Mutiny aboard the good ship TheOpenCD

As of today I’m stepping down from TheOpenCD development, of which for the last eighteen months I’ve been the sole developer and general caretaker for the project. It’s not all bad news though – I’m leaving the project to pursue my own open source disc, which I believe will resolve the issues I’ve experienced in my time at the helmI. I’ve been working in the background on the new project, OpenDisc, and it’s now up and running so if you’d like to check it out, visit www.theopendisc.com. Why jump shipII on what seems like a perfectly good project?

Around two years ago I stumbled upon TheOpenCD site and thought (like many) that it was a great idea. I sent an email off to the project founder Henrik Nilsen OmmaIII, saying that I could help out whereever needed. Although there wasn’t a great deal for me to help out with, being that the disc was a one man job at that point, he said I could at least help moderating the forums. A new version was being prepared, and most time was spent between Henrik and a few others (Matt Oquist stands out in memory) creating a mini Ubuntu live cd that would let users boot into Linux with TheOpenCD, as well as further development of DiscTreeIV. During that time I basically sat by the sideline, kept the forums active and helped out where I could.

The Ubuntu disc had a fair share of supporters but overall wasn’t as great a success as they’d hoped, and a lot of time went by – so much so that a lot of people started asking the same question, “when is the next version out?”. From what I can remember it was about nine months since the last disc, and over the course of that I’d emailed Henrik more than a few times about helping him work on the next version.

Four Point Zero

A few months later a fellow supporter, Robert Schumann, offered his help at much the same time as I did and ended up helming the much awaited 4.0, which had the dubious honour of not including the Ubuntu LiveCD of the previous TheOpenCD. The strange thing about 4.0 was the huge momentum it had right up until it was due for release, where unexpectantly it stalled and didn’t materialise. I found later (after a few more emails) that both Robert and Henrik had moved (one another city; one another country) and even though it was completed, it sat for over a month unreleased. Even stranger was that it had been uploaded, but nobody had got around to letting the mirrors know that it was available.

By the time Henrik let me take over as project leadV I had to download the finished 4.0 image and update nearly every program with a new version. Only after that did TheOpenCD 4.0 hit the streets.

Shortly afterward I was given access to the sole email account (admin@) via GMail. I was shocked by the volume of mail coming in daily from people offering help, suggestions or with general questions about the project. I can only wonder what happened before I had access to answer the email; I certainly never saw anybody else offer help to the project nor any of the program suggestions make it through to the disc.

Over the eighteen months I’ve been the sole developer, email answerer and general caretaker for TheOpenCD. There have been some good moments, but for the most part it’s been fraught with problems. I’ve expanded on the main ones I encountered, because they’re essentially the reason why I decided to start OpenDisc:

Unacceptable software

TheOpenCD is sponsoredVI by CanonicalVII and thus all the software restrictions that were present in Ubuntu also counted for TheOpenCD as well. The single most requested addition to the disc was VLC, but soon after taking over I was forewarned that it was not to be included because it was risky software. It included decss libdvdcss, a famousVIII DVD-Video copy-protection stripping code that allowed you to play DVDs on any platform.IX For that reason I could never include an otherwise perfect candidate on TheOpenCD. After deliberating on the old forum, the answer was to request a special version to be made especially for us that didn’t include libdvdcss; something I’m sure the developers had a chuckle over, if they ever got the request at all.

Likewise I couldn’t include other decoders/converters or anything that would jeopardise the neutrality of Canonical and TheOpenCD project.

With OpenDisc I’m free from any company rules that stop inclusion of specific open source software. At the end of the day, users don’t care if somebody thinks certain software is risky, they just want stuff that works.

Forums

As already noted, when I’d first found the project and offered my help I was given the task to moderate the forums. As far as I remember they were either Mambo or bbphp forums, and for the most part they were always active and of little trouble. I noted that some older users complained that the threads of the previous forum were gone, and wondered why they weren’t migrated or at least mirrored for future.

The original forums that disappeared
The original forums that disappeared when MoinMoin replaced the old site.
The only trace of them I could find was this screen capture of TightVNC on the disc.

It was decided at some stage that the current site would be changed to wiki software, called MoinMoin. This was the same software that ran other Canonical sites, so naturally it was favoured over anything else and accepted without much hurrah or discussion. The forums disappeared, instead to be hosted by the wiki as well. Again, I couldn’t find any trace of them for preservation.

It was quickly discovered MoinMoin wasn’t a great solution for forums at all. There was however somebody designing a plugin for us to improve the state of things, but I never had contact with them and it was soon abandoned. After six months of trawling through all-but-ignored threads (and endless spam) I closed the forums and began deleting what was left of them, as the great majority were either spam or of questionable legitimacy.X

The MoinMoin wiki forums
The MoinMoin ”forums” which were just a basic wiki hack.
Users could even edit other users comments or delete whole topics.

I’ve ensured the new OpenDisc forums are easy to navigate and post on, and once users are registered with either the project or the forum they won’t have to register for the other. And if I ever change the forum software, the old discussions won’t be left behind. :)

Pushing Out

Contrary to what some might imagine, TheOpenCD was assembled, packaged and made into an image locally, and not dynamically online. It’s then uploaded to a private server, then moved from that onto the mirrors. The image itself has to then be moved onto TheOpenCD server, after which the mirrors are notified.

I handled everything up to uploading the image. Once that was done, I’d send an email off and would have to wait until I got the word back that everything had been done. Obviously I didn’t work for Canonical so I had no access to their servers, but the channels I had to go through almost always meant a delay in getting a new version out. A new release depended on every party being able and active at the time of release, with just one link out of the proverbial chain missing and the release was stranded until they returned.

Now I can simply upload new versions of OpenDisc to SourceForge and point to it on the site; no fuss, delay or people to go through to push a new version out. Expect to see OpenDisc release more often than was possible with TheOpenCD.

More Unacceptable Software

I’d raised my concerns to Henrik about the unsuitability of MoinMoin, and to my surprise he agreed that it didn’t really suit the purpose too much. I suggested a simple WordPress installation, which would handle everything the project required sans forums. bbPress could handle that, and linked in with WordPress so that users wouldn’t have to register twice on the site to post comments or forum threads.

TheOpenCD website
TheOpenCD’s website, including the year-old logo which I had no access to update.

I got a reply saying that WordPress was probably on the list of okay software to run on the servers, but that bbpress most likely wasn’t. Now I realise that Canonical had to be careful what software they ran considering what traffic they got with the other projects, but I couldn’t see the sense in the well-developed, open source and highly supported bbpress.

It was suggested instead that Drupal be installed (again, it was being used on other Canonical sites), so I reluctantly obliged and we settled on the proposed Drupal installation. I was given the email address and was cc’d to the person responsible to install it, but even after a couple more direct emails I never got a single reply. Looking back this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Once I’d decided to start OpenDisc, I secured hosting and got to work on developing the project’s new home. Free to install anything I liked, with WordPress/bbPress I quickly got to the point where I was happy with both the design and flexibility where I could launch the project publicly. I also organised a SourceForge account to host the large files the project releases.

OpenDisc website
OpenDisc website, which hopefully looks a lot more pleasing and is certainly easier to use.

Derivatives and Translations

At least once a fortnight I was contacted by somebody making a derivativeXI or localised translation for non-English speakers.

Since I had no way to host and nurture major derivatives, they often released once then faded away into the obscurity of old versions and a total lack of availability. The same unfortunately is to be said about translations; often after the first version was released there was never another translated update available, so non-English users were left with dodgy old software.

With OpenDisc I can now look after major derivatives better. OpenEducationCD (created by Peter Kemp) has flourished and received some great exposure throughout UK and the greater educational world. Where I couldn’t do much for it beforeXII I can now host a web site and organise file hosting, providing a fuss-free operation for somebody already burdened enough by keeping the project up and running in their spare time.

I’ve also started a translation project for OpenDisc where anybody fluent in English and another language can contribute to present and future versions of the disc.

Server problems

On the 15th August 2007 the Ubuntu community servers were hackedXIII – I’d read it at the time but hadn’t twigged that it meant the file hosting for TheOpenCD was included on one of them. When I came to release 07.09 I found out through Henrik that it was indeed so. In the mean time I was told I’d have to find somewhere else to upload the image, providing it could be transfered later from there via ssh to another server for release.

As I described above, you can appreciate that TheOpenCD really didn’t need another layer of complexity in the method of releasing new versions, so I decided to push out a torrent early for those starved of a release and leave it at that for the time being. Henrik did ask initially to meet me on freenode to work out a plan, but by the time (I was away for a few days) I’d returned I was determined to start OpenDisc.

It wasn’t all bad though…

I got to add some worthwhile features to the disc, like Tux, in aid of starting a stronger way to educate users of Linux. Aside from that and the disc artwork changes (and the origami cover I designed) the largest thing I think I brought to the project was the release cycle. Even so, it was only five releases in those eighteen months, something that will be improving with OpenDisc.

If you made it through the entire post you’ve done quite well. Finally, hello and thanks to all the users, developers and distributors that I’ve talked to during my time at TheOpenCD, and here’s to seeing you again soon at OpenDisc. ;)

  1. And there’s the last pirate pun I’ll use this post. []
  2. I know, I know, again with the pirate puns. []
  3. Who I have nothing but kind things to say about; my decision wasn’t based on any argument or impass between us personally. []
  4. Which is a whole other story, and unfortunately for those who spent time developing it, not one with a great ending either. []
  5. Robert had just finished his PhD. from what I remember and was swamped with RL commitments []
  6. Only the hosting and domain costs were covered. []
  7. If you aren’t sure, the parent company of Ubuntu. []
  8. or infamous, depending on which side of the moral fence you live. []
  9. Which incidentally is more important for Linux, but still included in the Windows version. []
  10. “Please send copies to my PO Box in Nigeria, Thank You Sir!” []
  11. what we termed as a version of TheOpenCD customised in some way for a specific event or group, like Software Freedom Day. []
  12. except for a quick news post []
  13. Digg.com carried the story – http://digg.com/linux_unix/Ubuntu_Servers_HACKED. []
This entry was posted in OpenCD, OpenDisc, Rant and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Mutiny aboard the good ship TheOpenCD

  1. Pingback: TheOpenCD Project Lead to Canonical: Fork You. « Limulus

  2. Pingback: Ted Roche’s weblog » Former TheOpenCD project lead starts OpenDisc

  3. Limulus says:

    Henrik Nilsen Omma had some nice words to say on https://lists.ubuntu.com/archives/ubuntu-devel-discuss/2007-September/001794.html


    > … and its Project Lead goes with it, leaving TheOpenCD in limbo.
    > Will this have any impact on Gutsy? Will future releases have the
    > Windows component based on OpenDisc or will Canonical attempt to
    > revive it?

    We will not continue active development of the OpenCD in parallel with
    the OpenDisc.

    I appreciate Chris’ reasons for re-launching the project, the
    restriction involved in hosting on Canonical data centre servers can be
    limiting for a small project that has little technically in common with
    the distro (i.e. doesn’t use bzr or our build systems).

    This will certainly not affect gutsy and will have little impact on
    future Ubuntu releases. The WinFOSS browser is based on the OpenCD code,
    but could be re-based from the OpenDisc if compelling features are
    developed there. It’s all open source :)

    Contributions are welcome on the Windows side of the Live CD, both in
    maintaining the application collection and browser and the new and
    exciting Wubi installer http://wubi-installer.org/

    I wish Chris the best of luck managing the new project!

    Henrik

  4. Bob Robertson says:

    Sadly, as of 20070928.1417, http://www.theopendisk.com is choking with a WordPress database error.

    I am very happy that there is going to be a new generation of the OpenDisk idea. Especially one beholden to none but its own developers.

    Bob-

  5. Leon says:

    I just wanted to say, i think it’s a good idea.. i’ve always seen the opencd as “old-looking” and definitely improvable (if that word exists).

    I tried entering your site… http://www.theopendisc.com, but it gave me an error: “Error establishing a database connection”.

    I’ll keep checking though, good luck with things.

  6. Mark says:

    DeCSS is unfortunately illegal in the US, and anybody who distributes CD’s of it is liable to go to jail. Literally. That is a dumb situation, but it is the reality, so please don’t put your users in that situation inadvertently.

  7. Leon says:

    Site is working now,
    Congratulations on the interface and offered software, very nice, complete…

    I’ll be sure to spread this disc around to windows using friends, this site looks/is more user friendly (than the OpenCD), hence more trustable(?) to inexperienced users.

    Good work!

  8. Pingback: FreeSoftNews » Blog Archive » The Open CD forks to OpenDisc

  9. Bob Robertson says:

    3 hours later, never mind. Got the disk already, thank you!

    Bob-

  10. Chris G. says:

    I’m not sure what the database problem was, but by the time I checked everything was working okay. If it keeps up I’ll look into it.

    Mark: I don’t see how distributing a CD is any different from digital distribution, and if you’re right then the official VLC US mirrors (Optralan and the University of Wisconsin – Madison) are acting illegally.

    Thanks to those who reported the outage.

  11. Clayborne Arevalo says:

    “The single most requested addition to the disc was VLC, but soon after taking over I was forewarned that it was not to be included because it was risky software. It included decss, the famous DVD-Video copy-protection stripping code that allowed you to play DVDs on any platform.”

    Not true. VLC does not include decss. What VLC uses is their own libdvdcss, which is a different thing. I’m not sure, but I believe this (common) confusion arose from the fact that decss was used in the (early) development of libdvdcss.

  12. Karl O. Pinc says:

    You may wish to check with sourceforge before putting any sort of decss-like software on their site. I have not paid attention in a very long time but sourceforge once had a policy that said that they do not want to host software that may or may not be illegal. If they don’t want you other places to host might be ibiblio.org, osuosl.org, or perhaps other Universities. It might also be worth checking with The Software Freedom Law Center, softwarefreedom.org, so you have a better idea where you stand. Surprises can be ungood.

    Best of luck.

  13. zcat says:

    Looks like there’s really no reason for me to keep maintaining the kiaoracd! Not that I have been for the last 12 months :-) Good work, Chris.

    As for decss; what makes it illegal in the USA is that it decrypts encrypted DVDs. Any piece of code that does the same task is going to be every bit as illegal under the DMCA. Who cares? The USA is only about 4% of the world’s population. But under NZ law, DVDCSS region coding is an ‘illegal restraint of trade’. W00t! DVD players imported to NZ almost always have the region coding removed before they get to the shops.

    One final comment; I could never find the source code for OpenCD. They claimed they didn’t need to provide source because they were only ever passing on unmodified software, noncommercially. I’m not so sure, I always though that was just for the ‘give OOo to my mates’ kind of non-commercial distribution..

    KiaoraCD always made source available anyway. Originally on the CD itself, but when I ran out of space I left an offer for source and started maintaining a separate source ISO. Nobody’s ever asked but it’s not a lot of effort to grab the source with each binary, and I always felt better about having it. Will OpenDisk offer source on request?

  14. Eric Penne says:

    Thank you! As one of the original members to develop TheOpenCD it is nice to see it coming back as something. The first 2 forum changes were devastating to the community. The last one to MoinMoin was absolutely uncalled for and should never have occured. The lure of Canonical sounded nice but was just nasty. I believe it was primarily for funding reasons and that is understood but unfortunately it didn’t work out very well.

  15. Chris G. says:

    Karl: I will, thanks for the details.

    zcat: We’re working on rebuilding the disc browser, and the code for that will be available when it’s done. As of now the only immediately available code (I’m chasing down the DiscTree stuff) would be the “source” .lch and html files on the disc, but that doesn’t exactly count. Nice work with Kiaora by the way!

    Eric: Great to find somebody else who remembered the old forums :) Hopefully I can manage OpenDisc without having some large pitfalls of my own; the community already seems like it will be a lot more able to help than it ever could before, so that should help things.

  16. - says:

    I can’t see any mention of the education edition of the CD on the new site. Where is it?

  17. Chris G. says:

    Peter Kemp is working on the site in the background and preparing the new version. I’ll announce it on the website once it’s live and ready for download.

  18. Pingback: OpenDisc - India Broadband Forum

  19. Digitally Restricted says:

    zcat wrote: “As for decss; what makes it illegal in the USA is that it decrypts encrypted DVDs. Any piece of code that does the same task is going to be every bit as illegal under the DMCA.”

    I don’t think the ability to decrypt DVDs in itself makes the DeCSS illegal under the DMCA. *ALL* software and hardware DVD players decrypt DVDs! How else could “commercial” DVD players read the encrypted content off a DVD? I think what makes DeCSS and others like libdvdcss2 illegal or of questionable legality is that the software isn’t locked to prevent it from being used to make unlicensed DVD copies. Here the Betamax doctrine perhaps comes into play (that of a device having substantial uses besides the possibility of infringing other people’s copyright). Of course, on paper, only hardware and software player specifically licensed by a certain industry association (whose name escapes me at the moment) are allowed to play encrypted DVDs.

  20. zcat says:

    Sorry; What I meant was any software or hardware that decrypts CSS without having a license from the DVDCCA and abiding by their license terms. The decrypting program is supposed to try and make copying as difficult as possible, no easy method of dumping the movie to unprotected mpeg files, hardware must obey region codes, no-skip flags, and add macrovision to the analog output if indicated. Software such as decss or libdvdcss2 is not licensed by the DVDCCA and does not play by their rules.

    decss isn’t illegal just because it’s decss, it’s illegal because of what it does. If someone was to independently write a completely new program ‘libbypassdvdcss’ that did the same task in a completely different way, that library would also be illegal under the DMCA from the moment it was able to successfully decrypt a DVD.

  21. Mary says:

    Anyone still having problems accessing the website?

  22. Pingback: Unix Mouth » TheOpenCD Forked

  23. Pingback: The OpenDisc: Aplikasi FOSS di Windows « Siskomp's Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>