italic = name of a file or variable you probably want to substitute with your own.
fixed width = commands and filenames.
However, the reason why Linux is truly revolutionary is that it is Open Software. Our science and technology work owing to the free availability of information, peer review, and the capabilities to pick up ideas and modify or extend. Open Software is an implementation of the scientific method into the field of software development. The freedom to pick-up, modify and extend, that comes with the Linux licence, offers a promise that the software development under Linux licence will continue in the way that science does.
The making of horseshoes, good glass, or measuring time were once closely guarded trade secrets. Science and technology exploded 500 years ago thanks to the sharing of knowledge by the means of printing, and thus breaking the monopoly of the few on the know-how. Why were the science and technology relatively stagnant before the printing era? Because the "trade secret" approach to growth has its limits: the development continues until the rate of learning equals the rate of forgetting. Moving the know-how to the public domain (printed on paper) shifted the position of the equilibrium to a higher level, which, after 500 years of turbulent development, we are still to achieve. For interested, I can present equations, borrowed from chemical equilibrium field, that describe this in a more formal way. The main point is that printing increased the audience, and allowed passing information across space and time.
In the early days of printing, many of those who dared to share were assassinated for revealing "trade secrets." Linux is for the computer age what Gutenberg was for writing. Hopefully there will be no assassinations this time :-) . Linux does clash, violently at times, with those who claim the "ownership" of information, trying to push time back 500 years.
Open Source Linux has also implications for computer security. Imagine a plane based on secret "scientific laws", built to an unreviewed design, a plane at internals of which nobody but the manufacturer could inspect. Would you believe that this unique, completely proprietary plane, obviously built by clever and well-financed marketers in their basement, is any safer than one built in the open world, under the eyes of thousands of critical engineers and curious hobbyists with no association to the manufacturer? Then why would you trust a secret computer program? Open-source Linux is ideally suited for a mission-critical application-its security and power are based on robust solutions which are reviewed with no restrictions whatsoever, and continuously improved upon.
Linux is quite different from MS Windows, so do not expect that if you can get around MS Windows, then Linux will be straightforward for you. You may need to learn. On the other hand, if you come from UNIX, Linux will be easy for you. If you don't know much about computers or you don't enjoy them, chances are Linux administration is not for you. If you don't know your hardware, Linux installation may be a challenge.
If you wanted to learn first-hand about the General Public License, check these famous GNU documents:
In a nutshell, the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) allows anybody to:
What the GPL license *does not* allow code recipients to do is to take somebody elses software licenced under GPL, modify the software, and then distrubute a this modified version of the software under a propriatory licence. Speaking plainly, the GPL licence just forbids stealing existing (somebody else's) software for incorporation into a closed, commercial-only product. However, you may incorporate GPL software in a commercial computer program if you obtain permission from the copyrigtht holder. GPL is certainly not more restrictive or imposing than a "typical" propriatory licence. GPL is a licence that grants the recipient right which he otherwise does not have, but takes away none. Excluded from the use of GPL are persons who have violated the GPL.
In general, copyright laws regulates 5 rights: to copy the work, to make derivative works, to distribute the work, to perform the work, and to display the work.
Here is a table which contrasts the licence of Linux with that of MS Windows (put together by a RedHat lawyer, based on a Groklaw article:
Linux / MS Windows
The GPL license under which Linux is distributed is probably the most important part of it. It is designed to perpetuate the freedom of information. Other important open-source projects include science and law (hardly a joke). The Linux method is really nothing new-it is simply the application of the scientific method to software: you get information free, you add your ideas and make your living, and finally, you leave it free. However, some big corporations and their lawyers seem to be trying hard to change this, to push us back in time, to the dark ages, when information was kept "proprietary." Hence, you see in newspapers some famous Linux-connected persons involved in all kinds of struggles.
To get a flavour for the value of Linux, here are some prices for commercial software as listed at www.amazon.com. All prices are in $USA, as listed on 2001-02-03, with discounts. Roughly equivalent Linux software is included on almost any Linux CD set (but with no restrictions on the number of clients). In addition, the hardware for Linux is typically significantly less expensive, since Linux can run all services on a single server:
Linux (and thousands of other programs distributed under GPL) is often described as "free software". The word "free" has two quite different meanings in the English language, and it sometimes leads to misconceptions about the free nature of Linux. These two meanings follow the Latin adjective "liber" and the adverb "gratis," and they are often illustrated with the phrases "free speech" and "free (of charge) beer." Most Linux software is free in both senses, but it is only the first sense which is essential to Linux.
The major differences:
The major differences:
The reality is simple. Cooperation and good will can benefit many at the same time: your gain is not my loss. The Internet works fine and is expanding at a rapid pace. So does Linux.
Here is the opinion of an IBM executive: ``The reason we are so excited about Linux is we believe Linux can do for applications what the Internet did for networks.'' [linuxtoday.com] IBM just (May 2002) spent 1 billion dollars making Linux run on all their hardware platforms (mainframes, workstations, PCs, laptops).
We may add that Linux seems to do to the operating system the same what IBM's open PC specification did to the computer hardware.
And here is a quote from Thomas Jefferson explaining, in the year 1813, that intellectual property (IP) does not exists. There is only a limited monopoly to profit for the author, which is society-given on the conditions that the monopoly strikes the balance for the common benefit:
``If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.'' [``The Writings of Thomas Jefferson''. Edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh. 20 vols. Washington, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905. Quoted after: ``The Founders' Constitution'' Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, Document 12, The University of Chicago Press.]
Linux also provides no guarantees, although it is far more secure than any version of MS Windows (assuming comparable functionality is installed on both). If you are really security-sensitive , you can use high-security tools built by companies that rely on the availability of the source code to design and test their security features (e.g., Kryptokom in Germany provides high-security firewalls). The "security in obscurity" implemented in MS Windows has repeatedly been demonstrated to be a naive approach.
``Risk aversion is what dictates you use Linux and other open products, rather than NT. The risks with NT are entirely out of your control, and there is nobody you could sue if anything goes wrong. Why people still believe the myth that Windows in any form offers any bit of accountability ``more'' than Linux remains a complete riddle to me.'' [David Kastrup, Research Engineer, Bochum, Germany, Internet Week]
The era of proprietary standard nuts seems over. But the idea lives on in the computer field. For example, the "standard" MS Word file format has changed numerous times over the recent years. This keeps happening probably for a good business reason: as soon as other companies "reverse-engineer" the current Word format, Microsoft changes it. There are even sub-formats (an MS ``fast-save'' anybody?). The ``standard'' is completely closed-Microsoft does not publish any specifications. How can the user benefit from this in a longer term? What is the Microsoft guarantee that MS Word 6.0 file format will still be legible in the year 2020? None I could find.
``... Microsoft's standards are both proprietary and arbitrary- the stealth incompatibility of Office 97 file formats with older versions of Office or the subversion of Open standards like XML with proprietary extensions that require Internet Explorer 5, MS Active server and so on, are sober reminders of what the company does to a market.'' [Xavier Basora].
``... Microsoft's monopoly doesn't guarantee that your current MS Office will work with any previous or future MS Office. This is in spite of any number of Microsoft apologists arguing that the benefit of Microsoft's monopoly has been a standard for productivity applications.'' [Wesley Parish]
To add to the confusion, companies typically do not "standardize" on file formats but on the applications that are supposed to produce them. It is like standardizing on a manufacturer of nuts instead of on nuts. How is this supposed to work if the file manufacturer keeps changing the specification to drive their sales?
``We need standardized, open file formats so that users can exchange documents between platforms. The actual word processing software used to generate these documents shouldn't even be an issue.'' [Ted Clark, linuxtoday.com]
There are a few text/document oriented file formats that are quite definitely more standard than MS Word file format: ASCII, XML (with non-propriatory stylesheets), HTML, SGML, LaTeX, TEX, PostScript, pdf, dvi ... and all of them have excellent support under Linux. The MS Word file format can also be read/written very well under Linux by OpenOffice (and a number of other applications) to cover your current needs. Advanced, "universal," open-source document formats (XML-based) are developed by an independent organization. The story is similar with other proprietary computing ``standards'' (*.giff vs. *.png anyone? *.mp3 vs. *.ogg?).
Linux, by its very nature, is based on true, published and free standards because ``open source'' makes the full specifications available to everybody (competitors or not). We believe that the urge for open standards is the very driving force behind Linux. Many people feel that they cannot afford to trust their algorithms and data to a commercial entity, let alone a single one that has repeatedly demonstrated its untrustworthiness.
Have a look at a draft of this Argentinean law for a taste of the future. It sounds like the Argentineans may be the first to decide that their public records cannot be held hostage by a commercial entity: ``... Public National Organizations mentioned in article 1 of this law, will not be allowed to use programs that store data in non-public format ...''. Several other countries are also contemplating or enacting legislations requiring storage of public data in public file formats. [slashdot.org]
There is a strong perception in the Linux community that there is a serious problem with the computing "standards" championed by large software vendors. This includes their standards for storing our ``static'' data , as well as the processing algorithms embedded in our computer codes. Can we afford to trust somebody decide for us when, how, and at what cost we can access our own work? This problem is ignored and even aggravated by people who are paid to take care of it. Linux is a grass-root answer to this problem.
Here is an example from Life, as narrated by [The Economist]:
``IN MAY, the city of Munich decided to oust Microsoft Windows from the 14,000 computers used by local-government employees in favour of Linux, an open-source operating system. Although the contract was worth a modest $35m, Microsoft's chief executive, Steve Ballmer, interrupted his holiday in Switzerland to visit Munich and lobby the mayor. Microsoft even dropped its prices to match Linux?a remarkable feat since Linux is essentially free and users merely purchase support services alongside it. But the software giant still lost. City officials said the decision was a matter of principle: the municipality wanted to control its technological destiny. It did not wish to place the functioning of government in the hands of a commercial vendor with proprietary standards which is accountable to shareholders rather than to citizens.''
My favourite example of how Microsoft, instead of promoting standards, keeps confusing them. For decades, there has been one standard way to write all-numeric date and time in the country I live. This standard is accepted in most countries of the world. MS Excel offers, conveniently in a drop-box, almost any possible permutation to format date/time, except the one required by the international standard. I guess, there is no lesson learned from the billions spent on the ``Year 2000 issue''.
In a smaller environment, you can use OpenOffice.org suit (OO) that runs on Linux, MS Windows, Mac, Solaris (and more), with full file-level compatibility. It can be downloaded and installed for free (no restrictions whatsoever) so nobody should really complain about the file format (some control freaks still will). Just to make sure, OpenOffice.org can import and export MS Word and Excel documents of reasonable complexity very well. The native file format in OpenOffice.org is fundamentally much better than Microsofts (plus it is non-propriatory). Feature-by-feature, OpenOffice.org can do almost anything MS Office can, plus some extras. Depending on whom you ask, the ease of use varies between ``50% more difficult'' to ``20% easier'' (measured on a sample of experienced MS Office users). Very complex documents are best transfered as *.pdf, and OpenOffice.org can make them on the fly.
So, probably you do not need MS Office any more. Download your OpenOffice.org for MS Windows and/or Linux.
Latest MS marketing joke: ``Wait, don't install OpenOffice. Microsoft is ALREADY working on a file format that is based on the same principle as that OpenOffice is using. Microsoft will even extend the file format to make it even BETTER.'' Well, we do not need a better format. We need a open-standard file format.
Linux is quite positively here-to-stay because of its open-source nature (Linux cannot possibly be put out-of-business). It is a standard selected for countless projects that are not going to go away, and some of them are quite ``mission-critical.'' Try the International Space Station, for which Linux is the operating system. [linuxjournal.com]
Plus, never underestimate the strength of the Linux community. Linux is ``here to stay'' at least for the computer avant-garde. Many Linuxers do not even want Linux to become very popular because they fear it could ``dumb down'' the elite Linux platform.
``Forking'' in this context means ``branching a computer program,'' so as to create parallel ``subversions'' of the program, and consequently fragment Linux and presumably reducing its usefulness.
There is very little (if any) evidence of harmful forking of any software included with a typical Linux distribution. Where forking did occur, it has always turned beneficial. Quite possibly, this is because although there are no artificial barriers to fork software under Linux, there are also no artificial barriers to merge the best pieces back.
The theoretical background on how forking software can be good for its development might have been actually given quite some time ago by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 -1831), with his concept of dialectic development. E.g., in ``Phenomenology of Spirit'', Hegel concludes: ``... the schism incipient in a party, which seems a misfortune, expresses its fortune rather.''
Following Hegel's (and Parmenides) thought, one may expect that what is rational comes into existence in Linux, and what became a permanent part of Linux did so because it was rational (Hegel's original is ``What is rational is real and what is real is rational''). The same cannot be expected to be the end-product of development of a system build to a rigid blueprint prepared by a committee.
Face it, you salespeople pretending to be journalists. There is hardly any integrity left in the computing press. How many words on Linux did your PC Magazine (or any other IT magazine) publish by 1999-01-01? Wasn't Linux at least an interesting technology by that time? It surely was, yet you conspired to keep your readership in the dark, selling your journalistic integrity for a few dollars. And now, after Linux has surfaced in the mainstream (non-computer) media, you keep writing misleading articles about it saying ``yah, but it will/cannot/may ....'' whatever (trying the ``fear, uncertainty and doubt'' tactics to kill it). And adding ``Microsoft is already ...'', continuing to write about the vaporware and the future paradise in the face of the increasingly stealthy, unstable, pricey, architecturally unsound computer platform, whose greatest achievement has been exhorting unheard-of-before money by denying inter-operatibility, and killing any existing or proposed standard (by ``embracing'' and then proprietary-extending it). Whom do you serve? Surely not your readers.
I worded it as strongly as I could. Am I a zealot? Or am I just trying to voice my disapproval for the self-serving actions of the computer ``powers-that-be''?
You think ``self-serving'' is OK in business? How pathetic must your business be then! I always thought that business was a social contract in which we exchange good values, for a mutual benefit. As I read history, societies use to hang / guillotine / electrocute those members who really persisted in their self-serving business. Well, times have changed. A bit for the better, a bit for the worse :))
To be fair, there seems to be a number of hard-core devotees around any computer program/platform, and Linux might have accumulated a fair share of them. Oh, well, you may be religious about whatever you like. I can assure you, most Linux users I interacted with are rational.
For example, does your calculation of the ``total cost of ownership'' of MS Word include the cost of exiting the platform? If not, do you really believe, that MS Word will be your documentation platform *forever*?
Let me try a simple estimate of how much the average total cost of the ownership of MS Windows is. Let's add the fortunes accumulated by all the MS Windows software makers. Add all the salaries of all generic Windows programmers, consultants, support and training personnel, IT management, etc. Add the cost of the hardware for MS Windows. Now, add the losses in productivity customers must surely have suffered while the software corporations were presenting them with ``new features'' so as to make them upgrade and/or achieve their current lock-in status. Divide this sum of money by the number of years (whatever time frame you selected), and the number of MS Windows users (only in the countries in which software is normally paid for). Here is the TCO of MS Windows. However you count it, it will be many thousands of good US dollars per average joe per year. You didn't pay that much money? Well, you must have, it has just been hidden from you (probably in the price of seemingly unrelated products and taxes). Yes, developed countries waste billions of dollars on software every year.
How much did Linux cost? Hardly anything. The number of users is much lower, too, but you will be hard pressed to come up with $10 per user per year.
Yet, in my opinion, the total cost is not what matters the most. What value did I receive for my money? You would have to calculate the total value of ownership (TVO?), then subtract from it the total cost of ownership (TCO) to obtain the ``net benefit of the ownership'' (or ``return on investment''). Well, I cannot see how I would be making a good investment by purchasing the latest version of MS Windows or Office, by putting myself deeper into a single-platform dependency. My Linux based email, web browser and word processor work as well as anything available on MS Windows.
I guess accountants typically talk about the TCO for software ``necessary for doing business,'' and thus skip the issue of the value, benefit, and the return on investment. There is really no value in the mainstream software, it is just the necessity for doing business these days. Well, Linux satisfies my computing necessities at zero monetary cost, and the personal pleasure and learning value are great.
Linux is the end-product of activities of many such loose ``consortiums'' who ``scratch their needs.'' So Linux is a business, but it is not necessarily about centralized production and marketing of software. It is a de-centralized, small-scale development performed close to the end-users, so that they have access to reasonably-priced software that matches their need, solves their problems, sells their hardware or service, and which is totally theirs to keep: the licence never expires, and the user will never be cut off.
So yes, there is some probability that Linux might be sued out of existence in the United States because of political pressure.
Linux developers are not copiers or thieves. They produce thousands of lines of computer code every day. The Linux licence is based on the respect for the ``intellectual property'', i.e., the exclusive right of the author to distribute her creation. Nevertheless, misappropriation of code into Linux can happen. Considering the amount and complexity of code in a typical GNU/Linux distribution and the rate of development, it is likely going to happen, sooner or later. A dishonest developer may ``lift'' code from somebody else and submit it to any of the number of public Linux-related projects, pretending that the code is his own. This IP problem is not limited to Linux. Cases of misappropriation of code happen to close-software companies as well (e.g., it happened to Microsoft) and, no doubt, will happen again.
As far as potential for misappropriation of code is concerned, the major difference between the ``open source'' and ``propriatory, closed software'' is that a misappropriation is trivial to detect in the former, and almost impossible in the latter. It the obligation of any IP owner to protect their IP and report potential (involuntary) infringements so it can be promptly remedied, and their potential losses minimized.
Linux developers are not negligent. They continuously submit all the Linux source code for public review and comment so as to detect and prevent any IP violations. Well-organized Linux archives are maintained. The open development method of Linux follows that employed by science, and it is likely a more dilligent practice for protection of other authors' rights than almost any IP control system conceivable for implementation in a closed-software house. Thus, Linux management of IP rights can rightly be called as "among the best in the industry" if not ``the best''.
Linux has an excellent IP record. Certainly, it is not known to harbor misappropriated code. Is it then legally-safe for me to use Linux? I feel, it is for me. In case a misappropriation of code into Linux is ever found, I can be certain that any infringing code will be immediately expelled from Linux and ``clean'' version will become available for me to upgrade. It has always been a specific goal of the Linux community at large to produce code uncontaminated with any propriatory code.
The whole issue should be placed into a broader context. There appears to be a recently increasing tendency to go overboard with ``intellectual property'' which clashes with notions of basic justice, decency and common sense. It seems that some dishonest corporations try to impose nebulous ``licensing'' to keep extracting, indefinitely, money while delivering no new value. In some cases, IP is becoming a tool with which some major corporations try to tax the average joe (and business startups), not unlike emperors used to tax salt. Linux is an answer to this unhealthy trend, an answer which is based on respect to the existing copyright laws. Therefore, Linux clashes with those who wish to extract money while delivering no value. I do not see a fundamental problem with IP in Linux but there is certainly a conflict of interests and hence attacks on Linux.
To summarize, Linux licence is based on respect to the current copyright laws. For all what is known, Linux is free of ``intellectual property'' infringement. It employs the best due diligent practices to make sure it remains free of any such infringements. However, due to the revolutionary nature of source code development, Linux is being attacked with nebulous IP claims and smeared by some paid ``experts'' with various IP ``worries''. So yes, publicity is expected as Linux big names are dragged through U.S. courts but it does not affect me.
If worst comes to worst and the intellectual property laws became so restrictive as to impede the progress of Linux and other open software, I would expect that it will be the laws that crumble. This is because the politicians seem to forget the intellectual property does not really exist (as Jefferson knew) and have been put in place only for further development and common benefit. Linux was born from genuine frustration about the quality and cost of software produced by the past methods, and such frustration cannot be contained by naked force without political repercussions.
In this context, it may be worthwhile to briefly summarize Linux strengths and weaknesses: Linux is owned by its fans (your piece of ownership comes free with your free subscription to the fan club), definitely very powerful and feature-rich, highly configurable, as flexible as you want it to be (comes with complexity), low on the cost of hardware, comes with any networking bell-and-whistle known to man, requires a computer literate administrator, some essential desktop applications are still behind commercial offerings on other platforms (e.g., spreadsheet and word processing), a number of excellent end-user applications come ``standard'' and free with the operating system, the graphical user interface is very nice but still not as polished as Apple or MS offerings, Linux is highly standard (POSIX UNIX), open file formats used all along, thousands of programs available for free download (although the ease of use and quality of these varies vastly). And most of all, Linux is enjoyable!