It’s been forever since I blogged last. I’ve been deep into paper writing and trying to finish up my PhD. I have had a bit of time to do a little work (see the sweet 5-a-day sig below) and hopefully after Sunday I’ll be approved as a Debian Maintainer. I put in my application on Monday and my sponsor Michael Banck (azeem) was gracious enough to advocate for me. In Debian I’m currently the maintainer of plotdrop (gtk GUI for gnuplot) and just finished off the ITP for avogadro (really cool new chemical visualization app) with Michael’s help.
I’ve been long interested in the differences and similarities between Debian and Ubuntu. Many Ubuntu developers are current/former Debian developers and users but I think at this point probably a majority have “grown up” in Ubuntu like I have. Because Ubuntu is so heavily dependent on Debian, it behooves us developers to understand Debian processes, policies, and yes, even politics. I thought I’d just randomly share some thoughts on Debian from my Ubuntu-biased perspective:
- It’s all about who you know – you can have either an entirely discouraging or very uplifting experience with Debian depending on the people who you hang out with. Even though all projects are like this, I’ve found this to be most true in Debian. I’ve seen some horrible behavior by some Debian Developers but I’ve also made some really good friends and gotten a lot of quality help from others. I’ve had much much more success finding smaller special-interest groups to talk to (debichem, debian-science, and debian-mentors being good ones for me) than just reading debian-devel 😉 .
- When actively maintained, Debian packages are really really well taken care of. In general, Debian maintainers really know their software and are pretty quick to take care of things. On the flip side, I think it’s easier for Debian packages to “fall through the cracks” if a maintainer has no time. In Ubuntu we share the maintenance burden a lot which is I think is a boon for archive QA. But, I feel like a lot of times Ubuntu maintainers just don’t have an opportunity to really get to know the software they touch. We can be quite a bit quicker with things like library transitions and archive-wide changes, but also make silly mistakes because we don’t know the software well enough.
- The new Debian Maintainer thing is awesome. Allowing competent people to upload specific packages without having to go through the full process of becoming a Debian Developer will generate a significant amount of healthy activity for Debian, IMO. In Ubuntu, we do a lot of work to try to “create” new developers (MOTU Mentoring, MOTU School, Developer Week, the Packaging Guide, and some killer documentation for starters) but because of our small size (109 total developers including Canonical employees), team maintenance strategy, and fast release cycle an upstream developer or contributor wanting to focus on a single package or set of packages can easily get left out or turned off. I know Mark would like something similar to Debian Maintainers for Ubuntu and we pretty much just need the Launchpad bits to do it. I think it could be a positive move for Ubuntu.
- The entire FLOSS and Linux ecosphere owes a lot to Debian, it’s consistency, stability, philosophy, and even innovation. The Debian Free Software Guidelines were the basis of OSI’s Open Source Definition. I think it has spawned more major derivatives than any other distro. Debian also continues to be relevant and popular after almost 15 years in existence. It is really the only serious distro I know that’s not sponsored by a company. As I look around at how much Canonical, Red Hat, and Novell are putting into their respective projects it’s amazing to me how much Debian can get done.
Michael, Daniel Leidert and the rest of the Debichem team have really shown me a lot of the strength of Debian and how the two distros can work really well together and enhance each other. I think there are a lot more positive experiences like that than negative ones, which is just cool.
Anyway, I’m not sure if anybody cares about my babblings, but I just wanted to say, thanks Debian!