LinuxUser Column 3

Nestled at the bottom of the box for my new Netgear router I found a little yellow slip of paper. Does this small slip of yellow paper point to the FLOSS world’s future success? The slip explains that the router uses code protected by the GNU General Public License and so the source can be downloaded from the Netgear website.

So what? Who cares? Well sure Linux runs oodles of webservers, Samba has liberated many from a Windows-only network and Mozilla Firefox is hotter than Paris Hilton. But little of this touches the average PC World shopper. Boxes of Mandrake Linux and little yellow slips uniquely reach out to people outside of the bubble of our Slashdotted LinuxUsered worldview.

There’s a huge number of people out there who are afraid to do things as simple as downloading and installing new software. Given media scares they’re understandably unsure of who to trust in this brave new world of phishers and scams. The idea of downloading Free Software sounds downright ludicrous when they had to spend so much money on the latest version of Windows, Norton Antivirus and Lord knows what else. The yellow slip points to our way into these people’s world.

Gather round readers, I have a plan… We need a pincer movement to push our ideas out of the geek ghettos. Phase one of my masterplan is to launch a Penguin-based ‘Intel Inside’ type logo programme. Each router, networked printer, smart phone and DVD player which runs on Linux (or any open source project for that matter) should be clearly and proudly marked with a penguin. Sure we have the Open Source Initiative for assuring us of something’s FLOSS credentials; but it’s just too fiddly for the simple flag-waving jingoism that we need in this time of crisis. If we’re properly obsessive about this penguin-pushing we’re going to reap real dividends. Just look at the number of people we know who insist on having Intel despite having no idea what an ‘Intel’ is nor what benefits it might offer.

Yes my friends, Linux needs to become New Linux. This needn’t be a debacle of New Coke proportions but something has to be done – type ‘what is Linux’ into Google and you get ‘A version of UNIX that has gained popularity because of its stability as an operating system for hosting web servers. Linux is open source software and is freely available over the Internet.’ Not good, we’re going to lose most PC World customers at word 4 in that definition, UNIX. We should be pitching Linux with something like ‘A free, secure and highly stable system for home or office use. Download it for free now.’ We need people wanting penguins on all their technological gizmos. Pick up a penguin will lose it’s confectionary associations and become a term of technological liberation.

Right, back to the plan: If you recall I noted that we need a pincer movement. The first prong will be our fine penguin logo program. The second will come thanks to the good work of the Creative Commons. For those not plugged into this meme, the Creative Commons is a group who encourage flexible copyrights so instead of releasing text, music or video under ‘all mine, mine, mine!’ licenses they provide legally correct copyleft licenses which allow others to mash, republish and generally abuse your work as long as they credit you or pay you depending on the terms you pick. In other words they bring the FLOSS sensibility into the creative world of artists and musicians. This second prong will be effective because as more and more content pours out under copyleft licenses an ever increasing number of people will begin to get their head around this whole sharing thing. There will be less and less room in people’s minds to accept why DVDs should have monopolistic region encodings and why music is being protected with military-grade paranoia.

So with world penguin domination perhaps we might have the time to turn to some of my personal bugbears, like those crazy media companies. They just keep wasting time and money raiding servers, prosecuting kids and displaying ridiculous ‘FACT’ adverts before films. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the iTunes Music Store’s implementation, it should have shown the suits the way. Downloading ‘unauthorised’ music is seriously tiresome, it’s fiddly and unreliable with the end result being of uncertain quality. iTunes reliably delivers a consistent level of quality and user experience at reasonable prices. The end result is hundreds of millions of legal downloads.

Hello, media companies did you hear what I just said? Hundreds of millions of legal downloads. So even though we have wonders like BitTorrent and eDonkey the vast majority of us neither have the time, knowledge or patience to get the latest film or TV show online (not that we would Mr Policeman). Cue our two-pronged plan for world domination with will result in more relaxed, open thinking about software and media. Cue one smart studio harnessing a BitTorrent style protocol to offer the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives for $2.99 a pop.

Imagine that, viewers sharing bandwidth to help each other get legal video files faster. Movie studios willingly encoding and selling video files online with FLOSS tools. Sounds pretty wild. Makes putting penguins on boxes everywhere sound easy. Get to it!

This column first appeared in the excellent LinuxUser magazine, available internationally. For more information visit