OS Blog: Windows, Linux Highlights From Around the Web

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The big OS buzz this week is Novell's decision to buy SuSE Linux (see story), thus establishing itself as a significant player in the open-source community. Aberdeen analyst Bill Claybrook raises some interesting questions about the deal in his blog, including: Will Novell-owned SuSE be as keen as independent SuSE was to make partnerships with other vendors? What will Novell do about SuSE products that compete with its own? Over at Slashdot, meanwhile, debate raged over what this means for desktop issues (SuSE currently uses KDE as its graphical environment; but Novell recently acquired Ximian, which has its own enterprise desktop based on open-source rival GNOME).
Business Week gives a thumbs up to the deal. "Novell executives are managing to do what many thought was impossible: Generate enthusiasm for a company that has been dogged for years by growing questions about its relevance," writes software industry reporter Jim Kerstetter. "[L]ong term, it could turn out to be Novell's most important move since it virtually created the market for network operating-system software."
The acquisition "shows mainstream software companies are increasingly betting on the free Linux operating system," the New York Times concludes. While not about battling Microsoft on the desktop, the Times story notes, "Now, Novell will also be able to offer an integrated set of offerings" from desktop to server.
Elsewhere in the Linux world, Red Hat Linux 9 user and admin Kurt Seifried writes a lengthy open letter on the vendor's decision to drop support for its "free" Linux distribution (see story) and focus on enterprise offerings. Seifried outlines his choices now, explaining why he'll probably end up moving to another distribution.

Corporate customers are likely interested in Red Hat's enterprise products for wide-spread or mission-critical deployments anyway, but I wonder what will happen to the "rogue" small but interesting and potentially important corporate apps now on Red Hat 9. They can't necessarily stay on an unsupported OS. One key problem: security; if a new hole is found in Linux someday, there won't be any patches from Red Hat for versions that aren't supported.

"Oracle Corp's army of about 5,000 internal applications developers have migrated from Unix on RISC to Linux on Intel, ComputerWire has learned," the U.K.-based news service reports. Oracle's staff runs its tools on servers with Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1, the article says.

Attendees at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference received a preview of Longhorn (the company's new OS in the works), "build 4051," BetaNews reports. "Perhaps most interesting ... is what developers did not see," according to BetaNews. "Build 4051 has been stripped of many features Redmond deems 'unstable,' and is confusingly older than internal Longhorn build 4050, which Microsoft ran on PDC demo machines. ... Microsoft representatives told BetaNews that a 'PDC Refresh' build may follow in the coming months, replenishing Longhorn with features that have had a chance to mature."

Not appearing at the conference except during Bill Gates' keynote address: "glass," a new user interface featuring "transparent window effects and embedded video."

Upcoming Linux events: the Desktop Linux Consortium's conference Nov. 10, at Boston University's Corporate Education Center; LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, Jan. 20-23 at the Javits Center, New York; and the Real World Linux 2004 Conference & Expo in Toronto, April 13-15.

October 22



If you want to tinker with Linux networking, IBM DeveloperWorks has a tutorial on building a test net using Samba and GRUB. The results should be "capable of booting and networking a large number of operating systems on a small number of machines."

Even some folks I know who are both Unix sysadmins and enthusiasts aren't too excited about using one of its text-editing tools, vi. There are allegedly some updated versions of vi, including at least one with a graphical user interface; but I know I'm not alone still using :r to insert files, 0 and $ to move the cursor to the beginning and end of lines, and similar non-intuitive commands. vi intro -- the cheat sheet method promises to help us memorize various useful vi commands. Note: Free registration required for all the DeveloperWorks tutorials.

For those running Sendmail on Solaris, Sun's BigAdmin System Administration Portal posted an article offering configuration tips.

Associated Press published a fairly lengthy tome on the new Massachusetts state government policy favoring open standards and open-source technology. It's tough to take seriously an analysis of the situation that begins "With more than $32 billion in sales last year, Microsoft Corp. doesn't usually worry about losing one customer. But this one may be different" -- in fact, Microsoft has been battling each individual potential Linux defection, especially in the public sector.

Still, the article is a decent snapshot of the current state of open-source inroads among some government users. "Proposals similar to Massachusetts', including ones in Oregon and Texas, have been shot down after complaints from Microsoft and other technology companies whose products could be shut out," the article notes. Perhaps not coincidentally, Massachusetts is the lone state unwilling to accept the Justice Dept. settlement in the Microsoft antitrust case.

"Consumer electronics giant Panasonic will use Linux instead of Microsoft's Windows Media Center operating system as a base for multimedia entertainment systems that combine TV, video, and stereo with computers and Internet access," the New Zealand Herald reports.

At a press conference, a Panasonic executive said his company was working with other Japanese-based electronics manufacturers, including Sony, on such a Linux-based system. Panasonic also plans to turn to Linux for new home networking schemes.

It's hard not to click on a headline promising An Easy Way to Avoid Spam. And that's what LinuxJournal offers in a posting by Cezary M. Kruk, an editor for the Polish magazine CHIP Special Linux.

Specifically, Kruk explains how to install and use Testmail, a Perl script that filters mail at the server. (I can't comment on Testmail, but I can say that for individual use, I'm quite happy running open-source Popfile at home -- where I can easily receive more than a hundred spams per day, thanks to an e-mail address that's been all over the Internet since the mid-90s. With a little bit of "training," Popfile is hovering around a 95% accuracy rate).

October 15



Consulting firm Directions on Microsoft isn't overly impressed with Redmond's latest plans for Windows enhancements, judging by the title of a recent report: Windows Service Pack Roadmap Shows Gaps.

"...[T]he roadmap implies the next Windows XP service pack is not due for some time, and releases beyond that have not been set," writes Michael Cherry. "As a result, customers need maintenance plans for Windows that don't rely solely on service packs."

Cherry notes that the second SP for XP isn't due out until the middle of next year. If that ends up being June 30, 2004, "it will come 22 months after the first service pack." In contrast, Windows 2000's second SP was released 10 months after the first.

While SCO is busy suing and/or threatening major users of Linux, a company once connected with SCO "has agreed to quietly settle a third party's accusations that it engaged in the same kind of copyright infringement that is at the heart of SCO's claim against I.B.M., industry executives who have been briefed on the matter said," the New York Times reports. The suit involves embedded Linux.

Meanwhile, Forbes has a piece on the Free Software Foundation, claiming that besides SCO, "the spread of Linux could be hurt by another group -- and ironically, it's the free-software proponents themselves. The issue: "threats to Cisco Systems and Broadcom over a networking router that runs the Linux operating system." The foundation believes that Cisco either needs to reveal the source code running that Linksys router (Cisco bought Linksys for half a billion dollars earlier this year), or stop using Linux in the device. Will vendors still want to use Linux in their products if they fear they have to reveal what they consider proprietary code that's running on top of Linux?

"The open source community is not portrayed in [a] positive light," notes a posting on popular geek news site Slashdot.

Newsforge has a Linux disaster-recovery piece, excerpted from Linux Power Tools, offering advice on dealing with corrupted files. It's worth a look if you're dealing with this sort of hair-pulling annoyance on a system that doesn't have more sophisticated backup options.

MandrakeSoft has released Mandrake Linux 9.2 "FiveStar," marking the fifth anniversary of the company's Linux distribution. There are four versions, including ProSuite for businesses, "designed for large desktop deployment." It includes a 90-day trial of IBM's DB2 database software.

October 8



BIOS-maker Phoenix Technologies has inked a deal with Microsoft "to bring radical simplicity to the PC and digital device industry," the companies announced.

By "simple," they mean "tightly integrated system software products," according to Windows Hardware GM Tom Phillips, as he was quoted in the statement. "It will rapidly advance serviceability, deployment, and management for servers, mobile devices, and desktops. Effectively, Phoenix is creating an entirely new category of system software."

Not everyone is ecstatic about the "expanded strategic relationship," however.

"Some have speculated it is possible that the Microsoft-Phoenix partnership could make systems that ship with Windows incapable of being converted to use other operating systems, such as Linux," notes TechNewsWorld.com. Privacy advocates also worry that embedding "digital rights management" anti-piracy technology deeper within a system could make it impossible for anyone to use a computer anonymously, the article says.

Just how does Sun feel about Linux in the enterprise? Consultant Terry C. Shannon accuses the company of flip-flopping worthy of a politician. First CEO Scott McNealy touted his company's Linux support during his SunNetwork keynote speech last month. Two days later, another exec said Linux was great "for the hobbyist" but not the enterprise, Shannon writes for The Inquirer. Shortly thereafter, McNealy was allegedly plugging Solaris for x86 and denigrating Linux in the data center.

Meanwhile, well-known open-source developer and advocate Eric S. Raymond deemed Sun "crossed the line from 'troubled' to 'doomed'" last week. "Inside Sun, I hear that talent is bailing out of the company because they just don't believe the Solaris-will-prevail story management is peddling," Raymond, president of the non-profit Open Source Initiative advocacy group, claimed in a piece at Newsforge. Raymond says the company's lack of a Linux strategy is the final insurmountable hurdle. Lots of interesting reader perspective in the forum below the short article, with not all readers agreeing Sun's problems are insurmountable.

McNealy laid out his management philosophy in a piece on their Web site (not responding to Raymond's theory), where he proclaims:"...[T]o run a company successfully over the long haul, you have to be able to make hard decisions in the face of contradictory imperatives. You have to be willing to take a chance and do things differently, or you have no chance at all." Hmmmm. Might that mean sticking with a vendor-specific Unix flavor in the face of what looks like a Linux juggernaut?

Major embedded software company Wind River Systems has moved to support Linux -- big news for a firm that has been admittedly anti-Linux in the past, LinuxDevices.com reports. "But, after much analysis, the conclusion is that there's a business opportunity, that Linux is a massive force, and it's here to stay in the embedded market," a Wind River executive told LinuxDevices.com. First up: Its visionPROBE II debug/run-control tool will now support Linux, the company announced.

Microsoft has released Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 -- an OS version built on XP Professional with additional music and video capabilities.

"The software represents an ongoing transformation of the familiar look and feel of Windows," according to BetaNews. "Media Center tucks away XP's mainstay of productivity and communications applications to the background, instead favoring an interface relishing in the richness of imagery, music, video and television programming."

September 23



IBM's DeveloperWorks site has just published a detailed technical look at the upcoming Linux kernel 2.6.

"For high-end machines, new features target performance improvements, scalability, throughput, and NUMA support for SMP machines," says IBM Global Services software engineer Anand K. Santhanam. The article includes information on a new scheduler, better threading, VM changes, interrupt routine changes and many more features of interest to those who know and care about their OS inner workings.

Microsoft has released a beta version of Windows XP that supports AMD's new Athlon 64 processor, according to BetaNews. "Designed for use on high-end desktops, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition boasts the ability to bypass 4-gigabyte physical memory limitations found in 32-bit systems," they report.

If you're moving to Windows Server 2003, you might be interested in this Windows & .NET article outlining how group policy management has changed in Microsoft's latest server OS. "Windows Server 2003 tries to remedy [Win2k's] Group Policy's shortcomings through several new policy options and two GPO administration tools," writes security administrator Joe Rudich. "The most important Windows 2003 changes are the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) and the MMC Resultant Set of Policies (RSoP) snap-in." Check out the story for additional details.

Andrew Fries takes a look at various "source-based" Linux distributions -- that is, versions meant to be compiled by the user "for maximum control and performance." He gives the nod to Source Mage, "the clear winner in my book simply because it managed to install KDE and Gnome. ... It also has more applications available."

Penguin fans (Linux and otherwise) may enjoy the Linux Fun for IBM eServer animations on IBM's Web site. There are half a dozen of them, including meditation, evolution and Penguinstein.

September 17
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