[clug] A most interesting read, most interesting

Michael Cohen michael.cohen at netspeed.com.au
Tue Dec 26 11:55:53 GMT 2006

On Tue, Dec 26, 2006 at 09:54:40PM +1100, Hugh Fisher wrote:
> * Desktop hardware manufacturers have an incentive to publish details
> of how their hardware works instead of concealing it with binary drivers.

I disagree with that statement - it makes no difference what OS people use to
whether the drivers are open source or binary only. Many of the linux drivers
are binary only because (perhaps incorrectly) the manufacuturers feel that
keeping the source closed gives them a competitive edge. That is not going to
change if the majority of people were using linux, windows or any other OS.
When you consider that most modern hardware is nothing more than an fpga or
microcontroller driving some basic hardware you realise that most of the
functionality is actually in the software drivers or firmware, not a lot in
hardware. For example the usual arguement against releasing the madwifi
firmware source was that it would be possible to change the power outputs/
frequencies to make the device breach FCA rules - which is the reason why
atheros feel they need to keep the source code closed for this device.
Similarly, nvidia and ati feel that their drivers perform lots of intellectual
property algorithms etc which will give each other a competitive advantage.

There is some problems with hardware which is not supported by linux, but these
days this is less and less because most reputable hardware from reputable
manufacturers will be able to run on linux. I personally just make sure that
any hardware I buy will work before I buy - thereby rewarding those
manufacturers with linux suport. Most enterprise grade products will have linux
support these days.

> * Video/audio creators have an incentive to use open, freely available
> codecs instead of proprietary DRM and license encumbered binary
> only media players.

Again the reason AV creators want to use DRM has nothing to do with the OS -
its all about how they can control how their product is used. If the proportion
of linux users increases to a significant level we will see DRM enforcing
binary only media players appear for linux. The problem here is the DMCA and
similar USTA laws in australia, not any particular choice of OS.

> * Legislators have an incentive not to pass laws like the DMCA, because
> it would piss off a significant number of voters.

This has nothing to do with the OS you are running - its more to do with
copyright law and fair use clauses within copyright - this will not change at
all even if linux was used by every desktop on earth. If that was the case we
might see itunes for linux released - with the same restriction management that
the windows software has. On the contrary, in the current situation you might
have some moral (if not legal) right to reverse engineer DRM systems in order
to make them work on linux, but if an itunes client is released for linux,
there would be little justification for reversing it other than to pose a
threat to apple's commercial grip.

I think its a little naive to confuse choice of OS with DRM and patent laws
etc. The patent/copyright issue is very serious and goes far beyond merely what
OS is more popular in the market place. Even in the windows only environment,
software patents are devestating for innovation and technology in general - and
this needs to be stresses to Legislators - it affect everyone here and now, not
just those birded linux geeks who dream of world domination.


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