This year I mentored two students doing work in support of Debian and free software (as well as those I mentored for Ganglia).
Both of them are presenting details about their work at DebConf 14 today.
While Juliana's work has been widely publicised already, mainly due to the fact it is accessible to every individual DD, Andrew's work is also quite significant and creates many possibilities to advance awareness of free software.
Andrew's project is about recursively building Java dependencies from third party repositories such as the Maven Central Repository. It matches up well with the wonderful new maven-debian-helper tool in Debian and will help us to fill out /usr/share/maven-repo on every Debian system.
Firstly, this is not just about Java. On a practical level, some aspects of the project are useful for many other purposes. One of those is the aim of scanning a repository for non-free artifacts, making a Git mirror or clone containing a dfsg branch for generating repackaged upstream source and then testing to see if it still builds.
Then there is the principle of software freedom. The Maven Central repository now requires that people publish a sources JAR and license metadata with each binary artifact they upload. They do not, however, demand that the sources JAR be complete or that the binary can be built by somebody else using the published sources. The license data must be specified but it does not appeared to be verified in the same way as packages inspected by Debian's legendary FTP masters.
Thanks to the transitive dependency magic of Maven, it is quite possible that many Java applications that are officially promoted as free software can't trace the source code of every dependency or build plugin.
Many organizations are starting to become more alarmed about the risk that they are dependent upon some rogue dependency. Maybe they will be hit with a lawsuit from a vendor stating that his plugin was only free for the first 3 months. Maybe some binary dependency JAR contains a nasty trojan for harvesting data about their corporate network.
People familiar with the principles of software freedom are in the perfect position to address these concerns and Andrew's work helps us build a cleaner alternative. It obviously can't rebuild every JAR for the very reason that some of them are not really free - however, it does give the opportunity to build a heat-map of trouble spots and also create a fast track to packaging for those heirarchies of JARs that are truly free.
People attending the session today or participating remotely are advised to set up your RTC / VoIP password at db.debian.org well in advance so the server will allow you to log in and try it during the session. It can take 30 minutes or so for the passwords to be replicated to the SIP proxy and TURN server.
Please also check my previous comments about what works and what doesn't and in particular, please be aware that Iceweasel / Firefox 24 on wheezy is not suitable unless you are on the same LAN as the person you are calling.