they looooove to change things.' And in their current states, GNOME and KDE are constantly changing. The reason for this is that engineers are building what they basically don't want to use for those who don't want to use it. It's hard to find something that satisfies both ends of the equation ..." Michael J. Hammel, Linux Evangelist and Author, from his article, "The 30-Year Cycle of Acceptance, and Why Linux Is Immune" posted at Linsider.

Clever M$ Hackers Open Door for Crackers: Sometimes even the smartest among us can out-think themselves. Microsoft confirmed yesterday that engineers added a secret password--allegedly a phrase close to "Netscape engineers are weenies"--that could be used to gain surreptitious access to thousands of Internet sites. Manager of Microsoft's security-response center (no part time job this one), Steve Lipner, reportedly noted that such a password would be "absolutely against our policy" and called the inclusion of the password a "firing offense." And the company has encouraged its customers to delete the file "dvwssr.dll" in which the witty "you suck/we rule" style quip was hidden. According to the CBS MarketWatch story, the security flaw is limited to Microsoft's Front Page 98 extensions, and is not a part of W2K. The password allows crackers potentially to gain access to web site management files, through which crackers could access such personal information as credit card numbers. Moral for Microsoft: smackdowns make poor software.

Pulling Standards Out of a Hat: Yesterday, the Rookery brought you news from the Linux Standard Base announcing the release of the File Hierarchy Standard, Version 2.1. The goal of the Linux Standard Base is, among other things, to help prevent the sort of fragmentation that plagued UNIX by encouraging compatibility among Linux distributions. According to much of the buzz on the Internet, FHS 2.1 is an excellent example of the sort of compatibility worth encouraging. FHS 2.1 will standardize the placement of files in Linux distributions, to avoid what OSOpinion writer, Nikato Muirhead called "the problem of files being in different locations on different implementations of Linux." Nikato notes that many of the most popular Linux distributions--Corel, Stormlinux, Debian "and the other Debian based distributions"--will adopt the LSB and, by default, FHS 2.1. Notably absent from this list, is Red Hat. Nikato continues by saying that when he queried Red Hat co-founder, Bob Young, about Red Hat's adoption of the LSB, Bob answered that Red Hat was the market leader. Multiple mental question marks ensued. But for anybody who is wondering just what Bob might have meant, the answer is fairly obvious: Red Hat is, for mass consumption purposes, Linux. And when Red Hat says that it isn't competing with other Linux distributions (and is, instead, only competing with Microsoft), it isn't necessarily because they're being nice. The reason is that Red Hat isn't wasting time looking over its shoulder at what it considers also-ran Linux distros. To be sure, Red Hat has endorsed the LSB before (read what Donnie Barnes had to say to Linux Journal in our Standards issue last June). But that was a far different Red Hat in the pre-IPO, summer of 1999 from the Red Hat we have now--sitting astride the Linux distribution market as the most recognizable version of the operating system outside of the Linux community proper. Certainly Red Hat has become a Linux "market leader". The question is whether this will encourage Red Hat to lead Linux distributions toward non-Red Hat-centered standards, or deliver them to the doorstep of fragmentation.

VA Linux Left Out? Earlier this week, the Rookery mentioned a report from IDG announcing dramatic increases in server shipments from the close of 1998 to the close of 1999 (a 166% jump, to be specific). On IDG's list, Compaq led the field with 25% market share for Linux servers, with IBM coming in second at 10%. Others mentioned with smaller market penetration included Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Fujitsu Siemens. But the omission of Linux hardware companies like Penguin Computing and VA Linux Systems caused at least some observers of the Linux server boom to cry foul. A story on the subject appeared at The Register on Friday, which pointed out both that VA Linux was likely included in the report's sizeable "Other" category (which represented 43% of the Linux server market) and the time frame examined in the report, which may have excluded January 2000 sales that would have vaulted VA Linux, at least, over Fujitsu Siemens. Of course, what the study also points out are the significant challenges some of the smaller hardware companies like VA Linux Systems face in going mano a mano with hardware heavyweights like Compaq and IBM, both of whom have made their Linux commitments very clear.

Clued-in/Clued-out "(Sun) still wants to control the Java brand at all costs (because) they value the Java brand over the industry's technology. At this point, they're burning trust--they have to admit that it's proprietary or make it a standard." Simon Phipps, chief e-business "visionary", IBM, as quoted in Tech Web.

April 13

Vocalizations! "Open source is one of the best examples of how we can see the connection between things not obviously verifiable--like morality--and things that are. People work with Linux not just because they like to create functional code, but because they believe in what they're doing. It's a political and moral act." Andrew Leonard, as quoted in "The Open Source Poet" from The San Francisco Gate.

Linux NetworX Joins Linux Cluster Campaign: Perhaps "campaign" is a bit strong, but the proliferation of new Linux companies (or Linux spin-offs from established companies) marketing "large-scale clustered computer solutions" makes it clear that embedded Linux isn't the only additional Linux platform on the block. Brad Rutledge writes The Rookery to let everyone know that Linux NetworX, a subsidiary of Alta Technology Corporation, has hired former Caldera Systems attorney, Stephen Hill, as its Vice President of Business Development. Linux NetworX has only been around for a couple of weeks. Its parent company, Alta Technology Corporation, began working with clustered computers in 1997 and formed the separate company on March 31 to better take advantage of the growing market for using multiple linked Linux computers. Incidentally, Stephen Hill was the lead council for Caldera Systems' antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. More information about Linux NetworX's Linux cluster technology is available here.

Microsoft Metaphor of the Week: The market research organization known as the Gartner Group has issued a number of important and insightful reports pertaining to the battle between Microsoft's Windows and the Linux operating system. However, the Group's most recent proclamation, that because Linux and Java do not offer a "compelling difference in technology", they are unlikely to replace Windows on the desktop, may not be one of them. Not only have Microsoft's business practices gotten the company into a panoply of legal and public relations difficulties, but also these anti-competitive practices have obscured the relationship between Microsoft and the numerous OEMs, ISVs and end users who have become habituated to Windows. Additionally, what represents a "difference in technology" from the point of view of an original equipment manufacturer may or may not represent a significant "difference in technology" for an end user, particularly in the realm of proprietary, closed software. What the Gartner Group's report does provide, however, is perhaps the most interesting metaphor for Microsoft's dominance (again, the problematics of monopoly-driven anti-competitive behavior notwithstanding) when it compares Windows to the de facto "vinyl standard" the recording industry maintained for decades before the advent of compact disks, which changed the industry virtually overnight. Visit the Gartner Group's web site for more industry wisdom.

FSH 2.1 is a Done Deal: Daniel Quinlan, FHS editor for the Linux Standard Base (LSB), announced today that the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard for Linux, version 2.1 is complete and ready for download (FHS 2.1 is here, along with documentation and other information). FHS establishes a "common arrangement" from the variety of files and directories in Linux and UNIX systems. As Daniel notes, the FHS is a part of most major Linux distributions, including Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE and Debian, and FHS 2.1 represents a wealth of improvements over both FHS 2.0, the previous version, and FHS's predecessor FSSTND. The Linux Standard Base, for those unfamiliar with the organization, is a group dedicated both to developing and promoting standards that will increase the level of compatibility between Linux distributions, as well as encouraging software vendors to port their products to Linux.

Clued-in/clued-out "(Today's) most significant competition doesn't involve identical products sparring over price. It involves rival technologies struggling for superiority. Cable TV competes against satellite TV. Wireless communication competes with land lines. The Linux operating system is beginning to challenge Windows. For most technologies, standards are vital. Without them, mass markets are impossible. Sometimes standards arise by voluntary agreements among firms; sometimes they result from the triumph of one or a few firms. The check on this dominance--if there is a check--is the threat of a new technology." Robert J. Samuelson, from his editorial, "The Mystifying Microsoft Case", in The Washington Post.

April 12

Vocalizations! "Life is getting more competitive, and companies have been thinking harder than ever about what the barriers to entry into their businesses are. The old answers are evaporating. Capital? Cheap. Labour? Mobile. First-mover advantage? Transient. Brand? Ephemeral. Increasingly, companies realise that among the few remaining barriers to entry are the ones that the government hands out in the form of 20-year monopolies." From an editorial in The Economist.

LinuxExpo: Grand Reunion Illusion One of the great scenes in Jean Renoir's World War I classic, Grand Illusion, shows the military aristocracy blithely discussing the prospect of war as if it were a fox hunting expedition. The "grand illusion" of the film's title refers to the insistence that this war will be the last, and that humanity will move on from this point toward a future of great and lasting peace and harmony. Such short-sightedness seems to be akin to what Ottawa Citizen writer, Bert Hill is getting at with his recent review of the LinuxExpo event in Montreal. From Bert's perspective, not only did the "crown princes of the fading kingdom of Linux" spend much of their time "preaching to the converted", but also their lack of concern over such things as the falling value of stock in both Red Hat and Corel seemed to raise a few eyebrows. Bert quoted Robert Young, chairman of Red Hat, saying that he was less concerned about "how big a fish Red Hat is" than he was about making "the whole pond grow." Well, if the "the whole pond" refers to the Linux community, then Bob Young could be congratulated for his magnanimousness--while at the same time be pilloried by investors hungry for the biggest fish fry possible. Bert's piece also notes that only 300 attended the Expo, as opposed to the 6,000 "organizers promised" and there were a few Linux celebrity no-shows. What Bert's piece does not do is compare enthusiasm at the recent Linux Expo in Montreal to other Linux events--especially in the States--where the converted are more likely to preach back.

What's Bad for Microsoft is Good for Tux: Computerworld is announcing the results of its "exclusive poll" suggesting that the recent verdict against Microsoft has encouraged companies to consider other operating systems. How many companies? According to the "exclusive poll", about 11%. While 73% of this 11% mentioned Linux as the operating system they would consider, the numbers in themselves do not mean a great deal; based on the information provided, about 8% of those polled are saying that the Microsoft verdict has made them more likely to consider Linux. But what is interesting is speculation on how the verdict finding that Microsoft abused its monopoly power will affect the geek/suit gap. While many corporations have been cowed into using Microsoft products, by now that cowing has become almost second nature for too many. The question is: now that the virtual revolver has been removed from the heads of corporate managers, will companies bask in their new freedom or simply continue filling the burlap sacks with cash and handing them to the masked operating system on the other side of the counter.

VA's Got a Brand New Box: Yesterday VA Linux Systems introduced a new "breakthrough, entry-level PC" called the StartX SP2, geared toward software developers, web developers and students. The StartX SP2 is also available for under $800, and can be ordered with either an Intel Celeron or an Intel Pentium III chip. More information on the StartX SP2 is available here, but for starters know that the StartX SP2 comes with VA-Enhanced Red Hat Linux 6.1 and VA Linux's "Total Linux Coverage", which includes service and support for one year.

Clued-in/clued-out "Although it makes sense to prosecute wholesale piracy, it makes no sense whatsoever to refuse to produce software to allow people to play legally acquired discs on devices they own and then prosecute them if they write their own software. It makes even less sense to prosecute people for doing what the Web was built for: posting and linking to useful information." Wendy Grossman, in her article "DVDs: Cease and DeCSS?", from Scientific American.

April 11

Vocalizations! "We--the free software community--are sitting in the very intersection these corporations need to come through, barreling toward this splendid paradise they've envisioned of a seamless Internet where purchased content is delivered in a secure pipeline directly from producer to user." Eben Moglen, free software advocate and general counsel to the Free Software Foundation, as quoted in Upside.

Today the Server, Tomorrow the World: Some news is so good that it's worth hearing again and again and again. So here it is: according to IDC, Linux server shipments increased by 166% from the fourth quarter of 1998 to the fourth quarter of 1999. Compaq led the way with 25% of the Linux server market share, with IBM coming in second at 10%. As best befits Linux, however, the "Other" category had the largest share of Linux servers, representing almost half (48%) of all Linux servers shipped in the fourth quarter of 1999. Said Hoang Nguyen, senior research analyst for IDC, "even thought Linux represents a small portion (approximately 6%) of the entry server market in unit shipments, it will become an important area of growth within the server market as more and more branded vendors come out with Linux server offerings and as end users select Linux servers not just because of price but because of reliability, availability and performance, as well."

NEC Puts Linux on Board: Brad Langley wrote in a few days ago to let the Rookery know about NEC Electronics' Linux-friendly announcement. The scoop? NEC is finally getting off the curb and onto the bandwagon by porting Linux to the company's standard evaluation platforms for three of its 64-bit MIPS RISC microprocessors, the VR4121, VR5432 and VR5000. According to NEC, the evaluation boards can be used to develop and test peripheral hardware, device drivers and software applications--as well as evaluation platforms and reference designs. The new boards have also been ported to Viosoft's Arriba!, an integrated development environment (IDE) and debugging tool for Linux and Linux-based development environments. More technical information about NEC's line of microprocessors is available here.

Linux Clusters Catch On: Remember when TurboLinux announced its new clustering software and half the world thought the Four Horsemen of Linux Forking were on the horizon? Well, innovations like clustering mean that the fork in the Linux road has arrived, then put CSP Inc. on your list of companies to blame. CSP Inc., a company that develops and markets Internet software, has announced its new, "highly scalable" clustering system: FastCluster. FastCluster is a "multicomputer cluster" that reportedly has six times the computing capabilities of other clustered computer offerings using the same or similar amount of space. FastCluster uses PowerPC processors and may be configured with 16 to 1,000 processing nodes. FastCluster is geared toward the needs of Internet applications like search engines and web servers, as well as serving the computational demands of scientists and engineers. Visit CSP Inc.'s web site for more information about FastCluster.

Clued-in/clued-out "Today, we see Amiga, Inc. trying to bring the Amiga interface to Linux. The president of the company is even making such claims that the Amiga GUI is a 'multimedia RTOS (real-time operating system).' No, it's not. It's an interface and an application programming interface (API) riding on top of either Red Hat or Caldera Linux. That's it. The Amiga as a wonderful combination of hardware and software is dead. This version is a ghost." Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols, from his article, "Some Technologies Should Die Peacefully," in ZDNet.com.

Microsoft Speaks Softly, Carries a Big Reed: Even with a mandate to bust Microsoft's chops whenever the chance presents itself, the Rookery has a hard time positively spinning the news that Microsoft hired former Christian Coalition head, Ralph Reed, and his lobbying firm, Century Strategies, to defend themselves from "lobbying efforts" against Microsoft. In fact, the more you learn about this story, the more pathetic it gets. First, news began to surface that Microsoft was cozying up to the George W. Bush campaign. Then, we learn that Microsoft has hired the former head of the Christian Coalition, a right-wing ideologue with G. Dub's boyish good looks, to ensure the effectiveness of said cozying. As this information was being assimilated, Century Strategies began claiming that they were never retained "for the purpose of influencing Governor Bush." Okay, then why was Century Strategies retained? The devil (pace Mr. Reed) is not so much in the details as it is in the apologies, which sprouted later in the same day that the news of the Microsoft/Rex Reed connection broke. Shortly after noon, Ralph Reed's consulting group apologized for "encouraging a small number of individuals to express their views about the Microsoft case to George W. Bush," according to Associated Press. The New York Times offers a good review of the arrangement between Microsoft and Reed's Century Strategies, even though the Times piece was published this morning--i.e., pre-apology.

To Live and UCITA in Dixie: For those of us who have been cringing as UCITA made its triumphant march through the South, the following opening 'graph is almost enough to make you want to take up arms. Here is Mr. Timothy B. Wheeler of SunSpot: "Maryland lawmakers stepped bravely into the digital age yesterday, adopting pioneering legislation that will govern the sales and licensing of computer software in stores and over the Internet." Jeesh! If you thought software was in trouble with the coming of UCITA, which was recently approved by both houses of the Maryland legislature, take a good look at what it seems to be doing to journalism. "Bravely into the digital age"?! "Pioneering legislation"?! Actually, one of the best lines came from Emily Hackett of the Internet Alliance, an "industry group", when she noted that UCITA represented "a step away from the Wild West, where you don't have recourse." As you might have heard, one of the chief arguments against UCITA is the fact that, though software makers could be held completely liable under the legislation, "shrink-wrap licenses" allow software developers to end-run their own liability.

April 10

Vocalizations! "It would be nice to envision Judge Jackson's judgment adding emphasis and meaning to the 'corrupted' Windows error message, 'This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shutdown immediately.'" from a Rookery reader.

Fernand "The Bull" Sarrat Gets Benched: After Caldera, Inc.'s relatively middlin' IPO last month, many Linux investors (already world-weary after scarcely a year's worth of speculation) turned a tired eye toward Linuxcare, the "pure services play" company widely expected to be next in the Linux IPO queue. "Whaddya got, kid?" these investors seemed to say, with more than a note of resignation in their voices. Well, as of Monday, Linuxcare's got a hole where a CEO used to be. According to a variety of stories, Fernand Sarrat is claiming that he "resigned" from the Linux services company, citing "personal problems" he had to attend to as the reason for his sudden withdrawal from the company. Other anonymous sources "close to the company" are saying Fernand was "dismissed for cause" and, while said "cause" has yet to be discovered, innuendoes are flying. It should be said here, before plunging (with some discretion) into the rumor mill, that Linuxcare doesn't think that "financial irregularities" are at the root of Fernand's departure. Also, when asked, Fernand has been suggesting that his attempt to mediate an internal dispute may have hastened his own downfall. But the most popular rumors involve what G2News' story calls "tales of lavish entertaining" and "sexual indiscretions." On this subject, Fernand is priceless: "if one has a situation where one would call a personal relationship indiscreet, then this is not America." Suggested Link for Linuxcare: Finding the Right Fit: Fortune magazine's feature on CEO succession.

Meanwhile, Back at Linuxcare ... In the wake of Fernand Sarrat's departure from Linuxcare, the company has created a new position called "office of CEO" and has vaulted Vice President of Service Delivery Pat Lambs into it. Allegedly Pat has not been asked to take over as Linuxcare's CEO, though there is wide speculation that she may do just that. As is fairly customary in these situations, Pat insists that Linuxcare has quite the field of candidates to chose from, as far as filling the CEO post goes. John Drew, a Linuxcare board member, is one of the people mentioned occasionally and he may sit atop the company's unofficial (and perhaps non-existent) "short-list". According to a story from ZDNet UK, Arthur Tyde, co-founder and executive vice president of Linuxcare, will also serve in the "office of CEO" hotseat, along with Ted Schlein and Paul Vais, chairman of Linuxcare's board of directors and a director, respectively. At present, the company is saying that its IPO, anticipated this spring, is being "delayed."

Truckin' with Corel: "What in the world ever became of Cowpland? 'A Linux powerhouse, baby' is what he claimed. Buying up Borland and digging the open source game. Will Linux and open source ever again be the same?" Our Man Pann wrote in to let the Rookery know about his latest adventures with the Corel Linux Roadshow that went swinging through the States last week. The Good? "the applications are slick. WordPerfect and Quattro Pro look to be way better than similar offerings by Applix and StarOffice. Snappy, feature-full, and they got through a full hour's demo with no crashes or lockups ..." The Bad? Four people demonstrating two products, "one 'non-technical' person there (who) couldn't tell me the difference between Office 2000 'Standard' and 'Deluxe' editions," and "not many power users, not many complete neophytes, and almost no 'suits'." One of the most revealing things to come out of the Roadshow, according to Our Man Pann is the fact that Corel isn't exactly porting their applications to Linux. "What they've done is make them play nice with WINE," he says.

Clued-in/clued-out "What we have been doing, and what we will continue to do, is release more and more technology into open source. We're continuing to push the technology curve at the platform level. That means we need to ensure features are supported through hardware. Most of what Intel is doing is ensuring those features are fully enabled and tuned for Linux." Michael Pope, director of Intel's Enterprise Software Program, as quoted in ZDNet.com.

Linux Flashback!  The April 1995 edition of the Linux Journal, issue 12, featured "Building Shared Libraries" by Eric Kasten, a Linux port tour by Joseph L. Brothers, and Terry Dawson's article on "Ethernetting Linux."

Wanna let everybody know? Send your announcements, thoughts, comments, rude gestures and flattering remarks to: rookery@linuxjournal.com

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