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    Interviews: Interview with Ben Collins, DPL
    Posted on Tuesday, October 02 @ 04:39:22 BST

    Interviews
    I recently interviewed Ben Collins, Debian Project Leader (via email), on his thoughts on a number of issues concerning Debian. Read on for the full text of the interview; this was one of the more interesting bits:

    > Any other thoughts?

    I'd like to see some community research on how people think we should
    counter current Government trends to take away the freedoms that have
    allowed the free software community to flourish as it has in recent years.
    I think we need to cover as many ideas as possible on how to get Congress
    /Senate (U.S. specific in that case) to see how this would hurt us more than
    anything. In fact, I'd love to get a group of people to visit Capital
    Hill and talk directly to politicians.

    (Firstly, my apologies for the lack of originality on some of the questions; it's hard not to ask them though -DS).

    > Firstly, how did you get started with Linux and Debian, and how long
    > have you been using it?

    I started with Linux back when I wanted to learn Un*x. It was a great
    way to get experience, and the fact that it was free and open sort of
    drew me into the whole community. I've been using it a bit over 4 years
    now.

    > What else are you involved in, in the Linux/Free Software community?

    - SPARC/UltraSPARC porting (including minor gcc/glibc testing).
    - Linux1394 (IEEE-1394/Firewire): http://linux1394.sourceforge.net/

    > Were you always active as a developer, or did you stay as a user for
    > some time before thinking about becoming a developer?

    I was a user for about 3 months before becoming a developer. It's kind
    of hard to use Debian without becoming active in it's development.

    > So, how did you come to be the maintainer of arguably the most important
    > package in any distribution (glibc), and eventually become DPL?

    Regrettably, obtaining libc is not what I consider a milestone for me of
    any sort. A long time developer, Joel Klecker (Espy), gave the package to
    me the day before he died.

    As for DPL, I think I worked hard to earn the respect and trust of my
    peers, who obviously felt I was capable of the position (or they were
    just having a bad day :). Winning the last election was a big confidence
    builder for me personally, mainly because of the caliber of developers
    running for the position.

    > What made you decide to run for DPL, and what issues did you base your
    > platform on?

    I ran for DPL for the same reason that I think anyone would; because I
    wanted to make a difference. My main concerns were a few lose ends in
    our structure, namely New Maintainer. Fortunately, the New Maintainer
    process has smoothed out quite a bit since I became a developer, and the
    fires died down.

    > You seceded Wichert Akkerman, in a tightly-fought race with Branden
    > Robinson, among others. What do you think are the differences between
    > yourself and Wichert, and even the previous leaders - Ian Jackson and
    > Bruce Perens - in terms of leadership?

    Well, personally I don't like to compare myself to anyone. Everyone one
    of the previous DPL's had their strengths and weaknesses, and I'm no
    different. Probably the one thing I'll have in common with them after my
    term is the feeling that I could have done more, and a new respect for
    the position.

    > What has been the highlight of your DPL term so far?

    So far, the fact that nothing has fallen apart 🙂 Really, I don't have
    any notable high points. Real life circumstances have prevented me from
    putting in the time that I would like to see some things done.

    > What do you do in The Real World, and does your job have any overlap
    > with Debian at all?

    For money, I have several trades. Currently I am working for an IT
    services startup based on Linux, and I also do some contract work either
    developing software, or doing Linux kernel work.

    > And to blatantly rehash a question from the Wichert interview, how do
    > you think Debian GNU/HURD and Debian BSD are going? Have they made any
    > real progress?

    I've no idea, honestly. I'm not sure that I should be sticking my nose
    where I have no business sticking it 🙂 The folks dealing directly with
    these projects would surely know better.

    > Since then, we've already had talk of Debian Win32; how's that chugging
    > along?

    Again, no idea 🙂

    > In your term, which has covered all of the woody freeze process so far,
    > many new architectures have been added (mips, mipsel [little-endian],
    > s390, hppa [HP PA-RISC], ia64 [Intel Itanium], and s390). Even though
    > not all of these will release with woody, was adding new architectures a
    > major goal for the release?

    I think we do well to add new architectures to every release. Obviously
    the ia64 and hppa ports releasing with woody are due in large part to
    Hewlett Packard's dedication to the port by hiring Debian developers to
    do the work. I think Debian's architecture offerings are the largest
    available, and definitely one of our strong points.

    > Except for the fact that woody has slipped far behind schedule (as,
    > however, predicted by AJ Towns, the release manager), how do you think
    > it's going?

    Well, I think it's going well considering we are impementing an entirely
    new release process with testing. Most developers are used to frozen
    being a milestone which switches them into release mode. We don't have
    this right now, so the light at the end of the tunnel is a little
    dimmer, so to speak. I think it will be a learning process until after
    woody hits the CD vendors, and it will obviously take an extra amount of
    time.

    > Then there's the issue that always manages to flare up - New
    > Maintainer. It's been 5 months since this last flared up (which involved
    > yours truly). How do you think the process is going, given the recent
    > controversy?

    Honestly, I think the process of getting New Maintainers _into_ the
    project is going well. I'd like to see the process of handling the
    rejected/stale applications handled a little quicker.

    > Do you think that there are any areas in NM that could be at all
    > improved? Has it improved since you took over as DPL?

    NM has improved a great deal since I became DPL, but not because of me
    by any means. I think because of my outspokeness about changes in NM,
    that some people were afraid I would dismantle the process and rebuild
    it, but I haven't touched it one bit other than talking to the DAM every
    so often.

    > How do you feel Debian's presence has been? Particularly a couple of
    > months ago, it seemed that not 3 days would pass between events Debian
    > (or at least its developers) had a major presence at. Do you feel that,
    > in a world where RedHat's releases are trumpeted by ZDNet as "Linux
    > 7.1", Debian is becoming increasingly noticable? Or is it just falling
    > by the wayside to more commercial distributions?

    Oh no, Debian is not falling off anywhere. We may not be gaining "market
    share", but we are surely gaining users, as more and more people start
    to understand free software, and what Debian is about. We have our
    problems as a distribution and a software project, but it's nothing we
    can't overcome as time goes on. Debian will always be the same project,
    and will always be welcome by new users...it's the rest of the world
    that changes, while our ideals remain the same.

    > I've attempted to steer clear of the WTC issue, but I suppose I have to
    > go there now. In the light of the recent terrorist acts, the US
    > Government wants a *global* ban on all cryptography without government
    > backdoor access. What's your view on this?

    Obviously I am against it. Not only from a developer standpoint, but as
    an American, I am completely against any infringement on my freedoms. I
    plan on taking an active role in fighting these sorts of proposed laws,
    and I hope other developers do aswell.

    > What is Software in the Public Interest, and what's your role in it?

    SPI is the Non-profit organization that Debian operates under. It gives
    us a legal entity in which to present ourselves, and provides fund
    management. As the DPL, I am considered an advisor to the SPI board.

    > Virtually no-one outside of Debian development and hard-core
    > Free Software fanaticism knows of SPI; do you think this is a
    > problem? If so, how can it be improved?

    Yes, it is a problem, and SPI is currently making strides to counter
    that.

    > What, do you think, are Debian's main problems?

    To be honest, I don't know of any problems right now that aren't being
    handled. There are a few policy decisions that still linger, but nothing
    that will tear the project apart, or hinder our work.

    > How would you like to see Debian improve/progress in the future?

    Just the way it always has, oblivious to corporate pressure. Debian does
    what it can to provide a stable and technically sounds operating system,
    and I think it needs to continue to concentrate on that, regardless of
    any trends to the contrary.

    > Any other thoughts?

    I'd like to see some community research on how people think we should
    counter current Government trends to take away the freedoms that have
    allowed the free software community to flourish as it has in recent years.
    I think we need to cover as many ideas as possible on how to get Congress
    /Senate (U.S. specific in that case) to see how this would hurt us more than
    anything. In fact, I'd love to get a group of people to visit Capital
    Hill and talk directly to politicians.

    > Ben Collins, thankyou very much for your time.

    And thank you.

     
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  • "Interviews: Interview with Ben Collins, DPL" | Login/Create Account | 5 comments
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    The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

    Re: Interview with Ben Collins, DPL (Score: 1)
    by rob on Tuesday, October 02 @ 18:07:13 BST
    (User Info)

    Great interview Daniel and great thoughts from you Ben. Who should we interview next? 🙂

    [ Reply ]


    Re: Interview with Ben Collins, DPL (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 02 @ 21:55:58 BST

    While viewing your pages on my 800x600 screen, half the width it taken by your menu and links and stuff phpnuke boxes.

    Ben Collins' interview fills about 9 screens high which makes it just unreadable.

    Is there a way I can change the page layout to fullscreen?

    Did I miss a link?

    Thanks.

    Nicolas

    [ Reply ]


    Re: Interview with Ben Collins, DPL (Score: 1)
    by bartman77 on Friday, October 05 @ 17:51:37 BST
    (User Info)

    > counter current Government trends to take away the freedoms that have

    > allowed the free software community to flourish as it has in recent years.

    > I think we need to cover as many ideas as possible on how to get Congress

    > /Senate (U.S. specific in that case) to see how this would hurt us more than

    Actions like that have taken place over here in god ol' Europe in the last two years.

    Maybe you US-Americans are one step behind in that point?

    [ Reply ]


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