How to annoy RedHat’s Legal Department

Interesting Trademark news today. I’ve been trying out CentOS 4.1 on one of our production servers as a possible replacement for Red Hat Linux. CentOS is a compiled from Red Hat Enterprise source RPMs, patched to remove any Red Hat logos. I ran into some problems with CentOS related to selinux and posted an email to the selinux mailing asking about it. Someone from Red Hat answered my question and helped me out. In my email I said, “I’m running a CentOS 4.1 (Red Hat EL) box with an Apache…” Today, I got this email from Red Hat regarding my post on the selinux mailing list:

From: Trademark Enforcement,

Dear Mr. Rainwater:
Red Hat appreciates your interest in supporting and providing open
source technology. We recently became aware of your email below in
which you state that CentOS 4.1=Red Hat. Of course this is not true
since CentOS does not provide the stability, security and manageability
that Red Hat provides, CentOS is not equal to Red Hat. Red Hat would
appreciate in the future that you please refrain from equating CentOS to
Red Hat.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and your support in open
source technology.

Red Hat, Inc.

It then quoted the body of my post to the selinux mailing list. Weird. I guess I need to be careful to say CentOS 4.1 is compiled from the same source as Red Hat Enterprise Linux instead of saying it’s “the same as” Red Hat Enterprise linux. I’m curious if there are any real legal implications to this? Can I get into legal trouble for saying “kleenex” instead of “facial tissue” in an email when refering to a brand that doesn’t use the Kleenex trademark? Isn’t this the same thing? I’m even more curious about the really weird sentence structure used in the third sentence of their email. Somehow I think they meant that to be two sentences.

Apparently, the CentOS folks heard from Red Hat’s legal department earlier this year.

Linux on the Dell Inspiron 8600

Since I last posted about this, I’ve received my new hard drive and now have Fedora Linux installed on the notebook. A suprising number of things actually worked right out of the box. I’ve been slowly getting the other bits and pieces of hardware working as I have time. This process has been made easier by others who have already documented the process. One of the best sources of info is the Fedora on a Dell website.

As it turned out, the driver for the NVidia GeForce is included with Fedora and the display worked at least in a low resolution mode immediately. With some minor tweaking, it is now working at the full 1920 x 1200 resolution. The missing piece of the puzzle was the lack of a monitor type for the Dell LCD 1920 x 1200 display. This looks like it would be trivial to patch but I can’t tell yet if the thing needing the patch is X or the display configuration program in Gnome. If anyone knows, please email me, I’d happily submit a patch so this worked for the next person who tries it. There is apparently also a non-free, binary-only driver for the NVidia that is a bit faster but I don’t plan on using the video for anything important enough to make it worth switching to a proprietary driver. I’m quite happy with the nv driver.

The sound hardware and ethernet hardware worked with no changes needed at all. The battery monitor and CPU speed controls also worked without needing to do anything special. The CD/DVD hardware worked as well, though I needed to download some extra packages in order to view movies on DVD. Intel offers a GPL’d 2200 BG WiFi driver (though the firmware itself is still proprietary). It seems to work fine with the exception of monitor mode which apparently isn’t quite functional yet. I also added the latest version of Network Manager so I can switch seamlessly between wired and wireless connections. It’s working very well too so far.

So what’s left to tinker with? I’d like to get gi8k set up so I can monitor fan speed and CPU temperature. Also, I haven’t had time to get the suspend to RAM or disk functions working yet, so I have to manually shut down before closing the notebook. And finally I picked up a little USB to serial adapter at Frys, the BAFO BF-810, because I frequently have to interface with microcontrollers that use a serial port (the 8600 doesn’t have any old-style serial ports). I’m hoping it will work without any special tweaking but you never know. Overall, I’m quite happy so far with how well my Dell Inspiron 8600 is working with Linux.

The demise of Red Hat Linux

We’ve run Red Hat Linux on our servers since version 5. Now we’re contemplating what distro to use in the future since Red Hat has announced the end of Red Hat Linux. They will continue to make their high-end Enterprise Linux but it’ll cost $1500 – $2500 per server per year. And they’re using security updates as a sort of legal loophole that lets them get around the GPL and prevents you from buying one copy of the software and installing it on multiple servers. Supposedly, you can still download the source but if I wanted to compile a whole GNU/Linux system from source, I wouldn’t be using a distro like Red Hat in the first place.

I installed Fedora on a test box to evaluate it but it’s clearly not intended for serious use in a production environment. It’s intended as a bleeding-edge distro for “enthusiasts and developers” only. From what I can tell, it’s just a new name for Red Hat’s beta distro, Rawhide. Even if someone wanted to use it on a server, it would be impossible – each release is only good for about three months before it’s replaced by a new one and support for the old one is dropped. We don’t even reboot our servers every three months and I sure don’t want to be reinstalling the OS every three months! And then there’s the issue of Red Hat trying to trademark the Fedora name and essentially steal it from an existing project.

The only good news on the Red hat front lately is Fedora Legacy, a project that will attempt to offer security patches and support for Red Hat Linux 9 after Red Hat abandons it in April. Looks like we’ll stick with that until we can find a new distro. And if some new distro springs up to take it’s place, I think they’re going to be a lot of takers. I know a lot of folks in the same situation we’re in who relied on Red Hat Linux. It’s really hard to believe Red Hat did something this stupid. They’ve effectively found a way to do what none of their competitors had been able to – reduce Red Hat’s market share drastically.

Stuff That Happened in April

It’s been a busy month but I can’t let the month get away without posting at least one news update! A lot of my time lately has been sucked up helping a variety of local groups with computer issues.

Susan completed an update of the website for the Frisco Association for the Arts. It looks a bit more artsy than the old, interim site. We’re just starting some work on the Arts of Collin County site but it’s got a ways to go before it’s ready for prime time.

I also helped set up my first foal cam recently. Barry Jordan has a couple of horses out at his ranch and wanted a webcam so everyone could watch the birth of a foal that was due this month. He’s limited to a dial-up link and MS Windows so it presented a number of challenges. Barry and Eric Yundt (both fellow DPRG members) had been working on it for a while and they actually did 99% of the work but I got drafted to help out and provided a windows binary of wget that solved the last remaining roadblock to getting the image from the webcam to the windows box and then up to the server. The dial-up link limits the refresh rate of the image but it’s still kinda cool.

Speaking of DPRG stuff, I’ve been spending a good bit of time helping get the new DPRG computer lab up to speed. Using a couple of Linksys routers I picked up on eBay, we’ve now got high-speed Internet access. I’ve got a Red Hat 7.3 box set up to act as the LAN server and it’s also going to host development environments for several of the microcontrollers commonly used in the group. So far, I’ve built GCC cross-compilers for the Atmel AVR and Motorola 68k chips. I’ve also installed Pete Gray’s Linux port of Small-C for New Micros’ IsoPod (these are really cool little boards). More to come as I get time.

I upgraded my workstation at the office to Red Hat 9 a couple of weeks ago and was pleased with the results. It really should have been called 8.1 as it seems very much like 8.0 but without a lot of the bugs. The GUI looks great; anti-aliased fonts, professional looking icons, I can run the occasional KDE program without it looking all goofy like it did on previous versions of Gnome. Overall it looks way better than Windows XP but not as good as OS X (yet).

After a week or so of playing with 9 on my workstation, I got brave enough to upgrade one of our servers this week. The biggest problem I ran into on the server was that wu-ftpd is gone and there was no explanation of why or what replaced it. There was just no ftp service, no wu-ftp entry in the xinetd directory, and RPM -q indicated wu-ftpd wasn’t installed. I eventually found that vsftpd replaced it but isn’t running by default. My initial impression is that vsftpd is a piece of junk. The first problem is that it has some sort of problem running under xinetd so you have to run it as daemon. Once I got it running, I started getting complaints that it was corrupting files. A little investigation revealed that vsftpd pretends to support ASCII transfer mode but really ignores ASCII mode requests and just sends everything in binary mode resulting in corrupted text files. After a bit of poking around, I found a setting in the config file that turns off this bizarre behaviour. I suppose it was the frequent security issues with wu-ftpd that prompted Red Hat to make the switch but I’d much prefer they’d picked something else to switch to (and it would have been nice if they could mention this sort of drastic change in the documentation somewhere).

The Outer Limits of Server Maintenance

Today I’m bringing down zanti, our Sun Ultra10 that runs Red Hat Linux 6.2. It’s main job is being a PostgreSQL server. Zanti has been up for 597 days but now it’s time to do some major upgrades. I’ll probably switch it back to Solaris as well since Red Hat no longer supports the Sparc distribution of Linux. All our Intel servers run Red Hat Linux and all our Sparcs (except zanti) run Solaris. The interesting part will be getting a current version of PostgreSQL runnning on it after Solaris 8 is installed. There are no PostgreSQL binaries available for Solaris, so I’ll have to build it from source which is always a pain on Solaris boxes. Overall I’d prefer to stick with Linux. It’s a sad day but, then, zanti always was a misfit.