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Bits from the DPL: Looking around

Hello again!

Okay, one more post, just for fun :)

These days a lot of Debian users don't actually use Debian releases
directly, but rather one of the various derivatives or customised
distributions around; and it's worth having a bit of a look at what's
been going on with them recently, too.

Ubuntu introduced their first "Long Term Support" release earlier this
year, with a goal of providing a release that people can rely on for
three to five years, rather than expecting everyone to upgrade within
six to eighteen months. That's had some teething problems [0], that will
hopefully provide a useful learning experience [1] for both Ubuntu and
other distributions with similar goals, including Debian itself.

  [0] http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/50
  [1] http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/54

Another learning experience has been (and continues to be) the art of
working out how Debian and Ubuntu relate to each other. We've tried
a few things over the past few months, including working together on
Sun's relicensing of its Java implementation [2], or working on ways of
better acknowledging Ubuntu's ties to Debian [3]; but probably the most
important activity is the efforts to ensure Ubuntu's work is included
back in Debian -- both so that all of Debian's users benefit, and also
so that the Ubuntu guys can spend more of their time working on new
improvements, and less of their time managing divergence with upstream.

  [2] http://www.sun.com/smi/Press/sunflash/2006-05/sunflash.20060516.4.xml
  [3] http://lists.debian.org/debian-project/2006/07/msg00241.html

That activity comes under the broad term "Utnubu", which is probably the
Uluz term for "Others towards humanity" or similar. Utnubu work tends to
be fairly disconnected -- mostly just a couple of people from Debian and
Ubuntu who are interested in similar areas getting together and talking
and coordinating their work a bit better -- such as the Zope teams' work
on tracking the differences between the Debian and Ubuntu packages [4],
or the sysvinit teams' coordination with Ubuntu developers in supporting
new work like upstart [5] on Debian systems. There's a few attempts
being made within Debian to make it a bit more obvious how to do that,
including both the Utnubu Wiki pages [6] and the Utnubu Report [7]; and
Ubuntu are doing their part too, such as by working on documents like
"Ubuntu for Debian Developers" [8] to make it clearer what's going on,
and redirecting the "utnubu.org" domain to the Utnubu page on the Debian
wiki. A number of Ubuntu core developers have contributed their thoughts
about Ubuntu, Debian and why we can't just all get along, which you can
read in Utnubu's AboutUbuntu survey [9].

  [4] http://people.debian.org/~terpstra/message/20060919.062019.9ba5db72.en.html
  [5] http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2006/09/msg00854.html
  [6] http://wiki.debian.org/Utnubu/
  [7] http://wiki.debian.org/Utnubu/Report
  [8] https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuForDebianDevelopers
  [9] http://wiki.debian.org/Utnubu/AboutUbuntu

Another Debian derivative trying new things recently is Linspire; which
launched a new variant called Freespire [10] in August, and is aiming to
establish a development community of its own. The main difference between
Linspire/Freespire and Debian -- apart from its focus on non-technical
users -- is probably its "Click and Run" software [11], which has recently
been made available at no cost [12], and reportedly will soon be usable
via an open source client [13]. These changes haven't been without their
problems [14] of course, but they nevertheless represent yet another
way in which Debian and free software are reaching yet more people.

 [10] http://www.linspire.com/linspire_letter_archives.php?id=28
 [11] http://www.linspire.com/products_cnr_whatis.php
 [12] http://www.linspire.com/linspire_letter_archives.php?id=33
 [13] http://www.osweekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2344&Itemid=
 [14] http://www.osweekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=468&task=view&id=2

Although Xandros hasn't had quite so much recent activity (unless you
count a partnership with OSDL [15] or an "open-circulation" version of
its latest release [16]), it's worth noting that way back in May they
introduced a Debian-based server system [17] designed to match the
expectations of sysadmins with a Microsoft Windows Server background,
rather than a Unix or Linux background.

Debian and free software have tremendous mindshare in the "server" market
as it's known to Unix admins -- to the point of Nexenta being able to put
together a free Debian-based derivative of Solaris [18], and Sun employees
like Tim Bray and Alvaro Lopez promoting Debian packaging for Solaris
users in general [19]. But for admins who are accustomed to different
administration techniques, Xandros's efforts make for a good first step
at bringing them into the fold, and I'm sure there'll be more to come.

 [15] http://www.xandros.com/news/press_releases/release70.html
 [16] http://www.xandros.com/products/home/open_circulation.html
 [17] http://www.xandros.com/news/press_releases/release56.html
 [18] http://www.gnusolaris.org/
 [19] http://blogs.sun.com/alvaro?entry=why_i_do_think_opensolaris

It's probably worth an explicit mention that each of these distros have
some aspect of non-freeness about them -- Linspire makes a point of making
proprietary software and codecs easy to use on the basis that that's what
newcomers expect; Xandros SBS includes a handful of proprietary apps to
ensure that Windows' users expectations are met; and even Ubuntu, who are
committed to keeping their distro free, make use of a more proprietary
model for their "in house" apps like LaunchPad. Debian's ongoing challenge
is to find, develop and maintain free software alternatives that are
comparable to (or better than!) each of those aspects and, hopefully,
to demonstrate that making everything free right from the start is a
better approach in all aspects.

I'm sure we'll all be interested to see how that works out. :)


Anthony Towns
Debian Project Leader

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