New Debian Project Leader Takes Charge

UPDATED: Guiding a major software operating system is not often a democratic act, even within the open source movement. But Debian GNU/Linux is an exception.

Branden Robinson was recently elected by Debian developers as the new Debian Project Leader (DPL) and issued his first report yesterday. In it, he discussed the progress and challenges of the much anticipated next release.

Robinson is a senior employee at Progeny Linux Systems, a company that has close ties to Debian. Ian Murdock the cofounder of Progeny was also the founder of the Debian Project. Robinson had run unsuccessfully for DPL every year since 2001 and was elected over five other candidates.

At the top of Robinson’s first update was a frank discussion of Debian’s next release. Code-named “Sarge,” it was supposed to be released last year and its delay has helped to fuel adoption of Debian-based distros like Ubuntu, which recently released its latest version. Robinson pledged to keep developers apprised of Sarge’s status and that he would not “get in the way of the Sarge release.”

The need for a stable, predictable release cycle is a known issue for Debian and one that Robinson will work on.
“It is something I’m willing to work hard to help us achieve,” Robinson told

According to Bruce Perens, an open source luminary and former DPL, establishing a predictable regular release cycle is Debian’s greatest challenge.

“The biggest challenge Debian has to face is to go to regular releases rather than ‘when it’s ready,’ which has turned out to be ‘once in three years,’ ” Perens told “This will happen with or without Branden, and he has stated that he’ll keep out of the way of the release managers.”

Robinson’s first DPL report also briefly mentioned IBM’s support for Debian. He indicated that IBM was a sponsor of the Debian DebConf5 conference and that Big Blue requested to be invoiced for their support. IBM has been supportive of Debian in the past as well according to Robinson.

“It is with [IBM’s] assistance that the S/390 ports of Debian even got started,” Robinson explained. “The value of IBM’s contributions to the Free Software community in general… from funding conferences, sponsoring the development of Free Software such as Postfix, and their nationwide ad campaigns in the U.S. evangelizing the Linux kernel as an enterprise-class alternative to proprietary operating systems cannot be underestimated.”

Robinson also gave an update on the assets that various groups hold in trust for the Debian Project. One such entity is an
organization called “Software in the Public Interest Inc (SPI)” which is a nonprofit that helps groups distribute and develop open source software and hardware. According to Robinson’s report SPI has about $40,000 in cash assets while the UK-based Debian UK Society has approximately $4,000.

Compared to commercial Linux distros like Red Hat and Novell/SUSE, Debian’s cash doesn’t look like much, but there are major difference between the commercial distros’ and Debian.

“Because Debian is a non-commercial, not-for-profit entity which derives most of its value from the donated labor of hundreds of individuals, I think it stands to reason that our books wouldn’t look like those of a publicly traded, incorporated body which has labor and capital expenditures,” Robinson said.

Robinson went on to explain that there are several reasons why Debian doesn’t have much in the way of cash assets. First, Debian has no revenue sources apart from fundraising. Second, Debian tends to spend its cash, at least in the United States, approximately as fast as it comes in. Third, Robinson noted that there have been conflicting ideas among Debian developers in the past over whether Debian should even attempt to accumulate a war chest.

“An argument in favor of that is that we should do so in the event we, or one of our developers, are sued for doing something we consider legitimate, like offering freely modifiable software gratis to the world,” Robinson said.

Holding onto cash is also likely not what those who donate to the Debian Project expect either, according to Robinson.

“People who donate us money… seem to expect us to put the money to work for us in the near-term, not towards establishing an endowment,” he said.

Debian’s popularity may also well be on the upswing with a recent Evans Data report showing that developers are using non-commercial Linux distros more

than their commercial counterparts. Debian’s exposure in Asia also
recently got a boost
thanks to a new partnership involving China’s Sun
Wah Linux and VA Linux Systems Japan to help promote and develop Debian.

Update corrects misspellings to Robinson’s name and the name of the Debian distribution.

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