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The Debian Delay: Is Sarge MIA? Or Simply a POW of Process?

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

  • March 3, 2005
  • By Sean Michael Kerner

The latest release of Debian Linux, code named "Sarge" was supposed to report for duty at the end of last year. That didn't happen. Why has Sarge been delayed and ultimately does it matter? Debian developers and Debian's founding father talked to LinuxPlanet about Sarge's delay and its ultimate deployment.

The Debian Linux distribution, which according to numerous statistics is one of the most widely, installed Linux distributions today is different from commercial distributions like Red Hat, Novell/SUSE and Mandrake in that it doesn't follow a necessarily predictable release schedule.

"The Debian philosophy has always been release it when it's ready," Ian Murdock, who founded the Debian Project in 1993 (and the Ian part of Debian, the Deb part refers to his wife) told LinuxPlanet. "It's just a continuation of the way Debian has always done things."

That said, 2004 was supposed to be the year in which Sarge was originally expected to be released, though as early as April the first indication that there was trouble became apparent. At that time the groups guiding document the, "Debian Social Contract" was amended to ensure that "free" software only be included in the distribution. Anthony Towns the release manager at the time publicly stated that he felt the move would push Sarge's release into 2005. Towns was ultimately replaced by Andreas Barth as Release Manager.

In another interview with LinuxPlanet, Andreas Barth (Debian Sarge Release Manager) said that a lot of things have changed at Debian since that episode.

"One of the (not so visible changes) is that we have much more of a team (well, no connection with Anthony's resigning, but that's just a current trend) and this has good effect," Barth said. One example he cited was in the previous release (woody) there were 11 different kernel sources while in Sarge there are only 3, which as the net effect of reducing the load on the both the security and the installer teams. In Barth's opinion, Debian now also has better tools than they did before.

"For woody, a lot of things needed to be done by hand, where we now have tools for. (Also, no connection with Anthony going away - it's just a continuing trend) for example, we have a security issue tracker for testing, we have improved our archive scripts, we have improved our testing migration scripts, we have a very stable toolchain (gcc, glibc,), and we have a stock solid installer," he said.

The time investment made in Sarge will payoff for future versions of Debian as well according to Barth. "Our toolset is much better than it ever was for a stable release, means: We invested lots of time into Sarge, which will make our next releases faster and better," he said.

Debian Developer Martin "Joey" Schulze noted that the task of getting a stable Debian release out the door involves a large volume of work. "You must not forget that Debian has several tons of different packages and has to support eleven different architectures with two more waiting behind the door, " Schulze explained. "Both can only be achieved with a well-designed infrastructure that works more or less automatically when it comes to updating."

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