Kathryn has no Time for Linux


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01 February 2009

Middle-age may have passed Kathryn by a few years ago, yet she looks at least professional, even attractive in the business suits her executive position forces her to wear. Kathryn feels that her tall build, and rather stern look has helped her in business, but is intimidating in more personal relationships.  She has been divorced for several years now, and the lure of personal wealth has also pulled her 2 grown sons away.  Kathryn is unquestionably respected, if not slightly feared by her co-workers.  She's is also up on world news, culture, and technology, or so she thinks.

Right now, however, the star of our story can be described one more way: Asleep.  Her busy day will begin at exactly 5 am -- guaranteed by the fact that the Internet connected clock radio on the bed-side table sync's to an internet time server.  Suddenly, a plethora of blue LED's illuminate and Kathryn wakes to the sound of a streaming radio station.   Nearly maiming the cat in the process, she begins her day.  Kathryn believes breakfast is part of her success plan, so she makes her way downstairs to begin part two of the morning ritual.  As tofu sausage substitute sizzles in the pan, she has that primordial feeling of a large animal only feet away.  A deer has wondered into her back yard, and is just on the other side of the kitchen's bay window.  Their mutual sighting of one another has caused the same primordial reaction in the deer, and it bounds off into the surrounding woods.  The motion is picked up by Kathryn's Wireless IP camera, which sends a text message to her Android-powered smartphone.  The shock of the encounter with wildlife and the momentary worry about the unexpected text message so early in the morning have already started the cycle of stress for the day. She contemplates unplugging her Linksys wireless router in an effort to sever her bond with technology, but quickly vanquishes the thought as far too radical.   A little TV will get her back into the morning routine.  Kathryn pokes the power button on her Hi-Definition TV. CNN just shows bad economic news and reports on tensions in various parts of the world. TV didn't help with morning stress, but perhaps some sitcoms will help this evening.  Kathryn deftly navigates the Menus of the Tivo, and selects several lighter shows for recording.

Kathryn runs her personal life like a second business.  This includes always forwarding her home calls to her mobile phone when going out.  Navigating the menus of her Ethernet VoIP deskphone, she accomplishes this in the time it would take most people to dial a second digit, and she's out the door.

Part three of the ritual happens on the road.  Kathryn's GPS navigator calls out every turn on her morning commute even though she drives the same route every day.  She leaves it on partially for company, and partially because she has only had her first two doses of caffeine.

Her morning at work looks to be even more startling than the deer encounter.  Someone at corporate headquarters is upset about a report revealing that some customers are uncomfortable with the privacy implications of the RFID tags the company plans to embed into the products they sell.  HQ has planned a teleconference in just 30 minutes.

Kathryn goes downstairs to the RFID development lab and arranges for one of the engineers to attend the meeting and bring along some of the tags and readers to explain and demonstrate.  The engineer, laden with RFID readers, tags, and samples of tagged merchandise, has difficulty keeping up even though he is little more than half Kathryn's age.

Arriving in the conference room, Kathryn grabs the touch screen universal remote, and in a series of moves reminiscent of Tilda Swinton wielding her freeze wand in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, she powers up every multimedia device in the conference room.  The young engineer suddenly realizes that if he can't stop staring, and somehow manage to close his mouth by the time others arrive for the meeting he is going to look awfully funny.

Suddenly switching from an portrayal of the White Witch to one of Commander Data, Kathryn punches away at the Polycom HDX conferencing system, and ties in several other local and remote office locations. Faces begin to appear on each screen. Some are seen drinking coffee, and others look like they need to.

Soon the meeting begins, and each member of management, including Kathryn, get to try out the RFID readers. By the end of the meeting, managers at both offices have a better idea of the technology.  As with most meetings, the final decision is to have another meeting.  As the young  engineer retreats to the safety of his lab, he thinks to himself that the tags would never be a privacy issue for Kathryn. He is quite sure she could fry them post-purchase by simply frowning at them.

Being in management has it's perks, and for Kathryn one of these is an occasional extended lunch break.  She leaves the office and walks to the trendy hair salon in the mall under the office complex.   The salon has installed small touch screen media players at each station. As Kathryn's hair is expertly maintained, she pokes at the small screen. After flipping though pages displaying weather and local events, she selects some music to listen to.  Quickly bored with what seems to be more ads than anything else, Kathryn pokes the small touch screen once again, and it obediently silences itself.  While unsatisfying, the experience with the salon's media player serves to remind Kathryn that she is also bored with the music currently on her Android phone.  It sure would be nice to have some different music for this afternoon's run. At a nearby, and equally trendy cafe, Kathryn pulls out her trusty Android-based companion, and mercilessly deletes every song on it's MicroSD card.  She connects to the cafe's free WiFi, and selects her dyndns address from the bookmarks and logs into the Network Attached Storage device back at home.  As she downs a cup of soup, a selection of new songs trickle into the device.  She simultaneously buys 3 more from the Amazon MP3 store.

Back at work, she finally gets into the office routine.  As is the case for many professionals these days, “office routine” means reading and replying to email.  Kathryn sits in front of the comfortable familiarity of her Windows XP office PC, and skillfully selects large groups of email messages to delete without even opening them, and then settles down to read some of the survivors.  Several of these are from the IT department.  Out of a sense of duty, as well as wanting to be “up on these things”, she reads each one even though this weeks' sound just like last weeks - only with different cryptic names for each virus, trojan, or keystroke logger.  Kathryn knows not to open attachments unless she is sure of it's legitimacy, and most of her co-workers would rather be Tasered than chance forwarding Kathryn a chain letter or one of those “...you have an e-card...”, or “...check out this screen saver...” letters.  Kathryn also knows about phishing emails, and is about as likely fall for one as she is to order a double cheese burger with onion rings on her next dinner date.  One of the last emails has something to do with plans to change the software on the office PC's. It mentions something called “Linux”.  Kathryn doesn't know what this is, or why they would want it in the office.  She states this in her reply, and closes by asking why the IT department doesn't know that Microsoft Windows is the only software anyone uses.


Before you ask, -- No, I do not have Kathryn's phone number, gmail address or her AIM, Facebook or Twitter screenames. Kathryn is imaginary.  The standard disclamers about this story not representing any real person, alive or dead, apply.  Never-the-less, the idea that people use Linux-based devices every day without realizing it is a fact.  I have encountered such situations personnally, and there have been several reports of Linux ignorance in the press recently.

The idea for this story comes from comments made by a RedHat executive (if my memory serves me correctly) during the 2009 Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES). He made a comment (Cannot find reference as of this writing) that many people use Linux 20 times before noon and don't even know it.  Kathryn actually comes in contact with, or personally owns at least 13 Linux-based devices in this story (which covers less than a day).  Note that I do not count remote or infrastructure devices (i.e. remote Webservers, routers, firewalls, spam filters, load balancers etc.) If I did, the number would easily pass 20.

I also considered having Kathryn take a business trip during the course of this story.  I could count Arrival/Departure displays, Ticketing Kiosks, and Public Web/Email terminals.  I omitted these to keep the length of the story down, and because I had more firm references for the items I did include  These references are outlined in the links section below:

 Please post comments, etc. to the Linuxslate Forums.

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This article is (c) 2009.

  1. Internet Connected Clock Radio - While I did not have a particular one in mind, there are several.  This one for example.  It is likely that several others are based on a Linux kernel. (See links at the bottom of the referenced page for more examples.)  I made up the part about the blue LEDs.
  2. Wireless IP Camera - Again, several of these are known to use Linux, there have even been allegations of GPL violations with some of these. 
  3. Android-Powered Smartphone - If this article is set in the present (February 2009), then Kathryn must be using the T-Mobile G1.  More information about the Android Platform is here.  Of course there are many phones that use other Linux based environments.  Some Motorola Linux -based phones are listed on the Open EZX Wiki. Note that I have a review of the popular Motorola Motozine ZN5 here.
  4. Linksys Wireless Router - Yet another way Linux has made it into peoples homes without them noticing. Several very popular Linksys routers are known for not only running Linux from the factory, but for having 3rd party firmwares available that allow them to perform various specialized network functions.
  5. Hi-Definition TV - A personal story to this one - A family member asked me for advice on buying a Plasma TV. While looking at the specifications in the back of the owner's manual for a rather mid-range Panasonic Plasma TV, I found that it devoted several pages to a copy of the GPL.  Why would a TV have the GPL in the back of the manual?  Here is an example of one of the Manuals (PDF - GPL info starts on page 71).  Following up on this took me to this site that relates to the embeded Linux used in these TV's.  See also the links to relevant Sony products in the remainder of this section.
  6. TiVo - TiVo is perhaps one of the earliest and most wide-spread examples of people having Linux based systems in thier homes and using them every day without even knowing it. TiVo GPL Site.  Several other brands of DVR's, DVD recorders, and Blu-Ray players do as well.  Here is a list of some Sony products in this catagory.
  7. Ethernet VoIP Deskphone - Again, no particuar one in mind.  The budget Ethernet phone I reviewed here actually runs an old OS based on DOS. Linuxdevices.com covers some that are Linux based in this article.  One in paticular is the Verizon Hub, which is a combination proprietary protocol VoIP phone, Digital Picture Frame, and Information Center.  You can read a review of it at Engadget which includes some information about it's Linux-based OS.
  8. GPS Navigator - The popular Garmin Nüvi 800, 900, and 5000 series GPS units run Linux.  Reference this page.  Could be any one of others too, for example a Nokia 810 which runs Maemo, with the appropriate software.
  9. Touch screen universal remote - Here is one.  Probably not that popular, but it is not unreasonable that sonething like this would be found in a medium to large company's teleconfencing rooms.
  10. Polycom HDX Confrencing Software - This document (PDF) exists to satisfy Polycoms requirements under the GPL.  Linux is mentioned on page 2.  Here is the HDX series info at Polycom.com 
  11. RFID Readers - I found several by just searching for RFID at linuxdevices.com.  They also list several Handheld data aquisition terminals that run Linux, some of which I am sure are available with RFID reader capability.
  12. Media Players - This section of the story was inspired by this thread on the PepperPad forums.  Of course it does not have to be a PepperPad.  The popular Archos 5 and Archos 7 Portable Media Players run Linux according to thier spec page.
  13. Network Attached Storage - The HP "Media Vaults" run Linux as does the popular Linksys NAS200 (See Tiny GPL Code Center link at the bottom of linked page.)

Other Products that Kathryn could have encountered at some point in her day:
  1. eBook Reader  - Both the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader run Linux.  She could also use one of the aforementioned PMP's as an eBook reader.  Actually, it is more of a challenge to find a current, popular eBook reader that does not run Linux.
  2. Digital Picture Frame - Several of the higher end picture frames run Linux (example here), and I suspect several cheaper ones do too, even though they may not state so.  This page shows several Sony Products that run Linux (Photo Frame is at bottom of list). To be fair, I did already mention the Verizon Hub which can act as a photo frame, but it's primary function is a VoIP Phone.  There are stand-alone picture frames that use the same OS as the Verizon Hub.



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