LJ Archive



Issue #78, October 2000



An embedded Linux tsunami washed ashore in Tokyo on July 14th, as a handful of the world's most powerful electronics manufacturers including Fujitsu, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, NEC and Toshiba joined nineteen other companies and academic institutions to launch a Japanese embedded Linux consortium. The mission of the new Japan Embedded Linux Consortium (EMBLIX) strongly echoes that of the Embedded Linux Consortium (ELC) formed in Chicago earlier this year: to promote the use of Linux in a broad spectrum of next-generation intelligent devices and embedded systems. This strong showing of support from Japan's consumer electronics giants adds momentum to the already rapid proliferation of embedded Linux.

The founding members of EMBLIX include Advanced Data Controls, Access, Canon, CATS, Centura Embedded Systems, Densan, ERG, Elmic Systems, FDS Embedded Systems, Fujitsu, Gaio Technology, Hitachi, Lineo Japan, Metrowerks, Mitsubishi Electric, Montavista Software Japan, NEC Electronic Devices, Red Hat, Toshiba, Toyohashi University of Science & Technology, TurboLinux Japan, Waseda University and YDC. Dr. Tatsuo Nakajima (Waseda University) was named interim chair, while John Cheuck (TurboLinux Japan) and Y. Paul Kunimine (Gaio Technology) are serving as interim vice chairmen. First-year membership in EMBLIX costs $1,000 per company and is waived for academic institutions. According to Cheuck, EMBLIX membership is restricted to corporations having a permanently established presence in Japan.

Visit EMBLIX at www.emblix.org.

Meanwhile, Back at the ELC...

Membership in the Embedded Linux Consortium surpassed 70 companies within three months of the group's March 1 launch. In June, the ELC elected its first Board of Directors: Dr. Inder Singh, chairman and CEO, LynuxWorks; Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer, Red Hat; James Ready, CEO, MontaVista Software; Tim Bird, chief technology officer, Lineo; Dan Bandera, business line manager, IBM Pervasive Computing; and Greg Wright, an independent Linux community member. Wright represents the 20+ “noncorporate” ELC members on the board.

Congratulations are also in order for Ralf Doewich, who won the ELC's logo contest. Doewich, whose entry placed first among a field of fifty, was the happy recipient of an HP C500 digital camera donated by ELC member Hewlett Packard.

Visit the ELC at www.embedded-linux.org.

Speaking of New Embedded Linux Orgs...

Organizers of a new Real-Time Linux Consortium (RTLC) will hold an organizational meeting during the Second Annual Real-Time Linux Workshop on November 29 in Orlando, Florida (“Tux Meets Donald Duck?”). The organizers have created a temporary RTLC web site where you can learn more about both the workshop and the proposed real-time consortium: www.thinkingnerds.com/projects/rtos-ws/rtlc.html

And Speaking of Conferences...

The second Embedded Linux Expo & Conference (ELEC) will occur on October 27 in Westborough, Massachusetts. The event combines an embedded Linux vendor expo with an all-day technical conference. The conference features technically oriented talks on integrating embedded Linux into information appliances, smart devices and other kinds of embedded systems. For further information, see www.rtcgroup.com/elinuxexpo/index2.html.

Last, but Not Least...

The Embedded Linux market recently gained two new web resources:

  • AllLinuxDevices: http://www.alllinuxdevices.com/

  • SiliconPenguin: http://www.siliconpenguin.com/

Rick Lehrbaum (rick@linuxdevices.com) is founder and executive editor of ZDNet's LinuxDevices.com web site—“The Embedded Linux Portal”.


In spite of Microsoft's advantage in marketing dollars, Apache continues to be the web server of choice. The issue came up again because Microsoft is attempting to migrate their hotmail.com site over to Windows 2000 boxes.

When Microsoft bought hotmail.com and linkexchange.com, they bought working sites based on FreeBSD. There were rumors of an earlier conversion attempt for hotmail.com, but apparently those were just rumors. Now it is happening.

The current report from Netcraft's web survey (www.netcraft.com/survey) Apache's market share and a decrease in Microsoft's market share. Thus, Microsoft seems to be going against the trend with http://www.hotmail.com/.

Here are some details from the survey:

Server | June 2000 | July 2000 | % ChangeApache | 10,704,306 | 11,412,233 | +0.28Microsoft ISS | 3,485,995 | 3,608,415 | -0.50Netscape-Enterprise | 1,154,558 | 1,225,085 | +0.17

Looking at longer-term trends, it was back in 1996 when Apache started getting significant market share and passed NCSA for the top slot. Over the years, Apache has experienced steady growth. Microsoft-IIS grew in market share up until the beginning of this year, but now continues to fall.

Why is this the case? We talked to one ISP in Canada and found that they run Apache on Linux, claiming to have about the same amount of traffic on their single machine as the ISP a block away has on their array of nine NT servers. Enough said.


Two months ago, our cover featured an iMac running Yellow Dog Linux. Next, I saw an iMac running SuSE 6.4. in the SuSE booth at the O'Reilly conference. What's happening?

Linux on the Mac isn't new. There has been Linux development for M68000 and PPC-based systems for many years. What has changed is both on the Mac and the Linux end.

First, the iMac has become a reasonably inexpensive platform with enough documentation on the architecture to make it a place to host your favorite OS. Today, for around $1000, you can buy a cute little plastic box the size of a monitor that has enough computing horsepower to run Linux. So, why not give it a try?

On the Linux side, what you get today is more appealing to the person who owns a Mac or might want to own a Mac. Two big issues are ease of installation and having a GUI-based system. In the August LJ review, installing Yellow Dog was covered. Clearly an easy install. While we haven't had a chance to install the SuSE version yet (the CD is on the way), if SuSE's recent install on Intel-based systems is any indication, it is going to be easy, perhaps very easy.

But, what about when the Mac user sees Linux come up? Will he be scared? Not likely. Yellow Dog defaults to the GNOME GUI, SuSE to KDE. Either is a reasonable desktop that shouldn't scare off the newcomer.

Finally, Mac on Linux (MOL), included with both distributions, allows you to access files and run native MacOS applications under Linux. So, if beige isn't the color you want for your Linux system, it looks like the time for colorful alternatives is here.

PARTY WITH Linux Journal!

A Friday the 13th party like you've never seen before....

LJ and the Atlanta Linux Showcase organizers are teaming up to host a grand party during ALS this October. (See www.linuxshowcase.org for show registration information.)

The evening will feature the first annual ALS Best of Show Awards and the Fifth Annual Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards, followed by a fright-filled evening including music, dancing, prizes and lots of beer. But beware, the evening just may turn out to be more than you bargained for...

Stop by Linux Journal's ALS booth #417 to pick up your invitation.


Rock Linux is a distribution whose claim to fame is that it's harder to install than other distributions. Rather than being user-friendly, this distribution tries to be “administrator-friendly”; that is, something an experienced UNIX sys admin would like. Its motto is minimalism: “All you ever wanted in a distribution—and less!” This distribution tries to get out of the way as much as possible, exposing you to the raw Linux system behind it.

Of all the major distributions, Rock Linux most closely resembles Slackware. Rather than using a custom packaging format like .rpm or .deb, Rock uses ordinary tarballs as its packaging format. (*.tar.bz2, to be exact. The new .bz2 is a younger cousin of the ubiquitous .gz format. Its practical advantage is that bzip2 produces files approximately 20% smaller than gzip.) Like Slackware, Rock Linux prefers to patch upstream programs as little as possible. “If it's good enough for the upstream author, it's good enough for us!” Any desired customizations are the local sys admin's responsibility.

This is in sharp contrast to most distributions, which usually make many changes to the programs they include. They do this both in an attempt to “social engineer” the distribution to hide the operating system's complexities from the user, and to differentiate themselves from other distributions in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this social engineering comes at a price: inflexibility. Those snazzy GUI configuration dialogs may be nifty and easy to use, but if you need to change an option in a way the GUI designers didn't envision, you're out of luck. If you do try to outsmart the GUI tool and modify a text configuration file by hand, you may find that the GUI tool will happily overwrite your changes the next time somebody runs it.

Rock Linux has no GUI administration tools. However, there are a few command-line utilities provided to make the administrator's job easier. One is runlvedit, which helps you edit your system's run levels. (A run level specifies which d<\#230>mons should be running in a particular situation. Thus, run level 2 might be your “normal” mode, run level 3 is without X, run level 4 is without the network, etc.) True to the Rock Linux philosophy, runlvedit doesn't invoke a dialog. Instead, it uses your favorite text editor as its user interface.

Rock Linux is not for the faint-hearted. You have to compile your distribution before installing it (!), and this will take days, even if nothing goes wrong—but of course, something will. The installation process consists less of choosing options in dialogs, and more of using standard Linux commands—mke2fs, mount, etc.—or changing a configuration file and then running a shell script to do the mundane work.

If you want to try and tame this beast, plan on spending a week or two to get familiar with it. You'll be rewarded with a more intimate knowledge of your Linux system and how it works than perhaps any other distribution can offer.

For more information on Rock Linux, see these URLs:

  • http://e-zine.nluug.nl/hold.html?cid=59 Rock Linux: Not for woozies! (a review)

  • http://e-zine.nluug.nl/hold.html?cid=1 Rock Linux Philosophy by Clifford Wolf, the author of Rock Linux

  • http://www.rocklinux.org/, the distribution home page


Why do you think they call it Red Hat?

“Linux sort of springs organically from the Earth. And it had, you know, the characteristics of communism that people love so very, very much about it. That is, it's free.”

—Steve Ballmer

“Happiness isn't something you experience, it's something you remember.”

—Oscar Levant

“Be courageous; it's the only place left uncrowded.”

—Anita Roddick

“It's not that we didn't like him as a spokesperson, we just liked him a whole lot more as a taco.”

—Conan O'Brien impersonating the Taco Bell decisionmakers.

“The future is no place to place your better days.”

—Dave Matthews Band

“Ways may someday be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.”

—Lewis Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice, in a 1928 dissent that later became law


“It's personal. That's my entire philosophy of radio.”

—Larry Josephson

My favorite moment on “Saturday Night Live” was Paul Shaffer's impersonation of Don Kirshner, the helmet-haired, hyper-tanned record executive whose own syndicated rock concert often followed “SNL” on local NBC affiliates. In April 1978, Shaffer, playing Kirshner, introduced The Blues Brothers for the first time. “No longer an authentic blues act”, he said, The Blues Brothers had become “a viable commercial product.”

Even then, Kirshner was an anachronism. It was already clear that the difference between authentic and commercial was the industrial heft required to make and move goods whose appeal was no less manufactured than the goods themselves. Commercial music and commercial broadcasting were two gears in the same machine: the business of stimulating and filling appetites for large quantities of music in the smallest possible varieties. “Saturday Night Live” was part of that machine as well. What else was on TV at that hour? Or ever?

Radio was hardly any better. Even the largest cities had fewer than a couple dozen signals that didn't fade within a few exits of downtown. For music stations, you could usually count the choices on one hand. Every one of those few stations tried to attract the largest numbers of listeners with the smallest varieties of tastes, so they could sell those numbers at top dollar to advertisers. The result was demand as homogeneous as supply, plus the ironic notion that the narrowest tastes comprised the broadest markets.

Also ironic was the belief that listeners comprised markets in any real sense. By the economics of commercial radio, listeners were the product, not programming. Stations and networks sold time to advertisers, not programming to listeners. Music and other programming was just bait. What listeners really wanted meant approximately nothing, which is what they paid for the goods. After all, they were consumers, not customers.

So can we blame them when they give music to each other at the same price?

Well sure. That's what the record industry has been doing by attacking Napster and wringing its hands over the “stealing” of copyrighted music that occurs when one music lover shares his or her MP3 collection with others over the Internet. They are joined by none other than our own leadership. Eric Raymond inveighs on behalf of artists' and record companies' right to distribute their property as they see fit, regardless of how easy it is for customers to share that property without anybody's consent. In a Linux Journal guest editorial, Eric writes, “The real point is that by 'sharing' without the artist's consent, you deprive him of the right to control and dispose of his work. The real question is this: are you going to support the artists, or steal away the few shreds of autonomy they might have left?”

Let's assume we answer “yes” to the first part of that question. The next question is, “Can we make a market where nothing is scarce and everybody can take what they want?”

Courtney Love points the way:

I'm looking for people to help connect me to more fans, because I believe fans will leave a tip based on the enjoyment and service I provide. I'm not scared of them getting a preview. It really is going to be a global village where a billion people have access to one artist and a billion people can leave a tip if they want to.

It's a radical democratization. Every artist has access to every fan and every fan has access to every artist, and the people who direct fans to those artists. People that give advice and technical value are the people we need. People crowding the distribution pipe and trying to ignore fans and artists have no value. This is a perfect system.

Is there a tip jar system out there already—or at least the beginnings of one?

Indeed, there is. We call it public broadcasting. Get past the noncommercial nature of the institutions that sell the service, and their often pathetic appeals for “support”, and you see the model at work. In some cases it works better than the advertising model, for the simple and efficient reason that the broadcaster's consumers and customers are the same people—a market grace advertising-supported broadcasters have never enjoyed (and paid subscription media like the one you are reading now have enjoyed, thank you very much).

Case in point. San Francisco's KJAZ was the longest-running commercial jazz station in the country until a few years ago, when its owner fell into deep debt and had to unload the property, which had been making money—not much, but enough to stay profitable. The owner made an appeal, and listeners sent in well over a million dollars in donations: more in a few weeks than the station made in a year from advertising, and none of it tax-deductible. It wasn't enough (the owner needed many more millions) and the donors got their money back; but further proof of the market model came when one of the local noncommercial stations picked up the format full-time, and reportedly made more money selling programming to listeners than KJAZ ever did selling time to advertisers.

I would gladly pay to play or hear anything I love. Right now, I pay to listen to four public radio stations and one public TV station. I don't see my purchases as “donations”, although I'm glad to claim the tax deduction. I see it as a tip jar system. And I would love to see some infrastructure built around it, so I could automatically make micropayments (or macropayments in a few special cases) for using artist-controlled material.

Why not set up a micropayment system for everything on TV, making TV a completely

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