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Redesigning Debian as a metadistro

Title 1: Downstreaming Debian on purpose
Title 2: Redesigning Debian as a metadistro
Title 3: Debian encouraging derivatives

* TL;DR : Encourage Debian derivatives officially. At the same time setup or develop some tools to make derivatives work more direct (Live CDs, Installer, Archive) and document how they have to use it. Finally make sure that these same tools makes it far more easy than today for derivatives to contribute their own customisations and packages back to Debian.

* Introduction

As a newcomer in Debian I find that, almost any Human project actually, Debian is very Debian-centric. Probably you might think that my idea is the wrong one. The wrong method to use or the wrong path to walk.

* Debian (centric) view on derivatives

The Debian centric view on derivatives consists on encouraging derivatives to work as much as possible into Debian itself. ** Have you a custom package that only your Derivative uses ? Make sure it makes it into Debian. ** Has your Live CD a feature that makes it special? Please contribute back to Debian Live project.

* Turning around Debian centric view

So the main idea not focusing so much about people contributing back directly to Debian but rather to encourage people to make Debian derivatives. So, yes, that's basically it.

* About tools for enabling Debian derivatives

So the big problem here is that there is no tool for making a Debian derivative. I mean, I suppose there is such tools. I know live-build which uses also live-boot so that you can make a Debian Live cd. There's probably a tool for making Debian cds. And you know there might be other tools.

However my point here is that there is not an official guide or a set of recommended tools to encourage people to, somehow, fork Debian, and make their own derivatives.

So, currently if we take a look at the 'Derivatives Guidelines' wiki page (https://wiki.debian.org/Derivatives/Guidelines) and 'Derivatives' wiki page (https://wiki.debian.org/Derivatives) we don't see any explicit encouragement that Derivatives uses a set of tools. We can find a project about Merging derived distributions back to Debian (Who did not expect that? You are Debian centric, aren't you ;) ?). And if we look at how to De-/Re-branding so there are some files that you are supposed to handle manually.

So Debian as a distro enforces the use of tools (in the broad meaning of term) which are the postint, preinst scripts on Debian packages on how to deal with new programs on your system. But when it comes to advice derivates it says: Oh, here there are some files that you might interested on changing. Figure out how on your own.

* Recommended Tools / Howtos that should be there
** How to make a derivative live cd from a Debian Live CD.
** How to make a derivative with your own repositories
** How to make a derivative with mixed Debian and your own repositories
** How to make your Debian-CD (your installer disk) out of your repositories

* Why Debian should do that ?

So if you are a Debian developer you will ask yourself. Why do we have to do so many stuff ? This will not help Debian because it will not be as easy as it is now to get back changes or improvements from the Derivatives to Debian. Because we basically encourage to do the work outside Debian itself.

Well, I haven't finished my explanation. Here there comes the metadistro concept. Around 2006 in Spain metadistros was a project that aimed at joining efforts around distributions makers. One or tools from there were known for making it easier to build your own distro from a Debian or an Ubuntu basis.

So what I mean here is that I recommend you to develop these recommended tools. The idea is that these tools would be able to easily generate a patch (or set of patches) or whatever. Later on you can integrate it back into Debian.

So if you make a tool that builds a derivative live cd out of a Debian Live CD the special --contribute-back-to-debian switch will generate these patches, these tree of custom packages with their own source Debian packages, etc.

Well, I'm not an expert, you probably know (Because of the Debian derivatives patch current effort) what you want to back to Debian.

* Distro ranking

If I have not convinced you yet I will say that in some specialised sites they measure the distros health by the number of derivatives. These new tools would, for sure, encourage derivatives while, as I have said, enabling an easy way of handling efforts from derivatives back to Debian.


So that's it. As you might guess from this email I think that Debian Derivatives effort is a very good one. But in my humble opinion it lacks what I have described here to be a complete nexus between Derivatives and Debian.

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