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The Future of NetBSD 407

ErisCalmsme writes "In this email Charles Hannum (one of the founders of NetBSD) tells us that 'The NetBSD Project has stagnated to the point of irrelevance. It has gotten to the point that being associated with the project is often more of a liability than an asset. I will attempt to explain how this happened, what the current state of affairs is, and what needs to be done to attempt to fix the situation.' What will happen to NetBSD?"
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The Future of NetBSD

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  • by RLiegh ( 247921 ) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:02AM (#16013806) Homepage Journal
    So, for your convience, I'm posting it here:

    The NetBSD Project has stagnated to the point of irrelevance. It has
    gotten to the point that being associated with the project is often
    more of a liability than an asset. I will attempt to explain how this
    happened, what the current state of affairs is, and what needs to be
    done to attempt to fix the situation.

    As one of the 4 originators of NetBSD, I am in a fairly unique position.
    I am the only one who has continuously participated and/or watched the
    project over its entire history. Many changes have taken place, and at
    the same time many things have remained the same -- including some of
    our early mistakes.

    I'd like to say that I'm some great visionary, who foresaw the whole OSS
    market, but the fact is that's BS. When we started the project, Linux
    and 386BSD were both little hobbyist systems, both pretty buggy, and
    both lacking a lot of important hardware support. Mostly we were
    scratching an itch: there was no complete package of 386BSD plus the
    necessary patches to make it run on more systems and fix bugs, and there
    was no sign that Bill Jolitz was going to resurface and do anything.

    Much of the project structure evolved because of problems we had early
    on. Probably our best choice was to start using central version control
    right off; this has enabled a very wide view of the code history and
    (eventually) made remote collaboration with a large number of developers
    much easier. Some other things we fudged; e.g. Chris got tired of being
    the point man for everything, and was trying to graduate college, so we
    created an internal "cabal" for managing the project, which became known
    as the "core group". Although the web was very new, we set up a web
    site fairly early, to disseminate information about the project and our

    Much of this early structure (CVS, web site, cabal, etc.) was copied
    verbatim by other open source (this term not being in wide use yet)
    projects -- even the form of the project name and the term "core". This
    later became a kind of standard template for starting up an open source

    Unfortunately, we made some mistakes here. As we've seen over the
    years, one of the great successes of Linux was that it had a strong
    leader, who set goals and directions, and was able to get people to do
    what he wanted -- or find someone else to do it. This latter part is
    also a key element; there was no sense that anyone else "owned" a piece
    of Linux (although de facto "ownership" has happened in some parts); if
    you didn't produce, Linus would use someone else's code. If you wanted
    people to use your stuff, you had to keep moving.

    NetBSD did not have this. Partly due to lack of people, and partly due
    to a more corporate mentality, projects were often "locked". One person
    would say they were working on a project, and everyone else would be
    told to refer to them. Often these projects stagnated, or never
    progressed at all. If they did, the motivators were often very slow.
    As a result, many important projects have moved at a glacial pace, or
    never materialized at all.

    I'm sorry to say that I helped create this problem, and that most of the
    projects which modeled themselves after NetBSD (probably due to its high
    popularity in 1993 and 1994) have suffered similar problems. FreeBSD
    and XFree86, for example, have both forked successor projects (Dragonfly
    and for very similar reasons.

    Unfortunately, these problems still exist in the NetBSD project today,
    and nothing is being done to fix them.


    I won't attempt to pin blame on any specific people for this, except to
    say that some of it is definitely my fault. It's only in retrospect
    that I see so clearly the need for a very strong leader. Had I pursued
    it 10 years ago, things might be very different. Such is life. But
    let's talk about the situation today.


  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:03AM (#16013812)
    Almost as if NetBSD is dying.

    I don't buy it though. It's free.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I don't buy it though. It's free.

      Well, that's the point, isn't it? Nobody does.

      (If you think there's the slightest chance this was meant to be funny, it was.)
      • by rsidd ( 6328 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:04AM (#16014298)

        (If you think there's the slightest chance this was meant to be funny, it was.)

        1. Take a perfectly good joke.
        2. Emphasise it, highlight it, add a laugh track.
        3. Et voila! American humor.

    • Re:Sounds bleak (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:36AM (#16014573) Homepage Journal
      Almost as if NetBSD is dying.

      If the NetBSD project dies, it will be an interesting to watch from a mad scientists/vivisectionist viewpoint.

      One of the important things about free/open source software is that it's not tied to an organization. This is very important in the survival of software.

      I'd like to put for the following conjecture:

      A piece of open source sofware will continue to be maintained in perpetuity, surviving the demise of its main sponsoring organizations, provided that the following three conditions hold:
      (1) It has a modest but reasonable number of users relative to its complexity
      (2) There are no other open source projects that users can switch to with very little effot; the threhold level of effort is reduced as the total number of users increases.
      (3) There are no patents that cover fundamental aspects of the software's operation.

      For example, provided that nothing fundamental to the Linux kernel violates patents, I'd suggest that the Linux kernel is immortal. (1) It is complex, but has a huge number of users; (2) While BSD would be the most logical move (possibly a BSD distribution using the BSD kernel with GNU tools?), it would require a modest amount of retraining for things like networking and system administration. (3) So far as we know there are no credible assertions of IP violations in the Linux kernel.

      NetBSD, I'd suggest, is a candidate for extinction under this conjecture.

      (1) It is complex relative to the number of users: see the article's discussion of problems with threading and multiple processors. Of the three "big" BSD distros, it has by far the fewest numbers of users.

      (2) It is probable that mostof its users can switch to a different BSD with very little trouble. NetBSD's reputation is that it is the most portable of the BSDs, not the most featureful. Therefore if you can switch, it should be easy. The only group that would drive further maintenance would be people who run NetBSD on very old computers not supported by other operating systems.

      (3) Patent problems: none known at this time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by brunes69 ( 86786 )

        (possibly a BSD distribution using the BSD kernel with GNU tools?),

        Why would BSD the various BSDs switch to using the mostly inferior GNU tools??? The BSD userland is more standard and time-tested.

        Sure a few GNU apps have some beels and whistles, like the GNU grep and NU awk, but these are mostly just fluff and could easily be added to the BSD userland if anyone actually cared much about the feature.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )
          Why would BSD the various BSDs switch to using the mostly inferior GNU tools???

          Answer: for people who are used to them.

          Even if we conceded for the moment they are inferior, they aren't that inferior. Try working in Windows for a while and it'll give you some perspective.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          funny, the GNU tools are the only thing I find advantageous of Linux against BSD in my experience. I have my FreeBSD box running, but installed and use the GNU tools because: (1) more flexibility and options (2) command line arguments tend to be more flexible in their placing... I don't know how many times I've wanted to look at a file, and only after typing the command, considered *how* I wanted to look at it: $ ls somedir -l works great with gnu tools, the BSD tools have a hissyfit. As much as I like
  • Very well put... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chaoskitty ( 11449 ) <john&sixgirls,org> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:04AM (#16013813) Homepage
    While there will be those who see this as flamebait, it's high time someone puts into words what many of us are thinking - namely, that something's not quite right, and we should look to those with more experience to give us some clues...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BrokenHalo ( 565198 )
      While there will be those who see this as flamebait,...

      Well, it certainly isn't that. The author minces no words when apportioning some of the blame to himself for causes of NetBSD's stagnation.

      It's all a bit sad, really. I have a NetBSD server chugging along in a cabinet here that hasn't been rebooted in ~2 years, but that is largely because the updates I have noticed haven't really made it worth the trouble of upgrading.
  • They've already confirmed that OpenBSD is dying []... looks like NetBSD is next.
    • by Alcoholic Synonymous ( 990318 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:11AM (#16014174)
      Pay more attention next time. That is outdated news. OpenBSD made it through by picking up some major sponsors, including other F/OSS projects that use part of OpenBSD's code in thier projects.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )
        Pay more attention next time. That is outdated news. OpenBSD made it through by picking up some major sponsors, including other F/OSS projects that use part of OpenBSD's code in thier projects.

        So have they found an income stream, or did they merely manage to secure funding to keep on operating for a while? No, I'm not trolling, I'm asking. I know it's a lot easier to get a fixed donation, at the same time it rarely fixes the underlying problem.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        OpenBSD made it through by picking up some major sponsors

        Like him or not, TdR's leadership is the meta-driver for OpenBSD.
  • Netcraft? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DavidpFitz ( 136265 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:06AM (#16013822) Homepage Journal

    Has Netcraft weighed in on this yet?

  • by grammar fascist ( 239789 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:08AM (#16013828) Homepage
    I can't wait for the "Netcraft confirms it" trolls.

    Hang on, there's another angle, here.

    It is now official. Netcraft confirms: "NetBSD is dying" trolls are dying.

    One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered "NetBSD is dying" troll community when Slashdot confirmed that NetBSD is actually dying...
  • by Cicero382 ( 913621 ) <clancyj&tiscali,co,uk> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:15AM (#16013852)
    The great advantage that NetBSD had was its fast and secure network facilities. Unfortunately, for many potential users the problems far outweigh the benefits. And the situation has been getting worse for some time now.

    Bye-bye NetBSD, it was good while it lasted.
    • The great advantage that NetBSD had was its fast and secure network facilities.

      What? I thought netBSDs big advantage was portability.

      Bye-bye NetBSD, it was good while it lasted.

      netBSDs not going anywhere.
  • Sounds Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by awss82 ( 995948 )
    It appears that it is dying, but I think it is not going to affect many. I mean many people use other free operating systems but not many use BSD. And I guess that's the reason why it is dying.
  • by Chaffar ( 670874 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:27AM (#16013882)
    Survival of the fittest... the OSes that don't cut it (or that don't keep up) die off, the others learn from their mistakes and keep on going.
    I'm trying to find an analogy that would describe the survival of Windoze against all odds if the previous statement was true, but can't find one :\
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Windows survives, nay prospers, because it is the 'fittest' at surviving in the market place. If one of the other OSes could persuade practically every PC manufacturer to install it as default then Windows would be dead within months. So, as an analogy, lets try cockroaches, which, whilst not particularly appealing (except to other cockroaches) come as default in any environment (and yes, I know that the biology doesn't stand up)
      • Actually it fit, cockroaches aslo carry dieses which can hurt you just like windows. You need special protections (ie sealed plastic containers) to keep cockroaches out, and you need secial third party solutions to protect your data from windows viruses.

        I wonder if Redmond would survive a nuclear explosion? hmm wait is that helicopters I am hearing......
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Skrynesaver ( 994435 )
      Survival of the fittest... is often misunderstood, while niche specialist species can are usually fantastic at what they do,
      • Arctic beech, grows very slowly and close to the ground so snowfall doesn't break limbs
      • Most species specific parasites
      • and NetBSD, running a firewall on your toaster

      However broad generalists often survive after specialists have become extinct, most rodents are not particularly good at any one role but can muddle on in many roles and breed quickly enough that the loss of a living

  • by WJMoore ( 830419 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:27AM (#16013885) Homepage
    I still have a soft spot for NetBSD, it's minimalist nature is something I like. It was the first UNIX I ever installed too IIRC. I hope that the issues get resolved or if necessary an active fork is made and it lives on.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mistermark ( 646060 )
      >I still have a soft spot for NetBSD

      Me too, for me it also was the first UNIX I installed (on a SparcStation2) and got to learn the command-line in a proper way (imho) and I could only recommend anyone willing to learn UNIX to start with NetBSD.

      At this moment I still have one machine running NetBSD, a 33MHz Mac LC475 (yes, I'm aware it's 2006). The server can be found here: []

      >if necessary an active fork is made

      Well, don't look any further than OpenBSD :D
  • He may be right... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vga_init ( 589198 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:28AM (#16013886) Journal

    He may be right that NetBSD has its problems, but it's unfair to say that any software project doesn't. Also, I still believe NetBSD was/is a good project, and while BSD sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to reputation, we owe a lot to the work that went in to those systems. Times systems come, and old systems go. NetBSD still has quite a way left to go before its done, but when it is I will remember it fondly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:31AM (#16013898)
    Okay... I'm just gonna sound off here, as AC.. mostly because this could start a holy war and i don't feel like karma whoring. Which is agaisnt my intentions.

    This is simple, I've been a long time linux supporter, user, and contributor. Not one of these slashdot citizens that everytime a new "feature" of Windows version "X" is leaked, go and bitch about installing "Linux distro flavor of the month" on there machine and never use windows again. Then turn around and get the new version of Windows "X".

    With that said, this news is both sad, and slightly hopeful for me. As much as I love Linux. I've had a soft spot for NetBSD. Mostly because it can run on anything, really portable and good for embed, applications were Linux is just to heavy. Also for securiy, its one of the best.

    I'm also hopeful. NetBSD is a niche' OS, and one hell of a good one. Maybe the light of this could help get people to turn the project around. I for one and downloading the entire source tree as I type. For one, so i havee a virgin copy of release 4.0 and the latest CVS, and for two... to see if maybe i could help out with something. If only in a small way.

    Even if I don't plan on using NetBSD on my desktop, which is SuSE 10.1 btw, I beleive it still as much to do in the niche applications, because oif we let niche OSes fail. And one OS expands to do everything, we all lose, and end up in another Microsoft Windows style mess.

    Thats my 2 cents for the night.
  • by zensonic ( 82242 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:32AM (#16013899) Homepage
    "I sense a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of toasters cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced..."
  • Doesn't seem right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bobintetley ( 643462 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:32AM (#16013901)
    I love NetSBD. It's stable, it's fast, the package management is great (and upto date), NetBSD folks don't seem to feel the need to evangalise and beat people over the head with their OS choice. A lot of interesting development is also done in NetBSD (like integrating Xen into NetBSD 3.0, the CCD driver, RAIDframe, etc).

    I don't understand what this guy's on about - I use it and love it, so do lots of other people, we have upto date software and a great base system. How exactly is NetBSD irrelevant again? Is he bitching because of a lack of marketshare compared to other BSD/Linux distros? In a world of free software, why exactly does that matter?

    It's disingenuous to bitch about the things he does as if they were important - flash file system? So what? Journaled file system? There's a very good reason for the omission of journalling and you can't tell me this guy doesn't know about softdeps.

    Just sounds to me like this guy is pissed off with not getting some kind of glory for his work and it's all sour grapes.
    • by Guybrush_T ( 980074 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:57AM (#16013976)

      I used to love NetBSD. The package management is indeed great. BUT :

      • About stability, it worked well on a 486, but I never managed to run it stable on a brand-new machine with an Athlon (the kernel was always falling in vm_page_fault traps) whereas linux worked with no issue (hence not a hardware issue, more something like an AMD issue?).
      • About speed, again, unfortunately, linux performed better.

      I really wanted to stick to NetBSD, but after 1 year trying to have it functionnal, I installed linux, and this day, all my problems were gone.

      I'm afraid that the great thing in NetBSD - which is multiple platforms support - will soon be irrelevant, since linux already supports all the currently-used architectures.

      In all case, I hope NetBSD will survive and become more usable. But as said, it needs a lot of work.

    • by StarKruzr ( 74642 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:12AM (#16014013) Journal
      I love NetSBD

      Freudian slip, apparently.
    • by thule ( 9041 )
      Note that I've only used FreeBSD and OpenBSD. I've never saw the need to ever install NetBSD.

      According to the post, NetBSD's threading is unstable. How can it be stable for modern threaded applications? It would seem that NetBSD would be a lousy choice for hosting a Java based web application. Web apps are a pretty big market.

      As far as embeded goes. Linux seems to scale down pretty good these days. Motorola is shipping quite a few phones with Linux on it these days. I recently worked on a 12-port lay
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by codemachine ( 245871 )
      > It's disingenuous to bitch about the things he does as if they were important - flash file system? So what? Journaled file system?

      Flash file system is very important for embedded work. NetBSD could've been a much bigger player in the embedded space had they not fallen behind Linux, especially the uclibc/arm toolchain. Journaling file systems are highly desired by many people, including those in the project itself.

      The fact is that NetBSD does run on some of the embedded systems that I'm working on, an
      • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @01:31PM (#16017237) Homepage Journal
        NetBSD has really fallen behind in the embedded space. I blame some of this on Wasabi systems, who took NetBSD embedded stuff and went closed-source with it. They've got some NetBSD developers on staff. They've got an arrogant, anti-Linux attitude and pushy sales people. They have a really high price for their software, which still doesn't run on the platform I want to develop for (certain MIPSel chips). Linux does all of what I needed for free, does it well, and there's even OpenWRT
        in quite active development.

        I was at a recent Linux Users' group meeting and a fellow there pointed out that NetBSD counts every variation of architecture as a different platform, where as Linux only counts major changes in architecure as a new platform. If you count the platforms in the same manner, then Linux is ahead...and far ahead.

        But a biggest question is how much this portability really matters to a lot of people. I got rid of my Sun3 a couple of years ago, it was my last NetBSD machine. Sure, it's nice to have an OS that will work on old hardware such as this but so what? What is there to draw new developers and new energy to the project?

        I don't think that NetBSD will 'die', but it could become so obscure that the vast majority of the planet doesn't know of it's existance. If maintenance dwindles to the point where a major security hole is discovered and not fixed, then there will be a sharp drop in the number of users.

        As much as I find Theo DeRaadt an frustrating and conceited person, he's brought a lot of vitality to OpenBSD, enough so that it keeps going strong in spite of his disenfranchisement of many people. I think the only reason why some people stay with NetBSD is their strong hatred of Theo.
  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:36AM (#16013918)
    In a world with Linux, Solaris, OS X (a BSD, sorta), a zillion types of Windows, QNX, etc... why do we need so many BSDs? I mean, if someone wants to make their own version of an OSS project, that's up to them, but if you want to be relevant, you have to offer something new and relevant. If I'm going to run BSD on a server, I'm going to run something security oriented like OpenBSD so I can spend more time developing my applications.

    I think the NetBSD folks have done some great work in the past, and it deserves to be remembered, but maybe it's best that they apply their efforts to some more relevant projects, such as another BSD, or better yet, Linux, which has been constantly lagging behind OpenBSD in security and the like.

    Diversity is a powerful part of the FOSS model, however it can also dilute things by spreading resources to thin. Thanks for your hard work guys -- lets move on to the next challenge!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Draco_es ( 628422 )
      NetBSD has features that others don't and in some aspects is innovative(or at least different), so it's valuable(for its own users and for the whole OSS "universe"). What we don't need is the zillionth Linux distro, which just repackages applications in a different way.
    • by despisethesun ( 880261 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:24AM (#16014046)
      I think it's ridiculous that people complain about how many BSDs there are when there are so many redundant Linux distros out there. Each of the BSDs has a different development focus, making them all more relevant and important than any of the few dozen Debian-based distros, for example, which all really don't do much to build on what Debian has already done. When people quit starting up go-nowhere Linux distros and contribute their efforts to "more relevant projects", guys like you can go ahead and tell these guys to quit wasting their time on NetBSD.
      • by pe1chl ( 90186 )
        Do those BSD versions actually share something?
        Different Linux distributions at least use the same kernel. From what I read in the article, it seems that he is discussing a lot of deficiencies in the NetBSD kernel. That would not be an issue when all BSD versions had the same kernel (or it would be an issue for all of them, but that is not how it is described).

        Maybe there is no place for so many different kernels, that all need to be maintained by (groups of) people.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FST777 ( 913657 )
          No they don't, only heritage. But when something relevant is developed for one of the BSD's, the other will soon port it over, since it is easier to cross-port between the BSD's then from Linux to BSD.

          The fact that each BSD has it's own kernel AND it's own userland is what makes it so great: each project has a different set of goals, and they are reached by focussing on that one, without having to think about what the other projects would like in the kernel.

          Eventually, the projects can grow apart as f
          • it is easier to cross-port between the BSD's then from Linux to BSD.

            It is not even possible due to license constraints, except of course if the author of the Linux code releases it also under the BSD license.
      • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @09:57AM (#16015420) Homepage

        I think it's ridiculous that people complain about how many BSDs there are when there are so many redundant Linux distros out there.

        Maybe the largest procedural advatage Linux have over the BSD's is the decoupling of the kernel development from the os-distribution. The skills needed for the two are very different. Like all decoupling, it allows people to experiment with one, without affecting the other. And since the end-user product is the os-distribution, it allowed commercial interests to have their own unique distributions, without permanent forking of the kernel.

        The bad luck of the free BSD's is that they all originate from the 386BSD distribution, which was bundled in the old Unix tradition.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      In a world with Linux, Solaris, OS X (a BSD, sorta), a zillion types of Windows, QNX, etc... why do we need so many BSDs?

      Funny that you mention Linux in there... as if there AREN'T hundreds of different and somewhat incompatible Linux distros. Why do we need so many of them? If we all would just settle on Slackware, the ONE TRUE DISTRO, everything would be perfect.

      Diversity is a powerful part of the FOSS model, however it can also dilute things by spreading resources to thin.

      I don't think so at all. Firs

      • by cyclop ( 780354 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:53AM (#16014140) Homepage Journal

        If we all would just settle on Slackware, the ONE TRUE DISTRO, everything would be perfect.

        (rumours start in the plaza)

        - Slackware? Hah! No package management!The one true distro is Debian and its mighty apt-get!
        - What are you saying? It's clearly Gentoo! You compile everything from source!
        - Gentoo is for ricers! People that want their work done use Ubuntu!
        - Ubuntu? I'm more comfortable with Suse and Novell support...
        - What? Bear that RPM hell? Go use Knoppix!
        - What about RPMs? On my Fedora work so well...

        (everything in flames)

    • You're in a funny place to complain when you have hundreds of operating systems to your camp, all called "distros"...
      • by HuguesT ( 84078 )
        All the linux distributions have the same kernel and the same toolchain. The rest is just package management and application choices.

        In contrasts all the BSDs have significant different kernels.
        • All the linux distributions have the same kernel and the same toolchain.

          Only the same kernel in name. Check out the source package for the kernels that come with your distribution. They will have hundreds of patches that the vendor has applied to the vanilla version - it may say kernel version 2.6.8 for instance, but it will be substantially different to the vanilla 2.6.8 kernel that Linus Torvalds blessed with holy penguin pee.

          As for the toolchain, that would be the same one the BSD's use.

          • by vadim_t ( 324782 )
            Linux kernels are pretty much interchangeable. Distro patches tend to be things like bugfixes that didn't get integrated into the stable tree yet, various little features that aren't necessarily good enough for the main kernel but still wanted in the distribution, things like grsecurity that are unlikely to get into the mainline because they're weird or too specialized.

            For instance, patches added by a distribution that I've seen have been things like bluesmoke (provides ECC RAM support), SMART support for S
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by demon ( 1039 )
              I've never seen a Linux distribution that wouldn't boot if you installed the vanilla kernel on it.

              It won't stop it from *booting*, but try booting FC4 with a vanilla kernel and then log in on the console - watch how it DOES NOT WORK. Seriously, try it. They have some PAM module that uses a procfs feature added by one of their kernel packages. It can be disabled, but it's definitely an example of a fairly normal operation that should work fine with a stock kernel, but manages to fail miserably.
        • No. Different distributions have different startup systems, they have different applications included, they have different locations for various files, etc. And they have differently patched kernels.

          Different Linux "distributions" are different operating systems. Linuxites have some weird kernel fetish that I, as a kernel hacker and operating systems maintainer, do not get. Sure, different kernels are different kernels and have different pros and cons. However, they express their differences in diffe

    • Well, look at it as subprojects of a single master project.

      NetBSD is doing everything under the sun to make BSD crosscompatible; FreeBSD ditto for ease-of-use (sorta); OpenBSD for the ultimate in security.

      These BSDs, while distinct, keep tabs on each other and occasionally assimilate what works. If we had just one OpeNeFreBSD, all of that would be going on in a single OS (imagine the stability of that).

      Hovewer, it may well be that NetBSD --and others!-- are due for a long hard look at what they are doing, a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kestasjk ( 933987 )
      This is true to a certain extend, but good BSD code is shared amongst all the BSDs. The example in the article was Bluetooth support, it originated from NetBSD but is now used in all BSDs. PF originated in OpenBSD and is now used in all BSDs, SSH originated in OpenBSD and is now used everywhere. It's a liberal license and this is one of the benefits.

      But yes, I think anyone working on the NetBSD kernel is wasting thier time, along with DragonflyBSD. Lots of NetBSD code will still be around in other projec
  • by delirium of disorder ( 701392 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:38AM (#16013923) Homepage Journal
    OpenBSD was a fork() of netbsd. Is there any chance they could reunite to make a single stronger OS? How difficult would reconciling the politics and the codebase be?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Renegade88 ( 874837 )
      first, it would be absurdly difficult after 10 years of divergence. Secondly, what would be in it for OpenBSD? I see no benefit for them. Thirdly, ego's caused the original split. There is no way in hell that either side would merge for the same reason. I'd bet both would rather see both projects die before that happens.
    • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:59AM (#16014672) Homepage
      You can't rejoin fork()s. You're thinking of threads, with the thread attr not set to detach. Not quite the same thing!
  • Give me a break. (Score:3, Informative)

    by ad454 ( 325846 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:50AM (#16013962) Journal
    NetBSD is not dying. It is getting better and better with new features and improvements being added all of the time. In addition to steady developments, Google summers have really boasted NetBSD.

    I guess for some, having a lightweight, decent, and stable OS that does what it is suppose to do not enough. Admittedly their are many needed userland applications, epecially commercial applications that won't run on NetBSD. But if that was my primary concern than I would only run Windows XP. And when it comes to userland opensource, nothing beats PKGSRC. Especially when compaired to Linux equilibrants like SuSE yast.

    When you ask the average person, all that they care about is the bells and wistle in the window manager and not much else. Think aqua in MacOSX or aero in WinVista.

  • Leadership (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wysiwia ( 932559 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:59AM (#16013982) Homepage
    It's seldom that a founder of a OSS project acknowledges his mistakes but Charles M. Hannum does it. Just for this simple action I value his reasoning very much.

    IMO leadership of a project is very important because leaders always have a vision and the drive to force this vision become true. There's no guaranty that a leader will be successful with his vision but definitely comities always will fail they never have a single vision and never can agree to force a single vision become true. So whenever a project is lead by a comity stagnation is not far off.

    Yet leadership does not mean dictatorship as often is done by many OSS project leaders. Dictators will equally bring a project down as do comities. There's unfortunately no clear distinction when a leader becomes a dictator as many times good leaders are just lucky avoiding the path to dictatorship by sheer luck.

    O. Wyss
  • respect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tezbobobo ( 879983 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:04AM (#16013995) Homepage Journal
    I must say, it is an interesting read but I am struck by the humility and honesty of this guy.
  • Not surprized (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PrayingWolf ( 818869 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:04AM (#16013996) Homepage Journal

    I've been waiting for this to happen ever since I read how Theo De Raadt was treated in there and how he eventually left the group to work on his own branch. I think you can find an archive of his emails with the NetBSD dev team somewhere...

    Now the problem is admitted: FTA:

    Partly due to lack of people, and partly due to a more corporate mentality, projects were often "locked". One person would say they were working on a project, and everyone else would be told to refer to them. Often these projects stagnated, or never progressed at all. If they did, the motivators were often very slow. As a result, many important projects have moved at a glacial pace, or never materialized at all.

    This is basically what drove Theo out (as far as I understand his great ideas were ignored by the boureaucratic system and he felt frustrated) and now the basic reason why NetBSD is dying.

    But NetBSD still lives: in its decendants, like OpenBSD. So let us treat NetBSD with the same respect we would give to a dying grandfather :)

    • Re:Not surprized (Score:5, Informative)

      by Renegade88 ( 874837 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:18AM (#16014031)
      What I'm surprised about is that you read the email chain but came to the conclusion that Theo's ideas were "ignored". That's not what happened. They desperated wanted his ideas and his code, but they told him he could not COMMIT the code himself, but rather work through an intermediary, one that had no technical skill. It's like telling the former CEO to report to the janitor. You got it half right, but either you didn't read the whole chain, or your memory is failing you.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by PrayingWolf ( 818869 )
        True. I WAS trying to bring up precisely the problem of COMMITTING (the quote from the article, hello?). So what I basically meant was that effectively the system ate Theo's work... or at least hindered it. Maybe I wan't entirey correct, but that's what the article seems to imply also.

        For anyone intrested, the email chain is here []. Everyone can make their own conclusions. And yes, I did read the entire chain, long ago.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Renegade88 ( 874837 )

          The short version is Theo said that he would not hand over 10,000+ changed lines of code UNLESS he could merge them himself. The guy who was assigned Theo's sparc port requested twice that Theo's priviledges be re-instated for this purpose, but the Core ignored the the new head of the Sparc port. Theo actually did agree to their demands of being cordial WITHIN reason. The problem was three fold:

          1. They didn't really want him to agree, they wanted him out.
          2. If he did agree, it would be without condition. T
      • He could not commit the code himself unless he expressly promised not to be abusive and held that promise. This was, in my opinion, a reasonable reaction to unreasoanble behaviour from Theo, and was followed with more unreasonable behaviour from Theo.


  • by Renegade88 ( 874837 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:13AM (#16014016)
    I'm a big BSD guy, mainly a FreeBSD user, but I intently follow DragonFlyBSD and OpenBSD. Unless I'm mistaken, this is the same Charles Hannum that was directly responsible for kicking fellow NetBSD founder, Theo de Raadt, out of the core group, removed his CVS priviledges, and made Theo twist in the wind for 7 months until he was forced to leave to found OpenBSD. (reading the log I don't see how Theo lasted 7 weeks, he really made an effort to continue with NetBSD despite all of that). So now the evil cabal takes over and kicks Charles out of the core and removes his commit priviledges. It's sad, and I think Charles' points are spot on, but it's a bitter pill to swallow coming from this messenger. You have to shake your head when you think of what NetBSD could have been had they been able to avoid childish political antics in their "cabal".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by macshit ( 157376 )
      Charles Hannum is a cool guy (I worked in the same office with him for years), and very, very smart. Theo is also smart, but well-known for being a complete and utter asshole much of the time.

      I never followed the theo/netbsd split closely (not being part of netbsd project), but I suspect a great part of the blame for the split lies squarely with Theo...

      [I do remember the beginnings of the openbsd project, where the members seemed to have no other goal than to annoy people as much as possible with crap like
    • by LizardKing ( 5245 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:22AM (#16014208)

      If you'd read the email log more closely, you'd notice that Charles Hannum one of those who was involved in the removal of de Raadt's commit privileges, but then tried to come up with a workable way for Theo to continue working on the project. The whole story has never come out, as the NetBSD core group kept very quiet about what the motivation for removing de Raadt's commit privileges were. However what is not in doubt is that Theo's attitude on the NetBSD mailing lists was abusive towards anyone who he felt was not as technically competent or as well informed as him. This was annoying fellow developers and alienating potential users. Theo was asked to tone down his attitude, or at least ignore postings that he would otherwise have posted inflammatory replies to. He didn't, and my assumption is that the core group removed the commit privileges to distant the "official" project from Theo's shitty attitude. Theo obviously resented this, but continued to badmouth people until he finally forked NetBSD to create OpenBSD - a sandpit where he could fuck people off to his hearts content.

      Now it seems Charles Hannum is pissed at someone, and has decided to belittle the work of many current NetBSD developers by cross posting his flame to the Free, Net and Open mailing lists. My opinion for what it's worth? The NetBSD Foundation appears to be dominated by Wasabi personnel, and as a result the decisions it takes may be in the interests of Wasabi commercial interests rather than Charles Hannums. However, there is good work going on in the NetBSD project, and all Hannum's post will do is make the Linux/anti-BSD zealots shriller.

      • by Renegade88 ( 874837 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:19AM (#16014336)

        I read the email log extremely closely. Charles was in the process of creating a "special" set of rules for Theo, that only Theo had to agree to. While he was being jerked around, five additional people earned commit priviledges, but where not made to agree to these "new" criteria. This set of rules was never completed, it was dragged out intentionally, basically "you have to agree to these rules first, but you can't do that until we write them, and we can't give you a date when we will write them even though it's already been weeks".

        I would love to post the link to the email log but it would crash the server it's on.

        Even though the developer put in charge of Theo's sparc port wanted Theo to have his commit priviledges restored, and asked for it a couple of times, the core refused. The only "workable" solution that was offered was that Theo could pass his diffs on to the port developer and let him merge them. Basically it was a set of conditions that nobody would agree to. The email chain is quite clear that Charles was instrumental in Theo losing the commit priviledges and never intended to restore them. It is also obvious they were jerking him around until he just quit on his own.

        My take on Theo:
        I think his "utter asshole" reputation is not accurate. He's said some things he probably wants to have back, and likely hurt some feelings. I also think he was cordial during this 7 month jerk-around session, enduring it FAR longer than most people would, and he said all the right things to earn the commit priviledges back. He was willing to "play ball".

        Charles might be a good guy, but he wasn't well like during this time in 1995 and forcing Theo out is a black mark on his record. You can't tell me NetBSD is better off now (dying) without Theo then they would have been with him on their team.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ( 583400 )
          The fork was a good decision as Theo seems to be a good leader for OpenBSD, while NetBSD has none.
          And Theo also also has more strict principles than Linus, in particular in the definition of "free". (See the kerneltrap interview []).
    • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:23AM (#16014211) Homepage
      Unless I'm mistaken, this is the same Charles Hannum that was directly responsible for kicking fellow NetBSD founder, Theo de Raadt, out of the core group, removed his CVS priviledges, and made Theo twist in the wind for 7 months until he was forced to leave to found OpenBSD.

      Theo "voice of reason" de Raadt? Imagine that, someone not getting along with him. What are the odds, really?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ajs318 ( 655362 )
        Someone in Theo's position isn't meant to be liked. In fact, if they are liked, they probably aren't doing their job properly. People like that are missed when they go, though, and their former subordinates muse on how they preferred working for a cunt than working for a wanker.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:27AM (#16014052)
    ... is that there are far fewer novel toaster designs being produced every year. It is a Well Known Fact that NetBSD has put forth millions of man-hours into porting their OS to every new toaster design released by manufacturers across the globe. With the recent sharp decline in toaster research, development, and production it was only inevitable that NetBSD development should come to a standstill. Modern convection ovens run Linux, and it's just not the same. What does a penguin know about heat anyway?
  • Interesting read (Score:5, Interesting)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:33AM (#16014074)
    It is a pretty interesting read. I can give you my experience with NetBSD over the past couple of years...

    Outside of my regular job we were developing an embedded system. The first thing I thought of was NetBSD. Downloaded it, tested it, critiqued it, and couldn't find enough benefit to use it. The big gotcha was there was no filesystem at the time for running on flash devices. Well, almost every embedded project is going to run on a flash device. Mind you this was a couple of years ago, but according to the post not much has changed. There were a couple of other small gotchas, but in comparing it to Linux, there just wasn't enough reason to use NetBSD.

    And therein lies much of the problem. I don't think NetBSD is bad. It's not. However, a lot more people are using Linux for advanced embedded devices than NetBSD and are solving real world problems so you don't have to. NetBSD may run on a plethora of hardware pretty well. But 90% of the embedded world really needs it to run on is i386, arm, and mips. So there is really good linux support for those arches because so many people are developing systems with the linux/uclibc/arm combo. It's the new lamp. NetBSD may have the shock factor of running on things like toasters, but Linux is running on real world things like my phone.

    On top of that, the term "embedded" is becoming looser and looser. There was a time when "embedded" meant a 12mhz processor and everything was in assembly and C. Today, I can get a 400mhz gumstix and do all my development in python. I would consider it embedded by today's standards, but in reality that was a normal desktop development machine 5 years ago.

    Again, NetBSD isn't bad. If I had to really run something on a 12mhz CPU I doubt I'd be able to use linux/uclibc/arm and NetBSD might be my answer. However, in a world where embedded hardware is the desktop hardware of 5 years ago, there just isn't any benefit to trying to use the same embedded tools of 5 years ago.
  • A Call to Arms (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yukonbob ( 410399 )
    I've personally been using NetBSD since the 1.6 days. I've occasionally tried out a Linux (indeed, run a Debian server, and handle Linux in various capacities for work), and FreeBSD (installed during 5.x days... admittedly not a bright spot in their history)... but always come back to Net. For me, it's the right amount of "grumpy" attitude about "correctness", but still useable... it's got an excellent array of third party apps, in an excellent package management system, and performs well. What's not to lik
  • by sh0dan ( 762382 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:11AM (#16014173) Homepage
    To: None <>

  • BSD vs GPL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 )
    IMHO the reason why NetBSD is failing is the whole BSD vs GPL debate. BSD guys, don't bother flaming because it doesn't matter.

    There is no absolute freedom, that is called anarchy. There must be rules in place to protect freedom for everyone. In creating rules, one has to accept reasonable limits of specific freedoms to balance and maintain everyones freedom. The GPL limits your specific freedom, this is true, while it protects your overall freedom in limiting what others can do with your handy work.

    As is e
    • Re:BSD vs GPL (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Overly Critical Guy ( 663429 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @01:06PM (#16017036)
      There is no absolute freedom, that is called anarchy.

      No, absolute freedom is the free range of choice to do what you want. That includes anarchy, or it might be something else. It's whatever you choose. The GPL limits that range of choice and is therefore inherently less free than the BSD license. People like Stallman really should stop trying to equate "freedom" with the GPL, because the GPL isn't preserving freedom other than the right to obtain source code. The BSD license gives you source code as well as the ability to do absolutely whatever you want with it. That's freedom.

      In creating rules, one has to accept reasonable limits of specific freedoms to balance and maintain everyones freedom. The GPL limits your specific freedom, this is true, while it protects your overall freedom in limiting what others can do with your handy work.

      "Limiting what others can do" with my handy work is the opposite of freedom. True freedom is letting the code out into the world as totally free contribution to public knowledge and culture that anyone in society can use and benefit from, be it a homebrew hacker or a corporation.

      As is evident in the BSD line of systems, BIG corporations are taking your code, making good money, and giving back close to nothing.

      Lots of Linux corporations do the same thing.

      Linux survives because these entities can't take and forget to give back.

      Maybe you missed it, but BSD is surviving just fine as well. Apple is the biggest UNIX vendor and relies on FreeBSD. Linux survives not because of the reason you state but because it managed to gain a foothold during the BSD lawsuit crisis, giving it momentum. There's nothing about the GPL that accelerates development over the BSD license. In either case, you can access the same source code repositories. But unlike the GPL, the BSD license doesn't control your actions and restrict your freedom once you have that source code.

      So every time a *BSD project dies, it is one more nail in the coffin of the BSD side of the GPL/BSD debate.

      Or fodder for anti-BSD trolls such as yourself. NetBSD is dying due to leadership issues, not the BSD license.
  • Solution? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zapman ( 2662 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @08:13AM (#16014740)
    He hints around what I propose a lot[1], but he doesn't go there for some reason. His solution is to reform the system that has been broken for a long time, with what sounds like 'entrenched' problems.

    My suggestion is to fork. You mention several good people and code. Open a new project (BSDPortable?) tempt the good people over there, and move on.

    In my experience, the 'bad elements' very rarely remove themselves...

    [1] Dragonfly BSD, Xorg, etc
  • I have been a user of NetBSD since version 1.6 upto version 3.0. I have always used NetBSD over Linux since my student days for reasons which I'm sure will apply equally to a lot of people even today. 1) The complexity of NetBSD is just enough to handle for a person attempting to get into OS kernel development. Its a lot simpler than deciphering a current Linux kernel. 2) It runs surprisingly quick even with very little resources but is yet fully functional for most student projects. I used to run NetBSD o
  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:01AM (#16015452) Journal
    It's not because I have anything against it, it's just that everytime I think about NetBSD I can't come up with a REASON for running it (other than for pure nerd exploration purposes).

    If I want to be secure I run OpenBSD, if I like the "UNIX" model over the "LINUX" way of grokking things I'll run FreeBSD. In the past NetBSD's mantra was portability. I don't think that's a big enough selling point.

    Differentiation is what sells (it seems). NetBSD needs to be something the others are not doing.

    I hope it survives and hope that the people involved are mature enough not to let their EGO's get in the way.

    In some ways they have a GOLDEN opportunity. NetBSD is far enough along that they don't have to start from scratch, but small enough (organization wise) to allow them to possibly do something that LINUX and FreeBSD are too big to handle.

    I don't know what that is..but I hope it's something cool!
  • by ewe2 ( 47163 ) * <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:39AM (#16015761) Homepage Journal
    What Hannum obviously longs for is a looser central organization, the current one is crippling NetBSD development. Some of the responses to his post indicate a slavish servitude to the structure instead of finding a structure that serves the project. Here's a clue, guys: Linux-bashing may be cathartic, but it merely frames your irrelevance. In Linux, code gets done, not pretty. Stop using Linux to excuse your own faults, it's lame.
  • by Halcy0n ( 267641 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @12:09PM (#16016473) Homepage
    One such example, in my honest opinion, is Gentoo. I was a developer for about a year and a half before I finally called it quits. The major problem that I saw with Gentoo, and is the problem with NetBSD apparently, is that there is no main driving force to give the project direction. One of the great strengths of Gentoo is that there are many people working on things to scratch everyone's itch, but there is no general goal, and that is what leads to all of the flamewars. Everyone has their own idea of what Gentoo should be, and since there is no one to decide it, some people are content with arguing over it until the project dies from stagnation.

    The best way to solve this, as I see it, is to adopt the idea of having a permanent "steering committee" for the project. Some major projects already do this, and it provides the central authority/leadership that is needed for any large scale project. Most developers/contributors don't want to deal with the politics that come from not having a central leadership, and there are the vocal few that will make it a living hell for everyone else.

    I used to be a firm believer in letting projects govern themselves, but since I've been part of one that operates that way, I see the problems that come from that type of system, and they are crippling.
  • Too elitist (Score:3, Insightful)

    by leoboiko ( 462141 ) <leoboiko&gmail,com> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @12:52PM (#16016906) Homepage
    Some friends ask me why I'm so attracted to Net. To me, it's main feature isn't portability or network stack, it's minimalism. Current Linux distros doesn't seem to care about old hardware users (if you ever used aptitude in a machine with less than 64MiB RAM you know what I'm talking about). NetBSD is small, clean and ordered, like a carefully crafted piece of jewelry. /usr/bin from install fits in a screenful. And unlike linux, its source is intelligible to a curious student; they even got a whole man section devoted to kernel internals.

    I used Net casually in old machines and was always satisifed.

    Unfortunately the RTFA factor in NetBSD community is too strong. You're expected to know everything and if you don't, you're simply ignored. I've tried really hard to install Net in my Powerbook 3400c; I spent days burning CDs, studying manuals, fiddling with Open Firmware and reading mailing lists. I finally gave up and sent a detailed email about what I tried and what errors I received. The message was unanimously ignored in netbsd-users. I ended up installing good ol' Debian --- Debian MLs are not exactly forgiving, but at least people help you.

Loose bits sink chips.