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Ten years of Grml


On 22nd of October 2004 an event called OS04 took place in Seifenfabrik Graz/Austria and it marked the first official release of the Grml project.

Grml was initially started by myself in 2003 – I registered the domain on September 16, 2003 (so technically it would be 11 years already :)). It started with a boot-disk, first created by hand and then based on yard. On 4th of October 2004 we had a first presentation of “grml 0.09 Codename Bughunter” at Kunstlabor in Graz.

I managed to talk a good friend and fellow student – Martin Hecher – into joining me. Soon after Michael Gebetsroither and Andreas Gredler joined and throughout the upcoming years further team members (Nico Golde, Daniel K. Gebhart, Mario Lang, Gerfried Fuchs, Matthias Kopfermann, Wolfgang Scheicher, Julius Plenz, Tobias Klauser, Marcel Wichern, Alexander Wirt, Timo Boettcher, Ulrich Dangel, Frank Terbeck, Alexander Steinböck, Christian Hofstaedtler) and contributors (Hermann Thomas, Andreas Krennmair, Sven Guckes, Jogi Hofmüller, Moritz Augsburger,…) joined our efforts.

Back in those days most efforts went into hardware detection, loading and setting up the according drivers and configurations, packaging software and fighting bugs with lots of reboots (working on our custom /linuxrc for the initrd wasn’t always fun). Throughout the years virtualization became more broadly available, which is especially great for most of the testing you need to do when working on your own (meta) distribution. Once upon a time udev became available and solved most of the hardware detection issues for us. Nowadays doesn’t even need a xorg.conf file anymore (at least by default). We have to acknowledge that Linux grew up over the years quite a bit (and I’m wondering how we’ll look back at the systemd discussions in a few years).

By having Debian Developers within the team we managed to push quite some work of us back to Debian (the distribution Grml was and still is based on), years before the Debian Derivatives initiative appeared. We never stopped contributing to Debian though and we also still benefit from the Debian Derivatives initiative, like sharing issues and ideas on DebConf meetings. On 28th of May 2009 I myself became an official Debian Developer.

Over the years we moved from private self-hosted infrastructure to company-sponsored systems, migrated from Subversion (brr) to Mercurial (2006) to Git (2008). Our Zsh-related work became widely known as grml-zshrc. managed to become a continuous integration/deployment/delivery home e.g. for the dpkg, fai, initramfs-tools, screen and zsh Debian packages. The underlying software for creating Debian packages in a CI/CD way became its own project known as jenkins-debian-glue in August 2011. In 2006 I started grml-debootstrap, which grew into a reliable method for installing plain Debian (nowadays even supporting installation as VM, and one of my customers does tens of deployments per day with grml-debootstrap in a fully automated fashion). So one of the biggest achievements of Grml is – from my point of view – that it managed to grow several active and successful sub-projects under its umbrella.

Nowadays the Grml team consists of 3 Debian Developers – Alexander Wirt (formorer), Evgeni Golov (Zhenech) and myself. We couldn’t talk Frank Terbeck (ft) into becoming a DM/DD (yet?), but he’s an active part of our Grml team nonetheless and does a terrific job with maintaining grml-zshrc as well as helping out in Debian’s Zsh packaging (and being a Zsh upstream committer at the same time makes all of that even better :)).

My personal conclusion for 10 years of Grml? Back in the days when I was a student Grml was my main personal pet and hobby. Grml grew into an open source project which wasn’t known just in Graz/Austria, but especially throughout the German system administration scene. Since 2008 I’m working self-employed and mainly working on open source stuff, so I’m kind of living a dream, which I didn’t even have when I started with Grml in 2003. Nowadays with running my own business and having my own family it’s getting harder for me to consider it still a hobby though, instead it’s more integrated and part of my business – which I personally consider both good and bad at the same time (for various reasons).

Thanks so much to anyone of you, who was (and possibly still is) part of the Grml journey! Let’s hope for another 10 successful years!

Thanks to Max Amanshauser and Christian Hofstaedtler for reading drafts of this.

11 Responses to “Ten years of Grml”

  1. Karl Says:

    Congrats to ten years of awesomeness! :-)

  2. i5513 Says:

    Congrats and thank you for your awesome work!!

  3. Ritesh Raj Sarraf Says:

    Congratulations to all of you.

    Special thanks to Frank Terbeck, who maintains fdm, the most critical component of my email setup.

  4. gufo Says:

    Congratulations and thanks for making grml. it is by my favorite “sysadmin” distro and saved my life a thousand times.keep up the good work!

  5. Shorty Says:

    Can’t tell how often I used GRML. But it’s always somehwere on a USB-stick and saved me a lot of time an nerves. Many thanks to all of you and a happy christmas to those who celebrate it.

  6. Lukas Says:

    Woooho! Congrats :-)

  7. Frank Prochnow Says:

    Ages ago i downloaded GRML 0.8 Funkenzutzler because of the funny name. It instantly replaced Knoppix as my standard “Windows PC Rescue Tool”. As a linux novice i first learned about screen and terminalmultiplexing from GRML. Later i fell in love with the zsh, then the GRML terminalserver, remastering GRML and debian bootstrapping etc. etc.
    To sum it up: i learned more about debian and linux from playing around with GRML than from any other source.

    Thanks and keep up the great work.

  8. frittomisto Says:

    Nice! Best wishes for these 10 years!
    The best rescue and emergency sys admining distro i ever tryed. Always (literally) in my pocket ;)
    Thanks for your work guys. Long live GRML and Debian!

  9. Kevin Says:

    Nice one! Congrats and many thanks for your awesome work!

  10. mirabilos Says:

    Thanks for all the fun and help, and for introducing me into Debian proper, for a while.

  11. John Says:

    Congratulations on your 10th year! I hope for another 10 years and more to come. I came to prefer Grml because it uses zsh as the default shell. Thank you for your wonderful work and great contribution to the Linux world.