I do like that some of my friends in Debian have conspired to set up the website http://thank.debian.net/, and I composed this little Haiku in their honour:
Debian is fun for seventeen years. Beautiful balloons.
I'd also like to thank everyone involved in Debian over the years for being such a lovable, friendly, enjoyable and welcoming bunch of people to work with.
It's tempting to single out people for special mention, because there are people who do exceptional work in the project, but the list would go on for so long, and I would be afraid of missing out someone who would be obvious five minutes later, and then I'd have to come back and edit this post repeatedly with the names of more and more people over the coming days. We all know exactly what a chore that kind of maintenance is.
So I'll just give up completely and thank everyone, and if you think you deserve a special thanks, you probably do, and I'm sure you're on that list in my head. When we meet, as I hope we shall, let me shake your hand, lend you my ear and buy you a $BEVERAGE of your choice.
Last week I installed Ubuntu Gutsy onto Heather's laptop. While Gutsy seems to be an easy task for most situations, installing it onto a Pentium 366 laptop with 200M of RAM and (particularly) an 800x600 screen was harder than it perhaps should have been.
I'm sure that most installations these days aren't 800x600, but the graphical installer in Gutsy seems determined to make this painful. I had to move the toolbars to the sides of the screen, and then I could see the top half of the buttons on each page. It was like the page was sized for 600 vertical pixels, but the designer had forgotten about toolbars and title bars - not that I could see any screens in the process I followed that needed more than 5/6 of that screen anyway. Eventually I got it installed, and it even seemed to run OK once we booted into it. That's "OK for a 200M P366 with an 800x600 screen" though.
Looking around at the price of a new laptop made putting up with that sort of performance a whole lot less palatable. The Acer Aspire 5310 (with free RAM upgrade) was $898 at Dick Smith, with a $99 cashback offer. A quick google shows that it's using the Broadcom 43xx wireless which isn't even close to being the best, but can be made to work with Linux. Everything else seemed likely to work, so we bought it.
Installing Gutsy on it was nearly trivial, though I had to install bcm43xx-fwcutter on a different PC (my laptop, which is running Debian, in fact) to get the firmware for the WLAN before I could get the wireless working. I'm surprised that Broadcom still don't make that firmware publicly available somewhere, rather than forcing people to jump through the sort of hoops that would get them wanting an Intel chipset next time.
Anyway, everything installed very easily, and the laptop is working quite nicely. Strangely neither sound, nor suspend to ram are working out of the box. They're not so important in this case fortunately, but perhaps in due course I'll try and get them working and post some details about it.
Much harder has been getting the fabled 'cashback' from Acer. I think I now know what I'm being paid $99 for. Firstly the only way to get your cashback is by registering through a webpage. Heather's first attempt to do this resulted in an error from our proxy about a malformed request, so I got called in. I tried registering using on my laptop, but couldn't even get to the cashback page. I then tried using IE6, with similar results. So perhaps it's my PC? I tried using a different PC, with the same result again!
We tried ringing them up, but they were absolutely determined that (even after 20 minutes on the phone) they were not going to accept that information over the phone. So the only way to get the cashback from Acer was via their thoroughly broken website. Even their Contact Acer page is broken in firefox just showing a blank. Firefox users need not apply.
In Other News: DVD Slideshow
Meanwhile I've been playing with DVD Slideshow which seems to be just what my parents have been after for a while, so they don't have to keep their favourite photos on the camera to be able to show them off on someone's TV. It's great! At least it is great now after I changed all the calls to ffmpeg to add a 'k' after the bitrate parameter. But that's Open Source Software, I guess. I'll send a patch to them... :-)
Looking at the list of categories on Eduforge.Org I think there are a few others that would be reasonable as well: "Real Life" and "Moodle" both seemed to be missing, so I've added them. "Debian" is conspicuous by it's presence in the list, and no doubt I will be using that one in due course...
In fact why not talk about Debian now. And Ubuntu. And how the two projects are having interesting effects on each other. At Debconf5 recently Mark Shuttleworth gave an interesting talk where he tried to present his view of the interaction between the two projects.
There are interactions happening between the two projects on a number of levels though, and I don't think Mark was covering all of them (there wasn't time - even with the talk going over time we still had many other non-recorded sessions at Debconf where the interactions were discussed). Some other things that I find interesting are really obvious things: Debian can be a great system, but the effort to polish it for naive users can sometimes be unexpectedly haphazard. I installed Ubuntu "Hoary" onto an old laptop for my wife yesterday and I could see the extra polish on things. The street appeal that Ubuntu adds to Debian is really powerful, and I think that it must concern RedHat to see the reverse of their Fedora approach sneaking up. Debian has always been a great server OS, and for some things (like the really superb upgrade-in-place capabilities) have really benefited from being a distribution crafted from the ground up by an organisation comprising many experienced systems administrators.
Fedora's community has had a somewhat rocky road to gain credibility, with people necessarily finding reason's to mistrust Red Hat's motives and to be uncertain as to whether there really is separation between Fedora and Red Hat. Of course in Debian "There Is No Cabal" and even if there were, they wouldn't all be Canonical employees, would they? It's nice that Mark has indicated that Canonical will never employ the Debian Project Leader, although I imagine that SPI will eventually have to. The project is only going to increase in scope, if it's success is to continue, and it will need to move to have full-time staff - fairly soon, I should think, if it isn't already the de-facto situation, with the DPL's employer effectively paying the salary with only limited control over what that person is achieving during their term of office.
It's nice to see the Ubuntu Foundation launched, although it is interesting to see a comment on the press release that suggests that Canonical's focus is "commercial support and certification programs". Does this warrant paranoia? Mark is undoubtedly an astute businessman, and certification programs will be useful to the future of both Debian and Ubuntu (I can't see how one that would apply to one would not apply to the other, either).
Commercial support is also an interesting proposition to me. Of course many people (me included) provide "commercial support" to Debian (and Ubuntu), but few have the resources behind them that Canonical does, which could mean there is a significant concentration of the people who really do power Debian employed full-time by Canonical, and necessarily the goals of Canonical will affect Debian's direction.
In the end I don't think this matters though. Debian has got where it has through the personal energy and leadership of some very driven individuals who have provided a framework of standards and policies which guide people in the right paths (is it any wonder that most of them seem to violently disagree with each other?). Combine this with the strong (if unusual) society of Debian and the consequent normative effects, and I can only believe that Debian will be strengthened by these things.
Just as it is hard, sometimes, to give away the fruits of your labours, giving away significant amounts of money without retaining substantive control over its use is also hard. This means that Ubuntu is very well funded (at least USD$10 million) compared with Debian (SPI holds around USD$60 thousand or so). I imagine that this has been thought through in a lot of detail though, and it is hard to see in what way Mark could successfully donate to Debian through normal channels. If he gave SPI even USD$100k it would overbalance the pot completely, and would probably only really mean that something which Debian currently gets donated would begin to get paid for. Not a desirable side-effect.
When all is said and done though, and as Mark so forcibly points out in his talk: Ubuntu could not have come into existence without Debian, and neither can it continue without it. Debian will need to stand on it's own, and will in some circles be eclipsed by this shiny public-facing edifice, but early reports of it's impending demise are greatly exaggerated.