An impending Debian derailment
The current official plans are for Debian to release Etch (the next version of their distribution) in December 2006, already more than a year and a half after Sarge, their last release. (Since Sarge shipped with already obsolete versions of programs, it will effectively be even longer.)
Unfortunately, I believe Debian has made some decisions that will significantly slow down Etch and even subsequent releases. This matters to me because old, stale versions of programs has been my major problem with Debian; the slower Debian releases come, the staler the programs get.
As part of its social contract, Debian requires everything in Debian to be 'free', as defined in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). Over the past (somewhat long) while, Debian has decided that two things are not DFSG compatible and thus can't be in the main distribution in Etch:
- documentation licensed under the GNU Free Document License (see here for one discussion of why).
- firmware images included in kernel drivers that don't have source code (with a DFSG compatible license). (See here or here for a summary of the Debian position on this.)
This would be fine if Debian could get the upstream developers to agree with this and to work to change things. Unfortunately, most of the upstream developers disagree with Debian (somewhat violently in some cases, especially for the kernel) and thus both issues are Debian's problem alone.
People have a lot of reactions to all of this, many of them grumpy. As for me, I think that Debian's adherence to its principles in the face of significant problems is commendable but as a system administrator my first reaction is 'my god, they're taking on a lot of work', since Debian will have to rip each package apart to separate the DFSG-free and non-DFSG-free bits. And then do it all over again every time the upstream releases a new version of the package.
Ongoing work equals delays (or ancient versions of software, because there isn't enough person-power and time to upgrade the version). So I see a derailment in the future for Etch.