Your editor is often asked that most fundamental of Linux-user questions:
vi or emacs? The answer - that both editors often come in useful over the
course of a working day - tends to please nobody. The truth of the matter,
however, is that most of the serious work of producing LWN is done in
emacs. Until very recently, the current version of GNU emacs was 21.3,
which was released on March 19, 2003 - almost exactly two years ago.
Your editor got to wondering about the current state of emacs, and whether
it was still under active development or no. Some time digging through the
emacs development mailing list turned up a few interesting things.
First and foremost, it should be said that the emacs developers are,
indeed, active. Whenever the project gets around to making a new release,
emacs users will be surprised at how much as been done - more on that
shortly. It was surprising to see that Richard Stallman, the creator of
GNU emacs, remains very active in its development. He may not produce as
much code as he used to, but he is active in the discussions, and still
functions very much as the final decision maker on patches. When
RMS makes a decree, things happen that way.
A reading of Richard's postings indicate a real concern for the utility of
emacs and the creation of a useful user interface. Emacs detractors may
differ, but the fact is that quite a bit of thought is going into how emacs
Development is not the only issue to be found on a list like this, of
course. Back in December Ben Wing requested permission to use parts of the GNU
emacs manual in the XEmacs manual. This sort of reuse would seem to be
just the sort of freedom that the GNU project is working for; XEmacs is
free software, and its manual is licensed under the GPL. Unfortunately,
since the GNU emacs manual is licensed under the GFDL, it is not possible to
reuse portions of it in the XEmacs manual. Mr. Stallman's responses
indicate that he has no problem with this state of affairs:
I did not choose this license with a view to its effects on you; it
is the general FSF policy for manuals. However, the fact that it
is inconvenient for XEmacs does not strike me as a disadvantage.
After all, you have been uncooperative towards us for 10 years, and
you don't see that as a disadvantage. We don't owe you anything,
not even small favors.
The XEmacs developers would appear to have gone away empty-handed.
Shortly thereafter, Steve Youngs showed up with an announcement of a brand new emacs fork
called SXEmacs. It appears to be a new
version of XEmacs with different coding conventions, Windows support
removed, and various other changes planned. Not much discussion resulted,
but Mr. Youngs is still working on SXEmacs.
At the end of January, Per Abrahamsen proposed that emacs go into a "regression
fixes only" freeze so that a release could actually happen. Nobody even
On February 7, Richard Stallman noted that
he had rushed out version 21.4, which adds a single security fix to 21.3.
This move surprised a number of developers who had been telling people
about the great new features 21.4 would have. Richard suggested instead
that the next release should be version 22, since "It has plenty of
new features." A plan to use
negative version numbers for test releases (e.g. 22.1.-998) was,
fortunately, turned down.
So what will be in emacs 22.1, when it comes out? Your editor grabbed the
CVS version to play with, and found a few things:
- Many things are now bundled with the emacs source distribution;
these include Leim and the emacs Lisp manual.
- New systems supported include Cygwin, Linux on S/390, and Mac
- A change that may surprise some users: clicking on a URL with the left
mouse button will now cause emacs to follow the link. The old
behavior (simply moving point to the indicated location) can be had by
holding the mouse button for half a second.
- The GTK+ toolkit is now supported.
- Many modes have seen major improvements; these include gnus, info,
SQL, MH-E, cc, and more.
- Drag-and-drop operation is now supported.
- Mouse wheel support is enabled by default. There appears to be some
logic in the new mouse wheel code which causes the number of lines
scrolled to increase if multiple wheel events come in a short time;
your editor found the experience to be somewhat disorienting.
- A number of new modes have been added, including conf-mode (configuration
file editing), dns-mode (for bind master files), flymake (on-the-fly
source code syntax checking), thumbs (image thumbnail display), and cua
(which provides key bindings which will be more familiar to Windows
There are hundreds of other changes; the NEWS
file has all the detail anybody could want. As for when emacs users
will see all these changes: it's hard to say. Mr. Stallman has never been
willing to project release dates for software. In this case, back in
December, all he would commit to was:
"It isn't around the corner, but I hope we are getting closer to
Comments (32 posted)
was titled "IBM Helps Drive Open Source Development." Part of
IBM's help in driving development is the contribution of "more than 30"
projects to SourceForge.net. The press release was somewhat vague on
exactly what was contributed - the only projects actually listed were the
Jikes Java compiler and "Life Science Identifier,", which somehow scans
networks for "biologically significant data." The latter project is not
particularly active; its mailing list
shows all of three messages last December - and none
A look at this jikes-dev message gives a
rather less rosy view of the change than the press release does:
As quite a few of you know by now, IBM has decided to pull out of
the project hosting space. As a result the developerWorks/Open
Source Server (aka dw/oss) where we and a number of other projects
have been hosted for the last several years is being shutdown. IBM
negotiated with SourceForge.net to migrate a number of projects
from dw/oss to sf.net's hosting environment, as the hands down #1
most popular project on dw/oss, Jikes was on that list of projects.
So it seems that IBM, rather than "driving open source development" through
the contribution of various projects, is actually driving open source
development away and into the arms of SourceForge which, despite some rosy
PR of its own, has not signed up a whole lot of high-profile projects
recently. We asked IBM why this move was being done now, and got this
When IBM launched developerWorks in 1999, IBM wanted to start a
community for open source developers. Over the past few years, as
open source has gained momentum, more appropriate hosts for open
source projects have come to fruition - Eclipse, Apache,
Sourceforge.net for example.
We also asked IBM for a full list of projects which had been moved.
Interestingly, no such list appears to exist; at least, IBM's
representative could not give us one. We did get a partial list, however;
it includes, beyond Jikes and LSI:
- The Abstract
Machine Test Utility, a testing tool for security certification
- Performance Inspector,
a mechanism for collecting and analyzing trace data.
- The UDDI4J
class library, last updated in September, 2003.
- JTOpen, described as
"a library of Java classes supporting the client/server and
internet programming models to an iSeries or AS/400 server."
Unlike these high-profile projects, the other 24 or so were too obscure to
make IBM's list.
The perception that IBM is simply dumping a set of projects which have lost
its interest is confirmed by going back to the jikes-dev posting:
We've had 240,548 downloads from the dw/oss server in the 1061 days
we've been there - as of now() at least... not a bad run for a
project that has been pretty much abandoned by the company for the
last few years, and has survived purely on the scraps of free time
feed to it by a small handfull of folks.
So IBM's donation isn't quite all that the hype would suggest. The company
is guilty of walking away from a handful of projects, then trying to use PR
to make lemonade out of the whole thing. In other words, IBM is behaving
like a corporation.
There is nothing particularly new here; companies have abandoned
development projects since the beginning. The free software method has
brought an interesting and worthwhile change, however. In the past,
abandoned projects would simply disappear from sight, and any code would
simply stagnate on a backup tape somewhere. A company which is aware of
free software, however, can make the choice to toss its abandonware into
the community. If there is anything useful in that code, somebody will
pick it up and run with it. And that can only be a good thing.
Comments (18 posted)
Last week, MandrakeSoft announced
that it had reached an
agreement to acquire Conectiva
€1.7 million in stock. The announcement
shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone following the Linux industry. The
market has been ripe for consolidation for some time, and MandrakeSoft and
Conectiva were already working together on the Linux Core Consortium
To get more information on the acquisition, we sat in on the conference
call last week with Jaques Rosenzvaig, CEO of Conectiva and François
Bancilhon, CEO of Mandrakesoft. We also touched base with MandrakeSoft's
co-founder Gaël Duval about the deal and to see what it meant for
According to Duval, MandrakeSoft's recent growth was a driving factor in
Mandrakesoft is growing, and that is a key factor for us. For instance, the
acquisition of Conectiva results into twice more full-time developers than
before at Mandrakesoft, while we are going to have a single line of
products. This means that we can do still more innovative products &
In addition to the need for developers, Duval said that the decision to
pursue Conectiva was a result of the "excellent 'cultural fit'
between Mandrakesoft and Conectiva."
The move also gives MandrakeSoft a presence in a new market. Duval said
that the Conectiva's presence in the South American market was "very
nice for us" because MandrakeSoft had "basically no business
in Brazil or South America besides a few customers on our online
store." While the South American market is important, we were
curious if MandrakeSoft was planning to make any moves towards the Asian
market. Duval said that MandrakeSoft was "looking at every
opportunity to develop there" and that the company has had some
success in China and Japan because the Mandrake Linux distribution is
Since MandrakeSoft and Conectiva made up one-half of the Linux Core
Consortium (LCC), we asked Duval if the acquisition would have any impact
on the LCC. Duval said that the LCC will continue as planned.
There is basically no impact. We are still planing to release a common and
public core implementation of a LSB-compliant Linux distro this year in
both RPM & DEB package formats.
During the conference call, Bancilhon said that the acquisition would
"strengthen the LCC since we're bigger, we can deliver more
technology to the LCC."
The two distributions will be merged at some point, but Duval did not give
a timeline for the first joint release. He did say that it would be done
"progressively," so it may be some time before the
distributions are fully merged. Bancilhon said that the "convergence
product" should be on the market by the end of the year.
Of course, we had to ask if MandrakeSoft had any other companies in its
sights. Duval said that MandrakeSoft is "looking at every purchase
opportunity for MandrakeSoft," though he did not provide any
It is interesting to note that Conectiva is actually an older company
than MandrakeSoft. Conectiva was founded in 1995, while MandrakeSoft got
its start in 1998. Not long ago, it wasn't clear that MandrakeSoft would be
around for the long haul. When MandrakeSoft entered bankruptcy, many
believed that the company would have a difficult time staying afloat. On
the contrary, MandrakeSoft finished off the last fiscal year with revenues
of about $6.7 million and a profit of $1.8 million. While the company is
still small compared to Red Hat and SUSE, its continued success indicates
that it may still become one of the "tier one" players in the Linux
We're looking forward to seeing the results of the combined companies. As
long as MandrakeSoft continues its commitment to releasing its work under
open source licenses, this merger should be good for the Linux community in
general as well as for MandrakeSoft and Conectiva.
Comments (2 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: A test of the Firefox update system; New vulnerabilities in bsmtpd, curl, gaim, firefox, phpBB, Qt, ...
- Kernel: A proposed memory management rework; Unexporting symbols in a stable kernel; Merging Xen.
- Distributions: Debian vs. FreeBSD as a Web Serving Platform, Part 2; New: Asterisk Live!, BioBrew Linux, Pie Box Enterprise Linux
- Development: Version Control with GNU Arch, new versions of DBD::Pg, FreeImage,
Moodss, GrokLaw News Picks, Grace, XCircuit, wxWidgets, video for Jack,
Firefox, Eclipse releases, the Poppler PDF renderer, Pugs Apocryphon 1.
- Press: Stallman on Free BIOS, Alan Cox FOSDEM talk, Paris Solutions Linux coverage,
Lawrence Lessig interview, Free Software Magazine #2, OpenOffice.org macros,
Build a Budget PC, OpenOffice.org 2.0 review.
- Announcements: IBM opens 30 projects, Mandrakesoft to merge with Conectiva,
Opera beta 2, VA and Sun Wah partner, Win4Lin Pro, FSFE fellowship program,
FAVE 2005 CFP, LAC 2005 CFP, Ubuntu Down Under.
- Letters: Wikipedia criticism.