The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

Brought to You by Windows Seven

Instead of writing about something more interesting, a short rant about hardware compatibility and computing.

Instead of writing about something more interesting, a short rant about hardware compatibility and computing.

People often complain about driver availability on GNU/Linux, but the situation can be far worse for the Microsoft Windows systems.

On Linux, when you need a driver, the only real problem you run into is the case where a driver was never created for it.  Almost all of the divers on Linux are Free (as in speech), meaning that once a driver was written, it can live forever.  If the systems change, it can be updated.  The bulk of the work’s been done, and the old source has most of what’s needed if an update is required.

On Windows, you have the opposite problem.  A driver was almost undoubtedly created, because the hardware vendors are in the business of selling Windows-compatible hardware.  But at some point they don’t want to maintain drivers for their old hardware, so they stop.

That’s a problem you can run into for Windows Seven for at least some vendors.  Some vendors keep updating, but others just drop support and you can have a perfectly functional computer without valid drivers.  The source is closed, and the vendors simply care not.

This is one of the ways that Free Software is undeniably superior to Closed Software.  Microsoft has no control over the situation, because they don’t require any source to be available.  While they may partner with specific vendors for specific hardware drivers, they can’t possibly do that for the whole ecosystem.  They’re just as stuck as you are for devices that have been orphaned by the manufacturer.

Unless Microsoft and that community decide to shift toward freedom, the long-term situation will be one of an ever-growing pile of completely useless-to-Windows hardware.  That’s not an environmental boon, that’s not a way to spread the technology to the poor, and it’s not a way to build the technology economy as high as we can.

It’s bad business, and it’s bad citizenship.

The other side of the situation is where Linux could conceivably help.  There’s likely a Linux driver for some of the hardware that people can’t get to run on Windows.  It’s at least possible that some of the information from the Linux drivers could be used to create free drivers for the orphaned hardware for Windows.

While I don’t have a Windows computer around and don’t have much driver experience, it would be interesting to know if that hunch is correct, and whether the free software community could use that as an inroad to spread freedom to Windows users.

The World-wide Web

To the point: we’re all mostly just using the web, and we’re all using it in more diverse ways than ever. So, what is the important thing? There are several.

The World-wide Web, or the WW as it is known.  If but for a hyphen all those years ago, how many less characters would be have to type to navigate this landscape?!

Alas, we still type www; or some of us do and some use various shortcuts.  Some of us are on mobile devices that predict we’re about to text someone about a website and promptly display out-of-area…

To the point: we’re all mostly just using the web, and we’re all using it in more diverse ways than ever.  So, what is the important thing?  There are several.


A couple weeks ago the NYT Magazine was devoted to screens.  More than ever our monitors and TVs have grown while our cell phones and laptops have first shrank and then grown and shrank and grown.

The important thing here is that there’s less telling than ever what size screen a web page will be viewed on.  The future is more of the same in that regard, but as small devices get larger screens and as resolutions improve this becomes less important.


The advent of AJAX and the long-entrenchment of Adobe Flash have made the web crunchier.  Parts are still the old web, and the standards there have rapidly improved.  The AJAXian incursion broke that: some sites have it, some don’t.  Some sites implement it well, some don’t.  Above all, it presents a stumbling block for standardized interaction.

Example: in gMail I can click a checkbox, hold shift, and click another checkbox with the result being the intervening boxes become checked.  So, then, in site can I expect this?  I can expect all I want, but the actual behavior may not be consistent with my expectations.

The Browser Congress

In many ways the overarching state of web browsers has improved (for those who install or upgrade their browsers).  There is less of a browser war and more of a congress these days.  The main (and longstanding champion) crumudgeon is Microsoft with Internet Explorer.  Don’t expect that to change, except in that their marketshare is slowly but surely declining.

The important thing here is that the overall state of the web is in flux: it’s improving on many levels, but there are new concerns.  Rendering engines are rapidly approaching perfection (curmudgeons aside), so I won’t discuss them.

The Javascript Push

The new push inside the browser is for more, better, faster Javascript engines.  The goal is to provide outstanding performance for AJAX and other Javascript uses.  The general path is to provide JIT compilation to native code for execution.  You may see stories with titles like “Firefox kicks Chrome in the knee, but Webkit takes a cheese grater to both of their knuckles.”

The important thing to take away from these is not that any browser is particularly better, but that they are all better.  One may be a little faster, but they are all moving toward an acceptable performance plateau.

The Plugin Push

The other big push has one foot in and one foot out of the browser: Flash, Silverlight, Java.  Well, Java hasn’t been pushed as Silverlight and Flash have been.  Flash is the current top dog, though the Java plugin is probably nearly as widespread.

The problem is that if SVG support were up to snuff these plugins wouldn’t really need to exist to the extent they do.  With the aforementioned JS engines faster than ever they should be fine for most purposes.  With Silverlight and Java there is access to some outside code paths.

Java is the winner of the three in my book: as far as I am aware it is the closest of the three to a conduit to allow execution of code without adding a bunch of specific content/functionality.

Silverlight is intermediate between Flash and Java plugin.  It still provides some of the unnecessary things that Flash does, but it also provides access to .NET language use from what I know of it.

Flash has entrenchment going for it.  It has added better non-Windows support, which is good too.  But above all, the use of a plugin should either be to provide a full application or to provide a bare connector to be built on top of.

The Soft War

The soft war is roughly the idea that ‘Internet’ is becoming (? is?) synonymous with the web.  The internet supports so much more, and while we still use some aspects, we use them less than we used to and with less awareness than we used to have.

This is good for Google, as they are a web company: they are foremost interested in indexing and advertising in your browser.  But in many ways it’s bad for the users: it places a big bet on browser security and on anti-phishing technology.

The important thing to understand about the web, for it to remain a dominant technology, is that it must:

  • continue to give the user the power
  • be augmented with user-friendly encryption technology
  • gain data portability sanity

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about today.

Ballmer throws the chair in his mouth…again.

The chair-throwing guy everyone hates to hate (seriously, stop being a jerk and we can talk!) has continued his crusade against true open source by once again threatening lawsuits over precious (unenforcable) patents.

I think it is important that the open source products also have an obligation to participate in the same way in the same way in the intellectual property regime.

That’s why we’ve done the deal we have with Novell, where not only are we working on technical interoperability between Linux and Windows but we’ve also made sure that we could provide the appropriate, for the appropriate fee, Novell customers also get essentially the rights to use our patented intellectual property. And I think it’s great the way Novell stepped up to kind of say intellectual property matters. People use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property in a sense have an obligation to eventually to compensate us.

Let’s start off with the claim of obligation. That’s up to the courts, ultimately, to decide whether a specific piece of the Microsoft Patent Repository is valid and what, if any, damages have occurred by use in linux (or, any other patent holder vs. any other alleged infringer).

But that’s really moot when you read what Ballmer said about the Novell agreement. Because it isn’t clear they can only distribute coupons that provide GPLv2 software. They would have to make it very clear to the Novell users they distribute to, “If you install any GPLv3 then you’re using our patents in a disallowed way… you aren’t protected.” And even then, unless they have very tight language they are dead in the water.

And even if not, they’re puffing the magic dragon if they’re going to hide behind the Novell agreement, “Look at us, we’re trying to be pals” whilst those very customers aren’t protected. They just can’t have it both ways. Either Novell users are protected, even under GPLv3, or they aren’t (under GPLv3) and the facade is covering the other face.

Ultimately what’s important is for the people to come to terms with what these corporations are actually doing… what they’re pulling. We need to recognize our society from the wider view, and then look down at the specifics, to decide for ourselves what’s good and bad.

Most people don’t take that time, which is a mixed blessing. Enough people infringing copyrights, enough corporations trying to beat their customers into compliance with arcane law and idiotic economic models… let’s face it, the muscles will always lay behind the invisible hand in that battle. Sooner or later the society crumbles or gets reformed just like any other system.