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Linux firm warns of CD-ROM mix-up

Linux distributor MandrakeSoft says some CD-ROM drives made by Korea's LG Electronics contain a flaw that makes them inoperable when used with Mandrakes' version of the open-source OS.

Some CD-ROM drives made by LG Electronics contain a flaw that makes them inoperable when used with MandrakeSoft's version of the Linux operating system, MandrakeSoft said.

The drives in question violate an interface specification known as ATAPI (AT Attachment Packet Interface), according to MandrakeSoft, a France-based distributor of Linux. As a result, MandrakeSoft said, its Mandrake Linux 9.2 software overwrites the drives' firmware, which is a program similar to operating system software but which operates at a deeper level. MandrakeSoft, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, published a warning about the issue Oct. 24.

To address the LG drive problem, MandrakeSoft said, it released a new software kernel, the core part of the operating system. Even with the updated kernel, though, drives in which the firmware already has been overwritten remain inoperable, said Gael Duval, co-founder of MandrakeSoft.

Many Dell computers, and possibly other computers, come with the affected LG drives, MandrakeSoft said on a Web page devoted to the problem.

"If an updated firmware for your CD-ROM is available from LG, you are encouraged to apply the firmware update prior to installing Mandrake Linux 9.2," MandrakeSoft's Web site states. "Unfortunately, if the drive becomes inoperable, currently only the manufacturer is able to fix it."

Korea-based LG Electronics, which makes a variety of electronics products as well as telecommunications equipment, acknowledged a problem with its drives in an e-mail message. "Our engineers are investigating" that issue, a representative said. "If we solve the problem, we'll release the new (firmware) for Mandrake 9.2 at our Web site."

A Dell representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Duval said in an e-mail that the drive problem extends beyond Mandrake Linux software. He said his company's fix involved removing a new feature that allowed

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a CD-RW drive to be used just like a floppy disk drive. "We now know that (the LG drive problem) previously affected other Linux users with the same Linux kernel and same add-on feature," he said in an e-mail.

Duval said his company is working with LG Electronics on firmware updates as well as on a way to help users with inoperable drives. "We're looking for a software-only procedure to reverse the problem," Duval said in an e-mail. "It's not a trivial operation, since the CD-ROM drives are not visible from the PC BIOS when the bad firmware has been overwritten."

The BIOS, or basic input/output system, manages the flow of data between the computer's operating system and attached devices.

Duval suggested the problem with the drives also raises a security concern. "It's very important for us and LG to find a solution before too many people are affected, and because a Windows virus could also massively exploit this issue," he said.

MandrakeSoft's Web page about the problem lists a number of drive models that may be affected.

Duval said Mandrake 9.2 has not had any problem with other CD-ROM drives.