Subject: Re: Debian out of hand?
From: Adam Di Carlo <adam@onshore.com>
Date: 30 Jun 1999 02:49:01 -0400


This is all going a bit off topic, but I'll pick out a few issues from
the thread.  To preface, and to try to more firmly place this response
in the charter for this list, it's a little hard to know where to
place Debian in terms of lessons for FSBs.

I guess the primary lesson is that, while Debian has probably orders
and orders of magnitude more users than Caldera has, you'll never see
it mentioned in trade rags (Ziff Davis) and the like.  You can't find
many Debian books on the shelves (the *second* book I'm aware of is
going to press in the next month).  Yadda yadda.

The lesson here being that Debian, being developer oriented, and for
the most part lacking any marketing, shows that free software,
technical excellence, and a large user base is not enough (yet) to get
you noticed by the suits.  Probably not a suprise to anyone.

Debian has a reputation for being sticklers on licensing.  This tends
to impact on Debian negatively in the sense that lay people sometimes
conclude that Debian is "anti-commercial".  Well, its a big project,
and Debian certainly has a lot of RMS-style free software zealots, but
I don't think that assessment is fair.  Notably, the KDE folks
concluded that Debian was conspiring against then, when in fact,
Debian was simply making efforts to ensure that the letter of the GPL
(esp. regarding linking) was being adhered to.  Although the fracas
definately left a lot of the Debian developers with a bad feeling
about KDE.

One really nice thing to learn from Debian is how to organize a whole
heck of a lot of people (volunteers, even, although a few people at VA
and probably other places are being paid to work on Debian).  At
around 500 developers now, Debian is definately the most organized
free software project I've ever worked with.  Another notable
statistic is that the nubmer of packages seems to double around every
8 months, a geometric expansion which seems to be continuing apace.


Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com> writes:
> If he or she reported
> the bug directly to bug-gnu-utils, rather than to the Debian system,
> the problem would normally have been identified and, hopefully, fixed
> much more rapidly.
> 
> This does not, of course, mean that the Debian system is a bad idea.
> But my interactions with it, which have only been as an upstream
> maintainer, have been largely negative.

I think there are a number of maintainers who would agree.  I would
point the finger here at the maintainers, and culture, a bit.  I think
Debian maintainers tend to like to fix bugs themselves, and this
results in forking between Debian version and "upstream" versions
(with all the concommittent evils).  I think Debian, as a whole, needs
to take stronger steps to eliminate forking and facilitate interaction
with upstream maintainers.


"Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp> writes:

> And how about nesting systems with their own package systems? 

This is a general software issue.  The LSB is trying to solve this
(and it would result in a merge between RPMs and Debian packages, I
believe), but I find it a bit unclear how this would be implemented in
practice, such that users aren't confused (i.e., trying to install a
RedHat package on a Debian system) or that the pacakge maintainers
wouldn't be burned (i.e., trying to deal with bugs in packages which
are very new, they haven't tested, etc).  This is a purely
technical/political issue and off charter for this group -- followup
encouraged to LSB groups.

> One reason I like Debian is that they already have long had `alien'
> and package management kaizen continues, ie, philosophical head is on
> shoulders instead of in some warm dark damp place.  It's possible that 
> a startup FSB can attack those issues (it's not like Debian hasn't
> modularized its archive access routines into a separate .so to make
> it even easier) and steal a lot of Debian's thunder---but Debian sure
> isn't ignoring the opportunity itself.

Well, actually, more suprising is how few commercial companies base
their products on Debian.  There are a number of European "value-add"
distributions to Debian.  These "symbiotic efforts" in fact seem very
willing to actually kick stuff back into mainstream Debian itself.
Less work for them, and good for Debian too.  That's the infectious
free software model at work.

Regarding the possibility of another company "stealing Debian's
thunder", I don't really think this feasible, given the critical mass
of Debian.  It really is can be an ungodly amount of work to take a
tarball of some complex software off the 'Net and turn it into a fully
integrated package. And there really are an ungodly amount of
packages...

It's not widely known, but RedHat has been known to take Debian
changes and integrate them into their packages.  This is what sharing
is all about -- so long as all parties comply with licensing, and
perform attribution.  I think RedHat could do better in both counts,
but I do generally think of Debian and RedHat as allies for Free
Software rather than competitors.

--
.....Adam Di Carlo....adam@onShore.com.....<URL:http://www.onShore.com/>