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Why XFree86 4.2 Isn't in Woody

A couple of people on a recent thread in debian-devel linked to a
message I recently posted on Slashdot on this subject.  I had thought
about posting this information to Debian's lists as well, but at the
time, didn't see a need.

Thanks to that recent thread, now I see a need.  :)

  Well, I myself am not exactly thrilled that woody won't have 4.2 in
  it, but:

  As you said, I've been busy with getting 4.1.x stable. For Debian,
  this means much more than it does for some vendors. In woody, we
  support 11 architectures: alpha, arm, hppa, ia64, i386, m68k, mips,
  mipsel, powerpc, s390, and sparc. For how many of these machine
  architectures do Slackware, Mandrake, or Red Hat have 4.1.x, let alone
  4.2, available? XFree86 themselves don't test or prepare distribution
  tarballs for several of these architectures. Debian is the de facto
  portability laboratory for XFree86 on Linux. Sure, I'll grant you that
  a lot of people, the kinds with the overclocked Pentium 4's and the
  latest GeForce card, really don't care about portability, or
  supporting architectures they've never heard of. But portability is
  important to me and it's important to Debian. I refuse to treat
  non-i386 users like second-class citizens. Those who want CVS HEAD,
  are best advised to learn how to check it out and type "make World".
  I'm sure that Pentium 4 overlocked to 3 GHz will compile the X source
  tree pretty quickly. :-) The single most amazing thing about all the
  hate mail I've received for not having 4.2 Debian packages ready --
  aside from the fact that I started receiving it about two days after
  it was tagged upstream -- is that people seem to be laboring under the
  delusion that I have some kind of secret tools locked away in a vault,
  and that I am the only person who has the power to create packages.
  Sure, I'm probably better at doing XFree86 debs than most people,
  since I've been doing it for so long, but there's no great secret.
  I'm sure that with half an hour of manpage reading, a reasonably
  intelligent person can learn everything he needs to produce XFree86
  4.2 debs for himself that will work well enough to satisfy his
  impatient self. Hey, I like to see the latest and greatest of
  everything, too -- that's why I use apt-listchanges, but I don't go
  haranguing the Debian developers to package up a new upstream version
  when I can clearly tell that they're working on other things for the

  On a related note, 4.2 just plain won't work on some of Debian's
  supported machines because we need the PCI Domain support, which is
  currently a branch in XFree86 CVS and did not make it into the 4.2
  release. So for us, releasing 4.2 doesn't just mean releasing 4.2. It
  means releasing 4.2 plus some very large patches in very critical
  parts of the server code. You really, really want a good long
  opportunity to shake that sort of thing out, since Debian's 4.2 may
  not behave exactly as XFree86's 4.2 does.

  I don't just package the thing tagged xf-4_2_0 and leave it at that. I
  track hotfixes commited both to the latest release's branch and to
  HEAD, and incorporate them into Debian's packages if they work and if
  they make the packages better from a quality standpoint. Ask ATI video
  card users about 4.2.0 and "composite sync" sometime. (This isn't to
  dog the XFree86 Project. Software has bugs. Software releases with
  bugs. But, knowing about the default composite sync issue which
  affects so many users, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore it.)

  I didn't expect it to take until May for woody to release. Back in
  January, I felt sure that there was no way Anthony Towns would accept
  4.2 into woody; when I sounded him out at the time about it he sounded
  kind of skeptical. Needless to say, the longer it takes woody to
  release, the worse a decision this is, but I don't have control over
  the release process. (Strictly speaking, Anthony doesn't either --
  meaning, he can declare a release, sure, but he can't force people at
  gunpoint to fix the remaining release critical bugs. And Debian's
  philosophy has been to release when "it's ready", not when some
  marketroid tells us to, and thus just live with whatever whopper bugs
  happen to be in the release that day.)

  So, that's why XFree86 4.2 isn't in woody.

I'll also add that some of my time (some of it paid for by my employer)
has being going towards trying to solve a problem that people have been
complaining about even more loudly -- and for a greater duration -- than
the absence of XFree86 4.2 Debian packages: Debian's installer.

Some people just don't like Debian's existing text-mode installer, no
matter how flexible it is.  They want a GUI installer, darn it.
Progeny's version of Debian got pretty positive reviews, and several
people said Progeny "solved" the "problem" with Debian's installer.
Thus, a vastly improved version of Progeny's installer is now available.
You can read about it at:


PGI is not yet at 1.0, but has performed dozens (perhaps hundreds, by
now) of successful woody installations on i386 and ia64 hardware.  If
you use either of these platforms, please check it out.  Additionally,
thanks to Jimmy Kaplowitz a PowerPC port is underway.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can perform a PGI install using
XFree86 4.2. (So are S3 Trio64 users, IBM Thinkpad T21 users, etc.)
Both projects are important to me.

G. Branden Robinson                |    I've made up my mind.  Don't try to
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    confuse me with the facts.
branden@debian.org                 |    -- Indiana Senator Earl Landgrebe
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |

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