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How to change the world, was: Re: Bits from the Release Team - Kicking off Wheezy


Marc laid that wonderful bait in this thread to which then Stefano
bite, and then the thread ended after some clarification by Marc
where IMHO there was no clarification needed [not shown].

On 04/30/2011 12:28 PM, Stefano Zacchiroli wrote:
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

I very much agree to what was said above - from both sides. What I would like
to add is that Debian's most amazing resource is our community. We have
an enormous outreach into many many disciplines in Engineering and Science
and academia and industry. That Open Source has achieved that, and is
getting steadily better in getting that outreach, is truly amazing. Yes,
it is increasingly difficult to manage out packages. And I have good
confidence that we will find the energy to get those changes established that
are required to get this done. We are doing so already:
 * the Debian PPAs are such a means, basically separating core and periphery of Debian
 * rolling.d.n is up for such
 * snapshots.d.o is of tremendous value, very much underrated by many
 * backports.d.o
 * community maintainerships in our blends
 * ...?

The community will become increasingly important to get their production
tools into our distribution (or into some PPA). This will especially change
our Java world more, from what I observe. When they do, this seems likely to
have a very positive impact especially on developing countries. If it does,
then we have changed the world more than with the invention of some special
technology for ourselves.

From a more technical point of view I am thrilled about the surprises and
conflicts that we will run into when they (the new Debian folks from some
special scientific or industrial background) bring their expectations about
how machines shall run and what they shall do with them. What a potential
for innovations.

I am very happy with downstream distros. We should be alarmed more when
they move away from .deb to something else. Just, when a downstream distro
does good things, then we should adopt those happily. We just need many
such downstream activities to pick from. And I expect many more efforts
to come up in a near future that combine Debian bits with some non-free
bits to address some particular audience. Let's just continue to learn
from them. All will be fine.


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