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Re: Ubuntu discussion at planet.debian.org

On Sat, 23 Oct 2004 01:04:41 +0200, Jérôme Marant <jmarant@nerim.net> wrote:
> As soon as testing is strictly equal to unstable regarding package
> versions, testing is roughly ready for release.

I think this observation is acute -- as applied to the _current_
"testing" mechanism.

Personally, I view "testing" as a QA system for the release process,
not a sensible distribution for anyone (developer or end user) to be
running on a "real" system.  My understanding of the mechanism by
which packages propagate into testing is that there's only one
interesting thing about it: the _reason_ why any given package fails
to propagate.  The automated dependency analysis takes some of the
personality conflicts out of the assessment of the release status, and
provides macroscopic milestones (systematic transition to library X,
version upgrade to desktop suite Y) during a certain phase of the
release cycle.

I am in the interesting position of serving as buildmaster for an
"appliance" incorporating a snapshot of a subset of Debian unstable. 
(I may perhaps deserve some flamage for not keeping up communication
with the Debian project while working on this, more or less in
isolation.  Allow me to plead that the pressure of circumstances has
been rather intense, and I am hoping that recent management changes
will result in more follow-through on promises of return contributions
of time and other resources.)

Perhaps I've just been lucky, but I haven't had any technical trouble
at all due to the choice of "unstable".  The only issue I encountered
was an upstream-induced regression in MySQL 4.0.21, which would have
hit me anyway (we bought MySQL's commercial support contract, but I
have no desire to ship any bits that haven't been through the hands of
the Debian packager, who seems to be on top of the situation). 
snapshot.debian.net was a real lifesaver on this one, allowing me to
choose the particular historical version I wanted for the affected

When sarge releases, I'm going to want to be able to sync the boxes in
the field up to sarge so that they can participate in the "stable"
security maintenance process.  In the best of all possible worlds, I'd
have some guarantee that sarge will contain package versions no lower
than today's unstable, at least for the packages I'm bundling.  But I
don't think it's at all reasonable to expect that kind of a guarantee,
and I'm just going to have to do my own QA on the upgrade/downgrade
process from the snapshot I've chosen to the eventual "golden" sarge.

If Jérôme's observation is correct, then I don't need to worry;
unstable will converge to a consistent state under the watchful eyes
of the RM (and many others), testing will rise to meet it, and the
worst that might happen is that some of the packages I've chosen could
be excluded from sarge because of a quality problem or an ill-timed
maintainer absence.  This would be an inconvenience but hardly grounds
for complaint about Debian's release process.

In this light (and for my purposes), the only sensible place to branch
stable off from unstable is at a point where the major subsystems are
all going to be reasonably maintainable on the branch.  Perhaps we're
close to such a point now and just haven't been for a while, for
reasons largely beyond the Debian project's control.  (Apart from the
definition of its "major subsystems", that is; note that Ubuntu
doesn't expect to be able to provide the level of support for KDE that
they plan for Gnome, and it appears to me that the effect of changes
in the C++ toolchain on KDE has been a significant factor in delaying
sarge.  Do tell me if I'm mistaken about that, but please don't flame
too hard; I'm not casting aspersions on KDE or g++/libstdc++, just
recording an impression.)

To me, the miracle is that a "stable" distribution is possible at all,
given human nature and the scope of the Debian archive.  The old adage
about sausage and the law goes double for software, perhaps because
it's a sort of sausage (a composite product of many, er, committed
contributors) stuffed with law (part logic and part historical
circumstance).  I have to admit that it takes a strong stomach to
watch the sausage being made and then eat it anyway, but it helps to
focus on how much better it is than one's other options in sausages. 
That's still how I feel about Debian, with good reason.

- Michael

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