Debian stays true to its roots

Bdale Garbee, chief technologist, HP Open Source & Linux Organization talks about Debian

It's a busy time for the members of the Debian Project. Sam Hocevar took over as the new Debian Project leader in April, right around the time the long-awaited Debian 4.0 or 'Etch,' hit the streets. And, in mid-June, hundreds of active Debian developers, contributors and other software visionaries from around the world met, many for the first time, in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Debian Project's annual developer conference.

The Debian Project was started in August 1993 by Ian Murdock, and early on he drafted a Debian Manifesto that explained what he hoped to accomplish. The idea of an all-volunteer Linux distribution project quickly attracted a small, passionate group of free software hackers that has evolved into a very large, well-organized community of developers and users. I joined the project about a year after it started, and have remained active ever since. What continues to motivate me to remain involved is that Debian is one of the most impressive examples of distributed software development in the world -- and is entirely based on the collaborative work of volunteers.

As it grew, the Debian Project crafted a constitution to designate how key decisions would be made. Unlike many other organizations, only tiny bits of power are given to designated people working on the project, like the elected Debian Project Leader, Secretary and Technical Committee. Most rights remain with individual developers, and thus power within Debian is distributed over the entire developer base. There's a voting mechanism for resolving issues that can't be agreed upon simply among individuals. The social contract, constitution and policy documents provide context, and a measure of stability, to empower Debian community members to remain focused on the work at hand.

The Debian distribution is a fascinating social phenomenon. Imagine a voluntary group of more than 1,000 registered developers who build and distribute software that is equal or superior to any commercial operating system -- and there's no company backing them. Since Debian isn't a company, developers don't have to worry about being bought or sold, going through a hostile take-over, answering to shareholders or going bankrupt. There's no significant money trail, because Debian is based on donated time and resources. This leaves the developers free to pursue their passion to write and use free software. Outsiders sometimes view this as an unruly group that argues a lot, but don't be fooled by the vocal minority. Debian is an amazingly tight-knit community of people who share a passion and enjoy working and 'playing' togethere"

"Clan Debian" even has a registered tartan. A number of project members had kilts made, which we wore at Debconf in Edinburgh to share a time-honored Scottish tradition! But maybe that's more than you really want to know about us.

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