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  Linux Letter 27

The Linux Letter for November 7, 2003

This month brings a new release of Mandrake Linux (along with potential trouble for its users).  Also, SCO is upping the rhetoric in its battle against IBM and SCO and Red Hat announced the end of Red Hat Linux.  Read on for the dirt...

Mandrake Linux 9.2 hit the street last month with a bang, particularly if you use a CD-ROM drive made by LG Electronics.  Early versions of the software can cause the CD-ROM drive to erase its EEPROM, rendering it useless.  Apparently, somewhere during the installation process, Mandrake Linux issues a "flush cache" command that the drive interprets to be a command to write to the firmware.  This causes the firmware to become corrupted and the drive to become a paperweight.  Mandrake has confirmed that the problem is isolated only to LG Electronics CD-ROM drives and has updated their software to avoid issuing that command.

Several online forums have noted that the CD-ROM drives in question are out of spec with regard to the ATAPI standard, but also point out that Mandrake Linux seems to be the only operating system that issues the flush cache command in such a way that causes the drives to self destruct.  Here at FreePCTech.com, we've made sure that the version of Mandrake Linux 9.2 that we sell has the updated software.

SCO is continuing their barrage of fear, uncertainty and doubt against IBM, SCO and, now, the GPL.  In what seems to be a remarkably twisted interpretation of US copyright law, SCO has filed papers in its ongoing lawsuit against IBM, claiming that the GPL violates the law because it allows making multiple copies of software.  SCO's position is that copyright law does not allow for redistribution of copyrighted work - that is, if you buy a copyrighted work, you can't make another copy, even if the copyright holder says that it's OK to do so.  Thus, according to SCO, the GPL is invalid as a license, but since (remember, this is all according to SCO) the copyright holders wanted the software to be free, the next best thing would be for the software to be released into the public domain.  Thus, suggests SCO, any software released under the GPL should really be declared to be in the public domain.  As you can imagine, there is some resistance to this interpretation.

SCO has also filed papers complaining that IBM is not properly responding to SCO's motions during the discovery phase of the case.  IBM's response is that they have asked SCO to provide them with a list of the infringing lines of code - that is, IBM wants SCO to tell them exactly what code they think IBM has misappropriated so that IBM can review its library of code and determine if they are infringing.  SCO's response?  A list of hundreds of thousands of lines of code, along with the caveat that somewhere in those lines is the infringing code.  But SCO won't say exactly which code is infringing...in effect, asking IBM to compare its code to SCO's code and rat themselves out.  IBM's response, as one might expect, is that they won't do SCO's work for them.  So the case continues.

Back in February, Red Hat announced that it would be discontinuing support for Red Hat Linux at the end of the year.  The end of the year is nearly here and the company has just announced that Red Hat 9.0 is the last release in the series.  The company will, instead, concentrate on its Advanced Server, Enterprise Server and Advanced Workstation products.  Although none of these products are available for free download, Red Hat has not left its supporters in the lurch.  They have worked with the Fedora Project to create a new distribution, one derived from Red Hat Linux, called, appropriately, Fedora.  The aim of Fedora is to provide a more cutting edge distribution that is suitable for hobbyists and casual users, as opposed to the commercial product that is targeted at corporations who want a more stable product.

Fedora Core 1, the initial release of Fedora is now available.  It is positioned as an update to Red Hat Linux 9.0.  I am in the process of installing and evaluating it, with a full review to come in a week or so.  Fedora includes virtually everything that Red Hat has always shipped with its Linux distribution, with some new features, particularly for updating the software.  Also, Fedora will have a much faster release cycle than the old Red Hat Linux, roughly every four to six months.  This will allow users to keep up with improvements in the operating system, yet not have to worry about compatibility issues or about breaking something when installing a new feature that didn't originally ship with the OS.

Although Red Hat provides no support for Fedora, several mailing lists are available online, along with an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel for live discussions with other users.  Red Hat does sponsor Fedora and backs the project with bandwidth, server space and development resources parallel with their commercial products.  Fedora is still Red Hat, but with much greater community support and responsibility.  Obviously time will tell just how successful this will be.

Hot Tip of the Week

It's hard to get away from using a terminal window in Linux, but sometimes it's a little frustrating and tedious to type in obscure commands or long filenames.  Installing RPM packages comes to my mind because it seems like the package names, in order to be as descriptive as possible, are also long and convoluted.  I'm not the world's greatest typist, so I make mistakes.  But Linux has a feature that saves the day.  Let your mouse type for you!

Here's an example: I was installing up2date on the web server here at NOSPIN network headquarters to fix a security certificate problem.  The RPM filename was up2date-gnome-  Now for me, that's just asking for trouble.  Here's how I made it easy!  Simply change to the directory that contains the file you're looking for and type ls to list the files.  Then double click the left mouse button on the filename to highlight it.  Next, type in the command you wish to execute (in this case, it was rpm -Uvh) and click the middle mouse button (or the mouse wheel on a wheel mouse, or both left and right mouse buttons at once on a two button mouse with no wheel).  The highlighted text appears on the screen.  Hit enter and you're on your way!

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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