2021 Year in Review

on 2022-02-23 in year-in-review

| alpine | guix | minix | sourcehut |


Last year, I decided to move away from using proprietary software in favor of using free, libre, and open-source software. I will share the reasons in a future post. What entailed that decision is summarized in this one.

I divided the post into 4 parts to help understand the timeline better.

First Quarter

IDE

I write code almost every day and I was quite good with JetBrains IDEs. It was the single most important software that I couldn’t live without. I knew that moving away from it will have significant impact on my productivity, but I like to tackle the toughest problem first, so I decided to replace it with emacs first.

I continued using my rusty new 1 MacBook Air 2017, with emacs for about three months. I was becoming good at using emacs. But if you’ve used emacs, you’d know that One does not simply use emacs just to edit code. I started replacing other software with what was built into emacs.

Software forge

After acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft, I lost interest in hosting my projects there. I already had an account on GitLab but their reverse proxy won’t allow me to use it via icecat. I created an account on sourcehut to host my projects. But I was actively comparing various software forges to see whether their model of business aligns with what I was looking for.

Second Quarter

Email client

I had been using GPGTools with Apple Mail for about two years then. It was a perfect setup for me to be able to communicate with people privately over email. I replaced it with notmuch. Notmuch introduced a different kind of email experience, which grew on me. I just had purchased a copy of GPG Mail Support Plan before moving to notmuch. I asked the developers if I could get a refund and they generously processed the refund. I recommend GPGTools to Apple Mail users.

Password manager

I bought a Yubikey and replaced Apple Keychain with pass. I also replaced Authy with pass-otp. The only secure hardware key available in India at that time was Yubikey. This made me realize that I won’t be able to move to free software completely. I decided to make compromise with 3 categories of software.

Media player

EMMS and MPV replaced QuickTime Player and Apple Music.

Everything else

Org Mode replaced Notes, Calendar, Todos, Stopwatch, Calculator, and Alarm. It’s one of the best software I’ve used.

Third Quarter

Operating System

Everything that had ties to Apple was replaced by emacs. I brought home my 8 year old HP laptop, to replace MacOS with GNU+Linux. I was quite inspired by Richard Stallman at that time (and I still am), so I decided to run a completely free operating system called GNU Guix on my laptop. I had to buy AR9271 to get wireless internet connection. Wired connection worked just fine though.

There were some software that I wanted to use, that weren’t there in official guix channel 2. I contributed some of them upstream with the help of guix community. #guix on irc.libera.chat is welcoming and friendly. I learned how the patches are submitted via mailing lists while contributing to guix. Here are the patches I submitted to guix over the last year:

sourcehut

After assessing alternatives for several months, I decided to stay with sourcehut and make it better by contributing to it. I also started paying for it to support the project financially.

builds.sr.ht-guix

sourcehut lacked support of GNU Guix as a build image for its CI service. I created a project builds.sr.ht-guix and got it upstream. I have been maintaining it since then. I authored a mini cookbook explaining how guix can be used with builds.sr.ht. The project also got featured on sourcehut some time ago.

Last Quarter

builds.sr.ht-minix

I was looking into various non-mainstream operating systems and trying to figure out a way to make development using them more accessible with sourcehut. I started creating a CI image for Minix 3 in builds.sr.ht-minix. Minix, at the stage of development at that time, lacked support of automated build image creation on GNU+Linux. To work around this problem, I wrote an expect script. Which understandably was turned down by the upstream as it was not really maintainable for long term.

I tried implementing the same with NetBSD but it too had no support for minix file system in its kernel. Unfortunately, I had to archive my project as the Minix 3 project was dormant for 4 years and the amount of time required to implement it would outweigh the benefits of a CI image. While working on this project I interacted with people on #minix and #netbsd on irc.libera.chat. They were friendly and helpful.

builds.sr.ht

I implemented support for accepting build job note as querystring parameter because I wanted to provide links to predefined build jobs along with example build manifests in guix cookbook.

builds.sr.ht-guix

GNU Guix had some network issues during this time. Guix CI image is built nightly, so it had more cases of failure. I made several changes to the CI image builder that fixed these problems.

Alpine linux

Guix is one of the advanced GNU+Linux distros. It has many features but they do come at a cost, which I won’t go into in this post. After exploring and using GNU Guix, I wanted to explore a minimal distro that does the job. I decided to try Alpine Linux. Alpine too lacked some packages that I wanted to use. My experience with packaging software for guix helped me. Here are the packages I contributed upstream last year:

Here is a link to all packages that I’m maintaining.

Summary

I don’t use a smartphone. I use a feature phone (Nokia 215) which is turned off almost all the time. If I were to use a smartphone, I’d have used postmarketOS.

I like to self-host. This post does not include that journey. I’ll publish another detailed post about it in future.

I started accepting one time and recurring donations. I was relying on donations for a while until the RBI announced guidelines that stopped all my recurring donations. I don’t (can’t) rely on donations anymore, but I’ll appreciate if you’d like to donate.

Overall, I think this transition was successful. I don’t depend on proprietary software that might limit my ability to compute in a substantial way.

Since I was (and still am) unemployed last year, I had (and still have) the luxury of being able to work on whatever I wish to, full-time. I can’t thank my wife enough for encouraging me to do what I do and financially supporting me.


  1. A story for another time. ↩︎

  2. A guix channel is a repository of definitions of software packages. One can download pre-built bit-to-bit identical binaries from the CI or can modify, build, and use the software locally. ↩︎


I welcome your feedback or constructive criticism to ~dhruvin/public-inbox@lists.sr.ht. You can also visit the public archive.


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Announcing the Hare programming language

The “secret programming language” I have been teasing for several months now is finally here! It is called Hare, and you can read about it on the Hare blog: https://harelang.org/blog/2022-04-25-announcing-hare/ Check it out!

via Drew DeVault's blog

on 2022-04-25