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Brave GNU World - Issue #14
Copyright © 2000 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of Georg's Brave GNU World. This time I'll start with a project from the "instant messaging" area.


GnomeICU [5] by Jeremy Wise is a GTK+/GNOME based ICQ client released under the GNU General Public License. What gives it a special place among the free ICQ clients is that it not only supports messaging but also chat, filetransfer and histories. This has also been acknowledged by the "Linux World Editors' Choice Award" where GnomeICU made the second place right behind Netscape as "communication program of the year."

Current problems are related to the SOCKS5 support; right now GnomeICU does not work behind firewalls. But this is very high on Jeremy's priority list and he hopes to release a version 1.0 rather soon after finding and fixing the last bugs.

Related to this topic I have discussed the importance of a really free instant messaging protocol with Frederick Harwath (who also did ask for the GnomeICU feature). Shortly afterwards he got back to me with the news that such a project already exists under the name "Jabber."


Jabber [6] is a massively distributed project which has the goal to create a fully free communication architecture based on streaming XML. The initiator and maintainer is Jeremie Miller who is being supported a lot by Thomas Muldowney. But as usual with projects as big as this one there are a lot of people contributing to it - over 800 people from all over the world have contributed to it.

The Jabber architecture is client/server based, so every user has an account on a Jabber server which is being talked to by the favorite Jabber client. Clients are being developed for almost all platforms. There are subprojects working on clients for GTK+, GNOME, Qt/KDE, Tcl/Tk, UNIX commandline, JavaScript & CGI, Java, Windows, Macintosh, Mozilla and Newton. All these clients use XML to communicate with the server.

Apparently the server is the heart of the project. On one side it communicates with the clients and other Jabber servers via XML but then it can also get in contact with other services and translate their sometimes proprietary protocols like ICQ, AIM, SMTP, IRC, UNIX talk, WAP and so on into open XML. One of the benefits is that this way clients don't have to worry about the software the target of a communication uses. Additionally the clients don't need to be modified if another protocol is implemented with the server since their communication with the server is not affected by this. The server model also offers a central addresslist administration. The list of contacts is being put on the server along with personal information which means that the same list is available independent of client or operating system.

Not to forget about the license: the biggest part of the code is licensed under the GNU General Public License, the only exception being some shared libraries published under the GNU Lesser General Public License. According to Eliot Landrum the complete documentation will also be available under the GNU Free Documentation License (see below) - which will also make it free. So Jabber definitely qualifies as Free Software.

So let's talk about the current status. The server is already useable and version 1.0 will come pretty soon. The connections to ICQ, AIM and IRC are currently being developed. Since Jabber works with an XML stream over a TCP socket it can be used behind firewalls but there is not yet encryption in the transport layer - some ideas how to implement this have already been discussed.

With version 1.0 not yet released Jabber already raises commercial interest. At March 1st 2000 Webb Interactive Services Inc. announced the launch of their subsidiary Jabber Inc. [7]. Since among the customers of Webb you'll find names such as Switchboard Inc., SmallOffice.com, Corel Corporation and RE/MAX International Inc. we can expect Jabber Inc. to raise some interest. Personally I'm very glad to hear about another promising firm based on Free Software - this is a trend that should be supported.

The next project has been brought to my attention by Patrick Plattes who also actively contributes to it.


The "Movement for the Use of Smart Cards in a Linux Environment" or simply M.U.S.C.L.E project works on writing drivers for chipcards plus their drives for the Linux kernel and on applications using these. It has been started by David Corcoran and is distributed (no surprise here) under the GNU General Public License.

Possible ways of using this are certainly crypto-token on chipcards (also see the GPKCS-11 in issue #1 of the Brave GNU World) or authentication with the system. Currently the main problems are not technical but more "business political" as it is often very difficult to get the specifications needed to implement the drivers.

But despite these difficulties the dowload section already holds more software than I could list here. So if you are interested in checking it out I suggest you take a look at the homepage [8]. The following project is very likely to attract the interest of people who possess more than one machine but don't want to or cannot modify their programs for clustered operation.

GNU Queue

GNU Queue [9] by Werner G. Krebs is a "load-balancer," so its job is to distribute jobs over a network. Unlike "real" clustering the single job is not split up and distributed over several machines but given as a whole to one machine. So advantages can only be expected if more than one job needs to be solved at the same time. Experience tells us this is often the case even with a single UNIX-trained user.

Similar to other "load-balancing" systems the jobs are being submitted to GNU Queue. The machine actually running the job is irrelevant to the user. It should be emphasized that GNU Queue is also capable of running interactive jobs - like GNU EMACS - distributed over the network. The current development version also supports process migration. This means that jobs can be moved to a less busy machine even while they are running - the distribution of jobs dynamically adapts to changing circumstances.

The current problem is the implementation of a hierarchical distribution scheme that would allow GNU Queue to scale well on networks of big firms. If you have ideas about this: Werner Krebs wouldn't mind getting some help with this one.

So on to the last technical part for this month.


The "Geographic Resource Analysis Support System" GRASS [10] is a "Geographical Information System" (GIS) which was originally written by the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (USA-CERL) for land administration and environmental planning. By now its main application has moved strongly into the scientific and economic field according to Bernhard Reiter and Markus Neteler. Among the users are the NASA and the National Park Service of the USA.

With the help of GRASS a user can analyze, save, model and display data. Additionally its capabilities in terms of engineering science, hydrology, geology, physics, statistics and much more have been expanded. As you may have guessed by now it is a very big project.

GRASS is being controlled via some Tcl/Tk interface which is non-satisfactory according to Bernhard Reiter since a lot of command-line options and concepts have to be learned in order to use GRASS properly. Currently the development has two headquarters. One is located at the Baylor University in the USA, the other one is the University of Hannover in Germany which is where most of the development happens at the moment. Currently coordination is done by Markus Neteler.

Thanks to an initiative by Bernhard Reiter, GRASS is being distributed under the GNU General Public License since 1999 - so there is no need to fear limitations in the use of it. If you're into this topic, you might also want to check out the FreeGIS [11] project which wants to collect and coordinate Free Software in this area.

Although this was probably only of relevance to a minority of the readers I think it is always good to hear about the success of Free Software in these rather special areas - especially when they are related to science.

GNU Free Documentation License

Since the GNU General Public License has been designed as a software license, there have always been problems to use it for documents as it just wasn't suited for this. As of March 2000 there is the GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.1 which is a license for written text in the spirit of the GNU General Public License.

The goal of this license is to make every manual, book or other document "free" in the sense of the GNU Project. Similarly to the GNU GPL certain rights are granted to guarantee this. It is possible to copy and/or modify the document and pass on the original or modified copy for commercial or noncommercial purposes. It also gives authors and publishers a way to get credit for their work by requiring/forbidding certain modifications.

So a modified document may not be re-released under the original name without explicit consent of the original author. Also it is required that the new title page must give at least five of the previous authors. If the document had less than or exactly five previous authors, all of them have to be on the title page.

Additionally the GNU FDL requires having a "History" section that has to be created by the modifying author if it isn't present already. The first entry in this section has to be the original title and author of the document. Then the new title and author along with some information about the modifications made must be added. This entry is obligatory. Of course old history entries must not be modified and removing the whole section is also illegal.

If you want to know it in even more detail, I really suggest you read the original GNU FDL [12]. It is now the official goal to publish all documentation of GNU Projects under the GNU FDL and also to encourage other authors to use it. Its main area of use will definitely be the documentation of software but the GNU Project would also like to see books published under this license.

A question I'd like to raise in this context is the one for opinions and ideas about a GNU Free Picture License. This has been discussed by Stefan Kamphausen - designer of the Brave GNU World logo and proofreader for the German issue - and me. The question is how such a license would be implemented or what it would have to guarantee in order to preserve freedom for the users and proper credit for the authors. Something in the way of a modified GNU FDL would appear to be a good idea but I'm not quite sure how to link license statement and picture. Some formats allow adding comments but what would happen if such a picture is converted to a format that does not allow it?

Currently I'm still collecting ideas about this so if you have some idea & insight to contribute, please let me know [1].

And that's almost the end for this month.

the End

First of all there is some "patch" to the SCWM feature of last month. As Greg J. Badros told me, the "Cassowary Constraint Solving Toolkit" is released under the GNU Lesser General Public License as of version 0.60. This apparently removes the only bad thing I had to say about it. :-)

There is also a Brave GNU World internal change that I did not want to hide from you. After over a year OKUJI Yoshinori will step back from his job as Japanese translator since he is running short on time. But he will remain active for the Brave GNU World as a scout and I'm very sure this isn't the last time we've heard of him. The Japanese translation will from now on be done by IIDA Yosiaki whom I would like to welcome in the "family" at this point.

In case you wonder what happened to the t-shirt project: no, I did not forget about it and all people who sent mail about this will be contacted once they are ready. Right now my time is very limited due to a deadline in April and I'm still looking for "the" design - graphically talented readers are very much encouraged to get in touch with me.

But that's really it now. Please don't hesitate to get in touch [1] if you happen to have questions, ideas, comments or cool projects.

[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@gnu.org>
[2] Homepage of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Homepage of Georg's Brave GNU World http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/
[4] "We run GNU" Initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.en.html
[5] GnomeICU homepage http://gnomeicu.gdev.net/
[6] Jabber homepage http://www.jabber.org/
[7] Jabber Inc. homepagehttp://www.jabber.com/
[8] M.U.S.C.L.E. homepage http://www.linuxnet.com/
[9] GNU Queue homepage http://www.gnu.org/software/queue/queue.html
[10] GRASS GIS homepage http://www.geog.uni-hannover.de/grass/
[11] FreeGIS homepage http://freegis.org/
[12] GNU Free Documentation License http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html

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30 May 2000 tower