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Software patents strike again. Last year, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a patent for a simple technique called "windowing" which is used almost universally for converting two-digit dates into y2k-compliant four-digit dates. It is a ridiculous patent, and deserves to die in court. Meanwhile, however, we have a problem: the Linux kernel contains code which implements the patented algorithm. Please see our feature article on the subject for more information on the latest threat posed to free software by software patents.

Speaking of software patents: Are you ready for Burn All GIFs Day? asks Eric Raymond. The target date is November 5 to get all GIF files off of web sites to protest Unisys's obnoxious patent actions.

Corel signs another deal. This time around, Corel has announced an arrangement with PC Chips wherein copies of Corel Linux and Word Perfect will be shipped with every motherboard that PC Chips sells. PC Chips turns over a fair number of motherboards: 15 million in 1998. They estimate that 20 million motherboards with the Corel "white box" distribution will ship in 2000. That translates into a tremendous number of copies of Corel Linux out there - Corel disks may become even more ubiquitous than those from AOL.

This arrangement has an obvious value for Corel, in that it puts Corel Linux into the hands of millions of potential users. Some of them will certainly throw it on and give it a spin. That means more Corel Linux users.

But the real value lies elsewhere. A growing part of the PC market is in the area of very cheap systems. PC's costing less than $500 have already created pressure on vendors to abandon Windows in favor of something cheaper; often Linux. Now these vendors - at least those using PC Chips motherboards - find themselves handed a slick Linux distribution as part of the hardware they build systems from. One might guess that these vendors will be very likely to install Corel's distribution on their Linux systems. The result should be Corel Linux appearing on a lot of preinstalled systems.

As the commercial competition between the distributions heats up, we should expect to see more of this sort of deal. And it is in the making of these deals that the weight of bigger, established players in the computing market may be felt. Consider, for a moment, a comparison of two publicly traded Linux distributors, taken from their August quarterly reports (except for market capitalization, which is from November 2):

CompanyMarket cap
($million)
EmployeesRevenues
($million)
Red Hat6000 1914.4
Corel412 145671.0

If you look past the market capitalization of the two companies, Corel looks to be an order of magnitude larger than Red Hat. The muscle that comes with that size, along with the contacts made over many years in the software business, will give companies like Corel (and those much larger than Corel) an edge when it comes to negotiating deals like the one with PC Chips. As a result, Corel now looks likely to ship far more copies of Linux - even counting knockoffs and downloads - than Red Hat in 2000. Such things are subject to change, of course, but it is an interesting sign of how the Linux distribution business could go.

The Linux Business Expo is happening November 15-19, alongside the fall Comdex in Las Vegas. LWN will be present at this event; we'll even have a booth on the expo floor. Those who are planning at attending the LBE should be sure to drop by and say "hi."

Expect quite a few announcements to come out of this event. Corel is planning to launch its distribution at that time, and Caldera evidently has a number of announcements up its sleeve as well. As a Linux technical event the LBE has little to offer; as a business event it should be a very busy place.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: The DVD hack
  • Kernel: Using 64GB of memory on IA-32 systems; Bogus Bogomips
  • Distributions: Slackware 7.0 is announced
  • Development: Mozilla gets reconsidered
  • Commerce: Creative Labs releases GPL SB Live driver; LinuxOne has a product
  • Back page: Linux links of the week, letters to the editor.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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November 4, 1999

 

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