China would seem like an ideal environment for free software. The Chinese
have a need for vast amounts of software as their country rapidly
industrializes, they have reasons to prefer software which is not controlled by
American corporations, and they have been coming under some pressure from
those same corporations to do something about their little habit of copying
proprietary software without much regard for details like license
agreements. Free software offers them the ability to take control of their
own software, make sure it lacks unwelcome surprises, and copy it as much
as they like. And China has been making a lot of use of Linux and free
software, but, as is the case with many Asian countries, China's presence in the
development community is relatively small.
Encouraging participation from Asian countries has been a goal of the Linux
Foundation for some time; one result of that is the series of symposiums
held in Japan over the last few years. Now, for the first time, the
Foundation has extended this series to China. On February 19
and 20, the first Linux Developer Symposium China was held in
Beijing. This event was organized in cooperation with the China Open Source Promotion Union
(COPU). Your editor had the privilege of speaking at this meeting.
This was not the kind of developer-oriented gathering that one might expect
to find in many other parts of the world. Far too many suits and ties, for
example. Often the focus of the event appeared to be the creation of photo
opportunities while people (who were not developers) gave speeches. In
general, it was organized in a mode of talking to the participants,
rather than talking with them. The agenda
makes this clear: 17 speakers on the first day, with only one break (for
lunch). The talks were well received by a sellout crowd, but there was not
a lot of opportunity for people to talk.
The second day featured a round table discussion and a set of BOF
sessions. The round table was interesting, though it focused on issues
which are not necessarily development oriented: Linux adoption in mobile
devices, competing with pirated copies of Windows, etc. The BOF was, in
many ways, the most interesting part of the whole event; this was where
participants could find people with similar interests and simply ask
questions. Your editor fielded questions on security modules, the kevent
interface, community participation in Asia, language issues, and more.
Chinese developers, like their Japanese counterparts, seem to be reluctant
to ask questions in front of a large group. But, in a closer situation,
the floodgates open and all kinds of questions come out.
Unfortunately, the second day was open only to a small subset of the
conference attendees, and that subset was heavy on the managerial side. So
a lot of people who could have benefited most from the BOF session were
One topic which never came up - until your editor raised it briefly at the
round table session - was license compliance. For the most part, it does
not seem to be on the radar there. Your editor was told that GPL
violations are common with products which are sold in the Chinese market
but not exported elsewhere; the
people involved can assume, with seemingly good reason, that nobody will
take them to court. There is also a fair amount of driver work being done
for companies in other countries; once the code is shipped the original
developers forget about it and move on to the next project. Quite a bit of
that code never makes it into the mainline.
This sort of activity fails to give back to the community which provided
Linux in the first place. But it also hurts the developers involved. They
do not become part of the community, do not get recognition for their work,
and miss the opportunity to learn from others. During the press conference
on the first day, it was noted that Chinese companies are having a hard
time hiring Linux developers, and that more training opportunities would be
a good thing. Your editor felt the need to point out that, of all the
people working in free software projects, very few of them are specifically
trained to do so. It's more a matter of individual initiative. Training
is good, but the training received in Chinese universities should be more
than adequate for those looking to get involved with free software.
Andrew Morton took that theme further by pointing out that, rather than
complaining about difficulties in hiring, these companies
would be better off encouraging community participation and skills
development within their existing staff. That would be more productive
than chasing the same small set of
developers that everybody else is trying to hire. On the second day, Dave
Neary made the crucial point that community participation is something that
individuals - not companies - do. There are a lot of companies worldwide
which have a hard time understanding how free software development works,
and China is no exception.
One last note on hiring free software hackers. Your editor ran across this
article, which states:
In China, 43 per cent of IT graduates are unemployed, and hacker
"training" web sites are creating a pool of effective malware
authors and paying them like a legitimate business.
In such a situation (assuming the claim is true - something your editor
cannot vouch for), finding developers who
are able and willing to learn how to hack on free software should not be
Meanwhile, your editor was struck by the energy and initiative shown by the
Beijing Linux Users
Group, which helped with many aspects of the event. BLUG is busily
organizing gatherings and creating a local community out of Beijing's
hackers. A real spark is glowing there; it will be interesting to see how
that group develops in the near future.
All told, the event was a clear success. It was a proper media event which
raised the profile of Linux in China and showed that Linux developers care
enough about the country to pay a visit. A mixture of local and imported
developers were able to present their work to an attentive and interested
audience. The discussions brought developers closer and, hopefully, sent
them away with interesting things on their "to do" lists. And,
importantly, the visiting developers learned something about China that
goes beyond the proper technique for eating Peking Duck or the effort
required to climb the Great Wall (or to circumvent the rather obnoxious great
firewall). With luck, we have a better understanding of what developers
are up to in that part of the world and how we can help them to participate
fully in our projects. And that can only be a good thing.
pictures from the event have been posted. Unbelievable numbers of
photos were taken, so more can be expected to surface at some point. But,
under no circumstances should anyone look at the scurrilous photo posted by
Comments (18 posted)
of this increasingly
long series stopped in March, 2004, when BitMover loudly proclaimed that
the use of BitKeeper had doubled the pace of kernel development. This
installment picks up from there, looking at a year when BitKeeper remained
in the news, the SCO case was in progress, software patents became more
threatening, and more.
- April 8, 2004: The first
X.org release. SELinux shows up in a Fedora Core 2 test
release. Red Hat v. SCO is put on indefinite hold (where it remains
to this day). Anti-software-patent demonstrations are held in
This week featured some important news. The launch of X.org signaled the
resurrection of Linux desktop work and the beginning of a much more
interesting and promising era. Meanwhile, Fedora took the lead in pushing
SELinux-based mandatory access control technology into a general-purpose
system. That work is still very much in progress nearly four years later,
but, like it or not, SELinux has become an important part of our defensive
- April 15, 2004: The 2.6.6
kernel gains POSIX message queues, filesystem speedups, internal API
changes, laptop mode, 4K stacks, auditing, the CFQ I/O scheduler,
and more. Sun and Microsoft
make a $2 billion deal. Lindows becomes Linspire.
- April 22, 2004: Linspire
files to go public. BayStar tells SCO it wants its money back.
- April 29, 2004: Gentoo
founder Daniel Robbins leaves the project.
Something else which was going on during this time was a rising level of
discontent over the management of the Fedora project, which was not turning
out to be the open community that many had hoped for. Pause for a moment
and revisit this classic
dialog posted by Konstantin Ryabitsev, which so clearly documented how
the situation was seen by the community at that time. Fedora has come a
long way since then.
- May 20, 2004: The
European Council approves the software patent directive, sending it
back to the Parliament for final passage.
Remember: the directive approved by the Council was the original
version which legitimized software patents, not the version amended by the
Parliament which did not. Thus started the final (so far) round in the
fight against European software patents - a round which we eventually won.
- May 27, 2004: The kernel
adopts the Signed-off-by: convention. The 2.6.7 kernel gains
scheduling domains, the object-based reverse mapping VM, filtered
wakeups, and more.
The thing to remember here is that 2.6 was alleged to be a stable kernel
series, and everybody was still waiting for 2.7 to start. Linus defended
the massive VM changes with the claim that they were, in fact, an
"implementation detail." The realization that the kernel development
process had, in fact, already changed did not come through until...
This kernel summit decision - which, among other things, said that there
would be no 2.7 kernel - surprised almost everybody. Certainly there have
been some issues since then, but nobody really wants to go back to the old,
- August 5, 2004: Open
Source Risk Management funds a study showing that the kernel infringes
on 283 patents, offers patent suit insurance. SCO Forum is held,
featuring a keynote by Rob Enderle; the rest of the world looks on
incredulously. The Munich Linux deployment is put on hold as a result
of software patent fears.
- August 19, 2004: Lindows
gives up on its IPO. The 126.96.36.199 kernel is released.
There were interesting cross-currents happening at this time. On the one
hand, companies like Open Source Risk Management were trying to use SCO as
a way to scare companies (and individual developers) into buying its
insurance offerings. On the other, there was a hallucinogenic aspect to
the SCO Forum discussions that escaped nobody; SCO's time of being taken
seriously by the wider world was already done.
It's worth noting that OSRM still exists, but its insurance offering now
is for companies worried about GPL-infringement suits.
Meanwhile, 188.8.131.52 was the first three-dot kernel release ever; it was
rushed out in response to an unpleasant, last-minute bug in 2.6.8.
- August 26, 2004: IBM
brings GPL-infringement charges against SCO. LWN fails to reproduce
the posted reiser4 filesystem benchmarks, gets in trouble with
- September 16, 2004: Sun
announces plans to open-source Solaris. OSDL and the Free Standards
Group announce a plan for cooperation on the Linux Standard Base.
OSDL and the FSG were, at this point, separate groups which, at times,
almost seemed to be in competition with each other. Those days, of course,
are no more: the two have since merged and become the Linux Foundation.
Who would have thought that one could create a major new distribution in
2004? One might well wonder whether the situation is any less open now.
- October 7, 2004: the
bnetd developers lose their DMCA case. Concerns about kernel quality
are expressed. Microsoft's FAT patent is overturned.
- October 14, 2004: Novell
says it will use its patents "as appropriate" to defend free software
projects against patent attacks. Jeff Merkey offers $50,000 for the
right to take the kernel proprietary. The realtime preemption patch
set gets started.
- October 21, 2004: the
first Ubuntu release (4.10) comes out. Busybox 1.0 is released at
last. Mozilla begins fund raising to advertise Firefox in the New
- November 11, 2004:
Firefox 1.0 is released. Novell gets $500 million in anti-trust cash
The Firefox 1.0 release was, in a very real sense, the much-delayed
culmination of the process which began back in 1998, when Netscape
announced that it would be releasing its code. Firefox was almost seven
years in the making, but, sometimes, late really is better than never.
Even those of us who use a different browser should be thankful for the
effect Firefox has had toward the creation of a standard-compliant web and
a competitive environment for web browsers.
Whether it's called United Linux, the Linux Core Consortium, or Manbo-Labs,
this is an idea which returns on occasion: pool effort on the creation of a
base distribution so that each player can concentrate their differentiation
efforts on the higher levels. It often seems not to work, though. It is
hard to compete with more community-based distributions through the
establishment of a base platform by corporate fiat. It seems that the true
"base" distributions have names like Debian or Fedora.
- January 13, 2005: Debian
runs afoul of the Mozilla trademark policy. The European Parliament
attempts to restart the software patent discussion from the
- January 27, 2005: Sun
starts releasing Solaris code under the CDDL.
- February 3, 2005: The
Software Freedom Law Center is founded. Eben Moglen starts talking
about GPLv3. Russ Nelson becomes the president of the Open Source
Initiative - briefly.
- February 10, 2005: IBM's
requests for summary judgment in the SCO case are dismissed -
temporarily - by Judge Kimball. BitKeeper flame wars return, this
time about the locking-up of history metadata and license-based
prohibitions on its extraction.
The locking-up of metadata within BitKeeper was a sore point even for
developers who had accepted BitKeeper in general. Larry McVoy was unsympathetic, though, stating
that he was operating within his rights. This episode was the beginning of
the end for BitKeeper and the kernel.
- March 3, 2005:
MandrakeSoft acquires Conectiva. The European Commission ignores the
European Parliament's request to restart the software patent directive
- March 10, 2005: Kernel
quality concerns lead to the creation of the -stable tree.
Those quality concerns are not gone now, though they have diminished
somewhat. The -stable tree seemed like an experiment at the time, but it
has proved successful and is still being produced almost three years
- April 7, 2005: The
BitKeeper era comes to an abrupt end when the free-beer license for
the software is terminated by BitMover. (Unfounded) rumors about a
merger between UserLinux and Ubuntu circulate.
- April 14, 2005: Linus
posts the first version of git. MandrakeSoft becomes Mandriva.
The termination of free-beer BitKeeper was probably inevitable from the
very beginning of its existence; trying to maintain a closed system with
proprietary data formats in the middle of a highly open process was always
a losing proposition. For some time, many of us had feared that it could
end in a much uglier way than it actually played out. We, the community,
had danced on some thin ice for a while, but, when it broke, the water was
only ankle-deep. We got lucky.
As your editor has said before, BitKeeper did us a lot of good by bringing
order to the kernel development process when things had been working very
poorly, and by showing the world what distributed revision control could
do. It set the stage for what came after. Git was not the first free
distributed revision control system, but it was the first to be employed on
such a massive scale. In a real sense, git launched a new era of free
On that note, this article will end - and, probably, the retrospective
series ends as well. As events become more recent, the difficulty of putting
them into historical perspective gets greater. A retrospective covering
the remaining 2+ years risks becoming a repeat of the annual timelines and
adding little of value. That period is best left for the 20-year
So, the entire LWN staff would like to say
"thanks!" one last time to our readers, who have treated us so well for the
last ten years. It has been an incredible ride.
Comments (32 posted)
Last week, with much fanfare, Microsoft announced
a change in its practices in order to "expand interoperability". It is a
rather sizable shift away from some of its previous inflammatory statements about free
software—though it scrupulously avoids that term—but whether it is the harbinger of a more open Microsoft, or yet another
empty pronouncement, is still unclear. It does contain things of interest to the
community, in particular the patent enumeration, but there are
pitfalls as well.
The largest chunk of what Microsoft promises is documentation for APIs and
protocols used by some of their most popular products. They immediately
released some 30,000 pages of Windows protocol specifications, much of
had to pay to access last December. In addition, they will be
releasing documentation suitable for developers wishing to interoperate
with "Windows Vista (including
the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007,
Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future
versions of all these products."
Microsoft has also promised to list which of the documented protocols are
covered by one of its patents or patent applications. We may finally start
to get a handle on the infamous "235 patents" that Linux and free software
supposedly infringe. These patents will be available for license on the
"reasonable and non-discriminatory" (RAND) terms, with an interesting
addition: "low royalty rates". The patent list is not yet available, but
may be of use in ways that Microsoft does not intend; invalidating some of
with prior art for example.
As Microsoft is well aware, RAND terms are a non-starter for free
software because they restrict redistribution of the code.
The company has tried to soften that blow, perhaps, by rehashing its
"covenant not to sue" developers that originated as part of the Novell
interoperability agreement. The covenant may be a great public relations
ploy, but does little to alleviate concerns that free software developers
will have in implementing patented protocols. It is the rare developer who
finds an itch to develop code to talk to Microsoft servers and who has no thought
of using or distributing it commercially.
There are also provisions in the announcement for documentation of
Microsoft implementations of industry standards. A cynic might wonder why
additional information is needed, they are, after all, supposed to be
standards. The unfortunate reality is that Microsoft does extend
such standards for its own purposes in incompatible ways; having that
kind of information can only help web browsers, directory services, and
other multi-platform tools.
For a company as adamantly opposed to Open Document Format (ODF) as it
claims to be, it is a bit surprising to see that they plan changes to
Microsoft Office to "promote user choice among document formats". APIs for
document format plug-ins along with the ability for users to make their own
choice about the default save format will be added. How reasonable those
APIs are and how faithfully they can encapsulate Office documents will be
an interesting test of both Microsoft's sincerity and ODF's capabilities.
It is also a pretty clear attempt to at least appear to be playing nicely with ODF
while its competing OOXML format is being considered for an ISO standard.
There are also various platitudes about "opening dialogs" and "expanding
outreach" with the community included in the announcement. It will be interesting to see how
that actually plays out. It is, however, hard to imagine even a year ago
seeing a posting on a Microsoft-sponsored site entitled "How
open source has influenced Windows Server 2008". In less than seven years, we
have moved from a "cancer" to influencing its flagship products.
One obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this and other Microsoft
initiatives is that it is feeling a fair amount of pressure from
customers, the European Union, standards groups, and free software. These kinds of
changes, even if they don't go as far as the rhetoric would lead one to
believe, are a pretty substantial shift in Microsoft culture and thinking.
Unfortunately, they do also seem to be angling for the long-sought "Linux
tax"—a payment, even just a small one, for each and every Linux deployment.
So far, Microsoft doesn't seem to have caught on to the idea that most Linux
installations are free in both senses of the term. There is no
per-installation, per-processor, per-core licensing stream to tap into.
One of the headaches that free software users avoid is keeping track of all
those licenses, enforced by the ever-present threat of a Business Software
Alliance audit. It has, to a limited extent, already tapped into—and
likely tapped out—that
revenue from the deals with Novell and other distributors.
Overall, this seems like a positive step. It clearly acknowledges the role
that free software (or open source if you prefer) is playing in both the
commercial marketplace and the marketplace of ideas. The actual
effects of this announcement for our community may be small, but it may
also be indicative of Microsoft moving in a more cooperative direction. That
would be a rather nice thing to see.
Comments (none posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Cascading security updates; New vulnerabilities in acroread, clamav, qemu, wordpress,...
- Kernel: Early merging of drivers; Tracing memory-mapped I/O operations; The state of Nouveau, part 2.
- Distributions: A brief look at some distribution news; Foresight GNOME Edition 2.0 Alpha 4; Ubuntu Hardy Alpha 5; Interview with NetworkManager developer Dan Williams
- Development: The Linux Desktop Testing Project reaches the 1.0.0 release, PyChess Philidor developments, Ryzom.org State of the Game, Emacs gets new maintainer, new versions of rsplib, CUPS, Sonic Visualiser, Gmsh, LyX, UrJTAG, LedgerSMB, Wine, Claws Mail, Staden Package, Dictionary Maker, GNU Classpath, IT++, GIT.
- Press: SELinux blocks real-world exploits, Janice Honeyman-Buck's talk at HIMSS, KDE PIM Team meeting, Alan Cox interview, Tristan Nitot interview, Kommander Leaps Forward.
- Announcements: GNOME Foundation funds accessibility projects, FSFE on Microsoft interoperability pledge, Open Solutions Alliance turns 1, Microsoft to promote interoperability, SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service, Sun completes MySQL acquisition, Timesys Announces Embedded Linux Support for Atmel AT91SAM9RL Microcontrollers, Radeon R5xx 3D programming guide, LinuxQuestions.org Members Choice awards, EFF Pioneer Awards, SourceForge Community Choice Awards, Linux System and Network Administration BootCamp, Workshop on Open Source Software for Computer and Network Forensics cfp, FUDCon announced, LAC2008 final countdown, LugRadio Live USA 2008, MySQL Conf keynotes, Music made with Linux.