When commercial interests seep into OpenSource: Good things can happen, but usually don’t.

The other day, Julia and I decided to install SimCity 4 Deluxe for Windows on one of our Linux boxes. Using Wine, the install went fine, but the program would not run. It would kind of start up but then die with no obvious explanation. With a bit of work I can probably find the reason and fix it, but first I went to the Wine site to see what it said there, and I found, do my disappointment, mostly Geeksnarkese blithering among the amateur IT experts who had been playing around getting the once-popular city-simulation game running with the Linux program that stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator (wine).

What I men by Geeksnarkese is a linguistic and cultural phenomenon that at one time prevailed in Linux circles on the Internet (and elsewhere, in Windows fora and in Meatland as well) but is now, thankfully, less common. I’ll write about that some other time but there is a good chance you know what I mean. Anyway, it was impossible to figure out from them what was needed to get SimCity4 Deluxe to install, run, or run properly (though they claimed it could be done) because in Geeksnarkese one ends potentially helpful paragraphs with things like “… and I’ll let you figure that part out on your own” and substitutes key instructions with phrases like “… just set up your media drive to emulate a file in the correct path and adjust the permissions accordingly…” In other words, an amateur IT person who speaks mainly Geeksnarkese is merely an amateur for a reason!

Anyway, frustrated with the inability of snot nosed kids working out of basements to communicate effectively, I downloaded Crossover Games. Crossover is the commercial implementation of Wine. The money they make selling Crossover is supposedly used to make Wine better. I am pretty sure that Crossover (the not-for-games version) is pretty good. At any given moment it lets you install and run a recent (but not necessarily the most recent) version of Microsoft Office on your computer with no problems. I got it a long time ago because I simply needed to run Endnote for a short while, and it worked flawlessly. It’s a nice product, and for a mere 30 bucks or so a year, it is an excellent option for transitions from Windows to Linux.

But the free version you download to try it out is, as one might expect, stupid and annoying, as least for the games version. It had a strange menu and interactive system that was not easily understood but obviously designed to be clear and useful (they would do better if they didn’t just imagine that it was a good design, but actually tried it out with people other than those who know the system inside out). Then, at critical moments in the install process, an obnoxious dialog box would pop up asking one of those questions that didn’t really have an appropriate answer (it turns out that when you want to click something like “I don’t want to pay now for the free trial version I downloaded nine seconds ago, but I do want to continue the current operation” you hit “Cancel.” Dummies.

Anyway, after all that mucking around, it turns out that Crossover for Games produced the same exact result wine produced: Nothing. However, I think that other than their dumbass dialog boxes it might be the case that installation with Crossover for Games was easier. The problem with installing Windows games on Linux is that Windows games are inherently unsafe little security monsters, and it is hard to run unsafe things off of a CD. There are ways around that and Crossover for Games might implement one of those ways (not sure).

In any event, this particular foray into commercial software land produced the following results:

  • 1) I was annoyed; and
  • 2) It didn’t work.

Now, turn to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat Linux (and/or Fedora, depending) is an excellent form of Linux which seriously competes with Debian and other distributions, and is often used in commercial operations. It has been adapted to specialized uses. It is the basis for Scientific Linux, and I’m pretty sure there are real-time versions for real-time tasks, etc.

The big deal with RHEL (the “E” being the key letter here) is that you buy it. Well, you don’t really buy it. It is released under the same OpenSource licenses as other OS software. But normally, when you deploy RHEL on your computer(s), you also purchase support contracts. this way, instead of having to wade through snot stained going-nowhere Geeksnarkese on the Intertubes, you call or otherwise contact a highly trained professional who simply solves your problem. Or, your company arranges for training of personnel by RHEL. Or whatever.

But sine the L in RHEL is OpenSoruce, you or I or anyone else can provide that Operating System and then, because it’s a free country, provide the service. Not allowing that would be like Ford selling cars and not allowing anyone else to fix them but Ford. Or Apple selling iPods“>iPods and not letting anyone else … (…. wait, never mind that one …).

So, Oracle and Novell, which used to be one large evile company and one smaller not so evile company, now combined to produce the latest High Tech Monster trying to TOTW, is trying to sell RHEL support, competing directly with Red Hat. Is that good? Bad? Ethical? Evile? I dunno.

But RHEL‘s reaction is an example of how commercial interests can muck up the FOSS model. RHEL is now implementing “hidden patches” to its operating system which make anyone who does not know about the patches at risk of mucking up if they supply support. This would be like Ford adding design elements to their cars that break the car if you try to fix it without knowing about them, and not telling anyone about them.

This also means, and I think this is key, that there will be (or already are) patches that are implemented primarily or only to break the software and that otherwise have no purposed.

And thus, Linux creeps towards the Windows design philosophy: Break the software, blame the victim, charge more.

I would love to know what my friends who are professional trained RHEL engineers think about this.

Both cases are similar: The commercial model requires adding something that does not serve a purpose other than supporting the commercial model itself and that is annoying or destructive, and the final outcome is not improved software. Crossover for Games does not work any better than not using crossover for games (for SimCity4 … it probably works great for other games, so do try it) and RHEL, while probably still a top notch OS, now has code that is subject to all the negatives code is subject to (takes space, takes RAM, can have a bug, can be vulnerable, etc) that is not only unnecessary but also, because of the secret nature of it, not under the scrutiny of the FOSS community, and thus, more vulnerable to both bugs and security flaws.

Hat tip Virgal Samms for the RHEL story, which is here.

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27 thoughts on “When commercial interests seep into OpenSource: Good things can happen, but usually don’t.

  1. I don’t think generalizing this catfight among corporate giants to Linux in general makes much sense. I do cringe at the immature and self-absorbed attitude you mention on the WINE forum; I’ve been on forums in the past where that sort of thing was specifically discouraged on the “help” channel, at least, but it’s the downside to not moderating comments.

  2. This question, and it really IS a question, is… WHY?

    I generally use a Linux machine (which naturally came with Windows) and it doesn’t have DVD support. Oh, I can BUY support, but I choose not to.

    My other computers are a Mac… I have no problems with that. None. Full stop.

    And then there’s this PC (a Dell running XP.) I use this one to get mildly annoyed, then I go back to the Linux machine. Or the Macintosh.

    This is annoying on several levels, and the fact that I need DVD support for a Linux machine is almost, but not quite, a showstopper.

  3. Rick, I’m having a hard time getting my head around buying DVD support. What are you talking about? First, as far as I know, I have that and I never paid for it. Second, if there is something you need to buy now and then, who cares? I would prefer a pure FOSS world but I don’t need to jab myself in the eye to get one.

    Glad to hear you’ve never, ever had a problem with your Macs. That, I’m also having …. well, a hard time believing. But maybe you just don’t use them much!

    Anyway, please explain what you mean by DVD support, because I’m just not getting that. What would you buy to have what you feel you don’t have now?

  4. Naked Bunny: I’m not sure what is being generalized or by whom. My point is simply that code added to interfere with another company giving support AND done secretly can’t possibly be as good as code to make the darn thing function properly and work better and be more secure. Simply not possible. T

    Yes, you’re right that this sort of Geeksnarkese is, in one form, banned from man fora, but it doesn’t go away, unfortunately. What I don’t understand is how can someone who does that not realize that they look like a total dick to EVERYONE?

  5. In order to watch DVD movies, one usually needs libdvdcss, a version of which is included in most commercial operating systems, but since libdvdcss is not open source nor free, is often not included in FOSS systems. Much as mpeg layer 3 (MP3) is not included by default in Ubuntu, among others.

    Unlike the mp3 libraries, it is technically illegal in the United States to install it without paying a license fee to whoever owns it. Most people install it anyway, I think.

    Rick, if libdvdcss is your problem, a quick Google search will turn up instructions for installing it. Or you could ask here, I suppose, and one of us might walk you through it without resorting to Geeksnarkese.

  6. My current install of Ubuntu (10.04) happens to be mediabuntu. I put in a DVD, open it with VLC and it plays. I am watching a movie right now A horrific movie about Belgian missionaries mutilating Congolese children.

    I’m not sure why the rough equivalent of an OEM pre-installed differences is a valid statement aboutan OS.

  7. â??but since libdvdcss is not open source nor freeâ?

    libdvdvcss certainly is FOSS: it’s GPL-2. There are no direct copyright or patent issues hampering the distribution of the library itself. The reason it’s still not distributed is because under moronic laws such as the DMCA and EUCD, it’s illegal to thwart ‘technical measures’ used to ‘protect’ copyright material – like the CSS used on DVD movies – without permission.

  8. I walked a complete newbie (to Linux, not to computers in general) through installing a patched version of WINE (pre 1.0), so that they could play World of Warcraft. It can be done, by people with the knowledge. But there’s a sense of faux elitism amongst the younger kids that tend to want to tinker with video games under Linux, not only to prove they know what they’re doing, but to code the explanation in such a way that they are only passing on this knowledge to other people in the know.

    And then when you try to dive into support for other (non-gaming) applications in the open-source world, you will often get detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to do exactly what you want to do, by helpful people willing to volunteer their time to troubleshoot with you and generally go above and beyond. All you have to do is treat them civilly and you’ll get it back.

    So yes, there’s a subculture within the subculture of open source software. The truly elite sneer as much at the “l33t” kids as they sneer at the non-technical.

    And for what it’s worth, I think I have a copy of SC4 kicking around somewhere. I could dig it up and try it, though it’s been forever. Generally getting software to work under WINE involves finding the right combination of DLLs to pull from a real Windows source, as WINE isn’t an emulator (TM), it’s a compatibility layer that provides the APIs and not much else. Well, the “not much else” is the non-Windows reverse-engineered DLLs that form the core of its install, but still.

  9. Greg:

    My Macintosh use may be longer than your own, and I was (I was, not am) a Mac Genius. I used them on a daily basis, and worked to keep other ones running, for five years. It was at a store in the Milwaukee area, and I was taught at Apple’s campus.

    I don’t have DVD access because I use a version of Ubuntu, and it isn’t in there because I have a “notebook” install, perhaps.

    The support IS available under the install program, if you buy it. It may be a GSS’libdvdcss issue.

  10. Greg – do you consider yourself open-minded? And, for the record, what is your personal definition of “open-minded”?

    you farkin pissant.

  11. Additionally, my install of Ubuntu is the next install. That may also be the problem…

    Although I’m going to do BruceH’s idea.

  12. The libdvdcss thing is only an issue if you live in a country that has odious laws like the DMCA. In Canada, you’re allowed to watch your DVD on any player you want, and nobody’s going to arrest you for copyright infringement for popping your legally purchased Princess Bride DVD into your legally purchased machine that happens to have a legally free operating system installed.

    Pro tip: live somewhere less weird about copyright.

  13. Finally I can view, but not hear, a DVD (I used Barton Fink for this.) The viewing is bad, but I can see things happening.

    The Mac information was meant nicely, it sure doesn’t read that way. My apologies.

    I’ve been out of Apple for just more than 2 years. I am going to school for biology and/or astrophysics.

    If I read “odd” it is because I am coming off two strokes.

    Thanks to BruceH, Jason and (of course) Greg.

  14. I think it’s worth instaling he MediaBunutu version of Ubuntu. It is more work than a typical Linux install or Linux FOSS install, which is almost always trvially easy but it is still easier than a lot of Windows installs.. just copy and paste the command lines into your terminal from theMediabuntu web site, etc.

    That way you start out being able to run most stuff.

    To get the DVD thingie going you just do this:

    sudo apt-get install libdvdread4


    sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

    in the current version of Ubuntu.

    Pissant, yes, I’m very open minded. Notice that I didn’t delete your comment, for instance.

  15. Greg:

    I have done the:
    sudo apt-get install libdvdread4
    sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh
    stuff (as was previously suggested), and I’ve since added Medibuntu to my downloads (did that last night)…

    I’ve still got a considerable amount of stuff to do, using Barton Fink. As was the case last night, I can access the disk by Open-Disk and playing from the files listed…

    But I’ve still got to access them (in order), I’ve got to listen up and I’ve got to ignore the sound of the drive.

    That said: This is now a much nicer OS. I suspect that the 10,10 version of Netbook Ubuntu is limited in some respects, and I’ve been using Ubuntu since version 5 or 6, but never with a Netbook.

    Thanks all you guys!

  16. Greg, can I try helping you to run SC4 Deluxe using Wine?

    For first I would need a command you entererd and console output the game makes (using Wine).

  17. Try Cedega: http://www.cedega.com/

    It is also a commercial version of Wine, but is specifically geared towards games. I didn’t look in their list of supported games for SC4, but I remember quite a few SIM games being on the list last time I checked.

  18. Virtual box would require me to install Windows, which would require me owning a copy of Windows.

    So last year about this time I bought a copy of Windows. It did not come with a key. Therefore it could not be installed.

    Feeling fairly bad about shelling out dollars to Microsoft for absolutely nothing again, I decided not to do that for a while.

    The last time before that I installed Windows, soon after, I upgraded the video card and the hard drive and the license was abrogated on the assumption that I was installing it on another machine. I had to call Microsoft to get them to reinstate it.

    With that kind of track record I’m not too interested in messing around with installing Windows. I have an old out of date Windows install on an old out of date Computer, and that runs the occasional piece of software that I need to run.

    But in truth I will probably have to go the Virtual box route eventually. I do have it … I run Freedos on it.

  19. Don’t bother trying to run DRMed stuff on Linux. Or if you do, crack it for the purpose. Me, I’ll only get stuff from GoG.

    Also, there are equivalents to OEM issues on Linux. Playing DVDs is of questionable legality, depending on where you are and/or where the distributor is. Considering you’re US based, it’s pretty much in the illegal bit, except for distributions that have paid for the license.

  20. Greg:

    “Virtual box would require me to install Windows, which would require me owning a copy of Windows.”

    D’oh! I’d forgotten about that little snag. The copy I put on the Mac was actually provided by the IT folks here, so licensing wasn’t an issue.

    I can’t even remember why we put it on in the first place. That’s how often I’ve booted it. I know it had something to do with being able to run OSX simultaneously, so Boot Camp was out of the question – probably it was due to the way people keep sending me MS Publisher files and asking me to turn them into decent documents via InDesign or Illustrator. (There’s no Publisher for Mac, and there probably won’t ever be.)

    On the plus side, VB runs Linux extremely well.

    Many years ago in the first flush of system emulators, I was talking with a friend about how fun (bizarre) it would be to stack emulators, just for giggles. That is, install VB on a Mac, run Windows on it; install VB on the emulated Windows and put Lin on that, then install VB on the Lin and put OSX on there. Of course, we didn’t have VB then. Or, for that matter, OSX.

    Someday, if I have lots and lots and lots of free time on my hands, I might try it just to see if it causes a local disruption of the continuum and actually creates the Infinite Improbability Drive.

  21. Many years ago in the first flush of system emulators, I was talking with a friend about how fun (bizarre) it would be to stack emulators, just for giggles.

  22. What I men by Geeksnarkese is a linguistic and cultural phenomenon that at one time prevailed in Linux circles on the Internet (and elsewhere, in Windows fora and in Meatland as well) but is now, thankfully, less common. I’ll write about that some other time but there is a good chance you know what I mean. Anyway, it was impossible to figure out from them what was needed to get SimCity4 Deluxe to install, run, or run properly (though they claimed it could be done) because in Geeksnarkese one ends potentially helpful paragraphs with things like “… and I’ll let you figure that part out on your own” and substitutes key instructions with phrases like “… just set up your media drive to emulate a file in the correct path and adjust the permissions accordingly…”

    This is still extremely common, outside the specific context of computers. In fact, a vast majority of advice or instructions about “acceptable” social behavior or conversation consists of nothing but.

  23. The other problem you’d run into, apart from having to install a legal copy of Windows that you don’t actually presently own (despite shelling out the bucks for), is if you tried to run a game under VirtualBox, you’d have to install the experimental DirectX drivers. In this case, “experimental” is VERY generous. They are not good. They are not good at all. You’ll have much better luck getting the real DirectX to work under WINE.

    Greg, was this one of the places you said you found Geeksnarkese? It’s the official WineHQ thread for the game. That’s the first place I’d look for useable advice. (For instance: don’t try to run the game, via the command line switches available to the .EXE proper, under software rendering or OpenGL, as DirectX seems to run smoother.)


  24. Jason, yes. I’m a member of that community and contribute, and generally it is quite good, which is why I bothered to note the geeksnarkese. If one is going to “contribute” a solution to get something to work, it is up to you to NOT represent some of the details with a phrase like “I got this to work, here’s how yo udo step 1, here’s how you do step 2, and for step 3, I’ll let you figure it out.”

    Another thing you should NEVER EVER put into writing in a forum like that is “Oh, to make that happen, do X, Y and Z.” followed by “I’ve not tried that but it should work.”

    Try it, test it, verify it, then talk about it. Or keep mouth shut. No one benefits from that kind of advice.

    (There is a way to suggest a solution that you haven’t tried, but not by describing it in detail as though you did it then later revealing that you never did it.)

    Think of it like the little wires. Do you cut the red one, or the blue one? Don’t tell someone which to cut, then later mention that you have no clue.

  25. One major problem with telling people which wires to cut, is that you don’t have the same computer ergo different colored wires in your analogy. Therefore, they’re poorly arranging how they “might” go about fixing your particular problem, by saying “I haven’t tried this myself” at the end, rather than the front of the explanation.

    We can certainly help one another out by asking questions and answering them, but we can’t intuit exactly what the problem might be from limited information, which appears to be the second major communication failing you’re upset about here. Rightly so, because these people proffering advice (myself included) can only guess at what you’ve already done, and can only guess at what might work. They aren’t labeling it as guesses though.

    Speaking of which, from my reading of that WineHQ thread (that’s right, I skimmed it before pasting it in here, without a thorough reading), I can see the part that bothered you — the “I’ll let you find that on your own” bit. It’s in reference to a No-CD crack, which may or may not be illegal in your area (and since you’re in the States, we can safely say is in violation of the DMCA). WINE doesn’t work well with some ridiculous CD DRM (Digital Rights Restrictions Management) software (I’m looking at you SecuROM), which often does nasty tricks like writing intentionally bad sectors on CD that the DRM driver can read and retrieve a key from, but without those DRM drivers the CD hardware would merely fail hard trying to read. Since it’s a copyright protection scheme, one that WINE can’t handle well, it’s probably what’s crashing the system. The “I’ll leave that to you” is saying, “this is probably illegal, and I’m not going to put a link to where to find a No-CD crack because we’ll call down the Copyright Gods to smite WineHQ, and that’s just not cool.”

    I can understand his reasoning. I don’t get why he couldn’t just say what I said instead.

    And again, this thread comes down to “copyright laws make things ludicrously difficult for Linux users for no apparent reason”.

    If I have time tomorrow, I’m going to drag out those disks and try to get it working. Of course, I’ll probably have to get the No-CD crack, despite owning it legally, meaning I might run afoul of some stupidly designed laws. If they can reach into Canada, anyway.

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