Software Freedom vs. Usability: Must We Lose One To Gain The Other?: Page 2

Posted November 15, 2007

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

(Page 2 of 3)

Live distros were then a relatively new concept and the hardcore amongst the Linux usership had a real problem with the fact that the most popular amongst them at the time, Knoppix, included some proprietary software for compatibility reasons. Even though proprietary inclusion in Linux distributions was already happening previous to this, it was Knoppix that was wooing many new users over to the Linux side of the fence due to its ease of use.

One thing that I believe was lost in the midst of all this is: what truly drives innovation with software? Is it the promise of wealth, or the ability to provide society as a whole with a freely available OS solution? At one time, before the boom that was Microsoft and Apple, I think it was largely providing others with the benefits of one's creation.

Software Freedom vs. Usability
"I find it rather comical to use something called "Burning Dog" instead of Firefox, due to trademark issues from Mozilla."

Today, closed source software is big money, huge even. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft, among others, try to convince the world at large – with slick marketing campaigns – that they’re the only option.

And this has even been an issue in the Linux world as well, with companies like Linspire, Xandros, Novell and Red Hat, all working to market their own special brand of Linux distribution to those who would be willing to buy it. Each preaching its own benefits, each claiming to be just what their target market is looking for. All of them, of course, looking to build (or increase) a solid marketshare.

Novell and Red Hat, as you can see here, generally run at their own pace, without using code from other distributions besides that of the kernel itself, GNU/Linux.

So what is GNU/Linux? In order to make heads or tails of that mess, you must first understand the history between the Linux kernel and the man behind the Free Software, Richard Stallman. Here is the condensed version: According to Stallman, the proper name for the Linux kernel is indeed, GNU/Linux. And according to Linus Torvalds, we should be calling it "leen-ooks," so pick out which ever name works best for you. But to be fair, traditionally speaking, GNU/Linux is the proper way to describe Linux as it is a GNU (GNU is not Unix) project.

So in the end, the GNU part of the Linux name has been dropped, much like we call the United States of America "the U.S." It was mostly a matter of naming convenience and lazy branding on the part of those who use the kernel in their own distributions.

But this type of thing is not something that just happens to the Linux kernel. Even the code base of popular distributions can suffer a similar fate, sliding into what some people refer to as obscurity. I’m talking about the bastardization of the Debian distribution code base.

Debian, a distribution coded by those expressing strong feelings about remaining free of anything proprietary, has to live with being used by likes of offshoots, Xandros and Linspire. These distributions take Debian code and then bundle it with the same proprietary goodies that the folks at Debian work so hard at railing against. It's legal, but not very pleasant for the folks working on Debian, I imagine.

The purists fight back, this time it's personal

Another distribution based on Debian, also sponsored by a corporation, has found success firmly in the middle of the two groups. Vowing never to make Ubuntu something unobtainable to the masses with a price barrier, Ubuntu sponsor Canonical has managed to keep any proprietary modules intact with their supported Linux offering, while at the same time preaching freedom of choice in how one uses their software.

Ubuntu has become something of a rock star within the Linux world. Despite recent gains by the now famed PCLinuxOS, a simple Google Trends query will show you the real story of which distro is set to become the industry standard for desktop Linux – it's Ubuntu. And this is not sitting too well with the Linux purists, as proprietary drivers in their beloved GNU/Linux is not something these users will ever tolerate.

GNU/Linux Columns
10 Things Ubuntu Needs To Improve On

100 Open Source Downloads

Gobuntu: Free Linux Distro or a Free Drivers Experiment?

Gallery: Open Source Photo Album

FREE Tech Newsletters

Just as things were looking bleak for the Linux purists on the newbie adoption front, from the guts of Ubuntu development comes a distribution that shares the vision of its Debian roots. Making sure to maintain Ubuntu's ease of use for the common man. Enter, gNewSense.

Just like Debian, there are no trademarked logos or restricted modules, and all proprietary firmware has been stripped out. To the Linux purist, this is GNU/Linux distro at its finest. Yet one must get past the absurdity of remaining so pure that trademarked material cannot be included, while the code of the software associated with it can be. I find it rather comical to use something called "Burning Dog" instead of Firefox, due to trademark issues from Mozilla.

Use of titling like “Burning Dog” and a lack of easy access to Flash, Java and other restricted items is just partly where Ubuntu and gNewSense part ways. Some people are able to overcome this, others still have taken action to create free software alternatives that will provide much of the same functionality, or so the developers hope.

Next page: Free software alternatives to closed source solutions

Page 2 of 3

Previous Page
1 2 3
Next Page

0 Comments (click to add your comment)
Comment and Contribute


(Maximum characters: 1200). You have characters left.



IT Management Daily
Don't miss an article. Subscribe to our newsletter below.

By submitting your information, you agree that datamation.com may send you Datamation offers via email, phone and text message, as well as email offers about other products and services that Datamation believes may be of interest to you. Datamation will process your information in accordance with the Quinstreet Privacy Policy.