On July 29, a surprise
significant change in the way the Debian release process works. Rather
than freezing the distribution when it was "ready," the release team will
start to impose a scheduled freeze in December of every odd-numbered year,
starting with December, 2009. There still will be no scheduled release
dates, but the plan is to start the final phase of the development cycle in
a scheduled manner.
It would appear that much of the Debian development community was as
surprised as anybody else; there had been no discussion of this change on
any of the project's mailing lists. The press release states:
The new freeze policy was proposed and agreed during the Debian
Project's yearly conference, DebConf, which is currently taking
place in Caceres, Spain. The idea was well received among the
attending project members.
Many developers did not attend DebConf (which concludes on July 30),
and those who were there disagree somewhat with the above description. It
seems that some DebConf attendees, at least, feel that all they got was a
few hours advance notice; the change was announced to them as something
which had already been decided.
It should not be surprising that there is a fair amount of dissent in the
ranks. This is Debian, after all. But there seem to be more than
the usual number of complaints this time around. The key themes seem to
- The change may or may not be good, but the way in which it was done
was wrong. Debian developers should not learn about a major process
change from a press release.
- There is no reason to do a short development period to freeze this
December when a freeze in 2010 would fit the two-year period
perfectly. Shortening the "squeeze" development cycle halfway through
will create havoc with many developers' plans and endanger a number of
the objectives for the squeeze release. A lot of work will have to
be crammed into the remaining time; some minor components,
like the kernel, have not yet been updated.
- Freezing in December will guarantee that Debian will ship obsolete
versions of KDE, which releases in January.
The biggest grumble, though, appears to come from a feeling that the Debian
project is being asked to change its ways and, arguably, compromise the
quality of its releases for the sole purpose of accommodating the Ubuntu
release schedule. One might dismiss this idea as overly conspiratorial,
but it's worth reading this
interview with Mark Shuttleworth, published on July 12:
And the really big news here is that we've been having very good
discussions with the Debian release team. So the Debian release
team has indicated that they are very open - not about a release
date but a freeze date. That freeze date would be the time where we
sit around and look at all the major components and decide what the
major versions would be that we collaborate around.
In other words, Mark Shuttleworth knew about this change before the Debian
developers - who are expected to implement it - knew. Given that Debian is
supposed to be an open project, something which gives this kind of
smoke-filled-room-decision feeling is guaranteed to be received poorly.
There are answers to some of these complaints, of course. Luk Claes, a
member of the release team, said:
No, the Release Team proposed a plan. The project is free to accept
or refuse the plan. Of course refusing the plan will have its
consequences within the Release Team as well as within the project.
Even without the dark talk of "consequences," this statement will not have
helped the situation; the press release says "Debian decides to adopt
time-based release freezes," which is not the normal language used for a
proposal. But it is true that the Debian release team is empowered by the
project to make decisions like this. Meanwhile, the Debian press team claims that the abrupt announcement was
required to keep journalists from mangling the news.
The short cycle is
justified this way:
The main reason is that we now have the momentum to try a time
based freeze and that delaying the freeze would cause developers to
'forget' about what a time based freeze is about.
The release team has also promised to talk with the Debian KDE maintainers
to see what sort of solution can be worked out there.
But the release team has said nothing about Ubuntu and has not responded to
the charges which have been made in that regard. It seems that a good case could be
made for closer cooperation between Debian and Ubuntu - in fact, Debian
developers have been asking for that for some time. Ubuntu has become a
major (if not the major) distribution channel for Debian, increasing
Debian's relevance in the process. If the combined distribution channel
could be made to work better for everybody involved, the results should be
good for both Ubuntu and Debian. It is hard to fault the release team for
exploring ways to make Debian's release cycle work better for Ubuntu; one
could, indeed, argue that it would be irresponsible for them to do anything
So the real question has to be: why has this conversation with Ubuntu been
swept under the rug in the release team's communications with the Debian
development community? It creates a strong impression of hidden agendas.
The Debian project may now head into an extended period of
more-than-usually acrimonious debate, dueling general resolutions, and
more. An open discussion would not have skipped the acrimonious debate
(we're still talking about Debian here), but it may well have led to
something very close to what the release team is aiming for with strong
buy-in from the development community. What the project will decide to do
now is rather less clear; what we may be seeing here is the
loss of a great opportunity.
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