[conspire] Linux: hardware certified "vs." OS preloaded; OS install kiosks?

Michael Paoli Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu
Wed Nov 11 03:37:41 PST 2009

Just my opinion :-), but ...

I don't really think it's an "either/or" situation.  I think hardware
that's well certified to work would be the "best" option, but needn't be
the only thing going on.  If the hardware works well with open software,
and is certified for such, that's good, if - especially additionally -
the hardware specifications are "fully open" - or at least fully open
insofar as needed for fully understanding the hardware's interfaces and
functionality so software can be written and maintained for it.  (I'd
also like to see much more Linux software LSB certified, rather than
vendors saying "Oh, we'll support it on distribution X, revision Y" ...
but that's another topic.)

OS preloads?  Linux in particular?  Sure, I think generally good -
especially when also coupled with certified and open hardware as noted
above.  Even if the hardware isn't that open, Linux preloads I believe
do still generally help.  Unlike some other OSes - that are themselves
not much more than a big binary blob (or a lot of them), for which there
is no open source, and it's infeasible (and/or prohibited by license,
etc.) to peel apart the OS and determine how it's managing to make use
of the hardware ... well in the case of Linux the situation is rather
different.  In the case of Linux, it's pretty darn easy to pull apart -
and even if it's a poor vendor's preload with various binary blobs on
there, in the case of Linux it's much easier to pull it apart, and
figure out what bits are open source - and well supported - and what
bits are binary blobs for which there's no open source.  Most any vendor
can install a Linux preload of quite horrible or excellent quality, or
most any quality in between - but at least with Linux, one can much more
easily pull it apart and examine the situation.

If nothing else, a preload - at least if it functions reasonably - does
demonstrate that yes, it does at least "work", it will run on there,
etc.  It does not in and of itself guarantee a quality preload or
hardware that's open and/or supported by open source.  Eventually it
circles back to reflect on the vendor - if the preload is of poor
quality, where did those problems come from?  Did they make a poor
choice of OS/distribution, or did they toss in lots of binary blobs with
no hope of open source or open hardware to cover those bits?

One is of course always free to do a clean installation, and not use any
vendor binary blobs ... and, well, see how it goes.  If there is (or
was) a preload, there is also at least that comparative reference.

And ... consumer choices on OS loads ... kiosk?  No, not generally -
certainly not for new systems - or even new hard drives.  These days,
new hard drives have quite large capacities, and continue to be
relatively inexpensive.  For new systems or hard drives, why not preload
the hard drive with (compressed) images to offer a choice of
OSes/distributions (at least a few to several free ones) - could already
have a default one installed and set to run (or to install by default),
but let the consumer choose if they want to install (or even reinstall)
a different one.  When a typical consumer buys a new computer or hard
drive, they don't want to hang around a kiosk waiting for an install.
They want to get out of the store, and to their home or business, and
start using the thing - or if they can't immediately start using it
(e.g. install has to complete) they want to get home, or to work, where
the installation can chug away for a while they do other stuff.
Although I haven't seen it in a while, I have seen where vendor would
preload a particular Linux distribution, and would also provide CDs (or
DVDs) to alternatively allow convenient installation of some other Linux
distributions).  Anyway, something like that - but all on the hard
drive, would, I think, generally be good.


> Date: Thu, 5 Nov 2009 10:32:42 -0800
> From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
> Subject: Re: [conspire] No more GNU HP Minis
> To: conspire at linuxmafia.com
> Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):
>> None of this is going to change until the major dealers make GNU systems
>> available for the public in large quanities.  That should be the
>> goal...
> Why?  Manufacturer preloads have a very strong tendency to suck -- and, for
> reasons explained upthread, to conceal problems with buggy and brittle
> proprietary drivers that you may not discover until the day you have to
> reload Linux and suddenly find out that, e.g., the horrible Broadcom WiFi
> chipset doesn't work any more at all.
> That's stupid and ignominious.  You shouldn't want it.[1]
>> ...because after spending time in court over Windows EULA refund
>> debates, and DMCA trials, and pouring over the anti-trust findings,
>> and the seeing results, THIS CHANGE can NOT happen through the courts.
> That's a non-sequitur reason.  You cannot make manufacturer preloads
> _cease_ to suck merely by shouting ALL-CAPS, stem-winding rhetoric at
> everyone.   It is a fact that cannot be shouted down, Ruben.
> Linuxcare, Inc. used to provide a service of testing and certifying
> hardware compatibility for particular manufacturer makes / models --
> which I imagine consisted of my friend Duncan Mackinnon doing test loads
> on sample units in his tablespace that was grandiloquently called
> "Linuxcare Labs".  No doubt, Linuxcare got a small fee from the
> manufacturer for each such unit.
> I could go for something like that -- a Linux compatibility program
> attested to by a USPTO-registered certification-mark logo.  That would
> be a whole lot more meaningful and useful than manufacturer preloads.

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