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Re: [gnu.misc.discuss,gnu.emacs.gnus] Free software: Packagers vs Developers

[debian-emacsen removed, because I don't like to send mail to lists I don't 
read. Also, I don't want to talk about Emacs-specific problems.]

[Per included in because I don't like to criticize people who are absent.]

On Thursday 1 July 1999, at 20 h 37, the keyboard of Rafael Laboissiere 
<rafael@icp.inpg.fr> wrote:

> From: Per Abrahamsen <abraham@dina.kvl.dk>
> Newsgroups: gnu.misc.discuss,gnu.emacs.gnus
> Subject: Free software: Packagers vs Developers
> Date: 01 Jul 1999 19:03:38 +0200

> versions of free software.  All the major Linux distributions does it,
> perhaps to gain a competitive advantage, but Debian seems to be worse
> than the rest. 

Per, could you elaborate on that? As a Debian user, I do not see this and, 
actually, one of the most common things that people criticize in Debian is 
quite the opposite: they find that many packages use an old version (because 
the Debian maintainer is too careful, or too lazy, to upgrade).

> Perhaps because they have so many package maintainers
> (500+), each of whom feel the need to make a difference.

Pure theory. Again, I would like facts. Among all the packages I maintain, the 
only one which is really decoupled from upstream is queso, because the 
upstream maintainer do not reply to any mail, even containing patches. That's 
why the queso package of Debian is 64-bits clean, unlike the upstream tarball, 
works with rejecting routes, unlike the upstream tarball, etc.

But our changes are available publically, in the source package, so, even if 
the Debian developer does not forward patches, anyone can submit them upstream.

> I know that we developers have to live with _some_ changes being made
> in order for the software to work together in a distribution, but it
> would be nice if some ethical guidelines among packagers could be
> developed to supplement the current Debian rules, like:

I suggest, both to upstream authors and to packagers to not rely on *ethics* 
but on *rules*: there is the licence (if the Alpha release is distributed with 
a different licence, which prevents redistribution, follow that licence), the 
Debian policy (which prevents point number 3, see under), etc.

> 1) _Never_ distribute alpha releases.

This cannot be turned into a formal rule, because there is no naming standard. 
I prefer to use an alpha of procmail than a final release of MSIE.

> 2) _Never_ distribute improved versions.

If we cannot do that, it is no longer free software. Period. And if the Debian 
changes are really an improvment (patches can introduce new bugs, too), I 
appreciate them.

> 3) _Never_ distribute with different "user preference" options 
>    than the default.

No. This would suppress the whole idea of a distribution. It means we should 
ship Netscape with home.netscape.com as the default?

> 4) Keep bug fixes and interoperability changes to an absolute minimum.

Good idea. Adam formalized it well, but the Packaging manual talks also about 

> With the right software and
> the right standards, it would just be another Makefile target.
> Distributors would then collect the already made packages, and we
> would avoid the middlemen in most cases.

Middlemen, which seems so despised, have a role: they write man pages when they are missing (most of my packages), they fix bugs, because we have a good Bug Tracking System, which most upstream authors do not have, they port, because Debian runs on many systems, etc.

Reading back my work on my packages, I can feel confident that we are not social parasits. We add value.

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