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Dmitry is going home. Thursday the 13th was Dmitry Sklyarov's lucky day. He has been released from the constraints of his bail agreement, and will be able to return to his home in Russia for the holidays. Technically, the prosecution against him for violation of the DMCA has been "deferred." If he keeps the U.S. Department of Justice happy by testifying in the trial of ElcomSoft (which continues as before) and by not "violating any laws" for a year, the charges will be dropped.

Is this outcome a victory? In some ways it certainly is. A Russian programmer is no longer threatened with decades in a U.S. prison, and that is largely a result of the attention and protests that this case has drawn. Richard Stallman has presented this result as a victory for the government:

The dropping of charges against Sklyarov is a good thing, but we must not think of it as our victory, because we did not win it. Rather, it is largesse from powers that feel completely triumphant. They believe that their successes in court, together with the example presented by Sklyarov's treatment so far, make their dominion so strong that nothing can challenge it.

One could argue, instead, that we did indeed win this victory. The U.S. was faced with worldwide opposition and the prospect of a strong constitutional challenge. Rather than run that gauntlet, they backed down. It is, indeed, a win.

But we have won a small battle, at the cost, perhaps, of a setback in the conflict as a whole. With ElcomSoft, the government has as its victim a corporation which demonstrably sold the Advanced eBook Processor software in the U.S. There is no doubt that this program can be legitimately used by eBook customers to exercise their fair use rights. But that use may well not be enough to sway a court in these times, and a proprietary software company may well draw less support than Dmitry did. The chances are good that the government will get a DMCA conviction out of this case.

So the end result could well be a strengthening of the DMCA; the fight is far from over. Programmers who can be seen as violating the DMCA are no safer in the U.S. than they were before. The situation remains scary, and opposition to bad laws must continue.

The end of the Sklyarov prosecution is the loss of, perhaps, the best opportunity to mount a powerful constitutional challenge to the DMCA. Some have criticized Dmitry for having accepted the agreement, saying it was his duty to resist to the end. That criticism does not stand up, however. Mr. Sklyarov was a Russian citizen facing 25 years of imprisonment in the U.S. To say that his duty to help the American people in fighting one of their bad laws overrides his duty to his family, or, indeed, to himself, is inappropriate. He did not choose this fight, and nobody has the right to tell him that he can not withdraw from it.

The 2001 Timeline and a look back. Be careful what traditions you start - people have a tendency to expect you to live up to them. Thus, LWN continues to produce its year-end Linux timeline, and the alpha version of the 2001 LWN Linux Timeline is now available. The usual drill applies: we'll put out a revision toward the end of the year with the obvious omissions filled in, with a final release shortly after the new year. In practice, though, the Timeline changes little from its initial version; have a look and let us know what you think.

Looking back, what is one to think of 2001? Certainly some themes jump out readily:

  • It was a difficult year for Linux companies. Turbolinux, Lineo, and LynuxWorks all gave up on their initial public offering plans. EBIZ and Loki Software filed for bankruptcy, and SuSE came very close. Planned mergers (Turbolinux/Linuxcare, EBIZ/Linux NetworX) were called off. Eazel, Stormix, Great Bridge, and Atipa are no longer operating at all. And almost every Linux company was constrained to lay off staff.

  • That said, consolidation of Linux companies did not reach the level that some had expected. All of the major distributors are still in existence, as are most of the long-time Linux companies. It remains to be seen whether that situation can persist for another year. Many of the fundamental business problems remain unresolved.

  • Big companies are moving in. IBM has invested massive amounts into Linux, and now employs a large number of developers. HP and SGI are doing their best to move into this space; HP's new "blade servers" came out running Linux, not HP-UX or Windows. Linux seems to be bringing in some real revenue for some of these companies.

  • Linux development remains strong despite the commercial challenges. Numerous ambitious projects have reached major milestones over the past year. The 2.4 kernel is out and stable, powerful free web browsers are available and stable, and the Linux desktop has never looked better. Some projects have, beyond doubt, been slowed by the economic difficulties, but Linux and free software retain their momentum.

  • Free software development has shown some stress, however. The 2.4 kernel took longer than any other to stabilize, and that happened at the cost of some severe divisions in the developer community. Free software development does some things well, but we have seen that it is not immune to code quality and release management issues.

  • Linux continues to gain respect. High-profile deployments are continuing, and companies are seeing that it really can help them. Linux systems, while not free of security incidents, had no part in the numerous widespread security problems that plagued certain proprietary systems. Even the analysts are figuring it out.

  • Legal issues continue to force themselves upon the community, whether we want to deal with them or not. The arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov demonstrated, in a most clear manner, the hazards that await those who write the wrong code. Kernel changelogs have been censored out of fear of U.S. laws. Proposed legislation, such as the SSSCA, threatens to outlaw free software altogether. If we wish to continue to develop and use our free operating systems, we will have to fight for them.
2001 saw the tenth anniversary of the first Linux release. While it is not a year that many of us would choose to repeat, it was, in many ways, not a bad one. Free software is still a strong and growing force, and, most importantly, it is still fun.

The LWN.net Weekly Edition will not be published next week so that we can celebrate the holidays with our families. The daily updates page will be updated, however. The Weekly Edition will return on January 3, 2002. We wish all of our readers a great holiday season and an outstanding new year.

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: Closed source rumor vulnerability; the FBI at work; security resources, reports and updates
  • Kernel: 2.4 fixes in 2.5; kill() semantics; memory pool design.
  • Distributions: Distributions in Review - Part 1; Dettu[Xx].
  • Development: MayaVi data visualizer, LPRng 3.8.3, GNOME 2.0 API, 3D Game Apps, GStreamer 0.3.0, AbiWord 0.9.6, Python 2.2c1, XML Schema languages.
  • Commerce: The Open K-12 petition drive; DaimlerChrysler's new Linux cluster; IBM's iSeries test drive.
  • History: GNOME 0.99.0 was released; software patents strike again; The Art of Unix Programming.
  • Letters: RMS and Dmitry; Microsoft; mutt and large folders.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:


December 20, 2001

 

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