UpFRONT

by Various
HP to Hardware Vendors: Peddle That NDA Somewhere Else

Bruce Perens, Linux czar of Hewlett-Packard, has what he calls a “very good” chance of getting a preference for Linux-compatible hardware made into corporate policy at the new largest Linux vendor, the merged HP/Compaq.

The policy would mandate a company-wide “at design-in time, preference for devices that have publicly documented interfaces”.

For HP engineers, it means that if you have a choice between two hardware products, select the one for which an open-source driver exists or for which the vendor publishes programming information. If a part comes with a nondisclosure agreement, don't use it unless there's no alternative, or the alternative would be prohibitively expensive.

How much less will NDA-shrouded hardware be worth to HP? Perens doesn't put a number on it. Or, to look at it the other way, how much of a price premium will HP be willing to pay to use a publicly documented device? The advice to designers is “use your head”, he says.

“I was concerned about graphics display chips”, Perens said. ATI's low-end graphics hardware is fairly clean, but at the high end, “They're all crazy”, he said. The policy has already resulted in HP dropping NDA-covered modem chips for openly documented ones.

Although the documented hardware policy was approved at a “corporate policy level” within HP before the merger and was ready to become the standard within the company, Perens has to get management of the new, merged company to approve it all over again. “The merger has held off a lot of things, and I have to get [Compaq managers] to be cognizant of the reason we need it”, he said.

Just because HP laptops and PDAs will be Linux-friendly doesn't mean the company will formally support Linux on them. There are no plans to offer a Linux laptop or to commercialize Jim Gettys' work on running Linux and X on the Compaq-now-HP iPAQ.

“Most of what I'm doing with Linux is servers”, Perens said. The merger's overall effect on Linux at HP and Compaq? “Unless something awful happens it should make it better.”

—Don Marti

Hot and Cool Linux Dot-Com Actually Makes Money

HOTorNOT.com offers a simple and democratic answer to a common but embarrassing question: how good do I look? Voters play a kind of whack-a-mole, only they whack human beings instead of moles and use a mouse instead of a mallet, rating each candidate on scale of 1 to 10. As soon as one gets rated, another pops up next to a thumbnail of the last one, with the current rating.

The site was conceived in October 2000 by James Young and Jim Hong, a couple of 27-year-old Berkeley-trained hackers, roommates and drinking buddies. They were going to put it up on XMethods, their web site for publicly available web services.

For what instantly became obvious reasons, they made HOTorNOT.com an independent site. In just over a week, the site was getting almost two million page views per day. By May of this year, HOTorNOT had counted over 2.1 billion votes and had over one million user accounts.

But here's what's really hot: it runs on Linux. “In fact”, James Hong recently told us, “we couldn't have done it without Linux.” By “it”, he means make money. According to Hong, HOTorNOT pulls in more than enough income to pay for itself and its staff, which still consists of the original two guys.

That's because they've adapted quickly. “When the advertising business began to crash, we added a paid 'meeting' service to the system.” The result was countless dating success stories, including more than a few marriages. But the most important success story is HOTorNOT's own.

“HOTorNOT is a viable business built entirely on Linux”, Hong says. More specifically, “Linux (Red Hat), Apache, MySQL and PHP on 35 1U rackmounts, mostly from Rackable Systems.” (See picture.)

—Doc Searls

LJ Index—August 2002
  1. Number of countries considering a bill or motion to mandate or promote free-software use by the government: 9

  2. Number of complete sets of tapes required for one year of tape backups: 29

  3. Number of sound cards and chipsets supported by ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture): 94

  4. Number of cards for which docs are available but no ALSA driver yet exists: 20

  5. Number of sound cards for which manufacturers are refusing to provide documentation to the ALSA Project: 4

  6. Length in characters of a Perl regular expression that matches any valid URL: 7,579

  7. Names in CREDITS for Linux 1.0: 80

  8. Size of Linux 1.0 compressed: 1.2MB (15.4KB per contributor)

  9. Names in CREDITS for Linux 2.4.18: 411

  10. Size of Linux 2.4.18 compressed: 28.8MB (71.5KB per contributor)

  11. Size in billions of dollars of the e-mail marketing industry: 1

  12. Predicted average number of spam e-mails per inbox per year by 2006: 1,500

  13. Number of spams accumulated in an idle inbox on Earthlink over the year leading up to August 2001: 1,200

  14. Number of spams accumulated in the same inbox between April 18 and May 13, 2002: 1,124

  15. Number of spams, received by one Linux Journal editor's inbox on May 1, 2002: 197

Danish Navy Develops on Linux, Deploys on LynxOS

The Royal Danish Navy is going to sea with applications developed on Linux but running on the Linux-compatible, real-time LynxOS from LynuxWorks (lynuxworks.com). “The Linux interfaces are becoming the real-world definition of open systems”, said Dr. Inder Singh, LynuxWorks' CEO.

“LynxOS is very unique in being a hard real-time operating system that is ABI-compatible with Linux”, he added. The Royal Danish Navy doesn't even need to recompile to move applications from Linux-based development systems onshore to the LynxOS platform on ship.

LynxOS has been on the market for more than a decade and was designed into Space Station Freedom before the project was re-organized as the International Space Station. It is also used in Airbus jets. On the ground, LynxOS is also used on HP LaserJet printers and Xerox copiers.

“Requirements for certification are pretty strenuous”, Singh said. Extensive documentation is required, and no Linux-based system has yet been certified for real-time space or military use. “There have been many attempts, but no one has been able to get one certified”, Singh said.

Observers of Linux's inexorable progress add, “Yet”.

—Don Marti

Stop the Presses: Commons, 2; Hollywood, 0

The entertainment industry's war with technology goes back a long way. In 1984, MPAA Chairman Jack Valenti said, “The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public what the Boston Strangler is to a woman home alone.” But we can trace the current system of fears and balances back to 1908, when music publishers claimed player piano rolls violated music copyrights. That case lost in the Supreme Court, but the industry prevailed on Congress to establish the “mechanical license”, which established the right to reproduce published music in return for a regulated royalty. In 1931 some music composers claimed that a hotel's radio station violated copyrights by playing their music. The composers lost that one. In the 1960s, book publishers failed in their suit against photocopiers, but the Supreme Court ruling on the case allowed “fair use” of published works. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, broadcasters took on Community Antenna Television or CATV. (The movie industry was also involved, forcing theater employees to wear buttons that said “Fight Pay TV”.) Supreme Court rulings on two cases opened the way for the cable TV systems we have today. So it's clear we're still in this fight for the very long haul.

But at least we can pause to observe two current victories for technology over those who would control it: the launch of Creative Commons and the Librarian of Congress' rejection of CARP's (Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel) recommendations for imposing stiff requirements and performance use fees on internet radio stations.

Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org) was launched at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference in Santa Clara, California, on May 16, ending months of quiet development. It is led by Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law professor and author of two highly influential works (Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and The Future of Ideas), both of which argue against the entertainment industry's constant campaign to bend copyright law in their favor and to replace the Internet's commons with a highly regulated system for the supply-controlled distribution of “content”.

The project lives at Stanford University, where it is highly involved with the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. It also receives what it calls “generous support” from the Center for the Public Domain (formerly the Red Hat Center), which is headquartered at Duke University and chaired by Red Hat founder Bob Young.

Rather than simply lobbying against the entertainment industry, Creative Commons offers concrete solutions to the first sources of creative goods: the artists themselves. In his speech to the conference Lessig said,

This content that the law says is mine, I should be able to make available on my own terms. We need machine-readable expressions of the author's intentions about the nature of the content. The world should not be divided between those who believe in control and those who believe in access. Those who want both, on an individual level, should be able to compromise.

While Creative Commons was in development, internet radio, which includes thousands of stations (many of them making resourceful use of Linux and other open-source software), was under severe threat by the CARP's recommendations, which were issued in February 2002 and widely expected to knock most stations off the air. If adopted, the CARP recommendations would have become regulatory fact on May 22, 2002. But on May 21, the Librarian of Congress issued an “order rejecting the panel's determination”, which would become final one month later. Stations and advocacy groups like SaveInternetRadio.org breathed a public sigh of relief.

But the issue is far from resolved. CARP is a creature spawned by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is still in force. More importantly, the whole idea of the Commons is still not well understood—especially on Capitol Hill, where the influence of the entertainment industry remains enormous.

In his speech Larry Lessig said, “We will never succeed in advocating the importance of this space until ordinary people get it. And they won't until technologists begin to express to politicians how important these values that they built into technology are to freedom and creativity.”

—Doc Searls

They Said It

Today, if you've got end-to-end encrypted mail going in and out of your company, it's probably somebody dealing drugs or sending or receiving pornography inside your company.

—Greg Olson, chairman and cofounder, Sendmail.com

The true cause of the enormous ills that now dismay so many Americans—the universal sleaze and “dumbing down”, the flood tide of corporate propaganda, the terminal insanity of United States politics—has risen not from any grand decline in the national character...but from the inevitable toxic influence of those few corporations that have monopolized our culture.

—Mark Crispin Miller

As bad as the cell phone carriers' quality of service is, the last thing they want is to lose control over their quality of service. That's why they don't understand the appeal of 802.11. You can't do anything viral in their environment.

—Dave Sifry

If you operate a web site and wish to link to this site, you may link only to the home page of the site and not to any other page or subdomain of us.

Dallas Morning News, Terms of Service (on its registration page)

A man is judged by his Values; his Values are marked by that which he will not compromise.

—G. E. Nordell

The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance, which envelop our future.

—John Maynard Keynes

“Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against....We're after power and we mean it....There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with.”

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Take what you want and pay for it, says God.

—Spanish proverb

Decisions are made by those who show up.

—Aaron Sorkin

The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

—Henry David Thoreau

The Internet is obviously a critical part of any e-business. But the Internet is only a common set of protocols for the transport of information.

—Sybase advertisement

And reading is only the common set of protocols for the translation of oral words into written marks. And Sybase's products are only the semi-intentional arrangement of bits.

—David Weinberger

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