MY SAY: Debian consortium takes on Novell, Red Hat

MY SAY: Debian consortium takes on Novell, Red Hat

Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the open source movement, took the stage at this year's LinuxWorld Conference in support of the Debian Common Core (DCC) Alliance, a consortium of Linux vendors pledged to build a common, standards-based core for distributions based on Debian GNU/Linux.

There are lots of niche Linux distributions out there, such as Slackware and Gentoo, but within the enterprise, Linux usually comes from one of three sources. Two are prominent open source software vendors - Novell and Red Hat. The third is Debian.

If Debian isn't a household name, it's certainly well-known among developers. According to Perens, many coders develop on Debian but deploy on Red Hat, because although Debian is often lauded for its stability and sound design, targeting it for applications can be tricky.

The Debian Project's strict open source principles preclude it from bundling anything in an official Debian release that isn't offered under a free-software license.

Debian is also slow to upgrade its software packages, sometimes waiting until long after the other distributions have included the latest in-demand features. That's the price of stability.

Doctrinally these are sound choices, but users sometimes see them as shortcomings. That's why popular Debian-derived distributions - such as Linspire, Mepis, and Xandros - start with a stock Debian release and build from there, adding commercial applications and upgraded software as they see fit. That's great for the specific niche each distribution serves, but it also means that each one varies from its Debian core in unique ways. It's impossible for developers to target all of the Debian-derived Linux distributions as a single platform. The DCC Alliance wants to change that by working with the Debian community to align the related distributions around a common core. At the heart of their plans is an effort to bring Debian into compliance with the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a standard that describes how the internals of a Linux distribution should be organised.

If the Alliance is successful, it could unite the fragmented Debian market. It could also give disgruntled customers the confidence they need to walk away from troublesome support contracts with the two big names. But Perens was quick to point out that Debian, Red Hat, and Suse are all working toward the same goal. "There's no reason to work against each other," he said. "I'd rather work against Microsoft."

Indeed, if there was any downside to the presentation, it was the fact that Ubuntu - the Debian-based distribution founded by South African dotcom billionaire Mark Shuttleworth that's proven wildly popular - declined to participate. That led me to wonder: Are we witnessing the beginnings of a new Debian standards skirmish - the DCC Alliance's formal standard versus Ubuntu's de facto one?

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