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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


Simon G Best wrote: A

Simon G Best wrote:

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

Indeed, a good question I'd say. Apple really polished the convenience part to the max, even if they had to restrict the OS to their own hardware only to do it. Yet it isn't dominant. Might be because it is pricey, sure, but as Mac fans themselves would say, the prices have been falling a bit too.

So if it's not convenience that plays the biggest role what else could it be, flexibility perhaps? What more flexibility could you have than with a Free Software powered PC? Smiling

Simon G Best wrote:

Now, suppose things in shops had another little sticker on them? Say, a little sticker with Tux on it, saying, "Tux Certified"?

I like that idea. I am not sure whether I'd agree with putting OSI behind this project, but I like the concept. Even if it would be OSI who would do it, as long as the sticker can be used with PCs which have only Free Software on them it'd sound good to me. Maybe we can have another sticker that says "100% Free Software" or even better "100% non-proprietary". The latter sounds like something closer to what general population would understand. Smiling

Simon G Best wrote:

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

Oh Del-boy, always an optimist, never giving up. I like it! Smiling

Fully is the important word in that sentence to me


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.

Just to clarify I think software patents are absurd and definitely destructive to the software industry both free and proprietary. Software should be handled with copyright or "copyleft". In other words copying someone else's work if they do not want you to is stealing. But doing something similar in your own words(code) is not. However, content like movies and music are not likely to be "freed" in the sense many people talk about it because they do belong to the artist/studio(I hate what studios have become but the underlying concepts involved force me to accept their claims on the material) and can not be forced to be "free" in either the beer or freedom sense.

Again people are free to give away whatever they want and I am a huge fan of collaboration. But in the context of this discussion Linux will never enjoy a very wide uptake(IMO) if people are not free to use it the way they choose. Like, listening to popular music or watching movies.

Copyright, "Stealing"?

Anonymous wrote:

In other words copying someone else's work if they do not want you to is stealing.

"Stealing"? What is it that they cease to have if you copy the stuff they wrote without their permission?

Quote: Again people are


Again people are free to give away whatever they want and I am a huge fan of collaboration. But in the context of this discussion Linux will never enjoy a very wide uptake(IMO) if people are not free to use it the way they choose. Like, listening to popular music or watching movies.

Well, not making something very convenient doesn't equal denying them the freedom to pursue this themselves anyway. However the specific examples you mentioned, popular movies and music, there is actually full Free Software support for both mp3 and popular video formats (in the ffmpeg package) so at least in countries where software patents aren't legalized it would be completely OK to ship this with a computer hence making it possible for mp3's and movies like DivX, Xvid, Windows Media, Apple Movies and of course ogg to work out of the box. Even DVDs would be supported in countries where CSS decryption is not illegal, using the free libdvdcss package which is basically Free Software. Smiling

That said, Free Software already supports most of the media. The only biggest obstacle here are software patents, but only in countries which have them legalized.

But for example in Croatia and many European countries this is not a problem. If I build a Free Software PC business in Croatia, my PCs will have mp3s and DVDs work out of the box. Eye

So, 100% Free Software isn't necessarily all that inconvenient as many seem to be thinking. Smiling

Exactly. It's already tiring

Exactly. It's already tiring having to point that out constantly. Thank you.

Simon G Best wrote: In such

Simon G Best wrote:

In such cases the driver isn't merely a driver, but is also something of a product itself.

To me , the litmus test is "do updates require physical access to the machine?" In the case of driver updates that are "more" than just drivers, yes, it can be done remotely. This then, is not a hardware component, it is software. Some have used the term "firmware" and while I recognize the technical distinction, it is software by everything that I define it as; and as such, needs a Free implementation.



Just to clarify, while I mentioned laptops in my previous comment, I was actually thinking of hardware more generally. I really should have been clear on that, but I wasn't. So, for example, if you're looking for a printer, you could just look for the "Tux Certified" (or whatever) sticker (or whatever) when you're in the shop. Same for cameras, scanners, etc. Quick and easy.

Hmmm, talking of printers and Tux, I'm now reminded of when I got a cheap Lexmark printer. I chose it because Linux compatibility/support was advertised, and, apparently, it would work with the version of RedHat I was using at the time. But then, once I'd got it home, and was trying to get it working, it seemed that my particular version of RedHat was not actually supported after all. (I can't remember exactly how the original information had turned out to be unclear, but I think it was something to do with minor version numbers, or "and above" being more general than was actually the case, or something.)

During my struggles to get it working, I called the customer support line (or whatever they called it), and was told that my USB cable was too long! It was not too long, and worked just fine, from what I could see from the kernel messages. I was not too impressed.

Somehow, though, when I tried yet again to get it working by reinstalling the software from scratch, it just happened to work. I don't know how or why, but it worked. That's the only reason I didn't end up taking it back to the shop on the grounds of misadvertised compatibility (which I very nearly did). (I'd already phoned the shop, and, with no trouble at all, they'd said they'd give me a refund, as it was a clear case of incorrect advertising.)

That printer's now gone. After not that long a life, its power supply thing failed. I took the opportunity to get an HP ink jet printer, as I wanted to reward them for their Open Source ink jet driver software stuff. (I found it much easier to upgrade to RedHat 9 to get it working, though, but that was okay as far as I was concerned.)

So, anyway, I think there'd definitely need to be proper controls on the use of such a certification mark, or whatever it would be. Just something to prevent such a certification mark being misused by vendors whose hardware does depend (even in part) on proprietary software.

tux certified stickers


Hardware manufacturers don't put those "designed for windows" stickers on their products because it helps sell them. It doesn't, because everything has those logos. The real reason is that microsoft pays them to use those logos (or offers a lower price for windows or whatever). If a manufacturer advertises a computer in a newspaper or magazine, and puts the "designed for windows" logo in that advertisement, microsoft will pay for part of the advertising costs.

So if someone wants to "tux certify" hardware, they're going to have to pay for getting those logos on it too! Can the OSI afford that? Only when lots of customers start asking for tux certified hardware, will manufacturers add labels for free or even pay the certificating organization.

Of course, if you have a company that assembles computers, you're free to put "guaranteed compatible with free software" labels on it instead of windows labels, and for sure geeks will become more likely to buy from you. Other companies may follow your example.

tbuitenh wrote: Of course,

tbuitenh wrote:

Of course, if you have a company that assembles computers, you're free to put "guaranteed compatible with free software" labels on it instead of windows labels, and for sure geeks will become more likely to buy from you. Other companies may follow your example.

Indeed. Man I'm really attracted to that kind of business... I wish to be part of it if not build it myself.. Hmm we'll see..

Others who are able should consider starting such companies too! I think the time is right. Smiling

It Sounds Like a Goer!


Let's see...

We know, from the recent Dell stuff, that there are a lot of people who apparently would like PCs with Linux based operating systems preinstalled. I don't know how it is in the rest of the world, but here in the UK, Dell advertise that they're "not available in the shops" (I think that's how they word it); you have to order PCs direct from Dell. If that's how it is generally, then it would seem there's already a willing market for "mail order" PCs with Linux-based operating systems preinstalled.

We know that even though Linux-based operating system users form only a minority of home and small office PC users, being only a small slice of the market, it's still a very large market overall. A small slice of a very large market is still quite a sizeable market itself. Apple do okay with just a small slice of that market, and there are many PC vendors who do okay with even smaller slices of the Windows dominated bulk of the market. If the Linux slice of the market is as undersupported as often seems to be the case, then a Linux-preinstalled vendor may stand to take quite a bit of that Linux slice relatively easily. Of course, there's also the fact that many home and small office Linux users build their own systems from parts, reuse older systems, and so on, and are more likely to do so than Windows users. But still, there was apparently a strong call to Dell for Linux-preinstalled PCs.

Economies of scale need to be considered. I don't know what the market for PC parts is like, but if a Linux-preinstalled PC ends up costing more than an equivalent Windows-preinstalled PC, it would be cheaper for potential customers to just get the Windows-preinstalled ones and just install some Linux-based operating system over the top. If bulk buying of parts can get the cost of each PC down to a competitive level, it would be easier to just get a Linux-preinstalled PC than a Windows-preinstalled one.

A selling point would be that the hardware would be guaranteed FOSS-friendly, "Just Works" (which would be a good slogan, if it wasn't for how it could also be read as meaning "barely works"). It would mean the customer wouldn't have to spend time researching hardware compatibility, driver status, and that sort of thing. (There might even be customers who intend to install Windows themselves, but who want to keep the FOSS option open.)

"Naked" versions of the PCs, with no operating systems preinstalled, could easily be offered as well as the Linux-preinstalled versions. Same PCs, but with the customer having the option of whether or not to have something preinstalled. As they'd be the same hardware, the customer would still know, with confidence, that the hardware's FOSS-friendly.

There's also no need to offer just one Linux distribution. Fedora Core, Debian, Ubuntu, GnewSense (did I spell that right?), etc, could be offered as options. For some distributions, it might be an idea to partner with the providers for such things as end user support services. I'd imagine this would be something that would need to be researched quite a bit.

As well as offering a variety of operating system options, it would also be a good idea to offer flexibility in hardware configurations. (There are adverts on TV here in the UK where Dell advertise how they tailor their PCs for their customers' needs.) Rather than just offer a fixed range of PCs, it makes sense to offer menus of parts, so that customers can pick and choose the combinations they want. It means more work for the vendor, but if it means more sales, more revenue, then it may be well worth doing. Combining with the anticipated need to place relatively large orders with part vendors in order to take advantage of economies of scale, it would mean having a small range of graphics cards to choose from, a small range of hard drives, etc, but with a huge resulting range of possible combinations of those various parts.

Marketing, publicity, advertising, that sort of thing, also need to be done. There's not much point in pursuing such a business if only a tiny minority of potential customers are even aware of it. That, I think, is where a lot of the work would lie, and where a lot of investment would be needed. It's another one of those "economies of scale" things.

Hmmm, this is starting to sound like a big project!

But what about annoying things like proprietary media formats? The most likely customers are already Linux users. They already know the score, and are using Linux-based operating systems anyway. In much of the world, patent encumberance is a foreign affair, and not really an issue. But in the US, it's another matter.

But right now, chicken and chips have just arrived from the local chip shop, and I must go and eat them, so I'll continue this later.


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