Linux in Romania > Linux and Linux in Romania, ROSE 1995

From: hancu@CAM.ORG (Marius Hancu)
Subject: John S. Quarterman on Linux and Linus in Romania ...
Date: 1995/12/20
Message-ID: <4bae8e$7k2@ocean.CAM.ORG>
organization: Communications Accessibles Montreal, Quebec Canada
newsgroups: comp.os.linux.advocacy

Hello, everyone:

This is an article by John S. Quarterman, on the ROSE 95 conference (where
he was invited as a featured speaker), Linux, Romania, and other
issues. I found it very interesting, insightful and well-balanced. 

The conference is organized annually in Romania and has as special
section on free software, where Linux was always prominently showcased,
as it constitutes the major software used for Internet servers in the
country. Featured speakers in this sections were Linus Torvalds (this
year) and Richard Stallman (last year). 

I hope it will contribute to convincing others from Romania and abroad
to help Alexandru Rotaru and Irina Athanasiu, who took a heavy work
toll in organizing the conference, by helping and participating to its
future success. International contributions in terms of presentations,
advertising, inviting other featured speakers, etc. are extremely welcome. 

Those interested to help and/or attend should contact Alexandru Rotaru
and Irina Athanasiu at and respectively. 
The next edition will take place in November 1996. 

You are most welcome to attend future editions of the conference!

Marius Hancu
Founder, Free UNIX for Romania

ROSE 95, Bucharest

Copyright (c) 1995 by John S. Quarterman

        From Matrix News, 5(11), November 1995
        This article is freely redistributable.,
        +1-512-451-7602, fax: +1-512-452-0127

ROSE '95, The 3rd Romanian Conference & Exhibition on Open Systems,
presented by GURU (the Romanian Open Systems Group) 1-4 November
in Bucharest, was quite impressive.  It drew more than 300 people
in an era when other national European UNIX conferences have
trouble attracting a couple of hundred.  While much older groups
have to beat the bushes for papers, this one received so many
that even three full days of presentations could hardly hold
all of them.  Plus a massive Proceedings, half a dozen featured
foreign speakers and, perhaps most important, a large number
of student participants.


This is (I'm writing now during the sessions) GURU's annual conference.
The first one was in Cluj in 1993 (foreign speakers included
Jeff Haemer), and the second in Bucharest in 1994 (foreign speakers
included Richard Stallman).  GURU convinced EurOpen to hold its
governing board (GB) meeting in Bucharest during ROSE '94, thus
producing a plethora of European foreign speakers.  They couldn
t top that this year, but they did get Linus Torvalds, inventor
of Linux, to come down from Finland to speak, plus Sergei Kuznetsov
from Russia, Jean-Michel Cornu from France, Juan Carlos Martinez
Coll from Spain (slightly delayed and detoured by a Spanish airline
strike), Esther Dyson from the U.S., and your humble scribe,
plus various computer and software vendor representatives.

One of the features of holding a conference of this type in a
country where money is not readily available in large quantities
is that contributions from vendors are very welcome, and may
lead to many vendor presentations.  However, I must say that
most of the vendor presentations I saw were not just dog-and-pony
buy-my-product shows. One glaring exception does come to mind,
but most also addressed more general issues of UNIX or networking.
It turns out GURU had requested vendors to move away from simple
product presentations.  GURU is also trying to persuade vendors
to sponsor GURU all year, not just for the few days of the ROSE


The non-vendor presentations were numerous, the daily schedule
running from 9AM (well, theoretically; given various logistical
problems usually actually more like 10AM) until 6:30 PM or later.
Sessions included Data Bases, Security and Cryptography, Tools
for Distributed Systems, Internet Services, Distributed and Parallel
Systems, Applications, Data Bases, and Internet Infrastructure
and Resource Development.  The talk I gave was (supposed to be)
in the last of those just named, and was essentially 45 minutes
of the growth and demographic information selected from the longer
talk of the previous month and countries (see "Five Countries
in Two Weeks").  My talk actually got rescheduled twice, and
ended up on the last day, along with Esther Dyson's, which only
got rescheduled once.

The Linux talk was in a session about Linux and Related Topics,
moderated by Linus Torvalds and Irina Athanasiu.  This was one
of the ways the organizers got maximum duty out of each invited
speaker: have each one moderate at least one session (I did three).
The point of having a foreign moderator was that each was also
an expert in the session area.  Thus when the audience went into
lecture mode and refused to ask any questions, the foreign moderator
could throw in a question and get things rolling.  The audience
did stall on a number of occasions, but once somebody asked a
question, usually many others followed.

Linus' Linux talk was very well received, because he, or rather
Linux, is a local hero in Romania.  Money being short, most computers
there are PCs, and a free but capable operating system is desired.
The Romanian choice is Linux.  Linus' view of his system sounds
oddly reminiscent of the old UCB CSRG (University of California
at Berkeley Computer Systems Group) talks about BSD (Berkeley
Software Distributions) or even AT&T Bell Labs CSRG talks about
Research UNIX. No marketing, no sales, no support, but technical
quality and even binary compatibility (with SCO UNIX).  "I will
make no promises and I will set no dates." He also works in a
small team of about 10 or 20 people doing the core kernel work,
plus perhaps as many as 100 people writing device drivers, and
thousands more developing applications such as gcc.  Like BSD
before it, Linux is a prime example of using the Internet to
support a large software development project.

More than slightly tongue in cheek, Linus also remarked: "In
1997 we'll probably have about 50 million users, and Bill Gates
can kiss my ass. In 1998, the average dog will be running Linux."
How does Linus organize such a popular system, while giving it
away and deriving no profit from it?  He's a lecturer at the
University of Helsinki.  In addition to some teaching, his research
is in operating systems, namely writing one that people actually
use.  Interestingly enough, he doesn't have a degree; not even
a Bachelor's.  It seems producing a real system has taken two
years of his time.

Linux isn't just for PCs anymore, by the way: it also runs on,
for example, the Digital Alpha, in native 64 bit mode; poor Linus
uses a 275Mhz Alpha for a home machine.  But not on SPARCs or
PowerPCs yet. It's also POSIX.1 compatible, although it's never
been certified as such. It should be almost Single Unix Spec
compliant very soon.  It will not be certified for that, either,
as Linus has no money and he decided not to implement some very
old and obsolete features still in the specs.

Traditional Media

Linus was seen on Romanian TV on Saturday night, as was Alexander
Rotaru, President of GURU; they also mentioned me, and I think
I saw a shot of the closing panel.  Linus was also called "the
Einstein of computing" by a local newspaper.

Earlier, a Romanian Television reporter had asked me what I would
tell the Romanian government.  This caught me a bit off guard,
since I don't usually get asked to advise foreign governments
(I probably won't even get asked to advise the U.S. government
anymore, now that Congress has done away with OTA).  I don't
know what Romanian TV will do with that material, since they
didn't use it on the air; perhaps they mean to show it to government
functionaries, some of whom are already known to use the Internet.
The Romanian president's office and the Romanian immigration
office used electronic mail recently to discuss a visit by the
president to the United States.

Anyway, what I said was, roughly:  "Don't impose unnecessary
restrictions. Perhaps even consider removing some.  If, for example,
there are regulations limiting international communications,
those could beneficially be relaxed, since the Internet is by
its nature international.  Positive things the government could
do might be to fund sending people to IETF (Internet Engineering
Task Force) meetings, and perhaps to assist GURU, which has already
demonstrated it does good work by putting on this conference."
One thing I didn't think to suggest at the time would be student
scholarships for network study.

The president's assistant for science and technology and the
chairman of the National Council for Computer Science attended
the opening session of ROSE '95, although they apparently offered
no other assistance. Several people told me these same groups
are currently working on a censorship law for computer networks,

When interviewed earlier in the week by Romanian radio, I made
a point of mentioning how Romania was unusual in having so many
gymnasiums (high schools) with network connections (usually IP
inside and UUCP to the outside).  This early familiarity with
networking will cause graduates to ask for Internet connections
when they reach university or industry, or for that matter, in
their homes.  This interesting development is mostly thanks to
the Soros Foundation in Romania. Perhaps the government (perhaps
even assisted by foreign governments) will pick up the ball that
George Soros has tossed them.


The conference logistical problems seemed to be a combination
of fighting various infrastructure problems and too few organizers.
The venue was the Children's Palace (built, like so many things
in Bucharest, by Ceaucescu), which wasn't capable of producing
a computer video projection device that worked (and seemed a
tad short of heat on at least one day).  Alexandru Rotaru, the
principal organizer, eventually borrowed one from the Soros Foundation.
Alexander and Irina Athanasiu worked until their eyelids hardly
stayed up, assisted by various volunteers.  The logistical situation
was actually worse this year than in the previous year, say the
organizers, partly because two GURU board members were absent
and two other organizers were absent part of the time, all for
perfectly good reasons, such as pressures of work or illness,
but the result was still less people to run the conference.

There also seemed to be a certain lack of prior testing of key
equipment, which, combined with late arrangements for various
speakers, plus an airline strike in Spain and fog in Brussels,
led to an air of improvised confusion, most notable in that no
day's presentations started on time, except the last one, which
was chaired by Esther Dyson with me as first presenter.  The
truly amazing part about that session was that more than 200
people showed up at 10AM on a Saturday morning to hear it and
to ask questions, and many of them stayed around to ask more.

These organizational problems are not a matter of lack of money,
nor of the use of volunteers.  Some people, both Romanians and
foreigners, told me it's a Romanian thing.  And seeing even usually
reliable Air France announce a bus to arrive in ten minutes (we
broke out laughing) and take five hours to actually produce one
would tend to lend credence to that idea.  But the point of holding
a conference of this sort would seem to be to do things that
haven't previously been done in Romania, and perhaps in new ways.
It's a matter of deciding that conference scheduling is worthwhile
and learning and applying well-known techniques to accomplish
it.  I think GURU has accomplished an amazing thing with the
ROSE conferences, and I'd like to see it continue and improve;
that's why I mention these logistical nits here.

Fortunately, the organizers are well aware of that and are already
planning for next year.  It will be interesting to see which
of the available techniques they select, and how they choose
to apply them, since application of course must vary by country,
venue, subject, etc. Next year the meeting may be in another
place then Bucharest.  One possibility mentioned by Alexandru
is to have Rose one year in Bucharest and the next year in another
place.  This would make it a large event for the host town and
logistic would thus be easier.  The host facility could then
be more involved, as well.

But that's part of the charm of attending a new conference. 
If you want one that runs like clockwork, go to LISA in boring
old California. If you want to see one that runs like a Dacia
1300 with a committee replacing the engine as you ride in it,
go to Romania.  So what if it doesn't run like a BMW.  Maybe
it will by the time you get there.  Or go now and see something
being created out of almost nothing; don't be surprised if you
are asked to help while you're there.  And don't be surprised
when you find a conference that has more attendees and papers
than you're used to back home.

If You Go

If you go, be aware that Bucharest is at the latitude of Minneapolis
and similarly inland.  November is the beginning of winter there,
and it can be bitterly cold, with plenty of snow; go prepared.
Also note that while everyone there claims to be aware that cigarette
smoke is bad for health, non-smoking restaurants are nonexistant,
any public place (except metro cars and perhaps lecture halls)
will be full of smoke, and it often seems that everyone there
smokes incessantly, usually directly in front of you while you
are trying to talk to them; imagine the U.S. about 30 years ago
or France 10 years ago.  However, the food is interesting (vegetarians
will have a tough time of it, but they did have fried chicken
livers), the liqueurs varied, and the water drinkable.

The Previous Society

What's the problem with a fly in Ceausescu's car?  When he moves
his hand back and forth to brush it away, his flunkies may think
he's pointing at buildings to demolish.  This was a three and
seven joke. Listening to it got you three years in prison, and
telling it got you seven.  The two most important English words
to use about Romania appear to be raze (as in all the venerable
buildings Ceausescu demolished) and raise (as in the concrete
flats and ostentatious palaces he built and the fancy hotels
that have been built since his demise).  The world's second and
third largest building by volume and land area (no one seems
to remember which ranking is which) is the People's Palace Ceausescu
built, mostly in a sort of seventeenth or eighteenth century
style (or maybe neo-Greek-Renaissance) that would have made Louis
XIV proud, and it's way bigger than Versailles. Resources were
diverted from Bucharest and the rest of the country for this
and other megaprojects, which explains a lot of potholes elsewhere
in the country (not a single brick in the People's Palace was

This in a place that before the Second World War was known as
the Paris of the east, partly because of historical French cultural
influence, partly because of the buildings erected in French
Baroque style, and largely because of a comparable standard of
living and freedom of expression.  Many Romanians now seem determined
to make up for lost time.

Everyone agrees there have been a lot of changes since Ceausescu
was the last eastern European head of state to be displaced,
back in 1989.  Bucharest has many cafes, pubs, cinemas, stores,
and new and restored hotels and restaurants.  For that matter,
the electricity stays on all night.

Much more could be said about the previous society (sometimes
people omit that polite phrase and say "the communists") and
when it changed. If you go there, you won't have to ask; everybody
will tell you their war story (some go back as far as 1600) whenever
they perceive you have a spare moment.  Some even say there was
no political revolution, because the same people are in power,
but I don't choose to delve that far into Romanian politics here.
Like most war stories, these hold a deep fascination for those
who lived through them, or for history buffs such as myself.
One of our tour guides, on the other hand, was 20 and thus was
15 in 1989, so she doesn't remember all the details, and even
said she remembered nothing from before; it was just all black.

The D Word

Many foreigners know of Romania as the country of Dracula, so
let's get that out of the way.  The word means devil, and Bram
Stoker took it from Vlad Dracul, father of Vlad Tepes.  That
is Vlad Tepes, national war hero.  Yes, Romanians will say Vlad
the Impaler, but those were invading Turks he was impaling, around
the same time westerners were burning heretics at the stake.
Not to mention the first historical mention of Bucharest was
by the same Vlad Tepes, in 1459, so he's both a national and
a local hero of sorts.  More than one Romanian claimed never
to have heard the Dracula stories before 1989, and thought they
must have originated in confusion of Vlad Tepes with Elizabeth
Batory of Hungary, a much more demonstrably nasty figure (to
the Romanians; the Hungarians apparently consider both her and
Attila the Hun to be national heros).  Some other Romanians like
to talk about Dracula, since they think it will attract foreigners
who will spend money while trying to locate his haunts.

The current problem with Transylvania (which is one of the three
constituent parts of Romania, along with Wallachia in the southeast
(including Bucharest) and Moldavia in the northeast next to the
current Republic of Moldava, which is half of the historical
Moldavia) is that at times it used to be part of Hungary, and
there are currently many Hungarian speakers there, even though
the Romanian government requires them to use Romanian in school.
If there is a Transylvanian problem at all, and many Romanians
claim there is not.  Certainly, compared to former Yugoslavia
next door, Romania is a peaceful and integrated country.

Romanian Networks

Networks in Romania are quite interesting.  It's a big country
(a bit less than half the size of France in both land and population),
and it has FidoNet, UUCP, EARN, and several varieties of Internet
connections. A proper treatment of Romanian networking will require
its own article, or several, actually, which will appear later.
Romania will also be featured prominently as a case study in
the book, The Matrix: Second Edition.  Here I only make a few
qualitative statements.

This is a country of 23 million people, 2.3 million of whom are
in Bucharest.  The national telephone network is not extensive,
and is about as good as you'd expect in a country with a per
capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2,840.  In fact, on our
scatterplot of Consumer Internet Users per capita versus per
capita GDP in MMQ 203 from the Second MIDS Internet Demographic
Survey of October 1994, Romania comes out just about where it
would be expected.  Cable television, on the other hand, goes
almost everywhere already, and there is talk of running IP for
the Internet over it.  Plus of course the telephone network is
being extended.

In the recent UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) 1995
report on human development, Romania ranked 98th out of 174 countries
surveyed; far behind other former Warsaw pact countries, although
ahead of Albania.  This report took into account per capita GDP
as well as life expectancy (69.9 years) and numerous other factors.
Although not rich, Romania is literate (96.9%), has many natural
resources, and is very aware of its history, from the Roman emperor
Trajan's conquest of the Dacian tribe (which is the reason the
Romanian language is a Romance language similar to Italian or
Spanish or even French;  several Romanians also said they could
understand Portuguese) through the Austro-Hungarian empire, the
Romanian kingdom, and Ceausescu to the present.

Practical effects on students have included a shortage of books,
leading to a practice of courses taught by lecture, while the
students take copious notes in expectation of regurgitating everything
on exams.  This is in some ways like U.S. university teaching,
but a typical Romanian student attends lecture classes 10 hours
a day two days a week, and at least 6 hours a day the other three
days (this explains the very long daily session schedule at ROSE
'95).  Without books, rote memorization ranks high, and points
of view other than the professor's are lacking.

Romanian students like the Internet a lot, because they see it
can change this situation by introducing other points of view,
by encourging discussion, by providing some texts directly, and
by making students aware of books they might be able to obtain.
Also, it provides another channel of communications among students,
and sometimes with professors. And it permits students to publish
some materials themselves, as WWW pages, for example.  Students
seem to want these things, or at least those who came to ROSE
'95 seemed to.

That so many students came to ROSE '95 is a very promising sign
for GURU, as well.  Many UNIX user groups are having problems
growing or even continuing, because they failed to cultivate
younger members. GURU is in a very good position to draw in new
people as time goes on.


I would like to thank Alina Nemes of PC-NET for providing me
access at the conference, and Liviu Ionescu of EUnet Romania
for setting up a guest account for dialup access from the hotel.
The Ambassador Hotel downtown had RJ-11 jacks and dialup worked
with no problems.  Ironically enough, the much more expensive
Sofitel (where Air France put me and Denis Conan when their flight
to Paris was cancelled) did not.

And of course I'd like to thank Alexander Rotaru, Irina Athanasiu,
Nick Sandru, and all the other GURU folks for their hospitality,
which included many fine lunches and dinners, a couple of tours
of Bucharest (the best was the informal one by Sergei Dumitrescu
on the way from the airport), and numerous visits to interesting
places, plus the session in the Irish Pub, organized by Cristian
Gafton from Iasi.

Finally, let's not forget the patient translators, Arieta Voivod
and Cristina Tudor who came from Cluj and put up with the rest
of us all week.
Marius Hancu