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Kernel Trap Interview with Theo de Raadt 181

An anonymous reader writes "KernelTrap has an insightful interview with Theo de Raadt, creator of OpenBSD. The wide-ranging interview focuses first on the past few years of OpenBSD development, then moves on to the recently released OpenBSD 3.9. De Raadt talks about how binary blobs threaten free software, and how OpenBSD developers work to reverse engineer them. He also talks about the future of OpenBSD, his views on Linux, and why developing truly free software is so important to him."
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Kernel Trap Interview with Theo de Raadt

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  • Re:Financing? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kevin_conaway ( 585204 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @01:02PM (#15246677) Homepage
    About 15% of the funding, awarded in mid-2000, had remained unspent, de Raadt said. According to de Raadt, two days before the funding was cut off, Jonathan Smith, the computer science professor in charge of the project at the University of Pennsylvania, phoned de Raadt. Smith told de Raadt that several people at the university and DARPA were uncomfortable with de Raadt's antiwar comments, which appeared in The Globe and Mail of Toronto in early April.

    Source [computerworld.com]
  • Re:Theo (Score:2, Informative)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @01:09PM (#15246741) Homepage Journal

    He's always been cordial when I've had dealings with him. In fact recently on the misc@ list I mentioned problems with getting both cores on an AMD64X2 going with 3.9, pasted dmesgs, etc. and he wrote me off-list suggesting I compile up to -current. His suggestion worked and saved my sanity.
  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:3, Informative)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @01:45PM (#15247072) Homepage Journal
    That would limit the possible frequencies but do nothing for the power levels. The FCC not only limits which frequencies you're supposed to be able to use in the US, but also total output power levels which depend on the antenna fitted. For instance if you use a primestar dish with a coffee can, and have super high gain, you are required to turn down your transmission power to be within FCC regs. Also, it would require additional hardware, which would cost money.
  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:4, Informative)

    by TigerNut ( 718742 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @01:48PM (#15247105) Homepage Journal
    Filters limit the frequencies that a system can broadcast or receive, but they also have an insertion loss penalty. This reduces the efficiency of the system significantly - if a given filter has 1 dB insertion loss (which would be pretty good, implying that the filter probably costs a decent amount of money) then it would impart a 20 percent reduction in power output. Therefore it would cost you 20 percent more current, at least, to get the same RF range. That would (a) decrease the battery life and (b) increase the heat load in your system.

    Wireless system designers use filters already to limit out-of-band emissions, but the problem is that no practical filter has a 'brick-wall' response where the passband ends exactly at the edge of the allowed spectrum. In a typical 2.4 GHz wireless network system you could probably go outside the band by 10 MHz before the filter rolloff became significant. With that freedom, an enterprising wireless LAN operator could set up his own little playing area away from everyone else's interference - but he'd be tromping on some unsuspecting folks.

  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:3, Informative)

    by jusdisgi ( 617863 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @01:59PM (#15247213)

    In the article he mentions open source drivers written under NDA that are essensially unmaintainable, whence of dubious quality.

    No he doesn't. He says "Some Linux (and recently FreeBSD too) developers are willing to sign NDAs so that a few people get the documentation, and I believe that this is the largest problem facing the kernel side of the open source community today." Now, you'd have to ask him to clarify to be certain, but I would say the chances are extremely slim that he's talking about people writing open source drivers under NDA. Mostly I say the chances are slim because that's a totally ridiculous idea that no hardware company would consider; if you're going to let somebody write an open driver, what's the point of an NDA? On the other hand, I am familiar with at least one case (madwifi) where a developer (Sam Leffler) signed an NDA in order to produce a binary blob and an open-source interface component for a chipset (atheros) which had no driver available. I think it is extremely likely that these situations are the ones to which Theo referred.

    As for FCC regulations and me as an EU citizen: I don't have to comply with FCC regulations while not in USA. The same goes for strong encryption. In this sense I don't care about FCC regulations. That US based companies think that I should care about FCC just means I go elsewhere with my money.

    Your ignorance and lack of thought are astonishing. "US based companies" have nothing to do with it...where else are you going to go with your money? Every wifi chipset manufacturer sells its products in the US, and thus abides by FCC rules. The manufacturers in question here are mostly Taiwanese. The issue here is that, regardless of where a company is based or chooses to make its products, it invariably wants to sell those products in the US. Thus the manufacturer must comply with US regulations. So it doesn't matter whether you have to abide by US regulations...the people who make the products you use do. And once again, this is a great example. You can't have a certain driver, because it doesn't exist, because (ostensibly) of US regulations. Therefore US regulations impact you. Period.

  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:3, Informative)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @02:25PM (#15247475) Homepage Journal
    Maybe but then that hardware could only work in one market so it would cost more.
    Also if you put in a hardware filter it would "absorb" some of the power that they device uses to transmit. So you would get a weaker signal or have less battery life. Also it wouldn't limit the power of the transmitter.
    In short if you put the limits in hardware the produce would cost more, have a smaller market, and use more power. It just wouldn't be as good as a card that does everything is software.
    It would fail on the market because as a product it would suck. It could have open source drivers with the current FCC rules but it would still not be a good wi-fi card.

    I think a better solution is a stable binary driver interface for Linux and BSD. Just like the video card situation the current system of trying to "force" hardware manufactures to open source their drivers has not worked.
  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:3, Informative)

    by HardCase ( 14757 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @03:01PM (#15247840)
    FCC rules does not apply to me, so why should I care about those restrictions? This is similar to use of strong encryption and US regulations.

    EU rules don't apply to me, but I care about RoHS restrictions because manufacturers tend to design to the most restrictive set of regulations that will apply to a product. Same deal with FCC regulations, in a broad sense.

  • Re:FCC Rules (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @03:36PM (#15248189) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure if you're being intentionally thick or what. FCC regulations cover more than just how a device can be used, they affect every stage of its design, and the market that's controlled by the FCC is a pretty big one. You over in Europe may think that what the FCC does isn't relevant to you, but I can guarantee you if you turn over a few peripherals you have on your desktop, that you'll see "Tested to Comply with FCC Standards: For Home or Office Use."

    Because hardware and device manufacturers don't want to have to make multiple versions of their product if they can avoid it, chances are they're going to make it compliant to the largest number of regulatory bodies that they possibly can. Hence why my mouse is manufactured in China but approved according to regulations in the U.S., Canada, Germany, the E.U. (separate from Germany), and a bunch of Asian ones I can't read. And that's without even counting the non-governmental certifications (UL, CE, etc.).

    An FCC regulation that changes something fundamental about how electronic devices have to be made is almost sure to affect people everywhere in the world, just like the E.U. RoHS rules are going to change the stuff I buy here in the U.S., even if we as a country didn't give a damn about how much hazardous substances were in our electronics. (We do, we're just taking our time about it.)

    So while the FCC doesn't have any direct authority outside of the U.S., it affects how lots of things which end up on the world market are made, and you'd have to be pretty naive to just ignore that.
  • Overhead rates (Score:3, Informative)

    by alexhmit01 ( 104757 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @03:56PM (#15248378)
    Universities have an overhead level, including salary fringe, etc., that then gets estimated. If the university's overhead rate is 65%, then for every $1 in grant money, 35 cents goes to cover DIRECT costs of the work, and 65 cents go to the University Overhead Income Account.

    Basically, things like lab space may be direct or indirect (overhead) costs, depending on setups.

    Given that they weren't on staff so there was no fringe (taxes, benefits, etc.), and they weren't using any school resources, maybe they got a discount and a 45% or 50% overhead rate.

    Essentially, in grant accounting, you have to account for your direct expenditures (and get reimbursed from the grant issuer), but the overhead you keep. So the university wants as high an overhead rate as possible, as they keep that money. The researchers that "earned the grant" want the lowest rate possible, so more of the money goes into their accounts for their expenditures (you know, things like their salaries).

    Also, if grant money is spent on not-aprroved things (let's say Theo calls 25% of his house his office, but the grant doesn't cover the home office, or he hires a project manager and that isn't approved for the grant), then the school won't be able to get reimbursed for those expenditures. Each organization's politics determines what happens when the school "eats" the costs (part of why they have such a high overhead, they cover over-runs, etc.), but in this case, it was an outside organization. I wonder how comfortable the University was cutting checks to Theo's personal account without knowing that they would get reimbursed, so they probably kept a high reserve that they wouldn't release, and a large overhead rate.

    Ah, grant accounting...

  • no (Score:3, Informative)

    by r00t ( 33219 ) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:34PM (#15250698) Journal
    Usually documentation does not exist. Under an NDA, the company can supply hardware design plans and Windows source code instead.

"Pull the wool over your own eyes!" -- J.R. "Bob" Dobbs