Friday FOSS Week in Review
Here we go, Friday FOSS Week in Review, Special Tuesday Edition. I’ve got to find a way to schedule my time better so I can stay on deadline. This coming Friday’s going to be difficult, as I have a dentist appointment and FWIR can’t really be written in advance, so expect it to be published on Saturday – but I’m still hoping for Friday. In the meantime, I’m working on adjusting my schedule so this column will be published in a more timely fashion in the future. Like on Fridays, when its supposed to be.
That’s the bad news. The good news, at least for us news hounds, is that last week there were quite a few items of interest for the FOSS community. At least I found them to be items of interest. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
UEFI Secure Boot Gets Complicated
There were a ton of articles written about UEFI and Secure Boot last week, and the more I read about possible workarounds to allow the average Linux distro to boot on Windows 8 certified machines, the more confused I get. This bothers me, because if I’m confused what does that mean about the person who’s never dealt with anything other than Windows, DOS or one of the Apple OSes, who might be getting ready to make that first leap into the Linux world?
At least I know how to go to the forums to get help, but the newbie getting ready for a first install very probably doesn’t even know the forums exist. Oh, I’m sure that Canonical will spend some bucks to make sure a downloaded Ubuntu will easily install, but what about smaller distros? After all, one of the more important benefits of Linux is choice.
Let’s look at the solution being suggested by the Linux Foundation, which was spelled out last Monday by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on ZDNet:
- All platforms that enable UEFI secure boot should ship in setup mode where the owner has control over which platform key (PK) is installed. It should also be possible for the owner to return a system to setup mode in the future if needed.
- The initial bootstrap of an operating system should detect a platform in the setup mode, install its own key-exchange key (KEK), and install a platform key to enable secure boot.
- A firmware-based mechanism should be established to allow a platform owner to add new key-exchange keys to a system running in secure mode so that dual-boot systems can be set up.
- A firmware-based mechanism for easy booting of removable media.
- At some future time, an operating-system- and vendor-neutral certificate authority should be established to issue KEKs for third-party hardware and software vendors.
That doesn’t sound too bad, especially since the system can be returned to setup mode whenever a do-over becomes necessary. I do wonder how the keys will be inputted, however. If the person doing the installation has to look up the keys and input them manually, that might be a deal breaker for a person doing their first install. Also, a “vendor-neutral certificate authority” is a horrid idea. In my not-so-humble opinion, the last thing this world needs is yet another “authority” with which to contend.
Red Hat has teamed-up with Canonical to also deal with this issue, and they’ve derived a somewhat simpler scheme:
In addition to recommending hardware be shipped in setup mode, they recommend that:
- All OEMs allow secure boot to be easily disabled and enabled through a firmware configuration interface.
- All OEMs (with assistance from BIOS vendors) provide a standardized mechanism for configuring keys in system firmware.
I prefer this plan, because its simplicity pretty much guarantees a more newbie friendly installation. However, I’m not being entirely altruistic. The next time I install Linux on an old Windows box I find at a flea market, I don’t want to get started, then find I have to scramble to find a working computer so I can go online and attempt to discover how to work around some unforeseen UEFI problem.
By the way, last week Free Software Magazine posted an excellent overview on UEFI written for nontechnical FOSSers. I recommend it to anyone who’s still trying to get their head around this issue.
Skype Goes After Reverse Engineers
If you’re a developer, you might want to think twice before doing any reverse engineering work with Skype. That’s the impression I get after reading an article by Michael Larabel on Phoronix. It appears that this summer a developer reverse engineered the Skype protocol and wrote an open source demo program, the details of which he published on his blog. The folks at Skype then went after him using the DMCA as a weapon. Not only did the Skype folks have pages referring to this project removed from his web site, they claimed copyright to the code he wrote for this project as well:
“The day of publishing his initial details, Google’s Blogger (where his blog is hosted) received a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice that two of his blog entries had to be removed: the post about his success in reverse-engineering the Skype protocol and then a second post about more technical details.
“The complainant issuing the DMCA notice was in fact ‘Skype Inc’ and the basis for the complaint is “Source code. The publication of this code, in addition to infringing Skype’s intellectual property rights, may encourage improper spamming activities.” (Google publishes DMCA complaints to ChillingEffects.org.)
“Skype issued a second DMCA copyright notice after this researcher published more Skype related code. Those files have since moved to being hosted elsewhere. Skype is claiming copyright on the code even though the open-source code was written by the researcher. Another DMCA takedown attempt regarding the same work was issued again in early August when the researcher tried doing a DMCA counter-notice, and he ended up putting up links again to this ‘copyrighted’ work.”
Since Skype is now owned by Microsoft, I can’t fathom that any FOSSer would even using the product except when it can’t be helped. Anyway, these actions are what we’ve come to expect from the folks in Redmond.
Samba Receives Open-Source Code from Microsoft
Sometimes the evil empire does good. Last week we learned, again from Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, that Microsoft has contributed code, licensed under the GPLv3, to Samba, the project that enables Unix/Linux machines to work and play with Windows. This is notable not because Microsoft is making a contribution to an open-source project, they’ve done a bit of that in recent years, but because it’s Samba.
I don’t know if Microsoft ever kept an enemies list, but if they did, at one time Samba would’ve been right up there near the top. The last thing Redmond wanted was for free and open-source Linux to be able to integrate with Windows, for the two operating systems to find a common language.
Times have changed:
Since Samba began in 1992, Microsoft has been well, less than happy, with its server rival. But, every since Microsoft lost an anti-trust case in the European Union and was forced to open its network protocols to Samba in 2007, Microsoft has ever so slowly been getting along better with Samba.
But, even so it came as a surprise when on October 10th, when Stephen A. Zarko of Microsoft’s Open Source Technology Center, gave Samba some proof of concept code for extended protection (channel and service binding) for Firefox and Samba for NT LAN Manager (NTLM) authentication. That’s one small step for open source, one giant leap for Samba/Windows interoperability.
As Chris Hertel of the Samba Team wrote, “A few years back, a patch submission from coders at Microsoft would have been amazing to the point of unthinkable, but the battles are mostly over and times have changed. We still disagree on some things such as the role of software patents in preventing the creation of innovative software; but Microsoft is now at the forefront of efforts to build a stronger community and improve interoperability in the SMB world.”
Hertel continued, “Most people didn’t even notice the source of the contribution. That’s how far things have come in the past four-ish years. …but some of us saw this as a milestone, and wanted to make a point of expressing our appreciation for the patch and the changes we have seen.”
It would be too easy, at this point, to deride Microsoft for their efforts. Certainly, there will be some who will scoff and point to the fact that Redmond is only acting to serve their own interests. However, there’s nothing wrong with serving one’s own interest. The way I figure it, we can’t call Microsoft to task when they do things such as stealing copyrighted code and invoking the DMCA over reverse engineering Skype, then not give them a pat on the head and a “good boy” when they make a valuable contribution to a free software project.
Deriding Redmond here would only give them the opportunity to spew more FUD along the lines of “you can’t win with those fanatics.” It would also do nothing to encourage them to move in a direction that would be beneficial to all of us. When a dog is good, you throw him a bone, even if he’s usually a mean and vicious junkyard dog.
More Opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act
Last Monday, PCWorld reported the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computers and Communications Industry Association and NetCoalition got together to send a letter to members of Congress opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was introduced about two weeks ago in the House.
Indeed, the bill is quite draconian in its approach to stemming online sales of counterfeit goods and copyright theft:
The most controversial portion of the bill would allow copyright holders to ask ISPs and search engine companies to block U.S. access to any site officials say are participating in, enabling or contributing to copyright theft and the sale of counterfeit goods.
The law would allow copyright holders and IP owners to ask payment processing companies such as MasterCard and PayPal, as well as advertising networks, to terminate their services to any site that is they deem is in violation of SOPA.
ISPs and other service providers would be obligated to comply within five days of notification by copyright holders of violators.
Those that comply with the requests would receive full immunity under SOPA. Companies that don’t comply with such requests could face legal action from copyright and IP holders.
The proposed law would allow copyright and IP owners to issue requests for service termination if just one page on a site containing thousands of pages is deemed to violate the provisions of the law.
According to Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, an association representing major ISPs, service providers would be required to take a site offline based only on the allegations of a rights holder, without a court order. It seems that more and more, our lawmakers are willing to write due process out of the law books.
Apple Sues Luxembourg Bistro Over Name
ITworld reports on a little bistro in Luxembourg called AppleADay who’s slogan is “Balanced Fast Food.” They have twenty seats and sell drinks, sandwiches, and desserts. Guess what? They’ve received a “cease and desist” letter from Apple’s legal eagles, claiming trademark infringement. The owners answered with a letter of their own, promising to continue making sandwiches and promising not to make computers.
Apple should pick on someone closer to their own size – like Applebees.
Spanish Court Wins Android Tablet Case Against Apple
In Spain, a local company has been able to convince the courts to lift an import ban on an Android tablet, according to The Wall Street Journal:
The case, which represents a rare defeat in Apple’s globe-spanning campaign to protect its leadership in the lucrative tablet market from alleged iPad copycats, was launched a year ago when Apple obtained an injunction from a local court to ban imports of the NT-K tablet computer into Spain.
The product is mainly manufactured in China and sold in Europe by Nuevas Tecnologias y Energias Catala, based in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia.
But in a recent ruling, a Spanish court removed the injunction, arguing that there are no legal grounds to stop the sale of the NT-K, according to court documents.
Because of the ban, Nuevas Tecnologias sold fewer than 200 of the tablets this year, a far cry from the 15,000 units they’d been hoping to move. Now the company says they plan to sue Cupertino for the losses they incurred due to the injunction.
Good for them.
Well, that does it for this week…er, last week. I’ll see you Friday or Saturday, if not before. In the meantime, may the FOSS be with you…