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Interview: Bdale Garbee

Bdale Garbee will give a talk about "Freedom, Out of the Box!" at FOSDEM 2012.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

By day I'm the Chief Technologist for Open Source & Linux at HP. While I've worked on many different things over the years, in the Free Software world I'm probably best known for my long history of involvement in Debian. I'm President of Software in the Public Interest, and on the boards of directors of the Linux Foundation and the FreedomBox Foundation. And I've been accused of having as my primary hobby turning all of my other hobbies into Free Software projects, from software defined radio to home-shop machining to high power model rockets!

What will your talk be about, exactly?

A year ago, in his opening keynote at FOSDEM, Eben Moglen articulated the need for something he called a FreedomBox, and announced the formation of a non-profit organization to work on the idea. I agreed to join the board of the foundation and chair its technical advisory committee. This talk will be a status report on what we've done together since then, and where we hope to go from here.

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

As we work to turn visions into realities, there are many areas where we could use more help from the kinds of people who attend FOSDEM.

What's exactly your task as the technical lead of the FreedomBox Foundation?

The original intent was that I would lead an advisory committee to help guide the activities of developers paid by the foundation. Instead, I've done a mixture of direct technical work and cajoling others into helping solve specific problems that stood in the way of building FreedomBox as an almost-entirely volunteer project.

What work has been done since Eben Moglen's talk about the FreedomBox in his FOSDEM 2011 keynote?

The foundation chose an initial hardware platform to develop a reference FreedomBox implementation, then we had to work very hard to resolve license compliance issues with firmware and drivers. We've built a number of developer images, worked on a model of identity, put together key technical foundation elements, and as I write this are getting close to an initial "feature release" of software.

Is the current FreedomBox code for the DreamPlug already usable? What other devices will be supported?

A DreamPlug can now be used as a stable Debian server, with almost all of the required firmware and driver content merged upstream. We have released developer images for the DreamPlug, but nothing clearly identifiable as a 'FreedomBox' yet. Because everything we're doing is part of Debian, in theory any platform that can run Debian should be able to be a FreedomBox.

When will the first FreedomBoxes be ready for use for the general public?

That's a good question, but one for which I don't have a good answer. Our initial feature releases should be sufficient for people familiar with Free Software to use productively, but a FreedomBox "appliance" for use by a broader audience will take longer.

What can we expect from the FreedomBox project in the coming year?

That will be the main focus of my talk, and the answer depends a lot on who is willing to volunteer to help us.

How big is the FreedomBox developer community?

The "core team" is quite small, and we are all volunteers. There is a growing 'working group' community tackling various questions on behalf of the foundation, and it's not unreasonable to consider everyone who works on Debian and/or on key pieces of software that are important to FreedomBox as somehow part of our extended community.

Which are the domains in which the FreedomBox project could use more contributions?

I will cover this in my talk, but I think the biggest need we have is for help designing and implementing a reasonable user interface / user experience layer to make the functionality that will be provided by FreedomBox useful to a broader audience than just Free Software enthusiasts.

Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Absolutely! I haven't made it to FOSDEM often, but when I do, it's a great experience. The opportunity for face to face interaction with so many important contributors to the world of Free Software from Europe and beyond really broadens my perspective!

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.