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Debian And The Rise of Linux

Hemos posted more than 11 years ago | from the apt-get-reinvention dept.

Debian 438

There's an article in this month's LinMagAu that asks a question about how the rise of Linux will impact Debian and what that could mean. Good article, especially interesting if you have been a fan of Debian.

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438 comments

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1st post - w00t (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329657)

w00t

Re:1st post - w00t (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329705)

And speaking of Linux... [penny-arcade.com]

I like the wording of that.. (2, Funny)

SlowCoder (99587) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329658)

"if you have been a fan of Debian"..

Not only "if", but also "been a fan", implying that most people aren't using Debian any more?

*ducks for cover*

Re:I like the wording of that.. (3, Informative)

caffeinex36 (608768) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329696)

Well, not in a corporate environment I don't see it much.

Usually, if at all linux....its RH. :(

sad...but true...
-Rob

Re:I like the wording of that.. (5, Insightful)

CompWerks (684874) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329722)

What's wrong with RH? It's made the most headway in developing a true alternative to M$. Anyway you cut it RH helps all linux distro's across the board.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329789)

They've created a good alternative, and done great work that's benefited the entire human race greatly (seriously, it's true), but they have also succeeded in creating the most go awfully bloody slow distribution yet.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (1)

CompWerks (684874) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329795)

Unfortunately, I can't argue with that.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329741)

Of course you don't see Debian in the corporate enviroment. You don't see Slackware or LFS, either! RedHat and SuSe get the corporate markets becuase the provide the backup and support that corporates need. The partner with major hardware suppliers and ISV's. They can talk that weird language called "Business".

While Redhat and SuSe are doing all this, Debiam is three years out of date and squabling over the word "free" in BigBobsSuperDuperMega Licence Version 9e1, and wether or not the last Star Wars film was any good.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (4, Insightful)

Malc (1751) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329807)

"Debiam is three years out of date"

That's just tripe, and you know it. I have no idea why you got moderated up twice for spreading FUD. I use Mandrake and Debian at home, and Red Hat and Debian at work. Debian is pretty modern.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329816)

What, you'd seriously use unstable packages on a production enviroment? I hope I never have the misfortune of using one of your servers.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329877)

So, if a package is included in RedHat, it is ok to use. But if the the same package is in Debian unstable, it is not? Because it's more unstable?

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329897)

Redhat test each release cycle thoroughly, and provide support contracts that mean that should a package from Redhat break something on your production server, they will fix it (And they'll fix it fast). You get absolutly no such warranties with Debian, stable or otherwise.

Again, Redhat are in the corporate enviroments because they know how what business' want.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329892)

No, stable only. Besides, unstable doesn't offer us anything on our servers that we can't get from stable.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329845)

> ... Debiam is three years out of date ...

If you consider the derivitives of Debian, such as Knoppix, you can't say that it is out of date. Knoppix has absolutely the easiest installation of any operating system out there (unless you want to go back to DOS ("format c: /S" was pretty easy).

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329882)

No, I don't consider them, we're talking about Debian. Thats like saying "Oh, Redhat 9.0 has a bug in its authentication server" and someone else saying "Oh, but if you consider Mandrake as a Redhat derivitive, Redhat doesn't have that bug!" It doesn't make any sense.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329803)

The trouble I have with Red Hat is it seems "unpolished" if you can understand that. Debian just seems to be put together much more cleanly and upgrades in place easier. My biggest complaint with Red Hat is that when I tried Red Hat 9, my most important piece of add-on software (pam_radius_auth) didn't work anymore, yet it worked under Red Hat 8, Debian, Mandrake, Solaris, etc. It basically turned me off to Red Hat. Unfortunately Debian isn't an option at work so I'm stuck with Red Hat and finding a fix for pam_radius_auth.

Re:I like the wording of that.. (3, Informative)

kronsrepus (52625) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329821)

The New Zealand Electoral Department is (apparently) moving all of their desktop machines nationwide to run Debian linux. Now if that goes ahead as planned, that'll be a HUGE victory for Debian.

This news coming just after the NZ Govt signed some huge Microsoft deal...

Re:I like the wording of that.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329728)

Had you consulted an English Grammar reference, you would have found that 'have been a fan' implies that (a) you still are a fan, and (b) you have been a fan for a longer time. As opposed to 'used to be a fan' or 'were a fan'. (I wouldn't say that the wording is particularly fortunate either though). *ducks*

Re:I like the wording of that.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329732)

No, they're implying that /. editors like to use M$ kind of PR rhetorics to upset people who know better and make them read stupid articles.

corporates have always been strange... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329839)

If you look around were Debian is used, it will
usually be used where few competent people are running a large amount of systems. (And do not want to cope with unnecessary problems). Decentral organized universities are a good place to find something.

Of course you will not see a community driven efford to make the best thing possible in an environment, where mangers decide what to take.
(They will always use other criterias then the quality of the product...)

1 post and..... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329664)

Already slashdotted

Goatse Receiver, ass contortionist, dead at 55 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329668)

Goatse Receiver, ass contortionist, dead at 55


I just heard some sad news on talk radio - ass strectching exhibitionist Goatse Receiver was found dead in CmdrTaco\'s home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to gracing monitors of millions of internet users. Truly an American icon.
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*
g_______________________________________________g
o_/_____\_____________\____________/____\_______o
a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x
*___\______\_-~____________________~-_\____|____*
g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g
o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>_\___|_____o
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>_|__/_____a
t_______/\_|___C_____)/______\_(_____>_|_/______t
s______/_/\|___C_____)_R.I.P. |__(___>_/__\_____s
e_____|___(____C_____)\______/__//__/_/_____\___e
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*
mportant Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything

debian fucking sucks... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329669)

this post brought to you by the...

GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA (GNAA)
Fighting for free gay nigger speech since 2003

Um (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329671)

Im sorry to say but it seems to me that Slashdot is starting to post less and less intellectually stimulating or "different" articles - if nothing else the editorialising around linked articles seems to be diminishing to a few bland lines with no "Slashdot Slant".

Still it is a vaguely interesting article if nothing we have not seen before quite a few times.

Perhaps my idea of what Slashdot is for and what Slashdots idea are just diverging and I need to fork off.

*sigh* Already slashdotted, article text: (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329672)

By mid 2004 at the latest Linux will be a serious contender on the average desktop. The downfall of Windows won't be imminent (that will take another couple of years at least) but Linux will begin to take a serious chunk of the market. Kids will be doing their homework with it, Moms and Pops will be doing Internet banking and sending email to Aunt Edna with it, secretaries will be drafting letters with it, accountants will be creating spreadsheets with it.

But will Debian be there?

We all know that Debian is technically one of the most advanced operating systems on the planet, but is it ready to ride the coming shockwave of the desktop Linux juggernaught?

And just as importantly, do we want it to?

Yes, I know the argument that says Debian is created for the benefit of the people who do the creating, and that we shouldn't care if anyone outside the core developer group uses it or not.

I think that argument is bunk.

I say we should want Debian to grow with Linux, because if it doesn't, it's doomed. Doomed to be marginalised in an increasingly Linux-aware market, and doomed to be eclipsed technically by development efforts focused on the high profile commercial distros.

This point was really driven home to me last week when on two consecutive days I was asked for instructions on setting up Apt-cacher under Red Hat. The requests came from people who manage networks of Red Hat boxes using Apt-rpm, and naturally they wanted to cache packages to save some bandwidth. Apt-rpm and Apt-cacher were exactly the solution they needed.

So a Debian initiative saved the day for some Red Hat users. Sweet.

But now the most frequently cited technical advantage of Debian is gone, assimilated by the highest profile commercial distro. Now when people are discussing switching to Linux, there is no longer the argument that Debian is worth the pain of the initial install and the lack of general vendor support in order to reap the benefit of the most advanced package management system in the world. Instead, users can just install Red Hat and still get the benefits of Apt.

Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. It's the way things are meant to work in the Open Source world. Good ideas and good software get around, and a fundamental part of the Debian credo is that we don't restrict who can benefit from it, no matter what their application. That's a principle I firmly believe in.

And of course I'm glossing over the situation a bit here: I can imagine Debian developers all around the world jumping up and down and yelling that Debian is much more than a bunch of packages, or a technical specification for how to create them, or a tool to manage them. But I'm deliberately simplifying things because that's the way the average Joe User is going to see it: Oh, Red Hat has Apt now, cool. I'll use that instead of Debian.

Joe User doesn't know (or care) about the obsessive backporting of security patches to the stable release, or about the technical and social infrastructure and numerous supporting apps built up around Dpkg and Apt, or Debian's devotion to the purity of truly Open Source licences. As far as Joe User is concerned Redhat has Apt, and that's all there is to it. They don't know enough to make the finer distinctions.

Without distinguishing features like Apt, the argument for going with Debian is diminished. Sure, there are still arguments to be made, but they are less obvious. Here's an exercise for you: imagine you are standing at the water cooler chatting with workmates, and a non-technical colleague just said they are thinking of trying Linux at home and were going to install Red Hat but they heard Debian is really good, but has a tricky installer. They think they'll just try Red Hat because that's what they've heard of other people using, but are interested in your opinion because you're in computers. You've got exactly 15 seconds to succinctly explain why Debian may be better for them than Red Hat.

Go.

15, 14, 13, ... Time's up.

With Apt removed from the equation it's not so easy, is it?

But is Apt the only good idea to have come out of Debian? Of course not, it's just the most obvious one. Debian is not a one-idea project. A lot of other initiatives have come out of it, and there will be many more. Something I've come to realise is that no matter what's already been invented, there are always plenty of ideas still waiting to happen.

But this is where I smell danger: if Debian is marginalised as a distro by massive growth of Linux in general but no corresponding growth in Debian, where is the bulk of developer time going to be focused? On the most popular distros, of course. And as Linux moves past the early adopters to the typical home and corporate market, what sort of users do you think will be taking it up? Certainly not the hard-core techie types that have traditionally characterised Debian. If we can't appeal to more mainstream users, Debian will have a rapidly shrinking marketshare followed by a loss of initiative when it comes to technical innovation.

Oh no, I've just equated Debian's technical innovation with marketshare. Oops.

Does Debian really need to add even a single new user or developer to continue to lead the way in innovation? Maybe it can continue indefinitely exactly as it is, with the current userbase and developers, neither growing nor shrinking but always coming out with great new ideas that are implemented first in Debian then rapidly propagated through the other distros. I don't know. Personally I think that with a shrinking marketshare we would see a loss of momentum in Debian and the bulk of Linux development focused on the high profile commercial distros. In that scenario Debian would be bled dry, with current developers burning out or moving on and Debian itself relegated to being a historic artifact in the minds of users - if they are aware of it at all.

OK, so maybe, just maybe, we want to make Debian accessible to Joe User. We don't want Debian to be marginalised, we want it to grow right alongside Linux and be installed on more machines and maintain at least its current percentage of Linux installations, if not gain a few percentage points.

How do we do that? What will it take for Debian to be part of the mainstream Linux revolution that's just around the corner?

I've got two words for you, and you're not going to like them: usability and visibility.

Without usability, Joe User won't be able to install Debian and get on with doing the things he expects to do with his computer. Without visibility, he won't even know Debian exists in the first place.

And that's the crux of it. If Debian is going to continue to grow and develop, we're going to have to work on more than just technical innovation: we need to work on usability and visibility.

Marketing and usability testing aren't normally done by volunteers because they're not fun, at least not to programmers. In fact most programmers consider that while usability testing is a (sometimes) necessary evil, 'marketing' is just a dirty word that should never be uttered in good company (ie: other programmers!). It also has very commercial connotations, which is why I prefer to use the term 'visibility'.

Why is usability important? Let me give you a personal example that'll probably sound familiar.

People know I'm into computers, and often come to me for advice when they want to replace or upgrade their computer. I'm as rabid a Debian fan as any, so at every opportunity I also try to get them to consider switching to Debian.

But without a resident geek to be their personal helpdesk it's a very hard process for them to work through.

I want to be able to hand a Debian CD (and maybe a book) to a curious friend, and have them install Debian by themselves and start using it for day to day tasks. I don't want them to spend a week figuring out how to get a graphical desktop running - most people won't even spend an hour before they give up. And I want to hear back from that friend a few weeks later that they're now happily running Debian, and their machine hasn't crashed or had a problem with a virus since the switch. One more happy camper.

Unless spreading the joy of Debian can be as smooth as that, it won't happen. At least not among normal, everyday users.

The way to make it as smooth as that is to work on usability, and I think it's really important that we now have active Debian Desktop[1] and Debian Usability[2] sub-projects. Those guys really need us to support them and take them seriously, because I think the work they are doing is going to help take Debian to the next level. I applaud Colin Walters and Enrico Zini for their inititives in these areas.

Okay, so there are people actively working to make Debian more accessible and relevant to Joe User. How do we make sure Joe even knows Debian exists in order to try it?

If the idea of 'marketing' Debian bothers you, don't think of it that way. 'Visibility' is a much better concept. The idea of giving Debian visibility is something that most Debianistas take to naturally anyway. We know it's good, and we want other people to know it's good, so of course we're inclined to tell people about it. Working to raise the visibility of Debian just means doing this a bit more consciously, and on a slightly larger scale.

We need events, gatherings, news, launches, conferences, and new initiatives: any excuse to talk to the media or even just the person next door. The media is hot for Linux right now, so we need to work it. Debian's upcoming 10th birthday[3] is a perfect opportunity. We need to make sure it's covered by the popular press all around the world, and the idea of a distributed worldwide party is as good a hook as any to convince them to cover it. We've got less than two months to organise it, so lets get moving on it.

We need to talk about Debian to anyone that will listen. We need to demo it to anyone that shows the slightest bit of interest. We need to make sure the Debian spiral is recognised - in other words, we need to brand it.

And here's a hard one: when some government department is considering a switch to Linux, and reps from Red Hat and Mandrake and Suse (and Microsoft!) are in there doing sales pitches, we need someone pitching Debian right alongside them - not necessarily as a sales pitch, more as an advocate. How? I've got some vague ideas, but I'm not really sure what the answer to that little problem is. If you've got some ideas I'd love to hear from you. And I do know that unless it happens, those multi-thousand seat Linux deployments are going to pass Debian by.

Don't get me wrong, Debian has already had some big wins in this area such as the 80,000 seat deployment of LinEx (a Debian derivative) in the education system in Spain's Extremadura region, and it seems Debian's internationalisation efforts and true openness are big strengths in non-English speaking regions compared to the commercial distros. But unless someone is in the right place at the right time and pushes Debian as a solution, it just won't even be considered.

Right about now I can imagine people saying I've lost the plot, that I'm talking about Debian as if it were a commercial enterprise rather than a bunch of volunteers. Next he'll be talking about an IPO, they'll say. But that's not at all my intention - I love the spirit of Debian, the meritocracy and the tradition of doing things the right way rather the most commercially acceptable way. I don't want to change that at all, in fact I want to preserve it. I want an environment in which those who contribute to Debian are appreciated and rewarded and can continue to innovate, an environment where those who want to focus on technical details can do so without care for the constraints of a commercially mandated release cycle.

I want to save my Debian.

But I think the time has come when Debian needs more than a purely technical focus. We need people to take up the call to raise the profile of Debian in the consciousness of mainstream computer users.

Usability. Visibility. If we don't take those words to heart, I fear that Debian is doomed. Not tomorrow, not even next year, but one day we'll wake up and realise the world has passed us by like those still clinging to their Commodore 64s.

This is a wake-up call, folks. What are we going to do about it?

  1. www.debian.org/devel/debian-desktop/
  2. deb-usability.alioth.debian.org/
  3. www.debconf.org/10years/

Jonathan Oxer is Founder and Technical Director of Internet Vision Technologies, an Australian web application development agency with clients around the world. He is also a Debian developer and cmdrtaco felcher, and was organiser of the Debian Mini-Conf in Perth in January 2003 in association with Linux Conf Australia where he presented one of the technical papers. He has also spoken on various Internet-related topics at both corporate and government seminars. His first book, How To Hire A Web Developer And Stay Sane, is soon to be published, and his second and third books (How To Deploy Web Applications And Stay Sane and Disaster Proofing For Small Networks) are already underway.

This column is also being compiled into a fourth(!) book titled The Debian Universe, which can be read online at http://www.debianuniverse.com [debianuniverse.com] Sections have also been translated into Spanish, Italian and Norwegian.

He can be reached at jovt.com.au [mailto] .

Re:*sigh* Already slashdotted, article text: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329754)

We all know that Debian is technically one of the most advanced operating systems on the planet..

Hahahahahaha! Clueless Debian Zealot writes article, gets on Slashdot. Film at 11!

All we need now is the Gentoo Fanboys to chip in with their "insight" into the world of Operating Systems and we're all set for yet another Slashdot Crapfest!

Re:*sigh* Already slashdotted, article text: (5, Interesting)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329769)

I don't think Debian is going to collapse soon, But I do agree the installer could use some rethinking. Things I would like to see included: System recovery (using distributed backups over the lan), hardware autodetection, an installation blog - or something like that where you can put your installation remarks/choices, etc. Also, I'm looking for a command that would backup all config files that have been changed, or all files not managed by apt.

Also, if there were a central repository for those installation blogs, developers could easily see where most of the problems arise.. Just some random thoughts..

Read carefully, Mods!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329819)

This column is also being compiled into a fourth(!) book titled The Debian Universe, which can be read online at http://www.debianuniverse.com [goatse.cx] Sections have also been translated into Spanish, Italian and Norwegian.
There is a hidden goatse.cx link near the end!

MOD PARENT DOWN - no such link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329913)

The parent is lying and reposted a modified version.

Re:*sigh* Already slashdotted, article text: (4, Insightful)

Malc (1751) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329825)

"he way the average Joe User is going to see it: Oh, Red Hat has Apt now, cool. I'll use that instead of Debian. "

Unfortunately, Jow User doesn't realise that it isn't Apt itself that makes Apt great. It's the effort that goes in to creating the packages correctly that Apt uses. Broken and poorly maintained packages will render Apt as useful as RPM.

Re:*sigh* Already slashdotted, article text: (5, Insightful)

JanneM (7445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329907)

You are probably aware of this, but just to clear some misconceptions:

rpm deb

apt up2date Red Carpet

In other words, rpm (like deb) is a package format. Apt (like up2date, red carpet nad a number of others) is a system for downloading and installing packages, finding and solving dependencies between packages and so on.

Running apt on redhat still means using rpm - it's just that you use apt as the manager, instead of using the rpm tools directly to do stuff manually. As packages, rpm and deb are pretty much equal; rpm has gotten a bad rap in part because rpm based distros typically did not have a package manager earlier, and foremost, because there was no solid, single repository for them with people dedicated solely to find and fix inconsistencies and conflicts before pushing them out to users.

/.'d (-1, Redundant)

@madeus (24818) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329677)

Oh great *three* posts and it's already /.'d.

Grrr.

How can it be? (1)

BetterThanCaesar (625636) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329755)

How is that possible? We already now no-one reads the articles - so how can the site become slashdotted? Maybe people just open the link in a new window and press reload a couple of times?

Re:How can it be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329810)

you sir truly are a waste of humanity

Debian (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329678)

Debian

Gentoo (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329716)

Gentoo

Redhat (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329791)

Redhat

Caldera (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329826)

Caldera

Slashdotted already (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329679)

Early 2004 is going to be make-or-break time for Debian.

In mid 2003 public awareness of Linux is passing critical mass, moving beyond the technically competent early adopters and reaching for the desktop of Joe User. Linux is not limited any more to those who can read source code as easily as the Sunday paper. The new breed of user doesn't even know what source code is. Deployments aren't just happening in bedrooms and uni computer labs, they're happening on the scale of tens of thousands of desktops at a time in governments and large corporates. In much the same way as the Internet went through a gestation period before blasting seemingly overnight into the public consciousness, Linux is just now exploding in the awareness of Joe User.

By mid 2004 at the latest Linux will be a serious contender on the average desktop. The downfall of Windows won't be imminent (that will take another couple of years at least) but Linux will begin to take a serious chunk of the market. Kids will be doing their homework with it, Moms and Pops will be doing Internet banking and sending email to Aunt Edna with it, secretaries will be drafting letters with it, accountants will be creating spreadsheets with it.

But will Debian be there?

We all know that Debian is technically one of the most advanced operating systems on the planet, but is it ready to ride the coming shockwave of the desktop Linux juggernaught?

And just as importantly, do we want it to?

Yes, I know the argument that says Debian is created for the benefit of the people who do the creating, and that we shouldn't care if anyone outside the core developer group uses it or not.

I think that argument is bunk.

I say we should want Debian to grow with Linux, because if it doesn't, it's doomed. Doomed to be marginalised in an increasingly Linux-aware market, and doomed to be eclipsed technically by development efforts focused on the high profile commercial distros.

This point was really driven home to me last week when on two consecutive days I was asked for instructions on setting up Apt-cacher under Red Hat. The requests came from people who manage networks of Red Hat boxes using Apt-rpm, and naturally they wanted to cache packages to save some bandwidth. Apt-rpm and Apt-cacher were exactly the solution they needed.

So a Debian initiative saved the day for some Red Hat users. Sweet.

But now the most frequently cited technical advantage of Debian is gone, assimilated by the highest profile commercial distro. Now when people are discussing switching to Linux, there is no longer the argument that Debian is worth the pain of the initial install and the lack of general vendor support in order to reap the benefit of the most advanced package management system in the world. Instead, users can just install Red Hat and still get the benefits of Apt.

Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. It's the way things are meant to work in the Open Source world. Good ideas and good software get around, and a fundamental part of the Debian credo is that we don't restrict who can benefit from it, no matter what their application. That's a principle I firmly believe in.

And of course I'm glossing over the situation a bit here: I can imagine Debian developers all around the world jumping up and down and yelling that Debian is much more than a bunch of packages, or a technical specification for how to create them, or a tool to manage them. But I'm deliberately simplifying things because that's the way the average Joe User is going to see it: "Oh, Red Hat has Apt now, cool. I'll use that instead of Debian."

Joe User doesn't know (or care) about the obsessive backporting of security patches to the stable release, or about the technical and social infrastructure and numerous supporting apps built up around Dpkg and Apt, or Debian's devotion to the purity of truly Open Source licences. As far as Joe User is concerned Redhat has Apt, and that's all there is to it. They don't know enough to make the finer distinctions.

Without distinguishing features like Apt, the argument for going with Debian is diminished. Sure, there are still arguments to be made, but they are less obvious. Here's an exercise for you: imagine you are standing at the water cooler chatting with workmates, and a non-technical colleague just said they are thinking of trying Linux at home and were going to install Red Hat but they heard Debian is really good, but has a tricky installer. They think they'll just try Red Hat because that's what they've heard of other people using, but are interested in your opinion because you're "in computers". You've got exactly 15 seconds to succinctly explain why Debian may be better for them than Red Hat.

Go.

15, 14, 13, ... Time's up.

With Apt removed from the equation it's not so easy, is it?

But is Apt the only good idea to have come out of Debian? Of course not, it's just the most obvious one. Debian is not a one-idea project. A lot of other initiatives have come out of it, and there will be many more. Something I've come to realise is that no matter what's already been invented, there are always plenty of ideas still waiting to happen.

But this is where I smell danger: if Debian is marginalised as a distro by massive growth of Linux in general but no corresponding growth in Debian, where is the bulk of developer time going to be focused? On the most popular distros, of course. And as Linux moves past the early adopters to the typical home and corporate market, what sort of users do you think will be taking it up? Certainly not the hard-core techie types that have traditionally characterised Debian. If we can't appeal to more mainstream users, Debian will have a rapidly shrinking marketshare followed by a loss of initiative when it comes to technical innovation.

Oh no, I've just equated Debian's technical innovation with marketshare. Oops.

Does Debian really need to add even a single new user or developer to continue to lead the way in innovation? Maybe it can continue indefinitely exactly as it is, with the current userbase and developers, neither growing nor shrinking but always coming out with great new ideas that are implemented first in Debian then rapidly propagated through the other distros. I don't know. Personally I think that with a shrinking marketshare we would see a loss of momentum in Debian and the bulk of Linux development focused on the high profile commercial distros. In that scenario Debian would be bled dry, with current developers burning out or moving on and Debian itself relegated to being a historic artifact in the minds of users - if they are aware of it at all.

OK, so maybe, just maybe, we want to make Debian accessible to Joe User. We don't want Debian to be marginalised, we want it to grow right alongside Linux and be installed on more machines and maintain at least its current percentage of Linux installations, if not gain a few percentage points.

How do we do that? What will it take for Debian to be part of the mainstream Linux revolution that's just around the corner?

I've got two words for you, and you're not going to like them: usability and visibility.

Without usability, Joe User won't be able to install Debian and get on with doing the things he expects to do with his computer. Without visibility, he won't even know Debian exists in the first place.

And that's the crux of it. If Debian is going to continue to grow and develop, we're going to have to work on more than just technical innovation: we need to work on usability and visibility.

Marketing and usability testing aren't normally done by volunteers because they're not fun, at least not to programmers. In fact most programmers consider that while usability testing is a (sometimes) necessary evil, 'marketing' is just a dirty word that should never be uttered in good company (ie: other programmers!). It also has very commercial connotations, which is why I prefer to use the term 'visibility'.

Why is usability important? Let me give you a personal example that'll probably sound familiar.

People know I'm "into computers", and often come to me for advice when they want to replace or upgrade their computer. I'm as rabid a Debian fan as any, so at every opportunity I also try to get them to consider switching to Debian.

But without a resident geek to be their personal helpdesk it's a very hard process for them to work through.

I want to be able to hand a Debian CD (and maybe a book) to a curious friend, and have them install Debian by themselves and start using it for day to day tasks. I don't want them to spend a week figuring out how to get a graphical desktop running - most people won't even spend an hour before they give up. And I want to hear back from that friend a few weeks later that they're now happily running Debian, and their machine hasn't crashed or had a problem with a virus since the switch. One more happy camper.

Unless spreading the joy of Debian can be as smooth as that, it won't happen. At least not among normal, everyday users.

The way to make it as smooth as that is to work on usability, and I think it's really important that we now have active Debian Desktop [debian.org] and Debian Usability [debian.org] sub-projects. Those guys really need us to support them and take them seriously, because I think the work they are doing is going to help take Debian to the next level. I applaud Colin Walters and Enrico Zini for their inititives in these areas.

Okay, so there are people actively working to make Debian more accessible and relevant to Joe User. How do we make sure Joe even knows Debian exists in order to try it?

If the idea of 'marketing' Debian bothers you, don't think of it that way. 'Visibility' is a much better concept. The idea of giving Debian visibility is something that most Debianistas take to naturally anyway. We know it's good, and we want other people to know it's good, so of course we're inclined to tell people about it. Working to raise the visibility of Debian just means doing this a bit more consciously, and on a slightly larger scale.

We need events, gatherings, news, launches, conferences, and new initiatives: any excuse to talk to the media or even just the person next door. The media is hot for Linux right now, so we need to work it. Debian's upcoming 10th birthday [debconf.org] is a perfect opportunity. We need to make sure it's covered by the popular press all around the world, and the idea of a distributed worldwide party is as good a hook as any to convince them to cover it. We've got less than two months to organise it, so lets get moving on it.

We need to talk about Debian to anyone that will listen. We need to demo it to anyone that shows the slightest bit of interest. We need to make sure the Debian spiral is recognised - in other words, we need to brand it.

And here's a hard one: when some government department is considering a switch to Linux, and reps from Red Hat and Mandrake and Suse (and Microsoft!) are in there doing sales pitches, we need someone pitching Debian right alongside them - not necessarily as a sales pitch, more as an advocate. How? I've got some vague ideas, but I'm not really sure what the answer to that little problem is. If you've got some ideas I'd love to hear from you. And I do know that unless it happens, those multi-thousand seat Linux deployments are going to pass Debian by.

Don't get me wrong, Debian has already had some big wins in this area such as the 80,000 seat deployment of LinEx (a Debian derivative) in the education system in Spain's Extremadura region, and it seems Debian's internationalisation efforts and true openness are big strengths in non-English speaking regions compared to the commercial distros. But unless someone is in the right place at the right time and pushes Debian as a solution, it just won't even be considered.

Right about now I can imagine people saying I've lost the plot, that I'm talking about Debian as if it were a commercial enterprise rather than a bunch of volunteers. Next he'll be talking about an IPO, they'll say. But that's not at all my intention - I love the spirit of Debian, the meritocracy and the tradition of doing things the right way rather the most commercially acceptable way. I don't want to change that at all, in fact I want to preserve it. I want an environment in which those who contribute to Debian are appreciated and rewarded and can continue to innovate, an environment where those who want to focus on technical details can do so without care for the constraints of a commercially mandated release cycle.

I want to save my Debian.

But I think the time has come when Debian needs more than a purely technical focus. We need people to take up the call to raise the profile of Debian in the consciousness of mainstream computer users.

Usability. Visibility. If we don't take those words to heart, I fear that Debian is doomed. Not tomorrow, not even next year, but one day we'll wake up and realise the world has passed us by like those still clinging to their Commodore 64s.

This is a wake-up call, folks. What are we going to do about it?

Jonathan Oxer is Founder and Technical Director of Internet Vision Technologies, an Australian web application development agency with clients around the world. He is also a Debian developer, and was organiser of the Debian Mini-Conf in Perth in January 2003 in association with Linux Conf Australia where he presented one of the technical papers. He has also spoken on various Internet-related topics at both corporate and government seminars. His first book, "How To Hire A Web Developer And Stay Sane", is soon to be published, and his second and third books ("How To Deploy Web Applications And Stay Sane" and "Disaster Proofing For Small Networks") are already underway.

This column is also being compiled into a fourth(!) book titled The Debian Universe, which can be read online at http://www.debianuniverse.com [debianuniverse.com] .

Sections have also been translated into Spanish, Italian and Norwegian.

He can be reached at jon ivt.com.au.

It's a very good article. (0, Funny)

ATAMAH (578546) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329682)

And as people in linmagau.org have already found out
these kind of stories should be kept secret from slashdot for your web server's sake.

Re:It's a very good article. (1, Funny)

WPIDalamar (122110) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329701)

... and as the people of Australia have already found out, these kind of stories should be kept secret from slashdot for you entire country's connection sake.

Linux reference system (4, Interesting)

Dionysus (12737) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329689)

I think for Linux to grow more, it needs a reference implementation so that developers and users know that something will work for sure.

I think Debian GNU/Linux should be this system for several reasons.
It's non-commercial, meaning SuSe can't complain that the reference system is partial to RedHat or anyone else.
It's conservative, which is very important for reference systems. If you write for Debian 3.0, you know it will be around for awhile. This doesn't mean that RedHat can't extend their distribution to add more recent libraries or programs. It just mean that something written for Debian 3.0 will work in the RedHat system that says it follows 3.0.

Re:Linux reference system (0, Informative)

bytes256 (519140) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329778)

We already have one of these.

It's called LSB - The Linux Standard Base.

However, Red Hat is the de facto standard, so if you were developing an application for Linux, I would develop for that and check for incompatibilities in other distros later.

Re:Linux reference system (4, Insightful)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329832)

There already is such a system in the form of the LSB.

The main problems with using Debian as a reference distro are:

a) Not as popular as some other distros (which is not btw just because the clueless masses are stupid, give people some credit).

b) They don't have any real problem breaking binary compat with other distros, see their decision over the libdb mess.

c) The LSB already does it, and is widely accepted, has test cases etc.

Goatse Receiver, ass contortionist, dead at 55 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329698)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - ass stretching exhibitionist Goatse Receiver was found dead in CmdrTaco's home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to fooling intarweb noobies. Truly an American icon. [goatse.cx]

*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*
g_______________________________________________g
o_/_____\_____________\____________/____\_______o
a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x
*___\______\_-~____________________~-_\____|____*
g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g
o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>__\___|___ o
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>__|__/___ a
t_______/\_|___C_____)/______\_(_____>__|_/____ t
s______/_/\|___C_____)_R.I.P.|__(___>___/__\___ s
e_____|___(____C_____)\______/__//__/_/_____\___e
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*


# Please try to keep posts on topic. # Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. # Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. # Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. # Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) # If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Yeah watch out (5, Insightful)

Yuioup (452151) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329699)

I totally agree with the article. How many times have we seen technically superior technology being totally ignored and people going for 'popular' technology. Remember, the PC itself wasn't a technically superior machine. The intel processors weren't the best at the time, but everybody started buying PC's because they all wanted to play Leasure Suit Larry on it (.. and use Wordperfect).

So Debian should be more of a VHS than a Betamax if it wants to stand a chance...

Yuioup

First Ninnle Post! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329703)

Fsck Debian!

Although I use and dearly love Debian (5, Interesting)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329706)

I can see that it is clearly not disgned to have that much polish in GUI areas. Debian has been and will (IMHO) continue to be primarily designed for the technical user/Debian Developer, as these are the guys making the design choices. No walkthroughs, no neat GUI config a la Mangrake, not that much focus on usability as the assumption is that almost all users will be technically proficient.

This is a self-fullfilling prophecy, and to change this will take quite a major change from the existing Debian (fairly elitist) culture.

Where Debian will shine is not nessicarily as a mainstream distro itself, but as the basis of systems that are more widely used, such as Xandros and Knoppix. Is this a bad thing?

It does run the risk that Debian-as-distro/brand become marginalised, but all that needs to happen for the Debian project to stay healthy is that Debian-as-underlying-system is widespread.

This said, my Ideal World(tm) is every man and his dog running Deb... ;)

no walkthroughs? (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329783)

Of course Debian has walk-throughs. If you've ever installed a few packages, you'll realize that in each case, there's a neat (text) walkthrough of the relevant questions. Moreover, you only see the type of question you're prepared to answer (low priority, medium priority etc.).

Granted, it's not a GUI wizard, but that wouldn't be difficult to add. Somebody simply needs to write a GUI interpreter for those walkthroughs, which automatically turns multiple choice questions into radio bullet boxes and makes the whole thing look like a Windows Wizard(TM).

Niche markets have their place too. (2, Interesting)

wadiwood (601205) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329916)

Just because Debian is for a niche market doesn't mean it has to die if it doesn't go after the mainstream we-don't-care-how-it-works market. "Turn-key" solutions are not for everyone.

My current favourite magazine has several debian articles including this one updating debian [apcmag.com]
Unfortunately I cannot find the web link for the July issue workshop article about setting up Debian. I expect they'll make it available in August. They're very enthusiastic, and have included the install files on CD in the July 2003 issue. If I had a spare PC I might try it. Especially as they say you can use it to resurrect a pentium 100 (So I guess my pentium 133 would be ok).

I think Debian will survive as long as the guys who are building it now continue to be interested and new programmers take up the quest for the perfect OS, where perfect is defined more in terms of reliabilty, stablility and security than easy good looks.

What will get the mass market but never the geek market, are cheap (reliable) computers that are more compatible with people. They're still years off true user friendliness in hardware, software and people interfaces. Imagine no pain switching versions, or upgrading. Imagine not needing "training" to learn how to use the latest word processor, or to get the best out of animation software or video editing or being able to play the newest adventure game without having to read 300 pages of the manual, and learn lots of weird keyboard or mouse tricks to control the interface. Imagine computer games that you could play and keep fit at the same time. Hmm, I remember a rowing machine that had a video game of a shark chasing your rowing boat, and you had to row to keep ahead of the shark. That was nearly 10 years ago, but the gym I went to most recently didn't have it. Just numbers. Boring. Imagine having to pedal to keep your aeroplane off the ground in flight simulator?

Hmm got a bit carried away there.

What debian should do (2, Interesting)

ultrabot (200914) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329717)

Debian should release a stable SERVER subsystem, then build a rapidly improving desktop subsystem that remains compatible with the *stable* server subsystem. Kinda like the UnitedLinux idea, which isn't all that bad. People can tolerate when their desktop apps crash every now and again if their server side is rock solid, as we have come to expect from debian Stable. That server subsystem could also be a basis for various Debian derivatives, commercial and non-commercial.

An example release could be "Debian 4.2, based on Debian_base_3.4"

You are kidding. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329764)

And where do you split the base from the rest?

Think some moments about it and you will realize, that there is no such possibility. (If you do not see it, think some more. I'll assure you this algorithm terminates).

And finaly I want a system I can put on all the desktop system's I administer and know it is running. Unstable software (and everything young is unstable) has nothing to do there.

Though I wished there was some better software around. Some people prefer KDE and Gnome and this things are so buggy, the newest buggy version is better than the old buggy version...

Re:What debian should do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329844)

Erm, no. Maybe YOU can tolerate desktop apps crashing "every now and then" but then you might as well be using WinXP. Debian Stable gives me a rock-solid workstation for doing REAL work on, without worrying about crashes. And I can update the few apps (Mozilla, MPlayer) I need by hand.

Seriously, not all Linux users are "must have the latest" zealots who spend all their time compiling/downloading. Some of us have real work to do, and we just want the most reliable desktop system possible.

Thank heavens for Debian.

Re:What debian should do (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329854)

for a server, run the STABLE. For a desktop system that is running the cutting edge use UNSTABLE/TESTING.

It's what I do and it works fine. I have had many long uptimes and would have even longer ones if it weren't for kernel recompiles..

Apt-get (-1, Flamebait)

caffeinex36 (608768) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329725)

Come on!!.....I switched to RedHat w/ apt-get for RPM's MONTHS ago...where has everyone else been...jump on the bandwagon already!



I don't want this to start a flamewar over package managment, but what is better than apt? I have a co-worker (who is probably reading this) who rants about urpmi and how its like a billion times better...

Rob

Apt-get is not the ultimate. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329792)

I'm sorry to disapoint you. But if you thing the advantage of Debian is apt-get, then you did not unterstood the packaging system. Do not understand me wrong, apt-get is a nice way to integrate the downloading of packages in the direct way of installing them. But without a properly working dpkg in the background there is not that much fun.

And apt ist still very young, it still shows much problems and has errors. Though I fear I will not be able to describe them to you, if learned to live with .rpms, which cause so much grief, once you know this problems are by no way necassary.

Re:Apt-get (1)

taree (675736) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329805)

Well, maybe ports w/ portupgrade?

Tarmo

Re:Apt-get (1)

Squarewav (241189) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329820)

whats realy nice about urpmi that I wish would be added to apt is that with urpmi if you download a rpm thats not on the urpmi server you can type urpmi file.rpm and it will try and get the dependacys off the urpmi servers. saves a bit of rpm hell. I havn't used used mandrake in a wile couse for some reason it doesn't like my mb and for some reason wont connect to the net with my network card, I've tried 3 diffrent cards and it will install the drivers but wont connect, same things happen with knoppix and suse, ok im done ranting time for me to goto bed

My biggest compliant with debian (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329733)

is the slow release cycle. I'd like to be able to pin the newest KDE/gnome/whatever to stable and do an apt-get upgrade without breaking a million things. Last time I pinned kde 3.1 and updated I spent three days finding broken stuff and fixing it.

And yes, I am aware of the other debian-based distros that are more up to date, but they're all (to my knowledge) pay distros, and I am looking for something cheap/free.

Re:My biggest compliant with debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329799)

copy and paste troll?
I THINK SO! You FAIL IT

Re:My biggest compliant with debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329848)

hahaha.... please shoot yourself, plz

Debian has the problem the whole Linux world has.. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329745)

... to much people around comming from Windows.

Debian was always about doing "The Right thing", about not only making things work, but make them work like they should work.

But you cannot build a good distribution on software getting worse and worse. Think about more and more software unable to do basic things, because people did not thought about them as they are not feasable with one human before one computer. Because people grew up with windows and do not even know how it could work.

On good example is konqueror and its identification of file type through filename's suffix. Do you have time to tell 300 users of your computers to rename "download.htm" to "bild.gif" to be able to click on it. (Oh, sorry I forgot, you are using your computer alone...)

Even Debian, which was formerly known to be usable by admins, is now working on abolishing its old working menu system to one build up on KDE's
menus. (Instead that someone would finaly get a menu-method for KDE and the old one.)
It's a shame, the old system capable of creating a menu looking the same under all window-managers (except KDE, because the KDE people do not want to integrate) making life for an admin really easy, is dropped for a thing not nearly capable of it.
(No possibility to specify a menu-hirachy. And the proposed format for icons is png. absurd.)

Re:Debian has the problem the whole Linux world ha (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329911)

On good example is konqueror and its identification of file type through filename's suffix. Do you have time to tell 300 users of your computers to rename "download.htm" to "bild.gif" to be able to click on it. (Oh, sorry I forgot, you are using your computer alone...)

This is an example of copying a design flaw from Windows. When doing things the "unix way", use /etc/magic and take no notice of the file name, would work far better.

On the subject of Debian (5, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329746)

WARNING : THIS IS NOT A FLAMEBAIT. I LOVE DEBIAN, BUT READ ON ...

I started using Linux with SlackWare when it was the only distro available out there. I used to love them tarballs, but then at the time systems still had manageable sizes, so one really could compile everything in a reasonable time.

Then I had the (mis?)fortune of being hired by a certain Caldera spinoff and was forced to use OpenLinux 1.2. That was my first contact with RPM, and that was a painful contact. Part of my work also involved writing and maintaining specfiles for various cross-platform packages. That's when I learned that (1) RPM was better than tarballs because it had dependencies, (2) RPM dependencies are not powerful enough and (3) RPM isn't backward-compatible. In short, RPM is not good but it's better than nothing.

At that company, I also had the misfortune of meeting a Debian fanatic. Note that I say he's a fanatic of Debian, not that Debian made him a fanatic. Having tried Debian long ago myself, when it wasn't ready for prime-time, and having found it complicated and messy at the time, I was conforted in this idea by the truly detestable way this guy was patronizing everybody who didn't use Debian, and was turned off Debian for another 2 years.

Then, several months ago, it was a sunday afternoon, my local computer shop was closed, and I couldn't find my RH CD to reinstall my box. I though : what the hell, I'm no more stupid than the average Debian user and I have nothing to do, let's try the Debian network-install. Well, I went through a little pain (it's not quite totally polished yet), but I've never looked back. dpkg and apt-get are just a godsend, and I too am now a convert today.

Moral of the story : I avoided using Debian for several years entirely due to the advocacy of one (well, several actually) Debian bigot. You can always say that I should have been more intelligent and I should have made my own opinion, but I never had time and the experience you get from other users do count for me.

In conclusion : what's the biggest good that could happen to Debian ? that other distros' package management got better so Debian bigots wouldn't have such an powerful incentive to behave like asses and disgust other people of Debian before they even try it. Or better still, that the Debian bigots start realizing that they won't win anybody to Debian by being patronizing.

Re:On the subject of Debian (2, Interesting)

qtp (461286) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329866)

Every distro has it's fanatics, hell, I've run into several RedHat bigots myself. It does make advocacy more difficult when the water has been tainted by people who use thier OS choice as a political statement or use advocacy as an outlet for thier personal axe grinding.

Debian's choice to be all DFSG [debian.org] distro is actually the only practical choice for a non-comercial org producing an OS. The battles in the past over the Troll Tech license had more to do with avoiding future troubles that a vaguely worded or confusing license could produce.

When an org has limited rescources, no comercial structure, and consists entirely of volunteers with no binding contract, then it makes sense to adhere to a very strict only Free Software position.

I want my 5 minutes back! (2, Interesting)

Reservoir Penguin (611789) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329751)

What could possibly be a reason for writing such an amzingly content-free article? Either the author is completely bored out of his mind or its what we call in Russia "black PR", could it be coming from Redhat that he seems to be whoring in the "article"? RedHat has apt now Debian is dead? WTF? Does Redhta also provide over 4K packages in stable testing and unstable forms? Or is it just a measely freshrpms depository that is only useful for upgrading standard packages that come with Redhat? Debian will contunue to be used by people who value Freedom and stability based release schedules over push the latest buggiest crap now preferebly couple with unresonblu upping the version number.

Oh Dear God No (5, Interesting)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329758)

Why I like Debian:

(1) Serious philosophical principles. The only people to say GNU/Linux with a straight face. People concerned with my liberty above all else.

(2) No Prepackaged Experience. I run Fluxbox, Gnome-Terminal, Mozilla, and Konqueror, and have a proper GTK/KDE library environment. It all works the way I want it.

(3) The system state is transactional. Glitz is antithetical to transactionality. Glitz hides transactions. I like transactions.

(4) No waiting forever to compile stuff pointlessly.

#1 is the crucial element. Liberty is paramount.

Re:Oh Dear God No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329804)

What i dont like about debian:

-Only good for servers
-Stable: old
-Unstable:looking for trouble, and still old
-Licensing issues, cool apps missing
-No xfree 4.3, no mplayer
-Unfriendly community
-Everyone now has apt or an improved version of it
-Installer sucks
-Dselect sucks

Re:Oh Dear God No (4, Informative)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329868)

What i dont like about debian:

-Only good for servers


Upgrade your MDA video card, you'll see it's pretty good at being a desktop box. Where the hell did you get that ?

-Stable: old

Possibly, but it's stable. That's the main reason to use it. Caldera OpenLinux, which was supposed to be robust as a primary goal, also had outdated but well-tested packages (before Caldera let it grow too old it was useless to everybody).

-Unstable:looking for trouble, and still old

No and no. I use unstable with no problem at all, and I don't find it very out of date. Some things are, but most of the packages are fairly current.

-Licensing issues, cool apps missing

That's partially true. But you can always add non-free sources in your /etc/apt/sources.list. And you can always compile the tarballs if you really need to.

-No xfree 4.3, no mplayer

No mplayer ? hello ?

ppc@akula:~$ apt-cache search mplayer
mplayer-mozilla - Embedded video player for mozilla
mencoder-386 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
acidrip - ripping and encoding DVD tool using mplayer and mencoder
mencoder-686 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
mplayer-k6 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux
mplayer-doc - Documentation for mplayer
mplayer-fonts - Fonts for mplayer
kplayer - A KDE media player based on MPlayer
mencoder-k6 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
lumiere - A GNOME frontend to mplayer
mplayer-386 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux
mplayer-686 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux


-Unfriendly community

Unfortunately, that's true, at least partially.

-Everyone now has apt or an improved version of it
-Installer sucks
-Dselect sucks


dselect and installer do suck, yes. But it's worth the pain IMHO.

Re:Oh Dear God No (0, Flamebait)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329846)

Considering that Red Hat doesn't ship non-free software either (and I think this is true of Mandrake also), remind me why Debian is "more concerned with liberty" again? Because they have a bunch of almost-lawyers arguing over the definition of invariant clauses?

Re:Oh Dear God No (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329874)

"(4) No waiting forever to compile stuff pointlessly.

Just waiting forever for somebody else to compile it for you and a dozen other platforms you don't use ;)

I love Debian. I find it so much easier to maintain server side than our Red Hat boxes. Everything just works. The wait for the development cycle is worth it - everything just works. Don't talk to me about doing a Woody 3.0 net install with / and /boot on Linux RAID though. That's twisted.

newby question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329772)

debe-ian or debb-ian? TIA

Application for new goatse.cx guy (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329782)

With the recent death of the goatse.cx guy, we need a new goatse.cx guy. This is your opportunity to be the next goatse.cx guy!!! Mail your answers to the following questions to CmdrTaco at malda@slashdot.org.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate the looseness of your anus? (1 being incredibly tight, 10 being incredibly loose)
  2. If you rated the looseness of your anus under 9, would you be interested in a looser anus?
  3. Why do you want to be the goatse.cx guy?
  4. If the looseness of your anus is less than a 9 do you have any problem with CmdrTaco shoving taco shells up your anus and smashing them?
  5. If the looseness of your anus is greater than or equal to 9, do you still want your anus to be looser?
  6. Do you have any objections to being naked whenever you are in the slashdot compound? (except for butt plugs if you wish to wear them)
  7. Will you engage in taco snotting with CmdrTaco to become the next goatse.cx guy?
  8. Will you sign a wavier that any injuries caused by goats will not cause you to sue CmdrTaco, slashdot.org, and/or goatse.cx?
  9. Please provide an email address so we can contact you.

Is the article really focusing on Debian (0, Troll)

Unominous Coward (651680) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329784)

Doesn't anybody find the first paragraph of the article a bit optimistic?

By mid 2004 at the latest Linux will be a serious contender on the average desktop.

Whooah! Slow down there, buddy. We have a decent OS going, but it still lacks a few things which won't come easy (fonts, easy configuration, changing resolution, unified base)

Then the author continues,

The downfall of Windows won't be imminent (that will take another couple of years at least)

Now he's predicting that Linux will cause the downfall of Windows in just a couple of years?!

To me, this seems more "interesting" than his assertion that Linux needs a unified installation base, and whatever he may have had to say about Debian (I didn't read the article).

Re:Is the article really focusing on Debian (1)

Erwos (553607) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329829)

"Whooah! Slow down there, buddy. We have a decent OS going, but it still lacks a few things which won't come easy (fonts, easy configuration, changing resolution, unified base)"

1. Several high-quality fonts were released into the open not too long ago by their corporate creators.
2. XRandR
3. Easy configuration? Have you used a modern version of RedHat or SuSE? It really couldn't be too much easier...
4. The LSB is the common base.

Anything else?

-Erwos

Article somewhat optimistic... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329786)

"By mid 2004 at the latest Linux will be a serious contender on the average desktop. The downfall of Windows won't be imminent (that will take another couple of years at least) but Linux will begin to take a serious chunk of the market. Kids will be doing their homework with it, Moms and Pops will be doing Internet banking and sending email to Aunt Edna with it, secretaries will be drafting letters with it, accountants will be creating spreadsheets with it."

Would you like to bet some money on that?

"But will Debian be there?

We all know that Debian is technically one of the most advanced operating systems on the planet, but is it ready to ride the coming shockwave of the desktop Linux juggernaught?"

The desktop linux juggernaught? Oh, you mean Gnome. Or do you mean KDE? I know, you mean X, everyone's *favorite* GUI.

The linux desktop is an absolute mess. The article's claim that windows will be dead by mid-2006 is ridiculous. MS has too much money, too much monopoly, and too much inovative stuff just around the bend (read: Longhorn will take advantage of the technology MS developped through the complicated research process of using Mac OSX a lot) to keel over that easily. What's the point of an article if its assumptions are super-optimistic trash?

what about platform independence? (2, Interesting)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329797)

So the guy wrote about apt, and how it's been adapted to run on other distros, but he didn't at all mention one strength which is unparalleled by any other distro: platform independence. Debian runs on what, ten different architectures (from memory, too lazy to look it up). No other operating system in the world runs on more hardware than Debian. That's extremely sellable to large companies.

Re:what about platform independence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329809)

have you ever heard of NetBSD there homey?

Re:what about platform independence? (4, Insightful)

martin (1336) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329837)

umm NetBSD....a few more than Debian..

http://www.netbsd.org/Ports/

Re:what about platform independence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329904)

Not wishing to start any flames, but I think that netBSD actually runs on more hardware than Debian.

Is Debian for everyone? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329802)

I kind of agree with the premise of the article. I am a new Debian user and I just don't think that most people who are not computer geeks (I'm not a computer geek--I'm just hardheaded and will keep trying until I figure something out) will stick with Debian long enough to enjoy it, at least as it is set up now.

Am I glad that I chose Debian for my first Linux distro? Yes. I learned a lot about my computer and a lot about Linux by choosing Debian. Will I stick with Debian? Yes, it does everything that I want it to and more and I like the fact that I learn more about my computer just by using Debian. Would I recommend it to my little brother who is thinking about Linux but is not the type to spend hours trying to figure out what driver will make his sound card work or how to configure X if he set up his monitor wrong and just gets gibberish on the screen? Hmmm, I have to think about that one for a while. Maybe another distro will work better for him.

Segments (3, Insightful)

rf0 (159958) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329808)

IHMO I really feel that Debian is aimed at the server and techincal user market and not the sort of people who run windows. Debian is very very powerful but not that intuative. For example to setup networking you have to /etc/network/interfaces. In RH you click on the pretty networking panel.

However as mentioned in that article apt-get is a saviour. Security problem on RH. Download RPM, check deps, install. Fix broken config

Debian: apt-get update && apt-get install

Walk away

Just MHO

Rus

debian in a redhat shop (3, Interesting)

Soothh (473349) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329811)

The company i work for uses a good deal of redhat for workstations and high end servers. Even our NT admin converted to redhat and uses vmware for when he needs to run NT. I personally now run debian at work, and am trying to get them to change to deb.
After using redhat for many months here, then changing to debian, ill never go back to RH. It can be a pain to get installed, but once there, its solid. where as on redhat I had lots of dep issues because I was always installing cutting edge crap. I have done the same on debian, but with alot less issues. With in a few weeks ill have the chance to change over our DNS server to debian. And onward from there...

Re:debian in a redhat shop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329835)

OMG you fag, DNS is much better served by FreeBSD go ask a 100 ISP's what they use.

Good way to try Debian (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329813)

For those turned off or scared away by the debian install process (which still seems stuck in the 90's. Jesus, did I just say that?), grab a Knoppix CD.

No, seriously. I don't run debian primarily because I don't want to go through the install process. I don't know what chipset my nic has, and I really don't care to know, know what I mean? Ditto with everything else.

I've been using flavors of RedHat, culminating with Redhat9 that's currently my Linux of "choice", mainly because Redhat offered superior hardware detection/setup. But, I've always had to tweak a bit here and there to get it working nicely.

However, with the advent of Knoppix, I think that's about to change. I popped in Knoppix 3.2 today for the first time to see what it was all about. The hardware detection on this LIVE CD is absolutely.. superb. It recognized and setup my Orinoco Wireless card. It found and mounted my Sony Cybershot Camera. Jesus, it even found and setup my Wacom! The only thing it didn't do was give me dual-head support OOB, but I don't think I know any distro that does that. But that's okay, fortunately I know how to set that up myself. It comes with KDE, it looks great, it just WORKS. And because it "just works" I'm really tempted to wipe RedHat off and do the HD install of this.

Some notes that I've come across, though: As Knoppix uses a special blend of testing/unstable (or something like that), it's really hard to do dist-upgrade and what not without downgrading your desktop. I heartily recommend reading through the docs at the Knoppix website and finding out what issues may remain. As a desktop Debian based distro, though, I think Knoppix just plain rules.

Debian - the perfect technical basis. (forever ;) (-1, Redundant)

kompiluj (677438) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329815)

Even if Debian will not be the desktop distribution of the future, surely there will be many distributions basing on Debian and adding some functionality to it.
One of such excellent distributions is Knoppix Live on CD distribution [knopper.net] , which is one-CD linux able to run on almost any hardware in the universe. It runs even on machines on which RedHat and SuSE cannot (I have seen such!). The heart of Knoppix is its fantastic hardware-auto-configurator.
Debian is the base for Knoppix because it is very stable and has clear config files.
I think that the Debian community should put Debian forward as a reference system and a potential basis for other fine-tuned distros.

So what? (4, Interesting)

rknop (240417) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329818)

If Linux gets a lot bigger, but Debian doesn't get bigger with it-- so what?

The Debian developers seem to be happy to work on Debian for their own use and for the use of the people who use it now. As long as that audience doesn't shrink too much-- and I doubt it will, for though many slashdot posters love to scoff at this, there are some people who use Debian for philosophical and other reasons-- then the same number of people will continue to use Debian.

Yeah, I agree that Debian needs to move forward and needs to make sure it stays as close to the "cutting edge" as possible. But I don't understand why other Linux distributions exploding into extreme popularity among people not currently using Linux at all must detract from Debian. That sort of "must be the market leader to survive" mentality may work for commerical entities (be they open or closed source companies), but Debian isn't one such beast.

Indeed, I suspect what will happen is that the "mainstream" distros will become more attached to proprietary offerings. Red Hat's made amazing contributions to the open source community, but if their users are demanding crossover office sorts of things bundled with Microsoft Office, and M$ agrees to licence that, I'd be surprised if Red Hat didn't go for it. There will be those who will stick with Debian for philosophical reasons-- and so long as there are enough of them to provide a core of Debian maintainers, why not? It doesn't hurt anybody else.

That's the great thing about free software. Anybody who wants to do their own thing can do their own thing, without being beholden to what somebody else is doing, and without requiring anybody else to be beholden to them.

-Rob

print url (1)

millette (56354) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329823)

This seems to work a little faster: http://www.linmagau.org/modules.php?op=modload&nam e=Sections&file=index&req=printpage&artid= 212

up2date vs apt (3, Informative)

mapnjd (92353) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329827)

The author raises many valid points, but it should be noted that not many Red Hat users could give a stuff about 'apt'.

Red Hat Linux comes with one free basic RHN/up2date licence. For enterprise customers (like us) 'RHN Enterprise' with central package management, server grouping etc. is a fantastic product and superior to using apt.

Obsessing with apt and the (internal) superiority of dpkg is typical of the Debian bigot. Those of us in the real world have more important fish to fry.

Debian and other distros (1, Interesting)

zr-rifle (677585) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329828)

It looks like user-unfriendly != survivability. User-friendliness was not the reason I switched to linux in the first place. I trashed M$ because I was getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of transparency, the lack of customization options and, most importantly, the lack of understanding of things that I wanted the machine to do and things that I didn't want the machine to do. JoeUser@Work doesn't want make output flying by on his shell (shell, what's a shell?), neither do Wall street brokers need to tweak the number of running processes on their box to get maximum performance. They want things to be clearly understandable and to operate without any hassle, to get the work done. RedHat is for them. For everyone else, Linux stands for having fun learning how an operating system works, tweaking and, of course, bragging about how well configured, stable and updated their own box is. That's what Debian and Gentoo, among other, are for. So they're not user-friendly. So they start you off with a void, depressing shell prompt. So much the better for us. We soak knowledge from learning things the hard way. And doing things the hard way means fun for us. Rather than competition from RedHat, I see Gentoo overtaking Debian. User migration is far more substantial and has far more meaning for the linux community.

Quit drooling over apt-get (5, Insightful)

DaStoned (639930) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329833)

APT is a tool, not an idol so quit the crap. Being a very useful tool indeed it should be, has been and will be ported everywhere it is needed. Go ahead, port it to Apple, the users will only benefit from it.

Calling APT the main and only advantage of Debian is plain ignorance.

Debian's strength lies in maturity which results from well-defined development policies, experienced & dedicated developers and large quantities of common sense :)

Apart from raving over APT for the first 1/3 of it's length, the article is, of course, right. Average Joe cannot tackle Debian.

Still, I wouldn't worry so much. The server market is huge. Debian simply kicks ass there.

Debian safe whilst it sticks to its heritage! (3, Insightful)

Alkarismi (48631) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329843)

Debian is not only the distribution of choice for the technically savvy, it is in most cases the best choice for deployment in Business.

The inevitable rise of GNU/Linux is one thing, Debian's place in the world is another. The two are not connected!

We deploy GNU/Linux and Free Software, every day, in an Enterprise setting. The opinion-du-jour on 'Linux on the Desktop' has almost nothing to do with distribution selection for any particular business. To the extent that Debian sticks to its long tradition of quality, stability, security and attention to detail it will remain right at the top of the shortlist (certainly for us at the very least).

Any increase in GNU/Linux usage is good for the community. Home users will be swayed by what they have always been swayed by - ease of use, getting their stuff done, and eye-candy. Decisions on Distributions used in business will continue to be made using a differenct set of criteria.

APT is NOT the "big advantage" of Debian (5, Informative)

WanderingGhost (535445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329858)

Well, it's sad that people say that now that apt has been ported to other distributions, Debian has no advantages anymore. The development process in Debian is the real advantage, with some nice consequences:

  • Eleven hardware architectures supported.
  • Support for other kernels (Hurd and BSD) is almost there (experimental versions do work already).
  • A solid and intelligent policy, which will yield uniformness among packages, their directories and configuration files, etc, besides other nice things.
  • An excellent bug-tracking system.
  • More software than any other Linux distribution.
  • Respect for upstream software (like, Debian doesn't call Apache "httpd", they call it "apache").
  • Usually, there are scripts to automate everything: compare kernel compilation in RedHat to kernel compilation in Debian, for example.
  • Stability. Debian is famous for not releasing buggy software, no matter how long it takes to release.
  • Respect for suggestions and request from users: Debian will listen to users (via the bug tracking system), and if what you say makes sense, it will be included. No marketing department will filter anything.


Well, ther are other advantages, but these are the ones I remember now. By the way, I've been using APT for Conectiva, and I can tell you it's really not as good as the original (lacks stability, and is slower).

Death of Debian predicted, film at 11 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6329859)

Debian lives by its contributors. If you reckon they're going away, there's a issue. But I certainly don't see that happening at the moment, so what's the problem again?

In the Tradition of Greenspun's Tenth (3, Funny)

Adam Warner (205156) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329869)

``Any sufficiently complicated software distribution contains an ad hoc, informally specified bug-ridden implementation of half of Debian GNU/Linux.''

Knoppix (2, Informative)

kronsrepus (52625) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329883)

A couple of other people mentioned Knoppix as the wonderful work of Debian, with better usability.

Knoppix has a wonderful hardware detection wizard, a simple script to install to the hard drive, and is also mentioned in the same edition of LinMagAu, surprisingly the writer didn't include a reference to it.

Personally I'm starting to hand friends a copy of Knoppix, if they like it I'll point them to the hdd install script.

Debian is a great base for Knoppix, and once a user becomes competent they can take advantage of the underlying Debian power - but they dont need a geek on hand to get started.

debian is not just apt and a philosophy (5, Insightful)

bazongis (654674) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329890)

Here is why I am likely to stick to debian in the foreseeable future:

  • it's not because of the philosophy (I love the philosophy, but it wouldn't keep me from switching to a better distro if that makes my life in front of the computer better)
  • it's not just because of apt
  • it's because the packages have an extremely high quality, and because of a long term hassle-free upgrade procedure

Let me explain this in a bit more detail:

I started using debian roughly 4 years ago, after having tried various other distributions for different amounts of time (admittedly I was a complete clueless newbie then and had only limited abilites to stray too far from the default install).

Since then I have been running exactly the same debian installation.

I have started with stable, then went to testing, then went to unstable. In this time, I've upgraded my cpu and mobo twice, replaced various hardware, and have upgraded my desktop environment through various fairly incompatible KDE versions, and painlessly went through the c++ ABI changes.

And all I've done in all that time is simply 'apt-get upgrade' or 'apt-get dist-upgrade'. Nothing else.

The package quality of debian packages is usually extremely high, and most package maintainers go to great lengths to make complicated upgrade procedures virtually invisible. And it works.

In the mean time, I have seen many of my friends repeatedly re-install their linux system from scratch, because upgrading simply didn't work out quite as expected. And I felt reminded of those good old windows times, where you just re-installed your system every half a year or so.

I don't want that. I want to install my system and keep it up-to-date and want to never have to re-install it (unless the box was compromised of course).

That's why I love debian, because it makes the daily package-juggling and -upgrading easy, and thus improves my quality-of-life-in-front-of-the-box considerably.

I can't say I'm up-to-date with other distributions any more, and I've got nothing against other distributions at all. I am fairly sure the installation procedure of most other distros is far superior to the current debian installer, and probably many have more user-friendly configuration tools as well.

I just watch all my friends doing things I don't want to do. And that makes me a happy debian user.

And for the same reason I would immediately decide for debian when it comes to setting up a linux box at work (partly of course because I know he system better).

Anyway, thanks for reading :-)

Screw average Joe (3, Insightful)

1gor (314505) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329893)

I'm sick of this argument: "Average Joe doesn't care... It's too difficult for average Joe... The product has no future... Let's make the product easier for the brain-dead and dumb it down".

For the record, there exist such thing as market niches and they can be lucrative enough. Not everything should be mass-produced. Maybe millions of average Joes do not care about single vendor and forced upgrade risk. Let RH make money servicing them. There will be a limited number of sophisticated and influential users who will always need (and support) Debian.

oh man (0)

broeman (638571) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329894)

I don't even care to convince windows users to switch to Linux or Apple. After trying in the late 90's where nobody cared (I cannot play my game there? begone!) to the latest years were everyone wants to know how it works. I know that open source also involves helping eachother, but I don't really care about people I tried to convince some years ago, and then want me to help them after they screw up their system.

... It's sad ... luckily there are forums on gentoo, so I can help those who are really in need and them helping me with those features I haven't played with yet.

11 minutes, and already slashdotted (3, Interesting)

xdroop (4039) | more than 11 years ago | (#6329910)

...pretty amazing.

More to the point: Debian is already marginalized to a certain extent. In the semiconductor industry, if a simulation or regression tool runs on linux, it runs on RedHat linux. A specific version of RedHat linux.

It is one of the first questions that technical support will ask: what version of linux is the tool running on? And if you answer incorrectly, you get a free trip to the sorry but that is not a supported configuration hang up. I am responsible for about a hundred linux boxes and none of them are Debian, for precisely this reason.

The real question is: so what? If the Debian developers are really as keen as everyone says they are, then it really doesn't matter -- they will keep coming up with technical innovations which will get tried, proven, and then absorbed into "more popular" distributions. Let Debian users be on the cutting edge, while those of us with real work to do can use the distilled and canned solutions to get on with our lives.

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