Your editor was once told by a free software conference organizer that
charging a registration fee was mandatory; without the fee, potential
attendees would not take the event seriously and would not show up. The Free and Open Source Developers' European Meeting
shows that this view does not always match up to reality.
Perhaps uniquely among major Linux events, FOSDEM charges no registration
fee, and, indeed, dispenses with the registration process altogether. That
did not stop some 2000 people from showing up last weekend and packing the
lecture halls to a level that would have sent a U.S. fire marshal into a
complete panic. FOSDEM, clearly, is a successful event.
FOSDEM is organized in a way which is well described by its name: it is a
meeting of developers. As such, it features a series of talks which are
likely to be of interest to the development community and a distinct lack of
presentations on how to configure the print system or on how Linux will
leverage your business paradigm shifts into the next generation.
Additionally, a set of "developer rooms" was occupied by various projects
and interest groups (Debian, KDE, embedded Linux, Tcl, etc.). Each of those
rooms was a place to gather, and most put up their own schedules of talks
as well. Throw in a (problematic) wireless network, a beautiful city with
no shortage of good food and beer, and support from a set of sponsors, and
you have all the makings of a free software conference with a distinctly
Keynote speaker Tim O'Reilly told the gathering that, while it is clear
that free software is changing the computing industry, nobody, least of all
the free software community, knows how. He pointed out that there are
already user-friendly Linux-based desktop applications which are used by
millions of people; they go by names like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo. These
companies are building massive proprietary applications with free software,
and, in many cases, giving little back. Tim would like to see free
software developers think more about the use of their code in web
application settings. He is also concerned about the implications of the
large databases being created by these companies; those databases, too, are
proprietary, and they can pose serious privacy threats. Do we, asks Tim,
need a "web services bill of rights" which is analogous to the licenses
which accompany free software?
Tim was immediately followed by Richard Stallman, who gave a fairly
predictable talk about the importance of freedom, "Linux" and "GNU/Linux,"
etc. The freedom issues are important, but will be familiar to most
readers of LWN. More amusing, perhaps, was the final part of the talk,
where Richard addressed charges that he adopts a "holier than thou"
attitude. Says Richard: "It's my job to be holy, I'm a saint." He then
donned his disk platter halo and proclaimed himself to be Saint Ignucius of
the Church of Emacs. Anybody can be a saint in this church, it seems; all
that is required is (1) to free your computers of all proprietary
software, and (2) make the profession of faith: "There is no operating
system but GNU, and Linux is one of its kernels." (In the same humorous
vein, Richard proclaimed that use of vi is not a sin according to the
Church of Emacs; it is, instead, a penance).
Richard did also address the web services issue. He is not concerned about
companies like Google failing to share their own code; what Google runs on
its servers is its own business, and has nothing to do with anybody else's
freedom. He is concerned about data stored on other people's
servers; his response is to not keep his data there. Richard allowed as to
how there could be freedom issues with web services, but he does not see
those as free software issues in particular. One gets the impression he
thinks he has taken on a big enough fight as it is; web services will be
somebody else's problem.
There have been persistent rumors that a third revision of the General
Public License would require that changes to code which are deployed in
public web services be released. When questioned about this idea, Richard
did not have much to say; there has been little time to work on such ideas,
apparently, though that could change soon. He did mention the possibility
of a "download source" clause. With this clause, the author of
web-oriented software could include a "download source" link which would do
exactly that. An optional license feature would require those deploying
that code to retain the source download capability - and to ensure that it
provides the source for the actual, deployed application. It is hard to
see such an intrusive license winning a lot of followers.
The final keynote speaker was, inevitably, Jon 'maddog' Hall. Maddog talks
resemble sitting in front of the fire with Grandpa and hearing his stories
from before you were born. The stories are interesting, well told, and
fun, but after a while you realize you've heard most of them before.
You're always there when Grandpa tells another set of stories, however.
Keith Packard gave a heavily-attended talk on the future of the X server.
In order to support many of the visually pleasing features envisioned for
the future Linux desktop, some fundamental server changes will be
required. In the new scheme, X clients no longer draw directly into the
frame buffer; instead, they draw into off-screen memory which is then
combined, under the control of a new "composition manager" process, into
the screen seen by the users. Keith demonstrated some of his "eye candy"
work which showed (1) how slick the Linux desktop can be, and
(2) how slow it can be when all of this work is done in software.
In the future, Keith sees the X server moving
into a fundamentally three-dimensional mode and speaking GL directly to the
low-level graphics drivers. Many 3D applications will also be able to send
GL directly to the hardware, and bypass the X server altogether. The
current crop of two-dimensional applications will be handled in a
compatibility mode. This change would pave the way for a new generation of
3D Linux applications, improve performance greatly, and would make vendor
support easier; most video card
vendors stopped wanting to deal with 2D modes years ago.
Keith also addressed the political issues currently being faced by the X
community; see Zonker's article (below) for more information on that side
LWN editor Jonathan Corbet presented two talks at FOSDEM; the slides from
those talks are now available. The first was a variant on the "2.6 kernel changes from the
inside" talk which has been presented at other events. Making its debut
at FOSDEM was "kobjects, ksets, and ktypes:
the device model from the bottom up," a low-level technical tutorial on
the glue which holds the 2.6 device model together.
Other presentations seen by your editor include Robert Love on providing
better support for the Linux desktop in the kernel (it is a good thing some
developers are finally seeing this support as an important priority), Bill
Haneman showing the features of the GNOME
Onscreen Keyboard, Hans Reiser on the underpinnings of the Reiser4
filesystem, and an interesting developer room session on hacking into
embedded Linux systems. There was far more going on than any one person
could possibly see; FOSDEM is an event which truly showcases the vitality
of the free software development community. It is not surprising that
attendance has been growing strongly every year; this is one event which
may have to find a larger venue for 2005.
Comments (9 posted)
The XFree86 license
announced by the XFree86 project has caused a great deal of fuss
in the development community. One month later, the new shape of things is
beginning to come into focus. Unless something happens in the near future,
the XFree86 Project's time as the custodian of the X Window System has come
to an end, but X development will continue in a new home.
Ostensibly, the new license was to be applied as of the third XFree86
4.4.0 release candidate, but, according to longtime X developer Keith
Packard, project leader David Dawes first
checked in code under the license last
September and updated the list of XFree86 licenses to include the license
without any prior notice. Then the announcement that the new license was to
be the "official" license for code copyrighted by the XFree86 Project was
made by David Dawes at the end
of January. The new license does not affect all code distributed by
XFree86, but it touches enough code to create a major backlash among
vendors and projects that are using and distributing XFree86.
The new license is a valid open source license, but it is a BSD-style
license with an
"advertising clause" that many find objectionable. The license is not
GPL-compatible, which some say is a sure way to
make a project irrelevant. Criticism of the new license is not limited to
advocates of the GPL, however. It also seems to offend some ardent
supporters of the BSD license, including
Theo de Raadt:
Like other projects, we will not be incorporating new code from
David Dawes into the XFree86 codebase used in OpenBSD. All such
changes have to be skipped, rewritten, or you can contact the
XFree86 group and place your own efforts to repair this damage.
This leaves the community at an impasse. With XFree86 sticking to the new
license, and a large number of projects rejecting said license, other
solutions must be sought. In the short term, many projects and vendors are
planning on shipping XFree86 4.3 rather than using 4.4. Frederic Lepied,
CTO of MandrakeSoft, says that Mandrake has reverted to XFree86 4.3 for the
short term. Joseph Eckert, VP of corporate communications for SUSE, also
confirms that SUSE will not be utilizing code licensed under the XFree86
However, utilizing an older version of XFree86 is not a long-term
solution. Daniel Stone, a Debian Developer, is one of many predicting a
fork of the project to solve the long-term issues:
More than ever before, XFree86 has backed itself into a hole. The challenge
now lies with the community to dig X out of the hole it's now
in. Unfortunately, as kdrive and other solutions are not yet mature enough,
it is my firm belief that this will only come about through a fork of
XFree86. Sad, especially when you consider that that's how XFree86 came
about; X.Org relicensed X, XFree86 got upset, and forked. We may be about
to watch just a little bit of history repeating.
Keith Packard made it clear at FOSDEM that he believes this fork has
already taken place; it was done by David Dawes when he changed the
license. So now the "trunk" development effort is moving to freedesktop.org.
According to Packard:
X.org and various Linux vendors are busy putting together a copy of the
XFree86 sources from before the license change and are planning on making
that available for developers to work on in producing X releases in the
traditional fashion -- a monolithic release of the entire tree. The goal
of this process is to ensure continuity of the window system implementation
and allow people to get an X server capable of supporting more recent
Packard also says that the freedesktop.org folks are working on
improvements to the X architecture:
A related project that we're also working on is to take the monolithic X
build architecture and splitting it into pieces. Libraries, fonts, servers
and applications will be released separately. Periodically, released
versions of the individual packages will be collected together and bundled
as a unified release. The goal is to promote rapid development of some
portions of the system (like video drivers) without requiring a rapid
release schedule for the entire project.
As Stone said, we may be watching history repeat itself. Barring a change
of heart on behalf of the XFree86 Project, it seems that projects and
vendors making use of XFree86 will be looking elsewhere. The question is
whether or not vendors will unify behind an X Window System produced by
freedesktop.org, or another group -- or if the fork ends up creating
several splinter projects. With X.org and several of the key developers
behind it, freedesktop.org looks well placed to become the new home of X
Comments (31 posted)
Some weeks ago, your editor was invited to join the Orkut
service. Having never played with a
"friend of a friend" service before, your editor found the experience to be
naturally gratifying. After all, a system which inspires others to make
public declarations of friendship cannot fail to delight such a
stereotypical, socially challenged, geekish sort of person. It's nice to
know that somebody likes you after all, even if you can never aspire to the
triple-digit circles of friends that the truly cool people have.
That said, the free software community may want to think before committing
too much to services like Orkut. A good look at the Orkut terms of service would
be a place to start. It includes some relatively interesting things, such as
prohibitions on reverse engineering and even (surprising, for a
Google-affiliated site) indexing the site. The truly fun language,
By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through
the orkut.com service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide,
non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free,
perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create
derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials.
So this site which, among other things, is supposed to facilitate business
networking claims the right to make use of any idea which any user might
post there. These terms may seem familiar: Microsoft attempted to get
Passport users to agree to something similar three years ago. The company
backed down after a public outcry; so far, however, Orkut users have been
rather more accommodating.
There is a more fundamental question to be asked, however: if we, as a
community, really want to document our associations, interests, sexual
orientation, editor preferences, etc., do we really want to do so in
somebody else's proprietary database? Social networks seem like a field in
need of a great deal of experimentation; few people would claim that the
best ways to aggregate, represent, and work with such data have already
been worked out. If we're going to create a social network database, we
should be doing so in a public manner that will allow free software hackers
to play around with interesting new applications. We would almost
certainly be surprised at what they would come up with.
One effort worth looking at is the
FOAF Project. Rather than create a central, proprietary,
indexing-prohibited database, this project is pushing for a distributed
database built on individual RDF files. Such a scheme puts each
participant in charge of their own data while making the whole network
available for those who would create interesting interfaces to it.
This project shows one approach to the creation of social network databases
which avoids the problems of proprietary databases and restrictive terms of
use. Doubtless there are others out there as well. We, as a community, do
not need to put our time into the creation of somebody else's proprietary
database; we can do better than that.
Comments (4 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: The trouble with backporting fixes; new vulnerabilities in hsftp, lbreakout2, and synaesthesia.
- Kernel: <tt>invalidate_mmap_range()</tt>, ia32e and Linux; CDROM partitions.
- Distributions: Linux in Brazil; Conectiva Linux 10 Beta 1; cAos 1.0; ekkoBSD BETA 2; OpenPKG 2.0: Reviews of Lycoris, ALT Linux, Slackware
- Development: The Next Generation of Mail Clients,
new versions of Firebird DB, Foomatic, AFPL Ghostscript,
gnuplot, gDesklets, LyX, wxWidgets, GQview, Wine, Gungirl,
Opie sdk, Epiphany, Aspell, Leo.
- Press: Let Java Go, EU Council and software patents, MandrakeSoft loses in France,
GIMP 2.0 review, openMosix intro.
- Announcements: OpenOffice.org BizDev, Wind River and Red Hat,
Wikipedia hits .5M articles, Lessig at OSBC 2004,
LinuxUser & Developer Expo, GCC summit CFP.