Friday, August 25, 2006

Propietary Software and openSUSE

There have been some comments on an ZDnet article including one from Linspire that was brought a few days ago to my attention which turns into advocation of their new Freespire release.

I'd like to comment especially on Kevin Carmony's Linspire letter and explain what openSUSE is, since there seem to be some misconceptions.

Proprietary Applications

The ZDnet article rightly claims that we "have ceased distributing proprietary software modules such as 3D video drivers that plug into the Linux kernel". From this Kevin Carmony concludes that Novell removed "proprietary software from their Linux offerings" which is plainly wrong. SUSE Linux 10.1 comes with six CDs. The first five contain only Open Source software, only the last one (if you download: the binary add-on CD) contains proprietary software. Freespire speaks about their "OSS Edition", a term SUSE Linux 10.0 already used a year ago.

The list of commercial software on SUSE Linux 10.1 (full list available at Novell's website) includes Adobe Acrobat Reader, Java, Opera, and RealPlayer.

To be clear, I'm mainly talking about the openSUSE distribution, but let me point out that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 also comes with proprietary software including Adobe Acrobat Reader, Java and RealPlayer, and that SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 provides Java as well, for examples.

openSUSE 10.2 (the successor to SUSE Linux 10.1) will follow the same model as SUSE Linux 10.1 in distributing and supporting both Open Source and proprietary software - and leaving the user a choice.

I love open source and that's why I'm working on openSUSE. I do also use proprietary software and consider it vital to have a good and stable platform on which both Open Source developers and proprietary software vendors can develop software. Users using this platform are free to use the software of their choice. With Linux and openSUSE, there's such a platform. For mixed source source, I suggest reading our CTO's blog.

The Free Standards Group with their Linux Standard Base (LSB) standardizes a application binary interface allowing application developers to build software that runs on any LSB certified platform. Recently both MySQL and RealPlayer certified their applications by the LSB.

Novell has certified all their recent distributions by the LSB, including the just announced SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 products as well as SUSE Linux 10.1. This is a clear commitment by Novell to a standard conforming base that both proprietary software vendors and open source developers can use. If you look at the other distributors certifying their products, you see there a few others as well - including Red Hat. But there is no certification for Fedora and neither for Linspire/Freespire.

Proprietary Kernel Drivers

So, what about proprietary kernel drivers? Fedora has taken an admirable stand against those (see e.g. Mike Harris' comment). Since about half a year ago, the openSUSE project has been vocal about our position, too (e.g. my announcement in february).

There are a couple of reasons for this in my opinion. The first reason is to respect the opinion of those members of the Linux kernel community that consider binary drivers a violation of the GPL. Supporting a proprietary kernel driver is a nightmare because such a driver might change the kernel in an unpredictable way. The Linux kernel developers will not investigate bug reports if a binary-only kernel module is loaded and ask for reproduction without the loaded module (e.g. read the linux-kernel FAQ).

During the last years lots of hardware vendors have opened their specs to developers so that they could write open source kernel drivers and support their hardware since they believe this is the best way to go. I think that we as community really need to constantly encourage companies to support the development of Open Source kernel drivers - and personally support this from our wallets.

Finally, closed source drivers can sometimes block you, you might not be able to update to newer kernel versions to support e.g. another driver you need...

Personally, I agree with Pamela Jones' column called "On Binary Drivers and Underwear" for LinuxUser & Developer: "I totally get it that folks want their computers to just work. I want that too. But would you please consider that if we pollute free-licensed open source software with secretive code, which we must with binary drivers, we lose what make GNU/Linux special - its openness and our freedom to control what happens on our computers."

For those users really needing an external kernel driver in SUSE Linux and openSUSE, users might easily find them for most recent distributions. External kernel drivers can now be provided as kernel module packages in a better way than before.

Arjan van de Ven wrote about a Doomsday scenario if binary drivers would be allowed universally, read it yourself in the archives of lkml.


So, summying up, what is the openSUSE distribution? It's a distribution containing open source packages including an open source Linux kernel with open source modules - and additionally some closed source user land applications in an add-on.

One of the goals of openSUSE is to create better software. I'd like to talk one day about our openSUSE buildservice and how that one will help to increase the amount of high quality open source packages. I would like to see the openSUSE distribution as platform of choice for both open source and proprietary software developers.

Freedom of Choice and Open Source

In my personal opinion you cannot talk about open source without talking about freedom of choice. I'm glad to be able to run open source software that I can change myself - both fixing and improving-, write bug reports about, discuss the source code, analyze it and check for privacy violations and security holes etc. Certain proprietary software might be in some areas more mature and I can get commercial support for it - something I wouldn't get for openSUSE but could get with commercial enterprise distributions. It's my choice which software to use and if both commercial and open source software can talk to each other, e.g. have standarized data formats for interchange of files, then I can do this any time. I do hate beeing forced to use exactly one tool to do my job - this is some kind of monopoly - and prefer a good competition in the market place.

I have the choice to buy proprietary software and/or help improving open source one. I would like everybody to have at least the same choice with kernel drivers - the chance to run an open source driver on all of your hardware.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Gunreben Wedding

Last weekend Berthold and Marion had their great day - and not only chose to invite Jana and myself as their colleagues and friends but also as the official wedding photographers. We refused
to take the real "official" staged photos of the couple but took lots of photos: from the decoration of the church the day before, guests before the church, the ceremony and the big party.

We really enjoyed the wedding despite - or because of - all the photos we were taking. Berthold is a musician - but not employed as such - and plays the tuba expertly. He had lots of friends and family members invited who made the wedding a delight to listen: A choir of friends and family sung at the ceremony, Berthold played with his brass quintett in the afternoon, a band played during the evening - with different members and different styles...

Taking photos on such an event is a huge task for both equipment and photographers so we borrowed an extra flash from a local shop, had most of our lenses and cards with us including a Jobo drive to empty the cards once they were full. I'm not sure how much Jana ate, but do know that we were more standing and taking photos then sitting at our table. Looking at my photos I'm torn with delight and glad about the positive feedback - and then again think that so many could be much better and that Jana's are better than mine (and she sometimes thinks the opposite). Nevertheless we did enjoy it!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

openSUSE 10.2 Alpha3

[published as well at]

Our engineers have done a great job bringing our distribution foreword and integrating releases done by the Open Source community and I'm looking forward to announce the release tomorrow.

The most interesting part of the release process was for our build guru to learn a new language. We had a chicken and egg problem with the update of and the path changes: Previously we used some links and now those are directories, e.g. /usr/include/X11 was a link to /usr/X11R6/include/X11 and is now a directory. RPM is not able to change a symbolic link to a directory, so in case of an update RPM will not change the link. The directories are part of the filesystem packages which is installed as one of the first packages. The idea was to remove the symbolic link in a pre-install script and then RPM will create a directory. This works fine but needs a shell and that's not available at this time (no problem in case of updates since then we have a shell but now new installation is broken - where we do not need pre-install script). Using sash as static shell did not work since it was not possible to call sash properly. We then considered a static program that would just remove the links - an ugly solution we did not really like.

Finally our RPM expert Michael rescued us and told us about LUA - a programming language that is embedded in rpm. We're glad that Michael did not disable it since we now have a use for it - the only one so far in our openSUSE distribution. These three lines saved us:

%pre -p <lua>

os.remove ("/usr/include/X11")

os.remove ("/usr/lib/X11")

So, what else is new in openSUSE 10.2 Alpha3?

It's the first time that we're call our distribution "openSUSE" instead of "SUSE Linux". The codename of openSUSE 10.2 is "Basilisk Lizard". With the rename of the distribution, we renamed also the name in so that you have to report bugs against "openSUSE 10.2".

Compared with Alpha2, we've made a number of significant changes:

  • We switched to kernel 2.6.18rc4 - and not all kernel module packages(kmp) have been adopted for the new kernel. Especially Xen is not working yet.

  • openSUSE 10.2 contains KDE 3.5.4

  • We started the switch to GNOME 2.16 Beta and have now the base packages in, more to come later.

  • The new branding "openSUSE" is shown in the first places but there's still some existing SUSE Linux 10.1 branding.

  • X11 R7.1 with different pathes (no more /usr/X11R6 for the xorg packages):

Users with a working X11 configuration will not see many real changes. First, the pathes have changed, so most applications that lived in /usr/X11R6/bin now exist in /usr/bin. So, hard coded paths need to be changed. The X11 Release 7 is fully modularized. This is reflected in our packaging as it enables us to provide updates for individual components like drivers and libraries once they become available independently of the release cycle of the X Window System.

As with every major update, a lot of bugs have been fixed in all areas.

The changed pathes broke building of packages, so developers might need to change their software.

  • cups 1.2.2: This is a major update (from version 1.1.x), the highlights are IPv6 support, network printer discovery (CUPS can now find printers on the LAN using SNMP) and LDAP support. A cool feature are unique job ids: CUPS maintains a new job-uuid attribute which provides a unique identifier that can be used totrack a job on your network or anywhere in the world.

  • Updated development tools like gettext 0.15, autoconf 2.60,

  • We now have a gcc package and a gcc41 package in such a way that in the future a gcc42 package might be available as well, giving you the chance to use different gcc versions at the same time.

  • Using patterns instead of selections in the package manager (think of patterns as package groups with some semantics). We currently have only a basic set of patterns and will enhance them.

All these changes needed changes by other packages, so a lot of other packages have been fixed to build again and some still need fixing. Other packages have also been upgraded since new major versions were released.

Both the cups and changes have been requested by our users for some time already, I'm glad to have these in now.

This Alpha3 of openSUSE 10.2 is quite untested and more for the experimental folks. I do not suggest to use it in production. But I do consider it an important milestone for development and testing. A lot of integration has been done to give us a better product.

There're also some bugs, the list of major known bugs is available at the openSUSE most annoying bug page.

openSUSE 10.2 Alpha3 will be announced tomorrow on the mailing list. You'll be able to download it from one of our mirrors - we're currently distributing the ISOs to them.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Novell Cool Blog: Who's AJ?

I've been asked to participate in Novell's cool blogs and will cross post my entries I add there here as well. Here's my first entry:

I’ve been with S.u.S.E, SuSE, SUSE Linux and now Novell for 7 years. My first job was continuing what I did before I joined: Development of the GNU C Library (glibc). In that engineering role I ported glibc to x86-64 (as AMD64 was called at that time) - and at the same time also lead the project at SUSE to port Linux to x86-64. I’m currently responsible for our SUSE Linux distribution and involved with the openSUSE project. Since we’ll rename the distribution with our next release to “openSUSE”, I’m working now on “openSUSE 10.2″.

openSUSE is more than just the SUSE Linux distribution, it’s our way to build together with the community “cool” software:
  • We’re working heavily on the new openSUSE build service which allows to build packages for a variety of distributions, we support not only SUSE Linux releases but also e.g. Ubuntu.
  • The wiki and the mailing lists were our first milestones when we launched the project 12 months ago.
  • Since SUSE Linux 10.0, we have an open bugzilla to publically report bugs.
  • We have an IRC channel and also hold regular open meetings there.

The different sub-projects will be discussed by myself and my fellow cool-blogger colleagues in the next weeks.

I’m living in Germany and work from Novell’s German engineering office in Nürnberg. Older blog posts of myself and some ore private stuff can be found at

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bardentreffen Nürnberg 2006

Friday to Sunday we were at the Bardentreffen in Nürnberg. The Bardentreffen is a Singer-Songwriter Festival taking place at seven public stages in Nürnberg with with more than 60 bands in the official program - and a lot of musicians playing on private venues or just on the street - and everything for free! Jana's two sisters and our friend Christoph visited us to listen with more than 200 000 people to the various performances.

Friday evening we first listened for a few songs to the Japanese band PASCAL. The music was not my style but it was interesting to see the band perform in a crazy way. The drummer was the clown of the band, the chimes player was using a rubber duck to play.

We soon went on to the next stage and listened to Chumbawamba acoustic who sang about "war, homophobia, fascism and the like" - great voices and some good songs of protest.

Saturday it was time for SIRBA - playing klezmer and balkan music. The women playing the tuba and the saxophones were the better half of the excellent team, I've seldomed heard the tuba performed so good. After that we listened really briefly to Trio Mundo on another stage, we moved on to the next stage:

Here Monsters of Liedermaching, a team of six men signing some funny songs, made us laugh a lot.

On Sunday we first listened to Mckinley Black and her guitar, and then moved on to the stage on the Insel Schü...

on the way we listened to The Midden playing at the beergarden of O'Shea's Irish Pub. The three sisters from Glasgow amazed us already last year.

We then listened to a spanish band called Costo Rico. Before going home, we enjoyed some anonymous singer with his guitar on the street.

All in all three long days with lots of great music - and look forward to next year's Bardentreffen.