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DistroSummit 2010

Linux.conf.au 2010 has come to an end and I am looking back at an intense week of conferencing. A big shout out to the organisers for their excellent work. I think LCA (as well as DebConf) just keeps getting better every year. This does not at all discredit previous organisers, because they were the best at their times and then passed on the wisdom and experience to help make it even better in the following year.

The week started off with the DistroSummit, which Fabio and I organised. Slides are forthcoming, as I failed to get them off the speakers right after their talks — it's interesting how stress levels and adrenaline can cause one to forget the most obvious things. This is where experience comes in. I'll be there again next year, I hope, to do things better.

The theme of the day was cross-distro collaboration, and we started the day a little bit on the Debian-side with Lucas Nussbaum telling us about quality assurance in Debian, alongside an overview of available resources. We hoped to give people from other distros pointers, and solicit feedback that would enable us to tie quality assurance closer together.

Next up was Bdale Garbee who talked about the status of the Linux Standard Base. While I am really interested in such standardisation efforts, I realised during his talks that I had considerable difficulties paying attention because as organiser of the conference, I had all sorts of other things occupying my thoughts.

I proceeded to tell the audience — the room was mostly filled throughout the day with an estimated 40–50 folks, and I'd say about half of them stayed throughout, while the other half came in and left the room between talks. I could not get the projector to work with my laptop after the upgrade to Kernel Mode Setting, and thus used the whiteboard to give a brief introduction to vcs-pkg.org, talk about the current state of affairs, summarise the trends in discussions around patch management and collaboration, give an outlook of what's up next, and solicit some discussion.

Sadly, just like during Bdale's talk, I found myself worrying over the organisation of the day, rather than actually taking in most of the discussion. Fortunately, others have written about the most important points, so I defer to them.

Michael Homer then told us about GoboLinux's Aliens system, which is a way to integrate domain-specific packages with distro-specific package maintenance — e.g. how to get APT to handle CPAN directly, or how to let YUM manage Python packages. The ensuing discussion was interesting, and we carried it over to the next slot, because Scott, the next speaker, was stuck in traffic. To summarise briefly: scripting languages have a lot of NIH-style solutions because it works for them, but these are a nightmare to distro packagers. One symptom of the status quo is that complex software packages like Zimbra are forced to distribute all required components in their installation packages, which make distro packaging, quality assurance, and security support even harder. I don't think we found a solution, other than the need for further standardisation (like the LSB), but the road seems to be a long and windy one.

Laszlo Peter introduced the audience to SourceJuicer, a new build system used by OpenSolaris. The idea is that contributors submit packages via a web interface, kicking off a workflow incorporating discussion and vetting, and only after changes have been signed-off are packages forwarded to auto-builders and eventually end up in the package repository. This is very similar to upload ideas I've had a while ago, which I've started to (finally) implement. Unfortunately, SourceJuicer seems very specific to OpenSolaris, as well as non-modular, so that I probably won't be able to reuse e.g. the web interface on top of a Debian-specific package builder.

After the break, Dustin Kirkland stepped up to tell us about his user experience of Launchpad. Unfortunately, I found his talk a bit too enthusiastic. Launchpad undoubtedly has some very cool features and ideas, but it's just one of the available solutions.

The dicussion of Launchpad also dominated the next talk, in which Lucas Nussbaum told us about the Debian-Ubuntu relationship. While his presentation showed that the relationship was improving (Matt Zimmerman made the point that there are rather many relationships, rather than one relationship), I was a bit disturbed by the comments of Launchpad developers in the room, ranging from "Debian is declining anyway" to "Just use Launchpad if you want to collaborate with others and not go down". There was a slight aura of arrogance in their comments which tainted my experience of the otherwise constructive discussions of the day.

Overall I had a great time. Debian and Ubuntu made up the vast majority of attendants, with only a handful of representatives from other distros present. I wonder why that would be. One reason might be that around 70% of LCA attendants declared themselves Debian or Ubuntu users, and so there weren't many other distros around. Another might be that I still haven't spread the word enough. Let's hope to do better next year!

Thanks to all the speakers. We may have organised the day, but you made it happen and interesting!

Slides and recordings of the talks will be linked from the archived website when they become available (yes, the archive page does not exist yet either).

Update: Jelmer informed me that the people who spoke up against Debian during and after the Launchpad talk were not officially affiliated with Launchpad. It's a shame that this negatively reflected upon Launchpad for some of the attendees (not just myself).