Are people still having issues with iPods and Linux?

I ask this because, much to my surprise, this three year old post about the iPod working out of the box in Fedora gets a surprising number of views on a daily basis. All the requests are the result of web searches, which makes me wonder if people really are still having problems. There’s not a distribution I’ve tried in the last couple years where whatever mp3 player I plugged into it didn’t work out of the box immediately. Curious…

–jeremy

Patent Infringement Lawsuit Filed Against Red Hat & Novell

Earlier this month, Ballmer reiterated his stance on patents and Linux:

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has warned users of Red Hat Linux that they will have to pay Microsoft for its intellectual property.

“People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us,” Ballmer said last week at a company event in London discussing online services in the UK.

Red Hat quickly fired back:

Red Hat is assuring its customers that they can continue to deploy its Linux operating system with confidence and without fear of legal retribution from Microsoft, despite the increasingly vocal threats emanating from the Redmond, Wash., company.

In a scathing response to Ballmer’s remarks, Red Hat’s IP team said the reality is that the community development approach of free and open-source code represents a healthy development paradigm, which, when viewed from the perspective of pending lawsuits related to intellectual property, is at least as safe as proprietary software.

“We are also aware of no patent lawsuit against Linux. Ever. Anywhere,” the team said in a blog posting.

The Linux vendor, which is based in Raleigh, N.C., also gives customers open-source intellectual property protections through its Open Source Assurance Program, which includes a promise to replace the software if there is an intellectual property issue.

“This provides customers with assurances of uninterrupted use of the technology solution. Protecting our customers is a top priority, and we take it very seriously. Our confidence in our technology and protections for customers remains strong and has not wavered,” the blog posting said.

While many people thought Ballmer was just continuing his FUD campaign, a scant couple days later an IP infringement lawsuit was actually filed:

Plaintiffs IP Innovation and Technology Licensing Corp. claim to have the rights to U.S. Patent No. 5,072,412 for a User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects issued Dec. 10, 1991 along with two other similar patents.

Defendants Red Hat Inc. and Novell have allegedly committed acts of infringement through products including the Red Hat Linux system, the Novell Suse Linex Enterprise Desktop and the Novell Suse Linex Enterprise Server.

“Red Hat’s and Novell’s infringement, contributory infringement and inducement to infringe has injured plaintiffs and plaintiffs are entitled to recover damages adequate to compensate them for such infringement but in no event less than a reasonable royalty,” the original complaint states.

The plaintiffs also allege that defendants received notice of the patents, therefore the infringing activities have been deliberate and willful.

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction from the court, increased damages and other relief that the court or a jury may deem just and proper.

T. John Ward Jr. of Ward & Smith Law Firm in Longview is representing the plaintiff.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Leonard E. Davis.

You have to find it ironic that “IP Innovation” is suing based on something seemingly obvious that was patented in a 1991 by Xerox. Things get interesting from there though. It seems IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia. Looking at Acacia closer, you see:

In July 2007, Acacia Research Corporation announced that Jonathan Taub joined its Acacia Technologies group as Vice President. Mr. Taub joins Acacia from Microsoft, where he was Director, Strategic Alliances for the Mobile and Embedded Devices (MED) division since 2004.

and

Acacia Technologies Names Brad Brunell, Former Microsoft General Manager, Intellectual Property Licensing, to Management Team

Monday October 1, 6:01 am ET

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Acacia Research Corporation (NASDAQ:ACTG – News) announced today that its Acacia Technologies group, a leader in technology licensing, has named Brad Brunell as Senior Vice President.

Mr. Brunell joins Acacia from Microsoft, where during his 16 year career he held a number of management positions, including General Manager, Intellectual Property Licensing.

So the SCOX trial isn’t even officially over and we already have a company with large Microsoft ties filing a clear patent troll case against Linux. You think they’d at least hide the connections better this time. It should be noted that IP Innovation appears to have previously gotten some money out of Apple for this, so it’s not simply aimed at FOSS. How much of this are we going to have to go though until the system is actually fixed? Too much. Let the SCO II games begin.

–jeremy

New iPods reengineered to block synching with Linux II

A quick follow up to this post. Well, it didn’t take long. I didn’t expect that it would. While the instructions are still a bit convoluted, I’m sure that will change soon enough as well. I just wish companies would stop making it difficult for people to use the hardware they purchase with their OS of choice. Something tells me it’s still going to be a while.

–jeremy

New iPods reengineered to block synching with Linux

While the title of this Boing Boing article is a little sensationalistic (the move was almost certainly aimed at iTunes lockin, with Linux being collateral damage) it’s not too far off the mark:

The latest iPods have a cryptographic “checksum” in their song databases that prevents third-party applications from synching with the portable music players. This means that iPods can no longer be used with operating systems where iTunes doesn’t exist — like Linux, where gtkpod and Amarok are common free tools used by iPod owners to load their players.

Notice that this has nothing to do with piracy — this is about Apple limiting the choices available to people who buy their iPod hardware. I kept my iPod when I switched to Ubuntu Linux a year ago, and I’ve been using it happily with my machine ever since (though it took me a solid week to get all my DRMed Audible audiobooks out of iTunes — I had to run two machines 24/7, playing hundreds of hours of audio through a program called AudioHijack, to remove the DRM from my collection, which had cost me thousands of dollars to build). I’d considered buying another iPod when this one started to show its age — it’s a perfectly nice player to use, provided you stay away from the DRM.

The new hardware limits the number of potential customers for Apple’s products, adding engineering cost to a device in order to reduce its functionality. It’s hard to understand why Apple would do this, but the most likely explanations are that Apple wants to be sure that competitors can’t build their own players to load up iPods — now that half of the major labels have gone DRM free, it’s conceivable that we’d get a Rhapsody or Amazon player that automatically loaded the non-DRM tracks they sold you on your iPod (again, note that this has nothing to do with preventing piracy — this is about preventing competition with the iTunes Store).

The truth is, however, that Apple seems to be getting more and more closed. The iPhone is a great example of this. It has so much potential it’s not funny. I’ve found the lockin limits that potential so much that I’ll almost certainly be getting rid of it when the OpenMoko ships. The web experience on the iPhone really is tremendous. Industry changing in fact. The lack of third party applications is just the beginning of why the device will never be what it could have been, however. Apple makes great products, there’s no doubt about it. You just have to use everything exactly the way they want you to. That’s not for me. As Apple products gain in popularity, I have to wonder how many others will get frustrated to the point that they’ll switch.

–jeremy

The unforking of KDE's KHTML and Webkit

One of the core tenants of Open Source is the ability to fork. That being said, it should really be seen as a last resort type of option. It’s good to see that a couple of “unforks” have happened recently. A short time ago, Beryl and Compiz were able to come to an amicable resolution and rejoin as Compiz Fusion. More recently KHTML and WebKit look to be coming back together. From the article:

There is one major web rendering engine that grew entirely out of the open source world: KHTML is KDE’s web renderer which was built from the ground up by the open source community with very little original corporate backing. The code was good and branches were born as a result, the best known being Webkit. Now, after years of split, KHTML and Webkit are coming together once again.

Now, KHTML won’t be deleted right away since there are features in it that need to be ported into Webkit. For example, KHTML (in KDE 4) implements portions of the definition of the CSS3 standard, which will need to be adopted into Webkit and so forth. But the big deal is that the coders that invented the underlying layers that power Konqueror, some Nokia browsers, Abrowse, Safari, Adobe’s Air, and now Epiphany and a few other projects that are in the works, are now back in the fold. Additionally, Trolltech has announced that they are including Webkit in their upcoming Qt 4.4 release which means that a major, cross-platform toolkit now permits anyone to use the Webkit rendering engine where ever they need to render some HTML.

In open source terms, this may be as big of a deal as the gcc and egcs merger of yonder days. KHTML and Webkit are definitely coming of age. The KDE developers, responsible for the original creation of KHTML, are dedicated to seeing this unforking happen and are taking a leading role in that effort.

The uptake of WebKit has been fairly significant. The integration into QT will only serve to accelerate its adoption. It should be interesting to see how KDE deals with the component being outside their direct control, as WebKit is an Apple project (although obviously a fully Open Source one). It looks like some of the KHTML devs will be moving to become WebKit devs, which is great.

–jeremy

OpenMoko

While the iPhone has been getting all the press, something seriously interesting has been happening in the Open Source mobile space. OpenMoko devices are becoming available. From a Wired Blog:

After seemingly endless delays, the OpenMoko phone is here. The first version of the NEO 1973 mobile phone, which carries the Linux kernel inside and is not locked to a specific network, is available for purchase from OpenMoko.com. It’s not as jaw-droppingly pretty as the iPhone, but it shares a design philosophy — no buttons, just a screen — and it’s ready to be loaded with any number of open-source software applications. (Though, according to Gadget Lab, so is the iPhone).

The base version of the NEO sells for $300. It has a 2.8″ VGA touch screen, a micro SD card slot, a USB port and 2.5G GSM quad band capability.

Keep in mind that this unit (the GTA01) was pushed out early so developers could begin writing device drivers, custom GUIs and some cool apps for the phone. The next revision (GTA02), which will be available starting at $450 in October, will be ready for the mass market. It will have wi-fi, 3-D motion sensors and added graphics accelerators. So this phone isn’t exactly an iPhone killer — the next one will be a contender. AptUsTech has a nice comparison of the NEO 1973 and the iPhone.

I’m going to try to hold out for the GTA02, but we’ll see if I make it. Bottom line is, I am getting one of these. I’ll probably keep the iPhone also, even if it’s just as a wi-fi enabled iPod. Which phone I’ll use on a day to day basis remains to be seen, but the more I use the iPhone the more its closed architecture is a limiting factor. If rumors of a pending firmware upgrade prove true and it does in fact allow real 3rd party apps things could change quickly. In that case I may just carry around two phones :) If you’re interested in the GTA01 you can find more details here.

–jeremy

The iPhone, 48 hours later

So, I’ve had an iPhone for a bit over 48 hours now. My impression?

First the good:
* The Web experience on this thing is absolutely phenomenal. Despite having a smaller screen, it’s even better than the N800. The zoom functionality and real browser are a breath of fresh air. I really can’t say enough good things about this aspect of the device.
* The built-in apps are all decent. The Contacts apps is especially good for a stock offering.
* The battery life is better than I expected, considering the size of the screen.
* The device just looks really good. Coming from a Treo, the form factor is also very refreshing. For the next week or so, pulling one of these out will draw a small crowd. As always, that will pass.
* Wifi

The bad (and unlike a lot of the glowing reviews I’ve seen, I think there are quite a few of them):
* The activation process is silly. Why would I possibly need iTunes to activate a cell phone. The process (after you get iTunes) is very straight forward, but so simplified that I have no idea what plan I have right now. The Cin AT&T site still gives me an error when trying to log in to my account. As I noted in my previous post, the AT&T part of the experience has been sub-par in general so far.
* While the preloaded apps are all decent, the lack of real third party apps is a real killer. There are rumors this will change in the future, but if it doesn’t I think the success and utility of the iPhone will be extremely limited. One great thing about the Treo was that you could find an app for almost anything. No SSH, for instance, will likely be a deal breaker for me and the iPhone. I only use it occasionally, but when I need it it’s absolutely critical. I will concede that on the Treo some apps do make the thing very unstable. There has to be a middle ground somewhere. I need a time tracker, a nice TODO app and a whole bunch of things Apple may never provide.
* The iPod functionality on the iPhone isn’t exactly like a regular iPod. It may just be a matter of time, but GTKpod doesn’t work with it yet and in general you can’t just drop items into the iPhone like you can with a nano.
* No DUN tethering. The Bluetooth in general is fairly limited. Another place the Treo is far superior.
NOTE: You may see a pattern starting to form here. Many of the problems are the result of the device being an extremely closed platform at this point. How much this will change remains to be seen.
* While I have gotten more used to the keyboard after a bit of use, it’s only a “non-issue” when typing URL’s, search strings and short SMS messages. I can’t see ever being able to do long emails or even take notes at a conference with the proficiency that a real keyboard like a Treo or Blackberry allows.
* They designed this thing so that 99% of all existing headphones won’t fit into the jack because of….????

As you can see, the cons are many. There are also a lot of smaller items that I left off the list as you have to assume that Apple will address them (no MMS, no games, no video, no custom ringtones, etc). The question becomes, will I keep the iPhone or return it in the 14 day window that I have. That I’m not sure of yet. News that the Linux-based Treo has been delayed yet again makes it tempting, but if some of the major concerns I have aren’t addressed soon I may very well ditch it. One nice thing is that the bar has been raised. I expect a number of really interesting devices to hit the market in 6-9 months. Competition is good.

–jeremy

May break down and get an iPhone

Against my better judgment and despite knowing better, I think I’m going to head over and see if I can get my hands on an iPhone. Will someone please come out with a decent Linux smartphone? I’d even settle for a Palm Treo that doesn’t have the form factor of a brick :) If I do get a hold of an iPhone, I’ll be sure to twitter the occasion. Seems apropos.

UPDATE: I am now the proud owner of an 8GB iPhone. The first impressions (I’ve not even opened it yet) are not very good. The store was woefully under prepared for one of the most hyped events ever. The provisioning system, OPUS, crashed almost immediately and the credit card system went down as well. My inquiry into a couple “iPhone only” rules were answered with “well, that’s how Apple wanted it”. When I pointed out that I was AT&T’s customer for the service, which is what my questions were about, that didn’t seem to matter. On to activation, I only have one non-Linux system and it is indeed a Mac. I just installed iTunes, only to find out that since I am running 10.3.9 the iPhone functionality doesn’t even work. He’s hoping iTunes runs in CrossOver. It still seems like an odd requirement to me to activate a mobile phone. I’ll post another update when (if?) I’m able to activate this thing.

–jeremy

Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma says iPhone will fail

The iPhone has to be one of the most hyped devices I’ve seen in a long time. Many of the reviews so far seem to indicate that the device actually lives up to the hype, which is no small feat. It’s interesting to see that Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma predicts that the iPhone should fail:

Who or what do you think will disrupt Google (GOOG) or Apple (AAPL)?

It’s hard for me to see what will disrupt Google. I think they’ve got a pretty good run ahead of them. Chapters five and six of The Innovator’s Solution describe how at the beginning phases of the industry, in order to play that game successfully you really need to have a proprietary, optimized, end-to-end architecture to your product.

Apple sure has that.

That’s why they’ve been successful. But just watch the [competitors’] advertisements that you hear for the ability to download music onto your mobile phone. Music on the mobile phone has to be downloaded in an open architecture way from Yahoo! Music or someplace else [other than iTunes]. Which means it’s clunkier, not as good. Mobile phones don’t have as much storage capacity, nor are their interfaces as intuitive [as iPods]. But for some folks, they’re good enough, and the trajectories [of people using their phone as a medium for listening to music] just keep getting better and better.

So music on the mobile phone is going to disrupt the iPod? But Apple’s just about to launch the iPhone.
The iPhone is a sustaining technology relative to Nokia. In other words, Apple is leaping ahead on the sustaining curve [by building a better phone]. But the prediction of the theory would be that Apple won’t succeed with the iPhone. They’ve launched an innovation that the existing players in the industry are heavily motivated to beat: It’s not [truly] disruptive. History speaks pretty loudly on that, that the probability of success is going to be limited.

I’ll be heading over to the Apple store at about 6PM tomorrow to see if I can get my hands on ones of these. If I do, I’ll be sure to post a review here with my thoughts.

–jeremy

EMI Music launches DRM-free superior sound quality downloads

It was just a matter of time, but it finally happened. One of the major labels (EMI currently stands at number three) jumped ship and will be offering DRM free music. This isn’t a case of offering some tracks without DRM or a limited time deal – this is across its entire digital repertoire. Even better, while iTunes will be the first online music store to offer the DRM-less downloads, more are definitively on the way. Consumers will finally have real choices available to them. From the press release:

Apple’s iTunes Store (www.itunes.com) is the first online music store to receive EMI’s new premium downloads. Apple has announced that iTunes will make individual AAC format tracks available from EMI artists at twice the sound quality of existing downloads, with their DRM removed, at a price of $1.29/€1.29/£0.99. iTunes will continue to offer consumers the ability to pay $0.99/€0.99/£0.79 for standard sound quality tracks with DRM still applied. Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price. Consumers who have already purchased standard tracks or albums with DRM will be able to upgrade their digital music for $0.30/€0.30/£0.20 per track. All EMI music videos will also be available on the iTunes Store DRM-free with no change in price.

EMI is introducing a new wholesale price for premium single track downloads, while maintaining the existing wholesale price for complete albums. EMI expects that consumers will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free downloads from a variety of digital music stores within the coming weeks, with each retailer choosing whether to sell downloads in AAC, WMA, MP3 or other unprotected formats of their choice. Music fans will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free digital music for personal use, and listen to it on a wide range of digital music players and music-enabled phones.

EMI’s move follows a series of experiments it conducted recently. Norah Jones’s “Thinking About You”, Relient K’s “Must’ve Done Something Right”, and Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things” were all made available for sale in the MP3 format in trials held at the end of last year.

Kudos to EMI for being the first one willing to do this. You have to wonder how long the other labels can hold out now. The rules of the game are changing here and April 2 may be remembered as the day DRM died (at least in the context of online music). Policies and practices that are anti-consumer always eventually fail. DRM wasn’t going to be any exception. While some people will always pirate music, the vast majority do not want to rip off artists. Make it difficult, or in some cases impossible, to legitimately consume your music though and they will route around you. It will be fascinating to see how this impacts online music sales and the labels in general. It will also be interesting to see how services like Amie Street and Magnatune (both quality services that you should check out) are impacted.

–jeremy