Thursday, June 21, 2007

Linux as a Home OS and legal issues

Getting Around the Legal issues with OS.X

Legal is not the same thing as moral. Legal is defined by who creates the laws. A law can be passed making anything illegal, and another passed making something legal again. In the US, we literally amended the most important legal document of our land to outlaw alcoholic beverages, and then amended it *again* to make alcohol legal again. Whatever morality there is in and around the topic of alcohol never changed for any one person. If your belief is that alcohol was OK before Prohibition, that was not changed when it became illegal. If your belief is that alcohol is evil, then that did not change when it became legal again.

As it relates to Linux, laws have been passed in the US that put the legality of using Linux as a DVD player into a grey area. There are similar, other DRM type issues.

I work for a software company. Stealing software that has not been clearly offered as Open Source, and for free is clearly a problem I would have. But I just can not quite get my head wrapped the idea that if I play a DVD on Linux, and do not use one of the "legal" players, that I am a wanton criminal.

I believe in patents, as they were originally intended: As a way for completely original, not obvious inventions to be protected so that the inventor could benefit from their originality and innovation. Limited in time so that after a point, everyone could benefit. Ditto Copyrights and trademarks. I also believe in Fair Use, as it used to be defined, such that people could quote copyrighted works in reviews, etc.

I get that work went into creating the DVD format, and that patents were granted, and pooled at the DVD6C. I can not even see the license they offer without signing up for stuff though, so I have no idea what all it says, if it was even written in a language I could understand. I have not researched the patents to see if they are obvious, or of the nature that a "round disk 5.25 inches across will be inserted in a tray".

I know that patents are granted for all sorts of stupid things that when challenged fall to the ground as being un-patentable, or previous work. I am not saying anything about DVD patents is this way. I am saying that to find out requires far more legal ability than I have. Far more research than I have done.

Instead, I support open standards wherever and whenever they occur, so that I can just stay out of that morass of anti-innovation. PNG instead or JPG for example.

I do like my DVD's though... so...


Using OS.X as my home OS is in some ways a cheat. Sure, I like the OS. I like that most of the same tools that I use on Linux are available via MacPorts or Fink. GIMP is GIMP everywhere, and the only image manipulation tool I really use. iPhoto and Picasa are pretty good at very basic things, but get ever so slightly off the beaten path and its time to invoke GIMPy goodness. They are not really the same thing: GIMP is image editing, iPhoto and Picasa are image management with primitive image editing added as a bonus.

How OS.X is a cheat is that it gets me legally around stupid issues like playing DVD’s or closed format video formats like QT or WMV. Wherever and whenever I can, I stay with Real if only because they have a legal player everywhere. Linux, OS.X and some other OS's.

You could argue that all I have is to chose one "closed" company over another: that I am still playing the closed source game. The sad part is, that would be utterly true. I have chosen Apple over Microsoft. I'm OK with that though.

Apple seems like it is not as closed as MS. This article begs to differ on that, but then calls Safari "Open Source" when only Webkit is. For one thing, I can get DRM free music now on iTunes. Yes, I can run iTunes on MS Windows... but why? The Webkit that is the core tech of Safari is something they have shared back to the open source community . There are a fair amount of folks out in blog-o-sphere thinking that Apples move to release Safari on MS Windows is an anti-Firefox move. I don’t get that at all. My personal opinion: Safari is an OK browser, but it is hardly in Firefox league for usability yet. I mostly use Firebox even on OS.X. On MS Windows I can’t get Safari to stay up more than a few minutes. It’s Beta code, to be sure, but it is a ways to go to get where it is able to go toe to toe with Firefox. Even in it's native home of OS.X, I like Opera and Firefox better than Safari, if for no other reason than features. Call Firefox bloated, but it is hard to beat many of the plug-ins. When Safari has a Google tool bar, CS Notifier, weather, etc, I'll pay more attention to it.

One might argue all those things on OS.X are implemented via Dashboard instead, and that would be true too. I like them in my browser. Personal Preference.

I never considered buying an Apple till OS.X became based off a UNIX-like derivative. I used OS9 a couple of times. I never liked it. Part of what makes OS.X work for me is that underneath it's pretty face is an OS that I trust, and that I know how to use. Those are big factors. Till I learned "The Apple Way", I could always pop open the terminal and do it the command line way.

Another reason I use OS.X though is not very complicated. After a long day of working with computers, sometimes I just want to use a computer. One that is simple and "Just Works" (tm). And when I am in that mood, I use the Apple. I don't have to worry about blue screens and creepy weird hijacks of my computer, or anything else. Apple: the lazy mans OS. And you just can't beat the Apple hardware. It looks nice, and it is nice to use.

Hey: Isn't this about Linux?

Yes: I'm getting there.

In my most recent post over at talk.bmc, I talk about an issue that I think if slowing corporate adoption of Linux on the desktop. Here then is a similar issue for home adoption. I work around the issue by buying two computers, one from a closed/semi-closed company that I like that has made sure all the legal issues are dealt with. How many folks will do that though? Not many. I think that, other than fear of learning new things or change, this is the main roadblock to more home-use Linux adoption.

Linux, whether one uses the KDE or the Gnome, or some other GUI, for my usage, passed MS Windows standing still a while back. It is easier to install, safer to run, faster, works better on older hardware, works way better on newer hardware (relative to Vista), on and on. MS Windows advantages all lie in areas I care not about: It is for example, a target of more gaming software. If I was going to play computer games, I'd buy a Wii.

I also converted to only OASIS file formats long ago, so MS Windows killer app, MS Office, is not very interesting either. My favorite word processor is WordPerfect, but it does not yet support OASIS, and it's Linux versions are way behind, effectively eliminating it from my usage. Not even counting the money they (Corel) took from MS to not make a Linux a version. Was there really a quid-pro-quo there? I don't know. I wasn't there. All I know is there was a Linux version, MS gave them money, Linux native version was no longer in development.

When the OASIS support is out, I'll take another shot at getting WP going under WINE though. Just because Corel, for whatever reason, does not want me to run WP does not mean I don't want to.

Be Easy

Linux's goal needs to be being as easy to use as OS.X. In fact, I read in 2004 that the Gnome folks were exactly shooting for that. The Gnome of 2004 was at least as good as MS Windows. The KDE of 2004 was better than MS Windows in any way I cared about, such as ease of use, look and feel, etc. Back then that comparison was between Linux with either Gnome or KDE, and MS Windows XP. I have Vista on my Acer 5610 though, and I have to say that this hold true for me now too, 3d desktop aside.

Put in the 3d desktop, and Vista's seems more stable than the current Beryl or Compiz, if way slower and with much higher hardware requirements. My experience on one computer only... Neither Linux nor Vista is as good as OS.X in this area as it currently stands.

Linux needs to "Just Work" in the same way that OS.X does now. Ubuntu, especially in it's Mint offspring are very very far down that road. Mint 3.0 is the current default distro on my primary home laptop because it most closely emulates the OS.X experience. Not from a look and feel point of view. From a Easy point of view. Easy to install, easy to configure, easy to add or subtract features to/from. Not as pretty as OS.X yet. But very very easy.

In fact, I had not realized just how much Mint had spoiled me till I recently went back and installed Fedora 7 on an IBM X30. Even using the LiveCD version of Fedora, it took hours compared to Mints minutes. I could not believe how much harder it was, since I had been a Fedora user since FC 1.

Some Things are Easier on Linux Now

Installing Open Source software is easier on Linux, as you might expect. I noted earlier that I use GIMP everywhere: OS.X, MS Windows, and Linux. On Linux, it is one "apt-get" away. Or a point and click in Synaptic. MS Windows is slightly harder, in that I have to find the right GTK tool set, and install it first, then GIMP. But it is not hard. OS.X requires that I install X first, then a package manager like Fink or MacPorts, then install GIMP.

Today i went looking for offline blogging tools to use with this new blog. Linux had a number of them: I am using Drivel right now (later, I uploaded it to Google Docs so I could work on it from anywhere though...). I tried MacJournal on OS.X, and while it had many nice journal features, it was missing too many things I use in the blog: Things like inline URL linking. If they were there, I could not figure out where, and that violates the "easy" rule.

At home, I split my time pretty much 50/50 Linux/OS.X. Part of that is that I experiment all the time. My day job is "manager". Hard to be technical, or stay sharp. I work very hard at night and on weekends to make sure that I am up-to-date on current distros and features. That means installs, often in VM's created under either VMware on Linux or Parallels on OS.X.

Legal Linux

Circling now back to the whole issue of Linux and patents: I used to be a proponent of Xandros and Linspire as distros I recommended to people wanting easy to install, easy to run Linux. Now they have both succumbed to to the SCO like threats of MS about patents. Patents MS won't reveal but is using as FUD to get folks to bend to their will. This is where my personal morality kicks in. This stopped being about legal. If MS was revealing the patents, and open discussion was happening about them, I would feel differently. But they are not, and that I can not abide. Ubuntu and RedHat have not caved in to this, and so they are now my main Linuxen. For easy, Ubuntu, Mepis, Mint. These are the companies I will support, send money to for their products, and recommend to others. It is a little thing, I know. Pretty sure MS won't be making me any job offers either.

This is a much bigger set of issues than I can cover in one post (even one this long), so this home "Adventure" will return to this ground later.

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