Debian delayed as contributors get grouchy

Fourth version of Linux distribution is late because of slowdown by key developers linked to a funding "experiment."

The next version of the Linux distribution Debian was due to be released by December 4, meaning that it is already more than two weeks late.

Now one of Debian's release managers has started pointing his finger at key individuals.

In a blog posted on Monday, Andreas Barth wrote, "Some people who used to do good work reduced their involvement drastically. There was nothing I could do about that, and that happened way before I started full-time on (the) release, but on the global picture, that still counts."

Barth and his fellow release manager, Steve Langasek, have been at the center of a controversy over the last few months, having accepted up to $6,000 of funding each for working full-time on Debian version 4, which is code-named Etch.

The funding for Barth and Langasek has been raised by an "experiment" called Dunc-Tank, which aims to speed the release of Etch.

But the establishment of the group may have backfired, as it has angered many unpaid developers. They argue that Dunc-Tank is turning Debian into a two-class system, which could have a negative effect on the distribution. Some have called for the resignation of the two release managers.

A group of 17 developers, led by well-known Debian maintainer Joerg Jaspert, issued a position statement in October citing its disenchantment with Dunc-Tank. It read, "This whole affair already hurts Debian more than it can ever achieve. It already made a lot of people who have contributed a huge amount of time and work to Debian reduce their work. People left the project, others are orphaning packages...system administration and security work is reduced, and a lot of otherwise silent maintainers simply put off Debian work (to) work on something else."

"I think Dunc-Tank helped us with (the) release of Etch, but the help could have been greater if some people wouldn't behave as childish as they do."
--Andreas Barth, release manager, Debian version 4

But Barth insisted that Dunc-Tank isn't entirely to blame. He wrote in his blog, "I think Dunc-Tank helped us with (the) release of Etch, but the help could have been greater if some people wouldn't behave as childish as they do."

Barth said he is happy with the involvement of "most" developers, and he added that there are additional reasons for the delay. He did not elaborate on those reasons.

"I thought, at least within Debian, we don't want to fall (into) the usual management mistake of only speaking about how great everything is but be honest to ourselves," Barth added.

Etch is now fully frozen, but no release date has been made public.

Debian has a long history of being late, ever since its first version in 1997. This is one of the reasons why entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth launched alternative Linux distribution Ubuntu two years ago.

Richard Thurston of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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