Andreas Pour is well known to most everyone in the K Desktop Environment
(KDE) community. Considering that KDE is the leading desktop for Linux, if
you are investigating GNU/Linux workstations, you are sure to run into Pour's
Mr. Pour, who is known to the community simply as “Dre,” spends his time
wearing a number of different hats at the KDE Project, the KDE League, Inc.,
and his own company - MieTerra. He graciously agreed to participate in a series of
exclusive interviews with Open for Business' Timothy R. Butler.
Open for Business: Let's start with an overview. It seems like you have your hand in a
dizzying amount of things. What exactly are you involved in these days?
Andreas F. Pour: Well, quite a few different things. That's why I would like to say
at the outset, Tim, that in this interview I will be answering only as
“Dre”, a long-time KDE supporter and contributor. And perhaps more
importantly for what I write, a firm believer in the principles of freedom
on which FS / OS - Free Software / Open Source - is based. As is generally
the case, this means I speak only for myself, and in particular I do not
in any way speak for the KDE Project or the KDE League.
OfB: KDE has become the most used Linux desktop, in fact OS News recently put
the number at over 50% of the market. What do you think has been KDE's secret
AFP: A great product with a solid foundation driven by an extremely talented,
dedicated and hard-working community of contributors. And of course
the financial support of companies and individuals has helped substantially.
Particularly as it allows talented people
such as Waldo Bastian, David Faure and Laurel Montel to dedicate their
full attention to the project on an ongoing basis.
OfB: Do you see this method changing in the future?
AFP: I only see it as getting better, Tim. Many of the people who are
central to KDE have been around for a long time, and with experience are
becoming increasingly talented and knowledgeable and better able to act as
mentors and provide guidance to new developers. The importance of this
continuity is amplified as the complexity of the project grows, and a
group of experienced developers with an overall understanding of the
relationships between various pieces within the framework, as well as with
the experience and discipline to know and meet the reasonable expectations
of third-party developers, is necessary.
The K Development Environment keeps improving at break-neck speed,
particularly in key components such as the core libraries (Qt and kdelibs), the
development framework (KDevelop and Qt Designer) and technologies
(KParts, DCOP, etc.), subsystems (printing, multimedia, communications,
etc.) and translation and documentation tools (KBabel, docbook tools, etc.).
And as sponsorship of KDE development increases, so does the number of
people able to take on the role of full-time project maintainers.
In other areas, competition to place applications into the KDE base
packages - office suite, PIM, networking, games, graphics, edutainment -
is at an all-time high, with a very steady stream of proven talent learning
to pool their ideas and work together. The translation and documentation
teams too are stronger than ever, boasting an ever-growing number and
richness of translations and manuals. And of course the new artwork - themes,
icons, etc. - that will be released with KDE 3.1 is widely regarded as the
highest quality for any open source project to date.
OfB: The KDE Project has received some criticism lately. It has been suggested
that the developers are somewhat out-of-touch with the user base. Do you see
any merit in this?
AFP: Sure, there is some merit to it - there is a “disconnect”, so to speak,
but I think the cause of it is widely misreported and hence misunderstood.
Often it has been mischaracterized as some change in developer attitude,
but, in reality, to a far greater extent it reflects changes in the
KDE user base and, to some extent, parts of the so-called media.
First, and most significant, is that there are simply far more users.
So the number of users a developer has to interact with becomes overwhelming.
From personal mail, to bug reports, to development mailing lists, there is
already a bundle to keep track of, especially for the great majority of
developers who do this “on the side”.
To manage the overload, developers to some extent are forced to retreat
from direct user interaction, such as on the user mailing lists. You can
characterize this pessimistically as paying less attention to users,
or more realistically as an appropriate adjustment to changed circumstances.
If a developer has 15-20 hours per week to devote to development, is it
better to spend 10-15 of those hours reading the mailing lists - and I can
assure you that is a conservative time estimate for keeping up with the main
KDE lists - or spend more time developing? Personally I prefer a contributor
focus on his or her strengths and interests.
The important point to bear in mind is that the development process
remains extremely open - discussions occur on the public mailing lists,
as always, and all development occurs through the public CVS tree, with all
commits open to inspection. But I would rather the talented developers
do what they are good at and what they enjoy than spend all day
corresponding with users.
Second, the user base “experience” has changed dramatically over the course
of the years. Many newcomers to the KDE community seem either not to
realize that KDE is a cooperative community, or to comprehend what that
really means. Rather, many take KDE as their entitlement, even to the point
of viewing developers as having a duty to scratch their particular itch.
If there is something they don't like, instead of asking “What can I do
to improve it?”, a common attitude in KDE's earlier days, the attitude
now rather frequently is, “Damn it, why is this [ so or not like so ]?
If you do not do as I say immediately, [ place a horrible here ].”
Many of the more vocal critics also do not seem to grasp the fact that
different KDE contributors have different interests and skills. For example,
there was a period not long ago where much ado was made about the incredible
enhancements to the KDE themes and icons while the HTML rendering engine was
not yet bug-free. It seems these critics truly did not understand that the
contributors working on the themes and icons have no greater ability to
improve the Konqueror browser than, say, the critic does. And of course there
is no reason anyone should stop tending to her or his corner of KDE because
another piece is not flawless. Beyond that the criticism was grossly unfair
to the great work done by the theme designers as well as the work done by
the KHTML designers which, viewed in proper context, is nothing short of
To reflect a theme by John F. Kennedy, to be an effective part of an Open
Source community, “Ask not what the community can do for you, but what you
can do for the community”. KDE is a shared resource - the licensing and
group nature of the project means that, for practical purposes, the
developers have no more rights to KDE than anyone else. Nor do they assume
extra duties by virtue of contributing to its improvement.
Now, often it is the case that a suggestion, idea or question is a
valuable contribution in its own right. As in politics, constructive
dialog is positive, and from my experience very much welcome. But
demands, threats, putdowns, rudeness, bullying, etc. - all conduct which
I witness far too often on the mailing lists - are not helpful. Instead
of helping they hurt - morale, cohesiveness, and even user sympathy - so
in the end responsiveness can only suffer.
If you cannot treat community contributors with respect, it is better for
everyone that you not engage them; use KDE if you like it, use something
else if you don't, but, in any event, to put it politely, be
positive. You have no right to demand that others do what you prefer them
to. If you want input into KDE development, there is one great way to do
it: improve it yourself, either by rolling up your sleeves and getting
involved or by entering into a voluntary arrangement (such as payment)
with someone else to do it for you.
OfB: The GNOME Project recently released the second major version of its
desktop. Have you had a chance to look at this desktop? Briefly, what are you
thoughts on the other available GNU/Linux desktops?
AFP: Actually, Tim, I do not concern myself with using other FS / OS
(Free Software / Open Source) desktops very much. This protects me from
having to answer questions like this one that involve making
XYZ,” and leave it at that.
I don't see KDE as having competition with these desktops as a primary
motivator or purpose. What KDE tries to do is to be the best it can be,
and to provide a nice, easy-to-use alternative for others. The main
interaction I see with other desktops centers around a mailing list
and website established for discussing potential desktop standards.
That said, the reason I opted to get involved with KDE in the first place
is that I felt it had the strongest foundations, not only technically but
also in terms of organization and openness. The strong technical
foundation is really the key, and its strength is demonstrated time and
again. Compare, for example, the amount of resources invested in products
like Nautilus and Mozilla, on the one hand, and Konqueror, on the other -
I believe you will likely find several orders of magnitude of difference.
OfB: Lindows.com has been receiving a lot of attention lately with its claim
to be an affordable Windows replacement. Wal-Mart has even started selling
systems with Lindows pre-installed. What do you think of this concept of
focusing a distribution on running non-native applications?
AFP: I think tools to help people transition to FS/OS are very important
in the short- and medium-term. The fact is, Tim, that a lot of intellectual
property - including users' own intellectual property, as well as what
they may receive from others - is locking them into a “proprietary prison”,
if you will. However, I fear that this solution is not a long-term one.
|[The] users' own intellectual property, as well as what they may receive from others - is locking them into a “proprietary prison”|
Let me start first with the really troubling aspect of proprietary, and
particularly patented, data formats.
We are steadily heading to a future in which the control of humanity's
intellectual property - works of art, multimedia, ideas, writings, etc. -
is so vested in software vendor(s) that it is fair to say that the average
user of a proprietary desktop will eventually no longer “own”, in the
traditional sense of the word, his or her own electronic creations. In
other words, the products of our creative minds, the very essence of our
humanity, are being relentlessly stripped from us.
If you use a proprietary OS to make a video or audio track,
or to write a research paper, and save it in one of the default proprietary
electronic data formats, you might soon find yourself actually paying
someone else run-time and/or license renewal fees just to access your
own creations. Not to mention any charges that
may apply to distributing copies to others (whether directly or because
the recipient must also pay similar runtime or recurring fees to access
the data). You tell me, when you have to pay one particular vendor money
every time you or someone else views a movie you created, who owns the movie?
But it doesn't stop there. The vendor in this model might also have the
ability to prevent you from accessing any of your creations at all.
For example, perhaps your desktop software becomes disabled because you
have not paid the requisite monthly fees on the software running your
cell phone, and the same vendor controls the software on both systems
(and if this vendor also controls the software running your car, home phone,
television, radio, etc., the situation is only magnified).
Or perhaps the vendor wants to censor ideas critical of it or of some
policy the vendor supports, or because the content violates the vendor's
religious views. Even most “free” countries do not apply free speech and
other human rights laws to private corporations.
Or the vendor may require you to assign rights in your creations - perhaps
even the copyright itself - to it as a condition to accessing the data. If
this requirement is imposed during a license renewal period, you will then
face the Hobson's choice of assigning your rights, or losing the ability
to access your own creation at all.
The same can be said even about data transmitted through proprietary
networks or works created with proprietary tools, even if not saved in a
In fact, in recent times several instances occurred in which a noted
software and Internet services vendor attempted to strip copyright from
users of its network services, and even to use licensing renewal as a
sledgehammer to extract extremely valuable and otherwise unavailable rights
to the patent portfolios of some of the world's most powerful corporations.
OfB: So are you suggesting that this vendor lock-in, or as you put it,
“proprietary prisons,” serve a purpose beyond that of licensing revenue?
AFP: Tim, what the above examples illustrate to me is that proprietary prisons
are so attractive to the monopolist not only because they enable the vendor to
impose a “private” international tax of its arbitrary choosing - a feat which
heretofore has escaped even the most expansive world empires - but also
at the same time they provide a vehicle for imposing the vendor's
brand of “private” international law, disguised as “licenses” and “contracts”.
This observation, incidentally, explains the poignant relevance of
UCITA, a state law being advocated in the United State largely by software
vendors under very controversial circumstances, which effectively is a
grant of law-making powers to software vendors, at least to the extent
they sell a product people need for normal participation in contemporary
Since generally speaking, and particularly in the United States, private
corporations are not subject to constitutional restrictions on the exercise
of their powers - such as due process requirements before terminating rights
or the trouble of having to face public election - and since currently no
software monopolist is subject or proposed to be subject to regulation as
a public utility, which might also impose some measure of popular control
over the exercise of power, the reference to “proprietary prison” is indeed
a very much apropos one.
For people caught in the proprietary quagmire - that is to say, for the vast
majority of people - it is of course far easier to escape this situation and
join our free and open society if they possess the tools to access the
electronic data they have already created, as well as the creations of their
associates who remain locked in proprietary prisons.
Nobody is more aware of this, it seems, than the world's largest creator
and enforcer of proprietary prisons. It realizes, of course, that
economically uncompetitive measures will not vanquish free software as
it has vanquished business competitors in the past. And surely it is also
aware that it is only a matter of some short time before free software
provides sufficient quality for a large number of its subjects to escape.
The response, clever in its audacity, is to complement the previous
anticompetitive strategy, documented so well in Judge Jackson's Findings
of Face, of employing the financial largesse acquired through its
“private” international computer taxation powers to “dump” product on the
market for free (but only in terms of immediate financial cost, of course).
It surely looks like it is moving to fight freedoms with legal restrictions -
laws which curtail choice, privacy and freedoms - won through its international
private, and perhaps even public, law-making powers. The restrictions seem
rather clearly designed to preserve and enhance its dominance by making Free
Software either illegal or at least extremely disadvantageous.
The first manifestation of this private law strategy seemed to be in the
addition of certain provisions to developer API and other documentation,
which was soon followed by changes to EULAs as well. In both cases,
the “private” law specifically prohibits use of imprisoning technologies
in conjunction with free software. This obviously has the effect of making
it more costly for users to migrate to other OSes of their free choice -
they are basically saying, if you stop obeying us, we will stop you from
viewing the documents you and your friends created. Who are they to say
where and when I read my documents? Now I need a monopolist's permission
to view my own creations? The audacity is mind-boggling, and that the
Justice Department is permiting it simply astounding.
In other words, a monopolist, currently involved in anti-trust proceedings
because of its anticompetitive conduct in precisely the market at issue
with the current crop of license restrictions - Intel-based desktop systems -
is openly employing legal measures - private law, if you will -
to stop consumers from being able to use competing products.
It is also during these very proceedings that the 'blackmail' licensing
provisions were apparently “proposed” as non-negotiable to many of the
world's most powerful corporations, causing one to apply to the Justice
Department and courts for relief. Fortunately for it, the
“Proposed Settlement” has not yet been approved and it could seek redress
in a court of law, rather than be relegated to completing a complaint form
on the offendor's website.
But watch out, when the proceedings come to their end. I can only imagine
the stream of gates that will descend upon us from the West. I can only hope
that in the meantime enough people come to realize the immense dangers of
international monopoly-operated proprietary prisons and aware of the many
benefits of an open and free technological infrastructure. That, like those
who have come before us and who have struggled through war and other great
hardships to provide us, their children, with a free world, we will endure
the relatively painless inconvenience of “retraining costs” to prevent what
will most surely become one of the most powerful empires ever.
OfB: In an interview on Linux and Main, Rasterman, the founder of the
Enlightenment window manager stated that he thought GNU/Linux on the desktop
has no future. He certainly is not alone in saying this, yet we also have
seen a number of impressive GNU/Linux desktop deployments in the last year.
What is your take this?
AFP: In my estimation, KGX (KDE / GNU / Linux) in particular will enjoy a
great future on the desktop. That is mainly for the same reasons why FS / OS
is such a resounding success in the server sphere: quality, efficiency, cost,
flexibility and freedom. But we need to remember that the FS / OS
desktops and related technologies are still relatively immature compared to
their server counterparts, and that the technological demands for desktop
systems are in many ways different.
KDE, for example, got its start in 1996, many years after Linux, which
itself started many years after the other components required by server
systems (the many BSD and GNU projects) had already matured.
In addition, the server space has long been the focus of UNIX and
compatible systems. Networking, and particularly the Internet, were built
on such systems. Little wonder, then, that outstanding support for server
However, historically UNIX systems have not been strong desktop contenders,
and hence all the technical achievements in the last 20 years on the
desktop - such as word processing, multimedia, printing, etc. - were
essentially missing when KDE was started (there were some proprietary
solutions then, and with OS X there are many more now, but nothing of the
openness and quality of the *BSDs or Linux). And that is why we see so
many open standards and technical implementations for network technologies
but not for desktop technologies.
OfB: What challenges do you see remaining for mass adoption of “KGX” systems?
AFP: I see five major challenges to widespread adoption of KGX or
other FS / OS desktop solutions, Tim, most of which are being readily
quickly addressed: hardware support; a sound and stable desktop technology
framework; RAD development tools; the quality and breadth of applications;
and, as already suggested in an earlier response, law. KDE is leading
the charge in all but the first and last challenge areas.
With regard to hardware, Linux is quickly providing support for the latest
technologies, from USB2 to “WinModems” to 802.b11. In fact Linux support
for next-generation 64-bit chips is substantially more advanced than the
current dominant desktop. Hardware manufacturers are beginning to pay
serious attention to Linux, and the community of developers, including
corporate users, has grown broad enough to assure this will continue.
On the desktop technology front, the KDE libraries and desktop frameworks
are also reaching maturity. In the past, KDE has been criticized for
incompatible releases, but these growing pains are a consequence of the
relative immaturity of desktop technologies and the FS / OS philosophy of
“release early, release often”. Had KDE waited for the desktop technologies
to stabilize before any public releases, well, I think we can all agree
that its progress to date would have been substantially retarded - if in
fact the project were still active.
Today, from the underlying libraries toolkits - KDE libs and Qt - to object
embedding (KParts), IPC (DCOP), scripting (DCOP, Python),
printing (KPrinter) and multimedia (aRts) to a much-needed overhaul
of the X Server (anti-aliased fonts, work on alpha-blending, improved
hardware acceleration) and the growing maturity of display alternatives
such as the Linux framebuffer (which KDE is excellently poised to use),
KDE provides a vastly friendlier, complete and stable development and
desktop environment than was available even a few years ago.
On the development tools side, KDevelop, together with the components
it uses (such as Qt Designer), has greatly simplified and expedited
application development. Looking forward, Gideon, the “next” generation
of KDevelop currently under heavy development, promises to be far superior
still. In addition, Borland has released its advanced Delphi and C++
development environments for the Linux platform.
On the applications front, both in terms of native capabilities and the
capacity to unlock the data formats which encode so much of the world's
electronic data, we come face-to-face with the ultimate test of any platform.
All of the technological trends noted above make it far easier, quicker and
cheaper for developers to create great new applications for, or port
existing applications to, KGX systems.
You need only look around APPS.KDE.com to see how already there is a great
variety of applications, both works in progress and with stable releases.
Contrary to speculation to the contrary, the site's statistics show that
third-party KDE development is at an all-time high, and the number of
applications available for KDE 3 is far greater than what was available for
KDE 2 one year following its release.
KDE Themes / Applications
OfB: Now, you listed one more challenge - the law. Perhaps you could
explain how you see this as a hurdle?
AFP: Tim, I see this by far the greatest challenge. The simple fact is
that in a free market - and by free here I mean the ideal forms of capitalism
propounded in the Wealth of Nations, the lowest cost-provider wins. Now
as it turns out this type of capitalism is not what we see in the software
industry. And in the long term those with the current monopoly cannot
compete with Free Software on price or quality. So the monopolist must
resort to other means - it must prevent the market from being free, because
a free market means it loses its vast and expanding powers.
I went over some of the monopolist's current free-market destroying behavior
earlier in context of the Linux transition technologies and the use of
“private” law to lock users into paying a perpetual tax to the monopolist.
But in other areas, be it software patents, software reverse engineering
(e.g., DCMA), digital rights management (DRM), or other initiatives, a
rather broader array of forces are aligning to challenge our cherished
freedoms on a wide variety of fronts.
Unlike for the vested software monopolist, for these other interests
the choice of one OS over another shouldn't actually matter.
Typically legislative sponsors are oligarchies and monopolies
in various “markets” where the company's value is largely based on
intellectual “property”. And the protagonists echo a refrain dating back
millenia: their particular property rights are more important than
everyone else's human, moral and property rights.
For example, because it is possible that I may behave criminally and
watch a video without paying fees for it, an infringement of the property
rights of some powerful interests to be sure, some important figures in
the entertainment industry would like to impose draconian regulations which
in one incarnation or another would:
(1) Violate my property rights in my computer equipment by authorizing a
“virtual”, private police force to disable my computer in the event they
believe an infraction of someone's rights has occurred. It is important to
keep in mind here that the infringement of my property rights occurs even
if the computer is never in fact disabled: the mere fact of requiring me
to provide the necessary access to enable the police action violates my
property rights. An analogy would be mandating that a home owner provide
a key and right of entry to a private police force so that these individuals
may disable use of the home whenever it believes unlawful activity is
occurring within. The grant infringes the essential property right of
(2) Violate my human right to be protected against unreasonable searches
and seizure, to be deemed and treated as innocent until proven guilty in a
court of law by a jury of my peers, and to privacy by authorizing the
constant monitoring of my activity in my home, as noted above.
(3) Violate my human right of exercising my free speech by subjecting me
to constant surveillance by third parties in the privacy of my home.
(4) Violate my human right of free speech by controlling which software
I may use to run machines which have a profound impact on my life.
(5) Violate my property right to deploy the software of my choice on my
personal property, irrespective of whether that software serves the perceived
needs of unrelated third parties.
(6) Violate my human right not to live in a police state.
All of the above assume that the private police force posted in point (1)
never actually disable my computer. However, should they do so, the following
additional rights would possibly (and at course possible abuse is what
this invasive legislation is directed against, so presumably that means we
should take these extremely seriously as well, since, just as I may
watch a movie unlawfully, the private police may exercise their powers
(a) Violate my property rights by effectively destroying my computer
(b) Violate my property rights in my contractual and legal rights. This
part is a bit trickier to grasp. In essence, private individuals will be
granted the unilateral right of unreasonable interference with my
contractual obligations and other legal rights. For example, I may be
employed in a manner requiring the use of the Internet, or my pension
benefits may be collected through the Internet. By disabling my means of
livelihood and/our communication, these individuals have stripped
me of the ability to exercise legal rights which can be exercised only
through the use of the disabled technology.
© Violate my human right to be deemed and treated as innocent until
proven guilty by a jury of my peers in a court of law by authorizing an
invasive and punitive self-help remedy.
(d) Violate my human right to due process by enabling a self-help remedy
without independent judicial review.
Unfortunately even worse is possible: these forces may be effective
in enabling legislation which either specifically makes FS / OS unlawful,
at least on the desktop and other user-level devices, or to make the
transition to freedom so expensive or disruptive that few will make the
transition before the exit doors to the proprietary prison are hopelessly
OfB: That is quite a depressing picture you paint. Is there a good side
to all of this?
AFP: Yes, there is a bright side, a very bright one indeed. Government is a
two-edged sword. At once it appears to be the biggest threat to free
software, at the same time it also appears that by living up to
the historic obligation to provide for the common good of its citizens,
Government may be the biggest hope for a rapid and steady advance in
free software quality and use.
If you will, you can liken a desktop infrastructure as society's
infrastructure, not so different from roads, schools, universities
and emergency services. These types of infrastructure are inherently
monopolistic since economic (development cost, transaction costs, return
on investment, etc.) and “moral” factors (freedom, equality, etc.) are such
that the use of taxes for creating and maintaining them is universal.
The most difficult challenge to obtaining substantial financial contributions
for FS / OS projects is that the person making the contribution does not,
in general, obtain a proportionately larger benefit. So currently financial
contributions (including hiring developers or releasing proprietary code
to the FS / OS communities) are made mainly when the cost to the bottom line
is reasonable (e.g., a company may conclude that releasing a product which
it was already distributing for free would reduce its development costs
without impacting its revenues, and perhaps also increase market share for
the proprietary enhancements). But it is far less likely that a company
will on its own fund the development of a widely-used product with no
particular benefit to it.
As with roads and schools, however, Governments need not concern themselves
with questions of direct returns on investment. Improvements in the general
welfare alone justify public expenditures. Rather than seek to reap profits
for some relatively small set of owners, the purpose of Government spending
is to improve the quality of life for all their citizens. Moreover, a large
part of the Government's historic economic role was to spread costs among
its citizens where the benefits would be shared largely by all and the
economics of development made other forms of construction less practical.
Finally, Governments of free nations dedicated to the principles of freedom,
democracy and choice have traditionally allocated resources to important
public projects that promote or preserve these essential human rights.
Governments of free nations dedicated to the principles of freedom,|
democracy and choice have traditionally allocated resources to important
public projects that promote or preserve these essential human rights.
Viewed in this light, FS / OS desktops present a perfect match for Government
investment. Free desktops provide a boundless, publically-available resource
which results not only in large financial savings to its citizens, but
also protects and enhances citizen privacy, freedom and choice. Moreover,
because Government investment in free software development can be made
locally, such support stimulates the nation's or locality's technology
sector. In the longer-term view, such investment eventually operates to
sizably reduce the outflow of hard currency to other countries, something
especially critical for developing nations but also a factor no Government
cannot seriously consider. What responsible Government would prefer its
citizens pay a large international tax to a foreign corporation over
creating high-tech jobs in its local economy?
Governments, of course, need also worry about national security, and it
is hard to see how they can be fulfilling their obligations with reliance
on a monopolist's proprietary computers and networks. Being totally
dependant on one vendors' systems - systems which can be disabled remotely
or possibly simply by the absence of remote commands - is a most serious
national security threat. Listening to reports that some are claiming
that Linux is a tool terrorists can exploit is nothing short of Orwellian.
The plain truth of the matter is that proprietary systems, particularly
ones emerging under the new “licensing” / private law schemes, provide a
far better weapon for terrorists, national enemies and the economically
This is due not just to the fact that system homogeny inherently makes
widespread attacks more feasible and effective (if you find a way to
compromise one system, you can compromise them all). Even more troubling
is the fact that the new “licensing” schemes notoriously provide ever-more
ways to access - and control - your system remotely, including the ability
to disable and control functionality, update software, etc. These
capabilities provide a beautifully-fashioned weapon to “terrorists”
and other enemies of state to attack and disable a nation's infrastructure
and computer systems.
As suggested earlier, the threat of proprietary software to Governments
and nations does not stop with traditional terrorism and war. Indeed,
it threatens to unleash a new breed of terrorism, one which by straddling
the boundaries of legitimacy could prove more difficult to combat, and hence
all the more effective. The future may find a Government faced with the
inability or the unwillingness to pay, or permit some foreign entity to
require its citizens to pay, what I have characterized in an earlier
response as a “private” international tax - a set of mandatory, recurring fees
due by virtually everyone in society for a service which by all rights
should, and quite easily could, be free. Or, that Government may be
unwilling to agree to, or permit a foreign entity to requires its citizens
to agree to, what I have characterized in an earlier response as “private”
international law - licensing terms and conditions which impose
legal obligations on, in effect, everyone, without, in effect, anyone but
the monopolist having a word in the terms.
This Government may find that, faced with opposition, the software vendor
threatens to resort to self-help by disabling the vast majority of the
nation's computers if its demands, however unreasonable and illegitimate
from the Government's perspective, are not met. In short, the vendor
threatens to shut down the nation's infrastructure and businesses, grinding
the economy to a virtual halt. The Government, not having invested in
alternative software systems, would face an indeterminate future in which
a large proportion of the nation's workers would simply be idle.
Faced with this Hobson's choice, what country could afford to risk
non-compliance then? Faced with this threat to its security, what
responsible Government will not act now to prevent an unaccountable,
foreign, private entity from wielding this terrible weapon over the
nation's collective head?
Another factor pertaining to national security is military, political and
industrial espionage. Without access to the source code for a system,
there can be no reasonable confidence that secure communications are not
being monitored or forged, whether through access to a user's account on
the desktop side or through exploitation of a known weakness in the secure
library implementation, on the network.
Moreover, without access to full source code, no
Government should feel confident in its ability to thwart terrorist,
hacker or other attacks against the nation's infrastructure, as any solution
requires the assistance and cooperation of a third party outside the
Government's control - potentially even under the control of the forces
involved in the hostilities being waged against the Government.
Obviously being provided “some” source code, which may or not be the
source code actually running the computers of the world, does not guard
against these national security vulnerabilities, since in the first case
any code enabling unauthorized monitoring or access would doubtlessly be
removed prior to circulation and in the second case not enough is provided
to fix the problem locally and recompile the systems. The only reasonable
method to check source code for “Trojans” is to compile what has been
reviewed, and the only reasonable method to be self-reliant in responding to
infrastructure attacks is to possess the complete source code to the
entire system, or at a minimum the particular components being attacked.
So it is not surprising that we see more and more responsible Governments
act to save their taxpayers substantial costs, stimulate their local
economies, safeguard their sovereignty and national security, enhance
their citizens' liberty, freedom, privacy and choice, and strengthen
their nation's computer infrastructure, all of which can be accomplished
simply by providing financial, logistical and moral support FS / OS systems.
Obviously, the great majority of the advantages of FS / OS which accrue
to Governments and users applies to enterprises as well. I rather suspect
no large corporation desires to repeat the trail to Washington undertaken
last year by one of the world's most powerful industrial and entertainment
companies faced with an obscenely inappropriate set of “private laws” in
its licensing terms. Particularly since once the proceedings end, there may
no longer be anyone to hear complaints.
I thus expect to witness more and more private companies contributing to
OS / FS desktop system development. And I am also optimistic that a
suitable infrastructure to enable enterprises to contribute to such efforts
in a painless and cost-effective manner will emerge at the proper time.
OfB: So you see a future for the Linux desktop, but do you think that may
include large scale enterprise usage? Could it be that Linux's future may be
more in the budget PC market like those Lindows desktops mentioned above or
the Mandrake Linux ones Wal-Mart has also started offering?
AFP: I fully agree with your implication that at this juncture the enterprise
and the low-budget markets provide the best scenarios for widespread
deployment of KGX systems, Tim.
The enterprise market is easier because (1) the software requirements are
generally more specialized; (2) enterprises have a technical support team which
can handle some user interface issues which have not been fully ironed out
(though the overall technical support costs should diminish substantially); and
(3) they have the capability, and quite frequently the financial incentive, to
port any specialized application to KGX systems.
Regarding application requirements, most office workers need maybe an
office suite, a browser, an email / groupware client and perhaps some
specialty application. Excellent solutions for the three generic
applications are rapidly evolving, and as they continue to improve,
the number of enterprises which can migrate some or all users to KGX
systems will increase. As to specialty software, the rapid improvements in
the development environments I observed earlier, and for many enterprises
particularly the availability of Borland products for Linux, as well as
advances in WINE, which provides a set of Win32-compatible APIs, make
porting specialty applications to, or simply using them with, KGX
systems easier. Eventually KGX will reach the point where it can no
longer be simply ignored, and once is is carefully scrutinized, the
advantages of migration will, in my opinion, increasingly prevail.
The second easier market is of course the low-budget market. Obviously
a large number of such markets exist. For the desktop, this mainly means
industrializing countries. Take, for example, Peru, whose Government
has been seriously contemplating official FS / OS support, at least until
Microsoft made some large public payments followed by a “private” meeting with
Peru's President. Peru's average annual income is apparently under $2,400,
with half of the population earning far less. For many of them,
the availability of FS / OS will simply make the difference between owning a
computer, or not.
But there are numerous other low-budget markets. PDAs, cell phones
and similar “convergence” appliances come to mind. Many large and small
companies, whom experience has taught that reliance on a monopoly vendor
is even worse than its cracked up to be, are looking to FS/ OS
to provide superior, cost-effective and flexible solutions for emerging
OfB: Thank-you Andreas, your remarks
were very insightful.
AFP: My pleasure. Thank you very much for your time, Tim.
Mr. Pour's responses above are Copyright © 2002, Andreas F. Pour. All rights
reserved. For copying information, please write to tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.