Debian Linux needs your help

October 10, 2008 5:48 PM EDT
Debian, for all that it's a very popular and important community Linux has a problem with hitting deadlines. I mean it's not like how Microsoft can miss its deadlines by years, but still Debian has had its troubles. The community was doing much better this time for the forthcoming release of Debian 5, Lenny, but some last-minute problems still need cleaning up and the Debian developers would like you to help.

In a note to the Debian developer list, Alexander 'Tollmar' Reichle-Schmehl, a leading Debian developer and spokesman, wrote, "You probably noticed by now, that Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 aka "Lenny" hasn't been released in September. Well, that's a shame, but very easy to explain: Too many release critical bugs."

As is so often the case with any software project, Reichle-Schmehl explained, "Our release team coordinated several transitions, took care of release goals, but it's pretty hard to estimate, how fast RC (release candidate) bugs will be fixed, and apparently they were a bit to optimistic"

What he'd like from developers is "pretty easy: Fix rc-bugs, take care, that the fixed packages are migrated to "Lenny," do upgrade tests, document problems in the release-notes. Pretty simple, isn't it?" Well, it is if you're a Linux developer, but otherwise, not really.

However, Reichle-Schmehl continued, "Even as a "simple user" (aren't we all just users?) you may help getting "Lenny" released." Specifically, he suggests that if you're already running Debian 4, Etch, "you could consider upgrading to "Lenny" and see, if everything works fine. Currently there are no detailed release notes documenting the procedure, so you best way to test upgrades are to:

1. Make backups

2. Change your /etc/apt/sources.list

3. Run aptitude update to get information about new packages

4. Run aptitude install dpkg aptitude apt to install the newest package management

5. Run aptitude full-upgrade"

Now that's the kind of thing that any experienced Linux user could do. And, "If something goes wrong [or] something unexpected happens, please report it. If you already know a specific package, report a bug against that package. If you don't know, please report a bug describing the problem you experienced to the upgrade-reports package. If your problem is something, which can't be fixed properly, but should be documented e.g. hardware support regressions, packages no longer available)please report a bug against the release-notes package (Bonus points if you not only report the bug, but also supply a paragraph to be added to the release notes)."

In a follow up to his blog, Reichle-Schmehl wrote, "If you upgraded successfully, you should report that, too. There's a template for upgrade reports."

He also suggests that if you want to help and you're interesting in making sure a particular program works properly in Lenny, you should "install the package devscripts. You'll need the version provided by backports.org, and run the script rc-alert --include-dists TU --include-dist-op and you'll get a list of release critical bugs open for one of the packages you have installed."

In addition, "You can try to help, by trying to reproduce them and reporting that to the bug report. There are even some easy bugs, where the maintainer hasn't found the time to fix it, yet. Bug 497290, for example didn't need deep technical skills. It just needed someone with some time to collect the needed data for the copyright file."

Finally, "If you speak a language other than English, you might consider joining the translation efforts. If you are willing to do so (which can be quite time consuming, especially in the final phase), please contact either your localization team or the Debian doc mailing list if there's no local mailing list."

Reichle-Schmehl concludes this section, "See? Even as a simple user without deeper technical knowledge you can help us getting Lenny in shape to be released."

I like this plan. There's too much of a tendency for Linux, heck any developers to not reach out to their user community for help. Sure a lot of programming problems need deep technical knowledge, but then there's a lot that don't.

What Debian is looking for largely is quality assurance and hands-on beta testing. If you're a serious Linux user, I'd give them a hand. You'll not only be helping an important Linux distribution, you'll be helping the bridge gap between users and programmers.