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Brave GNU World - Issue #32
Copyright © 2001 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of Georg's Brave GNU World.

Ganesha's Project

Ganesha, the Hindu of wisdom and prosperity, has given this project [5] its name. The project's goal is to help children of the Shree Bachhauli Secondary school in Nepal to set up a GNU/Linux network of donated computers and teach them how to use and administrate the systems. The idea for the project evolved during two months of staying with Kuma Raj Subedi, who teaches at the Shree Bachhauli Secondary school.

The situation for children in Nepal is quite problematic. Having to work, they often cannot attend school regularly. But without education they lack a perspective for their future, so their children also end up having to work.

Ganesha's Project tries to break this circle by teaching children how to use computers in order to allow them to participate in the information age and keep them in school.

It is planned to first raise the required finances and computers in order to then transport them to Nepal, where the network will be set up and the software will be installed. Then a first class of children will be taught how to use the machines, so they can help other children use the computer pool. Besides elementary use of the computer, web programming, databases, networks and graphics will be topics taught.

Besides financial aid, the project needs network cables, computers, network cards, a video-beamer, printers and so on. English books about PHP, networking, MySQL, shell scripting and more would also be very useful.

In our richer countries, computers are quickly outdated and get thrown away. Using them instead to give children anywhere in the world a perspective for their future seems to me like a much better use.

Of course similar problems exist in many places. Because of this Ganesha's project seeks to be a Free Software project in the sense of trying to inspire others to copy the concept and participate.

It might be useful to collect all experience, operation procedures, and ideas in a kind of project repository under the GNU FDL in order to create a howto that will allow others to start similar projects in order to help people help themselves.


Raphel Hertzog and Stephane Casset authored the Logidee-tools project [6]. The project's goal is to simplify the writing of courses and their conversion into print-ready documents and web pages.

The courses are written as XML documents, which are converted into presentations or a complete training document. In order to do so, Logidee-tools uses a XML DTD with some XSL- and Makefiles. For XSLT processing, the project makes use of the xsltproc of the GNOME project.

The typical users could be everyone teaching courses or giving lessons. Professional trainers in particular should give this project a look, as it was specifically written to fit their needs.

The project was originally created by the French company Logidee, which is a company specializing in professional training for Free Software, to satisfy their own demands. When they realized that this might also be useful to others, Logidee-tools were released under the GNU General Public License and the GNU Free Documentation License.

The documentation still is a weak point, however, as it is only available in French. An English translation is wanted but not yet planned.


HTMLDOC [7] bears some similarities to the preceding project, because it also tries to make documents widely available. It is also released under the GPL and has been developed by a company; in this case Easy Software Products (ESP).

HTMLDOC uses HTML as source format for writing documents. These can be used to generate indexed HTML, PDF or PostScript (Level 1, 2 or 3). Kurt Pfeifle, who wanted this feature, considers the killer feature to be that links present in HTML are preserved in PDF documents as hyperlinks. People who want to make use of this do not have to use the proprietary Acrobat Reader, they can also use the Free project xpdf. There is justified hope that more Free projects will be available soon.

The "Linux Documentation Project" is using HTMLDOC to convert their HOWTOs into PDF format for quite some time now, replacing the formerly used SGML-Tools. This seems to prove it is safe to say HTMLDOC is ready for everyday use.

The recently released version 1.8.14 added support for Acrobat 5.0 compatible files (PDF 1.4), which allows 128-bit encryption of documents. Also it uses less memory and some problems regarding displaying tables have been resolved.

Regarding speed, it can be said that HTMLDOC converts its current handbook with 102 pages of PDF or PostScript output and 17 screenshots in 4,0 seconds to PostScript and 6,2 seconds to PDF with maximum compression on Kurt Pfeifle's 500 MHz Pentium III.

Another option available with HTMLDOC is remote-access through proxies or secure/encrypted connections in order to convert web pages into PDF. Thanks to bindings to Shell, Perl, PHP, C and Java, it can do this even as a "portal" that gets web page addresses as input and returns ready-made PDF documents of the page. An example of this can be found on the Easy Software Products home page [8].

When using HTMLDOC on the local machine, it can be controlled through a GUI based on the "Fast Light Toolkit" (FLTK) [9] or the commandline. The latter also allows using it in batch jobs in order to automatize the process, should this be desired.

These are only some of the HTMLDOC features in order to convey an impression of what the project can do. The project is already very mature and allows not only defining special effects when turning pages in PDF presentations, but also definition of title pages, background images or the creation of "PDF books" from randomly chosen web pages.

On top of this, HTMLDOC is also remarkably portable. Not only does it run on GNU/Linux, but also on IBM-AIX, Digital UNIX, HP-UX, *BSD, OS/2, Solaris, SGI-IRIX, MacOS X and MS Windows 95/98/ME/NT4/2000.

Further plans for development include XHTML and an extended stylesheet support, as well as the conversion of left and right justified HTML source paragraphs into PDF, because they still get converted to left-justified paragraphs (Note: this problem has been solved since the issue was written).

But this should not really stop anyone from taking a look at HTMLDOC or trying out the PDF-O-Matic [8].

GNU Passwords On Card

The GNU Passwords On Card (POC) project is a rather young addition to the GNU Project by Henning Koester. Since the final GNU web site of POC was not available when writing this issue, I'll refer to the old home page for now [10], but it should soon be possible to find GNU POC in the standard GNU software directory [11].

This program under the GNU General Public License offers the capability to administrate passwords on smartcards. The use should be rather obvious for every reader with more than 5 passwords - especially if some of the passwords are only used once or twice a year.

Until now, many people either wrote down their passwords on pieces of paper, saved them on their harddisk or reused passwords in several places.

Everyone knows these are things you shouldn't do, but what they did not know is how to solve the problem of memorizing many passwords reliably. GNU POC offers a solution to this by saving the passwords along with a short description on a smartcard in encrypted form.

Currently GNU POC only supports I2C memory cards, but it is planned to support as many cards as possible. One way of helping GNU POC is providing other cards, so their support can be included.

The next project has been on my Brave GNU World wishlist for some time now and I'm glad it finally worked out.


It is no exaggeration to call Sketch [12] the currently most advanced Free Software vector-drawing program.

The project was started by Bernhard Herzog in 1996, who has been the central developer ever since. By now Sketch is rather stable and supports several advanced features like gradient-filling, fading from one picture to another, transition, or masking. It is also possible to convert all vector objects, including text, into curves.

Another fascinating feature is the ability to use pretty much any object as a "magnetic" guide line by moving it to the guide line layer. Of course this is additional to the horizontal and vertical guide lines and the standard grid.

Sketch can and is already being used as the GIMP pins on the last GNU/LinuxTag prove, that have been done with Sketch by Simon Budig; the poster of the first Libre Software Meeting in Bordeaux has also been done with Sketch.

Scripts and plugins in Python allow easy extension of Sketch and since Sketch itself is written in Python, all user scripts have full access to all Sketch objects. Also new object types as well as import/export filters can be added through plugins.

Python was the language of choice for Bernhard Herzog because the object oriented approach is a very natural choice for vector drawing programs and Pythons flexibility makes experimenting with new concepts much easier than it would be in C or C++. Therefore Sketch relies almost exclusively on Python, only some modules are written in C.

Among the lacking parts is the limited text support as well as a possibility to directly enter coordinates and size of objects by hand. But these problems will probably be solved in the forseeable future.

Right now Sketch is in a migration from Tkinter to GTK, which makes the completion of the migration the primary goal for the next stable version (0.8).

Long-term goal is making Sketch a complete vectore drawing program that is able to compete with proprietary solutions. But in order to achieve this, the import/export filters still need to be completed and expaned, the aforementioned text support needs to be improved. Also new features like transparency effects, vector filling patterns, CMYK and color management are planned.

So there is still quite a bit waiting to be done and Bernhard welcomes any help. In his eyes, especially the filters are a good way to get into Sketch development, as they do not require complete knowledge about the Sketch internals.

Furthermore there is a documentation in French that should be translated into English and help with the web page is equally welcome.

But it is not only possible to support the development of Sketch through voluntary work, which is more or less the classical way.

Bernhard Herzog works for Intevation [13], a German company specialized on Free Software. Even if Intevation tries to give Bernhard as much time as possible to work on Sketch during his regular hours at work, they cannot afford having him work on Sketch full-time.

Therefore Intevation has created an online account that can be found via the Sketch home page, which makes it possible to buy time for Sketch development in 10 USD steps. These should not be understood as donations, but rather an investment in future possibilities gained through Sketch.

Similar approaches are very often designated as "tipping culture," so we are talking about voluntary payment of an acceptable amount triggered by the understanding that this service should still be available tomorrow.

So if you lack time or know-how to get active developing Sketch, you can let Bernhard Herzog do it for you by buying him time that he can spend on Sketch.

When asked for special things to include in a Sketch feature, Bernhard said that the possible patent problems should be mentioned.

Adobe holds some US software patents regarding transparency features of PDF 1.4 and some other parts for PDF >= 1.3. At the moment, Adobe does not ask for patent fees, given that the algorithms are being used for PDF processing. But this may mean that Sketch cannot implement these features because its main purpose is not PDF processing.

Also it isn't clear whether the "Scalable Vector Graphics" (SVG) firmat poses patent-related problems for Free Software.

So it may be that at least some features of Sketch may not be used for commercial purposes in the USA. The same will be true for Europe should these patents become valid here.

If you haven't signed the Eurolinux-Petition [14] yet, you should do this as soon as possible in order to support the movement against software patents in Europe.

Enough for today

Since this questions is raised repeatedly, I'd like to point out that the Brave GNU World features all Free Software, whether it is part of the GNU Project or not. Every Free Software project can get featured.

Alright, that's enough for today and as usual I'd like to ask for comments, questions, ideas and new project introduction by mail to the usual address [1].

[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] "Ganesha's Project" home page http://www.ganeshas-project.org
[6] Logidee-tools home page http://www.logidee.com/tools/
[7] HTMLDOC home page http://www.easysw.com/htmldoc/
[8] HTMLDOC PDF-O-Matic http://www.easysw.com/htmldoc/pdf-o-matic.php
[9] Fast Light ToolKit home page http://www.fltk.org
[10] GNU Passwords On Card home page http://poc.crackinghacking.de
[11] GNU software directory http://www.gnu.org/software/
[12] Sketch home page http://sketch.sourceforge.net
[13] Intevation home page http://www.intevation.de
[14] Eurolinux Petition http://petition.eurolinux.org

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Copyright (C) 2001 Georg C. F. Greve

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Last modified: Tue Oct 9 18:18:11 CEST 2001