Tuxicity's source

February 24, 2007

CNR.com and World Domination

Filed under: Linspire, Ubuntu — tuxicity @ 1:46 pm

Original from libervis.com:

The GNU/Linux community is facing a great opportunity that it must take advantage of, the turn of the tide of 64bit computing over an increasingly obsolete 32bit computing. The time is ticking away and if we want our operating system to dominate on the desktop we must act now, even if that means making some compromises. This is pretty much the premise behind the paper known as World Domination 201, an elaborate analysis of this opportunity, current status of the operating systems market with regards to GNU/Linux and what needs to be done for GNU/Linux to take advantage of the opportunity and come out as a winner.

Its authors, Eric Raymond and Rob Landley are taking the conclusions they posed in this paper quite seriously. The scene is already being set and the plot for world domination has already begun. And as far as they are concerned, this is the only or the best way forward. What I see as signs of the plan being put in motion are the promised release of Linspire’s CNR software installation service to other major distributions through CNR.com, Eric Raymonds involvement with the Freespire project, Linspire’s recent partnership with Ubuntu and ESR’s recent adoption of Ubuntu as his distro of choice.

There were also some talks about the “codex” CD mentioned in the paper, a package of legally obtained easily installable proprietary codecs that were to be sold by Linspire.

So let’s go over this situation again. We have the most popular and one of the most user friendly and advanced GNU/Linux distributions, Ubuntu, parner with Linspire and adopt their CNR.com service. We also have Ubuntu talk about including some proprietary drivers and blobs into their default installation. We have Linspire offering CNR.com to all major distributions and we have the authors of the “World Domination 201” paper working behind the scenes in support of these strategies. Yes, indeed, the plan has been put in motion.

The Plan

The plan indeed does involve a compromise, if not to the Open Source way of thinking then surely to the freedom-emphasizing Free Software philosophy because it calls for adoption of non-free components in order to make GNU/Linux compelling for mass adoption. However, as I originally understood it, this compromise was to be a temporary one. It was to be made because the free replacements of these “essential” non-free parts would not be fully available in time for the 64bit opportunity to be seized, but the opportunity couldn’t be missed.

The idea is to do everything we have to do to make GNU/Linux a dominant operating system and then use this prevalent position to influence others to provide us with the rest of what we need, that is, to replace the proprietary components we’re using with free ones.

For example, as presenters of the dominant operating system, major GNU/Linux vendors could be able to put an overwhelming pressure on AMD and Nvidia to release the source code of their graphics card drivers as Free Software. While not everyone shares the ethical philosophy behind Free Software, most people, even in the Open Source community, do believe that having a source code and freedom to share and modify it allows for better technical maintainability, adaptability and overall functional efficiency. This would suggest that there would be enough motivation in the community to push for replacements of non-free with free, even after the dominant position has been achieved.

However, in order for this plan to work, it doesn’t appear essential to adopt proprietary software for things for which fully capable free alternatives already do exist. Doing this would mean compromising more than we have to and quite probably risking getting too comfortable with running proprietary software on our systems to want to change this later on.

World Domination of what exactly?

In fact, when you look at what CNR.com will be, there is a possibility of a whole new proprietary software market being created within the GNU/Linux field, thanks to Linspire and CNR.com alone. When asked about how will Linspire financially benefit from CNR.com, CEO of Linspire Kevin Carmony responded:

CNR is a free service, but users have the option of purchasing commercial products and services. We share that revenue with the vendors of these products. This is the main source of revenue for Linspire, so expanding the number of users should increase our sales revenue.

And there lies the crux of the problem. First of all, note that when Kevin says “commercial” he most likely refers not only to commercial Free Software, but to a large extent to non-free proprietary software as well. It is worth noting that equating proprietary software with “commercial” software in a way that implies that all Free Software is non-commercial suggests lack of understanding of what Free Software and indeed Open Source is all about. Second of all, if selling proprietary software is the core revenue source of Linspire and if it will be selling proprietary software through CNR.com service, there is a distinct possibility of a whole market being created around proprietary software by the CNR.com site.

How could that happen? Well think about it. CNR.com will likely be quite popular among people who switch from Windows to GNU/Linux because it will allow basically one-click installation of software in a friendly way. This popularity will then be one of the selling points of Linspire when they offer to sell proprietary software of proprietary vendors through CNR.com. As this leads GNU/Linux popularity to grow more and more, the larger amount of proprietary software vendors will want to sell their software to the GNU/Linux crowd and CNR.com will appear to be the best platform through which they could do that.

Before we know it, this would lead to an increasing number of proprietary applications being sold and advertised through CNR.com to the GNU/Linux users. Rest assured that these proprietary programs will include programs for which perfectly functional Free Software equivalents exist.

So how can a freedom loving Free Software user support this ongoing strategy by this new Linspire led “conglomerate” for world domination if Linspire would actively promote the use of proprietary software among the GNU/Linux users (because it is their core business)? How can we trust that once we do achieve the dominance of GNU/Linux, that this OS which was supposed to be completely Free wont be just another hybrid of free and proprietary?

The more I think about it, the more I am concerned that the “World Domination 201” plan at work here is more about the domination of a yet another mixed operating system and not the world domination of software freedom. And is that even worth having? If this is really what we are fighting for then why not just save us the effort and support Mac OS X for they have already made an incredible operating system which is a hybrid of non-free on top and free on the bottom.

It really comes down to a simple choice for everyone of us. Either we care about software freedom and prevalence of *that*, or we care about a yet another OS, “Linux”, and the domination of merely *that*. If we care about the former, we will examine critically what Linspire and CNR.com will be offering and if it turns out to be a efficient pipe of delivering proprietary software to the GNU/Linux land, in addition to being a yet another nice way of installing Free Software, maybe it would be better to just stick to our existing installation tools, apt-get, pacman, yum etc.

Or maybe the freedom loving community should forget about Linspire and set up an equivalent service to CNR.com which won’t be pushing proprietary software on us. GNewSense guys, any ideas?

For those who may now be asking, “But how do we then achieve world domination and take advantage of the opportunity without CNR.com or even without a compromise?” Well, stay tuned to Libervis. In our next article we may just answer that question.

Thank you


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