Issue #19 May 2006

Ask Shadowman

You know you want to come to the Red Hat Summit.

Shadowman won't belabor the point.

After all, you already know that Nicholas Negroponte will be there, and you'll be sure to learn all about the One Laptop Per Child Project. And you probably also know that Eben Moglen will be there to illuminate the GPL version 3.

You also surely know that you'll have access to some of the greatest minds in the open source community, who will be able to provide you with insights you'd never be able to get anywhere else.

Not to mention the fact that your cash (let's be honest, your company's cash) buys you three days and three nights of learning, drinking, eating, drinking, partying, drinking, networking, and drinking.

Also, it would probably be insulting your intelligence to point out that you're probably running out of time to book a cheap flight. In fact, you're probably getting ready to register for the Summit right now.

You know what? You're far too smart for any of this. You're on it. Forget Shadowman even mentioned it.

Got a question that you'd like Shadowman to answer? Ask him.

ybenham asked:

I want to boot a diskless client from a client running dhcp and tftp server. Where can I find a kernel image that supports this?

To which Shadowman replies:

Your best bet is the Linux Terminal Server Project. Head to their website and take a look. Read through the documentation; it's excellent, and gives a very effective overview of the art of the Linux diskless workstation. Even if you don't choose to run LTSP yourself, you'll certainly pick up some good pointers about how to load kernels remotely.

And as long as Shadowman is pimping LTSP, he may as well talk about K12LTSP as well.

What is K12LTSP? Glad you asked!

Imagine, for a moment, that you're a teacher. You teach, oh, let's say... a bunch of 7th and 8th graders. You've got a lab full of Windows 98 computers that you haven't been able to upgrade in years, because all of your funding has been eaten up by various No Child Left Behind initiatives. Most of your in-class time is spent walking around, watching their screens and making sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, instead of playing Minesweeper. Most of your out-of-class time is spent removing spyware and deleting the pictures of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models from their desktop backgrounds.

Now imagine that you decide to make the jump to K12LTSP. You get the cash for the hardware by telling the administration that you need a proxy server to keep the kids from visiting their MySpace accounts all day -- but once you've got the server, you go to and download the server software. It takes you all of an afternoon to install it.

The next morning, your students come in and discover that all of their systems are running something new; it's subtly different, but looks mostly the same. You tell them that they each have their own accounts now, and they can log in from any system in the entire lab. Why? Because you netbooted all of the computers, and they turned instantly into Linux boxes. Cool!

Then you tell them to get to work on their book reports using OpenOffice, which is close enough to Microsoft Office that most of them are working within a few minutes. Instead of wandering around and looking over their shoulders, you monitor their systems from your desk. You see that two of them are surfing the web, so you kill their Firefox sessions and tell them to get back to work.

Oh, and if your Vice Principal of Humorless IT Compliance gets all touchy that the kids aren't using Microsoft Word anymore -- if she even notices -- then ask her what word processor she used in college. When she waxes rhapsodic about WordStar, you've got her right where you want her. Remind her that you're supposed to be teaching the kids, not training them. Also point out that you're running software that's eight years more modern, and that the cost to do it was pretty much nothing.

And if she gets really huffy, just boot the machines back to their hard drives, which are still running Windows 98. Also, tell her with a tinge of regret that she'll have to hire someone to clean all the viruses, because you just don't have time to do that and be a teacher at the same time.

Very cool.

Oh, did Shadowman mention that K12LTSP is based on Fedora? No? Well, he just did.

Freddy Starman asked:

Where do I find information on your quarterly earnings? Or a section for individual investor information?

To which Shadowman replies:

That would be

Shadowman loves the easy questions.

dpniner asked:

Oh Great One... everyone understands the possible legal ramifications of including mp3 support in both Fedora Core or RHEL. Personally, I find OGG/FLAC to be fantastic replacements, and have been using this format for some time now. Unfortunately, I still have a few MP3 files around that I'm not ready to part with, but would like to convert them to one of the superior open formats. What is the "official" position on the inclusion of software that would convert between the two formats? Would it be possible to create a program that was able to perform this feat without actually "decoding" the MP3s, as the patent holders define the term? Is this a pie-in-sky request?

To which Shadowman replies:

"Oh Great One"? Perhaps you've confused Shadowman with Oz? (Hmm, maybe there's something to that....)

Anyway. Shadowman doesn't think this is a pie-in-the-sky request at all. In fact, it's a question that Shadowman himself has asked on a number of occasions.

Is it possible to come up with a program to convert MP3 files to other formats, using mechanisms that don't read on the MP3 patents?

And the answer: um... no. No, it isn't.

For those who don't know the story about MP3 -- and there are plenty -- the gotchas behind MP3 decoders all involve redistribution rights. Most open source implementations of MP3 are not freely redistributable, because the patents behind MP3 need to be licensed for use. Thus, these implementations are not freely redistributable.

So couldn't we just pay for the right to redistribute it for free in Fedora? Well, sure we could. But we won't. If software isn't freely redistributable -- even if we have the rights to distribute it ourselves -- we simply prefer not to include it. One of the key freedoms in FOSS is the right to redistribute, and we want to guarantee you that right in anything we call Fedora.

We can, however, refer users to legitimate distributors of free MP3 decoder software. They do exist. And the best of these currently is probably Fluendo; they're the folks who work on the excellent GStreamer framework.

Fluendo makes a GStreamer plug-in for MP3 support freely available to any individual user who downloads it. If you want to convert your MP3 files to OGG files, go check them out. In fact, Fluendo itself is even included in Fedora, minus the proprietary plug-ins, so you're already halfway there. So go get what you need to get the rest of the way there.

Go forth and convert, child. You have Shadowman's blessing. Just do it legally.