Linux and Politics at CES

by Don Marti

While the big cheeses of the consumer electronics industry make obeisance to Big Hollywood over the issue of customer control of PCs and entertainment devices, the mood at the Consumer Electronics show seems to call out for a move the other way, toward badly-needed reform for the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) was out in the lobby to support Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher's Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, which would reform the DMCA to allow circumvention of copy-restriction schemes for purposes other than copyright infringement.

In the four-year history of the DMCA, the anti-circumvention provision of the law has been used only against developers of new technology, never against actual copyright infringers.

Another interest group represented at the show was the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where Wendy Seltzer, founder of the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse is now a staff attorney.

Zaurus Envy

Also at CES, Sharp showed off the (almost) only-in-Japan Zaurus SL-C700, which is shaped like a miniature "Tablet PC" with a screen that pivots from PDA-style to open above a small keyboard. The screen is a full 640x480, twice the size of the one on the popular SL-5500.

While attendees couldn't touch, or in most cases read the exquisitely rendered but Japanese text on, the new model, hands-on demos of the US SL-5500 were well-attended.

"One advantage of Linux is that many of the downloadable applications are available under the GPL license, which means that they are completely free," said a cheerful presenter to a row of attendees during a demo. That's free as freedom, if you want to be picky, but attendees got the point.

Third-party Zaurus hardware and software vendors included Socket, the company behind the top-rated 802.11b card for the Zaurus in our January issue.

PowerPC Motherboard

The Pegasos MicroATX motherboard sports all the usual PC motherboard features, with one small difference -- it's PowerPC based. Samuel Rydh of the Mac-on-Linux Project pointed out that the board is compatible with a wide variety of PC-market PCI cards, and can also support Mac-on-Linux to allow for a complete MacOS session within a Linux one.

Mac-on-Linux works similarly to VMWare on the Intel architecture, but isn't as tricky because the PowerPC is much friendlier to virtualization. The Pegasos board is priced at $470 for a single PowerPC G3 version.

PDA Shakeout

Last year, at least four vendors brought Linux-based PDAs. Royal, which had been set to go with a Microwindows-based offering, went back to the drawing board and came back this year with a new prototype, the LineaLX, based on a Motorola MX1 at 200MHz. It's running Linux, but neither the Qtopia, like the Zaurus, or Microwindows, like last year. We'll be bugging them for a look at how to develop for this thing. At a show dominated by cellular and WiFi, the notable hardware feature of the LineaLX is a built-in 56kpbs modem, with full-sized RJ-11 jack.

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