Disgruntled Debian developers delay Etch

Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, codenamed Etch, had been due to arrive by December 4, 2006, but it’s been delayed because some developers have deliberately slowed down their work.

According to a blog note by Andreas Barth, Debian developer and release manager, the delay has resulted because “Some people who used to do good work reduced their involvement drastically. There was nothing I could do about, and that happened way before I started full-time on release, but on the global picture that still counts.”

It appears that these developers have pulled back from working on Debian because of their objections to Barth and fellow release manager, Steve Langasek, being paid to work on Debian by the is a group of Debian developers that set about raising funds to be used for “financially supporting the volunteers working on managing the release process, allowing them to devote their full attention to that task.” Specifically, the group’s goal was to raise enough funds to pay “both release managers enough to work exclusively on the release of etch for a month each, having Steve Langasek available full-time during October and Andreas Barth available full-time during November, with the release expected to follow soon after in the first week of December.”

The group wanted to do this because Debian has a long history of being late. That, in fact, is one reason why the Debian-based Ubuntu distribution was started.

Dunc-Tank’s membership includes Anthony Towns, the Debian Leader, Steve McIntyre, the assistant to the Debian Leader, prominent Debian developers Raphael Hertzog and Joey Hess, and well-known Debian and Linux kernel developer Ted Ts’o.

Many Debian developers denounced the Dunc-Tank proposal. Some even demanded that Towns be removed as leader because he supported Dunc-Tank. Their objection was that by financially supporting developers, Debian would become a two-class system and that, in turn, would be destructive to the Debian community.

When the matters came up for a vote in October, the Dunc-Tank plan won approval and the attempt to remove Towns failed.

That, however, did not turn out to be the end of the matter. Many developers, led by Joerg Jaspert, a well-known Debian maintainer and programmer, issued a position statement on October 26. In this statement, which was published on the Debian developers’ announcement list, the developers spelled out why they objected to the Dunc-Tank initiative.

Jaspert also said that Dunc-Tank “has demotivated a lot of people who now either resigned, simply stopped doing (parts of their) Debian work or are doing a lot less than they did before DT was started. The freeze got delayed and getting the release out on schedule has become nearly impossible. We are unable to see any good virtue in this ‘experiment.’ “

“The heated discussion DT has consumed an incredible amount of time and energy that could also have been used in a much more productive way,” Jaspert added. “This was probably expected from the DT initiators but didn’t keep them from setting off this discussion at such an important time — shortly before the release. Why they didn’t introduce DT *after* the release, or much earlier in this release cycle, when there is/was time and a lengthy discussion would not have taken otherwise needed time is not understandable.”

It’s turned out that Jaspert was correct. The next release of Debian has been delayed because developers have stayed away from working on Debian because of their objections to two of the developers being paid.

As Barth wrote, “So, looking at the status changes during the time I spent full-time on release issues I think it worked well. Of course, not everything is perfect, but there is a clear improvement. On the other hand, there was a large disadvantage of the whole experiment.”

Barth also announced that Etch is now fully frozen. He did not say, however, when Etch will finally be released.

A version of this story was first published at Linux-Watch.

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