Time for a new Debian?
After looking at some of the recent debacles in the Debian project, from the revisions in the social contract being interpreted that everything in the Debian distribution has to meet the DFSG guidelines, to the flameage about a non-functioning treasurer for Software in the Public Interest (the legal home of Debian), to the continuing delay in getting Sarge released, I started to wonder if Debian is completely dysfunctional and cannot be saved.
The problems are mainly cultural and stem from many sources:
- The Debian Project Leader for the past couple of years has been extremely weak (probably in reaction to Bruce Paren’s failed attempt to be a “strong” leader), and has been reduced to essentially announcing the majority consensus of developers. That has very little to do with “leading”, at least in my book.
- The voting mechanism is extremely heavy-weight, which is a problem since formal decision making relies on a form of direct democracy instead of representative democracy. As a result, many decisions get made via discussions on mailing lists. This would be fine, except that it means that those that are vocal tend to drown out everyone else. (For example, the folks who argued for jettisoning non-free very extremely vocal on debian-devel, but when the vote came out, the number of people who wanted to keep non-free outweighed those who wanted to junk it by over three to one.) This means that people who have nothing better to do than to flame all day on mailing lists very often get to influence how decisions end up getting made.
- One of the extremely vocal subgroups currently dominating many of the mailing lists are those who are licensing fanatics, that have been descirbed as “the Knights Lunar who must prove that they are more Stallman than Stallman.”
- In addition, the level of discourse on many of these lists have degenerated into incivility and name-calling
I’ve started to wonder if it’s time to simply try to fork the organization and start over. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t have time to do it myself, but if I were, I’d start with a totally different Social Contract. In my ideal world, the Social Contract for this new organization would have the following (ordered) list of key values:
- The needs of the users:
- Ease of use
- Support of non-obsolete software and non-obsolete hardware in the “stable” release
- We will not hide problems
- an open bug tracking database
- open processes when dealing with legal/administrative issues, from creating accounts to finances
- Technical excellence and long-term maintainability
- Having fun and treating fellow developers and users with civility and politeness
- Free Software (note the needs of the users, technical excellence, and treating each other with respect are considered more important than “free software”)
I dunno. Perhaps if the latest General Resolution (to undo the recently made, flawed set of “Editorial Changes” to the social contract) fails, there will be enough other developers who are distressed at the current course of Debian that there would be interest in creating a new organization that uses Debian’s technical excellence, but which leaves behind some of the doctrinaire insistence on being “more Stallman than Stallman”, and for which the cultural norms about treating others with respect and civility are very clearly articulated from the outset. I can dream…