BSD DevRoom at FOSDEM 2010

Again this year, the FOSDEM organization had reserved a DevRoom for the BSDs. I hadn’t been to FOSDEM for several years and was pleasantly surprised to see how many BSD developers and users had turned up.

Unfortunately, I did miss the first talk as the Sunday bus schedule clearly didn’t scale to the huge numbers of conference goers. The second talk was Ed Schouten on his Newcons project for FreeBSD. Of course, I was already familiar with the utmpx part of the project with ~100 ports failing on the cluster after those changes and we’re working together on fixing those. Ed showed some very promising performance improvements and much better UTF-8 non-ASCII support, although some fonds do need more work.

Benny Siegert introduced some of the nitty-gritty of autotools and libtool to ease software portability over multiple platforms. While some of the most hated parts in the ports world, they are by far an improvement over previous tools and, especially, manual development.

Next up was Shteryana Shopova showing how to debug the FreeBSD kernel with the large number of tools provided by the operating system. With generous amounts of examples and demos, she gave a number of tips on which information to include when sending a problem report to the FreeBSD bug tracking database to get the best support from the FreeBSD developers, and even more important, how to collect that data out of a crashed system.

A face seen at most european BSD-related conferences over the last many years, Marc Balmer presented a case study of using BSD Unix and BSD licensed software in a commercial setting, talking both of the advantages of the BSD license over other licenses (illustrated by the number of words in the license), the BSD development process and contributing code back to the project, and about the point of sale (POS) software his company makes on top of a BSD operating system.

By far the most popular talk with well over 80 attendees, Axel Beckert talked about the Debian/kFreeBSD project, building a Debian GNU userland on top of a FreeBSD kernel. While he spend some time to answer the biggest question of all: “Why?”, I’m not sure everybody was convinced by the answer: “Because we can”. Most people will probably still install Debian when they want Debian and FreeBSD if they want FreeBSD, there are some that consider this combination the best of both worlds. It will be interesting to follow how the project will develop in the future.

Treading carefully not the restart the version control system wars of old, Giorgos Keramidas showed how he tracked the FreeBSD subversion changes in his local Mercurial setup. Some of the speedups of having the changes locally in a Mercurial repository over a remote subversion system were quite impressive, and the combination does provide some advantages for people wanting to develop proprietary changes locally while still easily being able to import upstream changes.

Last but not least was Brooks Davis with a short presentation on his current work to increase the number of groups a process (and thus user) can be a member of. The historic lessons on how FreeBSD and other Unices handled this was both hilarious and sad at the same time, but with the number already increased from ~15 to 1023 in 8.0 and going forward to not having any limit at all, the future looks bright.

In all, a very interesting and well-attended BSD track at FOSDEM this year. Many thanks to the FOSDEM organizers for providing the room and to Marius Nünnerich for inviting the speakers. I hope to be there again next year.

  1. Marius NĂ¼nnerich really did an excellent job at the organizational side of things. He also manned the FreeBSD booth for extended periods of time. I enjoyed FOSDEM 2010 a lot and will try to attend the next ones too :-)

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