Monday at DebConf

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Been an interesting day at DebConf, overall. One of the unfortunate things about attending a week long conference for just two days is that you’re guaranteed to miss a good number of sessions you’d like to attend. I’m very disappointed, for example, to have to miss Tuesday’s “Debian Community Guidelines” talk and Thursday’s “Governance of the Debian Project” session, but c’est la vie. Simon’s “OpenSolaris, Java, and Debian: Can we be friends?” talk from yesterday, which I also missed, seems to have been well received from the folks that I’ve spoken with. As were his comments following Mark Shuttleworth’s “Ubuntu Annual Report” talk this morning, but more on those later.

The fact that Mark’s talk overlapped with my time down here is a real bonus; given my optimism about the prospects for both Debian and Ubuntu, I was interested to see what the community reaction to the talk would be. The answer was: relatively mixed. Mark did an excellent job outlining both the progress made with respect to Ubuntu as well as the challenges on the road ahead, and along the way he fielded some very pointed questions. One of the subjects touched on was the “F*** Ubuntu” shirts that emerged some months back, while others queried Shuttleworth on the prospect for Launchpad and/or Rosetta being released as free software (the answer was yes, but not soon) and accusations of GPL violations (Shuttleworth categorically disputed this charge, which centers on how Ubuntu links to some of the drivers it ships with – a problem that the folks from Kororaa seem to have run afoul of).

In the end, it seems as if Debian and Ubuntu will continue to uneasily coexist. The alliance, such as it is, will be clearly be strained at times, and there will continue to be less than optimal behaviors on both sides of the divide, but from what I’ve heard here I don’t see either side walking away. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.

Because for all of the good that Enrico can do with his Debian Community Guidelines, the fact is that Debian is still a community of individuals, as is Ubuntu to a certain extent. Shuttleworth noted this fact when he told the Debian developers present that as much as he would urge, entreat and recommend that Ubuntu devs contribute back to the Debian community, he could not force volunteers to heed those calls.

I remain hopeful that these two important and relevant communities can find more common ground in the future, but either way they’ll remain immensely relevant.

One addendum and clarification, incidentally, to my earlier piece on Debian and Ubuntu, comes from a response one of the Debian devs (who’s asked not to be named) had after reading it. He said in part:

Debian importance in the ‘market’ is also due to so many distributions based on it. For example in Spain you’ve got Linex, used in tens of thousand of computers in the Extremadura region. What I mean is that Debian is not only the distribution with that name, but tens of other distros with minimal (mostly installer and first setup) changes to it. Supporting Debian is also support all those specialized distros. And (today) Ubuntu is another example.

My response to that is that the commenter is absolutely right. I did indeed pay short shrift to the larger Debian family, although I did try and link to a graphic that illustrated the breadth of Debian’s ecosystem. I did that, however, for a reason: ISVs’ costs with respect to supporting operating systems are too high already; they’re looking to reduce those costs, not grow them. In that context, I expect Canonical/Ubuntu to attract attention as a proxy for the larger Debian community. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I think depends on how you see Ubuntu, although without question it doesn’t sufficiently recognize – as was pointed out above – the value of some of the smaller but still important Debian derivatives. That’s regrettable, and a big reason I’m planning on speaking with César Gómez Martín whom I met at dinner last night and is familiar with the efforts in Extremadura.

Either way, I very much appreciate the feedback from the commenter in question, and will look forward to seeing whether I’m proven right or wrong.

One comment

  1. Generally I think Ubuntu mostly does the right thing by Debian, but it is disingenous of Mark to argue that he can’t force their contributors to work better with upstream. Launchpad is, quite simply, the biggest and best tool to shape/control/encourage the behaviors of volunteers anyone has ever built, and it would be easy enough to (for example) force all patches to have an affiliated upstream bug # before they get committed. (Obviously there would have to be exceptions and such, but if any distro is going to have the tools to do this type of thing, it is Ubuntu, whose investment in tools is far-reaching and shows incredible foresight.)

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