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NetBSD 2.0 Rendezvous
Pages: 1, 2

NetBSD is the only BSD project that accepted the new XFree 4.4 license and imported the code as it is. Why?

Matthias Scheler: The new XFree86 license is a normal BSD-style license with and advertisement clause. Because most of our own source code uses a similar license, we didn't see any reason not to accept the XFree86 one.

We imported the code because it offered the technically best solution available at that point of time. It fixed many bugs that existed in the previous XFree86 4.x release and offered support for new hardware, which various NetBSD users were waiting for.

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Luke Mewburn: The NetBSD Foundation license is still based on the 4-clause BSD license. A significant chunk of our codebase is also under 4-clause BSD licenses from other copyright holders. It would be hypocritical of us to not import XFree 4.4 solely on their current license given that it's so close to existing licenses that we use. That's not to say we won't consider changing on technical grounds in the future, just like any other component of our software release.

Why have you registered the "NetBSD" trademark?

Luke Mewburn: To protect the name "NetBSD" from use or abuse by external parties who do not share the goals of the NetBSD Foundation and our members (developers with commit privileges). We are not unique in the open source world for feeling the need to do this; the Linux Mark Institute (LMI) was established a few years ago specifically for providing a means of sublicensing the Linux(R) trademark.

Does this means that since the application was completed, we should always use the trademark symbol after the name?

Luke Mewburn: As "NetBSD" is a registered trademark of the NetBSD Foundation, the "(R)" symbol is more appropriate than "(TM)." The NetBSD Foundation is in the process of composing a trademark usage policy, similar to LMI as mentioned above.

A new logo, the "NetBSD" trademark, and a new major release number: why? Is this a new marketing strategy or a way to make the project look more professional?

Luke Mewburn: Both.

Does the NetBSD Foundation plan to certify the operating system for Common Criteria or other international standards?

Christos Zoulas: Certifications usually cost a lot of money that can be better spent in other places. Of course, we are not going to complain if a corporation who wants NetBSD certified pays for it. Finally, we have not had a certification related question in years, which means that NetBSD users do not care enough about them.

Why did you choose to change the NetBSD version numbering scheme?

Christos Zoulas: There was a lot of confusion between release versions, which were of the form of X.Y.Z (e.g., 1.6.2), and NetBSD current versions, which were of the form X.Y[A-Z]* (e.g., 1.6D). To solve that, we decided to make current X.99.V (e.g., 2.99.15), which is going to be branched to become [X+1].Y.Z (e.g., 3.0.0). This way, all non-current versions of release X will have a version number less than the one of NetBSD-current for that release.

NetBSD 2.0 was released on December 2004. What is the next stable step, 2.0.1, 2.1.0, or both?

Christos Zoulas: 2.0.1 will precede 2.1.0, because there are some pullups from head that are required for 2.1.0. We are scheduling 2.0.1 for the end of February because we need the new build machines online to build the release, and the build machines will be coming online this week. We are scheduling 2.1.0 for the end of March, because of the time it will take to integrate the pullups mentioned above and the ones currently in the queue (more than 100).

Do you plan to modify the release cycle too, maybe to something like one release every six months, as OpenBSD does?

Christos Zoulas: Yes, we are planning to have more frequent releases. We have made a lot of mistakes in the past that have delayed the release schedules, but hopefully we have learned from them. We were very aggressive about committing large sub-system upgrades just before a release, and that added a lot of bugs to the code that needed to be fixed for the release. This not only delays the releases, but also adds extra work, since each bug needs to be tested on head and pulled up via patches by the release engineering group.

Having said that, I don't think that we want to have too-frequent releases, because we don't want to force frequent upgrades on our production users. We believe that production users are better served by a stable platform that gets enhanced with security fixes, bug fixes, and limited scope functionality improvements. This way, a production user can upgrade from 2.0 to 2.0.1 to get security fixes, or to 2.1.0 to get, in addition to security fixes, other bug fixes and functionality improvements. Both paths, though, are well-tested and should have no negative impact.

I think that most software vendors don't have a fixed release schedule these days, and their releases are mostly driven by market needs. We are going to try to have at least one release per year from now on. This is because we don't want the step between releases to become too large, and because it makes release engineering simpler. For example, our current target is to release 3.0 by mid-year.

The Netfilter web site features some pages about all the companies that were not fulfilling the obligations imposed by the GPL and were sued, or that signed a "Declaration to Cease and Desist" from further distributing their product (Access Points) without adhering to the license terms. My own opinion is that most of those companies and a lot of smaller ones around the planet keep choosing Linux and other GPLed software because it's "trendy," not because they have found it better than BSD. Do you think that NetBSD should improve its marketing especially for this type of embedded projects, like AccessPoints?

Luke Mewburn: NetBSD is more than appropriate for use by companies in embedded applications; our license goal permits closed source enhancements, and our portability goal provides a portable operating system that is one of the easiest systems to cross-compile from other operating systems that third-party developers feel more comfortable developing in.

James Chacon: NetBSD follows the BSD copyright and not the GPL (though there are pieces of the toolchain and some userland tools that are GPLed). But as far as the main system itself, it's completely free for any given company to use for whatever purposes they choose without restrictions (within the boundaries of the license depending on 2 vs. 3 clause). As a result, I'd expect companies to continue to take a serious look at all the BSDs when deciding on an OS to use in an embedded product.

Sometimes, I read complaints about the big number of committers in some BSD projects. Could you tell us the current total number for each section (pkgsrc, src, xsrc, docs)? How many of them are really active?

Luke Mewburn: There are approximately 250 people with commit privileges to NetBSD. We don't have a further breakdown for each section, although it would be possible to grab the mailing list archives of the source-changes mailing list and perform your own analysis on it.

James Chacon: While there are a large number of people with commit access to the source tree, it's also the case (at least for NetBSD) that these tend to break into various areas of interest/ability and historically, the number hasn't been an issue.

The largest number of committers we have is probably in the pkgsrc area and even there, problems don't often arise, as changes are coordinated for any large scale modification/additions. With quarterly freezes and releases, it's been a very stable source tree.

As far as the rest of the tree goes, while a specific commit may cause discussion/changes, I've almost never seen any problems arise regardless of the numbers of people with access. In most cases, that ends up as a benefit, with more eyes able to look over a given change and provide feedback.

Hubert Feyrer: After some recent looking at source-changes posts, it can be said that an average of about 90 developers commit to src+xsrc on a regular basis, while there are about 60 people working on pkgsrc. These numbers are per month, and not each developer may commit changes every month (think of people working on modules or package updates and the committing them when ready), so the actual number of active developers is most likely higher--IIRC, the amount of "active" developers per year is something like 250.

What events will feature NetBSD developers in the future?

Luke Mewburn: I expect that NetBSD will have developers and users presenting tutorials and papers at various UNIX and BSD [events] internationally. That has been the situation in the past, and continues to be the case.

Hubert Feyrer: Please check out our Events page:

  • Mar 2005: Chemnitzer Linux-Tage 2005
  • Mar 2005: CeBit
  • May 2005: pkgsrcCon 2005
  • Nov 2005: EuroBSDCon 2005

We try to do booths to display NetBSD, answer questions, and offer limited amounts of merchandising material.

Federico Biancuzzi is a freelance interviewer. His interviews appeared on publications such as ONLamp.com, LinuxDevCenter.com, SecurityFocus.com, NewsForge.com, Linux.com, TheRegister.co.uk, ArsTechnica.com, the Polish print magazine BSD Magazine, and the Italian print magazine Linux&C.


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