Last week, as previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to connect with Debian’s Martin Krafft (O’Reilly bio here), to talk about his new book, Debian, Ubuntu and a whole host of other related topics. Our chat was a lot of fun for me not simply because I find the topic of interest, but because Martin is a great guy: good sense of humor, absolutely pragmatic, and – of course – very knowledgeable.
While I’m not a reporter and thus will not try to capture our conversation word for word, I’d like to discuss in general terms a couple of the topics we touched on.
- Debian System: Judging from the Amazon reviews alone, it was clear that whatever Martin had set out to achieve with his book, it had found a very receptive and appreciative audience. The intended audience, Martin was quick to point out, is one that knows Linux well as opposed to beginners. In pursuit of that goal, he covers in great detail the inner workings of one of the most popular distros out there to help answer the question – “Why Debian?” From APT to the community support, the book discusses how Debian differentiates itself from other distros. As so many have when they talk about their favorite open source project, Martin stressed heavily the importance of the Debian community as one such distinguishing factor.
- Community: Speaking of community, the sheer volume of available applications for Debians speaks to the community support it enjoys. Martin reported that the Debian library has somewhere north of 16K packages in it – which impressed me. My numbers are doubtless off because they’re a few months old, but for comparison’s sake the last I checked Gentoo’s library it had somewhere around 10 thousand packages, while OpenSolaris’ Blastwave was just over one thousand. The disparity is due obviously in part to the deltas in their respective lifespans, but at the same time reinforces the point that Debian is a platform with serious, serious traction.
- Package/Application Management: While on the topic of package/application management Martin and I discussed – among other things – the inherent advantage over Windows, as well as the differences between how Debian handles it versus other distros. It was interesting to compare notes on my experiences with Gentoo versus Martin’s with Debian; despite the differences in approach, they have more in common with each other than they do with some of the RPM based commerical distros. Speaking of RPM distros, I’ll have more on that from the perspective of an ISV shortly. Martin also is likely to be looking at this area in more detail as part of his new research focus into workflow and process integration within the Debian world, working under Brian Fitzgerald at the University of Limerick.
- Ubuntu: Given that much has been made of the apparent disconnects between Debian and its Ubuntu descendent – despite Shuttleworth’s best efforts – I was keen to get Martin’s take on the fastest growing distro. Perhaps unsurprisingly, because he seems like a very pragmatic individual, he had an overall positive take on the success of Ubuntu. He noted in particular the fact that Ubuntu is now rewarding monetarily a significant proportion of Debian core developers for their efforts, and the fact that the focus Ubuntu brings to end users gives it the opportunity for Debian to play – at least indirectly – in markets that it could not previously. Good to hear that there’s some appreciation for Ubuntu within the Debian community, because I personally believe it’s one of the better things to happen to Debian in a while.
- ISV Relationships: One other important topic of discussion was the relationship Debian has – or doesn’t have – with commercial ISVs. While I’m aware of a fair amount of unsupported/skunkworks Debian deployments – see the comments from Henning Heinz here – it’s also true that most of the ISVs I speak with target the Red Hat/SuSE combination, and occasionally Red Flag or Turbolinux. I’ll have a more in depth look at the opportunity this presents later, but Martin thought it was important enough to mention. In the meantime, I’ll say to the other Debian advocates in the audience exactly what I told Martin: if there are conversations you wish to have with some of the commercial ISVs, please let me know. I can’t promise that they’ll talk to you, but I’ll certainly do what I can to make the conversations happen.
That doesn’t cover every last thing we discussed, but touches on the major topics I believe. I’d like to thank Martin for his time, and Patricia Witkin for being so dedicated in ensuring that I got around to making the time for him.