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Interview with Andrew Ziem of BleachBit

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Oct 29, 2013 04:32 PM
This is the latest installment of our Licensing and Compliance Lab's series on free software developers who choose GNU licenses for their works.

In this edition, we conducted an email-based interview with Andrew Ziem, the lead developer of BleachBit -- free software designed to help you free disk space and guard your privacy.

What inspired you to create BleachBit?

About five years ago I was doing a routine system backup, which is a slow process, and I was annoyed at all the unnecessary junk that wasted time and space in the backup. I wrote some shell scripts to wipe the junk, but I wasn't satisfied with them. About this time I was also interested in learning PyGTK, and in a short time I had a crude graphical interface working. From there, a simple experiment took on a life of its own.

The basic value BleachBit delivers to the user is taking the guesswork out of cleaning a system by classifying and describing options to clean (such as Firefox cache), so the user feels confident that they won't destroy their system. Also, since free software often rapidly evolves with each release, BleachBit keeps up with the maintenance of cataloging where applications store temporary files. There's no sense in everyone writing and maintaining their own shell scripts for this.

How are people using it?

The two main uses are (1) to recover potentially large amounts of disk space lost to junk files like cache, logs, and temporary files and (2) to maintain privacy by deleting sensitive information.

Sometimes users are surprised how much junk is on their systems from applications that don't clean up after themselves, or because a user upgraded or stopped using an application, such as a Web browser, which left behind large files.

Recently with the Snowden and NSA issues in the public mind, maintaining privacy on personal computers has become a key issue, and BleachBit has been ready to assist with this challenge.

What features do you think really sets BleachBit apart from similar software?

In summary, BleachBit is a free, easy to use, effective, light weight, and standards-based system cleaner.

By standards-based, I am referring to CleanerML: a powerful, XML-based markup language for writing cleaners. It has various ways to match files, and it can do various things to them such as delete, shred, and truncate. It also has special cleaners for SQLite, JSON, and .ini files.

Why did you choose the GNU GPL version 3 as BleachBit's license?

Since the mid 1990s and before I really knew what "free" software is, I was writing and publishing free software as public domain. I wish I could remember where I got the idea to publish the source code, but I don't remember other developers doing this during the golden days of BBSs and the early days of the Web.

Later I learned about free software, and around 2002 I began using GNU GPLv2 because of the freedoms it guarantees. As soon as GPLv3 was available, I began using it for the same reasons.

How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to BleachBit?

I am especially looking for help with the following: translations into other languages, end-user support on the BleachBit forums and all over the Internet, testing beta releases, and developing cleaners in CleanerML. I would especially welcome leaders who are engaged and take ownership.

Testing beta releases on a variety of environments (e.g., different distributions of GNU/Linux) and with many applications (web browsers, etc.) is a complex but important task. It is complex because there are so many environments and I routinely publish beta releases with a list of specific areas needing testing.

Developing and maintaining cleaners in CleanerML is complex but important for the same reasons: there are countless applications, and it takes work to catalog where they keep their junk files, test the cleaners in different environments, and keep up with their changes.

How to help translate:

How to write a cleaner:

What's the next big thing for BleachBit?

BleachBit version 1.0 should be released this month. I've read user reviews that BleachBit's simple GUI may be too simple, so I will research the best options for users and consider rewriting it.

Please see the BleachBit entry in the Free Software Directory for more information.

Enjoyed this interview? Check out our previous entry in this series featuring Caleb James DeLisle of cjdns.

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