Free and Open Source Software Developers' Meeting -- Report
The Embedded Debian project was present at FOSDEM 2004 and numerous useful discussions were held, significantly advancing our plans to make Debian a really useful distribution for small machines as well as large.
On Sunday Wookey gave a short overview of the current situation in the Embedded Developers room and there followed a floor discussion to establish what those present were hoping to achieve via Emdebian, and how it might best be achieved. Lauri Leukkunen also explained how Scratchbox works and gave us a quick demo of what it can do in combination with the qems emulator.
Philippe de Swert presented his STAG framework, which is essentially 'cross-compiling the Debian way', and is highly relevant to what Emdebian is trying to do. He is happy to see his work used as part of Emdebian, and we are very happy to have him on board.
Informal discussions with slightly different people present were also held after the buffet dinner on Saturday night and on Sunday night. This has resulted in useful input from members of the Familiar Distribution, the Stag Cross-compilation framework and the Scratchbox compilation environment, as well as a range of assorted embedded developers currently using a range of tools.
We now have our goals well-defined, and it has become clear that the tools we need are more ready than many had realised — the only remaining difficulties are choosing between different ways of doing things with their various pros and cons. It also looks like it will be easier to satisfy the 'Familiar'-sized distro people (10Mb+, self-upgrading) than the 'really embedded' (<5Mb non-upgradeable image) people, starting from a Debian base, but hopefully we can do a reasonable job of both, possibly with different build mechanisms.
It seems that Familiar is struggling to maintain their distribution in its current form and would benefit from closer integration with Debian's infrastructure, and that Stag and Scratchbox would also like to throw their lot in with Emdebian to build an infrastructure that can satisfy a multitude of needs.
This all bodes well but it remains the case that there is a fairly small group of generally busy people who have the necessary skills to stick all this stuff together, build a working system and get it integrated with Debian proper. And it is clear that we are now most definitely at the stage where some actual work is needed on these tasks in order to answer remaining technical uncertainties. I am trying to get the project some sponsorship to help ensure these things do get done, and there are encouraging signs that this might happen. A consortium of sponsors would be much better than a single one, so if anyone else has contacts with people/companies who might be in a position to support Emdebian in this world domination bid, do please get in touch with me.
I, Philippe de Swert and Justin Cormack will prepare a more technical document in the next week or two to update the Emdebian website with the current thinking after the conference and make clear what needs doing next, and what still remains to be determined.
Overall, things are looking very promising IMHO. Thanks to all who contributed, particularly Lauri Leukkunen, Phil Blundell, Philippe de Swert, John Masters, and Justin Cormack, for intelligent discussion and helping me get my ideas straight.
Report from the Debian Java developers meeting
The Debian project shared a developers' room at FOSDEM with Free Java developers so this room was particularly interesting for Debian Java maintainers like me. I had a lot of discussions with Grzegorz Prokopski, Arnaud Vandyck and Dalibor Topic but also with some GNU classpath, Kaffe and gcj developers.
Arnaud and Dalibor gave a talk about packaging Java software which covered JPackage, Gentoo, FreeBSD and of course Debian. One goal of this talk was to improve collaboration between these projects and Red Hat's effort to package Java software which is compiled to native code using gcj.
Unfortunately, there were no Gentoo and FreeBSD Java developers present so I could only talk to one JPackage developer about this. It turned out that JPackage tries to make their packages work with different JVMs but they don't care as much as we do about running Java software with Free JVMs so their main interest is integration of Java packages.
But the developers of Free Java Software (GNU classpath, Kaffe, SableVM and gcj) were very interested in more collaboration. One of their main problems is that they don't get enough feedback from end users if a Java application does not work with their JVM. It's often just an unimplemented method or a small bug that needs to be fixed to make larger applications work. So the Wiki page which was started by Arnaud is also useful to them. In the future, the Debian Java maintainers will try even harder to make their packages work with free JVMs and send their results to them.
Besides the issue of better collaboration we also had a lot of technical discussions.