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On Pi Approximation Day, Flying Pigs and DRM

On Pi Approximation Day, Flying Pigs and DRM

If you're feeling a little dizzy, maybe it's because you marched in circles too long on Pi Approximation Day. Or perhaps your head is spinning over the news that Microsoft donated about 20,000 lines of driver code to the Linux kernel. Or it could be that DRM has you shaking your head back and forth in violent frustration. Just don't go pounding it against the nearest wall.

By Katherine Noyes
07/27/09 4:00 AM PT

America's Independence Day may have come and gone, but that doesn't mean there's been nothing else to celebrate as the summer wears on.

No indeed! Last Wednesday was none other than Pi Approximation Day, an event of perhaps even greater import for geeks far and wide.

Traditional celebrations include marching in circles and eating pie -- two activities we here at LinuxInsider tend to favor anyway, holiday or no -- and bloggers at LXer were among those who appeared to be contemplating taking part.

Happy (belated) Pi Approximation Day, gentle readers!

Microsoft Contributes to Kernel

Speaking of cosmic events -- or maybe just news of the weird -- Microsoft blew more than a few mathematically inclined minds last week when it submitted some 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux kernel under GPLv2.

The code, which includes three Linux device drivers, will enhance the performance of Linux when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, Microsoft explained.

"A few years ago, Microsoft was describing the GPL as cancerous, so this seems like a major U-turn for the software behemoth," wrote the bloggers over at TuxRadar.

"Sure, the ultimate goal is there to make Linux play ball better with Windows, but it's hardly like Microsoft was obliged to make Linux run faster on Windows.

"Is this, along with Microsoft's promise not to sue over Mono, the first of many steps towards Microsoft joining the Free Software community, or do you think it could end up being part of a Microsoft's old embrace-extend-extinguish tactics?" they wrote.

'Pigs Do Fly'

Bloggers on TuxRadar, ZDnet and LXer -- among others -- didn't hold back.

"Pigs do fly" was the title of Mary Jo Foley's post over at ZDnet, for example.

"Hmm ... I wonder what sort of an evil scheme this is," added Levi on TuxRadar. "They are probably are going to place some undetected backdoor into the Linux kernel ... Next thing you know: BAM! Win 7 is on your machine instead of your latest Ubuntu X.04/X.10 ... ."

On the other hand: "This is actually beneficial to both MS and the Linux community: MS makes sure that people can run their proprietary services reliably and fast, and users can be convinced a bit easier to use Linux inside MS's proprietary service (because it'll work well)," wrote DaVince. "Pretty nice, but I doubt MS would ever submit any other kind of patch to the Linux kernel. :)"

'Surprise Surprise. Not.'

Adding an extra edge to the discussion was the subsequent revelation by Linux Network Plumber that Microsoft was in violation of the GPL on the Hyper-V code at the time.

Oops! The conversation then took on an even darker tone as it was picked up on blogs including ZDnet, Tuxme and, in a second thread, LXer.

"Surprise surprise," wrote LXer's softwarejanitor, for example. "Not."

DRM and FOSS

Now, we here at LinuxInsider generally spend our days surveying the Linux blogs for interesting themes and topics worth covering in the Linux Blog Safari, as evidenced by the discussion in this column so far. Every once in a while, however, an alert blogger or reader will suggest a subject for coverage, and that's just what happened last week.

The suggested topic? DRM, and its place in the FOSS world. Many thanks to Slashdot blogger hairyfeet for suggesting it!

"On the one hand, Linux really needs companies like EA and Adobe to support Linux with the programs users want; on the other hand, such companies want DRM, and that goes against the four freedoms," hairyfeet explained. "So is it worth giving up one of the four freedoms to become a mainstream OS? Or is it better to remain a niche without support of the major software publishers to keep FLOSS completely free of DRM?"

There's nothing like a good, meaty debate to drive Linux Girl to action, so she took to the streets of the blogosphere to gather some more insight.

'All Kinds of Conflicts'

"While in theory I wouldn't have any problem with DRM, reality just doesn't jive with it," hairyfeet began. "In my own case, I have to constantly break DRM simply to use the games that I paid good money for. Why? Because thanks to RAM being so cheap and AMD multicores being so low, I finally built a new machine, and with it XP X64 because XP32 simply won't take advantage of the 5Gb of RAM(1 for the GPU and 4 for the CPU) that I possess."

While the games hairyfeet plays work just fine, the DRM doesn't, he asserted. "So when I go to play a game I get, 'please insert disc into drive F:' even though it *is* in drive F: and that is the only drive I have!" he explained.

As a repairman, hairyfeet also has had to deal with all kinds of problems and even hardware damage due to DRM, he said. "You see none of the main three forms of DRM -- Safedisc, SecuROM and Starforce -- actually recognize each other's DRM. This causes all kinds of conflicts, and can even throw DVD burners, which nearly every PC comes with now standard, into PIO mode."

PIO mode is so slow that it will quickly and permanently burn out the drive motor "and turn that new DVD burner into E-waste," he added.

'DRM Is Simply Too Nasty'

Those designing the DRM "simply refuse to face reality," he concluded. "I have a machine with an AMD 7550 Dual Core, a ton of RAM, and most importantly nearly a TB of hard disc space, and yet I am supposed to keep my games and my movies piled around my machine so I can stuff in a disc every time I want to use them? What good is all that space for if DRM won't let me use it?"

In short, "and it pains me to write this," hairyfeet said, "I have to agree with RMS for once. DRM is simply too nasty to allow it to infect Linux."

Game companies should rethink their purported need for DRM, Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

"I have discovered that there are two kinds of people when it comes to buying things: People who generally pay for things and people who generally don't," he told LinuxInsider. "The people in the latter group -- whether they are simply too cheap or just generally dishonest -- tend not to pay for things even if forced, and supposing they can't steal what they want, they will do without."

'Completely Unnecessary'

The problem with DRM is that "it inconveniences the people who generally pay for things, while not actually preventing any of the piracy," Mack asserted. "I recall a memorable moment last year when my coworker was sitting at his desk with the DVD for a game he just bought, and he was hunting for the game on BitTorrent because his legitimately purchased game would not install on his machine because of an oversight in the DRM design.

"How much money are they throwing away because users get a better quality experience pirating the game instead of buying it?" Mack exclaimed. "The music industry has mostly learned this lesson, but the software and movie industries still need to."

The worst part, he pointed out, "is that with the advent of multiplayer games, DRM is completely unnecessary, since all installations end up being linked to a player account anyway."

'Inherently Flawed'

Of course, "the simple fact is that that if there is a demand for it, someone will do it," noted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

"While I personally believe that DRM as an idea is inherently flawed on social, business and technical levels, this does not cause me to begrudge others their effort in creating such a program," Travers told LinuxInsider. "It is more helpful to put time and energy into alternative models than to begrudge the competition."

Not everyone took such a philosophical approach, however.

'I Say No to DRM'

Should DRM be allowed in FOSS? "Beyond encryption or digital signing, no," blogger Robert Pogson stressed.

"We already have tools to do that kind of thing in openssl and gnupg; we do not need a system that sniffs every file to check whether it is OK to allow a process with file read/execute permission to access it," he told LinuxInsider.

"That is what made Vista such a hog. Under a free software license, one should be able to execute a program without any additional permission. It is an issue of freedom and performance," concluded Pogson. "I say no to DRM."


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