Status of Debian Sarge
Some considerations on the present status of Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 "Sarge"
This article was first published on my
but has been
moved here for ease of use.
Tonight I've been installing sarge at a friend's HP laptop together with my friend lefant. Both of us have some
experience in installing Debian on several platforms and in convincing Mac OS or Windows users to migrate to the
"Universal Operating System" of the future (for most of us of today, of course *smile*). Although the friend of us was
quite astonished by the ease of installation and the power of the system, we've been facing several problems during
installation and I must say that while the advantages of using Debian - apart from the political and philosophical
implications of being Free Software - become immediatly clear to an interested Mac OS or Windows user, Debian Sarge is
still a step from being stable - and Woody is simply too old to be recommended.
The development both of the Linux kernel and the Debian system has advanced a lot in the last few years. Kernel
modules can easily compete with its propietary Mac OS or Windows competitors, a lot of printers are supported by CUPS,
foomatic, ghostscript and The Gimp, most graphiccards will work under X11 without troubles and many drivers for cams,
scanners and other devices are being intensively developed. Above all for a modern laptop the 2.2 Linux kernel seems
really outdated. Apart from this upgrading from Woody to Sarge when it becomes stable might become a nightmare for an
avarage Mac OS or Windows user - remember the change from Potato to Woody. While people using Sid (unstable) all the
time might not mind, this should be considered when recomending Debian. My friend had installed Woody by himself and
read the installation manual - that's what he found on the Debian site, he said. But as Windows user he's used to
modern software like Mozilla Firefox - which is taking over Microsoft's Internet Explorer -, The Gimp 2.0 or
OpenOffice. Both the Gnome Desktop and KDE have made big changes since Woody was finally released - and also then
Debian 3.0 wasn't up to date any more, as we know.
Apart from small bugs like translation errors (German), changing the keymap back to 'us' from 'de' during
installation or not updating the Grub menu.lst after installing a new kernel, there where some bugs the "avarage
Desktop user" (sic!) might not be able to deal with: 1. The option "Desktop" during the partitioning process created a
5 GB partion for /home while only leaving 2 GB of space for / - that's where the main system would have been
Unfortunatly, this is not enaugh for Gnome and KDE, which are installed by the "Desktop" option in tasksel. When
installing Knoppix e.g. the installer complains if the partition is too small. Similarly the Sarge installer should
propose the minimal necessary amount of diskspace for installing a Desktop Environment (including the most popular
applications) plus something for the root filesystem instead of creating such a big home directory. Simple mathematics
(i.e. formal logics) don't seem to be very usefull in this particular case. 2. Synaptic (a graphical package manager)
crashed while trying to install a new kernel - no comment! 3. cfdisk crashed with a permanent beep while starting in
single user mode - what made it a bit more difficult to delete the existing home partition and create a new partition
for /usr and a much smaller one for /home.
As lefant has brought a copy of his Sarge mirror at home on his ibook, we expected the installation to take
little time, but his mirror is already 2 weeks old and we run into troubles because of some dependency problems, the
biggest one with exim4 neither wanting to install nor to deinstall. No idea what exactly happened, but after having
configured the system and running tasksel again, apt-get seems to have cleaned the local apt-cache and fetched all the
packages again, which of course took some extra amount of time... :-(
My conclusion is that there should be a transitional solution for Debian Sarge, as I am quite sceptical that the
release date is coming closer pretty quick. Updating the website providing some pointers and advice what is the
recommended procedure before Debian Stable 3.1 is released would be a first step. The Debian project consists of
currently more than 2,000 developers and maintainers primaraly contributing to the free software community and
computer users in general in their leisure time. We cannot expect that everything works perfect out of the box and I
want to stress that I am very happy whith the status of Debian and the achievments of the last period.
Lot of effort has been done to release Debian Stable 3.1 - maybe too many. I have been already happy with Debian
Stable 3.0 (aka Woody) - but in this article I wanted to mainly focus on the "pressure" that's being created by Mac OS
and Windows users, as well as "the competition" (i.e. other distributions). As many I disagree with the idea that
there is "one distribution for every kind of person" but would like to see one real "Universal Operating System"
instead - and I believe that Debian has the power to become that kind of OS!
Most friends of mine would be unhappy with a system made "by hackers for hackers", only aimed to work for those
who already know "how it works". They don't want to care too much for there system - they simply want it "to work".
Although this might not come into conflict with our principles of hacker ethics, wanted to understand what's going on
in order to be able to control, we must deal with those wishes. Knoppix and other similar Live-CD distributions show
the way: You insert the CD; your hardware is (almost) fully detected and automagically configured; you get an
impressive preview of what can be done with your new system; you can easily install it on your harddisk.
This is no criticism of the Debian project, as most of these distributions are based on Debian GNU/Linux and the
Debian project itself is moving into this direction. I just think we should wait a bit with a new release, but raising
the mood of both the developers and the users by offering them a kind of "transitional solution" and publicly
announcing the status of Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 (aka Sarge). Of course, the decision must be taken by the project
members itself and I am not sure if such a step wouldn't create a wave of discontent.
From what I can say - looking from outside - it would be a pitty if an obviously buggy system was announced
being "stable" only because it has already taken more time. Because of Debians legendary long release cycles the
"public eye" observes it very intensly - maybe even more than other distros - and expects a lot from the project.
Hence, souch a step IMHO would be a mistake and could lead to a discreditation of the project.
I admit that the described bugs can already be fixed within this week and that even my "wishlist" could be
partially satisfied, but it doesn't seem very probable. All this said I think that after a successful release and a
break for everyone involved in the project, there should be a brief discussion followed by a "tendency decision" or -
depending on the debate - a full decision on the Debian release policy. In software development there are clear
targets - with priorities - for a next release. Fixing a release date that shouldn't only be "eagered to please" or
approached, but that must be performed in time - just as the so called "method" of "Extreme Programming" (which seems
to be in mood right now, but also has many "enemies" within the free software movement because of its commercial
implications and a concept often being "far to reality" of the avarage software developer).
If the tasks that the project had resolved to do for the next release cannot be performed in time, the release
date shouldn't be postponed, but priorities should be set and a new version released. Unlike e.g. Ubuntu developers,
Debian developers usually are not payed for their work. They work for the project voluntarily, which means that they
cannot be ask to finish a particular piece of work "in time". But this also means that their responsibilities are
self-inflicted and their must be a minimal amount of warranty (despite all warnings provided by the Debian project and
the GPL - which at least in Europe are invalid).
I don't want to point users to Ubuntu, Hispalinux or Libranet or to one of the existing free GNU/Linux derivates
of Knoppix, but to be able to tell them: "Go to debian dot org and get the latest stable release there!" This might
become a bit difficult for a person that is not well experienced, when confronted with the discribed (or similar)
errors. On the other hand, "the avarage Desktop user" (an assumption made by myself, based on many of my friends)
simply expects to get the last stable version of Mozilla Firefox, The Gimp, Gnome or KDE she/he knows from the
internet or from friends or PC magazines when installing a new system.
Of course, we will never satisfy everyone's wishes and there will (hopefully) always be potential for changes,
but I think this issue is one that should be adressed quickly as I have the impression that finding no solution to it
may lead to a paralization of the project - or at least delay or retard its progress. Six-monthly release dates for
Debian GNU/Linux!!! :-)
I know I'm breaking a taboo and many won't agree with me on this. And I know that I've never really been
involved in free software development and will probably change or at least adapt the opinion expressed herein when
joing my first big project. But I simply felt like writing those lines and I see no reason why my considerations
should make Debian GNU/Linux (not talking about other distributions here like Debian Hurd or Debian FreeBSD) less
secure, M$-style crap, unstable or unusable at all. This does not mean of course that you may not be of a different
opinion - and that I would discuss this delicate and sensitive concern with you. ;-)
Now I'll be watching the academy awards... :-D
ps: this is the first time i'm using the "Mail-to-Blogger" system, so please cut me some slack if formatting is
messed up! *smile*
Pablo Hoertner | LONG LIVE THE RED PENGUIN AND THE
http://redtux.org/ | SOCIALIST WORKERS' WORLD REVOLUTION!