Saturday, February 19, 2011

Debian Squeeze: about relevance and visibility

The new awaited Debian 6.0 “Squeeze” has been recently released. I only got it a quick look on my blog. What more surprised me has been all the discussion about Debian “relevance” that appeared on the Internet just after Debian release (for example here and there). I'm not going to defend Debian here, there is no need, many people has already done it and I couldn't add more of information to the whole discussion.

My opinion is that many people has mistaken as a loss of relevance of Debian what it's simply a loss in visibility. Let me explain it a little: there are many features in a software product that aren't visible at all, just think to security or reliability. You can see how your software is secure and reliable only by how many problems you do not have. This is also true outside of the software world: in a car, for example, you'll never see your air-bag working unless you have an accident. In the software world it happens that some applications have ever more invisible than visible features until they becomes what I call “invisible software”.

I'm mostly an invisible software developer, that's why I'm particularly interested in the subject. I often develop web-services, in my job, you'll have probably seen a lot of applications, applets, web pages using web services but have you ever seen one working? There are disadvantages in writing invisible software since many people will not understand what your job is but there are advantages too: I've seen more arguments about a button colour than about a communication protocol.

Coming back to Debian, our famous distribution seems to be slowly drifting toward invisibility. It's not loosing relevance, since many important and popular distributions are based on Debian, but ever less people install Debian on their computer because they find a derived distribution that better fit their needs. Debian is becoming a sort of framework to build distributions where the invisible features like security, reliability, and coherence in licenses are ever more important.

Is that bad? I don't think so. That's the way complex software development takes, it's natural that somebody specializes itself in building the base bricks avoiding others reinventing the wheel.

What's next? Is up to Debian community to decide if they will continue on the current road or try to gain back visibility by adding features that more fit to common users. Anyway, as I said, there are advantages in writing “invisible software”.

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By Massimo Musante with 2 comments


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