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Living in Interesting Times

The July 8, 2000 edition of the New York Times contained a very interesting cover story. The headline read "Fearing Control by Microsoft, China Backs the Linux System."








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Fighting For Freedom: (L-R) LM Editor Robert McMillan, Mike Boich, Andy Hertzfeld, and Bud Tribble from Eazel, and LM Publisher Adam Goodman.

The July 8, 2000 edition of the New York Times contained a very interesting cover story. The headline read “Fearing Control by Microsoft, China Backs the Linux System.”

It seems even the Chinese have a number of concerns about Microsoft’s dominance, and the bulk of these concerns revolve around national security issues. They fear “leaving the keys to the country’s increasingly computerized economy in the hands of a potential enemy.”

Sounds reasonable so far. Here’s the interesting part — the Chinese go on to say that with Linux, “We can control the security [so that] we can control our own destiny.”

What’s the big deal? Well, here’s my reasoning. For years now, lots of people have been talking about how there’s never been a real test of the GPL in a court of law. In other words, no one has yet taken a piece of GPLed software and attempted to make it closed source, or proprietary.

The twist on this is that we were assuming that it would be a company that might try to violate the GPL. Well, what if the Chinese government decides that it needs to augment Linux by creating closed security extensions, or any other modification that they feel will make Linux more useable for China? What if they felt it was a security risk to share those extensions? Would the Chinese Government be an upstanding member of the Linux community and abide by the terms of the GPL? What could anyone do if it chose not to?

This month we had the pleasure of dining with the founders of Eazel. In case you haven’t heard, Eazel is the company that was founded by the same people who built the GUI for the original Apple Macintosh, and they intend to make Linux as easy-to-use as the Mac. One of the founders, Andy Hertzfeld, told us that he decided to start Eazel to help put more freedom back into the hands of individual users.

Andy’s comment got me thinking — with Linux, the Chinese government is really playing with fire. If China allows Linux to become the foundation of its technical infrastructure, the entire country could move towards a freedom of communication never before enjoyed. On the other hand, if the Chinese decide to create their own proprietary version of Linux, the rest of the world/Linux community could well reject it, and they would remain as isolated technically as they have been.

There’s an ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” Well, this sure looks like it’s about to get interesting for both China and those of us who are concerned about the integrity of the GPL and Linux itself.

See you next month,

Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

Editor & Publisher

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