[image of a Brave GNU World]
Brave GNU World - Issue #40
Copyright © 2002 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of the Brave GNU World. Since the last issue shave more or less concentrated on creative methods of wasting time, this issue will be dealing with some more work-related aspects.


Stefan Kamphausen, author of the Brave GNU World logo, pointed out a groupware solution by his colleague Rüdiger Götz to me. The program contains calender, address and task management and is therefore dedicated to managing space and time. Following the humor of Physicists, this program to manage "space-time" has been named after the Minkowsky-diagrams used in the Special Theory of Relativity and is therefore called Minkowsky. [5]

The program goes back to the end of 2000, when the company employing Stefan and Rüdiger looked for a groupware solution. Faced with the alternative Outlook, Rüdiger decided writing Minkowsky and their company is using it successfully since February 2001.

Minkowsky allows for fine-tuned access rights administration in order to give a secretary or other co-workers in related groups the possibility to access appointments, allowing for better coordination.

According to the experience made by Stefan and Rüdiger it is specifically the increase in coordination and communication within a group that makes Minkowsky special. A task, for which Minkowsky is mostly oriented towards groups living on a single LAN.

The technical basis of Minkowsky is C++/C with Tcl/Tk/Tix and it does not require an additional database, which can be advantageous in some situations. Being Free Software under the GNU General Public License, Minkowsky also secures the independence of companies using it in this rather crucial area.

Following the first public release in May 2001, the release process is about to publicise the first version also being available in English.

Further plans include the stabilization of comunication between client and server, the PDA synchronization, a port to Mac OS X (Minkowsky has been developed on GNU/Linux) and of course the search for and fixing of bugs.

Especially the English translation, a more stable communication layer and synchronization with a Palm-handheld are areas that Rüdger would welcome help in.


Webminstats [6] allows monitoring multiple relevant system parameters through a web browser. Since browsers are usually available on all platforms, such projects are usually very popular with administrators of (heterogenous) networks.

David Bouius began working on Webminstats in August 2001. Towards the end of 2001 he started receiving support by Eric Gerbier, who took over the project when David lacked the time to keep maintaining it.

According to Eric Gerbier, who answered the Brave GNU World questionnaire, Webmin offers several advantages over similar projects. It is, for instance, much faster than a classic of this genre, the MRTG [7], because unlike Webminstats, MRTG also creates graphs that are currently not needed.

As the name implies, Webminstats is based on the Webmin [8] project, which allows web-based administration of Unix systems. This allows sharing the access control features of Webmin for Webminstats and also makes it browser-configurable.

The Webminstats backend is based on the RRDTool (Round Robin Database Tool)[9] by Tobi Oetker, which provides a faster and more flexible reimplementation of the storage and display capabilities of the already mentioned MRTG project. Since it does not provide its data-collection and frontend features, RRDTool is no replacement for MRTG. It can rather be used by MRTG as its underlying database.

These database-capabilities are also what Webminstats uses. For collecting data, Webminstats provides 9 modules, which allow monitoring of CPU-load, disk space, IRQ, internet (FTP/HTTP), mail (sendmail, pop, imap), memory, processes and the number of users with a time-resolution of one minute.

Only recently this allowed Eric to find and fix a problem with his web server. Knowing the exact time of the crash and with the user module providing information about a new logon immediately before the crash, he was able to narrow down the possible problems, which made it much easier to find that specific bug.

Webminstats was written in Perl and Bash-Shell and is being released under the GNU General Public License as Free Software. It is available in English, German and Spanish and French language support can be expected soon.

Also new modules will expand functionality with firewall-monitoring capabilities and it is planned to customize it for other Unix systems. On top of this, the team has also considered adding "alarm messages."

Help is especially welcome in form of attractive icons for modules, customizations for other languages and operating systems as well as new features.


By beginning work on the LinCompta [10] project early this year, Pascal Conrad has started closing one of the most important gaps of Free Software: Professional analytic accounting.

After his last employer did not show appropriate understanding of and appreciation for the benefits of Free Software and GNU/Linux, which made him prefer the proprietary Prologue system over the LinCompta project, Pascal decided to provide it to the community under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

During its brief history, the project has already seen remarkable progress - it already has a very usable graphical user interface that should be easy to understand for most users.

Programming languages used in this project is C with GTK+/GNOME support and Pascal chose MySQL as the database.

The project currently lacks a way to print data and language support is also only available in French at the moment. On top of the task list there is a translation to English and Russian, however. But especially the English version and the web page are areas Pascal is looking for help in.

Should the project see enough interest, Pascal plans to expand it with other aspects of business accounting, so if you would like to see such projects come along, you should probably try to support Pascal by testing, translating or programming.


Issue #6 [11] of the Brave GNU World presented some background of the FreeNET project by Ian Clarke, which had the goal to create a decentral network which would make central control and censoring impossible and also allow data to "wander" through the network.

Facing the increasing attempts at censoring the internet and the problems created for filesharing services like Napster, which relied on a central reference point, the idea of such peer-to-peer networks is public knowledge today.

With GNUnet [12] by students of the Purdue University, such a network has also become part of the GNU Project now.

Let me try to give a short introduction for those who have not yet come in contact with such networks: In the internet, data is normally stationary and with the URL it can be mapped to a certain host. This allows -- by blocking access to that computer -- censoring and also finding out about the provider of that content.

This is especially problematic in countries like China, where access to media not controlled by the chinese government is being restricted and providers of critical information have to expect sanctions.

Networks like FreeNET or GNUnet underrun this by making extensive use of cryptography and anonymization, which protects the provider and makes a physical localization of unwanted information impossible. You would typically use such networks whenever privacy is more important than efficiency.

Other than normal anonymous networks, GNUnet allows a form of accounting, which ensures that nodes providing more to the network will receive better connectivity. Exclusive consumption ("Freeloading") is possible, but it has to take whatever capacity is "left over."

As mentioned before, the GNUnet projects originates in Purdue University, where it began as the cryptography project of some students. By the way: Their biggest problem was to convince the professor that this project did have to do with cryptography. By now they are giving their first appearances at crypto-conferences and GNUnet is in betatest stadium, so that should not be a problem anymore.

The authors see the advantages of GNUnet in the anonymizing, which they believe to be more effective than the methods employed in other networks. Also they are proud of their "reputation metrik," which provides protection against black sheep in the network. And finally GNUnet allows searching for "natural" strings, instead of random hashcodes used by FreeNET, for instance.

As far as they know, GNUnet is the only entirely decentralized network offering these capabilities.

The project was written in C and published under the GNU General Public License. The authors see its biggest weakness in the lack of enthusiasm to program a GUI. The currently available GTK+ based GUI works, but it is not very comfortable. Help with this would be very welcome and the project is also still looking for a logo.

Further development currently concentrates on porting it to more platforms. It runs on GNU/Linux and BSD already, so work is being done on versions for Solaris/OS10 and also Win32.

Plans for the future include transport mechanisms other than UDP. They have thought about using steganography to hide data in pictures in order to bring the network through the chinese wall -- pardon -- firewall. Also expansion of the network beyond filesharing -- to transport email, for instance -- might be possible.

Help is very welcome in form of more nodes running GNUnet, help with the Win32 port, documentation, web pages, creation of graphics and so on.


Gambas [13] is an acronym for "Gambas Almost Means BASic," which already gives us a hint about the type of the project, because Gambas is a graphical development environment based on a BASIC-interpreter with object-oriented expansions. Benoit Minisini, the author of this project, drew inspriation from Java and Visual Basic.

The project aims at creating an environment in which graphical programs can be assembled efficiently and with a shallow learning curve. Benoit found Java too complex and Visual Basic too buggy for this task, also Visual Basic only runs under Microsoft Windows. He also wanted a language that would secure freedom in terms of choice of desktop (KDE or GNOME) as well as license. Therefore he published Gambas under the GNU General Public License.

The project has seen about three years of development by now, using C for interpreter and compiler, C++ for Qt-bindings and Gambas itself for the graphical development environment. In all this Benoit aims at the best syntactic coherence and compactness possible, making the interpreter without the Qt component about 200k big. This should make it relatively easy to port Gambas to an embedded environment.

Thanks to its modular structure, the currently employed, Qt-based GUI component can easily be replaced by one based on GTK+, which is currently being planned. Further targets are the creation of a good debugger and a database component.

It will probably take some more time until Gambas is truly a complete programming language/environment, but it is most certainly possible to speed up the process through help. What Benoit needs most right now are people trying Gambas in order to give him feedback.

Once the component interface is finished, Benoit plans writing proper documentation for it, so adding Gambas components wil be an easy task for everyone.

When replying to the Brave GNU World questionnaire, Benoit added the following little story that he would like to share with the Brave GNU World readers:

One day Benoit tried reinstalling Windows, therefore he decided to reformat the partition under MS-DOS. Unfortunately the drive letters were inverted between Windows and MS-DOS, so he ended up deleting the wrong hard drive - which of course he did not have backups of.

Having gained 30 GB of -- unvoluntarily -- free disk space, he attempted fiddling around with another, recently released, proprietary operating system, which really did not appeal to him. So he though: Why not format that other hard disk from here? One mouse-click later his GNU/Linux "/home" partition unexisted.

Of course Gambas was on this partition and of course there were no backups.

By sheer luck there was still a one-month old copy of Gambas on the Windows partition that he tried to format initially. So Benoir only lost one month of work.

His good advice to all readers: Save important things everywhere! Be paranoid

Even though the importance of backups is certainly widely known in theory, this little experience report may trigger some readers to back up the last three years of work.

Of course one could also think that you should simply keep away From proprietary operating systems. :-)


After Brave GNU World issue #37 [14] already illustrated the weaknesses of the Make program [15], this issue will introduce another alternative: Cook [16] by Peter Miller.

Peter Miller, who is also author of the Aegis project presented in issue #4 [17], began working on a Make replacement as early as 1988. For the programming language he chose C and Cook is published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License.

Advantages of Cook in comparison with Make are the possibility to do parallel builds, recipes can have hostnames connected to them in order to run them on specific machines, dependencies can be resolved through dependencies, recipes have optional conditions to fine-tune their execution and much more.

Those who read the Brave GNU World features about GNU Cons and SCons will be interested to hear that Cook also supports detection of modification by fingerprints to avoid unnecessary recompilations.

The program is very mature with a solid and experienced user-base. Also the transition is made easier with a make2cook program, although this of course does not remove the necessity to deal with a new program and new syntax.

Those who have not yet found their way out of Make are given another opportunity here.

Free Software for Europe

April 30th, 2002 the FSF Europe [18] issued a recommendation for the 6th European Community framework programme, which kept me pretty busy during the past weeks as the president of the FSF Europe.

On the grounds of a very lively and strong Free Software developer and user community in Europe, the FSF Europe suggests that the European Union should capitalize on this and set an emphasis on Free Software in all aspects of the 6th framework programme and make explicit calls for Free Software in some areas.

Some reasons for this recommendation were an increased sustainability for public funds, securing the democratic tradition in Europe, strengthening regional and trans-regional markets, independence from American oligopolies and intensifying European research.

For these reasons the recommendation by the FSF Europe is being supported by companies, organizations and universitarian structures throughout Europe. On the list of supporting parties you will find (among others): Bull (France), the TZi of the University of Bremen (germany), the Centro Tempo Reale (Italy), MandrakeSoft (France), the FFS (Austria), Ingate Systems AB (sweden) or Eighth Layer Limited (UK).

If you are interested, the complete recommendation and list of supporting parties can be found on the FSF Europe home page. [19]


Enough Brave GNU World for this month, I hope to have given some impulses and as usual hope for many ideas, suggestions, comments and project introductions at 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] Minkowsky home page http://www.r-goetz.de/minkowsky/en/
[6] Webminstats home page http://webminstats.sourceforge.net
[7] Multi Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG) home page http://people.ee.ethz.ch/~oetiker/webtools/mrtg/mrtg.html
[8] Webmin home page http://www.webmin.com
[9] "Round Robin Database" (RRD) Tool home page http://www.caida.org/tools/utilities/rrdtool/
[10] LinCompta home page http://lincompta.tuxfamily.org
[11] Brave GNU World - issue #6 http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-6.en.html
[12] GNUnet home page http://www.gnu.org/software/GNUnet/
[13] Gambas home page http://gambas.sourceforge.net
[14] Brave GNU World - issue #37 http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-37.en.html
[15] GNU Make home page http://www.gnu.org/software/make/
[16] Cook home page http://www.canb.auug.org.au/~millerp/cook/
[17] Brave GNU World - issue #4 http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-4.en.html
[18] Free Software Foundation Europe http://fsfeurope.org
[19] Recommendation by the FSF Europe for the 6th framework programme http://fsfeurope.org/documents/fp6/

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Copyright (C) 2001 Georg C. F. Greve

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Last modified: Wed May 1 17:21:33 CEST 2002