Project of the Month, November 2002

Fink

Apple's new operating system, Mac OS X, has many advantages. Besides having a beautiful UI, its foundation is built on top of a UNIX variant called Darwin. With its UNIX underpinnings, many users want to run the large library of Open Source applications that are available on Linux and other UNIX Platforms. SF.net's November project of the month, Fink, provides an easy yet powerful way to install and keep up-to-date 100's of UNIX applications that have been ported to OS X (using Debian's apt-get as a starting point). Besides being a top project on SF.net, Fink has been a favorite tool to members of the SF.net team who have recently acquired TiBooks.

Project Name: Fink
Founded / Started: Late 2000
URL: http://fink.sf.net

Description of project
Fink is an attempt to bring the full world of UNIX Open Source Software to Darwin and Mac OS X.

Trove info:
Mac OS X / Darwin. Fink engine is written in Perl. Licensed under the GPL

How did you get started?

The project was started in late 2000 by Christoph Pfisterer:
Well, after toying around with the ingredients for a while, I ended up with a set of Perl scripts that could automatically patch, build, and install GNU Software on Mac OS X Public Beta. I thought it might be useful to other people on the planet as well, so I made up the name, registered a project, and put up my 0.1 release tarball on December 28, 2000.

Why is Fink called Fink?
Fink is named after the "Darwin Finken" or "Darwin finchs", a bird and a play on the OS X UNIX under layer "darwin"

What is the intended audience?
Any Mac OS X user who wants to install UNIX software in an easy and managed fashion. This includes developers who need certain libraries and tools (e.g. libxml2 or subversion), and also end users (e.g. to run Gnome, KDE or The Gimp).

How many people do you believe are using your software?
This is really a hard question. A first estimation, based on the number of downloads, is that we have maybe 10000 users for the binary distribution, and maybe 15000 people using the source distribution. If you add in the people using Fink directly from CVS, we estimate Fink has 30000 users.

What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?
David: Many things have shown and still show us that Fink is a success. We have dozens of mails on our various mailing lists every day. Apple has at one point supported us by giving Christoph a beta release of Mac OS X 10.1. Various major projects (OpenOffice, Mozilla/Chimera ...) are referring to Fink in their build instructions. SourceForge.net is using Fink on the compile farm. There are even books covering Fink available now.

Max: For me it was really a surprise when one day I saw a (brief) article about Fink in the most well known German computer magazine "c't". They even asked me if they could ship it on a CD with their magazine, but due to bad timing this didn't work out.

What has been your biggest surprise?
Max: One day I got an email from Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web himself. He had a small problem with the db31 package. It turns out he is a Fink user, too. Compared to many other things it's probably a small thing, but for me that was really a nice surprise :-)

Dave: I'm surprised that I'm doing this! When I first got involved, in summer 2001, I had a long history as both a UNIX user and a Mac user, but not much experience in compiling and installing software. My skills have developed as I've worked on this project, and it's been a lot of fun being a part of the Fink community.

What has been your biggest challenge?
Producing a distribution in a context in which we don't control the core system, which may change in ways outside of our control.

Why do you think your project has been so well received?
Max: Fink offers something to the two major kinds of Mac OS X users: people coming from the Mac, and people coming from UNIX.. UNIX users are happy to have an easy way to install their known tools and environment, using a foundation (debian tools) they often know. On the other hand, Mac users are usually not intimate with the console, so for them Fink is a good way to still install the UNIX stuff they want without having to mess with configure scripts or patches. We have found that there are quite a lot of people that do their first steps on the CLI level via Fink. And if they do decide that they don't want to keep this "UNIX stuff", they can get rid of Fink easily, too.

Dave: We provide many tools that people need, and we've grown a community
which offers great support to users (on mailing lists and IRC). The documentation is also good, particularly for an Open Source project.

Where do you see your project going?
The next goal we are pursuing is to release a binary distribution for Mac OS X 10.2. Also work is in progress on Gnome2 and KDE 3.1.

There are still many worthy things to do (besides packaging more and more stuff). The docs always need to be extended to keep track with Fink's development. We are investigating a user-level-mode (currently, Fink needs root rights... this is a problem for security sensitive users, and also for users that want Fink but are not admin of the machine they work on).

Besides that, we have a long list of items in our feature request tracker :-)

Milestones:
* Transition to OS X 10.1
* Transition to OS X 10.2 and GCC 3.1 (this was a tough one)
* Automatic dependency checking for shared libraries
* Thorough coverage of open source software


More projects of the month


Project Name: Fink

Background of leader(s):
Name: Max HornMax Horn
Math Student, Darmstadt, Germany

Name: David R. MorrisonDavid R. Morrison
Professor, Ph.D., Durham, North Carolina, USA

Key developer(s):
Fink is a community project, and as such, has many, many people working on it.

First to mention is of course Christoph Pfisterer (chrisp), the Project Founder. Other key contributors:

Martin Costabel
Sylvain Cuaz
Finlay Dobbie
Justin F. Hallett
Alexander Hansen
Jeremy Higgs
Ben Hines
Matthias Neeracher
Peter O'Gorman
Benjamin Reed
Christian Schaffner
Masanori Sekino
Matt Stephenson
Alexander Strange
Christian Swinehart
Dave Vasilevsky
Jeffrey S. Whitaker
Chris Zubrzycki

Quote about SF.net:
SF.net is absolutely essential for Fink. Without the infrastructure and services provided by SF.net, Fink would be nowhere near where it is now.

Why did you place the project on SF.net?
Initially because of the web space. Then we started using the CVS repository and a mailing list. With time, we added several other mailing lists, made use of the bug tracker. Then over time we made more and more use of the SF.net features as they were added, e.g. when SF.net allowed for custom trackers, we added custom trackers for package submissions & requests. Today, about the only feature we are not using are the forums.

The number one benefit of SF.net for your project is:
A central place to host & coordinate all our efforts.