November 27, 2006

Microsoft, Novell, and now Ubuntu join to boost Apple and Debian

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

COMMENTARY - You've read more than enough already about how Novell and Microsoft signed an agreement that's supposed to help Novell sell Linux to Microsoft customers and help Microsoft customers integrate Linux -- as long as it's Novell Linux -- into their IT environments without fear of patent lawsuits. Part of the yammer was an open letter from Novell's CEO claiming that deal didn't really mean what you thought it did, followed by a statement from Microsoft that said Novell's CEO didn't really mean to say what he said or was wrong about some of it. Or something. Then Mark Shuttleworth jumped into the mess by offering a new, Microsoft-free home for openSUSE developers who didn't want to truck with Novell any longer because of its Microsoft deal. I don't know about you, but suddenly I'm starting to think Debian ought to be my GNU/Linux distribution of choice, and that I should turn to Mac OS for those few tasks I cannot currently accomplish with Linux and Free Software.

I have happily used SUSE Linux in the past and currently run Ubuntu. I like Ubuntu, even though my friend Logan says that Ubuntu "is a Swahili word that means 'Too stupid to configure Debian.'"

Ubuntu does everything I expect from a Linux distro, and is automatic (or automatix) enough that I spend hardly any time worrying about it. I turn on my Ubuntu computer -- a ThinkPad T43 - and "it just works." I am personally OK with the proprietary (mostly graphics) drivers included with the basic Ubuntu distribution, but I also realize that some people are not OK with them, and I believe those people should not be frozen out of a particular distro because of their software licensing preferences.

I also worry as much as anyone about Novell cozying up to Microsoft. Not many software companies lay down with that particular lion and walk away with their lambskin coats intact. Perhaps Novell will, but in a match between predator and prey I tend to bet on the predator. Call me silly or call me a realist; your name-calling will not hurt me -- especially if I stay far, far away from Novell in case I become dependent on its products and they all start sporting a Microsoft logo (and carrying Microsoft-style usage restrictions) one day. Even Ubuntu, much though I love it in everyday use, seems to have problems with Free Software Purity. So I guess I need to turn to Debian. I'm sure Logan will help me configure it.

Meanwhile, on the evil side of the fence

If Debian can handle my everyday software needs, why even consider an additional proprietary platform? I happily used nothing but Free Software for about eight years. Then I started editing video after a lapse of many years. And I will tell you: anyone who says Linux or free software video editing tools are anywhere near useful for low-budget, commercial-speed industrial, documentary, or training video production hasn't done much video editing with either free software or Linux-based proprietary video editing software. And when it comes to high-definition video, there is exactly no free or Linux-based editing video software available for home or small-business workstation use. Like it or not (and I don't), I am in the position Richard M. Stallman himself has said is the only justification for using proprietary software: When there is no equivalent free software available to do the job.

There may be great free (or at least open source) video editing software available someday, and when it's out there I'm sure I'll use it, but I have two video projects due in the next week, which is not exactly "someday."

Here's my dirty non-secret: I use Windows software to edit video, specifically Magix Movie Edit Pro. I use Windows not out of love for Microsoft but because it was no big deal to add a Windows partition to my previously all-Linux x86 desktop and laptop and use them as video editing workstations.

Now, though, with Microsoft doing (potentially) evil things with Novell that may slow GNU/Linux adoption and free software development, I am starting to wonder if this is a wise choice.

Well, I really knew it was an unwise choice all along, but I'm cheap. I agree that in many ways Mac OS is superior to Windows for video editing, but then I look at the cost, and my Linux-user cheapness kicks in and I say, "Umm, I already have all the hardware I need to run modern, fully capable, high definition Windows video editing software, and the only Mac I have is an old G4 that was no speed demon two generations of Final Cut Pro back, and barely meets the minimum system requirements to run the latest version."

Not only that, Final Cut Express -- the minimum Mac video editing software that does what I need -- lists for $300.

Going with the flow

Microsoft is apparently getting ready to do something with Linux. We don't know what, but if the company's past history is any guide it won't be pleasant. Novell either is or isn't involved, and may or may not survive its attempt to cuddle up with The Beast in its den, so I must avoid it, too. The jury is still out (drinking) when it comes to Ubuntu; I would rather have my Linux 100% Free, but I also want my computers to be fully functional in a world where -- let's face it -- Windows and proprietary software still wag the dog. So maybe I won't move from Ubuntu to Debian, although I am sorely tempted.

But if I can possibly afford it, I will move my video editing from Windows to Mac. I don't say this lightly, and "if I can afford it" is a shuddersome phrase, because as near as I can tell I will need to spend about $1,500 for the minimum Apple laptop that will give me the same video rendering speed I get from my ThinkPad running Movie Edit Pro.

Ah, well. Money or no money, the current Microsoft-Novell-Ubuntu fun is making me feel like a voter in a Congressional race where all the major candidates spend all their time telling me why I shouldn't vote for their opponents and give me no positive reasons to vote for any of them.

There is no "none of the above" option on the typical Congressional ballot, but there are two of them in the Microsoft-Novell-Ubuntu mudslinging match: Mac and Debian. And, money aside, I am becoming more inclined every day to go the Mac + Debian route, if only so I can stay out of the fight and do my computing work in peace.

Note: There are (obviously) many other non-Novell, non-Ubuntu GNU/Linux choices besides Debian. But I am used to the APT package manager and its Synaptic GUI, and would hate to move away from them. This is a purely personal choice, not an attempt to persuade you that the tools I prefer for my own use are the best for everyone.


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