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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

By Bruce Byfield on May 21, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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One of the perennial debates about the GNU/Linux desktop is how much it should resemble Windows. Usually, the debate is framed in terms of whether the desktop should look familiar to new users, or be developed in whatever way seems most logical. However, if the experience of the Famelix distribution in Brazil is any indication, imitating Windows and outperforming it can also leave you open to other threats, including accusations of piracy and changes of policy by Windows-centric management.

Famelix is named for the Faculdade Metropolitana de Guaramirim (FAMEG, or the Metropolitan College of Guaramirim) in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, where it was developed. The distribution is based on Debian and uses the KDE desktop, with wallpaper and other modifications designed to increase the resemblance to Windows XP, or, in the latest version, codenamed Hasta la Vista (Spanish for "goodbye"), to Windows Vista.

The distribution is directed by David Emmerich Jourdain, a German-born professor who has lived in Brazil since 1992. Jourdain became a free software advocate after hearing a speech by a local users' group while earning his master's degree at Stanford. When FAMEG offered him employment, the college had only a single computer room whose machines ran illegal copies of Windows. Jourdain said that he would accept the position only if he could deploy free software throughout the college and have time to prove its advantages. "My main intention was not working with proprietary software, whether legal or not," he says.

When FAMEG agreed to his conditions, Jourdain immediately ran into a problem: He was the only person locally with any knowledge of free software. As a result, he had to train his student assistants in kernel compiling and patching, as well as the Qt, PyQt, C++ and Kdialog programming and scripting languages.

Early on, he also realized that an interface too different from what he dismisses as "Teletubbies land" (presumably a reference to the default Windows XP theme) would be a barrier for acceptance, and decided to make the desktop as similar to Windows as possible.

Over the five years of Famelix's existence, some 70 students have assisted in its development. Currently, the distribution is maintained and developed by seven students, with occasional assistance from 18 others. During that time, Jourdain has seen the use of Famelix spread from his own private machine to the college's laboratories and administrative machines. In addition, "many students are using Famelix on their personal computers," he says, and have spread its use to their places of work after graduation.

As with any GNU/Linux distribution, exact figures for use are hard to come by for Famelix. However, other users of the distribution include 62 military units, and schools and digital inclusion centers throughout South America. On its home site, the distribution has had more than 22 million downloads -- at least 14 million of them in the last 12 months, thanks mainly to the first releases to support German, English, and Italian in addition to the original Spanish and Portugese. By any standard, the distribution seems a success.

Trouble with Microsoft

But this success seems to have attracted the wrong kind of attention. In 2005, Jourdain and FAMEG's manager of infrastructure received a visit from two Microsoft representatives in which they were offered the "wonderful" chance of buying Windows for the college at the cost of a few thousand dollars.

"My first questions were about the freedoms that we would have to develop and to get into the system," Jourdain recalls. "Of course we knew the answers. In this situation, I finished the conversation with, 'As you see, our interests are not the same. We want to create developers. You want to sell. I believe that the proposal does into interest us.'"

The Microsoft representatives said that, if the college did not purchase licenses, its only solution would be to use pirated copies of Windows. "My answer was quite direct," Jourdain says. "'We use GNU/Linux. Hence, whether we have or do not have your system does not make any difference to us. Have a good day.'"

Whether the Microsoft representative mistook Famelix for Windows or were acting maliciously is uncertain, but, two weeks later, the college received notice that it was being investigated for illegal use of software. A representative of the Brazilian Justice department, two police officers, and a computer technician soon descended on the college.

According to Jourdain, one of the police offices was a FAMEG student and was familiar with Famelix. He told the Justice representative that the investigation was a waste of time, but it went ahead anyway.

After checking all FAMEG's computers, the Justice representative apologized and filled out the necessary reports on the investigation. As he was leaving, he asked, "Can you install this Famelix for me?"

"After that," Jourdain recalls, "we never had problems with our Microsoft friends again."

But it still goes on

Unfortunately, Microsoft is not the only part of the Windows world that can cause difficulties for a successful distribution. Last month, Jourdain returned from a conference to hear that the college was being bought by Uniasselvi, a private educational concern whose image, according to Brazilian sources, is "not so good."

Jourdain was immediately concerned because Uniasselvi uses only Windows, and he believes that most of its copies are not licensed. Sure enough, when the sale to Uniasselvi was confirmed, the first point raised was whether Famelix should be continued.

The question of Famelix's future remains uncertain, and the lack of answers made Jourdain hesitate about whether to be interviewed for this article. However, in the end, urged on by Alexandre Oliva, a board member of FSF Latin America, Jourdain agreed to participate, hoping that the publicity might sway the college management's decision, and, perhaps, bring support and suggestions to help him safeguard the distribution's future.

Whether this latest threat is independent is uncertain, and really doesn't matter. Either way, Famelix proving itself an alternative to Windows seems only the first battle in its struggle for existence.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 118.90.48.182] on May 22, 2008 01:44 AM
Great story. The fight against evil using Linux never ends, but it's good to see evil getting embarrassed along the way. God bless Prof. Jourdain.
combatwombat.7doves.com

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 124.169.11.126] on May 22, 2008 02:14 AM
G'day.

I wouldn't say it say MS attacking a Linux disto - I'd say it was MS expecting to find pirate software there and hoping to win a major customer in Brazil (for marketing purposes). Basically they didn't do their homework that well. - or had false information.
Assuming pirate software was found, MS would have been right back on the door-step with a new contract to sign - with a better deal (for them).

Point out MS's tactics to management at Uniasselvi - they may like to change OS before they get the same treatment (if it isn't already happening, it soon will - and the contract may say "Enterprise wide" due to the fact that having pirate software will minimise contact negotiations).

Otherwise it's a great story on how FOSS is meant to work - the university has it's own purpose-built OS :)

Dave :)

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on May 22, 2008 03:47 AM
Great article!
...

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.207.192.72] on May 22, 2008 07:19 AM
Kind of strnage that you did not care to post the Famelix URL

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 201.225.184.197] on May 22, 2008 07:11 PM
I think I know what happens. Due to MS could not get FAMELIX down, they approached Uniasselvi with a kind of arrangement like, we gave you MS products free of charge and licences for your installed base. You all only have to approach FAMELIX and buy it, we will be funding that buy.

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.67.191.194] on May 23, 2008 12:16 AM
Easy answer: Contact the BSA anonymously and report Uniasselvi... They'll change their mind pretty quick about pirating once they get caught.

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Re: Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.252.162.61] on May 23, 2008 10:28 AM
Even, is BSA existing in Brazil?

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Famelix is safe but the college may not be

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.183.30.196] on May 23, 2008 12:17 AM
Famelix is GPLed. So, by definition, it is safe if one correct source copy exists.
Now to the team - this is a big blow if the Famelix team is broken up and "reassigned other duties".
They may try to frustrate Dr. Jourdain to resign. It could go down to a *personal* level - they like to isolate key points in the sysem to destroy and hammer away at it....
What Famelix now needs is an open letter to Microsoft or the Uniasselvi (risky?) like the one Francois Bancilhon wrote to Steve Ballmer when Steve stole the Niegrian *done* deal.
Maybe someone of note should start an online petition - SaveFamelix.org ?
Buying out, threatening, irritating, etc are part of the standard corporate toolkit.
What can you do as a Linux/FLOSS enthusiast? Shout. Loud and clear.
Invoke a power higher than Uniasselvi - the Govt and the people of the land.
Govts tend to accept the socially productive line of reasoning especially if elections are near or if their image needs some rebuilding. This means, among other things, that common citizens know about Famelix in the first place. This means that the media must help. Difficult, but with the right people in the right place, it is possible. Given the indifferent reputation of Uniasselvi, things may be a bit easier. We, outside Linux lovers must shout because Uniasselvi cannot hurt us in any way. This definitely is a cause worth fighting for - much like Mandriva's last year. Sounds sub-optimal, but we _have to_ shout!
savefamelix.org

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Have they already taken it down?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.155.231] on May 23, 2008 08:56 PM
Yesterday I went to famelix.org.br to look around and, eventually, download a copy of Famelix. The site seemed to be offline. "Well", said I, "I'll try again tomorrow".
No luck. Today, May 23 2008, I went back to their site and it wouldn't come up. Have the Microsuck bastards already managed to take it down?

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The correct link of the Famelix Project

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.180.72.237] on May 23, 2008 09:36 PM
Excuse but the correct link to the Famelix Project Site is www.famelix.com.br and I can say that's a powerfull linux distribution

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Re: The correct link of the Famelix Project

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.155.231] on May 23, 2008 10:10 PM
Oh, yeah, you're right. However, before posting, I *did* try both - with and without the "www" part - and neither worked.
Anyway, thanks for the tip. I will try again tomorrow and, hopefully, this time I'll succeed.

On a separate note: what could one do to get the word out, there in Brazil? Is there any school, university, newspaper, magazine, whatever, that would help spreading the news as in this article?

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The correct link of the Famelix project

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.155.231] on May 23, 2008 10:14 PM
Oh, boy! I mistyped my posting above.
I see that your link is an "org", whereas mine is "com". And, well, I tried the "org", too - unsuccessfully. I ***really*** wanted to get Famelix after seeing it in Ladislav Bodnar's column in Linux Format. It does seem impressive.

So, again, I apologize for the typos. And I'll post back here tomorrow, telling about my download experience.

Free Software Rules!

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The correct link...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.155.231] on May 24, 2008 08:16 PM
OK. As promised, I'm back.
Today is May 24. I tried again to access Famelix's site.
www.famelix.com.br, famelix.com.br: either of them comes up. It times out.
www.famelix.org.br, famelix.org.br: these simply don't exist.
So, the question remains: have they, in practice, been taken down by the proxies of the Microsoft mob?

Good luck to you all, and long live Linux!

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Re: The correct link...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.3.121] on May 26, 2008 07:37 PM
The site Famelix is in full operation again!

www.famelix.com.br

They are good!

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You can still download it from here

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.155.231] on May 24, 2008 08:19 PM

All Famelix Versions can be downloaded in this link

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 189.31.91.126] on May 24, 2008 11:22 PM
If other people want to use Famelix with liveCD or install in your computers, all Famelix Versions can be downloaded by this link
http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=famelix if anyone want some help about Famelix, my mail adress is jurck@fameg.edu.br
Thanks.


Long Life to Linux

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Re: All Famelix Versions can be downloaded in this link

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.153.29.219] on May 26, 2008 06:02 AM
To: Anonymous [ip: 189.31.91.126] on May 24, 2008 11:22 PM

Unfortunately, the link you supplied does not seem to work. The link on the Distrowatch page points back to the "famelix.com.br" domain, which seems to be having big problems. At least for me - no matter how many times I try, I can't get it to go past the "connecting" phase.
Well, we still have the two "usp" links I posted above...

Now, I noticed that your e-mail address is from "fameg.edu.br", which was the organization supporting Famelix before the unfortunate incidents described in the article. If you have additional information about Famelix, I suggest that you post it here, if you feel safe to do so.

Cheers!

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Famelix and the dangers of combating Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 41.207.145.21] on May 26, 2008 10:23 AM
great article! can we have regular updates on the story, please?

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Site the Famelix in full function!!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.3.121] on May 26, 2008 07:47 PM
The site from Famelix GNU/Linux is in full function again!!!

www.famelix.com.br

Famelix is one Operational System Linux very good!!

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The Link to tell with the Famelix Developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.3.188] on May 27, 2008 12:11 AM
If anyone want to know more over Famelix or have sugestions, the Developers can be found in this link http://www.famelix.com.br/wordpress/?page_id=25&langswitch_lang=en , and i think now the Distrowatch is function again.
Thanks.

Long Life for Famelix

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