GNU/Linux and free software are a boon to a lot of businesses, and a thorn in the sides of others. Both the friends and enemies of Linux are realizing that Linux is important, and that it is here to stay. HP is leveraging Linux to try to return from the brink of financial ruin. As colleges and other schools around the country teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, many are moving to open source textbooks as a lower cost alternative. Free software is freeing people from the shakedown that is cable television. Finally, Microsoft has broken down and contributed code to a GPL version 3-licensed project.
Here are the ever -exciting stories for this twenty-fourth edition of The Linux Week in Review:
- HP’s Redstone Servers Run GNU/Linux on ARM
- The Coming Education Revolution: Open Source Textbooks
- Solving The Cable TV Boondoggle: Netflix on GNU/Linux
- Microsoft Finally Opens Up To GPL Version 3
HP’s Redstone Servers Run GNU/Linux on ARM
Hewlett-Packard Corporation had a very bad run in 2011. Now, Meg Whitman has taken over as the CEO, and she is taking the company in a new direction. Thankfully, Linux and free software appear to be a large part of her plans. Project Moonshot is part of HP’s initiative to replace the ubiquitous x86 server configuration with a cheaper, smaller, and more energy efficient alternative. The alternative, called Redstone Servers, have Cortex ARM microprocessors manufactured by Calxeda. The chips can run Linux distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE, but they cannot run Windows. The low cost and low power consumption of these servers should make them attractive to companies with large demands, such as companies serving up videos and other media intensive data. The fact that the Redstone servers are friendly to free software should help to make them very successful.
In other HP news, the HP Touchpad, which runs WebOS, a highly modified Linux variant, has been revived, at least temporarily. You can buy a 32GB Touchpad at BestBuy.com for $150 if you also buy an HP pc or laptop. The 32GB Touchpad is $600 if you buy it alone, about the same price as a 32GB Ipad 2.
The Coming Education Revolution: Open Source Textbooks
As a college student myself, I am very sensitive to the rising costs of textbooks. Quite frankly, I believe that college education costs are out of control, and textbooks are a significant portion of the bill. A friend of mine recently enrolled in a calculus class, and was shocked when he learned that the textbook was nearly $200! There has got to be a better solution. Thankfully, many states are rolling out open source textbook programs, where students will be able to use free or extremely cheap textbooks. These open source textbooks will provide students with a lower cost alternative.
Wikipedia’s parent foundation was one of the first organizations to roll out an open source textbook project. On July 10th, 2003, the Wikimedia Project launched Wikibooks, open-content textbooks that anyone could edit. In 2001,The state of California had created a similar initiative called The California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP). The COSTP focuses on providing lower cost texts for the kindergarten to 12th grade age ranges.
By leveraging the knowledge of millions of volunteer contributors and editors, open source textbooks will dramatically lower the cost of textbooks in the twenty-first century. If you are a student, open source textbooks may soon be coming to a classroom near you.
Solving The Cable TV Boondoggle: Netflix on GNU/Linux
I work with a lot of very technology-savvy people, and I hear one complaint over and over again: how much of a rip off cable television is. Anyone who has had cable TV in the last two decades is familiar with the problem: you pay $50 a month for your high speed Internet, another $60 per month (or more) on cable TV, and you only watch a handful of the channels. When the economy is booming and people have excess discretionary income, they are often willing to overlook the situation. However, in tough economic times, people start taking a hard look at everything. I was looking to fire my cable company, so I began to research the alternatives. One of my co-workers told me that he turned off his cable and got a Roku box to stream Netflix to his home for about $8 a month! This is a lot better deal than paying the cable company $60 per month. I was dismayed to learn that Netflix instant streaming uses Microsoft’s Silverlight protocol, effectively locking out GNU/Linux-powered devices such as my Fedora laptop. It seems that every time freedom comes close enough to touch, some kind of lock down occurs. However, there is good news in this story.
It turns out that the engineers at Netflix love Linux. Unfortunately, at many companies, the bottom line trumps what is actually best for the consumer. However, this group of engineers at Netflix is apparently pushing for the company to release a Linux client that will allow Linux users to receive the Netflix streams. The software will be proprietary, but it will be released some time in the next twelve months, according to sources withing the company. Let us hope that this is the truth.
Regardless of whether a Linux Netflix client is released or not, I will be firing the cable company soon, at least as far as cable TV is concerned. My solution will be a combination of digital HDTV antennas coupled with a couple of Roku boxes and a Netflix subscription. I’ll report how smoothly the transition goes in future TLWIR editions.
Microsoft Finally Opens Up To GPL Version 3
I never thought that I would witness the day where the Microsoft Corporation would contribute to a project licensed under version 3 of GNU’s General Public License. Well, that day has finally come. News came out recently that Microsoft has contributed code to the Samba project. This was extremely surprising given Redmond’s contentious stance towards Samba in the past. To me, this is evidence that the legal system can work to the benefit of consumers in some circumstances. What led Microsoft to suddenly become so nice towards Samba? The European Union levied a judgment against Microsoft back in 2007 that basically forced Microsoft to open up some of its networking protocols. This would prohibit the company from the uncompetitive practice of locking out rival software vendors. Samba was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this judgment. Samba makes software that allows GNU/Linux and other free software operating systems to connect to Windows-based networks.
The code contributed by Microsoft to Samba is a patch that improves interoperability between GNU/Linux and Windows. Technically speaking, the code that Redmond contributed is not GPL v. 3. Rather, it is GPL v. 2 or later, which is still good enough. This shows that Microsoft is really making progress as a company, with the help of the court system. Kudos!
What more can I say! This week’s stories speak for themselves. Microsoft contributing GPL version 2 or later code is huge news. It is a sign of a fundamental shift. I had been kind of discouraged to see a lot of projects moving to more “permissive” licenses such as BSD and Apache. Some businesses see “permissive” as permission to screw the consumer. I like the GPL because it keeps EVERYBODY honest. Androids success is pushing a lot of the Apache licenses growth. Don’t get me wrong: all free software licenses are good. I love the BSD and Apache licenses. But I really think that GPL v. 3 covers all bases, and nets the best result for end users. GPL version 3 will continue to thrive, especially when Canonical begins to move Ubuntu onto cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
Have a great week everyone!! TLWIR 25 is going to be a massive special edition, so please stay tuned.