Despite what you may have heard on
aren't going to be merging
A few weeks ago, Ubuntu's Jeff Waugh invited
the UserLinux project to "collaborate with Ubuntu to build the finest
platform and community for FOSS service providers
." This was after a
discussion about the problems of trying to build UserLinux around Debian
taking a long time for a new stable release
Waugh's invitation generated a fair amount of additional discussion
on the UserLinux list, but little comment from UserLinux founder Bruce
Perens. It's become clear that Ubuntu and UserLinux will remain separate
for the foreseeable future, but we decided to check in with Perens to see
what he had to say about the whole thing.
Perens was quick to note that he supports Ubuntu, but doesn't think that
Ubuntu's corporate-sponsored model is the way to go for UserLinux.
When Mark [Shuttleworth] started to work on Ubuntu, he called me up and we
talked about whether I'd be interested in taking a leadership position in
Ubuntu and I decided not to pursue that, because I feel that a non-profit
is the correct paradigm for a Linux distribution. A Linux distribution is
inherently not a profit-making enterprise and we are seeing [some of] the
commercial Linux distributions abuse the open source paradigm because of
In addition, Perens said that Debian's development process allows anyone to
become a developer and run for Project Leader or hold another Debian
office, which doesn't exist in other projects. "You can be part of
Ubuntu's community or Fedora's community, you don't get the chance to be
Shortly after Waugh's invitation on the UserLinux mailing list, some of the
Ubuntu team created experimental
UserLinux packages for Ubuntu. The metapackages would allow creating
"a sort of Ubuntu-flavored UserLinux." Unfortunately, the
packages were also in violation of the UserLinux trademark policy. When we
asked about the situation, Perens noted the importance of having a
trademark policy, given the abuse of the Debian trademark "in various
ways" and that "the UserLinux guys get to say what can be
called UserLinux when they do their version of the Debian release."
He also said he didn't have a problem with labeling the packages "ul" or
something similar to distinguish them from official UserLinux packages. It
would appear, after a bit of friction, that the projects are
out the trademark issue so Ubuntu can include the metapackages.
But the Ubuntu effort highlights the problem of perceived inertia for
UserLinux. Perens announced UserLinux in December of 2003. There was a
great deal of interest in the idea at the time, but the wait for a Debian
release has certainly had an impact on the momentum of the project.
Perens conceded that there was a perception among the Linux community that
UserLinux had stagnated, but said that the perception can be overcome.
A lot of people would have given up now, because the time-to-market is
totally blown, but this was never intended to be a start-up
business. Having been on board or watching the last five companies that
were attempting to commercialize Debian, I have some idea what went wrong
and what went right and I think we can make this idea work with
As far as UserLinux, I think what I would like to do, is once Debian has
made a release, have our roster of support companies ready to support it,
and to just start giving these things out at Linux-related business events
and saying 'here's a system with full support, here's a price sheet, and
we're going to give you a lower cost of ownership than Linux. We're going
to beat other Linux distributions on TCO and we're going to give you more
control because, more than Fedora, more than Ubuntu, you get a chance to
determine exactly how the system is built, because it's tracking what the
Debian organization does, it's not a Debian variant.
Perens also told LWN that the best way for someone to help with UserLinux
is to be involved with Debian.
For people in the community, my main desire is that they work on Debian,
okay? We can use some people on the UserLinux project, but the UserLinux
policy is when we make software, we do it on Debian teams, and check it
into Debian Subversion, don't issue as separate UL packages unless there's
a Debian freeze...I think that Debian is a very healthy community, despite
To outsiders, however, it may appear at times that the Debian Project is too
mired in political disagreements and flame wars to actually get anything
done -- which is a significant objection to wanting to be involved with
Debian. Perens said that there is a need to convince "a significant
portion of 1,000 active developers that your policy is right" when
working with Debian, but "that in itself is a quality assurance
Perens said he was "heartened" by the recent announcement that
Debian will soon be doing a release, and that "when Debian wants to
get off the dime, they can." He also said that the Debian developers
have been "pretty embarrassed by the long delay of the
release" and have bit the bullet to get it out the door. He also
predicted that the next Debian release after Sarge will be scheduled, and
it will be kept on schedule.
It will be interesting to see what happens after Debian Sarge is released,
and whether the UserLinux project can succeed as distribution for
"businesses of all sizes."
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