What is Spectrum, or Charter Spectrum?

What is Spectrum, or Charter Spectrum?

What is Spectrum? Charter Spectrum, or simply Spectrum, is a new name to many parts of the country. Spectrum is the brand name for cable, Internet and phone service from Charter Communications.

Although Charter started using the Spectrum name prior to its merger, the name Spectrum gained prominence as a result of the second, fourth, and sixth-largest cable operators in the United States merging in 2016. Post-merger Charter is now a Fortune 100 company.

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Spectrum bought by AT&T? Not quite.

Was Time Warner Cable or Charter Spectrum bought by AT&T? No it wasn’t, but I understand why some people are thinking that right now. It now turns out that both Charter Communications and AT&T have a history with Time Warner, but it’s complicated.

That said, there is a rumor now that AT&T’s arch rival Verizon is considering buying Charter Communications, the company behind Spectrum. Meanwhile, AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner. Time Warner differs from Time Warner Cable.

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The bloatware antidote for Windows

I needed a Windows MP3 player that wouldn’t take over my system and wouldn’t take as long to download as the typical alternative Web browser circa 2003. Which meant I went looking at one place.
That place is tinyapps.org.

I found what I was looking for (besides a way to legally download a song for $1.75, which is beyond these guys’ control). It’s called Coolplayer. It’s a 170K download that expands out to a 350K executable that uses an ini file in the same directory. Installation consists of putting it where you want to store it. Uninstallation consists of deleting the executable and the ini file. Excellent.

Coolplayer plays MP3s and has a simple playlist editor. Nothing fancy, just the basics. Well, and I guess I should mention it keeps me out of the eternal war between Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, and RealNetworks over control of whatever PC I happen to be using. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a feature, and maybe its best one. No, Realplayer, you may not take over the filename association for textfiles! If I wanted a text editor, I’d have run Metapad!

Most of the apps linked at Timyapps are substantially under 1 MB in size and provide just the basics most people need.

If the executables are still too big for you, there’s UPX. UPX is a modern-day PKLite that works on Windows apps as well as DOS apps. Among other things. I used an old version of it–I haven’t downloaded the current version 1.24, which has better compression–to pack the CoolPlayer executable down to 173K. The superfast, minimalist Off By One Web browser packs down to 359K.

If you’re building a super floppy or CD of Windows utilities, packing them with UPX is a good way to get more space for them. (Betcha didn’t know you could fit a Windows Web browser, MP3 player, and a text editor on a 3.5″ floppy and have room to spare, did you?) Or if you’re stuck with a way-too-small hard drive, UPX can gain you some space.

See, if you’re stuck with Windows 95 on a 386DX40 with 8 megs of RAM and a 170MB hard drive, you can get the basics you need to turn that into a useful computer. And the tricks still work if you’ve got something better.

Why I dislike Microsoft

“Windows 2000,” I muttered as one of my computers fired up so my girlfriend could use it. “Must mean something about the number of bugs that’ll be discovered tomorrow.”
She told me she liked Windows and asked me why I hated Microsoft so much.

It’s been a while since I thought about that. She speculated that I was annoyed that Bill Gates is smarter than me. (Which he probably is, but aside from a couple more books in print, it hasn’t gotten him anything I don’t have that I want.) There’s more to it than that.

I’m still annoyed about the foundation Microsoft built its evil empire upon. In the ’70s, Microsoft was a languages company, and they specialized in the language Basic. Microsoft Basic wasn’t the best Basic on the market, but it was the standard. And when IBM decided it wanted to enter the personal computer market, IBM wanted Microsoft Basic because nobody would take them seriously if they didn’t. So they started talking to Microsoft.

IBM also wanted the CP/M operating system. CP/M wasn’t the best operating system either, but it was the standard. IBM was getting ready to negotiate with Gary Kildall, owner of Digital Research and primary author of the OS, and ran into snags. Gates’ account was that Kildall went flying and kept the IBM suits waiting and then refused to work with them. More likely, the free-spirited and rebellious Kildall didn’t want to sign all the NDAs IBM wanted him to sign.

Microsoft was, at the time, a CP/M subcontractor. Microsoft sold a plug-in board for Apple II computers that made them CP/M-compatible. So IBM approached Microsoft about re-selling CP/M. Microsoft couldn’t do it. And that bothered Gates.

But another Microsoft employee had a friend named Tim Patterson. Tim Patterson was an employee of Seattle Computer Products, a company that sold an 8086-based personal computer similar to the computer IBM was developing. CP/M was designed for computers based on the earlier 8080 and 8085 CPUs. Patterson, tired of waiting for a version of CP/M for the 8086, cloned it.

So Seattle Computer Products had something IBM wanted, and Microsoft was the only one who knew it. So Microsoft worked out a secret deal. For $50,000, they got Patterson and his operating system, which they then licensed to IBM. Patterson’s operating system became PC DOS 1.0.

Back in the mid-1990s, PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak wrote something curious about this operating system. He said he knew of an easter egg present in CP/M in the late 1970s that caused Kildall’s name and a copyright notice to be printed. Very early versions (presumably before the 1.0 release) of DOS had this same easter egg. This of course screams copyright violation.

Copyright violation or none, Kildall was enraged the first time he saw DOS 1.0 because it was little more than a second-rate copy of his life’s work. And while Digital Research easily could have taken on Microsoft (it was the bigger company at the time), the company didn’t stand a prayer in court against the mighty IBM. So the three companies made some secret deals. The big winner was Microsoft, who got to keep its (possibly illegal) operating system.

Digital Research eventually released CP/M-86, but since IBM sold CP/M-86 for $240 and DOS for $60, it’s easy to see which one gained marketshare, especially since the two systems weren’t completely compatible. Digital Research even added multiuser and multitasking abilities to it, but they were ignored. In 1988, DR-DOS was released. It was nearly 100% compatible with MS-DOS, faster, less expensive, and had more features. Microsoft strong-armed computer manufacturers into not using it and even put cryptic error messages in Windows to discourage the end users who had purchased DR-DOS as an upgrade from using it. During 1992, DR-DOS lost nearly 90% of its marketshare, declining from $15.5 million in sales in the first quarter to just $1.4 million in the fourth quarter.

Digital Research atrophied away and was eventually bought out by Novell in 1991. Novell, although the larger company, fared no better in the DOS battle. They released Novell DOS 7, based on DR-DOS, in 1993, but it was mostly ignored. Novell pulled it from the market within months. Novell eventually sold the remnants of Digital Research to Caldera Inc., who created a spinoff company with the primary purpose of suing Microsoft for predatory behavior that locked a potential competitor out of the marketplace.

Caldera and Microsoft settled out of court in January 2000. The exact terms were never disclosed.

Interestingly, even though it was its partnership with IBM that protected Microsoft from the wrath of Gary Kildall in 1981, Microsoft didn’t hesitate to backstab IBM when it got the chance. By 1982, clones of IBM’s PC were beginning to appear on the market. Microsoft sold the companies MS-DOS, and even developed a custom version of Basic for them that worked around a ROM compatibility issue. While there was nothing illegal about turning around and selling DOS to its partner’s competitors, it’s certainly nobody’s idea of a thank-you.

Microsoft’s predatory behavior in the 1980s and early ’90s wasn’t limited to DOS. History is littered with other operating systems that tried to take on DOS and Windows and lost: GeoWorks. BeOS. OS/2. GeoWorks was an early GUI programmed in assembly language by a bunch of former videogame programmers. It was lightning fast and multitasked, even on 10 MHz XTs and 286s. It was the most successful of the bunch in getting OEM deals, but you’ve probably never heard of it. OS/2 was a superfast and stable 32-bit operating system that ran DOS and Windows software as well as its own, a lot like Windows NT. By Gates’ own admission it was better than anything Microsoft had in the 1990s. But it never really took off, partly because of IBM’s terrible marketing, but partly because Microsoft’s strong-arm tactics kept even IBM’s PC division from shipping PCs with it much of the time. BeOS was a completely new operating system, written from scratch, that was highly regarded for its speed. It never got off the ground because Microsoft completely locked it out of new computer bundles.

Microsoft used its leverage in operating systems to help it gain ground in applications as well. In the 1980s, the market-leading spreadsheet was Lotus 1-2-3. There was an alleged saying inside Microsoft’s DOS development group: DOS ain’t done ’til Lotus won’t run. Each new DOS revision, from version 3 onward, broke third-party applications. Lotus 1-2-3, although once highly regarded, is a noncontender in today’s marketplace.

Once Windows came into being, things only got worse. Microsoft’s treatment of Netscape was deplorable. For all intents and purposes, Microsoft had a monopoly on operating systems by 1996, and Netscape had a monopoly on Web browsers. Netscape was a commercial product, sold in retail stores for about $40, but most of its distribution came through ISPs, who bought it at a reduced rate and provided it to their subscribers. Students could use it for free. Since the Web was becoming a killer app, Netscape had a booming business. Microsoft saw this as a threat to its Windows franchise, since Netscape ran well not only on Windows, but also on the Mac, OS/2 and on a number of flavors of Unix. So Microsoft started bunding Internet Explorer with Windows and offering it as a free download for those who already had Windows, or had an operating system other than Windows, such as Mac OS. In other industries, this is called tying or dumping, and it’s illegal. Netscape, once the darling of Wall Street, was bought for pennies on the dollar by AOL, and AOL-Time Warner is still trying to figure out what to do with it. Once Microsoft attained a monopoly on Web browsers, innovation in that space stopped. Internet Explorer has gotten a little bit faster and more standards compliant since IE4, but Microsoft hasn’t put any innovation in the browser for five years. Want popup blocking or tabs? You won’t find either in IE. All of the innovation in that space has come in browsers with a tiny piece of the market.

One could argue that consumers now get Web browsers for free, where they didn’t before. Except every new computer came with a Web browser, and most ISPs provided a browser when you signed up. So there were lots of ways to get a Web browser for free in the mid-’90s.

And when it came to the excesses of the dotcom era, Netscape was among the worst. But whether Netscape could have kept up its perks given its business model is irrelevant when a predator comes in and overnight renders unsalable the product that accounts for 90% of your revenue.

Allegations popped up again after Windows 95’s release that Win95 sabotoged competitors’ office software, such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. Within a couple of years, Microsoft Office was a virtual monopoly, with Lotus SmartSuite existing almost exclusively as a budget throw-in with new PCs and WordPerfect Office being slightly more common on new PCs and an also-ran in the marketplace. It’s been five years since any compelling new feature has appeared in Microsoft Office. The most glaring example of this is spam filtering. Innovative e-mail clients today have some form of automatic spam filtering, either present or in development. Outlook doesn’t. “Microsoft Innovation” today means cartoon characters telling you how to indent paragraphs.

And the pricing hasn’t really come down either. When office suites first appeared in 1994, they cost around $500. A complete, non-upgrade retail copy of Microsoft Office XP still costs about $500.

Pricing hasn’t come down on Windows either. In the early 90s, the DOS/Windows bundle cost PC manufacturers about $75. Today, Windows XP Home costs PC manufacturers about $100. The justification is that Windows XP Home is more stable and has more features than Windows 3.1. Of course, the Pentium 4 is faster and less buggy than the original Pentium of 1994, but it costs a lot less. Neither chip can touch Windows’ 85% profit margin.

And when Microsoft wasn’t busy sabotaging competitors’ apps, it was raiding its personnel. Microsoft’s only really big rival in the languages business in the ’80s and early ’90s was Borland, a company founded by the flambouyant Phillippe Kahn. Gates had a nasty habit of raiding Borland’s staff and picking off their stars. It didn’t go both ways. If a Microsoft employee defected, the employee could expect a lawsuit.

Well, Kahn decided to play the game once. He warmed up to a Microsoft staffer whose talents he believed weren’t being fully utilized. The employee didn’t want to jump ship because Microsoft would sue him. Kahn said fine, let Microsoft sue, and Borland would pay whatever was necessary. So he defected. As expected, Gates was enraged and Microsoft sued.

Soon afterward, Kahn and his new hire were in an airport when a Hare Krishna solicited a donation. Kahn handed him $100 on the spot and told him there was a whole lot more in it for him if he’d deliver a message to Bill Gates: “Phillippe just gave us $100 for hot food because he suspects after this lawsuit, your employees are going to need it.”

He delivered the message. Gates wasn’t amused.

It was a bold, brash move. And I think it was pretty darn funny too. But smart? Not really. Borland’s glory days were pretty much over 10 years ago. For every star Borland could lure away, Microsoft could lure away three. Borland’s still in business today, which makes it fairly unique among companies that have taken on Microsoft head-on, but only after several reorganizations and major asset selloffs.

The only notable company that’s taken on Microsoft in the marketplace directly and won has been Intuit, the makers of Quicken. Microsoft even gave away its Quicken competitor, Microsoft Money, for a time, a la Internet Explorer, in an effort to gain market share. When that failed, Microsoft bought Intuit outright. The FTC stepped in and axed the deal.

The thanks Microsoft has given the world for making it the world’s largest software company has been to sell buggy software and do everything it could to force companies and individuals to buy upgrades every couple of years, even when existing software is adequate for the task. While hardware manufacturers scrape for tiny margins, Microsoft enjoys 85% profit margins on its product. But Microsoft mostly sits on its cash, or uses it to buy companies or products since it has a terrible track record of coming up with ideas on its own. The company has never paid dividends, so it’s not even all that much of a friend to its own investors.

For me, the question isn’t why I dislike Microsoft. The question for me is why Microsoft has any friends left.

This year, Selig outshines even Steinbrenner

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28
Bud Selig has once again opened his mouth and is calling the Minnesota Twins, despite their raging success this year–and not-so-shabby last year–a candidate for contraction.

Translation: Twins owner Carl Pohlad loaned me money a few years ago, even though it was against baseball’s rules, but that’s OK because I enforce the rules, and now he can sell the team to the rest of the owners and I can make them pay more money than he could get by selling the team outright, so I’m going to do him that favor, no matter how bad it makes baseball look.

They talked during the All-Star Game about how Bud Selig once sold Joe Torre a car. That’s appropriate, because Selig is still spewing as much crap as a used-car salesman and he doesn’t know where to stop.

I really don’t understand is why Selig, in this era of corporate scandal that destroyed Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart and now threatens the AOL Time Warner empire, is willing to do anything that has even the most remote appearance of corruption. But maybe Selig’s like a 16-year-old with a red Lamborghini, an attractive girl riding shotgun, and a fifth of whiskey. The worst possible outcome always happens to the other guy, right?

And the ironic thing is that in 1995, Carl Pohlad’s company loaned Bud Selig money, because Bud Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers needed money.

Hmm. The Brewers ran out of money. The Brewers’ owner went to the Twins’ owner for money. Interesting.

The Brewers last went to the World Series in 1982. They lost in seven games. The Twins went to the big show in 1987 and won. They went again in 1991. They won. In 2001, the Twins went 85-77 and finished second in their division and even finished second in the wild-card race. The Brewers finished 68-94 and did what they almost always seem to do best: prop the Cubs up in the standings.

I know of a team in the northern midwest that seems like an excellent candidate for contraction. And that team would be:

The Milwaukee Brewers.

Leave the Twins alone.

But don’t get me wrong. Selig isn’t a complete waste. Selig is doing an outstanding job of frustrating George Steinbrenner. You see, before Selig became the most hated man in baseball, Steinbrenner had been the undisputed champion, for about 30 years. But don’t get me wrong. Steinbrenner’s having a great year. Why, last week he accused Major League Baseball of conspiring against him. He wanted superstar outfielder Cliff Floyd. Floyd went from Florida to Montreal to Steinbrenner’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. Now it’s conspiracy.

That’s the way Steinbrenner thinks. A few years ago, George Brett had dinner with George Steinbrenner. Back in Brett’s heyday, the Yankees and Brett’s Kansas City Royals were big rivals. They met in the playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. The Yankees won three of four years. At some point in their conversation, Brett noticed his view of Steinbrenner’s face was blocked by a menu, so Brett moved it. Steinbrenner put it back. “I can’t stand looking at you,” Steinbrenner said.

“Why?” Brett asked.

“You beat us too many times in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said.

Brett asked if beating the Yankees once counted as “too many times.” Steinbrenner said yes.

Now you know why I rooted for the buy-a-championship Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series last year. Yeah, I wanted the Cardinals to go. But I wanted Steinbrenner to not get what he wanted.

But Steinbrenner’s not just an immature little kid who’s not willing to share his toys. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens was making a rehab start at Class A Tampa. The home-plate umpire was–horror of horrors–a woman! Well, Steinbrenner was horrified. They were mishandling his pitcher.

Earth to Steinbrenner: A rehab start is about throwing pitches to real-live batters to see a few things. First and foremost, does it hurt? Second, can you throw seven innings? Third, does it hurt?

Earth to Steinbrenner, again: Gender has nothing to do with the ability to see, to know the rules, and call balls and strikes.

Earth to Steinbrenner: The male umpires who call balls and strikes in the major leagues seem to have never read the rulebook, because they never call a strike above the belt. So if your theory that women don’t call balls and strikes the way men do happens to be true, having a woman behind the plate was probably a very good thing, and I eagerly await the day when we see women umps in the Big Leauges.

Then Steinbrenner said Ms. Cortesia should go back to umpiring Little League. “She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t that good,” he said.

Clemens’ assesment: She did great.

So tell me who’s a better judge of an umpire’s ability: a loud, rude, obnoxious baseball owner, or a 40-year-old pitcher with 18 years’ experience in the major leagues?

Yep, Steinbrenner’s been in rare form these past couple of months. But he’s been eclipsed by Bud Selig. Pete Rose and Don Fehr are back and spewing as much garbage as ever, as well, and Ted Williams’ kids are doing their best to make everyone forget their dad’s Hall of Fame career. And Reds GM Jim Bowden made the mistake of invoking the memory of Sept. 11 when talking about a possible player’s strike. (He was wrong, of course. Sept. 11 destroyed two towers, but it didn’t destroy New York and it didn’t destroy America. A strike could destroy baseball.)

Yes, they’re all valiant attempts to look stupid. They’ve even managed to drown out baseball’s one-man wrecking crew, player agent Scott Boras. But none of them can hold a candle to Bud Selig.

It’s kind of like 1941. Joe DiMaggio had a great year in 1941. So great, he even won the MVP that year. But nobody remembers that anymore, because 1941 was the year Ted Williams batted .406. DiMaggio was the better overall player, and DiMaggio was the far bigger celebrity, and DiMaggio handled the limelight a lot better. But 1941 was Ted Williams’ year. Nothing could eclipse him. Not Luke Appling. Not Jimmie Foxx. Not even The Great DiMaggio.

2002 is Bud Selig’s year. Steinbrenner and Rose and Fehr and the rest of baseball’s repulsive bunch will be remembered for a lot of things, but saying the most stupid things in 2002 won’t be one of them.

Much ado about nothing and other stuff

Much ado about nothing. The most recent report I read indicates that AOL/Time Warner and Red Hat are talking, but not about an acquisition. Sanity has entered the building…
Good thing User Friendly got a chance to get its two cents’ worth in. I got a couple bucks’ worth of laughter from it.
Much ado about something. On Sunday, Gentoo Linux developer Daniel Robbins announced that an obscure AMD Athlon bug slipped past Linux kernel developers, resulting in serious problems with Athlon- and Duron-based systems with AGP cards. This confirms some suspicions I’ve heard–one of the Linux mailing lists I subscribe to occasionally has rumblings about obscure and difficult-to-track-down Athlon problems.

The result was that Gentoo’s site was slashdotted into oblivion for a while, but hopefully it also resulted in some extra exposure for the distribution. Gentoo is another source-based distro. Lately I’ve been resigned to just using Debian to build my Linux boxes, but I’m still awfully fond of the idea of compiling your own stuff. As CPUs get faster and faster, I expect that to become more commonplace.

But I digress. The bug involves the CPU’s paging function. Older x86 CPUs used 4K pages. Starting with the Pentium, CPUs started allowing 4MB pages. But a bug in the Athlon’s implementation of this extended paging causes memory corruption when used in conjunction with an AGP cards.
Alan Cox is working on a workaround. I’m a bit surprised a patch isn’t already out there.

CPU bugs are discovered all the time, but it’s fairly rare for them to be serious. If you ever run across a Pentium-60 or Pentium-66 system, boot up Linux on it sometime and run the command dmesg. You’ll find workarounds for at least two serious bugs. A TI engineer named Robert Collins gained a fair bit of notoriety in the last decade by researching, collecting, and investigating CPU bugs. Part of it was probably due to his irreverant attitude towards Intel. (As you can see from this Wayback machine entry.) Sadly, I can’t find the story on the site anymore, since he was bought out by Dr. Dobb’s.
Catching up. I haven’t been making my rounds lately. The reason why is fairly obvious. I used my day off yesterday to have lunch with someone from my small group, then when I got home I read the e-mail I absolutely had to read, responded to those that absolutely had to get responses, answered a couple of voice messages, wrote and sent out a couple of other messages, looked up, and it was 5 p.m.

“Alright God,” I muttered. “I just gave the day to Your people. Time to go spend some time with You.” So I whipped out my handy-dandy Today’s Light Bible and read about Moses. Seemed appropriate. The inadequacy and jumping the gun and making excuses, that is. The Biblical “superheroes” were human just like us, and the book doesn’t gloss over that. Today’s Light is designed to divide the Bible into pieces so you can read the whole thing in two years. I can’t decide if I want to get through it in a year or in six months. A few years ago I read it in its entirety in four months, but that pace is a bit much. If you’re willing to spend as much time reading the Bible every day as the average person does watching TV, you can make it through in a few months. But it’s not exactly light reading, and I’m not sure I recommend that pace. If you’re willing to dedicate that kind of time to Bible study you’re probably better served by learning Greek so you can read the New Testament in the original. Then if you’ve still got your sanity you can think about tackling Hebrew.

I finally got around to reading Charlie Sebold’s entries for the last few days. One especially poignant observation: “I continue to be surprised at how much I remember about computers, and how much I forget about everything else (including far more important things).”

I sure can relate. I wish I could trade everything I remember about IBM PS/2s and Microchannel for something more useful. But I remember goofy baseball statistics too–I can recite the starting lineup and pitching rotation of the 1980 Kansas City Royals (I’ll spare you). But I can’t tell you the names of all seven people I met Sunday night.

What on earth is going on?

AOL-Time Warner in talks to buy Red Hat? I found this this morning. It’s intriguing, but I can’t decide if a buyout would be a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Netscape was in decline when AOL bought it. It nosedived afterward. Obviously, the problem was twofold. When AOL acquired Netscape, they didn’t acquire all of its mindshare. Some of the most talented people got fed up and left. You can take Jim Barksdale or you can leave him. The loss of Marc Andreesen and Jamie Zawinski, though, was substantial.
The second problem was that AOL wasn’t serious about competing. They bought a browser technology and basically sat on it. Netscape 4.x was fundamentally flawed, as even Zawinski acknowledges, although I would argue it was no more fundamentally flawed than IE 4.x. The Gecko engine, on which Netscape 6.x is based, is solid technology, even though it took longer to get to market than anyone had hoped. Although Netscape 6.x won’t bowl anyone over, other browsers based on the technology, such as Galeon, are absolutely fantastic. But AOL chose to release a half-hearted browser with the Netscape name on it and continued to use the IE engine in its flagship product even after the favorable agreement with Microsoft that prompted AOL to do so in the first place expired.

That begs the question of what AOL would do with Red Hat if it owned it. Red Hat is still the big-name player in the Linux field, but Red Hat is concentrating on the server market. You can still buy Red Hat at retail, but on the desktop, Red Hat is arguably #3 in popularity now behind France’s Mandrake and Germany’s SuSE. Red Hat is the only Linux company that’s making money, but that’s largely by selling consulting. That’s not AOL’s core business. At this point, AOL is more of a media company than a technology company. Software just gives AOL more outlets to sell its media content. Consulting doesn’t do that.

The best possible scenario for a Red Hat buyout would be for AOL to, as Microsoft puts it, “eat its own dog food,” that is, rip out the infrastructure it bought from other companies and replace it with the technology it just developed or acquired. Since AOL is largely powered by Sun servers, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to migrate the infrastructure to Red Hat running on Intel. Then AOL could give a big boost to its newly-acquired services division by saying, “We did it and we can help you do it too.” They can also cite Amazon’s recent successes in moving its infrastructure to Red Hat Linux. There is precedence for that; after AOL bought Time Warner, the entire company started using AOL for e-mail, a move widely questioned by anyone who’s used anything other than AOL for mail.

Of course, it would be expected that AOL would port its online service to Linux, which would create the truly odd couple of the computing field. AOL, meet sed and awk. Red Hat would certainly lose its purity and much of its credibility among the Linux die-hards. AOL would bank on making up the loss by gaining users closer to the mainstream. AOL could potentially put some Linux on its corporate desktops, but being a media company, an all-out migration to Linux everywhere within is very far-fetched.

To really make this work, AOL would either have to enter the hardware business and sell PCs at retail using its newly acquired Red Hat distribution and newly ported AOL for Linux and possibly an AOL-branded office suite based on OpenOffice, or it would have to partner with a hardware company. Partnering with a big name seems unlikely–a Compaq or an HP or an IBM wouldn’t do it for fear of retaliation from Microsoft. Sun has never expressed any interest in entering the retail computer business, and even though Sun loves to take opportunities to harm Microsoft, Sun probably wouldn’t cooperate with AOL if AOL replaced its Sun infrastructure with Red Hat Linux. Struggling eMachines might be the best bet, since it’s strictly a consumer brand, has a large presence, but hasn’t consistently turned a profit. But AOL could just as easily follow eMachines’ example, buying and re-branding low-end Far East clones and selling them at retail as loss-leaders, taking advantage of its lack of need for Windows (which accounts for roughly $75 of the cost of a retail PC) and making its profit off new subscribers to its dialup and broadband customers. A $349 PC sold at retail with a flashy GUI, decent productivity software and AOL is all the computer many consumers need.

The advantage to this scenario for everyone else is that AOL would probably dump more development into either the KDE or GNOME projects in order to give itself more and higher-quality software to offer. The official trees can either take these changes or leave them. Undoubtedly, some of the changes would be awful, and the official trees would opt to leave them. But with its 18 years’ worth of experience developing GUIs, some of the changes would likely be a good thing as well.

The more likely scenario: AOL will buy out Red Hat, not have a clue what to do with it, and Red Hat Linux will languish just like Netscape.

The even more likely scenario: AOL will come to its senses, realize that Red Hat Linux has nothing to do with its core business, and the two companies will go their separate ways.

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