February 17, 2019

In Defense and Praise of Debian - page 3

What's the Fuss About?

  • February 11, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

As a free software supporter, another reason I favor Debian is the structure of the community. Other distributions such as Ubuntu may have invented a code of conduct--partly out of a wish to avoid some of the rudeness found on Debian mailing lists--but just about every other component of free software communities was done first by Debian, and probably on a larger scale at first.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more thoroughly democratic community than Debian. What other free software project votes for leaders using the Condorcet method of counting ballots in order to maximize the effectiveness of every vote? Or can vote on general resolutions about the project's direction? Or attempt to impeach the project leader, as happened with Anthony Towns last year?

The Debian Constitution spells out exactly how these actions are taken, creating one of the flattest organizational structures that I've seen, especially in a community that numbers in the thousands.

An equally radical document is the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). While most of the free software world relies on the Free Software Foundation's four freedoms to define free software, in the DFSG, the Debian community has developed a definition that is, if anything, even more radical. In some cases, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, Debian has gone so far as to reject or qualify the Free Software Foundation judgments about what is free.

At the same time that I respect the Foundation, I can't help thinking that having at least one source of independent judgment on software freedom creates a dialogue that benefits everyone by encouraging second thoughts. What's more, I suspect that the Foundation appreciates the independent viewpoint, too; its members have often met with Debian representatives to discuss differences of opinion.

For all its raucousness, the Debian community works, and at an astonishing level of idealism. This idealism is so firmly built on the tenets and implications of free software that I can only conclude that anyone who argues that Debian should be more commercial has either forgotten those tenets or wants to turn Debian into something that it's not.

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