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Getting Started with Linux Development and Compliance: An Interview with Christoph Hellwig

by Karen Sandler on February 22, 2017

Christoph Hellwig is a Linux developer, responsible for the code for several filesystems and the NVM Express drive. He’s a member of Conservancy’s GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers and the plaintiff in the case against VMWare, which still awaits appeal. We recently had a chance to catch up with him to hear how he got started working on Linux, what advice he would give newcomers, and why he supports Conservancy’s work.

Photo of Christoph Hellwig speaking at DebConf 2015

Q: How did you become interested in Linux? Is there a contribution you are most proud of?

CH: When I was a kid in Germany I started using Usenet and got myself into programming more or less by accident. That lead to learning about Linux and installing it at home. Soon after I started hacking kernel to make the sound card in my computer work under Linux.

Q: Why did you join Conservancy’s GPL Compliance Project For Linux Developers?

CH: I decided that fighting copyright violations on my Linux code wasn’t a task I could take on alone. Based on that I decided to join the Conservancy’s GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers, which is a very open project and also includes other kernel developers I respect a lot.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in the Linux kernel today?

CH: Try to scratch an itch instead of just looking for an easy task that looks good on a resume. For example fix something that annoys you or a friend. Or try to upstream support for an embedded device you use. Don’t send cleanup patches for random code—that’s a good way to be seen as someone who is only interested in polishing his or her resume with kernel commits.

Q: Why do you choose to support Conservancy, in addition to volunteering your time to promote free software and compliance?

CH: I am very impressed with Conservancy’s work. Not only in the compliance program where I work closely with the Conservancy, but also how it helps a lot of free software projects to manage their affairs.

Join Christoph and support Conservancy today! Supporters sustain all of this work we do, from fiscal sponsorship for projects, to compliance work on their behalf.

Tags: conservancy, GPL

linux.conf.au is Like a Dream

by Karen Sandler on January 31, 2017

I’m writing this on my way to Campus Party Brasil, and I’m finally able to report about and reflect on linux.conf.au. I’m still buoyed by the enthusiasm and passion exhibited by the Linux Australia community.

I hit the ground running in Hobart. The organizers invited me to give a presentation in the opening plenary to introduce Outreachy. I explained why we need the program, how it works on a basic level and shared the metrics that show that the program is succeeding in its goals. Chris Neugebauer, lead organizer and emcee for the week, then surprised the crowd by announcing that Outreachy would be the designated charity for the conference. Every year, LCA picks a charity and sells raffle tickets to raise money for the selected charity. Usually this is a local charity, so this year LCA focused on raising money to support interns in Australia and New Zealand.

The first two days of the conference were mini-conference days, each organized by a volunteer to have a day-long track on a particular topic. I proposed a GPL enforcement feedback session for the Linux kernel miniconf—the third in our series. So far each session has been on a different continent to make sure that people have a chance to weigh in all over the world. The session wasn’t recorded, as we wanted to make sure that attendees felt comfortable speaking candidly. James Scheibner of the University of Tasmania volunteered to take notes to make sure we kept track of what was said. The session was well attended. I didn’t count how many people were there, but others told me that it was somewhere between 80 and 100 people. I expected the session to be like the one at Linux Plumbers, with an immediate flood of thoughts about enforcement and Conservancy’s activities in particular, but instead this session started out as a Q&A. About half way into the designated time, I stopped the Q&A and specifically asked for feedback. When no one volunteered to speak, I goaded the audience a bit, eventually saying that if no one had any feedback I was going to take it that they were happy with Conservancy’s work. The audience burst into applause, and there were shouts of “thank you!” The positive response was just fantastic. We continued with Q&A and also brainstorming about things that can be done in the future. I also facilitated a discussion in the Legal & Policy miniconf on Tuesday, which included a lot of interesting discussion too.

The keynotes were all really good, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point to r0ml’s talk “Keeping Linux Great”. There’s a full write-up of it on Rodger Donaldson’s blog. As always, r0ml’s talk was a roller coaster ride, densely packed with thoughts and observations. I was especially surprised to see he included a slide with Conservancy’s logo between pictures of me and Bradley! He said (thanks to Rodger for transcribing this):

If you think I’m a bozo, you need to join Software Freedom Conservancy, because they’re the vanguard of trying to push free and open software into the future and preventing people like me from ruining it. And if you think that I have an excellent point and that this might be the future, we still need free software to build it. We still need somebody to be the rearguard to prevent the barbarians from overrunning us while we build this future. So if you agree with me you should join Software Freedom Conservancy.

The pictures of us were huge on the giant screen in Plenary Hall—Bradley turned bright red, much to my amusement!

I also gave a talk in the same room, called “Surviving the Next 30 Years of Free Software”. I plan to write a separate post about it, but the video is already up. This deals with a lot of issues I’ve been wrestling with about how our community transitions when more of us become incapacitated and pass away. It’s heavy stuff, and a hard topic to talk and think about, but it’s important. I appreciate the fact that this topic was chosen by the conference and that many in the Linux Australia community are receptive to the ideas I proposed.

There were so many great talks and an engaging hallway track. I recommend reading Kathy Reid’s write-up of her highlights. (Also at the conference Kathy was elected to the post of president for Linux Australia.)

People run down to make last-minute cash donations to fund a third Outreachy intern. Picture from linux.conf.au 2017 video.

The conference wound down with fantastic lightning talks (check out Rusty Russell’s) and then I was surprised to be called to the stage by Chris. Chris, ever the showman, walked us through an ever-increasing amount of money raised for Outreachy. First, he told us that they sold many more raffle tickets than they had anticipated such that they had to get three batches of tickets and differentiate them. Then, Chris announced that two anonymous donors matched amounts and that they raised enough to fund two interns, and Kathy announced that Linux Australia was donating AU$7000! With three interns within reach, Martin Krafft ran down to the stage and called for people to donate the last amount on the spot. And then a lot of people ran down with their cash! In the end, the conference raised enough money for three interns, and the 2018 team announced that they’ll sponsor tickets for all three interns and their mentors to attend LCA 2018 (plus I got to pick the raffle winners). It was an amazing way to end an amazing conference!

Many thanks to the LCA organizing team and the Linux Australia community for keeping such a magical community alive.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

Compliance Feedback Sessions in 2017

by Karen Sandler on January 13, 2017

While we continue our principled defense of copyleft software on behalf of developers who ask us to do it, Conservancy is committed to examining whether we’re doing things the best we we can. As we publicly promised, we’ve been running feedback sessions on GPL compliance to hear from everyone who is interested in our work.

Bradley conducted a session at Embedded Linux Conference Europe and Brett and I ran one at Linux Plumbers Conference. Both were informative and, honestly, reassuring. While there are some areas we can improve (as a free software organization, we know we can always improve!), our fundamental approach is sound and seems to be in line with what developers and other stakeholders would like us to be doing. Of course, we also have received some mixed messages. Some people strongly criticize us for not being aggressive enough, while others think our rhetoric is a little too strident. What’s been great is to have everything on the table and get people involved. As a public charity, we want to be sure that we are in fact acting in the public’s interest in everything we do.

We’ve got another feedback session scheduled next week at the Linux Kernel Miniconf at linux.conf.au on Monday afternoon. If you’re there I hope you’ll join us. I’ll also be facilitating a fishbowl discussion on GPL compliance at the Legal & Policy Miniconf Tuesday morning. Please let us know if you have any other suggestions for where we should hold more feedback sessions. We’ve been trying to strategically propose these sessions where they’ll be the most effective (we did propose a feedback session with an eye towards getting key corporate leadership feedback at the upcoming Open Source Leadership Summit, but the session was unfortunately not accepted). Other conferences we’ll be at this year include FOSDEM, Campus Party Brasil, SCaLE, LibrePlanet and OSCON. We’ll have a booth at most of these, so even if we don’t have a session please just stop by our booth and tell us what you think!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are only days left for us to earn our generous match from Private Internet Access. We’ve made great progress, but we’re only about 70% there! Please sign up as a Supporter - you’ll be donating to the support of our many member projects, copyleft defense, diversity work via Outreachy as well as the overall promotion and advocacy of free software. There’s still time for your donation to be amplified, but only if you sign up now!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

Come see Conservancy at linux.conf.au 2017

by Brett Smith on December 5, 2016

Are you coming to linux.conf.au in January? So are we! We’re presenting a variety of sessions, so whether you’re just starting to learn about free and open source software, or a seasoned contributor who wants to hear about cutting-edge issues, we’ve got something for you.

On Thursday Karen and Bradley offer A Practical Guide to Compliance with the GNU GPL, a pragmatic tutorial on how to comply with the most popular FOSS license. The focus is on providing concrete actions you can take to comply. There’s something for everyone who works with GPL’ed software, whether you’re an upstream contributor, distributor, or lawyer.

On Friday Karen presents Surviving the Next 30 Years of Free Software. As the FOSS community matures and time marches on, we’re starting to see cases where a contributor passes away and a project has to work out legalities with their estate. Karen will explain the law in this area, and suggest next steps for projects and the broader community to make these transitions easier.

As part of the Kernel Miniconf, we’ll also run another feedback session about our GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers. Just like the sessions at ELC EU and LPC, this is your opportunity to hear more about what the program does, how it works, ask questions, and offer ideas for improvement. All interested contributors are welcome to attend. We’ll announce schedule details as they’re available.

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone in Hobart!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

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