posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 23rd Jun 2005 18:11 UTC

"FreeBSD, Page 3/3"
8. Looking back to the last 3 years, how do you evaluate FreeBSD's popularity? Do you see FreeBSD's status declined or getting more popular among users and developers?

Scott Long John Baldwin: I think it is growing. It seems that every time I sit down to talk to other FreeBSD folks at conferences I hear about another company that is using FreeBSD as part of a product or service that they sell. The volume of e-mail going through the lists also seems to be steadily growing, which can be a bit of a headache when one is trying to keep up. :)

Robert N M Watson: Likewise -- more and more companies are adopting FreeBSD as the foundation for their products, and FreeBSD continues to see wide-spread success in the web services, ISP business, etc. The FreeBSD Project has never really done a very good job at advocacy or monitoring its user population in a formal way -- we're software engineers, and until recently, we didn't even have a marketing team. However, the scope and influence of FreeBSD users in the computer world is easily visible from their contributions to the project. You don't have to look far to find out that FreeBSD systems process over a trillion dollars in banking transactions in the US every year, at the root name servers, or many of the most significant internet service providers and web service providers.

One of the things I like to point out about FreeBSD is the longevity we see in our contributors -- we are one of the few open source projects that can demonstrate a code history going back almost 30 years, and who have active developers who have worked on that code base for much of that time! I began using FreeBSD in about 1995, and joined the developer team in 1999 -- despite being on the project six years, I consider myself a relative newcommer. Many commercial software companies would count themselves lucky if their senior engineers had half that time working on a project. Daily contributors range from high school students to tenured university professors, and our developer base continues to grow.

Scott Long: The stats that I always look at are: CVS commit volume, mailing list traffic volume, bug database activity, and new committer activity. 9 new source tree committers have been added in the last six months, which brings the total number up to an impressive 219. This doesn't count the numerous others who contribute to just the ports and/or the docs tree.

9. Many have commented on the inability of open source desktop environments to provide a coherant, integrated solution that would satisfy modern users used to Mac OS X or even Windows. Where do you pinpoint the problem?

John Baldwin: I think that free software developers are usually driven by churning out code to solve the problems that they face and building tools for their own use whether it be for personal use or work related. End users want a product that solves their needs and those needs are not a subset of a developers needs. Some developers may try to solve needs that they don't have, but they still are not able to solve needs that they don't know exist. :) Companies such as Apple and Microsoft employ more than just software engineers. They also employ folks who understand user interfaces and people who try to determine what problems consumers want solved.

Robert N M Watson: The open source world is an interesting place -- some very important pieces of innovation in the UI arena have been developed as open source, from X11 to NCSA Mosaic, and more recently Firefox. Parts of the academic world performing research into the user experience and human interactions have long benefited from and contributed open source. However, I do feel that the current top-to-bottom open source desktop stack is playing catch up with work by companies like Apple and Microsoft. Part of the difficulty here has been in developing a complete object model stack, not to mention a mature application suite. The contribution of the OpenOffice.org source code by Sun was an important step in fleshing out the open source desktop, but I think it's telling that OpenOffice.org still needs to ship with many basic components that are considered standard on the commercial desktop systems. Until the open source world can make it easy to develop integrated desktop applications, we'll continue to see a lack of mature ones. All this aside, we've come a long way in the past six years -- software products such as X11, X.org, KDE, and GNOME provide usable user interfaces that are miles ahead of X11 and fvwm in 1999.

10. How are you getting on with the journalling extension to UFS?

John Baldwin: Ask Scott about this one. :)

Scott Long: The UFS Journalling project was listed as a candidate project for the Google Summer of Code. The response from applicants has been overwhelming, and I'm looking forward to working with some very good people on it. While it might take more time than the Summer of Code timeframe to complete, I expect it to be working and stable in time for FreeBSD 7.0, and possible available for later 6.x releases via patches.

11. Are you paid to work on FreeBSD fulltime or is it a side project/hobby for you?

John Baldwin: I am very fortunate to be paid nearly full time to do FreeBSD work. I probably spend about 80+% of my paid work time working on FreeBSD.

Robert N M Watson: It varies -- I'm a Senior Principal Scientist at SPARTA (previously TIS/NAI/McAfee Research), and what I work on depends on the customers I find and the work I find. Over the past few years, much of my work has been on the FreeBSD or Mac OS X platforms, particularly as relates to work on operating system security. Other work, such as SMP network stack support for FreeBSD, I do in my copious (?) spare time. The open source business world took some bumps with the dotcom crash, but it's easy to see that it is experiencing the same recovery that's visible in the closed source high tech world. Whereas three years ago it was hard to throw a stone at an open source event without hitting a recently laid off open source developer, today recruiters are easily seen on and off the mailing lists again.

12. What is your opinion on PC-BSD and OpenSolaris? How's your cooperation --if any-- with OpenBSD & NetBSD these days?

John Baldwin: PC-BSD: It's great to see someone taking FreeBSD and extending it to be even more friendly to desktop end-users. OpenSolaris: No opinion as of yet; haven't had time to look at it. *BSD: FreeBSD recently imported if_bridge(4) from NetBSD and dhclient(8) from OpenBSD so we certainly have no problem taking code from our sibling projects. I'm not as familiar with any code going in the other direction as I really only have the time and brain capacity to focus on one open source operating system.

Robert N M Watson: Sun has a long history of innovative operating system work, and it's really great to see them starting to get parts of Solaris out under an open source license. Sun has obviously long depended on and interacted with the open source community, and their ability to work this through Sun Legal is impressive :-). An interesting question for Sun will be whether they can build a community around OpenSolaris that extends beyond Sun-employed developers in the same way that Apple has started to see success in building a community around Darwin.

A point I was reminded of recently by Mike Smith at Apple is that there are really two things we mean by open source: we mean the licensing/distribution of software, but also the community that is built around it. Key to the success of an open source project is both of these elements, and creating and maintaining that community requires easily as much investment as the software development itself. However, once achieved, the pay-offs for everyone involved can be huge.

With respect to other open source projects -- FreeBSD remains both a large producer and consumer of open source, generating open source foundations for many other open source projects, as well as consuming the output of many other open source projects. In the closed source world, competition is a powerful force for change, as it is in the open source world. However, in open source world, the opportunities for collaboration and cooperation are far greater than in the closed source world, so we have the opportunity to share ideas and code much more easily, and as a result benefit from that exchange. A point that is sometimes lost when the "Open Source Community" and "Open Source Software Stacks" are discussed is the importance of both competition and cooperation in its success. Open source makes possible a market place of ideas and the incarnation of those ideas in source code. We're all better off for the existence of many competing (and cooperating) software projects, and let's hope we never move away from a world where that is the case.

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