A peek at recent events within some leading Linux distros

Inside View

© Lead Image © Igor Zakharevich, 123rf.com

© Lead Image © Igor Zakharevich, 123rf.com

Article from Issue 237/2020
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The distro you load on your computer was developed by real people operating through community groups and other organizational structures. This summary of some recent news offers a glimpse into the inner workings of some leading Linux projects.

The business of distributions centers around the packaging and testing of applications. However, many distributions have grown so large that their daily activities rival those of Apple and Google. How are distros organized? How are they run? How do they make decisions? What relationships do they have with other free software organizations? This month, Distro Walk touches on a few of these questions through a sample of news items from different distributions. These not only give a glimpse into the complexity of modern distributions, but also show how their daily business might inspire developers to offer their services or help users decide which distribution best suits their philosophy.

Arch Linux

In the early months of 2020, Arch Linux (Figure 1) saw the departure of Aaron Griffin as project leader and the election of Levente Polyak (anthraxx) in a campaign against Gaetan Bisson (vesath), Giancarlo Razzolini (grazzolini), and Sven-Hendrik Haase (svenstaro) [1]. The election was held in accordance with a new process created especially for the election. The process was necessary, because Griffin had been leader since 2007, and Arch has grown and evolved considerably since then.

Figure 1: The Arch community distro has a fierce reputation for simplicity and economy of purpose.

The process is defined on the project DeveloperWiki [2]. The project leader's role is defined as making decisions when no consensus exists among developers, representing Arch Linux on the board of Software in the Public Interest (the project's nonprofit overseer), representing the project legally, and managing the daily development of the distribution. Eligible voters are recognized Arch developers, trusted users, and staff, who may rank candidates on the ballot. The project leader is elected for two years and may be vetoed by two-thirds of the Arch developers.

Debian

In April, Debian (Figure 2) elected Jonathan Carter as project leader. In a low voter turnout of 339 out of 1,011 eligible developers, Carter defeated Sruthi Chandran and Brian Gupta. He replaced Sam Hartman on April 21 [3].

Figure 2: The vast Debian project selects a new project leader every year by popular election.

Carter immediately began the old tradition of stating what he had been doing as project leader in his first week and a half, including having a handover session with Hartman, joining the Gnome and Open Source Initiative boards to give Debian representation, writing an annual report for Software in the Public Interest (which also oversees Debian), scheduling future interviews, and weighing in on a community dispute [4].

Meanwhile, the debian-legal mailing list debated whether the Apple Public Source License (APSL) was a free license under the Debian Free Software Guidelines. The issue centered on the hfsprogs program, which is needed for the Debian installer to run on Apple PowerBook and Power Mac, and exactly what version of the APSL it is licensed under. [5]. Still another debian-legal thread queried whether the UEFI revocation list could be shipped with Debian as free software [6].

Linux Mint

ClÈment LefËbvre, the founder of Linux Mint (Figure 3), writes the distro's monthly blog [7]. Linux Mint is funded by donations. In the interests of transparency, a list of donors is given regularly on the blog. These blogs give a sense of how the project operates.

Figure 3: Linux Mint is funded by donations. A list of donors appears periodically in the Mint blog.

For example, in March 2020, $9,499 was raised by 527 one-time donors, some 200 of which were repeat donors. Most repeat donors are giving for the 2nd to 15th time, but a handful have donated over 60 times, including one or two over 100 times. Donors come primarily from Europe and the United States, mostly giving $25-$50, although some give as little as $2, and 15 donors gave over $100, including one who gave $200 and one who gave $500.

In March, Linux Mint also had over 100 sponsors, chiefly from Germany and the United States. The amount of each sponsorship was not given, but sponsors appear to be mostly individuals. When companies are mentioned, they vary from toy companies to jewelers, leaving the impression that they are probably mostly individuals as well, differing from donors only in being signed up for regular contributions rather than one-time ones. In addition, 415 patrons also contributed $2,264.

Donations were down slightly in March, compared to $11,301 in February from 621 donors and $14,290 in January from 785 donors. Looking at previous blogs, these appear to be usual seasonal variations.

These figures are worth looking over, because some users prefer to support community-backed distributions. What is worth noting in Linux Mint is the absence of large corporations. Clearly, Linux Mint is a community distribution in the truest sense of the word.

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