Subject: Re: Debian out of hand?
From: Craig Brozefsky <>
Date: 28 Jun 1999 11:21:11 -0700

Russell Nelson <> writes:

> Stephen J. Turnbull writes:
>  > I think packaging is the name of the game.  AKA "software ICs".  CTAN
>  > and CPAN need this desperately (CPAN has something like it now, I
>  > think).  Debian is now way out of hand, with over 3500 packages in the 
>  > "unstable" distribution (main, contrib, and non-free, -non-US and -JP).
> But ... but ... Debian has so much good stuff in it.  Let's say that I
> download DJ's Ace of Penguins game package.  If I get the source code,
> as I did for redhat, and compile it, and install it, I have to put it
> in /usr/local/bin.  And there's no provenance included.  If, on the
> other hand, I switch to Debian (as I did recently), most of my
> favorite packages are included in it (e.g. mgetty+sendfax, pilot-link,
> ace of penguins, netpbm, python-gtk), and I know which binaries,
> config files, and documentation go with each other.

Not only that, but in terms of reducing friction for contributors to
projects, Debian has some nice features:

1. Public Bug Tracking system or all packages.  This is for bugs in
   the packaging portion, but also in the upstream source code as
   well.  Bugs are forwarded to upstream maintainers and their status
   tracked.  The firt thing you do when you have a bug in Debian is
   pull up and search for existing bugs on the suspect
   package.  Many times it's already been reported.  A single place to
   report bugs is also nice, because it reduces the friction the user
   must overcome in order to make the bug report, and it's effective
   for all packages.

2. Single place for all source code, and with the new package manager
   "apt-get" you can actually say "apt-get source emacs" or whatever
   package you are interested in modifying or looking at the source
   of, and it will download it for you.  Many times I've found a bug
   or something in a package and pulled down the source code and was
   able to either contribute a patch, or give a detailed and precise
   explanation of the bug which the maintainer could use as a
   blueprint of the patch.  Again, a reduction in the friction the
   user must overcome in order to become a contributor, effective
   across all packages.

3. All packages are subject to same quality control and policy
   requirements.  Unlike other distributions, which have third party
   packages which have very dubious quality, all Debian packages are
   required to conform to Debian policy.  Obviously they are not all
   perfect, but with lintian and other tools which a developer can use
   to check his package for policy violations, there is a much higher
   quality level for all 3k+ plus packages.  So developer effort to
   produce high quality packages is reduced across all packages.

4. Automated builds for different platforms.  When I package a project
   for my x86 box and upload it to Debian, automated build deamons
   will attempt to build it on all the other supported debian
   architectures (Debian has more architectures than any other Linux
   distribution, including Hurd).  No more issues with developers have
   to track down hosts for all the different platform combinations in
   order to do their porting.  Build bugs on other platforms will be
   reported to the port maintainers, and to the package maintainer.

5. Anyone can become a developer.  So their developer base will expand
   with the net, and not with the human resources capabilities of any
   one company who has to hire, give stock options, health insurance
   and the like.  There are obvious issues of management that Debian
   has to deal with, and they have developed tools already.  There is
   the infamous DFSG and Social Contract, the voting system.  The most
   important is arguably the Debian Constitution.

Obviously these are not silver bullets, but they are what make Debian
attractive in the long term.  Presently, these are the reasons why
Debian has such a reputation for high quality releases (there are bugs
of course) with more packages than any other distribution.  In the
future, these features will allow Debian to maintain it's quality
level, and to scale much further than closed organizations can scale a

> Now if we could only get Debian to switch to RPM.  :)

You're damn lucky you put a smiley there, punk 8^P

Craig Brozefsky                         <>
Free Scheme/Lisp Software
Less matter, more form!                       - Bruno Schulz
ignazz, I am truly korrupted by yore sinful tzourceware. -jb