07.18.21

A Longtime Reader’s Thoughts About Valve and Steamdeck (and What That Means to GNU/Linux)

Posted in DRM, GNU/Linux, Hardware at 5:57 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video games fan
Versatility and general-purpose computing through a Trojan horse of sorts?

Summary: Another person’s interpretation of Valve’s strategy and motivations/ambitions

IN OUR Daily Links we continue to post additional news picks regarding last week’s big news from Valve, as noted in yesterday's post. It’s a bit of an ongoing story because additional details are gradually being revealed. In the next batch of Daily Links we’ll include some focus on Arch Linux and the response from Epic, which is a competitor. Microsoft isn’t even commenting. They seem to be somewhat rattled by the whole thing, as it devastates them on multiple fronts at the same time. It also seems like a good uplift for GNU/Linux on desktops and laptops — a frontier long sought by the loudest Free software enthusiasts.

Our reader Daniel sent us some thoughts, which are based partly on his personal experiences (I myself never used Steam and don’t intend to, either) and partly on what he read/saw. Daniel split that into 5 parts, as follows (with mild corrections in the English text as Daniel’s native tongue is Spanish):

1. You say “its [Valve's] successor to efforts like Proton, SteamOS (Debian), and Steam Machines that never quite materialised”.
I’m not sure if you mean “Steam Machines never materialized”, or “[all of that stuff are past efforts that] never materialized”.
The former is mostly right, whereas the latter mostly wrong. The device does use Proton (it’s pretty much alive and well, even without this device), and uses SteamOS (v3, Arch based, as they got away from Debian some time ago).
But this point wasn’t about correcting you (which I believe wasn’t necessary), but about focusing on your mention of the “efforts”. What are they doing these efforts for? It’s just about money?

The part about materialising was about Steam Machines alone. I’m not the first to point this out, as at least 2 more publications did the same. We included them in Daily Links.

The point is, for the uninitiated at least, Valve hoped to work with hardware partners on computers that have the Debian-based SteamOS preinstalled. That never quite happened at the end, perhaps because Steam surveyed the market, in the same way Palm did with “Foleo”.

This time will be different as the strategy is inherently different in a number of ways. Daniel continues:

2. You also say in the article’s summary: “Valve has chosen GNU/Linux for its power, not for its freedom”.
This is a typical interpretation from Free Software activists — and one that can ultimately be generalized in this way: “either they go fully Free software, or they have other interests — different from freedom”.
Of course I agree with that interpretation: Valve does have other interests, most likely reduced to just simply power and money.
But the thing I don’t like about that interpretation is the implicit binary narrative about freedom.
You see, part of the idea behind this thing they’re doing is this: “It’s a PC. You can do with it whatever you do with a PC. We don’t believe in restricting it.”
That is actually huge. I struggle to make people understand their computing devices (mobile phones, modern gaming consoles, smart TVs, and so on) are artificially-limited computers.
That point is actually about freedom.
They even actually say you can install on there stuff from their rivals (like EA or Microsoft), which contradicts the idea of them “simply wanting power and money”.
They clearly want to establish a hegemony. But that hegemony happens to be kinda OK to me (not the DRM part, of course).
My point: is not “simple” what they’re doing, in fact it is complicated, and so it also involves explicit increased degrees of freedom (specially in contrast with what the gaming ecosystem offers to people).
So I’m not so sure about your lecture. I believe freedom is one of the reasons behind the GNU/Linux choice. It’s not a binary choice between power and freedom, nor any other binary choice. And maybe not be exactly the freedom Free Software activists talk about. But it is partly about freedom, and a significant part of it.

Up to a certain point in time Sony did something similar with PS3. That was a very long time ago. Later came Google with Android (wherein freedom is being lessened over time). Valve would not be the first. This is mostly connected to the “general-purpose computing” battle, which is connected to “right to repair” more than Free (as in freedom) software. It’s the idea that people can do as they please with devices that they have purchased and therefore assume they own.

3. Remember also Steam’s history.
At first, it was revolutionary somehow inside the Windows ecosystem, at the cost of DRM.
Before involving GNU/Linux, gaming on Windows was already full of problems that Steam solved.
It was basically the same effect Netflix had on pirating [sic] movies, but for games: by giving comfort to the people by centralizing problem-solving, they got everybody on the boat.
That’s deeply problematic from a Free software point of view. But it is actually a happy event from a people’s experience perspective. People are just ignorant or unaware of the freedom they’re giving away, and so they have no problem with it.
To that point in history, Valve and Netflix are basically the same shit. However, at the gates of Windows 8, Steam declared war on Windows and went to GNU/Linux, even saying that Windows was a disaster for gaming.
Then “Steam for Linux” came out, and from that day on they never stopped pushing GNU/Linux gaming, even when we’re <2% of their user base 10 years later. And they keep working and keep on pushing GNU/Linux, no matter what “the market” says about it. If you also see that you can buy games without DRM and add them to Steam (so, Steam acts then as a CDN and not a DRM provider/encloser), that they allow stuff like sharing games, that they actually added code to drivers and software layers, and that they even make GNU/Linux-first hardware, they’re very far away from Netflix.
Valve has shown ideals. I doubt you or me will share those ideals any day soon. But they’re certainly not a two-bit power and money-hungry bunch of people like Microsoft or Netflix are. This is different.

Steam comes from a person who once worked for Microsoft. So he seems to be aware of how much of a danger they pose; GNU/Linux reduces Microsoft’s control over his company. Recall what Microsoft did to RealPlayer (and Networks).

As Daniel puts it:

4. Microsoft is their enemy, on various fronts. But it is not their only enemy.
With Steamdeck, Valve is also explicit about the goal of opening the door to other people doing hardware like this. It is not about buying their hardware but about changing the relationship people have with devices.
And so this hardware, strangely cheap for the product and at the same time strangely up-to-date, is also a declaration of war on the hardware front.
Valve is no longer a declared enemy of Microsoft and Windows, but WINTEL itself.
The time was perfect for striking a punch to Intel. And also a strong blow to Nintendo and Sony.
And with stuff like “this is a PC” they’re also taking distance from Apple, not just Microsoft: those bastards try to set “PC” as another word for “Windows”, and “Mac” as something different; Valve says otherwise, and not just by wordsmithing but by embracing GNU/Linux.

That’s an excellent point actually. They also embraced KDE and a distro (as base) not many expected to see (like Google picking Gentoo).

About the distro crafted by Valve, Daniel says:

I saw a few videos the day the news went wild, and every time they showed SteamOS v3 it looked very much like Windows 10.

Minute 04:19 here: To be honest, I don’t use KDE and have not used it since some brief 2008 tests, so I don’t know what it looks like these days.
And the same goes for Windows 10 — an OS that I barely touched, exclusively because of job-related tasks.
But if I’m reading this right, they tuned the UI, making it look like Windows 10.
So… add wine/proton over that, and they’re also bringing back LINDOWS from the grave!
I know there were several attempts at something like that: but if Valve publishes the recipe for it, and back it over time with money and work, they’re making a Windows replacement everybody can clone without using Valve’s trademarks. I mean: Dell, HP, Lenovo, or whatever hardware maker can just copy-paste the proper bits of configs to deploy their own brand (an important detail in business world) instead of using “SteamOS”. And of course there will be community forks.
The point being: this is a poisoned dagger against Windows. Valve is really making a Windows killer here, from ALL fronts at the same time (hardware, software, community, and corporate world), and using gaming as vector.
If I’m right about this, we should REALLY let them play their game, at least for a while.

Finally, Daniel says:

With all of this in mind, my conclusion:
Valve certainly does things we don’t like, and most likely that will never change: it’s hard to think of Valve leaving behind DRM and some questionable practices with devs. But they also seem sincere about the consumer’s interests (or at least their experiences), they’ve showed a stronger commitment to GNU/Linux than most other big tech players (specially in gaming), they show a vision (at least compared with players like Microsoft or Apple), and while they seem as pragmatic and money-based as any business, they also insist in pushing costly long-term ideas like a GNU/Linux based SteamOS or PC-based hardware replacing artificially-limited options.
So, Valve is not our enemy. It’s just that they’re not free software activists either: they’re a business. I was about to compare them with Canonical, but I believe the case is different: Canonical is more like hypocrites, Valve is more sincere. Valve is not about GNU/Linux: they’re just embracing it. And in exchange for the power GNU/Linux gives, Valve also gives stuff back. That doesn’t seem like a parasitic relationship to me, even when the thing Valve gives back may not exactly be software freedom.
If Valve ever wins these gaming wars, they will most likely end up being another Mozilla or Canonical. But Valve does not claim to be a Free software activist organization: they’re not even “not for profit” as Mozilla was. And if they win these wars, the gaming world will be completely different, most likely better for GNU/Linux. So I believe that, if we can’t be Valve supporters, we also shouldn’t be too vocal a critics either, as they’re the closest thing we have to a powerful friend in the gaming world: we should let Microsoft try to fight Valve the wrong way, while we find ways to make more freedom around the software Valve already brings to GNU/Linux ecosystem.

We might revisit this subject some other day because no doubt it’s a game-changer, if you pardon the pun…

07.17.21

It’s Getting Too Difficult to Compete With Free Software (Except in Marketing)

Posted in DRM, GNU/Linux, KDE at 8:15 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

DRM Notwithstanding, Valve Choosing GNU/Linux With KDE is Better Than Just More of Windows

Look What They Need To Mimic A Fraction Of Our Power: Apple & Microsoft, GNU + Linux
Microsoft clearly does not ‘love’ Valve’s choice of operating system

Summary: Valve has chosen GNU/Linux for its power, not for its freedom; we’re moving past the point of GNU/Linux dominance in servers and Linux on most phones; are laptops/desktops the next frontier?

TONS of blog posts and lengthy videos have been published to speak about the news from Valve, including some in our daily links (News Roundup). It even made it through to the mainstream media and demand for the product is reportedly very high. I saw a number of videos about it (some do not mention GNU/Linux) and the excitement seems real, not manufactured or paid-for hype. That’s what Apple and Microsoft do; they compensate for a lack of technical merit by bribing the press.

So what’s it all about?

“How many people will be inspired by this handheld console and decide to install something similar on laptops/desktops?”For those who lived under a tree/rock this past week (or maybe were on holiday), Valve chose KDE on top of GNU/Linux for its successor to efforts like Proton, SteamOS (Debian), and Steam Machines that never quite materialised. The choice of KDE is particularly interesting because it brings with it a suite of Free software, apparently not just a Web browser. So that’s potentially millions more KDE users, Free software users, who play proprietary games ‘on the side’…

Not only might this improve KDE (patches from Valve); it’ll increase exposure of the platform. People will start asking, “what is this thing?” (Much of the media at the moment does not mention the choice of platform and instead focuses on the hardware)

Given the alternate reality or the possibility of Windows, which was rejected, it’s probably something to be celebrated. How many people will be inspired by this handheld console and decide to install something similar on laptops/desktops? Time will tell…

Last year we wrote why it's better to get gamers on GNU/Linux than to let them stay on Windows. Not everyone agreed; figosdev, for example, objected to this. He saw that as tolerating DRM.

We’d love to hear readers’ thoughts (and stance) on this in IRC. Was this product even worth mentioning in a blog about software freedom? Might KDE be compromised somehow? We’re all ears…

06.23.21

First I Came

Posted in Antitrust, DRM, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 5:49 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Why Did Amazon Web Services Shut Down WikiLeaks?
Why Did Amazon Web Services Shut Down WikiLeaks? Because Amazon doesn’t care about Wikileaks, and moreover it does not wish to help expose the crimes of the rich

Summary: Time after time people will be reminded — or learn the hard way — that self reliance and avoidance of disappointment typically requires self-hosting, proper standards, free software, and simplicity, not outsourcing, large frameworks, and other kinds of unnecessary complexity

First I came to ActiveX
But Microsoft lost the Web wars, so my Web site stopped working

Then I came to Flash
But it was a security dumpster fire and total catastrophe, so it’s abandonware now

Then I came to AMP
But it didn’t accomplish anything useful, except spying by Google

Then I came to ClownFlare
But my Web site became unavailable at times, due to their systems, not mine

Then I came to Twitter
But my account got banned, for mentioning where Elvis Presley died

Then I created a YouTube channel
But it turned out my subscribers could no longer see my videos

Then I joined a large IRC network
But my channel was taken over by its true masters

Then I hosted on Amazon
But it turned out I was just a transient tenant to them

Then I created a GitHub account
But it turned out that Microsoft could take it down without notice or due process

Then I joined Google+
But I didn’t know I’d soon lose all my “friends”

Then I joined the Fediverse
But it only worked OK until the site shut down

Then I got a Chromebook
But everything I bought it for became unavailable after 24 months of system updates

Then I bought some music
But it stopped working when they shut down the DRM servers

Then I wrote in Blogspot
But the interface suddenly changed, without first consulting me

Then I donated to the Open Source Initiative
But later I realised they were sending my money to Microsoft

Then I bought a fitness tracker
But instead of improving my health it sold my data

Then I decided to read e-books
But Bezos decided to remotely delete some of them

Then I bought a printer to print my e-books
But HP remotely controlled my printer to curtail ‘unauthorised’ ink

Then I downloaded Chrome
But it turned out Chrome was downloading and uploading my data

Then I bought a car
But later it turned out it came with listening devices I was unable to remove or disconnect

And then I bought a smartphone
But it turned out the only intelligent thing about it is the intelligence agencies

Then I downloaded GNU/Linux
But my ISP sent me threats for that

06.01.21

Come What May

Posted in DRM, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 3:20 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

All-time low for Microsoft’s common carrier

Windows in May 2021

Summary: Although gains are made by us in terms of market share, let’s remember the threats posed by DRM and systems such as Android (nowadays a lot more dominant than Windows); unless we remind ourselves what software freedom means, we’ll never truly get there

THE growth of GNU/Linux continues apace. Not too fast, not an overnight revolution, but we’re getting there. In the server, GNU/Linux has already won the market. In phones and mobile/portable devices? See the graph above (updated as of the start of June). According to this, Android, which contains Linux, is the most dominant operating system. That same data source says that on laptops and desktops GNU/Linux was at about 5% last month (GNU/Linux ‘proper’ exceeding the market share of Chrome OS). Climbing fast, whereas Apple and Microsoft continue to move down…

“Let’s keep vigilant and not treat the whole thing as a “market share” sport. We need to think beyond such superficialities.”But let’s not get ‘too’ excited and focus on operating systems alone. If people move to GNU/Linux just to play some Steam games (DRM), then what? Are we really accomplishing all that we wanted?

Software freedom isn’t just a battleground of platforms; many use Web browsers that are Free software, some kind of hybrid, or even something with DRM in it (even Mozilla Firefox). In 2021 we need to remember the original goals and steer the debate in the right direction. Saying things like “big companies now release some code” and hence “Open Source has won” actually says a lot about the goals of “Open Source”… it’s perfectly happy with proprietary software monopolies as long as they slap some code at a proprietary software monopoly called GitHub.

The battle isn’t being lost, but we’re already seeing the next wave of attacks on the FSF (earlier today in GCC). Let’s keep vigilant and not treat the whole thing as a “market share” sport. We need to think beyond such superficialities.

05.17.21

Right To Repair: When You Don’t Own What You Buy (and Cannot Even Repair It Legally)

Posted in DRM, Videos at 4:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

Summary: The second part (see part one) of preliminary background regarding the Right To Repair; our associate who extracted the videos from YouTube [1, 2] says that both are relevant to “Freedom 0″ (as per the FSF’s definition of Free software)

THE ability to repair, maintain and even alter (study and modify) one’s software is a key cornerstone of Free software. It makes software a lot more powerful a lot faster. It takes advantage of a broad collective of users and innovators (or curious users turned innovators).

In the realm of hardware, however, we’re seeing many of the same restrictions that are imposed by proprietary software vendors. Even though Tesla uses GNU/Linux inside cars (let’s face it, most of today’s infotainment systems run some kind of “Linux”) Tesla is aggressively against software freedom. Years ago we wrote about freedom deficit in cars (people losing control over their own cars, even in an age when fewer people are likely to drive, so automobile companies must learn to adapt to customers’ needs and demands, not impose restrictions on them).

“…people need to become better enlightened or aware of the erosion of rights they’ve long taken for granted.”The video above is the last of today’s batch. We may resume or revisit this topic some time in the near future. For the time being let’s just say that people need to become better enlightened or aware of the erosion of rights they’ve long taken for granted. If people stop fighting for or standing up for basic justice, then injustice will prevail and become the “new normal”…

Right To Repair: What It’s About and How That Relates to Software

Posted in DRM, Videos at 4:34 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

Summary: A short (less than one minute) video that offers some background or sheds light on the intersection between Software Freedom and the Right To Repair

Brand as Distraction From the Core Issues Surrounding the Right To Repair

Posted in DRM, Videos at 4:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

Summary: Excerpt of a video from Odysee, in which an important point is explained regarding a very actual and relevant case, more so given a recent ruling that indirectly impacts software freedom, mostly in (but not limited to) the United States

THE Daily Links in Techrights recently contained a great deal of news about the Right To Repair, usually under the “DRM” section. The subject was mentioned here before, at least in passing, and we’ve shared a number of LibrePlanet videos about it. Expect more of the same.

The Right To Repair, which many people aren’t aware of, isn’t just of economic and ecological importance. It also pertains to software freedom, sometimes very directly (e.g. in the case of modern tractors).

05.14.21

Nathan Proctor: Right to Repair and the DMCA

Posted in DRM, Hardware at 9:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

LibrePlanet 2019 video. Original here. Slides here.

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