Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce A conversation with Bdale Garbee

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It's difficult not to notice Bdale Garbee, the chief technologist for open source and Linux at Hewlett-Packard, when he attends the Australian national Linux conference.

You can't miss the tall figure with the well-maintained beard, holding, like a plaything in one hand, a little laptop that has a prominent Debian sticker on it.

Despite his height, he always manages to quietly enter a room when he attends a presentation. And when he does choose to ask a question during a presentation, it is well thought out and adds to the learning of all present. He isn't inclined to be frivolous - though, as he amply demonstrated this time, he has a great sense of humour.

Garbee was prominent at this year's conference, all due to events not exactly to do with Linux. His picture even appeared in the local Tasmanian tabloid. These events have been reported elsewhere, hence one does not intend to dwell on them.

When I spoke to him, early on the Tuesday of conference week, he still had his beard. We talked at length about the Debian GNU/Linux project - he has been a part of it since 1994, is chairman of the technical committee, and, at the time we spoke, was acting secretary.

Edited extracts:

iTWire: Recently there was a long debate over the question of free vs non-free in the Debian project. Do you think it is possible to settle this once and for all?

Bdale Garbee: I think so. But I don't know that we're quite ready for the ultimate solution. One of the messages that I posted late in the thread of discussion was to the effect that I would much rather see us resolve some of the related bugs in question than spend much more time talking about them.

In that regard, I picked a couple of them myself and over the last couple of weeks I have successfully got to the point where we're now ready to close the two bugs in the Debian bug-tracking system related to glx. SGI took an action, back in September I think it was, to relicense the code in question and what needed to happen after that was to contact all of the individual developers who had made contributions on top of their original work to confirm that they all agreed to the licence change and we got the last confirmation on Thursday (January 15).

As soon as I have a chance to catch my breath a little bit, we'll process all of that and close those bugs. This is the kind of thing that has to happen, we have to be willing to just do the grunt work of stepping through and resolving these things.

The longer term question of what the role of the non-free side of the distribution should be in Debian is, I think, a more difficult question. There have been a lot of ideas posted recently that I find myself agreeing with, suggesting that always having a place where we explicitly put software that doesn't meet the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) that indicates that it doesn't meet our guidelines and yet is of interest to our users, seems like a valuable thing.



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.