[linux-elitists] [RANT] Debian the Elitist Distribution? [was Re: RFI: Recommendation for a good Vocabulary Builder]

Adam Kessel adam@bostoncoop.net
Sun Feb 15 12:25:50 PST 2004

On Sun, Feb 15, 2004 at 10:12:27AM +0200, Shlomi Fish wrote:
> > > On Friday 13 February 2004 22:25, Mister Bad wrote:
> > 	It's the elitist's distro.  Duh.
> What? Where? Why? How come?

I imagine there have been sufficient distro flamewars elsewhere, but I'm
compelled to reply to at least a couple of your points. From your tone,
I'm not sure you're looking to be educated, though.

> * That the Debian Free Software Guidelines are getting on everybody's nerves 
> lately because they are being applied to other forms of media, which is 
> clearly not software.

The DFSG get on people's nerves regardless of whether it's "software" or
other media.  That's the point.  rms can be a pain in the ass, too, but
he's done an awful lot of good in keeping out corrupting "semi-free"
influences (--my understanding of what went on with the early KDE/qt

I'm a vegetarian.  When I go to events or someone's house for dinner I
expect there to be some vegetarian option.  If the host forgets to offer
something vegetarian, I might be tempted to just eat what they serve to
be a gracious guest and so they won't feel bad.  But I don't: while it
might cause some short-term discomfort and awkwardness, in the long run,
the host remembers for next time, and I'm paving the way for other
vegetarians in the future.  I'm also making it easier for other people to
decide to be vegetarian, because the social resistance will already have
been weakened.

Because Debian is fairly big and ubiquitous, it can exert pressure on
developers to conform by excluding packages that are not DFSG-free.
Even though this bugs people, it's a great service.  As an individual, I
hold little sway with a developer who has chosen a stupid made-up
license for her package.  As a collective, Debian can use its power of
dissemination to channel everything into a fairly standard set of

One of the main reasons free software works at all is that transaction
costs are low: people can collaborate without expensive negotiations
about rights.  As transaction/negotation costs increase, the scales tip
to benefit large corporate IP portfolios.  DFSG is a stick in the mud
to keep transaction costs low.

If you're uncomfortable with the DFSG being applied to documentation,
I'd invite a point-by-point refutation of the draft position statement
on the GFDL:


Most of the same concerns about low transaction costs and ability to
modify, improve, etc., apply equally to documentation as to executable
code.  You've made the assertion that DFSG shouldn't be applied "to
other forms of media": can you explain why the DFSG shouldn't be applied
to program documentation?

> 2. Did not know it was perfectly legal to sell free software. (he thought it 
> must be given away for free)

I'm not sure about the guy you're talking about, but Debian encourages
people to sell Debian CDs and also encourages commercial Debian-based
distributions.  It might be the case that more commercial distributions
are based on Debian than on any other distribution.  Lindows, if I'm not
mistaken, is based on Debian (although I've never tried it).

Distrowatch lists the following distributions based on Debian, many of
them commercial:

AbulÉdu, Adamantix, Aleader, Arabix, ASLinux, Augustux, Biadix,
BlackRhino, Bluewall, Bonzai, BrlSpeak, CensorNet, ClusterKnoppix,
Condorux, Damn Small, Defender, DemoLinux, Demudi, Eagle, eduKnoppix,
ESware, Feather, Flonix, Freeduc, Gibraltar, Gnoppix, Guadalinex, Impi,
Kalango, KANOTIX, Kinneret, knopILS, Knoppix, Knoppix STD, KnoppiXMAME,
KnoppMyth, Kurumin, L.A.S., Libranet, LIIS, Lindows, LinEx, Linuxin,
Luinux, Medialinux, MEPIS, MIKO GNYO, Morphix, NordisKnoppix, Omoikane,
Oralux, Overclockix, Quantian, Pequelin, Penguin Sleuth, PHLAK, Shabdix,
Skolelinux, Slix, Soyombo, SULIX, Tilix, X-evian, Xandros 

Because Debian enforces the DFSG stringently and has a comprehensive
dependency system, it saves vendors a lot of time and effort in
packaging their Debian-based distribution.

> > 	Nothing wrong with Mandrake.  It's a fine first distribution.
> > I recommend it to most beginners.
> It's also a fine distribution for experts.

I suppose this comes down to taste and experience, but I support a
number of Debian and Mandrake systems, and always find it much easier to
do "expert" stuff (building packages, hacking configuration, etc.) on
Debian.  There really isn't any way to say what's best for experts
unless you've come up with criteria first, but there is strong consensus
in the free software circles I travel in that Debian is preferable for
experienced users.
Adam Kessel
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