TLWIR 11: Old PCs, Patent Wars and The Humble Bundle

by Rex Djere on July 31, 2011

in TLWIR

Free software evangelists take pride in spreading the news about freedom and open source. They inform those that still feel locked into the old software distribution systems. The days of computer users being bogged down with virus-infested, bloated, and locked down systems are quickly coming to an end. Patent trolls are dismayed that their victims are starting to fight back, and the free software community continues to amaze the world with its seemingly endless generosity. The spirit of this week’s edition of The Linux Week in Review is best encapsulated in the following three stories:

  • Bringing An Old Windows PC Back To Life With Free Software.
  • The Patent Wars Heat Up.
  • The Humble Bundle Brings Great Games To Linux.

 

Bringing An Old Windows PC Back To Life With Free Software

Among my friends and family, I have developed a reputation as the resident personal computer expert. People call me when they have problems with their computers that they can’t solve. I get calls on one particular set of problems over and over again:

  • The owner has an old Windows pc that is too old to run Windows 7 (And they wouldn’t want to pay for Windows 7 even if it COULD run).
  • The computer has Windows XP or Vista, and everything is running at a snail’s pace.
  • They want me to speed things up and give the computer several more years of viable life.

I have heard this story so many times that I don’t even need them to give me all of the details before I know their exact situation, and what I am going to recommend. They are ALMOST ALWAYS running some kind of haphazardly thrown together mix of anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-malware programs. Usually, some version of Norton is involved. They USUALLY have a bunch of virtually useless bloatware on their system that was installed by the manufacturer: MS Office 60 day trial, MS Works, links to Ebay, some kind of Photosmart software etc. I usually find that many of these installed bloatware programs are always running in the background, stealing precious CPU cycles. Many of these people have machines that are infected with viruses, malware, spyware, and other maladies. The situation is often very ugly.

Once I analyze the person’s system, I give them a list of recommended solutions, in order of precedence:

  • Group 1: My first recommendation is always the same: let us backup your important files to a CD-R, DVD-R, or flash drive, completely wipe Windows off of your system, and install Linux. I explain to them that this will almost certainly solve all of your problems FOREVER, and allow you to get many more useful years out of the computer system. About 20-25% of my “clients” agree to this solution.
  • Group 2: Many of the people that I work with absolutely have to have Windows, because there is a lot of Windows-only software that they want to run. Even though there are Linux equivalents to virtually all of this software, I don’t push them too hard. If they want to stay with Windows, I respect their wishes, and I at least try to move them to a system that is based more on free software. Table 1 below is my simplified software replacement matrix:

 

Original Software: Replace With:
Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Ubuntu Linux if allowed. Otherwise, leave as is.
Itunes VLC Media Player (licensed under GNU GPL)
Norton Security Suite (Antivirus, Internet Security, etc.) Clamwin (licensed under GNU GPL)
Microsoft Office 60 Day Trial Libreoffice (licensed under GNU LGPL)
HP Photosmart Essential GIMP (GNU GPL)
Internet Explorer Firefox (Mozilla Public License, GNU GPL)

Table 1: Free Software Replacement Matrix

In addition to replacing the software listed above, I remove other unnecessary software installed by the computer’s manufacturer that the owner never uses. I also go into the Windows Startup Programs menu, and turn off programs that the person doesn’t use. Lastly, I disable costly (from a CPU cycles perspective) programs such as file search indexing, System Restore etc. By the time I get done with all of these changes, the computer runs as it did 3 or 4 years ago: like a brand new machine. The machine that I brought back to life last night was no different. It was a 3 year old HP machine with Windows Vista that now is a fast, lean, and mean computing machine. The machine would be even faster if the owner had allowed me to install Linux, but they do not feel ready for that….YET. If and when they are ready, I will move them to Ubuntu because I feel that this is the best distribution for Linux beginners (even though Fedora is my favorite distro personally).

Conclusion: Free software replacement, along with system tweaking, can greatly improve the performance of a Windows system in situations where the owner is not yet ready to move to Linux.

 

The Patent Wars Heat Up

Linux is a disruptive technology. It has completely changed the game forever. Patents were created to protect the ideas of inventors, but what happens when inventors want to give their ideas away for free? This is a strange new world that we are navigating, one where the people that want to give their ideas away for free are increasingly coming into conflict with those who want to make a profit on ideas. I believe that one philosophy is destined to succeed, while the other is doomed to permanent failure. After you read this segment, it will be VERY clear which is which.

Obtaining a robust patent portfolio is becoming a necessary tool to create a preemptive weapon that keeps patent trolls at bay. Let me clarify this statement with a specific example. Once a company becomes successful (let us use Google as an example), people mysteriously appear out of the woodwork claiming that that company infringes on their patents. The most egregious example of this type of behavior is Oracle’s lawsuit claiming that Google has infringed on its Java patents with its Android operating system. Now let us look at this case a little bit more closely. When Google first announced Android, the CEO and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Mr. Scott McNealy, congratulated Google on a job well done. Sun owned Java and employed Java’s creator, Mr. James Gosling. Oracle bought Sun, thus gaining access to and ownership of Java, and its associated patents. It now appears more and more that Oracle bought Sun with the explicit intent of using Java to sue Google over Android. This is the kind of profiteering that I believe is doomed to failure: it is not only unethical, it makes the “pirate” look excessively petty and greedy. This kind of behavior can easily turn neutral potential clients away from a company very rapidly. For example, I went from being a person that knew little about Oracle and its products to one that will NEVER use their products, after seeing their behavior. An extremely telling point is that Oracle has deleted ALL of Scott McNealy’s blog entries from its website. Does a company that engages in ethical and honest behavior, and has nothing to hide, have to delete innocuous blog postings?

Google, for one, has become tired of the patent shakedowns. The current situation reminds me of one of my favorite televisions shows from the early to mid 2000s: the Sopranos. When I view the current patent situation, I imagine Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts going to the business establishment of a hypothetical competitor, George Jones, and telling him that they will immediately start collecting a 10% “tax” on all of his business dealings.

“What if I don’t like this deal? What if I don’t agree? Then what?” says the enfeebled Mr. Jones.

Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts look at each other, and then Tony looks back at George, shaking in his boots, and says: “Then you’ll find out what it’s like trying to walk with no kneecaps, my friend.”

Jones opens the cash register, and dispenses a fresh wad of 150 crisp $100 bills to Tony Soprano’s well-manicured hands.

Today’s patent trolls act much like Tony Soprano: many of them aren’t small-time businesses, but rather multi-billion-dollar corporations. They often pick on small companies as their prey:

 

Playing the Role of Tony Soprano Playing the Role of George Jones
Microsoft HTC
Microsoft Barnes and Noble
Microsoft Motorola
Microsoft Foxconn
Microsoft Inventec
Oracle Google*

Table 2: The Patent Racket

*Google is NOT a small company, but its weak patent portfolio makes its an easy victim.

Google is seeking to make itself less vulnerable to patent attacks by building up its own patent portfolio. It recently bought 1029 defensive patents from IBM. As Google increases the number of patents in its portfolio, patent trolls will develop a greater respect and level of fear in regards to Google. The reason for this is that when Google is armed with a large portfolio, it can ALWAYS threaten to counter-sue a troll. The Android trolls have been taking advantage of Google’s relative weakness, but I believe that the gravy train is about to end. The entire software community is looking to the Android patent battles as case studies for how to deal with patent trolls in the future. The patent wars are truly heating up.

 

The Humble Bundle Brings Great Games to Linux, Windows, and Mac

The Humble Bundle is a textbook demonstration of the best of the free software principles: generosity coupled with humility. It is great to see the selflessness of the Humble Bundle developers be rewarded. The most recent Humble Bundle, Humble Indie Bundle 3 has duplicated the success of the previous efforts. Each Humble Bundle also makes the games’ source code freely available. Here is a summary of the 3 Humble Indie Bundles:

  • Humble Indie Bundle 1: Released May 4th, 2010, 5 games, raised approximately $1.3 million.
  • Humble Indie Bundle 2: Released December 14th, 2010, 5 games, raised approximately $1.8 million.
  • Humble Indie Bundle 3: Released July 26th, 2011, 5 games, sales still in progress, >$500,000 raised so far.

I hope that the great success of the Humble Bundle series will spur similar open source projects that build on previous works. For example, I recently sent a message to the developers of Audacity and Ekiga requesting a podcaster/oggcaster friendly Ekiga plugin for Audacity. The proposed plugin would allow a guest and/or guest host of a podcast to call into the podcast using Ekiga. Audacity would then record both the host and the call-in streams. Wouldn’t it be great if we as the software-using community could send such a request along with a large donation to finance the work? This may be in the future of free software development.

 

Conclusions

This has been yet another prosperous and rewarding week in the world of free software and open source. The victims of patent trolls are starting to fight back, the free software community continues to amaze everyone with its incredible generosity, and those addicted to proprietary software are continuing to be exposed to free software alternatives that show them the possibilities when one chooses freedom.

Have a great week! I look forward to seeing all of you again in the next edition of The Linux Week in Review.

 

References

Fletcher, J. C. (2011, July 29). Humble bundle 3 includes free minecraft play until aug. 14. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www.joystiq.com/2011/07/29/humble-bundle-3-includes-free-minecraft-play-until-aug-14/

Humble Indie Bundle. (2011, August 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:11, August 1, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Humble_Indie_Bundle&oldid=442448912

Romaine, J. (2011, July 31). Google buys 1,000 ibm patents, reluctantly plays the lawsuit game. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/189939/20110731/google-1000-patents-ibm-buys.htm

 

Previous post:

Next post: