Debian: We're not looking for commercial fortune

Debian: We're not looking for commercial fortune

Summary: Steve McIntyre, newly elected project leader for the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, talks about why the project is not planning to ape the commercial approach taken by Red Hat and Novell/Suse

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The Debian GNU/Linux operating system continues to generate interest from developers around the world, keen to sign up and contribute code to the open-source project now in its 15th year.

But this popularity has been a mixed blessing. The project came under fire recently when programmers who wanted to get on board were unable to sign up and become registered participants.

Some analysts foresee a less than rosy future for projects such as Debian, claiming free coding is all well and good, but that without a solid financial backing — such as the models adopted by Red Hat and to a greater degree Novell/Suse — Debian will ultimately hit a brick wall.

Elected Debian project leader on 17 April, Steve McIntyre is the man charged with leading the organisation to the next level. Despite being faced with a backdrop of organisational challenges, while at the same time working away fervently on his own Debian bug fixes and development projects, McIntyre found some time to talk ZDNet.co.uk through his vision of where the Debian project is headed.

Q: Why did you take on the role of Debian project leader, and what do you hope to bring to the development of the operating system?
A: I've got a few ideas about places where we can improve things, as I laid out in my election platform. The main issue I want to work on is communication, both within the project and externally. We're doing some really excellent work, but it's often not visible. I want to encourage all our developers and core teams to talk more about what they're doing. In my opinion, the best way to recruit more developers and users is to show off the cool stuff we're doing.

Debian author Ian Murdoch was also a founding director of the Open Source Initiative. Why do you think he saw the need for a new flavour of Linux with the particular look, feel and structure of Debian?
Ian started the project back in 1993 to make a new, openly developed, Linux-based distribution. He was very much inspired by the ideals of the GNU Project and the Linux developers at the time. He believed there was a place for a new OS developed in the same manner, designed by dedicated volunteers for themselves and everybody else to use. In many ways Debian has changed and evolved hugely over the years, but that core spirit is still the same.

In my opinion, the best way to recruit more developers and users is to show off the cool stuff we're doing

Steve McIntyre

ZDNet.co.uk recently reported on the "administrative" delays you've been experiencing surrounding community registration. What do you intend to do to tackle this issue?
I'm actually in the middle of a review of all our core teams right now, as I promised during the project leader election. There are potentially several places in Debian's core teams where we could be more active and we definitely need to be more communicative about what's going on. The furore on Planet Debian is just indicative that this review is well overdue, I believe.

I'm expecting that there'll be more news about how we're shaping up and what we need to change and improve in the next few weeks. I can't promise it will be especially interesting to anybody outside the project, though.

Debian's software-development methodology hinges around the provision of precompiled software "packages" that effectively form reusable components. How do you vet newly proposed packages, and what type of components would you like to see developed in the future?
New packages are typically proposed on our main development mailing list so other developers can comment. Depending on the package in question, that process can lead to some extended discussion. Once a developer believes he has something ready for inclusion in Debian and uploads it for the first time, a thorough review is carried out by the "ftpmaster" team. The team checks for potential licensing problems, security considerations and packaging quality. If the new software meets those checks, it's allowed in.

Personally, I'd like to see more and more end-user applications developed and improved in the future. We already have...

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Adrian Bridgwater

About Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater a freelance journalist specialising in cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects of software engineering and project management.

Adrian is a regular blogger with ZDNet.co.uk covering the application development landscape and the movers, shakers and start-ups that make the industry the vibrant place that it is.

His journalistic creed is to bring forward-thinking, impartial, technology editorial to a professional (and hobbyist) software audience around the world. His mission is to objectively inform, educate and challenge - and through this champion better coding capabilities and ultimately better software engineering.

Adrian has worked as a freelance technology journalist and public relations consultant for over fifteen years. His work has been published in various international publications including the Wall Street Journal, CNET.com, The Register, ComputerWeekly.com, BBC World Service magazines, Web Designer magazine, Silicon.com, the UAE’s Khaleej Times & ITP.net and SYS-CON’s Web Developer’s Journal. He has worked as technology editor for international travel & retail magazines and also produced annual technology industry review features for UK-based publishers ISC. Additionally, he has worked as a telecoms industry analyst for Business Monitor International.

In previous commercially focused roles, Adrian directed publicity work for clients including IBM, Microsoft, Compaq, Intel, Motorola, Computer Associates, Ascom, Infonet and RIM. Adrian has also conducted media training and consultancy programmes for companies including Sony-Ericsson, IBM, RIM and Kingston Technology.

He is also a published travel writer and has lived and worked abroad for 10 years in Tanzania, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and the United States.

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4 comments
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  • Not even-handed

    I thought this was a very bad interview. All the questions seemed very biased and negative.

    I think you would have gained far more insight if you hadn't forced Steve on the defensive all the time. As it was I think he handled matters very well.
    Tezzer-5cae2
  • Scientific study about Debian Project governance and social organization

    How did a big non-commercial, non-paying community evolve into one that produces some of the most respectable Operating Systems and applications packages available?

    Two academic management researchers, Siobh
    andremachado-9951d
  • Hard questions

    Thanks for your comments

    I agree that there were some hard questions in that interview but I disagree that is was biased or overly negative.

    The questions below were also asked which clearly gave the interviewee an opportunity to both discuss his vision and hopes for the organisation:

    Why did you take on the role of Debian project leader, and what do you hope to bring to the development of the operating system?

    Debian author Ian Murdoch was also a founding director of the Open Source Initiative. Why do you think he saw the need for a new flavour of Linux with the particular look, feel and structure of Debian?

    Debian's software-development methodology hinges around the provision of precompiled software "packages" that effectively form reusable components. How do you vet newly proposed packages, and what type of components would you like to see developed in the future

    Debian will be 15 years old this August. Where would you like to see the project in another decade and a half?
    Andrew Donoghue
  • background info about Debian

    Hello,
    You could find condensed information, with good links for further information about Debian Project at the "About Debian Project" at the end of the recent announcements at the http://times.debian.net
    There is an alternate url for one of the recent ones at the link

    <a href="http://www.techforce.com.br/index.php/news/linux_blog/debian_project_improves_nm_process">19 new Debian Developers this week: The Debian Project improves its New Maintainer process</a>

    http://www.techforce.com.br/index.php/news/linux_blog/debian_project_improves_nm_process

    I hope these help at your work.
    Regards!
    Andre Felipe
    andremachado-9951d