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Progress on the Alpha distribution at debian-ports

Hi People,

You may have noticed that we have the majority of the unstable
distribution (was over 95% a week ago) built at Debian-Ports. It is
reasonably up-to-date with many problems in the toolchain fixed, the
kernel up to date, Gnome 3 built and installable [1], and other software
like iceweasel built and working [2].  I hope some of you have it
installed and are trying it out!

I have put quite a bit of work into this over the last six months, but
is a work rate that I will not be able to keep up past April this year.
 Quite a number of people in this forum were horrified at the
discontinuation of Debian Linux on Alpha and spoke up for a rear-guard
action to get another release of the distribution.  But really it has
come down to three of us who have been working on this: myself, Bill
(running buildds) and Bob (testing and writing bug reports).  It would
be really good if others could help with the work.

I guess the big question on some people's mind is can we get an official
Wheezy release for Alpha.

My belief is that the answer is "No".

There are number of criteria for architecture recertification one of
which is having Debian Developers actively working on the port.  We have
none so we have failed before we even start.  For that reason I haven't
even bothered to approach the Debian FTP masters/release managers,
despite that on a simple measure such as build coverage we were ahead of
armhf and s390x when they were taken into the official autobuilder network.

But if people would like I could approach the Debian-Ports FTP master
about whether an unofficial "testing-like" CD could be cut from the
Alpha unstable repo at the time of the Wheezy release.  It would not
have any security support but would provide a reasonably up-to-date (as
far as Debian goes) and comprehensive build of packages for the Alpha.

That brings us to another issue, that of an installer.  The current
debian-installer fails to build on Alpha and needs some serious work if
such a CD is to be of any use.  I am not planning to work on the Debian
installer --- there are plenty of other things to do.  I will work on
aboot to bring it some new features but that is it.  Someone else will
have to step up and do the installer.

That then brings us to a fundamental problem at the moment.  Installing
the Alpha unstable distribution is problematic, so no doubt is holding
up people from trying it.  One way is to install Lenny then upgrade ---
but that requires some specialist knowledge and clever tricks to get up
it up to date with Debian-Ports.  The other way, if you already have an
Alpha with some distribution (any of Lenny, Gentoo, Centos, maybe even
Tru64 Unix or VMS) and a spare partition, is to use debootstrap to
install on the spare parition.  I intend to write up instructions on
that method on the AlphaLinux Wiki but the wiki has been down for the
last week.  Not sure when it will be working again.

Anyway, that's about as much as I wanted to say.  Please give feedback.
More people pitching in to find and fix bugs would be wonderful!


[1] Well, as installable as unstable ever is, that is, while Gnome 3 was
installable a few days ago, that may or may not be the case now.

[2] Provided that you do not use pulseaudio.  If pulseaudio is running
with a newer kernel then iceweasel will crash and will be unuseable.

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