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You are here: Home Bulletins 2010 Fall 2010 Bulletin GNU Hackers Meeting: Gothenburg, Sweden

GNU Hackers Meeting: Gothenburg, Sweden

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Oct 14, 2011 06:27 PM
In Gothenburg, Sweden, I attended an informal bar meetup with several GNU hackers. Among them were Brian Gough, who sits on the GNU Advisory Committee, José Marchesi, a GNU PDF developer, Michael Foetsch, from gNewSense, Ralf Wildenhues, who hacks on the GNU Autotools (autoconf, automake, libtool), Simon Josefsson from GNU TLS, and Alfred Szmidt, a veteran of many projects, including GCC, GDB, Hurd and, more recently, the GNU networking utilities, inetutils.

ML: Do you think awareness of GNU is increasing?

BG: That's hard to measure but the community is certainly getting stronger. We had about 40 people at the most recent GNU Hackers Meeting in the Hague, and that number has been increasing every meeting over the past years. At FOSDEM in February 2011 we will have a dev room for 100 people.

GS: In these last years I have noticed a wider awareness of what the Free Software and the GNU Project are, and the understanding of the importance to have a Free operating system. On the other hand, I have got the impression that the number of real contributors hasn't increased at the same rate. Communities are a great thing but it is also important to get hands ``dirty,'' there are new problems to face every day and there is definitely need of new contributors. Everyone can contribute and support actively the development of the GNU system, there are many ways to do it without be a programmer.

AS: Over the last 5 years I've seen a younger generation getting involved, including things like the GNU Hackers Meetings that are popping up all over the world. There also seems to be a wider awareness of what the GNU Project has done; people don't seem as suprised if you say you work on the GNU system of the GNU Project. So yes, I would think so.

ML: Of all the projects represented here, gNewSense and GNU PDF are perhaps the most likely to be used by a typical nondeveloper user. What are the goals of these projects?

JM: The goal of the GNU PDF project is to provide a free (GPLv3+) and complete implementation of the PDF format and associated technologies. It is not yet ready for end-user usage, but we are working on it.

GS: These projects share the same final goal: give users the full control of their computers and data. GNU IceCat is the GNU version of the famous Mozilla Firefox browser; differently from Firefox, IceCat suggests to use only free addons and free plugins. GNU PDF project aims to develop a free library to manage the PDF file format. gNewSense is a fully free GNU/Linux distribution without any nonfree component. I would like to remind another very important GNU project, GNU Gnash, that provides a free Flash movie player. All of these projects (as any component of a GNU/Linux system) are very important. Unfortunately still there is much work to do. Some features are missing but GNU/Linux and gNewSense are a reality -- you can already get a taste of a Free operating system.

ML: What makes the GNU networking utilities different from those found in other operating systems and distributions?

SJ: Most distributions are using a variety of tools from a variety of sources: NetKit is widespread for telnet, ftp, and tftp. Debian GNU/Linux uses Marco d'Itri's whois client while other programs, such as traceroute are separate packages too. Several of these packages are poorly maintained with no releases in many years -- the last date in the changelog files for the 'telnet' and 'ftp' packages is 2000! Given this mixed picture, having a single source for network utilities, one that even makes regular releases and show some code activity, would be much better. At least that is why I'm helping the inetutils effort.

AS: The GNU Network Utilities are portable across different platforms, something that the BSD versions aren't. We also support IPv6, Kerberos authentication, and TLS encryption, something that most other GNU and BSD systems lack in their standard version.

ML: Brian, what is the GNU Advisory Committee, and how is it changing the way GNU acts as a community?

BG: The GNU Advisory Committee was created about a year ago to improve coordination within the GNU Project. It provides an initial point of contact for questions from maintainers, FSF, and others. Members of the committee are appointed by Richard Stallman and meet by phone each month to discuss current issues. Stallman, the founder of GNU and the president of the FSF, remains the Chief GNUisance with overall responsibility for and authority over the GNU Project. The Advisory Committee is trying to encourage more project-wide activities and get more people involved in GNU. For example, it helped to organise the first US GNU Hackers meeting in Boston at the FSF's LibrePlanet in March 2010. Prior to that there had not been a meeting where GNU contributors in the US could get together for many years. In the past, developers have mainly worked within their own projects -- we want to encourage more communication and sharing of ideas among the project as a whole.

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