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Re: On cadence and collaboration

Hi Marc

Marc Haber wrote:
this is kind of a personal reply; I am therefore writing this to you
directly and only Cc'ing debian-project, and I do not know whether you
read that mailing list.
On Wed, Aug 05, 2009 at 10:21:38AM +0100, Mark Shuttleworth wrote:
I've stayed quiet in this discussion, though several folks have invoked
my name and ascribed motivations to me that were a little upsetting. I'm
not responding to that here,
A pity. I bet many people would like to hear that response.

I've tried to clarify my motivations without responding to personal attacks.

I hear this story all the time from upstreams. "We'd like to help
distributions, but WHICH distribution should we pick?"
I have never heard that story from an upstream, neither have I heard
that other maintainers have heard that. Especially not from the
upstream who consider themselves big and powerful.
At the last Linux Collaboration Summit, a panel of kernel leaders said exactly this. We see more and more upstreams adopting time-based releases, and cadences of 3 or 6 months. A few are starting to think about 2-year long-term releases, too. So it fits.

Adopting a broad pattern of cadence and collaboration between many
distributions won't be a silver bullet for ALL of those problems, but it
will go a very long way to simplifying the life of both upstreams and
distribution maintainers.
It will also cost the free software ecosystem a lot of what's one of
its most major properties: diversity.
Diversity in distributions comes from choice of components, not from choice of component versions. Version skew just makes it much harder to collaborate.

 If upstream knows, for example, that MANY distributions will be
 shipping a particular version of their code and supporting it for
 several years (in fact, if they can sit down with those distributions
 and make suggestions as to which version would be best!) then they
 are more likely to be able to justify doing point releases with
 security fixes for that version... which in turn makes it easier for
 the security teams and maintainers in the distribution.
In practice, most upstreams adopt a "you're using a version that's two
weeks old, go update to our current development snapshot and see
yourself whether the bug is still there" attitude.
That's true. To upstream there is "tip" (which all real developers run, right? ;-)) and then there's "the cloud of released versions which distributions are still shipping". It's hard to get their attention about the particular version that any one distribution is shipping, but I think it's reasonable to believe it would be easier to get their attention about a version that *many* distributions adopted.

Well, the first thing is to agree on the idea of a predictable cadence.
Although the big threads on this list are a little heartbreaking for me
to watch, I'm glad that there hasn't been a lot of upset at the idea of
a cadence in Debian so much as *which* cadence. We can solve the latter,
we couldn't solve the former. So I'm happy at least at that :-)
Most upset that happened on the lists and in real life was about that
Debian learned about your collaboration from a Debian press release.
I agree, that was unfortunate.

As pointed out on this list, Debian and Ubuntu share a great deal.
I wouldn't call that "share".
We share many things, in the sense of having many things in common.

Do you believe that this is an unfair, or unbalanced relationship? What does Ubuntu take from you, beyond that which you have freely given? And whatever Ubuntu brings back to Debian, is that not of value?

 We have largely common package names (imagine what a difference that
 will make to practical discussions over IRC ;-))
Right, this makes it much easier for Ubuntu users to pester Debian
people with the problems that the Ubuntu community wasn't able to
solve by itself.

 (most of the strongest Ubuntu
 contributors are or have been very strong Debian contributors too,
yes, and have usually stopped doing their debian duties without
properly stepping down upon their engagement with Ubuntu. This has
greatly harmed Debian a few years ago when Ubuntu was still hatching,
and has obviously also helped Ubuntu in getting more momentum than
Debian since Ubuntu took privileges from Debian which slowed down
Debian a great deal.
The people concerned, for whom I have a great deal of respect, don't agree.

 and many new Debian maintainers have come to the project through
Yes. Ubuntu should think about the reason for Ubuntu people changing
over to Debian.
We see this differently. When a person comes to free software as an Ubuntu user, starts contributing to Ubuntu, then begins the process of becoming a Debian maintainer, and succeeds at it, I celebrate a win for free software. It helps greatly with the relationship and with general understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses.

. When I look over the commentary on debian-devel and in debbugs and
on #debian-devel, I see a lot of familiar names from Ubuntu,
especially on the deep, hard problems that need solving at the core.
>From new people that weren't hired over to Ubuntu from Debian?
Yes, that too.

So, practically, we would be in a good position to collaborate.
Of course. Ubuntu _is_ Debian in a very big part.
Agreed, and I've said so in every single relevant public statement and interview.

I see mails
on this list saying it would be easier and better for Debian to
coordinate with distributions that I think would be almost *impossible*
to work with practically,
It is almost impossible to work with Ubuntu as soon as one doesn't agree.
Collaboration between people who agree on everything is easy. I'm much more impressed when people who don't agree on everything find ways to collaborate.

How do I think it could work in practice? Well, if Debian and Ubuntu
went ahead with the summit in December, where we reviewed plans for 2010
and identified opportunities to collaborate, I think we would get (a)
several other smaller distributions to participate, and (b) several
upstreams to participate.
You're a true visionary.
Thank you! But the credit for the idea belongs elsewhere, I'm just supporting it because I think it's a good idea.

A December summit is not about tying anybody's hands. It's about looking
for opportunities, where they exist naturally, and communicating those
more widely.
At least Debian has epically failed in "wide communication" of this
decision by first putting out a press release before informing the
community itself.

First, there has been no secret cabal or skunkworks effort to influence

 As best I can tell, folks from both Debian and Ubuntu who have deep
 insight into release management established a shared interest in
 working together better, at many levels, and this was one idea that
 came forward. The fact that those discussions were open and ongoing
 was no secret
It surely was. The Debian world outside of the Release Team didn't
know zilch.
...and the DPL, though I hasten to add I don't bring his name into it to get him added to the list of Conspirators, but to say that the conversations have not been limited to one group, as far as I know.

I agree very strongly that it would have been better to caucus more widely before debconf, and before any announcement of a "decision".

 - I wouldn't have talked about it in the media if it were!
 (Ironically, someone suggested that the fact that I was talking
 publicly about something in Debian implied there was a secret cabal.
You were talking publicly about things that were happening inside
Debian that Debian didn't know of.
Well, how do you define "Debian knows"? Obviously, the announcement catalysed a lot more knowing, but it's not sensible to suggest that any conversation in Debian is only relevant if every DD is part of it from start to finish.

I have always tried to make sure that I speak regularly with the DPL -
some DPL's have not responded to that at all, others have been happy to
speak. Steve and I have spoken about every quarter, which is great, and
we focus those conversations on ways we can make collaboration better.
So you have better contact to the DPL than Debian itself has. A
disturbing thought. Are you going to run as DPL next term?
No, I fear that would be divisive.

Finding teams we can introduce to one another. Finding ways to
communicate better.
I don't think that Debian needs to find ways to communicate with
Ubuntu. It needs to find ways to communicate with Debian.
A very wise guy (Jerry Weinberg) said on a really great course for engineering leaders I attended (PSL - highly recommended) that "information/communication is a weak substitute for trust". He meant that, when people don't trust each other, they  demand more communication. Think about it. If you don't trust your girlfriend, you demand to know more about where she's been.

I think Debian needs to find ways to trust itself more.

It's very difficult to be a leader in Debian, or to show initiative. Nobody thanks you for doing hard work and thinking about things, until your stuff hits the headlines, and then EVERYBODY has an opinion, usually critical, sometimes harshly so. That acts as a disincentive to leadership.

In both cases, the individuals and teams concerned have a mandate from
their organisations to think problems through and speak for the project.
They have the mandate, but I consider it a courtesy to not exercise
that mandate without prior discussion for a decision _this_ important.
Debian failed to have this courtesy.
I agree, significant mistakes were made. DebConf is not Debian. And since we're talking about coordinating work on major components it would have been very sensible to discuss this with the teams running those major components. Some such discussions did happen, but only where there are already strong relationships. That was not enough.

Large organisations can't work any other way. I was stunned when I saw
the announcement of a "decision" because I know that Debian works by
building steady consensus
That's what I thought before July this year.

Second, this is not about Debian changing to meet the needs of Ubuntu.
It isn't?
No, as I wrote separately, this is more about signalling an emerging cadence across multiple distributions. For many reasons, it's easier for more commercial organisations to plan in years, and the proposal from the Debian release team happens to make that work well.

As I've said elsewhere, Ubuntu would be happy to reach a compromise if
needed to work with Debian and others.
Not necessary, Debian submitted to Ubuntu's demands immediately. Lucky
That may be your impression, but I think for the folks who spent a lot of time on it, it was a considered process. Ubuntu also did not make any demands. We did not specify a date. We did not apply any pressure.

 Alternatively, with Debian specifically, we can contribute
 resources to help Debian meet a stretch (or squeeze ;-)) goal.
As you did in the past, for examply by hiring away half of the already
understaffed ftp team and not enouraging them to step back from their
Debian posts after reducing their time spent on Debian even more?
I apologise if my actions have caused you hurt in the past. It was never intentional.

But most importantly, this whole thing will have it's best and biggest
impact if it goes beyond Ubuntu and Debian.
I don't think it will.
OK, but could you be willing to find out if it can?

 The debate on this list has mostly been about "Ubuntu vs Debian",
 which misses the real goal: let's send a signal to upstreams that
 they can participate and help shape the way end users will experience
 their software.
KDE will most probably not shift their release schedules for two
distributions that ship GNOME as their default.
Mandriva would be a likely candidate to participate as well. And I think SUSE could be convinced if we can get past this debate, too.

I see many mails on this list from people who are clearly absolutely
certain in their minds that "Ubuntu is an evil thief of Debian's work".
I am not one of these. I just think that Ubuntu doesn't give a lot of
the praise it gets for distributing "foolproof Linux" back to Debian.
And I am disturbed that Canonical/Ubuntu actually manages to get the
impression of a commericially supported Linux distribution along to
the commercial world, a discipline which Debian has epically failed in
the last ten years. But, again, not your fault.

I'm saddened that the loudest voices
seem to be those who are vociferous in their opposition to Ubuntu,
rather than those who are finding ways to make things better.
Do you have an idea why this is so?
Human nature.

 I'm saddened that a good idea - a sounder basis for collaboration,
 backed by real investment and effort - gets crushed on the rocks of
 hate from folks who do not make the bulk of the contribution.
Do you propose that one can only voice his opinion if one maintains a
lot of important packages?

There are very good people, with long histories in Debian, who have
pointed out the positive things that have come from Ubuntu. Listen to
And why not to the others?
Because some people speak for the drama of being on stage, and not for the good of the audience.

Ubuntu is in a great position to help with big and deep changes that
need to be made.
Why doesn't Ubuntu simply do that? Why didn't Ubuntu do these things
in the past?
We do, Marc.

I stayed away from DebConf this year - the
first time in six years - because I didn't want to be a flashpoint for
... or because you knew there was a bombshell going to be placed?
No, that was not my reasoning.

To achieve anything together, we'll both need to work together, we'll
need to make compromises or we'll need to contribute effort to the other
Debian has always contributed effort to the other side, even before
before deciding to have freezes in a way that would allow Ubuntu to
always have more recent software in their LTS release than Debian has
in stable.
In fact, I think the current proposal is more likely to give Debian the option to update to newer versions after that is not possible for Ubuntu.

I don't believe there is any advantage to Ubuntu or Debian in having newer versions in long term supported releases. I think there are disadvantages to having spuriously different versions.

 If the Debian community is willing to consider a December freeze,
 then Ubuntu (and Canonical) will commit resources to help Debian meet
 that goal.
I will only believe this happening if I saw it.
If you make the commitment to give this a try, you have my public word I will stand by my commitment too.


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