Practical Technology

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When is Debian not Debian?


There are times when I just want to crack some open-source heads together.

Take, please take, for example, the current fit in Debian circles over whether the DCC Alliance can use the Debian name or trademark.

On one side, you have the DCC Alliance members: Credativ GmbH, Knoppix, LinEx, Linspire, MEPIS LLC, Progeny Linux Systems Inc., Sun Wah Linux Ltd., UserLinux, and Xandros Inc.

What do they have in common? Ding! Ding! Ding!

That’s right, they all build Linux distributions around Debian. They all employ Debian developers. They’re all about — say it with me — Debian!

Who is the DCC Alliance’s fearless leader?

Why none other than Ian Murdock! You know? The guy who founded Debian.

The DCC Alliance’s goal? To create an LSB (Linux Standard Base) 3.0-compliant, Debian 3.1 (“Sarge”)-based core distribution. This, in turn, is designed to serve as the basis for DCCA members’ custom Linux distributions. The code is also being released back to the Debian community.

The problem?

Some Debian developers are very, very upset that people are getting confused about the difference between the DCC Alliance and Debian. They’re afraid that they’ll lose their trademark.

Now, keep in mind that “they” also includes both people who are for the DCC Alliance and those who are against it.

In short, what we have here is an internal fight over who controls the Debian trademark and logo.

So, the DCC Alliance — and now you know why I haven’t been spelling it out — decided to make peace and just drop “Debian” from their original name, the Debian Common Core Alliance.

As for the Debian logo, well the DCC Alliance (DCCA) is still using that because they can. The logo’s license reads: “This logo or a modified version may be used by anyone to refer to the Debian project, but does not indicate endorsement by the project.” That seems to cover it, to me.

So, that’s it, right?

I wish!

Now, some Debian figures have decided to take the mess public under the guise of reporting. David ‘cdlu’ Graham, a member and officer of the board of directors of Software in the Public Interest Inc., the Debian Project’s legal side, reported on this tempest in a tea cup in NewsForge.

Graham then followed up with a short interview with Murdock, in which Murdock explained why the DCC Alliance hadn’t made a big deal about the name change.

“We haven’t refused to issue a press release; we just felt it wasn’t the appropriate venue for such an announcement. I posted a message to my blog because I know members of the press who have appropriate context follow it, and if they thought their readers would consider the announcement news they would write about it,” said Murdock.

Now, as it happens, I’m one of those members of the press who follow Debian, the DCC Alliance, and many of its member companies, and I agree with Murdock. This isn’t news.

What may become news though, if these cranky anti-DCC Alliance people can’t get their act together, is a pointless Debian civil war.

To quote one anonymous NewsForge letter-writer, “If the Debian developers spent as much time worrying about the details of their release as they do about this nonsense with the DCCA, we’d have a better, more frequently released Debian.”


It’s more than that, though. A lot more.

It’s these kinds of petty fights that ensure that Bill Gates and Microsoft rule the software world.

Even now, some people are still refusing to let the issue go. One declared that Murdock’s blog announcement of the name change “is some kind of insulting joke.”

Let me spell it out for you. Anyone who knows enough about Debian to care about the trademark knows enough to know that the DCC Alliance does not equal Debian.

Kissing cousins, yes. Identical twins, no.

And as for everyone else, if they don’t know, they certainly don’t care!

What do the vast majority of Linux users, never mind computer users at large, see? They see a petty, power struggle.

They see all the things that Microsoft sales people say about Linux and its developers — “they’re immature, and they don’t know how to run a business” — in action.

Thanks folks. We needed that the same way we needed the OSF (Open Software Foundation) versus UI (Unix International) fights.

Don’t remember them? Of course not, they’re what killed off any chance Unix had of beating Windows to the punch back in the late 80s and 90s.

If you’re involved in this mess and you really want to help Debian, first, handle your disputes privately and quietly. Second, realize that there is nothing about this conflict that really matters to 99.9999% of most people, and it really shouldn’t matter that much to you. Finally, as that same anonymous reader I quoted above, put it so succinctly: “Shut up and code!”

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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