Freely Redistributable Instead of Commercial Software
-
Yugoslav Experience

Radivoje Zonjic
Department of Electrical Engineering
Belgrade University, Yugoslavia

rade@moumee.calstatela.edu

Abstract

This paper describes the rather specific role of freely redistributable software in Yugoslav society today. There are many reasons for the incredible popularity and importance of operating systems and packages such as Linux, Tcl/Tk, Expect, and other free software in Yugoslavia. The main, of course, are the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia and the United Nations' trade embargo, which have disintegrated the computer (software) market by cutting its connections with the rest of the world and by decreasing the living standard, making transfer of technology in this area almost impossible.

The fact that one can install a UNlX-like operating system for zero cost, or that one can enjoy all benefits from Tcl/Tk extensions, have been appreciated by the computer users and programmers in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Computer Communications Association (YUCCA) has prepared and distributed a mini-Linux for MS-DOS users (YUCCAmL) distribution to interested parties, which was a convenient way for typical DOS users to play and learn more about Linux.

1. Introduction

The role and the importance of freely redistributable software in Yugoslavia began to increase in 1992 with the first freely redistributable operating system in this country (the 386BSD). Before any further discussion of reasons for this importance, and it's consequences it is necessary to try to understand Yugoslav "computing environment."

2. Environment

The first characteristic of Yugoslav computer market in general is consumers' low standard. Average monthly wages have been under 200 US dollars for several years, and that imposes the largest restriction for growth of computer market in Yugoslavia.

The most frequent computers in Yugoslavia are Intel-based systems assembled from components imported from the Far East (386s and 486s) but their number has not been estimated, except by the Federal Committee for Informatics in a rather imprecise survey two years ago. The result of this survey was a very loose approximation - less than 80,000 computers. The number of other computers is not even com parable to this number, but other most popular platforms are Apple Macintosh and Digital's VAX/VMS computers.

The software market is in even worse condition: the lack of copyrights and legislature on software piracy has made impossible even the creation of software market. There are pirate copies of almost every commercial package for a price less than ten to twenty times of the original.

These problems have probably been encouraged by the fact that Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been under the UN trade embargo for more than three years and that even a legal purchase of software was considered illegal by the international law.

During last two to three years the number of computers with UNIX operating system has significantly increased. This corresponds to the increase of TCP/IP traffic and the growth of the national TCP/IP infrastructure as well as to the natural development of computing, client-server architecture etc. The most frequent UNIX operating system is the SCO UNIX. Again, legal copies of this operating system are outnumbered by pirate ones. Considering the overall state of the economy it is obvious that even smaller companies cannot afford legal copies of that OS. Even though illegal copies of commercial UNIX operating systems are more than affordable (compared to the price of an original package) their freely redistributablc counterparts have definitely become more popular in the following markets:

This is exactly the phenomenon which is most interesting in considering the role of freely redistributable software in Yugoslavia today - even though the price of pirated commercial UNlX-like operating systems is comparable to the price of Linux, and with practically no legal limitations to using pirated copies, Linux is being more widely used for Internetting in both academic community and companies.

3. The Beginning of Freely Redistributable Software in Yugoslavia

The concept of freely redistributable software has practically been introduced to Yugoslav computing community with the 386BSD operating system in October of 1992. Machine osmeh.fon.bg.ac.yu ("osmeh" means "smile" in Serbian language) was the first public computer on academic network of Serbia, offering access for both academic and non-academic users. The computer was actually a 386SX with 2MB RAM located in the Laboratory for Simulation, at the Organizational Sciences Department. (The installation of 386BSD was actually a mutual initiative of the author and professor Bozidar Radenkovic of the Belgrade University. It was the only computer providing electronic mail and other Internet services to non-academic users in Yugoslavia.)

Following the fate of 386BSD, osmeh switched to NetBSD 0.9 and later on to FreeBSD operating systems. FreeBSD 1.1 was the last freely redistributable operating system on osmeh.fon.bg.ac.yu. It has been replaced by a Sun SparcStation l+ running SunOS, by an agreement for sponsorship between Sun's authorised dealer for Yugoslavia and the Department.

At the time of abandoning FreeBSD the system had 500 users, and was a 486DX computer with 8MB RAM and 2 hard disks with 800 MB of space.

The only other two locations with installed BSD-based operating systems were Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrade (maryjane.caa.co.yu) and Department of Physics at Belgrade University. None of those installations is still active.

Machine osmeh has been used as a kind of gathering place for ideas related to free software and promotion of user rights on the Net. It has been the mailserver serving people who have later founded the Yugoslav Computer Communications Association (YUCCA), an association established in 1994 by enthusiasts and computer professionals in order to gather users of the Net and help them coordinate their activities towards the Government, Internet Service Providers, and other parties.

There are 780 users of this computer today, and access has remained free, with the only limit imposed on the maximum size of electronic mail per day, because Yugoslavia is connected to the Internet with a UUCP-only connection through a slow and expensive 9600 bps X.25 link to Greece.

Linux Slackware - the most popular free package of Linux - is the most popular free operating system in Yugoslavia today (Slackware being the most popular distribution of Linux OS), as well as the most frequent operating system installed in last year for TCP/IP management (DNS, routing, http daemons, etc.) and private use. Again, there is no accurate number of installed Linux systems in Yugoslavia, and even the Linux counter estimate is probably 5 to 10 times smaller than the actual number of installed systems. The reason for that is that most of new Linux users (owners) haven't been informed of its existence and the possibility of registering with the Linux counter by e-mail. An additional burden lies in the lack of connectivity for new Linux systems - there are no public PPP entry points (there are no ISP companies, either) except for the Belgrade University's two departments: of Electrical Engineering and Organizational Sciences with a total of three telephone lines. The survey [YUC95a] conducted by the YUCCA showed that the most frequent explanation for installing Linux was the ease of use and installation (with several magazine articles covering these topics) as well as the fact that Linux was legally free, whereas other, commercial flavors lacked good TCP/IP support and were too complicated to install and maintain. There is also the fact that the Linux user community has been better connected, with fast support for newcomers. On the other side, commercial UNlXes have no official support because the majority of installations has illegal origin. The first Linuxes in Yugoslavia were installed in the city of Zvornik, which is now in Serbian part of Bosnia (Hobbiton BBS, reachable as hobbiton.ho.com and hobbiton.co.yu), at the EE Department of Belgrade University (galeb.etf.bg.ac.yu, now with more than 600 users, offering free access), at an independent radio station Radio B92 in Belgrade, and other mainly individuals' systems. There have been no stable sources for CDs with Linux distributions, especially during the UN trade embargo, but enthusiasts who managed to obtain a CD set abroad, would lend it to others after installing the Linux. The culmination of Linux availability has been reached in 1995 when a 3 disk YUCCA Mini Linux Distribution (YUCCAmL) was issued. The distribution was created by Novica Milic (novim@yucca.co.yu) in an effort to try to bring Linux closer to DOS users. The distribution is based on UMSDOS file-system, includes 1.2.0 kernel and necessary packages for running a small Linux site and allows users to experiment with Linux from their DOS partition. By packing it on 3 floppy disks (six .arj archive parts) YUCCA has made it available for download through larger BBSes. A new version is scheduled late February, and will include the fourth disk with communications packages (UUCP & smail) which will be a direct introduction to establishing a UUCP network of YUCCA members with (Mini)Linuxes. No need to say that the YUCCA communications server (alef.yucca.co.yu) is another Linux computer being used as a communications server.

4. Competitiveness

The following two cases can be used for better understanding of the ease of use of Linux in Yugoslav situation:
  1. When discussing the possibilities for improving the Institute for Physics connection to the academic Internet of Serbia (performed by Miljan Vuletic and the author), we had several choices. The idea was to improve the existing connection - a 9600bps X.25 TCP/IP link over DECNET. The solution included a leased line to Belgrade University Computing Center, two small routers, and transferring DNS from overloaded castor.phy.bg.ac.yu (a MicroVAX with only 4MB RAM) to pollux.phy.bg.ac.yu (a PC486 with Linux). The Institute has agreed to replace previous OS (a commercial UNIX flavor) with Linux because of the ease of administration and faster response times. Machine pollux is now also a WWW server for the Institute, and we had two other Linux installations since that one in only two months.

  2. In choosing the Soros Yugoslavia Foundation's communications server (performed by author) operating system we had several criteria in mind:

    Unlike the Institute for Physics solution with Linux only monitoring the router and serving DNS, Linux here provides a stable second point for PPP link between Opennet and the Foundation, as well as a DNS server, POP3 server, ftp, and http server. Finally, an example of frequent usage of Linux in Yugoslavia is the fact that out of 4 Internet Provider-like companies in Serbia, three of them use Linux as some kind of server.

5. Freely Redistributable Software Availability

The main characteristic of freely redistributable software in Yugoslavia is that there is no well established channel for its import (transfer to end users. rather than actual import). All activities for e.g. getting the GNU software have been organized by individuals or small groups of people, and there is no FTP archive that would serve as storage of free software. Currently there are only two larger FTP archives on the academic network of Yugoslavia: the Belgrade University Library, and Department of Organizational Sciences (FON File Server) at Belgrade University. Packages such as GNU packages and other freely redistributable software can be found on various subtrees of the root directory trees of these archives, but that only represents a small subset of, for instance, prep.ai.mit.edu.

Even though only a small subset of GNU and other free archives is freely available, people who do the actual transfer to the academic network are giving their best to keep up with the latest versions of the most important packages (such as gcc, libraries, etc.).

It is to be expected that as soon as Yugoslavia gets the Internet connection there will be created some form of local (national) file repository for all GNU software. It is also to be expected that CDs with freely redistributable software will be freely available on the market.

6. Expect

The importance of an operating system is probably the main reason for Linux being the most popular free package in Yugoslavia. Tcl/Tk and Expect have not been widely adopted mainly because of their particular applicability to programming but also because of the lack of interest at the Universities.

However there are interesting working implementations of systems based on these packages. One of the first Expect-based systems was the package for automatic feed of agency news to NNTP server of Radio B92 from Belgrade (Author: Aleksandar Bakic, now at the Michigan State University; later modified by Miljan Vuletic and the author).

Two largest news agencies in Yugoslavia - TANJUG and BETA - use BBSes for automatic distribution of their news to clients. Since Radio B92 has a more advanced (TCP/IP) network with a news server (NNTP is used) there was a need for a flexible interface between BBSes on one side, and NNTP on the other.

The script is invoked by cron every 1-3 hours, depending of the time of the day, and includes interaction with two different BBS programs, collecting newly arrived news in a zip archive, downloading the archive with the Z-Modem protocol, unpacking the archive, and posting each news as an article to local NNTP server (sisoje.b92.co.yu).

Another example of usage of Expect is connected to the migrations of operating systems on osmeh.fon.bg.ac.yu: During the development of the password system on BSD line, there was a point at which the actual passwords in /etc/passwd started to be encrypted (FreeBSD brought this change). The list of approximately 300 users was too long for anyone at the Laboratory for Simulation to change password for. The most convenient solution asked for the most logical tool to help manage a straightforward interactive task, Expect, and with an expense of a day for learning the basics of Expect [Lib90a, Lib91a] and several hours of writing an Expect script the following operation has been successfully performed for each user in old /etc/passwd file:

7. Development

The Mihajlo Pupin Institute (MPI) was maybe the first educational organization in Yugoslavia that promptly responded to the challenges of free software. Programmers there have been developing programs using Tcl/Tk for some time now, and maybe the most ambitious project based on Linux operating system has been developed there.

Presented in Figure 1 is the factsheet about an MPI product called VIEW6000.

Figure 1: Factsheet about an MPI product called VIEW6000
VIEW6000 UNIX based SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) software.

The application was originally developed for IBM AIX operating system.

Port work for Linux was done in late 1994 (process took three months).

There is a list of services this application provides:

  • Communication with remote acquisition devices (specialised computers with embedded software, RTU Remote Terminal Units) distributed over some area (ranging from factory up to state or nation; level). Updating real-time database with acquired values
  • Event driven data processing
  • Alarm scheduler and handler (includes automatic printing and logging)
  • Many I/0 data types (analog, digital, counters, set-point etc.)
  • Specific type of I/0 devices supported on request
  • Dynamic presentation of real-time database elements (includes alphanumeric, bar, colour, shape, real-time trend presentation)
  • Tabular and Graphical Replay of Historical Data

Typical hardware configuration at control centre assumes FEP computer (communication and acquisition functions) and several operator workstations. Computer nodes are interconnected with TCP/IP network.

The following technology has been utilized:

  • UNIX based software environment (IEEE POSIX.x specification)
  • X11R6 distributed graphics environment
  • OSF MOTIF based operator interface DCE Distributed Computing Environment
  • FEP-MMI interconnection
  • C/C++ language (2.5.8 GNU C for Linux application)

Currently, this software system is being used at:

  • Water Supply System (regional centre at City Arilje, include water production and distributions for over 200,000 citizens, wireless communication with 5 distributed substation).
  • Pilot project for "DETELINARA" Power Utility substation (Power Distribution, Novi Sad City).

AlX version software is being used at:

  • Serbian National Power Dispatching centre in Belgrade.
  • Macedonian (Former Yougoslav Republic Macedonia) National Power dispatching centre in Skopje.

Team members:

  • Stevan Markovic, smarkov@osmeh.fon.bg.ac.yu
  • Slavisa Mijuskovic, slavisa@imp.bg.ac.yu
  • Goran Zecevic, zgoran@imp.bg.ac.yu
  • Rade Markovic, emarkovr@ubbg.bg.ac.yu
  • Aleksandar Babic, ebabic@ubbg.bg.ac.yu
  • Sinisa Ristic, rsinisa@imp.bg.ac.yu

8. Media Coverage

One of the most interesting aspects of usage of freely redistributable software in Yugoslavia has been the media coverage. There are only two high-quality computer magazines ("Racunari" and "PC") in Yugoslavia today, and both of them cover Linux with an article per 2 months almost regularly. It is also interesting that there is almost no coverage of commercial UNlXes or workstation products. The reason for this is probably the orientation of these magazines and their readers - Intel-based personal computers and the most common software.

Linux has been understood by the editorial staffs as something enthusiastic in PC market today, and their approach was rather supportive to the whole Linux-initiative. Articles that appeared during the last year covered installation and getting started, networking, and presentation of Linux Slackware 3.0. The first operating system explained was 386BSD, back in 1993, and the coverage has then focused on Linux (leaving NetBSD and FreeBSD out of sight).

The main problem of Yugoslav computer scene is that disintegration of former Yugoslavia has disintegrated the old market into smaller markets - Yugoslav computer market simply doesn't seem to be able to tolerate more than technology. That is the reason for a complete disappearance of BSD-based operating systems.

9. Perspectives

It is to be expected that with the lifting of the United Nations' sanctions and gradual process of reestablishing connections with the rest of the world, the usage of freely redistributable software will increase rapidly. This is also in direct connection with the growth of the Internet in Yugoslavia.

Currently there exists only the academic network as an Internet-like network, and approximately less than a hundred TCP/IP networks in non-academic organizations which are ready to connect to the Internet.

As explained earlier, the easiest solution for organizations with information systems based on Intel-based PC technology (the predominant technology in Yugoslavia today) and with a need for usage of all Internet services is in installing Linux, and leasing a telephone line (leased lines are currently one of the most affordable means of connecting networks, although other PTT expenses are not so affordable) to the nearest ISP.

Furthermore, it is to be expected that the University faculties will very soon start to appreciate the availability of the source code for every free software package. The Operating Systems course at the Department for Electrical Engineering is becoming more and more UNlX-oriented (it used to be much more VMS-oriented in the past) year after year.

The aforementioned YUCCAmL Linux distribution is scheduled for the first quarter of this year, and one of its stronger characteristics is orientation towards networking.

With the expected increase of usage of Linux operatine system as the current basis for other freely redistributable packages, and the improvement of connection to the Big Internet I expect to see more development being conducted in Yugoslavia, especially in non-OS packages - editors, utilities, etc.

One of the most important prerequisites for higher popularity of freely redistributable software in Yugoslavia pertaining only to Linux is the ability for incorporating Linux OS in the productional process of various companies, not only as an affordable and easy-to-install system, but also as a platforrn on which more efficient programs (I have tried to avoid the term commercial) can be executed.

References

[Lib90a]
Don Libes, "Using Expect to Automate Systems Administration Tasks," Proc. of the IV USENIX Large Installation Systems Administration (LISA) Conference, Colorado Springs, Colorado (17-19 October, 1990).
[Lib91a]
Don Libes, "Expect: Scripts for Controlling Interactive Processes," Reprint of Computing Systems 4(2), University of California Press, Berkeley, California (November, 1991).
[YUC95a]
YUCCA, Installed Linux Systems Poll, YUCCA, Belgrade, Yugoslavia (March 1995).

This version of the paper was scanned by Bernard Lang (who is thus responsible for all typos) from the Proceedings of the First Conference on Freely Redistributable Software, Cambridge, MA, 3-5 February 1996, pp. 27-31.