Sarge is, finally, approaching. Last week, Steve Langasek
a proposed timeline for Sarge and that Anthony Towns had stepped
down as release manager for Debian. Langasek and Colin Watson are filling
the post for the Sarge release. According to Watson's follow-up
on Saturday, the release target for Sarge is now September 19. Joey Hess
also announced release
of the new Debian-Installer for Sarge on Saturday.
With the release so close at hand, we decided to take a look at the state
of Sarge. We touched base with Langasek on the status of the release, and
also asked Towns for comment on his decision to step down. In Langasek's
announcement, he alluded to "the recrimination and hostility towards
some of our most dedicated developers" as a possible reason for
Towns' departure from the release manager post. Towns declined to elaborate
on his decision to step down from the release manager position, but said
that Sarge is in good hands:
I've got complete confidence that Colin and Steve can do a better job
getting sarge out than I could, and are doing so. They might think
differently, but if so, the resolution to that little quandary is quite
simple: they're wrong. :)
We also asked Langasek about the statement, and whether he feels that the
internal conflicts in Debian have gotten worse.
For my part, I'm well aware that there's always a certain amount of
off-topic digression and conflict on the mailing lists -- this is nothing
new in Debian, it's part and parcel of the kind of rough-and-tumble
development model that's always been in effect in this community. One thing
that *has* changed recently, however, is that the General Resolution
process... has become unstuck in the past year, after having been held up
for quite some time by a committee charged with fixing some subtle bugs in
our constitution. Suddenly, the GR process seems like a good way to address
lots of problems in the project, and lots of changes are being proposed
without necessarily considering the full effects in the context of Debian,
or sometimes without much consideration of whether this is something that
*can* be legislated in Debian.
It's also true that as the project has grown, it has tended to become more
politicized as it's harder for everyone to know everyone else personally.
I don't think this is inevitable, though; it's simply something we need to
learn to deal with as we grow. Since Debian has essentially been growing
for its entire existence, we have a fair amount of experience with learning
to address growing pains.
In any case, I definitely don't think AJ's decision represents any sort of
crisis in Debian. The release manager's job is a hard one even when
everything seems to be going right, so it's perfectly understandable that
he would decide to step down.
With that unpleasant topic behind us, we also asked Langasek about the
release schedule, and whether the schedule was realistic.
The important message to bring away from the announced release schedule is
that we're close enough now to being able to release that it's time for
developers to change focus. The schedule may slip a few days here or there,
but the truth is that's something we have to contend with no matter how
aggressive our proposed schedule is. So we might as well be ambitious!
Our brief tests of the RC1 of the Debian installer were quite positive. The
installer is still a text-based system, but consists of a fairly easy set
of choices for the average Linux user to follow. We tested RC1 on a
dual-PIII Xeon system, and tried out both the normal and "expert" installer
modes. Users have the choice of installing the 2.4 or 2.6 kernel in either
mode. The "expert" mode is largely unnecessary unless one wants (or needs)
to dabble more directly with the kernel modules that are loaded or if one
wishes to experiment with installer modules that are not part of the
The new installer also offers to partition the disk for the user, no doubt
a welcome addition for many Linux users who aren't familiar with disk
partitioning. The user has a choice between an all-in-one partition, a
separate /home partition, or a multi-user partitioning scheme if they
choose to let the installer do the work for them. Both the /home and
multi-user schemes provided sane partition layouts on a 40GB disk, using
the Ext3 filesystem. We might have chosen more swap space (the installer
opted for 512MB on a system with 1GB of RAM), but both partition layouts
were quite usable.
The hardware detection worked fine for the test system, though the system
admittedly contained a sparse selection of components -- an add-on IDE
controller, network card and generic video card, PS/2 keyboard and mouse,
no sound card. This writer found it very nice not to have to know which
module is appropriate for the system's network card while in the middle of
Users have the option of choosing packages manually, or selecting from
seven pre-selected groups of packages like "desktop," "Web server," and
"DNS." These can be mixed and matched, so users who want a print server and
desktop in one machine can choose both at install time. The desktop set of
packages provided both the KDE and GNOME desktops, and a fair selection of
desktop apps and games.
There were only two things we didn't like, overall and neither can rightly
be considered a bug -- though there is a bug
report for our first complaint. Though the machine in question is a
dual-CPU machine, neither the normal or expert install gave the option of
an SMP-enabled kernel. Though it's not at all difficult to download a
suitable SMP kernel (or compile your own) it's an additional step that
should be unnecessary.
Likewise, it seems to this writer that OpenSSH should be installed by
default on any network-connected system. While not difficult to do after
the fact, one would think that including OpenSSH is a no-brainer on almost
any Linux system. It is certainly as likely to be used as wget or nano,
which are installed by default.
Those are extremely minor grumbles, however. It appears that Sarge is just
about ready to make its debut. The schedule is a bit ambitious, but it
doesn't seem unrealistic based on our tests of the RC1 of the installer and
packages now in testing. Langasek asks that users start banging on the new
installer and install manual to help the process along:
Now that the first release candidate of the debian-installer is available,
we also need users to help test this new installer, and to also help review
the installation manual to check for omissions and accuracy.
We hope to soon have security support available for testing, at which point
we will also send out a general call for users to test the upgrade path
from woody to sarge.
And, of course, Langasek asks that users report bugs wherever they find
them "particularly if they're using testing or unstable." As
users are trying out the new Debian installer, they might wish to read the
d-i retrospective, which recounts the history of d-i and gives
perspective on the work that went into the installer. Langasek says that
the work has paid off:
Debian-installer stands head and shoulders above the boot-floppies system
we used for woody, and we owe a lot of thanks to the developers responsible
for giving us an installer that people can actually be enthusiastic about
contributing to. :-)
Indeed, this writer is enthusiastic about the installer as well. Though the
old installer was usable enough (as evidenced by the enormous Debian
user base), the new installer is much improved. The final Sarge release
should do a great deal to help Debian's popularity with newer Linux users.
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