| This is a revised translation of an interview I gave to tux.cl in Q4 2002. Many thanks to Stephen Lewis and Kelson Vibber for correcting my grammar. If any glitches remain, corrections are welcome.
It’s interesting that even today (2009) it keeps its relevance on the different topics it covers. Both, about Dillo and FreeSW/OSS.
(Original source in Spanish here) –Jorge
Basically, what’s the Dillo project about?
The project objectives are:
- The democratization of Internet information access.
- Security and personal privacy.
- High software efficiency.
and for that we’re developing a web browser that is:
- Completely written in C.
- Less than 300KB (Yes, KILOBYTES!).
- Free Software under the GPL license.
- Working on a broad range of hardware platforms
- Very fast.
In fact, with Dillo, a 486 PC and a telephone line is enoughto enjoy a good Internet connection.
Dillo’s efficiency allows it to work even on a personal digitalassistant (pocket sized computer).
In summary: we’re developing a web browser that allows the userfast, secure and efficient access to the wide informationspectrum of the Internet, keeping the hardware requirements to aminimum.
What would be the main use for Dillo?
Dillo could open the doors of a new Internet experience to tensof millions of people in the world.
It is important to know that the entry barriers to Internet are_artificial_. They were created and sustained with a view to makebetter business profits.
(If you purchase a computer of the current year, renew it everytwo or three, and in addition pay monthly for broadband service,it is much more expensive than keeping your computer and payingthe phone bill)
Now you know: you don’t need a modern computer and broadbandfor Internet access.
It is mentioned that Dillo could be used even on a 486. Is therean “ideal” distribution for this kind of equipment?
There is a large number of so-called minimalist distributionsseeking to accomodate different degrees of “smallness”. Theyrange in size from a single diskette to a few tens of Megabytes.
I haven’t tested them yet! – but I installed Slackware (3.5IIRC) on a 66Mhz 486DX once and it worked flawlessly.
Now, considering that Drinou Linuxis based on Slackware, and includes a packageddillo-0.6.6, I’d recommend it, and this is the one I’d give a try topower a 486 machine.
Is an estimate of the size of Dillo’s userbase known?
That’s very hard to estimate, since dillo is not distributed fromour site alone: there are Debian packages, rpm, ipk, *BSD, etc.scattered through cyberspace. There are also distributionsincluding it in their base systems.
If the source package alone is considered (an option far lessused than an .rpm), dillo-0.6.6 must have near 20,000 downloadsfrom our site.
We’d have to add a larger amount to that number.
Eventually I’ll come up with a way to count them all!
How has the acceptance of Dillo been in the GNU/Linux community?
Very very good!
I’ve noticed that from the people who take some time to write andthank us for the benefit they get from using Dillo, we’ve gotmore fans than users.
It is extraordinarily enriching to receive the thankful lettersfrom so many people from such diverse parts of the world.
How is the development of Dillo done?
Dillo is an international project with developers of diversenationalities collaborating from their respective countries. Allof this is made possible by integrating several technologies thatallow the configuration of what we may call a “virtual office”over the Internet space.
The group consists of two core developers, three steadydevelopers and several freelance ones.
The geographic distribution of its members is mainly in Europeand South America!
Among the main technologies we use to create our working space wehave: HTTP servers, CGI, log analyzer, bug tracker, web browsers,shell servers, mailing lists, ssh, CVS, FTP, IRC, scripts,python, gcc/gdb, POSIX-compliant operating systems, debuggers,release publishers, …, and the English language!
Why GTK+ and not QT?
For several reasons. The main one is that when the Dillo projectstarted, the QT libraries were not Free Software (that changedlater). Moreover, by that time, they were developing the KHTMLlibrary for their future web browser (Konqueror).
On the other hand, gzilla was based on GTK+, and it was FreeSoftware, and the image rendering extensions I was planning wereassured because GTK+ was the basis for the GIMP!
The fact that Dillo is programmed in C makes it portable to otheroperating systems. Shouldn’t Windows be your principal target,considering that the “democratization of Internet” would havemore impact because of the larger userbase of this OS?
Let’s go by parts: the fact that Dillo is programmed in C is nota guarantee of portability. In fact, library dependence is muchmore important.
If the libraries are portable, or have equivalent APIs, isrelatively straightforward to make a version for the supportingplatform. If the function libraries do not exist in the targetplatform, porting becomes a titanic task.
On to the other part, the endeavour of democratizing the accessto Internet is very much tied to these two facts:
- Dillo keeps the hardware requirements low and constant.
- You don’t need to pay software licenses to use Free Software.
Micro$oft (windoze) is the exact opposite, and even more, itartificially raises the hardware requirements. If someone usesthat platform, he will have to renew his computer periodically(to do the same things he was doing before), and also pay a newlicense every time there’s an “upgrade”.
If, on the other hand, a Free Software platform such as GNU/Linux(with dillo) is opted for, an old or new computer can be used foras long as the hardware lasts, without fearing that it willstop working. And, of course, there is no need to pay a licensefee.
The second option allows people who are without an Internetconnection because of its “high costs” to enjoy the advantages ofthe information era.
It is true that there’s a need to educate and inform that:
- It is FALSE that you need to renew your computer every three years.
- It is FALSE that you need an ultra modern computer to connect to the Internet.
- It is FALSE that you can’t have good internet access with a phone line.
Those myths (when taken as true) are only the basis of amulti-million dollar business that exploits those who believethem!
What does being the project coordinator imply?
Responsibility, knowledge, consistency and leadership.
Do organization problems arise?
Yes, as in every group dynamic, but along very particular lines.
Maybe the most interesting among them is that as this is aproject made of volunteers, you can’t demand that someone do acertain task, in certain way, in a fixed amount of time.
When you want someone to perform or do a certain task, it must befounded very well to make an agreement, and it must coincide withthe particular interest area of that developer.
Another point worthy of notice is that sometimes very valuabletime is wasted explaining/coordinating/delimiting how some taskshould be done to someone, only to finally get (after a trial) anexplanation for not being able to do it.
Has it demanded much of your time?
In the Dillo project I have two jobs:
- Project coordinator.
- Lead developer.
Moreover, considering the enormous complexity and dynamism of theunderlying technologies for a web browser, it is easy tounderstand that there’s much more work than time.
In fact, since the project’s beginning, I’ve worked full time,three years, including weekends.
What platform (GNU/Linux distro) do you use for developing Dillo?
I use Slackware, but in the development group there are peopleusing NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, and other GNU/Linuxdistros, so our software is tested on a broad spectrum ofplatforms before making each release.
In my opinion, Slackware is the best distribution for onewho knows what he’s doing, or wants to learn well the technicalrationale of a GNU/Linux environment.
How and when did you start with GNU/Linux?
I should say around 1996, with Slackware 3.5 or 3.6, but I used”monkey linux” over a DOS filesystem before (kernel 2.0.30!).
Anyway, my first steps on Unix environments were by 1990.
Why do you state Dillo is Free Software and not Open Source?
- Free Software is a social movement.
- Open Source is just a development technique.
Medium sized answer:
After knowing there’s a high-end operating system, developed byvolunteers around the world in their free time, that’sdistributed as Free Software (which implies among other thingsthat you can use it without paying licences), any intellectuallyinclined person starts to wonder what motivates the group todevote their time to such an endeavour.
The answer is about a shared ethic and philosophy of such forcethat it’s able to create a social movement based on its members’convictions. Unified by a common element, Free Software (orSoftware Libre), under the shelter of the GPL.
It’s silly to think that it’s just for the joy of programming, oreven worse, for a development technique.
What is Free Software?
It is a type of Software that grants four basic freedoms:
- Freedom to use the program, for any purpose.
- Freedom to study how the program works and to adapt it to your needs (source code access).
- Freedom to copy and distribute (you can help your neighbour).
- Freedom to improve the program and make the enhancements available so all the community benefits.
In simple terms, the GPL license is the legal mechanism thatobliges that when the program is redistributed, those freedomscan’t be restricted, denied or restrained, so they are fullypreserved for the recipients.
i.e. software under the GPL will always deliver the four basicfreedoms stated above.
These simple elements have been creating an enormous softwarebase, shared by lots of people around the world. In fact, all theGNU software and the Linux kernel are under the GPL. They areFree Software.
But, what motivates this movement’s members?
The answer to this question is very broad, including the genericlevel, and probably I’ll write about it on other occasion, but itis worth a remark to note that for an abstract analytical mind,the answer may come from the analysis of competitive societies,interchange communities and cooperation societies.
Moreover, the famous “prisoner’s dilemma” sheds a lot of light onthis matter.
A detailed answer (in English) can be found by reading about theGNUproject philosophy.
What do you think about the fact that most people don’tdistinguish between Free Software and Open Source?
It’s not rare, as the term was coined in some respects to confuse.
The Free Software movement (Software Libre) antecedes the OpenSource Software (OSS) definition by far. In fact, if I remembercorrectly, the GNU/Linux system existed and was already operativebefore the term ‘OSS’ was coined.
In a few words, it happened that as Free Software producedreticence inside the business world (because it was orientedtowards the freedoms the end user received), a small group made apragmatic decision: to conceal the ethical and philosophicalaspects, presenting Free Software as a development methodologyand not as the movement it is.
Thus, they elaborated an OSS definition broad enough to includeFree Software within a larger set (and thus to be able to claim thatcertain software is OSS when in fact it is Free Software).
The problem is that OSS allows denying some of the freedomsgranted by Free Software.
The funny thing is, they had a tremendous success, and as most ofthe written media makes its income from advertising (paid for byenterprises), they decide to keep on using the OSS term and notto offend their clients.
The point is, those who learned about GNU/Linux’s existence fromthat media began thinking it was OSS.
Today, the OSS term has caused much harm to the Free SoftwareFoundation and to the GNU project, whose achievements they declareto be those of OSS, while concealing the underlying philosophy.
In fact, it was a double-edged sword: on one hand it opened theentry door to the enterprise, and on the other, it concealed themost important part: a matter of freedoms.
That’s why today it is very important to distinguish and explainthe difference between Free Software and OSS.
I hope to have contributed to it.
How do you think Chilean Linuxers could be motivated toparticipate in or begin Free Software projects?
Ouch! It’s not just a matter of getting in. You have to know alot first.
Working in a Free Software project requires people with a lot ofknowledge, not just the will to participate.
I’d recommend first to get very well informed about what FreeSoftware is, and if they share the underlying philosophy, to getinvolved in an area they know very well (as it could be the sameas they worked on with their thesis).
How do you see Dillo’s future?
That’s something that’s not yet defined, as it regrettablydoesn’t depend on us alone…
Technically, we have all the expertise, will and ideas to make”big things” with Dillo. BTW, what we have developed thus faralready makes a big difference!
For instance, some may have heard about the “digital divide”.
(the so-called “digital divide” is the gap that exists betweenthose who have access to information technologies and thosewho don’t. It is easy to see that in an interconnected world,with an ever-growing portion of human activities beingencompassed by the informatics realm, this divide comes toconstitute what we may call the “illiteracy of the 21stcentury”).
Thus, it is easy to understand why the UN and most countries(developed or not) are concerned about it. Consequently theyhold summits to debate how to close the divide, and assignthousands of millions of dollars to the issue.
Regrettably, as the UN’s general secretary hasdeclared:
“But bridging the digital divide is not going to be easy. Toooften, state monopolies charge exorbitant prices for the use ofbandwidth. Governments need to do much more to create effectiveinstitutions and supportive regulatory frameworks that willattract foreign investment; more generally, they must also reviewtheir policies and arrangements to make sure they are not denyingtheir people the opportunities offered by the digital revolution.” (think about it)
It is easy to see that the economic interests involved are huge.
A small example:
Dillo is a tangible demonstration that the technology to build aPDA (pocket-sized computer) integrating a web browser and phoneEXISTS today.
Dillo is a tangible demonstration that it is possible to make ahome phone with a screen and web browser for near US $250 andbring Internet access to a huge amount of people.
Why can’t those products be found in the market?
If we consider the thousands of millions of dollars in profitsthat the IT market generates as it is today, is easy to understandwhy they don’t want to change it!
In brief: the technology to bring low-cost Internet access to themasses exists today. It only needs the willingness of somegovernment to do it.
In fact, in Chile, with GNU/Linux + Dillo, today it is possiblewith an old computer and a phone line, to access a broad range ofinformation available from government servers, universities,newspapers, magazines, forums, etc… (and not even according asimple standardization policy!).
Our project is seeking funds that allow for a small team ofstable developers, with full-time dedication, with a view toaccelerate and improve our browser and thus contribute to build abetter-informed society.
All the information with regard to the Dillo project can be foundin our web site.
Is there any project where Dillo is used “commercially”?
Yes. there’s aninteresting project implementing an information intranet forhotels over embedded devices (USA).
Moreover, I’ve been told that in an Australian university anelectronic information system was implemented over flat screenscontrolled centrally from a web interface.
One time we received a thankful note from a person that completeda heterogeneous research work (information retrieval) quickly andefficiently because of using dillo.
The possibilities are many, it only takes some knowledge and thewill to do it.
In what ways could the Dillo project be helped?
I think in three ways:
- Making direct contributions such as patches and source code (which requires a lot of knowledge and experience)
- Talking about it! Knowing the project objectives, andcommunicating them to people. Making people see that it’spossible to have good Internet surfing with an old computer and aphone line.
Reading manuals and sites, investigating with Dillo,enjoying the speed and ease with which it can be done, and thengo spreading the word to other people.
- Helping us to find a way to fund the project.
How do you see the Chilean Linux community?
Really, I haven’t had the time to get involved, but I think itis active to some degree, with national gatherings, events etc.
BTW, today Nov 29, there’s a national event of GNU/Linux inConcepción.
I’d like to participate and give a speech, maybe in anotheropportunity.
I also believe that the UTFSM’s “linux” mailing list has done alot for the community, gathering a lot of people towards a commoninterest focus.
Finally, what’s your opinion of tux.cl?
It is an interesting project that’s just beginning.
How could it be improved?
First you must define what you want to do: that is, thepublication’s objective. After surfing the net a while and getting the feel of it beingfull of information about GNU/Linux, another news site is notinteresting; the point to take advantage of is that you write inSpanish and know the Chilean grounds, so you can deliverinformation that can’t be found anywhere else…