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Debconf 5 - Debian Derivatives and Custom Debian Distributions

This week your editor had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki, Finland for Debconf5 - thanks to the conference organizers for making this possible! The following article is based on a round table discussion Debconf5 sign on Debian Derivatives, lead by Benjamin "Mako" Hill, and a talk by Andreas Tille titled 'CDD - Custom Debian Distributions'.

Fledgling distribution projects often use a larger, more established project as a base for beginning development. These days Debian is the most popular distribution to use as a base for creating a new distribution. DistroWatch lists one hundred twenty-nine projects based on Debian. The LWN Distribution list identifies nearly one hundred distributions with roots in Debian.

Some are derived distributions, some are custom Debian distributions (CDDs). What's the difference? CDDs are part of the Debian Project and appear on Debian CDD website. Anything else can be considered a derivative.

Why is Debian such a popular starting point for CDDs and derivatives? One reason is the large number of packages in the Debian archive, something for almost every special interest. Why create a custom distribution? Most often it's to get a subset of packages to focus on a particular interest, or for a particular language. Whether it's a Chinese desktop or a live CD with a good selection of security tools, many people want more focus from their distribution.

Businesses don't want their employees to have access to thousands of packages but they may want non-free applications or customized configurations. Many users are overwhelmed by the size and complexity of Debian and they appreciate a smaller distribution focused to their interests. Specialized distributions provide preconfigured, easy to install (or live CD) versions of the software they want, without the clutter of thousands of packages that may not be well described, or not described in a language they understand.

Some packages might be highly inappropriate for some users; for example, the parents of the young children using Debian Jr. might not want them to have access to hot babe. Desktop users in China will appreciate a system where the default interface is in a language they can read. Someone who wants forensic tools on a live CD probably doesn't want a lot of games taking up space on that CD.

From Debian-Med to Skolelinux; Quantian to DeMuDi; smaller and more focused is better. One notable exception to that rule is Ubuntu, which aims for a wide variety of packages for a general purpose audience, though with fewer available platforms and above all a predictable release cycle.

Meanwhile, Debian continues to grow, with more packages available, more maintainers to care for those packages, and support for more architectures. As Debian grows so grows the number of users, the number of derivatives, and, so it seems, the time between releases. Debian's infrastructure is strained with the growth. Some fear a decline in the quality that has made Debian a first class distribution. Derived distributions take some of the strain off, but at a cost.

Even those working the CDD projects have complained that their patches don't always make it back into the main Debian archive. Certainly while there was a Sarge freeze there were times when patches couldn't be included immediately, but even without that constraint, a common complaint of derived distribution developers was that their patches were often ignored by the package maintainer. In other cases the derivative developers were fixing bugs, improving translations, adding features and making changes without a word to Debian or any other project. All in all there has been considerable duplication of effort between the many projects using Debian, and not nearly enough collaboration.

We have reported previously on Canonical's suite of tools designed to make collaboration easier. Progeny and HP are two more companies that will provide customized Debian distributions, and both companies have been working on tool kits to make that job easier. Better tool kits are only part of the solution.

Everyone agrees that there needs to be better communications between Debian developers and the developers of Debian derivatives. There needs to be better documentation of what changes are made and why these changes were deemed necessary. Generally there needs to be better collaboration between Debian and its offshoots. The Debian Derivers Council has been formed to help with communications and better collaboration. We look forward to seeing some positive results from the various tool kits and the actions of the Council.

This is Rebecca Sobol in Helsinki, Finland.

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New Releases

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Distribution News

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Debian Security Support in Place

The Debian Project's security support system has been fixed. "The Debian project confirms that the security infrastructure for both the current release Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 (alias sarge) and the former release 3.0 (alias woody) is working again. The security team is now able to provide updates on a regular basis again."

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Bits from the CD team: plans for debian-cd v3.0

Steve McIntyre has sent out an update regarding the Debian-cd effort. "At Debconf we've had a couple of very good discussion sessions about changes that are wanted/needed in debian-cd. Firstly we had several members of the debian-cd team thrash out what we wanted to do for the next version, then a second chat with some more of the debian-cd users to see what they would like us to do for them. I came to Debconf with some ideas of my own for discussion, and several of these other people have thrown extra things into the pot. Here's a summary of what we came up with; I'll follow up to debian-cd with more details."

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Slackware Changelog Notice

The latest Slackware Changelog Notice is out for July 9, 2005 with coverage of the latest modifications to slackware.

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Announcing Launch of ($10m) Ubuntu Foundation

Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have launched the Ubuntu Foundation, with an initial funding of $10m. "The Ubuntu Foundation will employ core Ubuntu community members to ensure that Ubuntu ( will remain fully supported for an extended period of time, and continue to produce new releases of the distribution. As a first step, the Foundation announces that Ubuntu version 6.04, due for release in April 2006, will be supported for three years on the desktop and five years on the server."

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Distribution Newsletters

Debian Weekly News - July 12th, 2005

The July 12, 2005 issue of the Debian Weekly News is online, here's the content summary: "Bill Allombert called for arm porters to support the ARM port of Debian. As this year's Debian conference is taking place now, Debian Planet carries a lot of content from the attending developers."

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Fedora Weekly News #4

The fourth issue of the Fedora Weekly News is out. This week's topics include an installer crash workaround, Fedora Core 4 books, the preliminary FC5 schedule, and several others.

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Gentoo Weekly Newsletter

The July 11, 2005 Gentoo Weekly Newsletter is online.

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Mandriva Linux Community Newsletter #105

The July 8, 2005 edition of the Mandriva Linux Community Newsletter is online. Topics include: Mandriva acquires Lycoris, Multi Network Firewall 2 released, New Club site beta available to members, Limited Edition 2005 reviewed at playREACTION, and Mandriva Updates.

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Package updates

Fedora updates

Fedora Core 4 updates system-config-nfs (several fixes), grep (bug fix), kernel (bug fixes, I2C drivers), kdegraphics (bug fix), audit (new interpretive mode, bug fixes), libxml2 (bug fixes), dhcp (bug fixes), lam (bug fixes), vixie-cron (bug fixes), procps (bug fixes), libwnck (new feature), metacity (new feature), gaim (bug fixes), net-snmp (security update), bind (bug fixes), selinux-policy-targeted (policy change). There is also a new set of kernel modules for clustering: GFS-kernel, dlm-kernel, gnbd-kernel, and cman-kernel.

Fedora Core 3 updates dhcp (bug fixes), lam (bug fixes), vixie-cron (bug fixes), procps (bug fixes), gaim (bug fixes), bind (bug fixes).

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Mandriva updates drakxtools packages

Mandriva has issued an update advisory for the drakxtools packages, three bugs have been fixed.

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Slackware Changelog Notice for PHP

Slackware has issued a Changelog Notice that addresses a security issue with the PHP pear-xml_rpc vulnerability.

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Trustix updates initscripts, php, php4 and pango

Trustix Secure Linux has released a Bugfix Advisory for initscripts, php, php4 and pango.

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Newsletters and articles of interest

SPI 2005 Annual Report Available

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Page editor: Rebecca Sobol
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