Debian Linux: Living in Interesting Times

Opinion: The emerging Ubuntu and Debian Core Consortium developments take the distro in unexpected directions.

Around this time last year, I was expecting interesting times ahead for Debian. The long-awaited Sarge release of the popular, noncommercial Linux distribution was right around the corner, and Bruce Perens pending UserLinux project promised to brighten Debians enterprise prospects by bringing the distribution a new face and community.

So its a year later, and Sarge remained AWOL for much longer than Id expected (although it finally showed up, in good form, last month). UserLinux still exists, for the most part, as a scantily detailed Web site and a ghost-town mailing list.

Nonetheless, while things didnt turn out quite as Id expected, the year has indeed been an exciting one for Debian—a case of me being wrong about how Id be right.

Around the time Id expected to see Sarge and UserLinux hit the streets, we did get a free, current and supported new release, based on Debians bleeding-edge unstable branch—Ubuntu.

The fact that Ubuntus finishing touches were applied not from within the canonical Debian release process, but instead under the control of Canonical Ltd.—along with the fact that Ubuntu has accrued momentum so quickly—has led some to wring their hands about a possible Debian schism.

Still, Ubuntu is now backed by a non-profit foundation endowed with $10 million from Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, which does buy the upstart a measure of independence. But I think that Ubuntus dependence on Debian as a foundation is too strong to expect the new distribution to cut ties with the project.

In any case, the two groups are stronger together than apart—which brings me to the Debian Core Consortium reported on this week by eWEEK.coms Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. The effort, which calls to mind the (as far as I can tell) stillborn Linux Core Consortium initiatives, seeks to rally prominent Debian-based distributions, including Linspire and Xandros, around a common Debian core, in an attempt to bring Debian to enterprises.

Time will tell whether DCC ends up going anywhere. After watching UnitedLinux fall apart, and waiting all year for UserLinux to go somewhere, Im withholding judgment for now.

I will say, though, that the stated DCC aim of providing com-patibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the RPM package format seems to me like a waste of time. If organizations want RHEL, they can buy it, or have an RHEL clone like CentOS for free. Enterprise Debian efforts should focus on Debian, and on Debians strengths—a major one of which is the distributions native packaging system.

Frankly, its not that tough for ISVs to build native Debian packages, and if they cant offer a deb, you cant well expect them to support the RHEL-packaged version of their application on Debian. ´

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at


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