BSDTalk Podcast #60: Interview with BSDTalk Host Will Backman

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BSDTalk (Will Backman): Hello and welcome to BSDTalk #60. It's Friday, August 11, 2006. In the news the FreeBSD foundation has released their semi-annual newsletter; The FreeBSD Group has elected their new core team; a reminder that the call for presentations is out for the New York City BSD Convention. They're due August 15th and the convention is happening October 28th and 29th, 2006. And speaking of conventions, there will be a BSD booth at Linux Days in Essen, Germany, and that's happening September 9 and September 10.

I don't have an interview for you today, but I did want to talk a little bit about my introduction to BSD and how that got started. I'm not sure what we were using on college in the late eighties and early nineties, but from my recollection it was fairly Unix-like. I wasn't too concerned about what I was running at this point, it was just a matter of using the finger utility to see if my friends were online at other universities and using the basic talk utility, but I don't really remember doing much on the Internet.

As for my own personal use of a Unix-like operating system, I started using in, back in, maybe May 1996, I started with Minix and I ran that on a DOS partition, and I don't remember too much about it except for the fact that it came with an Asteroids game. And I just seem to remember the Asteroids game and this Unix-like interface. After that, I had a friend who knew a friend who gave me a copy of O'Reilly's "Running Linux Companion" CD-ROM which I still have right here in front of me, and it basically says, "Contains the source code and installation documentation for Red Hat Linux release 2.1." And needless to say, this was not a very fun version of Linux to run, it took a lot just to get it installed, and I do remember being extremely excited when I got X working and had a graphical environment, which took a lot of work.

My first record that I can find of my interest in BSD is an e-mail that I sent to And that set of questions was answered very nicely by Eric Jackson, and Eric Jackson was at so if you're out there, get in contact with me, I'd love to interview you. But Eric Jackson's clear and nice answers to my questions, I think really encouraged me to continue pursuing BSD. And, uh, that was November 3rd, 1999, and my, the earliest CD that I could find related to OpenBSD is my OpenBSD 2.6 CD set—I still have my original stickers—and this came out also in 1999, I think it was, what, December 1999? Something like that, yeah. December 1st, 1999. So that gives a rough sense of my first exposure to BSD.

You know, where were we at that point in time? Well, OpenBSD 2.6 was the first one to ship with OpenSSH. And it is kind of interesting where we were when it came to cryptography, looking at the CD insert here. One talks about installing packages—there's something here that says, "Some packages, SSH and PGP for example, cannot be placed on the CD-ROM due to patents or other restrictions." They actually are on the CD-ROM, I think, because they moved to OpenSSH at this point, so that may be some leftover language, maybe not. I'm not exactly sure.

And something else that I thought was interesting here, if I can hunt it down—yes, here we go... "Two OpenBSD libraries, libssl and libcrypto, based on OpenSSL, implement many cryptographic functions which are used by OpenBSD, like SSH, HTTPd and isakmpd. Due to patent licensing restrictions, those libraries may not be included on this CD." You actually had to download those, add them. So, the cryptographic landscape has changed, at least here in the United States, greatly, since 1999.

Then, also hunting around my stacks of old CDs, I did find a CD labeled FreeBSD, and putting this into my computer, I see that it is FreeBSD 4.0 release candidate 2, and this is from February 2000. So apparently not soon afterwards, I was also researching FreeBSD. I'm not quite sure why, I don't remember why I didn't continue using FreeBSD when I ... you know, had a CD around that time. For some reason, OpenBSD just kind of stuck with me. So, I, I also continued to use Linux, I also have two Silicon Graphics IRIX machines. I have an Amiga, believe it or not. I do remember installing OpenBSD on a SPARCstation IPC. That was a cute little machine, little square box, really well-engineered when you took it apart. It was nice, very compact.

Perhaps of interest now is how do I currently use BSD. In my case, I'm using OpenBSD for my company's web server, and that was because I wanted something that would host a very basic site. We do use content management system, and I wanted it to be fairly secure, and I was always interested in the 'change root' features that come with OpenBSD, so i like the fact that the Apache webserver on OpenBSD was already set up in a change root jail, so there really wasn't a lot of work that I needed to do to get it running.

The change root jail does create its own interesting set of issues when you encounter applications that don't like a change root jail and don't want to be modified easily, but all in all it's been running great for me.

Also, what I'm just recently using OpenBSD for is greylisting using spamd, and I've been using that for a week and wow, has that been amazing. We run an Exchange server where I work, and while Exchange Server does include some spam filtering within it—this is Exchange Server 2003—uhm, the spam filtering in Exchange Server wasn't necessarily doing a great job between that and Outlook. And there was just a huge burden on my bandwidth and processing power on my machine, so I looked at putting spamd in front of it. I did it using a bridge so I didn't have to modify really any of my settings, and uh, have spamd running greylisting and it's done a phenomenal job this week. I really haven't encountered a lot of the problems that some people worry about with greylisting when it comes to mailing lists or pools of outgoing servers that might re-queue from a different IP address, so I am trying to get someone on the show soon here for an interview regarding spamd and other wonderful features of BSD.

If I do have one other thing that I do want to bring up regarding the BSDs, and I don't know quite where I would fit this in, it's around accessibility in computing systems, and so I guess I want to put the word out there, and ask whether there's anyone who is using BSD who has visual impairments or other kinds of impairments that makes using a computer difficult, because I haven't really seen a lot around accessibility features in the BSDs, whether it be screen readers or external braille terminals and stuff like that, so I'd be curious to see whether people are primarily doing something like connecting from a Windows machine using a Windows screen reader or connecting from a Linux machine and, uh, I did read somewhere that the Yet Another Screen Reader utility might work, used to compile on FreeBSD. The people from that project were very helpful and got right back to me saying pretty much that they thought it would compile but they hadn't done that testing themselves.

Why is accessibility important to me? I don't necessarily use any of those features. We have some people here where I work, though, who do use screen readers and other accessibility features, so that's of interest to me there.

Also, you know, I think at any point in time, any of us could end up needing those, even if it's not permanently, it could be temporarily due to an accident or other misfortune, we could end up needing some of these additional features of the operating system. Getting government contracts can quite often require systems that have accessibility options. And quite often, accessibility is about alternate forms of input and output besides just a keyboard and a screen, and if you ever have a dream of having your BSD computer in your car speaking to you, and receiving voice commands, uhm, that would be great, so these accessibility features and these interesting ways of doing input and output can really be a benefit for other uses of computers, so if you're using it or working on projects on the BSD I'd love to hear from you and hear how you use accessibility features in BSD.

All right, I guess I'd better end it before I keep rambling, so thank you for listening and we'll catch you next week.

If you'd like to leave comments on the website or reach the show archives, you can find them at, or if you'd like to send me an e-mail, you can reach me at

[transcribed 04-Sep-2006 by Derek Warren - -]