The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Of Distros and Donnybrooks

We're all aware of the Distro Wars.

Some of us are bloodied warriors....

Others sit on the sidelines experiencing mixed degrees of amusement.

I've been both, but more the latter these days.

The emergence of Ubuntu and it's propelled status to the number one downloaded distro has quelled many of the skirmishes.


There are those who want to carry the war forward.

The HeliOS Project has been a long-time user of Mint...and not for any other reason than it fits our needs.

As my friend Eric Johnson says:

"Operating Systems are tools, not religions."

It wouldn't take me long to drill down into an MS Eula and find points to disagree with Eric, but the truth is, most "average" computer users don't care about their "freedom"....and when we preach to them, many of us come off as fanatics.

Trust me, I know. 

Lately though we've been working with tools to shorten the install and tweak process on our installed computers.  We're coming close to averaging 400 computers a year now and we have to find a way to maximize our efforts.

We've had great and generous volunteers do various respins of the Mint distro for us but their time availability isn't always in sync with important changes we make in our remixes.

Truthfully, some of the methods used to create these respins is above my pay grade or the time available I have to work with them.

Of course, when we look for a base distro to work from, we choose the Ubuntu/Mint types of debian-based distros.

There's a lot to be said for working with the most popular products.  Tools to do the respins, specifically the application UCK, seems to only work on Ubuntu.  The ease and speed that UCK allows one to do a custom distro is fantastic.

But it is, unfortunately, Ubuntu-centric.

I've taken the long way around to get to my point.

Recently, I burned the ISO file for Super OS.  We've used Super OS in the past and found it to our liking for one simple reason.  It makes available some of the codecs and "restricted" goodies that the regular Ubuntu install does not.

Let's say W32 Codecs, Nvidia and ATI prop drivers, libdvdcss and the Oracle/Sun version of Java 6.

Yeah, I know, I know...iced tea this and iced tea that.....openjdk-6-jdk and openjdk-6-jre...I appreciate the effort.  Many times they just don't work.

They have serious limitations in many banking and secure just doesn't get the job done for many online least for the time being.

So we needed a base distro to build to and we began to work with Super OS.

I made mention of this in an email to a friend.

Holy crap, you would have thought I spit on a statue of The Virgin Mary.


Not only did I get the full Stallmanista rant, I was told because of my unrepentant use of proprietary and closed drivers and applications, that I didn't really have a place in the "Linux Community"

Oh really?

First off, I don't think anyone have a higher regard for the courage and tenacity of Richard Stallman then me.

But as I said in a recent comment on a forum concerning the same topic:

Sometimes dogma has to give way to pragmatism.

And as far as anyone not "having a place" in the Linux Community...?

Let's embrace freedom.

As long as freedom fits your particular idea of what freedom is.

No prop drivers or codecs.


Then you are truly free.

Not to mention that your bank won't start a session without Sun-Java6.

Or that your 3D games won't play because the Nvidia card you have in your computer won't work.

Or that your DVD optical drive thinks the DVD you just put into it is a glazed doughnut. of the biggest problems we have as Linux Advocates is that we hand someone the latest Ubuntu CD and walk away...thinking we've done the right thing.

No we haven't.

Peek in on the Live CD user as he tries to get Hulu or to play.  Watch his frustration as complains about no flash.

The pop up Adobe flash install fails on a live CD by the way.  Hell, the pop up Adobe flash install fails on many hard drive installs...even when it reports itself to be the correct Linux version.

So what we have is a pissed off user who ejects the CD, throws it in his newly-made coaster pile and joins The Army of Linux Sucks.

Just a suggestion...when you give out live CD's for people to use, don't let your fanboi-ism get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what many of us are doing.

And when the New User complains that it didn't work for them, we write them off as computer illiterate and completely undeserving of our efforts.

The worst part is that many of us know there are distros out there that address these problems but we won't give them out due to our distro allegiances. 

That's a damned shame.

I'm just sayin'...

All-Righty Then.


Anonymous said...

I respect Stallman and his ilk and I don't disparage them for having different morals than me. Doing so helps no one.

The philosophy of Kantianism is an unpopular road to take due to it's unflinching approach to exceptions, but the principles are still valid.

devnet said...

and make sure to give them the link to :)

Unknown said...

Don't forget about Suse Studio. and
Yeah, Novell/Suse might not be everyone's favorite but this would solve a lot of your custom respin issue's.

FelixTheCat said...

Old opinion article:

JRaz said...

Well said. I lurk in many forums and I see the noobs as they as questions. Many answers come back as run this or do this. They often don't even say to open a terminal. Only the most determined post second questions for more information. My guess is the noob moved on most likely to what they know best. And we all know what that is.

Unknown said...

I'm with you entirely. Sometimes our advocacy is like (Monty Python references aside) the Spanish Inquisition. I for one am very glad you're part of the community!

Gene Fredricks - Salt Lake said...

The worst part is that many of us know there are distros out there that address these problems but we won't give them out due to our distro allegiances.

That strikes pretty close to home. Last year we had an install fest outside of a well-known electronics store. I manned a station where I was installing a respin of Ubuntu, and like you said it had all the stuff in it that users expect.

What I didn't know was that some of the machines were being picked up by a guy manning another station and he was putting a regular copy of 9.10 over my work because it "wasn't free"

I had given all the people I installed for my phone and email address in case they had problems. It wasn't a full day before the calls came rolling in, complaining about certain websites not working. At first I was confused until I figured out what happened. Some fscking idiot with his distro religion had screwed up a full days work for me.

People, if the Linux experience cannot at the very least, give the user the same experience as Windows, we are pi**ing iin the wind.

Get a clue.

Adam Williamson said...

Aside from this age old debate, I'd very strongly recommending you stop distributing libdvdcss immediately; the legal consequences of doing so in the US, even as a non-profit, can be messy. IANAL, but it would be a really good idea for you to at least talk to one about this.

Distributing libdvdcss in the US is a clear violation of the DMCA, and you really don't want to get caught up in that stuff. You're also probably in some way legally responsible for causing/encouraging those you distribute libdvdcss to to break the DMCA, as well (though I'm not particularly sure about the legal niceties around that).

Given that you're not doing it for commercial purposes you're probably not subject to the criminal provisions of the DMCA, but even a civil suit could be very messy for you.

Distributing w32-codecs could also get you in trouble under copyright law (I'm not sure there's ever been a test case for this, but I'm sure you don't want to be it).

Unknown said...

Adam, advice noted but not taken under advisement.

I inform all the guardians of the kids we give computers to what software is on their computer and and what the possible legal ramifications are. I give them the option to have me remove them on the spot if they choose.

To date, I can count those who have chosen removal on one hand.

I personally choose civil disobedience in this case and in the case of all "restricted" codecs and I will not discontinue use of them.

There are 10 million+ users of Linux today in the US alone and I would take a guess that at least 50 percent of them are utilizing W32 codecs along with libdvdcss.

I'm not terribly concerned about ramifications based on the deep numbers of current users of these code clusters.

Even if I or my clients were the only ones, I still wouldn't change our use of them.

Let me quote Gene who commented earlier:

"People, if the Linux experience cannot at the very least, give the user the same experience as Windows, we are pi**ing iin (sic) the wind.

I choose simply not to get wet.


Grant Johnson said...

libdvdcss has never had a legal challenge. This is not the legal hotbed decss. libdvdcss actually uses generated candidate player keys or a brute force of the encryption, not using the borrowed keys. It then caches the key for that DVD to make it quicker next time.

Adam Williamson said...

helios: it's a bold choice, I just worry that if someone does decide to mess with you this would be an easy way to get your operation shut down. I agree that the law's an ass in this case, but it's also clear; you could have some fun grandstanding in court, but you'd inevitably lose.

Unknown said...

Adam, your counsel has always been well-tempered and wise, so please don't think that I dismiss your caution out of hand.

The cantankerous part of me almost wishes that someone make a case of it, but then again, I will rest well, content that I am surrounded by huge numbers of people doing the exact same thing.

It is my belief that the only reason someone hasn't made a legal case is due to the can of worms they would open. Even one isolated case of prosecution would go viral in hours. Not to mention the high-profile court case...lasting however long.

I think that the use of these particular code clusters are allowed with a wink and a nod...knowing that when millions are exhibiting the same behavior, little will be done to stem the tide.

War on Drugs? War on Poverty?

Those have worked out well.

I'm thinking that a high profile legal battle concerning these codecs could be the best thing that happens to Linux.

Just my thinkin' on the subject.

cubeCoder said...

Bah, a Linux blog that ALMOST got it right. Linux NEEDS to work out of the box, but it shouldn't NEED prop drivers. Lawsuits to prove software LEGAL? Ludicrous. For profit companies will ALWAYS fail safe to Apple and MS because they can promise to protect commercial Intellectual Property. Every Linux user I know(myself included) would NEVER trade freedom for functionality. The reason folks don't use Linux is external to the OS.

PV said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a few judges have ruled (relatively recently) that things like libdvdcss are OK and do not violate the DMCA. I remember reading some articles a while ago on this.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Randy Jacobs said...

Bah, a Linux blog that ALMOST got it right. Linux NEEDS to work out of the box, but it shouldn't NEED prop drivers.

No, and in a perfect world, Unicorns would crap rainbows and there would be no world hunger, war would disappear and there would be two taxis for every pedestrian needing one here in NYC.

Every Linux user I know(myself included) would NEVER trade freedom for functionality. The reason folks don't use Linux is external to the OS.

None of them have Nvidia drivers? None of them bank online on sites that fail on openjre. None of them watch DVD's on their computers or game with their 3D capable video cards?

Huh...that's miraculous. I'm guessing "Every Linux user" you know (yourself included) totals approximately 4.

stlouisubntu said...

The Ubuntu-Saner-Defaults-Remix DVD .iso not only includes multimedia codecs but also many other details tweaks. Thunderbird (w/lightning) replaces evolution, all mono is gone, gthumb replaces f-spot/shotwell, nautilus-elementary, vm.swapiness=30, window buttons are returned to their proper place, scribus, gnucash, gimp, etc.

Adam Williamson said...

PV: Well, it's hard to prove a negative, but I sure don't remember coming across any such news (I'd expect it to be plastered all over the Linux news sites). Do you remember any links?

jjc said...

so does super OS have more codecs than Mint ? what can super OS do that Mint cannot

Just curious

best regards

Maternitus said...

Hello there,

First of all my respect for the work that you do. I am trying that also where I live (Belgium), but it isn't that easy on this part of the world.

Anyway, for a long time I use Fedora as my favourite distro and it is installed on both my mediaserver and laptop. It pleases me alot.

I also installed quite some computers with this distro (about 200), both for regulars and small companies. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of that adventure I encountered the same problems. Nowadays I use a standard way of installing the software and the user ends up with a pretty basic machine that can do and handle everything a computer must do (including banking, playing music and dvd's).

Very sometimes I encounter a user that wants something special or just else than the rest. You know them, the people that heard of Linux and think they know it all. Then I pull out my magical Mandriva dvd, which contains pretty much everything there is in the area of Linux. Okay, the install takes way longer, the desktop looks like some piece of candy, but hence, they think they got something special. I also say that. Just to keep them convinced of their "being right".

Hardly ever I get complaints and I just do that, to be out of the way. Prop drivers or not, I do not care about that. People have a safe computer, can save alot of money on hardware and the community part of Linux does its' work too. Most people like that.

I am very much for a complete free system, agreed, but that is not the way it works in this world. Well, if you can solve that with a few extra clicks or a line of code in a terminal, so be it. Maybe it isn't a fighter stance, but try to install drivers on a Windows machine and think about the ease of doing that in Linux. Then you're happy it already got this far and is becoming easier by the day.

Way to go, Helios, you're a hero in this part of the world!

Unknown said...

@ Jim,

Actually, Mint carries the same full arsenal of codecs as Super OS. Super OS has a nifty way of installing extra packages locally (runz) but if you really compare them side by side, I think Mint is actually more of a "different" distro from Ubuntu than Super OS is.

It is critical to us that we be able to do a respin with apps of our choice quickly. Unfortunately, the tool that allows us to do that works with Ubuntu only. Super OS is so close to the base Ubuntu distro that the program we use to do our respins doesn't know the difference. With Mint it does.

Again, we are shooting for saving time on these respins and installs, hence we find Super OS lets us do that.


Anonymous said...

War? Where?
We must all work together like


Gavin said...

I am definitely not a "free only" user of software, but I believe that we absolutely need free only users and the FSF, etc. Their uncompromising ways and unwavering methods are the only true anchor in the realm of software. Everyone else, from Ubuntu users to Microsoft executives are moving targets in comparison. And 50 years from now, that may be all that matters.

It is all well and good to talk about the necessity of compromise in terms of making slow and steady progress, but it bears mentioning that software as a whole is still very young. As evolutions and revolutions wash over us at a rate of nearly once per year, the importance of having a solid point of reference over the course of decades cannot be stressed enough. Sneer at those who believe differently from you all you want, but just remember what you have said and to whom as the years fade.

At the end of the day, fanatics burn out, choice remains a viable option, and you have the opportunity to either reflect on the day's events or let them fester inside of you. For every "free only" zealot that mistakenly attempts to force choice upon you or others, there are hundreds of people that never make a sound save for the pounding of their keyboards. They are the ones who slave away on the GPL or BSD or GNU. Like all people, they are not perfect. Unlike some people, they aspire to perfect work. And unlike most people, they accept the fact that you will most likely choose imperfection.

So bash them and slander them and affront them all you want. Personally, I hope they never change.

Tony said...

+1 to Gavin =)

Helios rocks either way, but you've made a great point there.

Unknown said...

@ Gavin,

Got your email and I fully understand. I didn't take it that way.

No worries.


Scott M. said...

I often think about RMS' version of freedom as being the "nothing left to lose" variety. That's what would best describe Linux if nothing remotely proprietary was ever made for it.

However, I will say that I admire his dedication and idealism. I do strongly believe that the efforts and influences of the FSF have done much to protect at least the kernel itself against the attacks of those proprietary forces which would claim that it infringes. While that brand of "freedom" might drive typical end users away due to the limitations on what they're able to do, having the kernel and its source being largely above reproach is a pretty huge chunk of freedom.

James said...

Amen Brother! I have friends that absolutely refuse to use Ubuntu because it lets you include the nVidia drivers after the installation. I even heard Seth Vidal (YUM originator) call Ubuntu the anti-christ (since you mentioned religion); I didn't get the job because I used Ubuntu and he used Fedora.

They all miss the point completely. What you are doing is great! You are giving folks an option and helping them with that option to show them a different way. The Seth's of the world would rather sit on their soap box on in their pulpit and scream at the world instead of actually doing anything about it.

I for one am glad you exist and you do what you do. I only wish the "others" could pull their heads out of the sand, or actually look at the real world, and do what they can to affect change instead of just ignoring the situation.

Good Luck to you!

aikiwolfie said...

Philosophy should be formed where philosophical ideals meet reality. At this point in time Linux can do everything Mac OS X or Windows 7 can do. But only with the help of some proprietary software.

Hopefully one day that situation will change and everything in a fully functioning Linux distro will be free. Until that day comes we need to give people whatever works to drive Linux adoption.