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?
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.
(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.)
More times than not, Ken Starks — who pens the Blog of Helios — nails it, and his most recent item is quite possibly Exhibit A to that rule. In his latest submission, Ken responds adequately to a critic who “said that [the HeliOS Project] had wasted a computer on kids that were far too young to either appreciate the technology or use it efficiently.”
Ken’s blog takes the argument and slices and dices it in such a way that, if it were a Ronco product, you’d find it being advertised on late-night television.
But wait, there’s more. I’ll let Ken tell the story, from his blog. Ken writes:
“Skip Guenter and I do week-long computer labs during summer vacation. The kids range from 4th to 6th grade. When I first intro the class. I walk among the seated children and then I point to one of them and I say:
” ‘You are going to be the first person to walk on Mars.’
“I point to another and state:
” ‘You are going to discover an herbal compound that cures diabetes.’
“And to a third child I point and say:
” ‘You are going to invent the nano technology that reverses blindness.’
“Then I make sure that they understand one thing. Unless they embrace and learn about the machines in front of them, none of that is likely to happen.”
Amen to that, Ken.
Also, on the issue of age, there is my own experience. I started with GNU/Linux and FOSS very late — 48 to be exact, five years ago, and I’ve told that story here ad nauseum. However, thanks to the miracle of being my offspring (it’s a miracle to me, anyway, that she’s my girl), my daughter Mimi has grown up with FOSS for pretty much her entire life.
Her introduction to computers and their use, then, has always involved a high degree of FOSS exposure, and with this exposure comes a better understanding of how software works and a clearer knowledge of how software should be available to the public. It has been interesting to watch her grow along with the Free Software and Open Source philosophies; not to mention the snapshots along the way, like learning about how to install Debian at 8 under her Dad’s watchful eye, or her enthusiasm today for GIMP and other programs that allow her to develop and expand her passion for drawing.
With her understanding of how the digital world works and inheriting her Dad’s affinity for implementing Free Software and the Open Source paradigm, Mimi can usually be found with me at various Linux expos and shows. Not only this, she can also be found with her friends — Malakai and Saskia Wade — giving talks at expos like SCALE and the Utah Open Source Conference about “Girls in FOSS.”
[As an aside: Mimi is now an Ubuntu user, in what her Fedora-using Dad hopes will be just a passing rebellious phase. Or not. But rather than rend my garment and wail skyward, "I have no daughter!" I would prefer to be proud of her beyond words for trying a variety of distros and settling on one that works for her. That's my girl.]
Back to the art, though: Mimi has developed an artesian depth of artistic talent, and my eternal gratitude goes to Bill Kendrick and the developers of Tux Paint for planting the seed of artistic abilities with that consistently outstanding program. Tux Paint and this household, digitally speaking, go way back, and Kendrick’s and his team’s efforts on all the software they write make a huge impact on the lives of those who use it.
This same “huge impact” can be claimed by a wide range of FOSS programs as well — substitute $FOSS_PROGRAM for “Tux Paint” and there are a wide variety of FOSS programs that have made their mark on the computer-using world, all for the better.
Which brings us back to Ken and Skip and the summer computer labs: One kid in that room may be the one who first steps on Mars. One may be the one who develops the technology to allow the blind to see. But also, they may not be the ones accomplishing those feats, and that’s OK. At the very least — at the absolute least — kids learning about and using FOSS will grow up to be average adults with a better understanding of how hardware and software work and a clearer picture of how hardware and software should be made available to the public.
Yes, it only comprises a half of a percent — that’s 0.5 percent, if you’re keeping score at home — of all the Linux users. Yes, that translates to a microcosm of Linux users within a microcosm of overall computer users. So I understand if Linux on PowerPC does not apply to you.
But it might.
Regular readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for PowerPC architecture. I was a Mac guy before I was a Linux guy, and I became a Linux guy using Linux on PPC architecture before I finally — finally — warmed up to Intel, AMD and others. You’ve probably read here how well this processor works, and how fondly I remember Steve Jobs doing the Adobe Photoshop demonstration during every Macworld keynote while the PPC processor kicked Intel’s sorry butt time and time again.
While major distros have been making a bee line away from developing for the PowerPC architecture since Apple dumped the processor for the Intel one now in newer Macs, Fedora skipped its development of a PowerPC version of it’s current release, Fedora 14. They joined OpenSUSE in recently saying a hasty “adios” to an architecture that, sadly, is being used less in the hardware world.
[Currently, I have two iMacs at Redwood Digital -- a flavored G3 333MHz and an iMac G4 "desk lamp," both running Debian. Of all distros, Debian has remained consistent in its commitment to updating its PowerPC version of their distro. They also remain committed to developing for Commodore 64 and Atari architectures as well, while we're at it, but I digress.]
But there is good news for those who use the PowerPC: Fedora will be back in the PowerPC fold with Fedora 15, scheduled for release in May.
On behalf of the microcosm within the microcosm, thank you Fedora.