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What's the status of sourceless live linux distros?

From: Martin Guy
Subject: What's the status of sourceless live linux distros?
Date: 5 Oct 2004 10:58:42 -0700

Hi all!
   I'd like to ask what people think/what we can do about a new kind
of GPL breach.
   I keep running into bootable Linux CD and floppy distros where the
creators have simply taken a load of binaries, sometimes from all over
the place, cobbled together a bootable Unix filesystem, made an ISO
image (or floppy) out of it, and then annouced it as a free software
   The result is that it is almost impossible to modify or extend the
resulting systems or to fix bugs in them, simply because there is no
source tree from which the binary-only distro is produced.
   Some Live CDs (e.g. Linux Bootable Business Card) started out this
way, but have since refounded their work on source with a building
tool, but others, if they reply at all, just basically say "I went and
got the source code from the original authors and built
XXnameXofXdistroXdeletedXX - you can do the same".

   Things are worse than they seem.
   Apart from being a breach of the GPL (since without the specific
source and build tools, which don't exist, you can't modify the things
in any useful way), the developers themselves end up with an
increasingly unmaintainable distro, of which the worst example I have
seen is dynebolic. With this one, the selection of programs that work
for you depends on which precise processor you happen to have. Needed
libraries or help systems are missing for some parts of some programs,
and a C compiler is not included, so the odds of even being able to
find a compatibile compiling environment to inject new or fixed
binaries into it are vanishingly small.
   I recently overheard a non-technical friend saying in conversation
"Linux doesn't work on AMD processors" - it turned out that dynebolic
had been distributed on a magazine cover in the UK, and that it
doesn't work on his particular top-end AMD processor, but the
conclusion he had drawn was that "Linux doesn't work on AMD", and even
an expert can't get the source and "make world" for Pentium-MMX or
whatever because the source does not exist.  Even the authors don't
remember what libraries were required for what programs.

Another sourceless distro is EucaristOS (the openMosix node on a
floppy) where the "source" is just an unpacked version of the binary
Unix tree that's on the floppy, without so much as the kernel config
supplied, but I expect there are many more out there.

Is there anything we can do about these pervertions of free software? 
I have had only silence or (ultimately) deathwishes from the distro
authors that I have contacted about this problem.  Would someone from
FSF or GNU like to comment?


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