December 2007 Meeting

Details of the December Meeting

  • Date : 23/12/2007
  • Time : 2:30 pm
  • Location : Jays Internet Club, Broadway, Kochi, Kerala

Agenda : Ways of Contributing to Free Software


The Meeting started of with the usual Agenda Discussion. The Agenda for the day was “Ways of contributing to free software”.

The speaker began by stressing the importance of the interaction during the presentation which was very essential for the success of the meeting.

The presentation started of with an Introduction to Free Software, GNU, the Freedoms and their importance. One person asked a question about the difference between the source code and binary form, which was explained in the most apt manner by others using the concept of food and cooking.The concept of Open Source Software and the difference with respect to Free Software was also explained. A few members raised questions on the basic aspects which evolved into a healthy interaction in the beginning of the presentation itself. The points of Open source definition and distribution terms were briefly discussed. The aspects of License, GPL etc were also briefly explained.

There was a small discussion about the construction of the GNU recursive acronym.

Innovations in Free Software

A discussion on the article by Bruce Byfield which was written to counter the arguments made by Jaron Lanier in his article “Long live closed source software”.The important points of the article were discussed. The important aspects of why Free Software was itself an innovation :

– How Free Software was initially aiming to create a replacement for proprietary software and not for innovation in the early years.

– But now Free Software is innovating and proprietary software was borrowing features from Free Software.

– How the community based model for software was really the innovation that brought about a revolution in field of Software.

– Most of the applications have reached a state of maturity and innovation was taking a back stage.

– How a GNU/Linux desktop was a reflection of the innovation in Free Software.

– How its benefits the customers by bringing together companies and building new business models.

Contributing to Free Software

The speaker invited the audience to contribute important points which were missing in the presentation and requested for more interactive session.

The presentation talked about the following subsections which talk about different levels of contribution for people with different capabilities considering new users as well as programmers.

The speaker motivated the audience to contribute in whatever ways they can and also explained how ILUG Cochin itself had started of with very few people who were not programmers or people with core technical knowledge but people who were willing to learn, share and contribute. The important aspects of Spreading awareness about Free Software were explained. The discussion started describing situations were there was a need to spread awareness and later went on talk about how this can be achieved in a simple but effective manner. The audience were given some basic tips on how to accomplish the task of spreading the awareness, and the things they need to take care of. The speaker also talked about the shortcomings of some people who did the same and how they could be corrected. One important point discussed was no one needs to be an expert in order to spread the knowledge, but sharing the information was more important. Conducting sessions and demonstrations in schools and colleges would be a really effective form of spreading the awareness.

The section was concluded with a few don’ts while spreading awareness about Free Software. The discussion moved on to the next section, which was “Helping others with Free Software”.

Before the discussion began one member requested the audience to teach him openoffice as he was very much depending on the same for his day to day activities.

The discussion began with the different situations in which people required help with Free Software. The speaker talked about how a well connected network of people with enough knowledge can help solve problems even if they are physically apart. Also were discussed the different methods of helping others through phone and email. The speaker talked about a real life situation in which one person provided help to a school very far away with the help of a person who was near to it. The importance of the community was highlighted. Acc to the speaker the importance need to be given to how to solve the problem rather than solving the problem. How the solution provider interacted with the customer or client was very important in this regard. The importance of documentation was stressed. One person put forward his suggestion about the importance of providing solution for a problem through the graphical mode and GUI. This generated a response from the others and led to a small debate about the merits and demerits of command line and GUI.

Contributing Ideas to Free Software was the next topic that was going to be discussed. The discussion started of with how and when people get ideas and how they can easily and effectively realize them. The speaker stressed the fact that the information presented was equally important for all categories of users (not only developers).

How ideas evolve and conceptualize was another interesting aspect that was talked about. How the Free Software applications websites provided resources for the community to realize new ideas. Instructions for realizing the ideas and common methods for the same was explained. The speaker also talked about situations when the ideas were already realized. The importance of the communication between the people who have ideas and who can realize them was emphasized.

Writing/ Translating Documentation was the next section of the Presentation. The initial few minutes had the speaker stressing the importance of documentation. Writing documentation was one very easy and important way of contributing to free software. When a person, understands something and documents it, and someone else reads that
documentation, the amount of time saved is really important. The speaker also focussed on the importance of Documentation in the Native language. He drew the audience attention to the lack of enough documentation in Malayalam and pointed that it was a high priority action item.

On how to contribute documentation, the speaker talked about importance of documentation systems. The manner in which the documentation need to be published and provided to the users
was also mentioned. Making money by writing documentation was also discussed. The important things that need to be taken care of while writing documentation was pointed out.

The next section of the Agenda was “Testing Free Software on Specific Hardware”. The speaker began by talking about why Free Software did not work on certain hardware. He talked about it as the most common problem faced by many people. Hence he talked in detail on how to solve the issue with a step by step guideline. The speaker talked about a person, whom he had met, had started of with troubleshooting a driver problem with a multimedia card and later on went on to become the current maintainer of the kernel driver in the Linux kernel for the same hardware.

The discussion moved on the last section of the agenda “Reporting bugs “. Speaker talked about the basic concept of software bugs. ” Bugs are undocumented features of a software” was the response of one person in the audience. The Speaker talked about how important bug reporting was and the users needed to be aggressive while reporting bugs. The importance of communication with the developers was again stressed. A free software wishlist was presented to the audience asking them to contribute in a big way. The following is the wishlist that was presented.

* Free software 3D video drivers
* Free BIOS
* Gnash. GPL Flash movie player.
* DotGNU Project. A free software replacement for Microsoft’s .NET
* Develop a free compatible client for Google Earth.

The speaker then talked about how the ILUG Cochin and other similar groups were providing ways to help build the community. How the members and attendees need to contribute directly to building a user level network and full fledged self sustaining community. As a part of the different points the speaker brought to the audience attention the importance of self help groups like groups in the schools and colleges and neighborhood groups. This was very important for the growth of the community. Tips for forming of neighborhood groups were explained.

The speaker put forward a suggestion that an agenda for the next meeting would be “Making money out of free software” and how it was very important.

The presentation concluded with the message that the community needs to ramp up by all groups and individuals and groups coming together and binding together to form a full fledged well connected community.

The attendees went onto have tea after the presentation. One of the members contributed a Christmas cake and banana chips for the gathering. The tea break was a time for constructing socializing and the attendees to know about each other.

Immediately after the tea the attendees introduced themselves and how they had developed interest in FOSS. Next programme was the Technical presentation.

Technical Presentation : Installing GNU/Hurd

Technical Presentation

Installing GNU/HURD

The Technical presentation was aimed at introducing the concept and installation method of the GNU HURD OS.

The speaker started with explaining the history of the GNU Project.
He talked about the idea behind the design of the GNU Hurd OS and the importance of UNIX during the early period, because of which the deisgn of UNIX was adopted for GNU.

The speaker later talked about the basic functions of the Operating System with a basic block diagram. The hardware,kernel and applications layer were explained.

He talked about how the GNU project started of with the aim of creating equivalent Free Software application alternatives for the various proprietary applications present at that time. The Emacs as a text editor and Bash as a shell were quoted as examples. The initial plan of the GNU project was to create the set of Free Software applications and then go into the development of the kernel. The speaker proceeded to explain that by end of 1980 most of important Free Software applications had been developed and the kernel development had started, The base for the kernel that was selected for the GNU project was the Mach Kernel, after considering several other choices. The speaker added that Mach contained set of programs that controlled the hardware. When several other programs were added on top of Mach it was called HURD which was the kernel for GNU. The speaker once again stressed the focus of the GNU Project and explained that HURD was a replacement for the UNIX Kernel.

The speaker was ensuring that the audience were able to grasp the concepts by repeating the layered architecture of the OS with the user and hardware. The speaker went on to explain the development of the Linux Kernel in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. Linus began using the GNU Compiler for compiling the kernel, although initially he used another compiler. The speaker talked about how the development of the HURD began to subside when the Linux kernel was found to be a functional kernel for the GNU System.


The talk moved on to explain the way the different hardware components worked with the HURD, by running as pluggable services on top of the kernel(Mach). He explained this by comparing it to the Linux kernel. One person asked the question of whether the Services on top of the kernel could be considered as “modules in the Linux Kernel”. The speaker explained that unlike modules the servers communicated with each other using messages.

The acronym HURD was explained to the audience.
” HIRD of UNIX replacing daemons.”
” HURD of interfaces representing depth.”

Daemons were explained as background services. The acronym was basically a mutually recursive acronym. Information on the current status of HURD was provided to the Audience. Like the HURD was usable but not yet ready for the production environments. (eg : Lack of support for many sound cards).

The comparison with the Linux kernel was being made at each step. One person, questioned about USB Support. The speaker replied there was no USB Support neither support for DHCP Clients (which led to the explanation of DHCP). The discussion moved onto explaining the advantages of the HURD over Linux. The concept of Virtualization and how HURD had a capability for inbuilt virtualization was discussed.
An example was provided.

Suppose we run an instance of HURD, we will be able to run another similar instance of Hurd on the same environment. Suppose the first instance is running a web server and we want to test a new application using a web server, we can run it on the second instance of HURD. Since the application is unstable, even if it crashes we will be able to keep the first instance running, which provides us with a perfect testing virtual environment. The speaker also expressed his opinion that HURD would be the “Next Big Thing” in the OS arena. HURD has been developed for the x86 32 bit platform. But it has also been ported to the PPC architecture.

“Why HURD when we already have the GNU/Linux?” was a common
question among Free Software users. or

“Why have the FSF developed HURD or continue to develop it?”

The speaker talked about how the release of the Linux kernel as Free Software and the impact it had on the development of HURD. The FSF decided to continue the HURD Project. Although the current status of the HURD Project is not in a really commendable state.

Installation of Hurd

HURD was a set of programs that was available in source code form.

1. The source code could to be downloaded and compiled to produce the binary which would later been installed on the machine. Not suitable for normal users.

2. Debian Project has released a distribution containing the HURD kernel instead of Linux thereby creating Debian GNU/HURD. This would be suitable for normal users.

Latest version is k-14

The speaker explained how to modify the grub boot loader in the beginning itself, since Debian GNU/HURD did not have a boot loader installation integrated. Hence it is unsuitable for installation on a fresh Hard Disk, since a boot loader is required in the first place. Debian GNU/HURD followed the installation method of the Woody distribution.

The basic steps were summed up by the presenter as follows :

– Copy the HURD binaries to a partition. ( Debian Woody installation method)

– Create an entry in the Boot loader

– Boot into the new HURD installation

– Run the command ./nativeinstall

– Continue the process of installation

– Reboot the machine and do the necessary configuration

– Run the command ./nativeinstall again.

– We will be getting a login prompt and can subsequently

One member who had already performed a HURD installation earlier asked a few questions about the need for running native install a second time. The answer was that the second native install would be used to update the package database. GNU Mach (kernel) has a limitation of providing only one virtual terminal. But HURD Console service supports virtual terminals or we can use the screen utility .

Things to remember while installing.

Get familiar with hard disk partition names and decide on the partition on which the installation will take place.

Hard disk names, -> hd0,2 , hda3, hd0s3

The speaker explained the mapping of hard disk names, to physical connections. HURD was installed on a Hard Disk with already existing partitions. The speaker explained about the lines that needed to be passed to GRUB for booting HURD:

– The root parition

– Kernel file root partition and -s ( for single user mode)

As mentioned earlier the we would run native install twice in the single user mode before actually going into the multi user mode. Once we have booted into the single user mode, we get a prompt were we have to enter login . The console command will be used for the purpose of configuring the mouse and keyboard for using the command line. The “apt-cdrom add” command will not automatically mount/ unmount the cdrom, hence we have to do it ourself using the settrans command. Once we have mount the cdrom we can add it using “apt-cdrom add” unmount it and add other cdroms if required.

apt-get update

The package installation is using the same Debian command

apt-get install

The CD Developers have for purpose of easiness have developed 2 scripts.

– – minimum required packages

– – Graphical User Interface packages in cdrom/upgrade of the CD

The speaker moved onto explain the how to set up a network, by once again stressing the fact that HURD did not support DHCP. The devices for the network devices needed to be created manually. using the settrans command. The configuration (address, netmask, network etc..) needed to be given along with the settrans command. One person asked a question about the configuration on the client. Another person questioned how DHCP was unsupported on HURD. The speaker also highlighted the fact that HURD did not possess drivers
for all graphical cards.

– i810
– nv
– vesa
– sis

Someone asked a question regarding a problem he faced while installing HURD at home. The presentation went onto explain configuring the Graphical Interface on HURD, which unfortunately did not work out successful. Hence the GNU Hurd installation although did not complete, the audience got an idea of the generic aspects of installation of any OS. Even though HURD was still an unusable OS for the normal Home User, the intention of the presentation was two fold

– To explain generic aspects of an OS installation

– To produce an interest among the hackers to study more about Hurd
and involve in the development.

Because there is no question on the fact that HURD would be “The Next” OS provided the development goes in the right path for which we all can contribute.

After the presentation feedback was collected from all.

Concluding Session

Everyone was questioned about the tasks they had taken up after the November meeting on the status of those tasks. 90% of the people had accomplished their tasks partially or completely. And again they were asked what they plan to do after this meeting.

The meeting concluded with the message that the community needs to ramp up and accelerate.

The Meeting concluded at 5:40 pm


  • Jay Jacob
  • M Balakrishna Pillai
  • G Venkata Subramanian
  • Binny VA
  • G Gopinathan
  • Sameer Mohamed Thahir
  • Justin Joseph
  • Rajagopal V
  • Muhammed Sabir
  • Mahesh Aravind
  • Sreenadh H
  • Sanjai
  • Raju Ramdas
  • Ajith C
  • Fr Thomas V Vettickal
  • Bilal MK
  • Kurian Mathew Thayil
  • Sajeer K
  • Abhilash Radhakrishnan
  • Joseph Justin


Technical Presentation

Meeting Photos