Challenging times for Debian

So, the release team announced yesterday that squeeze will freeze in december 2009. This decision was motivated by several things (TTBOMK):

  • while time-based releases are not a good idea for Debian (“We release when it’s ready”), time-based freezes make a lot of sense, and gives every team the opportunity to do its own scheduling
  • freeze in december / release in spring work well (no freeze during debconf, longer nights to hack on Debian)
  • Ubuntu releases LTS versions every two years. Freezing in december 2009 will allow to synchronize with future LTS releases, provide many packages with the same version, and leverage that for support.

Now, this decision raises several questions:

  • will there be attempts to overrule it? Strangely, the discussion at debconf was quite calm. Of course, there are counter-arguments, but nobody has mentioned the willingness to overrule the decision. This has been mentioned by people who are not at Debconf, who might have a different POV.
  • will we manage to freeze in a reasonable state? We will need to rely on fully functional infrastructure: working buildds, short NEW queue, transitions that don’t block stuff for too long, etc.
  • will we manage to leverage collaboration with Ubuntu? Releasing with about the same versions is one thing, but how will we work together while preparing those versions?
  • after the releases (both Ubuntu’s and Debian’s), users will get to choose between two very similar distributions. We need to think about how Debian will differenciate itself from Ubuntu: what should we emphasize? How are we relevant?

Anyway, it seems that we have gone a long way in just a few years. In january 2006, while I was not a DD yet, I prodded Raphael Hertzog about sending his famous “For those who care about their packages in Ubuntu” email, where we described the Ubuntu release process for their first LTS release. The goal was to give interested DDs a chance to take a look at the status of their packages in Ubuntu, so Ubuntu would release with the best possible version. 3.5 years later, we are talking about synchronizing releases.

7 thoughts on “Challenging times for Debian

  1. I love this.

    Debian still has an edge over Ubuntu LTS because there are better backports and you take packages from testing and unstable.

    There are just less bugs in Debian ;)

  2. Ubuntu is a competitor (an enemy if you will) of Debian, so Debian should not help Ubuntu.

  3. I feel that the real winner here is Ubuntu. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS was a disaster quality-wise. They want stable platform to build their LTSes from. What exactly are the benefits for (a) Debian users, (b) Debian developers?

    I’m pretty sure that many Debian developers will feel that this makes them working for Canonical/Ubuntu. Can be really demotivating.

  4. I personally think that Ubuntu and Debian can benefit by cooprerating. As for which will the users prefer, I think the people who use Debian are not total newcomers to the Lunux world. They have settled on Debian for a long time, Debian has one of the biggest (second to Ubuntu’s) community. At least I have been using Debian for at least 18 months and don’t tink of moving. I doubt the other long-time Debian fans would do so. Moreover, the DFSG, the souperiour Debian quality control and – at least IMO – vanilla nature of Debian won’t easily lose users. More likely it will win from other grounds, like Red Hat/Suse.

  5. I’ll attempt to answer some of Lucas’ questions. Of course, this is just my POV.

    – The freeze will almost certainly come at a bad time, with toolchain bugs, at least one broken release architecture, 700+ RC bugs and a lot of half-baked last-minute changes. Sorting this out will result in an even longer period between freeze and release than was the case in Lenny.

    – Debian will not really release with the same versions as Ubuntu. As a matter of fact, Ubuntu’s development version is based on alpha and beta software rather than latest stable upstream releases as in Debian. So many packages in Ubuntu main will differ from their Debian counterparts. This means that the collaboration will be rather one-sided: Ubuntu will take over whatever fixes Debian applies to the packages that they do not develop themselves, but fixes for Ubuntu packages will often not be applicable for the older versions that Debian ships.

    – Debian stable will have very little to offer compared to Ubuntu LTS, releasing later and with older software. The strong emphasis on freedom is really Debian’s only asset, but even that is a burden for many users: installations are painful if you need to download firmware for your network card over the network, and large parts of the system are simply undocumented until you put non-free in your sources.list and install GNU documentation from there.

    Maybe I’m overpessimistic here, but I think this synchronization is a 100% win for Canonical and a 90% loss for Debian.

  6. >will we manage to leverage collaboration with Ubuntu? Releasing with >about the same versions is one thing, but how will we work together >while preparing those versions?

    I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Now that Launchpad is open source, we could do a implementation of it, which could allow us to synchronize some things(I don’t fully know still which components were released), and somewhat work with their own workflow, or just part of it.

    It’s just an idea, I think i’ll try to figure this out and plan what can be done in this matter.

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