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ASUS On Linux & Warranties

Since the announcement that Best Buy started carrying the ASUS Eee PC 900A in their stores at a new US$299 price point (down to US$280 just yesterday), I’ve been keeping my eye on the market’s reaction. Whilst researching, I ran across several interesting posts that tie into the “Linux will void my warranty” FUD pattern. Apparently, there have been two concerns over the warranty for this line of netbooks.

The first has to do with a sticker that appeared on the bottom of some units indicating that opening the unit will void the warranty. This is unthinkable – even a simple RAM upgrade, which many folks do immediately upon purchasing an Eee PC, requires opening the access panel on the bottom. Indeed, ASUS agrees and has publically clarified that this is not the case.

The second concern, and one that I find more interesting with respect to the FUD pattern, is that ASUS will only support the default Xandros flavor of Linux. Reportedly, “Asus is not responsible for software misconfiguration, such as troubleshooting an alternative operating system.” It does not state that running another Linux flavor or MS Windows will void the warranty (in fact, the posting makes that explicitly clear), but it does show that ASUS is limited in the service they can provide if the OS is replaced. This is not much different than what HP’s warranty conditions state.

Cheers!
-Brandon

Piracy or Marketing?

Linux is often mentioned in discussions on Intellectual Property (IP) and the protection thereof. The reason is two-fold. First, the Linux platform is often seen as the “Wild West” where there are no (enforceable) laws. The perception is that Linux makes it easier to pirate software, music, video and other digitized IP products. Unlike the analog piracy of the past, there is no (or imperceptibly little) degradation in the quality of the copy with respect to the original.

Second, Linux itself defies the very concept of IP protection due to the OpenSource philosophy held by its development community. Some believe that OpenSource advocates illicitly extend this philosophy to other, non-Open products – that they actually believe all products are intellectually-free – and therefore, that they do not and will never respect the true ownership of IP.

Now, I said all of that as a segway into this very non-Linux story. A British band out of Devon, England called Show of Hands admits in an interview that they depend “utterly” on piracy viral marketing to support ticket and album sales. I mulled this story over for a while and came to realize that this band is to the recording industry what a shareware developer is to the software industry.

A small band, Show of Hands probably does not enjoy nearly the amount of radio airtime as, say, Metallica. This means that album sales rely much more heavily on concert attendance and I’d venture to guess that concert ticket revenues constitute a much higher percentage of the band’s total revenues than for bigger names. Like shareware companies, tolerating some piracy actually earns them more money than preventing it outright.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. A big-name band does receive a lot of airplay, which can translate into fewer tours (if they like). Concert venues, being oppressively spatial in nature, can hold a limited number of humans safely and the band usually has a minimum return in mind; thus the ticket price is adjusted to allow just the right number of real fans to enjoy the performance first-hand. Not everyone can see the show, but everyone can buy the band’s albums on CD. For many bands, CD sales far outweigh concert revenues, so piracy is a much bigger threat to the band’s monetary success, especially considering that sound quality is not sacrificed. Albums re-released on CD probably sold well on cassette and possibly in LP format as well. Some groups like to repackage old material into “Greatest Hits” albums and other compilations, sometimes adding one or two “new cuts” to keep old fans buying. Like big software shops, big bands like to lock you in and repeatedly resell to you.

Enter the RIAA and other IP groups who claim to have the protection of the artists at heart. Like legislators, these groups want to represent their constituents, but all too often the only folks they get to talk to are the lobbyists and the influential. The “best interests” of the recording industry and the artists themselves begin to look a lot like what the big guys want. Forget that the small bands may be able to use viral marketing to their advantage. I know, nothing is stopping them from “giving away” their IP if they choose to do so, right?

Wrong. So-called “digital media rights” must somehow be managed to protect IP (read: imposed, because legal punishment is obviously not an effective deterrent) and technological controls are increasingly replied upon to achieve this. If it becomes illegal or highly cost-prohibitive to own or operate equipment free of IP protection functionality, the small band will have no choice but to conform, eliminating one of its most effective marketing strategies. This constitutes a barrier to entry for competition, strengthening the resale potential of established big-name bands.

What does this mean for Linux? It seems that the creators of codecs and IP protection software are reluctant to share their algorithms with the Linux community, the most-likely reason being the fear of the “Wild West” described above. If you don’t want stuff stolen from your gym locker, don’t write the combination of your lock on the door, right? The IP folks probably won’t budge on this point unless the Linux community can be trusted (read: controlled).

One last thought – if music piracy is such a big problem and Windows+Mac still has 95% or more of market share, I really don’t see how Linux is the root of that problem (no pun intended).

-Brandon

Who Would Linux Hire?

As Microsoft is chided by the media and in the blogosphere about its decision to hire comedian Jerry Seinfeld as the new Vista spokesperson, I ponder just who the Linux community would hire as their representative. Assume for a moment that the community (a) actually had an interest in hiring a celebrity to “sell” the OS in the mass market and (b) could raise the money to pay the bill, who who it be?

Smart alec as I tend to be, the first comedian that comes to mind is Rodney Dangerfield, whose “No Respect” humor may speak to the feelings of current Linux users. There’s one small logistical problem to overcome – Dangerfield died in 2004.

How about Jeff Foxworthy? Tempting, but it would be too easy to digress into Windows-slamming. If your uptime utility doubles as an egg timer, you might be a Windows user…etc. etc.

Bill Engvall? Same problem. Flash up a screen cap of the BSOD“here’s your sign!”

I think I’ve decided that comedians were not the way to go afterall. A more serious actor may work out better.

Ah, Jack Nicholson! Now there’s a prospect! Just think of the taglines. “You can’t handle the truth!” “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” “You make me want to be a better man.” (Ok, not so sure about that last one.)

Well, enough pondering…time to get back to reality. If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

-Brandon

NEWS: Linux Developers Make A Living

In January, I wrote at length about the perception that Linux is not ‘officially’ supported. Yesterday, Linux-Watch released some figures that demonstrate how much of work toward the development of the Linux kernel has been contributed by paid professionals hired by large, profit-seeking corporations. Yes, I said paid professionals.

Two great quotes from Linux Foundation Marketing Director, Amanda McPherson, can be found in the last few paragraphs, both in relation to the unthinkable notion that profit-seeking companies would expend resources (money, time, people) improving something that they do not exclusively own and cannot sell. She notes that a savings from shared R&D costs do ultimately impact the bottom line (i.e. profit increases due to a decrease in expense, not an increase in revenue). I suspect that she wouldn’t be mentioning this if the cost savings weren’t (or weren’t expected to be) material.

McPherson also notes that “it’s difficult for most people to get their minds around competitive mass collaboration.” Indeed, this is what the freedom afforded by Linux is all about. People (and companies) contribute not for humanitarian reasons, but because they expect a benefit. Work together to create the best platform, openly usable by everyone, and if it still doesn’t meet your needs perfectly, you are free to change it accordingly. Everyone wins. No compromises.

-Brandon

NEWS: UltraEdit for Linux!

IDM’s UltraEdit is arguably the world’s best text editor…for Windows. I first used it in 2002 as part of a basic programming tool set provided by my client at the time. I was hooked, and started to use it on other engagements. I even started ‘selling’ it to my colleagues, showing them how it could solve various problems. One of my colleagues, a statistician, had to routinely convert large data files of various formats (fixed-width, CSV, etc.). He did much of this by hand (i.e. in Notepad and/or Excel) until I showed him how to convert files painlessly in UltraEdit. He bought a license the same day.

Alas, my conversion to Linux several years ago forced me to abandon UltraEdit. For me, the most useful feature was the column mode (also called ‘block’ mode) and I could not find any GUI text editor that could replace that function. I use Vim most of the time now, which does have the ‘visual’ block mode, but learning the keystrokes and writing macros to do all of the things UltraEdit can do in single button-clicks is much too time-consuming for my busy schedule to allow. I tried running it under Wine (please don’t ask which versions of either – I don’t remember now), and it seemed like most things worked, but not the column mode. Crash and burn.

Still in denial, I check the UltraEdit user forums from time to time, and what did I see just a few days ago? A post written by someone on the IDM team claiming that they are indeed working on a port of UltraEdit to Linux! It is currently called UEx and is expected to hit the market in late 2008. Joy of joys!

Cheers!
-Brandon

P.S. To find the post, go to the UltraEdit website and navigate to the User Forums under the Support menu. In the UltraEdit General Discussion category, use your browser to search for the text, “UltraEdit for Linux”. The post was written by “penntap” on December 12, 2007, which showed up on page 9 when I found it.

FUD Alert! Wal-Mart, Everex & Linux

Monday, the Associated Press released a story on Wal-Mart‘s decision to discontinue the line of Everex Green gPCs in their brick-and-mortar stores. It appears that the retail giant has discovered that the demand for low-cost ($199USD) computers is much higher online than in the stores, so they decided to make the offering a web-only one, freeing up valuable floor and shelf space for other products that do sell well in the stores.

I have several news readers on my iGoogle homepage, and watched yesterday as the headline made it through each. I was intrigued by the way the story mutated as the day progressed. For example, the first headline I saw was from Yahoo! News, ” Wal-Mart ends test of Linux in stores“. LinuxInsider didn’t alter the story much, but the title was different, “Wal-Mart Yanks Linux PCs From Store Shelves“. The tone of the new title is not as objective, but slightly more disparaging. It gets deeper. According to Linux Loop, though Wal-Mart hasn’t given up on Linux completely, they have failed to “really give Linux a fair chance“. Actually, a search for Everex on the Wal-Mart website shows that the gPC is making way for the gPC2 and the Cloudbook and gBook laptops, all of which offer gOS Linux.

The worst headline I crossed was from Wired, “Middle America Hates Linux, Wal-Mart Discovers“. Following the link, the article title actually read, “Middle America ‘Rejects’ Wal-Mart Linux Experiment“. The link was obviously a teaser. Regardless, the article had a sarcastic tone, quite a departure from the original story. The main theme shifted from Wal-Mart customers are not buying gPCs from brick-and-mortar stores to Middle-America hates Linux. Come on now, get serious!

Here’s a reality check. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Wal-Mart knows a thing or two about inventory and logistics. The company has a grossly-adequate volume of sales data to assist in pricing decisions. With unprecedented buying power, there is little left to squeeze out of suppliers. The magnitude and capabilities of the company’s logistics network are nothing short of breathtaking. Honestly, when the company’s spokeswoman says that “this really wasn’t what our [brick-and mortar store] customers were looking for,” I tend to believe her.

I’m certainly glad that the article pointed out the difference in demand between the online shoppers and the rest of us (hence, the qualification added to the quote above). To state it explicitly, the Everex Green gPC is not what offline Wal-Mart customers demanded – this pairing of product to market segment is key to understanding the decision that Wal-Mart made. It does not mean that nobody wants the gPC. It only means that selling the gPC in Wal-Mart stores is suboptimal in the current market. There are many varied reasons why this is true, but without more specific data, any attempt on my part to explain them would be purely speculative. Besides, it appears that ThinkGOS is already providing some explanations, media damage control which will undoubtedly get less press than the original story.

Personally, when I go to Wal-Mart, I am usually picking up groceries, lawn or car maintenance products, Christmas decorations or parts to repair the plumbing in the bathroom. I do not buy music there as I do not support censorship, and I do not typically think of Wal-Mart when making major computer system purchase decisions. It doesn’t necessarily stem from their offerings (which are big name brands) or their price (which I do find just a tad bit higher for some electronics items) – Wal-Mart just doesn’t scream “computer store” to me. I doubt I am alone in this.

Finally, I’d like to add that while the bulk of this article concerns Wal-Mart and Everex, and to an extent Linux, the AP still felt it was necessary to give Microsoft billing in the very first line (not that Redmond minds the much-needed free advertising, of course)! The AP just wants to make sure that everyone knows that this was a Linux-only phenomenon and rest assured that sales of machines loaded with Microsoft Corp’s Windows operating system were in no way impacted. Thanks y’all! A link to www.linux.com or to Wikipedia would have been sufficient.

Cheers!
-Brandon

IBM to Fully Support Ubuntu with Lotus: Death of Ubuntu?

by Kevin Guertin

Lotus Notes

IBM believes Linux is finally ready for the corporate desktop.

In an announcement this week at the Lotusphere 2008 conference in Orlando, IBM said that it will provide full support for Ubuntu Linux with Lotus Notes 8.5 and Lotus Symphony using its Open Collaboration Client software, which is based on open standards.

Antony Satyadas, chief competitive marketing officer for IBM Lotus, said the Ubuntu support for Notes and Symphony were a direct response to demand from customers. Lotus Notes 8.0.1 has limited support for Ubuntu Linux, but customers have asked for broader capabilities, he said.

Based on Slashdot comments from users, this isn’t such a great announcement. Some go as far as saying that it will be the death of Ubuntu. Canonical, on the other hand, has said that the availability of Notes and Symphony for use with Ubuntu will be a win for customers everywhere.

Although I’ve never used Lotus (and don’t plan to), apparently over 100,000 business users are interested in moving to Ubuntu Linux on the desktop. That number is a good chunk. If it helps to squash FUD, I’m all for it. Especially for Linux on the business desktop.

What do you think? Will this really be the Death of Ubuntu or will it definitely help solidify Linux/Ubuntu in the corporate world?

Newsreel: Crazies, Myths & Name Changes

For those who have asked for a break from the FUD and focus on why Linux is a great OS, I thought you might enjoy this short article from Linux Journal about why people are crazy about Linux. I find the author’s personal reasons for using Linux (listed just after the bulleted list) are similar to mine, especially the simplicity of text-based config files.

Also, here’s one from the downloadsquad regarding Linux myths. A few of these sound vaguely familiar.

Finally, some proposed name changes to Ubuntu derivatives have made the news. It is generally good practice to avoid changing the names of established products, especially more than once. The author hit the nail on the head… it’s confusing. It also impairs brand loyalty.

TTFN!
-Brandon

FUD Alert! Cheap Laptop Prices Misleading

An article from the Business Standard entitled “Cheap laptop price tags can mislead users” (by D’Monte & Shinde, Mumbai, India, January 24, 2008) warns consumers about the pitfalls of buying a cheap laptop in today’s market. It doesn’t focus on suboptimal hardware offerings, or limited expandability, or the defect-rate of cheap components, or even the impact of pre-loaded bloatware on the unit’s usefulness. I expected any or all of these when I first clicked on the link. Instead, it focuses on the OS cost component and how Linux is being used to bait customers on price point.

The authors (almost) immediately write Linux off in the fourth paragraph, citing the general lack of support for the OS (FUD Pattern #2), commercial offerings of Red Hat and Novell excepted. Once again, the business-centric concept of “good support” – evidenced by a toll-free phone number and a paid staff – is reinforced in the mind of the reader. This simple statement effectively obscures the wealth of online Linux support information and gives the OS a second-rate appearance at best. It also sets the stage for the remainder of the article, a discussion of the popularity of Microsoft’s products in India and the unfortunate piracy rate. The only disparaging remark about Linux after the fourth paragraph is that the affordable Vista Starter Edition has successfully displaced Linux on most new cheap-laptop orders.

On a side note, essentially all of the initial comments support Linux, several even calling FUD. I was impressed with these fourteen opinions…so strong and impassioned, so consistent in thought… so written by only five distinct users. I get the impression that the comment input-box was too small and that two comments had to be spread over eleven submissions. Still, many good points were made in these rants.

Cheers!
-Brandon

FUD Alert! Vista Security Report Card

I saw this article summarized on Slashdot this morning. Headline: Microsoft Claims ‘Vista Has Fewer Flaws Than Other First-Year OSes.’ According to the article, Vista released 17 security bulletins and fixed 36 vulnerabilities in the first year, which is a big improvement over XP’s hit counts of 30 and 65 respectively. The article continues by comparing these figures to the first-year vulnerability numbers for Red Hat (360), Ubuntu (224) and Mac OS X (116). One security specialist is quoted, stating that these numbers “prove that [Vista] is quantitatively more secure.” He then chastises other OS vendors for their negligence in QA and security testing.

When you read this article, does it make you doubt the security of Linux and OS X? That’s the intended message, no?

I find this article misleading for a few reasons:

  • Vista numbers are based on actions Microsoft decided to take: release bulletins and fix vulnerabilities. There is an element of subjectivity here.
  • The article discloses that 30 Vista vulnerabilities remain, which brings the number of known vulnerabilities to 66. Sometimes, ‘known’ translates into ‘disclosed’.
  • An assumption is made that the writing of Vista and the compilation of a Linux distro are comparable activities. They are not, and the vulnerabilities associated with these activities likely have different statistical distributions.
  • The scope and risk of the vulnerabilities fixed are not discussed. Microsoft may have fixed 17 big problems, where as Ubuntu fixed 224 small ones. For all we know, the cumulative effect could be equal.
  • The security specialist states that Vista underwent more testing than the other OSes. He makes no reference to the relative quality of that testing. “More” doesn’t mean “better.” And what does “more” mean anyway? Was the testing measured in dollars spent? Number of testers? Number of test cases?

An analysis of the actual report would probably provide more clarity. Moreover, independent verification of the numbers would boost the integrity of the conclusions drawn. The validity of the actual results, however, does not change the intent of those who report on them. FUD, I say!

Cheers!
-Brandon

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