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A Couple of Quick Things... Well, Three, Actually. Oops. Four.
Thursday, December 08 2005 @ 01:48 PM EST

I wanted to let you know that I wrote an article for LWN (here for those with a subscription, and available to the public in a week or so) on patent pools and the Open Invention Network, in which I try to explain the difference between them and answer two questions: are they meaningful endeavors and are they enough to protect GNU/Linux and FOSS? I've seen some criticism of them that I felt was based on not understanding the US legal perspective, and I wanted to explain how they each work and what I think they are for. I hope you enjoy reading it and that the article helps you to understand the legal aspect, so you can reach your own evaluation of their worth based on further information. I'll tell you upfront that I think they are very creative approaches to the patent threat, and I explain in the article why I believe that.

Also, I wanted to bring to your attention that Red Hat has announced that they will match any donations to Creative Commons between now and December 31 up to $5,000:

Red Hat supports Creative Commons in their mission. Creative Commons is in the midst of a year-end fund drive, and Red Hat has established a matching program to help them meet their goal. If you donate to Creative Commons, Red Hat will match your donation dollar for dollar, up to a maximum of $5000 total for all donations.

If you prefer to donate directly to Creative Commons, you can go to their website, where you'll find other options as well, such as CafePress and Paypal. Creative Commons is working on a project dear to my heart:

The Open Access Law Program will continue to work to make legal scholarship “open access”— freely available online to everyone without undue copyright and licensing restrictions. Currently, 30 law journals in Canada, the UK and the US have adopted the principles or have policies consistent with them, including all of the journals published by Duke Law School. Through our Science Commons project, we’re working to expand this initiative throughout a wider range of disciplines, including agriculture, anthropology, biology and entomology.

The last day to contribute is December 31, and so far they have 21% of what they need to meet their objective.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EFF jointly announced on Tuesday a patch for the MediaMax security vulnerability, which tells you how wrong that silly article was in The Register, attacking EFF and bemoaning that they were suing Sony and would lose. Talk about bad timing for a flame. Or whatever it was.

I didn't think it was worth mentioning at the time, and I won't give a link, because I think that's why the media prints flames, to get attention. The vulnerability was discovered by iSEC, which was asked to evaluate the SunComm software by EFF. When they brought it to the attention of Sony BMG, the company responded quickly. Unfortunately the patch introduces a new problem.

Anyway, EFF is now letting everyone know that Ed Felten and Alex Halderman of Freedom to Tinker fame have found a bug in the patch, so the current advice is not to use the patch for now. Here's what EFF recommends:

On Tuesday December 6, Sony BMG and SunnComm made available a patch that was designed to resolve this security vulnerability. We're pleased that Sony BMG responded quickly and responsibly when we drew their attention to this serious security problem.

However, the day after the patch was released, Professor Ed Felten and Alex Halderman identified a new problem. We take any security problems identified by these security researched very seriously. They "recommend for now that if you have a Windows PC, you

1. do not use the MediaMax patch
2. do not use the previously released MediaMax uninstaller, and
3. do not insert a MediaMax-bearing CD into your PC."

The MediaMax issue affects more people than the Sony rootkit, so I thought I'd better let you know. Here's a BBC article on the matter. Here's the Sony list of all the CDs affected, and here's SunnComm's list (SunnComm and Sony provided the patch), and it runs the gamut from Britney Spears and Clay Aiken to Dave Mathews Band, Foo Fighters, Tears for Fears, Usher , Alicia Keyes, and T-Pain, with a little Elvis and Jaimie Foxx thrown in. I've never heard of some of the folks on the list, frankly, like T-Pain, but I worried that because Groklaw is quite an ecclectic group, maybe you might have and so might be affected by this serious issue. It's a "privilege escalation attack" vulnerability, which EFF explains on its MediaMax page.

Fourth, I note something interesting by Steven Vaughan-Nichols on eWeek, about why it's so hard to find a Linux desktop:

The most thoughtful letter I got on why PC makers have been so slow in picking up the Linux desktop came from the president of a desktop Linux company, Kevin Carmony of Linspire Inc.

"There isn't a single Tier 1 OEM that Linspire isn't in discussions with (and has been for the last few years). I think you'd be surprised just how closely [OEMs] do watch desktop Linux and are aware of things. We meet with them often, and [they] all have teams and initiatives in place to get on board if and when the time is right," Carmony said.

And when will that be, I ask?

"You have to realize that companies like Dell, HP, eMachines, etc., are about fulfilling demand, not trying to create it. If you're Dell, and you do 100 percent of your desktop business with Windows and are already in the No. 1 slot, there's not a lot of incentive to invest in creating, marketing, promoting and supporting a new operating system on their computers. They will only do this once the demand is there," Carmony said.

So, if you haven't let these companies know that you want a Linux desktop, why not send them a nice, pleasant and polite letter? Even if you know how to install it yourself, and I know most of you probably do, if all Dell and the like need is a little encouragement by letting them know there is a market for such a product, I think it can only help to take the time to inform them. Ditto for driver manufacturers. If they don't make a driver for Linux, let them know you'd like one. Always be polite, so your letter doesn't get thrown away. That is what I do to rude email, by the way, too. It's human nature. So express yourself as to a respected colleague, to get the best results. It's a small effort, but if enough of us do it, it can make a difference. Never imagine that one person can't make a difference. Sometimes it's not enough, no matter what you do, true. But sometimes, you can change one small corner (or large corner) of the world, if you try.

I researched which drivers are needed, and I gather Nvidia tops the list, as well as Broadcom and ATI. I'd write to management, upper management, myself. That's who makes such decisions, after all.

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