What Debian Does For Me

Saturday 15 December 2018 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I woke up early this morning, and those of you live above 45° parallel north or so are used to the “I'm wide awake but it's still dark as night” feeling in the winter. I usually don't turn on the lights, wander into my office, and just bring my computer out of hibernate; that takes a bit as my 100% Free-Software-only computer is old and slow, so I usually go to make coffee while that happens.

As I came back in my office this morning I was a bit struck by both displays with the huge Debian screen lock image, and it got me thinking of how Debian has been my companion for so many years. I spoke about this at DebConf 15 a bit, and wrote about a similar concept years before. I realize that it's been almost nine years that I've been thinking rather deeply about my personal relationship with Debian and why it matters.

This morning, I was inspired to post this because, echoing back to my thoughts at my DebConf 15 talk, that I can't actually do the work I do without Debian. I thought this morning about a few simple things that Debian gets done for me that are essential:

  • Licensing assurance. I really can trust that Debian will not put something in main that fails to respect my software freedom. Given my lifelong work on Free Software licensing, yes, I can vet a codebase to search for hidden proprietary software among the Free, but it's so convenient to have another group of people gladly do that job for me and other users.
  • Curated and configured software, with connection to the expert. Some days it seems none of the new generation of developers are a fan of software packaging anymore. Anytime you want to run something new these days, someone is trying to convince you to download some docker image or something like that. It's not that I don't see the value in that, but what I usually want is that software I just read about installed on my machine as quickly as possible. Debian's repository is huge, and the setup of Debian as a project allows for each package maintainer to work in relative independence to make the software of their interest run correctly as part of the whole. For the user, that means when I hear about some interesting software, Debian immediately connects me, via apt, with the individual expert who knows about that software and my operating system / distribution both. Apt, Debian's Bug Tracker, etc. are actually a rudimentary but very usable form of a social networking that allows me to find the person who did the job to get this software actually working on my system. That's a professional community that's amazing
  • Stability. It's rather amusing, All the Debian developers I know run testing on their laptop and stable only on their servers. I run stable on my laptop. I have a hectic schedule and always lots of work to do that, sadly, does not usually include “making my personal infrastructure setup do new things”. While I enjoy that sort of work, it's a rabbit hole that I rarely have the luxury to enter. Running Debian stable on my laptop means I am (almost) never surprised by any behavior of my equipment. In the last nine years, if my computer does something weird, it's basically always a hardware problem.

Sure, maybe you can get the last two mostly with other distributions, but I don't think you can get the first one anywhere better. Anyway, I've gotta get to work for the day, but those of you out there that make Debian happen, perhaps you'll see a bit of a thank you from me today. While I've thanked you all before, I think that no one does it enough.

Posted on Saturday 15 December 2018 at 06:24 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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#include <std/disclaimer.h>
use Standard::Disclaimer;
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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization.

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Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn@ebb.org>