Debian Weekly News - April 22nd, 2003

Welcome to this year's 16th issue of DWN, the weekly newsletter for the Debian community. Steven Frank took a look at patents and Free Software and estimated the danger of the recent lawsuit against IBM. Bruce Perens also examinated patents and Free Software. The European Parliament is likely to ratify a Software Patent Directive in May. The ffii is calling for people to sign their proposed amendments.

Resumé from Bdale Garbee. On the last day of Bdale's leadership of Debian he sent in a final report about his term and in which he also talks about the future. Bdale will continue to give talks about Debian and several events are already being negotiated. His future focus will be the IA64 port of Debian and keeping it healthy. He remains concerned about the health of SPI, and SPI's relationship to Debian.

DWN translation in Alioth. Ignacio García Fernández reported about the effort to translate DWN into his native tongue. Over the previous months the Spanish translation of DWN became a group task. Now that alioth is available, the team thought that it could be a good idea to use it and started the dwn-trans project. It intends to be language independent so could be utilised by the other translation efforts for DWN as well.

Bits from the new Project Leader. Martin Michlmayr sent his first message as Debian Project Leader. He thanked Manoj and Bdale for their work and encouraged anyone to feel free to contact him with ideas or concerns. Martin is concerned about the next release, because at the moment there are many open release-critical bugs. Furthermore the new debian-installer project still requires a significant amount of work.

Improving the Speed of GNU/Linux Applications. Cameron Laird has written an article about two different approaches to increasing the performance of applications: the easy way and the hard way. The easy approach is to give the user more feedback on the progress of the application, since this allows the user to feel more content with waiting. The hard way is more difficult since it requires algorithm tuning and careful measurement of the used tools and libraries in order to speed up the process itself. The old Unix rule applies: first make it correct, than optimize for speed.

Total Computer Newbies meet Debian. Charles Williams wrote a usability study about a family that had decided it wanted GNU/Linux installed on their new computer. In the second part of the article the author describes what happened after the installation and after the users spent some time using their Debian system.

Debian Freebies illegal? In our April 1st issue we reported about a new law in Germany that intends to save young people from suffering from violent computer games but which is likely to affect the Debian project as well. Michael Banck received a response from a journalist who advised us to apply for child-safe classification for the entire Debian CD that some Debian people plan to give away at upcoming exhibitions. It only costs EUR 1000.

Implementing W3C Recommendations? Thomas Bliesener noted that almost the whole Debian website meets the HTML standards except some online documentation which seems to be caused by a problem with debiandoc2html. However, some packages ship documentation that is non conforming and some produce HTML code which is not standards-compliant. Ray Dassen explained that having our documentation conform to W3C standards and recommendations is desirable, but not a binding requirement.

Multiarchitecture Binary Packages. Barak Pearlmutter remembered that some years ago, NeXT modified GCC and the rest of the GNU toolchain to allow them to produce multi-architecture binaries, so that a single binary executable could run on both m68k and i386 platforms. They also had a tool that could strip out hunks for unwanted architectures. He proposed to resurrect this code and build 11+ architectures into each architecture-binary Debian package.

Maintainers and RC Bugs. Andrew Suffield created a sorted (most release-critical bugs first) list of maintainers who have excessive numbers of old RC bugs open against their packages. Bugs less than 30 days old are not considered. The list is sorted using a score proportional to the age and severity of each bug. It is fairly likely that some of these are bugs which should have been closed.

Debian violating Copyright of ReiserFS? Hans Reiser, the author of ReiserFS, asked Debian to explain why the credits and attributions from the reiserfs utilities had been removed in violation of the copyright. He explained that clauses were included forbidding the removal of credits, although he never expected Debian to be a culprit. Jarno Elonen pointed out that these extra clauses are located in the README file rather than the COPYING file and the reiserfs maintainer probably inadvertently overlooked them. Ben Collins noted that this could render ReiserFS non-free.

Debian for Lawyers Sub-project. Jeremy Malcolm proposed a new sub-project called Debian-Lex, which would target Debian at lawyers. This would contain some obvious selections from the existing pool such as, Evolution and Gnotime, but it would also need some other packages that aren't yet in Debian such as SQL-Ledger (which will be packaged soon). Jeremy also intends to put together a database schema that will serve as the basis for a legal client and matter database. There was support for the idea, although there was some discussion over the Debian-Lex name.

Management of Configuration Files with Debconf. Colin Walters demanded that packages do not use debconf to manage their configuration files. He pointed out that policy requires that local changes must be preserved during a package upgrade. When a package defaults to managing its configuration files with debconf, local changes can be destroyed without the user knowing. Joey Hess also demanded that debconf not be used for notes that properly belong in README.Debian. He knows that some packages do things right, but even if 10 % of packages misuse debconf the whole system looks bad. Joey's debconf presentation might be a good starting place to learn about the proper use of debconf.

Building a Firewall with Pebble. Glenn Stone described how to use Pebble, a Debian-lite distribution to get a homemade firewall up and running. He described installation and setup on an old Dell 486D/50, with 16 MB of RAM. Pebble is only 17 MB compressed and the final system ended up being 81 MB on the disk. Glenn thought this would be a good way to build a firewall on a budget. It also makes adding extras like a mini-web server or mail proxy as simple as an apt-get install command.

Call for Debian Conference Topics. With two Debian conferences taking place later this year, a call went out for ideas on which topics and parts of Debian those who might attend would like to see covered by talks and/or workshops. The coordinator of Debian's LinuxTag involvement would love to be flooded with ideas to add to his list and for which speakers could be sought. Ideas for Debian Conference 3 can be added to the to do list in the hope that somebody will submit a talk on that subject.

Update on Debian for x86-64. Arnd Bergmann reported that the toolchain and basic utilities for x86-64 work. He made available biarch packages that are able to produce code for the new architecture as well as for i386. These packages should work as a drop-in replacement for the single-arch i386 packages in Debian/sid. They were tested in Bochs, an IA-32 and x86-64 PC emulator.

Missing Support for UTF-8? Nikolai Prokoschenko noted that recently released font packages only contain latin1 characters and not, for example, Russian which he needs. Manoj Srivastava replied with a note about how Free Software works: If it scratches your itch, fix it and send patches. Henrique de Moraes Holschuh added that he would create a sub-project "Debian-desktop-RU" that had all defaults tweaked so that it would work properly.

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. 21 packages were orphaned this week and require a new maintainer. This makes a total of 196 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 and Martin 'Joey' Schulze.