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The trademark "Linux" has been registered in Germany by a company called "Channel One Gmbh." Needless to say, this registration stirred up a bit of excitement - any attempt to take over the Linux trademark anywhere in the world is sure to annoy a lot of people. In this case, it would appear that there is no cause for alarm. This press release (in German) (unreliable Babelfish translation here) from Channel One says that they registered the mark because they had learned that some other (unspecified) company, with less benign intentions, was about to put in a trademark registration of its own. Rather than let the "Linux" trademark be taken over, they picked it up themselves.

The proof of Channel One's intentions, of course, can be measured by how quickly they transfer the trademark over to Linus Torvalds. Meanwhile, it seems certain that this sort of problem will come up again. There are a lot of countries out there. "Linux" likely remains unregistered in many of them. Chances are good that somebody with poor intentions will pick up on one of them eventually. Even if such a registration can be overturned, it is a major waste of effort to have to do that.

Tracking the status of the Linux trademark seems like a job made to order for Linux International. Some effort put in now could go a long way toward avoiding unpleasant incidents in the future.

IBM has announced a "Red Hat Certified" laptop. The announcement that the Thinkpad 600E has been certified generated quite a bit of press interest, and this certification was held up as an advance for IBM and Linux both. In theory, this certification means that "no special effort" is required on the part of the user to make Linux run on that particular system. Interestingly, that is very much not the case with this laptop.

A look at IBM's guide to installing Linux on the Thinkpad 600E will make it clear that some special effort will indeed be required. The document is lengthy and detailed, containing the various steps required to get sound, APM, and PCMCIA working properly. These steps involve creating a new init script and updating both the kernel and the PCMCIA subsystem. Hard-core Linux nerds will not find these steps to be much of a "special effort," but many other users are likely to feel differently.

Perhaps most significantly: no amount of "special effort" will make the modem work. It is a "WinModem" - a modem that requires most of the signal processing to be done by the central processor. There is no reason why such modems shouldn't work under Linux, except one: the interface information for these modems has not been made available by their manufacturers. This information is all protected under non-disclosure agreements; thus, no Linux driver can be written.

IBM is to be commended for providing such a highly-detailed page on how to make Linux work on their hardware. If all manufacturers behaved this way, life in the Linux World would be much easier. This information is a step above what is normally available, and it is welcome.

But it seems inappropriate to certify this system as "Red Hat compatible." It can only be made to run that distribution after a substantial amount of effort, and a crucial component - the modem - can not be made to work at all. This is, it would seem, a weak definition of "compatibility."

If Red Hat is willing to award "compatible" status to a system which is this difficult to make work, they will be doing harm to both themselves and the Linux community as a whole. "Red Hat Compatible" is a promise that Linux will work on this system. Laptops, still, are not cheap. Any user who invests a chunk of money based on the "compatible" promise, and who subsequently discovers that very little works out of the box, will feel deceived. The numbers of disappointed (possibly ex-) users will increase, and "Red Hat compatible" will be recognized as having little meaning.

One other question that has come up is why is the Thinkpad certified only by Red Hat? Some fear, once again, that Red Hat is taking over everything. The straightforward answer, though, would seem to be that no other distribution has established a similar certification mechanism. If only Red Hat certifies hardware, hardware will only have Red Hat certification. [Keylabs Testing Logo]

The one alternative that is worth a look here is KeyLabs' Linux certification program. KeyLabs claims to be vendor-neutral, though readers of their web pages may suspect a relatively close relationship with their neighbors at Caldera. Their Linux Compatible Hardware page shows a fair number of systems which have been tested against one or more distributions.

Vendor-independent testing by companies like KeyLabs is a hopeful way forward. Currently, however, very few people have heard of KeyLabs, and most consumers do not look for the KeyLabs seal of approval prior to making a purchase decision. Perhaps some sort of serious marketing campaign is needed before people will start looking for this certification.

Update: Dave Sifry at Linuxcare wrote in to slap us (gently) upside the head for not mentioning the Linuxcare Labs certification program, which also does vendor-neutral hardware certification. See their list of certified hardware to see what they have been up to. LWN regrets the omission.

(See also: press articles in Salon, ZDNet, and News.com; and the certification report on Red Hat's site - unavailable as of this writing due to Hurricane Floyd).

The Atlanta Linux Showcase is less than a month away. The LWN will be there, with our first booth on the exhibit floor. As a result, we're also looking for volunteers, both those willing to help us with booth duty and those interested in helping put together reports from the conference talks, interviews from exhibitors on the floor and more. If you've always thought doing a little bit of writing for the LWN would be fun, here's your chance!

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September 16, 1999

 

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