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Re: What will improve Debian most?

On Tue, Mar 24, 2009 at 09:05:07AM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
>One of the most impressive things about Debian in the past was its
>exponential growth -- users, developers, packages, architectures,
>email volume, etc -- but I wonder if that's still happening, or if
>growth is something that's been outsourced to Ubuntu somewhere along the
>line. Maintaining an exponential growth curve essentially means finding
>new ways to make Debian twice as interesting at a constant rate --
>each year or two, I'd guess.

Depending on what you're measuring, we are still growing very quickly.
The size of the archive and the number of packages are still going up
quickly. Sustaining exponential growth in terms of project size itself
*is* difficult, however, and that's where we have started to tail off.
We have more and more software to work on, but the number of
developers is not growing quite as much. Right now, we are one of the
biggest software development organisations in the world and so we get
to see some of the growth problems first. We tend to have a very flat
structure in Debian, without the usual hierarchy that you'd see in
most similarly-sized commercial organisations. That's a wonderful
thing in my opinion, but it can also lead to problems in communication
and making larger decisions.

We need to encourage more people to experiment with new ideas, rather
than simply live with the status quo all the time. Larger projects
have inertia, and we have to acknowledge that: either push things more
to overcome it, or work around it for the new ideas until they're
ready for wider adoption. The DM initiative and newer discussions
about debian membership are a good start to making working on Debian
more light-weight.

We also must make it easier for other people in the larger Debian
family to work within Debian so that their great ideas and
contributions make it to a wider audience rather than just their
particular project. Some of the derived distros may not care about
that, but for many it should be a no-brainer that working directly
with the Debian teams and pushing changes up reduces work in the

>So here's the question, and really the only part of this mail that
>warrants a response:
>    Over the next twelve months, what single development/activity/project
>    is going to improve Debian's value the most? By how much? How will
>    you be involved?

I believe that the most important thing we need to do is to work out
exactly what we want the Debian project to be, in terms of membership.
Making it clearer and easier for people to gain recognition for
whatever work they're doing on or with Debian is far and away the best
way to enourage more people to get involved. For example, we're
currently claim to be the "Universal Operating System", but we don't
work at all for many of the people in the world as we don't support
their languages. We need more translators to help with that work.

In terms of strict numbers, I won't pretend to know what the
difference will be. It's not going to be measureable immediately,
anyway. The DPL needs to be involved to help push these changes, I
think, and to help publicise them both as we work on them and
afterwards to get more people on board.

What do *you* think is the best thing we could do?

>Bonus question: in retrospect, what single activity/etc over the past
>twelve months improved Debian the most? By how much? (Can you really
>justify that?) How were you involved?

I think that in the last 12 months one of the biggest improvements has
been making significant changes to our core teams. We have had a few
years' worth of stagnation in some cases, and really good people
struggling to keep up with their commitments and losing their morale
to do so. We now have a lot more new blood in place, and plans to
introduce more. We have better processes in place as well, that will
scale better for more people and more workload. It's not perfect yet
(and never will be!), but things are better. I won't claim too much
credit here - the real work is down to the team members involved. But
I did step in and start pushing for those changes in a number of

Numbers? Meh: what do you think? :-)

Steve McIntyre, Cambridge, UK.                                steve@einval.com
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There's someone in my head but it's not me 

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