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Re: Buying hardware with Debian money

Hi Mason,

Sorry for the delayed answer.

On 16/12/13 at 22:33 -0500, Mason Loring Bliss wrote:
> On Sun, Oct 20, 2013, Lucas Nussbaum <leader@debian.org> wrote:
> > I received a few requests for hardware purchases, that I think are worth
> > discussing with the project as a whole in order to progress towards having
> > clear guidelines for what is acceptable and what isn't in terms of spending
> > Debian money.
> > 
> > Please provide feedback on the proposed decisions -- they are not final
> > yet.
> Hello, and apologies for being so late in responding. I only noted this
> discussion after a DPL report, and it's taken me some time to subscribe and
> reply.

Thanks for your feedback, even if the decisions are final now.
Those decisions were hard to make, and I don't think that we can draw
general rules from them yet.

Some comments inlined below.

> I'd like to generally note that I'm not in favour of buying hardware for
> individual developers. Hardware for Debian infrastructure is obviously
> distinct from this, and I'd suggest that even hardware purchased for a
> particular role and maintained within the Debian infrastructure would be
> reasonable.


> Going down the list:
> > A. Memory expansion cards for m68k buildds (expected cost: 500 EUR)
> Infrastructure investment - reasonable.
> > B. Powerful machine for d-i development (expected cost: 1.5k-2k EUR?)
> Unreasonable. The developer should be using his own hardware. If the Project
> is to supply hardware, it should live within the Project's infrastructure.
> The developer is specifically noting that the machine will be running virtual
> guests for the actual development work, and as such I can't imagine why this
> cannot live inside the Debian infrastructure, thus making it more available
> to the community as a resource when this develop doesn't need it for active
> work.
> The developer argues against a remote machine, saying, "I do realize having
> some nice hardware racked up in some datacenter would be nice for testing
> purposes, but until automated regression testing is implemented, one needs to
> rely on clicking and typing into a VM, so as to debug/develop some framework
> to perform automated testing." This can readily be accomplished with VNC. The
> developer also notes that "prepairing an upload" requires a local machine,
> which, again, suggests that a machine managed within the Debian
> infrastructure doesn't present the requisite level of trust... This request
> simply bothers me. It is, I believe, too much to ask of the Project.

Some points that contributed to making this decision are:
- debian-installer is a central part of Debian, where we have
  historically had problems attracting contributors (despite trying)
- the developer in question is the main contributor to d-i, and has been
  for some time
- developing debian-installer efficiently requires fast hardware, faster
  than what can be found in a medium-range laptop
- testing debian-installer often requires running the installer
  interactively. This could be done over VNC, but this is really far
  from being comfortable. Typically, you want to be able skip very fast
  to the point that you are working on (without reading all the
  questions :-) ), and latency and low bandwidth makes this very hard.
- the machine would be only used for Debian work (my original mail said
  "primarly" -- the developer clarified in private)
- if the developer were to stop his involvement in d-i, the machine
  could be "returned" to the project

So, I really saw this purchase as purchasing "Debian infrastructure hosted
at a Developer's rather than in a datacenter".

> > C. Laptop for developer (expected cost: 1k-1.5k EUR?)
> Again, individual developers should supply their own hardware.

(that request was not approved in the end)

> My perspective: I donate a small sum to SPI, earmarked expressly for Debian,
> monthly. I imagine there are many other people who do the same thing. Seeing
> these requests for gifts from the Project makes me mentally add up how many
> months of my contributions are going to satisfy a developer's desire for
> something that he'd really ought to be providing for himself.
> I believe in the election process and I have no illusion that I'm in a
> position to try to micro-manage how the Project uses its available resources,
> but it really won't take seeing this sort of thing more than once or twice
> before I redirect this particular portion of my charitable giving elsewhere.
> I would personally be far too embarassed to ask a non-profit group to which I
> volunteered development time to give me equipment for the purpose, rather
> than simply asking for the use of Project-managed resources if my own
> resources seemed somehow insufficient.

I agree with you that using the project's resources to provide gifts to
developer is not acceptable.

On the other hand, many Debian contributors make life choices that
result, for example, in jobs where they can spend time on Debian during
work hours, in exchange of a lower income. As a result, it might not
always be possible for them to buy sufficient equipment to work on
Debian efficiently. Should Debian buy equipment for them? In general, I
don't know. Probably not unless the "impact" on the project is very much
worth it. In the case above, I still think that it was the case.

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