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Brave GNU World - Issue #16
Copyright © 2000 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
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Welcome to the 16th issue of Georg's Brave GNU World. As with the previous issues I will start with a project from the "Instant Messaging" area.


Everybuddy is an Instant Messaging Client by Torrey Searle, which supports the ICQ, AIM, Yahoo and MSN protocols. This allows you to communicate with users in any of these services over a single client. When doing so Everybuddy differentiates between accounts and contacts - which are people. So every contact can have different accounts at different services. By double-clicking on the contact the list is browsed and the first available account is taken. So if, for instance, the ICQ account of the person you're talking to goes off-line for whatever reason, but this person can still be reached via AIM, Everybuddy will automatically switch to that account. This happens completely transparently in the background - the user just keeps writing into the same chat window.

According to Torrey Searle, achieving this transparency was one of the biggest problems since all services have their small flaws that should be hidden from the user.

As usual there has been more than one developer working on Everybuddy. The graphical user interface was created by Jared Peterson, the MSN support was implemented by Shane Brady and the Yahoo support by Troy Morrison. Ben Rigas designed the web page [5].

Everybuddy is completely useable and according to the developers the next step will be cleaning up the code and reorganizing a few things. Also they want to move to plug-ins for the different protocols; since Torrey Searle suffers from the usual lack of time, any help would appreciated.

The next project was discovered by Okuji Yoshinori in Japan.


W3M [6] by Akinori Ito is a pager like "more" or "less" and a text-mode HTML browser similar to "Lynx" in one program. This rather unusual combination has historical reasons because originally the author only needed a program to display text files in a certain way. The need for HTML was discovered a few years later and has been added on.

Together with the help of other developers like Hironori Sakamoto, Katsuya Okabe and Fumitoshi Ukai, W3M has become a very powerful and lean HTML-browser. It is capable of correctly rendering frames and tables and supports Japanese. HTTPS is supported via the OpenSSL library. Despite this large amount of features, W3M is smaller than Lynx because it follows the externalization principle. A lot of browsers try to do everything in one program - W3M does exactly the opposite by calling external programs whenever possible. To make this easier it contains a "local CGI" mechanism that is capable of running CGI scripts locally without the help of a web server.

Besides the obvious problem of not being able to display pictures, the author does not know of any major weaknesses so the development is mainly focused on internationalisation. Everything about this project gives a very well-rounded impression and console-lovers and purists will certainly love it. But also the "standard" user will probably like it to "just" quickly read a few pages of documentation.

The third project should also be of interest for a majority of the readers because the Free Software movement has been lacking a bit in the financial software area.


Gnofin [7] is a "Personal Finance Manager" - so you would use it to administrate your personal finances. As the name already suggests, it is based upon GNOME. Although it is very lean, it does support a wide variety of functions and is ready for daily usage.

The native file format of Gnofin is XML which keeps all data well accessible. This also makes it possible to have your own applications interact with the file. Filters for Quicken and CBB are also present, allowing you to keep old data when switching to Gnofin. The more advanced functions contain things like cut, copy & paste as well as a multi-level undo and redo. Particularly noteworthy is the capability to have different currencies for the accounts - when doing transactions you simply give the valid exchange rate as one parameter.

Most of the work on Gnofin has been done by Darin Fisher, but he has had help from Luc Saillard, Olivier Kaloudoff, Michel Piguel, Ted Lemon and Ryan Boren; and of course it is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License. By the way: recently Luc Saillard has taken over as the new maintainer and he thinks that development will maintain its pace. Current problems include the not so complete internationalisation and the lack of some plug-ins that are already planned.

Now I will leave the area of general interest and go to some rather unusual projects.


Bayonne [8], the successor of ACS, has just recently entered the GNU Project. It is a so-called "telephony server" - but this is a rather general term as it covers almost all programs that communicate via speech over voice lines.

First of all Bayonne allows things like voice-mailboxes because it is completely scriptable. But this can of course also be used to create messaging-systems. David Sugar, the author of Bayonne, likes to call it the "Swiss army knife" of the "telephony servers," because tdM bus support, call "switching" and VoIP gateway services are already being worked on.

Possible uses are manifold. First of all there are voice-controlled applications or "voice mail" systems. But it would also be possible to create telephone-based remote system-administration setups, automatic order-taking systems, automated polling or delivery of announcements and/or warnings via phone.

Bayonne has been implemented on an "event driven multi-threaded" basis which grants a very good scalability - even when considering SMP systems. This makes it usable for applications with high throughput or many connections. David Sugar has been supported by David Rowe, who wrote the Voicetronix support. But there is still a lot of work to be done and he welcomes any help.

But Bayonne does not stand alone, it is part of the GNUcomm project [9], which is working on a Free Software based implementation of all multimedial communication software. As this is one of the areas that has been controlled by proprietary software, I consider it a very good and important step.

The practical value of the next part will be limited for most readers, but it should be interesting nonetheless.


Xnbc [10] is a simulator for biological neural networks written by the Paris-based team of Jean-Francois Vibert together with some of his students and a colleague from Lausanne.

It is not really one single program but rather a collection of programs to solve certain problems - but all of them can be run standalone. This is glued together by a Motif/Lesstif based graphical user interface that is rather easy to use. Present components contain two neuron editors, two network editors, a drug editor, a simulator, visualization tools and analysis tools for the time and frequency domain. There are also several plotting tools to show results in graphical form.

The big advantage of xnbc is that the user does not need to know a lot about computers which makes the target group "computer naive neuroscientists" according to the author. Possibly also due to this scientific studies done with xnbc can be found in "Neural Networks," "Neuroscience," "Physica," "Biosystems" and even "Nature Medicine."

The work on xnbc started back in 1989 and right now they are working on version 9. The big step for this release will be support for named neurotransmitters, so different receptors can be used within the network. Also it is planned to allow dynamic loading of ion-channel models.

Oh - and before I forget: xnbc is published under the GNU General Public License.

The last part could be an interesting tip for our Midi freaks.


TiMidity was originally a converter for Midi files into the wav format written by Tuukka Toivonen; but after the development dried up, Masanao Izumo and some other people started reviving it. By now TiMidity++ is not only a converter but also a program for playing Midi files in real time in high quality - and it is purely software based.

Of course this makes it a very CPU-hungry program which is made somewhat easier on the user by automatically reducing voices when the CPU power is insufficient to play everything.

TiMidity++ can be controlled via graphical as well as text-based interfaces and it is capable of downloading/playing over the network and it can even extract Midi files on the fly from archives for playback. So it should be suitable for a lot of uses.

By the way: Paolo Bonzini (this name may ring a bell with those of you who read the Brave GNU World on a regular basis) gave me the tip for this feature. He is also working on expanding the experimental module-file player and invites everyone interested to join in. The homepage [11] should pretty much contain everything that's important.

...it's over now

Alright, that's it for this month - this time I won't be able to elaborate on some philosophical ideas because I am somewhat lacking the neccessary quiet and calmness. But I hope I will be able to come back to it in the next issue. But I would very much like to thank everyone for the great feedback to my thoughts about the social aspects of the GNU Project - this has somewhat surprised me and I liked it very much.

Please do not hesitate to send your ideas, questions, comments or project reports by email [1].

[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] Everybuddy homepage http://www.everybuddy.com/
[6] W3M homepage http://ei5nazha.yz.yamagata-u.ac.jp/~aito/w3m/eng/
[7] Gnofin homepage http://gnofin.sourceforge.net/
[8] Bayonne homepage http://www.gnu.org/software/bayonne/bayonne.html
[9] GNUcomm homepage http://www.gnu.org/software/gnucomm/gnucomm.html
[10] Xnbc homepage http://www.b3e.jussieu.fr/xnbc
[11] TiMidity++ homepage http://www.goice.co.jp/member/mo/timidity/

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Last modified: Wed Jul 26 12:14:40 CEST 2000