Fun time at GUADEC, culminating in the advisory board meeting and a rather nice lunch. Arrived with a bottle of whisky, left it empty and sitting on a table about halfway through. Handy tip for conference attendees in Norway - bring a bottle of duty free and use it to buy friends and influence people.
My report of the stuff that's relevant to Debian is here, but I thought I'd add some commentary.
To a first approximation, we suck.
We're alienating ourselves from our users by taking so long to release, and we're alienating ourselves from our developers and the community at large by holding software to a higher standard of freedom than any other body on the planet. These two problems aren't desperately related, but they're both fundamentally tied to the fact that whoever shouts loudest and longest in an argument still tends to win, because most of our developer body is still concerned with development. Which means that it's the extremists who tend to win unless the matter is actually taken to a vote, at which point we tend to discover that the developer body is actually fairly moderate.
The release cycle argument tends to be made through repeated assertion - people often claim that our slow release cycle is what wins us friends in the corporate world (Netcraft had a story on Debian being the fastest growing Linux distribution a few months ago. Despite our last release already being 18 months old at that point), which I generally interpret as meaning that we might as well give up on anything that makes us superior in any technical respect because people will use us anyway. I'm more inclined to think that long-term support is more of an issue, and on paper we really don't deal too well with that at the moment (we're saved by virtue of the fact that we release so rarely...). Fixing that so we can support a distribution for ~2 years even if we've released another one in the intervening period is hard, but not impossible. We ought to start thinking about what would need doing and then work out how practical it is rather than pretend that it's never going to happen.
The legal situation is more fun. Looking at the past 3 GRs, we can see that:
- Developers want to keep non-free
- Developers want the DFSG to apply to everything in Debian...
- ...but they would rather release Sarge than delay it until that's been achieved
Which, to me, suggests that the set of the developers who care enough to get involved think that a DFSG-free distribution is a good thing (so we're not mostly made up of warez-bunnies) but that releasing a distribution is also a good thing (so we're not mostly made up of DFSG-extremists).
So, why is there so much of an issue with debian-legal at the moment?
As an example, let's take the QPL. The QPL contains a couple of problems. 6c requires that you provide patches back upstream if somebody asks for them, and the license states that disputes shall be settled in Amsterdam City Court. 6c is a problem if you receive a request from upstream but get shipwrecked on a desert island before you get to carry this out - arguably this would break DFSG 5 ("No discrimination against persons or groups") because we'd be discriminating against people who've been shipwrecked. Requiring people settle disputes in Amsterdam also discriminates against those who can't be represented there (lack of money, for instance).
But is this what we meant?
The QPL was previously declared free, not so much because we didn't read the license properly, but because our standards have changed. Or, at least, debian-legal's standards have changed and they're currently the closest think we have to an arbiter of freeness (strictly speaking it's ftp-masters' problem, but still). This hasn't caused a great deal of discussion elsewhere, mostly because every time someone tries to bring it up they rapidly lose the will to live after being hit with a barrage of "Chinese dissident" stuff. debian-legal contains rather a large number of people who are willing to argue, which is sort of the point, but if developers as a body disagree with the standards currently being used then they're going to have to make a stand at some point.
Which is, really, the point I'm trying to make. Lots of people disagree with various things about Debian, but nobody's taking a stand at the moment. I know what my standards of freedom are, and I know what my opinions regarding releases are. The problem is that I don't know how many other people feel the same way. I have suspicions, but I have no idea how accurate they are. Do debian-legal represent the mainstream opinion? Do we think that releases should be more frequent? Should we ignore the mainstream opinion and do the "right" thing anyway?
Buggered if I know.