Time to Invite Linux to the Party

It is no surprise that in the nearly 20 years that Linux has been alive most commercial software vendors have not officially provided support for it.  The install base is hard to gauge and the fragmentation of that install base into dozens of distributions makes the prospect of supporting Linux daunting.  How daunting that can be when the major distributions are maintained largely by volunteers is certainly a topic worth discussing at a later time.  What is getting to me is the increase propensity for companies to use Linux but not to support Linux.  Two excellent examples of companies doing this are Amazon and Netflix.

For a few years now Netflix has not only been mailing DVDs to customers but allowing those customers to view movies over the internet using the Instant View queue.  As of this writing the requirements for that feature requires Windows XPsp2 or Vista.  Linux is not viable.

Amazon, on the other hand, provides a free eReader for their Kindle formatted books.  This reader is available both on Windows and Mac.  No Linux version exists.

These two cases are different than the normal issue with porting software to Linux in that the software does not need to be ported to Linux.  The software either exists on Linux or was developed on Linux.

One of the Netflix instant queue capable devices is the Roku Digital Video Player.  This player runs on Linux.  This fact is easily verifiable from one of Roku’s own FAQs as they provide the exact versions of all GPLed software in use on the device, including the version of the Linux kernel itself, 2.6.19.  Now, I grant that Roku and Netflix are two separate entities.  However the Roku device was one of the first set-top boxes Netflix authorized.  So it seems a tad silly that the set-top box runs Linux but watching Netflix on Linux is not possible.

Amazon’s case is even more compelling.  The Kindle runs on Linux.  Kindle for PC does not.  To me this means that portions of the Kindle software (reading the file format, communication with amazon, etc) had to be ported to Windows.  If it already exists on Linux why can’t Amazon simple provide a Linux version1?

It is a snub of the hundreds of people who work on the kernel and core libraries that make up the foundation of Linux.  A snub to the dozens of thousands of people who have created at least as many libraries, applications and tools for Linux (as well as other FOSS OSes like the BSD variants, QNX and, yes, even Windows and OSX).  A snub to the millions of Linux users who have made the OS popular enough to push it onto machines, large and small, which trickled down to a point where it was a viable option for these companies to use on their products, or partner’s products.

Is what they are doing legal?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t think of having it otherwise.  That’s the whole purpose of FOSS.  However just as it is completely legal it is also utterly rude.

It is akin to asking to borrow your neighbors tools to build a new deck and above-ground swimming pool in your back yard, then throwing a BBQ/Pool-Party and when your neighbor asks to join the party telling him “Thanks for lending me those tools but, uhm, you’re not invited.”

1 While no official, native, version exists, it is possible to get Kindle for PC to work on Linux with Wine.
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