If the net seems slow over the next week or so, it may well be due to the
near-simultaneous releases from two major distributions. The long-awaited
release of Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 (also known as "sarge") was announced
on June 6. As it happens,
Fedora Core 4 was due on the same day, but has been pushed back one
week to June 13. This delay was not due to any particular technical
problems; instead, it seems, the lawyers were a little slow to sign off on
the code name for this release.
A comparison of a few key packages in these two distributions can be
|Package||Debian 3.1||Fedora Core 4|
|X||XFree86 4.3.0||Xorg 6.8.2|
These numbers will come as little surprise to most; it is in the nature of
Debian releases to be slow in coming and mildly obsolete when they arrive,
while Fedora releases run closer to the bleeding edge.
The two distributions have different goals: Debian seeks to produce a
highly stable distribution for its users; Fedora, instead, is a rapidly
updated distribution providing current software to users and a real-world
test bed for Red Hat.
The table listed above is not entirely fair; many packages in Debian sarge
(including important ones, like Firefox) are at or near their current
versions. Then, there is this table, which provides a different view:
|Package||Debian 3.1||Fedora Core 4|
This table could be made much longer, but the point should be clear: few
distributions can offer the sheer variety of packages found in Debian. In
all fairness, one should note that the Fedora Extras repository fills in
some of the gaps on the Fedora side. Fedora Extras works reasonably well,
but it remains a "second class citizen" repository without any commitment
to future updates or security support. Debian also supports a much wider
range of architectures than Fedora.
As these milestones are reached, both distributions are considering where
they want to go in the future. On the Debian side, there is a general
desire to improve the release process so that the next major release
("etch") comes a little more quickly. There is some planning happening for
a painful gcc upgrade and a PostgreSQL transition, among other things.
There is a continual low-level rumble on how Debian and derivatives (Ubuntu
in particular) should work with each other. The "how many architectures
should Debian support?" question still lacks a definitive answer. It also
seems, however, that the Debian developers are taking a well-deserved break
and deferring much of the "what now?" discussion until Debconf5, happening in mid-July.
(As luck would have it, the conference has offered to fly LWN Distributions
Page editor Rebecca Sobol to the event, so LWN will have coverage from
On the Fedora side, a deliberate effort was
made to start a discussion on what should be in Fedora Core 5. A few
suggested: more security features and faster booting, for
example. Most of the discussion, however, has centered around a suggestion to increase the length of the
development cycle somewhat (to nine months or so). The current six-month cycle
allows for a maximum of about two or three months before the stabilization efforts
set in, and some developers are finding it difficult to get their changes
in within that window. The suggestion has not been particularly well
received by the powers that be within Red Hat, however.
In theory, opposition from Red Hat should matter less in the future. At
the recently-concluded Red Hat Summit, the company announced that it
planned to set Fedora free, and to put it under the control of an
independent foundation. There have been no communications from the company
on this subject outside of the conference, so details are scarce. Nothing
has been said on how this foundation will be formed, funded, or governed.
It remains to be seen whether Red Hat is truly willing to give up enough
control to allow Fedora to pick its own directions. A truly independent
Fedora, however, has the potential to combine a strong base distribution
with a larger, more enthusiastic developer community; it could be a force
to be reckoned with.
Debian and Fedora are two very different distributions. Debian is a huge,
community-driven project with a "when it's ready" release policy. Fedora
is, for now, a company-controlled, smaller distribution with scheduled
releases. In many ways, however, they appear to be converging. Debian is
facing the size issue (by considering which packages and architectures
truly belong in the core distribution), release cycles, and, via efforts
like Ubuntu, commercial appeal. Fedora, meanwhile, aims for a stronger
community orientation and is debating package policies and release cycle
issues of its own. Both distributions will remain part of our community
for a long time - and we are richer for having both of them. But they are
responding to many of the same pressures, so it would not be entirely
surprising to see them look more alike in the future.
to post comments)