Wednesday, May 29, 2024

2005: Were the Grownups in Charge?

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At this time of year it’s irresistible to take a look back. It was an interesting and fun year, and it was also a year full of events that left me scratching my head and wondering if any grownups are in charge.

First, the Good Stuff

1. Ubuntu Linux
Seemingly out of nowhere came a warm, friendly Linux distribution that took the Linux world by storm. It seemed that overnight it became the most popular distribution. Ubuntu means “humanity to others”, a nice change from the usual “survival of the loudest” attitude that infests so many tech communities.

Ubuntu is based on Debian and is targeted at desktop users, though like any Linux you may adapt it to whatever role you need it to serve. It can be summed up as “Debian with an easy installer, up-to-date-packages and nice people.”

2. Debian Linux
In the past few years we have seen an explosion of Debian-based distributions, like Ubuntu, Knoppix, Linspire, Xandros, Mepis, Morphix, Libranet, Skolelinux, Amber Linux, DeMuDi and many more. Now Debian has become a grandparent as some of these inspired more derivatives. There are at least dozens, if not hundreds, of specialized bootable live Linuxes based on Knoppix. Ubuntu spawned Kubuntu, Edubuntu, UbuntuLite, Guadalinex, Ufficio Zero and gosh knows what else.

One of the more interesting trends is the growth of localized distributions like Guadalinex, Ufficio Zero, and Skolelinux. These are complete distributions with all the functionality of any Linux, but language-localized. Again, the Free/Open Source world leads the way- can you name any other mainstream operating system that is found in multiple languages, and that permits users to translate and distribute it?

3. Red Hat Gives It Away and Profits
Pop quiz: name a company that gives its products away, competes with a number of identical free clones, yet racks up its most successful year ever. That’s right, Red Hat, Inc.

Red Hat’s rise to financial success started when it discontinued its free-as-in-freeloader edition, Red Hat Linux. Howls of protest filled the heavens — “I’ll never use any of your free stuff ever again!” But the Red Hat Enterprise Linux editions are doing well, even though they carry hefty price tags, and the company expanded its free-of-cost offerings.

That’s right, expanded. Red Hat sponsors Fedora Linux, the popular free-of-cost and Free (as in GPL) community distribution. Additionally, the source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux is available via free download, which a number of enterprising folks have taken advantage of to release their own RHEL clones: CentOS, White Box, Lineox, and Pie Box, to name a few. These are all re-branded RHEL- what you don’t get are the Red Hat trademarked logos, Red Hat support or certification. And yet Red Hat thrives.

Lunatic Meanness
Treating customers as enemies is a trend that shows no sign of diminishing. In a year marked by an amazing torrent of attacks on paying customers and random bystanders, and on our rights and privacies by a number of companies and their pet lawmakers, I have to give the blue ribbon to Sony BMG Music:

1. Sony music CDs install spyware rootkits on user’s computers in the name of “Digital Rights Management.”
2. Said spyware/rootkit phones home, ruins system files, makes the system vulnerable to remote attacks, cannot be uninstalled, and it is never disclosed that it is there. In fact it conceals its presence.
3. Microsoft’s much-vaunted “Trusted Computing” initiative does nothing to prevent Windows from happily installing said spyware/rootkit.
4. Bigtime security vendors like McAfee and Symantec are mysteriously unable to detect it either.
5. When Sony is busted, its first response is “tough beans.”
6. Their second response is “OK, here’s a removal tool, now quit whining and go buy more CDs.”
7. The removal tool does not remove the rootkit, but only removes the cloak.
8. Then, in a crowning irony, it was discovered that the spyware/rootkit contains misappropriated FOSS code. So much for respecting copyrights, eh?

Back to the Good Stuff
The other excellent new thing that took off this year was blogging. Yes, blogging’s been around for awhile, but this is the year that bloggers really started to get noticed for showing up so-called “professional” “journalists.”

It was a mere blogger, Mark Russinovich, who broke the Sony rootkit story. It was mere bloggers who exposed Microsoft’s despicable dirty tactics in trying to bully the state of Massachusetts out of adopting the Open Document Format, to the point of trying to force a reorganization of the entire state government, and trying to discredit Massachusett’s chief technology officer. David Berlind and Andy Updegrove did sterling work on this story, as well as the grandmother of high-quality blogs, Pamela Jones at Groklaw. Neither of these events would have been news stories if it were left up to the “pros.”

2006 is going to be even better. See you there!

This article was first published on

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