When the news arrived at DSLab that I would get the Friendship Award during this important years 60th anniversary of the Peoples Republic founding, for the work on Free Software/Open Source at Lanzhou University, this of course was not only big news, but it also immediately raised the question “how do we explain to then what we are actually doing?” Free-Software/Open-Source who knows what that is about? The prize was to be handed over by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang at a ceremony in the great hall of the people in Beijing and the next day we were supposed to meet Premier Wen Jiabao. Not many opportunities to meet top officials of a country, needless to say of an important country like China.
So we decided that we should prepare a special gift for the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao allowing him to experience the capabilities of Chinese computer technology paired with Free-Software and the creativity of the smart kids in this country that contributed to the Free-software community. The heavy investments in the education system that have changed the academic landscape completely over the last decades have been gradually adopting quite a bit of free-software and it also has begun contributing back to this world-wide community. This was our chance to give the premier minister first hand insight of what’s going on with free-software in Chinas academic community!
Heading: Loongson Yeelong netbook running a Debian GNU/Linux variant.
DSLab, founded in 2004, focuses on distributed and embedded computer systems, with a strong slant towards the real-time variants. In the past years we have been working on RTLinux/GPL (Austria), L4/Fiasco (Germany) and XtratuM (Spain) as well as modifications and extensions to mainline Linux (Global). This alone already shows how distributed the free-software development community is – and China is becoming a part of it – but there still is work to do!
The RT-Preempt kernel, a real-time extension to the mainline Linux kernel was installed with the latest patches from Wu Zhangjin, a student of DSLab, working on real-time on MIPS. The installation on the Loongson Yeelong netboot that we generously were provided with by Lemotes CTO Zhang Fuxin who has been supporting DSLab a lot in the past, was quickly completed. As this is a real-time kernel extension, some tests had to be done to make sure that the worst-case jitter and latency on the Premiers Netbook would be ok – so some very intensive work had to be completed in only a few days to make sure the system was stable and exhibited good real-time performance. A lot of support from the free-software community, notably from Thomas Gleixner, one of the RT-preempt developers and X86 Linux maintainer, was of great help here. After a few tests we were satisfied with the roughly 62 microseconds jitter that we could measure – a suitable value for a Premier ministers netbook we concluded – after all he would be the first premier in the world with a real-time GNU/Linux system at hand!
Picture of cyclic test on the yeelong netbook:
Heading: Cyclic test running on Wen Jiabaos netbook
Of course its not quite that simple, you can’t just walk into the great hall of the people with a laptop and hand it over to the Chinese premier minister. The Ministry of foreign experts affairs, Mr. Fengyun Lei was contacted and he was very helpful, invited us to hop by and give him the details of what we intended to do – Mr. Fengyun Lei, the Deputy Director of State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, quickly called in one of his IT experts, Mr Yanguang Zhong, director of Information Research Center of International Talent, to give the netboot a look and concluded that this is “A pretty nice system!”. Not too surprising Mr Zhong new GNU/Linux well and was himself a supporter of the free-software operating system – it seems that it all ready is quite wide spread in China – even more of a reason to present such a system to one of the top officers of the country.
We hope that it has reached its final destination – Premier Wen Jiabao and he can enjoy the stability and simplicity of a free-software netbook, while also providing a high-level of security based on well reviewed open-source components. This Loongson system is not simple made-in China, but developed-in China, with the help of the worldwide free-software community. What we can observe here is a transition that is happening now more and more – the transition from mere production to research and development of high-tech products in China. The students of DSLab are only a small piece of this tendency, but we hope that we are a good example of what potential can be found in free and open-source software to enhance the future of technology.
Power consumption: roughly 15 Watt
Heading: Designed and developed in China – Premier Wen Jiabao’s yeelong netbook
This friendship award that I received for the work on Free-software at Lanzhou University is a great boost to our confidence that we are investing our energy and time in work that is meaningful not only to us but to the society we are a part of. Of course this prize is not based only on my work, it is the result of hard work of many students at DSLab, the result of the support that DSLab and I have been receiving from Lanzhou University in the past years, and it is of course also du to the open-source community which provides the technological basis of much of our work. So I allow myself to take this prize in the name of all who have contributed to our successful work.
Heading: The DSLab Free-software team