Debian Developers to Determine Lenny's Fate

Dec 17, 2008

Free Linux distro Debian has been working steadily on its next version 5.0 of the OS, known as Lenny. Now developers have been called in for a vote to determine the course of its general release.

The Lenny Release General Resolution that brings the issue to a vote among Debian developers solicits responses in one of seven choices, as required by the Debian Constitution. Each of the choices is explained in detail and developers are required to rank the seven choices and return the ballot signed with a public key. The vote acknowledges the constitution and what further action to take based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

The debate centers around whether or not to accept proprietary firmware in Debian, with or without published source code, and if the guidelines could thereby be violated. Part of the debate also addresses possible violations of the GPL. One of the choices is to assume that these proprietary firmware "blobs" comply unless proven otherwise. Blobs are typically microcode that drive hardware components. As described in the First Call for Votes, these blobs are often distributed by firmware vendors without sources or documentation. Through one of its voting choices, the release team allows the option to exclude these source requirements: "By excluding such firmware from Debian we exclude users that require such devices... or make it unnecessarily hard for them."

The issue makes it clear that the conflicts between a pragmatic solution and the tenets of free software have, at least in part, contributed to delaying release of the new Debian version. Choice 1 ("Reaffirm the Social Contract") says in part, "we will delay the release of Lenny until such point that the work to free the operating system is complete (to the best of our knowledge as of 1 November 2008)." Choice 2, allowing Lenny to release with proprietary firmware, acknowledges progress in the kernel firmware, but asserts that "new issues in the kernel sources have cropped up fairly recently" that have not been addressed. The project team assures the community that the freedom of kernel distribution won't be compromised, but doesn't want the debate to push the release date indefinitely into the future. Choice 4 gives the release team empowerment to decide about allowing the DFSG violations.

The rules of the decision-making are included in the Debian Constitution. The voting members have until December 21, 2008, to submit their ranking of choices.

The original release of Debian GNU Linux 5.0 was to have been September 2008, which was changed to November, and now by the project's reckoning more realistically to be June of 2009. Linux Magazine Online had covered this in an October article.

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