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Quote for the Moment

.... One myth that I find interesting, but which has nothing to do with Linux or even the IT sector in particular, is the myth of how a single person or even a single company makes a huge difference in the market. It's the belief that things happen because somebody was visionary and "planned" it that way. Sometimes the people themselves seem to believe it, and then the myth becomes hubris.

I have to continually try to explain to people that no, I don't "control" what happens in Linux. It's about having an environment that is conducive to development, not so much about any particular leader. And I think that is true in most cases, be it the "great sport coach" or the "great spiritual leader."

[Linus Torvalds, on C|Net 2004/12/21]

The Next Logical Step in Bootable Media

la Cie are specialists in external storage devices (though they also make excellent flat-panel monitors). They got their start building SCSI drives for Macs and other SCSI-equipped PCs, and then were heavy early adopters of IEEE 1394 (a.k.a. "FireWire" -- still superior to USB 2.0, as far as I'm concerned, but what's a guy gonna do...).

Now they've partnered with MandrakeSoft to package one of their pocket-sized 40GB "portable" drives with a bootable, autoconfiguring version of Mandrake Linux version 10. Called the "Globe Trotter" [ZD Net story / MandrakeSoft product page], this is essentially a lineal descendent of MandrakeMove, and directly analogous to interesting and generally excellent Linux distros like Knoppix. It's designed to be booted from a CD and then auto-configure to use the system's resources.

The advantage of a gizmo like this, or of these bootable CDs, is that they let you carry your own computing environment with you without carrying (or even owning) a computer. With MandrakeMove, you carry just the computer and a one-ounce USB thumb-drive; I've typically also carried around my 20GB Archos external drive, which gives me still more capacity. This gives you an even more complete computing environment with even more storage space, as well as the ability to easily install new Linux software. With the benign neglect of a helpful librarian, or by just rebooting your office PC for your lunch hour, you can escape the confines of "public" computing environments. This type of device can also be handy for students having to use PCs in computing labs.

(Aside: While you could probably figure out a way to do this with Mac OS X, it would be technically difficult and legally questionable to try it with Windows.)

I'm a huge fan of MandrakeMove, and have been planning to upgrade to their second generation version; I might just get this instead. True, $219 is a little high for a 40GB drive (even one of that size), but the markup from MSRP of the naked 40GB drive is only about $60. So what you have to ask yourself is whether it's worth $60 of your time and effort to buy naked and install on top. For many Linux geeks, the answer will be "yes"; more power to them.

Me, I'll think seriously about this, because I've already found so many uses for my MandrakeMove CD that I can't begin to tell you. For example, it's been hugely useful in filling in for the deficiencies of Windows NT 4, which I still use on one of my systems at the office. The only way I have of making backups is by copying from my old PC to a slightly less old network fileserver. But since this box has USB, I can reboot using my MandrakeMove disc, and then backup my files to my 20GB Archos disk or to my 1GB Lexar thumb-drive.

Of course, there are also less savory uses for this kind of thing, such as bypassing IT policies or serving as a hackers toolbox. But then, just as you can use a car to transport stolen goods, you can use any of these things (and I, personally, do use them) for legitimate purposes, too.

W.W.A.d.T.D. [What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Do?]

To paraphrase Lincoln: You can't fool all of the people all of the time; but a plurality, most of the time, is good enough.

For the last couple of weeks, every time there is a major story, someone attacks Groklaw, placing scores of offensive pornographic links as comments on old stories. When they all got removed the first time, next they interspersed tech words with the porn, hoping to get past our filters, I suppose. They seem to use a bot, so it does affect us. I didn't put it out as a press release and imply or accuse SCO or AdTI of doing it, even though it is certainly possible, because ... well, because folks in the free world don't do such things. We are not in the business of trying to destroy anyone or ruin their good name with implications without proof. If I ever get proof, I'll tell the world, naturally. But I don't call press conferences on a hunch, even though I have one.

[Groklaw] [link added]

There's a free-market hit-tank called the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, that recently published a very ill-researched tome on the origins of Linux. The report's gotten a lot of press, and has been widely and effectively discredited, sometimes by the people cited within it as authorities (e.g., Dennis Ritchie, Andrew Tandenbaum). Event their own experts don't support them.

So now they're claiming to have been literally attacked for their incorrect views.

It's endlessly curious to me that wild, paranoid accusations have become so primarily the domain of conservatives. Wild wingnut leftists hardly merit notice anymore, though I'm sure they're still out there.

There really can be only one reason for it: Money. As in, Conservatives have it, and are willing to give it to wingnut conservatives to act as their cannon-fodder. "Liberals" with money aren't that "stupid."

So, why in the world would "conservatives" want to fund wingnut radicals? Perhaps: Because it works. Because if the way you get power is by convincing as many random people as you can that they agree with your aims, it doesn't matter who those people are or how you do it.

Aside: For the first several weeks that I had this new blog up, the bulk of my external referrers were porn spammer sites. I couldn't figure out why; now I know: They wanted to insert into my comments. I should enable comment posting with moderation just to see what comes in...

First they're out, now they're in...

Fedora is the darling of the Linux world. Linux OSS pundits expect it to produce great advancements; they see it as a chance to prove "pure" OSS methodologies with a large, complex product. (Mozilla and OpenOffice notwithstanding...)

Fedora will probably drive, or at least appear to drive, a number of flashy and highly visible advances. But it will never produce a distro that's corporate-friendly the way it needs to be to get onto corporate desktops. The advances that are really critical for the success of desktop Linux wont' come from Fedora -- they'll come out of the Red Hat Desktop project.

On the net, the contrarian position is that there's any kind of a problem with OSS. Contrarian positions, though, are often merely common sense in action -- but then, the parade-goer who points out the Emperor's nakedness is usually accused of lacking vision.

So why did Red Hat exit the desktop market by "opening" the Fedora distro -- and why are they now back in the desktop Linux game?

Corporate strategy decisions with actual marketing and product development plans behind them don't happen overnight. Or even in a month, or two months, for that matter. So it's a safe bet that the Hat has been working on Red Hat Desktop for a while, certainly since before the Fedora release.

So why cut loose Fedora, if they were planning on a continued desktop presence?

The short and obvious answer is that Red Hat Desktop isn't Fedora; it's much smaller, and it's focused on corporate users in a managed services environment. Fedora -- which is to say, the distro formerly known as Red Hat Linux -- is featured-up to compete with SuSE and Mandrake. It's large and (geek-)consumer focused, and requires a lot of maintenance overhead.

There's a more nuanced answer, though, that can be summarized simply, thus: Red Hat Linux (now Fedora) was dead weight.

Fedora represented a large body of effort that was never likely to return investment to Red Hat. Not ever -- not really. What they needed for corporate customers was good, streamlined central management and rock-solid package management. Those are very non-sexy things that individual OSS developers aren't likely to work on.

They also needed corporate-critical features to be delivered in the form determined to be relevant by the customer, not by the developers. And continuting to devote adminstrative resources to maintaining, project managing, and supporting a consumer desktop distro was getting in their way of accomplishing those things.

Now the question that the Linux zealots ought to be asking is this: Will Red Hat release their package and configuration management tools to OSS?

To which a perfectly appropriate answer would be: Why should they?

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