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Joining the fray: Why Debian matters

February 7, 2011 11 comments

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

As mentioned in this blog in the past, and as mentioned to various people who ask, I don’t like the six-month release cycle. I can go further: I hate it. There’s nothing like getting comfortable with a distro, only to be prodded to update to the latest, greatest improvements — in many instances the improvements are both great and welcome, but then the cycle of getting comfortable starts all over again.

This is why we run the office of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, on Fedora 10. That’s right, Fedora 10; a two-year old version of Fedora which reached it’s so-called “end of life” already. Know why? It has worked since I installed it, and I’ve tweaked it to do what needs to be done to run the business. I’m too busy futzing with other people’s computers and too busy developing our FOSS server project to budget time tweaking the business computer. So I left it at that particular version because, simply, it just works.

So in many ways that we’ll probably not cover here, thank God for Debian and, for one reason for gratitude, its “we’ll release it when it’s good and ready” release cycle. Debian 6.0 “Squeeze” was just released over the weekend and its release prompted a couple of interesting items from two of FOSS’s best writers.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote in a blog item that says that Debian is not as important as it once was. He concludes with the following: “Debian is still important. Its developers do a lot of the hard work of mixing and matching basic Linux components and many open-source programs into the strong, reliable foundation that other versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu and MEPIS use. But, while Linux programmers will continue to appreciate Debian, it seems to me that Debian is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the larger user community that Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, and openSUSE has brought into the Linux fold.”

Meanwhile, Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier doesn’t exactly concur in his blog item that says that Debian is still relevant; not only this, it matters more than ever.

Give them both a look. I’ll wait.

So who’s right, Steven or Joe?

Yes.

Both are right, to varying degrees, though I think they’re coming at the issue from different perspectives: Steven from the popular use aspect, and Joe from the development and contribution side of things.

Debian never gets the credit it deserves by the wider public, and that may be OK with them; or not. Personally, I think this is a tragedy — my first distro in 2006 was Debian, and while I went to Ubuntu and then to Fedora, Debian was the one where I started. If you started with Ubuntu, you really started with Debian.

That’s because without Debian, there’s no Ubuntu. Without Debian, there’s no Linux Mint. Without Debian, there’s no Mepis. The list goes on, and it’s huge.

[Meanwhile, in a classic case of ADD, I found this link in one of the responses to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' blog -- it's an update of a poster we used in Lindependence in 2008 and shows the "family tree" of GNU/Linux. If you look at the chart, you can see all the distros which can trace their roots to Debian.]

So is Debian still relevant? Depends on how you look at it. Is it eclipsed in use by easier-to-use distros, some of which don’t contribute back in proportion to what they take? In that sense, it’s relevancy arguably is waning.

But in uplifting the FOSS paradigm, maintaining GNU/Linux’s progress in development, offering options to architectures that are thought to be extinct, and sending improvements upstream for the benefit of all, and not just for itself, then, is Debian relevant? Yeah. Hell, yeah. Debian is relevant in a big way.

In a big way.

[Incidentally, as an aside, "Squeeze" will go on the PowerPC boxes in the "Jungle Room," the name for the Redwood Digital Research computer lab. Elvis would have wanted it that way.]

And, once again, here are the last three words of a well-traveled Buddhist sutra: “Don’t Waste Time.” Even if it means releasing your distro in more-than-six-month cycles.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Don’t fear the beard

January 27, 2011 9 comments

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

During the 2010 baseball season, the San Francisco Giants — the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants (yours truly never tires of saying that) — had a slogan, “Fear the Beard.” Most of the pitching staff — relievers and closer Brian Wilson specifically — were bearded pitching machines mowing down opposing batters.

Historically speaking, the tech realm and beards have never been too far apart, at least for the men. As such, there are some in the FOSS realm who deserve special recognition for not only advancing free/open source software, but also for forsaking the razor and putting a hairy face forward.

This blog item deals with beards specifically, so those with FOSS’s most awesome goatees — like Red Hat’s Karsten Wade, freelance FOSS journalist Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier and Oregon State University Professor Carlos Jensen, all of whom would definitely get top honors in this category — aren’t included here. Sorry, guys. Same with moustaches: For example, Mark Terranova’s ‘stache belongs in any facial hair Hall of Fame; a piece of work that would easily get him membership in The Village People — and I mean that in a good way (however, truth be told, when he’s got a beard, Mark runs with the best of ‘em).

Here is a sampling of what I find are the best beards in FOSS, in no particular order other than to say that if anyone got a first prize, it would have to go to . . .

Jon ‘maddog’ Hall: Despite getting a lot of input from those who think Richard Stallman should get top billing, sorry, RMS: Maddog takes the prize as the FOSS advocate with historically the best beard in the realm, to which picture at right will attest. Or you could look up Father Christmas in the dictionary and, chances are, you’ll find maddog’s picture with the definition. Despite recently going for the Sean-Connery-as-Indiana-Jones’-Dad look (see next paragraph) to go along with the 70 or so pounds he dropped — a great thing, indeed — Hall’s beard has always been the standard of epic in the FOSS beard pantheon.

[Maddog, shown at left in his new closer cropped form, comments in response to an e-mail: "And for beards, I could NEVER understand why someone would want to put a very sharp instrument close to their throat when they are only partially awake. I have not shaved since 1969 . . . ." Also, to the youngsters out there, maddog has a message: "I am glad that you are twenty . . . I enjoy seeing your youthful energy and beauty, and some days when I wake up and I am stiff, I wish I was twenty again . . . but I only wish that for about fifteen minutes." Amen to that!]

Richard Stallman: Most people I’ve talked to about this have said, after they stopped laughing at the topic (“No, really, I’m writing on the BEARDS of FOSS . . .”), that RMS should have the top spot, and in lieu of Jon ‘maddog’ Hall’s change in appearance, they might be right. The bearded face that launched a thousand tools to make the Linux kernel run, and launched a free software movement to boot, has been the one most commonly associated with free-as-in-freedom software. Not only this, he also sidelines as a saint — if you’ve never seen the St. Ig-GNU-tius schtick, check it out. I first saw this several years ago when Stallman spoke at UC Berkeley, and it never gets old despite being bearded (and I mean that in a good way).

Timothy Budd: If you are now, or have been, a student of computer science at a university, there’s a chance you may have had a class with a textbook Timothy Budd had written. An associate professor of computer science at Oregon State University — Go Beavers! — Tim has written a dozen textbooks on object-oriented programming, data structures and Leda, a multi-paradigm programming language that yours truly admits to not understanding at all. Be that as it may, Tim’s advocacy for FOSS during his time at OSU — he has had me as well as others speak to his graduate classes on FOSS — and his healthy crop of hair on his chin garners him a spot on the list. Besides, since he is well known by his students for his use of the term “Administrivia,” he gets on the list by simple use of that bearded word alone.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ beard is one that most FOSS users and advocates are accustomed to seeing on a nearly daily basis when reading the latest developments in Free/Open Source Software news. Whenever there’s news to be delivered, the FOSS community can count on Steven being the one who brings it to us; not only this, usually Steven is first with the news, which should garner him the nickname “Scoop.” Now writing for ZDNet as well, Steven gets what is rightfully more exposure in writing news that’s important to us — and to everyone else, for that matter. Steven gets extra points for being a Asheville Tourists fan — the Tourists being one of the most unique mascot names for a baseball team in the country.

Me: In an unprecedented display of unabashed ego worthy of another Larry — the CEO of Oracle whom, incidentally, has what’s trying to be a beard on his face, but not doing a very good job of it (but I digress) — I like to think that my beard would rank up there among bearded FOSS titans, not because of any accomplishment of my own — OK, the Lindependence Project . . . maybe — but just by the mere fact that it grows, with Wolfman-like speed, on my face. Herein lies the story: I’m a werewolf. Just kidding — I grew first grew my beard after Jerry Garcia died in Jerry’s honor, but my family hated it. So I went back and forth between having it and not having it until making a pact with my family: Even-numbered years, a moustache; odd-numbered years, the beard.

I’ve missed a lot of people, which is where you come in: Who did I miss and why is should their beard be in the FOSS Hairy-Faced Hall of Fame?

[Photos of Jon "maddog" Hall, Timothy Budd and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols used by permission. The photo of Richard Stallman was taken by Copyleft and appears here under the GPL and CC-Share-Alike licenses afforded by the photographer. I haven't decided to give myself permission to use my photo, but it's probably OK.]

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sleepless in Felton . . . sort of. Actually, while I load Blender on the laptop, I’ll weigh in during the quiet of a San Lorenzo Valley morning, complete with raccoons and skunks fighting in the near distance.

So while Blender goes through the motions — more on why I’m fiddling with this another time — I keep thinking about an article I read yesterday about how Linux is winning.

It’s an interesting perspective, worthy of discussion if one is so inspired. It is written from a corporate standpoint, so those of us at on the front lines of converting people to GNU/Linux may not relate directly. But still . . . at the moment, there aren’t any replies to the article. But chances are there will be.

While it doesn’t keep me up, there has been some rumblings about the fate of OpenSolaris, where finally a fork — or actually a “spork” — of OpenSolaris has manifested itself in the form of Illumos which is led by Nexenta.

Earlier this week, Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier asks the question, should OpenSolaris die? Zonker makes a compelling argument, complete with a heaping helping of history, for those working on OpenSolaris to come into the Linux fold, or failing that, at least to FreeBSD.

I don’t want to be a spoiler, but Zonker concludes toward the end of his blog with this: “It seems to me that it’d be a better world for software freedom and free *nix in general if the Solaris die-hards sucked it up and helped work on Linux. Failing that, FreeBSD. Either way, it’d be an improvement over trying to ‘spork’ OpenSolaris when the effort would be more effective elsewhere.”

Agreed.

My limited experience with OpenSolaris is trying to see if it would work on an old, trusty and ever-present Ultra 10 Sun box in the Redwood Digital office. But since Sun boxes account for even less, percentage-wise, than PowerPC Macs, not even OpenSolaris would make a version for them.

Forgetting your roots: Never a good sign.

Time to throw an old shoe out the door to break up the disagreement between nocturnal creatures.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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