OpenBSD creator Theo de Raadt began developing OpenBSD in October of 1995. KernelTrap first spoke with Theo back in November of 2001 [interview], around the time that OpenBSD 3.0 was released, discussing much of the early history of the project. The project has continued to offer regular releases of their "free, functional & secure" operating system every six months, with OpenBSD 3.9 made available yesterday, May 1, 2006.
In this latest interview, Theo examines the past five years of OpenBSD development. He also discusses the OpenBSD 3.9 theme song, "Blob!", detailing what blobs are, why OpenBSD avoids them, and how OpenBSD developers work to reverse engineer them. Looking to the development process, Theo talks about recent and future "mini-hackathons", small and focused OpenBSD development gatherings. Finally, Theo also discusses the OpenBSD project's funding issues, and the response to requests for funding from users of the project's OpenSSH software.
Jonathan Gray and Damien Bergamini recently worked together to develop the nfe driver to support NVIDIA Ethernet controllers. In this interview, they talk about OpenBSD's policy to not ship binary-blobs, explaining the problems associated with drivers that use these blobs and the affect these types of drivers have on the open source community. They also detail the efforts involved in writing the nfe driver, describing why they started the project, how they were able to support undocumented hardware, and the features supported by the new driver.
OpenBSD 3.9 will be officially released on May 1, 2006 and will include the new nfe driver. The theme song for the upcoming OpenBSD release is titled "Blob!", a cautionary tale about the growing prevalence of binary blobs among open source operating systems and where this might lead.
A recent discussion on the OpenBSD -misc mailing list focused on the project's efforts to initiate communication with Texas Instruments to try and get them to offer the firmware for one of their wireless chipsets under an open license [story]. The goal is not to get the company to open source their firmware, just to license it in such a way that it can be legally distributed with OpenBSD, an operating system that prides itself on being 100% free. TI is only one of many companies currently being approached in this recent effort [story].
In order to gain the attention of these vendors, many hundreds of letters have been sent and phone calls made to numerous contacts. The idea being to let the vendors know that there is a large concerned user base that is going to decide how they will spend their money based on the vendor's willingness to work with open source software. Already this effort has successfully initiated communication between OpenBSD creator Theo de Raadt [interview] and several wireless chip vendors, with two of them recently agreeing to offer their firmwares under a freely redistributable license. At this time, Symbol, Zydas, and Atmel have opened their firmwares so that OpenBSD can redistribute them. Intel and Conexant are discussing the possibilty. And only Texas Instruments has remained silent.
In order to better understand why OpenBSD has decided this is important, I approached Theo de Raadt with a few questions. In reply he fully explains the issue, talking about how successful this form of activism has been for OpenBSD in the past, and offering specifics on exactly what they are trying to accomplish. He summarizes, "the open source community has support for all the ethernet chipsets, all the scsi chipsets, all the raid chipsets, so why should we not have support for all the wireless chipsets?" Read on for the full interview.