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Debian- What It Means To Me

I have a love/hate relationship with Debian. It is a solid operating system, with a lot of potential. When initially released in 1993, then following the subsequent years, Debian wan innovative. It was one of the first distributions to introduce package management that resolves dependencies, and it did so well. Leaving Debian decoupled, so it could also run with the HURD, FreeBSD and NetBSD kernels, albeit still very much in alpha stage currently, make it a universal operating system. Nevermind the fact that it is compiled for fifteen CPU architectures, and has over 20,000 packages. Lastly, it's core philosophy or removing all firmwares and non-free software from the core operating system make it a viable operating system for GNU.

There are plenty of other advantages that just make Debian one of the best Linux distributions out there. But, then there are disadvantages, one of those being decentralization. Debian isn't backed by any major corporation. As such, Debian has a massive world-wide community surrounding it that oversee the future of its success. This community is beginning to tear itself at the limbs. But this is nothing new. Debian developers, over the past few years, have earned a reputation for griping, pissing and moaning about each and every thing that comes across the -devel mailing list. Many thought Sarge would not get released, and the Debian project was dying a slow death, due to these unfortunate events. Yet, Sarge made it. Then came Etch. Etch didn't see quite the drama Sarge did, but it had its fair share. Now it's Lenny, and the flames are white hot. There is more tension in the project than I've ever seen.

This is the hate relationship I have with Debian. It's lost it's focus. It's gotten overly concerned about the nitty-gritty, and can't see two feet in front of itself before tripping. Will Debian die? No, probably not, but it won't be a happy road for the traveler who wishes to join and commit. Lenny will release, and Squeeze probably will as well, but I can just imagine the amount of flame wars and personal attacks going on to make it happen.

Now, I'm no Debian developer, and it's not my goal to become one. However, here's what I would like to see from the project: innovation. When I was a Linux instructor for Guru Labs, I had the opportunity to teach RHEL, Fedora, SLES and OpenSUSE. Not only teach these operating systems, but write courseware for them as well. I was subscribed (still am at the moment) to several mailing lists on each of the operating systems to see what Red Hat, Novell as well as Canonical are pushing out the gate. What was interesting to me was to watch some innovative products come out of the door:

Red Hat:
First on the list is Spacewalk. This is the Red Hat Network that once used to be proprietary, and controlled on Red Hat servers. Now open source, any company can deploy their own RHN in-house. Next would be oVirt- a new way of managing virtualization. oVirt is a GUI fontend to managing KVM virtual machines. It has plans to support managing Xen guests in the future. Take a walk through the screenshots to get an idea of what the application is all about. Of course, we can't forget KVM. With acquiring Qumranet, Red Hat is now positioned to offer a a serious alternative to VMWare, for virtualization using oVirt with it. KVM is a kernel module that make the Linux kernel a hypervisor. No one can dispute the lines of code that Red Hat developers have put into this module, or the kernel for that matter, either. Lastly, Red Hat has made other innovative moves in the field. JBoss, Red Hat Directory, RPM (which is superior to DPKG), the Anaconda installer (more powerful and flexible than the Debian installer), Kickstart (superior to preseed), the SELinux targeted policy, many of the system-config-* tools, and plenty of others. Red Hat innovates, has a rock solid operating system, and a large community surrounding the Fedora project.

The most obvious coming out of the Novell camp would be AppArmor. AppArmor is a MAC that could be compared to SELinux. With Miguel de Icaza on board, Mono has become a serious development platform for .NET on Linux. It's stable and implements nearly all of Microsoft's .NET core features. Also, Novell has released the OpenSUSE Build Service as a way for developers to get their software packaged for many distributions on different architectures. This makes it easy for them to reach the largest Linux user base they can with little effort. Lastly, Novell has really made the desktop something to work with. It has changed the way the Linux desktop looks, making it far more pleasing for the average employee and consumer. XGL is default, the panels and menus reconfigured, and all around, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop yields a very familiar Microsoft Windows look.

Here's the camp that I stand in. The first major innovation could be called Ubuntu itself. Many say this is Debian done right. It has regular 6 month releases, that are synchronized with the GNOME releases, with every fourth release termed "LTS" for long term support. It has reached more Linux user than any other distribution. It has gone places other distros have only dreamed of. It comes with the best hardware support out of any distro, hands down. The single CD install could also be called innovative, as requiring users to download an entire CD set, or DVD could be asking a bit much, even with todays bandwidth. Canonical has introduced upstart, a replacement for the standard System V Init system that we have been using for ages. It's gained popularity, and has now found it's way in Fedora, which means we'll see it in RHEL for sure. Canonical has introduced its own version control system bazaar. It could be compared to git or mercurial as a distributed VCS. It's used on the other innovative product Launchpad, for PPAs, or "personal package archives". Launchpad could be thought as the SourceForge killer, as it allows developers to host their code, integrate a bug tracking system, provide documentation and encourage collaboration. Launchpad features translations through Rosetta and has the ability to manage team memberships Launchpad is open source through the Storm ORM, written in Python. The only thing it lacks so far, IMHO, is a wiki.

Now, I ask the Debian team- "What innovation have you pushed out the door recently?". Honestly, I can't think of anything, aside from wanting to remove every last binay blob from the system, and have The One Free System. Now, maybe this isn't your focus. Maybe your focus is to get Debian on all the CPU architectures and kernels you possibly can. Maybe the focus is to take the innovations from others, and make it available as a Debian package. I don't know, but from where I stand, I see Debian walking down the same road as Gentoo. All the internal turmoil and problems could tear you apart, make users switch to another distribution, and leave the state of the project in question. I hope this isn't the case, but a re-evaluation of your goals and future should be outlined.

I titled this post what Debian means to me, but haven't gotten to that in full. Let me state outright what Debian means to me:

Debian to me means Freedom. Debian is the foundation of which Ubuntu is built. Being an Ubuntu advocate and user, I want to see the tightest relationship possible between these two projects, as I realize Ubuntu would not be in existence, if it weren't for Debian. However, Debian runs one of my servers in my basement. It also runs on a virtual machine I need for testing and development. It's been on my laptop a couple of times, and it's on a 50MB business card CD in my wallet, should I ever need to do an install, or rescue a Debian system. Because of the Free Software stance Debian takes towards software, it will always be very close to me.

Debian means Ubuntu will be successful. Ubuntu just can't exist without Debian. We realize this, and hopefully, we are doing everything we can to contribute back to the Debian project, so it can see the same success Ubuntu is seeing. However, if Debian were to rip itself apart at the seams, then this means the future of Ubuntu hangs in the balance. Many Debian developers probably don't care much about this, but losing that symbiotic relationship could be for more disastrous and more reaching. It's not just Ubuntu, but Knoppix, Damn Small Linux, and so many of the other Debian-based distributions. Debian is key to a large portion of the Linux ecosystem.

Debian means being the universal distribution. I don't know of another operating system that is compiled for four kernels and fifteen CPU architectures. Gentoo is close, as are the BSDs, but aside from that, there just is no other distribution that has that wide range of hardware support. When I install Linux on a SPARC, for example, I can rest assured that Debian will install on it. What if I'm faced with an IA32 or IA64? Debian will install. MIPS? Debian. ARM? Debian. Alpha, PowerPC, S/390, and many others all Debian supported. EEEPC, PlayStation 3, XBox, servers, desktops, laptops, PDA, phones, etc. Debian is far more reaching than any other operating system out there. It truly is the Universal Operating System.

I hope the Debian project can get itself out of the mess it's currently facing. I hope it can re-evaluate its focus, and get back on track. I would love to see the success of Debian. I would love to see innovations come out of the Debian project. I would like to see more of the developers involved, and not package maintainers, although they are key as well. Let's see Debian reach new heights that it hasn't reached before.

{ 80 } Comments

  1. Ryan Morris | December 21, 2008 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    very good read. Makes me want to second guess myself as in i was about to install debian tmmrw night! But i think i still am. Im @twitterfanboy on twitter.

  2. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn't stop installing Debian, just because of what I wrote. You definitely need to experience Debian for yourself, and see what you think. I'm still keeping it on my SPARC box, and I plan on keeping it in a VM for development.

  3. Todd | December 21, 2008 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Debian Developer is a misnomer. All they do is package software that other people write. Debian developers need to rename themselves to Super-Packagers.

    That is what Debian does: package software other people write.

    Oh yeah, they do one more thing: act so fundamentalist about software principles that they make no real progress and their mailing lists are examples of absolute chaos.

  4. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    For the most part, you're right. A "Debian Developer" is mainly a "Debian Packager". However, there are developers that do contribute to the Linux kernel, rewrite code for the other 3 ports, maintain DPKG, and others. But, for about 90% of the group, you're spot on.

  5. Mike Stevens | December 21, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink



    Debian's Freedom principles coupled with their lack of any quality leadership just amount to a safe haven of bad behaviour which makes Debian a laughingstock.

    The only reason why smart and successful people sometimes praise Debian is because they know that the software they package will end up in Ubuntu.

  6. Jochem Kossen | December 21, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    One thing Debian imho keeps delivering though is quality. I experience far less bugs in Debian than any other distribution i've tried (quite a lot unfortunately).

    I just wish they'd get their release management under control, release once a year, and produce single-livecd installers a la Ubuntu (though i think they have those now). Basically, think more with the end-user in mind, instead of themselves (themselves as in the developers).

    Every distribution has its share of compromises though.

  7. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    They've always had 1 CD installers. The netinst CD is a 1 CD installer. You can install a base Debian system with the first CD, and use the rest for software. Debian has never forced you to use tho rest of the CDs, unless you specifically say you want the software that it contains.

    Also, Debian is more rock solid than any other distro out there, including Ubuntu. You could kick the thing, and it'll still keep ticking right along. Of course, we're referring to stable here, and not testing or unstable, although those are pretty stable as well.

  8. Emilio Pozuelo | December 21, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    > Now, I ask the Debian team- “What innovation have you pushed
    > out the door recently?”. Honestly, I can’t think of anything

    This is just silly. You are comparing the software some Corporation's employees write for their company with Debian volunteer's work in the OSS world. I'm pretty sure Debian Developers *do* contribute a *lot* to the OSS ecosystem, it's just that they don't do it from a company's perspective, nor from a Debian one, but from their own position as individuals, and you cannot compare that.

    Also, Debian Developers are creating the Debian distribution on their free time, without anybody paying them. So again that's not comparable to what a big company does.

  9. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    No, I don't think this is silly at all. You're separating development from packaging. While we're at it then, let's rename "Debian Developers" to "Debian Packagers", as that's all they really are. Very few "Debian Developers" actually do any development directly for the distribution.

    Further, when Debian started, they pushed innovation out of the hardware manufacturers, as well as brought many new tools to the scene. Then, somewhere around Slink, it started to die off, and we became content packaging upstream stuff.

    Lastly, I would be okay if just packaging upstream worked. But it doesn't. SELinux is horribly broken on Debian and Ubuntu both. Better installers exist for installing a Linux system, but they remain unpackaged. Firefox had to be forked, rather than just renamed. Many, many other software tools are either broken, or missing, that exist in other distributions.

    Debian can innovate. It chooses not to, which I think is a poor move, and I know many in the Linux community that would agree.

  10. Steve | December 21, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    It is very sad watching Debian. Many of the best developers are leaving, attracted to the more mature culture of the Ubuntu community.

    But there are no replacements, no new blood.

    The new maintainer process is so unpleasant and unwelcoming that few make it to the end. Why bother when the same Ubuntu community found so attractive to older debian hands welcomes new blood with open arms.

    Very sad.

  11. Jan Claeys | December 21, 2008 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I think Emilio has a good point: Debian is a distribution, not a development organization, thus development under the Debian umbrella is mostly packaging- & distribution-related.

    At the same time many Debian Developers (and other people in the wider Debian community) work on other projects (which includes Ubuntu of course...).

  12. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    What is Debian giving back to the community, if all they are doing is packaging upstream, and not either improving it, or innovating themselves? I could come up with a long list of superior tools that don't exist in Debian either, so it's not packaging very well, is it? Or would that require development to get it packaged, and "Debian Developers" can't develop?

  13. Patrick | December 23, 2008 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    You are not really asking what Debian is giving back to the community, are you? You determined yourself that distributions like Ubuntu and many others wouldn't be in balance without Debian as a base. So providing a good and stable base for several distributions is not a contribution in your opinion? You better not base Ubuntu on it then. What would Ubuntu do without that work beeing done by Debian Developers?

  14. Aaron | December 23, 2008 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    No, I'm not suggesting that Debian is not giving back to the community. Of course they are. What I am suggesting is a caution: if a distribution does nothing but package all the innovations from upstream, regardless, that distribution would be leeching off the community. If the distribution gives back, as Debian does, then they're keeping in balance. If the distribution innovates as well, and gives back, then they have the upper hand.

  15. Daniel | December 23, 2008 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Debian frequency feed bug report with patches to upstream. It already recommend maintaining minimal different to the upstream.
    Patches come in good documented series.

    Unlike ubuntu, patch are either never pushed up, or comes in a big do everything patch

  16. Patrick | December 24, 2008 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    > If the distribution innovates as well, and
    > gives back, then they have the upper hand.

    Well, Debian _does_ innovate. Its just not all these bling-bling kind of innovation that every user sees. Its stuff that improves Debian for the developers, which in the end adds a benefit for the users, because it makes our distribution better. Did you for example know our patch tracker? [1] There are several examples, you just have to look for them (or notice them without problem if you are involved with the development). But actually it seems that polemics and flames are your only interest.


  17. Omari | December 21, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I don't want innovation from my Linux distributor.

    I want to put the system on my box and have it work, pain free. I want to upgrade it, pain free.

    Too many other distributors fail on this mark. Ubuntu had big problems with Pulse Audio--on a LTS release, no less! I see way too many reports of "I tried to upgrade to ${latest Ubuntu} and it broke my box."

    SUSE 11 was widely reviled, and don't mention Fedora and how the early jump to KDE 4 resulted in massive productivity drops.

    A distributor's most important task is packaging software and making sure it works together. Debian excels at this, in a way few distributors match. Is it innovative? No. Do I want "innovations" that break my system? No.

    If Debian ever rattled apart (an event which I doubt) I would take refuge in another similarly non-innovative distribution, like Slackware. Leave innovation to the upstream, not to the distributors.

  18. Aaron | December 21, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    "Do I want 'innovations' that break my system? No."

    Neither do I. Do I want innovations that do not break my system? Yes. Is Debian doing this? No.

    Incredible and exciting technologies are being realized, and Debian is missing it. Sure, they package it, but it hardly comes off smooth if it comes from another vendor. And that is if it is packaged at all. If not, the Debian is left behind in the dust, to use old technologies to solve todays problems.

    Do I want my Linux vendor to innovate? Most definitely. At least then, I know that they are on top of todays problems, looking for solutions.

  19. jef Spaleta | December 21, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    If Debian community health is really important to Ubuntu... then perhaps Ubuntu can start to apply some of its expertise in community development to help Debian refocus on positive aspects of its own work.

    For example... Shuttlewortk claims that every Debian developer is an Ubuntu developer

    That is a very interesting statement to make. Does the Ubuntu community leadership build community processes which take that statement into account?

    For example, the Ubuntu Hall of Fame effort does not attempt to measure or highlight the work that Debian developers are doing which is not being done in Launchpad. This is perhaps a missed opportunity for the Ubuntu community to apply their sense of motivational community building to Debian and by doing so reinforce the positive work Debian developers are doing.

    If the health of Debian is important to Ubuntu, then the Ubuntu community needs to decide if they can do more to strengthen that community. Can Ubuntu find a way to 'hug' the Debian community. and lift up the positive aspects of that community.?


  20. Justin Dugger | December 23, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Trying to lead Debian with an Ubuntu hat on is something close to herding cats squared. And Debian is not a cat I'd want to "hug" without paramedics nearby.

    You're right about Shuttleworth's quote; the idea that Ubuntu developers can stop by and share a patch with Debian is slightly flawed. I've tried cooperating with the Debian fingerprint reader team to improve the experience, share code and review fixes. In particular, I tried to fix a behavior of thinkfinger that didn't gksudo didn't appreciate. The patch was refused, not because it was bad, but because the bug was in someone else's package. No fix has been forthcoming from the team. Thinkfinger is dead upstream, but the general opinion of the upstream author is that easy hacks are fine, and if someone disagrees they're welcome to do the work to fix it "the right way." I've suggested a two line patch is trivial to remove once the "right fix" is in place but it's become clear that out of box experience doesn't matter to that team.

    The best Ubuntu can probably do is "leadership by example," and let best practices permeate Debian slowly. Relaxed package ownership, CoC, release schedules, blueprints, SRU policies are all things I hope Debian will adopt eventually. Some I think they already have.

  21. oliver | December 22, 2008 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    I must agree with Emilio Pozuelo here: the innovations you presented for Red Hat, Novell and Canonical are almost all developed by paid developers of those companies.

    There is no company behind Debian which can pay some people for some months to work on some innovation full-time. Come to think about it, if there were a company which would do that - then why do it in Debian context? Actually there _are_ companies which create innovations for Linux systems, and the results are then packaged by Debian (and other distros as well).

    So yes, Debian is not so much a group of developers, but a group of packagers and maintainers. And I think they do a good job - the system works, and I think it is more stable and reliable than Ubuntu. So if you ask for "re-evaluating its focus", then where do you see Debians focus?

  22. Aaron | December 22, 2008 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I agree that Debian is doing a GREAT job with packaging software, and making a stable and usable system. And yes, the innovations coming out for those distros are largely done by paid employees. I recognize this. However, Debian has an extremely large community, and massive amounts of "developers". Are these "developers" developing, or packaging? If they are developing, then what?

  23. James | December 22, 2008 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I use Debian and am happy with it, have been for years. I've tried others and they don't match the stability. What I don't like about Debian is the in house trashing and bikkering like little spoilt boys who know no better and have no respect for others. I also see the 'gentoo' way looming. Lack of leadership and democracy causes this. For a while a dictator I think would be good, just until the house is in order.

  24. Jeremiah C. Foster | December 22, 2008 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Debian's strengths are what you consider weaknesses.

    1. Debian is not controlled by a corporation.

    I would never use a distro controlled by a corporation. They do not have my interests in mind. This includes Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSe. And who knows, maybe Red Hat will disappear, or Novell. Then what do you do? Your distro is gone. This will never happen to Debian - it belongs to no one.

    2. It is decentralized.

    This is very, very good. One of the innovations of Debian is the innovation that keeps innovating: low barrier to contribution. This means that anyone can contribute which means we have the breadth of technical knowledge to be the 'universal' operating system with more packages than any other and the leading package handling tool in apt.

    3. It is noisy, angry and anarchic.

    Welcome to the world. 🙂 Now I am all for a bit more civilized discourse, and I am quite pleased to see your commentary is balanced, your discussion courteous and factual. Thank you. But the reality is when you open up to a more uncensored and democratic approach, things get ugly. Part of this is the new developers experiencing the decision making process in Debian for the first time and falling prey to trolls. Debian is a grand experiment in free software and distributed responsibility, it is not an easy exercise and requires flame resistant underpants! :^)

    4. Debian does not innovate

    Quite the contrary. Debian innovates significantly more than other distros. In fact, yum was developed precisely to fix the perceived weaknesses in rpm that apt-get exposed (operating system dependency handling). Debian also has some remarkable tools to package, test, and do quality assurance. These tools are often Debian-specific so you will not find them outside of Debian often, but they are innovative and broadly useful. I'll point to cowbuilder for example and leave it to the reader to find out more.

  25. Aaron | December 22, 2008 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    1. If Red Hat, Novell or Canonical were to plunder, their community distros would not. Red Hat has a massive community around Fedora. Novell has a massive community around openSUSE. Canonical has the largest community around Ubuntu. If these companies fell, while their "Enterprise" distros might go the way of the Dodo, their community distros won't.

    2. I love the decentralization of Debian. If anything is the epitome of open source software, its Debian. However, you mention that "[o]ne of the innovation of Debian is the innovation that keeps innovating". What are they innovating? That's the point of the post.

    3. Yes, and this drives me nuts.

    4. YUM was not developed by Debian developers, but Yellow Dog Linux developers. And Red Hat already had a method for resolving RPM dependencies- up2date. Also, the tools your refer to have been in Debian for a long, long time. Nothing new has emerged.

  26. Jeremiah C. Foster | December 23, 2008 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    1. Fedora is dependent on Red Hat. It is beholden to Red Hat, it does not get certain upgrades unless Red Hat gives it to them. Red Hat Linux went the way of the dodo once already - I don't see how you can trust them.

    2. The innovation is in package handling, distributed development, and Free OS.

    3. You need to have some patience, it is a difficult process but very worthwhile.

    4. The point is, debian solved a major problem with aptitude that rpm did not address. The rpm-based distros had to copy debian's innovation.

  27. Patrick | December 24, 2008 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    > The point is, debian solved a major problem > with aptitude that rpm did not address. The > rpm-based distros had to copy debian’s
    > innovation.

    Replace aptitude with apt-get in your sentence, because that is the tool that solved a major problem that no distribution solved so far. But else I agree to this.

    The interesting thing is: Redhat & Co did not even innovate a new tool with an old solution for a known problem. They used tools others built. First they used 'apt-get' itself in a modified variant. Later they used yum. And guess what? They still have an inferior tool. yum might have some features that apt-get or aptitude have, but still the dependency solving _is_ superior compared to yum. Which is something I learned the hard way, when working with Fedora.

  28. Patrick | December 24, 2008 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    "Also, the tools your refer to have been in Debian for a long, long time. Nothing new has emerged."

    Wrong. Over the last few years aptitude as a new tool emerged, which has an even better dependency solving algorithm and new features that ease house-keeping on Debian systems (and effectively make additional tools like debfoster mostly obsolete).

  29. Aaron | December 25, 2008 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Aptitude is merely a front end to apt-get. It's nothing really innovative. It does have better orphaned dependency handling, but there have been tools for handling those before aptitude came along.

  30. Patrick | December 27, 2008 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    "Aptitude is merely a front end to apt-get."

    You don't actually believe what you say, do you?

    "It’s nothing really innovative."

    Oho. But Launchpad is? You know that you run out of good examples, if you argue against what makes your own examples innovative?

  31. Np237 | December 25, 2008 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    What a bad example. The dependency resolver in aptitude is utterly broken and makes it very hard to do major updates. Meanwhile, the dependency resolver in APT (which is also used by e.g. synaptic) has been rewritten as well and is much more reliable.

  32. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    How is the dependency resolver in aptitude broken? Before aptitude, APT had no way of knowing about orphaned dependencies. Now there's 'apt-get autoremove', which was inspired by the way aptitude handled these orphaned dependencies. Aptitude is a superior APT.

  33. Patrick | December 27, 2008 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Uh? I can say a lot of bad things about aptitude (e.g. that it is horrible slow) but argueing that the dependency resolver is 'utterly broken' appears to be just untrue.
    In my personal experience (when administrating some couples of Debian systems) my feeling is that the dependency resolver of aptitude works in a more consistent and reliable way then apt-get ever did. I always smile about the moments where it makes a suggestion (not always the one I want, yeah), where apt-get would have failed and asked me to enter a solution on my own.
    But I must indeed confess that I did not really use apt-get for at least 6 months, so I cannot really made statements about the eventual progress apt-get made.

    Regardless of that I don't see how this is a bad example. It is relative new, incorporates a clear enhancement to the previous approaches to fix the system (the fact that I don't need to it manually) and it is an example that in this area something new *has* emerged (contrary to what Aaron said)

  34. Jeff Schroeder | December 22, 2008 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Hey dude Crispin Cowan wrote AppArmor while at Immunix *before* Novell bought them. So saying AppArmor came from Novell is factually incorrect.

    AppArmor is MAC comparable to SELinux just like a VW Bug is comparable to a BMW. They are both German cars. SELinux offers TE (Type Enforcement) and IA (Information Assurance). These are two things AppArmor never can properly support by design.

    Good post Aaron.

  35. Aaron | December 22, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Ahh, my bad. I wasn't aware of this. However, I do know that Novell fired their AppArmor developers, which was a poor move on their part, I think. Also, SELinux does do quite a bit more than AppArmor- no argument there. I just wanted to make my reader aware that they were both MAC implementations on Linux.

  36. Jef Spaleta | December 23, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of poor moves associated with Apparmor. Now that Novell is no longer championing Apparmor as strong as it once did, why isn't Canonical taking up the ball and assigning some manhours into supporting its upstream development as a critical piece of Ubuntu technology? Apparmor provides part of the security associated with the Ubuntu guest account functionality for example.

    How is the upstreaming of AppArmor related kernel patches into the mainline kernel fairing? Wouldn't it be great if Canonical helped with that?


  37. Patrick | December 24, 2008 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Or to rephrase it: You needed an "innovation" to count up, no matter how bad it is.
    But you know already that innovation needs some sort of quality to be an innovation, yeah?

  38. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    I still count AppArmor and innovation, even if I find SELinux vastly superior. I didn't just add it to the post, if I didn't feel that Novell produced it. I don't just throw random things in the post for nothing.

  39. Michael Goetze | December 22, 2008 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Debian Developers sometimes write innovative new programs. For instance, the Awesome window manager was written by a Debian devloper, partially in response to license disputes between Debian and the author of ion3. But, he didn't feel the need to call it "Debian Window Manager". If it had been written by a RH employee it would be called "Red Hat Window Manager" and you would be praising it as a Red Hat innovation. Well, whatever.

    Also, many Debian Developers do more than just stupid packaging. Quite a few of them fix bugs and then push the patches upstream. In the case of the shadow package, Debian developers took over upstream maintenance of the package because the old upstream disappeared. This is a very important package also used by other distros...

    Within Debian itself, there are many innovations at a lower level which you won't see as a seperate project. For instance, Debian pioneered the use of conf.d directories and the like which you now see in Red Hat as well. And there are more such innovations on the way, such as tdebs.

    By the way, I find it incredible that commercial vendors can't do as good a job providing manpages as the Debian project. Some tools have manpages in Debian but not in Red Hat. And look at Mac OS X - the manpages were ripped off once from FreeBSD and never modified since, even if the tools were.

    As for Ubuntu, you write "Many say this is Debian done right. It has regular 6 month releases,"

    Yes, well, if there are still bugs at that regular 6-monthly point, they get released too. That just doesn't fit my definition of "done right". 😉

  40. Aaron | December 22, 2008 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    "If it had been written by a RH employee it would be called 'Red Hat Window Manager', and you would be praising it as a Red Hat innovation."

    Wow. That's so far from the truth, it's hard to tell what your point is. So, oVirt is "Red Hat oVirt"? Spacewalk is "Red Hat Spacewalk"? system-config-printer (which is in Debian, Ubuntu, and other distros), is "Red Hat system-config-printer"? Anaconda is "Red Hat Anaconda"? Interesting, I wasn't aware of this naming scheme. Maybe because it doesn't exist. Further, all these tools were developed by Red Hat for Red Hat.

    No, most "Debian Developers" do nothing more than maintain packages. The bugs they fix and report upstream, is quite the reverse. Debian has a stellar bug tracking and reporting system, which tells the upstream developer of bugs that exist in Debian. Then, upstream releases a patch, and the "Debian Developer" repackages it. This is the vast majority of "Debian Developers" in the Debian ecosystem.

    I'm not saying Debian has never innovated. Of course they have. It just happened early in the life of Debian, and we haven't seen much since then.

    Also, the policy of man pages is good and bad. It's good in that some man pages are better than no man pages. However, if upstream doesn't provide documentation, then you end up with shoddy man pages, some of which are factually incorrect, or missing pertinent information, such as the PAM man pages. That's hit and miss.

    Well, Ubuntu might ship with bugs, but so does Debian, otherwise, Debian wouldn't release updates to its stable branch.

  41. Michael Goetze | December 22, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    My point is, quite a few of the "innovations" you mentioned are not distro-specific, and if a Debian Developer writes something which is innovative and not distro-specific there is no need to associate that with the Debian project.

    Many Debian Developers actually do nothing at all. But many active Debian Developers also contribute code upstream. If you don't believe it, do some research.

    I'm not saying Debian doesn't have bugs. But I have the opportunity to test it before it gets released, and if I discover any bugs that affect me, and can justify that they are of a high severity, then Debian will (almost always) hold up the release until those bugs are fixed. That's obviously going to give better quality than "sorry, we would have like to fix your bug, but didn't make it in time for the deadline".

    Oh, by the way, if you are unhappy with the PAM manpages, just file a bug. Feel free to include a patch...

    And, seriously, DPKG is way better than RPM.

  42. Aaron | December 22, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    No, even being a Debian and Ubuntu advocate, DPKG is not superior to RPM.

    1. rpm -V. Nothing similar exists in DPKG. Sure, there is 'debsums', but several packages don't even utilize them.
    2. RPM has timestamps when packages were installed. DPKG does not. So, upon discovering that you have a piece of software installed, I guess you could parse /var/log/dpkg.log.*, but that's only going to give you a rough guess at best.
    3. RPM hold a couple philosophies that DPKG could learn from:
    3a. RPM does not interact with the user when installing or removing packages. DPKG could, if for example you already have a config file in place. RPM would just install the new config and name it, where DPKG will ask the user what to do.
    3b. When installing a service package, say Apache, RPM will not automatically start the service, nor will it create the symbolic links to start when entering any runlevel. DPKG will do both. RPM assumes you JUST want the package installed. If you want to make sure it starts on boot, or you want the service running, there are separate tools for those.

    I could give some more examples, but I'll leave it here. RPM is superior to DPKG. DPKG is old and archaic. While it gets the job done, it has some big limitations.

  43. Patrick | December 23, 2008 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    > 1. rpm -V. Nothing similar exists in DPKG. > Sure, there is ‘debsums’, but several
    > packages don’t even utilize them.

    Wrong. debsums exists and can be used. Why do you think that packages don't even utilize them? MD5SUMS are a standard for packages matching the DEB specification. And neither dpkg nor rpm -V do much more.

    > 2. RPM has timestamps when packages were
    > installed. DPKG does not. So, upon
    > discovering that you have a piece of
    > software installed, I guess you could
    > parse /var/log/dpkg.log.*, but that’s only > going to give you a rough guess at best.

    Interesting. Why do you care? As an administrator I care about a log that logs package installations. DPKG does has this. Why should I care about the timestamp of the package installation? Thats a serious question, because I don't have an idea.

    > RPM does not interact with the user when > installing or removing packages

    DPKG does avoid interacting with the user, unless neccessary. But...

    > could, if for example you already have a > config file in place. RPM would just
    > install the new config and name it
    >, where DPKG will ask the user
    > what to do.

    .. this is really something I'm very happy that DPKG does NOT do. The conffiles handling in DPKG is a very great thing and it saves my life on every upgrade where I have highly custom configurations. And if I really would like to have a behaviour such as the one of RPM I'd could use --force-confnew, which forces exactly the behaviour you want. I won't look it up, but I'm sure there is a configuration option for it, too.

    > When installing a service package, say
    > Apache, RPM will not automatically start
    > the service, nor will it create the
    > symbolic links to start when entering any > runlevel.

    That indeed is a highly controversial point in Debian. There are several people that would agree with you. I don't. The normal case when I install a daemon is that I want to run it. It saves me work and therefore time that I don't need to add the symlinks myself. And if I really have a case where I don't, then I'm able to remove the links.

    About the starting: Yes, that could be disturbing, because you might not want to start a daemon with the default configuration. However the maintainer scripts in Debian use invoke-rc.d to start/stop daemons which knows "policy layers". They enable you to disable starting of services as you want. Read the manpage of invoke-rc.d for more information.

    BTW. It seems to me that you are a Ubuntu user, but you don't know your system well. I can only guess, but possibly you only argue about RPM vs. DPKG with a list of theoretical arguments, not with experience from practice?!

  44. Aaron | December 23, 2008 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    rpm -V does a lot more than check md5sums. Nothing exists in dpkg that compares.

    RPM never asks the user a thing during install and removal. DPKG does. The difference between these two philosophies is the difference between trusting a full automated system and not.

    Timestamps in the RPM database make it easy for me to discover when a package was installed. I have needed this on many occasions as a system administrator, and DPKG always fails me, as it does not keep this crucial bit of information stored in its database.

    I'm familiar with invoke-rc.d. The 'sysv-rc-conf' script is much more mature for manipulating the runlevel scripts for Debian. When installing a service, I just want it installed. Then I want to configure it to my needs. Thin I want to manipulate the symbolic links with 'sysv-rc-conf'. THEN I want to start the service, not before. RPM gets this right, DPKG does not.

    And I know my system- very well. I was a Linux instructor teaching system administrators all over the world. It's statements like "DPKG is superior to RPM" that show me the speaker is ignorant and uninformed. I am deeply familiar with DPKG and RPM, and RPM just wins out.

  45. Np237 | December 23, 2008 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    If you knew your system, you’d know that the init script policy has nothing to do with dpkg nor rpm, but is specific to each distribution.

  46. Aaron | December 25, 2008 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Sure. Another reason Red Hat gets it right, and Debian doesn't.

  47. Np237 | December 25, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    No, that’s something Red Hat gets very wrong, and I already explained why earlier.

  48. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    This boils down to philosophy, and I think we should agree to disagree on this. You feel if you install a service, it should be setup for you listening for connections. I don't. We'll leave it at that.

  49. Patrick | December 24, 2008 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    "rpm -V does a lot more than check md5sums. Nothing exists in dpkg that compares."

    Aha. And what of this is actually needed? Actually it serves little to no purpose.
    Did you know that on the other side their is no mirror security for yum and co? Do you know that it would be absolutely no problem to flaw a mirror with poisoned packages in a Redhat system because yum and co does not have protections against it? At least IIRC.

    "Timestamps in the RPM database make it easy for me to discover when a package was installed."

    I still don't know what you need to know this for. I'm working as a full-time administrator so far and never felt the need for this. Except to reproduce which upgrade could have caused a regression. For that the dpkg and the aptitude logs serve well.

    "I’m familiar with invoke-rc.d. The ’sysv-rc-conf’ script is much more mature for manipulating the runlevel scripts for Debian."

    Might be, but it works for me. No problem with it.

    "RPM gets this right, DPKG does not."

    Statements like this (as the end of an article comparing different init systems) make the impression that you don't know what you are talking about. Obviously you confuse apples with bananas here, because the init system is neither a part of RPM nor of dpkg.

    "It’s statements like “DPKG is superior to RPM” that show me the speaker is ignorant and uninformed. I am deeply familiar with DPKG and RPM, and RPM just wins out."

    By just repeating your telling again and again your point does not get more authenticity. You failed to present arguments for this claim, so it still needs a proof. I canot backup this claim, because in practice rpm failed again and again and again. And if you bring examples of useless features that no one needs, then this does not impress me much and it still leaves the feeling that dpkg is doing its job well, while rpm is doing it so-la-la. Nothing superior to detect.

  50. Aaron | December 25, 2008 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    rpm -V has become a valuable too to me as a sys admin. I have fixed package installs knowing that an incorrect binary is installed. I've fixed config files seeing the md5sum is different. I've corrected user and group permissions. RPM as a basic HIDS has been rock solid for troubleshooting broken software.

    Timestamps have saved me numerous times on Red Hat systems. The most recent example is when I found I had a new library installed. Not knowing where it came from, I found the package that owned it, then when that package was installed. Knowing that, I was able to recall why I installed that package at the time. I didn't need it now, and removed it. I've also had bosses ask me when I installed a piece of software, and it was trivial to retrieve this information. I've also wondered about when I installed software on my Debian server, and it's been pulling teeth to get that info.

    Let's agree to disagree. I know my tools. I know the apt-* tools. I know dpkg-* fairly well. I've written courseware covering the Debian package format for Guru Labs. I've also updated courseware for RPM. I've taught both extensively. I know RPM versus DPKG, and my opinion is that DPKG, while an overall solid tool, is inferior to the latest version of RPM.

  51. Np237 | December 23, 2008 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    1. Yes there is debsums, which works perfectly and anyway you shouldn’t rely on this except for checking system integrity.

    2. WTF?

    3a. Installing the new version of the configuration is just going to break your working system. Great. How can you even consider that a feature?

    3b. The reason why Redhat does this (it has really *nothing* to do with the package format) is that it installs gazillions of packages you don’t need by default. Debian assumes that when you install a package, you want it to work. When you install a webapp, you don’t want just the files on the system: you want the database up and running with tables ready, the web server ready to respond, and the webapp actually working. This is a fundamental philosophy difference: Redhat provides a tool to download files, Debian provides a system that just works.

  52. Aaron | December 25, 2008 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    No, debsums only works on MOST packages, not ALL. Further, debsums is not installed by default on a Debian system, and many sys admins may not know about it.

    Further, RPM will not break an installation. As I mentioned, RPM will install the new config as or It will not replace the current configuration in place. DPKG has to interrupt your workflow asking you what to do.

    Lastly, the statement "it installs gazillions of packages you don't need by default" is ignorance. I have full control over what I want installed "by default" and what I don't with Anaconda when installing a system from scratch. With YUM, it installs the same dependencies that APT would. Also, when I install a service package, I want it installed. I don't want it installed, listening for connections, and configured to start every time I enter a runlevel. I asked to just install a package, no execute it. I'll do that when I'm ready.

  53. Np237 | December 25, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Well, sorry if you just want a bunch of files on your disk That’s indeed much easier to implement that what Debian gives.

    Oh, and if you want to know about a real design flaw in RPM that makes it unsuitable for a reliable distribution: it has no pre-upgrade scripts. Actually, it claims to have, but they are executed after the files have been unpacked. This is absolutely broken and makes it impossible to cleanly upgrade packages using e.g. GConf or Python modules.

  54. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    I don't get this "bunch of files on your disk" stuff. Are you suggesting that RPM just downloads whatever it wants, and litters your disk with useless crap? Because if you are, that shows your ignorance towards RPM.

    RPM does have pre scripts, and they work rather well. What you're describing about the upgrade scripts is exactly how it should behave. I believe your confusing "unpacked" with "installed". RPM unpacks what's needed, runs the rest of the pre scripts, then installs, then runs any post scripts that may be present.

  55. Patrick | December 27, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    "RPM does have pre scripts, and they work rather well. What you’re describing about the upgrade scripts is exactly how it should behave."

    Really? How - for example - do you handle something like diversions with this approach?

    "RPM unpacks what’s needed, runs the rest of the pre scripts, then installs, then runs any post scripts that may be present."

    The "whats needed" part is confusing. Does that mean you can mark certain files as not to be installed before certain parts of the preinst script(s) ran? If so, this would be interesting, but a rather strange workaround to the problem that is to be solved.

  56. jyp | December 22, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    We are always sad when the parents have a fight. I hope there will be no painful divorce.

    I am a modest end user who choose Debian because of the quality of the distribution and their social contract (dfsg). I run currently run sidux, a great distribution based on debian sid.

    I fully agree with Omari(8); if I can rely on my distributor to provide the most stable and bug free system and good admin tools, then, for me that's the most interesting innovation.

    And speaking of innovation, I think we would rather be better off without mono polluting the Linux ecosystem. Remember that the Trojan Horse was a great 'innovation' in those days.

  57. Yehonatan | December 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

  58. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I've read that. It's been ridiculed fairly hard on a number of topics:

    1. He's pulling from Git logs, which is only a recent tracker of the kernel development.
    2. He's only using vanity email addresses, which until recently, Canonical and Ubuntu didn't hand out.
    3. Classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.
    4. Ubuntu has giving back to the Linux community 100 times more than any kernel developer has done. If it weren't for Ubuntu, Linux on the desktop would not be where it is today.

  59. Tim | December 23, 2008 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    Debian is incredibly innovative. The project and its processes is amazing. People sometimes say that Microsoft was not innovative, making this judgement by the features of its products. A ridiculous statement from the shareholder's point of view: Microsoft was incredibly innovative in its business practices. Debian is even more amazing.
    But that's beside the point, really. Debian and Ubuntu are actually great. I got sick of Ubuntu because I found it not to be reliable, because it seems to be manic about introducing new features with known bugs, hoping that they will be fixed after release ... but it's much wiser than Fedora, and Ubuntu is a great consumer OS. A view that Debian is a faded predecessor to the new blood of Ubuntu is silly and ignorant of what Debian is. Personally, I think demanding users would be well placed to seriously consider Debian from a technical point of view; however, I also find the aims and method of Debian inspiring.

  60. Np237 | December 23, 2008 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    You are completely forgetting the amount of innovation that is required nowadays to make such a complex system work flawlessly. The very reason why Debian is more stable is precisely because we innovate. It’s just that we choose to innovate on different fields: we innovate in ways to keep the system working.

    Real integration of GConf with the system? Came from Debian.
    Flexible python packaging with support of several versions at once? Debian.
    Installation from any kind of media, with encrypted/LVM root FS? Debian.
    Homogeneisation of GNOME logout dialog? Debian.
    Automated kernel module rebuilding? Debian.
    Inter-package relationships on GTK+ modules? Debian.
    Installation of multiple backends for the same software? Debian.
    And I’m only talking about the small parts of the project where I am contributing. You can find hundreds of such innovations every year.

    You talked about system-config-printer earlier. Debian doesn’t only package it: we introduce string freezes and release cycles so that non-English versions don’t just look like an incomprehensible mixture of languages.

    When upstream innovates, it is in one hand an improvement, and in the other hand something that breaks on the system. We’re here to find solutions to go forward, so that the innovation actually benefits users. A minor bug can be a major usability issue, and we’re here to track bugs that matter, and to find solutions for them when upstream doesn’t care.

    The only similar effort I can think of recently is DKMS, and it came from Dell, not from other distributions.

    (BTW your OpenID support seems broken.)

  61. Aaron | December 23, 2008 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    "Installation from any kind of media"

    I'm going to argue this with you, as Debian is missing out here. With Anaconda, I can install from:

    * HTTP
    * NFS
    * FTP
    * CDROM
    * HDD (using .iso images)

    With the Debian installer, my understanding is I can only install from:

    * HTTP
    * FTP
    * CDROM

    NFS and using .iso images from a hard drive is not supported. This makes the Debian installer less flexible than the Anaconda installer. SUSE adds all those above from Anaconda, and adds SMB support as well, which the Debian installer does not.

    With your other statements, I am not aware of those, and will have to check them on my own.

    Don't get me wrong on this post- I LOVE DEBIAN! I have mentioned in my post how I am using it, and how I advocate it. It's the single greatest operating system out there. I just want to see it back to its roots, is all. Give me reasons to use it, rather than just package everyone else's work.

  62. Np237 | December 23, 2008 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Installation from TFTP+NFS has been supported on Debian long before other distributions, since some architectures can *only* be installed this way.

    The installer also supports boot on USB devices and HDD from a DOS OS with loadlin.

    I don’t think you can install directly from an ISO on the local disk (although it is certainly possible with some tweaking). However I don’t see the use case for it; if you want to install from a working Linux system, it’s much faster to simply bootstrap it.

    BTW your “just package everyone else’s work” expression shows your deep misunderstanding of what packaging is about. If it was as simple as what you think, we’d use robots, not maintainers.

  63. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    No, I fully understand what is at task for a package maintainer. Debian has a man page policy for every .deb packaged. Also, they are scrutinized to the rules of the DFSG. Any artwork, documentation, code, or anything else that doesn't fully comply with the DFSG is rejected or removed. Robots can't do this, people can.

  64. Patrick | December 27, 2008 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    So now you either want to prove your ignorance to the real job of package maintainers or you just want to flame (ok flaming is actually all this post and most of the comments is about, but well, you can think of what I mean).

    So what about bug triaging, analysing crash reports, analyse and setup steps to get upgrades and transitions done? Adapting software to distribution-specific needs? (e.g. setting up alternatives) Testing? Reporting Bugs upstream? Suggesting fixes to upstream? Are this things that you think can be done by a robot?

  65. Roger Leigh | December 23, 2008 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    I think you might find that the current flamewars on Debian lists are somewhat blown out of proportion. Out of the total developer population, only a small and vocal minority are actually participating. You'll find that most of us developers are actually spending our time *working on Debian* productively, rather than wasting it on mailing lists.

    Regarding comments about Debian Developers only packaging, not developing: this is patently untrue. Most developers are actively involved in the upstream development of the software they package. I for example am primarily an upstream developer who happens to package it for Debian (e.g. Gutenprint), while for others the upstream is also Debian (schroot, sbuild) which are being developed primarily for use within Debian, but are by no means tied to it. Many major improvements to packages come from Debian developers thinking about and implementing improvements, often from a packaging/upgrading POV which upstream developers (and other distributions) don't feel the need to tackle. As an example, take automatic upgrading of PPD files when you upgrade Gutenprint/CUPS: that is found upstream, but the initial implementation of PPD parsing/rewriting came from Debian (me), as did the distribution-independent PPD packaging guidelines (

    Also, don't confuse work on Debian in particular with work on Free Software in general. Most of the work done by Debian developers doesn't have a "Debian stamp" on it--it's contributed by individuals and so won't be seen as work done by "the project" since it goes straight upstream and comes back into Debian when the release is packaged, rather than being kept as a Debian-specific change. If you take this into consideration, you'll find that Debian more than pulls its weight in the free software world alongside its corporate peers.

    Working this way with upstreams has a long-term benefit in terms of manpower and time saving porting changes to new releases. This is, IMHO, something Ubuntu is going to find out the hard way as they don't actively push their changes back to their upstream (Debian, in particular), resulting in huge unwieldy diffs to merge with new Debian and Upstream releases which do have a maintenance cost. I know exactly what this cost is because I currently have to manually find and trawl through the Ubuntu diffs (which are mostly a mess, example for the curious:, and pull out the useful bits I actually need.


  66. Jeff Schroeder | December 23, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    @Aaron, here is a nice response that didn't leave a pingback.

  67. Daniel Moerner | December 23, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    You don't even try to say why we need ANOTHER vcs when git and mercurial work just fine. Why was Canonical wasting its time on this? By your own logic, it could have been doing X or Y or Z thing to actually "innovate." Most of the innovations you cite are re-implementations of current tools. I also find it amusing that you cite Storm ORM as free software right after lauding the non-free Launchpad.

    "all around, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop yields a very familiar Microsoft Windows look."

    Great innovation.

    Wasn't Canonical the very company that was recently slammed for not doing enough to support kernel development? I don't see that in your article either.

    Innovation is only one part of software development. Debian has established an unmatched project infrastructure that other projects are still struggling to match (debbug, wanna-build, dak, alioth, constitution/social contract). There isn't as much need for innovation when this is the backbone for the project.

  68. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Bazaar fills needs that other VCS software doesn't give. Isn't this the whole point of Free Software? If it doesn't have Feature X, then either patch it, fork it, or create anew.

    Also, graphics and overall look and feel can be called innovation. Novell artwork in the SUSE distributions is beautiful, and frankly, no distro even comes close.

    And yes, Canonical was "slammed" for not doing kernel development by a Novell employee who also had done little kernel development. Isn't this the pot calling the kettle black? Further, where are the "Debian Developer" contributions to the kernel? Oh, not as much as expected, eh?

  69. LinuxCanuck | December 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    This is the most honest discussion that I have seen on Debian and its fading hopes.

    There are many problems with Debian and most have been mentioned. My problem is that they wish to blame others for their misfortune. They want to stand on high principles and act in ways that turn people off and then blame Ubuntu for their plight. Ubuntu is only four years old and yes it is a fork, but now it is maturing, contributing back and showing leadership.

    Most people do not have the patience of a saint. They cannot wait for Debian to get its act together and they move on. That's the essence of open source. People have choice and nobody is forcing them to use Ubuntu. They go there because they feel welcome and because it is flexible. You won't be called an idiot if you want to install flash, mp3 compatibility or use Firefox instead of Ice Weasel.

    Time is passing Debian by. It is already looking long in the tooth. It looks like the users all wear sandals and socks year round.

  70. catnap | December 24, 2008 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    LinuxCanuck, I've read your recent rant about your "problem" with Debian.[1] In the comments section several people tried to correct the misinformation you spread, but it's sad to see that those corrections had no effect at all, and you still have the same attitude problem and the same hostility toward Debian.

    Since you are a Ubuntu user, I think you should study carefully the Ubuntu Code of Conduct.[2] Mud-slinging and malicious rants do not go well together with the principles of being considerate, respectful, and collaborative.


  71. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    LinuxCanuck is free to express his opinions and feelings towards Debian. I don't see anything in the post that would compromise the Code of Conduct. He did get a few facts wrong, which were mentioned to him in the comments, but his post is expressing his feelings, and I hope he can do that on his own blog.

  72. Jon | December 24, 2008 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Whilst its true that a lot of the innovations that Debian Developers have been responsible for were some time ago (dpkg/apt/dependency based packaging that worked; the alternatives system; alien), there have been others more recently -- jetring springs to mind. A lot of the work that has gone on by DDs has been in areas that might not be of interest to the average x86 user: a lot of upstream kernel work on the ARM port of Linux, and the armel ABI toolchain and suchlike, which Ubuntu are now benefiting from now that you have deemed ARM interesting.

    In terms of ratio, it's probably true that most debian developers perform nothing more than packaging; Then again, there are thousands of developers, the vast majority of which fullfil a role very much like your universe/motu people (although are first-class citizens, unlike your motu people).

    I've yet to meet a better installer than d-i. I've used it to install Debian on vastly different types of machines and it's been flexible enough to work in each situation. The solaris 10 installer is horrid (try typing a ? in a password input dialog); the Ubuntu python-based thing and anaconda frequently crash for me in the middle of trying to do things and don't seem to allow me to do anything remotely off-the-map. I haven't looked at the slackware installer for about 10 years (and it segfaulted then too).

  73. Carl van Tonder | December 24, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Aaron, whilst I disagree completely with your points about Debian, you have done the community a massive favour in one way: the icons per-post showing browser and operating system, right down to distribution.

    Notably, there is _no_ Ubuntu user using anything other than Firefox, which I think makes the generalisation that Ubuntu does not generally "get" Free software a little fairer than it would otherwise be, Not having flashy press-conference releases, closed-shop development processes and swish wiki pages for every item a project has ever created does not identify a stagnant entity by any means.

    If you measure Ubuntu's input by help to other distributions, as you seem to do for every other distribution's software, the only item on the list is Upstart --- in itself not an amazing innovation and not particularly interesting. bzr failed the 'is there actually a niche for this' test, Launchpad and Rosetta - whilst wonderful for Ubuntu - don't help the rest of the Linux ecosystem at all.

    Of course, Debian is not all love and hugs, and Planet Debian is only marginally more interesting to read than painful (and uniquely the only Planet that makes me want to send angry e-mails almost every time I read it). The governance structure is pretty misunderstood (as the recent voting fracas has shown) and it probably lacks well-defined goals, but I will make a controversial statement and say that it gives more to the community than Ubuntu.

  74. Aaron | December 25, 2008 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    One thing that really bothers me about Free Software extremists is the extreme. Ubuntu never has been, and probably never will be about 100% Free Software. If they were, we wouldn't have the restricted and multiverse repositories available. No, Ubuntu is about getting stuff done. It's about practicality. Canonical realizes that the world wants proprietary software. Canonical realizes that not every developer in the world is going to develop Free Software. Canonical realizes that there are great software out there that are proprietary. No, Ubuntu is about getting your job done with the best tool, not geeking it up. This is why Ubuntu has outdone every other Linux distro, including Fedora.

    By the way, Firefox is Free Software.

  75. Np237 | December 25, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Firefox includes non-free artwork; the licensing doesn’t allow to call it Firefox without it.

  76. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    No, this is the biggest misunderstanding with the whole Firefox-IceWeasel fiasco. The Firefox artwork is free, it's just trademarked. Debian also has a trademarked logo. Does this make Debian non-free? Trademarks protect the organization and their product. Mozilla is more than happy for you to use the trademark, as long as you follow trademark law, and call it "Mozilla Firefox".

  77. Np237 | December 25, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Actually upstart is probably the best init system that was ever designed. The problem with it is that Ubuntu never cared to make it mainstream. Instead of polishing it so that it can become the new standard, they just keep it in their own niche.

    On the contrary I wouldn’t call Rosetta wonderful. It has the very visible effect of lowering the quality of translations.

  78. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    I agree that Ubuntu should be taking greater advantage of Upstart. Right now, it's in SysVInit backwards compatibility mode, and it seems the Ubuntu developers are sitting on their hands, waiting for something magical to happen before taking full advantage of it. The same can be said with Fedora.

  79. Asheesh Laroia | December 25, 2008 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    First of all, it's nice to hear a diversity of voices in discussing all these distributions. I've contributed (in a humble way) to Fedora and Ubuntu, and I maintain some packages in Debian. I like your conclusion about what Debian means to you, that it is the universal operating system, a good base for Ubuntu, and dedicated to its users and Free Software.

    I want to touch one specific thing. You wrote, "Launchpad is open source through the Storm ORM, written in Python."

    This strikes me as strange; it is like declaring Facebook open source because they use MySQL. As far as I know, the Launchpad code is not available for download from Canonical. Has that changed?

    These are good conversations to have, and I appreciate your respectful tone.

  80. Aaron | December 26, 2008 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    The storm ORM is quite a bit different than MySQL. The ORM is sheer code to power MySQL or other databases, where MySQL is the database itself, so your analogy fails.

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