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Linux Barbies Battle the Command Line

Linux Barbies Battle the Command Line

Microsoft's perceived shot across the bow of Linux, which came in the form of a patent lawsuit against TomTom, has many in the open source community wondering why patents even exist at all for software. Perhaps TomTom wonders the same thing -- it recently joined the Open Invention Network.

By Katherine Noyes
03/26/09 4:00 AM PT

Patents, patents, patents. Ever since Microsoft announced its suit against TomTom a month or so ago, patents have become an increasing focus of conversation on the Linux blogs.

We've already discussed some of the rampant speculation about Microsoft's motivation in the case, as well as TomTom's subsequent countersuit. Now, as of Monday, it turns out TomTom has joined the Open Invention Network (OIN) -- alongside the likes of IBM, Novell and Red Hat.

One of OIN's latest initiatives? None other than the Linux Defenders Network, which astute readers may recall we mentioned in these pages last month. Will the result be a new arsenal of weapons firing on TomTom's behalf? Only time will tell, but it's definitely one to watch.

'For Defensive Purposes'

Speaking of Red Hat, it's been figuring prominently in the patent-o-rama lately too. Just weeks after it signed that patent-free interoperability agreement with Microsoft, the company said it has now begun establishing a portfolio of patents "for defensive purposes."

Part of Red Hat's stated promise is to "refrain from enforcing" its patents. Nevertheless, the news sparked a whole new round of conversation on the blogs, as one might expect.

"What company would not turn to offensive attacks if threatened?" asked nurb432 on Slashdot.

On the other hand: "If Red Hat was really serious about the patents being defensive, wouldn't it make sense for them to donate them to an open source patent pool?" pondered HangingChad.

'Patents Are FUD'

"It's sad that Red Hat thinks they need those patents," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

"The fix is still patent reform, since these patents will only protect Red Hat from companies that actually produce projects, and not patent trolls," Mack added.

"I hope 2009 will see the death of software patents before the U.S. Supreme Court," blogger Robert Pogson added. "We need that because the TomTom matter may take years to sort out.

"A decisive victory for freedom of software should reduce the threat of patents to a whisper," Pogson told LinuxInsider. "Until that day, patents are FUD that delays adoption of GNU/Linux and increases the cost of having to maintain a defense against these evil spirits."

Linux Kernel 2.6.29!

Speaking of GNU/Linux, the good news is that Linus Torvalds -- our very favorite Finn on this Earth -- this week released version 2.6.29 of the Linux kernel.

"The most obvious change is the (temporary) change of logo to Tuz, the Tasmanian Devil," Torvalds wrote. "But there's a number of driver updates and some m68k header updates (fixing headers_install after the merge of non-MMU/MMU) that end up being pretty noticeable in the diffs."

That news was cheered with more than 250 comments on Slashdot, but was apparently followed soon afterwards by complaints from a number of kernel hackers regarding a performance problem relating to ext3. Alert Slashdot bloggers jumped on that one too, peppering the topic with another 200-plus comments in just a few hours.

The Linux Barbies Cometh!

Now, the Linux community has long enjoyed the insights of technically minded geeks, many of whom count the command line among their best friends. We would be remiss not to alert our readers, however, to a small -- but rapidly growing -- minority in the community known to some as "Linux Barbies."

Carla Schroder of Linux Today explains: "One of the strangest mind-benders these days is hearing Linux users going all Barbie and vowing, 'I will never touch the command line! You'll pry my GUI from my cold dead hands!'

"Where are these strange people coming from?" she asks. "Why are they using Linux if they don't want to learn anything new?"

'Linux IS the Game'

Some 36 choice comments proposed answers to her question, while bloggers over at LXer added another 40 or so of their own.

"How hard can it be to learn a few simple commands such as cd, ls, cp, mv, etc.," wrote sexysofie in the Linux Today comments. "Once you learn them they're yours forever.

"OK, maybe it's a bit of a challenge to learn some of the options, switches, arguments, etc., but again once you learn it's actually fun," sexysofie added. "Then you can start to discover some of the more powerful utilities such as the SoX suite, ImageMagick suite, ffmpeg to mention a few."

Summing up, "I like the quote/cliche: 'Games don't run on linux because linux IS the game'," sexysofie concluded.

'It Isn't Necessary!'

Not everyone agreed, however.

"I've used linux for over a year and the command line is still a pain in the ass for anything other than 'sudo apt-get update' and copy+pasting instructions from websites," nou wrote. "Why don't people like the command line? Because it isn't necessary! GUIs are much easier, period."

Indeed, "there is no question that command-line interfaces are a powerful way to instruct a computer, but wouldn't it be better if it weren't necessary to use the command-line at all?" agreed Slashdot blogger drinkypoo. "I know how to operate the computer and get things done without a GUI, but I only know that because of my repeated need to do so."

The Linux name "has become shorthand for a Linux distribution, but it's important to remember that Linux is a kernel," drinkypoo told LinuxInsider. "You can theoretically build any sort of operating system with it.

"The Linux kernel is most often used for making desktop computers that function like Windows, Unix or Mac OS X; servers that behave like SVR4 or BSD; or for making all sorts of embedded systems," he explained. "But it could reasonably be used to make desktop computers that behave like Mac OS 9: all-GUI, all the time, simplified to a point that would frustrate some of us but which would be ideal for others."

'Unrealistic and Unnecessary'

There is no reason why the average user should ever have to "drop to the command line" to rename a group of files or reconfigure their network interface, for example, drinkypoo said. "Expecting them to do so is both unrealistic and unnecessary. The computer should serve the user, and not the other way around; the computer should learn the user's language, and instead of making excuses the goal should be to teach it how to be used by the average person."

Still, such "command-line terror," as Schroder puts it, "has been going on for a long time in the form of trolls haunting various forums where FLOSS is discussed," Pogson asserted. "As there are many distros and mostly the same kernel, BASH is lingua franca through which experienced users can help newbies running specific GUIs."

The trolls, however, "put out as truth that a modern/widely accepted operating system must not use BASH/CLI," he added. "There is no basis in this."

The Beauty of BASH

"I have almost 100K files in my home directory-tree," Pogson said. "There is no way it is efficient to click around with a mouse to find them. I can use Beagle, a search engine, but I like the hands-on feel of BASH, particularly when I have a clue about the filename. I can also customize commands."

Trolls "will say we should buy some software to do these tricks, but we already have it," he noted. "Their argument is silly. If you had a thousand programs to do what a few dozen BASH commands can do in combination, you would never master them."

Rather, BASH is simply a language "one learns to speak," he concluded.

'I'd Be Out of a Job'

Looking at the big picture, "Linux has matured to a point where it is attracting attention from less technically curious people, and that's OK," Mack opined. "These people just want to get work done, and see Linux as a means of doing that."

Not everyone should learn the command line, Mack added -- "if they did, I'd probably be out of a job as a systems admin."


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