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Sarge in Debian Toybox Until 2005?

Debian Project leaders further cemented the Linux operating system's place in the free software world with an amended contract earlier this week.

The amendment means the highly-anticipated release of Sarge, originally expected later this year, will remain free thanks to an updated Debian Social Contract, which is part of the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG), originally drafted by Bruce Perens. The guidelines he drafted were later used as a boilerplate for the Open Source Definition, which is 'literally' the defining document of the open source movement.

The revised social contract now states, "Debian will remain 100% free" -- the first version stated, "Debian will remain 100% free software." The removal of the term software now means that non-software items such as documentation and firmware must comply with the terms of the DFSG as well.

But according Ian Murdoch, who founded the Debian Project in 1993 (and the Ian part of Debian, the Deb part refers to his wife), the timing on the amended social contract "is most definitely a problem," he told internetnews.com.

"Debian has experienced an enormous surge in popularity over the past six months due to the shifting business models of the commercial distributors," he said. "So, there's a huge opportunity for Debian right now [and] it can't afford to delay the release of Sarge into next year."

In addition to its own large user base, Debian is also the source for a number of other Linux distributions including UserLinux, Lindows (now LinSpire), KNOPPIX and Xandros, which may also be impacted by any delays to Sarge.

It's a potential commercial crisis Murdoch knows all too well as the co-founder, chairman and chief strategist for Progeny, a company that -- among other things -- provides commercial support for Debian.

"I saw another amendment come across the wire proposing that the amendment be postponed until after Sarge has been released," Murdoch said. "Even if this doesn't happen, Debian isn't a monolith like the commercial distros, it's more a collection of software. So, companies that [are based] on that collection of software, like Progeny and UserLinux, they will be still be able to release distros based on Sarge."

Bruce Perens, the original author of the DFSG, is of the same opinion but doesn't believe the change in the social contract will cause a delay for Sarge into next year. He figures the new release could either go ahead under the old rules that were in place while Sarge was in development or go ahead under the new rules, but have the third parties change their licensing.

Perens does not see the revised DFSG as having a significant impact on his UserLinux project, which aims at providing Debian to the enterprise.

"We have always understood on the UserLinux Project that there are non-free things that some of our customers want and that the UserLinux service providers would be providing those things and supporting them directly," he told internetnews.com. "The UserLinux Project itself will concentrate on the free part."

UserLinux will be based on the upcoming Sarge release, according to Perens, and switch when development freezes.