mailing list for cross-distributions collaboration

A few months ago, I asked a set of questions on development mailing lists of a few GNU/Linux distributions. This resulted in very interesting discussions. As promised back then, all the answers from all distros I contacted can be read on the web or as an mbox file.

Also, kindly agreed to host a mailing list to ease discussions between distributions, and act as a central point of contact. You can subscribe, and post to distributions at lists dot freedesktop dot org.

This mailing list is for people involved (or interested) in the development of distributions. Questions that are on-topic are both technical and social/organizational issues, like:

  • How do you achieve graphical boot in your distro? Do you use some kind of dependancy-based or events-based boot?
  • How do you package both ruby 1.8, ruby 1.9 and jruby, or handle KDE vs KDE4?
  • Do you use a system that gives a limited set of rights to new contributors?

Off-topic stuff obviously include trolling about which distribution is the best one, or user support.

Don’t hesitate to forward this announcement to all interested parties. Let’s make this mailing list something useful together!

Also, I really apologize for procastinating announcing this list for sooo long. I’m really good at procastinating interesting stuff, it seems.

Google Summer of Code’s real goals?

There’s an interesting discussion about Google Summer of Code going on debian-devel@. The question can be summarized as “Should we allow current Debian contributors to be students in GSOC?“?

The GSOC FAQ says:

Google Summer of Code has several goals:

  • Get more open source code created and released for the benefit of all;
  • Inspire young developers to begin participating in open source development;
  • Help open source projects identify and bring in new developers and committers;
  • Provide students in Computer Science and related fields the opportunity to do work related to their academic pursuits during the summer (think “flip bits, not burgers”);
  • Give students more exposure to real-world software development scenarios (e.g., distributed development, software licensing questions, mailing-list etiquette).

The problem is that those goals are clearly conflicting:

  • If you think that “get useful code written” is more important than “get fresh blood in Debian”, it is stupid to choose students that are not existing contributors to Debian. It’s a much better idea to choose people that already know Debian very well, so they will be very efficient.
  • If you think that “get fresh blood in Debian” is more important than “get useful code written”, it is stupid to choose students that are already contributing to Debian. You should choose outsiders, of course.

Another problem is that in the past, some students that were also debian contributors had problems organizing themselves: they used some of their GSOC time to work on their usual Debian tasks, leading to results that were a bit disappointing. But it’s possible that this is mainly a management problem (however, mentoring people takes a lot of time, and only students are paid, not their mentors).

How do you deal with that in your project?

Fixing build failures with dash is cool.

The bad thing with fixing build failures with dash is that there are still a lot of open bugs. (Remember, the 0-day NMU policy applies to those, so it’s a good opportunity to improve your NMU karma. And I will sponsor your NMUs if you can’t upload!).

The good thing is that you sometimes run into funny code, like:
    pushd docs ; $(MAKE) distclean || true ; popd

Since pushd/popd is a bashism, the Ubuntu patch changed this to:
    cd docs ; $(MAKE) distclean || true ; cd $(CURDIR)

Which works, but is … interesting? :-)

Help us get rid of dash build failures in Debian!

Following my rebuild of all packages using /bin/dash as /bin/sh, we now have a nice list of bugs.

Those bugs are cool:

  • The relaxed NMU rules apply to them, since they are part of the dash release goal. Which means that they can all be fixed using 0-day NMUs.
  • Most of them are really easy to fix. (for many of them, a patch is already provided by Ubuntu)

So, if you want to get involved in Debian development, try to submit NMU patches for those bugs. If you want me to sponsor the upload, please Cc me when you submit the patch.

And even if you don’t care about Debian, but only about Ubuntu (which is fondamentally wrong, as everybody knows that Ubuntu is based on Debian), fixing these bugs also helps Ubuntu a lot: all those bugs hurt Ubuntu, since Ubuntu uses dash as /bin/sh by default, and, even if the packages in Ubuntu have been patched, it’s still causing additional work every time a new package is uploaded to Debian, and has to imported in Ubuntu.

If you have questions with the process, please ask them using the comments below.

I use the following process on those bugs, and it’s probably a good idea that you do the same if you intent to submit patches:

  • build the package with a chroot using bash
  • build the package with a chroot using dash (you can just use a different pbuilder tarball for that). Check that the problem can be reproduced.
  • fix the package
  • build the new package with a chroot using bash
  • build the new package with a chroot using dash
  • compare the built packages using debdiff for old_package_using_bash, new_package_using_bash, and new_package_using_dash. If the content doesn’t match, we have a problem.

If you submit NMU patches, please also have a look at the other bugs in the package, or at the lintian output. I don’t mind sponsoring small fixes for non-cosmetic/non-wishlist stuff at the same time.

ZFS as LVM killer … really?

From the ZFS FAQ:

Can devices be removed from a ZFS pool?

You can remove a device from a mirrored ZFS configuration by using the zpool detach command. Removal of a top-level vdev, such as an entire RAID-Z group or a disk in an unmirrored configuration, is not currently supported. This feature is planned for a future release.

buzz, buzz, buzz…

Idea: creating a “Distributions Developers Forum” ?

Scientific papers always have a “related works” section, where the authors describe how the work they are presenting compares with what others did. In the Free Software world, this is nearly non-existent: in a way, it seems that many of us are thinking of their projects as competing products, fighting for market share. On a project web page, I would love to read something like:

This project is particularly well suited if you want XX. But if YY is more important to you, you might want to have a look at ZZ.

Or simply links to similar projects for other environments, etc. All in all, I think that the goal is to improve the global satisfaction. Not to win a few users, who won’t be totally happy, because the project doesn’t really suit their needs.

While some projects cooperate and share ideas, like I think desktop environments do inside, most just ignore each other. I am both a Debian and an Ubuntu developer, and I’m sometimes amazed that Ubuntu discusses technical choices that were discussed (and solved) a few weeks earlier in Debian. And it’s even worse with the other big distros out there.

Couldn’t we try to improve this ? We could just create a mailing list, where developers from various distributions could present the way they do things. This would allow to discuss future developments (“We are planning to improve this, what are you doing about that ?“) or simply to improve people’s knowledge of the various distributions.

Of course, this could easily turn into flamefests, but they are technical ways to avoid that, like moderating posts from trollers…

Does something like that already exist ? Do you think that it would be interesting ? Would you like to contribute to such a forum ?

Some examples of things that could be discussed:

  • How many packages do you have, and how do you support them ? Do you have several “classes” of packages ?
  • How do you manage your releases ? Goal-based ? Time-based ? Bug-count-based ?
  • Which kind of quality assurance do you do ?
  • How many contributors do you have ? Are they split into different “classes” ? Who has “commit rights” ? Can you give out “commit rights” restricted to subsets of your packages ? A organized sponsorship system for people who don’t have commit rights ?
  • etc, etc, etc.

Which distribution on Thinkpads: really the good question to ask?

After Dell, Lenovo decided to ask users which Linux distribution they should put on Thinkpads. Seriously, who cares? If I buy a laptop that comes with Linux pre-installed, my first step would be to reinstall it from scratch, exactly like with a laptop with Windows pre-installed. Because the choices that were made wouldn’t match mine (think of partitioning, etc). Or simply because I wouldn’t totally trust the hardware manufacturer.

So, what would make me happier about a laptop?

  • That installing any recent enough mainstream Linux distribution works without requiring tricks
  • That it’s possible to buy it without an operating system, with no additional charge (and no, I don’t buy the “we need the OS installed to do some quality tests before we ship” argument. USB keys and CDROMs have been bootable for years.)

I couldn’t care less about which distribution comes preinstalled. If Lenovo wants to make me happy, there are two ways:

  • Talk to free software developers: kernel developers, etc. Not distribution developers. And get the required changes merged in, so they will land in my favorite distribution after some time.
  • If they prefer to play on their own, they could create an open “Linux on Lenovo laptops” task force, where they would provide the needed drivers in a way that makes it dead easy to integrate them in Linux distros and to report problems.

It’s not _that_ hard: some manufacturers got it right, at least for some of their products. There are many manufacturers contributing code directly to the Linux kernel, for network drivers for example.

But maybe this is just about marketing and communication, not about results? Because after all, Dell and Lenovo will look nice to the random user. While playing-by-the-rules manufacturers are hidden deep in the Linux changelog.

Condorcet method and the french presidential election

The french presidential election (in april/may 2007) will use plurality voting with two rounds (voters will choose 1 amongst 11 or 12 candidates during the first round. The two candidates with the most votes will be qualified for the second round).

The latest polls clearly show how this election method fails to satisfy the Condorcet criterion. Using the second round results from this poll (only considering the 3 main candidates, since the other don’t have any chance to win the presidential election), we get this:

2007 elect results

So Francois Bayrou is the Condorcet winner, and should win the election. However, the first round results, according to the same poll, could be:

  1. Sarkozy 31%
  2. Royal 24%
  3. Bayrou 22%
  4. Le Pen 12%

Since only the two first candidates are qualified to second round, Bayrou wouldn’t be elected. It will be interesting to see how those scores evolves until the first round (April 22nd).

Jabber clients and OS usage stats (3)

Using XMPP4R, I did some stats about Jabber clients usage on the Apinc Jabber server, which hosts,, and many more using virtual hosting. I already did similar stats in March 2006 and September 2005.

The poll was done by sending jabber:iq:version to online users, around 1:00 PM (french local time, most of the users are french). 1343 clients were pinged, and 1315 answered, which is better than last year (1145 answers). Of the 1145 jids that answered last year, 368 were also part of the poll this year (I don’t know if this is good, or not enough).


  • GNU/Linux: 43% (2006: 38% ; 2005: 34%)
  • Windows: 35% (2006: 37% ; 2005: 34%)
  • Mac OS: 16% (2006: 18% ; 2005: 23%)
  • Unknown: 4 (2006: 5% ; 2005: 6%)
  • Others: 0% (12 clients ; 2006: 0% ; 2005: 1%)


  • Psi: 24% (2006: 28% ; 2005: 28%)
  • gaim: 22% (2006: 25% ; 2005: 25%)
  • Gajim: 12% (2006: 5% ; 2005: 3%)
  • Kopete: 11% (2006: 7% ; 2005: 7%)
  • iChatAgent: 9% (2006: 13% ; 2005: 18%)
  • libgaim (Adium): 5% (2006: 4% ; 2005: 3%)
  • Pandion: 4% (2006: 4% ; 2005: 2%)
  • Miranda: 2% (2006: 2% ; 2005: 1%)
  • BitlBee: 2%
  • neos: 1%
  • Unknown client: 0%
  • Exodus: 0%
  • Imendio Gossip: 0%
  • Jabbin: 0%
  • Spark IM Client: 0%
  • Trillian: 0%
  • JBother: 0%
  • jabber.el: 0%
  • JETI: 0%
  • JAJC: 0%
  • Class.Jabber.PHP: 0%
  • Jabberwocky: 0%
  • Tkabber: 0%
  • Gush: 0%

(all clients with at least one reply are listed here)

I also did some stats on the Linux distros. With 566 Linux users, one can consider that statistically signifiant.

  • Client answers with the kernel version, not including distribution information: 62%
  • Debian: 14%
  • Ubuntu: 12%
  • Gentoo: 2%
  • Unknown distros (not provided by the client): 2%
  • Fedora Core: 1%
  • Arch Linux: 1%
  • Mandriva: 1% (despite the fact that most users are french!)
  • Slackware: 0%

(Other distros are below 5 replies)

The Debian/Ubuntu situation is interesting. Debian is not dying, even on the desktop ! The server is hosting, so the results are biased towards Ubuntu.

Update: it seems that Psi reports “Debian GNU/Linux (testing/unstable)” even when running on Ubuntu. This is the case for ~5% of linux users.

To server admins: if you are running a large jabber server with jabberd 1.6, it’s easy to give me the right to get the list of online users, so contact me if your are interested in me doing your users stats. It would be interesting to see if users from different servers/countries have different behaviours. I’m not sure if it’s possible with ejabberd and other servers.

Efficient key signing

I just finished signing all the keys from the FOSDEM KSP.

Importing keys I received:
Mutt is nice. You can tag all messages with ‘t’, then use ‘;’ (tag-prefix) and ^K (Ctrl + K) to import all signatures. (Thanks Myon + sam for the tip)

Signing keys:
caff (featured on debaday last week) has some useful info in /usr/share/doc/signing-party/, especially the README.many-keys and README.gpg-agent files.