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Posted Sunday, 16 September 2012 by Miklos
Tags: en frugalware

Given that Frugalware was founded by me, and recently James recently took over the project leadership, I think it makes sense to look back and summarize the past 6 years.

The beginning

It all started with this announcement about 6 years ago. It was a one-man show before, there was a manually written ChangeLog but even then there were already quite a few packages, so don’t ask me when I started hacking on this. Yes, normally there would be a first commit in git, but remember this was before git existed, and I hated centralized CVS so much that we didn’t use anything.

Looking back, it was all quite lame. :-) I used a mail address called "mamajom" (English translation could be "momonkey"), tied to an ISP, with a lengthy signature at the end of every mail I sent and was using my IRC nick instead of my real one everywhere… OTOH, I made some decisions I’m happy about even today. The first four developers (Ádám Zlehovszky, Krisztián Vasas, Zsolt Szalai and me) were all Hungarian and despite of this, I forced every code, test and documentation to be in English, to possibly turn the project into an international one in the future. And that proved to very, very useful.

It was between 0.1 and 0.2 that we (Krisztián, Zsolt and me) showed up in a Hungarian TV (video record) explaining Frugalware. This is something never happened later for some reason.

The way we found a free hosting at a university I never attended may be also interesting. In the grammar school, our IT teacher found my Linux distribution idea interesting enough to support, and his friend was a teacher at the Eötvös Loránd University, which is at the same Budapest city where I live. So, with my friend Botond Balázs (who later was my witness at our wedding) we bought an ultra-slow old PC (some Pentium 1 with a single HDD) and we were extremely happy, as the uni offered to host it for free. I remember it ran some Slackware version, as Frugalware didn’t support i586… ;-)

Early days

Then some more developers joined and we started to package all the usual free software which is available in other distributions but I personally didn’t use. Think of GNOME, Xfce, OpenOffice.org and so on.

Of course we were still lame, the announcements still were not spellchecked by someone native and knowledgeable enough, ending up in words like "splitted" or "optimalization". However, we started to use an SCM (Darcs, which was horribly slow, but at least not the centralized CVS crap). Another developer I should mention was Bence Nagy, he came up with the idea of how we should avoid duplication in FrugalBuilds, leading to the various package templates under source/include/ in the source tree.

Then we went multiarch, Krisztián Hamar contributed the x86_64 port to the 0.3 release. At the same time, I invented syncpkg, which avoided having to build the same package on multiple architectures manually.

We also got Gábor Lőcsei (later we met IRL and completed several bike marathons together, resulting in a great friendship) who helped users in general on IRC, but more importantly, for some time he did quite some bug triaging, leading to a much better bugzilla (actually it was running Flyspray at that time) state.

The constant questions of László Csécsy (who nowadays mostly hacks Drupal core and its modules) generated more and more improving documentation. We first started with a LaTeX documentation, then later turned it to an asciidoc one, in the hope of attracting more non-math contributors. ;-)

Then we started to have some beautiful artwork, Viktor Gondor contributed some really cool wallpapers.

Finally, I think the last two Hungarian guys who spent a hell of a time on the project was András Vöröskői (we still link his getting started HOWTO for new contributors) and János Kovács. I remember for a long time I used the home-hosted server of János when we didn’t have a fast dedicated i686 build server and my desktop was still 32bit.

Going international

Then things started to happen fast. Developers outside Hungary showed up: Gabriel Craciunescu from Germany and Michel Hermier from France worked a lot on KDE, Gabriel also hacked a lot of the core OS, like kernel, glibc, etc.

Priyank Gosalia from India started to work on GTK tools like a package manager frontend. David Kimpe contributed a PPC port years before I got my iBook (which I used as my primary box for a few years).

And needless to say, we still made mistakes. We thought that the development of the original Pacman package manager slowed down, its rewrite (providing a separate library and a console frontend, instead of one monolithic binary) seemed to never complete, and given that we were not Archlinux developers, we never got access to its CVS. We started to use that library API in the installer, testcases, GUI tools, while changing the API for them wasn’t an issue, since officially it was still unreleased. All this frustration (and underestimating the cost of maintaining a fork) resulted in our Pacman-G2 project. First it appeared to be shiny, but once Krisztián Hamar left Frugalware, we constantly lacked manpower and today the consensus is that with git, maintaining a patchset over pacman.git would be far better, just nobody did the work of merging the two projects. Pacman-G2 is in maintenance mode today, and it still well serves its purpose, but it didn’t see any new major feature in years.

We also saw a rewrite of the installer. The original one was written in bash, then the second was written in C, using libdialog. And currently James works on a third one, hopefully fixing lots of instability, resulting from the design errors of the current one. ;-)

More and more developers

And then somehow more and more developers came. Gourdin Gaetan (bouleetbil) and Sébastien Vincent (Baste) worked a lot on the GNOME support, James Buren took over the base system from me. Paolo Cretaro (Melko) does KDE bumps nowadays and Marius Cirsta (mcirsta) did heroic work of including OpenJDK 7 into Frugalware.

Abdelmoumene Hamza (Slown) is a guy who volunteered to do a log of boring work. When you can install a random Perl on Python module from a package, chances that it was packaged by Slown are high. ;-)

Regarding infrastructure, Benjamin Nolmans (Xarkam) stepped up, and finally converted the data from our Flyspray instance to the more mainstream and maintained Trac format. Regarding architectures Boris Albar (Elentir) contributed an ARM port. Our press noise was generated by Russell Dickenson (phayz) for a long time: he wrote newsletters regularly, and these days he works as a documentation writer for Red Hat.

For a long time, no more Hungarians joined the project. Then Bagdán Róbert (kikadf) came, and even if he’s rarely present on IRC, he still contributes from time to time, and these small, but valuable contributions are what keep Frugalware alive. :-)

Regarding other big upgrades, Daniel Exner (dex) was the guy who stepped up and finally packaged KDE4 for Frugalware. All KDE4 users meeting him should buy a beer for him. ;-) Anthony Jorion (pingax) joined in 2010, and since then he does XFCE updates.

Finally, I should not forget about Daniel Eledut (Devil505), who probably helped me the most with my "the rest" task: he really helped out in various areas, and he was a major Frugalware contributor for a long time.

The end of my leadership

Contributing to other projects is something I did regularly, since every time I got a bugreport for a package, first I created a patch to fix the problem (in case it could not be worked around in the buildscript), and then of course tried to upstream it, knowing the maintenance cost of non-upstreamed patches. Still, these were minor and my main project was Frugalware for years.

The bigger contributions came when I started to complete Google Summer of Code projects, first SWIG, then git, finally OpenOffice.org — which turned into LibreOffice. The motivation is easy: these were still Free Software hacking, but given that they are not bash hacking (like most packaging work for Frugalware), more interesting problem had to be solved, GSoC also provided nice payments, and needless to say: was useful to many people not using Frugalware.

The idea of passing over my leadership to someone else first came when I looked back, and I saw that I spend more time on LibreOffice than on Frugalware, even after the paid GSoC ended (later resulting in joining SUSE to work on LibreOffice fulltime). My focus somehow just shifted from hacking a distribution to hacking something that is directly useful for average users as well. It’s not worse or better, it’s just different, and after lots of years, I wanted to do something different.

To sum up, I did not reach my expectations as a project leader and I waited for a candidate I could teach and finally who could become as good as I was in earlier years, or hopefully even better. And then James came, who first took over the base system, and we agreed that after 1.7, he’ll do releases. So it was not unexpected, but still I was a bit surprised when I saw his role-changing commit. But needless to say, when thinking a bit more, it was completely logical, all I really do these days is fixing things left and right regarding my arm port needs, and maintaining the LibreOffice package.


The idea of writing this post is not mine. However, when I thought about how many individuals helped this project so far, I realized I really need to create a summary, thanking their work. Reading the above, I hope that in the past years my leadership to Frugalware were useful and I realize that these days I have to step back, given a better leader appeared. I honestly wish the project to see at least as many releases as we already have, now that fresh energy leads it. :-)

I tried to point out all our heroes during the last years, but it’s possible I forgot someone. If you think you’re missing from this post, please leave a comment. Thanks.