Digging Debian (Profile)

March 10, 2015

Choice: Debian


Debian is a relatively large distribution, I think we would all agree, and is, as far as Linux distributions go, one of the most influental. So many projects and even other distributions are based off of Debian’s code that every decision made by the folks behind Debian affects thousands of others, and hundreds of projects. We felt that because of the significance of the project, and the “pseudo-corporate” structure of the organization behind it, that Debian would be a good fit for our first “profile”.

Organizational Details

  • Is the subject of your profile a corporate entity?

Not really.

  • What type?

Open source project. They say: “The Debian Project is a worldwide group of volunteers who endeavor to produce an operating system distribution that is composed entirely of free software.”

  • When was it founded?

August 6th, 1993

  • By whom?

Ian Murdock

  • Original founder(s) still active?

Not anymore (he’s no longer the project lead, at least)

  • Publicly Traded? Since when? Initial Stock Price? Current stock price?

Nope, it’s a non-profit.

  • Has the company made any acquisitions? If yes, which companies, and what were their core products?


  • Has the company made any investments in other companies? If yes, which ones.


  • Number of Employees?

856 (Contributors)

  • Where is HQ?

No physical HQ.

  • Does it have any other offices or locations?


  • Website?


  • Wikipedia?


  • Does your organization file any annual reports? Please include links to any relevant documents (i.e. 990, Annual Report, Year in Review, etc…)

It’s not an annual report, but they do have the DPN


  • Does your subject participate in social media? If yes, please list a URL for each account, and reach within that community. (i.e. Twitter: @RedHatNews – 61.9K Followers.

Google Plus



  • What communication channels does your subject use to reach their public? Briefly describe and include a URL for each.

Mailing lists and the DPN

  • Does your subject organize or participate in any conferences? If so, list them here, and provide links to any relevant sessions, keynotes, or content.

Not that I know of.

Community Architecture

Your subject likely runs or contributes to one or more Open Source products or projects. Choose one (or more) of these and answer the following questions:

If applicable, list and provide links to:

  • The project’s IRC Channel


  • Source Code repository


  • Mail list archive

Mailing lists

  • Documentation


  • Project Website and/or Blog


  • Describe the software project, its purpose and goals.

Same as above.

  • Give brief history of the project. When was the Initial Commit? The latest commit?

Started when the project started.

  • Who approves patches? How many people?

A lot of people

  • Who has commit access, or has had patches accepted? How many total?
  • Has there been any turnover in the Core Team? (i.e. has the top 20% of contributors stayed the same over time? If not, how has it changed?)

It changes very frequently.

  • Does the project have a BDFL, or Lead Developer? (BDFL == Benevolent Dictator for Life)

Nope, as can be seen here

  • Are the front and back end developers the same people? What is the proportion of each?
  • What have been some of the major bugs/problems/issues that have arisen during development? Who is responsible for quality control and bug repair?

More than I could list here. However, a recent bout that comes to mind is the whole systemd debacle.

  • How is the project’s participation trending and why?

It’s still pretty high.

  • In your opinion, does the project pass “The Raptor Test?” (i.e. Would the project survive if the BDFL, or most active contributor were eaten by a Velociraptor?) Why or why not?

It passed that test in 1997.

  • In your opinion, would the project survive if the core team, or most active 20% of contributors, were hit by a bus? Why or why not?


  • Does the project have an official “on-boarding” process in place? (new contributor guides, quickstarts, communication leads who focus specifically on newbies, etc…)

Of course.

  • Does the project have Documentation available? Is it extensive? Does it include code examples?

It has a developer’s reference and a developer’s guide

  • If you were going to contribute to this project, but ran into trouble or hit blockers, who would you contact, and how?

Probably IRC. Or the mailing list.

  • Based on these answers, how would you describe the decision making structure/process of this group? Is it hierarchical, consensus building, ruled by a small group, barely contained chaos, or ruled by a single or pair of individuals?

Hierarchical. An almost corporate structure.

  • Is this the kind of structure you would enjoy working in? Why, or why not?

Yes. This is the kind of structure, IMHO, that keeps large FOSS projects alive.

Technology/Product (Section adapted from EFF Worksheet)

  • Who invented, created, or sponsored the technology?

Ian Murdock, though Linux was by Linus Torvalds.

  • What was the technology designed to do? How was it used?

A general OS.

  • Who would benefit from using this technology?


  • What kinds of companies or organizations (stakeholders) might have been concerned about the development of this technology? Why?

Anyone who hosts a website 😉

  • Did an aspect of copyright law play a role in controversies about the technology? How?

Not that I know of.

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