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What a Difference a Year Makes

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October 31st, 2011

Version 1.2

© Michael Dexter

From historic events to a cure for insomnia, the last 12 months have been great for BSD

Exactly one year ago this month, I was finally able to drag my Acer 1410 notebook out of its drawer and install a BSD that allowed it to suspend and resume gracefully. That BSD was OpenBSD 4.8 which not only included a new ACPI stack but also the mandoc *roff replacement they are using for the man page infrastructure. Now on the eve of the exciting OpenBSD 5.0 and FreeBSD/PC-BSD 9.0 releases, let's look back at some of the BSD milestones of this last year.

Just days after the OpenBSD 4.8 release on November 1st, 2010, MeetBSD California kicked off at Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, California. MeetBSD is an event that started in Poland and expanded in name to the USA. Less formal than the traditional Cons, MeetBSD California offered a combination of talks and unconference sessions where attendees chose topics at the start of the day. This made for something truly historic: everyone agreed on a common session on virtualization. I have never heard of that happening at an unconference and goes to show how like-minded BSD users and developers can be despite evidence to the contrary. Their consensus? We need a Linux KVM-like hypervisor.

One treat at the event was the presence of local developer Matthew Dillon of the DragonFly BSD project who gave an in-depth talk about the Hammer filesystem. Matthew has really thought about issues at hand and is a pleasure to talk to. The other treat was the great organizing by iXsystems which included great SWAG, a live drum performance by James Nixon and DJing by John Hixon. Things were so wild that Matt Olander thought that he might lose some of his key developers in the inflatable boxing ring. In the end no one was hurt and a good time was had by all.

Going from the West coast to the East coast, NYCBSDCon began less than a week later in New York City. NYCBSDCon started in 2005 and is the largest BSD conference in the USA. For 2010 it moved to Cooper Union's beautiful New Academic Building having traditionally been held at Columbia University. One of the talks that stood out was Jeremy C. Reed's talk, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Key Players and Events in BSD History" in which he chronicled the birth of open source Unix as we know it. The legal documents that Jeremy has unearthed literally show how lawyers in uncharted territory gradually created the legal environment necessary for open source software. Michael Lucas also gave his "BSD Needs Books" talk which has some very good advice for aspiring authors and this memorable line about getting technical input from developers: "There's a simpler way to do this: grab the fubar with a gerbil mutex, then frob the fubar with vm_page_insert, then release the mutex." Yep, so true.

From there I was fortunate to the Supercomputing conference in New Orleans where BSD vendor Isilon Systems had a booth showcasing their massive unified storage systems. They used the event to formally announce their acquisition by storage vendor EMC. I asked one of their representatives what the acquisition would mean for Isilon as a FreeBSD shop. They were confident that Isilon would have a great deal of autonomy and could operate largely as they always had. FreeBSD developer Zachary Loafman's NYCBSDCon talk "Isilon and FreeBSD" gave some insights into Isilon's largely successful relationship with the wider community. He emphasized that a healthy relationship with the community is a two-way street that requires effort on both sides. Zachary suggested that Isilon would ultimately like to rely on unpatched upstream code. Hopefully next week's Vendor Summit will document some proven strategies for this ongoing exchange.

Continuing this theme, the FreeBSD Developer Summit at BSDCan in May of this year included the first formal FreeBSD Vendor Summit session which led to a follow-up session at EuroBSDCon and next week's two-day dedicated Vendor Summit in Sunnyvale, California. Given the mixed history of animosity between open source projects and vendors, these events represent a very positive trend of actual project/vendor dialog, rather than simply vendor/project sponsorship. In time, this two-way street will be driven by equals and the various "FLOSS Foundations" represent the formality on the part of projects needed to make this happen.

Naturally, the rest of BSDCan was a blast. BSDCan is the largest BSD conference and is held annually at the University of Ottawa. Two keynotes that stood out were Peter H Salus' "Unics history: A non-architectural view" and Eric Allman's "Sendmail: History and design" in which he slammed C++ for hiding what it's doing. Combined with Jeremy C. Reed's NYC "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" talk and Kirk's "History of BSD", these talks help paint a more complete picture of BSD and explain why things are the way they are, rather than simply what they are and how they work.

Two technical highlights were a sequence of sessions on documentation and the unveiling of the BHyVe hypervisor for FreeBSD. Wishes can come true!

Of these great events, AsiaBSDCon 2011 in March was sadly curtailed by the tsunami that struck mere days before the event was scheduled to start. Peter Hansteen reports that he received a government warning against traveling to the region one hour before he was scheduled to depart. Various attendees report that they made the best of their time there and had as much of a long hallway session as a formal event. The 2012 AsiaBSDCon Call For Papers has just been announced along with its dates: March 22nd through 25th, 2012. The 10th annual EuroBSDCon in October is discussed in the CFT article EuroBSDCon 2011.

Then came the actual software:

November 2010

As mentioned, OpenBSD 4.8 shipped with a new ACPI stack and mandoc, a lightweight replacement for *roff that interprets the macros that define man pages rather than the underlying roff code called by the macros. As Ted Unangst put it:

I just wanted to write a short note about mandoc.  You may have seen it
mentioned in some recent posts.  It's a fantastic replacement for groff.

How fantastic?  This fantastic:
mini:~/src/share/man/man9> time nroff -Tascii -mandoc *.9 > /dev/null
    0m2.23s real     0m2.29s user     0m0.03s system
mini:~/src/share/man/man9> time mandoc *.9 > /dev/null
    0m0.20s real     0m0.19s user     0m0.01s system

The NetBSD team released NetBSD 5.1

The NetBSD team also imported the Lua programming language into the base system

December 2010

Colin Percival ported FreeBSD 9-current to Amazon EC2

An unfounded assertion was made that the FBI planted a backdoor in OpenBSD, the investigation into which revealed minor unrelated bugs that warranted attention but nothing substantiating the accusation

February 2011

Intel release the Sandy Bridge architecture which includes institutionalized support for virtualization and up to 16GB of RAM

The Debian team released Debian 6.0 with the Debian GNU/kFreeBSD port which matches the FreeBSD kernel to a GNU userland

March 2011

The NetBSD team announced support for NetBSD on Amazon EC2

April 2011

Anders Magnusson released the 1.0 version of pcc, the Portable C Compiler with amd64 support and expanded GCC compatibility

The LLVM team released version 2.9 with version 3.0 set for November 2011

Christoph Egger imported Xen 4.1 into NetBSD's pkgsrc

May 2011

The OpenBSD team released OpenBSD 4.9

The FreeNAS team released FreeNAS 8 with ZFS support and a new, Django-based web interface

Neel Natu and Peter Grehan unveiled BHyVe, the BSD Hypervisor

The FreeBSD and NetBSD Foundations pooled their funds to acquire a BSD-licensed branch of the libcxxrt C++ runtime

July 2011

The FreeBSD team froze the FreeBSD 9 tree for release engineering. Planned FreeBSD 9 features include Journaled Soft-updates and the ability for base to be built with LLVM

Unix vendor Apple shiped Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, delivering six million BSD userlands with tools such as PF by October

September 2011

The pfSense team released pfSense 2.0

Robert Nagy imported nginx httpd into OpenBSD

BSD libc-powered Android phones outsell BSD userland-powered iPhones two to one

Unix vendor Apple quietly discontinued security updates for PowerPC-based systems, inadvertently pressuring alternative operating systems to maintain support the platform

October 2011

Unix vendor NeXT's founder Steve Jobs passes away

Call For Testing launches on 09.10.11

C and Unix co-father Dennis Ritchie passes away

CFT

Copyright © 2011 – 2014 Michael Dexter unless specified otherwise. Feedback and corrections welcome.