Debian suffers from community growing pains

Developers attempting to join the Debian community have criticised the management of the Linux operating system

Frustrated software programmers unable to sign up to the voluntarily run community of developers behind the Debian GNU/Linux operating system have criticised the management of the project.

Voicing their frustration on discussion forums, including Planet Debian, developers had begun to question the Linux-based operating system's future, according to reports.

"I find it difficult to believe that there are only a half-dozen or so Debian developers who are trustworthy enough to be system administrators, account managers, or archive maintainers (several of them occupying overlapping positions), " wrote one Planet Debian contributor. "That, rather than a lack of technical tools, has been a problem of note within Debian since, oh, the days of my youthful vigour within Debian (which are long-since past)."

Following the criticism, Debian Project leader Steve McIntyre told the Reg Developer site that concerns over the wider stability of the project or Linux itself were unfounded and suggested that the delays have resulted from the "practicality" challenges naturally arising within any volunteer organisation. Some members have now managed to sign up to the community successfully.

Duncan Chapple, managing director of Lighthouse Analyst Relations, told on Tuesday that interest shown by a lot of developers in joining the project was a positive sign.

"This is a problem that commercial software firms would love to have: too many engineers wanting to work on a solution. It's a sign of Debian's success. Users of Debian are probably asking themselves if its developer community has become complacent. But if the Debian developer community really felt under pressure, then they would accept offers of help," he said.

However, Chapple added that the lead developers behind Debian might need to look at their managment processes as the community continues to grow.

"The slow pace at which the Debian community wants to grow could reflect a lack of anxiety about the project's ability to meet its goals. Many engineers prefer to have fewer people on a project because of the effort of communicating across large teams. Perhaps Debian needs to look at its project-management systems, to see how extra hands can be put to work effectively," added Chapple.

Debian has only around 1,000 developers actively engaged in its development. Despite this, it has gained widespread interest from industry heavyweights including IBM's Developerworks programming portal, which has previously run tutorials on how to create Debian Linux packages.

The Debian system uses the Linux kernel to build an operating system that comes with nearly 20,000 "packages" of precompiled software that can be assembled by programmers to form their own bespoke system.

Started in August 1993 by software engineer Ian Murdock, the system was named after Murdock's wife Deb(ra) in a twinning with his own first name. Debian began life as an open distribution in the spirit of Linux and the GNU Unix style operating system. It has since added a large number of packages to its initial structure.

Today, Debian's packages are developed in "unstable" format before moving to a "testing" phase after which they are listed as "stable". The development community is spread around the globe and rarely meets, as it carries out most of its work via discussion boards and mailing lists. Debian and its packages are free to download for registered community members over the web.