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Re: An alarming trend (no it's not flaimbait.)

On Wed, Dec 26, 2001 at 01:57:17AM -0600, ahzz-debate@vmail.terrabox.com wrote:
> 	For some time now there has been an increasing trend in people
> that I know who use debian. It is the view that debian is becoming
> increasingly "old"/outdated, and that developers either a: dont' have
> the time to properly maintain packages, or just don't care. Which the
> case is here I don't know. I'm not intimate with a lot of developers.
> However, this has been the same view that has been slowly dawning over
> me for a while now.

I don't necessarily agree that the situation is as bad as you're
painting it elsewhere in your mail, but it's entirely true that many
packages have serious quality problems.

In the relatively short time I've been a Debian developer (less than a
year), I've taken over several packages in the sort of state you
describe and got them into a better state. I've worked on several others
that have ended up in the hands of the QA group, where they may not
receive the most loving care possible (God knows,
http://bugs.debian.org/packages@qa.debian.org has enough crap on it),
but where they're certainly better off than with nobody watching them at
all. (I say this mostly to try to establish that I've been trying to do
things as well as just talking about them.)

The problem is that this is a very labour-intensive process. Taking over
a badly-maintained package means that I have yet another thing to take
care of on a long-term basis, and my to-do list is pretty long as it is.
More importantly, though, if the package wasn't already orphaned then
taking it over or working on it in any other way can turn into a
political nightmare. Offer to help some people by doing a non-maintainer
upload of their package and you'll get your head bitten off. On the
other hand, many maintainers are great about this, and would be happy to
accept help on their less urgent bugs if only anyone dared to offer it!
And of course some people will just not respond either way through lack
of time or whatever. Thus trying to take action yourself to fix
non-release-critical bugs is an unknown quantity in terms of how much
political flamage you're going to have to wade through, and it can end
up being more trouble than it's worth.

The upshot is that release-critical bugs get attention, because there
are lots of them and there's a general consensus that it's OK for other
people to step in and fix them if the maintainer doesn't have the time.
This encourages bug severity inflation because it sometimes seems like
the only reliable way to get anything done (see elsewhere in this
thread), and it unnecessarily sharpens the tone of people who are going
around fixing things ("why haven't you fixed this grave bug yet?!" - I'm
quite sure I'm guilty of this), which in turn gets maintainers' backs up
and makes them understandably less amenable to letting anybody else work
on their bugs, perpetuating the vicious circle. Then sometimes people
make mistakes in NMUs, which has been the source of any number of
flamewars on -devel in the past.

I don't know what the solution to any of this is short of having
everybody develop industrial-strength thick skins. Perhaps a standard
place where everybody could say up-front what their attitude is would be
useful (http://people.debian.org/~cjwatson/nmu.html is mine, FWIW). I
think encouraging people not to be afraid to offer help in whatever form
is a good idea, although I'm sure somebody will disagree with me.

In general we need development and quality assurance not to be at war
with one another.

> 	Ok, enough of this for tonight. I will now let you all discuss
> this amongst yourselves since I am not a developer. Should the
> situation arise that a: I have more free time, and b: that debian
> either accepts responsibility for packages, or alternativly modifies
> it's public image to one of being a packager only and keeps up with
> upstream stuff, then at that point i'd be interested in joining the
> team to make debian better.

I'd say that Debian does accept responsibility for packages, even if we
don't always discharge that responsibility. I hope you consider your
second condition fulfilled, as the only way Debian can improve is by the
efforts of its members.

Colin Watson                                  [cjwatson@flatline.org.uk]

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