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Maddog talks Linux devices

Oct 26, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Jon “maddog” Hall has made a featured guest appearance on a podcast series devoted to embedded Linux development. The veteran Linux promoter discusses binary kernel drivers, mixing proprietary and GPL software, and his “secret” retirement plan in the latest episode of TimeSys's Linux Radio podcast.

(Click for larger view of Maddog)

The interview took place at the Ontario Linux Fest, where a brazen BSD girl reportedly pelted maddog and podcast co-host Maciej Halasz with stuffed Tux dolls. Largely unfazed, the pair persisted in making scintillating conversation amidst the flying penguins, on topics such as:

  • Embedding Linux together with layered applications amounts to a “loose consolidation” that does not obligate vendors to share proprietary applications. Maddog recalls, “When the Cobalt Cube first came out a few years ago, it had Linux and an Oracle database engine, and people asked, 'Is Oracle going to have to distribute the source code?' That'd be over Larry Ellison's cold, dead body.”
  • Kernel developers have traditionally discouraged binary drivers, because there's no way to update the driver as the kernel interfaces change. On the other hand, maddog points out that “on an embedded system, there's less need for that, because typically the person building the system is also controlling the device drivers and kernel.”
  • GPL obligations come down to a “modicum of common sense,” maddog says. “The person who writes the code has a right to say what happens to it,” he says simply. As for embedded systems with closed drivers, “The person who buys a device has the right to decide whether to buy a device with closed drivers,” he says.
  • Lawyers can only advise business decision makers. “People in business cannot give up their responsibility to make decisions, just because of a lawyer's advice,” maddog says.
  • More applications will be ported to Linux once the business case is clearer. “It's all about volume — and sustainable volume. Companies are willing to lose five percent of sales [by not releasing a port]. They are not willing to lose 15 to 20 percent,” maddog said.
  • GPL requires you to make source code available, but “you don't have to make your entire build environment available. They may be able to duplicate some of it,” but build environments can be a competitive advantage for some companies, maddog says.
  • The window of opportunity for a given product type is very brief in the consumer electronics market. Linux helps companies meet short production deadlines. Another advantage is that companies can deal with defects in the software easier than with licensed third-party software, since they have access to the source code and can freely change it. “It's all about control,” maddog says

And maddog's secret retirement plan? Hey, we said it's secret, right? You'll have to listen to the full podcast to learn about that. Download it here.

Also, be sure to read about maddog's new Koolu venture, which recently won a potentially significant distribution deal with Everex, the world's eighth-largest PC vendor.

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