Google plus and server to give away

Just a quick note to let you know that (like many free software hackers apparently) I have an account on Google+.

I’m not using it much yet but I like it in general. It’s interesting to see how Google transformed Joindiaspora‘s aspects into “circles”.

When Google will make an API available, I’ll probably setup it like my public Facebook page so that new blog posts are automatically announced. In the mean time, it’s going to be very quiet on my Google+ profile.

That said, I used it twice this week: the first time because I’m looking for a French developer with sysadmin skills, and the second time because I have a server to give away (Pentium IV 3Ghz, 4 Gb RAM, 200 Gb of diskspace in RAID1 Hard). If you take the server for a free software project, it can be hosted for free where it currently is (courtesy of Julien Danjou).

So if you’re also a Google+ user, feel free to add me to one of your circles.

5 reasons why I still contribute to Debian after 12 years

Debian is packaging the free sofware world.If you’re using Debian, you know that this distribution is built entirely by volunteers that form a very diverse community. And you could be part of it. But why should you do that? I can’t tell for you but I can share my own experience. It’s been 12 years since I joined Debian and I’m going to tell you what keeps me on board.

1. Technical excellence

When facing a new challenge, Debian will strive to do the right thing. This pays off in the long term. In many cases, it means that we will take more time to implement our solution compared to other distributions out there, but this is also the reason why our packaging infrastructure allows us to offer painless upgrades and consistency across all packages.

Debian is committed to quality and builds up on his experience thanks to the Debian Policy. My time is precious, I like to spend it on something useful in the long term.

2. Inspiring goals

In its social contract, Debian has set out to create a 100% free — as in freedom — operating system. The criteria defining what constitutes a free work are listed in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

While the above is relatively ambitious in itself, it doesn’t inspire me much. What makes the difference to me is the emphasis given by the social contract on our users and free software. We don’t build a free operating system in the void, we build it for people.

Debian’s motto — the universal operating system — can also be interpreted in multiple ways: universal as in “for everybody on the world”, “on all kinds of computers”, or “for every possible usage”.

3. High impact work

Knowing that my work is useful to people is important, but it’s even better when I know that it will benefit to lots of people. With Ubuntu and the hundreds of other derivatives, there are nowadays literally millions of users impacted by my work. Even an insignificant one second improvement experienced by 10 millions of people represent 115 days of time saved for something else, you get the idea…

4. Working with great people

Debian has the chance to have lots of smart people on board. There’s always someone sharing valuable advice when you read Debian’s mailing lists. When I joined in 1998, I was a real newbie and I learned a lot of things by reading and interacting with people more knowledgeable than me. You can still experience the same thing nowadays but there’s one caveat: you must cope with various kinds of mailing list contributors including the “smart but uncivilized” (don’t be offended too quickly!) and the occasional troll (best ignore it, don’t feed it!).

5. Recognition of work

When you contribute to Debian, people get to know you through your contributions. It’s very rewarding to be thanked by your peers and by Debian’s users. Check out thanks.debian.net to convince you that many people are grateful for the work we put into Debian.

So that’s it for me. But what about you? What motivates you to contribute year after year, or to start contributing if you’re a prospective contributor?

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Can Debian achieve world domination without being on Facebook?

Debian Developers who like Debian on FacebookFacebook is not very popular among free software hackers. When I announced my Facebook page on identi.ca (see here) I got a few replies suggesting it was odd for me to use Facebook.

Indeed there are many good reasons why Facebook should be avoided: it is a centralized and proprietary service that is not very privacy-friendly. But the truth is that lots of people are using it (even Debian developers, can you recognize them on the picture?) and some are using their Facebook news feed as their main source of news.

You might wonder how many persons that represents, so here are the figures: the Debian Facebook page has 48,361 fans and the Ubuntu one has 247,932 fans. That’s right, an announce put on the Debian facebook page would reach more persons than the most popular announce list that Debian is currently running (debian-announce@lists.debian.org has about 29,000 subscribers). Unfortunately that Debian Facebook page is empty and I don’t even know who the administrator is. The Ubuntu page on the contrary is properly configured to relay news from The Fridge and Jono Bacon is posting some custom updates from time to time.

Debian contributors regularly mention “world domination” as the ultimate goal of the universal operating system (I even feature this in my blog header banner! :-)). But working towards world domination means — in my opinion — that we should communicate our ideals of freedom to as many people as possible, even if they are using a service that we don’t want to promote.

The Debian social contract acknowledges that some users have to use non-free software and we provide the non-free section for them. In the same spirit, I believe we must have a presence on Facebook. That does not mean that we endorse Facebook, and we should surely promote Joindiaspora once it’s usable. But in the mean time we should reach out to Facebook users and allow them to follow us with the platform of their choice.

That’s the choice I recently made when I decided to setup a public facebook page featuring my free software work, my blog and my book. So if you are a Facebook user, click here to visit my page and click on “Like” if you want to follow this blog in your Facebook news feed. I also share interesting Debian or Ubuntu related articles that I discover while reading my RSS subscriptions.

Below are the usual facebook widgets for the 3 pages quoted in this article (they might not show up if you read this article through an RSS feed):


About the Debian Community Poll

While I find the idea interesting, several of the questions can’t be correctly answered because the proposed choices are not realistic or too limited.

On the question of the usage of money, I believe we should spend money to fund important projects but I don’t want to fund “people having important positions in Debian and doing important work”. What should I reply? (Granted, there’s the other item but that doesn’t help getting a clear picture of the answers)

On the question “Do you prefer time based releases instead of the «it’s ready when it’s ready» releases?”, it is putting two concepts in opposition when the release managers recently proposed a third way that combines both: “time based freezes and release when it’s ready”. This is what I want and I can’t adequately express it either in the current poll.

Release Lenny GR

This is the worst vote that has come up since I’m part of Debian. And Manoj — the secretary — has refused to listen to the remarks of many developers about the misleading titles/summaries, about the unjustified 3:1 ratio, and worst of all, about the mixing of multiple questions in a single ballot.

I have ranked misleading options (“Reaffirm social contract“ at least) lowest and below “Further discussion“ and sorted all the other options according to my preference, and ranked some of them equally when the choices answer different questions (where I can not prioritize any preferred outcome). I’m not yet sure if I put “Further discussion“ first or not.

There’s some hope that the vote will be cancelled and redone with separate ballots but I’ve lost trust in Manoj’s abilities to do his job properly. I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing but that doesn’t help at all, on the contrary. It also means we probably should fix the constitution to make it crystal-clear how the secretary should decide whether 3:1 ratio is needed for a given resolution or not. Not really the kind of thing I enjoy within Debian, but that’s the price to pay if we want to continue to work together. On this and much more I agree with Russ Alberry.

Update: Manoj resigned as secretary. I want to thank him for having taken this hard decision. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t resign from Debian completely as our strength is also in our diversity of opinions.

Debian membership reform

Following Ganneff’s post to debian-devel-announce, several discussions have again started on the topic of Debian’s membership and several proposals have been made. Unfortunately none of these proposals try to resolve the underlying trust problem that has been growing over the years. Despite the NM process (or maybe due to it), we managed to give DD status to people who are motivated but whose technical skills are doubtful (at that point people ask for an example, and as much as I hate fingerpointing, here’s an example with #499201. The same maintainer created troubles with libpng during the etch release cycle and tried to take over a base package like mawk recently).

With our current model, all DD can sponsor, NMU, introduce/adopt/hijack packages without review. This is fine as long as we trust the body of DD to contain only skilled and reasonable people. I believe that premise to be somewhat broken since Debian has become too big for people to know everybody and since the NM process had no way to grant partial rights to volunteers who were motivated but that clearly had not shown their ability to handle more complex stuff than what they had packaged during their NM period (like some trivial perl modules for example).

Thus I strongly believe that any membership reform must provide a convincing answer to that trust problem before being implemented. I took several hours to draft a proposal last Friday and I’ve been somewhat disappointed that nobody commented on it. I hope to draw some attention on it with this blog post.

The proposal builds on the idea that we should not have “classes” of contributors but simply two: a short-term contributor and a long-term contributor (those are called Debian Developers and have the right to vote). But all contributors can be granted “privileges” as they need them for their work and each privilege requires the contributor to fulfill some conditions. The set of privileges and the conditions associated all need discussions (but I have personal opinions here, see below). There’s however one privilege that is somewhat particular: it’s the right to grant privileges to other contributors. Handling it as a privilege like another is on purpose: it makes it clear that anyone can try to get that privilege and the procedure is clear. In practice, imagine that set of people as a big team encompassing the responsibilities split over DAM/AM/FD/DM-team and where all members can do all the steps required to grant/retire a privilege provided that 2 or 3 members agrees and that nobody opposes (in case of opposition a specific procedure is probably needed). I called that set of people the Debian Community Managers. It should contain only skilled and dedicated developers.

One of their main duties would be to retain the trust that the project as a whole must have in all its members. They would have the powers to retire privileges if they discover someone that has not acted according to the (high) expectations of the project.

Among the privileges would be “limited upload rights” (like DM have currently), “full upload rights” (like DD have currently although it might be that we want to split that privilege further in right to sponsor, right to package new software, right to maintain a package of priority > standard, etc.) and “developer status” (email + right to vote, once you can prove 6 months of contribution).

There’s lots of stuff to discuss in such a proposal (like how to decide who gets what privileges among existing DD) but I think it’s a good basis and need some serious consideration by all the project members. The NM process is there only so that we can collectively trust that new members are as good as we expect them to be and trust can only be built over time so it’s good that we can grant privileges progressively.

Some people believe that I’m reinventing a new NM process that will end up to be very similar to the current one. My answer is that the conditions associated to each privilege should be based on the work done by the contributor and the advocations that he managed to collect. It should not be a questionnaire like “Task and Skills”. This, together with the distribution of the power/work on many people, would render this system very different from today’s NM process.

Some people believe that I’m copying Ubuntu when designing this since it’s somewhat similar to the process to become MOTU and/or get upload right to Ubuntu’s main component. Let me say that I’m not copying deliberately at least, I simply took the problem from the most important side. But remember that many aspects of Ubuntu have been designed by Debian developers that tried to avoid known pitfalls of Debian, and maybe they got some things right (or better at least) while doing this.

This time of the year again

Yes, it’s DPL election time again. On the good side, we’ll spend less time this year than we used to thanks the constitution change. On the bad side, it seems that almost nobody is interested to run for DPL (even HE is not sure yet!).

I’ve been relatively satisfied by the work done by sam (although one can always do better) and it looks like many share this feeling… and when this is the case, we just expect the DPL to run again. But sam clearly said that he won’t run again. What a pity.

I also don’t plan to run this year[1] but I’m always interested in leadership issues and I’d gladly be part of a DPL team. Hopefully someone will provide such an alternative on the ballot this year.

Right now, I’m more in the mood of implementing some real changes (like the symbol based dependencies that I added to dpkg-shlibdeps) instead of trying to convince others to do them. When you associate this to some support of the leadership in place, it can give very good results.

Now back to real work, I still have to test and polish the dpkg-source rewrite which adds support of several brand new source package formats. Feel free to check out our progress in the sourcev3 git branch.

[1] Feel free to convince me otherwise by adding some comments here.

The DSA dilemma

For once, Clint blogged on something that I can understand. :-)

I don’t buy everything he says, but in the case of DSA, the part where he says “you cannot have a functional and respectable subgroup if it maintains autonomy like that” is a real problem.

The leadership problem I mentioned is real. And it can theoretically be solved by undelegating one of the problematic side of this DSA-internal dispute. But which one? Given the unwillingness of Joey to discuss the problems, he makes an easy target… which would leave DSA up to Ryan, James and Phil.

But is that a desirable thing? If DSA is perceived as being an “autonomous” group which is not involved in Debian’s main discussions and which is somewhat disconnected from Debian’s day-to-day life, it’s largely due to the behavior of James and Ryan. E-mail communication with them is very difficult as they’ll respond only if they really care about something. And despite the setup of the request tracker, they have barely been able to make proper usage of it… the idea was to use RT tickets to track everything that DSA does but they don’t use it as such. For example, James setup a “wikiadm” group and he never reported anything to the related ticket (#194) (I did it myself once I found out). Also there’s an internal ticket about the replacement of ftp.debian.org (that I created because ftp.d.o ran out of space regularly) and AFAIK Jeroen has been in touch with James to setup that replacement, but nothing got reported to the tracker. Ryan promised me once to put his DSA TODO list in the tracker so that other people can jump in and help out. He never did.

So while Joey is definitely a pain for DSA, at least he’s a visible participant of the team and he interacts with the community. James and Ryan are not, they interact only through private channels and do not share their opinions or their vision of Debian.
I believe this is a real problem. On the other hand, most of the interesting changes in the last months are the results of James’s work. But he’s also implicitly blocking addition of new members as long as the leadership problem is not solved.

I tried to fill the communication void of the DSA team by various means. I follow everything as closely as I can so that I can report changes on other channels, mailing lists when needed. I made efforts to document stuff on the wiki page, etc. But this is not a long term solution, the communication issue must be fixed within the team.

The path ouf of this mess is still not very clear, but something is going to change soon. Not quite sure what though. What would you suggest? And if you were DPL, what would you do?

Since private discussions and negotiations lead nowhere, it’s tempting to bring the issue in the public area. In theory, they have no way to escape discussions and they’ll have to communicate their grudges against the other side if they want to have some fair judgment between both parties. Unfortunately, given the habits of James and Ryan, they probably won’t participate in any public discussion and either resign or stay where they are waiting for any decision…

Comments welcome.

DSA needs a leader

Seriously. Now that we have been using the request tracker for quite some time, it’s even more obvious that the DSA team is not up to its task.

Use login “guest” and password “readonly” if you want to check the RT tickets linked in this article.

The facts

  • 65 public tickets open (and 5 private tickets)
  • 68 tickets closed. Here are some unscientific and manual stats (I counted one each time that someone was involved for the work or for closing the ticket):
    • 27 for James Troup (elmo)
    • 26 for Phil Hands (fil)
    • 13 for me (buxy)
    • 3 for Martin ‘Joey’ Schulze (those I manually forwarded him)
    • 3 for Ryan Murray (neuro)
    • 3 for Matt Taggart (taggart)
    • 2 for Josip Rodin (he handles tickets concerning the mirrors until they have a dedicated queue in the RT)

Note that myself and Matt do not have the needed rights to fix most of the tickets, so we provided help on a best-effort basis. Otherwise we would have done more.

The communication problem

It’s a multi-level problem. Each of the members has some problems with one or more other members. Joey’s behavior has been part of the recurring problems mentioned: he doesn’t use the RT, doesn’t read the DSA email alias and doesn’t follow the DSA IRC channel but he still does stuff very regularly without reporting anything and obviously problems happen. Ryan and James tried to impose him a rule to document what he does, without success apparently. On the other side, as far as I know, Ryan and James also don’t impose themselves to document everything in a central changelog. Joey has refused to provide me an explanation for his behavior. He just reminded me that he holds grudges against James and Ryan because as ftpmasters they didn’t cooperate well with him while he was stable release manager.

In general, outside of all personal griefs that they might have, the DSA members do not communicate very much (at least not on their own official channels). Some examples have already been given concerning the request tracker, but it’s not much more effective on IRC. Most of the traffic on the channel is made up by local admins fixing the problems themselves without any intervention by any DSA.

I also use the channel to regularly ping some DSA about simple issues and/or stuff that they usually handle. It used to work somewhat but lately fil has been busy (with the kernel summit and other conferences) and I simply got no answer at all… for example I pinged elmo, neuro and fil several times in the last weeks in the hope that they handle the tickets of the security team (#150, #157, #164) without results.

There’s room for improvement.

The leadership problem

The team has no designated leader and every time that there’s a decision to take, they are blocked. Joey wouldn’t communicate and give his opinion, Ryan is extremely requiring and perfectionist, there’s not much room for compromise…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Joey and elmo were friends. It’s even Joey who gave root rights to elmo. Nowadays, it’s rather James that is sort-of leading the team but he’s fed up of the situation and hasn’t managed to get out of this mess.

He refuses to take drastic measures by himself because he’s not clearly the leader and doesn’t solicit a decision of the Debian leader (or the project) because he believes that the DSA team is not under the scope of the constitution!

This can’t last any further. We’ll have to do something about it. Stay tuned.

Thanks sam!

I really appreciated your last Bits of the DPL.

I discover a DPL taking position on hot topics of the moment. I’m glad to have a DPL who is trying to fulfill his duty of leading discussions amongst developers. He gave his opinion on the current vote about “endorsing the concept of Debian Maintainers” (he’s in favor because it dilutes power) and also about Apt’s change to install Recommends by default. I’m glad to hear the encouraging news concerning volunteers for ftpmasters.

By the way, if you have voted for Sam, and if Sam’s opinion bears any importance for you, you still have until saturday midnight (UTC) to change your vote if you wish so (like Russ did). Right now, only 289 DD have voted.