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Confessions of a Recovering NetBSD Zealot 194

Posted by kdawson
from the straight-talk dept.
debilo writes, "ONLamp.com is featuring a lengthy interview with Charles M. Hannum, to Slashdotters probably best known for his wake-up call aptly titled The Future of NetBSD that generated a rather vocal discussion. In the interview, Charles speaks about his role in and the beginning of The NetBSD Project, shares his thoughts on software licenses, discusses the popularity of Linux and its development model, and further addresses the problems that NetBSD is facing. Some notable quotes include: 'If I were doing it again, I might very well switch to the LGPL. I'll just note that it didn't exist at the time.' And: 'There was a lot of FUD around this issue — some of it from Linus, actually — and it did cause us some problems.'"
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Confessions of a Recovering NetBSD Zealot

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  • A lot of people (and I don't want to be divisive, but honestly they were mostly Linux proponents, including Linus himself) spread FUD for years about BSD systems being "unsafe"--even after the UCB/USL lawsuit was settled. The fact is that there was no danger in using NetBSD in a product, and a number of companies did so.

    You have to wonder if that would have been the case if there was not a much bigger boogie man for Ma Bell, M$ and other greed heads to worry about. If it were not for the success of the

    • by s_p_oneil (795792) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:05PM (#16122232) Homepage
      Are you kidding? BSD was the bigger boogie man, which is why those companies kept beating it even after it had been effectively "put down" due to fear of law suits. Linux was definitely seen as the lesser of two evils by the powers that existed at the time, and with good reason. The license makes BSD much more of a threat to them than Linux will ever be.

      Just look at what Apple did with OS X. Any company could do that, getting a huge head start by building on top of the rock solid BSD core (with no fear of being sued, as you would with the GPL). That is a very scary thought indeed for MS.

      What free OS designers need to do is realize that Apple did something very right with OS X, and follow suit. Unix with X-Windows on top of it is not suitable for the average user. X-Windows needs to be replaced with something more light-weight (i.e. single-user with direct access to the multimedia hardware). X-Windows will always be around for the power users who want it, but the average joe just wants his games/videos/music to run smoothly without any hassles, and he wants to be able to be stupid when it comes to using the Internet without having to worry about viruses, spam, and all that.

      • Oh my... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Lost+Found (844289) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:06PM (#16122594)
        Good lord, the meme about X-Windows needing to be replaced is really obnoxious. I honestly thought that when Compiz, XGL and AIGLX startd to appear, fools parroting this tired meme would finally be put to rest.

        X-Windows is in many ways archaic, but under the lead of the X.Org project there has been an astounding increase in the rate of development. The project has finally been modularized and the groundwork is in place for direct access to acceleration features. Honestly, the biggest thing holding back X-Windows from even faster modernization right now is the manufacturers of graphics hardware (NVIDIA and ATI) that are ridiculous enough to not even release programming specifications for their chips. Their "support" of the free operating systems is limited to shitty binary drivers, and so when the X-Windows and kernel communities want to introduce new APIs, they are largely at the whims of the moron companies that haven't gotten around to pulling their heads out of their asses yet.

        If you believe that UNIX with X-Windows on top of it is not suitable for the average user, you should provide some facts to back up that opinion. Because as every day passes, I've seen all the arguments get displaced by proof of concept and running code.

        Finally, what Apple did with OS X indicates just what is wrong with the BSD license. The coders and users that believe in the BSD license have been shown time and time again that the so-called benefits of the license are actually damaging to their projects. Charles Hannum from NetBSD recognized this recently when he talked about NetBSD's stagnation, and aptly characterized part of the problem as the BSD license that allowed companies to fork BSD and hire away all the important developers to work on their proprietary forks. Charles now says that he would have used the LGPL license if he were to do it again, which is exactly what the Wine project did after Transgaming and others ran off with their code and developers.

        So this issue of licensing that you describe as making BSD the biggest threat to the proprietary interests is wrong. The BSD license's shortcomings in this area mean that BSD will continue to go nowhere fast. The reason that the BSD lawsuits were more scary was because the free BSDs actually had lineage leading back to the old proprietary (owned) code. The reason the SCO lawsuit is not scary, and rather actually hilarious, is because Linux was (a) developed in a vacuum and (b) is defended by the GPL.

        The GPL is very important here, because it creates a safe haven for companies like IBM, SGI, Oracle, Red Hat, Novell, HP, Nortel and others to all cooperate on *one* core. When all of this engineering talent and financial power gets pooled into one project, that one project goes a long ways. And tossing its technical superiority totally aside, you're left with the actual *largest* threat to the proprietary interests - an entire cultural, economic, political and technical shift in thinking from proprietary development to Copyleft.

        The BSD project and license followers have been operating with their heads in the sand for a very long time now. Even when the FOUNDER of one of the most significant free BSD efforts came out and said "We fucked up, and here's why," there were still a thousand BSD fans that chose to ignore the majority of the issues he raised, instead babbling on topics like "Theo is finally vindicated!". Given history, I don't expect this to change. There will always be BSD users with their heads buried in the sand, but their numbers are shrinking as they fail to see the train tracks being built directly in their path.
        • Apple has contributed a lot to open source software. BSD has won in the arrangement. Maybe .00000001% of Mac users would otherwise be running FreeBSD if OS X had not come around.

          The choice between BSD and GPL reflects what a developer wants. If they want others to help with their software and want rights to all derivatives of their software, they choose GPL. If they just want to share what they make, they choose BSD.

          I don't think that GPL software will make it to the majority of users' desktops. It is just
          • Re:Oh my... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Lost+Found (844289) on Sunday September 17, 2006 @02:41AM (#16123522)
            Apple has contributed a lot to open source software. BSD has won in the arrangement.

            What exactly has BSD won? Just recently, Apple decided to close up XNU. Granted, I'm now hearing that they have changed their mind again, but doesn't that seem like any possible benefit to BSD is totally at the whims of Apple?

            The choice between BSD and GPL reflects what a developer wants. If they want others to help with their software and want rights to all derivatives of their software, they choose GPL. If they just want to share what they make, they choose BSD.

            You imply that BSD has a monopoly on sharing. Ironically, the difference between the BSD license and the GPL license is all about sharing, and in exactly the opposite way that supporters of the BSD license love to imply.

            The GPL gets torn down by such folks as if it is some kind of false freedom. In truth, the GPL license lets you use the GPL licensed works in any damn way you please; in fact, you don't even have to accept the GPL license to use GPL'ed software!

            The difference between the BSD and GPL license, then, is what happens when you want to copy the software. GPL looks out for the actual _users_ of the software by ensuring that the software will always remain free. The BSD license, on the other had, allows proprietary forks that _hurt_ the users. Mr. Hannum even pointed this out when he talked about NetBSD developers getting hired away to work on a proprietary NetBSD fork! He sees this as a big problem, so do I, and so does Stallman, which is why the GPL is designed to prohibit individuals and corporations from taking the freedom away.

            I don't think that GPL software will make it to the majority of users' desktops. It is just too hard to make profit from Desktop Linux. Unlike a server, support for a Desktop OS can't be worth enough to make enough money to develop the software, or it won't ever sell.

            Good thing the free software properties of the GPL and copyleft that defend the GNU/Linux desktop mean that most of the components are the same exact components as running on all those servers, where paid support is plentiful!

            Your big error is in starting with the assumption that there Must Be a business of selling desktop operating systems. Personally I think it is plainly obvious that free software will displace that entire business. That is not the goal of free software, but it will happen anyway.

            Desktop users don't buy operating systems -- they buy computers.
            • What exactly has BSD won?

              Grep the FreeBSD commit logs for @apple, and you'll see. Apple have given a lot of code back to FreeBSD. So have Yahoo, who employ (as I recall) six developers to work full time on FreeBSD. Unlike IBM and Linux, they don't feel the need to issue press releases about it. Actually, in Apple's case, it's in their best interests to keep it fairly quiet; they wouldn't want the average customer to think that they could use FreeBSD for free rather than OS X.

              Just recently, Apple

              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                by stsp (979375)

                Grep the FreeBSD commit logs for @apple, and you'll see. Apple have given a lot of code back to FreeBSD.

                Interestingly, grepping the FreeBSD source tree itself for '@apple' shows a lot of hits in GPL licensed parts of the tree, such as binutils, gcc and gdb.
                Now let's look at the BSD-licensed core parts:

                [stsp@ted /usr/src]$ grep -r '@apple' sys sbin bin usr.bin usr.sbin lib
                sys/net/bpf.h: * <dieter@apple.com>. The header that's presented is an Ethernet-like
                [stsp@ted /usr/src]$

                Now, I'm too lazy t

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Millenniumman (924859)
              No one can take your "freedom" with the BSD license. Code released as BSD is freely available forever. People can use the code in proprietary works, but I fail to see how that hurts the users any more than Bill Gates not giving them a truck full of money hurts them.

              Desktop users don't buy OSes, but if their computer is running Linux and "won't work with their monitor", they will return it and tell other people not to buy a penguin computer.

              It takes a lot of work to develop an OS. A hardware manufacturers is
        • by Alomex (148003)

          How can you tell a Unix guru apart from a wannabe? The unix guru positively knows that X sucks, but gives in to it in the name for backward compatibility, the wannabe thinks X is good, 'cuz it belongs to Unix.
      • by bcrowell (177657)

        X-Windows needs to be replaced with something more light-weight
        I was with you until this point. X is very lightweight; it runs on some truly ancient systems. Quartz is much heavier.

        X-Windows will always be around for the power users who want it, but the average joe just wants his games/videos/music to run smoothly without any hassles,
        None of this has anything to do with X versus Quartz. Some of it has to do with proprietary video cards and proprietary codecs. Some of it has to do with the fact that c

      • X11 is heavyweight? (Score:5, Informative)

        by steveha (103154) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:30PM (#16122686) Homepage
        X-Windows needs to be replaced with something more light-weight (i.e. single-user with direct access to the multimedia hardware).

        Really? Can you please point me to some numbers that demonstrate this point?

        X11 was invented in the bad old days, running on UNIX systems less powerful than today's PDAs. As I understand it, it's actually quite lightweight. Certainly the network transparency features don't cost much, because when you run the X server and the X client software on the same computer, they communicate by using domain sockets (which are very lightweight). Both Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X have abstraction layers that isolate the graphics hardware; do you have some numbers showing that X11 has significantly more overhead than those abstraction layers?

        The latest versions coming out of X.org now have support for features similar to what OS X does: applications are rendered into offscreen buffers, and the buffers are composited together (with transparency effects, or other special effects if you desire). So, X11 is no barrier to cool eye-candy [linuxedge.org] either.

        The worst thing about X11 used to be way it was managed (under Xfree86). Now that the project has moved to X.org and has been revamped, progress has sped up a lot.

        steveha
        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday September 17, 2006 @07:45AM (#16124164) Journal
          Certainly the network transparency features don't cost much, because when you run the X server and the X client software on the same computer, they communicate by using domain sockets (which are very lightweight).

          Not that lightweight. Fortunately, in the '80s, MIT released the shared memory extension which took away most of that overhead and has been standard in X servers for over a decade. The problem with X11's network transparency is that it is at the wrong layer. X11 puts network transparency between the view and the frame buffer, when it should be between the view and the controller. Sun realised this with NeWS, but did a typical Sun and said 'Hey, we've got this great technology! How can we market it in such a way that it never goes anywhere?'

          Architecturally, there are quite a few things wrong with X11. The easiest solution is the one that Apple took; throw it away and replace it with something new. That isn't really a good idea for *NIX, however, since there is a lot of legacy software that uses X11. Fortunately, Keith Packard seems well aware of the shortcomings of X11 and has a set of incremental improvements that address them.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        X-Windows needs to be replaced with something more light-weight (i.e. single-user with direct access to the multimedia hardware)

        The rest of the world is waking up to the idea that single user non-network aware systems are limiting. Hacks like VNC and Gotomypc get you somewhere (I use both) but are really still hacks to get around the limitation. As for needing something more "lightweight" - you can run X windows on a Nintendo DS - that's right, on a system with 4MB of total memory and no memory managemen

  • by interval1066 (668936) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:21PM (#16122079) Homepage Journal
    "We locked 10 BSD programmers in an IT room for one week with one distribution of BSD. When we came back, we found all the programmers dead with their hands around each others throats, and 12 new flavors of BSD."

    So true...
    • by johansalk (818687)
      Haha. 12 flavors for 10 programmers!
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      While funny, it's actually more true of Linux distros. Practically every Linux enthusiast and their cat have made their own Linux distro, whereas there are only a few flavors of BSD being actively developed. Also, each of the BSD flavors I have heard about has a pretty well-defined focus which differs from that of the other flavors, whereas with Linux distros there are scores that have the same goals and target niche.
      • by Nevyn (5505) *

        While funny, it's actually more true of Linux distros.

        I'd rather have the combined differences of the top 20 Linux distributions than between Linux and any of the BSDs. In the same vein the difference between any two linux distributions are almost always: 1) versions of the same upstream package. 2) preference of one upstream package over another (Ie. exim vs. postfix). The differences between any two of the BSDs are "same package name, different code/maintainers/development".

  • by Watson Ladd (955755) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:49PM (#16122170)
    A lot of people depended on NetBSD for embeded software development. What is going to replace it? It's kind of sad to see a standard die like this.
    • ...but you may not like it. The replacement is and will continue to be Linux, which is already more portable than NetBSD, has far greater mindshare, performance, scalability and functionality.
      • by LizardKing (5245)

        Linux more portable than NetBSD? If you look at the number of lines of machine dependent code per-architecuture, then Linux is far less portable than NetBSD. Which is what you'd expect from an operating system designed specifically for the 80386. NetBSD on the other hand is a successor of the first Unix codebase, which was rewritten in C with portability as a key goal. Also, in Linux device drivers are usually tied to one architecture. On NetBSD, a PCI driver for a network card will work on any architecture

        • by LWATCDR (28044)
          That is one thing that always bothered me. Why didn't NetBSD thrive in the embedded market.
          Seems like it would have been a very good match.
        • Your post is full of 100% false FUD! Linux supports more architectures than NetBSD, and additionally, Linux drivers most certainly are *NOT* tied to one architecture. That is simply not true at all, and I say that as someone who has worked on the kernel before.
          • by LizardKing (5245)

            No, my post is not full of FUD, as I experienced the lack of Linux driver portability when trying to get a network driver working on a PowerPC embedded board. The driver made assumptions about the endianness of the host system as it was written for x86 - a typical portability fuck up. Great care has been taken with support for different bus architectures in NetBSD, which makes drivers much more readily portable than with Linux where there is a huge amount of duplication in driver code that should be abstrac

            • Still wrong, as the Anonymous Coward is also pointing out.

              If you ran into an endianness assumption, that is a bug, plain and simple. Among Linux's excellent portability layer is a set of macros to swap byte order how and when necessary (cpu_to_le32, cpu_to_be32, etc). If you find *any* architecture specific code that is not in either "include/asm-*/" or "arch/*", it is a bug and should be reported. And for the record, PCI drivers don't live under "arch/*".

              All of these things are things you would know if you
              • by LizardKing (5245)

                All of these things are things you would know if you actually LOOKED at the code you so readily criticize. Linux is free and freely available. Get a copy from kernel.org and see for yourself.

                What the fuck do you think I was doing when I came across the shitty driver in question? Well if you want to believe that Linux is a decent solution for embedded systems then go ahead and use it. Personally I'll stick with NetBSD where I get an entire, well integrated operating system, not some hastily thrown togeth

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hubertf (124995)
      sorry to bust your bubble, but have you heared anyone actually working on NetBSD say it's dying? It's thriving more than ever, and just a few people that can't get things their way propose its death. If those few people could get over their desire to get into "politics", this whole discussion would not exist.

      NetBSD does live, it will live,
      but it also needs people to do the work, not just talk.
      Join in!

        - Hubert
  • by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1@@@yahoo...com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:44PM (#16122343) Journal

    I am probably going to get flamed to a crisp for this, but what the heck, I have karma to burn...

    If Linus continues to dig in and refuses to accept GPLV3 with its anti-DRM provisions, what is is for the linux developers who truly want to move to a GPL V3 model to contribute the fruits of their labour to a GPLV3 fork of the kernel. (Freenix anybody?) Note that they wouldn't have to stop contributing to Linux, they can dual licence as GPL V2/V3 for as long as they wish.

    Actually the linux kernel could be forked from the existing code base licenced as GPLV2 with ongoing contributions to the new kernel licenced as GPLV3. Users would be bound by the terms of both licences, which would default to the more restrictive GPLV3 unless they took the time to strip out all of the newly contributed GPLV3 code. Support for DRMed media and hardware would done through clean room design, and hosted from servers in DMCA free countries. Does DVD Jon have some friends and a bit of spare bandwidth?

    I really love linux, use it in my home servers and would use it on my desktop if I wasn't doing contract windows development as well. But I disagree with Linus's stand on DRM and the proposed GPLV3. RMS is an arrogant pain in the butt, but in this he is dead right. I like where GPLV3 is going, but we need to build a full featured OS around it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Gothmolly (148874)
      And you'll end up with 2 versions, 1 that people will sell and be able to use, and another that will smack of the 1.x kernel days, when USB support didn't exist, and X kind of worked if you enabled accelerated video (but often locked up the machine). Your 'freenix' may become a sort of minix replacement, but the rest of us will use Linux.
    • GPLv3 OS (Score:4, Informative)

      by r00t (33219) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @09:15PM (#16122449) Journal
      You can't convert Linux. GPLv2 and GPLv3 both prohibit extra restrictions.

      You could create a GPLv3 fork of NetBSD though. That might revive NetBSD. You might just take the kernel though, letting distributions form around it. Debian already supports Hurd and FreeBSD kernels; they could do a NetBSD one as well.

      Of course you'd need to find a name other than "NetBSD".

      Ideas: NetOS, NotBSD, Netix, Netrix, Netux, Nettle, WebBSD...
      • by kv9 (697238)

        Debian already supports Hurd and FreeBSD kernels; they could do a NetBSD one as well.

        http://www.debian.org/ports/netbsd/ [debian.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It is worth noting that it has been speculated that the only reason for the introduction of the absurd GPLv3 is that Linux won't be able to convert to it, but Hurd will since the FSF demands copyrights to everything. It is Hurd's only chance in hell, and, if true, it is a dirty move.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bfields (66644)

      If Linus continues to dig in and refuses to accept GPLV3 with its anti-DRM provisions

      Good grief:

      1. GPLv3 isn't even finished yet. This is a little premature.
      2. Linus states his opinions very clearly and forcefully. That *doesn't* mean he isn't willing to change his mind. He's done it before. BUT:
      3. Even if Linus did "accept GPLV3", he doesn't own the copyright in most of the kernel himself at this point--for each piece of the code he doesn't own copyright in, somebody would have to either track down the c
    • by dbIII (701233)

      If Linus continues to dig in and refuses to accept GPLV3 with its anti-DRM provisions

      Point one - it is still a draft so he would be stupid and unprofessional to accept it while it is still changing. Point two - some of the DRM clauses still need work to avoid collatoral damage to people that are helping both linux and gnu but don't want random script kiddies flashing the firmware on their embedded systems from the net becuase authentication would be illegal under a silly clause. Point three - the idea to

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SEE (7681)
      Actually the linux kernel could be forked from the existing code base licenced as GPLV2 with ongoing contributions to the new kernel licenced as GPLV3.

      Actually, no.

      The Linux kernel is specifically licensed under GPL v2 only. Due to the deliberate design of the copyleft in the version 2 GPL, it would be illegal to distribute that code in a kernel where portions of the kernel could not be redistributed under the terms of the GPL v2. The inability of GPL v2 code to be put under a more restrictive license wit
    • by Danathar (267989)
      True, that could happen. But they (the owners of the fork) could'nt call it "Linux" as Linus has that tradmarked.
  • BSD Trouble (Score:3, Insightful)

    by labradore (26729) on Sunday September 17, 2006 @02:16AM (#16123467)
    Ok, so what I am getting is that in the BSD development process, a bunch of people live at the top level of the org chart and have access to change the source repository. They agree on what they'll do and then theoretically they all make the changes and updates and eventually someone goes, "Hey, lets bugfix this latest commit and release it as (un)stable."

    In the linux dev. process, Linus is at the top of the org chart. He accepts or rejects patches that come to him. He trusts other people to maintain certain subsystems and architectures, but ultimately, he decides what goes in and what doesn't (even if he hasn't really looked at it much).

    Difference #2: Linux is GPL'd. You can't profit from changes without sharing them. BSD is BSD'd. You can profit from your changes and keep them hidden.

    So the sturcture of the Linux license enforces sharing and the structure of the development process enforces a set of standards (each upstream guy's own standards) on the quality (or lack thereof) of the code. The BSD license and the BSD development structure both require social contracts and continuous communication and agreement among the developers to keep things together and quality consistently high.

    So in the BSD world there are forks because developers encounter both technical and personal disagreements. In the Linux world, the devs don't really have to get along as much, because the structure of the project is more forceful than the BSD cooperation regime.

    All of the problems that this NetBSD guy have described seem to be mitigated more-or-less automatically in the Linux structure and with the GPL. Linux development is not perfect. Nor is the GPL. However, it sure looks like they're better approaches. Linux certainly isn't less successsful than any of the BSDs.

  • I have an old 1.3ghz machine here I'm typing from. Since the original brouhaha I've been switching back and forth between the three BSD systems. I have invested some time in downloading gnome 2.14 over dialup and it works alright. Both FreeBSD and OpenBSD are using older versions of gnome (I think open is still on 2.10; don't quote me on that, however!).

    I'm rambling because I'm tired, sorry. My point is that the software in pkgsrc seems to be recent, and fairly stable (though that port of ajunta is crap, cu
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 22_9_3_11_25 (645799)
      if you think a 1.3ghz is ancient hardware you are really out of touch with reality.
      • by RLiegh (247921) *
        It dates from 2001. In the computing world, five years is generally considered extremely out of date -if not ancient.

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