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Rumours of Linux death greatly exaggerated

Plus Zombies, supercomputers and Belgians

Letters We had more letters about this article than any other this week. Practically (but not quite) more than all the rest combined. Boy oh boy did you get ticked off about the "Setback for Linux" story. Plenty of the letters just ranted, variously accusing the writer and us of spouting FUD, and so on.

However, some correspondents had more to add to the debate, so here are the most interesting specimens in a very large haul:

I'm not sure that losing bitkeeper is a setback for Linux in the long term.

In the short term, of course, time that Linus spends working on git is time not spent getting new kernel releases out the door (though development may not be hindered much, since Linus doesn't do much of that, anymore).

In the long term, though, having a version control system which fits the way the kernel developers work, and has the features they need, done their way, may speed up new releases _and_ development. Git isn't a source control system, but it's (Linus has said) a framework on which one could be built. In the next few years, I think we'll see not one but several version control systems which are tailor-made for kernel development. They'll all use the same system and architecture (based on Linus's git), and kernel developers will be able to use any or all of them.

Losing bitkeeper may look like a setback right now, but in five years, we'll probably be thanking McVoy for making it happen. Or cursing him for keeping it from happening during those years when Linus was using bitkeeper. Or laughing at him, for childishly spurring the development of innovative, libre version control systems which make his proprietary bitkeeper look like overpriced crud.


I have two key issues with your article, "A setback for Linux".

The software that Tridgell created is not a BitKeeper "knockoff", but rather simply a tool that is capable of retrieving code that was put into a BitKeeper database. Such a tool is akin to a program that is capable of translating documents from one format to another, like you would need to do if you had documents in Microsoft Word format but could not use Microsoft Word to read them. Many Linux developers have made the decision that they cannot be bound by BitKeeper's licensing terms, even if free of charge; this tool simply existed to assist them in being able to still work with Linux code.

Also, the detection of the Linux backdoor was not something that BitKeeper software did explicitly; rather, it was a result of the fact that due to the earlier-mentioned objections that Linux developers had, there was a sort of dual system in place. The hackers had inserted the backdoor into the other system's copy of the Linux code, and it was simply noticed that the BitKeeper system did not have the change while the other system did.


A couple of points for your article, Dan.

1) The $500,000 figure is from McVoy himself. How is that figure calculated? 2) What is the value of the work in kind that was done by the OSS developers? 3) What is the value of the advertising received by the use of BK on the Linux Kernel?


Half-a-million anything is a lot. Greedy B.'s always end up shooting themselves in the foot - eventually. Soon, (the world lives in hope), even the Gatesian Empire will collapse under the weight of its own greed. When folk ask for a reasonable level of remuneration for work well done, they stand a better chance of receiving same. Perhaps the problem lies in the present American ethos that is used to brainwash their youth? This will change. HBS and its thoroughly nasty philosophies will also die in the fullness of time. Ultimately, capitalism, itself, becomes unsustainable; that's not philosophy, it's fact.

Experience suggests that there's always hungry, younger and smarter guys waiting in the wings to accede to the crown. Genius has a unpredictable habit of popping up amongst the least expected groups of humanity - even in Austrian Patent Offices! Then, again, Europeans tend to have a predisposition to DIY! Although, we may be better adjusted to trying hard and coming in second, too! Notwithstanding, Torvalds is European.

Communication is the great liberator, the key for success, the best hope for mankind and the end to conflict. Open Source and all its tools MUST prevail. It's that simple.


Next, a Minnesota judge has ruled that using encryption software can be interpreted as criminal intent. A few of you spotted some problems with this:

Every computer has cryptography software on it (or how will you watch https-sites without it?). So owning a computer is proof you have criminal intent?


Are they mad? Don't they know that file encryption is the last defence against hackers who have gained access to your machine via trojans, etc? Admittedly if one were going to those lengths then perhaps one would also have been diligent in keeping patches & AV software up to date. Even XP has a file/directory encryption thing in it, doesn't it? I await the arrest of Bill Gates with interest, obviously a man with criminal intent....

Surely there's an argument for an independent Court Technical Adviser to who would be able to dispense sage and rational advise to a judge in such matters, or else judges are going to have to get clued up. It's bad enough not having technically expert jurors, but judges too? Eeeek.



Ironic that attempting to make yourself more secure, looks like a intent to commit a crime. luckily this logic isn't applied to front doors yet. "You lock your front door at night, so what have you got to hide?"


"the use of an encryption programme might be admitted as evidence of criminal intent"

Banks, Corporations, movie and record companies all use encryption programs. I can see where the Judge might get the idea that it implies criminal intent.

That would be nice now, wouldn't it!


OK, I'm glad they caught the SOB, but in today's Bushian draconian societal, kill them all, the bastards chant, I am somehow not surprised. When do we get our mind-reading implants, quick call Warwick!!!


A man vs. machine chess tournament is coming to London late next month. Is this entertainment, the rise of the machines or just a cynical ploy to get us all on an ID card database?

"one second to match a finger print in a database of 60 million"

I see what's happening here: the government is going to fork out for Hydra in the ID card scheme. Then Charles "surely those ears are from a joke shop" Clarke will add a bit into the bill that you only get benefits if you can beat it at chess.

RoTM indeed.


While chess has been understood by computers to such an extent that programs that can beat the world's strongest are possible, the far eastern game of Go still withstands this - to the extent that the strongest program around would provide me (an average amateur player) with only a mild challenge, and get wiped off the board by the world's best players.

This is despite considerable effort to provide a program capable of playing against the best, and for a while there was a large cash prize on offer for the first to do so (not to mention the massive market there would be in Japan, China, Korea, etc for a Go-playing program of a similar relative strength to today's Chess programs).

So those worried about being beaten at mental tasks by computers should take heart that there's one last game of pure skill that they still show no sign of beating human thought at.

-- Chris

You don't mention the RoTM, yet you report about a key battle in the fight against our sillycone enemies. Was this just an oversight or has ElReg finally been undermined by its newly acquired coffee maker of evil?

'Muhammad Nasir Ali, Hydra's chief technology officer, sneered: "We're confident even Mr. Adams will have trouble landing a blow against our silicon champion.'

Their human slave even admits it: The future of all humankind rests with the abilities of a 17year-old to calculate his electric opponent's possible moves. And we all know in which unexpected ways a virus-laden electronic brain can leap if it feels cornered or bored or just wants to make an example of our puny human unworthiness. Mr. Adams surname is just the icing on *THEIR* dark plan. Eve will be next. Hydra spares no one.

We are so doomed.

With human regards, Gerhard

No on is terribly impressed with plans to tackle the Zombie PC plague. We say, send more paramedics.

My email to the FTC sent in response to your article:

As a long-time computer and Internet professional, I think your "Operation Spam Zombies" is one of the dumbest things to ever come out of Washington, arguably even worse than the ill-conceived and ill-considered "Can Spam Act". Most of the steps you propose are Draconian measures that will harm legitimate users like me without having any real offsetting impact on spam. History has proven over and over that chasing spam this way doesn't work because it's a never ending game of whack-a-mole that never gets anywhere. What other legitimate Internet use will you go after next? What will be left when you're done? Will there be any escape from government and industry censorship? I've never sent (and never will send) spam, so why should my legitimate use of the Internet be curtailed?


Of course, this will discriminate against all of us who run our own mailservers, because we don't want our mail sitting on someone elses system...


Oh, and that dastardly ID card plan is back. Yuck. How did that happen, and who can we complain to? The latest wonderful news is that ministers are convinced the technology is all perfectly safe. Uhuh.

Just a quick question based on your article (and indeed all the others relating to the ID card issues).

Has it ever been questioned that our government does not have the technological leadership skills and experience necessary to implement such a scheme?

Most statements regarding the proposed use of the ID cards seem to be 'maybes'. (After all how many cards do we need in our wallet that have our name on it and are linked to a database that holds all our personal details?)

Not unlike the war in Iraq we will never be told the real reasons why they are ploughing ahead with it?


You might be a little late to the debate, John, but you seem to have put your finger on a couple of the important bits.

"Banks would pay for verification services based on ID card technology that left customers less open to fraud, he said."

Yep. Tis no surprise which types of entity make up the ONLY Advisory Committee to the ID Card Committee.

Chip & Pin my fu*king arse!

Still, C&P is a nice way to introduce most of the systems necessary for "identification checking" when using POS kit.

How long will it take (and how much will it cost) to change from "monkey key in number" to "monkey insert other card". Not long and not much, I suspect.


The US wants to make sure no one can put moon-sized adverts in orbit. Sounds like a plan to us, but naturally some of you smell a rat:

Oh, hell; and there was me thinking the reason they wanted to put weapons in space was so that they could protect their advertising against that of the Chinese. Just imagine two huge (HUGE!!!) advertising hoardings crashing into each other at around 80km/s, 120 kilometres up. Now that would be worth watching.


I do wonder sometimes how the US government gets off with the idea that it owns the space around our planet. Airspace is something each country controls, and if the Chinese want to advertise Uncle Ben's noodles to their own ilk with a big placard somewhere near Beijing, more power to them. Well, more noodles. Nobody can truly own space in the way the US thinks it does - the moment someone starts shooting down someone elses' satellites/placards/space stations/nuclear armament/etc, then it's open season on their kit. Given the high cost of putting stuff in space in the first place (compared with the relatively low cost of shooting it down), is anyone going to start throwing stones at other peoples' greenhouses?

At times, I'm glad the US is the only nation with such blinkers over its eyes. Heaven help us if every nation were like them. Why, the next thing we'd see would be a Chinese ban on communication satellites. Imagine that...


So, let's get this straight: you'd like to see the night sky filled with Pepsi ads?

I'm impressed - it seems the American government has been reading the fine novels of the TV series Red Dwarf, in which a certain extremely large drinks company sends several stars supernova simultaneously for the sole purpose of printing their logo upon the night sky. Of course, it seems the legislation may not quite go far enough to cover this eventuality, so maybe they need a law against the wilful destruction of astronomical bodies, as well?


That particular bill will be tabled later this year, we understand. Legislators are also looking to make it impossible to sue the US government for exposure to radiation, loss of life and or habitat as a result of planet Earth's proximity to any future gamma ray bursts.

The next two sets of letters reveal exactly how it is impossible to please everyone. First up, news that UK banks plan to delay money transfers so they can carry out security checks and reduces incidences of phishing:

Security reasons my arse! The only reason these banks are delaying transfers is so that they can sit on the money for an extra 24 hours to make a profit off the interest. Transfers within the same bank taking 24 hours is all I need. My partner regularly transfers money to me from an account in the same bank to pay bills, etc. These transfers usually happen the day before the bill is due to be paid, that way we can insure that the money goes towards what I've told her it is for. This will undoubtedly cause me to bounce direct debits on a regular basis. Nice of them to make sure all their customers know about it by mentioning it on an obscure Radio 4 program.

In this day and age, why do banks take so long to let me get at MY money? They should make all transfers and transactions instantaneous. It is ridiculous that PayPal can take money out of my account and pay someone in another country instantly but it will take 24 hours to transfer money from my girlfriend's account in the same bank and branch round the corner from our house.



Anyone care to do the Interest lost due to a days delay relative to the loss from phishing?

My guess...

Value of transactions between private accounts £100M per day? Interest value, say 5% = $5m p.a. So are we looking at phishing losses of >£5m

If you are looking at corporate transactions the value of transfers between accounts is £billions per day! Think pension funds etc. is this change in terms applicable to then?

Why can't they SMS or email me a daily transaction schedule which >I< authorise? MUCH easier, MORE secure and no loss of interest!!!!



...and then this little lot, taking rather the opposite view on a very similar question:

"Good news for bank customers" eh? How so? What we're saying here is that you can phish somebody's details, raid their account, transfer the cash elsewhere, have it arrive instantaneously and make off with it, all before anybody with a legitimate right to the wonga under discussion has a chance to notice that it's going on.

It's good news for customers alright, just not the ones that I would normally expect the banking sector to be keen to offer incentives to. I do hope that I'm not the only person who's spotted this glaring pig's ear in the making.

Every silver lining has a cloud.....


This is essential to ensure phishers can get access to your money same-day. It is totally unfair to force them to wait 4 days for it.


The rich are getting richer, especially in silicon valley and a reader spots a basic unfairness in our social system, for the first time:

So what it boils down to is that the economy is based on slave wages. People, whom the capitalists deny decent pay, are driving economic growth through their hard work. They do not receive anything worthy of the name compensation. The officers in the organisation are reaping massive benefits through the combined efforts of everybody working in the organisation.

I am not against making a profit or the fact that corporate officers are compensated for their work. It's just a matter of scale. 40 million dollars in compensation alone defeats the career earnings of most people on the planet by several millennia. And that is just for one year. I'm not doubting that these people are hard-working or talented. I have a hard time believing they are _that_ good.

The net effect is that we're back in the 19th century. Lots of people making next to no money, a few people making more money than they comfortably know what to do with. Looking forward to the revolution :)


And lastly, to Belgium. Where spelling mistakes are now part of an elaborate security plan:

In your ID Card article:

To trick fraudsters, ... instead of 'Belgien' in German, the ID card incorrectly uses the name 'Belgine' and instead of 'Belgium' in English, the card reads 'Belguim'.

That's a great story, and I'm sure they've sticking to it.

I can imagine the scene when the group responsible for the card realised that they'd screwed up the spelling:

Boss: You idiot! You misspelled the name of your own country in two languages!

Dutch Speaking Worker: Well, I got it right in Dutch... and I showed it to you before we sent it off.

Boss: What are we going to do? We've contracted for millions of these cards, and they'll all have this ... no, YOUR stupid mistake on them!

DSW: It's ok, boss, really. We'll tell everyone that it's an antifraud measure, and they'll think you're clever!

Boss: Do you really thing that would work? It seems too stupid, who could ever believe it? Even the politicians aren't that stupid!

DSW: Of course it would work. Governments are doing stupider things than that every day, all in the name of security. It can't fail, and you'll look brilliant. No one will ever know that it was a happy accident.

Boss: Happy accident? HAPPY?! Still, it's the only way to salvage my career. We'll do it.

Boss walks away, mumbling: Don't think you'll get any of the credit if this works, you idiot. I never should have trusted you...


That's all folks. Enjoy the long weekend. ®

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