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Bruce Perens To Answer Your Questions 78

In the summer of 1999, Bruce Perens became our very first interview subject, answering questions about open source licensing. Almost 14 years later, Bruce is still one of the most influential programmers and advocates in the open source community. He's graciously agreed to answer all your questions about the state of things and what's changed in those 15 years. As with previous interviews, we'll send the best questions to Mr. Perens, and post his answers in a day or two. Ask as many questions as you'd like, but please keep them to one per post.
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Bruce Perens To Answer Your Questions

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:25PM (#41659241) Journal
    Recently at Linux.conf.au 2012 [techrepublic.com] you gave the keynote and you said:

    “Open source is the only credible producer of software and now hardware that isn’t bound to a single company’s economic interest,”

    Well, where is this open source hardware? Every time something comes up on Slashdot reported to be "open source hardware" there's a whole slew of comments about how it's not truly open source. Anything from "where are the schematics" all the way down to the verilog/VHDL compilers and place/route algorithms being closed source. I've seen a 3D printer but not much else that meets the most stringent requirements. So tell me, where is this seemingly mythical "open source hardware" that will now free me from a single company's economic interest?

    • by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @01:04PM (#41659811)

      On a related note: what are the best licenses for libre hardware designs, that:

      • Allow linking smaller projects as part of larger ones, possibly with different licensing on those other parts. Think HDL re-implementations of various chips in FPGA based designs that consist of a number of them (and many other things like that). I've seen the GPL slapped on a few smaller projects that are meant to combine with other (differently licensed) parts, where in legal sense this wouldn't even be allowed as everything is linked in the same binary (FPGA programming file).
      • Don't require an entire evening and/or a lawyer to read (especially for hobbyists). For this reason I personally like BSD style licenses, while at the same time I'm leaning towards (L)GPL when it comes to openness of a design.

      Appreciated would be a short intro on pro's/con's of specific licenses, and make / break issues why a hardware designer would pick one over the other.

      • by tamyrlin ( 51 )

        I have been wondering about this myself. This situation is not really that well explored and I'd really like to see a license for HDL-like code with some high quality lawyering behind it.

        One problem is that hardware such as ASICs are typically not protected by copyright. Instead it is protected by maskworks laws which are similar to, but not as strong as copyright. The intention is that ASIC-like hardware should be protected by patents. (Although I guess an exception would be made for ROMs where the layout

    • So tell me, where is this seemingly mythical "open source hardware"

      It's nowhere, is it? Because open source applies to software. Only cockheads use the phrase for other things.

  • Did you get better questions this time around?

    (Also, who's your favorite Muppet?)

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:33PM (#41659407)
    At one point, my employer was considering open source software for a particular printing need. During their evaluation phase the producer of the software decided to close the source, and my employer got nervous and decided to back out of using the software. I assume that any version released under GPL is still perfectly valid to use even if later versions are no longer GPL, and that should anyone, be they my employer or anyone else, decide to fork the project from that last GPL-licensed release, they'd be free to do so, and that my employer's decision to no longer use the software was unnecessary.

    I expect that I'm not the first person to see this occur with a company getting cold feet because of a license change. Have you been involved in this before, and how have other organizations handled it when software they were using stopped being open source or changed licenses in newer releases?
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:34PM (#41659413)

    Bruce - your interviews make up a large portion of the documentary "Revolution OS".

    If a second part were to be made starting now in 2012 or early 2013, what changes do you think would be highlighted?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the summer of 1999 , Bruce Perens became our very first interview subject, answering questions about open source licensing. 15 years later , Bruce is still one of the most influential programmers...

    Is Slashdot intending to gather questions for 2 more years?

    • It will be released simply "when it's done". No official video of the question asking process has been shown for almost 13 years, until Slashdot released this new teaser trailer, but the event will "submerge" yet again soon afterwards.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      15 octal is 13 decimal. 1999 decimal + 13 decimal = 2012 decimal

    • by kasperd ( 592156 )

      Is Slashdot intending to gather questions for 2 more years?

      No, they are just pointing out that even two years from now, Bruce will still be one of the most influential. So why did they just say 15 and not some higher number? Maybe it will change before reaching 16, or maybe slashdot does not have access to information about the more distant future. We could check, if we knew their source of information about future events.

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:43PM (#41659543) Homepage

    Bruce, you were the founder of UserLinux which aimed to create binary compatibility for Linux, a simple VAR platform. Google with Android attempted something similar. How well do you believe Android fulfills the objectives you set out for UserLinux. And where they missed do you believe those misses were unavoidable given the changes in focus (desktop vs. handset) or something where a minor change of strategy could allow them to achieve those missed objectives?

    • by Burz ( 138833 )

      Though it would be interesting to also comment on the FOSS desktop and "Desktop Linux" movement in general vs. Android's relative success.

      My own thinking is that the people who made the emergence of UserLinux or a less amorphous "Desktop Linux" impossible seem to have aged and not migrated to the mobile space as a dominant force. There was an unhealthy collusion between hacker and sysadmin cultures that sort of went to war with concepts that are central to personal computing:

      • Making interface commitments to
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:45PM (#41659561)

    Now that most interesting new software is delivered to us over the web or via other network protocols, does this marginalize the contributions of open source and free software? For example Google, Amazon, and Facebook all have had some involvement with open source software as both users and contributors, but for the most part their technology stacks above the OS level (Linux) are under lock and key.

    • by jdogalt ( 961241 )

      Now that most interesting new software is delivered to us over the web or via other network protocols, does this marginalize the contributions of open source and free software? For example Google, Amazon, and Facebook all have had some involvement with open source software as both users and contributors, but for the most part their technology stacks above the OS level (Linux) are under lock and key.

      This sounds like a good question to me. Trying to hype my own little unpopular cause of the moment, I'd add the obvious note that what is required for open source (top to bottom) solutions to compete with the Gang Of Four (Google/Amazon/Facebook/...) is the 'Right To Serve'. I.e. my legal theory all end users of the internet in the US, due to Network Neutrality (FCC-10-201, subparagraph13), have the right to host and run servers connected to their residential fixed broadband service. Any help or on the r

  • Slashdot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Luyseyal ( 3154 ) <swaters@noSpam.luy.info> on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:50PM (#41659617) Homepage

    I've seen you post in random threads over the years, including in some recent ones.

    Why do you still visit (and comment on) Slashdot after all these years?


    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      I've been asking myself that same question, 15 years later and I'm still here as well.

      • There are a few of us around who were here when Bruce posted that first comment. My how the world has changed. I sometimes wonder why I come back (pay no attention to the high UID - I changed usernames a few years ago).
        I can only put it down to a kind of nostalgia for the war we fought and, in a round-about-way, won.

  • When (Score:4, Funny)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:51PM (#41659633) Journal
    When will be the year of Linux on the desktop?
  • Debian (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:51PM (#41659637)

    Comments on Debian since you were the DPL? Biggest surprise? Retrospective comments on the 2004 era GRs?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What steps would you recommend for a beginning programmer to get involved with an open source project?

  • Comment on the modern animation industry? You worked at Pixar for quite awhile.

  • Tablets/Phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zoward ( 188110 ) <email.me.at.zoward.at.gmail.com> on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:54PM (#41659679) Homepage

    Bruce, first off, thank you for everything you've done to advance the cause of FLOSS. My question: It's not hard to notice the shift in mass market computing away from the PC and toward the tablet and phone. While at its core Android runs the Linux kernel, it's hard for me to think of it with the same fondness that I have for my favorite FLOSS OS distributions. I can't just load up a new Linux distro on my Acer tablet, or in many cases even an updated version of Android, short of "jailbreaking" it. It's seems clear to me that such hardware is designed with the intent to replicate Apple's success with a vertical hardware/software stack.

    Given this (or perhaps not given this, if you disagree with my statements above), what do you think the future of open source will be in the tablet and phone world? Android? Meego? WebOS? Something else? Will it be open source programs in a not-quite-completely open OS like Android?

  • by whatthef*ck ( 215929 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:54PM (#41659681) Homepage

    What is the most recent code you've written that has been released in a production-ready state?

  • Comment on the relative popularity of open source hardware and software outside ham radio vs relative disinterest inside ham radio? Whats up with that?

  • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:58PM (#41659723) Journal

    The days of open collaboration between Linux developers has been hampered by binary incompatibility, and high hurdles to share software on popular software platforms like Debian and Fedora, and Gnome/GTK. We've seen hard feelings and fractures between groups like Ubuntu and Gnome, and lot's of unhappy users.

    Are the days of freely sharing software on lists essentially in the past, or is there some way to once again pump life into that creative engine? Can we work smarter?

    • by jbolden ( 176878 )

      I don't know how Bruce will answer this, and it could be interesting given he took over from Ian one of the largest still ongoing collaborations.

      But... when exactly do you think there was not binary incompatibility between distributions? When the system wasn't fragmented and fractured. Those have been constants.

      • It's not between distros, but between versions.

        I can pull an RPM from a SuSE distribution, and as long as I meet the prerequisites it will install and run just fine on RHEL...or even on a roll-your-own distro.

        • by jbolden ( 176878 )

          You can't move RPMs that easily. You end up in more or less the pre RPM days of resolving library dependencies by hand. Sure I've used Fedora RPMs on RHEL. But you have to worry about same compiler, same library names, compatible versions.... You end up doing some hairy stuff.

      • Back in the days of sharing source code on lists, before the dominance of the pre-compiled package, there was no binary incompatibility. With the advent of pre-compiled packages, we also both the rise of binary incompatibility and the rise of the package sponsors, the people who decide what's good enough for the rest of us to share. It used to be a bazaar, where I could lay out my blanket and sell the crud I'd created. Now it's a temple, where we all download from the True Source.

        I've got a second-hand s

        • by jbolden ( 176878 )

          The days of unshared code was rather common by the 70s. That's long before there was a Linux.

  • Favorite hack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:59PM (#41659729)

    Kick back and tell the tale of your favorite hack. For example, Linus had a good one in his interview. You define hack, and favorite. Hardware, software, legal, moral, ethical, financial whatever. Something you did, or something you saw someone else do. As long as its your story. The only requirement of the story is that it be a good story.

    • by sootman ( 158191 )

      You're a genius! I'm off to the Linus thread to pilfer some more +5 questions. :-)

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        You're a genius! I'm off to the Linus thread to pilfer some more +5 questions. :-)

        The guy I stole that question from won't be complaining about me too much...

        There should probably be a list of generic /. interview questions, everyone wants to hear about ur favorite hack, a couple others.

  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @01:11PM (#41659923) Journal

    What happened to Technocrat.net? That was one of my favorites when it was up.

  • Cheers Mr. Perens - if that is your real name! I have enjoyed running across your posts on slashdot since late last century. So what's up with the "the REAL Bruce Perens" thing? Did someone else register your name as an account here before you found slashdot? Did you register it at some point and forget your password (be honest!)? Or do you own both accounts for some purpose possibly related to artistic trolling of slashdot for comedic value?

    • Can I have your attention please ...
      May I have your attention please?
      Will the real Bruce Perens please stand up?
      I repeat, will the real Bruce Perens please stand up?
      (We're gonna have a problem here.)

      Y'all act like you've never seen a great hacker before,
      Jaws all on the floor like Ken or Linus just burst in the door
      and started deleting lines that were worse than before
      there first were bad cores, throwing buffer overflows
      It's bad returns from the... "Ah, wait, no way, you're kidding,
      he didn't just write what

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Did you register it at some point and forget your password (be honest!)?

      If that's the case he can get it back. I got my old UID back after someone suggested to me that I write help@slashdot.org. I wasn't even sure what my email address was back then, so I gave them the three it could have been (all long closed) and was mailed a new PW.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    are you surprised at the state of HP?

  • What's out of scope? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lev13than ( 581686 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @01:35PM (#41660201) Homepage

    Almost anything you can do or use today has an open source option. You have open source options for everything from your operating system [linux.org] to your chat app [blueimp.net]. You can read open source textbooks, cookbooks [wikibooks.org] and encyclopedias [wikipedia.org]. You can even build an open source airplane [makerplane.org] or brew your own free beer [freebeer.org] (free beer as in free speech, not free beer as in free beer).

    Given all these options, what part(s) of your life would you be unwilling to open source? Your children's education? Vaccines? A pacemaker? If so, what would your test be for deciding that a closed-source option is the only choice?

  • Did Open/Libre-Office turn out to be as revolutionary as you may have expected?
  • My kids are now in elementary school. So I've left my safe little enclave of the technologically educated and started dealing with people who are just staggeringly ignorant. It's just sickening. Budgets are tight. Taxes are high. Jobs are being cut left and right. Software is moving to "subscription" models to increase fees. But folks still keep paying for it all. Never mind how crappy the software is, how poorly designed, untested, etc. They keep paying for it.

    What would you write, or could you po

  • What's missing? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    F/OSS software meets almost all of my needs, but not all. For example, after all these years, there are no good CAD packages worth serious consideration. Where do you see the F/OSS ecosystem coming up short, and do you have any ideas about why these deficiencies exist?

  • by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @04:13PM (#41662591) Homepage

    Bruce, I'm doing a study of usability in open source software - how user interfaces can be designed in Free / open source programs so the program is easy to use by real people. So my question is twofold:

    What Free / open source program really got it right with usability? What qualities make for good usability in Free / open source software?

  • Question: How optimist are you about the future of humanity?. (or in other words) Are we doomed?

    That is my only question. Please I don't need random slashdotterss answering since we all have our own opinion. I just want to know Bruce's opinion becasue, well he's a celebrity who supposedly has got a clue.

  • Consider this in the light of the recent lawsuit between Oracle and Google which declared that an API cannot be considered protected by copyright and consider that the GPL relies on Copyright Law. Also consider that the GPL does not diminish or extinguish the original copyright of the GPL licensed code. With all things being equal, it should not diminish the rights of the client code author either. Would not client software dynamically linked only contain references to the API and therefor be in the clear and make the separate LGPL license completely unnecessary for dynamic linking of libraries?

    Consider this in technical terms and in the light of copyright law rather than the intentions or wishes of the author of the library.

  • by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:12PM (#41664357) Homepage
    What is your reaction to the frequent stories in various media about people migrating away from the GPL and using less restrictive licenses, complete with predictions that the GPL will eventually become irrelevant? Do you believe that there's any truth to that - do you believe that the GPL is intrinsically moribund, or do you dismiss such stories as simply being partisan shillery?
  • What consumer-oriented FOSS applications do you consider to have a broad appeal and to be highly successful? Firefox? LibreOffice? Others?

    Are there any you think could be much more popular with some tweaking?

    Are there any hidden gems we should know about?

  • What do you remember most from your days at the NYIT Computer Graphics Lab?
  • What is the user ID number of the real Bruce Perens?

    Feel free to express the answer in the form of a sig file.

    : - )

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb