Category Archives: Fun

Raspberry Pi and Broadcom: a birthday present

475px-Raspberry_Pi_Logo.svg Two years ago (on 29 february 2012), the Raspberry Pi Model B went on sale. More than 2.5 million Raspberry Pis have been sold to date! An amazing number, considering that the original goal was to equip british school kids with cheap hardware for Computer Science education.

Thanks to these enormous sales numbers, the Raspberry Pi Foundation (a not-for-profit organisation) was able to sponsor several Open Source projects writing code which can be used with the hardware (XBMC, libav and many others).

And now, two years later, there is a new surprise. The Raspberry Pi has been developed as “open” as possible, however there was a part of the hardware which was not open: the VideoCore IV 3d graphics core on the¬†Broadcom application processor for which only a “binary blob” exists and which is addressed by a thin layer of Open Source graphics kerneldriver. This is not unusual – most if not all of today’s ARM-based mobile hardware has a closed-source graphics stack and no public register-level documentation of the hardware.

This is changing now! As announced on their blog, Broadcom has decided to open up their¬†VideoCore IV 3d core to accompany¬†the two-year anniversary of the Raspberry Pi. The code of the graphics stack has been open-sourced under a liberal 3-clause BSD license and¬†¬†it’s accompanied by complete register-level documentation for the graphics engine. This is unique for the ARM hardware platform as far as I know.

If you are an experienced hacker/programmer, you may be up to the challenge posed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation: to port the open-sourced graphics stack (for the BCM21553)¬†to the Raspberry Pi’s processor (BCM2835). And they will pay you a¬†bounty of $10,000 if you are the first person to demonstrate satisfactorily that you can successfully run Quake III at a playable framerate on Raspberry Pi using your ported drivers.

How cool is that? Of course I hope it will be a Slackware hacker who will reap this reward.

Have fun! Eric

Freedom of Choice 2013

LinuxQuestions.org Members Choice Awards

LinuxQuestionsFellow Slackers and other friends!

It’s that time of the year again where Jeremy calls upon the masses to enter the poll for the 2013 LinuxQuestions.org Members Choice Awards. Remember last year, when Slackware made it to Desktop Distro of 2012 and was beaten to a hair-width by Debian for Server Distro of the year?

Please have a look at this year’s poll, it’s full of interesting choices. And make a honest selection! I don’t really care if Slackware ends up on top, it is more important that you experience that moment of realization that there is a wealth of Open Source Software out there which allows us to succeed in doing the things we like most.¬†Freedom of choice usually comes at a high price, but Open Source Software & Standards allow you to make your choices for free and in freedom.

Please, take a moment to consider if there are ways for you to contribute back – it does not have to cost you money out of your pocket. If you are poor or can’t spare the money, your give-back can still be trememdously valuable. For instance, by helping friends with their adoption of Open Source, or by writing down your knowledge so that others can in turn advance their own knowledge; maybe you could check at your children’s school to see if there is room for a “Linux college” of sorts or prepare a hack-fest where everyone brings their computer and you bring a bunch of Slackware install CD’s ūüėČ Or perhaps this is the perfect time to start coding on some cool program so that we can forget about SystemD!

Realize that the Open Source (and Open Standards) ecosystem is about respect, sharing, growth and advancement. You and I, we are both part of this ecosystem. By working together without artificial boundaries or constraints and treating each other as equals, we can try to make this world a better place for all.

It’s like the spirit of Christmas which your Granny keeps talking about, but then without the turkey and the tree.

Happy polling! Happy holidays! Eric

tux-xmas

Best FOSS or Linux Blog of 2013

The folks at FOSS Force ran a poll during the past four weeks in order to decide who gets to be called the “Best FOSS or Linux Blog of 2013“. I casually mentioned (at the end of one of my own blog posts) that my “Alien Pastures” blog had been added to the list of contenders after the first round, and was rewarded with lots of people voting for Alien Pastures ūüôā

FOSS Force Best FOSS or Linux Blog 2013Actually, so many of you voted during the second and third round (obviously stimulated by a LQ post) that I ended on top! The Alien Pastures have been honoured with the winner’s badge.

Thank you all for your appreciation and confidence, and hats off to the other blogs which participated in the poll. They are worth checking out – all of them are written by Free and Open Source Software advocates with a mission – to educate and enthuse you!

I personally gave my vote to Martin Graesslin’s Blog, I think his are the deepest thoughts.

And thank you FOSS Force for giving my blog a new platform and the potential to interest a wider audience for my writings, and for Slackware of course.

 

Cheers, Eric

I would like to dedicate this accomplishment to my dearest cat Sox, who slept on my lap almost every night (with hew paws firmly clutching one of my arms) and therefore has been first witness to most of the blog posts I have written here. She passed away 3 weeks ago at the age of 17.

Commercial games and Linux

Almost two years ago I wrote an article about how the Open Source ecosystem can interact with commercial game developers.

I decided it was time to write an addendum to that post. Why?

Last month, Valve Software finally revealed that they are in the final stages of porting their Steam client to Linux, news that was highly anticipated after Phoronix mentioned this for the first time. This Steam client for Linux will be accompanied by the port of a tripe-A game: Left 4 Dead 2. Valve opened a dedicated Linux blog which was so swamped with enthousisast comments that they had to define a new comment policy. Great news and it deserves a great deal of respect.

Commercial enterprises getting themselves invoved with the Linux platform… that was bound to provoke reactions. And indeed , Richard Stallman wrote a post where he critizizes Valve’s effort. The core sentence there is “Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users“. I beg your pardon?

I really wished he would have been able to distinguish between the GNU/Linux ecosystem and the applications which can be used on top of that. The two are separate, Richard!

I am of course well aware of the philosophy behind the GNU project. It has given us a wealth of first-class software and I agree that without GNU, we would not be free to choose the OS we want to run on our machines. I work for IBM, and I realize all to well how a total vendor lock-in can not only smother your clients, breed arrogance, but also cause that vendor to buckle as a result of its arrogance. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_IBM for instance – where you also find how IBM managed to re-invent itself and start committing itself wholesale to Linux by multi-billion dollar investments into the Linux developer scene.

But I am straying off the path here.

I have never been comfortable with zealots who claim that they alone hold the truth. Therefore, Stallman’s article made me sigh rather than angry – it was all so predictable. There is nothing unethical about earning money. There is also nothing unethical about earning money on the Linux platform. Look at Redhat, they made a billion dollars on Linux! People can be driven to great achievements but everyone’s motives are different. I am glad there is diversity. Valve is driven by a desire to produce a first-class game playing environment and create the games to match. That they want to earn money from their efforts is good. Triple-A games require a tremendous monetary multi-year investment. Too many well-respected game studios are closed these days because the financial returns are not making up for the investments. I want Valve to flourish, so that they give me the freedom to buy games that I like! Suppose for a second, that they would go bankrupt – that would take away a large potential for cool games. It would take away some of my freedom of choice.

Suppose they would cease their Linux involvement as a result of the opinions of people like Stallman. That would limit my freedom to play games on a platform of my choice. I do not want to have to install Windows to play my games.¬† I use Wine currently and that works well enough for Steam, Valve games, Diablo III and such block busters, but it would really help if we had native releases for Linux! It is a bit unfortunate that idsoftware’s John Carmack does not share Valve’s view on the viability of Linux as a gaming market, but really this is all about getting momentum. Someone had to decide to take the plunge. Nothing against John’s opinion, I respect him for all he does (in particular for opensourcing most of idsoftware’s previous game engines and games and doing great speeches) but I hope he will come back on his view sometime. We need these games to prove to people that Linux is not just for geeks. We need more game developers to take Linux seriously.

Oh… I am straying again.

I have different ideas of what defines “freedom” than Stallman has. I hope that the disaster called “Windows 8” will actually do Linux distros a favour by further diminishing the MS Windows market share, thus allowing growth of the Linux market share. Remember again why Windows 8 is bad? Or rather, what evil can result from Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8 on the ARM market? Read a bit about Secure Boot, you can start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_8#Secure_boot . Dual-booting Windows and Linux? No can do! Now there is a real example of limiting my freedom!

You see, the word “freedom” is not all there is to it. It can and will be used out of context in a zillion ways. What really matters, is freedom of choice. If you are really concerned about freedom, you should sign up for the news letters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and support them in their cause.

I can’t wait to package, install and use the Linux Steam client on Slackware. In the meantime, I think I’ll watch a video about freedom from choice… come on, join me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jVoroHx3IU

Cheers, Eric