Balancing Respect and Diversity

Just got back home from attending DebConf over in Argentina. I would like to send out a big thankyou to my Debian friends for making me feel incredibly welcome. I was there with a bunch of other Canonical people – Mark Shuttleworth, Jorge Castro, Matthias ‘doko’ Klose, Kees Cook, Steve Langasek and Celso Providelo. It was a really productive few days, and I had some great conversations with a bunch of people, while also sharing more than a few glasses of something hops-ee, or possibly tequila-ee. It was also an excellent opportunity to meet up with some Debian peeps I have been chatting with online for a long time.

Historically, the relationship between Debian and Ubuntu has been strained at times. There are various technical and social reasons behind this discomfort in our relationship, and while there is still work to be done to ensure we are working effectively together, the relationship has most certainly improved in recent years. I think there are many reasons for this, again technical and social, but I think you can boil it down to a critical evolution in our relationship – we have learned more about how a large derivative (such as Ubuntu) and Debian insect, mirror, and vary in different ways, and this takes time.

I am a firm believer in listening and learning from evolution in any distributed community. There are many, many examples where the theoretical blueprint of the best way of managing a community, software project or relationship makes perfect sense on paper, but the many variables in collaborative development result in the actual methodology being quite different. There are thousands of these examples everywhere in our fishbowl – distros should really ship pristine, unpatched upstream code, there should be a stable ABI, all bugs should be filed in the same place, there should be one primary desktop environment, there should be a set of standards across all desktops at a widget and user interaction level, all teams should report regularly – these are all examples of viewpoints that make sense on paper to different people, but in practise the reality is very different.

A relationship in general is no different, be it between you and your parents, you and your partner, you and your boss, different political parties or different distributions. The concept of a relationship on paper and the reality of that relationship can often be very different. On paper the core elements of the relationship are typically clear, but it is the execution of ideas, plans and decision-making as well as additional unforeseen variables that help the relationship really find its natural ebb and flow. Of course, this is fine – this is how things work, but the critical foundation needs to be there. When communication is strong, issues are discussed, with a sensitivity to the impact of those issues on both parties, a relationship can be strong and long-lasting. The greatest relationships have one consistent meme, irrespective of the hundreds of variables – a foundation of respect and openness between both parties to always discuss and drive to a conclusion that is a good medium for all involved.

And this is where we focus the microscope on the most critical ingredient in a relationship – an always present consciousness to find solutions to problems, discuss issues in a calm and focused way and to have a sensitivity for the other party at all times. The longest running bands, the greatest political partnerships, the longest marriages and the most incredible collaborations occur when these ingredients are present – they are not optional, they are required. People often talk about give and take in a relationship, and the above quality fundamentally defines the right balance of give and take – it solidifies the rules of engagement that form the foundation for two parties reading from the same page and moving forward together. This is the microcosm…the branch on the tree, at an atomic level…that when combined with other likewise relationships, connects together to form what we consider a community.

I feel this is where the relationship with Debian has evolved and needs to continue to evolve. There needs to be a fundamental requirement in engaging together on the same terms to foster a partnership where both Debian and derivatives in general are happy. We need to not only foster a close connection and commitment to exploring and respecting the goals of both parties, but we critically need to also not tolerate a culture of disrespect and criticism without evidence and rationale. Flaming is unacceptable – sensible, adult, evidence-led debate is glorious. Really…stunningly glorious. Flaming is the antithesis of the foundational attributes I discussed above – it demonstrates disrespect, arrogance and bad attitude. I have seen it in every community, Ubuntu included, and none of us should tolerate it. We are all together with the same ethos, however you label it, quantify and justify it – when we let this kind of flaming prosper, it weakens our crusade.

Debian kicks arse. Ubuntu kicks arse. They just kick arse in slightly different ways with a strong connection. DebConf, my first one, demonstrated such arse kicking, and I look forward to continuing to work with our friends there.

  • http://www.fusednetwork.com David McKendrick

    Excellent post — and certainly all valid statements, fostering cohesion within any development ‘community’ is difficult though. Folks tend to gravitate towards things that separate them rather than that which binds them together.

    All in all though, separation can’t be a bad thing though as it does foster competition. However with projects like Ubuntu & Debian — cooperation is obviously in both projects’ best interest as they rely on each other somewhat heavily. Er, well, ubuntu does/did.

    I’m not in the loop all that much so correct me if I’m wrong of course. Adieu!

  • http://vadi-blog.com Vadim P.

    Yup – http://digg.com/linuxunix/Happy15birthdayDebian

  • http://vadi-blog.com Vadim P.

    Previous url got eaten… try #2:

    http://ur1.ca/2sd

  • http://www.archive.org/details/b.c.2008-03-09.flac.studio.demo Samizdat

    When you mentioned Ubuntu’s and Debian’s “insect”(ing), I’m sure you meant to say “intersecting,” but an interesting Freudian it was.

    As a long-time Windows user and formerly utterly dependent upon GUI computing, I can say unequivocally that I dig Ubuntu. I would sooner put in the years necessary to port snd to Linux, for example, than install wine so I could still use Cool Edit Pro.

    Have a look at “my” website, would you? Using Ubuntu, I created the .oga files for my son’s web-streaming Metal show on the Internet Archive, and they play well in both VLC media player and Totem-Gstreamer (which latter is, like VLC, also cross-platform with Windows, if I’m not mistaken)?