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Coping with MS-specific hardware

Microsoft Windows is still unfortunately the most widespread platform which is why most major hardware manufacturers still first and foremost make sure their hardware works well with Windows. Even if Windows Vista is a flop in general compared to previous Windows versions, it is reasonable to assume that hardware manufacturers will prepare their hardware for various novelties that Vista may be offering.

The biggest problem is in hardware with features which are designed specifically for operation with Windows and Windows-specific features. You know those keyboards and mouses with special buttons and even LCD screens? Those are usually designed for Windows and they usually offer Windows-only software on CD to flawlessly take advantage of these features.

Reading a wired article about the novelties in the PC world that 2007 may bring I encountered the following line:

Bruce Gain (Wired News) wrote:

Manufacturers will add small second screens to laptops, utilizing Microsoft's SideShow platform to let users get e-mail, addresses and other information without firing up their machines. Redmond claims Windows Vista will allow painless setup, and expects SideShow to show up in keyboards, remotes and cell phones.

This takes the whole tie up between Microsoft and Microsoft-specific hardware even further. Manufacturers are getting ready to design hardware that works perfectly with this Microsoft SideShow platform. The obvious question us GNU/Linux users should be posing is "what about us"? Will this work with GNU/Linux the way it works with Microsoft? How do we address the problem?

GNU/Linux hardware support is extremely commendable. Basically anything that doesn't work yet doesn't work because of lack of cooperation of the hardware vendor. However, when it comes to the specific type of hardware designed to work with specific types of software, we could be left in cold.

As the price of laptops and PCs continues to drop and people start buying more of the luxurious peripherals (not just plain keyboards and mouses, for example, but those with special LCD screens and other widgets) the problem of supporting those becomes relevant.

Just like 3D desktop, we may see it as silly and unnecessary, but you can't argue against the market forces. If people demand it, we have to have something to offer, or otherwise our liberating platform may be irrelevant to many.

I welcome any opinions you may have on the subject.

Thank you

Comments

Some thoughts

 

Interesting post, I'd like to share a couple of thoughts about this.
Sure, the market is the driving force. Cool new gadgets are offered and some people for sure will buy it (although I don't know who really would buy a keyboard-mouse-combo for 300 euros, I for sure would not, and the price is not the only reason).
A problem is that a normal keyboard with no extra buttons is pretty hard to find. Around 3.5 years ago I needed a new keyboard, and of course I wanted a normal one without any funky extras or in some funny shape. I don't remember how many shops I scanned for that, but it took a while to find one I like, meaning one without these funky extra buttons and that doesn't look like they've been in the sun for too long.
So the market is pushing these gadget-loaded keyboards into the world, and people (read: normal users who don't really care about what's going on and just want everything working with one click ;-) ) are happy because they can control the volume of their music with some buttons on the keyboard instead of using the mouse to control the volume-slider. Yes, mouse-miles are expensive. ;-) They have a button for opening everybody's favorite browser: IE (although I think there might be setting where you can change this to launch Firefox or whatever you like) and even for browser navigation. As I said, mouse-miles are expensive, especially when you don't have an optical one.
Anyway, most people (meaning the same kind of people like before) use Windows. Why? Because it came with their box. And anyway, that one special application they need (propably Minesweeper or something like that) most propably does not exist for that strange hacker-system Linux. Not to mention that software that doesn't really hurt your wallet can't be even close to good.
Okay, there are also others. The more informed type, who knows that there is Linux and that it's a good system (propably they know someone who told them about it) with a lot of good software. That's the type of people who could be persuaded (read: forced ;-) ) to use Linux by sitting down with them, installing it, setting everything up and doing some nice easy lessons on how to do everything they need to do with their new, shiny system. But they would, most propably, not try it on their own.
So, people use Windows.
But here we are talking "Linux for the masses", and this might have something good about it (that manufacturers maybe start realizing there's something else than only Windows), so we want to offer the same freaky functions people know (or even are used to) from Windows. I'm not sure, but I think it's already possible to use the extra buttons on the keyboard (I'm not totally sure, but as far as I remember I've seen some article about that). But now these extra displays are coming up, something totally new, developed for some new Windows-feature.
First of all: The quote says without firing up the PC. Does that mean my box will still be alive to check my mails or whatever although I already shut it down? Well, my power-company will be happy about that. ;-)
If the PC has to be running for that (what I think) then I think something like Xinerama might come in handy here. X already offers pretty cool support for multiple displays. The problem here would be the driver, and I guess this might be a big problem, except manufacturers publish the specs.
If then somebody finds a way to do display stuff on that little extra display (I really hope that manufacturers won't all have their own way how to do it and follow one common standard, although I fear all hope is lost here) it could be utilized in some ways. As mentioned it might be used in X to display some little windows or maybe, depending on size and quality, even play movies on it. In CLI it might be cool to have a daemon (or maybe a set of daemons) which can pull information from various other programs to display things like CPU-temperature, free memory (although Linux's caching-strategy usually fills memory up to the last bit) and information like that.

Well, I don't know when that stuff is supposed to be flooded into the world, but I'm sure these extras will have their price and therefor not be in everybody's hands too soon. And maybe that time where these gadgets are still pretty expensive somebody can already find a way to address the communication with the new hardware and make it run on Linux too.

Another thing I'd like to mention together with manufacturers opening up for Linux (either by contributing drivers and software themselves or publishing the specs). As I explained above there are a lot of reasons why normal users stay with Windows, and if a bunch of people suddenly decides they want to switch over to Linux no hardware-manufacturer will be impressed. But if companies or even government-institutions start migrating this might have a real impact.

I'm looking forward to the

I'm looking forward to the interesting applications the free software community will come up with for those extra screens.

reptiler wrote: I'm not

reptiler wrote:

I'm not sure, but I think it's already possible to use the extra buttons on the keyboard (I'm not totally sure, but as far as I remember I've seen some article about that).

It is possible to bind some of the buttons with certain commands using the GNOME keyboard shortcuts, for example, but it doesn't recognize all of the buttons for me. Usually when I am prompted to press a button to bind it will automatically detect the key code of that key, but it doesn't for all of the buttons.

I just tested the power saving key and it works, but after trying to wake it up it rebooted (the incredible Firefox 2.0 saved this unfinished post though Laughing out loud ). Not sure if this is due to my keyboard, Ubuntu or the computer itself. Anyway, the mute key also works.

It might be possible to get them all working even, but I imagine LCD screens might a bit more of a challenge (but no I don't have those).

reptiler wrote:

First of all: The quote says without firing up the PC. Does that mean my box will still be alive to check my mails or whatever although I already shut it down? Well, my power-company will be happy about that.

I have no idea about the specifics of how it should work, but my guess is that it might be loading a bit of the OS into the LCD screens (that is, its circuits) itself so even when you shut down your computer you don't shut down your keyboard and the bit of code running in it would still be connected to check for email and stuff.. But that's just a wild guess.

reptiler wrote:

As I explained above there are a lot of reasons why normal users stay with Windows, and if a bunch of people suddenly decides they want to switch over to Linux no hardware-manufacturer will be impressed. But if companies or even government-institutions start migrating this might have a real impact.

That's always true. It seems many government institutions are already getting it and switching. And there were quite a few companies as well. I guess this trend just has to continue. Another big push would come if major computer makers would start pre-installing GNU/Linux on their boxes. That too should be a clear sign to specific hardware makers to start fully supporting GNU/Linux..

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