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.