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Re: Bits from the Release Team - Kicking off Wheezy

On Sat, Apr 30, 2011 at 11:28:17AM +0200, Marc 'HE' Brockschmidt wrote:
> In the last years, Debian hasn't been able to contribute any important
> feature to the F/OSS distribution world - change (leading to both good
> or bad results) happens at other places (namely Ubuntu) at the moment.
> I believe this has a simple, technical reason - Debian has become too
> big. Every change requires a massive amount of work on thousands of
> packages, interaction with hundreds of (sometimes absent) volunteers and
> is thus increasingly costly. This high cost makes experiments
> impossible, because backing out of a change is a waste of the scare
> resources of the Debian project.

No, no, and ... uhm ... no :-)
(although we're getting a bit off-topic here, I'll bite)

I agree with your analysis above, but exactly because I agree with it, I
argue that you cannot single out "big" as the main cause. To disprove
that as the main cause, it would be enough to notice that some of our
derivatives are, by definition, as big as Debian is, but still can make
significant changes on top of what we offer them.

So the overall issue is rather the interaction among the size and the
processes that govern that huge package repository monster that we
are. As an example, consider a maintainer willing to devote her time in
making a change that touches 300 packages. Let's assume that the change
is consensual. To deploy the change in Debian either you are lucky and:
1) all the packages are in the same VCS and 2) you've commit write
access to it (in which case you've very little procedural obstacles in
your way). Or rather you need to ping maintainers, chase the "sometimes"
absent people, do NMUs, etc. And that is the easy case where the change
is consensual!

Size is just one ingredient. There are plenty of other ways to diminish
barrier to deploy big changes in Debian: wider commit access rights,
larger VCS repositories, more liberal NMUs, etc. (Unsurprisingly,
several Debian derivatives have decide to pursue those other ways and
one might argue that they have done so learning from Debian experience.)

Of course each such change will have consequences elsewhere, but please
don't assume that size is the only problem. I've the impression that
will simply stop our creativity in improving our processes.

> Debian is perfectly good at holding the status quo - it's a
> well-integrated, stable, mostly state of the art distribution suited for
> almost anything you can come up with. Trying to repaint one of the
> existing bikesheds with your new "rolling" color will not attract the
> developers (nor users) interested in making it a hip place again.

And how do you know that?

In fact, I'm even happy to see becoming manifest the various
disagreement and different expectations we have around testing: on such
"vague" aspects it's hard to have upfront agreements.  But both you and
Raphael are taking guesses on the number of users / developers / effects
of a thing which does not exist yet. At this point, it can only be
speculation. You might disagree how much as you please, but there is
only one way to know who is right: build the thing.

As long as that does not step on others toes and as long as there are
volunteers willing to put their energy into a new experiment, that's
just fine.  Big changes after all also need people willing to go ahead
against some odds and show they were right --- or alternatively fail


> [Yes, I'm old and frustrated. Do not comment on that part.]

/me hugs Marc

Stefano Zacchiroli -o- PhD in Computer Science \ PostDoc @ Univ. Paris 7
zack@{upsilon.cc,pps.jussieu.fr,debian.org} -<>- http://upsilon.cc/zack/
Quando anche i santi ti voltano le spalle, |  .  |. I've fans everywhere
ti resta John Fante -- V. Capossela .......| ..: |.......... -- C. Adams

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