...making Linux just a little more fun!

Making your own distribution

Rick Moen [rick at linuxmafia.com]
Tue, 18 Jul 2006 13:53:02 -0700

-- forwarded message --

From: Rick Moen <rick@linuxmafia.com>
To: TAG <tag@lists.linuxgazette.net>
Subject: Re: Making your own distribution
Newsgroups: alt.os.linux.suse
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 16:17:58 -0400
bowman <bowman at montana.com> wrote:

> houghi wrote:
>> Don't like ?the distribution you are working with? Make your own. Not
>> that hard with some dedication to base it on SUSE.
> http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1982942,00.asp?kc=ewnws062806dtx1k0000599
> The gist of the article is providing the source can be a hassle.

But it really isn't. E.g., you can cut source CDs for the few people who receive copies of your GPLed binaries and request source within three years, charging them in advance for the cost of producing and mailing them. If that's a "hassle", outsource it to one of the cut-rate CD-burning houses such as Cheapbytes; I'm sure they'd appreciate the business, and you'd bear neither expense nor hassle yourself.

> We got into this with Cygwin. We install Cygwin on some customer sites
> solely for some of the popular Unix CLI utilities our support people
> prefer. Other than that, we do not modify, compile with, or otherwise
> touch a thing.  Referencing the current Cygwin source is not
> sufficient; the reasoning is the source may change and no longer match
> the packages we distributed. 

Cygwin is a mixture of GNU GPL and MIT X11 licensing. For the GPLed packages, if your distribution of it was non-commercial, you can meet your source-access obligation by referring people to where you got the software from. Otherwise, you have the above-referenced three-year obligation, for which you may pass along all costs to those requesting source.

Going by experience, the number of people actually willing to order a source CD once you've clarifed that it's not on your dime is almost nil. (I used to take care of this issue at a large Linux hardware firm that maintained and distributed its own full version of Red Hat Linux. Care to guess how many people requested source CD sets? One, over three years. We sent them free, with our compliments.)

The eWeek article? Oh, right. It's mostly notorious whiner Warren Woodford of MEPIS Linux complaining because he didn't bother to read the GNU GPL, massively violated the copyrights of programmers whose terms he failed to obey, and got his hand slapped.

Reporter Steven Vaughan-Nichols, who's usually really good, said:

Woodford recently ran afoul of the GNU GPL (General Public License) requirement that downstream distributors of GPL code are obligated to provide source code to users in an easily accessible format.

This is of course doubly incorrect. (1) They aren't obliged to provide source code at all, if their act of distribution was noncommercial in nature. In that case, as noted, they can refer users upstream. (2) The obligation isn't to provide it to all users, only to those who've (lawfully) received your distributed code and then request matching source. You need to keep the matching source around anyway as a reference copy, and may pass along all your distribution costs to those parties requesting copies. (3) The format need not be "easily accessible", just on a "medium customarily used for software interchange".

Although Woodford is in the process of complying with the FSF's (Free Software Foundation) request, he's not completely happy with it.

And, you know, I'd love to see Warren Woodford try to survive in the proprietary software industry. He wouldn't survive the first contract-violation lawsuit -- and, given how much he whines about a polite notification from FSF that he needs to start complying with the software licence he consented to when he redistributed other people's work, I'm sure his screaming about proprietary software licence enforcement, which is orders of magnitude more complex and nasty, would be most entertaining.

Cheers,              Your eyes are weary from staring at the CRT. You feel 
Rick Moen            sleepy.  Notice how restful it is to watch the cursor 
rick at linuxmafia.com  blink.  Close your eyes. The opinions stated above are 
                     yours. You cannot imagine why you ever felt otherwise.
-- end of forwarded message --

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