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GNU is Not Unix

Interview with Don Marti 73

mpawlo writes "I just picked Don Marti's brain in a short interview published by Greplaw. Don Marti is the editor of LinuxJournal and the mastermind behind the Burnallgifs campaign. He has strong views on free software, software patentability and the freedom of the Internet. Marti should personally be featured in any encyclopedia under 'geektivism' and the brief interview may be of interest to Slashdotters not yet familiar with Mr Marti."
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Interview with Don Marti

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  • His cartoons in Mad magazine were the best!
  • Curious how 3 out of 4 images on the page are gifs.....Sorta like that Mandrake page explaining GNU, where the GNU gnu image is a gif....

    Hypocrisy anyone?
    • Quoting the article:

      # Greplaw still uses GIFs. What should we do instead?

      Use PNG or JPEG images, depending on which gives you the best quality and image size. Almost all browsers in use today support both.

      I don't think the interview was about promoting the BurnAllGifs campaign, it was more about finding out what makes Don Marti tick. :)
      • Is this all because the gif format is copyrighted and not open source? Sorry for seeming absolutely dense to 98% of the people here but I'm having trouble remembering what the trouble is with gifs.
        • Apparently he's not too wild about software patents. I can understand why he doesn't like gif because of that, but the rest of his reasons are silly. He called gif an "outdated" format that is only used to be compatible with older browsers. Riiiight. I'm sure the entire world secretly wants to use png on their websites, but, gosh-darn-it, those ancient browsers that everyone uses only support gif. _Nobody_ uses browsers like Netscape or IE or Opera or Mozilla or any of the other browsers that support png. What's this world coming to? (/sarcasm)
          • _Nobody_ uses browsers like Netscape or IE or Opera or Mozilla or any of the other browsers that support png.

            IE (for windows) and png support are two things I very rarely see in the same sentence unless poor is in there as well somewhere. Though I'm more annoyed by it's total lack of mng support than it half assed png support.
        • Unisys has a patent on LZW compression which is used in the GIF format.
        • by blakestah ( 91866 ) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Saturday September 21, 2002 @08:05PM (#4305014) Homepage
          The LZW compression algorithm is patented. This is used in, for example, UNIX compress. In response to this, GNU wrote gzip for compression. GIF images also use the LZW algorithm.

          Unisys owns licensing rights to the LZW patent. They typically go to web site operators (large ones), and ask them to pay licensing fees, or prove that all the GIFs they serve came from licensed programs. Kinda creepy. Of course, none of the enforcement came until GIFs were widely used.

          In response, a group of open source hackers wrote the png spec, which uses the gzip compression technique. Also, postscript and pdf added gzip compression (flate compression) in addition to LZW compression, so that people could make pdfs without worrying about patent licensing.

          The GIF patent will expire in less than a year, I think. It is still WIDELY used. However, development has continued at full speed on png formats, and has halted on GIFs. Even when they become legal, the next generation of software will use pngs instead (because the DEVELOPMENT stopped, not because it "used to be patented").
  • I have enjoy Linux Journal since I started to subscribe to it a little over a year ago. What direction do you see the Journal going in the next 5 years ? If(but more likely when) Linux gains more mainstream support do expect to include more "beginner" type articles and running such promotions like including distrobutions of Linux? Keep up the good work.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Now that Unisys' patent is set to expire early next year, the gif format will be free once again. Looking back, did you feel your campaign was successful? What would you have done differently, if you could? Finally, will you drop your campaign to "burnallgifs" once the format is "free"?

  • Offtopic, but... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I know this is really offtopic, but how do most people pronounce GIF? I've always pronounced it like "gift" without a t, but everyone else I know seems to call it "jiff". Seems like a good slashdot poll to me.
    • Compuserve (format inventor I believe) said it was to be prounced jiff. I have always pronounced it like gift because that seems more logical (G in Graphics has a guh sound not a jih sound).
    • I pronounce it like you (Gif{!t}), but you can't really argue with those who pronounce it "jif" since this is the soundex of the first two letters of "gigolo" amongst other words.

    • "jiff" is the official pronunciation:
      http://www.colorado.edu/~hyperlst/html-developers/ old/0541.html [colorado.edu]

      I worked with the creator of GIF (Steve Wilhite) when I was still
      employed by CompuServe. Steve always pronounced it "jiff" and
      would correct those who pronounced it with a hard G. "Choosy
      developers choose GIF" (spinning off of a historically popular
      peanut butter commercial).
  • but if I wanted to get rid of gifs used in an application I support, I would have to replace them with an animated, lightweight (ie/ not flash) solution

    What would work?

    (I'm not asking Don Marti, I read the header, unlike all the rest asking questions when it's actually a link to an interview that already took place. I'm asking the rest of you Slashdot readers. Just thought I'd clarify that. God I'm bored right now.)
    • Answering my own question here - MNG format appears to be an alternative, but MSIE doesn't seem to support it out-of-the box.

      Since 99% of my users are running IE, that's a bit annoying :\
      • Answering my own question here - MNG format appears to be an alternative, but MSIE doesn't seem to support it out-of-the box.

        Really a pity too. I was lucky enough to have a significant enough lack of IE users on my page to be able to use mng. The extra space saved by using mng instead of gif builds up surprisingly fast.
    • You could try using png format images. The libpng group provides a browser support reference [libpng.org].

      For the images that require animation, you could look into the MNG/JNG format. A reference is available here [libpng.org]. Support does not seem to very widespread but that may not matter depending on the intended audience for your application.

  • now you see, this is why we never should have come down from the tres, waaaaay to complicated.
  • by dananderson ( 1880 ) on Saturday September 21, 2002 @08:01PM (#4304996) Homepage
    For background information on BurnAllGIFs.ORG, see http://burnallgifs.org [burnallgifs.org] The software section is especially valuable.

    I use ESR's gif2png [tuxedo.org] to convert my legacy GIF files to PNG for web use. I provide Solaris SPARC and x86 packages [drydog.com] (Linux packages are available elsewhere).

  • You know... Don Martin from Martin from MAD. I love him.
  • A few comments (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Saturday September 21, 2002 @08:14PM (#4305045) Journal
    1) As a few anonymous cowards have asked, "Who is Don Marti, and why should I care about his opinions?" I don't really see why this is headline news. Most of probably don't care about him, and his opinions are not very interesting or revolutionary. In short, he's just a regular guy who got interviewed. If I were a little more cynical, I might even suggest that this was a cheap ploy to get a few thousands hits on someone's banner ads.

    2) Quoting from the article:

    Software is a good thing because in software, a small investment can create and manage great complexity. When you impose the same transaction costs on software as on hardware, much useful software that could otherwise have been created does not exist. We are seeing this today in the field of video compression. The MPEG patent licensing mess is excluding everyone except for large, well-funded corporations from creating innovative new video-related software.

    I don't follow this. What MPEG patent licensing mess? There is none. If you want to use an algorithm developed by someone else, at great expense, you follow their rules. If you want to use their algorithm for free... then, I'm sorry, you'll just have to come up with your own algorithm. And when you're done, don't forget to give it away for free.

    3) Uhhh... this guy has what qualifications to be talking about law and interpreting the Constitution? I didn't see anything in his bio about being a lawyer.
    • If you want to use an algorithm developed by someone else, at great expense, you follow their rules.

      Oh please.

      That boils down to "If you want to develop your own algorithm, you'd better make sure it has nothing in common with a million others developed at "great expense" or else follow their rules," which is an amazing hindrance to innovation. Furthermore, algorithms are mathematical constructs and should not be owned any more than arithmetical constructions can be owned.

      And you have to be a constitutional scholar to interpret the constitution?? What is this, a secret priesthood where the word of god is written on stone tablets that only the scribes can interpret? Constitutional theorists spend their lives thinking about fine points and hard cases, but this ain't one of 'em. The intention and spirit of the references to the LIMITED monopoly over ideas in the constitution is clear enough for any of us who are bound to follow it to understand.

      What's hard to understand is how money could have so thoroughly corrupted such a well-intentioned process.

      You seem overly concerned with making sure people who spend a lot of money make a profit, and not nearly concerned enough that the intellectual commons of our society is not plundered by teh interests of capital.

    • The trouble is that independent creation is no defence to patent infringement, so if you did write your own algorithm you could still be sued if it had elements in common with the patent filed. I don't know about the MPEG patent in particular, but in many cases software patents are so broad you cannot write any algorithm that doesn't infringe. They become a government-granted monopoly on the whole application area.

      This is one of the reasons why copyright is a better fit for software than patents: if you create something independently, without looking at another's code, you cannot infringe the copyright.
  • But everything2.com has never even heard of Geektivisim:

    Nothing Found
    Sorry, but nothing matching "geektivism" was found.
    If you Log in you could create a "geektivism" node. If you don't already have an account, you can Create A New User...

    Nor Don Marti:

    Here's the stuff we found when you searched for "don marti"
    [long list of non-don marti things snipped]
    If you Log in you could create a "don marti" node. If you don't already have an account, you can Create A New User...

    Maybe someone could log in and fix that, I never quite got into that whole everything2.com scene.

  • Long ago and far away at the beginning of the Dot.Com bubble I worked with Don Marti. He is largely responsible for turning me into the linux zealot I am today :). I have never met a nicer or more jovial geek.
  • Damn, when I first read it I thought it said an Interview with a Dry Martini. I don't know about you, but the second one sounds much more enjoyable.

  • Why doesn't the Don just make them an offer they can't refuse?


  • Don's coming to the Linux Users' Group of Davis [lugod.org], out here near Sacramento, on February 4th [lugod.org].
  • "Linux was made by foreign terrorists to take money from true US companies
    like Microsoft." - Some AOL'er.
    "To this end we dedicate ourselves..." -Don
    -- From the sig of "Don", don@cs.byu.edu

    - this post brought to you by the Automated Last Post Generator...

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."