19 May 2004 mbanck   » (Journeyer)

"Sun should do Debian"

That's the private opinion of a couple of Sun people from their blog entries here and here last weekend. Jonathan Schwartz was already quoted in january that Sun would rethink their Linux desktop platform, currently based on SuSE. The question is which platform should Sun adopt instead, and a couple of people seem to push for Debian. The advantages for Sun's JDS would be quite obvious:

  • Sun would not depend on another company for their desktop system.
  • In contrast to Fedora, Debian is a really stable platform to build on, with a slow and predictible (at least quality-wise) release cycle.
  • Sun could gain a significant boost in community acceptance if the adoption of Debian would be done right.
  • Debian has always been a good base for others to build on. With the recent boost of development and usability of Custom Debian Distributions, using Debian as a base has become even easier and cleaner. The ideas of Bruce Perens and Ian Murdock are pushing this even further.

But what's in it for Debian? In my opinion, there could be quite a bit, if done right. Companies sometimes seem to be unsure on how they could help Debian. We don't need a lot of money, we've good a pretty good idea on how a Free Software Distribution should work and look like, we've mostly got enough hardware to keep us running (well, thanks to those guys) and we even seem to be getting just enough sponsors to make DebConf rock. But there are areas where we really could need a helping hand. So this is how I think Sun could help Debian:

  • They have done a great job helping GNOME's usability efforts. While debian-installer is a huge leap forward in terms of usability from older releases, there is still a lot of possible improvement (let alone for other tools like apt-get/aptitude) and any hint from Sun's professional usability experts would help us tremendously I think.
  • Speaking about debian-installer, Sun could perhaps even help in porting it to GTK+/GNOME, something which we plan for after the next release anyway.
  • On a lot of 'About' boxes and manuals for the GNOME desktop you find 'Documented by the Sun GNOME documentation team'. Doing documentation is frequently a problem for Free Software projects and there are a lot of loose ends in Debian in this regard as well.
  • Sun could also help with thorough testing of the base Debian distribution prior to release. Right now, we mostly rely on end user installation reports, very few developers actually install testing or try upgrading to it. Although we've got a QA team, getting help from professional testers would be very welcome.
  • Who knows, perhaps they could even help our sparc port eventually?
All this would of course depend on Sun's level of committment and whether they want to help Debian natively (something Skolelinux is doing with great success) or rather just use Debian as a base and substitute everything that is not there yet with their own (or other's) stuff. The latter would be fine (after all, it's Free Software), but the former would be much more appreciated by the Debian community for sure.

This is all just throwing thoughts together and of course Sun has not made the slightest notion to actually go forth about this officially. But if that should ever happen and if done right this could be profitable (in whatever sense) for both parties and the Free Software Community in general as well. I think Debian should support and welcome Sun in that case, with all due diligence. But in the end, it is our fundamental advantage that we can only profit from other companies' involvements, there is no way to buy us out and then lay off the Hurd freaks afterwards for example.

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