Older blog entries for mbanck (starting at number 36)

4 Mar 2006 (updated 4 Mar 2006 at 11:38 UTC) »

This year, the days before FOSDEM were the stressful ones, as I got to organize accomodation. Initially, we wanted to have similar appartments as last year, but by the time I was less busy at uni to actually look into it, most of them were already booked, so we had to put up with a youth hostel instead. The positive sides of this were the much lower expenses and a location in the city centre, making us actually look at Bruxelles a bit in detail this time.

"Us" were the Hurd people, including Martin "earliest Hurd adopter present" Michlmayr. I got to FOSDEM by car again, picking up Marcus Brinkmann, Neal Walfield and Olaf Buddenhagen on the way in Cologne. Finding the youth hostel seemed to be pretty hard as we just had a street address and a map without street names, but we managed to find it pretty quickly to my great surprise (driving around in Bruxelles usually ended up being a complete disaster over the last years). After a strange encounter with a Guillem Jover lookalike in front of the hostel, we met the other guys (Thomas Schwinge, Marco Gerards, Stefan Siegl and Ognyan Kulev) and had a discussion about Neal's and Marcus' plan to move to a persistent system.

After dinner, I met the other Debian people in the Roi d'Espagne and hat some longer chats with Jeroen van Wolffelaar, Rob Bradford, Martin Michlmayr and Jordi Mallach, who I finally met for the first time and who did not cop out of FOSDEM this year as usual... The pub is getting more and more crowded each year, all the hackers barely fit even though they opened the balustrade this time as well. It was great to see everybody again and have a few beers. Martin and I then managed to find the way back to the hostel by foot.

We had no developer room, and no talks in the Debian room either, so FOSDEM was a pretty relaxed event this year. I met some more familiar faces like Noel Koethe and Andreas Mueller and listened to a couple of talks, most notably Richard Stallman's and Jeff Waugh's keynotes and Hanna Wallach's talk about FLOSSPOLS. Stefan Siegl also managed to get GNU Mach working for both my 3Com PCMCIA NIC and my Orinoco PCMCIA WLAN card, confirming his title as Hurd "hacker of the month".

On Saturday evening, we (at this time, Guillem Jover, Gianluca Guida, Bas Wijnen and Jeroen Dekkers had joined) had dinner with the french Hurd guys (Manuel Menal, Marc Dequenes, Richard Braun, Arnaud Fontaine and others) in an italian restaurant. At 10:40 PM, the waiter told us in a rather unfriendly tone that they would close at 11 and presented us with the bill, along with handing out the menu again so that we could look up our share. By the time the bill arrived the french part of the table (at 10:55 PM), the guys were pretty surprised by this whole business and complained loudly that they did not have a dessert yet and insistent on having one. After some more minutes of discussion, the waiter gave in and served their desserts, after which each of them paid his share with his carte bleue. I believe we left the restaurant around 11:30.

On Sunday evening, we had dinner again (the french guys had left Bruxelles already) and then drove back to Germany after having desserts and coffee in a bar. We left Bruxelles at around midnight and arrived in Duesseldorf at 2:30 PM, so we were glad that Neal offered us to stay at his place. We had breakfast the next morning with him and Isabel and then I proceeded to drive back to Frankfurt in the early afternoon.

FOSDEM rocked, as usual. After being with the Debian crowd for the first three years or so, and mostly sticking with the Hurd crowd last year, I think I managed a pretty good balance between the two this year. This will not have been my last FOSDEM.

29 Oct 2005 (updated 29 Oct 2005 at 19:51 UTC) »

Systems 2005

Another year, another Systems. This year, however, sadly the first time without Jens, so organization was harder than usual. C&L again provided an Open Source area where we had a booth along with GNOME, KDE, the several BSDs, PostgreSQL and some smaller Open Source projects. As we were not able to build up the booth on Sunday already, there was only a pretty bad location left on Monday, facing towards the wall. Roland Stigge provided a huge 1,5 by 1,5 metre Debian swirl banner, which we mounted in the vicinity of the (too small for that) booth. Michael Ablassmeier brought a Shuttle PC and a TFT display so we could show visitors around the Debian desktop and point them towards further information on the internet. Credativ again kindly shipped posters and flyers. We sold the former and distributed the latter to passing visitors. Unfortunately, Credativ did not receive any LinuxTag DVDs this year, and we were unable to obtain some from other people (apparently they are spared for LinuxWorldExpo in Frankfurt next month, though most visitors there should know Debian already I guess), so we only had about 30 DVDs, which were left from the pack I took back from LinuxTag myself. We sold those for 2 EUR, and later distributed some shiny new Breezy CDs the GNOME booth acquired on Thursday and had some Sarge CDs pressed at a nearby CD production booth which we sold for 2 EUR as well.

After some initial doubts on whether we would be able to properly man the booth, it turned out that the local Debian community was enough to guarantee presence except for Friday morning. Michael Ablassmeier, Erich Schubert, Simon Richter, Roland Stigge and Rene Engelhard manned the booth besides me. So we were in the fortunate position that we had two people at the booth most of the time while shuffling around personnel, while most other booths were operated by the same one or two people throughout the week.

This year, almost all people I asked (I usually offered a flyer and asked "Do you know Debian already?" to all passing visitors, unless they quickly tried to run through our territory) knew about Debian at least somewhat, and surprisingly many people said they had Debian installed and were happy with it. Thanks to the Sarge release and the almost-official amd64 archive (the respective lack of which were by far the most prominent questions last year), we had almost no recurring questions to answer; probably the most frequent question was about Ubuntu and our relationship with it, but those were pretty scarce and I expected much more of that. Likewise, only very few people were unhappy about Debian (far outweighed by the happy bunch), and most of that seemed to be due to specific technical issues rather than any general reservations about the Debian development or community processes. Most of the remaining questions were pretty specific, e.g. people having issues installing Debian on their hardware or trying to do some exotic stuff.

To summarize, it was a nice having a booth again and getting in touch with visitors and users. I did not see much else of Systems this year due to being busy with university as well, but I do not think it would have been worth it anyway. Murray Cumming and Joerg Kress (who were managing the GNOME booth) helped me dismantle the booth and carry back the hardware and leftovers on Friday evening and we decided to have dinner together at a nice pub in Munich.

On Saturday, 30th July, my friend and fellow Debian Developer Jens Schmalzing tragically passed away. When I learned about his death, I was shocked and have been mourning him ever since. Jens was not very publically active in the Debian community (he preferred to do work rather than discuss), nor did he attend Debian conferences or international events like LinuxTag, but he was an important part of our local Munich Debian Community. He frequently organized meetings, even back at the time when we met only very irregularly. He also co-organized the real-life Bug-Squashing-Party in Munich last year (providing rooms at his university institute, besides others) and represented Debian at local Linux events like Linux-Infotag Augsburg or Munich's Systems.

For me personally, Jens was also a friend, my Debian advocate, and one of the first Debian Developers I met personally. He perhaps also was the Debian person I met most frequently and we phoned each other occasionally or met privately, e.g. when we made the LaTeX layout of the Debian Flyer for LinuxTag 2002 (which later on got used for other events as well), when he managed to install Debian GNU/Linux on my (or rather my dad's) Apple Mac SE/30 and when we drove together to Linux-Infotag Augsburg last year show-casing FAI and Debian-Installer.

As he did not show up for the last few local Debian meetings, I was about to phone him to see whether he was fine. Now, I will never be able to do so again. Instead, I will remember the nice times we all had together with him during the various Debian meetings in beer gardens or pubs. My best wishes go to his widow and his three little sons.

Jens, you will be missed.

29 Jun 2005 (updated 30 Jun 2005 at 17:30 UTC) »
LinuxTag 2005

So, I think I figured out how to best do it this year, I can't believe it could be possibly better next year. As I had to give math tutorials on Friday morning, I only arrived at Karlsruhe after much hectic at late afternoon (yay for traffic jams), about five minutes early for my talk on the Ubuntu development and community model (slides are here). Considering that I did pretty much all of the slides in the car from Munich to Karlsruhe and my batteries went flat one hour early, that one went pretty well, though only around twenty people attended and I got some strange feedback. I talked for about half an hour and then we had long Q&A and discussion session afterwards. I met Oleksandr Shneyder (the guy who ported KDE to the Hurd) right after the talk and we chatted for a while about the Hurd and things in general, briefly meeting Wolfgang Jährling who was on the way out and later Marcus Brinkmann. Oleks had to leave some time later so I continued discussing with Marcus until he had to leave for his train as well, at which point I went for social event as well. The first person I met was Dogi, who I was delighted to see again (we didn't manage to meet up in Munich for months). The event was right next to LinuxTag this year and except for the fact that getting a beer was non-trivial due to technical problems and thus large queues, it was very nice and I met a lot of people I haven't seen in a while (Alfie, Martin Michlmayr and Mako Hill) or at all (Agnieszka Czajkowska, who designed the cover for the Sarge LinuxTag DVD, Yuwei Lin, a sociologist from Amsterdam, and Daniel Stone, who I only briefly talked to, unfortunately). After quite a lot of beers (couldn't recall how many) I finally left the party at around 2:30 AM and joined Mako in his hotel room which he had kindly offered to shar with me. He was still working on his talk for the next day so I read a chapter of 'After the quake' by Haruki Murakami, which he recommended to me and which I since have read almost in its entirety.

The next day, we went to LinuxTag at about 11 AM (I couldn't sleep anymore from 9 AM on though, so I only had a couple of hours of sleep) and I took a walk around looking at the booths. The Ubuntu booth as part of the GNOME booth wasn't immediately obvious, but there were some Ubuntu CDs and Michael Kofler's Ubuntu book on display. The Debian booth was looking pretty professional as always, thanks to the great work of Jörg Jaspert, Alexander Schmehl and all the others. HP's booth was by far the biggest, and I was a bit disappointed that IBM's booth didn't look much bigger than Microsoft's, but it was of course bigger than SuSE's (which wasn't really present at all). I briefly visited an introductory talk to Fedora (as part of FUDCON) and was thrilled to learn they still rather recommend a re-installation for major upgrades. I then had booth duty between 1 and 3 PM, but as the release was just out of the door, the questions weren't that predictable and mostly related so some hardware configuration making trouble or some specific software problems. The keysigning party took longer than expected, so the people who were supposed to be our relief showed up late and I was in turn late for the 'Debian Internals' talk and only saw the second part of Joey's turn, as well as Frank Lichtenheld talking about the website and Jörg Jaspert briefly mentioning how to get involved. Next was Mako's big talk about forking Free Software projects and the Debian/Ubuntu relationship. The room was packed and (Mako asked about this at the beginning), the majority of the people were Debian users and quite a few developers were present as well. His talk was really great (as I expected, having read a draft paper beforehand), he had to rush things a bit towards the end, though. After that, I wandered around a bit more and talked to a couple of people until LinuxTag ended.

After dismantling the booth, the Debian crew went to a pizzeria and then mostly split up, with Mako, Dogi, Alfie, Weasel, Flo, Andreas Barth and a couple of others going back to the AKK gym (where everbody had been sleeping) and the rest leaving Karlsruhe. I was initially pondering between several options such as going back to Munich (Martin was being driven there so there would have been a ride), going to Frankfurt to visit my parents or staying in Karlsruhe. I was really glad I did the last, as there was the big university summer party just around the AKK again that year (that party happened last year as well, but I went to Frankfurt in the late afternoon then). As the weather was still extremely good, a huge lot of people were at that party, which itself was huge, with two concert stages outside and three floors inside. Right at the beginning, the 'Martinazzi incident' happened. Two punk girls stepped up to Dogi, snatched the bottle of Martinazzi (a cheap form of Martini) from his loose grab and ran away. After a couple of seconds of surprise, Mako and Dogi pursued them, Dogi grabbed one of them by her skirt and then a small quarrel for the bottle evolved, which the guys finally won, whereas the girls begged a bit without success and then walked away. After a couple of meters, one of them suddenly turned around, walked straight up to Dogi and kissed him on the mouth. At this point, it was clear this party would rock. Unfortunately, the outdoor concert ended at around 11 PM, so we only banged to a couple of songs by some pretty good rock band and then Dogi, Mako, Alfie and me went inside where a cool hip hop band was just about to finish their set. We then danced on the other two floors until we were totally exhausted due to the sweaty temperatures present inside. At around 3 AM we finally called it quits and had a Falafel to cool down. We decided to sleep outside of the AKK gym and suddenly the punk girl showed up again. At that point I was too sleepy to notice, but Mako later said her boyfriend had shown up eventually as well. Sleep was not easy as some people had decided to play football with an empty plastic bottle on the concrete all night long, but I managed for a couple of hours eventually.

23 Jun 2005 (updated 23 Jun 2005 at 23:36 UTC) »
The Ubuntu Community Model

Following up on my earlier post about the Ubuntu development model, this one will shed some light on how the Ubuntu community works. This is also to prepare myself a bit for my talk on that subject at LinuxTag tomorrow.

It is clear that Ubuntu managed to create a very strong and vibrant community in a very small time. This is largely due to a clear focus on creating a friendly environment people would like to get involved in, rather than having some elite society. The key points of their community are:

  • The Ubuntu community is structured as follows: On the top, there is the `Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life' (SABDFL), Mark Shuttleworth. Then there are the Technical Board (currently Matt Zimmerman Scott James Remnant and Mark Shuttleworth) and the Community Council (currently Benjamin 'mako' Hill, Mark Shuttleworth, Colin Watson, and James Troup). Huge parts of the community are further organized in specific teams, like the kernel team, the desktop team, the porting teams, the documentation team or the various localization teams.

  • As can be seen from above, Mark Shuttleworth is not just the guy throwing all the money at the developers and marketing people, he is actively involved in large parts of the development and directly interacts with the community. On the one hand, this means somebody with a great vision and charisma is leading the community and Ubuntu in general, on the other hand, there were some ex-cathedra decisions in the past the community did not support (most notably changing default Nautilus behaviour only days before the Hoary release)

  • While the Technical Board steers the development of the Ubuntu distribution, the Community Council governs the evolution of the community. Both have public IRC meetings (including public minutes) every two weeks with a detailed agenda anybody can contribute to in order to get their concerns discussed. The members of both are appointed for a period of two years.

  • There is the Code of Conduct which covers the behaviour from community members in any kind of communication, electronic or in real life. They are expected to be considerate, respectful and collaborative; flamewars, personal attacks and trolling are not tolerated. On the one hand, this makes it clear to everybody on what terms they are joining the community, on the other hand it also makes it easy to identify and possibly expulse people violating these principles.

  • There are several levels of commitment to the Ubuntu community. Everybody who did a substantial contribution to Ubuntu (contributing documentation to the wiki, triaging bugs, helping users in #ubuntu) can become a 'Member' of the Ubuntu community, if the Community Council approves them. Members who want to become Maintainers (i.e. upload package) are supposed to find a mentor who reviews their packages and helps them along when questions arise. Once the mentor is satisfied with the members' contribution they will recommend them to the Technical Board and the Community Council, which guarantee to process the request within one month. Upload rights are usually restricted to the `universe' section of the archive initially, and Maintainers need to revisit Technical Board approval to upload to other components as well.

  • They have a wiki. Besides mailing lists and IRC, this is their major way of communicating, and it seems to be working very well. As new content can be written very easy even by newcomers (no web admins need to check in things into CVS or change some static HTML pages), they have gotten a huge amount of contributions for end user documentation, HOWTOs and other practical things. Also, most members of the Ubuntu community have a wiki documenting their involvements.

  • A large focus of their community work is based on translations and localization. They have so-called LoCo Teams in various countries who help spread the word of Ubuntu, translate things into their language, form sub-communities in their language and represent Ubuntu at trade shows etc.

That's it, so far as I see, comments welcome. It is clear they are doing some things radically different to Debian, and it remains to be seen whether Ubuntu can serve as some kind of soap box for how the Debian community could evolve.

High time for some Hurd updates I say.

Since FOSDEM, a lot of things happened, except Marcus finishing SysV shared memory support... However, he intensively studied and discussed kernel capabilities with the L4 people in order to improve the Hurd/L4 framework and recently returned and submitted a patch for proxy memory objects in GNU Mach, which is one of the prerequisites for shared memory, so hopefully this will be sorted out soon.

Neal was incredibly productive, he first finished the second part of his Hurd/L4 virtual memory framework and then took a while off Hurd/L4 in favour of improving Hurd/Mach. He fixed a couple of test-suite failures in libpthread, implemented POSIX semaphores, came up with a Mach alloc tuning patch which improved overall system stability quite a lot and then fixed pflocal so that the orbit test suite passes and gamin does not freeze the whole system on startup. He further hacked a lot on gamin, fixing a couple of bugs and most importantly contributing a native Hurd back-end. He also helped with porting all over the place.

Other upstream hacking included some great work done by Gianluca on unionfs, implementing write support. He also managed to get oskit drivers running on GNU Mach-1.x, which might improve hardware support considerably. Marco did not have much time for Hurd hacking over the last months, but now he appears to be back after he graduated from school and committed to writing a native TCP/IP stack over summer. For Hurd/L4, Mathieu Lemerre ported a simple IDE driver, so that port will probably pick up speed again soon. He is also working on memory allocation.

As for porting, I managed to get GNOME mostly working, although it is quite a bit more sluggish than on Linux and not all applications are ported yet. But Neal's work on the Hurd's pflocal, orbit and gamin made it at least possible to fully start up GNOME (screenshot). The remaining patching I had to do were due to minor portability issues or disabling functionality the Hurd does not yet have (mostly sound/gstreamer). Since the upload of GNOME-2.10 into unstable, we started uploading GNOME packages to ftp.debian.org directly as bugs are now getting fixed rather fast.

I also managed to build Qt packages and run Qt-Designer successfully. I announced their availability, but nothing happened for some time until Oleksandr Shneyder stepped up declaring his intention to port KDE to the Hurd. He had some initial problems but then managed to port kdelibs and then the whole of KDE in a couple of days (screenshot).

Last but not least, Colin Watson started looking into porting Debian-Installer to GNU/Hurd, an area we quite lacked at, as the K-series ISOs are still using potato's boot-floppies and crosshurd is a mere hack (though a very nice one). Hopefully this will mean that it will get increasingly easy to install Debian GNU/Hurd soon. Due to his efforts, we now also got a working OpenSSH again, which even has X11-forwarding fixed.

Munich chooses Debian, talking to the people involved

Although most people suspected SuSE would win the europe-wide bidding for the City of Munich's migration from Windows to Linux, it got announced last week that two local german companies using Debian as the base for their client have been awarded the tender. The bigger company of the two, SOFTCON, is located in Munich and has around 120 employees. It is 20 years old, and thus not a Linux-specific company, but rather a general IT service provider. The other company (GONICUS) is located in Arnsberg and much smaller (15 employees) and more technically oriented on the migration to Linux (it also a member of the Linux-Verband). A quick googling for its name on debian.org reveals that GONICUS employs at least one Debian Developer, Cajus Pollmeyer (cajus at debian.org), so they are giving back a lot. Congratulations to everybody involved.

As it turned out, we rather accidently had one of the irregular Debian meetings in Munich organized for yesterday, so I decided to invite the people from the city hall involved with the so-called LiMux project to join us in light of them choosing Debian, and they did.

This time, we did not meet at our usual location (the Augustinerkeller), but rather at the Pasta & Basta at the Münchner Freiheit. We ordered a table for ten people, but I counted 18 people attending, so we had some logistic problems (and the waiter really was "italian-simpatico-rude" as one of the comments at the above link indicates). Out of those 18, three of them were from the LiMux project and I had a nice chat with them. They were in their beginning-to-mid twenties and really nice and friendlypeople. These are some of the points they told us:

  • They are a group of around a dozen people, some of them working for the city for several years already, some of them being employed since the beginning of the year. They seem to be determined to largely conduct the migration themselves, and only rely on the two above mentioned companies for initial bootstrapping and training.

  • Contrary to what I thought, the servers were never at stake, the migration only covers clients, as they do not have any Microsoft servers in the first place.

  • They do not have a complete picture of how the client is going to look yet (e.g., will it include OpenOffice 1.x or 2.0?), but they hope to migrate the first productions systems by the end of the year. Partial migrations like switching people from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice while still letting them keep Windows temporarily are also considered.

  • The biggest hurdle (besides training the personnel) is the large variety of custom Windows software for individual departments. They said they wrote to almost 300 software companies they got programs from about their plans with Linux, but only a tiny fraction of them responded, and even less saying Linux was on their radar. Things seems to be getting better though, as a couple of companies have contacted them lately. In general, they try to get as much as possible done via platform-independent web clients.

  • Despite the sometimes slightly bad public image of bavarian politics, the process seemed to have been conducted very objectively. They said each submission got scored by a lot of factors, and finally the one with the best overall quotient got chosen. However, they also mentioned that they had to slightly steer the negotiations subtily from time to time, as the less tech-savy city officials were sometimes deluded by marketing speak. All in all, it really sounded that the best contender really won.

  • The software patents issue dragged them down for longer than I thought, as it took them a while to get legal advice.

Besides the LiMux people and the usual suspects, there were also a couple of other people attending, most notably a guy who built the world's smallest Linux box (he told me he even got a mail from NASA saying something literally similar to 'This is Houston, Mission Control. We like your device.' after being slashdotted), Murray Cumming (of GNOME fame) and Holger Blasum from the FFII (who reported that the crucial second reading of the software patents directive in the European Parliament will most likely take place in early July and that former french minister Michel Rocard has published a good position statement on the software patents directive).

In summary, it was a really nice meeting (or rather, Stammtisch) again, we just have to manage the growing popularity (probably by moving outside to a Biergarten next time).

9 Apr 2005 (updated 9 Apr 2005 at 18:39 UTC) »

So it is the time of the year when the next Debian Project Leader is being elected. This year, it took me quite a while to vote, partly due to being busy at the University during the day and doing other stuff in the evenings, partly because there were more alternatives this year and the choice was tough.

Figuring out that Jonathan Walther would be last and `None of the Above' second-last was easy enough, but ranking the others proved to be a bit more difficult.

In fact, I still think that our current DPL, Martin Michlmayr, is pretty much the perfect person for that position, despite him being somewhat invisible as DPL during 2004: He knows a lot of Developers personally, and has good personal relations with most of the key developers; he knows how Debian works internally better than about anybody else, including spotting and trying to fix problems or motivate the appropriate people to do so (although this is sometimes are hard job) and put a lot of work into the job which was probably not visable from the outside. When I heard that he was not up for reelection, I hoped Jeff Bailey would run for DPL, but he understandably had to drop any possible ambitions once he got employed by Canonical.

I don't know Angus Lees personally (or otherwise much, really) and Branden Robinson just acts too much like a politician these days, though he was the first individual I recognized in Debian due to his witty (and sometimes sarcastic or inflammatory) remarks on debian-devel back then. Between Matthew Garrett, Andreas Schuldei and Anthony Towns, the choice was pretty tough. They all complement each other in some way and all have their different strong points and perhaps some minor weak points, so something like a blend out of them would be perfect, or all three together as a team. Speaking of which, I think Project Scud is a great idea (other projects don't have a single leader, either) and the members are well chosen.

In the end, I guess the fact that I believe Matthew has just the right balance of being cool, humorous and reasonable tipped the scales and made me vote for him first and Andreas and Anthony tied at second.


Wow, this one rocked even more than last two. Martin and Dogi weren't around this time, so I was a bit worried at first. But in the end, hanging out with the Hurd hackers like Marcus or Neal was as much fun as expected.


The saga started on Thursday evening at a subway station in Garching near Munich, where I picked up Holger Blasum from the FFII and a random girl which saw my note at mitfahrgelegenheit.de. It turned out that the FFII had just gotten a warning about the EU ministry council wanting to put their version of the software patent directive on Monday's fishery council agenda. During the trip to Frankfurt, Holger vigorously phoned people from all over europe trying to get a confirmation on the issue and also to rally support against this looming agenda item.(Damn. One week later, the ministry council has acked its software patents directive) We arrived at Frankfurt around midnight and while Holger slept at a fellow FFII supporter's place, I spent the night at my parent's house.


I picked up Holger again in Frankfurt in the morning (a little later than I planned) and after some minor navigation errors we were on the way to Brussels. We made a stop in Jülich to visit the Credativ crowd in their office. We arrived just when they had their lunch break, amu (Andreas Müller) had given me directions the previous night and it was pretty easy to find. They are located in the 'Technologiezentrum' vaguely outside of Jülich and have half a dozen of nice bureaus. I talked a bit with Noel and amu and then later had an extensive conversation with Michael Meskes about the current state of Debian with regard to Ubuntu and some commercial aspects of the Free Software world, which was interesting as usual.

We left Jülich at early afternoon and arrived in Brussels at around 5 PM. I dropped off Holger at the university and then tried to find the appartment. It took me some time, but after asking a couple of people on the streets and some extensive studying of a map in a grocery store, I finally found the guys. Neal and Barry had organized two connected appartments only a couple of kms away from the university where FOSDEM takes place. They were really nice and we had a small kitchen (no oven though), a fridge and a dish washer. There were almost enough beds available for everybody, I managed to be able to sleep in one of those.

When I arrived, Sören Schulze (sdschulze), Neal, Marcus, Marco Gerards, Bas Wijnen (shevek), Barry deFreese, Olaf Buddenhagen, Guillem Jover (braindmg) and Ognyan Kulev (ogi) were already there (from left to right, ogi is not on this picture), Jeroen Dekkers (who stayed elsewhere) and Robert Millan (nyu) joined us later on, as well as Neal's wife Isabel. By the time I had unpacked my things, fired up my notebook and read the remaining mails from that morning, the guys had managed to get an outward ssh connection on port 53 through the hotel's WLAN, i.e. free internet for the rest of the weekend...

Neal (with some small help by Barry and me) prepared a very nice dinner and then we hacked for the rest of the night. Barry managed to get Marcus to work on shared memory instead of his slides, and I mostly entertained myself with exploring the possibilities of starting the Hurd console on bootup and looking into using sbuild in a chroot, which turned out to be perfectly usable once you work around a bug in sudo. Totally exhausted, I went to bed at some point between 4 and 5 AM.


Getting up was pretty hard, but breakfast was nice. While the others left for Richard Stallman's keynote, Neal, Marcus and I went shopping in a nearby supermarket to provide pick-nick style lunch for the Hurd developer's room. At about the same time we finally arrived at devroom, the first people started popping in. It turned out the FOSDEM program had a different opinion on our schedule than Neal had, so we had to tell a couple of people to come back later.

Ogi kicked off the devroom with his talk (slides) about extending ext2fs beyond the legendary 2 GB limit. He explained the limitations of the old approach and in which way he modified libpager. He also mentioned his work on ext3fs.

Neal then gave a charismatic and enthusiastic presentation (slides) about the problems of Hurd/Mach and how Hurd/L4 is going to address them. He was very good at conveying how applications should be given the possibility to page themselves and how it is impossible for the kernel to guess the right eviction scheme. He was repeatingly emphasizing his words with his gestures when he talked about pushing stuff out of the kernel and he kept on smiling when he explained his reasons and plans.

    <racin> neal: your code seemed great at a first glance, but now that I see your slides, it seems even greater :)

Marcus was next, he talked (slides) about inter-process communication (IPC) in the Hurd/L4 multi-server context, what different kinds of IPC there will be and what security implications have been considered for the interaction between untrusted servers. He also compared Mach's RPC (very (too) featureful, but slow) to L4's (very basic, but extremely fast) and had some nice pictures to get his points across.

Peter de Shrijver (p2) continued by talking (slides) about the proposed device driver framework for Hurd/L4. He explained the differences between different bridges like PCI or USB, how the bridge drivers would interact with the device drivers and what the interrupt handler would look like.

Marco was last and presented (slides) GRUB2, the next generation all-purpose operating system^W^Wboot loader. They seem to have come a long way and it looks like GRUB2 will be easy to hack on, he cited a couple of code snippets and interfaces to prove this.

All in all, the devroom was really crowded most of the time and the talks seemed to be well received by the audience. After the talks, we finally got a chance to chat with everybody, especially the french (Debian) GNU/Hurd hackers from the HurdFr organization like Manuel Menal, Marc Dequènes (Duck), Gaël Le Mignot (kilobug) and Arnaud Fontaine. Some other people like Yoshinori Okuji (The GNU GRUB maintainer) and Christopher Bodenstein (Physicman, who is helping with the Debian GNU/Hurd port) were around as well and we had an ad-hoc keysigning party. I also met Dafydd Harries for the first time in real life, who shortly visited the Hurd developer room.

We went home to the appartment, which was a bit more difficult than expected, because we could not find the official exit of the FOSDEM parking lot and (like always) just used the entrance. On the way back, Bas voiced his interest in Debian development and Guillem and me explained the necessary steps to participate and what one can do until one has an account. Hopefully, this will mean one more very clueful Debian new maintainer candidate. We only stayed at the appartment for a short while and then met again with the HurdFr crowd at a restaurant nearby to have dinner. I talked a lot to Duck (Marc Dequènes) about Debian, the Hurd and Ubuntu and also to Ogi about his plans in Debian development since he has entered the new maintainer queue. Seems like he wants to maintain his ext3fs work as a Debian package and might also work on porting debian-installer (he is already translating it into Bulgarian), which would be great.

After dinner, we went back to the appartment for some night hacking. Marcus and Barry cooked up a glibc patch necessary for shared memory support and discussed it with Roland via mail. I also had some nice discussions with Neal, Marcus and Guillem about the general direction of Debian's GNU/Hurd port, and contrary to my previous beliefs they still seem to be interested in the Debian port and also acknowledge that Hurd/Mach is still very important today until Hurd/L4 is ready. I spent the rest of the night finalizing the slides for my 'Debian GNU/Hurd' talk I was supposed to deliver the next morning.


Getting up as early as 8:40 AM was even worse than the day before, but with some luck and tough driving we managed to be only 5 minutes late for my talk. However, when we arrived in the Debian developers room, there was no beamer available yet, and I had to start my talk without one. Wouter told me the beamer should arrive any minute, so I decided to leave my notebook turned off to still catch the 'Ohh, XFCE4 runs on the Hurd!' reactions when it would boot up. It turned out that the beamer took longer to arrive than expected and I quickly ran out of things to say from the top of my head, so I had to switch on my notebook nevertheless and look at my slides. This all resulted in the talk being pretty unorganized, but there were a couple of questions afterwards and I was moderately happy how it turned out in the end. (A couple of days later, Wouter popped up on IRC and told me he reinstalled the Hurd, so there was some immediate success from my talk) Right after me, Guillem talked about the porting issues we face and how to prevent them, by not targetting GNU/Linux but POSIX. As a lot of Debian developers were around, I hope his talk had helped to open their mind to think beyond GNU/Linux.

I stayed in order to listen to Hanna Wallach talk about debian-women and Matthew Garrett discuss the Debian Free Software Guidelines. The devroom was packed during Hanna's talk and she did a great job in communicating the aims of the debian-women project to the audience. She also mentioned she recently joined the Debian New Maintainer process, yay. I first met her two years ago at FOSDEM together with Matthew and back then was under the impression she was some sort of BSD hacker too cool for Debian or something, so I was a bit surprised when she mentioned simply having been too intimidated to start joining Debian. I guess the public image of the NM process really needs fixing... Matthew's talk was very interesting but also a bit sad, as the bottom line was that different parts of the developer body have diametrically opposed opinions on almost all aspects of the DFSG and consensus on the current DFSG is impossible (and fixing probably very hard).

After the talks I went back to the info stand with Robert Lemmen (who came in during my talk) and met the others to have lunch. Unfortunately, we did not find a suitable restaurant and had to cope with the sandwiches sold at FOSDEM. Afterwards, we met a couple of Debian-UK guys in the big auditorium and hat some more ad-hoc keysigning there and then listened to Alan Cox talk about stable kernel development. The bit about 'Once you fix the VM for one use case, it breaks for another' part was funny in the light of Neal's talk the day before, where he identified exactly this as a fundamental problem and pointed out how to address it by moving the memory management under the control of the applications themselves. I later listened to the second half of Thomas Langes' FAI talk and then went back to the appartment with Marcus, Olaf, Guillem and Ognyan to pack. When we came back, I met Robert again at the Debian booth and we listened to the second half of the GPL enforcement talk. After that was over, we realized a lot of people had left already. We could not find anybody to go out for dinner with and thus decided to drive home early.

We picked up Paul Sladen and a desktop box, both of which the german guys "forgot" at FOSDEM. I mostly talked to Robert on the way home, he seemed to be interested in the Hurd, so maybe a new developer is born. We also talked about other aspects of Free Software, from Debian over Ubuntu to Java stuff. When we arrived in Frankfurt, it was already pretty late and Paul couldn't reach his contact in Marburg, so he had to sleep at the same FFII activist Holger slept three days earlier. I decided to drive all the way to Munich, which was pretty exhausting and Robert had to tell me lots of different stories to keep me awake. At some point around Würzburg I suddenly realized we still had Martin's desktop box in the trunk, but it was already too late to turn back.

Finally, at 4 AM, I was back home from a blast weekend (and recovering ever since. I met Martin two days later near Nuremberg and handed over his box.)

23 Feb 2005 (updated 24 Feb 2005 at 15:08 UTC) »

My Thinkpad's harddisk started to spew out errors in early December, and it took me some time to, ehm, update my backups and get a new harddisk shipped. When the new disk finally arrived, I decided to install Ubuntu on it; partly due to a Warty CD being a bit easier to reach than a Debian one, partly because I don't like having to remove all the KDE applications after doing a Sarge desktop install.

Over the last couple of months, I became co-maintainer of some packages, namely exult (an Ultima7 game engine, I have since taken over maintainership completely), sbuild (the version in the archive directed for end users), crosshurd (a hackish way to bootstrap a Debian system (Linux, BSD or Hurd) using parts of debootstrap and apt-get) and perhaps most notably the hurd package itself. Since I started my Ph.D. in November, I had to cut down on time devoted to Debian and mostly looked after the hurd package. The most important change here was the inclusion of Ognyan Kulev's patch for large stores, finally killing off the legendary 2 GB partition limit.

Upstream Hurd development continues to be very seasonal. Thomas and Roland have mostly disappeared again, but Marcus and Neal are now working on the L4 port with increased energy and the progress they make is awesome. First, Neal finished the initial memory management framework. A short while later, Marcus reported the first successful execution of a user-space program on Hurd/L4. Marco mostly focused on Grub2 over the last months but lately came back and finished the console repeaters and the Hurd part of DHCP support.

However, there have been a lot of new people getting involved both in Debian GNU/Hurd and the Hurd/L4 port, together with the Hurdfr project getting more active recently. A constant flux of incoming patches and some duplication of work resulting from this forced us to turn on the patch tracker of the pkg-hurd alioth project. Likewise, the hurd-l4 mailing list has seen a couple of new faces, most notably Matthieu Lemerre (who already sent in a bunch of useful patches) and Johan Rydberg (who has been active in the Hurd community for several years and now got commit rights to the Hurd/L4 source). Also, Andrew Resch managed to boot into the Hurd from a CD via GRUB and Ben Asselstine even got it booting all the way into the Hurd console and multi-user mode. This is an important step on the way to a native installer.

The Debian GNU/Hurd port is currently pretty well off, we have a stable toolchain and noticably increased the user experience lately as mentioned above. However, the sarge release is more and more becoming annoying for us, as important packages like coreutils or krb4/krb5 (which are needed for openldap and thus a lot of other stuff) are not getting fixed for us. Last week, I spent two nights fixing xfree86 for GNU/Hurd, but the patches did not get considered for the latest upload, which is pretty demotivating. Besides this, the next steps are probably looking at debootstrap and later debian-installer and then porting GNOME.

After having been demotivated to help on the sarge release due to the lack of progress on testing-security over summer, I got back into bug fixing in autumn when I had the feeling that the ftp-masters and buildd wizards were creeping back out of their holes and some slow progress was being made. I attended the Bug-Squashing Party in Frankfurt in late November, driving there together with Andreas Barth and meeting Frank Lichtenheld, Wesley Terpstra, Norbert Tretkowski and others. I took a look at RC bugs for the first time in 6 months and managed to fix quite a few. The connection between release progress and my bug-fixing motivation occured to me only afterwards, I wonder how many other Debian people were sub-conciously putting off fixing bugs due to being frustrated by the release process. The total lack of attendence at the spring Bug-Squashing-Parties on IRC suggest there are quite a few, so I was really happy to see people from the UK and Australia participate as well.

Next stop: FOSDEM.

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