Interview: Steve McIntyre, Debian Project Leader


Steve McIntyre is the recently elected Debian Prioject Leader. He is a software engineer and a long-time Debian developer. His best known contributions have been in the field of creating Debian CD/DVD images; he is the Debian-cd team leader and is responsible for generating the official images.

What's your view on the encumbered patent deals that some Linux distributions have signed up to (e.g. Xandros, Linspire)? What do you think will be the effect on Linux in particular and FOSS in general?

I can understand that some companies may feel more comfortable by signing that kind of deal to cover themselves. Some markets like the US are notorious for problems with software patents, and I guess it comes down to a simple business decision to weigh up the costs of doing this kind of deal against the potential costs of a legal defence against a patent attack (baseless or not).

However, I strongly feel that making this kind of deal is a mistake in the longer term. It lends legitimacy to the software patent system and in particular to whatever patents may be mentioned in these deals. Doing that is bad in and of itself, but it will also lead to reduced support by the community. Free Software and its developers can only be damaged by the software patent system.

Debian is sometimes criticised as being for hobbyists despite evidence that it's used by some very serious organisations for some massive deployments. Do you think the Debian project has some work to do in articulating its enterprise credentials?

I think that there's always scope for us to do more on that front. There will always be some users who won't believe in Debian as an option for the enterprise just because we're not directly backed by a large corporation, and that will be a difficult attitude to change.

However, I know of lots of companies today that will provide paid support for Debian where it's required, and we already have a fine reputation for stability. I think that the next trick is to start making more of a positive impact directly in the "Enterprise" space with positive press exposure and good reviews

Debian started off as a benevolent dictatorship run by Ian Murdoch and then by Bruce Perens. Is it fair to say that the subsequent democratisation of the project has resulted in more time being devoted to politics rather than technology?

Oh, absolutely. As we've grown in size and changed our governance model over the years, clearly more of our time has been spent on talking to each other rather than *just* working on the technical issues. I think that's an unavoidable consequence of our growth, just like in any organisation. But there is still plenty of time to do the technical collaboration that we're known for, don't worry.

Debian has traditionally favoured Gnome over KDE? Given the former's support for the passage of OOXML through ISO and the upcoming release of KDE 4.1, do you think this might change?

In the very early days of Gnome and KDE, we did favour Gnome to a certain extent. There were some very public disagreements between Debian and the KDE folks over licensing to start with, so for a while we did not include KDE at all in our releases.

But since that problem was fixed (years ago) we've worked well with both the Gnome and KDE developer communities and we have large, active teams working on packaging for both systems. I don't expect to see that change any time soon, to be honest.

What are your hopes from the upcoming Debconf in Argentina?

I'm expecting that we'll have yet another vibrant, exciting conference this year, with lots of cool technical content and (just as important) lots of time for our developers to socialise and get to know each other better. Despite our experience in Debian at harnessing internet communication methods to work together, there's still a great deal of benefit to face-to-face meetings.

There's also still time for sponsors to get involved with Debconf. We're always looking for more money to help pay for the conference itself, plus we try to help with the travel costs for many of our contributors. Many companies have already seen the benefits of being associated with us.

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