Linux

Ubuntu reaches out to Novell: backlash ensues


With the recent blunder *er* partnership of Novell and Microsoft the Linux community quickly flew up in arms about what was to happen. Many conspiracy theories were tossed up into the wind and few of them fell back down to earth.

But one thing did come to light in this tiny war of code and words. When Novell accepted MSs hand of "good faith" the SuSE community started looking to jump ship and find another platform to land on. When that happened Mark Shuttleworth (of Ubuntu fame) reached out saying:

We are hosting a series of introductory sessions for people who want to
join the Ubuntu community - in any capacity, including developers and
package maintainers. If you want to find out how Ubuntu works, how to
contribute or participate, or how to get specific items addressed, there
will be something for you.

That in and of itself was a very kind, and highly strategic move. Ubuntu is rising quickly and gaining some of SuSEs best devs would be a cous for Ubuntu. However, Shuttleworth followed it with this:

If you have an interest in being part of a vibrant community that cares about keeping free software widely available and protecting the rights of people to get it free of charge, free to modify, free of murky encumbrances and "undisclosed balance sheet liabilities", then please do join us.

To that a good amount of the open source community fired back bringing up the issue of Ubuntu releasing proprietary software (primarily drivers) in their distribution. It seemed as if there was a bit of hypocracy in the open source community. Or is there?

Imagine if Ubuntu stripped it's distribution clean of any and all proprietary software. If that happened then there would be a good amount of hardware that would no longer work under Linux. Some high end graphics cards would either be tossed into a pile of waste or, even worse, wind up being employed on Windows-only machines. My ibook would have no wireless.

So it begs the question: is it wrong of a linux distribution to be released with proprietary software? I say no. I say if it advances the operating system, and it's legal, release away. If this continues, and more and more Linux is adopted, those proprietary drivers might very well become open source.

But even if they don't - isn't it a small price to pay to continue to push forward the ideal of the Linux OS?

I was very happy that Shuttleworth spoke out to the SuSE community. He took a bold chance and I hope it pays off. And I think the Linux community stands to learn a lot from this development.

So what do you think? Should proprietary software be distributed with the Linux OS or not? 

 

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

19 comments
blarman
blarman

Having worked in a software shop that tested printers and printer drivers for a VERY large mainstream printer developer, I would much rather see Linux drivers developed by the manufacturers and distributed as binaries. There are very few devices that require custom modifications requiring source code access to the driver software anyway IMO (although some could stand to be better written). Application software is a different matter entirely, however. I say go ahead and package it - you don't have to use it.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]There are very few devices that require custom modifications requiring source code access to the driver software anyway IMO (although some could stand to be better written).[/i]" The point of open source drivers isn't so much to make custom modifications -- it's to allow others to rewrite parts of the drivers so that they're "better written". In other words, it's specifically the fact that some could stand to be better written that makes open source drivers such a good idea.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Ubuntu?!?! not bl00dy likely. why is firfox is absolutely required to have the distro itself installed? [ beats me, there is no clear, SANE reason for it ] why are laptop utils absolutely required on all Ubuntu installations? [ yes, even desktops with no batteries to monitor ] why are bluetooth utilities absolutely required for Ubuntu, even with no bluetooth devices around? [ yet another waste of resources on the system for no real reason ] Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Xubuntu are all full of "murky encumbrances" Why would they all rip the heart out of *X security model by disabling the root account? [ completely a$$inine, yet they did it and call themselves secure, which they can't be when they DESTROYED the securty ] I wish hardware manufacturers would supply open source drivers, but since that isn't happening I would rather that a distro supported the hardware PRESENT* with proprietary drivers than have the hardware not work. * read the Ubuntu comments, the PRESENT will make sense.

shinderpaljandu
shinderpaljandu

One has to remember the stranglehold that Windows has on the non programmer OS market. It is more than dominant. For users for programming backgrounds and expertise Linux is one thing. However the word among others is that out of the box if the Linux distro suits your needs good. If not lots of luck. Many of these possible Linux users give up in disgust pointing out now they know how their grandmothers feel when using windows . It should be as made as easy as possible for novices and intermediates computer users to use Linux products. We live in a real world with a number of commercial behemoths. It may be a purists view that no commercial products or support for these propietary / commercial products be in Linux products. While this view has its merits it may be overly simplistic and limiting to the growth and acceptance of Linux over the real term. Just try to install wi fi wireless cards that are not naturally supported in particular Linux Distros. Ubuntu Linux at least makes it easy for the Atheros based cards. There should be more not less instinsic Linux hardware support at least for major Linux distros. If the purists prefer it the other way they are free to have their own supported area of Linux Distros. Adger Linux www.adgerlinux.com

mickey
mickey

Upwards of 70% of the servers on the internet are Linux based. This does't even include all the IP Phone servers, routers and firewalls, not to mention the superior security Linux offers over Microsoft. MAINLY THOUGH, the larger part of the "world ecconomy" is dependant on internet communications and transactions. To allow Linux to be stripped of even just the network cards would force a multi-trillion dollar make over of the internet. When you consider more was sold on just eBay on Black Tuesday than WalMart, Kmart, Macys, JC Pennys, Sears, Costcos and Sams club combined. And more realestate is sold on eBay in a week than Century21 and ReMax in a year. No country or orginization would allow that much antitrust to happen. To allow it would be political suicide for all those involved.... Not to mention a collapse of e-commerce as we know it.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Supplying Propriety Drivers with Linux though Does it? On all the Nix Servers that I've ever built worked on they all lack a high end graphics card and if they actually have any graphics it's Onboard, they don't have 7.1 Surround Sound Cards or the need for Force feedback Joysticks, Video Capture Cards and the like. They are built to be [b]Lean & Mean[/b] and just do their job with a absolute minimum of fuss and maintains as Down Time is Expensive in these environments so it isn't encouraged by fitting unnecessary things that are not needed. Most don't even have a connection to the UPS to monitor the status of the UPS that's done by something else and the Nix Servers are hidden away from prying hands that shouldn't be playing with them in the first place. These machines need very little more than the bare OS and applications that they run most of the better ones don't even have a GUI but retain the CLI as the Main User Interface when it is required. The question here was Should Linux be packaged with Propriety Drivers for the End User so they don't have to exercises their few brain cells to get it up and running from the CD's/DVD. People for some reason have the misguided belief that you can install Windows with just the Windows Install CD and you don't need any driver Disc's or anything else Windows just installs and you have everything working perfectly. Even on a basic desktop this doesn't happen and even if you do actually manage to get Windows to install every driver that is required for the particular system you then need to begin to install all the software that is required. With any form of Linux this isn't an issue as you just need to install what you want in the way of the OS/Software and then maybe some dedicated drivers that didn't ship with the Distro. For some reason that totally eludes me most people here think that all that is required to install a complete Windows System is to drop in a CD and everything is right from there which is [b]WRONG![/b] Col

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The fact of the matter is that even though we would all prefer a pure open source world, it isn't. For Linux to grow and for us to get proper driver support, we need to accept closed source as a fact of life. Sure, it's not the best, but if we embrace it now, in the future we can push towards more open source drivers because we've proven the size of the Linux install base.

badiane_ka
badiane_ka

I started when distros like ubuntu were only dream. But I learned. I was not introduced to computing via windows so I didn't acquire any warped notions or bad habits. A lot of people want linux to be "easy" without realizing or more importantly admitting to themselves that what they want is the familiarity of windows without the bugs. What makes anyone a novice at anything is lack of knowledge. So get it and support it with a lot of practice and you will no longer be a novice. It's a different way to approach the same problems. My favorite GUI is XFCE because it's light and I don't have to wait for ever for it to start. It has some thing that could be better but since I don't have a windows mentality I use it to make my work easier. I have a friend of mine who is a windows admin and he is a good one but when I try to explain how he could perform certain functions in a better way and try to explain how I would approach the problem in linux I can see his eyes glaze over. He would spend a lot of time writing these very complex programs in DOS and I've tried to get hime to try ruby but, as far as I can see, he doesn't see the need. If he were to start using linux on a full time basis I think it would be hard for him since he would have to drop a lot of his windows thinking. I have another friend who has adopted ubuntu and is subject to the same restrictions. He thinks as if windows was the basis of rectitude. I've had to tell him many times that he must forget about windows in order to learn linux. Ubuntu does a great job. I've installed it for my mom but I still don't use it at home. I'm writing this on a T20 with a bad drive controller and a GRML live cd (yes it's a cool tool that doesn't have to erect protective barriers to keep a user from stepping on their toes). I've use the livecd to prepare debootstrapped raided and lvmed debian installs, whether for destops of servers. I would love for linux to become "easier" and by that I mean that the GUI could reflect the underlying power. I want there to be an advanced button to allow those who know to have access to the very complex underlying structure. As a human being, I know when to say that I don't understand something or many things for that matter. But I will never want, in light of my weaknesses, for something to be brought down to my level. If I can't make the effort then I can't but I will not blame something for my inadequacies. I walked away from windows because of its absurdities and I hate that they are brought into linux. If people do not understand that if a piece of hardware doesn't work it's not necessarily linux' fault but the mentality of the manufacturers has a lot do to with it. I don't like mainstream commercial drivers not because they are intrinsically bad because of their commercial nature but because of the way business are taught or have learned to look at their products. In the end most of us buy hardware because of what they could do for us and what we could do with them. They are often designed for windows, can one imagined that, designed for an os that is already crappy. I have place a $28 atheros based card in a windows machine and it's only a stupid client card but under linux with the new madwifi drivers it's a multi point AP which I can isolate with XEN and send to another XEN Shorewall and control public and private traffic. I can use that card to give wireless access to others while using it as a client. That same card. Why would I EVER give that possibility up simply because I find the OS "hard". I used as many books and documents I could find. I made the effort and we should all try to do so. I found that many windows users didn't want to learn about the structure of the filesystem, about what goes where and why; why you shouldn't do this or that. One who asked how does he defrag Linux???? I had to explain the difference between the kernel and the filesystem and the different filesystems (he has been traumatized by vfat and ntfs). He got indignant because he always bragged about how good he was at computing (confusing the conclusion for the premise). He didn't even understand how windows machines shared files and quickly blamed and condemned linux because he "just couldn't see his files on the network like in windows". He kept wanting to have windows under the name linux. I asked him if he knew about SMB and he didn't have a clue. If windows users don't take the time to understand linux and its distros then they will always feel frustrated. As I've stated before I don't mind a GUI to enhance the efficiency of a user but as is understated that user must understand efficieny. I don't want the os to become dumb. It's not windows, it doesn't want to be windows and it should never aspire to be crap. Manufacturers should be more willing to work with the community, and the programmers should understand the paradigms for which they are designing.

lastchip
lastchip

Over all, I want a Linux distro to just work. I don't want to have to fiddle for hours (or even days) just to get a function up and running. If that means proprietary drivers have to be included, so be it. I think any enthusiastic Linux user wants to see the desktop side grow and that's only going to happen with ease of use, good tutorials and documentation. Without trying to state the obvious, there are many Linux distros which will cater for purists that cannot stand the thought of proprietary code of any kind being present. But those distros are unlikely to ever become mainstream, unless all manufacturers turn to the open source model. That's the wonderful part of Linux. There really is, something for everyone.

apotheon
apotheon

Proprietary drivers are more of a pain in the butt than open source drivers for Linux in the long run. Have you tried installing the proprietary binary-only (aka "blob") drivers for an ATI Radeon lately? It's kind of a pain in the butt a lot of the time. Open source drivers are, once they're stable, loaded automatically when you install the OS from scratch. This way, you don't have to worry about installing drivers at all. Generally, the worst you'll see is the need to choose the manufacturer of your video card during the OS install process. For instance, it may give you a menu where you'll find an entry for ATI Radeon, and you can choose that. Bang, instant gratification. The problem with the open source drivers is simply that the hardware manufacturers are somehow opposed to the idea of helping the open source community make better use of the hardware, and as such the open source ATI drivers (again, for instance) do not include 3D acceleration support. Intel is starting to break ranks with the other 3D video card vendors, in that it is releasing full support drivers under open source licenses. It's about friggin' time someone did that.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]So in conclusion, all I'm saying is, use manufacturers proprietary drivers IF there is no alternative. And Yes, it would be wonderful if manufacturers started taking Linux seriously and released sufficient information for top quality drivers to be written, or at least, for poorly written drivers to be revised.[/i]" It looks like we're in agreement.

lastchip
lastchip

I would be delighted to install a Linux distro that was pure open source. I don't have any problem with that what-so-ever. All I was saying, is IF open source drivers are not available, rather than have to fiddle around for hours, I would prefer proprietary drivers were included, rather than none at all. For example, I recently installed Kubuntu 6.10 as recent reviews suggested the distro was worth evaluating. It installed without a hitch, recognised ALL my hardware and I had a fully operational 64 bit system up and running in about 55 minutes (including updates). Now, I have no idea whether that was All open source drivers, or whether some proprietary drivers were used and frankly, I don't care. The point is, I had a trouble free install! In this case, Kubuntu exceeded my expectations and I've been most impressed to date. (In spite of Jaqui's reservations regarding security). Even though I've been "playing" with various Linux distros now for the best part of two years, I still consider myself very much a novice and although I "preach the gospel" at any opportunity, people will be put off (perhaps permanently) if they can't gets bits and pieces to work. So in conclusion, all I'm saying is, use manufacturers proprietary drivers IF there is no alternative. And Yes, it would be wonderful if manufacturers started taking Linux seriously and released sufficient information for top quality drivers to be written, or at least, for poorly written drivers to be revised.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Windows has very fer drivers included with the OEM or Retail release. Granted it's different with Slipstreamed Recovery CD from System Makers but they are not actually Windows they just have the Windows OS as part of the install process of the Recovery CD. When I load any Linux except DSL all the drivers that I need are included without a second thought and it's Windows that I have to go searching through various sites for he necessary drivers when I need to reload a customers computer who has lost the recovery CD because they are not important to that end user. Even with most small business that I work with when I deliver a new computer I take all the Install CD's and within 2 days they have somehow disappeared off the face of the planet. The few Home Users that I do any work for are worse as they actually throw away those silly CD's as they have no use. Maybe I'm just the lucky one though. Col

apotheon
apotheon

When you buy a computer with Windows preinstalled, of course it comes with all the drivers you need. On the other hand, when you buy a boxed Windows install CD, and try to install it, it demands all the driver CDs that it assumes you got with your hardware -- otherwise, you end up looking at four-color VGA graphics with the system speaker as your only source of sound, and God forbid you have a fancy mouse. Windows, as HAL said, comes with very few drivers. Computers with Windows preinstalled tend to come with exactly the drivers you need, though, in addition to coming with Windows.

The-Jetman
The-Jetman

With the exception of printer drivers and legacy hware (> 7 yrs old), all flavors of Windows do very well w/ driver installation, right out of the (OEM/Retail) box. Even in the legacy arena, very pop mfrs hware (eg. Creative, ATI, et al) is well supported in the core areas (ie. video, LAN, and audio.) The big thing that PC mfrs do supply (absent from std releases) are chipset drivers and (esp for laptops) WiFi and input device drivers. I'm an emerging Linux 'fiend' (and am familiar w/ your ref to DSL), but there's *no* way that *any* Linux distro can/will compare to out-of-the-box driver support that Windows has. Hware mfrs work hand-in-hand w/ MSOFT on driver development (since for most, it's their *sole* target platform) and compete to get on those OS distribution discs. My perspective comes from more than a couple thousand builds/repairs in the past ten years. Having said all of that, even small Linux distros do exceptionally well, in terms of hware support. FWIW, I ditched DSL in favor of Slax (the KillBill ed is ~200MB - check it out!) It [Slax] did fail me once, but on a small 233MHZ Cyrix-based clunker. Disappointing, but then BartPE (a Windows XP live CD) failed as well, on the same box.... On the subj of adding proprietary drivers to a OSS OS, go for it. Fact is, there are *so* many distros, sourced all over the world, even if the mfrs *wanted* to, they couldn't back out of this now. Besides, their goal is to sell hware and the OS/drivers are the essential 'go juice.' Their essential IP rights are protected by any patents they may have on the hware. The attys *mite* wag their fingers, but that's about it from a practical perspective....

Tig2
Tig2

It has only been slowly that I have been able to advance the cause of Linux in my family. The fear has been that they would have to have me sitting next to them every moment and that their productivity would be reduced. Windows is easy to use for most people and has unfortunately therefore become the accepted "norm". I don't think that including drivers with a distro is a bad thing when it makes the package easier to deploy and maintain. I think that Linux deserves to have a wider installed base and don't think that inclusion of a driver should be a restricting factor. I do agree with Tony- keep it off the kernel level. But DO make drivers available- whether open source or proprietary.

ScouterDude
ScouterDude

As a linux newbie, I like it's power and flexibility. But the drivers are the bane, at least if you want anything above straight IDE or SCSI1 drives. Needing to be kernel level entries hurts, I'd like to see that re-architected (apparently that's not a real word). That said, all the drivers I've found or needed have still been free and reasonably available, even if not GPL. With enough interest, I think the vendors will get on board eventually. At this stage though, I think they're going to have to be included, to allow linux to be a commodity product for the masses, e.g. a true alternative to the market leader.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you mean the drivers should be part of the distro, I agree, if you mean the functions that use the driver must be part of the kernel I don't. I want to be able to use my graphics card, but I don't want to have to use a GUI to run linux. Who writes propriety drivers anyway, from the primarily windows based designs you've got to assume it's the engineers. Pity they can't map concepts like black box and modularity across to the software. The way they talk, drivers are an unfortunate overhead, or a bonus feature, yet they are just as much a part of the product as a resistor or a drive wheel.

stress junkie
stress junkie

I agree with the philosophy of including proprietary hardware drivers in Linux distributions for all of the reasons that you stated. As you stated if some GPL purists want a "clean" distribution they have those available: Slackware and Gentoo come to mind. I am very glad that the Atheros wireless NIC in my laptop has a vendor supplied driver included in the Linux distro that I put on it. (PCLinuxOS)

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