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Brave GNU World - Issue #26
Copyright © 2001 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to yet another issue of Georg's Brave GNU World. I believe that several projects will be unknown to a lot of readers.


Those who believe "Bulletin Board Systems" (BBS), also often referred to as "Mailboxes," are dead, are mistaken. The GNU Project contains the GNU Pipo BBS [5], a BBS under the GNU General Public License.

The ancestry-line of the GNU Pipo BBS reaches over YAWK ("Yet Another Wersion of Citadel") back to Citadel, although it is completely independent code-wise. In fact it was a disagreement with Kenneth Haglund, author of YAWK, because of copyright-problems that triggered the development of the GNU Pipo BBS.

The original development-team were Grégory Vandenbrouck and Sébastien Aperghis-Tramoni who worked on the GNU Pipo BBS with help from volunteers like Sébastien Bonnefoy. After Grégory resigned, Sébastien Aperghis-Tramoni has become the official maintainer of the project.

The GNU Pipo BBS contains support for forums, direct messaging, mail, chat, web-access and bots. For the amusement of the users, the bots come in different personalities like a parrot, a dog or a pseudo-user.

I consider it an interesting aspect that these "juiced-up" BBS-systems might offer users a viable alternative to the web-portals as the "home base" in the net.

The GNU Pipo BBS is ready for production use and is being used by the Atlantis BBS in Marseilles, France, for instance. But since Pipo contains a significant amount of old code, Sébastien plans a code-freeze in order to revise the code. Especially the use of libraries is to be increased since at some places the wheel has been reinvented - which is not good for the maintainability of the code.

The only really weak-point is the documentation. The system does have system-messages in different languages, but the code still requires better comments. Also the home page and the manual require authors and translators.


The larswm [6] is window-manager by Lars Bernhardsson that is interesting for several reasons.

First of all purists should expect to fall in love with it, because it is very simple and minimalistic the way it looks and uses resources. It is solely based on ANSI C with standard Xlib-functions and completely avoids using widget-libraries like GTK+ or Qt.

But more important it offers an alternative to the known "windows-like" desktops. Even though these are widely spread, the user interface is definitely something where I consider innovative concepts refreshing.

The Free alternatives like KDE or GNOME essentially limit themselves to imitate the Windows-desktop, although KDE is much closer to the original than GNOME. This is not an argument agains KDE or GNOME, because they make the shift to GNU/Linux much easier and open perspectives that we did not have before.

But especially GNU/Linux is a platform that is well-suited for innovative user-interfaces and the larswm gives new impulses following its motto: "Because managing windows is the window manager's job!"

The desktop is split in two parts. The left part is bigger and normally contains a single window possessing the focus, which means that keypresses and other input are directed into this window. The right part contains the rest of the windows as equal-sized tiles, which is the reason why the larswm is called a "tiled window manager."

The keyboard support is also very good - if only using key-driven applications, the fingers never have to leave the keyboard.

The larswm definitely takes time to get used to, but it does have a well-deserved group of fans and everyone interested in alternative concepts should definitely give it a try.

There is one problem about the larswm, however. Since it is derived From the 9wm, it was forced to use its rather ugly license. This license does speak of Free Software, but there are clauses that most likely make it incompatible with the (L)GPL. Also it is legally weaker as the right to modification is only granted implicitly - just as the protection of freedom.

The project has been officially finished in January 2001 by the author - also because he lacks the time. The larswm has been an experiment to try a new user interface concept. In the long run he hopes to be able to replace all 9wm code with his own so the larswm will become a truly independent window manager. This could also help solving the license problem. Additionally Lars hopes to inspire other authors of window managers and to motivate them to implement similar concepts in their programs.


GNUstep [7] is an object-oriented framework and toolkit for program development, that is already successfully being used on many platforms. The function of a toolkit is to supply prefactored components for the graphical user interface so program can be written faster and more effectively; also programs based on a certain toolkit have a similar "look & feel." Examples for classical toolkits are GTK+ or Qt.

GNUstep is based on the original OpenStep-specification by NeXT, Inc. (now Apple), so it profits from years of professional experience especially by NeXT Computer Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.; the API is very high-level and well-defined. By now there are several success-stories where developers were able to write complex applications with GNUstep in minimal time.

It is also very helpful that GNUstep provides high-level APIs around some of the best Free Software packages like gmp, OpenSSH and tiff. Additionally it gives the term WYSIWYG a new meaning as GNUstep uses a common imaging model called "Display PostScript," which is related to the Postscript printer language, for all graphical output.

Although the GUI is still in the beta-stage, it is ready for production use and people successfully do so. Developers not afraid of something that is a little different from the rest should feel encouraged to give GNUstep a try.

Currently development is mostly done by 3-4 people with a group of 30-40 developers committing bugfixes, patches and comments. The libraries are published under the GNU Lesser General Public License, tools and isolated programs use the GPL.

At the moment development is focused on completion of the GUI and a port to MS Windows. Since GNUstep is API-compatible with MacOS X (Cocao), it is already possible to develop programs for Unix and MacOS X parallel. With a port to Windows, programs could be developed for all three platforms simultaneously.

Interesting is also the GNUstep web part, which uses a system similar to the Apple WebObjects and makes it easy to create dynamic web pages with connections to databases. Even though this part is still rather new, it is already almost completely usable.

This brings me to the next project.


The "XML Web Publishing System" W3Make [8] by Stefan Kamphausen is one of these small but rather useful projects. In this case it should prove useful for users of small to middle-sized web-pages.

Many XML-based approaches like, for instance, saxon allow only a single input file, so automatic linking is lost. Thanks to W3Make several XML source files can be piped through an XSL stylesheet with the help of saxon and written into several HTML output files.

Ceontral core is a GPL-licensed Perl-script that is parsing W3Makefiles. As the name already suggests, these are rather similar to the standard Makefile-syntax which allows you to use the Makefile-mode of your favorite editor to edit them.

The author himself is using it successfully for the web-sites of his employer and his person home-page, it is definitely ready for production use. What he would like to include in future releases is a link-checker that will canonically detect relative, absolute web and local links and transcribe one into the other. Also he plans to start using the Perl-XML::* modules instead of the saxon XSL parser. When doing that shift, he considers creating some plug-in interface so it becomes possible to use DSSL instead of XSLT.

The next project also has a very direct connection to the web.


Wilfried Römer and Hans-Peter Prenzel started the OpenWebSchool [9] project in Berlin, Germany. Goal is to etablish a cooperation between elementary- and high-schools and make school resources available online.

Based on the principle of Free Software using the GNU General Public License and the GNU Free Documentation License, students of the higher grades create learning units for students of the lower grades and elementary schools.

This allows the students of higher grades to gain experience in program development and web-programming. Thinking about paedagogical aspects when creating the units also helps reflecting the own way of learning. Additionally the project allows introducing students and topics into the internet that normally have no direct connection with computers.

Students of the lower grades and elementary schools gain an interesting addition to the normal classes that also helps getting familiar with the medium.

The web-site, central point of the OpenWebSchool, already contains some lessons in different topics, but due to the nature of the project and its youth, it is of course not complete. There is need for more developers and the usability could also be improved.

The OpenWebSchool is definitely a very promising project that will most probably see reimplementation in other countries. An international cooperation where students of one country create units for their native language to be used by students of other countries seems to be the next logical step.

Free Software Foundation Europe Update

As written in issue #22, a group of progagonists of Free Software is currently creating the European sister organization of the FSF [10].

By now the original team consisting of Peter Gerwinski, Bernhard Reiter, Werner Koch and myself has been joined by Frederic Couchet, Alessandro Rubini, Jonas Öberg and Loic Dachary; the next step to enlarge the team is already planned.

Central point of our work in the past weeks has been finding the right organizational structure and realizing it with the constitution. Since we consider transparency to be very important, I'd like to introduce some results at this point.

In the middle of the FSF Europe is a central organization, the so-called "Hub," which provides the European coordination, the office and all tasks that can be centralized. Connected to the Hub are national organizations that work on the local tasks and provide local points of contact for politics and press.

In order to be independent of populistim, the membership-policy of the FSF Europe follows that of the FSF. New members are only being appointed by a majority of the current members.

To allow working together with volunteers better and more closely than the model, the local organizations, the so-called "Chapters," are in close contact with societies in general open to everyone.

Those organizations, called "FSFE Associate Organizations," do a lot of the basic work and are in very close contact with the Free Software Foundation Europe. As it is possible to have "Associate Organizations" with different orientations, there can be several in one country.

Very often these Associate Organizations are also tied to the FSF Europe Chapters personally. A good example for this is France, where Fredeic Couchet as the President of APRIL is also FSFE-Chancelor, which is the highest representant of the FSFE in France. APRIL itself is established in France for several years now and has been doing valuable work there; it now joined the network as an Associate Organization of the FSF Europe.

In this way existent local structures are being protected and networked with each other through the FSF Europe. Additionally this allows everyone to work closely with the FSF Europe.

The personal structure is designed in a way that all members of the FSF Europe are member of the Hub and meet once a year. At this meeting the guidlines binding for all parts of the FSFE are being discussed and decided. Every second year the Europe-wide positions of President and Vice-President and the "Head of Office," which is responsible for all office-related things, are being elected.

The election of the local representants, the Chancelor and Vice-Chancelor is done by the local chapters at their yearly meetings.

The responsibilities of the President and his deputy, the Vice-President, are the political and public work on the European scale, the coordination of the Europe-wide cooperation and on demand the support of the Chancelors in their tasks.

This structure has been written down into a constitution with the help of a lawyer and at the time this column is being written, it is at the tax authorities In Hamburg, Germany to be checked for granting of charitable status.

After the last necessary steps have been performed to complete the legal founding, the main target will be the creation of the local organizations. In Germany, France, Italy and Sweden Chapters are already being prepared, Austria and the U.K. should probably not take too long, as well.

Parallel it will be my task to introduce the Free Software Foundation Europe in discussions and speeches and to establish contact to local organizations and politics. If you would like to meet with me at one of these occasions, you can inform yourself about my planned and fixed dates on my home page [11].

enough for this month

That's it for this month, as usual I'm asking for plenty of mail to the well-known address [1] and hope to receive interesting suggestions, ideas or project descriptions.

[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@brave-gnu-world.org>
[2] Home page of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Home page of Georg's Brave GNU World http://brave-gnu-world.org
[4] "We run GNU" initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.en.html
[5] GNU Pipo BBS home page http://www.gnu.org/software/pipo/Pipo-BBS.html
[6] Larswm home page http://www.fnurt.net/larswm/
[7] GNUstep home page http://www.gnustep.org/
[8] W3Make home page http://www.skamphausen.de/software/w3make/
[9] OpenWebSchool home page (in German) http://www.openwebschool.de/
[10] Free Software Foundation Europe home page http://fsfeurope.org/
[11] Conference Page - Georg C. F. Greve http://www.gnu.org/people/greve/conferences.html

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Copyright (C) 2001 Georg C. F. Greve

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Last modified: Sat Apr 14 13:06:34 CEST 2001