Non-free Software Provide Multiple Points of Failure

I am often accused of encouraging use of GNU/Linux and thin clients with a single point of failure vulnerability, the server or network. Non-free software, however provides multiple points of failure like the recent patch from M$ that knocked off some VMWare clients. Here is an example where one supplier of non-free software interfered with another. The customers of both suffer. With FLOSS, no one has an axe to grind and the distro manages patches and updates making sure this mode of failure does not happen. Of course no system is perfect but having experts manage installations, dependencies and patches is a huge value for users of FLOSS.

In my exposures to non-free software I have seen anti-malware packages mess with many different applications, M$ mess with everyone and from time to time each and every non-free software seeks to impose the will of its source on the users rather than simply providing service. IT is supposed to be a faster, cheaper and better way to deal with information not a way to enslave us to multiple slave-masters.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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26 Responses to Non-free Software Provide Multiple Points of Failure

  1. Gome just bought DaZhong and Gome has its own house-brand Android tablet. Dell’s a partner of Gome.

    see Notebook

    see Fulong Mini

    My wife is headed to China this spring. I will try to get her to shop and take pictures.

    This is as close as I have come to a Chinese computer store:
    I notice Archos products

  2. Yonah says:

    No, Robert. As I’ve told you before, the situation in China isn’t what you think it is. I live in Beijing but have traveled around Hebei province and have been down as far as Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I’ve browsed high end retail outlets like DaZhong Electronics and I’ve pushed my way through crowded electronic flea markets.

    Search high and low, you WILL NOT find GNU/Linux on PCs being sold in public. You may find it on some embedded devices and other oddball tech, but not on desktop machines or laptops. Why? In large part because there is a whole universe of Chinese software that simply does not run on Linux, and won’t anytime soon.

  3. oldman says:

    “If a salesman tells a consumer that what they are selling is the state of the art and GNU/Linux has no salesmen, that’s what happens.”

    So I and others like me succumb to marketing, eh Pog?

  4. More or less. If a salesman tells a consumer that what they are selling is the state of the art and GNU/Linux has no salesmen, that’s what happens. Fortunately this year the number of people actually attempting to sell GNU/Linux or Android/Linux in bulk retail is growing dramatically. HP will not be whimpy like Dell. Lenovo and the other big OEMs in China are coming aboard.

  5. oldman says:

    “That’s all marketing and not choice.”

    Let me get this straight,

    Choosing commercial software and running it on windows is to succumb to marketing, but choosing FOSS on a Linux desktop is to “make a choice”

    IS this what you mean, pog?

  6. That’s all marketing and not choice. As usual it is a minority of geeks that actually install an OS so the illegal copying is done by small entrepreneurs. China may be the only country on Earth where that other OS sells so cheaply and it still has negative value. People are buying machines with GNU/Linux installed in China in all styles of PC.

  7. oldman says:

    “Further, China has cheap labour and can produce its own software. It does not need to pay huge amounts to M$ and other software companies.”

    Then why is there a Web site for Microsoft China (http://www.microsoft.com/zh/cn/default.aspx) is just a front.

    To be fair, it actually seems that while windows software is all over chine, its not really paid for. The article

    http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/infotech/software/china-piracy-makes-india-a-better-bet-microsoft-ceo-ballmer/articleshow/5973350.cms

    is pretty representative of the state of windows software in china. Interesting how the chinese would seem to be more willing to pirate commercial software than legally use FOSS. And I suspect consume the software created locally.

    You seem to forget Pog, that in the USA Linux is used extensively as a server platform. It is only as a desktop OS that it has done far less well.

  8. oldman wrote:”I do believe that these countries are just as likely to make use of commercial software as FOSS.

    Look at the numbers. Many countries are populous but have very low GDP per capita. They will only buy small cheap computers for the near future. China, which is a huge and rapidly growing market has only $7400 GDP per capita compared to USA with $47400. To the USA, M$’s licensing fee is a few hours of labour. For China, it is a few weeks. China’s GDP is growing several times as fast as the USA’s.

    Further, China has cheap labour and can produce its own software. It does not need to pay huge amounts to M$ and other software companies. China has 30% per annum growth in software sales and would rather hire its own people just as the USA prefers to pay M$ rather than accept GNU/Linux from foreigners.

  9. oldman says:

    “I guess being in a 1st world country has dimmed your ability to see the big picture, huh oldman.”

    If by the big picture you mean the growth of computing in third world countries, I have no problem seeing this. I do believe that these countries are just as likely to make use of commercial software as FOSS. Assuming that the governments in question allow the progress of commerce to take its normal course I would not be at all surprised if the proportions of commercial software usage to FOSS will remain about the same as they are in the west.

    Of course this will result in a FOSS community that is quite large, but given the biases of this community they will effectively write themselves out of the picture by virtue of their rejection of commercial software development.

  10. Dann says:

    “The cost for the OS is folded in to the cost of the hardware setup.”

    AKA make hardware more expensive because someone feels the need to have their OS included.

    “Besides the purchase cost of the OS is when compared to the the cost in time and money that people have invested in the Applications that they run.”

    But what if they suck? (And most M$ apps do)
    Also, what if we don’t want those apps? Why should we pay for something we don’t like, won’t use, and would cost us time to remove?

    Why do you feel like you can belittle people for wanting something more than tinny, manufactured software SPAM?

    “Im sure that there are those who would be interested in a $250 computer, but I will bet good money that they once the get it home and discover the dubious joys of FOSS on Linux, they will either bruing it back, or if they are tech savvy, attempt to take that system and pave over the Linux install with XP Pro or windows 7 just like they did on the netbooks.”

    Turning a $250 netbook into a $400 monstrosity. Great idea. At least the people in China are sane. $100 android devices that do most of what a netbook can do.
    I guess being in a 1st world country has dimmed your ability to see the big picture, huh oldman.

  11. oldman says:

    “I teach maths and don’t understand yours, oldman. M$ gets a lot of its money from the buyers of retail PCs. They pay for the licenses.”

    Pog, its really irrelevant to me what microsoft earns. The cost for the OS is folded in to the cost of the hardware setup. Besides the purchase cost of the OS is when compared to the the cost in time and money that people have invested in the Applications that they run.

  12. twitter says:

    Windows desktops suck, new or old. The addage is, “GNU/Linux turns trash into a new computer and Windows turns a new computer into trash.” This was never more evident than with the ongoing Vista/Windows 7 failure []. Sadly, most gnu/linux advocates are familiar with these problems because their friends and neighbors still use Windows and many are forced to do so at work. People who talk about “missing features” or performance on GNU/Linux desktops are complete idiots. Free software applications like KDE’s PIM blow non free implementations out of the water and Microsoft’s GUI is still a primitive and confining mess.

    The only way that I ever use Windows is via tsclient or emulation within a reasonable gnu/linux desktop. Legacy software sucks but I don’t have to do without any of it as a gnu/linux user. I think of it like a toilet, something necessary but unpleasant that should be minimized, sanitized and kept out of sight. It will be nice when device makers finally move away from Windows dependencies. The majority of my work goes on in gnu/linux which is better organized and far more reliable.

  13. oe says:

    Mr. Pogson:

    I have had to move on (its due a good thing) and now am back into a (officially) 100% M$ shop, my gosh it’s like going back to selectrics and tin cans and string…It’s interesting I note a lot of groups around are running air-gapped, internally-funded “research” LANs ,that, just, oh-by-the-way have all LINUX, Mac’s, and other *NIX’s on them. And furthermore, it’s seems a good plenty of the work occurs there too besides the obstinate research work. I’ll bet many an unofficial IT guy is waiting for something like WIMAX, or a tethered Android phone that is “just hooked up to charge” but happens to be there 24-7. If people are going to these gyrations to get work done it cannot be so merely because FOSS is cheap or free…..and it’s not just the techies who are crawling around with battered old LAN cable to get in on the action.

  14. oe says:

    “technological refreshes” = “planned obsolescence”‘
    “planned obsolescence” = “fleecing the customer”

  15. Netbooks are doing well, still growing but not as fast, and GNU/Linux is on some of them. Here’s one.

    I teach maths and don’t understand yours, oldman. M$ gets a lot of its money from the buyers of retail PCs. They pay for the licences.

  16. oldman says:

    “There’s the rub. With GNU/Linux package management it’s easy. Instead of spending hours installing software you spend minutes.”

    Software installation doesn’t happen every day. Once installation is over, I’m working with the software I want. Your way, I’m stuck in the Linux/FOSS ghetto, cut off from the options that I have now.

    “The “essentially $0″ thing does not fly. If it were $0, M$ would not have $4billion per quarter net profit for licenses. Do the maths. Divide that number by 90 million PCs and get the price per PC.”

    My cost is folded in, ergo the cost is zero. Besides, most peoples major investment in time effort and money is in the software that they use.

    “OEMs can make more money selling FLOSS if the retailers would sell it. ”

    the retailers don’t sell if because people buy computers to do things, not because of the OS it runs.

    Im sure that there are those who would be interested in a $250 computer, but I will bet good money that they once the get it home and discover the dubious joys of FOSS on Linux, they will either bruing it back, or if they are tech savvy, attempt to take that system and pave over the Linux install with XP Pro or windows 7 just like they did on the netbooks.

  17. My numbers were from 2006…

    Install software. There’s the rub. With GNU/Linux package management it’s easy. Instead of spending hours installing software you spend minutes.

    The licence for that other OS costs the consumer about $100. $50 for the OEM/retailer and $50 for M$. That’s real hard-earned money, not $0. That one can find really low-priced systems running that other OS is testament to how low the margins are on hardware. M$’s partners get squeezed. If you shop around one can find equivalent hardware at much lower prices than stuff running M$’s stuff. e.g. $100 smartphone or $40 thin client. OEMs can make more money selling FLOSS if the retailers would sell it. They could charge $50 for the OS and give M$ $0 making the same money and selling product $50 less. The world is doing that even though you don’t see it on retail shelves in USA.

    Here’s an example:
    barebones system without hard drive or RAM $120 (Atom 1.6 gHz Iwill 902B).

    You can put GNU/Linux on that for less than $200 total for RAM, hard drive, OS and the box.

    Here’s another: http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/345527769/MINI_PC_for_high_quality_digital.html
    That includes 1gB RAM and Hard Drive for $200

    Here’s another for $260 with FreeDOS.

    The “essentially $0″ thing does not fly. If it were $0, M$ would not have $4billion per quarter net profit for licences. Do the maths. Divide that number by 90 million PCs and get the price per PC.

  18. BrianPage says:

    you guys aren’t even talking about how long it takes to log a windows PC into a domain…

    at work, I have (to use) a core2duo 2.8ghz with 4gb ram, 7200rpm drive running 7 64bit.
    takes 6 minutes to boot to logon screen
    takes another 4 minutes to get a working desktop after logging in.
    and i don’t even have a roaming profile – it’s ALL local.

    god almighty, is it ever refreshing to go home to a computer that goes faster than stink on half the resources.

  19. oldman says:

    “This was last year. We were running XP on 256 and 512 MB systems with 40gB hard drives. ”

    I believe that I have conceded the corner case that you have established of the Linux desktop being a useful solution for those who cant afford better. However those who have the budgets to do periodic technological refreshes and anyone who has a newer(i.e. under 5 year old) system don’t run into this. The Memory starvation of XP that you encountered is non existent on systems of the same generation (P4 class)systems that have the ability to support 2-4Gb RAM.

    “All price points? Nope.”

    Actually, Yup Pog

    The windows license on a new system is folded into the system and is effectively zero. As far as software is concerned, You can simply fill those windows systems with FOSS (firefox, thunderbird, Openoffice) e voila – zero cost systems that not remove the choice of implementing useful commercial packages. It is relatively easy to get 100 good systems at $500 each – this brings the budget down to $50K and the resulting environment is not limited to Linux only FOSS.

    “Imagine how much time it would have taken him to go from XP to “7″.”

    Open the box – put the new system on the desk. Install software (FOSS or commercial) All done.

    Of course, for your former place of employment with its non-existent budget and its compliment of ancient hardware an upgrade off windows XP to 7 would have indeed been impossible. Adt this point it is duobtful that they will ever upgrade, after all, they have a working environment that allows them to do what is needed. What I think is a true shame, however, is that thanks to you they are now stuck with this pile of junk and there is now probably zero chance for hardware upgrades any time soon.

  20. oldman wrote:”The only time I have seen response times like this is when systems that have limited resources (especially RAM) and/or which are very old. For systems under 5 years old that have the capability adding memory usually clears up most if not all response time issues.

    This was last year. We were running XP on 256 and 512 MB systems with 40gB hard drives. The machine in question was spinning its wheels on malware instead of the task at hand. The long logins are due to the swappiness of that other OS and its penchant to load a bunch of applications that may or may not be needed by the user. This makes XP run out of RAM during the login. This can be configured out but my predecessor had installed the software and the user did not want me to touch the system until the session ended. She got to enjoy speed for a week before summer break and then she left for good. The other situation that gives long logins are roaming profiles that blow up. My old clunkers give users 5s logins on the same hardware with GNU/Linux.

    oldman wrote:“As I see it, the real problem for the linux desktop is that it is a solution to a a solved problem. One does not need Linux to get work done. There is wide choice of pre built commercial software software available on two different software platforms (OS X and Windows) at all price points. ”

    All price points? Nope. M$ does donate some licences but the cost of maintenance dwarfs the licences anyway. I haven’t heard of Apple donating anything. Both of these have a business model partly based on selling licences. GNU/Linux is often licensed for $0. That is an unmatched price-point. I see all costs of GNU/Linux as less than M$’s stuff: licence, maintenance, fixing, downtime, slowing down, malware, … You have to really count costs in a strange way to argue that non-free software is competitive on price. In a real-world situation where one of my employers was willing to spend $100K to get 153 XP PCs and nothing else I got them to buy 153 GNU/Linux thin clients, a mess of servers, printers, scanners, projectors and cameras. They also got years of trouble-free service with very few problems, certainly nothing requiring full-time IT staff. The actual costs of the PCs+servers ended up being only $50K. They bought a lot of toys with the money they saved on licences. Those numbers and a hands-on trial was all the persuasion required. They got better performance and more software, too. It was no contest.

    oldman wrote:”There is simply no non ideological reason to deal with the very real headaches of trying to get along with FOSS on a Linux desktop.

    What headaches? The school where I installed GNU/Linux has almost no headaches for years. They had one hard drive die and two memory modules, which likely would have died with that other OS. The guy who took over the system was self-supporting within a year and he only had to work a few minutes a day to reset passwords and the like. He did not have any real headache until he decided to upgrade to a newer release. He took one terminal server off-line and installed a new version and was in business. He then backed up the file/auth server and did the same there. It took a day or two to upgrade the whole thing after three years of trouble-free use thanks to APT package management. Imagine how much time it would have taken him to go from XP to “7”.

  21. oldman says:

    “I have also seen horrors like 5 minute click-response times or 2 minute logins”

    The only time I have seen response times like this is when systems that have limited resources (especially RAM) and/or which are very old. For systems under 5 years old that have the capability adding memory usually clears up most if not all response time issues. I have a 6 year old P4 class system with 4Gb of RAM that runs 32 bit windows 7 with far better response time that you have indicated.

    “I can build/set up systems for half the price using GNU/Linux and get better performance to boot”

    The problem Pog is that people do not build their own systems any more. It has been impossible to do so more cost effectively with quality parts (not the white box crap that you like) than a computer retailer like Dell for well over a decade now.

    And even if I were to use white box components to build a windows based system, it would still be superior to anything you build because I would not be limited to only one flavor os software (FOSS on Linux). Remember People run applications not operating systems.

    “People born in a prison may not feel deprived until the prison is shut down.”

    Suggesting that I and others like me who have tried FOSS and found it wanting are in prison is a very short sighted view of the world Pog. That attitude will get your perfectly reasonable arguments for Linux as a stretcher of older hardware for those who cant afford better dismissed out of hand by all but your fellow true believers. This would be a shame, but that is your problem not mine.

    As I see it, the real problem for the linux desktop is that it is a solution to a a solved problem. One does not need Linux to get work done. There is wide choice of pre built commercial software software available on two different software platforms (OS X and Windows) at all price points. One can get all of the major FOSS packages running on these OS’s as well. And finally there is a whole ecosystem of low cost shareware and freeware available.

    There is simply no non ideological reason to deal with the very real headaches of trying to get along with FOSS on a Linux desktop.

    End of Story.

  22. Standards for functionality are subjective. If I am running an informational kiosk with static data (a sign) all I care about is the thing continuing to run. If I am playing a game, I want good fast graphics. Both standards for functionality are non-overlapping. One is not higher or lower than the other.

    For a desktop OS, folks usually want a few simple things:

    quick access to stuff
    manageable number of choices for any choice they have to make
    stuff happens quickly when you click/submit
    no other hassles, that is the user wants the system to work for the user and keep on working

    I have seen systems running that other OS that do some of these things but I have never seen a system that just keeps running. That issue was why I got involved with GNU/Linux in the first place. I have also seen horrors like 5 minute click-response times or 2 minute logins. With GNU/Linux I expect and usually get all of these characteristics satisfied and on the same hardware the service is better than that other OS. I have worked with random hardware from several different OEMs and even local small shops and stuff I have built from COTS parts. It’s always the same, once it’s working with GNU/Linux it just keeps working and fast, the way the user wants it.

    The ordinary user does not see the price of the OS. That is by design by M$. I do see the price and add that to my personal list of wants. I can build/set up systems for half the price using GNU/Linux and get better performance to boot. The ordinary user does not see lock-in because most of the people he knows are similarly locked-in. I see lock-in and that is another item on my list of wants. GNU/Linux and now Android/Linux will free lots of people and they will wonder why they ever were involved with M$ previously. People born in a prison may not feel deprived until the prison is shut down.

  23. oldman says:

    “You have a high tolerance for unacceptable performance from a vendor “oldman”.”

    And you have exceedingly low standards for functionality Mr. Chapman.

  24. Richard Chapman says:

    You have a high tolerance for unacceptable performance from a vendor “oldman”.

  25. Ray says:

    Or that time when Linux Mint 9’s Software Manager failed to work :'(

  26. oldman says:

    As usual you make a big deal out of nothing. A patch from microsoft broke someones software, it will be fixed and all will go on from there.

    Patches break applications in Linux too Pog. Remember the Ubuntu upgrade that broke its users desktops? remember the OpenSSH debacle under Debian?

    As far as enslavement is concerned, I once again point out that people run applications not operating systems, and in most cases the minute you start looking at a migration to FOSS on a linux desktop, the negatives rapidly outweigh all of the so called positives.

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