Linux Blog Safari: Asus’ eeePC and the GPL, Linux in 2008

With all the buzz about Android starting to settle down, and the respite from it all afforded by Thanksgiving, the last few weeks have felt a little more mellow in the Linux blogs.

One topic that did generate some passionate attention, however, was the question of whether Asus’ new eeePC subnotebook might violate the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Specifically, at least one Linux advocate says that the new machine does not include the required source code with the installed Xandros Linux distribution, nor does it allow users to easily install another distro.

“This is not the first time that ASUS has stolen from the community in this way,” asserted Cliff Biffle, author of the blog.

Lawsuit Potential

In addition to generating more than 50 comments on the original blog, the topic sparked a debate on Slashdot that neared 250 comments by Friday.

“They’ve taken a community-developed kernel module and have modified it, and then released the result as a binary-only kernel module without including the source or at least posting an offer to obtain the source to the kernel module,” wrote morgan_greywolf on Slashdot. “That’s a direct letter violation of the GPL. Sounds like the author of asus_acpi has a lawsuit on his/her hands.”

An opposing view: “Company X makes hot Linux platform. Company X neglects to release source for a module. Linux advocates call for lawsuit. It’s not exactly a great way to promote Linux,” shot back Kristoph in response. “I am not suggesting we should ignore GPL violations but we should at least be a touch more civilized about it. (Maybe, in this case, someone should contact ASUS and — gasp — offer to help them maintain the module in the proper way.)”

Back to Microsoft

As so many Linux conversations do, the Slashdot debate eventually came around to Microsoft.

“Is it just me? Or does there seem to be a coordinated effort on the part of Microsoft and their cronies to fragment the Linux community by using legal offensives, everything from the patent agreements mentioned in TFA to out and out violations of the GPL, such as this one from Asus?” morgan_greywolf wrote. “I think it’s sort of a divide and conquer strategy.”

Several interviews in the tech press with Linus Torvalds, meanwhile, set off a conversation about what 2008 will hold for Linux.

“2008 is seeing the birth of laptop computers below $300: XO, Asus EEE, and I guess some new will appear soon,” wrote eulernet on a Slashdot thread on the topic. “Vista alone is almost more expensive than the hardware! Microsoft was a good alternative when computers did cost $1500, but now the price is just too heavy. They really can’t win when the hardware is cheap.”

Others, however, protested the question.

Same Old, Same Old?

“I am so damned tired of questions like ‘Will next year be the year of Linux on the desktop?’ countered drwho. “Linux is already on the desktop. It has been for years. And I hate to say it, because I don’t like hype, but Ubuntu really does deliver the goods for the best desktop system ever. Ubuntu can do 95 percent (or so) of what Microsoft can do on the desktop, and a lot that Microsoft can’t.”

What the Linux world lacks, drwho added, are specialized applications such as CAD, electronics design, and chemistry.

“Linux in 2008? Linux in 2007, Linux in 2006, Linux in (Linux last year – 1)… the predictions are always the same: ‘Linux is ready to capture the desktop,'” Slashdot’s yagu told LinuxInsider. “It never happens, though Linux gets better each year.”

Today’s marketplace is not a meritocracy, yagu added — in fact, “it’s on the cusp of getting worse. Microsoft so dominates with their monopoly, simply being good enough doesn’t open a crack wide enough to gain purchase against their juggernaut.”

The good news for Linux, he added, is that “Vista has proved bad enough that people are looking at alternatives.”

Looking ahead, “I expect Linux to continue its incremental increased popularity in 2008, albeit in tiny increments,” yagu said. “Certainly in Linux’s favor is the newly discovered Web 2.0 (ironically powered by the AJAX technique, originally conceived by Microsoft), and that it is a popular platform on which to build Web 2.0.”

Incremental Gains

“I feel like Linux has mostly stagnated, with only incremental gains in the most critical areas,” agreed Slashdot founder Rob Malda, also known as CmdrTaco.

“Things like high level desktop UI and Internet standardization are the major issues facing the OS … video formats that are unavailable to Linux users or Web applications that don’t work on open browser platforms,” Malda told LinuxInsider. “These are hard problems that can’t easily be addressed, but they are key for Linux adoption on the desktop.”

As for Linux on the server, “I’m hard-pressed to give you a reason why you would choose anything else,” Malda noted.

“The frustrating thing is that OSX and Windows release new versions to make revenue; Linux doesn’t really need new versions because there aren’t really new things we’re dying to have,” he added. “New device driver support is cool. Improving reliability is nice. Optimizations are fine, but the kernel is solid. It’s really only the UI that needs work.”

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