“Our” Tridge’s Linux.conf.au keynote

Spectra 21 April 2005 2

Andrew Tridgell has long been something of an idol of mine, so it was with great anticipation that I took my seat at the Linux.conf.au keynote speech this morning.

If you don’t know who Andrew “Tridge” Tridgell is, or haven’t at least heard of him, you can probably safely stop reading at this point. Suffice is to say, he’s probably Canberra’s greatest single contribution to the world of Free Open Source Software. He is in no small part responsible for Samba – software that allows Linux machines to happily talk to Windows machines on a network (amongst a horde or other less well known but equally impressive contributions).

Manning Clarke Theatre 1 was basically full for this talk, with people lining the back wall. As has earlier been noted, the ratio of male to female attendees at this conference would, I would guess be something in the ratio of 50-80:1 and this audience was no different. Not nearly so many laptops out for this one though – most happy to just sit and listen – those of us with them were much more in the minority.

While stating at the outset that this would not be a “technical talk” but more along the lines of “philosophical musings”, these things are all relative. Those in the audience who weren’t software people probably got a whole lot less out of the presentation than the coders present (however given the type of people who turn up to these things, I think it was an excellently pitched talk).

The bulk of the talk was made up discussion about software engineering practices used in Samba, which was fascinating to those of us who spend our lives staring at code, but I won’t go into in any detail here – I’m sure there’s a thousand other blogs on the net that will happily share his wisdom on that topic with those who are interested.

Amongst the other things touched upon was the fact that he never formally studied computer science (despite having taught it to me and many others). Damn him. Now I have to respect his abilities even more.

But the real thing a lot of us wanted to hear about was his reaction to the recent “attacks” on him by fellow Open Source God Linus Torvalds regarding Bitkeeper (this has been covered in a couple of previous stories for which I’m too lazy to find the links). He has been conspicuously silent on the matter, allegedly at the behest of legal advisors, so everyone hoped this might be an opportunity to put his side.

Alas, direct comment on Linus’ statements was not forthcoming. What he did have, however, was possibly even more interesting. For those who aren’t aware, the specific bit of biffo between the two has been regarding Tridge’s “reverse engineering” (the reason for the quotes will become obvious) of the Bitkeeper protocol which was until very recently used as the main repository for the Linux kernel source code.

While most of the opinions I’ve read seems to side with Tridge, the split seems to be whether he could have done it without having access to the proprietary client (which might put him in somewhat more shady legal territory). Some say “he must have used it”, others “Tridge can reverse engineer anything – he’s a wizard!” (the latter is not a wholly unfounded view).

So what did he do? He “reverse engineered” Bitkeeper right in front of our eyes on the big screen. Or rather he didn’t – he got people in the audience to yell out what commands he should type in – turns out that not only is it so trivially easy to do that anyone with even the most basic knowledge of network protocols could do it, but that the Bitkeeper server itself has a “help” command that tells you exactly what you need to do as a client. I present now, an audience generated “hack” of Bitkeeper’s “proprietary” protocol:

echo colne | nc server.org 5000 > localfile.dat

Anyone who’s ever tinkered with Linux networking stuff will find that ludicrously trivial. It made the whole argument that’s been going on about Tridge acting irresponsibly, and going out of his way to reverse engineer the protocol look really really dumb.

The only other thing of note is that it was a full hour and twenty six minutes before the first Monty Python quote was yelled out from the audience. I was disappointed – you can fit a lot of geeky quotes into that much time, and as a city we should have done better.

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2 Responses to “Our” Tridge’s Linux.conf.au keynote
RandomGit RandomGit 8:20 am 22 Apr 05

I always avoided Linux because it seemed people were always focussed on doing things useful with it, as opposed to just having fun.

Then I get that little joy every time I solve a bug or crack open a design structure and I realise what all the fuss is about.

This was, indeed, another fascinating taste. Thank you Spectra.

johnboy johnboy 10:08 pm 21 Apr 05

The Register are rather well informed and have coverage of this here.

Thanks for the story Spectra!

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