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Bits from the DPL: Partners and Debian

Anthony Towns provides another update on how things look in the Debian Universe – DebConf, partners, Google Summer of Code and other stuff.
Hey all,

First note: this mail doesn't have anything to do with the second
annual debconf ball coming up later this week. We're talking partner
organisations, not dance partners. Just to be clear. :)

One of the great things about Debian is all the organisations that want
to work with us — not just taking what we offer and doing cool stuff
with it, but wanting to find ways to contribute back and make life easier
for us.

Debconf 6 in Mexico at the moment, eg, is being organised, paid for
and assisted with the support of a range of organisations both local
and international, including, (in back of proceedings order) HP, IBM,
Intel, Yaguarete Security, Nokia, VA Linux, Ubuntu, Tallard, Aruba,
alposNAZ, Collax Simply Linux, Xandros, fnb, gandi.net, gnuLinEx,
Simbiotica, Linspire, Linux magazine, MySQL, IIE, NetApp, Opera,
O'Reilly, Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, Sine Nomine Associates,
Univention, AMESOL, Compugraf, NeoCenter, Copyleft, VoxKit, and ByteMark
hosting. Thanks to the assistance of these organisations, Debian (in the
form of a large, busy, and frequently stressed organising team) has been
able to organise food, accommodation and bandwidth for a couple of week's
hacking and chatting amongst the people lucky enough to be able to come,
cover travel costs for a number of attendees, that should result in a
bunch of great improvements to Debian.

We're also currently in the stage of reviewing applications for the Google
Summer of Code programme, which should give us the opportunity to have
a few students spend a couple of months working full time on some neat
development projects — the applications aren't completely ranked yet,
and we don't know how many we'll be able to accept, but so far it looks
like we should have some excellent projects either built or with some
serious improvements in a few months' time.

There are too many other organisations that are contributing to Debian,
to even imagine giving a complete list — whether it be by donating
hardware, donating bandwidth, turning a blind eye to (or even encouraging)
developers who hack on Debian at work, building neat new stuff that lets
more people benefit from Debian, going above and beyond the call of duty
when looking over Debian-specific issues, or even just taking Debian's
principles and adapting them or extending them for new situations and
giving credit for the inspiration. Not everyone find the Debian project
interesting, but we're in the extremely fortunate position that the
people who do almost always seem to want to find ways to help us achieve
our goals.

So the point of this mail is to encourage everyone to think about ways
in which we can help organisations that would like to be our partners
work better with us. Because that's harder than it sounds: it's not just
a matter of saying “give us money”, we need to have some way to actually
spend that in accordance with our principles before that actually becomes
helpful; it's not a matter of saying “give us hardware” or “give us
bandwidth” if we don't have the bandwidth to go with the hardware (or
vice-versa), or don't actually use the machine when it's set up. Nor is
it a win if we overload the machine to the point where it's unable to
reliably provide services, or where it needs to be pulled or throttled by
the hosting provider. And we can't accept every offer of help that's made,
even when we're technically able: sometimes we will choose to work without
help, because that help can't be made equally available to our users or
others in the free software community, and it will be more of a benefit to
both those groups if we find a way to move forward without the assistance.

So I'd encourage everyone to spend some time over the next little while
thinking seriously about other groups that are interested in Debian,
and looking for a chance to help, and working out if there's anything
you can do to help make that a reality. Sometimes even just listening
to their ideas and making encouraging sounds or offering some small
constructive criticisms is all that's needed. Other times, it's harder.

One thing I've been thinking about is whether we should try to come
up with a social contract for partners — so that we would have a way
of officially recognising the organisations that work with us on an
ongoing basis, and so that employees can demonstrate to their bosses,
or management to their shareholders that working with Debian provides
tangible recognition that can be translated into goodwill from potential
customers. And providing some good basic principles that we expect
partners to adhere to — and that they can explicitly agree to or even
reject — could provide a much more solid basis on which we can cooperate
on projects in the future, and maybe avoid some of the mixed expectations
and the problems they cause that have come up in the past.

Problem is, I don't have any idea what such a social contract would
actually look like. I guess it would have to be some sort of template,
so that some organisations could (eg) commit to following the DFSG in
everything they produce, and others could be recognised at a different
level that lets them contribute without giving up existing commitments
to proprietary software. Presumably there needs to be something about
how to cooperate with maintainers who have wildly different ways of
working, and different opinions on just what “volunteer” might mean,
but what's a simple principle people can adhere to that would offer
some good guidance on that for Debian? Maybe some of the aspects
people could agree to will be “bad” in some sense — distributing only
DFSG-free software is a greater restriction than we place on ourselves,
but if some partner organisation decides to do that, doesn't it deserve
acknowledgement by Debian's standards? There probably needs to be some
mention of the fact that working in Debian is a matter of cooperation,
but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still be competing tooth-and-nail
with the same organisations in the real marketplace.

I don't know if there's an answer to this, but I think it'd be great to
hear the different things people think it means when an organisation
joins the Debian community, and try to work that into some sort of a
statement of principles that our partners — both current and future –
will feel happy to endorse.

Anyway, I need to be up all too soon to get to a BOF, so time to sign
this mail and put it into the queue to send when I get to the hacklab
tomorrow… (For those who're wondering, yes, this is pretty much what
I'd been intending to talk about at the debconf welcome this morning if
we hadn't taken so long moving from the Cabana de Cabala to the Casa de
Cabala that we missed the opening…)

Cheers,
aj

– Anthony Towns — Debian Project Leader

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