It's election time again. The Debian Project is holding its annual election
for Debian Project Leader (DPL). This year, three candidates are running
for the office: current DPL
, and Branden
. Debian Developers also have the option of voting for "none of
the above" if they prefer.
We contacted each of the DPL candidates with several questions about
themselves and their intentions in running for office. We also combed
through the discussion on the debian-vote
list, where the candidates have been participating in discussions about the
Debian project, and why they are qualified to be DPL -- or why they are
not. We have attempted to distill all of this information into a brief
summary of the candidates' platforms and ideas, but we recommend that LWN
readers interested in the DPL election also take the time to read each
candidate's platform (they are all available on this page)
as well as the relevant DPL threads on debian-vote.
It's typical for candidates for any office to assure their voters that they
take that office seriously. Not so with Nagy, who it seems is running on a
whim. Nagy is a 22-year-old student living in Hungary, who is running
"for fun and profit, of course!"
Past DPL elections were too serious for my taste, too much political stuff,
and not much fun. For me, Debian is a hobby, and a hobby should make me
laugh at times. That is what I intend to do by running and giving
nonsensical answers to otherwise good questions.
He asks Debian Developers not to "even think about voting for
me," and says he would resign immediately in the event he does
win. Michlmayr and Robinson are a bit more serious about the election.
In addition to serving as DPL, Michlmayr notes that he is also working on a
Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. He says that he is researching
quality management in free software. Michlmayr already holds Master degrees
in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Innsbruck, and a
Masters in Software Engineering from the University of Melbourne. Michlmayr
told LWN that he is running for a second term as DPL to continue his work:
Due to the size of Debian, the project requires a lot of coordination and
leadership in order to keep the project running smoothly. While we have a
high number of excellent developers and package maintainers, few people are
interested in or have the skills to coordinate the project. I have been
involved in coordination activities for many years, and think that this is
the area where I can contribute most. I have acted as Debian Project
Leader for almost a year now, and feel that I have done a good job. I
would like to continue my work, and thereby make sure that the project runs
smoothly and that other people in the project can carry out their work.
I'd also like to continue representing the project to the outside, by
attending conferences and talking to companies.
The kind of tasks I carry out as DPL are summarized in my "6-month
Robinson lives in Indianapolis, Indiana and has worked for Progeny for the
past three and a half years. He has been a Debian Developer since 1998, and
served as Treasurer of Software in the Public Interest (SPI) from August
2001 to February 2004. Robinson points out in his platform
several reasons why he is running for DPL. Robinson writes that Debian
needs improved, more open, and more visible processes.
Robinson also says in his platform that the Debian Project
should "take our Constitution more seriously," and that the
Debian project needs "a leader who will champion our cause:"
Debian is making inroads, seemingly everywhere; I want to accelerate that
process and evangelize Debian everywhere I can. I don't see the phenomenon
of subprojects or compatible forks as a threat to us at all; instead, it is
a beacon of our success. It's my opinion that it is within our power to
make Debian a de facto industry standard; the company I work for achieved
certified LSB compliance for a snapshot of Debian "sarge" in January. I was
enthusiastic about Debian from the day I became a maintainer, and I'm still
excited today. Furthermore, I can effectively communicate that enthusiasm
and excitement to an audience.
Since the DPL serves a one-year term, we asked each of the candidates to
identify the biggest challenge facing Debian over the next year. We also
asked candidates to rate the "health" of Debian, and whether the "market
share" of Debian as a Linux distribution was a concern. Michlmayr
I think market share is important, and the recent Netcraft survey showed us
that Debian is doing very well. One of the big challenges will be to adopt
a faster release cycle, and to support current hardware better. We also
increasingly have to work with companies, to get better support for Debian
(commercial support, hardware support, having Debian pre-installed).
In his platform, Michlmayr also lists several goals he has for the next
year. In addition to a faster release cycle, he says that Debian needs a
clear release plan for the coming release and for the release cycle for the
next few years. He also cites a desire to work with external projects to
help reduce duplication of effort between Debian-based distributions.
Robinson told LWN that he sees scalability as the top problem for Debian in
the next year:
The biggest challenge facing us is our answer to the question "how can we
scale?" We're huge -- over nine hundred developers, at least half of whom
are active enough to have participated in the "non-free" General Resolution
process, which means we probably have on the order of four to five hundred
reasonably active developers. Even that figure dwarfs the engineering
staff of all but the largest software companies.
We're also huge in terms of distribution. The Debian "sarge" release is
anticipated to consume 13 CD-ROMs' worth of space for the x86/IA-32 binary
packages alone... We're also big in terms of infrastructure. We have, at
present, 35 project machines in our LDAP database. This doesn't
list many quasi-official machines, such as many in the build-daemon network
which keep our packages built for all eleven of our architectures. Just
about any serious Linux user can imagine how much work it would be to keep
that much hardware up and running; an experienced sysadmin knows of whole
new dimensions to the problem. Add to that the fact that in many cases, our
top-tier administrators don't have easy physical access to these machines,
and the scope of difficulty is magnified again.
As for market share, Robinson said that it is something that the DPL
"should be cognizant of, though his or her ability to directly affect
it is almost nonexistant." Robinson also said that he is "not
too worried," about the relative market share of Debian and that he
"cannot help [but] be aware of the rising tide that is
Debian Developers recently rejected
a proposal to remove non-free. However, each of the candidates for DPL says
that they support removal of non-free from Debian. Robinson said that
non-free software does not directly serve the Debian mission, and pointed
out that many voters may have misconceptions about the nature of non-free:
Time and again during the long discussions leading up to the vote, the
preservation of the non-free section was defended on the grounds that it
would take packages away from users -- often using as examples packages
which weren't actually *in* the non-free section, hadn't been for years,
and for which there was no reasonable expectation of return.
Advocates of dropping non-free, like myself, need to do a better job of
dispelling this sort of fear and ignorance, so that people who favor its
retention at least can do so on informed and rational grounds. If we do,
at some point in the future when the issue is revisited, if the proposal
fails again, it will at least do so based more on its actual shortcomings,
rather than imaginary horrors.
Michlmayr also wants to get rid of non-free, and points out that as long as
Debian maintains non-free that it is less likely that free software
alternatives will be created to replace the non-free packages. He said that
he was not surprised by the vote, because "the non-free removal was
not approached properly."
The non-free opponents simply wanted to remove the non-free packages, but
did not offer a transition plan. While there has been talk of moving the
non-free packages to an APT repository on non-free.org, nobody has done so
yet. In the interest of our users, I think we should first move non-free
packages to an outside project, help them get started, and mirror their
packages on our mirrors for a year or two to let users switch to the new
APT repository...At that point, we can stop distributing those packages
Another issue that comes up from time to time is Debian's support for
multiple architectures. We asked the candidates whether support for
multiple hardware platforms was slowing the project, and when Debian should
consider dropping a hardware platform. Nagy responded that if any
architecture were dropped, "it should be x86, period...Debian being
the Universal OS, should support all possible architectures, and as long as
there are people who do the porting work, the support for the platform must
According to Robinson, the answer should be to improve
the build infrastructure:
If an arch proves to be unsustainable, I think we should probably
officially discontinue it rather than move it into some sort of "slow
lane". If there aren't enough people dedicated enough to keep the port
alive in Debian, I suspect there won't be enough people to keep it alive
*outside* Debian, either.
In his response to LWN, Robinson also said that Debian should stop
supporting a platform "when our developers are no longer able to
maintain it to our standards." According to Robinson:
That some architectures take days to compile packages that on modern CPUs
take only hours is, interestingly enough, less of a real problem than
packages that slip through the cracks and don't get built at all.
Michlmayr also said that support for multiple hardware platforms was not
the cause for slow releases:
Supporting the number of platforms we do is certainly a challenge, but it
is actually not the main reason we're sometimes slow. I think the community
benefits from our wide support of platforms, since we report lots of
toolchain bugs (GCC, binutils) on many architectures; we also support some
architectures nobody else supports, and it would be a pity if nobody
supported the[m] anymore. One reason why Debian has slow releases is the
number of packages, and that some of these are not well maintained. This
is an issue we have to approach, possibly by moving to maintainer teams
rather than relying on a single maintainer for a package.
Finally, we asked the candidates about their thoughts on projects that make
use of Debian, such as Progeny's "Componentized Linux," and Bruce Perens'
UserLinux, and whether companies like Lindows.com and Xandros were giving
enough back to the Debian Project.
Michlmayr said that he has contacted some of the companies that make use of
Debian, and that he thinks that "closer cooperation is very
important." He notes in his platform that there is limited
cooperation between the Debian-based distributions, and that there is
development that is not being integrated back into Debian.
As the Debian Project Leader, I would see it as my duty not only to work
with these external projects, but to try to internalize them as much as
possible. This is partly happening already, but I'd like to work with other
projects more closely to drive this process along. As an example,
Skolelinux (who have always contributed their work to Debian) first adopted
our debian-edu project and are now moving towards using the debian-edu name
as their brand. Furthermore, after discussions with developers of DeMuDi (a
multimedia distribution based on Debian), they agreed to join our
debian-multimedia project and to merge their work into Debian.
Debian will benefit to a great degree if more Debian based projects get
involved and make contributions. I am very excited about this because many
of those projects are sponsored by local governments. Just imagine the
great advances we can make if there are a few paid people in countries like
Brazil, Greece, Norway and Spain (which are all working on Debian based
distributions). While I cannot control what those projects do, I intend to
work together with them as closely as possible. Everyone will profit by
more cooperation, and I am interested in helping with the coordination to
make this possible.
Robinson responded that one problem presented by the many Debian-based
projects, and the "vast amounts of Free and Open Source software that
we see today," is that it's hard for people to determine whether the
problem they're trying to solve has been solved already.
This isn't just a matter of finding out whether there's a Freshmeat, or
SourceForge, or GNU Savannah project in the problem space. That's
relatively easy. What's more difficult is finding out whether existing
solutions are mature, robust, and a good fit for the remainder of your
software (or organizational) infrastructure....
That, I think, is the challenge that Bruce Perens's UserLinux and Progeny's
Componentized Linux initiatives are rising to meet. I don't believe it's
any accident that two former Debian Project Leaders are among the first to
appreciate this need. They witnessed first-hand the incredible breadth of
the software prepared by the Debian Project, a breadth that has increased
supra-linearly over time.
As to the question of whether companies give enough back to Debian,
Robinson says, "yes and no."
I think these companies -- Progeny included -- do a good job of promoting
the Debian name, and authoring freely-licensed enhancements to it. The
challenge appears to be in coherent integration back into the Debian
I think this takes some initiative from both sides. In my Platform, I
proposed officially delegating ambassadors or liaisons from the Debian
Project to other organizations, and this can certainly include companies
like Lindows and Xandros. At the same time, these companies need to be
willing to pay someone to serve a complementary function on their end --
someone who will work with Debian and not let requests for information fall
on the floor.
The current system, he notes, may be confusing for developers inside a
company like Lindows or Xandros who wish to contribute but are unsure of
the proper way to go about it. A Debian liaison to a company would serve as
an interface between the Debian project and companies utilizing Debian and
looking to contribute back to the project.
The DPL election will continue for a few more weeks. Debian Developers have
until April 10 to cast their votes for the Debian Project Leader (DPL),
give or take fifteen
hours due to a snafu in sending out the call for votes. Good luck to
all the candidates, and may the best developer win.
to post comments)