Free software events review May 2006

Free software events review May 2006


May and June have always been my favorite months. The arrival of the wild flowers on the roadside and the warmer sunshine ensure the assignment of the last thaws of winter into history, also the earlier arrival of the sun in the morning, together with its later retirement, grant eager anticipation to the long lazy summer afternoons to come. Not so lazy, though, has been the work of the free software community, from which I have chosen a minuscule sample to report in this current issue of this newsletter. This sample, whose only attribute for inclusion here are that they grabbed my attention, consist of:

A nicer cup of data

The printing system of POSIX systems can certainly trace its origins back to the early seventies, and maybe earlier. It is a tribute to the earlier developers that modern day printing, complete with graphics and networking, can use the same model they designed with remarkably few changes. Various printing mechanisms based on this has been created over the years, but the one to have come out on top seems to be the Common Unix Printing System, or CUPS for short. This not only provides many drivers for a wide range of printers but an excellent network infrastructure to handle remote printing.

In early May the producers of CUPS, Easy Software Products, released CUPS version 1.2.0. This provides many enhancements and fixes not least being a slicker web interface for administration, the old one being a major criticism of the product.

The versatility, ease of use and functionality of CUPS I believe will be a major factor in the uptake of GNU/Linux in the desktop market.

Book Competition!

This week we are giving away a copy ofUNIX to Linux Porting by Alfredo Mendoza et. al.

All you need to do to enter is check out the latest book competition announcement on our blogs page.

GOOD LUCK!

Thanks go to _Prentice Hall for providing this fantastic prize._

The next green n-n-n-chameleon

SUSE is an example how free software can be used as a successful business model. Not only have they used GNU/Linux as a base for a consultancy service but also as a retail product. The acquisition of that company by one of the world’s largest IT firms, Novell, in January 2004 is, if nothing else, a tribute to this. Novell then made the distribution more open by creating openSUSE, which has just released their second incarnation of GNU/Linux—SUSE 10.1.

The list of features in a modern GNU/Linux distribution is impressive, and they are getting better all the time. SUSE 10.1 boasts all the wonders we have become used to as well as integeration with XGL for the 3D accelerated desktop, XEN 3.0 for virtualization, Network Manager for WiFi access, YaST for package management and so much more. All this with source code is free in all senses of the word, enabling the community and other distributions to further advance the technology.

SUSE 10.1 with source code is free in all senses of the word, enabling the community and other distributions to further advance the technology

Another kiss on the display

The X Windows system, although not perfect, is a remarkably versatile graphical infrastructure that can adapt well to modern day human interface requirements, far better, in my opinion, than the more popular Microsoft equivalent. The main provider of X in the free software community—and the commercial world for that matter—is X.org.

In December 2005 X.org reorganized the very large X-Windows System conglomeration of programs, called X11R6, into a number of modules, each with a life and release cycle of its own, but collectively known as X11R7. This was to stimulate faster development and quicker releases of the technologies involved. However, once every few months a “roll-up” release of the current state of these modules is created and published. This is what happened in May, and they called it X11R7.1.

Like most free software this is progressing in leaps and bounds and can boast many enhancements since X11R7 a few months ago, not least being better acceleration mechanisms including the AIGLX technology.

Evidence of hard work by free software developersEvidence of hard work by free software developers

The silver medal goes to...

A CNN Money article has announced Red Hat to be the second fastest growing tech company. Although I always take such analysis with a grain of salt as so much depends on the precise criteria used, this report does show yet again how a business based on free software can make loads of money. I think that this shows that it’s a mistake to believe that IP grabbing, locking-in and locking-out are the means to long term success.

Red Hat’s performance shows that it’s a mistake to believe that IP grabbing, locking-in and locking-out are the means to long term success

Patently smashed

In 2002 Forgent Networks asserted rights over the JPEG formats using a patent that was filed in 1986. They then used this to extort some 90 million US dollars in licensing fees from various companies. An organization known as The Public Patent Association asked the US Patents and Trademarks Office to re-examine the patent, who not only found it to be invalid based on prior art but also stated that Forgent knew all the time it was, making it difficult for an appeal to succeed.

The news that this is over is excellent. However, the entire incident should not have been allowed to happen in the first place. It all goes to show how important it is for the US patent mechanism to be over-hauled, and how important it is that Europe and elsewhere do not adopt the current US procedures on the matter. This has caused enormous headaches for a lot of people and has enabled Forgent to con a number of companies out of a significant amount of cash without contributing anything in return. All-in-all they have encumbered technological advance, whereas the patent system was supposed to encourage it.

Will Forgent reimburse the money they misappropriated? Will anyone there be called to account? I doubt it. Maybe they should...

What the devil...

It seems to me that a single month does not go past without the release of another BSD distribution. This month it is the turn of PC-BSD 1.1. This is hot on the heels of the previous month’s FreeBSD 6.1 release. I only include it here to emphasize that there are other free kernels besides Linux out there. The free software community is far from dependent on any single organization or product.

The free software community is far from dependent on any single organization or product

New trix for an old star

For a long time I have thought that the free software PBX project, Asterisk, is potentially one of the more disruptive projects in existance. It is opening a door for free software into a market that is not used to this type of openness and it can cause some major tsunamis to occur there. The latest chapter in this is the creation of Trixbox, and their release of Trixbox 1.0. This is built on the technology of Asterisk@home and is an entire PBX system created using GNU/Linux, Asterisk and other free software aimed at the home and small business market.

If you have any friends in the PBX industry whose future you care for I suggest you recommend that they keep an eye on this.

All together now

I have already reported on SUSE 10.1; however, another major GNU/Linux distributor has released a new version this month. I am refering to Ubuntu 6.06, or “Dapper Drake” as it’s known to its friends. This was followed by its siblings Kubuntu 6.06, Edubuntu 6.06 and Xubuntu 6.06. Note the version numbers are the year and month of release rather than sequentially assigned.

Ubuntu’s new group pose for Dapper DrakeUbuntu’s new group pose for Dapper Drake

If any distribution is marked as conquering the desktop for GNU/Linux it is Ubuntu, or a derivative of it. The concept of providing a distribution on a single CD that has everything that is needed for a desktop, rather than everything available, with the option of adding more programs later is proving both usable and popular. That as well as the legacy of a stable Debian release, and developers for that matter, combined with the concentration of usability guarantee its standing not only in the technical community but also with the generic user-land public.

Ubuntu’s philosophy and attitude guarantee its standing not only in the technical community but also with the generic user-land public

Conclusion

The arrival of summer is often associated with lazy days in the country and garden; however, as the allocation of this years Google’s Summer of Code it is also associated with an injection of functionality into free software products. Watch this space.

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Biography

Edward Macnaghten has been a professional programmer, analyst and consultant for in excess of 20 years. His experiences include manufacturing commercially based software for a number of industries in a variety of different technical environments in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is currently running an IT consultancy specialising in free software solutions based in Cambridge UK. He also maintains his own web site.