It’s winter again and it was clear that FOSDEM was coming. However, preparation fell through the cracks, at least for me, mainly because my personal life is fast-paced at the moment. We had a table again, and our EventsBox, which is filled with goodness to demo GNOME, made its way from Gothenburg, where I actually carried it to a couple of months ago.

Unfortunately though, we didn’t have t-shirts to sell. We do have boxes of t-shirts left, but they didn’t make it to FOSDEM :-\ So this FOSDEM didn’t generate nearly as much revenue as the last years. It’s a pity that this year’s preparation was suboptimal. I hope we can improve next year. Were able to get rid of other people’s things, though ;-) Like last year, the SuSE people brought beer, but it was different this time. Better, even ;-)

The fact that there wasn’t as much action at our booth as last years, I could actually attend talks. I was able to see Sri and Pam talking on the Groupon incident that shook us up a couple of months ago. It was really nice to see her, because I wanted to shake hands and say thanks. She did an amazing job. Interestingly enough, she praised us, the GNOME Foundation’s Board of Directors, for working very professionally. Much better than any client she has worked with. I am surprised, because I didn’t really have the feeling we were acting as promptly as we could. You know, we’re volunteers, after all. Also, we didn’t really prepare as much as we could have which led to some things being done rather spontaneously. Anyway, I take that as a compliment and I guess that our work can’t be all too bad. The talk itself showed our side of things and, if you ask me, was painting things in a too bright light. Sure, we were successful, but I attribute much of that success to network effects and a bit of luck. I don’t think we could replicate that success easily.

GNOME’s presence at FOSDEM was not too bad though, despite the lack of shirts. We had a packed beer event and more talks by GNOMEy people. The list includes Karen‘s keynote, Benzo‘s talk on SDAPDS, and Sri‘s talk on GNOME’s impact on the Free Software ecosystem. You can find more here.

A talk that I did see was on improving the keysigning situation. I really mean to write about this some more. For now, let me just say that I am pleased to see people working on solutions. Solutions to a problem I’m not sure many people see and that I want to devote some time for explaining it, i.e. in s separate post. The gist is, that contemporary “keysigning parties” come with non-negligible costs for both, the organiser and the participant. KeySigningPartyTools were presented which intend to improve they way things are currently done. That’s already quite good as it’ll reduce the number of errors people typically make when attending such a party.

However, I think that we need to rethink keysigning. Mostly, because the state of the art is a massive SecOps fail. There is about a gazillion traps to be avoided and many things don’t actually make so much sense. For example, I am unable to comprehend why we are muttering a base16 encoded version of your 160 bit fingerprint to ourselves. Or why we must queue outside in the cold without being able to jump the queue if a single person is a bit slow, because then everybody will be terribly confused and the whole thing taking even longer. Or why we need to do everything on paper (well, I know the arguments: Your computer can be hacked, be social, yadda yadda). I did actually give a talk on rethinking the keysigning problem (slides). It’s about a project that I have only briefly mentioned here and which I should really write about in the near future. GNOME Keysign intends to be less of a SecOps fail by letting the scan a barcode and click “next”. The rest will be operations known to the user such as sending an email. No more manually comparing fingerprints. No more leaking data to the Internet about who you want to contact. No more MITM attacks against your OpenPGP installation. No more short key ids that you accidentally use or because you mistyped a letter of the fingerprint. No more editing raw Perl in order to configure your keysigning tool. The talk went surprisingly well. I actually expected the people in the security devroom to be mad when someone like me is taking their perl and their command line away. I received good questions and interesting feedback. I’ll follow up here with another post once real-life lets me get to it.

Brussels itself is a very nice city. We were lucky, I guess, because we had some sunshine when we were walking around the city. I love the plethora of restaurants. And I like that Brussels is very open and cultural. Unfortunately, the makerspace was deserted when we arrived, but it is was somewhat expected as it was daytime… I hope to return again and check it out during the night ;-)

On GNOME and Groupon

You may have noticed that we ran a campaign calling for support regarding the Groupon trademark issue. Fortunately, everything was over much quicker than everybody expected.

It is fair to say that we were surprised by our campaign and the amount of support we had. And so were they (GroupOn). As Bradley said, the campaign could have failed miserably. It was a pure gamble. And I was everything but excited and full of expectations when we launched the campaign. We didn’t know how it would go and our preparation was.. simple, at best. I don’t mean to discredit any of the great work the volunteers around us (and we, ourselves) did. But it’s true that we’re not experts and that we didn’t have all the things in place you could have expected us to have. For example, we didn’t really have a bar of the money raised on the web page. In fact, that information was only available to a limited extent. It’s mainly my fault, but I also blame the fact that we only had mockups of the page, and not real code just until hours before the launch. Personally, my thinking was that we’d have days, if not weeks, to slowly fix things up.

Fortunately, things went differently. The coverage was amazing. I didn’t expect that our very simple page generated so much traffic. It’s hard to come up with an exact timeline of events as everything happened quickly and, in fairness, a bit chaotically. It may have been OMGUbuntu or Reddit who have reported first on our fundraiser. Other sites, such as Phoronix or Hackernews followed quickly. I was told that the latter was exceptional, because it ranked very high for rather long time.

We also had International coverage, i.e. on Heise (with somewhat interesting discussions), Golem (with two more articles!), Computerbase, and others… The usual suspects such as Slashdot, or, of course, LWN had an article as well. Even Arstechnica and Reuters covered our case. And that although we missed sending press releases to most of those sites. Sorry for that :-/

By quickly checking Google News, I know I haven’t found all the articles on the subject, but so far I’ve only found this article which was not in favour of our move. I think this was surprising to most, if not all of us.

Over the course of the day, this image was floating around, showing Brian’s LinkedIn profile which some people found hilarious. Some other pictures were floating around and comments were made. Some of them not in a not acceptable language but most of them were just expressing their concerns regarding Groupon’s behaviour. Some people cancelled all their accounts with Groupon while others started a petition.

We had close to one retweet per second and money was pouring in. The average amount donated was about 20 USD and the rate at which people donated was about 75 USD per minute. Every single minute. This can indeed be considered success. I think I noticed that this is going to be big when Freenode sent a message to all its 80000 connected users asking for supporting our case. “This is bigger than GNOME“, they said. Very correctly so. And it’s a shame, too. Not only for Groupon, because they needed to use the emergency break here, but for the system at large. It shouldn’t be the case that you need money in order to defend yourself against someone misusing your name.


Dear Internet, thanks. I am overwhelmed. We did not expect that amount of feedback to our recent trademark campaign, let alone the financial contributions. Our campaign was very successful. It was too successful, at least from a technical point of view. We are using a self made, very rudimentary Makefile for the business logic. We are still busy verifying the incoming transactions with Paypal… During the campaign, our servers were very busy handling the incoming requests.

I didn’t expect Groupon to be that cooperative given the behaviour I have observed over the last few months. It might have been Engagdet which were the first to report that Groupon backed up. Other news sites followed suit. All of that happened so quickly, that some news sites couldn’t even report on the case and could only report on Groupon abandoning their marks. That was probably Groupon’s strategy and, I guess, it was a wise choice. They retired their marks, but the app and their page are still online. They also still have a Gnome job posted. But I have no doubt that this will cease to exist.

Again: Thanks to everyone involved. This could as well have been the end to the GNOME Foundation, given that defending the GNOME marks is one of their main reasons for existing. A special thanks to all of you who have spread the word and made this campaign successful. Let’s hope we do not need such a campaign in the future.

For those of you who are interested in some pretty graphs (thanks benzo!), here is another one showing the transaction sizes and their volume. You can see, that we had many many small contributions. This is so amazing. I am very grateful and happy to see our community standing together so closely.


GNOME at FSCONS14 in Gothenburg, Sweden

I was glad to be invited to FSONCS 2014 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Remember that this is also the place for next year’s GUADEC! This year’s FSCONS was attended by around 150 people or so. I guess it was a bit less. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s a very cool event with many interesting people and talks.

We, GNOME, had a presence at the event due to me bringing the EventsBox and T-Shirts to Gothenburg. It was quite a trip, especially with those heavy boxes…

The first keynote of the conference was given by Karl Fogel. He declared the end of copyright in 1993. He imagined copyright as a tree whose bottom has been chopped off, but the, the top hasn’t noticed that just yet. He put copyright on a timeline and drew a strong relation to the printing press. He claimed that in the United Kingdom, a monopoly used to control who prints and distributes books and it then transferred to a differently shaped monopoly which involved the actual authors. These could then transfer their rights to printers. He went on with ranting about the fact that nowadays you cannot tip the author for their (free) work. He appealed to the authors of f-droid or the firefox mobile app market to integrate such a functionality. Overall it was an interesting talk with many aspects. He is a talented speaker.

The second keynote was given by Leigh Honeywell. She talked about communities and community building. She said that she got most of the ideas presented in her talk from Sumana Harihareswara‘s “Models we use to change the world”. During her talk she referred to her experiences when founded the HackLabTO Hackerspace after having attended the CCCamp 2007. She basically shared models of understanding the community and their behaviour. The Q&A session was inspiring and informative. Many questions about managing a community were asked and answered.

Another interesting talk was given by Guilhem Moulin who went on to talk about Fripost. It is a democratic email service provider from Sweden. He gave a bit of an insight regarding the current Email usage on today’s Internet. He claimed that we have 2.7 billion internet users and that the top three email service providers accumulate roughly a third of this population. His numbers were 425 million for GMail, 420 million for Hotmail, and 280 million for Yahoo. All these companies are part of PRISM, he said, which worried him enough to engage with Fripost. In fact, he became a board member after having been a user and a sysadmin. As someone who operates a mail server for oneself and others with similar needs, I was quite interested in seeing concentrated efforts like this. Fripost’s governance seems to be interesting. It’s a democratic body and I wonder how to thwart malicious subversion. Anyway, the talk was about technical details as to how to create your own So I can only encourage to run your own infrastructure and found structures that care about running ecosystem. A memorable quote he provided to underpin this appeal is attributed to Schneier: “We were safer when our email was at 10,000 ISPs than it was at 10“.

My talk went sufficiently well. I guess I preached to the choir regarding Free Software. I don’t think I needed to convince the people that Free Software is a good thing. As for convincing the audience that GNOME is a good thing, I think I faced a big challenge. Some of the attendees didn’t seem to be very enthusiastic about their desktop which is great. But some others were more in the, what I would call, old school category using lynx, xautoscreenlock, and all that stuff from the 90s. Anyway, we had a great session with many questions from the audience such that I couldn’t even go through my slides.

I had a lightning talk about signing OpenPGP keys using GNOME Keysign. I probably need to write up a separate blog post for that. In short, I mentioned that short key IDs are evil, but that long key IDs are also problematic. Actually, using keyservers is inherently problematic and should be avoided. To do so, I showed how I transfer a key securely and sign it following best practices (thanks to Andrei for an initial version!). Bastian was nice enough to do the demo with me. We needed to cheat a little though, as currently, they key is transferred using the WiFi network you are on. The WiFi, however, didn’t allow us to create a TCP connection to each other. We thus opened a WiFi hotspot and used that. I think this would be a useful feature.

The last talk of the conference was given by Hans Lysglimt from Norway. He is, among other things, a politician, an activist, and an entrepreneur who founded an email service. His runbox has around 1000000 accounts and 30000 paid subscriptions, so it’s fairly big, compared to Fripost at least. Again, running email services myself, I found it interesting to listen to the stories he had to tell. His story was that he received a gag order for running his commercial email service provider. It remained unclear whether it was send because of his interview with Julian Assange or not.

Interestingly, he didn’t seem to have received many correct subpoenas in the sense that they were Norwegian court orders. However, in one case the American authorities went through the Norwegian legal system which he found funny in itself because the two legal system were not very similar. He eventually mentioned that every email service provider has at least one gag order, either an implicit or and explicit one. Ultimately, he concluded that you cannot trust a corporation.

FSCONS is an interesting event. Their manifesto is certainly impressive. I am glad to have visited and I am looking forward to visiting again. It is very atmospheric, very relaxed, and friendly. A very nice place to be.

LibreOffice Con in Bern, Switzerland

I was invited to give a talk in Bern, Switzerland, for the LibreOffice Conference. The LibreOffice people are a nice crowd with diverse backgrounds. I talked to design people, coders doing rather low-level GL things, marketing folks, some being new to Free Software, and to some being old farts. It sounds like a lot of people and one is inclined to think of boat loads of people attending the conference when having the community statistics in mind. But it has been a very cosy event, with less than a hundred people. I found that surprising, but not necessarily in a bad way.

I couldn’t make it to many talks, because the conference took place on week days. But judging from the schedule there were many interesting talks. The only thing I didn’t like about the schedule was the weird formatting. Seriously, who makes the track’s name more visible than the talk’s title..? Also grouping by room and not by time is a bit weird.

Anyway, my talk went well although it was in the first slot after the free beer party ;-) You can find my slides in the collection. I was talking about GNOME in general, but with a twist for those who migrate from proprietary software to Free Software. I hope I could convey that the GNOME desktop might be a viable alternative to proprietary products.

As this was a great, comfortable conference, I’m looking forward to visiting next year’s event.

GUADEC 2014 in Strasbourg

This year, GUADEC took place in the lovely Strasbourg in France. It was really nice to attend the conference and to hang around with people who care about Free Software. In fact, the venue itself ran Debian which was nice to see :-)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend many of the great talks as I wasn’t available for all days. And when I was, I was busy meeting people. Although it felt smaller than the last GUADEC, I think I’ve never met so many people who I wanted to talk to.

The conference offered a two-track program. Interestingly many of them looking out for a future of GNOME. John Stowers gave one of the more important talks, I think. He was describing the situation in academia. Python is very popular in the scientific computing space, he said. He was not satisfied with JavaScript being the new “default” language for GNOME applications, because the contestants are numerous and powerful. So we would compete at least against the Web and Qt. The former apparently being nice on other platforms such as Windows. GNOME’s bindings, however, were very good, he said. The technological foundation is excellent and we should leverage that potential and make people use it. However, GNOME’s story on Windows is not all too good, he said. GTK+ is becoming more and more irrelevant and even Wx appears to be as popular as Gtk. I also heard others claiming that the Windows situation is a problem. What I don’t understand is whether there are technical problems blocking easy to use ports. Apparently introspected GNOME libraries for Pyhon on Windows exist, but I don’t understand why that doesn’t do the job.

Another talk related to the future of GNOME was given byAllan Day. In order for GNOME to be successful, amongst other things, a focus on quality must be established, he said. Various ways to improve the current release process were mentioned and the audience engaged in a vivid discussion. I don’t remember the detail so I hope this will be followed up and discussed more broadly in the GNOME community.

“Why do we do desktop”, asked Matthew Garrett in his presentation. When I read that title for the first time I thought the question of the desktop becoming irrelevant was being picked up. But that was not the case. Instead, he wanted GNOME to differentiate from the existing desktops which, as he claimed, are continuing to be simple multiplexors for running several programs (such as clocks) at the same time. In contrast to existing desktop, GNOME should become the secure desktop. Other desktops, he said, would only exist in order to sell more things to the user, i.e. to tie the user to an existing ecosystem. An advantage of GNOME is it being free from corporate control. Decisions are made very transparently which enables it to focus on brining privacy and security to the user. Even if the user is not aligned with our core values and principles. As such, every user deserves as much privacy and security as we can possible provide.

Many thanks to the local team for having organised the conference. I hope next year in Gothenburg will be at least as good.

Sponsored by GNOME!

GPN 2014 in Karlsruhe

The Gulash Programmier Nacht (GPN) took place in Karlsruhe, Germany. The local subsidiary of the Chaos Computer Club organised that event, which apparently took place for the 14th time. So far, I wasn’t able to attend, but this time I made it.

It’s a 200 to 300 people event, focussed at hacking, making, and talks around that. It’s very cosy and somewhat similar to the mrmcds. Most of the talks were held in German, a few in English, but I think that could easily change if there is a demand.

The conference was keynoted by tante, who talked about the political aspects of code and the responsibility every developer has. It was good to hear someone saying that you do create reality for people with the software you write and that you are indeed responsible for the view on the world the users of your software have. There were a few other interesting thoughts and I think I agree with the results of the analysis conducted to a great extent. But I think a few areas are not well covered. For example, he said that you limit the people with your software. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you provide your users with enough freedoms, i.e. by choosing a Free Software license, than I don’t think his argument is valid anymore.

On the more funny side, a chemist taught us about chemistry based on the stories of Walter White. It was a funny talk with many interludes of the TV series. She explained what the people in the episodes were doing and how close that is to reality. Turns out, it is quite close and at least stupid mistakes were not done.

We also learned about Perl 6. If you think Perl is ugly, he said, it’s not modern Perl. The new and shiny Perl 6 allows you to write short code while looking nice, he said. He showed some features that make it easy to write command line tools. You can simply declare an argument to your main function and Perl would expose that to the user, e.g. by presenting a help screen. It would also detect the types provided and do some magic fancy stuff like checking whether the provided argument is an existing (or empty) file.

A very interesting talk was given on the Enigma, the German crypto machine. He showed the machine that broke the crypto and now stands in Bletchley Park. He told stories about the development and operation of that machine. Very interesting indeed. Also well done on a technical level, the slides were really well done.

I was invited to give talk on GNOME. As you can see in the video, my battery didn’t even last the full 90 minutes slot I was assigned. Something is certainly wrong, either this Linux thing or my battery. Anyway, the talk itself went very well, and it was particularly well attended for that early slot. I was also positively surprised by the audience asking many questions and while I specifically asked for flames, I didn’t get that many.

GNOME.Asia Summit 2014

I was fortunate to be able to attend this year’s GNOME Asia Summit in Beijing, China.

It was co-hosted with FUDCon, the Fedora Users and Developers Conference. We had many attendees and the venue provided good facilities to talk about Free Software and the Free Desktop.

Fudcon Beijing Logo

The venue was the Beihai University somewhat north of Beijing. Being Chinese, the building was massive in size. So we had loads of space, anyway ;-) The first day was reserved for trainings and attendees could get their feet wet with thinks like developing a GNOME application. I took part myself and was happy to learn new GNOME APIs. I think the audience was interested and I hope we could inspire a few attendees to create their next application using GNOME technologies.

I was invited to keynote the conference. It was my first time to do such a thing and I chose to give a talk that I would expect from a keynote, namely something that leads the conference and gives a vision and ideas about what to discuss during the conference. I talked on GNOME, GNOME 3, and GNOME 3.12. I tried to promote the ideas of GNOME and of Free Software. Unfortunately, I prepared for 60 minutes rather than 45, so I needed to cut off a good chunk of my talk :-/ Anyway, I am happy with how it went and especially happy with the fact that I wasn’t preaching to the choir only, as we had e.g. Fedora people in the audience, too.

We had RMS explaining Free Software to the audience and I think the people enjoyed his talking. I certainly did, although I think it doesn’t address problems we face nowadays. People have needs, as the discussion with the audience revealed. Apparently, people do want to have the functionality Facebook or Skype offers. I think that addressing these needs with the warning “you must not fall for the convenience trap” is too short sighted. We, the Free Software community, need to find better answers.

The event was full of talks and workshops from a diverse range of topics, which is a good thing for this conference. Of course, co-hosting with FUDCon helped that. The event is probably less technical than GUADEC and attendees can learn a lot from listening and talking to other people. I hope we can attract more Asian people to Free Software this way. I am not entirely sure we need to have the same setup as with GUADEC though. With GUADEC, we change the country every year. But Asia is about ten times larger than Europe. In fact, China alone is larger than all of Europe. It makes it somewhat hard for me to justify the moving around. We do need more presence in Asia, so trying to cover as much as possible might be an approach to attract more people. But I think we should investigate other approaches, such as focussing on an annual event in one location to actually create a strong Free Software location in Asia, before moving on. I wouldn’t know how to define “strong” right now, but we have absolutely no measure of success right now, anyway. That makes it a bit frustrating for me to pour money over Asia without actually seeing anything in return.

Anyway, Beijing is fun. We went to see the Great Wall and enjoyed the subway ;)

I would like to thank the organisers for having provided a great place us, the Free Software community, to spread the word about the benefits of free computing. I would also like to thank the GNOME Foundation for enabling people like me to attend the event.

Sponsored by GNOME!

[Update: Here is the recording of the talk]

Installing OpenSuSE 13.1 on an Lenovo Ideapad S10-3t

I tried to install the most recent OpenSuSE image I received when I attended the OpenSuSE Conference. We were given pendrives with a live image so I was interested how smooth the OpenSuSE installation was, compared to installing Fedora. The test machine is a three to four year old Intel Ideapad s10-3t, which I received from Intel a while ago. It’s certainly not the most powerful machine, but it’s got some dual core CPU, a gigabyte of RAM, and a widescreen touch display.

The initial boot took a while. Apparently it changed something on the pendrive itself to expand to its full size, or so. The installation was a bit painful and, at the end of the day, not successful. The first error I received was about my username being wrong. It told me that I must only contain letters, digits, and other things. It did not tell me what was actually wrong; and I doubt it could, because my username was very legit. I clicked away the dialogue and tried again. Then it worked…

When I was asked about my partitioning scheme I was moderately confused. The window didn’t present any “next” button. I clicked the three only available buttons to no avail until it occurred to me that the machine has a wide screen so the vertical space was not sufficient to display everything. And yeah, after moving the window up, I could proceed.

While I was positively surprised to see that it offered full disk encryption, I wasn’t too impressed with the buttons. They were very tiny on the bottom of the screen, barely clickable.

Anyway, I found my way to proceed, but when attempting to install, YaST received “system error code -1014” and failed to partition the disk. The disk could be at fault, but I have reasons to believe it was not the disks fault:

Apparently something ate all the memory so that I couldn’t even start a terminal. I guess GNOME’s system requirements are higher than I expected.

LinuxTag 2014

I attended LinuxTag 2014 in Berlin. The event reinvented itself again, after it lost attraction is the recent years. We, GNOME, couldn’t even get enough volunteers to have a presence there. In Berlin. In perfect spring time. Other projects were struggling, too. For this year, they teamed up with re:publica and AndroidCon. The venue changed and the new format of the event made it more attractive and made a good number of people attend.

The venue was “Die Station“, apparently used by those Web people for their Web conference for a couple of years now. It has much more character than the expo in the west where LinuxTag used to be located. But it’s also a bit too unpolished to have a proper conference there. It’s very nice for the fair or expo part of LinuxTag, but not so nice for the conference part. The problem is the rooms. The infrastructure does not really allow for a nice conferency feeling. E.g. many plastic chair made the seats for the audience, the rooms were right next to each other and not sound proof so that you could hear the other talk from the other room. Some lecture halls were actually not really separated from the corridor, so people were walking by and making noise. As for the noise: Except for two big stages, the audio was really bad. I can’t really tell why, but I guess nobody actually tested whether the microphones would sound alright…

While I was grateful to be invited to give a talk on GNOME, I think someone in the organisation team didn’t like me ;-) The conference party started at 18:00 that day and my talk was scheduled for the last slot at 21:30. So I had to compete with the beer outside and other talks in the slot that I wanted to see myself. At least I only had very motivated people in the audience ;-)

The LinuxTag deserves its name as it’s unusually kernel focussed for a “normal user” event. As in depth kernel session do not necessarily make sense for the every day computer user, teaming up with DroidCon seemed promising. But the two events were too separated. I actually have not seen any schedule for the DroidCon. And I couldn’t find a joint schedule anywhere on the Internet nor in the venue itself. I don’t think it’s bad intentions, though. It’s probably due to lacking resources to pull it off. A big thank thank you to the organisers. I think it’s an important event that connects many people, especially those from the Industry with the Community. Keep rocking, guys.

OpenSuSE Conference 14 in Dubrovnik, Croatia

I had the pleasure to be invited to the 2014 edition of the OpenSuSE Conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia. That event was flying under my radar for a long time and I am glad that I finally found out about it.

The first thing that impressed me was Dubrovik. A lovely city with a walled old town. Even a (rather high) watch tower is still there. The city manages to create an inspiring atmosphere despite all the crowds moving through the narrow streets. It’s clean and controlled, yet busy and wild. There are so many small cafés, pubs, and restaurants, so many walls and corners, and so many friendly people. It’s an amazing place for an amazing conference.

The conference itself featured three tracks, which is quite busy already. But in addition, an unconference was held as a fourth track. The talks were varying in topic, from community management, to MySQL deployment, and of course, GNOME. I presented the latest and greatest GNOME 3.12. Despite the many tracks, the hallway track was the most interesting one. I didn’t know too many faces and as it’s a GNU/Linux distribution conference which I have never attended before, many of the people I met had an interesting background which I was not familiar with. It was fun meeting new people who do exciting things. I hope to be able to stay in touch with many of them.

The conference was opened by the OpenSuSE Board. I actually don’t really know how OpenSuSE is governed and if there is any legal entity behind it. But the Board seems to be somehow elected by the community and was to announce a few changes to OpenSuSE. The title of the conference was “The Strength to Change” which is indeed inviting to announce radical changes. For better or worse, both the number and severity of the changes announced were limited. First and foremost, handling marketing materials is about to change. A new budget was put in place to allow for new materials to be generated to have a much bigger presence in the world. Also, the materials were created by SuSE’s designers on staff. So they are considered to be rather high quality. To get more contributors, they introduce formalised sponsorship program for people to attend conferences to present OpenSuSE. I don’t know what the difference to their Travel Support Program is, though. They will also reimburse for locally produced marketing materials which cannot be shipped around the world to encourage more people to spread the word about OpenSuSE. A new process will be put in place which will enable local contributors to produce materials up to 200 USD from a budget of 2000 USD per quarter. Something that will change, but not just yet, is the development and release model. Andrew Wafaa said that OpenSuSE was a victim of its own success. He mentioned the number of 7500 packages which should probably indicate that it is a lot for them to handle. The current release cycle of 8 months is to be discussed. There is a strong question of whether something new shall be tried. Maybe annual releases, or even longer to have more time for polish. Or maybe not do regular releases at all, like rolling releases or just take as long as it takes. A decision is expected after the next release which will happen as normal at the end of this year. There was an agreement that OpenSuSE wants to be easy to contribute to. The purpose of this conference is to grow the participants’ knowledge and connections in and about the FLOSS environment.

The next talk was Protect your MySQL Server by Georgi Kodinov. Being with MySQL since 2006 he talked about the security of MySQL in OpenSuSE. The first point he made was how the post-installation situation is on OpenSuSE 13.1. It ships version 5.6.12 which is not too bad because it is only 5 updates behind of what upstream released. Other distros are much further away from that, he said. Version 5.6 introduced cool security related features like expiring passwords, password strength policies, or SHA256 support. He urged the audience to stop using passwords on the command line and look into the 5.6 documentation instead. He didn’t make it any more concrete, though, but mentioned “login paths” later. He also liked that the server was not turned on by default which encourages you to use your self-made configuration instead of a default one. He also liked the fact that there is no pre-packaged database as that does not configure users that are not very well protected. Finally, he pointed out that he is pleased to see that no remote access is configured in the default configuration. However, he did not like that OpenSuSE does not ship the latest version. The newest upstream version 5.6.15 not only fixes around 25 security problems but also adds advanced AES functionalities such as keys being bigger than 128 bits. He also disliked that a mysql_secure_installation script is not run after installation. That script would put random passwords to the root account, would disallow anonymous access, and would do away with empty default passwords. Another regret he had was that mysql_config_editor is not packaged. That tool would help to get rid of passwords in scripts using MySQL by storing credentials in encrypted files. That way you would have to protect only one file, not a lot of scripts. For some reason OpenSuSE activates the “federated plugin” which is disabled upstream.
Another weird plugin is the archive plugin which, he said, is not needed. In fact, it is not even available so that the starting server throws errors… Also, authentication plugins which should only be used for testing are enabled by default which can be a problem as it could allow someone to log in as any user. After he explained how this was a threat, the actual attack seems to be a bit esoteric. Anyway, he concluded that you get a development installation when you install MySQL in OpenSuSE, rather than an installation suited for production use.

He went on to refer about how to harden it after installation. He proposed to run mysql_secure_installation as it wouldn’t cause any harm even if run multiple times. He also recommended to make it listen on specific interfaces only, instead of all interfaces which is does by default. He also wants you to generate SSL keys and certificates to allow for encrypted communication over the network.

Even more security can be achieved when turning off TCP access altogether, so you should do it if the environment allows it. If you do use TCP, he recommended to use SSL even if there is no PKI. An interesting advice was to use external authentication such as PAM or LDAP. He didn’t go into details how to actually do it, though. The most urgent tip he gave was to set secure_file_priv to a certain directory as it will restrict the paths MySQL can write to.

As for new changes that come with MySQL 5.7, which is the current development version accumulating changes over 18 months of development, he mentioned the option to log to syslog. Interestingly,
a --ssl option on the client is basically a no-op (sic!) but will actually enforce SSL in the upcoming version. The new version also adds more crypto functions such as RANDOM_BYTES() which interface with the SSL libraries. He concluded his talk with a quote: “Security is like plastic surgery. the more you invest, the prettier it gets.”.

Michael Meeks talked next on the history of the Document Foundation. He explained how it used to be in the StarOffice days. Apparently, they were very process driven and believed that the more processes with even more steps help the quality of the software they produced. He didn’t really share that view. The mind set was, he said, that people would go into a shop and buy a box with the software. He sees that behaviour declining steeply. So then hackers came and branched StarOffice into OpenOffice which had a much shorter release cycle than the original product and incorporated fixes and features of the future version. Everyone shipped that instead of the original thing. The 18 months of the original product were a bit of a long thing in the free software world, he said. He quoted someone saying “StarDivision a problem for every solution.”

He went on to rant about Contributor License Agreements and showed a graph of Fedora contributions which spiked off when they dropped the requirement of a CLA. The graph was impressive but really showed the number of active accounts in an unspecified system. He claimed that by now they have around the same magnitude of contributions as the kernel does and with set a new record with 3000 commits in February 2014. The dominating body of contributors is volunteers which is quite different when compared to the kernel. He talked about various aspects of the Document Foundation like the governance or the fact that they want to make it as easy to contribute to the project as possible.

The next talk was given on bcache by Oliver Neukum. Bcache is a disk cache which is probably primarily used to cache rotational disks with SSDs. He first talked about the principles of caching, like write-back, write-through, and write-around. That is, the cache is responsible for writing to the backing store, the cache places the data to be written in its buffer, or write to the backing storage, but not the cache, respectively. Subsequently, he explained how to actually use bcache. A demo given later revealed that it’s not fool proof and that you do need to get your commands straight in order to make it work properly. As to when to actually use Bcache, he explained that SSDs are cool as they are fast, but they are small and expensive. Fast, as he continued, can either mean throughput or latency. SSDs are good with regards to latency, but not necessarily with throughput. Other, probably similar options to Bcache are dm-cache, but it does not support safe writes. I guess that you cannot use it if you have the requirement of a write-through or write-around scenario. A different alternative is EnhanceIO, written originally by Facebook, which keeps hash structure of the data to be cached in RAM. Bcache, on the other hand, stores a b-tree on the SSD instead of in the RAM. It works on block devices, so anything goes. Tape drives, RAIDs, … It places a special superblock to indicate the partition is a bcache partition. A second block is created to indicate what the backing store is. Currently, the kernel does not auto detect these caches, hence making it work with the root filesystem is a bit tricky. He did a proper evaluation of the effects of the cache. So his statements were well founded which I liked a lot.

It was announced that the next year’s conference, oSC15, will be in The Hague, Netherlands. The city we had our GUADEC in, once. If you have some time in spring, probably in April, consider to go.