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Free Linux Kernel Driver Development FAQ 84

Posted by kdawson
from the following-up dept.
schwaang writes "The recent announcement by Linux Kernel Developer Greg Kroah-Hartman that 'the Linux kernel community is offering all companies free Linux driver development' seems to have stirred up some interest as well as some questions — see the Slashdot discussion about the announcement. Greg K-H addresses some of the questions raised here, and raises a few more, in a new Free Linux Driver Development FAQ on his blog. An excerpt: 'Q: Are companies really going to do this? A: Yes, already we have received a number of serious queries from companies about producing Linux drivers for their devices. More information will be available later when details are firmed up."
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Free Linux Kernel Driver Development FAQ

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  • Sweet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormx2 (1003260) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:07AM (#17995938)
    This makes an awful lot of sense. Currently, a lot of hardware gets drivers but without the assistance of the companies. This way, consumers benefit (if you can call us basement-bound linuxers consumers) and the companies benefit by reaching more people.
    • by ClaesMogren (894070) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:09AM (#17996406) Homepage
      Unfortunately a lot of companies seem totally unable to see the benefits of external contributors. They don't even see the point in getting drivers into the mainline kernel. Just take a look at this response from Cirrus Logic regarding their ep93xx boards:

      http://www.freelists.org/archives/linux-cirrus/02- 2007/msg00026.html/ [freelists.org]

      Looks like the in house coding team was bummed that Lennert Buytenhek did a better job on the port then their whole team. Ridiculous response! /C.M
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Intron (870560)
        Nobody in a position of authority at Cirrus is likely to have written that post. It is full of spelling and grammar errors. My guess is some low-level developer figured it was job security to try to get rid of the outside developer. Also, why don't links work on that page?
      • by nietsch (112711)
        Man, that response was so uninformed, arrogant and dumb. I suspect some newbie manager type is now explaining to the PR department that his move really saved them a lot of money that was well worth losing face over. Right now the message reads: Cirrus products will not support Linux [freelists.org]. There, let google lap it up. Lets hope for Lennert that someone higherup the chain will intervene, otherwise he will need to find a new subject to play with.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      if you can call us basement-bound linuxers consumers

      I know for sure I'd be much more likely to buy good new brand hardware if I knew it would Just Work with Linux.

      Right now I only grab the older stuff I need from ebay (used) or other stores.
    • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jekler (626699) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @01:13PM (#17999088)

      Linux users are definitely consumers. Believing that having the basic functionality of operating your computer for free isn't about exiting the market as a consumer. It's along the lines of how you should be able to operate your television for free. You don't need cable, satellite, or any product separate from the equipment itself for your TV to function. You can buy a TV, watch DVDs, tapes, home videos, set it up as a security monitor, or use it just as speakers for an audio tape player, whatever you want to do with it.

      Up until Linux, if you bought computer hardware, it was a dead box unless you also paid for an operating system, of which the only real choice was Windows. You couldn't use the hardware you had bought. You had a computer that couldn't compute anything. No matter how small your needs were, even if the only thing you ever needed to do was create plain text files, you had to pay $90+. With Windows XP Professional, it should burn any purchasing manager to think about paying $300 for a pinball game and another half dozen games, movie maker, media player, and various libraries and functions to support those applications, when the reason the computer is needed may not ever involve any of those. Whether or not those applications are needed you must pay for them. Enter Linux.

      It's a misnomer that Linux users are cheapskates. Linux users will pay just as much cold, hard cash as the next guy for applications and products that fill his needs, they're just not willing to pay for peripheral garbage that has no value to them. As a Linux user, I've personally paid $4500 for an IDE/toolkit.

      There are many Linux users who want to be consumers, and would gladly pay for things like 3D Studio Max, Photoshop CS2, etc. but those things aren't being offered to Linux users. Linux users are consumers lacking producers. We might have money but, for some reason, a lot of companies don't think a Linux user's money spends like the other kind, which is a shame because companies like Google have a lot of Linux money to throw around.

      Basement-bound Linux users are no different, eventually they become purchasing managers, company owners, or hobbyists who build up some cash and want to spend it on something. If someone makes a decent offer, they'll fork over the cash just like anyone else.

      • by Stormx2 (1003260)
        Well I agree, to tell you the truth. I wasn't trying to be confrontational, and what you say about us being consumers is completely correct.

        More, its the general market for software which is stuck in the same old ways. Generally speaking, something thats free is lesser quality than something that costs. In the normal product world, you might go out looking for an oven. Companies sell them so they can make a certain profit, while making the price attractive to a consumer. The consumers know that, so a mo
  • by Excelcia (906188) <kfitzner@excelcia.ca> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:11AM (#17995964) Homepage Journal
    Can users sign up for this? I've got some hardware I'd love Linux to support. :p
    • Sure you can (Score:5, Informative)

      by codepunk (167897) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:19AM (#17996020)
      Point your hardware vendor to the web site and ask them to participate. If you mean will someone reverse engineer your hardware, well they answer that question on the site FAQ and the answer is no.
      • by i.r.id10t (595143)
        FAQ is wrong then. Correct answer is "maybe. is there anyone out there with the skills to do it and desparate enough to use your particular bit of kit to do it?"
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          FAQ is wrong then. Correct answer is "maybe. is there anyone out there with the skills to do it and desparate enough to use your particular bit of kit to do it?"

          I think you done missed the point completely, son. The FAQ is 100% correct. The people involved with THIS project will not be reverse-engineering anything as part of this project, whose point is more or less the converse of this desire.

        • by Knuckles (8964)
          No, the correct answer is that Greg Kroah-Hartman's effort won't do it. Anyone else, sure, maybe, but that's not what the FAQ is about.
    • If you have the original specs and can answer some questions about the hardware, then sure.
  • "We'll write free drivers for your hardware if only you release the specification" - isn't this the same that was always done in Linux kernel? Or is the issue only about signing the NDA to get the specs?
    • You and I both should have read the FAQ before posting. ;)

      Q: This is a lame publicity stunt, Linux development has always been done this way.
      A: Well, the NDA program that we have set up with The Linux Foundation is new. But yes, other than that, this is exactly how Linux kernel development has been done. But it is good to point out exactly how it all works for those who are not familiar with how it works. (emphasis added)
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:41AM (#17996744) Journal
        For starters, the norm to starting this process is that the hardware is out and somebody has an itch. Then they have to go to the hassle of getting the manufacturers specs, etc.

        Now, some manufacturer will be approaching the kernel team and offering the specs. The kernel team will probably pick an active developer who wishes to do it. Interestingly, manufacturers will be more likely to bring in alpha (or beta) hardware to have the drivers built BEFORE going to market. Once they figure out the sales potential from Linux, then they will be more likely to develop the drivers in-house.
    • by BigBuckHunter (722855) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:20AM (#17996024)
      "We'll write free drivers for your hardware if only you release the specification" - isn't this the same that was always done in Linux kernel? Or is the issue only about signing the NDA to get the specs?

      From the FAQ

      Q: This is a lame publicity stunt, Linux development has always been done this way.
      A: Well, the NDA program that we have set up with The Linux Foundation is new. But yes, other than that, this is exactly how Linux kernel development has been done. But it is good to point out exactly how it all works for those who are not familiar with how it works.


      BBH
    • by vdboor (827057) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:16AM (#17997232) Homepage

      isn't this the same that was always done in Linux kernel?

      Yes, but... Who told the hardware vendors about that? :-p

      Someone finally did, explained the benefits, and got an amazing number of responses :-)

      We take much for granted. When you meet a Linux newbie you'll notice how much "hidden knowledge" we have. Who the community is, that the FSF / GPL is, how the OS is layered in tools and front ends, what "compiling" does, how communication is done, how to find answers for problems. Linux newbies are not aware of this. The same can be said about hardware vendors.

      Even if a vendor jumped in a random channel, the average response is "Open Source it". We understand the meaning and advantages of that approach. They only think "help, I must give away my code". It was about time someone stepped up to shed some light on these matters.

  • Zero (Score:2, Funny)

    A: Yes, the initial response to this was amazing, a measurable number of new Linux drivers will be created thanks to this program.

    As per a Simpson's episode [tv.com], I'm reminded that zero is a number. ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AJWM (19027)
      I'm reminded that zero is a number.

      Well yes, but arguably not a measurable one. ;-)
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "I'm reminded that zero is a number."

        Well yes, but arguably not a measurable one. ;-)
        Huh? Zero is no less measurable than any other number.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by srussell (39342)

      A: Yes, the initial response to this was amazing, a measurable number of new Linux drivers will be created thanks to this program.
      As per a Simpson's episode, I'm reminded that zero is a number. ;)
      It'd be funnier if an unmeasurable number of new Linux drivers were created.

      "An infinite number of Linux drivers were created this week."

      --- SER

      • Re:Zero (Score:4, Funny)

        by chill (34294) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @02:03PM (#17999968) Journal
        It'd be funnier if an unmeasurable number of new Linux drivers were created. "An infinite number of Linux drivers were created this week."

        If only we had an infinite number of monkeys...

        (Gotta love preview. I just noticed the original article is on the Linux Kernel Monkey Log. Maybe we DO have more monkeys than I realize.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dubbreak (623656)
          If only we had an infinite number of monkeys...

          No, no, no.. that's how MS does it's driver development.
      • by bnenning (58349)
        "An infinite number of Linux drivers were created this week."

        That's easy:
        #!/usr/bin/perl
        sub createDriver {
        $h = sprintf "%lx",$_[0];
        $h = "0$h" if (length($h)%2!=0);
        open(D, ">$_[0].driver");
        for($i=0; $i<length($h)/2; $i++) {
        printf D "%c",hex(substr($h,$i*2,2));
        }
        }
        $d = 0;
        while(1) {createDriver($d++);}


        (Determining which output files are useful Linux drivers is left as an exercise for the re
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just wondering, how do these developers get paid? I would love to develop kernel drivers, and I can, but it takes a lot of time, which I need to make money, so how do these "free developers" do that?
    • Just wondering, how do these developers get paid?

      They don't. Or the contrary. The whole "kernel community" is supposed to help to get those drivers, who knows if some of those people will be paid or not. I think that everybody, paid or not, should help to finish this project succesfully.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:27AM (#17996582) Journal
      Many of them are paid by distributions. Novell and RedHat, for example, make money buy selling support for Linux. The more hardware their distribution supports, the easier it is to sell. Getting good drivers in the upstream tree is the easiest way of doing this, so they pay kernel developers. If you are able to write kernel code and interested in doing it for a living, I would suggest you send your CV off to the big distros (and possibly IBM) and ask if they have any openings.

      You may also be able to get some short-term work from companies wanting to switch existing infrastructure to Linux and needing drivers for existing hardware, although this is likely to be contingent on your acquiring the device specs first.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by oliverthered (187439)
      First you have to show your intentions and your skills, write a few drivers and try to get them into the kernel tree.

      Then you have to try and find yourself a job where they let you do kernel development, if your good enough then all you have to do is shout for a new job and someone will pick you up.

      Unless your really good and dedicated your going to have a hard time getting paid for developing kernel drivers.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Most of them don't. Mommy comes down into the basement and brings them turkey sandwiches and cheetos.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by schwaang (667808)
      Just like with the rest of the Open Source community, there are a mix of motives and situations. I'm not a kernel developer, but as an observer of FOSS generally:

      Some are paid to work on Linux as employees of Linux distros like Red Hat or Novel, or work for hardware or system vendors who want their products to work with Linux (HP, Intel, Dell, etc.).

      Some are in job positions in corporations where they use Linux, and need/want a particular piece of third-party hardware to work for their application (be it a
  • What we really need (Score:2, Informative)

    by gavink42 (1000674)
    What we really need is for companies to provide Linux drivers on their own, and delivered with their hardware. I've wondered for years why most of them don't do that.

    It's also a "critical mass" sort of thing. Once all hardware companies provide full support for Linux, then Linux will be in a position to truly be a mainstream replacement for Windows.

    I'm sure their reasons have to do with perceived user base. But, how do we get them to support us without that "critical mass" of users? It's like the chicke
    • by oneandoneis2 (777721) * on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:21AM (#17996526) Homepage
      Most of the online guides for the few bits of hardware that do exactly what you suggest tell you to ignore the drivers the hardware comes with, as a newer kernel will almost certainly be out by now with an updated driver. The last thing we should do is try to get them to supply the drivers with the hardware.

      What we want - and what this process does - is to get them to release enough information that a driver can be written and incorporated upstream into the kernel so that Linux supports their hardware out-of-the-box. This bypasses all the "critical mass" problems because they don't have to pay for the development costs, and negates the need to supply drivers with the hardware. How can they lose?
    • What we really need is for companies to provide Linux drivers on their own, and delivered with their hardware. I've wondered for years why most of them don't do that.

      It is expensive to create hardware. If you publish your hardware register set, internal bus mappings, and the meanings of all the magic numbers so prevalent in hardware level code, it makes it easier (and cheaper) to reverse engineer hardware. Most companies that do real hardware development spend a lot of money up front doing design and prot

      • by 0x0000 (140863) <{zerohex} {at} {zerohex.com}> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:35PM (#17998534) Homepage

        Linux explicitly doesn't allow that. With Linux it is all or nothing, and many hardware manufacturers choose the predictable 'nothing' instead of the less predictable 'all'.

        You're kidding yourself - I have used, and continue to use - a number of closed source binary Linux device drivers acquired from 3rd party manufacturers. The real reasons you don't see Linux device drivers shipping with hardware are:

        1. The manufacturers typically lack the software skills to create a linux device driver in-house, and don't feel that sales to Linux users will comprise sufficient dollar amount sales to justify paying a developer to create one.
        2. Plain Old Ingnorance (POI) due to not having anyone in a position of influence at the company with sufficient knowledge of things like GPL licensing and non-Windows systems to know just how full of shit remarks like the one you make above really are.
        3. All the usual hate, religion, and bribery that are brought into play when anyone in the industry so much as thinks about doing something that is not Windows.

        It's worth noting that in many cases Microsoft produces or buys drivers for hardware. thereby obviating the [percieved] need for the manufacturer to spend much effort on any OS drivers, let alone one as arcane as a *nix driver with some hippie "licensing" scheme...

        Also, if a device is designed to an existing h/w spec utilitized by M$, again - no driver needs to be produced by the h/w manufacturer.

        It's all about margins, market share, ignorance, and prejudice. The relative openness of the Linux systems has nothing to do with it, nor does your imagined inability of Systems other than "Solaris and Windows" to dynamically link a loaded binary module. Futhermore, I am unaware of any consumer-grade h/w device which has Solaris OS driver support, which does not also have support under Linux.

        The fact that you and/or your shop have never so much as looked at the Linux OS to a degree sufficient to producing a device driver for it is obvious from your posting, so please: Sit down, and STFU until such time as you have poked around a bit and actually know someting about what you're talking about - you've forced me to waste an unacceptable amount of bitwidth trying to clear the smoke you've blowing in front of the mirrors...

        • I thought I'd let you know that I have in fact written (well, helped to write) the Linux driver for a number of video capture devices (supporting the Osprey 200, 210, 220, 500, and 540). At the time when I was involved in this work (2000-2003) there were a number of consumer devices supported by Solaris but not Linux. It isn't about ignorance or at least it wasn't with Viewcast, it was about protecting our investment. During my time with them we had two instances of knock-offs produced by companies in Ch
          • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

            by 0x0000 (140863)

            Yeah - right - and your bringing up non-sensical, unrelated arguments from your own sordid past why? No one cares - none of tha addresses the point, and none of it says anything about why any company may or may not produce a Linux driver...

            Zealotry is one of the things that scares business away, and you just contributed.

            Fuck you - you're a stupid twit, and stupid twits drive away a lot more business than zealots do - you nned to breathe deep and take a look at the Big Picture, for a change - sounds lik

            • ...non-sensical, unrelated arguments...

              The OP "wondered for years why most [companies] don't [provide Linux drivers]". How, exactly is an explanation of why one specific company was reluctant to do so "non-sensical or unrelated"? I'm sorry if you don't grok the point of view, but that doesn't make it irrelevant.

              The manufacturers typically lack the software skills to create a linux device driver in-house

              Unless things have changed noticably in the last 4 years, Linux is the easiest system I know of to write

              • by 0x0000 (140863)

                Research please?

                Grow up. Please? You are taking yourself - and apparenlty me - way too seriously. If you really, really truly think you know what you're talking about, and I don't guess what? Unless you can offer me some new information that might modify my opinion, I just don't give a crap - not even enough to try to convince you - far, far easier to just toss out some ad hominum tweaks, sit back, and laugh...

                If you want the last word now's the time, I promise I won't respond again (well, not i

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by schwaang (667808)

        Windows and Solaris provide a binary kernel API so that compiled code can be loaded. We can release drivers without giving away the keys to the hardware. Linux explicitly doesn't allow that. With Linux it is all or nothing, and many hardware manufacturers choose the predictable 'nothing' instead of the less predictable 'all'.

        It probably is true that the Linux kernel's intentional lack of ABI compatibility has been a hurdle for some vendors who would otherwise produce a proprietary kernel driver for their ha

    • by Skapare (16644)

      When the driver is provided with the hardware, they also need to provide instructions on how to make that driver work on any given Linux system, or at least some popular distribution. In addition to that, they will need to provide some level of support, at least for the installation process. Linux's distribution-fracture nature makes that harder so many companies pick one distribution (hint: it isn't Debian, Gentoo, or Slackware).

      Ideally, we should get the drivers into the distributed kernel tree as soon

    • by Knuckles (8964)
      What we really need is for companies to provide Linux drivers on their own, and delivered with their hardware

      No we don't. It's much simpler for users if the drivers are in the kernel. I don't need Windows driver hell recreated in Linux.

      I've wondered for years why most of them don't do that.

      The kernel ABI is not stable, so the drivers (or at least some glue layer) would need to be recompiled
    • No, we don't need organizations to provide their own software because then they'll distribute proprietary software. We don't benefit from dependency. I don't need to give up my software freedom to make some device work with the Linux kernel. I don't need software which will go unmaintained because nobody who is willing to do the maintenance knows how it really works.

      What we need are accurate published specs for all hardware. These specs should be published for all to see, with no legal restrictions. An
    • by iabervon (1971)
      A lot of companies don't have the skill set to produce high-quality maintainable drivers. Not that they're bad engineers, but they put more effort into hardware design, and whatever functionality the device has. This makes sense; I'd much rather have a device that follows the PCI spec correctly than one where the vendor knows how to work around the quirks in the driver.

      The best devices are ones that use non-vendor-specific drivers. For example, disk controllers are increasingly "AHCI", and, so long as they
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by juhaz (110830)
      That's absolutely the worst thing that can possibly happen.

      Windows is pretty stable in theory and on it's own. It's not stable in practice. Why?
      Because companies provide drivers on their own and delivered with their hardware. Drivers that suck. Drivers that are unstable pieces of crap. Drivers that take the OS down with them.

      It's also a "critical mass" sort of thing. Once all hardware companies provide full support for Linux, then Linux will be in a position to truly be a mainstream replacement for Windows.
  • by g4sy (694060) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:50AM (#17996256) Homepage
    Yes, this is not a lot different than the way device drivers have always been incorporated into the kernel. But having a willingness to work with NDAs of various companies MIGHT have solved the whole fiasco with Broadcom wireless chipsets (if you didn't think it was a fiasco, you didn't buy a iBook G4 the day they were released, May 2004, only to find out that you would be unable to use wireless on it for the next 2 years at least).
    I don't know but I think that maybe such a system might have made the suits and lawyers with Broadcom comfortable enough to allow co-operation on a linux device driver... *sigh* would have been nice.
    • There's NDAs and then there's NDAs. The kind of NDAs this effort is willing to abide by are the kind saying "don't tell anybody the details of the hardware you're writing the driver for until after it's released." The kind of NDAs that Broadcom wants, but which are incompatible with all Free Software (including this) are the ones that say "you can't release specs EVER, so you will always be dependent on us to tell you how the hardware works (even after we've long since abandoned it)."

  • A free FAQ !
  • liability? (Score:2, Interesting)

    How does the foundation handle liability issues? If a driver doesnt work as advertised, who gets the blame? What happens if a buggy driver fries the device in question?

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by fimbulvetr (598306)
      It's linux. There are huge disclaimers everywhere about libability, amongst other things.

      This is a tough concept for windows boys to grasp because they come from the world of "If it doesn't work we call MS/Dell/HP" etc.

      Besides, is oracle liable for your data loss when you lose your oracle instance? MS when you lose your IIS website?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        11. because the program is licensed free of charge, there is no warranty for the program, to the extent permitted by applicable law. except when otherwise stated in writing the copyright holders and/or other parties provide the program "as is" without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. the entire risk as to the quality and performance of the program is with you. should the program p
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by the_womble (580291)
        Besides, is oracle liable for your data loss when you lose your oracle instance? MS when you lose your IIS website?

        I think the real point in those situations is "if it goes wrong I can put the blame on a big company the PHB has heard of, otherwise it will be my fault".

        • Re:liability? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by chill (34294) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @02:12PM (#18000132) Journal
          I think the real point in those situations is "if it goes wrong I can put the blame on a big company the PHB has heard of, otherwise it will be my fault".

          Guess what. Odds are, it'll still be your fault. Your fault for not getting the specs right. Your fault for not working with the major vendor to make it work. After all, they're a big company and have hundreds if not thousands of other installations working right. Thus, if they all work and yours doesn't -- it is your fault.

          The ONLY way you might get away with that is if some executive MANDATED you use a specific product, overriding your objections or advise to the contrary, and he is a known asshole in the company. Even then, it is still iffy.

          And finally, even if it isn't your fault and you can successfully blame someone else, you'll still get a bit of a reputation of "that guy who couldn't get it done".

          Good luck!
      • by bensch128 (563853)
        Besides, is oracle liable for your data loss when you lose your oracle instance? MS when you lose your IIS website?

        No (because of the EULA) but they should be. Otherwise, why did you shell out the big bucks for Oracle or IIS? You might as well use apache.
        Likewise, if you buy RHEL and apache falls over even after you installed it properly, Redhat should be liable.

        but IANAL so this could be all pie in the sky when it comes to an actual lawsuit.

        Cheers
        Ben
  • by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:10AM (#17997154)
    The FA is an FAQ, FFS! Almost every question which has been brought up in the discussion is already in the FAQ because it's an FAQ, that's what it's for.
  • monkey? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Frank Grimes (211860)
    The announcement would likely get MORE response if it had been on an OSDL/Linux Foundation web page and signed by all of the major Linux players, rather than on a page titled "linux kernel monkey log". That said, I want Linux to succeed very much, and I think this is a good direction to take things.
  • Hardware specs should have always been freely available. What did companies have to worry about? As the FAQ tells, it only means more sales or at worst, as many sales as if the specs weren't available. It costs them nothing and they have nothing to lose, they'd just have to say: "We have a new product, here are the specs, have fun". I wonder why they never did that on their own.

    Now, this is even better because of the NDA of the specs of not yet released products, which means support from day one!
  • Greg, thanks once again for your wonderful blog, but I'm afraid that the absence of
    Q: Are developers really going to do this?
    indicates that you missed http://linux.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=219556&c id=17839388 [slashdot.org]

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