So, is Microsoft Taking Over Linux?

There’s a lot of paranoid-sounding stuff going around the Interwebz about Microsoft “taking over Linux” by “buying their way in” to the Linux Foundation, contributing lots and lots of code, and there’s the famous “embrace, extend, extinguish” meme that makes the rounds over and over again. But is any of it true? Can a big, greedy, evil corporation actually take Linux over the Linux kernel and get control over many or all of the distributions and operating systems built on it?

Well, here’s where it might actually be helpful to remind ourselves that it’s GNU/Linux, not just “Linux.” Linux is the kernel, and GNU is the license it is released under. And maybe it’s that GNU license that can/is/will always prevent a “takeover” of your favorite ‘nix operating system. Consider:

For one thing, I highly doubt that Microsoft has contributed any significant amount of code to Linux (by significant, I mean that Linux would fail if the MS code were removed)

But even if they had, under the terms of the GNU/GPL license, that code is also free. Microsoft cannot stop you from downloading it for free, redistributing it for free (or even charging for copies if you like and anyone is dumb enough to pay you for it) modifying it as you see fit, and redistributing the modified versions.

Essentially, the moment Microsoft contributes code to a GNU/GPL licensed project, they lose all control over that code. It becomes GNU/GPL code. This might explain why, for all of history, there’s never been Microsoft Code in Windows®to access Linux File Systems like Reiser, EXT2, EXT 3 and so on… because adding that code to Windows® would have forced Microsoft to acquire GNU/GPL licensing on Windows, thereby making Windows “free software!” On the flip side, it was perfectly legal and still meets GNU/GPL code for Linux to add code to access DOS and NT file systems, as long as the code used was not a copy of the Microsoft-owned code.

Credit and thanks to for pointing these things out in this thread on Diaspora. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe a little reassuring, I hope.

MX-Tools – Newbie Awesomeness Without the Ubuntu Risk!

Today instead of using the Systemback or Timeshift apps that I was used to, I tried out an awesome new one (new to me anyway) from the wonderful tool set that comes with MX-17. It’s called MX Snapshot and it does what the others do – flawlessly and simply. I was able to completely “clone” my desktop system to a bootable iso, then burn it to a USB key using MX Live USB Maker.

Other than being very slow to boot up, it ran and installed effortlessly on my laptop computer with every bit of information and settings saved from the desktop computer. Best of all, once installed and booted up from the hard drive, I did not have to fiddle around with stupid Broadcom drivers or Ndiswrapper or any of that stuff to get the wifi to work! It simply recognized the new network device and in two clicks I was connected! Without needing that fail-safe driverless wifi dongle I always had to use on the laptop when it was running Linux Lite.

The installer for the iso created on MX Live USB Maker is identical to the official installer. Very graphical and beginner-friendly. I gave MX the entire drive, since backups are so easy and I still have that iso and can create a new one in mere minutes.

The tool set in MX-17 is pure awesomeness. Not only simple enough for a technophobic Ba’ku boy to understand, but it actually works like it says!

MX may not be as novice-friendly at first (that is, to install and configure), but for the longer term it’s better for new Linux users because it’s built on Debian Stable. Unlikely to be bricked by one of upstream Ubuntu’s infamous updates and all the attending regressions and breakage.

Linux Lite 3.6

Some might say it’s “Xubuntu done right.”

But “right” is a very subjective term. Right for me is first simple, second, fast, third novice-friendly (because I prefer to use the same distro I’m sharing with so many people new to Linux, since it’s so much easier to provide support to them), and fourth suitable for modest, older hardware that can’t handle newer versions of Windows or the big fancy mainline Linux distributions. For others, Voyager is “Xubuntu done right.” For others, Linux Mint Xfce is “Xubuntu done right;” and for many others, it just doesn’t get any better than Xubuntu right out of the chute. Until I discovered Linux Lite, Xubuntu was my go-to distro. The others are all wonderful, but most were either to “heavy” for my old hardware, or not suitable for sharing with “newbies” who never used Linux before. Linux Mint Xfce would ordinarily be my first choice for newcomers to Linux, but many of these new arrivals are here because their computers are older models with low resources, and even the “lightweight” Mint can become a bit resource-hungry.

Linux Lite is built from Ubuntu core (minimal) and uses a very highly modified Xfce desktop which makes it far less demanding on resources than most Xfce-flavored Linux distributions.

But it doesn’t stop there. That would be enough, but Linux Lite aims to be beginner-friendly as well. The trick is to be “newbie friendly” without adding so much GUI stuff (graphical user interface) that you weigh it down and make it slow and cumbersome.

Ease of use used to be a trade-off, sacrificing speed. Or if you wanted speed and miserly demand on RAM and processors, you sacrificed the GUI stuff that makes Linux “friendly” for us ordinary mortals. Linux Lite blows that old paradigm away. You really don’t have to sacrifice speed and resource-demand to make Linux “play nice” for beginners, kids, great grandparents, and even technophobes.

Linux Lite achieves this “impossible” blend of simplicity and speed in three ways:

The first I already mentioned – the very highly modified Xfce desktop. Xfce is ordinarily easy on processing power anyway, but by not mixing it with Compiz and other extra goodies outside of Xfce’s own designs in hopes of making it “elegant” or whatever, it retains it’s undemanding qualities. Other tweaks make it even less resource hungry than “plain vanilla” Xfce.

The second is Linux Lite’s collection of awesome tools, not least of which is the Welcome Screen (which you can bring up on demand long after your first use of the distro) which offers step-by-step links to updating and upgrading, maintaining, cleaning, adding or removing software – all with point-and-click ease. Other cool tools include Lite Sources, which lets you choose from among software repositories anywhere in the universe, for faster updates and upgrades. Choosing the one closest to where you live is generally best, of course. And Lite Tweaks lets you personalize your desktop, clean up any junk, recover wasted space, and speed things up even more!

How is a new user supposed to know that Thunar is a file manager? They don’t know Thunar, but they know Files – Home – Pictures and whatever. So other than the applications everybody probably knows, like Firefox, apps are named for what they do, not the whimsical names that don’t really offer any clue as to their function. That’s simplicity without bloat if ever there was.

A feather is the official symbol of Linux Lite, and it’s completely appropriate. And that heart, well, that just means I love it! That huge dagger behind my back in the picture simply represents hacking out all the extra bloatware and cruft that most people assume is necessary to make a Linux distribution “user friendly.”

To make this Ubuntu-based distribution even more safe and secure, I recommend unlockforus – an “unofficial” repository of wonderful stuff not approved by Linux Lite (yet?) but either developed for Linux Lite or adapted for Linux Lite from other Linux distributions, like the awesome MintStick app and of course the must-have Mint Updater adapted for Linux Lite.


Let the Whining Begin

It was bound to happen. Now let the whining begin!

Excerpted from this editorial at Distrowatch:

Clem [Linux Mint’s founder and lead
developer] claims he has been asked by Canonical’s legal department to license the binary packages used by Ubuntu. To me this is a scary thought. Ubuntu is a base distribution for many projects, some of them (such as Mint and Kubuntu) are quite successful. Clem’s statement makes me wonder if Canonical has approached other open source projects about licensing the right to access Ubuntu’s package repositories. If so, what might follow? Would derivative distributions need to pay to use Canonical’s packages? How would Canonical enforce such a policy, with lawyers, by blocking access to the repositories if a user isn’t using Genuine Ubuntu? Canonical would certainly have the right to restrict access to its packages, they are on Canonical’s servers after all. However, most Linux distributions are quite open about allowing anyone to access their software repositories and I wonder if Canonical might be acting in a short-sighted manner if they are trying to license access.

With these thoughts in mind I contacted Canonical and asked if they could shed any light on the issue. At the time of writing I have not received a reply. An e-mail to the Linux Mint project asking for details yielded much better results. Clement Lefebvre responded the following day and, while he wasn’t able to go into specific details as talks with Canonical are still on-going, he was able to share a few pieces of information. When asked if Canonical was hoping to collect a fee for using their binary packages, Clem responded, “Money isn’t a primary concern. Although the original fee was in the hundreds of thousands pounds, it was easily reduced to a single digit figure. The licensing aims at restricting what Mint can and cannot do, mostly in relation to the OEM market, to prevent Mint from competing with Canonical in front of the same commercial partners.”

Clem went on to indicate Canonical has not offered any threats nor discussed enforcing any licensing terms. When I asked what Mint’s plans were concerning the licensing deal Clem answered, “We don’t think the claim is valid (i.e. that you can copyright the compilation of source into a binary, which is a deterministic process). With that said, Ubuntu is one of Mint’s major components and it adds value to our project. If we’re able to please Canonical without harming Linux Mint, then we’re interested in looking into it. As negative as this may sound, this is neither urgent nor conflictual. It’s a rare occasion for Canonical and Linux Mint to talk with one another and although there are disagreements on the validity of the claim, things have been going quite well between the two distributions and both projects are looking for a solution that pleases all parties.”

There must be a zillion or more Linux distros that are built on and derived from Canonical’s flagship Linux distro, Ubuntu. Without question, Ubuntu is by far the most successful desktop Linux distribution in history. Also without question, Ubuntu has done more to bring Linux to “the masses” of ordinary home computer users all over the world. It was Ubuntu which “tamed” Debian Linux better than anyone else (including Debian itself), making it practical for the desktop, and “user friendly” for us ordinary casual computer users. Naturally then, Ubuntu is the most copied distribution in history, with many more derivatives and spin-offs. The best known and most popular of these Ubuntu-derived distributions is Linux Mint.

Linux distributions offer libraries of software called repositories, from which security updates, upgrades, and software can be downloaded to maintain the operating system. Almost all of these repositories are free to the users (with some exceptions), and software packages, server space, and bandwidth costs are donated by users, by universities, tech companies, and donors. The software is packaged and maintained for most Linux distributions by volunteers. It’s awesome!

But here’s the thing: If I build a new Linux distribution based on another and it grows huge in popularity with tens of thousands of users, my distro still uses it’s parent distro’s repositories. Tens of thousands of “Robin’s Linux” users are tapping into the repositories of the distro I copied, raising the cost of maintaining the original.

I might say, “too bad, it’s free, it’s licensed that way, so tough luck. It isn’t my fault that the base I built from is awesome. Let them pay for it!”

The people I copied from aren’t obligated to provide free support and server space for my users. They should not have to pay extra so I can just feed off of them and make “Robin’s Linux” the most popular Linux in the world, yay for me, praise Robin, and by the way, please donate to support Robin who gave us this awesome Linux distro.

Suppose the people I copied from get tired of paying for my users’ share of their resources, and finally ask me to share some of the cost. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

Apparently not to many users of Linux Mint, who are whining and complaining bitterly about Canonical’s request for licensing fees or some way to help shoulder the very heavy burden that Canonical has borne for years, supporting Linux Mint’s huge number of users with it’s vast Ubuntu repositories. In this thread on the Linux Mint forums, several Mint users castigate Canonical (Ubuntu’s developer) as some evil, greedy tyrant who can’t take the heat of competition.

What? Competition? What competition? Linux Mint is Ubuntu! With pretty green window dressing and some wonderful, ingenious improvements like the Mint Menu and Mint Updater and Mint Backup-and-Restore. But at it’s core, it’s Ubuntu. Linux Mint is awesome because it’s Ubuntu at it’s core. And by some estimates, Linux Mint is more popular now than it’s parent distro. Which means that Linux Mint is a huge drain on Canonical’s resources. Ubuntu’s huge software repositories are supported privately by Canonical, not by charitable donations like most Linux distros’ repositories.

The Mint community’s response to Canonical’s simple request for some help with the cost of the burden of maintaining many distros besides their own is disappointing. As one of their own users put it, “It’s kinda like biting the hand that feeds you and then getting all butthurt when they finally say “‘stop it!'”

That’s it, exactly. If Mint is so awesome, let it’s users step up and pay their share of the cost to maintain it instead of acting like the 40-year-old bum who won’t get a job, and lives in his mommy’s basement playing video games that she pays for.