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Taking over the world, one GNU/Linux PC at a time

This is the promised followup to the recent article which basically establishes significant flaws in execution of the World Domination 201 plan which by all means seems to have started. The flaws are in the nature of the business model employed by the company who is apparently supposed to play a crucial role in this plan, Linspire.

"World Domination 201" presented a strategy of *temporary compromise* in order to accelerate the adoption of GNU/Linux by the masses and hence put it in a position in which the 64bit tide will throw GNU/Linux at the top of the operating systems market. However there are no confidence-inspiring indications that this plan is consistently being put to action as such. Not only that, but it is proving hard to trust Eric Raymond to care enough about holding true to the "temporary" part of the plan. He doesn't have a real problem with proprietary software anyway. We can't count on him being the one advocating replacements for proprietary components when the fitting time for that comes.

In fact, as we were able to find out from Landley's comments, it was Landley who wrote most of the document, not ESR, and it is probably due to Landley more than ESR that the document advocates a "temporary" compromise, and yet ESR obviously has more pull in the matter than Rob Landley, and is much closer with Linspire.

In this article we move away from this document and its propositions, suggesting that even the plan itself may not be the best way forward and that there is in fact an alternative more uncompromising way to get to our goal, which is the prevalence of a Free Software operating system.

Proprietary components by default: how far can it get us?

It seems as if everyone lightly assumes that as soon as we start putting proprietary components into GNU/Linux systems by default to enable certain functionalities which wouldn't work otherwise, the mass market will be ours. I don't hear this question being asked too often; how far can this compromising really get us exactly?

The fact is that there always were certain GNU/Linux distributions which did exactly this, and yet they didn't get so far as to cause mass switching from Windows to GNU/Linux. Instead, Ubuntu was the first to make a significant dent, and it never advertised itself as the distribution which includes all the proprietary components needed for all functionalities people usually demand. Just the opposite, it advertises as a distribution that "will always be free to download, free to use and free to distribute to others". Even today when it seems to be compromising this promise a bit, it still doesn't include things like flash and proprietary video drivers, albeit they make it easy to install them.

This begs the question; is including proprietary software really the key to winning the operating system market? It looks like Ubuntu is doing as fine as it possibly can even without that.

We can make GNU/Linux "just work", absolutely perfectly, right after installation, no matter how many proprietary blobs, drivers and other software we have to use to make it happen, and yet, how far would this bring us? There is a certain point at which this just doesn't cut it anymore, and I think we are slowly reaching that point today. Everyone who would switch based on technical superiority alone is already switching. Those aren't the masses, however. The real masses are people who don't get past the very first step at getting GNU/Linux on their computer, installation.

How can proprietary bits help us there? They can't, and suggesting this as a solution is completely missing the point. They can only take us so far, but definitely not all the way we want to go. Is it, then, worth tainting our systems with it at all? When you consider the alternative way I would boldly say no, it is not. We should keep our systems 100% Free Software by default.

Get me a GNU/Linux PC now!

The amount of energy some people put in advocating compromises with proprietary software could be much better spent asking great and small PC vendors to enter the business of selling GNU/Linux powered PCs, out of the box. In fact, not only should we be demanding others to sell GNU/Linux PCs, the ones able among us should start such businesses on their own! Saturate this new market, expand it and make new leaders if the existing ones (Dell, HP, Lenovo) don't see the light (as soon as we want them to).

The key is in building computers out of hardware which is fully supported by Free Software, rather than putting in proprietary drivers for things that aren't supported. Companies should take a 100% Free Software GNU/Linux software setup and test their machines on them, in order to make sure that everything works flawlessly. If an ATI or Nvidia card doesn't work well, dump it and use Intel! If this or that wifi chip doesn't work with Free Software, dump it! Create a situation that ATI, Nvidia and others who refuse to open up won't find comfortable, because they would be missing the increasingly more significant portion of the market.

We could summarize this strategy the following way: instead of adapting our software to existing hardware even when we have to use proprietary software for that, adapt hardware to Free Software and this way not only make fully functional Free Software supported computers, but also pressure uncooperating hardware vendors into freeing up their specs and drivers.

Once everyone can come to a computer store and order a fully functional 100% proprietary fat free GNU/Linux powered PC that just works, there is no more the installation obstacle, and indeed there are no more hardware support obstacles for that particular user either. This is when we will be winning the mass market.

But what about popular file formats and codecs?

Yes indeed, companies in *some* closed mindedly run countries like USA, can't legally pre-install support for certain file formats, like MP3. But there is an acceptable solution to that, and it still doesn't include proprietary software. Instead it includes a patent license with everyone who uses GNU/Linux, through a single agent capable of paying for such a broad license. Such license would allow PC vendors to safely install support for such file formats and users to safely use this support on their GNU/Linux PCs.

This is NOT the kind of deal Microsoft made with Novell. The MS-Novell patent deal doesn't include anyone else but users of SuSE GNU/Linux. We need patent licenses that extend to every single user of GNU/Linux and Free Software.

However, even if this were not to happen it wouldn't be such a major drain as many make it out to be. If so many computer users can live with getting a Windows PC and then have to install so many applications on it to actually be productive, then GNU/Linux PC users can click a few buttons after getting their PC to install the Free Software necessary to play MP3s. Eye


A reasoning which suggests that merely making GNU/Linux "just work", even if we need to put proprietary software in by default, will open the doors to the mass market is flawed. It can't get us this far as long as people are required to actually install it to be able to use it.

This warrants rejection of all compromising with proprietary software and going for a strategy of forcing hardware vendors to adapt to us instead. Build PCs out of hardware supported by Free Software, reject the rest. There is enough of such hardware today to make many lines of excellent PCs. Make hardware vendors clearly realize that the only way they are gonna be able to take advantage of the growing GNU/Linux market is by at the very least freeing their specifications, allowing the community to write drivers.

From this perspective, shipping proprietary bits into otherwise Free operating systems doesn't make all that much sense, nor value.

So make them adapt to us, not us to them!

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic


stojic wrote:When you take

stojic wrote:

When you take naked Windows and naked GNU/Linux, I agree that we are friendlier, but you are suggesting that we should be less friendly when it comes to installing additional needed (by many users) bits.

It is still not any less friendly than on Windows even with additional bits. They need to hunt them down themselves or with help of those who think the same and so they will, just as they hunt down various freewares and sharewares on Windows. Just because I wouldn't go out of my way to offer very easy access to a few popular proprietary bits doesn't make the whole thing of getting additional software somehow less friendly than Windows.

I just wont be the one supporting easy access to this stuff. I wont be supporting hard access either. I just don't want anything to do with it, and if I would start a PC business, it wouldn't have much to do with it either, because we would follow a different strategy and a different approach to these "demands" for proprietary software.

stojic wrote:

To do all of the above is so easy (writing three warnings, creating one link and modifying the database a bit) and benefits users in need of those features so much that time spent on it is not an issue.

It's not really an issue of how easy it is to do this. It is about a strategy of no compromise and no aid in adoption of proprietary software.

It might seem like I'm taking this too far. I do personally sometimes fall to temptation of simply helping someone find even proprietary software, if it's just so easy for me to do this. But if I were Mark Shuttleworth, and following a no-compromise strategy, in order to send hard loud clear signal to proprietary vendors, I wouldn't *officially* aid users in finding proprietary software. It wouldn't be in our Free Software portal. It wouldn't be in a distro itself and it wouldn't be on our repositories. They can get enough help in setting up alternative repositories and helping each other install this stuff this way if they wish, but at least Nvidia and ATI wouldn't be able to say "Ubuntu supports our drivers".

And that is the goal. They have to see us keeping as much distance from their proprietary stuff as possible, or otherwise we'd be able to make no significant meaningful pressure.

stojic wrote:

I maybe used too strong words there, but you talked about "sending a clear message to hardware manufacturers", so you deliberately choose not to mention information that many users will need, solely because this information points to proprietary software. This is, in my opinion, treating users in the bad way.

Man, I would probably be giving them some hints or even an exact way to get to these bits if they came to me and asked me directly if I would see that they would find their way to it anyway, with or without my help. I do usually opt for being nice. Eye But I still wouldn't do anything that could be construed as support for this proprietary software. It is not about treating users badly. It is about a strategy towards a goal that if achieved will benefit those users much more than the situation we would have if we didn't put pressure on vendors.

These users who I am supposedly treating badly would appreciate having free drivers, free flash and other free equivalents of better quality, stability and maintanability.

stojic wrote:

I'll point out again that I don't think that proprietary bits are a must, but they do help very much, especially if you want the adoption to be fast. I am only talking about the bits for which there are no free alternatives.

Well the line has to be drawn somewhere. Where is to be determined depending on what the strategy is. I am afraid that if we want to be convincing for the proprietary vendors we can't compromise with them at the same time. This requires keeping a distance from everything proprietary.

It is not about distancing users at the same time though, but that's why there are support forums. Noone would be denied to continue asking for how to install proprietary bits if they really want to, and there will always be someone that will help. So instead of doing it on a semi-official level, support for these bits can be simply done within the community, as it has been so far, where individuals can decide for themselves how much will they help with those bits or not, as long as this can't be construed as "this distro supports these proprietary components". It doesn't, but the community gets around anything unsupported they may need.

I am talking about it as something that doesn't have to be given such a big priority because it doesn't. Priority is in building PCs which just work with Free Software, and priority is developing alternatives which don't yet exist. Another priority which compliments this is to pressure vendors to release specs (at the least) or drivers as Free Software.

All of these things are more important than patching people's systems up with proprietary software and calling it a "temporary" activity while at the same time, by that act alone, detributing from the chances to send a clear signal to vendors about what we think of proprietary software.

Anyway... I think I've written enough. We can disagree, that's perfectly fine. Not everyone has to go the same way. We'll get there sooner or later, one way or another, I hope. Smiling

Quote:I appreciate that


I appreciate that they took their time and money to provide these to me for free.

This is what gets to me. You think they are actually doing you some sort of a favor by providing you with drivers without forcing you to pay, as if you don't have an inherent right to run your card after you bought it. So, what if they didn't provide you with drivers? You would buy a card and wouldn't be able to run it at all, hence giving them your money for nothing.

And considering yout attitude towards their graciousness, you would say "hey, they don't need to enable my card once I buy it from them, I can hang it on the wall as a nice ornament".



Same for codecs and other software. So, you run your computer your way, and I'll run mine my way.

Same indeed.

And sure, I guess it's your right if you want to let people restrict you. Enjoy your ornament.


Anonymous wrote:

I've been a Linux developer for over two years now, and I think the only thing preventing more users from switching is the "GNU/Linux" zealots who spend more time fighting holy wars and explaining that "free software" isn't gratis but rather libre rather than actually improving the code in the first place.

If you really think that spreading information about Freedom is harming GNU/Linux adoption, it's sad, but at least our opinions are getting through to people. I've said before, and I mean wholeheartedly, there is little to no reason to adopt GNU/Linux save for Freedom.

Anonymous wrote:

My desktop machine uses an ATI Xpress 200 integrated graphics chipset. Users such as you would probably suggest that I simply get an nVIDIA card since that "just works" with Linux.

I consider myself a Free Software zealot (and proudly so!) so I feel in this case I can make my recommendation, which is not nVidia. Firstly, there are a wide range of cards that can do 2D using some form of Free software driver. I have YET to find a single card (though admittedly, I've not tried) that isn't VESA compatible.

As for 3D accelerated cards, your options are much slimmer. Depending on your definition of "Free" your options are limited to the Radeon driver (Which, last I checked, supported up to the Radeon X850 XT), one of Intel's graphics chipsets (Recomended, since they license the drivers fully under the GPL and honour the 4 freedoms) or the working, but yet seriously under powered nouveau driver under development for all modern nVidia cards. (

Anonymous wrote:

And when it comes right down to it, the ATI drivers are free to download and even redistribute, so long as they are not modified without permission

Ethics of Free Software aside, do you really not consider this to be an offensive thing to demand? I personally do. This is NOT different, in my mind, than Nike saying I may not spit while wearing their shoes. It is like Ford saying I may not drink diet cola while driving their trucks.

On a level of quality, as the Open Source Initiative points out, and the Free Software Manifesto holds dear, without unrestricted access to the source code, it is not possible to remove bugs, or fix undesired operation of the driver. While you personally may not have ever had a problem with your card, I assure you you're in a minority. Before I made the push to eliminate non-Free software from my system, I spent quite a bit of time assisting people with the installation of the ATI or nVidia drivers. I assure you, by far, they are not nearly as trouble-free as you wish to pass them off as being.

Anonymous wrote:

Paying for a new video card just to use a "free" driver is simply absurd

Any more absurd than demanding that 3D acceleration work when integrated chipsets will not be very productive in any situation where 3D might be needed, such as CG rendering or high quality video editing? I think no. That's not to say that wanting 3D to work is absurd. You pay for a product, you have every right to expect it perform to a certain level. Likewise, I do too. I expect it to perform with Libre code that I can modify to change how it works. You pay for a 3D chipset because you want 3D. I pay for Free drivers because I want them. That is the beauty of a free market economy.

Anonymous wrote:

I'm planning to put in a much more friendly interface and remove the Slackware code altogether

I've noticed you mention your distribution often, but never actually give it's name (or yours). Okay, that's fine. But look at the example you gave. Something isn't performing properly or to your liking (in your own distro!) and you say that you'll simply remove the code that is doing so. This is an example of the software Freedoms that we fight to protect. Now, say that after you've fixed your installer your distro is adopted faster than Ubuntu was, and in the next three years, 98% of the computers in the world run your distro. The ATI drivers have a bug that is causing hard system locks. Users are demanding that you fix your distro. How would you do this if you dont' have the freedom to modify the ATI driver?

Is that lack of control something you want to risk in a product (or hobby) you spend so much time on? Personally, I think not. Your distro doesn't run 98% of the computers in the world and you're still focusing in improving it, which means to some level you care about the level of control and quality of your releases.

It is software freedom that gives you what control you have.

Anonymous wrote:

By the way, "GNU/Linux" is just stupid.

I agree. Since GNU/OpenSolaris feels so much like GNU/kFreeBSD and GNU/Linux, I suggest dropping the Linux entirely. The system you're used to running is a combination of a kernel, basic file and system manipulation utilities and probably an X server and hundreds of userspace applications. To give every one of them credit would be impossible, as it's a community driven modular system. So, let's use a name that describes uniformity among all of the systems that include it; GNU.

Anonymous wrote:

those 80s has-beens have no reason to shove their name down everyone's throat

Barring the points above... Remove all GNU software from your "Linux" system and then reboot. Try posting a rebutal. That includes removing GCC and libc and rebuilding your kernel without them. As far as I know, there isn't yet a decent Free Software compiler other than GCC that is capable of running a complete kernel up system (which is why, despite their wishes NOT to, *BSD still uses GCC).

The GNU project, for the record, still develops their software. They may be "has-beens" but they are still extremely vital to the foundation of the Linux system; your unwillingness to recognize it doesn't change it.



So the USA is close minded because if you invest 5, 10, or 20 man-years developing
a way to compress data, that it gives you a chance to recoup your investment? I'm
sorry, I may disagree with software patents, but I would hardly call wanting to
protect people's work as close minded. It is the age old struggle between producers
and consumers. It is a lose-lose situation and either way you hurt some body...
there is nothing evil about it. The only people who can't understand that are the
free loaders who want to steal everything.

And then the comments are full of people who believe that proprietary software *should*
be hard to install because it is evil. That sounds like the people who say sexually
transmitted diseases *should* exist to prevent sex out of marriage. It is insane. People
like you guys think corporations and governments are the source of all evil...but it is not.
The evil is in individual's hearts. The rich man's greed is matched only by your envy
for his gold.

Nothing much


I don't have a real problem with your position as stated above. I was speaking a bit more generally and using your post a a starting point. I'm sorry, that was not totally fair. However, I have been reading a lot of posts along these lines lately and my thoughts above are sort of a distillation of what I am starting to pick up as a theme. I just want people that are very passionate about Free software to stop and consider the final outcome of their own opinions when fully fleshed out, and make sure they still have something they want, if they ever get what they wish for.

Some of the most troubling comments I have read lately are connected to things like Linspires desire to make a system for licensing, distributing, and installing non-free software into various Linux distros. I think this is a fantastic idea depending on how well they are able to implement it.

With todays news regarding Microsoft and the EU if a person in the future wants full interoperability with certain Microsoft products(which is very important to business uptake of Linux) a mechanism like linspires will become absolutely necessary, and I prefer it to under the table deals like Novels. I happen to believe that ownership of intellectual property will never fully go away. Nor do I think it should, I think sharing should be voluntary or again it is not freedom.

So to sum up as long as nothing gets engineered into Linux that prevents such freedom and flexibility in the future (GPLv3? I don't know. I am not trying to start a fight here) then I am happy because I think user demand will drive the rest and eventually Linux will be the most free and open and best OS out there.

Quote: I happen to believe


I happen to believe that ownership of intellectual property will never fully go away. Nor do I think it should, I think sharing should be voluntary or again it is not freedom.

Ah, but there is a vague statement. What is "intellectual property" exactly? It seems to be a term that the industry and misguided others use to jointly describe copyrights, patents and trademarks. But those three concepts are rather too different from each other to be thrown so readily under the common term "intellectual property".

The big question is whether it is even possible to really own what is intellectual, knowledge and information, fluid things that are inherently shared between people. I've become convinced that it simply cannot be a "property" in the same sense as physical goods. We can only arrange the system to artificially behave in a way that makes us treat information and other intellectual goods as "property", but we're seeing how good, that is bad, does that work today.

Copyright is not going away, but it needs a serious reform. Trademarks aren't going away, but they aren't at the issue. Patents aren't going away either, but they should be ceased for information and software.


So to sum up as long as nothing gets engineered into Linux that prevents such freedom and flexibility in the future (GPLv3? I don't know. I am not trying to start a fight here) then I am happy because I think user demand will drive the rest and eventually Linux will be the most free and open and best OS out there.

Even GPLv3 is an optional license. It is not fair to talk about it as some sort of a imposition machine. You have a choice not to use it! That said, yes indeed, user demand. All we can do is try to influence their decisions. We can't force anything upon anyone nor should we be able to.

But we are all humans with a gift of thinking for ourselves, making intellectual decisions. An open dialog is good. We can all learn something and apply it to our actions and decisions.

There are better ways to

There are better ways to recoup whatever the cost was than to restrict everyone, for half a century or what, to be able to implement it in their programs legally. What's the point of this invention if it is this severly limited? It basically forces others to re-invent the wheel if they wish to have the same thing.

Information is not the same as physical goods and should not be treated the same way. What you can patent is a blueprint of some incredible new space engine, because it is very hard to build such a thing, and you want to have a shot at building it and using it to recoup your costs first.

But consider software. With software the blueprint immediately IS the program or a concept that can be used in a program. You can implement it and make use of it immediately. Once you have made it public you can already have a ready working program. So how much sense is there in restricting everyone else, at this point, from building same concepts into their own programs?

It seems that software patents serve to restrict innovation rather than promote it, and yet that's what patent system was supposed to do.


And then the comments are full of people who believe that proprietary software *should*
be hard to install because it is evil.

Saying that we don't want to play a role in easily bringing proprietary software to the user is not the same as saying we will deliberately make it hard. Make of it what you wish.


like you guys think corporations and governments are the source of all evil...but it is not.

Oh yeah, why don't you take that a step further and call us communists? I mean it'd really round up your FUD campaign.

It appears you are incapable of discerning between criticism for certain business models or laws and outright opposition to all business and all law.

If you would read the article you'll see I talked about business. And corporations are businesses. Heck I am building a business of my own and if it'd grow into a corporation that does things the way I believe is right, I wouldn't exactly complain.

So take your FUD campaign elsewhere, or contribute something meaningful to the discussion.

Business Planning, And The Like


You raise some interesting and worthy points, Kevin Dean.

Kevin Dean wrote:

When hardware makers write drivers and then push them into the Free Software communities, they can effectively reduce the amount of money they use to maintain their drivers. For instance, rather than paying for every bit of change done to their drivers, they can allow the community to tweak, edit and improve them. This raises quality without raising costs (and often while lowering them).

The comapnies could then re-invest this money in development and improvement of their hardware, giving them a competitive edge over their rivals.

That goes at least some of the way to answering the old question, "How would hardware vendors 'protect' their 'precious' 'intellectual property'?"

One of the reasons often offered for keeping drivers closed-source is to try to keep hardware implementation details secret. But why don't they just include an implementation-detail-hiding interface in the hardware itself? Because - we are so often told - it's cheaper to do it in software. After all, the software can be copied very, very cheaply once written, whereas the hardware is somewhat more costly to mass produce.

If an implementation-detail-hiding interface is included in the hardware, it may well cost a bit more to manufacture. But the driver development and maintenance costs will also be reduced. If done Open Source, the driver costs can be reduced even further, and, at the same time, the vendor can reach a wider market. The mere existence of the Open Source driver option reduces the benefit (to the vendor) of doing the implementation-detail-hiding stuff in a closed-source driver.

But then there are all those cases where the driver isn't merely hiding hardware implementation details, but also contains some (or even a lot) of the implementation itself. In such cases the driver isn't merely a driver, but is also something of a product itself. Things are not so straight-forward then, but we could start by conceptually separating the hardware from the software in our minds, just as we conceptually separate memory management units in processors from memory management parts of operating system kernels. I think we might then be talking about the virtues of tying hardware and software together in a single product versus the virtues of treating the hardware and software as distinct products. But anyway...

I take offense

Anonymous wrote:

People like you guys think corporations and governments are the source of all evil...but it is not.

Yeah, sure. We don't vote and we only eat what grows in our gardens. Our houses are made of trees we cut down ourselves. The truth is that people like YOU think there is only black and white, and that criticism of a particular business model means rejection of all business.


The evil is in individual's hearts. The rich man's greed is matched only by your envy for his gold.

I'm offended. If there's anything I don't want to become, it's a greedy person. I don't give a damn about money as long as there is enough of it to pay for an average life. I am creative because I like to be, not because I want to make a maximized profit or "be paid back for what I invested". Actually, if you care about money, why invest if you know it's going to be difficult to be paid back? Better become a banker instead of an artist, right?

libervisco wrote:

How much friendlier than Microsoft do we have to get, exactly, to please the masses, according to these Open Source hot heads who are advocating this "nothing short of perfect convenience will cut it" concept??? Guys, you're taking it way too far.

A thought that just occured to me is this: Why haven't Apple already dominated "the desktop"?


Again, you are overblowing the inconvenience. They don't have to have this kind of "perfection". Using GNU/Linux will ultimately still be much easier than using Windows, even if they have to check with that little GUI that came right with their computer where all you have to do is enter a name of the manufacturer of a certain piece of hardware to see whether it's green or red. If it's green, go buy it. If it's red, don't.

Reminds me of an idea I had a while ago (but never did anything with).

Right now, I happen to have an IBM ThinkPad that I've been provided with for some work I'm doing. (I haven't been given it, just provided with it.) It's got some stickers on it. One says, "Designed for Microsoft Windows XP". Another says, "intel inside celeron". Obviously, these are supposed to be regarded as good things - otherwise why would they put stickers on the case saying these things? That, I think, is a basic but significant part of such marketing exercises.

To the potential customer in the shop, it gives the impression that it's a laptop that has those supposedly good features worth boasting about with those little stickers. It helps promote sales of those laptops. It also gives the impression that those features are good features. That promotes Intel, Intel Celerons, and Microsoft Windows XP. A clever little piece of propaganda.

Now, suppose things in shops had another little sticker on them? Say, a little sticker with Tux on it, saying, "Tux Certified"? Many people might not know who or what Tux is or represents, etc, but, all else seeming equal, if given a choice between a "Tux Certified" laptop and a laptop without that little sticker, which would more shoppers choose? Of course, it doesn't have to be Tux, and the slogan doesn't have to be "Tux Certified", but you get the idea.

It would also make it easier for those who wish to use something other than Microsoft Windows. All they'd need to do is look for the little "Tux Certified" sticker, and know, with confidence, when they see it, that it'll "just work" with major Linux-based distributions.

I'd imagine the Open Source Initiative (OSI) would be the obvious organisation to organise and run such a campaign, so perhaps I should suggest it to them.

Anyway, the basic idea is:

  • to offer hardware vendors with something (it doesn't have to be a sticker on the hardware itself) that helps sell their hardware in the shops,
  • at the same time as promoting FOSS as good,
  • and making it easier for people who want the FOSS option open to them to choose FOSS-friendly hardware.

To quote Del-boy, "Everyone's a winner!" :-D

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