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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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