Where Debian is today

Ian Murdock posted a great essay on both why Debian is important and what it needs to work on from here. The bits about where Debian should go aren't particularly exciting — true and important, but stuff like "better vendor support" is stuff we've been hearing for years.

What's more interesting for me to read is the summary of where Debian is right now. This is a good time to take a step back and realize that Debian is pretty clearly the #2 distribution (or at worst #3), has significant impact on the direction of Linux, and has put together a damned impressive set of software entirely as a volunteer community project. There's no full-time staff and barely a budget, and yet look at the quality product that Debian has achieved.

Some of the subtler aspects of this aren't as obvious from the outside. The reason why I'm joining the Debian project are not just the obvious ones. It's that I, as someone who has been doing the packaging and infrastructure thing for a decade now, took a long and close look at the infrastructure and tools that are underneath the Debian project and the quality blew me away.

Red Hat and SuSE may very well have good internal testing infrastructure, but at least the public face for contributors is far, far inferior to what Debian has. Just start at packages.qa.debian.org and start following links and think about what's going into each part of that. Click on the name of a maintainer and look at the maintainer summary. Look at the integration with the bug system and with the testing migration infrastructure. Look at the buildd information. Look at the package history, easily accessible.

Or start from the tools and documentation. There is nothing like Debian Policy; it's unique. Or look at lintian, possibly the most useful packaging tool I've ever seen. Or debhelper. These are high-quality products maintained by people who know what they're doing and optimized for generating the highest quality packages with the least amount of developer time.

And this was all done by volunteers, with no strong central organization, using PGP authentication and donated hardware and individual effort.

Sometimes what people can do is just damn cool. This is what free software is all about. We don't always need a company to organize the work, we don't always need a government to manage social interactions, and we don't always even need any sort of clear economic motive. If we make it possible, a bunch of people will spontaneously cooperate on making the world a better place. People from all over the world.

Best antidote for political news ever.

Posted: 2005-06-15 17:41 — Why no comments?

Last modified and spun 2017-04-29