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I miss the old Debian

11 November 2010 21:50

I miss the days when Debian was about making software work well together.

These days the user mailing lists are full of posts from users asking for help on Ubuntu [*1*], people suggesting that we copy what Ubuntu has done, and people asking for "howtos" because documentation is too scary or too absent for them to read.

Yesterday the whole commercial spam on Planet debate started. Its yet another example of how in-fighting[*2*] seems to be the most fun part of Debian for too many.

Me? I started and folded a company. I got Debian help and users. Some threw money at me.

Joey Hess? Started making the nice-looking ikiwiki-powered branchable.com.

Commercial? Yes. Spam? No.

I guess there is little I can do. I could quit - as over time I've become less patient dealing with the project as a whole, but simultaneously more interested in dealing with a few specific people. But I suspect the net result would be no change. Either people would say "Ok , bye" or worse still offer my flttry: "Don't go - we lurve you".


I shouldn't write when I'm annoyed, but living in a hotel will do that to you.

Footy-Mc-Foot-notes. Cos HTML is hard. Lets go shopping Eat Cake.


The Ubuntu forums are largely full of the blind leading the blind. Or equally often the blind being ignored.

I do believe that an Ubuntu stackoverflow site would be more useful than forums. But that's perhaps naive. People will still most often say "My computer doesn't work" missing all useful the details.

The only obvious gain is you can avoid "me too!!!" comments, and "fix this now or I'm gonna go .. use gentoo?".


Back a few years when people were less civil some mailing lists and irc channesl were unpleasant places to be.

These days we've solved half the problem: People mostly don't swear at each other.

The distractions, the threads that don't die, even if you ignore them and don't join in the "hilarity" they still have a devisively negative effect.



Comments on this entry

icon Marius Gedminas at 16:40 on 11 November 2010

Scaling a community is hard, let's go shopping.

(The Ubuntu stackoverflow site exists: http://askubuntu.com. I don't know if it's better than the forums since I try to avoid forums.)

icon Stefano Zacchiroli at 17:24 on 11 November 2010

Steve, I'm sorry to see you're annoyed by the "commercial spam" discussion, but at the same time I'm genuinely curious about why you're annoyed by it.

You seem to agree that it has been so far a civil discussion (you say that of Debian discussions in general these days, and I've no reason to believe the current discussion is any different). So that is probably not the reason.

Personally, I find it to be an important discussion. I truly respect people like you and the others you mention as having set up businesses more or less related to Debian, without the need of using Debian resources to advertise it. Isn't that a business model which is worth cherishing in Debian? Isn't a more general "volunteer bias" something worth cherishing in Debian? My answers to both question are yes and I see the current discussion revolving around similar questions (although maybe not explicitly).

Sometimes I've the impression that people in Debian are just tired of discussing, anything, from technical to philosophical topics. Large discussions are annoying no matter what. Any discussion which grows "too much" annoys people, as if with time we have decreased our tolerance to mailing list discussions.

I find this specific aspect far more worrisome than any specific topic we end up discussing.

What do you think?

icon Christoph Anton Mitterer at 18:55 on 11 November 2010

Well said.... I also would like to see Debian being *buntu-clean again...

icon Kete at 19:55 on 11 November 2010

The forums used to be good, but I haven't been there since May. I did have some complex issues that didn't get resolved.

That's pretty sad that Ubuntu users seek help on the Debian mailing list. Maybe there should be a policy of suggesting they switch to Debian before asking for help on a Debian list. Their IRC channel is ridiculous, and they really need two or three more just to narrow down those hundreds of nicks and be useful.

Of course, Canonical is in the business of support, so that's the catch—use Ubuntu but pay for support. That's legitimate, but maybe it's not made clear enough.

It's sometimes hard not to post negative thoughts because I wonder what's so wrong about expressing my feelings. Coincidentally, I just ate a bland cupcake.

icon Jeff at 20:18 on 11 November 2010

Please keep Debian clean and tight like a good *NIX should be.

icon Craig Small at 22:00 on 11 November 2010

We all go through that stage after a while Steve. I try to ignore most of those types of threads and stick to what I do. Not always successfully.

It is actually nice to work with some of the smaller groups and certainly a lot of the new setups like the various wiki's and yes, even planet, to me bring some new aspects and insights to Debian.

Maybe its because of the timezones, but I've found the irc channels useful. Often there has been a question someone has asked and the answer surprised me, in a good way.

icon Jon at 07:49 on 12 November 2010

The amusing thing about the Ubuntu stackoverflow is that it crosses territory with other, better established SO sites, such as superuser.com, and the Linux/Unix beta SO site, which is a shame, as none can now be considered comprehensive in the same way that stackoverflow or serverfault can.

A lot (but not all) of the requests on Debian mailing lists for Ubuntu work to be folded in are pretty legitimate, as Ubuntu has much more manpower in critical areas to implement things.

Weariness seems to be almost a badge of honour amongst older Debian developers / community members. Peeking over the fence, other communities seem to have the same, or worse problems, though. Matthew and Scott both jumped over to Ubuntu, but then left there too (at least I think Scott has left now)

icon Steve Kemp at 09:44 on 12 November 2010

The recent discussion is one that I don't see the need to even begin. I think that suggesting flattr links are "commercial spam" is a grossly inflammatory accusation, and mis-representation.

(Don't even get me started on how "web bugs are evil" is a pointless argument. If people post pictures of their kittens, their favourite food, or anything else actually personal and interesting upon the planet the same technical consideration applies. HTTP referrers exist, but that should not imply that anything posted is maliciously evil and mining data by default.)

However this single discussion doesn't stand alone. It follows on from other long-running threads such as what do we name the "can become root on this system" group. Where the choices fell into two camps:

  • Copy Ubuntu, again.
  • Pick something sensible.

(The two are not mutually exclusive.)

I guess the point is that these days when I read Debian mailing lists my activities largely boil down to "Delete Thread", "Delete Thread", "Delete Thread", "No mail left".

That's not the way it should be - Whether that means the mailing list threads are getting out of hand, or whether that means there's something wrong with me I can't pretend to guess, but ..

icon Iñigo at 11:52 on 12 November 2010

I've had some rants on the same time ago (but from the project side I'm just a plain user, not a debian developer).

The solution? I do not see a clearly defined solution. "Things" are happening in the last years, into and outside Debian. And that "things" change: community, people and projects.

I don't agree to read "I miss the old Debian", because, "the old Debian" is here and is as new as any other thing. You, "The same people" are here and there, nice things happen sometimes, etc I think it's just the project is playing the game of life... Vs a new(?) edge, "closed solutions friendy/powered, and social-media-ego-febrile", generation... and the project is just loosing.

I love to have a super-dimplomatic DPL, and I don't mind to have pro-ubuntu people moving/promoting/contributing etc into Debian (while the changes follows "the Debian way")... But... Debian has been made over the years with the "now it's time to avoid diplomacy, and take this way" when needed.

From the outside, Debian has just 3 problems around this:

1) Harmful people makes more noise than happy hackers doing vim/emacs. Also Blind people trust everything and makes more noise yet.

2) The project (or some people in Debian) is playing favoritism and good vibes with harmful attitudes, technologies, decisions, personal targets, companies, solutions, and what is worse: with distortion, disguise information, with people who want to show an average true or to hide known problems.

3) Most people is febrile by user count, so works for free for canonical (mantain ubuntu packages, so canonical can work on image and re-shell knowledge and (python+human_power ala java) closed solutions. This just changes that people work on Debian... Like it or not, it's just my view point.

I think that the combination of that 3 issues, with the nature of Debian, provides that thoughts like yours in this post, are unavoidable.

Do not wait for a magic or fast solutions... you've the enemy at home (into Debian) currently :)


P.S. I would love to stop the stupidity of external Poll tools in the project. I simply do NOT TRUST them, in special when I look at "the team" that manages "the Poll web tool" and find Ubuntu people. If votes are needed: email or a debian resources, should be used.

icon Jonathan Carter at 14:06 on 12 November 2010

I followed the whole thread about flattr/planet and to call it "in-fighting" is unfair and harsh. It's a healthy discussion exploring different opinions, and from what I saw the major participants in the conversation have only been civil, mature, respectable, understanding, attentive and caring.

Try to have a discussion like that in pretty much any community in the world and it could end up being much, much worse very quickly. I find it great that Debian people can have such discussions in the first place.

About the Ubuntu forums, not all Ubuntu people like them either. :)

icon jg at 08:36 on 15 November 2010

I agree 100% with Kete. Debian folks are under no obligation to be free tech support for Ubuntu users. We all know that there is far more Debian work to be done than there are people/time to do it, so it's very important not to expend Debian resources hand-holding users of other distros. People who create, and use, other distros based on Debian need to be willing and able to support themselves. If they're not going to be able to do that adequately, then they shouldn't be forking Debian.

Ubuntu users should be told that a Debian forum is for Debian discussion, and if they have a problem with Ubuntu, they must seek out Ubuntu forums and support resources (and yes, even told to purchase support from Canonical. Why not? That's what Canonical is in business to do. If these folks want to use Canonical's "product", then they ought to be willing to support Canonical by purchasing support). Otherwise, an Ubuntu user should be told "Try Debian. If you still have the problem, then come back here and ask.".

icon Debianero at 11:41 on 15 November 2010

Totally agree with jg's comment.

Let's focus on Debian.

icon betazed at 07:13 on 16 November 2010

It's very interesting to me to see this as an outside observer. I am a former Ubuntu user, I use Debian now (and have in the past) and a former Arch user. I've witnessed the various communities and someone on here mentioned the "Debian Way" which brought back echoes of the "Arch Way" which the community surrounding Arch is very blunt about to new users who seem to be out of their depth.

Maybe it would go a long way to establish a "Debian Way" to which new or otherwise confused users could be referred so they aren't cluttering the Debian lists and forums with Ubuntu related material.

On the other hand, Ubuntu is based on Debian. Their thought process is that Debian is somehow heavily involved in the creation of Ubuntu and thus that community would be able or at least willing to help. This is apparently not the case, although I would personally assist anyone regardless of their distro on any forum. I say politely assist them briefly and redirect them to the Ubuntu lists, forums etc.