Debian Weekly News - February 11th, 2003

Welcome to this year's sixth issue of DWN, the weekly newsletter for the Debian community. A recent announcement on a GNOME list says that GNOME and KDE are joining the Free Desktop Project to create Human Interface Guidelines for both desktop environments. Additionally, the Turbo Desktop Environment aimed at users with older computers who still want to run a proper desktop. It is based on KDE 1 and Debian. There is more good news on the desktop front as KDE 3.1 is being uploaded into Debian unstable.

Debian at the World Social Forum. Debian was represented at the World Social Forum in Brazil by Debian-RS, a local Debian users group. They were asked to build the computer network for the youth camp during the event. They were also invited to give more than 10 workshops, with technical, political and social focus.

Debian and OASIS. Last April, Debian joined the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). Mark Johnson, Debian's official representative to OASIS, asked for feedback from any Debian Developers who have been involved in OASIS Technical Committees. He would also like ideas on how he should seek input from Developers before casting Debian's vote in OASIS decisions.

Debian joins Desktop Linux Consortium. The Debian project announced that it is a founding member of the new Desktop Linux Consortium (DLC). DLC is a vendor-neutral association, comprised of both commercial companies and open source organizations that are developing and shaping GNU/Linux desktop technologies. The non-profit association will help shape the future of GNU/Linux on the desktop, targeting the needs of corporate, institutional, and home users.

Debian powers Home Entertainment Gateway Device. A report on about the PRISMIQ MediaPlayer, a networked entertainment gateway, says that it runs an embedded version of Debian GNU/Linux. Priced at just $250, the gadget delivers audio and video media files, obtained from either home PCs or the Internet, to TVs and stereos. The device contains an embedded computer based on a 32-bit MIPS microprocessor with integrated MPEG decoder, along with 16 MB Flash and 64 MB SDRAM.

Selecting Tasks and Packages. Osamu Aoki (青木 修) reviewed the current package installation system and concluded that there is dselect, aptitude and apt-get to install single packages (out of a list of roughly 8700) and tasksel that selects some out of thirty tasks. He wondered whether there is any activity to address this gap. His proposed solution uses additional attributes in the package description.

Compiling Debian packages with DJGPP. Jeremie Koenig plans to try compiling some Debian packages for FreeDOS using DJGPP, a DOS port of GCC, featuring a libc granting reasonable API compatibility with programs originating from the Unix world. He admits that the debian-djgpp idea sounds odd, but for old or embedded machines this could open up a large quantity of software.

Freeze Plans? Barak Pearlmutter asked for a distribution freeze soon. Anthony Towns explains that there are a bit over 1700 source packages that are nominally ready for testing right now. They are being held back by various libraries and such (glibc, Perl, Python, C++, GTK, KDE, etc). That is about a quarter of Debian. For the past five months or so, testing has been working "correctly" but only in so far as unstable hasn't been. Testing has no value if Debian can't provide functional software in unstable on a fairly regular basis.

Security for Testing. Anthony Towns revealed that the infrastructure for adding security updates to the testing distribution is in place, in fact even since the new security architecture came into being. However, Matt Zimmerman pointed out that somebody needs to review the packages and the process and clean up the mess if maintainers upload broken packages.

Problems with Qt3 Packaging. Ralf Nolden reported about severe problems in the way Qt3 is currently packaged. Several issues haven't been dealt with and the maintainer still isn't listening. Ivan Moore even regretted to having given away the package. Finally cooperation with the maintainer was reached again and updated packages are expected soon. This involves a number of changes and the maintainer sent a status report.

Boot-Floppies Status Report. Eduard Bloch has been working on new boot-floppies for the 3.0r2 update of woody (stable). He reported that boot-floppies 3.0.24 are almost ready. Packages for most architectures have been built and tested, although some issues remain with the sparc, s390 and arm architectures.

Shared Libraries Policy. Marco d'Itri proposed two small changes to policy regarding shared libraries and PIC code. First, compiling with -fPIC is not enough to have PIC code, the object must not have a TEXTREL section either. Second, libraries should be allowed to contain short sections of non-PIC code on suitable architectures if this allows a significant speed increase.

Mandrake Linux without MandrakeSoft? Some Mandrake volunteers and developers are discussing the future of Mandrake Linux since Ben Reser believes that the end of MandrakeSoft is inevitable. They proposed to organise Mandrake Linux development as community effort and investigated how the Debian project is organised, which is why John Goerzen from Debian contributed to the discussion. Gustavo Franco, for example, proposed Mandrake as a new project inside Debian under the umbrella of Software in the Public Interest, Inc. However, this idea was refused.

New APT prepared. Adam Heath announced that he has prepared APT The new version includes higher limits and finally uses translatable strings. He also recompiled APT with g++ 3.2. Because of this Adam likes to make certain this version works on all architectures. He would also like translators to check out APT from CVS, and send translated files to the deity list. Additionally, Daniel Burrows prepared new packages for aptitude.

Investigating System Users. Colin Watson reports about a problem with the three users sync, games and man. All of them currently have their primary group set to 'users', which is currently gid 100. The discussion got sidetracked into whether users should have gid 100 at all. He also compared the situation to other Free Software distributions.

Debian Multimedia Project. Marco Trevisani reports that DeMuDi has reached release 0.9 and he believes that it's time to start a Debian-Multimedia project within Debian. He would like to start a formal discussion and seek opinions from Debian maintainers, especially those that would be directly involved. In order to help, Ben Armstrong added a pointer to the subproject howto.

Hexdump, Hexcat and Hextype? Michael Piefel wondered why Debian contains hexdump and hexcat, just before he learnt that there is also hextype. Gerd Knorr added that hexdump is very flexible, and Richard Braakman finally compared the speed differences of all three.

Legal Analysis of Open Source Licenses. Jeremy Malcolm, Debian Developer and IT Lawyer, presented a paper titled Problems in Open Source Licensing at the recent Australian Linux Conference. The paper analyzes some common Open Source licenses, such as the GNU General Public License and the BSD License. Jeremy points out some possible legal pitfalls regarding these licenses and suggests strategies for overcoming them.

Compiling Debian with a non-GNU compiler? Bob McElrath inquired about putting packages compiled with a non-free compiler such as HP's ccc into the Debian archives. Non-free compilers sometimes produce faster executables than gcc. However several posters noted with recent versions of gcc 3.x the gap is smaller. Apart from the philosophical problems with having software in Debian compiled with a non-free tool chain, there are various legal and technical problems included, such as licensing terms of non-free compilers sometimes prohibit distribution of the resulting binaries and others.

Knoppix reviewed at IBM developerWorks. Cameron Laird published an article about Knoppix, the single CD GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian. If you've ever needed a functional Linux setup that is portable and runs the same way on any hardware, read his article. Knoppix packages a specialized and highly useful GNU/Linux distribution on a single, bootable CD-ROM.

Security Updates. You know the drill. Please make sure that you update your systems if you have any of these packages installed.

New or Noteworthy Packages. The following packages were added to the unstable Debian archive recently or contain important updates.

Orphaned Packages. 6 packages were orphaned this week and require a new maintainer. This makes a total of 159 orphaned packages. Many thanks to the previous maintainers who contributed to the Free Software community. Please see the WNPP pages for the full list, and please add a note to the bug report and retitle it to ITA: if you plan to take over a package.

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This issue of Debian Weekly News was edited by Matt Black, Andre Lehovich and Martin 'Joey' Schulze.